With 180 girls’ schools torched since 2008 in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and some 900 indefinitely closed, the future for education for some 125,000 young women is under dire threat by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The latest bombings took place Monday in the district capital, Mingora, “once considered the safest place in Swat,” according to The Guardian. Five girls’ schools were leveled by TTP militants who last week decreed a permanent ban on education for girls.
In recent weeks, residents who have crossed the TTP have been strung-up from trees, beaten, or had their shops destroyed while markets have been ruled “no go” areas for women.
First mobilized during the 1980s by the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) as “plausibly deniable” assets to wage “holy war” against Afghanistan’s socialist government, organized crime and drug-linked jihadi groups now threaten Pakistan itself. Call it “blowback” on steroids.
As the Obama administration prepares to the double the size of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, attacks in Pakistan by the American-led NATO coalition will only accelerate the splintering of the nuclear-armed South Asian nation and fuel new attacks by international terrorist outfits such as “former” allies, the Afghan-Arab database of disposable intelligence assets known as al-Qaeda.
Amply warned by South Asian and Middle Eastern experts in the 1970s who predicted a slow-moving but inevitable catastrophe for the region, short-term Cold War “gains” against the Soviet adversary trumped long-term strategic planning which, if America were a sane country, would have worked to strengthen, rather than undermine, progressive regional forces.
Despite the inescapable conclusion that the CIA’s Islamist Frankenstein monster is running amok, one can only surmise that America’s corporatist masters continue to view religiously-inspired neofascists as a reliable auxiliary force to advance geopolitical goals against their capitalist rivals.
As I documented in “Unconventional Warfare in the 21st Century: U.S. Surrogates, Terrorists and Narcotraffickers,” (Antifascist Calling, December 19, 2008) despite the catastrophes wrought by American global gamesmanship, for United States Special Operations Command (USSOC) and the CIA, this disastrous paradigm is still fully operational.
Indeed a September 2008 USSOC planning document, first disclosed by Wikileaks, avers that unconventional warfare “must be conducted by, with, or through surrogates; and such surrogates must be irregular forces.” For the people of Pakistan, the “irregular forces” ranged against them are driving the country headlong over the edge of a precipice. Unfortunately however, this is not by accident.
As Swiss investigative journalist Richard Labévière wrote, describing Pakistan’s descent into chaos, “The Pakistani morass and its profound strategic implications for all of Central Asia have become one of the most alarming and chaotic scenes on the planet. As one of the most strategic areas of the next millennium slips into a criminal state, Uncle Sam looks on with cynicism (if not benevolence).”
Citing the confluence of interests amongst American corporate grifters and far-right Islamist terror networks, Labévière pointedly cites a top U.S. intelligence officials’ approval of the reactionary forces set in motion by America’s anti-Soviet Afghan gambit as a signpost for future destabilization campaigns:
“The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army,” explains a former CIA analyst. “The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter Chinese influence in Central Asia.” In a certain sense, the Cold War is still going on. For years Graham Fuller, former Deputy Director of the National Council on Intelligence at the CIA, has been talking up the “modernizing virtues” of the Islamists, insisting on their anti-Statist concept of the economy. Listening to him, you would almost take the Taleban and their Wahhabi allies for liberals. “Islam, in theory at least, is firmly anchored in the traditions of free trade and private enterprise,” wrote Fuller. “The prophet was a trader, as was his first wife. Islam does not glorify the State’s role in the economy.” (Richard Labévière, Dollars for Terror: The United States and Islam, New York: Algora Publishing, 2000, p. 6)
But inevitably, facts on the ground put paid the mad schemes of imperialist architects such as Graham Fuller and his acolytes. Fast forward a decade and it becomes all-too-painfully clear it is the Afghan and Pakistani people who are paying the price in blood for America’s bankrupt policies. Having armed, financed and provided an ample array of targets for “free trade liberals” such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda–subsisting on the illicit profits of the international narcotics trade and other dubious ventures–Yankee hubris, as historian Chalmers Johnson reminds us, has called forth the goddess of divine retribution, Nemesis, on all our heads.
Medievalism in Swat Valley: Pakistan, and America’s, Future?
While moves to impose sharia law on the Pakistani people through violence is the alleged intent of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and their al-Qaeda “brothers,” more mundane, though far-more worldly concerns motivate the jihadists: state power and the loot such a position would afford enterprising charlatans.
What better means than control–through fear–of a terrorized population forced to look the other way as a gang of “holy warriors” steal their resources and process heroin on an industrial scale while turning a quick profit in the bargain!
Investigative journalist Amir Mir, writing in the Lahore-based newspaper The News International reports that
Around 10,000 TTP militants have been pitted against 15,000 Army troops since Oct 22, 2007, when the [Swat Valley military] operation was officially launched. Leading the charge against the Pakistan Army is Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio for the illegal FM radio channel he operates. Through his FM broadcasts, still operational despite being banned by the NWFP [North West Frontier Province] government, the firebrand keeps inspiring his followers to implement Shariah, fight the Army and establish his authority in the area.
Military authorities have repeatedly alleged that Fazlullah, who has thousands of armed supporters ready to challenge the security forces 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 units and hotels and burning girls’ schools. (“Amid Rising TTP Gains, Army Adopts New Strategy,” The News International, January 21, 2009)
Since the military launched an offensive against the clericalist thugs, indiscriminate Army attacks against the civilian population have wrecked havoc. In addition to burning down nearly 200 girls’ schools, the TTP have torched 80 video shops, 22 barber shops and have destroyed some 20 bridges in the mountainous region. Mir reports the TTP have carried out some 165 bomb attacks against security forces, including 17 suicide bombings and increasingly sophisticated remote-controlled IED attacks.
So serious has the situation grown in the Swat Valley, that 800 provincial police, half the stated total according to The News International, have either deserted or left the area under pretext of going on “extended leave.” Other observers contend that the TTP and the Army are collaborating together.
Local politicians who have fled the valley claim that “elements of the military and the militants appear to be acting together.” Bushra Gohara, the Vice-President of the Awami National Party told The Independent on Sunday, “Even if they are not, there needs to be a complete review of the military’s strategy.”
“The suspicion of collusion, said a local government official in the largest town, Mingora,” according to the IoS, “is based on the proximity of army and Taliban checkposts, each ‘a mile away from the other’.”
Reports indicate that Fazlullah’s militia now effectively controls the Swat Valley. “Under these circumstances,” Mir writes, “the state 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 square kilometres.”
In Mingora itself, once a prosperous urban hub that thrived on the tourist trade, the nature of the crisis can be gauged by the number of bodies that appear each morning after a night of terror. According to Mir, shopkeepers are now finding “four or five dead bodies hung over the poles or trees.”
Unsurprisingly, it is the civilian population who have suffered the worst depredations of the TTP and the Pakistani Army. Hemmed-in on all sides, a military spokesperson conceded that a third of the population has fled the area since the Army launched its offensive.
Creating a dual-power situation as the state’s hold in the area shrinks, some “70 Taliban courts are now ruling on hundreds of cases of ‘immoral activity’ every week,” The Sunday Times reported.
Fueled by the repressive Saudi-inspired Wahhabi doctrine that fired the Afghan mujahedin during America’s anti-Soviet Cold War “jihad,” the TTP have embarked on a rule-by-fear strategy that seeks to impose “Sharia law” on an unwilling–and unarmed–population, as part of its long-term strategy to seize state power.
As in Afghanistan under the Taliban however, it is women who face the harshest sanctions by the jihadi thugs. The refusal to wear a veil or dancing in public are “offenses” punishable by death. The Sunday Times averred,
The emergence of a parallel Taliban legal system has a sinister objective. “This is our first step towards the implementation of sharia in Swat,” said Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesman. In the next phase, Khan said, the courts would begin to carry out harsher punishments, such as execution or chopping off hands.
Villagers said the Taliban were already killing people who defied their orders. “They didn’t even spare barbers and women coming out of markets without wearing their veils,” said a Mingora resident.
There have been 51 Taliban executions since the start of the year, he added. The victims include politicians, security men, dancers, prostitutes and shopkeepers selling alcohol. (Daud Khattak, “Taliban’s deadly ‘justice’ cows Pakistan,” The Sunday Times, January 18, 2009)
Ominously, Fazlullah’s state within a state is not staffed primarily by madrassa-educated cannon-fodder, but draw on a surplus of former Army and intelligence officers to fill the ranks, raising suspicions that the TTP enjoys powerful backing from ruling elites.
According to Mir, the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) and TTP are composed of two Shuras, or councils. One is the Ulema Shura that advises the group on “religious polices,” while the Executive Shura, “is the highest policy-making organ of the TNSM, which has a large number of ex-servicemen, including retired commissioned officers, as its members.”
Since 9/11, under intense pressure by their American “allies” in the “war on terror,” the Army and ISI have been partially purged by military and political elites who rule the roost. However, disaffected ISI cadre who never endorsed former President-General Pervez Musharraf’s half-hearted–some would say, deceitful–“break” with the Army’s own creation, the Taliban, continue to sponsor retrograde jihadist outfits.
Still allied with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and home-grown terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), elements burrowed deep within the state, including prominent former generals closely associated with former dictator, General Zia ul-Haq and the CIA, are actively conspiring to destabilize the civilian government.
Indeed, last November’s terrorist assault on Mumbai, a joint venture amongst disaffected elements of the security/intelligence apparatus, LET and organized crime-linked assets such as Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company, was a shot across the bow of President Asif Ali Zadari’s administration meant to further polarize the country and sow doubt amongst ruling class elites as to the efficacy of civilian rule.
Staggering from crisis to crisis, under heavy pressure from imperialism to “show results” for the billions of dollars in “aid” showered on the military by Washington, time is running out as the jihadi Frankenstein flexes its muscles.
From the Lal Masjid Siege to the Bhutto Assassination
Fazlullah’s rise, and the TTP’s assault on the people of the Swat Valley, can be directly linked to the fall-out from the July 2007 Red Mosque siege.
When the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) controversy exploded, the state was forced, though some would say dragged kicking and screaming, to act against brothers Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the al-Qaeda-linked leaders of the Mosque.
It wasn’t always that way. Since its founding in 1965 in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, the Red Mosque enjoyed patronage from influential members of the government, primes ministers, army chiefs and presidents, according to BBC News.
During the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, the Red Mosque played a prominent role in the recruitment and training of fighters and was supported handsomely by the ISI when the Taliban was launched in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. During the 2001 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, many Red Mosque fighters were captured or killed by U.S. forces and Northern Alliance militia fighters.
In other words, high state officials, including intelligence chieftains such as Hamid Gul and Mahmoud Ahmad were staunch backers of the Ghazi brothers, hard-line advocates of dictator General Zia ul-Haq’s program to “Islamize” Pakistani society come hell or high water. In this bankrupt project to destroy what little remained of Pakistani democracy and civil society, Zia and his retinue of Islamist generals were generously supported by the United States.
Former ISI General Hamid Gul told Asia Times, “It is a pity that our army was preparing youths to seize Lal Qala [the Red Fort of Delhi] and they ended up seizing the Lal Masjid.” According to a recent report in The News International, Gul is now wanted by the U.S. “charged … with providing financial assistance to Kabul-based criminal groups and involvement in spotting, assessing, recruiting and training young men from seminaries,” as well as accusations that the ex-general has been “assisting the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in developing high-tech weapons.”
Gun battles erupted in 2007 after gangs of burqa-clad seminary students occupied a children’s library, kidnapped a group of Chinese women accused of being “prostitutes,” and after repeated forays into surrounding commercial districts trashed CD shops accused of selling “pornography.” But when the “students” demanded strict enforcement of sharia law, the state’s hand was forced.
When police failed to stamp-out the mini-rebellion in the nation’s capital, the Army was brought in. By the time the smoke cleared, Abdul Ghazi had been killed and his brother Abdul Aziz was arrested after attempting to flee the scene dressed in a woman’s burqa, sparking outrage amongst the fundamentalists and former high-ranking intelligence officials. Conflicting reports claim that anywhere between 200 and 1,000 people lost their lives during the siege. In the aftermath, according to multiple press reports, a huge arms’ cache was recovered, including stocks of AK-47 rifles and grenade launchers.
After the raid, Fazlullah joined forces with TTP and Pakistani al-Qaeda “emir” Baitullah Mehsud, “in a bid to provide an umbrella to all insurgent movements operating in several tribal agencies and settled areas of the NWFP,” according to journalist Amir Mir.
Scant months after the Lal Masjid affair and in the midst of tumultuous nation-wide demonstrations by tens of thousands of democracy activists, including lawyers and left-wing labor militants demanding the restoration of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry, sacked by the Musharraf regime after ordering the government to account for Pakistan’s “disappeared,” Benazir Bhutto was murdered in Rawalpindi.
In the aftermath of Bhutto’s December 27, 2007 assassination, state officials alleged that Mehsud claimed responsibility for her murder, a claim he denied. The “targeted killing” of Pakistan’s most popular political figure followed on the heels of the October 2007 Karachi bombing that killed 150 of Bhutto’s supporters when she returned home from exile.
The official story has undergone several contradictory metamorphoses. Shortly after Bhutto’s murder it was alleged that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), another banned terror group linked to al-Qaeda, were the reputed authors. The story then changed and al-Qaeda commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid claimed responsibility, telling Asia Times, “We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat the mujahideen.” Many analysts believe these serial fabrications by the government were meant to muddy the waters and conceal the true architects of the attacks.
In a letter to Musharraf before her murder, published by the Karachi-based newspaper Dawn, Bhutto named four persons involved in an alleged plot to kill her: Intelligence Bureau (IB) Chief Ijaz Shah, former chief minister of Punjab Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, former chief minister of Sindh Arbab Ghulam Rahim, and the former ISI chief, Hamid Gul. All are prominent pro-Islamist figures within the intelligence and security establishment who favored a continuation of Pakistan’s policy of fielding terrorist proxy armies.
While first claiming that Bhutto was killed when she struck her head on the latch of her SUV sunroof fracturing her skull as the result of a suicide bomb blast, video footage surfaced showing a gunman firing several shots at the popular politician prior to the bomb’s detonation. This would increase the likelihood that the suicide bomber’s actual target was the gunman and therefore, part of a clean-up operation meant to conceal the identities of those who ghostwrote the Bhutto assassination script.
However, conflicting claims of responsibility, the hasty manner in which the security services removed all traces of forensic evidence from the crime scene and threats by police and intelligence officials against physicians who examined Bhutto’s body, fueled speculation that Islamist elements within ISI and the Army–or the state itself–either manipulated the militants or carried out the terrorist outrages in a move to bolster Musharraf’s waning grip on power.
Though allegedly on the outs with the clericalists, Musharraf was a staunch supporter of the Army’s policy of fielding “irregular forces” comprised of far-right thugs such as Lashkar or the virulently anti-Shia communalist group Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) to carry out “plausibly deniable” strikes against India or internal left-wing political opponents.
Originally founded in 1985 at the behest of dictator General Zia ul-Haq to liquidate secular and leftist forces opposed to his moves to “Islamize” Pakistani society with the blessings of the CIA, the SSP was “banned” in 2002 but quickly regrouped under the banner of Millat-e-Islamia. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was an SSP member as was his uncle, the al-Qaeda operative and alleged architect of the 9/11 attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Echoes of the Lal Masjid affair continue to reverberate. On September 21, 2008 a massive truck bomb was detonated outside the Marriot Hotel in downtown Islamabad, killing 60 and wounding some 260 people, virtually obliterating the five-star hotel. Some 700 Pakistanis had gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast. If the bomber had managed to drive the truck into the lobby, the toll would have been far higher.
The conclusion drawn was bleak: if the Marriot could be hit in one of the most secure and upscale neighborhoods in the heart of Pakistan’s capital, then no one was safe. It was feared that the bombers’ intent was to destabilize and possibly spark an Army coup against the first civilian government in nine years.
With little to hope for from the Army and ISI, President Asif Ali Zadari has expanded the civilian-led Special Investigations Group (SIG), a distinct antiterrorist branch of the Federal Investigations Agency (FIA), The Guardian reported earlier this month. The SIG had languished under Musharraf. According to investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott Clark,
On December 14, the British PM flew to Islamabad to announce a £6m “pact against terror”, saying he wanted to “remove the chain” that led from the mountains of Pakistan to the streets of Britain. A significant part of the funding was intended for the SIG currently a tight-knit cell of 37 full-time specialists that was to be expanded into a 300-strong force with an investigation division, an armed wing, an intelligence department and a research section. In return, Britain asked for access to the SIG’s raw data and captured extremists who might illuminate British plots. (“On the Trail of Pakistan’s Taliban,” The Guardian, 10 January 2009)
The need for security would indeed be high. On March 11, 2008, the anniversary of the Madrid transport attacks, a suicide bomber struck the SIG’s provincial office in Lahore, killing 25 people, including 13 officers. Tariq Pervez, the SIG’s head told The Guardian that since the end of 2007, “suicide strikes from this region had killed 597 security force personnel and 1,523 civilians, including Benazir Bhutto on December 27.”
Despite attempts to recruit–or co-opt–poverty-stricken, often unwilling young members of TNSM/TTP head-honcho Baitullah Mehsud’s extended clan in Waziristan for use as cannon-fodder, Pervez told The Guardian its a hard sell given Mehsud’s brutal methods of dealing with those who oppose him.
Indeed, according to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, when 600 tribal elders spoke out against the TNSM/TTP in 2005, Mehsud had each of them sent a needle, black thread and 1,000 rupees with which to buy some cloth to stitch their own funeral shrouds: all of them were subsequently murdered.
The situation has deteriorated to such a degree for U.S./NATO “coalition” forces that America’s main supply route into Afghanistan from western Pakistan’s tribal belt, that the military “has obtained permission to move troop supplies through Russia and Central Asia, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in the Middle East, said on Tuesday,” according to The New York Times.
In December, hundreds of NATO supply trucks were torched in Peshawar by Taliban, TTP and al-Qaeda fighters and Pakistani truck drivers are now refusing to drive along the supply route.
Frankenstein Turns on its Master: “Round Up the Usual Suspects!”
The alliance forged in the wake of the Lal Masjid siege and the Bhutto assassination amongst forces loyal to Maulana Fazlullah and Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP, Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Afghan Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s Afghan-Arab database, al-Qaeda, are chickens that have come home to roost for U.S. imperialism. But it is the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who are paying the price.
Despite the grave threats to the people of Central, South Asia and the Middle East posed by a resurgence of far-right fundamentalism sponsored by the United States, Washington still continues to view Islamist terror and organized crime-linked networks such as al-Qaeda and their related complex of jihadi groups as “off-the-shelf,” plausibly deniable intelligence assets.
Notwithstanding the severe global capitalist economic meltdown, geopolitical expansion into regions of strategic and economic interest to the United States is a top priority of the Obama administration. A central pillar of the American policy despite “regime change” in Washington, is the destabilization of Iran. As Seymour Hersh reported, the U.S. via their ISI and Saudi “allies” are arming and financing Pakistani-based jihadi groups such as Jundullah to target Iran.
The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers–in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.
One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” [Vali] Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support. (“Preparing the Battlefield,” The New Yorker, July 7, 2008)
While North American and European Muslim communities remain a target of repressive “counterterrorist” policies that demonize Muslims and Arabs as dangerous “others,” internal “enemies” and “usual suspects” to be preyed upon by police and intelligence agencies, real, not fictional, terrorist networks continue to operate, indeed thrive, with impunity. Here, as elsewhere, short-term tactical advantage over capitalist rivals trump democratic processes and economic well-being based on social justice.
As security analyst and historian, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed documented in a Briefing Paper prepared for the British Parliament in the wake of al-Qaeda’s 2005 London transport attacks,
The government appears unable to fully extract itself from these strategic interests, continuing to tolerate Islamist extremist networks in the UK, including successor organizations to al-Muhajiroun, and showing an inexplicable unwillingness to investigate them; displaying ongoing reluctance to arrest and prosecute leading extremists despite abundant evidence of their incitement to terrorism, murder, violence and racial hatred (with serious action delayed until public pressure is brought to bear); and refusing to investigate key al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist suspects based or formerly based in the UK connected to 7/7 and other terrorist attacks. In this dire situation, proposing the extension of state power through yet further anti-terror legislation, as the Brown government is now doing, can never hope to contribute to real security. For in this context, such legislation not only fails to rectify the multiple failures of domestic and international security policy behind the paralysis of the British national security system; it simply lends unprecedented powers of social control to a paralysed system operating according to a defunct and dangerous intelligence paradigm. (Inside the Crevice: Islamist terror networks and the 7/7 intelligence failure, London: Institute for Policy Research and Development, August 2007)
Much the same can be said for the United States and its myopic “counterterrorist” policies that rely on the demonization of entire communities, driftnet surveillance of the population, the infiltration of provocateurs into antiwar, socialist and left-wing organizations with no demonstrable ties to international terrorism, and the induced climate of suspicion and fear that breed social paralysis in the face of grave, contemporaneous ruling class threats to democracy.
As a tsunami of Predator drones rain remote-controlled death on the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as the Obama administration prepares a major military escalation in Central- and South Asia, girls’ schools continue to burn in the Swat Valley with matchbooks labeled “Made in the USA.”