Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pakistan: Floods and the impact on fight against terror


It has been difficult to estimate the damage suffered by Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the various Punjabi terrorist organizations as a result of the floods in Pakistan. They must have suffered damages because many of their training camps were located in areas which are under water. North Waziristan, where the bases of Al Qaeda, the TTP, the Haqqani network, the 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) are located is one of the affected areas in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

2.One could see that the Afghan Taliban, which operates from the Quetta area of Balochistan, has not been much affected. It has maintained its operations in Afghanistan even after the deluge. The operational difficulties of the NATO forces in Afghanistan could increase because the destruction of many roads and bridges could slow down the movement of logistic supplies to the NATO forces from the Karachi port.

3.The fact that even in the midst of the floods, the Pakistan Army has maintained a high level of air activity against the TTP in the Orakzai and Khurram Agencies of the FATA in retaliation for attacks by the TTP indicates that the terrorists continue to be active in these two agencies despite the floods. According to the Associated Press of Pakistan ( August 20 ), at least seven terrorists were killed and seven others injured when the security forces retaliated after an attack on a security checkpost in the Tapoo area of the Orakzai Agency in which one officer of the security forces was killed and another injured. The Army carried out an air strike on the hideouts of terrorists in the Wasti Kurram and Chinarak areas of the Kurram Agency. The floods have not affected the operations of the Drones (pilotless strike planes) of the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency. The success rate could, however, come down since the floods are likely to affect the movements of human agents and their ability to communicate with their handling officers.

4.The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) have also joined the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) in the collection of funds for flood relief and in organizing relief. They have extended their fund collection activities to all big cities, including Karachi. Taking note of international concerns over the activities of these organizations, which are all banned in the US and under decisions of the anti-terrorism monitoring committee of the UN Security Council, Mr.Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, has ostensibly ordered the police and the security agencies to stop their activities, but his orders are not being complied with. Some of the large flow of funds for flood relief from Wahabi charity organisations in Saudi Arabia could go to these organisations and, ultimately, through them to Al Qaeda.

5.As a result of the surge in the popularity of the JUD and the LET because of their undoubtedly energetic work in the flood-affected areas, the outcome of the trial against the seven members of the LET for their participation in the conspiracy to carry out the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai has become uncertain. The sympathy of not only the public, but also sections of the judiciary will be with these organizations.

6.Will the preoccupation of these organizations with flood relief work come in the way of their operations in India? Unlikely. The similar preoccupation of these organizations with quake relief work in 2005 and the severe fatalities and damages suffered by the JUD and the LET as a result of the quake in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and by the JEM in the Manshera area of Khyber Pakhtunkwa did not affect their ability to plan and carry out terrorist strikes in India as was seen by the suburban train explosions in Mumbai in July 2006.

7.The floods have not dampened the wave of inter-ethnic and Shia-Sunni sectarian violence that has been intermittently sweeping across Karachi since the beginning of this year. On August 19, an Awami National Party (ANP) office bearer, Ubaidullah Yousufzai, was gunned down along with a colleague near the Quaid-e-Azam International Airport. In the subsequent clashes between Mohajirs of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Pashtuns of the ANP, 11 people were shot dead and 16 others injured. Many trucks were set on fire, including some belonging to companies engaged by the NATO to move logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan from the Karachi port.

8.Non-Governmental organizations have been active in flood relief --- even in Khyber Pakhtunkwa--- as they were in quake relief in 2005. These organizations come under two categories---- organizations with a religious background and those with a secular background. Some Christian organizations are already active such as the World Vision and the Church World Service. Many western Christian organizations, which participated in quake relief work in Haiti, had employed media managers to publicise their contribution. In Pakistan, attempts are being made to project their assistance to the flood victims as “Christian assistance”. This is unwise and could be suicidal. Their activities are likely to be misinterpreted as an attempt to exploit the human tragedy for their conversion work. Recently, there was a massacre of about 10 Western humanitarian workers in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban which falsely projected them as missionaries trying to convert Afghan Muslims to Christianity.

9.There is palpable concern among Western secular organizations engaged in flood relief regarding the security of their volunteers. This is reflected from the queries I have been getting for my assessment of the likely risks to their volunteers in Pakistan.

10.According to the Reuters news agency, the TTP has urged the Pakistan Government to reject Western aid for victims of the floods, saying it would only be siphoned off by corrupt officials. Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban have not yet reacted to the floods and to the flow of Western assistance. The concentration of the US aid efforts in the Swat Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkwa could cause concern to these organizations. (21-8-10)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.