The Evolving Jihadist Scene in Pakistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 8 months ago

The Jamestown Foundation reports that al Qaeda is altering its strategy in Pakistan.

President Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, by defining a goal of “disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda,” on the one hand gives direction to this otherwise directionless war, and on the other emphasizes targeting al-Qaeda over all other anti-terrorism efforts (Associated Press of Pakistan, August 2). Al-Qaeda, as innovative as it is, at least in terms of inflicting terror, has clearly taken advantage of America’s narrow focus by assuming more of a supervisory role, delegating the active terrorism responsibilities to its local franchises. Another important step al-Qaeda has taken in response to America’s stepped up military approach in Afghanistan is to focus more aggressively on  the “near enemy” – Pakistan –  in order to maintain a safe haven and save its high command (and ideology) from total extinction. These two fundamental changes in strategy have rattled global security strategists in general and Pakistan’s security apparatus in particular. Not used to dealing with an enemy as unconventional in nature as al-Qaeda, the rank and file of both the political and military establishments in Pakistan has been clearly outplayed by the terrorists. Moreover, Pakistan’s controversial strategic depth doctrine, which finds India at the root of every destabilization attempt, not only results in providing cover to the terrorists but the consequential anti-India sentiment also sends more and more youth into the jihadists’ fold every day. What is more frightening than the terrorism itself is the erosion of Pakistan’s social fabric and the increasing number of people, mostly from the country’s educated middle class, who embrace extremist values..

This stepped-up focus on Pakistan as a safe haven and virtual home to international jihadists and Islamic globalists of all stripes has manifestations that apparently worry even the ISI.

In coming years, the competitive power struggle could transfigure the structure of the jihadist movement in Pakistan — and with it, the nature and scope of the threat to India. Last month, the al-Qaeda’s media wing, al-Sahab, released a posthumous audio message from Said al-Masri, also known as Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a top operative killed in a United States airstrike earlier this summer. In his 26-minute message, translated and made available to The Hindu by the Washington DC-based Middle East Media Research Institute, al-Masri urged “the youth of our Muslim nation to inflict damage on the enemies of Allah the Exalted, the Americans, on their own soil, and wherever they are to be found.”

For the first time, though, al-Masri referred to the Pakistan-based jihadist, Muhammad Illyas Kashmiri, as an official part of the al-Qaeda — and made public his role in an attack on India. “I bring you the good tidings,” he said, “that last February’s India operation was against a Jewish locale in the west of the Indian capital [sic., throughout], in the area of the German bakeries — a fact that the enemy tried to hide — and close to 20 Jews were killed in the operation, a majority of them from their so-called statelet, Israel. The person who carried out this operation was a heroic soldier from the ‘Soldiers of the Sacrifice Brigade,’ which is one of the brigades of Qaedat al-Jihad [the al-Qaeda's formal name] in Kashmir, under the command of Commander Illyas Kashmiri, may Allah preserve him.”

From the text, it is clear that al-Masri had little knowledge of the bombing of the German Bakery in Pune. Pune is not to the west of New Delhi; it is not Jewish-owned; and no Israelis were killed there. There would thus be no reason to take al-Masri’s claims seriously — if it weren’t for the testimony of Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley.

Born in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1964, Kashmiri fought with Qari Saifullah Akhtar’s Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami. Early in 2000, Harkat leader Maulana Masood Azhar — released from jail in a hostages-for-prisoners swap that followed the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar — founded the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Kashmiri, who believed that the group was too close to Pakistan’s military establishment, refused to join. From 2007, following the use of force against jihadists who had taken control of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, Kashmiri began working closely with the jihadists opposed to the Pakistani state.

Investigators in both the U.S. and India say Headley made contact with Kashmiri after the Lashkar proved unwilling to commit resources to an attack on the offices of the Jyllands Posten in Copenhagen — a newspaper that incensed many Muslims across the world by publishing cartoons they felt were blasphemous.

Having joined the Lashkar in 2000, Headley went on to play a key role in its operations, among other things collecting the video footage that helped to guide a 10-man assault team to its targets in Mumbai in November 2008. But Headley became increasingly frustrated with the Lashkar’s unwillingness to support operations against the West — the priority, he believed. He railed against the Lashkar’s leadership, saying it had “rotten guts.” “I am just telling you,” he hectored a Lashkar-linked friend during an intercepted September 17, 2009 phone call, “that the companies in your competition have started handling themselves in a far better way.”

That competing company was the al-Qaeda. Headley visited Kashmiri’s base at Razmak in 2009, and came away impressed. “The bazaar,” he wrote in an Internet post, “is bustling with Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Bosnians, some from European Union countries and, of course, our Arab brothers. According to my survey, the foreign population is a little less than a third of the total. Any Waziri or Mehsud I spoke to seemed grateful to God for the privilege of being able to host the foreign Mujahideen”.

Headley told Indian investigators that dozens of mid-level Lashkar commanders had joined this influx. Evidence supports his claim. Earlier this month, the International Security Assistance Force announced the detention of a Lashkar leader in eastern Afghanistan’s Khogyani district. The Lashkar cadre had earlier been linked to a string of attacks in eastern Afghanistan and Kabul. They had also fought alongside the al-Qaeda and the Taliban against the U.S. and Afghan forces, notably in a massive July 2008 assault on a combat outpost in Wanat.

For the Lashkar leadership and its allies in the ISI, this poses a real problem. If the organisation conducts large-scale attacks against India or the West, it will expose the Pakistani state to intense international pressure; if it does nothing, it will risk losing its cadre and its constituency …

No one is clear just how the pieces will finally fall. It is certain, though, that the al-Qaeda seeks to undermine the Lashkar’s status as the sole agent of jihad against India.

Al Qaeda seeks to undermine Lashkar as an independent ally with Pakistan’s ISI, aligning it with a broader ideology of jihad against the West, and incorporating its elements within the ranks of the globalists.  They also are working to align various globalist groups under a singular banner, and ensure that Pakistan is safe haven into the future for such actors.

To some degree they seem to be having success.  The U.S. has stated that it has no intentions of sending troops into Pakistan to destroy this safe haven, and so there is little real leverage that we have over Pakistan at the moment.  Things have come a long way since the inception of Operation Enduring Freedom.

On Friday, five Taliban members were struck off a U.N. Security Council list of militants subject to sanctions in a move designed to smooth the way for  reconciliation talks with insurgents.  Among those, two of the five were dead. The other three - Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad Awrang, a former Afghan ambassador to the United Nations, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the last Taliban ambassador to Islamabad before 9/11, and  Abdul Satar Paktin – are no longer subject to the asset freeze and travel ban imposed on those on the list.

To get a sense of quite how significant a change this is, consider how Mullah Zaeef – who now lives in Kabul and says he is no longer an active member of the movement – describes his treatment when he was arrested in Pakistan in early 2002, according to his book “My Life with the Taliban“. The Pakistani official who arrested him told him:  “Your Excellency, you are no longer an Excellency! America is a superpower. Did you not know that? No one can defeat it, nor can they negotiate with it. America wants to question you and we are here to hand you over to the USA.”

Turned over to the Americans near Peshawar after being driven there from Islamabad, he says he was attacked and his clothes ripped with knives. “The Pakistani soldiers were all staring as the Americans hit me and tore the remaining clothes off my body. Eventually I was completely naked, and the Pakistani soldiers — the defenders of the Holy Koran — shamelessly watched me with smiles on their faces, saluting this disgraceful action of the Americans.”

Now we wish to negotiate with the Taliban, give more money to Pakistan, and hope for the best in a campaign that lacks focus.  Things have come along way indeed.

See also:

Newsweek on Pakistan’s Duplicity

The Captain’s Journal on Pakistan’s Duplicity



  • rrk3

    We have touched on a subject close to my heart. Most people do not know that Lashkar e Taiba (LET) have long been an international terrorist organization. They have been involved in attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, and of course India. David Headly is not the first LeT member to be arrested in the U.S. Several members where arrested for fund raising a few years ago. This group is very bloodthirsty and has in the past been very effective not only against soft targets but military and security service targets as well.

    What is also very sad is every intelligence agency knows the address, location, and the phone number for the LeT headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan. In this case I think it would be a great benefit to hit these folks hard soft diplomacy will not work with these folks at all.

    The interesting point about Pakistan’s theory of strategic depth and the bedfellows this has caused in Pakistan. This situation gives us the good v. bad Taliban policy that Pakistan follows. They will not hit HIG because they have sworn to defend Pakistan however this group is attacking U.S. an allied forces in Pakistan every day. While the TTP is bad because it launches attacks inside of Pakistan. This India first doctrine also prevents Pakistan from launching a full on invasion of the FATA and the NWFP as most fo the first line Pak army units are sitting along the border preparing to defend against an Indian attack that in my opinion will not come anytime soon. Leaving these units on the border has cost the Pak army and is one of the reasons that they do not venture in to North Waziristan. Every time they have the Pak army pulls back a bloody stump.

    This leads us back to the LeT which trains in the FATA and NWFP, Pakistan security services will not hit these bases because they need the LeT to carry the fight against India. However as can be seen the LeT and LeJ as well as the bad Taliban are coming back to bite the Paks in the butt.

    So we have safe areas that neither the Pakistanis or the U.S. can do anything about. From these safe areas all of South West Asia can be attacked. Also look at the most of the attempted international attacks they have originated in the FATA or NWFP. We are left with very few good choices in regards to Pakistan and especially the frontier.

    Cheers

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Foreign Fighters and LeT Contribute to Afghan Insurgency


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This article is filed under the category(s) Pakistan,Taliban and was published August 8th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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