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GNOSIS 1/2008
Pakistan, between jihad
and Afghan temptations


photo Ansa

This precious contribution photographs the situation in which Pakistan has precipitated since the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The author, beyond examining the different factors which contributed to such a serious, even though not sudden, evolvement of events, underlines the dangerous “radicalization of the Pakistan Islamic panorama” that is taking place. And it is precisely to this radicalism, “much more global and modern than the local and archaic one of the Afghani Taliban” that we must give due attention, also in light of possible threats which could involve “other Countries present in the Isaf Mission”.

Pakistan is in fibrillation. Many are the events which, in this last year, have contributed to generate tension: the attack that killed Benazir Bhutto and the subsequent collapse of the transition pact which, under the American auspices, the ex-Premier, recently returned to his homeland, had stipulated with Musharraf; the elections which saw the total defeat of the President to the benefit of leaders and parties considered to be historic enemies, like the Ppp, dominated by the Bhutto family and the Moslem League of Nawaz Sharif; the campaign of suicide attacks after the “Jihad Defensive” proclamation of insurrection in the Northern provinces and tribal areas; the breaking down of old and new hidden alliances between the Military and the Services of Islamabad on the one side, and the complex panorama of Pakistani and Afghan fundamentalism on the other.
Elements which paint a politically and militarily complex picture, which promises to reverberate its heavy effects also on nearby Afghanistan.
The death of Benazir Bhutto has, predictably, influenced the destiny of Musharraf. Defeated at the polls and no longer leader of the Armed Forces, it is most unlikely that the President can hold power much longer.
His lot is tied to the post-election new political and institutional balances, but also to what happens in the Armed Forces – forever “custodians of the Nation” and repository of the control of nuclear armament – as well as to the United States’ intentions, which look with favour towards the birth of a government guided by the Ppp, which will put an end to the ambiguities of the Military and the Inter-Intelligence Services (Isi) (1) towards the Taliban: those beyond the border, and those on the home territory. Ambiguities which, in the past, regarded, while she governed, Benazir Bhutto herself (2) .
The tie between Pakistan and Islamist Afghan forces is a long standing one: it goes back to the times of the anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan, during which period the “Country of the Pure” was the logistic and strategic ‘behind lines’ area of the forces in arms that opposed the Soviet presence in Kabul.
With the intention of gaining strategic depth, Pakistan had always held it important that Afghanistan should gravitate within its orbit. It is not by chance that in the 90’s, Islamabad supported, without reserve, the birth of the Taliban: a movement which, with its political order, put to an end the chaos of the civil war that had exploded among the Mujahidin, victors of the “jihad against atheism”, and brought back to power in Kabul – after the tagika of Rabbani and Masu era – elements of the Pashtun ethnic group, in the majority in Afghanistan, but also in the Northwest regions of Pakistan.
The Pashtun consider Pashtunistan their true territory – the Country of the Pashtun – formerly divided by the State frontiers between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Also Islamabad acknowledged this: so much that the north-west provinces of the Country are, in fact, self-governed and have very limited relations with the central power. One tie was consolidated during the anti-Soviet Jihad, that of the Pashtun ‘across-border’ alliance, when millions of Afghan refugees crossed the border and poured into those camps where their children attended the Deobandi mosques, the very heart of the Pakistani fundamentalism.
In those mosques the young conscripts of the “Koran students” were trained which, urged by the Isi plan, fed the line of followers of the Mullah Omar.
The Pashtun card has, therefore, always been an important factor of Pakistan foreign policy. From here lies the difficulty of the same Musharraf to conduct, with real commitment, “the war on terrorism”, according to the desires of Washington. To fight the Taliban means to fight the Pashtun and this equation renders the role of Islamabad problematic. So much that, in 2006, the dissatisfaction led the Americans to pressure Musharraf to come to an agreement with Benazir Bhutto, which would allow the formation of a government, led by Benazir, which was less accommodating with the Taliban and less hostile to the Afghan Premier, Karzai.
In exchange, Musharraf would keep the Presidency of the Republic although not the control of the Armed Forces. An understanding, an imposition, Musharraf accepted unwillingly and immediately reneged.
The terrible attack of Karachi, the same day as Benazir Bhutto’s return to the country, after eight years of exile, immediately made the ex-Premier understand that hers was a voyage to the brink of a precipice, followed with the arrests during the state of emergency called by Musharraf and finished tragically at Liaqat Bagh.
Beyond the actual responsibility of the death, attributed, by Islamabad, to the Pakistan Taliban leader, Meshud Beitullah, the scarce protection made available to Benazir Bhutto in the face of a concrete and predictable possibility that she could be victim of an attack reveals, at least, a climate in which many looked with indifference upon that tragic end.
The death of Benazir Bhutto brought the relations between Washington and Musharraf to an all-time low, the latter for some time being accused of doing very little against terrorism. Notwithstanding that Isi had thousands of informers in that zone, as well as operative agents infiltrated in the radical groups, neither Bin Laden, Zawahiri, nor the Mullah Omar – probably sheltered in the tribal areas (Fata) or in the city, Quetta – were captured or killed. Moreover, armed bands of Afghan Taliban crossed over, without problem, the porous Pakistani frontiers, which they use as the zone behind the frontline, to reorganize themselves. In the last year, American pressure on Masharraf was very intense – called to intervene urgently on the Pakistani side of the “Afghan war” or, if not, to leave it to the Special American Forces in Afghanistan to clean up the Frontier.
Bush, after the 11th September, had banked everything on the President-General. A choice imposed by the logic of the “war on terrorism”. No conflict in Afghanistan could be won without the support of Pakistan: in the Soviet collapse in the 80’s, Peshawar had counted much more than Jalalabad. Furthermore, Washington held that the needs of American security would have been better understand by a Military, able to guarantee both internal political stability, and the continuity of the alliance with the United States. Both of them necessary factors for monitoring also the delicate issue of the Pakistani atomic programme. An obliged and, at the same time, a privileged tie, so much that since 2001, the United States have paid out to Islamabad more than 10 billon dollars, considering Pakistan to be the most important allied Country outside of NATO.
The scarce willingness demonstrated by Musharraf to fight the radical Afghan Islamists who find refuge in the northern regions is not, however, only the fruit of his personal inclinations. Behind the oscillations of the President emerge the traditional world visions of the hard nut of military power, the heart of the Punjabi elite which dominates de facto the Country, from the time of the Independence. Visions which respond to a precise definition of the Pakistani national interests, which require a weak and unstable Afghanistan. So much that, in order to reaffirm them, even after 2001, Islamabad looked with favour at the search for a compromise with the “Talibanism without Al Qaeda”.
A compromise which aims at uprooting the “foreigners” from the area: the Arab Jihadists tied to Bin Laden and Zawahiri, and the Uzbeki tied to Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Uzbeko Islamic Movement (Miu); but aims only to contain the presence of the Taliban, dividing the latter into “good” and “bad” and using the former to defend the Pakistani interests in the new ‘great game’, which has continued, in the area, for three decades.
A project – that of Islamabad – which pursues multiple objectives: to have a friendly government in Kabul which includes the Afghan Taliban and allows the recuperation of the missing and yearned-for strategic depth; the future possibility of passing oil and gas ducts through the Afghan provinces to the Pakistani ports; to obtain a major stability in the northern regions of the Country, through the Pashtun ‘across-border’ alliance. But as the same American experience with the groups of the anti-Soviet Jihad teaches, to ‘make sorcerers out of apprentices’ with the Islamic radical movements is always risky: such movements may have interests which temporarily and tactically converge with those of some other State, but they are characterized by a strong ideological autonomy and by a strategic design which resists any attempt of hetero-direction. The political defeat of Musharraf would, theoretically, seem to

photo Ansa
render possible a censure against any project which contrasts with the requirements of the United States although the eventual presence in the coalition government of the pro-Islamist party of Nawar Sharif would not make the passage simple. A change of line which puts an end to the Pakistani ambiguity is possible only if the hard line taken by the Ppp against the Taliban finds approval from the Military, led today by Ashfaq Parvez Kyani. The Chief of the Armed Forces, succeeding Musharraf, was trained at Fort Leavenworth and has good relations with the Americans, but the Military environment is deeply permeated, since the times of Zia ul Haq, with Islam nationalism. The Isi, headed today by Nadeem Taji, keeps less stringent relations with the Islamists, certainly, but the geopolitical bonds, assumed by the Military as imperative strategies, leaves little manoeuvring space to the brusque change of course asked by Washington.
Both the military and the new coalition government should, however, reckon with the reorganization of the Islamist array: for some time fragmented into groups which have different priorities, objectives and sponsors. A reshuffling which puts many strategies in question – open and secret. The radicalization of that area became clear in July, 2007, with the attack by the Security Forces on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid), important place of mobilization since the time of the anti-Soviet Jihad, and has become, over time, a hothouse of radical elements.
In fact, since the middle of 2007, a “Jihad Defensive” of an insurrectional character has been proclaimed in the north-west provinces and in the tribal areas of the Country. A Jihad which, according to the Islamist logic, originates in the “violation” of the secret Pact between Musharraf and certain important Pakistani radical circles. A Pact symbolized by the agreement, initialled in 2006, by the Musharraf Government with the local tribes of Waziristan, the control of which region is very important to the fight against Qaedist terrorism. The agreement entrusted the internal control of the territory to the local tribes; it conferred on them the possibility of applying the Shari’a as a principal source of the order of the Law; it promised the concession of the same administrative statute of the north-west districts, in fact, almost independent.
All this in exchange for the commitment by the local groups to impede the infiltration of “foreigners” into the territory and end the hostilities against the Military sent by Islamabad to the region in response to solicitations from Washington. An agreement which was, in reality, never adhered to; reason being that the Waziri tribes do not like to see the army encamped on their territory. It causes the changeability of the political religious and military equilibrium and Islamabad was not able to concede, totally, all that it had promised.
Musharraf maintains that the problem for Washington is constituted exclusively by Al Qaeda and not by the Taliban. On the contrary, the recurring Pakistan temptation to throw the Taliban of the Mullah Omar into the game again, resulting, for some time, from the reasoning “why definitively divide our lot from that of Bin Laden” has led Washington to increase the pressure on Islamabad.
Constricted to press down harder on the pedal of the repression, Musharraf has cemented the hostilities of a great part of the jumbled and chaotic radical galaxy. The “foreigners” are part of that galaxy, which Isi – not appreciating presences that are hard to influence on its territory – hunts them with greater conviction, as confirmed by the considerable losses the “foreigners” have experienced in recent months. Prevalently, it concerns Qaedist Arabs and Uzbeki, arrived in the North of the Country, in 2002, on their flight from Afghanistan. Putting them out of action is considerably helpful towards better relations with Washington. Then there are the “new” Taliban, rooted in large part in the Meshud tribes in South Waziristan, and also among the Haqqani clan, originally from the north of the region. Today, the clan is led by Siraj Haqqani, who relies also on the collaboration of a bellicose group of Uzbeki.
Leading the Pakistani Tehrik-i-Taliban – the new Pakistani Taliban – is Beitullah Meshud who, in December 2007, founded the movement in which militants coming from the Fata tribal areas and from the north-west provinces take part. The group, which proclaimed the Jihad Defensive on Islamabad, has a militia (laskhar) of, at least, 30 thousand men.
With regard to the Afghan Taliban, formally still led by the Mullah Omar, but in reality, split into various power groups and loyal, first and foremost, to their own military commanders. They are not too fond of their Waziristan brothers: guilty of having concentrated efforts in the Pakistani Jihad and taking away resources from the Afghan one.
After having removed the military commander, Mansur Dadullah – too politically autonomous – captured, perhaps not too coincidentally, by the Pakistani in the south-west Province of Balucistan, Mullah Omar has distanced himself also from Beitullah Meshud. A move which underlines, once again, the “convergence” between the strategies of the Afghan “Commander of the believers” and the Pakistani military power, which prefers to get rid of all the troublesome local elements and channel them towards Afghanistan, where in the Taliban camps they already train Jihadists coming from Punjab, Belucistan and Sindh. A choice which allows Islamabad to maintain relations with the “good” Taliban and push the Karzai Government to negotiate with them: in this way, protecting also the Pakistani national interests.
In fact, the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban, has undermined not only the old tribal power of the North of the Country, it has caused total upheaval in those religious parties like La Jamiat and Moslems of Maulana Fazlur Rahman – critics yes – but functional interlocutors of the Government, the Military and the Isi. The reorganization under the radical banners of part of the Pakistani Islamist movement puts the role and political credibility of those parties in crisis. They can no longer present themselves as guarantors of religious peace and as “mediators” of the violent preaching in the mosques: by now, more than 25 thousand out of 40 thousand elude their influence.
The radicals openly contest the role of “unifier” – bringing together – which those parties, maximizing their position, had assumed in the political system. The radicals also remember how those same parties, in the past, had supported Musharraf.
Instead, the radicals aim to bring together the different Jihadist minds that operate in the Country: those Taliban and Qaedists that operate in the North; those that prosper in the urban centres of Punjab and Sindh, regions in which attacks on the logistics of the Enduring Freedom and Isaf missions in Afghanistan are already recorded; those dispersed – but not resigned – forces of the Kashmiri, disappointed after the opening to India by Musharraf.
It is fundamental for the Military of Kyani to break this growing fighting front, before it becomes rooted and organized. Also to crush the campaign of suicide attacks that is already destabilizing the Country.
And, to avoid direct US intervention in the North of the Country, where their special forces, employed in Afghanistan, carry out missions which, adopting the local traditions, are not too particular about respecting borders. To avoid a similar development, which would trigger tensions in the same Armed Forces, the Military want to start from the re-establishment of the tribal power put in question by the new Taliban.
Seeking to revitalize the agreement on Waziristan, on conditions that the Waziri cease hostilities against the soldiers and that the Shari’a is applied in accordance with the interpretive canons formulated by the schools close to the religious parties: a circumstance which would restore to them that much contested role of “unifier”. It is, therefore, not by coincidence that the Zarghon attack happened while a jirga was taking place - an assembly of the heads and local dignitaries - which was discussing the new proposals of Islamabad.
The objective of the attack was to punish exemplarily "collaborationists with the impious power". A radicalization which risks to be exported.The Pakistani radical Islamists have a network of ties all over the world: as the police operations which recently thwarted attacks in Great Britain and Spain demonstrate. A threat which, given the close ties

photo Ansa
between the Pakistan and Afghan theatre, could also extend to other Countries present in the Isaf mission, Italy included. Also because the Pakistani radicalism appears much more global and “modern” in understanding the “asymmetric war”, than that local and ancient radicalism of the Afghan Taliban.They are in many who stand on the brink of the incandescent Pakistani volcano.

(1) According to the Law, Isi should answer to the Premier. In actuality, dominated by the Military, the Pakistani Intelligence, which collects information regarding outside and internal national security, has always referred to the Chief of Staff of the Army.
(2) It was during the second mandate of Benazir Bhutto that her Home Secretary, Nasirullah Babar, in agreement with Isi, favoured the recruitment and training of the Taliban in Afghanistan