Saturday, February 19, 2005

PAKISTAN: Musharraf-Jihadi Confrontation Within Army Reaching Boiling Point

+ According to military sources, Musharraf has already given a go-ahead to the Judge Advocate General Branch of the Pakistan Army to initiate proceedings against two colonels, three majors and a captain, detained for the past two years. The officers are Colonel Khalid Mahmood Abbasi from the Corps of Signals, Lt Col Ghaffar Babar Saffarzai, pilot of the Army Aviation Command, Major Adil Qadoos Khan from the Kohat Signals Corps, Major Ataullah Khan Mahmood from the Judge Advocate General Branch, Major Rohail Faraz, HQ 2-Corps (Infantry) and Captain Dr Usman Zafar. +

18/02/2005

Musharraf-Jihadi Confrontation Within Army Reaching Boiling Point
Amir Mir

LAHORE, February 18: The growing influence of various militant groups within the Pakistan Army, the Air Force, the Inter Services Intelligence and the Police department has set alarm bells ringing for the Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf as the ongoing confrontation between Islamists and the reformists within these institutions has apparently reached boiling point.

As things stand, it appears that the Pakistan Army is divided into two groups — the Islamic fundamentalist generals and jawans and the relatively liberal ones. The split has sharpened because of Musharraf’s attempts to give his Army a liberal outlook acceptable to the US.

As many as 30 officers of the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) are facing the death penalty in several court martial proceedings in the Kharian Army Cantonment, about 72 km from Islamabad. They have been charged with involvement in two failed assassination bids on General Musharraf in Rawalpindi on December 11 and December 25, 2003 respectively.

After the two attempts, speculation regarding the involvement of military officers had been doing the rounds, which were later confirmed by Musharraf in an interview to a private TV channel. Since then, several officers of the Pakistan Army and the PAF had been sentenced to death (between October-December 2004) for plotting a coup against Musharraf and planning his assassination.

Military sources say these sentences were handed down in line with Musharraf’s new strategy to deal with ‘internal rebellion’ with an iron hand. Political analysts say the court martial proceedings only confirmed what had been conjecture till now: Islamic extremists and their ideological partners in the garrison are acting in unison to eradicate the key American ally in the US-led war against terror.

Musharraf had survived the second attempt when two suicide bombers rammed bomb-laden cars into his motorcade two km from his Army residence in Rawalpindi, killing 16 people and injuring 54 others on December 25, 2003.

During investigations, it was found that a Pakistani national considered to be a key contact for the top Al Qaeda leadership wove a web of fundamentalists from the Pakistani jihadi groups, the Pakistan Army, the PAF, the ISI and the police to execute the Rawalpindi assassination attempts against Musharraf.

A few days later, security agencies arrested one Mohammad Naeem of the Special Branch, Capital Police, Islamabad, for the attempts. Naeem had received a call on his cell phone a few minutes before the suicide attacks which made him a suspect. The call was tracked to the cell phone of Mohammad Jameel, one of the two suicide car attackers and a Jaish-e-Mohammad activist from Balakot in Azad Kashmir.

The other suicide bomber was identified as Hazir Sultan, a Harkat al-Jehad al-Islami operative from Afghanistan’s Panjshir valley. It is now known that the two suicide car bombers who nearly missed the presidential motorcade were getting live information on Musharraf’s movement through another police official of Rawalpindi’s Civil Lines police station.

Naeem was deployed at the Convention Center in Islamabad where Musharraf had gone to preside over a function. The investigators believe that Naeem contacted Jameel on his cell phone and gave him the precise location of the presidential convoy.

Investigators believe that the assassination attempts could not have been just the handiwork of some outsiders and could have involved those in the General’s close circles who have turned against him for his U-turn on Pakistan’s Afghan and Kashmir policies.

Interestingly, the two suicide bombers were linked to the ISI before they went to fight in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance. Jameel was a resident of Torarh in Poonch district, Azad Kashmir. His identity was established when detectives recovered his national identity card. Post 9/11, Jameel and Sultan were captured by the Northern Alliance and were among the several hundred Pakistani jihadis released after negotiations with Islamabad. On their return, their intelligence masters set them free and could have instigated them to launch the suicide attack.

During his detention in Afghanistan, Jameel had claimed to be a Captain in the Pakistan Army. However, Pakistani authorities dispute his claim, saying he might have done so to escape torture from his Northern Alliance captors. Despite government denials, an exclusive report of the United Press International on February 26, 2004 quoted a US defence intelligence source as saying: “The man who tried to kill General Pervez Musharraf in December 2003 was a spy in Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency.”

Subsequent interrogation of the people arrested later led to the arrest of many more officers of the Pakistan Army and PAF. Soldier Muhammad Islam Siddiqi was the first Army personnel to be sentenced to death on October 20, 2004 for the twin suicide attacks on Musharraf. Charges against him included abetting a mutiny within the armed forces; undergoing terrorism training at a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp and maintaining links with those who had been advancing a plot to eliminate General Musharraf.

After court martial proceedings in January 2005, three PAF servicemen were sentenced to terms ranging from two to nine years for their alleged Jaish links. Maulana Masood Azhar founded the Jaish after his release in the IC-814 hijacking.

Nauman Khattak, 18, and Saeed Alam, 19, were sentenced to two years in prison while the third airman, Munir Ahmed, was awarded a nine-year sentence. Their parents have gone on to report that several dozen PAF personnel are currently being tried for their links with Jaish.

In an alarming development, however, Mushtaq Ahmed, a PAF officer and a key suspect in the Rawalpindi attacks on General Musharraf, escaped from custody after facing court martial proceedings in which he was convicted.

Initially, Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had described Mushtaq Ahmed as a Jaish activist. However, PAF spokesman Air Commodore Sarfaraz Ahmed confirmed that Mushtaq was a junior PAF official. “I am only confirming the details of this specific court martial because the media has been speculating about Mushtaq Ahmed,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, investigators fear that some khaki insiders may have aided Mushtaq’s escape, explaining why the nationwide manhunt has been unsuccessful so far.

In yet another related development, the military top brass has decided to try in a military court the six high-ranking Army officers arrested in March 2003 on charges of conspiring to stage a coup against General Pervez Musharraf while working in tandem with some Pakistan-based Al Qaeda operatives.

Military sources believe that the court martial proceedings against six senior officers of the Army and the PAF were meant to give a clear message to extremist elements within the armed forces that the days of the jihadis are over and all those having sympathies with jihadi groups would be booted out.

According to military sources, Musharraf has already given a go-ahead to the Judge Advocate General Branch of the Pakistan Army to initiate proceedings against two colonels, three majors and a captain, detained for the past two years. The officers are Colonel Khalid Mahmood Abbasi from the Corps of Signals, Lt Col Ghaffar Babar Saffarzai, pilot of the Army Aviation Command, Major Adil Qadoos Khan from the Kohat Signals Corps, Major Ataullah Khan Mahmood from the Judge Advocate General Branch, Major Rohail Faraz, HQ 2-Corps (Infantry) and Captain Dr Usman Zafar.

All of them were arrested under the Army Act of 1952 and were linked to the March 15, 2003 capture of Al Qaeda’s chief operational commander Khalid Sheikh Mohammad from the Rawalpindi residence of Ahmad Abdul Qadoos, a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Those interrogating the Army officers had been trying to unearth a group of extremists involved in a conspiracy to stage an Army coup against Musharraf.

The interrogators were also striving to ascertain whether Colonel Abbasi was connected to Major Adil Qadoos, whose Kohat Cantonment residence was raided by agencies before his March 2003 arrest — in a sequence of rapid events set off by the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

Military sources did not rule out the possibility of Colonel Abbasi also being questioned in connection with the February 20, 2003 mid-air crash of the Pakistan Air Force Fokker F-27, which killed PAF Chief Air Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir and 16 others. The plane was on its way from Chaklala Airbase in Rawalpindi to Kohat Airbase when it mysteriously crashed east of Kohat.

Amid all these developments in the armed forces, General Musharraf sounded overconfident on January 12 when he told a private TV channel that he was absolutely sure that no one from within the armed forces was resentful of him and he feared no negative fallout from within the Army as a result of his policies.

Courtesy: Weekly Tehelka, February 18-26, 2005 issue.