Thursday, May 28, 2009


International Terrorism Monitor -- Paper No.530

B. Raman

A question from a journalist working for an American newspaper asks: "Why has the Taliban attacked the ISI? Isn't that like biting the hand that feeds?"

2. This question was in pursuance of the commando-style attack at Lahore on May 27, 2009, which targeted the Lahore Police and the local office of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), killing 15 police officers, one Lt. Col. of the ISI and 10 other persons.

3. While analysing the Lahore attack, one has to keep in mind certain ground realities. The first ground reality is that there are Talibans and Talibans and in each Taliban, there are mini-Talibans. As I had mentioned in one of my past articles, there are virtually as many Talibans in the Pashtun belt as there are tribal sirdars (leaders). The second ground reality is the clear distinction in behaviour and operations between the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan headed Mullah Mohammad Omar, based in Quetta, and the various Pakistani Talibans led by tribal sirdars such as Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan, Hakemullah Mehsud, who is responsible for operations in the Khyber, Kurrum and Orakzai areas, Maulana Fazlullah of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), who is a son of the Swat soil, and Sufi Mohammad, his father-in-law, who is actually from Dir and not Swat. Of these various Talibans, only the Neo Taliban of Mullah Mohammad Omar, which was created by the ISI in 1994 when Benazir Bhutoo was the Prime Minister, still owes its loyalty to the ISI and the Pakistan Government. The Neo Taliban is active against the US-led NATO forces in Afghan territory from sanctuaries in Pakistan, but it has never been involved in an act of terrorism in Pakistani territory against Pakistani targets----whether from the Army or the ISI or the Police. All the attacks in Pakistani territory on Pakistani Govt. targets were carried out by different Pakistani Taliban groups or by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JED), which has transferred its headquarters from Bahawalpur to Swat, and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), an anti-Shia terrorist organisation.

4. The third ground reality is the distinction between the Pakistani Punjabi Taliban and the Pakistani Pashtun Taliban, All of them advocate the same Wahabised Islamic ideology based on the Sharia, but their ethnic composition differs. The term Punjabi Taliban is used to refer to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Lashkar-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the LEJ. Punjabis constitute the majority of their cadres. All of them except the JEM are of the 1980s/ 1990s vintage. The JEM was born in 2000 through a split in the HUM. Of these organisations, the LET, like the Neo Taliban, is the favoured tool of the ISI, which uses the Neo Taliban in Afghanistan and the LET against India. Like the Neo Taliban, the LET too has never attacked a Pakistani target in Pakistani territory. In fact, there has never been a confirmed instance of an attack by the LET on foreign targets in Pakistani territory lest it create problems from the ISI. The JEM and the LEJ never hesitate to attack Pakistani Government targets, either on their own or at the instance of Al Qaeda. The attitude of the HUM and the HUJI is ambivalent.

5. The fourth ground reality is that while the Pakistani Punjabi Taliban and the Neo Taliban have been in existence for over a decade, the Pakistani Pashtun Talibans are a product of the commando raid into the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July, 2007, in which a large number of Pashtun tribal children, many of them girls, were killed. It was after this that tribal sirdars such Fazlullah, Baitullah and Hakeemullah called for a jihad against the Pakistan Army and the ISI in retaliation for the raid. While the TNSM has been in existence since the early 1990s, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) came into existence after the Lal Masjid raid.

6. The various tribal sirdars, who are supporting the TTP, repeatedly make the following points: Firstly, they did not want to fight against the Pakistan Army. It was the Army which forced them to take to arms against it by raiding the Lal Masjid and killing their children. Secondly, their real enemy is the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan and not the Pakistan Army. They are fighting against the Pakistan Army because it prevents them from assisting the Neo Taliban against the US-led NATO forces. Thirdly, they will stop fighting against the Pakistan Army if it makes amends for the alleged massacre of tribal children in the Lal Masjid, removes restrictions on their going into Afghanistan to fight against the US-led NATO troops and stops assisting the US-led NATO troops in their war against the Neo Taliban.

7. The Pakisan Army is facing difficulties in its operations against the various Pakistani Pashtun Taliban groups because they have many Pashtun ex-servicemen assisting them----retired officers as well as other ranks. The attack by the Pakistani Taliban against the ISI at Lahore was not its first attack against the ISI. It had attacked the ISI twice before in Islamabad/ Rawalpindi, inflicting even heavier casualties than it was able to do in Lahore.

8. In this connection, I am annexing two of my previous articles---- one of November 25, 2007, titled "Jihadis Strike At Pak Army & ISI Again" and the other of December 3, 2007, titled "Well-Trained Insurgent Force in Swat."

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


"Jihadis Strike at Pak Army & ISI again" (
By B. Raman
Physical security regulations in the office of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at Rawalpindi exempt officers of the rank of Brigadier and above coming in their own vehicle from frisking at the outer gate. They undergo a frisking only after they have entered the premises, parked their car in the space allotted to them in the garage and then enter the building in which their office is located. Officers below the rank of Brigadier undergo frisking twice, whether they are in their own vehicle or in a bus ----at the outer gate and again inside before they enter the building. At the outer gate, they have to get out of their vehicle, undergo frisking and then get into their vehicle and drive in.
2. Since all officers travel in civilian clothes in unmarked vehicles, which cannot be identified with the Army or the ISI, there is a special hand signalling system for Brigadiers and above by which the security staff at the outer gate can recognise their rank and let them drive in without undergoing frisking. This hand signalling is changed frequently.
3. On the morning of November 24, 2007, a car reached the outer gate and the man inside showed a hand signal, which was in use till the previous day. It had been changed on November 23 and a new signal was in force from the morning of November 24, 2007. He was not aware of it. The security staff got suspicious and did not allow the car to drive in. They asked the man driving it to get out for questioning and frisking. He blew himself up.
4. As he did so, an unmarked chartered bus carrying over 40 civilian and junior military employees of the ISI reached the outer gate and stopped so that those inside can get out for frisking. The bus bore the brunt of the explosion, which caused the death of about 35 persons---- from among those inside the bus as well as the security staff. The Pakistani authorities have admitted the death of only 18 persons.
5. Around the same time, a man driving a vehicle towards the premises of the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army in another part of Rawalpindi was stopped by the security staff at a physical security barrier. He blew himself up killing two of the security staff. The offices of Gen. Pervez Musharraf in his capacity as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) and of Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the Vice Chief of Army Staff, are located in the GHQ.
7. These two well-synchronised suicide strikes in Rawalpindi, the sanctum sanctorum of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment, have come about six weeks after a similar attack targeting the ISI and the Army at Rawalpindi at the same time. On September 4, 2007. a suicide attacker blew himself up after boarding a bus carrying ISI employees. A roadside bomb went off near a commercial area in Rawalpindi, while a car carrying an unidentified senior Army officer to the GHQ was passing. Twenty-five persons died in the two attacks. The Army officer escaped unhurt. On October 30, 2007, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint several hundred yards from the GHQ killing seven persons, most of the from the security staff.
8. Since the Pakistan Army's commando raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad from July 10 to 13, 2007, there have been two targeted attacks near the GHQ in Rawalpindi, two attacks on the ISI also at Rawalpindi, one attack on officers of the Special Services Group (SSG), the US-trained and US-assisted special forces unit to which Musharraf himself used to belong, in their mess at their headquarters in Tarbella and one attack on a bus carrying Air Force officers to the Pakistan Air Force base in Sargodha. There were many attacks targeting police officers too. These were the targeted attacks outside the tribal belt. There have been many more suicide attacks targeting security and intelligence personnel inside the tribal belt.
9. The two attacks near the GHQ were not based on any inside information. The suicide bomber took his chance hoping that he would not be frisked at the security barrier. When the security staff insisted on frisking him, he blew himself up. The two attacks directed at the ISI and the PAF were based on inside information. In the case of the explosion at the outer gate of the ISI complex on November 24, 2007, the suicide bomber was aware of the hand signalling code for Brigadiers and above. However, he was not aware that the signal code had been changed the previous day. Since these codes are communicated personally to Brigadiers and above, their existence is supposed to be known only to Brigadiers and above and the physical security staff. The suicide bomber's inside accomplice was either an ISI officer of the rank of Brigadier or above or a member of the physical security staff. According to sources, the suicide attack in the SSG mess was carried out by a Pashtun officer of the SSG while taking dinner in the mess with his colleagues. The SSG had carried out the raid into the Lal Masjid.
10. The twin bombings of November 24, 2007, came three days after the Attorney-General of Musharraf's Government had told the rubber-stamp Supreme Court bench hearing a petition agains the imposition of the Emergency that the security situation had improved after the imposition of the Emergency on November 3, 2007, and that suicide attacks in non-tribal areas had stopped. This was one of the arguments used by the court to dismiss the petition against the Emergency.
11. There are two alarming aspects of the security situation in Pakistan. The first is the upsurge in acts of suicide terrorism directed against security and intelligence personnel and their establishments. These give clear evidence of the penetration of jihadi elements inside the Armed Forces, the intelligence agencies and the Police. The second is the inability or unwillingness of the Police to vigorously investigate these incidents, including the attempt to kill Mrs. Benazir Bhutto in Karachi on October 18, 2007. Nobody knows definitively till today who are responsible for these suicide attacks---- tribal followers of Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan or those of Maulana Fazlullah of the Swat Valley or the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the anti-Shia sectarian organisation, or Al Qaeda and its Uzbek associates or the angry students of the two madrasas run by the Lal Masjid?
12. The Rawalpindi cantonment where the headquarters of the Army and other sensitive units of the Pakistan Army and the ISI are located, and the adjoining Islamabad, the capital, where the headquarters of the federal Government and the National Assembly are located, had seen terrorist strikes even in the past. Amongst them, one could mention the 1989 explosion in the Rawalpindi office of Dr. Farooq Haider, the then President of one of the factions of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which was attributed to a rival faction led by Amanullah Khan; the explosion outside the Egyptian Embassy at Islamabad in the 1990s, which was attributed to some Egyptian opponents of President Hosni Mubarak; the grenade attack inside an Islamabad church frequented by the diplomatic community in March 2002 in which the wife of a US diplomat and their daughter were killed; the unsolved assassination of Maulana Azam Tariq, the Amir of the Sipah-eSahaba, Pakistan, the political wing of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, at Islamabad in 2003, the terrorist attack on a a group of workers of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto in Islamabad earlier this year, the alleged firing of a rocket on Musharraf's plane from the terrace of a house in Islamabad again earlier this year and the alleged firing of rockets by unidentified elements from a park in Islamabad last year.
13. If one leaves aside the JKLF factional politics, the only terrorist organisations which had operated in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi area in the past (before July 2007) were the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), which was blamed for the church grenade attack; the Sipah Mohammad, the Shia terrorist organisation, which was suspected in the murder of Azam Tariq; and Al Qaeda. Many Pakistani and Kashmiri jihadi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) etc have their offices in Rawalpindi, but do not indulge in terrorist activities there.
14. There was no evidence to show that the Egyptians responsible for the explosion outside the Egyptian Embassy were then the followers of Osama bin Laden. The first indication of some local support for Al Qaeda in Rawalpindi came in March, 2003, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), supposedly the man who co-ordinated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, was arrested from the house of a women's wing leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) in Rawalpindi by the Pakistani authorities and handed over to the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
15. KSM was living in Karachi till September, 2002, when he fled from there to Quetta in Balochistan following the arrest of Ramzi Binalshibh, another Al Qaeda operative there. From Quetta, he shifted to Rawalpindi in the beginning of 2003, fearing betrayal by the Shias of Quetta. After his arrest, no thorough enquiries would appear to have been made either by the ISI or the Police to determine why he took shelter in Rawalpindi, a highly guarded military cantonment. Did he and/or Al Qaeda have any other accomplices in Rawalpindi, in addition to the JEI leader and the members of her family, who included one junior Army officer belonging to a signals battalion, who was also detained for interrogation? Did Al Qaeda or the Pakistani organisations allied to it in the International Islamic Front (IIF) have a sleeper cell or cells in the cantonment? If they had, the sleeper cells could have functioned undetected only with the complicity of at least some in the Armed Forces.
16. After the arrest and the handing-over of KSM to the US, anti-Musharraf and pro-jihadi pamphlets typed on the official letter-head used in the army offices in the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi started circulating in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The ISI and the Police were unable to determine who was circulating these pamphlets and no arrests were made in this connection. Instead, a leader of the Nawaz Sharif-led faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, who drew the attention of the National Assembly and the public to these pamphlets, was ordered to be arrested by Musharraf on a charge of treason.
17. Then followed the two serious assassination attempts on Musharraf as he was commuting between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The first on December 14, 2003, was made immediately after he had returned by air from Karachi. The second on December 25, 2003, was made when he was doing one of his daily commutings between his residence in Rawalpindi and his office in Islamabad, a distance of about 12 miles.
18. After the April, 2003, arrest in Karachi of Waleed bin Attash of Al Qaeda, one of the suspects in the case relating to the Al Qaeda attack on the US naval ship USS Cole at Aden in October, 2000, many of the Al Qaeda members living in Karachi were reported to have shifted to the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Balochistan , the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Rawalpindi.
19. Their shifting to Rawalpindi and taking shelter there would not have been possible without the complicity of not only the Pakistani jihadi groups, but also supporters in the Armed Forces and the police. The Pakistani security agencies have not been able to identify and dismantle Al Qaeda and IIF cells in the Rawalpindi cantonment. The fact that the perpetrators of the two attacks of December, 2003, on Musharraf, whether they belonged to Al Qaeda or to any of the Pakistani components of the IIF, chose to act on both the occasions from Rawalpindi instead of Karachi where Musharraf was before the first attack on December 14 showed their confidence in being able to operate undetected from Rawalpindi rather than from Karachi. Pakistani investigators claimed to have established that the two unsuccessful attacks on Musharraf were jointly carried out by Al Qaeda and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), with the complicity of some junior officers of the Army and the Air Force, who were identified and arrested.
20. Pakistani Police sources also say that apart from Al Qaeda and its associates, the Hizbut Tehrir (HUT) has also many followers and sympathisers in the lower and middle levels of the Armed Forces, but it has not so far indulged in any act of terrorism in Pakistani territory. Its terrorism has been confined to the Central Asian Republics.
21. It is intriguing that after the March, 2002, attack on some Americans inside an Islamabad church, there has been no terrorist strike or attempted strike targeting US nationals or interests in the Islamabad area. Attacks targeting Americans have been confined to the Karachi area. No explanation for this has been forthcoming.

"Well-Trained Insurgent Force in Swat" (

By B. Raman
Despite optimistic claims put out by the Pakistan Army every day with inflated body counts of hostiles killed or captured, it is apparent its ground operations against the forces of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) continue to face difficulties. The TNSM volunteers, many of whom lost their daughters during the Army's commando action in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad from July 10 to 13, 2007, have proved themselves to be not just a small group of desperate suicide terrorists, but a small, well-trained, well-motivated, well-organised insurgent army capable of fighting small-scale conventional battles on the ground.
2. The guerilla tactics----reminiscent of those of the Neo Taliban in Afghanistan--- adopted by them to harass the Army and para-military forces continue to disrupt movement of reinforcements and supplies in the area of operations. The insurgents have been able to stand and fight an army far superior in training and in the arms and ammunition in its possession. Despite their lack of anti-air capability, they have not been frightened by the frequent use of helicopter gunships by the army against the positions controlled by the insurgents. Well-informed police sources in the NWFP say that many of the volunteers of the TNSM are well-trained Pashtun ex-servicemen.
3. Embarrassed by the long time taken (three weeks) by the Army to prevail over the volunteers of the TNSM, military spokesmen are now putting out stories that even though the Army had been deployed in the Swat Valley, the ground operations are still being conducted by the para-military forces---namely the Frontier Corps and the Frontier Constabulary.
4. The Army's efforts to persuade Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the founder of the TNSM, who has been under arrest since 2002, to appeal to Maulana Fazlullah, his son-in-law, and his force to give up fighting have not succeeded. Sufi Mohammad has not said no, but he has reportedly been demanding that he should be released so that he could go back to his people and talk to them. The Army does not want to accept this demand lest he take over the leadership of the insurgent force and continue fighting against the Army.
5. Both Maulana Fazlullah, to whom informal approaches were made through pro-Government tribal intermediaries, and Maulana Sufi Mohammad, presently in a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan for a medical check-up, have reportedly been saying that they were fighting against the American forces in Afghanistan, but not against the Pakistan Army and alleging that it was the Pakistan Army that forced them to fight against it by killing a large number of tribal girls in the Lal Masjid.
6. Fazlullah and Sufi Mohammad have also reportedly told the Army that they would be prepared to call off the fighting if President Musharraf apologises for the commando action in the Lal Masjid, proclaims the Shariat law in the entire Malakand Division and allows the TNSM volunteers to go back into Afghanistan and re-join the Neo Taliban in its operations against the Americans. They have been denying any links with Al Qaeda.
7. Contrary to the claims of the Army that it has silenced the FM radio station operated by Fazlullah, he continues to boadcast to his followers from unidentified locations. The Army, which has brought in more reinforcements to the Valley, has realised that it may not be able to defeat the insurgents quickly. Its present strategy is to push them into the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and keep them confined there so that normalcy can be restored in the Swat Valley before the forthcoming elections. According to these police sources, the insurgents have till now been refusing to accept an Army offer of safe passage into the FATA in return for their vacating the areas controlled by them.