8,000 foreign fighters in Fata ring alarm bells in Islamabad

By Hamid Mir

ISLAMABAD: In a disturbing report presented to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, days before he travels to the United States, the latest figure of foreign fighters present in the tribal areas of Pakistan is estimated to be more than 8,000 but the government is reluctant to officially confirm this number.

At a special cabinet briefing on Sunday in which Asif Ali Zardari was also present, besides the prime minister and Adviser to the Interior Ministry Rehman Malik, said the government will have to use force if the process of dialogue does not produce the results but his view was opposed by the minister from FATA Hamidullah Jan.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his key ministers will visit Peshawar on Monday for a special meeting, which could decide the launching of a major operation against foreign fighters in Fata, Interior Ministry Adviser Rehman Malik told The News on Sunday.

It would be a short and effective operation like the one in Bara recently, officials told The News. Information Minister Sherry Rehman confirmed the briefing to The News without giving any number for the foreign fighters but expressed the determination of the government to pull them out. Mr Zardari listened to the briefing without making any comment.

Although officially the government of Pakistan accepts that foreign fighters are present, their unusually large number has set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad and possibly in other capitals as well. Interior Adviser Rehman Malik, when pressed by this correspondent, however, conceded that the number of foreign fighters was about 1,000.

According to the report presented to the PM, a majority of these foreign fighters are living in North and South Waziristan and Bajaur. Prime Minister Gilani has also been informed that some foreign intelligence agencies are pushing their agents into the Pakistani tribal areas from Afghanistan under the cover of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. These under-cover agents are trying to instigate the local population to fight against Pakistani forces as part of a “great game” in the region.

Taliban sources on the other hand are not ready to confirm that they are hosting thousands of foreign fighters in their areas. They claim that the number of foreigners is just a few hundred and most of them are living in the tribal areas from the time when the American CIA and Pakistani ISI encouraged them to come and fight against the Soviet Union.

Independent sources in both the Pakistani tribal areas and eastern Afghanistan have, however, claimed that number of foreign fighters started increasing in 2007. The biggest attraction for these young militant guests from the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe was the increase in the number of US troops in Afghanistan. A lot of young Muslims are coming to Afghanistan to fight the US troops who, they believe, have come to Afghanistan not to fight terrorism but to occupy more Muslim lands, including Pakistan, and to plunder their resources.

According to some Afghan sources, foreign fighters are welcomed not only in the Pakistani tribal areas but also in eastern, southern and western Afghanistan. The rising number of civilian causalities has created lot of hatred and resentment against foreign security forces in these Afghan and Pakistani areas. Angry locals believe that the foreign fighters are coming to avenge these killings.

A few years ago, Pakistan was the safest route for foreign fighters to enter into Afghanistan but now they rarely use this old route. Most of them come as tourists and traders directly from Dushanbe, Baku, Istanbul, Dubai, Sharjah, Delhi and Frankfurt to Kabul by different airlines. Many Afghans in Kabul, Karachi, Dubai and Delhi are working for them as travel agents. It is also very easy to make a new Afghan passport for them in Kabul.

Two American-born Al-Qaeda operators Adam Gadhan alias Azzam al Amriki and Abu Ahmad alias Amir Butt are known in the Afghan Kunar province for making travel arrangements of these young and educated Muslims from the US, UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Canada and Australia. Most of these Western Muslims tell their Afghan and Pakistani hosts that they will take not only their revenge from the “occupying forces” but they will also take the revenge for the sacreligious cartoons of their prophet from Western governments who encourage such cartoonists in the name of freedom of expression.

Some of these foreigners have married into the tribes of Kunar, Nuristan, North Waziristan and South Waziristan. German-born Turkish fighter Saad Abu Furqan is also known in the Pakistani tribal areas for attracting young Turks to organise Jihad against what he calls the “crusaders” in Afghanistan. A very well known Taliban leader Ustad Dawood is working as coordinator between these foreign fighters and locals from Afghan Paktika province. Dawood speaks English and Arabic fluently.

A source who knows Ustad Dawood revealed that Al-Qaeda and Taliban are now slowly moving foreign fighters to areas round Kabul for a big attack on the Afghan capital Kabul in near future. Some of the foreign fighters have already entered Kabul as vendors and shopkeepers and provide a lot of intelligence to their commanders.

Ustad Dawood has also established contacts with his old friends in the Northern Alliance and is working with Jalaluddin Haqqani for an alliance between the Taliban, some Northern Alliance groups and the Hizb-e-Islami to jointly fight the foreign forces in Afghanistan.

An independent source said many experienced and hardened Al-Qaeda fighters were coming from Iraq to Afghanistan via Iran by road.These fighters enter the Afghan provinces of Herat and Balkh from Iran illegally.

The Nato forces are aware of this infiltration from Iran and have started bombing civilian vehicles moving close to the Iranian border indiscriminately. The bombing killed nine Afghan policemen in southwest Farah province on July 20 and seven civilians on July 17. Nato was also accused of killing more than 50 civilians in the Shindand area of Herat on July 17.

It is also learnt that many fighters from Saudi Arabia,Yemen, Egypt, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya, Iraq, Syria and some from India and Bangladesh prefer to stay in the warmer areas of southern Afghanistan which is a safe haven for the Taliban. The fighters from Morocco, Algeria, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and from western countries like to stay in the eastern Afghanistan provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Pakistani tribal areas bordering these areas.

Sources say that fighters from African countries are not encouraged to come to Afghanistan or Pakistan as Al-Qaeda wants them to go to Darfur in Sudan or Iraq. The foreign fighters in the Pakistani tribal areas and Afghanistan are aware about the presence of some undercover agents in their ranks. Recently, they arrested two Uzbeks, three Afghans and one Pakistani for spying and executed them in North and South Waziristan when they confessed during interrogation that they were working for the CIA and ISI.

Foreign fighters avoid getting in touch with non-tribal Pakistani fighters because they suspect them of having links with Pakistani intelligence. Pakistani officials are putting pressure on the Taliban leadership not to encourage foreigners to cross the border into Afghanistan to fight US and Nato troops. The Taliban are also asking them to put down their guns and register themselves with the local political administration.

While some Taliban leaders in North Waziristan have started discouraging foreigners from crossing the border, some in South Waziristan are not ready to listen to the Pakistani government. Their defiance has created a lot of confusion and resentment in Islamabad because the Pakistan government is already under lot of pressure to use heavy force against the Taliban.

Defiant Taliban leaders are of the view that it is the right of every Muslim to join the Jihad against “crusaders” in Afghanistan and they will not ask any foreigner to leave their area or stop fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. A Taliban leader said: “We are not against all the Jews and Christians, but we are against crusaders and Zionists, who should leave Afghanistan first and then we will ask our foreign Muslim brothers to leave the area but if the Pakistani rulers want to fight with us, we are ready.”
Source: The news, 21/7/2008

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