Al-Qaeda steps up its battle in Pakistan
Mar 15, 2008
Al-Qaeda steps up its battle in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
PESHAWAR, North-West Frontier Province - Al-Qaeda masterminded the deadly suicide attacks in Lahore this week at the offices of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Asia Times Online has learned. The attacks are part of al-Qaeda's broader plan to undermine recent Pakistan-United States joint efforts to eradicate al-Qaeda's growing influence in Pakistan society.
Two massive car bombs ripped through the regional headquarters of the FIA and an office of an advertising agency in Lahore on
Tuesday, killing at least 30 people, including 16 FIA officials, and injuring more than 200.
The real target?
However, according to Asia Times Online's investigations, the real target, an undercover office of the Special Investigation Authority (SIA), was missed as the suicide attacker hit the advertising agency.
The SIA is a joint initiative of US and Pakistani planners set up to eliminate the strong roots of radicalization in Punjab province which could easily be transformed into very strong al-Qaeda connections. The SIA will remain a target in Lahore as well as other parts of Punjab, including Multan.
At the root of al-Qaeda's strategy is the belief in the powerful ideology of Takfir, which deems all non-practicing Muslims infidels. This, al-Qaeda believes, fuels anti-Western forces in Muslim societies.
From Pakistan's perspective, the tribal insurgencies in North-West Frontier Province are a thorn in the side of coalition troops in Afghanistan as the area is used as a staging ground for Taliban attacks into that country. But Islamabad believes these can at least be controlled, even if not tamed.
The real concern is the radicalization of Punjab, the largest Pakistani province and comprising more than half the country's population, through banned militant organizations.
Thousands of activists are known to be affiliated with banned militant organizations in Punjab. Many were initially trained by Pakistani security agencies to fuel the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.
However, after September 11, 2001, Pakistan, as a new partner in the "war on terror", was forced by the Americans to shelve its support of the Kashmiri insurgency. As a result, militant training camps were shut down and militants left their parent organizations in the thousands.
These young jihadis are obviously committed fighters and have been kicking their heels for several years now. The fear is that if they fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, they could significantly escalate unrest in Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Iraq. Segments of these Punjab-based militant organizations have already been cultivated by the Takfiris, resulting in a new source of suicide bombers.
It was specifically to confront this threat that the SIA was formed. A retired colonel who had served in the Pakistani Special Services Group and President Pervez Musharraf head the organization.
In the first phase, the SIA coordinated with banned militant organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-i-Mohammed (JM) to compile a list of people who had broken away. Although these organizations are officially banned in Pakistan, they operate under various names and are still to a large extent under the influence of Pakistani security agencies.
In the second phase, the authorities established separate desks to exclusively deal with the mindset of each particular sect.
Under this program, dozens of former members of LeT and JM were arrested, mainly from Bawalpur and Multan, on the information provided by their former organizations. They were taken to security facilities in Lahore and presented with the following questionnaire.
1. Reasons why you consider Musharraf an infidel.
2. Have you read Sheikh Essa's book Al-Wala Wal Wabara (Enmity and Friendship). (Egyptian Essa is a hardline al-Qaeda ideologue.)
3. Are you familiar with the ideology of Takfir?
Through these questions, interrogators tried to get inside the mindset of the militants. The process of detention was two-pronged: it aimed first to re-educate the militants, and then to learn their networks.
The SIA officers engaged in lengthy debate with the detainees, all the time questioning their loyalties, whether they were Salafis or whether they belonged to the Deobandi school of thought, and contradictions that might arise as a result if they supported the Taliban or Osama Bin Laden.
However, according to Asia Times Online contacts, the detainees are also tortured, and at least one is said to have died as a result.
Tuesday's attacks are significant, therefore, in that the establishment's most secret underground offices are now on the militants' radar, and more attacks are anticipated.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at email@example.com
US-led forces have decided to establish a permanent military camp in Tora Bora to eliminate the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.