Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sharifs' denial gives Punjabi Taliban a hearty laugh

Allah Wasaya, Qasim Bhai and Abdullah are the names of one man, whose real name is a mystery till this day. Hailing from Multan in southern Punjab, he was working as kind of public relations officer (PRO) for al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden (OBL) in Pakistan during the years before and after 9/11. He had arranged a press conference for Bin Laden on May 26, 1998 at Khost, Afghanistan, two days before Pakistan went nuclear.
Allah Wasaya, his most popular name, was a regular visitor of newspapers offices in Islamabad. He was fluent in Punjabi, Seraiki, Urdu and Arabic. In his 30s with a flowing beard he, in the company of friends from his hometown, would walk the streets of Islamabad with an uncanny aplomb. The capital city and Rawalpindi were then mined with offices of Jehadi groups fighting in Kashmir and in northern parts of Afghanistan to extend the Taliban rule. They  were everywhere—near Ojhri camp, behind the ISI offices, in front of the Holiday Inn Hotel, sector F/10—name a place and a Mujahid ‘brother’ from Punjab with Hakeemullah Meshsud-like hairstyle would stalk the streets of Pakistan’s capital city. Allah Wasaya was a friend of all of them and well-known for his connections from Kashmir to Afghanistan.
One evening in August 1998, Allah Wasaya was seen spitting venom against the US and swearing revenge. He lost about 20 of his close friends--all from Multan, Bahawalpur, Sargodha, and Rawalpindi in a US attack on al-Qaeda-run Mujahideen camps in Khost, Afghanistan, just across Pakistan’s Waziristan region. The attack was retaliation for the bombing of US embassies in East Africa in August 1998. Allah Wasaya called newspapers offices about a press conference of the then chief of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM)—formerly known as Harkat-ul-Ansaar, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, at Holiday Inn, Islamabad, to condemn the Khost attack. The crowded press conference was a joint venture of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and the JUM and ended up with oaths of revenge.  
How serious are the al-Qaeda-trained Punjabi Taliban about the revenge? The following years since 1998 give a glimpse of their terror activities. The major terror dramas they staged were London Metro bombings in July 2005, Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, the Lal Masjid Islamabad episode in 2007, the GHQ Rawalpindi siege in 2009, the attack on Ahmadis in 2010, notwithstanding the killings of scores of innocent people in suicide attacks elsewhere in Pakistan. 
The August 1998 Tomahawk missiles attack on al-Qaeda’s Khost camps, however, woke up few in Pakistan to the fact that how deep was the influence of the ‘Sheikh’, called OBL,  in Punjab of Pakistan. At least four active camps in Khost and Kabul, all manned by young guys from Punjab were training as many as 2000 Pakistani Mujahideen for a period of two to six months round the year before the 2001 US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. The young men were wearing camouflage uniform in camps called ‘Salman Farsi’, ‘Khalid bin Waleed’ and ‘Al-Badar’ in Khost and one camp at Rishkore near Kabul. The recruiters were Arabs and some Pakistanis with military background. The trainees were from cities and towns of Bahawalpur, Multan, Sargodha, Rajan Pur, Cheecha Watni, Bakkhar, Faisalabad, and Vehari.
Trained for the liberation of Kashmir and extension of Taliban’s style caliphate in Afghanistan, thousands of graduates of al-Qaeda run camps in Afghanistan lost their agenda after US controlled the land and sky in Afghanistan. They ended up hopelessly in Pakistan’s ‘wild west’. The new safe havens reorganized them from late 2001 to 2004. A new consortium of Punjabi, Uzbek, Chechen, Uyghur and Arab militants with new goals of disrupting peace in Afghanistan and destabilizing Pakistan was created, led by local Pashtun militants as part of reward for giving them shelter and food.
Today al-Qaeda is their ideology and the off-shoots are many—Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab, Asia Tigers, Ghazi Brigade, Zarb-e-Momen, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jama’at-ul-Muslimeen, etc.
The bomb attacks in Faisalabad, Lahore, Multan, Sargodha, and Bakkhar, the assassinations of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the story of the Lal Masjid, the existence of the great Jehad factory at Muridke, Lahore, the safe compounds in Bahawalnagar and Bahawalpur seem not enough evidence for existence of Punjabi Taliban for the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his police administration. ( For Sharif brothers, however, the Taliban need to control the whole of Punjab, to wake them up from their state of denial.

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