Friday, February 6, 2009



( To be read in continuation of my article of January 1,2009, titled "Jihadi Terrorism--- 2008 & 2009: Part II & Last" available at , article dated January 15,2009, titled "Fight Against Pak-SponsoredTerrorism---India Should Not Bank On Obama" at and article dated January28,2009, titled "The Invisible Hyphens In Obama's Policy-Making" at )

Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, is scheduled to undertake his first visitto the region from February 9,2009, after attending a security conference at Munich.M.K.Narayanan, India's National Security Adviser, toldKaran Thapar of the CNBC in an interview on February 2, 2009, that he would be meeting Holbrooke in Munich before he came to India. It isnot known whether the expected meeting at Munich materialised and if so what transpired at the meeting.

2.A Reuters' despatch dated February 4,2009, from Washington quoted unnamed US officials as saying that in addition to Pakistan andAfghanistan, Holbrooke would also be visiting India to discuss Afghanistan with Indian officials. The Reuters' report said: "The officials, whospoke on condition that they not be named, stressed that Holbrooke was going to India to discuss Afghanistan and not to mediate theKashmir dispute."

3. Holbrooke's first visit to the region as the Special Representative comes at a time when the new strategy of Obama with regard to themilitary operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghan as well as Pakistani territory is still to take shape. Apart from the decisionsto continue the Predator ( unmanned aircraft of the Central Intelligence Agency) air strikes against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban targetsin Pakistani territory and to send 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan in the coming months, no other decision has so far been taken.

4. The grim situation faced by the US in this region from which the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland, the July,2005, terrorist strike inLondon and the July,2006, and the 26/11 (2008) terrorist strikes in Mumbai originated should be evident from the figures mentioned in aquarterly report submitted by the Pentagon to the US Congress on February 2,2009, reviewing the ground situation in Afghanistan. Thehighlights of the report are:

"The spring and summer of 2008 saw the highest levels of violence in Afghanistan since the US invasion in 2001."

"The Taliban regrouped after its fall from power and has coalesced into a resilient and evolving insurgency."

Between January 1 and December 10, 2008, 132 US personnel in Afghanistan died as the result of hostile action, as against 82 in 2007.

Attacks by the Taliban increased by a third.

Attacks along the country's major highway increased by 37 per cent.

"The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in several areas of the country since the previous report" .

The Taliban's surface-to-air fire increased by 67 per cent. Car bombs and attacks in Kabul have also increased.

The Taliban is challenging the Kabul government for control of the south and east of the country, "and increasingly in the west."

5.According to an assessment prepared by the International Council on Security and Development of London in January,2009, the Taliban"now holds a permanent presence in 72 per cent of Afghanistan, up from 54 per cent a year ago." Writing in the issue (dated February9,2009) of the "Newsweek", Fareed Zakaria, its Editor, said: "In 2004, the US Air Force flew 86 strike sorties against targets in Afghanistan.By 2007, the number was up to 2,926—and that doesn't count rocket or cannon fire from helicopters."

6.US Predator strikes on targets in Pakistani territory increased from 10 in 2006 and 2007 combined to over 30 in 2008. The more the airstrikes----whether in Afghan or Pakistani territory--- the more the civilian casualties. The more the civilian casualties, the more the angeragainst the US. The more the anger against the US, the more the volunteers joining the Taliban----- the Afghan as well as the Pakistani--- andthe more the instances of suicide terrorism -----63 in Pakistan as against 56 in 2007 and over 100 in Afghanistan.

7.While exact figures of suicide terrorism during 2008 in Afghanistan are not yet available, exact figures for Pakistan are available from areport of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), extracts from which were published by the "Daily Times" of Lahore on January21,2009. To quote: "At least 2,267 people were killed and 4,558 injured in at least 2,148 terrorists attacks reported in 2008. At least 967people were killed and 2,108 others injured in 63 suicide attacks in the country during the last year. The NWFP faced 32 suicide attacks inwhich 389 people were killed and 688 injured, Punjab was second with 10 suicide attacks that claimed more than 201 lives and injured 508.Sixteen suicide attacks were reported in FATA due to which 263 people died and 497 were injured. More than 112 people were killed and321 injured in four suicide attacks in Islamabad while one suicide attack was reported in Balochistan in which two people were killed and22 others injured. The report said 381 rocket attacks, 46 incidents of beheading, 112 remote controlled bomb attacks, 110 landmineexplosions, 451 incidents of shooting and 373 blasts by improvised explosives were recorded during 2008. At least 4,113 suspectedterrorists including 30 from Al Qaeda, 3,759 affiliated with Taliban and other such groups, and 354 Baloch insurgents were arrested duringthe year."

8. There were three major developments of concern to the international community during 2008. The first was the consolidation of the holdof the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), now a wing of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ( TTP), in the Swat Valley of theNorth-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Its name means the Movement For the Enforcement of the IslamicLaws. The TNSM, which is led byMaulana Fazlullah, initially took to arms in August,2007,against the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps, a para-military unit consisting ofPashtuns, in protest against the death of a large number of tribal children during the commando raid in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad inJuly,2007. While its anger over the Lal Maasjid raid has subsided, it has maintained its attacks on the Army and the FC in support of itsdemand for the introduction of the Islamic legal system in the Swat Valley. The TNSM, which now controls 80 per cent of the Swat Valley,has set up its own Islamic courts and banned education of girls beyond the fourth standard. Even though the Army went into action againstthe TNSM in October,2007, nearly 16 months after its operatins supported by helicopter gunships started, it has not been able to restore thewrit of the State in the Valley, which is just 160 Kms from Islamabad.

9.Making a statement in the Senate, the upper House of the Pakistan Parliament, on January 29,2009, Rehman Malik, Adviser on InternalSecurity, claimed that five organisations were responsible for the trouble in the Swat Vally. These were the TTP, Al Qaeda,Tanzeem-e-Islami,the Tora Bora Group and the Qari Mushtaq group.According to him, during 2008, about 1,200 civilians and 189 members of the securityforces were killed, 123 government schools and 10 private schools were destroyed and many CD shops and barbers’ salons set ablaze. Hesaid a so-called ‘Taliban court’ had ‘summoned’ 40 people for trial on various offences.There have also been reports that theJaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) of Maulana Masood Azhar is now operating jointly with Al Qaeda and the TTP, but Rehman Malik did not mentionthis. Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Mirpuri origin, who was related by marriage to Massood Azhar, was killed in a Predator strike on an AlQaeda hide-out. The British suspected him of involvement in the August, 2006, plot to blow up a number of US-bound planes. According toan estimate of the "Dawn" of Karachi (February 5,2009), about 600,000 people have left the valley out of its total population of 1.5 million.

10.Writing in the"News" of January 21,2009, its correspondent Amir Mir quoted a spokesman of the Inter-Services Press RelationsDepartment as saying that the Army has deployed four brigades in Swat. He also quoted a spokesman at the Swat Media Centre (SMC) asstating as follows: "Since Oct 2007, around 15,000 military and paramilitary troops had killed 784 militants in Swat, while the number oftroops martyred during the same period stood at 189.Of the security forces people killed in the operation, 80 belonged to the Army, 61 werepolicemen, 35 staffers of the Frontier Constabulary while the remaining belonged to the Frontier Corps. The militants in Swat had carriedout 165 bomb attacks against the security forces since 2007, which included 17 suicide and 148 remote-controlled attacks. The militantshave destroyed 20 bridges, besides setting ablaze 165 girls schools, 80 video shops and 22 barber shops."

11.Amir Mir gave his own assessment of the situation as follows: "Around 10,000 TTP militants have been pitted against 15,000 Army troopssince Oct 22, 2007, when the operation was officially launched. Leading the charge against the Pakistan Army is Maulana Fazlullah, alsoknown as Mullah Radio for the illegal FM radio channel he operates. Through his FM broadcasts, still operational despite being banned bythe NWFP government, the firebrand keeps inspiring his followers to implement Shariah, fight the Army and establish his authority in thearea. Military authorities have repeatedly alleged that Fazlullah, who has thousands of armed supporters ready to challenge the securityforces on his command, has close links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives. The cleric has already become a household name in Swat,as his Shaheen Commando Force is destroying and occupying government buildings, blowing up police stations, bridges, basic health unitsand hotels and burning girls’ schools.Extending the sphere of their activities aimed at enforcing Shariah, Fazlullah’s acolytes have directedlocal prayer leaders only to focus on the attributes of Jihad in their Friday sermons. They have also banned female education in Swat,besides asking parents of grown-up girls to marry them to militants. He had issued an edict in Dec 2008 to close hundreds of schools by Jan15. The Army is manning several police stations in Swat because the police force there had been decimated by desertions and killings. Thestate writ has shrunk from Swat’s 5,337 square kilometres to the limits of its regional Mingora headquarters, which is a city of just 36 squarekilometres. Some recent media reports say nearly 800 policemen, half of the total sanctioned strength of police in Swat, have eitherdeserted or proceeded on long leave on one pretext or the other. Therefore, the private army raised by Fazlullah literally rules the roost inmost parts of the valley, which is witnessing a dominance of the Wahabi doctrine.The Wahabi followers of Fazlullah are making a statewithin a state in Swat, having already established their own administration on the pattern of the Saudi monarchs, besides creating a privatearmy, equipped with the latest weapons and controlled by the militant leader’s trusted and loyal commanders . They have also establisheda parallel judicial system across the valley dealing with cases of different nature.'

12. Amir Mir gave the following background of Fazlullah:"The rise of Maulana Fazlullah, the man ruling Swat, has been like a roller-coasterride. Fazlullah, a resident of the Imam Dheri area, was born to Biladar Khan, a Pakhtun of Babakarkhel clan of the Yousufzai tribe of thedistrict. Biladar Khan was highly inspired by the TNSM and thus became one of the right-hand men of Maulana Sufi Mohammad. Findinghimself even more devoted to the enforcement of Shariah, the motto of the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM), he sent his son, thethen Fazal Hayat, now Fazlullah, to his Madrassa at Qambar in Dir district. This long and equally close association between Sufi and Fazaleventually turned into matrimonial relationship when the young son of Biladar became the son-in-law of the TNSM chief. After SufiMohammad (who had actually formed the TNSM in 1992 after leaving the Jamaat-e-Islami) was awarded life imprisonment in 2002 by ananti-terrorism court on charges of inciting youngsters to illegally cross the Pak-Afghan border to wage a Jihad against the US-led AlliedForces in Afghanistan, Fazlullah made his native village Imam Dheri as TNSM headquarter and got it shifted from Qambar in Dir. Generallyreferred to as the Pakistani Taliban, primarily to distinguish itself from the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar, the TNSM is a militant Wahabiorganisation which has fast emerged in the Malakand division and in the Bajaur Agency as a private army to reckon with. As far as the TNSMorganisational structure is concerned, Fazlullah is assisted by two Shuras, or councils. One is the Ulema Shura with several Swati clericswho advise him on religious policies of the group. Another Shura, which is also called the executive body, is the highest policy-making organof the TNSM, which has a large number of ex-servicemen, including retired commissioned officers, as its members. Always wearing blackturbans, the followers of Fazlullah are also called Black Turbans. He has never had his photograph taken, believing Islam forbids takingpictures of human beings lest it becomes the first step to idol worship. The essence of his agenda is in the motto: “Shariah ya Shahadat(Islamic laws or martyrdom)”.

13. Explaining the impact of the commando raid in the Lal Masjid on the mind of Fazlullah, Amir Mir wrote: "During the July 2007 Lal Masjidoperation against the fanatic Ghazi brothers, Fazlullah came into action against the government forces to avenge the military action. A largenumber of people armed with rifles, Kalashnikovs and small arms started gathering at his Madrassa as he announced it was time to go towar. His announcement that thousands of militants were ready to avenge the attack was followed by a series of suicide assaults on thesecurity forces. As many students belonging to the Red Mosque-linked seminaries were from this area, the Army action generated a wave ofsympathy for Fazlullah’s cause. Most of the anti-government rallies and demonstrations against the Lal Masjid operation were held in thisregion.Soon after the Lal Masjid operation, Fazlullah decided to join hands with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, led by Commander BaitullahMehsud, in a bid to provide an umbrella to all insurgent movements operating in several tribal agencies and settled areas of the NWFP. Since then, Fazlullah and his followers are toeing Baitullah’s line, whether they are issuing a decree, signing a peace deal with thegovernment or scrapping the same. Therefore, it appears by all accounts that the Fazlullah-led militants are working in the same mould asthe fire-spewing clerics of Lal Masjid did: to make Swat hostage to its rigid vision of militant Islam. And remember, the valley is hardly 160kilometres from Islamabad."

14. The second development of concern has been the mushrooming of individual Islamic warlords, who have established control in differentparts of the tribal belt and have been enforcing their own writ in support of some demand or the other. Thus, a group in the Khyber Agencyhas been repeatedly attacking NATO logistics convoys moving to Afgfhanistan from Karachi as they pass through the agency anddisrupting logistics supplies. In response to this, the US-led forces have already started working out alternate routes for logistics suppliesthrough Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs). Whether this would provide relief is uncertain because movement of convoys fromthe CARs to southern and eastern Afghanistan would be vulnerable to attacks by the Afghan Neo Taliban headed by Pakistan-based MullaMohamma Omar.

15. The third development of concern is the aggravation of the anti-Shia terrorism indulged in by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ). While the pastattacks by the LEJ on Shias were caused by sectarian differences, allegations of co-operation of the Shias in the tribal belt with thePakistan Army in its operations against the Sunni TTP became an additional cause for anti-Shia anger. Many Shias in the Pashtun belt havejoined the anti-Taliban Lashkars (militias) set up by the Army. This has led to increased attacks on the Shias not only in the FATA and theNWFP, but also in Punjab and Balochistan. In the latest anti-Shia incident, more than 30 Shias were killed in an explosion in Dera Ghazi Khanin Punjab on February 5,2009.

16.While the Pakistan Army has been playing a more active role against the TTP in the Bajaur and Khyber Agencies and in the Swat Valley, ithas been taking no action against Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) in North Waziristanand against the TTP faction led by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. The only action against them has so far been from the US in theform of Predator strikes.

17. These gloomy figures should not obscure two positive developments. The first positive development has been that the US is no longergroping in the dark in its Predator operations in the FATA and once or twice in the NWFP. There is a greater flow of human intelligence afternearly seven years of practically nil intelligence. The flow is still inadequate, but much better than what it was till 2007. This would showthat there are elements in the tribal belt, which are prepared to help the US forces provided their identity is protected and their personalsecurity is guaranteed. The US anxiety to ensure this has come in the way of its sharing actionable intelligence with the Pakistani Army andInter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to guard against leaks. This trust deficit between the US intelligence and the ISI in matters relating to thesharing of intelligence has come in the way of joint operations. In an increasing number of instances, Al Qaeda and the TTP have beencapturing and beheading suspected collaborators of the US. Despite this, the flow of intelligence has not stopped

18. My estimate is that only about one-third of the reports received by the US intelligence during 2008 proved to be correct resulting insuccessful Predator strikes. Even these limited successful strikes have dented the middle-level leadership of Al Qaeda operating from thePakistani territory. Citing unidentified ISI officials and an unamed diplomat based in Islamabad, the "Newsweek" has reported that 11 ofthe top 20 “high-value targets” along the Afghan border have been eliminated in the past six months and that since September,2008, 140pro-Islamist officers have been sent out of the ISI. It may be recalled that reportedly under US pressure Lt.Gen.Nadeem Taj was replacedas the ISI chief on September 30,2008, by Lt-Gen.Ahmed Shuja Pasha. It was reported that the US suspected that Taj's was the brain behindthe car bomb explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July, 2008, and that some sensitive information which the US intelligenceshared with him was leaked out to the Taliban.

19.Even before the planned surge of the US troops starts, Al Qaeda has started its own surge in Afghanistan. Reliable reports indicate thatforeign Arab volunteers for Al Qaeda----mainly from Saudi Arabia and Yemen--- are no longer going to Iraq. They are now going in their dozensto the Pakistan-Afghanistan region----either directly or via Iran. This has also been corroborated by the Afghan authorities. A Reuters reportof February 4,2009, has quoted the Afghan Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, as saying as follows: "There are about 15,000 Talibanfighters in Afghanistan, but their numbers are being swelled by foreign insurgents moving in from Iraq, where violence has fallen after a U.S.troop "surge" and other measures. Since last year, as the result of the success of the surge in Iraq, there has been a flow of foreignterrorists into Afghanistan.There have been engagements in 2008, and in some of these engagements, actually 60 per cent of the total forcewhich we have encountered were foreign fighters."

20. This is the situation , which confronts Obama two weeks after he took over as the President and which is going to confront Holbrooke ashe undertakes his first visit to the region as Obama's Special Representative.While the new Pak-Afghan strategy is still taking shape, someideas of the kind of questions that are being addressed are already available from the testimony of Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense,before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 27, 2009, from an interview given by Obama over the NBC Channel on February2,2009, from various statements by senior US military officials regarding the ground situation and from leaked extracts of a strategy paperreportedly prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

21. Some of the questions which have come up are: Has the time come to stop calling the military operation in this region "a war on terror"and instead use some other less provocative (to Muslims) expression? What should be the US objective in this region? Should the objectivebe restricted to neutralising Al Qaeda so that it cannot pose a threat to the US homeland again? Has the time come to abandon grandioseobjectives such as the democratisation and modernisation of the Afghan society? Has the time come to give up projecting thecounter-terrorism operations in ideological terms? How to make Pakistan a more effective and sincere partner in these operations?

22. There is still considerable confusion in the Obama administration about the nature of the ground situation in the region. For example, inhis interview over the NBC Obama did not speak of Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan. Instead, he spoke of Al Qaeda sanctuaries inAfghanistan and made it appear that it was the situation in Afghanistan which was threatening to destabilise Pakistan and not vice versa.To quote him: “We are not gonna to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy.What we can do is make sure that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for al-Qaeda. What we can do is make sure that it is not destabilising neighboring Pakistan, which has “nuclear weapons. "

23. However, there is no confusion in the statements of Pentagon officials. Addressing the Reserve Officers Association at Washington onFebruary 2,2009,Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "We cannot accept that Al Qaeda leadership, which continues toplan against us every single day, has a safe haven in Pakistan and could resume one in Afghanistan."

24. Some analysts see significance in the appointment by Obama of Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, described by the New York Times as a"highly unusual choice", as the new US Ambassador to Afghanistan. He had served twice as the US military commander in Afghanistan sincethe US military operations started on Octobrer 7,2001, and reportedly advocates more robust rules of engagement with Al Qaeda andTaliban elements operating from hide-outs in Pakistani territory.

25. Holbrooke is the only civilian in Obama's brains-trust on the region. The rest are all military officers. This would indicate a greater voicefor the military than was the case even under George Bush in policy-making on Afghanistan and Pakistan. How to deal with the jihadicocktail in Pakistan with a melange of anti-US, anti-Israel, anti-India, anti-Afghanistan, anti-Iran, anti-Russia, anti-Uzbekistan and anti-Chinagroups cooperating with each other in fanning the jihadi fire in different directions? That will be the most important question calling for animmediate answer.

26. This cocktail has to be eliminated with or without the co-operation of Pakistan. Pakistani rulers----political or military--- have become adept at exploiting the situation by constantly holding before the eyes of Washington the spectre of a jihadi deluge reaching up to itsnuclear arsenal if the US exercises too much pressure on them to act or cuts down its assistance to them. The time has come to make itclear to the Pakistani rulers that the fears of such a spectre will no longer influence their policy. ( 6-2-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies,Chennai. E-mail: )