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Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Outlook.com
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Opinion

Suicidal Counter Terrorism

In the long-term, the US will find its difficulties in Afghanistan are even more intractable than its difficulties in Iraq. It will not be able to prevail over the Afghan jihadis unless and until it is able to put a stop to Pakistan's tacit complicit

Suicidal Counter Terrorism
Suicidal Counter Terrorism
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

(To be read in continuation of my 2005 piece, Back To 9/10)

Before 1998, the only confirmed instances of suicide terrorism in South Asia (including Afghanistan) were those of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka and South India (assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi near Chennai in 1991) and the Sunni extremist Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its militant wing called the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and the Shia extremist Sipah Mohammad. The suicide attacks of the LEJ were mainly directed against Shia leaders and their followers. In some instances, Shia militants of the Sipah Mohammad retaliated against the SSP and the LEJ with their own attacks of suicide terrorism directed against anti-Shia Sunni leaders. The majority of the suicide terrorists, whether Sunni or Shia were Punjabis.

Pre-1998, there was hardly any instance of suicide terrorism either in India's Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) State or in Afghanistan. Even the Taliban, which was brought into existence by Brig.(retd) Naserullah Babar, Mrs. Benazir Bhutto's Interior Minister, in 1994 to protect the cotton convoys of Mr. Asif Zirdari, her money-making husband, from Turkmenistan, did not indulge in suicide terrorism either before capturing power in Kabul in September 1996 or thereafter. It indulged in large scale massacres of non-Pashtuns and Shias (Hazaras), but these were pure and simple acts of genocide and not acts of suicide terrorism.

Jihadi suicide terrorism, unrelated to the Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict, made its appearance in South Asia only after the formation of the International Islamic Front (IIF) by Osama bin Laden in February, 1998. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Pakistani terrorist organisation, was a founder member of the IIF. Four other Pakistani terrorist organisations -- the LEJ, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) -- joined the IIF subsequently. While the LET has had no known links with the SSP or the LEJ, many important leaders of the HUM, the HUJI and the JEM had their baptism in terrorism as members of the SSP and the LEJ, before they drifted out and formed their own or joined other organisations. You scratch any non-LET Pakistani jihadi terrorist leader of old Afghan vintage, you will find that at some stage or the other in his jihadi career he had participated in the anti-Shia terrorist operations of the SSP and the LEJ.

The LET, the HUM, the JEM and the HUJI brought jihadi suicide terrorism into India's Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State in and after (the JEM came into being only in 2000) 1999. Since then, there have been 60 acts of suicide/suicidal terrorism in J&K and other parts of India. In 59 of these cases, the suicide terrorists were Pakistani Punjabis -- either from the Punjab province of Pakistan or from the large Punjabi population in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). Only in one instance, there was reason to suspect the involvement of an indigenous Kashmiri. Ethnic Kashmiri Muslims, as distinguished from the Punjabi-origin Kashmiris of the POK, do not believe in suicide terrorism even today. The three terrorists of Pakistani origin, who carried out the London explosions of July 7, 2005, were Punjabi-origin Kashmiris from the POK.

Before 9/11, there were sporadic reports of instances of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan. These were carried out by the Arab volunteers of Al Qaeda after bin Laden shifted to Afghanistan from the Sudan in 1996. The most glaring example was the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood just before 9/11. There was hardly any instance of an act of suicide terrorism involving an Afghan national before 2003.

Since 2003, there have been 23 acts of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan (there are reports, which indicate a higher figure). The Taliban has so far claimed responsibility for only 12 of them and has said that the acts were carried out by Afghans. In seven of these cases, it gave the names of the Afghans who, according to it, were involved. It has specifically denied responsibility for the latest suicide attack in the village of Spin Boldak bordering Pakistan in which 21 innocent civilians watching a wrestling match were killed. The Spin Boldak outrage has caused widespread public anger in the area against the Taliban and Pakistan, its backer.

The remaining 11 acts of suicide terrorism are assessed to have been carried out by either the remnants of Al Qaeda, or by those of Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizbe Islami (HEI) or by Uzbecks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or by the Jundullah (Army of Islam), a Pakistani terrorist organisation trained by Al Qaeda and the IMU in their training camps in the South Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Not much is known about the Jundullah, which has remained a largely mysterious organisation. It made its appearance for the first time in Karachi two years ago, when it unsuccessfully tried to kill the then Corps Commander of the Pakistan Army there.

The Taliban's recruits are mainly Pashtuns of Afghan as well as Pakistani origin. The Pashtuns of Afghan origin have been recruited mostly from the large number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Balochistan and the FATA. The HEI's recruits are mostly Pashtuns of Pakistani origin or Punjabis. The Jundullah's recruits are mostly Punjabis. The IMU consists almost exclusively of Uzbecks, plus some Uighurs recruited in Pakistan. Al Qaeda has mainly Arabs of the 1980s and 1990s vintage. There has been no major fresh influx of Arabs after 9/11 to Pakistan to join Al Qaeda.

There has been a steady deterioration in the ground situation in Afghanistan since the middle of 2003, after the US forces occupied Iraq. 2005 was the worst year with the deaths of an estimated 100 Americans and other Westerners and about 1,300 Afghans, the majority of them Pashtuns from Southern and Eastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan, who have been collaborating with the US either by joining the newly-raised Afghan Army or Police or other civilian departments of the Afghan Government or in other ways.

The deterioration has continued since the beginning of this year and has even shown signs of aggravation. There have been already four attacks of suicide terrorism -- one targeting the US Ambassador in central Uruzgan (January 5), who escaped, the second killing a Canadian diplomat (January 15) in Kandahar, the third indiscriminately killing 21 Afghan civilians at Spin Boldak (January 16) in the southern Kandahar province and the fourth (also January 16) against an Afghan National Army vehicle, killing four soldiers and a civilian in Kandahar.

The Taliban has claimed to have established its administrative and operational control over certain areas in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan and says that its attacks are carried out by its volunteers from these "liberated areas" in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan. The areas over which its claims control are Daulat Shah in Laghman province, Urozgan Khas in Urozgan, Bazani in Helmand, Khak-i-Afghan in Zabul, Bak in Khost and Gomal in Paktika. There is so far no credible evidence in proof of this. Most of the acts of terrorism have originated from sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. The only "liberated area" of the jihadi terrorists is not in Afghanistan, but in the South Waziristan area of Pakistan's FATA.

When the US launched its military action in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the Taliban leadership decided to avoid a confrontation with the US forces. It demobilised its foot jihadis and advised them to return to their respective villages and bide their time. The surviving Taliban leaders took shelter in the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan, including its capital Quetta, with the tacit consent of the Government of Gen. Perevez Musharraf. The HEI leaders, including Gulbuddin, who was living in Iran, also moved over into Balochistan. The surviving Al Qaeda and IMU elements moved into South Waziristan. From there, some of the senior Al Qaeda operatives spread out to other parts of Pakistan.

The Taliban and the HEI utilised the years 2002 and 2003 for making fresh recruitment and for getting the new recruits trained in Pakistani territory. Despite periodic allegations of excesses by the US troops in Afghanistan, instances of such alleged excesses in Afghanistan have not been as serious as those in Iraq. Reports and images of alleged excesses by the US troops in Iraq, particularly in Falluja, provided the motivation for the flow of volunteers for undertaking suicide missions in Afghan territory.

Before the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, there were very few volunteers for suicide missions in Afghan territory. Since 2003, the IIF views the jihad against the US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a single global jihad, to be co-ordinated and intensified. Their objective is not only the defeat and withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq, but also from Afghanistan. The latest message attributed to bin Laden, which has offered a so-called truce in jihadi terrorism, has made it conditional on the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

There are similarities and differences in the ground situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the similarities, one could mention the increasing resort to suicide terrorism, the easy availability of volunteers for suicide terrorism and the targeting of Americans and locals collaborating with them.

Among differences, which are more significant than the similarities, one could mention the following: 

  • In Iraq, the leadership of the anti-US jihad is largely in the hands of foreign terrorists of Al Qaeda headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In Afghanistan, the indigenous Taliban, with Mulla Mohammad Omar continuing as its Amir, is still in the driving seat. The HEI, Al Qaeda, the IMU and the Jundullah follow its lead. 

  • In Iraq, the jihad has been kept sustained by the flow of a large number of Arab volunteers from outside and other volunteers from the Muslim diaspora in Europe. There has been no fresh flow of foreign volunteers into the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas. The foreigners, who are participating in the Afghan jihad, are the survivors from amongst the volunteers of the 1980s for fighting against the Soviet troops, and those of the 1990s for fighting against the Northern Alliance. Reports of alleged US excesses in Afghanistan have not yet caused the kind of outrage among the Muslims of the world outside Afghanistan and Pakistan as the outrage caused by reports of alleged US excesses in Iraq. The anti-US jihad in Afghanistan is still largely an Afghan-Pakistani phenomenon, assisted by the foreign remnants, but not dominated by them. 

  • Despite the periodic US allegations of Syrian complicity in the jihad in Iraq, there is no credible evidence in support of them. The jihad in Afghanistan would not have made the progress that it has but for the tacit complicity of the Pakistani authorities. This complicity has been in the form of inaction against their sanctuaries, recruitment and infrastructure in Pakistani territory. Pakistan's objective has been two-fold: In the short-term, to buy peace for itself in Pakistani territory outside the tribal areas. Apart from sectarian terrorism, there has been no major act of jihadi terrorism in Pakistani territory outside the tribal areas in recent months. In the long-term, to preserve the Taliban as an instrument to retrieve Pakistan's strategic position in Afghanistan if one day the US-led coalition withdraws from there. 

  • The new rulers of Iraq -- whether Shias or the Kurds -- enjoy a certain credibility among their followers, even if not among the Sunnis. They have been able to project of themselves an image of a Government that functions not always necessarily under the tutelage of the Americans. President Hamid Karzai has not yet been able to win such credibility even amongst his own Pashtuns. He is hardly able to exercise any leadership role in countering the jihad, which is as much against him as it is against the Americans. 

In the long-term, the US will find its difficulties in Afghanistan are even more intractable than its difficulties in Iraq. It will not be able to prevail over the Afghan jihadis unless and until it is able to put a stop to Pakistan's tacit complicity. 


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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