Bringing the Taliban to Power
By conducting a proxy-war on behalf of the Western nations and Saudi Arabia against the Soviet military, Pakistan morphed into a central hub that attracted a multitude of Islamists from Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, China and Indonesia. But “Jihadistan,” as Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of physics who teaches in Lahore and Islamabad, described it in “Pakistan’s Army: Divided It Stands” (Viewpoint Online, 2 September 2011), is now a hugely messy place, not the bastion of anticommunism and antiatheism that it once was. Even those workers who helped to create it—like the famous Colonel Imam and Major Khalid Khwaja—ended up losing their lives, he points out.
“¦the United States and Saudi Arabia reportedly poured $7.2 billion of covert aid into the jihad against the Soviets, the vast majority of which was channelled by the ISI to the most radical religious elements.
These developments, laid out in depth by Abul Hasaan, were a major ingredient in bringing the Taliban, indoctrinated with the Wahhabi version of Islam, to power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. During the 1980s, the United States and Saudi Arabia reportedly poured $7.2 billion of covert aid into the jihad against the Soviets, the vast majority of which was channelled by the ISI to the most radical religious elements. After the Soviets withdrew, returning commanders, mujahideen groups and common criminals fought for control of Afghanistan.
In 1994, when it had become evident to Islamabad and the ISI that the anarchy in Afghanistan was counter-productive to their design to secure Afghanistan as “strategic depth,” they formed the Taliban. During the Afghan-Soviet war, a network of madrassas funded by Saudi Arabia sprang up near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. These schools served a strategic purpose: students were indoctrinated with a militant religious ideology designed to make them more fervent in the fight against the Soviets. It was in this network of schools that the Taliban was born.
ISI supported the Taliban largely because the government in Kabul had historically been hostile to Pakistan and Pakistan wanted its northern neighbour to be an ally. The Taliban’s fundamentalist religious ideology was a primary factor in convincing Pakistani planners that the group could serve as their proxy, thus providing the sought-for “strategic depth.” At the same time, the ideological reasons for the ISI’s support for the Taliban were also significant: militant Islamic ideology within Pakistan’s military and ISI had increased significantly over time.
The Islamic forces of Pakistan created and nurtured this syndrome in the madrassas where the Taliban received their education. Since the chief thrust of this education is on Islam and the need for jihad (holy war) to establish an Islamic government”¦
The Taliban’s power grew rapidly in Afghanistan because they were effective fighters and they promised an alternative, albeit a ruthless one, to the prevailing lawlessness. Within two years of the group’s founding, it captured both Kandahar and Kabul. In doing so, the Taliban was aided by the Pakistan army and the ISI. “The ISI helped the Taliban take the key cities of Jalalabad and the capital, Kabul,” the Christian Science Monitor reported (Marquand and Baldauf, “Will Spies Who Know Tell the U.S.?” 3 October 2001), “and continued to back them as they secured about 95 percent of Afghanistan.” U.S. News and World Report (Schaffer, “The Unseen Power,” 4 November 2001) further explained the close working relationship between the ISI and the Taliban: “ISI operatives permeated the regime, helping uneducated Taliban leaders with everything from fighting the opposition Northern Alliance to more mundane tasks like translating international documents.”
Beginning from a minor local movement in Kandahar Province in 1994 that had few weapons and little money, with the help of massive covert Pakistani financial and military support, the Taliban rose to power and took over Kabul in 1996. By then hosting Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, the Taliban became an integral part of the Sunni fundamentalist establishment and its international networks, and Afghanistan became a place where extremists from around the world could meet safely, share ideas, develop strategies and receive training. Moreover, Pakistani extremist groups functioned as umbrella organisations for other international terror groups that sought shelter in Afghanistan.
In “China, Pakistan, and the ‘Taliban Syndrome’”(Asian Survey 40, no. 4, July–August 2000), analyst M. Ehsan Ahrari calls this phenomenon the “Taliban syndrome”—the movement to create an Islamic order in Afghanistan based on a blend of strict observance of Islam from Saudi Arabia’s salafiyya (puritanical) tradition. The Islamic forces of Pakistan created and nurtured this syndrome in the madrassas where the Taliban (“students” in Farsi) from Afghanistan received their education. Since the chief thrust of this education is on Islam and the need for jihad (holy war) to establish an Islamic government, the Taliban members become firm believers and fervent practitioners of this training. The “Taliban syndrome” also refers to the role of radical Islamists in the domestic and foreign policy of Pakistan and other contiguous states. Since this syndrome recognises no borders, it zealously seeks to establish an Islamic form of government anywhere in the region, Ansari notes.
The Jihadi Presence Today
The evidence of a significant jihadi presence in the Pakistan military is widespread. Some recent evidence of Pakistani military officers’ involvement with jihadis has been documented by Tufail Ahmad, director of the Middle East Media Research Institute’s South Asia Studies Project, in the Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 727, “Pakistani Military Officers’ Links with Jihadist Organizations,” issued in August 2011. The following are some highlights from that report.
Hizbut Tahrir has been proactively seeking to recruit Pakistani soldiers in its mission to engineer a Pakistani military-led Islamic revolution in Pakistan.
Two former officers of the Pakistan military’s ISI, Khalid Khwaja and Colonel Imam—who nurtured a generation of the Taliban—were kidnapped and killed by the Taliban in 2010 and 2011, denoting the emergence of an ideologically committed and younger generation of militants who no longer accept instructions from the ISI.
The ISI, which has come under international scrutiny for its longstanding role in creating and nurturing militant groups, does not officially admit any wrongdoing by its agents. However, its role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks became the subject of court investigations in two cases in the U.S.—the Chicago plot led by David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana and a case brought before a New York court by relatives of U.S. citizens killed in the Mumbai attacks.
In a rare instance, the current ISI chief, Lieutenant General Shuja Ahmed Pasha, who was summoned by the New York court, admitted during a conversation with the then CIA director Michael Hayden that at least two “former” Pakistan army officers with links to the ISI were involved in the 26 November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, according to journalist Bob Woodward in his book Obama’s Wars (Simon and Schuster, 2010).
In mid-August 2011, Pakistani media reports revealed that a military court sentenced to death a “former” soldier over the 10 October 2009 terror attack on the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan army in Rawalpindi. The soldier was identified as Mohammad Aqeel, aka Dr. Usman, who served in the medical corps of the Pakistan army. Imran Siddiq, another member of the Pakistan military, was jailed for life, along with others. Dr. Usman was reported to have links with terrorist groups Jaish-e-Muhammad and Harkat-ul-Ansar.
In June 2011, in perhaps the first such case, the Pakistan army confirmed the arrest of Brigadier Ali Khan, one of its brigadiers posted at the GHQ in Rawalpindi. Over his alleged ties with Hizbut Tahrir, Ali was arrested on 6 May, just four days after the 2 May 2011 killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Hizbut Tahrir has been proactively seeking to recruit Pakistani soldiers in its mission to engineer a Pakistani military-led Islamic revolution in Pakistan.
After the arrest of Brigadier Ali Khan, the Pakistan army also arrested four military officers. Major General Athar Abbas, spokesman of the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) department, confirmed their arrests, stating that four army majors were detained for their links with Hizbut Tahrir. The four majors were not believed to be deployed at the GHQ in Rawalpindi. Later, a former military official, Brigadier (retd.) Shaukat Qadir, told a journalist that the Pakistan military was undecided on whether to commit Brigadier Ali Khan and the four majors to a military trial or dismiss them from service.
“¦assassination attempts on Pakistan army chief and president General Pervez Musharraf, at least 57 employees of the PAF were arrested by Pakistani authorities on charges of contact with terrorists and involvement in antistate activities
In May 2011, Pakistan detained a former commando of the Pakistan navy and his brother in connection with the 22 May 2011 terror attack on PNS Mehran, the main airbase of the Pakistan navy in Karachi. The former commando was identified as Kamran Ahmed, who had reportedly been sacked from the Pakistan navy 10 years ago.
In August 2011, a Pakistani newspaper reported that three officers of the Pakistan navy were to be tried by a military court in connection with the PNS Mehran terror attack, reportedly for their negligence. The three were identified as PNS Mehran base commander Commodore Raja Tahir and his subordinates.
In May 2011, whistleblower website WikiLeaks revealed a March 2006 cable sent by the U.S. embassy in Islamabad to Washington, which quoted Pakistan’s then deputy chief of Air Staff for Operations Air Vice Marshal Khalid Chaudhry as saying that airmen of the Pakistan air force (PAF) were sabotaging Pakistani F-16s deployed in security operations against the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal region.
Generally, F-16 aircraft are used in wars, not in counter-terrorism operations. But the same U.S. embassy cable confirmed that Pakistan does use the F-16s in counter-terrorism operations in the Pakistani tribal region. According to the cable, Air Vice Marshal Chaudhry claimed “to receive reports monthly of acts of petty sabotage, which he interpreted as an effort by Islamists amongst the enlisted ranks to prevent PAF aircraft from being deployed in support of security operations . . .”
Haq told a journalist that during his arrest for five months in 2007, he was “treated like a VIP” by the ISI.
In May 2010, Air Vice Marshal (retd.) Baharul Haq was taken into preventive custody by the intelligence agencies in Pakistan, just days after his son Faisal Shahzad carried out a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square. The inference is not that Baharul Haq had links with terrorist organisations but that his detention in the town of Hasan Abdal, carried out reportedly to prevent him from speaking to the media, reveals the reach of Pakistani militants to the highest levels in the Pakistani military.
Ahsanul Haq, a former major of the Pakistan army, who trained militants for war in Afghanistan and Kashmir, was arrested over alleged links to the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad but was later released. Haq told a journalist that during his arrest for five months in 2007, he was “treated like a VIP” by the ISI. A Pakistani police report on the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team found that Haq “gave logistical support to unspecified Taliban and other fighters.”
F-16 aircraft are used in wars, not in counter-terrorism operations. But the same U.S. embassy cable confirmed that Pakistan does use the F-16s in counter-terrorism operations in the Pakistani tribal region.
Senior police investigator Zulfikar Hameed said that the police force reported its suspicions to the ISI, which told him that the major was not involved in the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers and that, therefore, Haq was no longer wanted by the police. Haq is now aligned with the Tablighi Jamaat, a revivalist Islamist movement.
In the months after the 2003 assassination attempts on Pakistan army chief and president General Pervez Musharraf, at least 57 employees of the PAF were arrested by Pakistani authorities on charges of contact with terrorists and involvement in antistate activities.
The website of the Pakistani daily The Nation noted that six Pakistani military officials were sentenced to death, adding: “Six officials, including Khalid Mehmood, Karam Din, Nawazish, Niaz, Adnan, and Nasrullah were sentenced to death, while 24 were arrested and dismissed from service for opposing [anti-terror] policies of the then-President [Pervez] Musharraf and his government.”
“The arrested, accused, and the convicts had been working at various airbases, including Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra, Minhas Airbase, Sargodha Airbase, Lahore Airbase, Faisal Airbase, and Mianwali Airbase,” the report said, adding that 26 of the 57 officials were sentenced to 3 to 17 years of imprisonment by a military court.
David Headley and Tahawwur Husain Rana—who are jailed in the U.S. over an international terror plot involving Denmark and the 26 November 2008, terror attacks in Mumbai—are both graduates of a military academy based in the Pakistani town of Hasan Abdal. David Headley, who changed his name from Daood Gilani, is a Pakistani American and Tahawwur Husain Rana is a Pakistani Canadian.
After the arrest of Headley and Rana in Chicago, pressure mounted on Pakistan over the involvement of the Pakistani military’s ISI in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In the summer of 2009, the Pakistan military reportedly arrested five people, including “some former or current Pakistani military officials.” The former Pakistani military graduates were also accused in the U.S. prosecution complaints of reporting to Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda commander.
In July 2010, based on the information revealed by David Headley to the U.S. authorities in Chicago, a court in New Delhi issued nonbailable arrest warrants against two serving officers of the Pakistan army and three LeT commanders. The two Pakistan army officers were identified as Major Iqbal and Major Sameer Ali. The arrest warrants were sought for Interpol to issue red corner notices for their arrest in connection with the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks case. The Indian government has named at least five “serving” members of the Pakistani armed forces—Major Sajid Majid, Major Iqbal, Major Sameer Ali, Sayed Abdul Rehman (aka Pasha), and Abu Hamza—for their role in the Mumbai terror attacks.
“¦Dawn TV broadcast an investigative report revealing that Jundallah, a Sunni jihadist organisation, was formed in 2000 by two officers of the Pakistan army at a military camp in Quetta”¦
In May 2009, Colonel Shahid Bashir, commanding officer of the Shamsi air force base in Baluchistan, was arrested by military police for his links with Hizbut Tahrir. Along with him, two others arrested included retired Pakistan air force fighter pilot squadron leader turned lawyer Nadeem Ahmad Shah and a U.S.-educated mechanical engineer and visa holder, Awais Ali Khan. According to a Pakistani media report, Colonel Shahid Bashir was court-martialed on charges of spying and provoking Pakistani armed forces personnel to get involved in terrorist acts.
In July 2010, Pakistan’s independent television channel Dawn TV broadcast an investigative report revealing that Jundallah, a Sunni jihadist organisation, was formed in 2000 by two officers of the Pakistan army at a military camp in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. Dawn TV reported: “Two [Pakistan] Army junior officers laid the foundation of the terrorist organization named Jundallah within the military, in February 2000 at the Quetta military camp. After the foundation of Jundallah, i.e. ‘the Army of Allah,’ the two officials declared jihad to be their organization’s prime objective, and also started propagating their militant ideology.“
According to Dawn News investigations, 30 officers from different Pakistani Army units based in the Quetta military camp soon joined Jundallah, after being impressed by the jihad ideology. Written orders, with preparations for jihad at the top, were circulated to the members of the organization after they took an oath for jihad on the Holy Koran. Meanwhile, the work of collecting donations from different units [of the Pakistan Army] was also taken up, for various necessities and for publishing jihadist literature. Parts of these donations were being provided to the Afghan Taliban. To spread the activities of Jundallah throughout other departments of the army, some army officers who were members of the group allied with junior officials of the [Pakistan] Air Force deployed at the PAF Base Samungli (near Quetta). This group planned assassination attempts on two occasions against Gen. (Ret.) Pervez Musharraf, along with the 2003 attack at Jacobabad Airbase.