Saturday 17 October 2009

Pakistani jihadis lose the plot

This article by Amir Mir about the attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi last weekend, published yesterday in Pakistan's The News is fascinating. First, we find out that the Pakistani authorities brought important jihadi leaders directly from custody to the hostage incident in Rawalpindi in order to negotiate with the hostage takers.
Second, it shows that the team of ten attackers - who reportedly included three Uzbeks - were not interested in negotiations. They simply made demands for the freeing of imprisoned comrades and announced they would start killing hostages if their demands were not granted.
Third, it shows the hypocrisy of senior TTP jihadis. While he was happy for his gunfodder followers to blow themselves to pieces, Dr Usman, an army deserter and the oldest and most senior figure, hid in a roof space in the hope that he would save his skin. Usman appeared in a recent al-Qaeda video, produced and distributed by the As-Sahab media house, which is based in Pakistan.
(Incidentally, the fact that three of the attackers exploded their suicide jackets and yet were unable to kill anyone is also remarkable. Either they were particularly inept, or their heart was not in it.)
Fourth, it confirms that al-Qaeda - or at least the ideology of al-Qaeda - dominates the thinking of Hakimullah Mahsud's group. Far more so, in fact, than it dominates the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban.
The TTP seems to have forgotten that it was nurtured and tolerated by the Pakistan military simply because it was seen as a way of influencing events in Afghanistan. In contrast, the strategy of attacking Pakistani institutions is the brainchild of Dr Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second in command, who has issued a string of videos over the last year urging Pakistanis to turn on their own government.
Seldom in the past have the Pashtun tribes from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) taken on the Pakistan Army and state offensively. Generally, they have acted defensively to protect their tribal lands against incursion.
Now things have changed. As the most significant faction of the TTP, the Mahsud tribe, under the leadership first of Baitullah and now of Hakimullah Mahsud, appear to have lost the plot and decided to launch attacks directly on the Pakistani state, killing dozens of innocent people in the process. It is a clear sign that the Mahsud leadership has sold out to the Arabs of al-Qaeda and that they have lost all notion of what it means to be a Pashtun.
And finally, maybe the incident itself shows something else. The audacious attacks of the last week have the whiff of desperation about them. Certainly, these are the attacks promised by Hakimullah Mahsud at his recent press 'event' in South Wazirstan. What their purpose is, however, is unclear. Do they really think they can win?
Does Hakimullah think the Army will decide not to launch an attack on South Waziristan? Even if there was doubt before, the army is now obliged to avenge the humiliation of Rawalpindi. Whatever you may think of it, the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan Army does not easily accept disgrace.
If I had to put money on it, I would say that Hakimullah - like his kinsman Baitullah - is not destined to live his three-score years and ten. Either the Army or the drones will get him before long. There are plenty of tribesmen out there willing to pass on information in exchange for a reward. In particular there are Mahsuds who resent the close relationship built up between the TTP and the Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs and other foreigners.
One final point: several of the most recent attacks have been carried out - or have been led - by Punjabis. As I noted in a recent posting, the Punjabi Taliban, made up of elements of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Laskkar-e-Toiba, are now a significant part of the alliance put together by Baitullah Mahsud in 2007. They are particularly sectarian and have a long history of attacks against Shias and also involvement in the longstanding insurgency in Kashmir.
The basis for this is the landholding pattern in southern Punjab, where many landowners are Shias, while their tenants are Sunnis. Years of government inaction over the feudal landholding patterns has only exacerbated the problem.
The fact that these organisations are now turning against the state is simply a case of the ISI's pigeons coming home to roost. Historically the ISI recruited from the southern Punjab for its proxy war against India in Kashmir. Following the earthquake in 2005 and agreements with India and the United States, the level of insurgent activity in Kashmir reduced dramatically and the home-grown jihadis relocated to the tribal belt, strengthening their relations with both the Mahsuds and with al-Qaeda. And at a more general level there has been a clear shift by Punjabis from the moderate Barelvi school of Islam to extreme forms of Deobandism and Wahhabism.
Already this was noticeable in Afghanistan, where young boys from the Punjab have been used as suicide bombers. Now the same phenomenon is being felt in Pakistan itself.
As the Army's offensive gets underway in South Waziristan there will be more of these attacks in the Punjab and elsewhere. But the die has already been cast. The militants have lost the initiative and Pakistanis have turned against them.


mahsud said...

I would rather say the Mahsud Taliban rather than Mahsud tribe. The Mahsud Taliban are but a fraction of the total Mahsud population and have never been been designated by a jirga of Dre (three)Maseed (the Alizais, the Bahlolzais, the Shamankhels)as their representatives.

Nick Fielding said...

Point taken, although this has not stopped the Pakistani authorities imposing collective punishment against the Mahsud tribe under the Frontier Control Regulations.