Why has Pakistan vowed to end its “armed militias” in its National Action Plan (NAP)? In December last year, an exiled Pakistani warlord named Fazlullah killed 132 children in an army public school in Peshawar through his henchmen. The shock of what happened was so great that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called an all-party conference and got everyone to agree to a NAP against domestic terrorism. In the past eight months, Pakistan has pushed back the wave of terrorism thanks to the provision of the NAP that allowed the army to intervene. And NAP ordains getting rid of “armed militias”.
But domestic terrorism has not died down. On August 9, a suicide-bomber killed over 70 in Quetta, many of them lawyers visiting the hospital where their leader had been brought earlier. Two terrorist organisations, Islamic State and Jamaatul Ahrar, announced they had carried out the massacre but Prime Minister Sharif thought it could be “states opposed to the Chinese Economic Corridor being built in Pakistan”. Army chief General Raheel Sharif thought it could be elements hurt by his ongoing dragnet operation against the Taliban.
Pakistan is realising that its past of deniable wars — in which the world acquiesced — is catching up with it. The world is now threatened by what it once encouraged and tells Pakistan to get rid of its warriors. It accuses Pakistan of allowing sanctuaries on its soil to killers who commit crossborder mayhem. Pakistan bled too but took its time changing tack; but it finally shifted the old paradigm and carried out the cleanup, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, under a new army chief with pluck. The terrorists are reacting by attacking and killing innocent Pakistanis.
Today Pakistan doesn’t want to accept the armed militias of its past, but, not long ago, it didn’t mind them too much. For instance, in the 1990s, Muslim states in the Organisation of Islamic Countries interfered in Chechnya, Russia, with the approval of the world. Warriors were supplied by most OIC states, including Pakistan, but they came from the militias that had once the blessings of the intelligence agencies. Muslim sympathy for terrorists in the Philippines, named after a Wahhabi Afghan warrior Sayyaf in gratitude of the OIC funding they received, was universal. This “interference” was not so unwelcome in Bosnia when the Serbs were subjecting Bosnian Muslims to genocide.
In Chechnya, there were jihadis from Pakistan too — which Pakistan denied — stewarded by the intelligence agencies. Public acclaim followed as the militias interfered in Central Asia and China. There was the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, Pakistan’s biggest jihadi militia headquartered in Kandahar, before the Americans bombed it for Al Qaeda’s adventure of 9/11. The Harkat boasted international linkages. It was “the second line of defence of all Muslim states” and was active in Arakan in Burma, and in Bangladesh, backed with manpower from Karachi, Chechnya, Xinjiang, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
According to the then Islamabad-based jihadi journal Al-irshad, the leader of Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami in Uzbekistan was Sheikh Muhammad Tahir al-Farooq. Starting in 1990, the war against Uzbekistan was bloody and was supported by the Taliban, till in 2001, the commander had to ask the Pakistanis in Uzbekistan to return to base. In Chechnya, the war against the Russians was carried on under the leadership of commander Hidayatullah. Pakistan’s embassy in Moscow once denied that there were any Pakistanis involved in the Chechen war, but Al-irshad (March 2000) declared from Islamabad that the militia was deeply involved in the training of guerrillas in Chechnya for which purpose commander Hidayatullah was stationed in the region.
When the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami men were seen first in Tajikistan, they were mistaken by some observers as being fighters from Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. In fact, they were commanded by Khalid Irshad Tiwana of the Punjabi mujahideen helping Uzbek rebels, Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev, resist the Uzbek ruling class in the Ferghana Valley. The anti-Uzbek warlords were being sheltered by Mullah Umar in Afghanistan. Tahir Yuldashev moved to the “safe haven” in Waziristan. His Uzbek warriors killed innocent Pakistanis in Swat and kidnapped Shahbaz Taseer, the son of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. Tahir Yuldashev was finally killed by a drone which Pakistan pretended to oppose.
Maulana Abdul Quddus headed the Myanmarese warriors located in Karachi and fighting mostly in Bangladesh on the Arakanese border. Korangi was the base of the Arakanese Muslims who fled Myanmar to fight the jihad from Pakistan. A large number of Myanmarese were located inside Korangi and the area was sometimes called mini Arakan. Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami had opened 30 seminaries for them inside Korangi, there being 18 more in the rest of Karachi. Quddus, a Burmese Muslim, while talking to weekly, Zindagi (January 25-31, 1998), revealed that he had run away from Myanmar via India and taken religious training in the Harkat seminaries in Karachi and, on its invitation, had gone to Afghanistan, taken military training there, and fought the jihad from 1982 to 1988.
Through its National Action Plan against terrorism, such is the dark legacy that Pakistan is trying to live down.