Terror escalates in Pakistan/Hamas and Fatah’s forced Egyptian marriage

Oct 20, 2009 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

October 20, 2009
Number 10/09 #06

Today’s Update presents two articles that look at Pakistan, roiled by a slew of terrorist attacks this week as the bitter struggle against the Taliban continues. The third article looks at the ongoing tussle underlying the reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas.

First, we offer an important précis of the unprecedented number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan this month, including the audacious assault on the Pakistan Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Imtiaz Gul, chairman of the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, notes that of the nine terror incidents prior to October 16, seven were directed at the army, paramilitary or police “suggesting a dramatic surge in attempts by terrorists to inflict as much damage on the security apparatus as possible.” The background to this concentration of attacks lies in the forthcoming military offensive against terrorist strongholds in South Waziristan near the Afghan border. To read this sobering account of the tactics of the Taliban, CLICK HERE.

Next, Foundation for Defence of Democracies President Clifford D. May shares impressions from his recent visit to Pakistan where he gave lectures and participated in debates on university campuses, interacted with ordinary Pakistanis and was interviewed on national television. He relays the anger, resentment, doublespeak and hypocrisy of a nation in turmoil with many willing to believe any conspiracy theory involving America and the “Zionists” but unwilling to acknowledge its own responsibilities for its troubles. To read this compelling snapshot of a country at the epicentre of the global Islamist conflict, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Israeli Middle East specialist Dr. Guy Bechor deconstructs the intrigues behind Egypt’s obsessive focus on forcing Hamas and Fatah into a Palestinian reconciliation that neither party wants. Bechor postulates that Egypt is interested in a unity government for the sole purpose of embarrassing Israel, forcing it to open the Gaza crossings and thereby relieving Egypt of any responsibility for the Strip. To read how Egypt is trying to convince the parties that their loathing of Israel is greater than their revulsion for each other and that together they can force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, the Middle East Media Research Institute reports the Palestinian Authority’s Secretary-General has said that Hamas is sabotaging a reconciliation agreement under orders from Teheran

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Pakistan under siege

By Imtiaz Gul, Foreign Policy, October 16, 2009.

In terror-stricken Pakistan, October 15 broke the record for the number of attacks in a day; three dare-devil commando raids on police facilities in  Lahore, the country’s second largest city, and one in Kohat, near Peshawar, where a car suicide bombing on a Criminal Investigation Department (CID) building killed about a dozen earlier today.

This means terrorists have struck seven times against the Pakistan security establishment since October 10, when in the most brazen attempt yet, ten militants staged an audacious attack on the Pakistan army General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, the garrison town south of Islamabad.

Awe-struck Pakistanis and the world watched helplessly as army commandos eventually freed 39 hostages from the basement of the GHQ after about 20 tension-packed hours. The entire operation cost  23 lives — about a dozen army personnel, three hostages  and eight terrorists.

On October 5, five U.N. World Food Program staff members lost their lives when a suicide bomber dressed in military uniform walked into their offices in Islamabad and blew himself up. At least 52 suicide bombers have also rocked various cities so far this year, killing more than 500 people — half of them members of security forces.

Of the nine terror attacks this month until October 16, seven targeted the army, the paramilitary or the police, suggesting a dramatic surge in attempts by terrorists to inflict as much damage on the security apparatus as possible, ahead of an impending military assault on terror outfits in the rugged and lawless region South Waziristan near the Afghan border. This morning’s coordinated suicide attacks on Peshawar police also fit the pattern.

“These attacks underscore a new strategy by terrorists nestled in areas between South Waziristan and southern Punjab in central Pakistan and require the government to urgently calibrate its counterterror policy,” opined Tasneem Noorani, a former top bureaucrat of the Ministry of Interior.

Like other analysts, Noorani agrees that Pakistan is now dealing with living bombs — youngsters who are extremely motivated and excessively brainwashed to the extent that they are ready to kill and die for their jihadist cause.

Militants have also begun tricking security forces by disguising themselves and their vehicles in Pakistan Army fatigues, with their vehicles carrying official license plates and stickers, making it difficult for security forces to instantly identify and neutralize them.

The other upsetting element of the series of militant attacks is the targets; the assault on the GHQ bore similarities to the terror strike on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009 and the attack on the police training school at Manawan, Lahore later that month, underscoring the growing nexus between militants based in Waziristan and central Pakistan regions of southern Punjab, which has been a hotbed of sectarian terrorism since the early 1980s. Most people refer to this terror network as the “Punjabi Taliban.”

The claim of responsibility by the Punjabi Amjad Farooqi group also supports the nexus between the Pashtun and Punjabi militants. Farooqi had belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group and was killed in a 2004 shootout with the Pakistani security forces.

The GHQ attack also bore unmistakable signatures of the kind of Fidayeen Attacks that the anti-India Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist organization had unleashed in 1998; it involved ready-to-kill, disguised zealots charging military garrisons, sensitive installations and paramilitary security targets. They simply surprised the targets through their quick unfolding of weapons and use of hand-grenades. The LeT staged scores of such attacks in Kashmir as well as in New Delhi — for example, the siege of the Parliament and those in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

Pakistan’s long history with militant groups

The journey began with the Saudi funding for the Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) in Jhang, southern Punjab, to counter the Iranian Revolution’s expansion to neighboring countries in the early 1980s. It suited then-dictator Zia ul-Haq and also the American security establishment, which found in parties such as SSP ready volunteers to fight the Russians. The Iranian response to SSP was the Tehreek-e-Jafria Pakistan and then the Sipah-e-Mohammad — the militant arm of the TJP. The SSP response to this emerged in the form of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which provided a lot of leadership for Jaish-e-Mohammad.

The fact that Punjabi Taliban are now scattered all over FATA, attached either with the TTP or other terrorist outfits also demonstrates the ideological nexus that exists between groups based in and outside FATA.

Soon after former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf proscribed most of the sectarian organizations including the Jaish-e-Muhammad, Sipahe Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Sipah-e-Mohammad (SeM), Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT) and Harkatul Mujahideen (HM) in a nationally televised speech on 12 January 2002, most of these groups had shifted their assets to FATA.

A number of these Punjabi outfits, except for the Shi’a Sipah-e-Mohammad, had their roots in the anti-Soviet jihad, and had moved to Kashmir after the February 1989 Russian pullout from Afghanistan.  But their contacts with the mujahideen-turned-Taliban remained intact through the training camps that Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harktul Mujahideen were running in Afghanistan.

Once the international coalition swept the Taliban from power in December 2001, followed by the ban that Musharraf slapped on some of the militant organizations, most of their leadership and hard-core activists gradually sought sanctuary in FATA, where they created alliances with various pro-al Qaeda and Taliban outfits.
Most of the Punjabi Taliban are associated with groups like Harkatul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and al Badar — all focused on the Kashmir militancy until recently.

Scores of activists and fighters of these Pakistani jihadi organizations were based in Afghanistan when the “war on terror” began. They suffered huge human losses, losing important commanders and hundreds of warriors to U.S. and coalition bombing. Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami, losing as many as 340 fighters, was particularly hard hit.

Some 70 citizens of Pakistan have been held at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison, many of them captured inside Afghanistan and among them suspected members of Harkatul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Harkatul Jihad, which underscores the presence of hard-core Punjabi jihadis within the militant ranks — both Taliban and al Qaeda. Punjabi militants also supplemented the ranks of Kashmiri militants, who have been battling the Indian forces since 1989 for what they call ‘independence from India.’

The entire state of Pakistan now faces an al Qaeda-inspired militant challenge — from South Waziristan to South Punjab.  Some Pakistani intelligence officials believe that some of the militant outfits are being used by external forces to ‘soften up’ the Pakistan Army and suggest that the U.S., India and Afghanistan, for example, still consider the Pakistani army a source of support for militant groups operating in the region. That is why the U.S. Congress added so many conditions in the Kerry-Lugar bill for Pakistan, they insist.

But precisely how these factors influence and motivate religiously-driven zealots — ready to kill and die — remains a great mystery. What is clear, however, is that the Godzillas — born out of the womb of the Iran-Saudi Arabian proxy war and the U.S.-sponsored anti-Soviet jihad, are now unraveling against their erstwhile supporter.

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Pakistan Notebook – Impressions from one front in what we used to call the War on Terror

By Clifford D. May, National Review, October 15, 2009.

Islamabad — I picked an interesting moment to visit Pakistan: four terrorist attacks in less than a week. The first was at the World Food Programme office here in the capital: five killed. The second was in the Khyber Bazaar in Peshawar: more than 50 killed. The third was at the military’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, where Taliban insurgents, armed with automatic weapons, grenades, and rocket launchers, fought for 22 hours. According to government spokesmen, a brigadier, a colonel, and three commandos were killed. More than two dozen hostages were taken, but most reportedly were saved when a would-be suicide bomber was shot and killed before he managed to detonate his vest.

A couple days later, terrorists attacked a military convoy, killing about 40 near the Swat Valley — territory only recently liberated from the Taliban by Pakistani military forces following a difficult and costly battle.

If you look closely, you’ll see a message written in this blood: “You, Pakistan’s so-called leaders, can’t provide food for the hungry or security for the marketplace. Your soldiers and officers can’t even protect themselves. You are useless and weak. You will submit. Or we will destroy you.”

Pakistanis can be remarkably nonchalant about terrorism: They have suffered 129 terrorist attacks in the two years since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 5,000 Pakistanis have been killed in acts of terrorism.

But the assault on the GHQ seems to have shaken people up. Hitting the Pakistani equivalent of the Pentagon is, as a headline in the daily newspaper Dawn puts it: “audacious.” The military is the country’s strongest, proudest, and most durable institution. Retaliation is expected, probably in Waziristan, where the Taliban seems to have made recent gains.
I was invited to Pakistan by the State Department under a “U.S. Speaker and Specialist” program intended to improve the dialogue between Pakistanis and Americans. My hosts have been the American embassy in Islamabad and the U.S. consulates in Lahore and Karachi. Terrorist attacks have been carried out in all three cities. Americans have been among the targets. An American security official tells me: “There will be more. It’s a question of when, not if.”

I have been speaking at universities; meeting with journalists, government officials, religious leaders, and think-tank scholars; and doing radio, television, and newspaper interviews. People seem eager to talk to me, to tell me what they think, question me, argue about terrorism — how to define it, what causes it, how Pakistanis and Americans should respond.
There are not many Americans and Europeans running around Pakistan these days. That’s a victory for the terrorists. Last month, a Greek aid volunteer, Athanasius Lerounis, was kidnapped. He had been in Pakistan for 15 years building schools, water-supply systems, and clinics. The Taliban wants $10 million in ransom plus the release of some of their comrades from Pakistani jails in exchange for letting him go.

Non-Muslim minorities today constitute only about 3 percent of Pakistan’s population. In Karachi, a sprawling, sweltering seaside metropolis of more than 15 million people, a sophisticated Pakistani tells me: “This used to be such a cosmopolitan city. It was enriched by the presence of Christians, Parsis [Zoroastrians from Iran], even Jews. It was a better place then.” When the people who are different are driven out, he theorizes, the people who remain behind do not get along better — they just discover more differences among themselves.

Pakistan is a nation of 175 million people — the third largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Since last year, it has had a democratic government — but not a particularly popular one. Before that, it had a military dictator; he had even less support. Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons — al-Qaeda says it intends to acquire them in time; the Taliban will help if it can. The Kerry-Lugar bill, passed by Congress and soon to reach President Obama’s desk, calls Pakistan “a major non-NATO ally and a valuable partner in the battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”
But it is a conflicted ally and a fragile partnership. As recently as last May, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates voiced the suspicion that within the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency are those who “play both sides” — who have sympathies for and links with various militant jihadi groups.

America has not won many hearts and minds in Pakistan. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that almost two-thirds of Pakistanis describe the U.S. as an “enemy.” Kerry-Lugar would triple aid to Pakistan yet it has been greeted by many in the military, the opposition parties and the media as an insult to Pakistan’s sovereignty and dignity. Why? Because of its “conditionalities” — in large measure because it tries to make sure that money given to Pakistan will be spent only for purposes Americans intend and approve.
I find people admirably hospitable. Many are friendly. But on the campuses, in particular, mixed in with hard but fair questions, is a large measure of anger and resentment. The grievances cited include: The U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. support for India and Israel, U.S. drone attacks against militants in Pakistan (which allegedly kill many innocents — though both U.S. and Pakistani officials deny that), Vietnam, Hiroshima — the list goes on.

I meet with a group of religious leaders. They are remarkably diverse in their views. One refers to “moderate Islam.” Another says: “There is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam.’” I ask what term he would use for the Islam of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. “Oh, that’s not Islam at all,” he says. “So they are heretics?” I ask. “If we call them apostates and they call us apostates, where does it get us?” he replies. I respond, “What do you do instead? Ignore those around the world slaughtering innocents in the name of Islam and hope that someday they might see things differently? Why would that happen?” He thinks hard, but does not come up with an answer.
Flying from Lahore to Karachi, I sit next to a young man with a bushy beard, reading a book on sharia finance. I try to keep to myself but eventually we begin talking. He is a pilot for Pakistan International Airlines. Also, it emerges that he is an enthusiastic trekker and is pleased when I tell him that, years ago, I hiked in northern Pakistan, that I visited Hunza, Gilgit, Skardu, and the Swat Valley. He gives me the URL of a website where he has posted his photos from these fabled places.

He tells me he is worried about the possibility of more wars and conflict and a deteriorating economy. He has a wife and two children, a five-year-old and a three-year-old. He has a brother, a doctor, who lives in Oklahoma. But he also tells me that he does not think America can be trusted. The usual reasons: The U.S. is too close to India and “the Zionists.” What’s more, Pakistanis suspect that Americans want to take away their nuclear weapons. That would mean “a small and weak Pakistan under the control of India — if it even remains as Pakistan and is not divided into small states.” He adds: “Who created the Taliban? It was America herself!”
Many Pakistanis view the Taliban as an enemy. But others will tell you that there is a “good Taliban” and a “bad” Taliban. If that is meant to imply that some groups that call themselves Taliban don’t really buy into the ideology and are therefore “reconcilables” — fine; I have heard that also from senior American military officers in Afghanistan. But sometimes it seems to be implied that the “bad” Taliban attacks Pakistanis, while the “good” Taliban attacks Americans. And there are those who condone the “bad” Taliban as well. Their thinking goes like this: The Taliban attacks the World Food Programme because it supports the Pakistani government, which supports the U.S. government, which supports India and Israel. So you have to cut them some slack.
On a television program, Breakfast with Dawn, the interviewer reads a passage from one of my columns and asks me to defend it. I’m puzzled. I have written that al-Qaeda’s central leadership is based on Pakistani soil. I ask her what requires defending. She says I can’t prove that al-Qaeda is here and Pakistanis doubt it is true.

Ironically, Pakistan is awash in conspiracy theories lacking even the most flimsy evidentiary basis. There are those who contend that 9/11 was a CIA operation, probably in league with the Mossad. What, I ask, would be the motive? To have an excuse to invade Muslim countries, comes the reply. On another television show, Islamabad Tonight, an otherwise smart and well-traveled panelist tells me that President Obama wants to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. “You really think Obama wants that?” I ask incredulously. “Yes,” he says. “It’s not a matter of the personality. It’s big-power politics, the Great Game.”

America is criticized for “occupying” Afghanistan. America also is faulted for having abandoned Afghanistan in the 1990s, after working with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to support the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets. The result of that abandonment: anarchy leading to the rise of the Taliban. My response becomes: “So there are just two things you insist Americans must never do: leave and stay. What third option would you recommend?” This generally gets a laugh. Pakistanis are not without humor.

At the University of Karachi, I debate these and related issues, one after another. I say I find it curious that no one ever mentions the genocide of black Muslims in Darfur, the brutal oppression of protestors in Iran, the plight of the Chechens and the Uighurs. But no one does — not even after I’ve said that.

As for terrorism, I propose that we agree that whatever your grievances, it is wrong to address them by killing other people’s children. Most in the audience seem to find that sensible — at least in theory. At the end of the conversation, I receive polite, even warm applause. But one young man, clean-shaven and in western dress, throws his shoe at me. It misses, more because of his lack of pitching skill than my agility. Almost everyone else in the room appears mortified. Apologies are repeatedly proffered, even from students who had asked hostile questions and to whom I’d responded sharply. The student is thrown out of the classroom. I learn later that he then limped on down to the local press club. The next day, the shoe-throwing incident is reported on the front-page of major newspapers and debated on editorial pages.

At Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, a professor of international relations responds to my remarks by instructing: “Injustices and terrorism are two sides of the same coin.” I reply that the world has never been — and I’m afraid never will be — free of injustices. But by his reasoning, we not only must accept terrorism — we should give it license. If I decide to address the injustice of 9/11 — or of Darfur — by blowing up this university, would that be okay with him? Just two sides of the same coin? He doesn’t concede the point, but at least he keeps his shoes on. And others tell me they think I’m right and he’s wrong.

Pakistan is having a historic debate and it is having it in the midst of a civil war. Pakistan is a front-line state in a global conflict. For a while we called it the War on Terrorism; now we can’t even agree on a name. I’m persuaded that the majority in this country is on the right side of the debate, the civil war, and the global conflict. But among history’s lessons is this: When moderate majorities face radical and determined minorities, there is no guaranteeing the outcome.


An impossible marriage

Guy Bechor, Ynetnews, October 15, 2009.

Can you imagine a wedding where the bride and groom don’t see each other? A little embarrassing, but this is the Egyptian model for the “reconciliation agreement” between Fatah and Hamas; yet the two sides are finding it difficult to accept even this bizarre wedding.

Egypt knows that the problem that hinders a Palestinian agreement is mutual repulsion. Mahmoud Abbas is convinced that Hamas is plotting against it, accumulating arms in Gaza and the West Bank, preparing costumes of Presidential Guard uniforms, and formulating a secret takeover plan.

Hamas, on the other hand, declares that Abbas can no longer serve as president and charges Fatah with plotting a conspiracy to eliminate Hamas, by inciting the world against it and by isolating it. And so, both sides neutralize each other and pull the rug of legitimacy from under each other’s feet.

Hamas is unwilling to bring in Fatah fighters into Gaza in the framework of a joint force, lest they serve as spies ahead of a coup. Fatah is unwilling to bring in Hamas fighters into Judea and Samaria for the same reason.

Meanwhile, the brutality shown by Hamas men, who pushed their brothers, Fatah fighters, from the top floors of Gaza buildings, has not been forgotten. On the other hand, Hamas is certain that Fatah handed over intelligence information to Israel during Operation Cast Lead through its activists in the Gaza Strip. Tensions between the sides are immense, and each side charges the other with treachery and with undermining the common Palestinian good.

The Egyptians are highly interested in Palestinian reconciliation that would embarrass Israel and force it to open the Gaza crossings. By doing this, Israel will again connect to Gaza, in place of the Egyptians. To that end, Cairo is focusing on the interest that brings Palestinians together: In Cairo’s view, the only glue that can connect the Palestinians is the anti-Israel interest.

Be wise, not right

The Egyptian argument is that the Palestinians must join forces and form a unity government; after that, Obama will step in and take care of Israel. He will force it to establish a Palestinian state. Hamas and Fatah will be granted a state, a first independent asset, and from there they would be able to do continue doing whatever they wish vis-à-vis Israel.

Be wise, not right, the Egyptians tell the Palestinians. If you make up, you’ll be able to weaken Israel. If you’ll continue to quarrel, Israel will defeat you. You are currently facing an opportunity that may not repeat; Obama is distant from Israel, waiting for you to reconcile with each other, and then he will force Israel to withdraw from the territories.

So what will the Palestinians decide to do? Their logic favors reconciliation, yet their heart cannot accept it. It’s a great dilemma and the temptation is huge, but so is the mutual repulsion.

For the time being, the disgust is growing. Both sides are finding it difficult to sit in the same room; it is that bad. The hostility and fear between Hamas’ political Islam and Fatah’s Palestinian nationalism (or whatever is left of it) is immense; the same is true for Egypt’s and Saudi Arabia’s support for Fatah vis-à-vis Iran and the Shiites who back Hamas.

These are not two camps, but rather, too opposed worldviews – the most divergent worldviews within the Arab world. Two different planets.
Yasser Arafat’s main achievement was to form one recognized Palestinian leadership. Yet now we have two; how can one even engage I dialogue with two leaderships that are hostile to each other? The Palestinian split is indeed strengthening Israel’s position while weakening any Palestinian argument.

Are the Palestinians aware that their conduct is boosting Israel? They certainly are. Yet the mutual hatred and the fear of each other are greater than their hostility to Israel.


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