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Last Updated: Friday, 15 July, 2005, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Why Musharraf needs another crackdown

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Pakistani troops
Pakistan has sent troops into its unruly tribal areas

"We are acting as if we are under some kind of a contractual obligation to support jihad [holy war], no matter where in the world it is being waged."

Not many outside Pakistan may be able to appreciate the significance of these words, spoken by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on 12 January, 2002.

It was the first public admission from a Pakistani head of state that the policy of jihad nurtured by Pakistan for over a quarter of a century needed to be brought to an end.

For most Pakistanis, this was the point where the country was finally abandoning its highly contentious policy of using Islamist militants to further its foreign policy agenda in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

We are acting as if we are under some kind of a contractual obligation to support jihad [holy war]
President Musharraf

To many, it was also a promise for a brave new world regulated by rationality and pragmatism instead of dogmatic ideologies.

But a little over three years ago, the brave new world has proven to be elusive.

President Musharraf's latest call on Friday for renewed efforts against Islamist militancy is the clearest indication to date that all has not gone well in Pakistan's anti-terrorism efforts.

The three-year period between the two presidential declarations of intent have seen two assassination attempts on President Musharraf, one on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and one on Karachi's former corps commander and the current vice chief of army staff Ahsan Saleem Hayat.

Soured relations

There have also been at least six major mosque bombings claiming over 100 lives in various Pakistani cities.

Omar Sheikh being escorted by policemen
British-born Omar Sheikh is said to have built up a network of jihadis

Bombings causing lesser damage have been too numerous to count.

More worrying for the authorities are the persistent reports over the last few months of a regrouping of militant elements - especially in the North West Frontier Province that borders Afghanistan.

Renewed activism from religious extremists has also soured Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan, which accuses its neighbour of providing safe havens for a resurgent Taleban.

Not many may be ready at this stage to declare Pakistan's anti-terrorism efforts a failure.

Categories of militants

But many Pakistani analysts are convinced that the country's problems with tackling extremism are intrinsically linked to the curious nature of its anti-terror campaign.

Background discussions and interviews with senior security officials indicate that since the 11 September 2001 attacks, Pakistan seems to have divided its "extremist problem" into three distinct categories.

Musharraf assassination attempt site in Rawalpindi
There have been two attempts on Musharraf's life

The first includes the non-Pakistani militants - mostly from the Arab world - against whom Pakistan has followed a "zero tolerance" policy.

They say the policy is reflected in the large number of arrests of Arab militants - the last being that of Libyan militant Abu Faraj al-Libby.

Senior security officials in Pakistan say that even the deadly campaign by the security forces in the Waziristan tribal belt along the Afghanistan border - in which the Pakistani army has lost 500 soldiers - has been focussed exclusively on Arab and Central Asian militants and their local supporters.

The second category comprises a huge cadre of home grown militants once aided and abetted by successive Pakistani governments to fight in Kashmir.

Many of Pakistan's top militants - including those suspected of plotting to assassinate the country's leaders - are known to have once been members of the myriad militant organisations engaged in Kashmir.

Yet they appear to have been totally exempted from the campaign.

Even in cases where high profile Kashmir-related militants have been arrested, the government has shown little interest in pursuing their prosecution.

It is true that British born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is in jail. He is currently contesting his conviction in the murder of Wall Street reporter Daniel Pearl.

But most militants linked to Kashmir have been spared altogether.

Leaders of three of Pakistan's largest militant organisations engaged in Kashmir - Lashkar-e-Toyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkatul Mujahideen - roam free to this day and are reportedly in touch with their cadres.

"The level of mistrust between India and Pakistan is such that irrespective of how badly they may want peace, there is still little faith in the peace process," says a top security official.

He says Pakistan will not abandon the Kashmiri militants until it is absolutely clear about the exact terms on which peace can be secured.

Afghan problem

The third category is that of Pakistani and Afghan militants currently battling the government of President Hamid Karzai and the US-led troops in Afghanistan.

There seems to be a near consensus in the Pakistani security apparatus that the Karzai government is bound to collapse.

Body of a suspected militant in Indian administered Kashmir
Pakistan has been slow to take action against Kashmiri militants

Should that happen, Pakistani security analysts are certain that the US will turn to "moderate Taleban" to keep Afghanistan together.

By not extending their anti-terror campaign to the Taleban and their local supporters, Pakistan is hoping to revive its badly eroded influence in that country.

'Al-Qaeda ideology'

Irrespective of the merits or demerits of this policy, trouble arises from the fact that the three categories can only be separated cleanly on paper.

On the ground, Pakistan's various militant organisations - with the possible exception of Lashkar-e-Toyeba - have been sharing human resources for years.

"It is impossible to tell which of the militants earlier engaged in Kashmir are now wedded to the al-Qaeda ideology," says a senior security official.

The big question now is whether President Musharraf's order for a fresh crackdown is based on a recognition of the limitations of a policy in which one militant is distinguished from the other on the basis of his ideological moorings.

Otherwise, one may find the same kind of tactics that followed General Musharraf's 12 January, 2002 speech but which have failed to solve the problem.


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