Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On Militant-Extremists in Pakistan and their Supporters

Two news items. One about the Jamaat ud-Dawa which still appears to be functional for the establishment's strategic goals according to this report. The other is about Jundullah which is widely known to be supported by Washington. For comments on the first connection, see here. The publication of the first story in major news sources (like WaPo) with that headline to me also indicates the continuation of the pressure by the US on the Pakistani establishment and its security agencies, that the latter bring its policies in line with the wishes of Washington (For more on this, see here).

If, like the second story suggests, Jundallah's Rigi was indeed connected to the mainstream Baloch nationalist movement, then it is highly unlikely that the Pakistani security agencies would have nurtured and supported him. And, if they allowed him (and Judallah) to operate inside Pakistan, perhaps it was under pressure from the US. Washington, to my knowledge, also never demanded that Pakistan ban Jundullah - like Washington has in the case of Jamaat ud-Dawa and others - just for its symbolic value, if nothing more. But this theory still needs to explain Jundallah's connections with local militant-sectarian groups like Lashkar-e Jhangvi and SSP, when the latter two are known to receive continuous support and protection from the security agencies. I guess we may find some clues if we investigate the nationalist credentials of Jundallah, in the ideology that they propagate, the nature of their funding and support, and their activities so far. In case they are really not that connected to the mainstream Baloch nationalist insurgency, I think it's likely that both the foreign powers (including KSA) and the security establishment saw a utility in letting this group prosper.

Why then the establishment cooperated with Iran this time? That's a very important question and may perhaps be answered, in one way, through the resistance that the security establishment is trying to pose, at least so far, against the US pressures (as suggested by some analysts commenting on the mysterious and repeated arrest and release of Americans on the Pakistani soil and the recent calculated suicide attack that killed 3 American personnel in Dir, Pakistan). One also needs to take into consideration the continuous, intense pressure from Iran as the second report indicates.

Has the establishment surrendered to US pressures, yet? Some may argue that it has, and there is a recent policy shift indicating just that. I believe that in quite significant ways, yes, but not totally.

Pakistani militant group easily evades ban
By Asif Shahzad and Chris Brummitt, The Associated Press, February 23, 2010
Source (Alternative source)

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Long-haired jihadis toting automatic weapons patrolled a mosque last week as the cleric who heads the militant network blamed for the Mumbai attacks preached inside. The group's supporters collected funds in the courtyard and later marched through this eastern Pakistani city, calling for the death of those who insult Islam.

Pakistan announced a ban on Jamaat-ud-Dawa - sealing the group's offices, freezing assets and rounding up leaders - amid international outrage after the 2008 siege of the Indian financial capital. But the group has scored a few wins in court against the government and is up and running again, exposing Islamabad's unwillingness to fully crack down on militants who target India, its longtime enemy.

The resurgence of the group could chill the first round of peace talks between Pakistan and India since the attacks.

India is insisting the negotiations Thursday focus on Pakistan's efforts to rein in groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa; Pakistan wants all issues, including the disputed territory of Kashmir, to be on the table.

The United States has urged the two nuclear-armed nations to resume dialogue despite Indian concerns about the Pakistan's crackdown on militants. Both nations mobilized troops to their shared border as tensions spiked following Mumbai. Another major attack by Pakistani militants on Indian soil would put New Delhi under intense domestic pressure to mount a military response.

India, the United States and the United Nations allege Jamaat is the front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which they charge carried out the attacks in December 2008 that killed 166 people in Mumbai. Seven militants identified as members of Lashkar by prosecutors are currently on trial in Pakistan charged with planning and carrying out the attacks. The sole surviving alleged gunman in the attacks, Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani with links to Lashkar, is on trial in India.

Lashkar was founded in the 1980s by Hafiz Saeed with the assistance of Pakistan's security agencies to wage war against India in the hopes of wresting the Indian portion of Kashmir away from New Delhi. The group claimed responsibility for numerous attacks there, but the government banned it in 2002 following pressure from the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Saeed is now the leader of Jamaat, which claims to be focused only on charity work. It runs a large network of Islamic schools and clinics, and participates in disaster relief.

Members of Jamaat say there is no link between it and Lashkar. But even Rana Sanaullah Khan, who is the law minister in Punjab, said the two are simply different wings of the same group.

After the Mumbai siege, Saeed, a 60-year-old former Islamic studies lecturer, was placed under house arrest but was freed in June last year by the Lahore High Court, which said there was no evidence he was involved in any wrongdoing. In October, a court ruled there was no case against Saeed and found that the government had never formally prohibited Jamaat. The government has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Even before the court ruling, however, critics said Pakistan was not aggressively enforcing the ban.

Saeed has exploited the legal limbo and openly challenges the government's attempts to tamp down his group.

On the government's Kashmir Solidarity Day earlier this month, Saeed addressed supporters in Lahore who waved Lashkar flags and shouted "Here comes Lashkar to kill the Hindus."

"If America with the help of NATO and all its weapons could not maintain its occupation in Afghanistan, India too will not be able to hold on to Kashmir anymore," Saeed told the crowd.

Frustration at the impunity groups like Jamaat seem to enjoy angers some lawmakers.

"It is shocking to see how banned terrorist organizations are allowed to challenge the writ of the state," Sherry Rehman, a lawmaker with the ruling party, told parliament on Tuesday. "What is the point of our innocent civilians and soldiers dying in a borderless war against such terrorists, when armed, banned outfits can hold the whole nation hostage in the heart of Punjab's provincial capital?"

Security and government officials in Lahore offered several reasons for the lack of action against Saeed and his group. They said India had presented no evidence of his involvement in the Mumbai attacks; stressed he was not involved in any of the attacks by Islamist militants that have struck Pakistan over the last year, several of them in Lahore; and they said that closing the group's schools would deprive thousands of an education and health care.

But analysts said Pakistan had strategic reasons for not acting against Jamaat.

"Pakistan is keeping these groups as a gray area of its policy, and it will continue doing so long as there are no guaranteed steps from India," defense analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said, referring to moves to resolve the Kashmir dispute. "Pakistan does not see these groups as completely undesirable if there is no progress on its issues."

India has demanded Saeed be put on trial for the Mumbai attacks.

A government-appointed administrator is now in charge at the group's headquarters in Muridke, just outside Lahore. Spread over 75 acres, it has schools and a hospital that provide free services for nearby residents, stabling for horses and a swimming pool.

But the staff there are still from Jamaat, though Minister Khan said they are "not very devoted" members.

A spokesman for Jamaat scoffs at the idea that the government has frozen its assets, as Islamabad said it had done when the ban was announced.

"How can someone who doesn't contribute any money control the purse strings?" said Yahya Mujahid.

The guards posted outside the mosque on Friday were to protect against possible attack by Indian agents, said Mujahid.

A man collecting donations defended the right for the group to do so. "Do you see any harm? Is it wrong?" he asked. "These funds are for welfare in the name of Allah."

In other parts of the country, there has been some enforcement of the ban.

In Karachi, the country's largest city but never a stronghold of the group, it was evicted from its old offices in a residential block where a family now lives. Members say it is no longer allowed to hold large rallies and have had to close down three health clinics due to lack of funds.

Associated Press reporters Babar Dogar in Lahore and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.


Rigi’s arrest a godsend for Pakistan
By Baqir Sajjad Syed, Dawn, Feb 24, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Arrest of Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi and his deputy Hamza during a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan marks a lucky break for Pakistan, which has been long accused by Iran of hosting the terror group’s ringleader, and offers an opportunity to ease the tense relations between Tehran and Islamabad.

Iran, despite repeated denials by Islamabad, always alleged that the group operated from Pakistan’s soil and that its leader Rigi was based there and carried Pakistan’s national identity card by the name of Saeed Ahmed, son of Ghulam Haider.

The militant leader had been educated at Karachi’s Binnori Town seminary, which was school to many of the Taliban leaders.

Rigi is believed to have camouflaged his nationalist movement in a sectarian colour to curry favour with Pakistani sectarian groups.

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, who visited Pakistan in October following an attack on elite Revolutionary Guards in south-western Sistan-Balochistan province along Pakistan’s border, is said to have handed over proofs of Rigi’s travel to Pakistan.

“We have documents that show (Abdolmalek) Rigi travels readily to Pakistan ... we are here to ask Pakistan to hand over Rigi to Iran,” Mr Najjar had said in a statement.

Although, the attack on Revolutionary Guard incensed the Iranians and evoked the strongest reaction, bilateral relations between the two countries had been on the slide ever since the group was formed in 2002 stepped up cross-border raids out of their havens along Pakistan-Iran border targeting Iranian security personnel and civilians.

The Zahedan attack in 2007 on Revolutionary Guards was followed by emboldened attacks by the outlawed organisation, but unfortunately some of the operations that ensued involved the use of Pakistan’s soil, including the abduction of 21 Iranian drivers in 2007 from Chabahar, who were later freed by Pakistani forces.

It is also believed that the group brought 16 Iranian policemen kidnapped from southeastern Iran to Pakistan and killed them.

In view of enhanced Iranian concerns, Pakistan had offered Tehran with increased intelligence sharing and intensified border patrolling.

Pakistan had been insisting that Rigi was not in Pakistan and Jundallah operated in ‘triangle region’ between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran making it harder to act against the group.

The 1,000 km stretch between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan is a rough terrain making patrolling extremely difficult.

Extradition of Abdolmalek Rigi’s brother Abdolhamid Rigi by Pakistani authorities to Iran in June 2008 was the highlight of cooperation between the two countries on the contentious issue of Jundallah.

National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, during her recent trip to Tehran, had disclosed at a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that a number of Jundallah militants were arrested in Pakistan and extradited to Iran.


Iran had always alleged that Jundallah was financed by the US government to destabilise their country.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in another report in July 2008 that US Congressional leaders had secretly agreed to former president Bush’s $400 million funding request, which gave the US a free hand in arming and funding Iranian terrorist groups such as Jundallah militants.

Asia Times Online reports that, "The circumstances surrounding Rigi's arrest are unclear. Iranian officials claim he was flying in a small plane from Pakistan to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates when Iranian authorities forced the plane to land in Iran. Baloch tribes in the Taftan area of Balochistan in Pakistan say Rigi was arrested inside Pakistan and then handed over to the Iranians. All that Iranian state television showed was a handcuffed Rigi being escorted by four masked commandos off a small aircraft."

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