Khaled Ahmed's A n a l y s i s (FRIDAY TIMES, LAHORE, APRIL 6,2005)
Abdullah Mehsud, who kidnapped two Chinese engineers at the Gomal Zam Dam, was an old Banuri Masjid warrior. After the kidnappers were stormed, one Chinese engineer was killed. Abdullah was helped by five kidnappers, two of them from South Waziristan and three from Afghanistan. Mehsud was released from Guantanamo Bay by the Americans in March 2004 after two and a half years
Baitullah Mehsud is the warlord with whom the government signed its second peace pact in February 2005. Baitullah has complete dominance over North and South Waziristan, registered as two tribal agencies under Federally Administered Territories Act (FATA). He is 30 but was only 22 when he trained as a warrior in Takhar province of Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance
(Tanvir Qaiser Shahid is the rare Pakistani journalist reporting honestly on South Waziristan. He has been harassed by men sent to Lahore by someone in Peshawar. His family too has been harassed in Wah. Considering that two journalists have been gunned down in Wana in January 2005, his research and on-the-spot reporting, presented below, is of great value.)
Pakistan army started its operations in South Waziristan in January 2003 after being alerted to the presence of Al Qaeda elements there. Two years have passed since then but the trouble there doesn't seem to come to an end although it has been announced officially that out of the 6000 'foreign' terrorists, nearly 600 have been captured, 150 killed, while only 80 are left and are 'roaming around in bands'. During the operations, 200 of the Pakistan army too have been accepted officially as being killed. The campaign was highlighted by two 'pacts' signed with the local tribes, the first one at Shakai with a Wazir warlord Nek Muhammad in April 2004, which he broke and was killed the same year through a laser-guided missile; the second one at Sararogha in February 2005 with a Mehsud warlord Baitullah Mehsud, for which he was paid Rs 2 crore but which he denies.
From Nek Muhammad to Abdullah Mehsud: Writing in daily Pakistan (26 July 2004) Tanvir Qaiser Shahid stated that Al Qaeda commander Nek Muhammad who was killed by a missile in Wana was in possession of great wealth although no one knew where it had come from. In the past he had stolen cars and for a time owned a shop in Wana. After he became linked to Al Qaeda people saw a caravan of air-conditioned double-cabin wagons, land cruisers and bullet-proof cars in his possession. He got this wealth after providing shelter to the fleeing Al Qaeda members. He got married again when he became prosperous. He got Qari Tahir of Al Qaeda to pay him a big fee for getting him out of Wana and abroad. His two lieutenants Dawar Khan and Iden Khan provided two hiding places to Al Qaeda in South Waziristan for $34,000.
After the death of Nek Muhammad, another warrior named Abdullah Mehsud appeared on the scene by kidnapping two Chinese engineers. Tanvir Qaiser Shahid wrote in daily Pakistan (26 October 2004) that the man who kidnapped two Chinese engineers at the Gomal Zam Dam on 11 October 2004 in South Waziristan, was an old Banuri Masjid warrior, Abdullah Mehsud. After all negotiations failed, the kidnappers were stormed, which resulted in the death of one Chinese engineer. Abdullah was helped by five kidnappers, two of them from South Waziristan and three from Afghanistan. Mehsud, who was released from Guantanamo Bay by the Americans in March 2004 after two and a half years, demanded the release of five of his friends from jail in Pakistan as ransom. Abdullah was born in South Waziristan, was educated to FA but could not obtain commission in the army like his cousin who retired as major and is now trading in Wana. After failing to join the army, Abdullah went to Karachi and lived among the Afghan refugees and also arose to the leadership of the Pushtun transport mafia. He was taken into Deobandi seminary of Banuri Masjid by its chief, Mufti Shamzai.
The Banuri Mosque connection: Abdullah stayed there for three years and came under the influence of Mufti Jameel who taught there. Mufti Jameel was a close adviser of Mufti Shamzai and the two were representatives of the Taliban interests in Pakistan. When in 2001, ISI chief General Mehmood took a delegation to persuade Mullah Umar to desist from terrorism, Mufti Jameel was also in the delegation. Fifty-two-year old Mufti Jameel was at that time information secretary of the JUI and was a member of its Shura. He ran 150 Iqra religious schools where 50,000 took instruction. Abdullah Mehsud, after coming close to Mufti Jameel, was given the job of Mullah Umar's personal bodyguard. Abdullah was already a veteran of the war against the Northern Alliance. In October 2001 when America attacked Afghanistan he was once again at the battlefront, from where he was captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay.
The Americans failed to link Abdullah to Al Qaeda and released him in March 2004. Upon reaching Pakistan he went straight to Banuri Masjid in Karachi and paid his respects to Mufti Jameel. The Wana Operation was on then and Mufti Shamzai of Banuri Masjid had been murdered in Karachi. While Abdullah lay low in South Waziristan, another incident took place. Someone killed Mufti Jameel on 9 October 2004 along with Khatm-e-Nabuwwat cleric Maulana Taunsavi. Abdullah struck two days later and kidnapped the Chinese engineers from the Dam. Abdullah Mehsud got to know Uzbek warrior Tahir Yuldashev and Ahmadzai Wazir Nek Muhammad intimately during his training in the Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. While the parliamentary opposition is opposed to the Wana Operation, many are in denial about the presence of foreigners in South Waziristan. Jamaat Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad has hinted that Mufti Jameel was actually killed by the state agencies.
The Karachi doctors and Jandullah: While the Operation drew on, President Musharraf announced that attempts on his life had been planned from South Waziristan, that the explosives 'were carried from South Waziristan to Multan and then to Rawalpindi'. In Karachi the corps commander narrowly escaped death at the hands a terrorist organisation Jandullah whose members too had come down from South Waziristan. In Karachi another pair of doctors were found involved after earlier discoveries in Lahore. The two had also looked after a wounded Abu Musaab Zarqavi as he fled from the war against the Americans in Afghanistan. Later, Zarqavi was to lead the terrorist campaign in Iraq.
Daily Pakistan (12 July 2004) quoted Karachi police as saying that Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed kept Al Qaeda leader Abu Musaab Zarqavi in their house in Karachi and looked after him and then sent him to South Waziristan for onward journey to Afghanistan. Both the Karachi doctors were revealed as Jandullah members by the Jandullah leader, Ataullah. The doctors had admitted that they were members of Jandullah and that they had provided medical aid to Al Qaeda members and sent men to be trained as Al Qaeda agents to Wana, to Nek Muhammad, through his brother. According to Jang the two doctors admitted that they had been members of the Jamaat Islami student wing and had maintained their links with the Jamiat Tulaba Islam till late. Zarqavi went from Karachi to Iraq where he has since been executing attacks on the Americans and the Iraqi Shia. He has also been taking Pakistanis hostage and killing them.
Enter Baitullah Mehsud from the North: As one-legged Abdullah Mehsud hid in the mountains abutting on Afghanistan, another Mehsud warrior named Baitullah Mehsud came on the scene. This is the warlord with whom the government signed its second peace pact in February 2005. Baitullah has complete dominance over North and South Waziristan, registered as two tribal agencies under Federally Administered Territories Act (FATA). He is 30 but was only 22 when he trained as warrior in Takhar province of Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. He was brought close to the Taliban leadership by Nek Muhammad who was already in charge of a training camp in Afghanistan. He also fought against the Americans before fleeing to South Waziristan. The government's pact of Sararogha with him is an effort to isolate Abdullah Mehsud. The pact did not contain the condition that he must present the 'foreign terrorists' taking shelter with him for registration; it simply bound him not to attack the Pakistan army or state assets and not give shelter to foreign terrorists. It did not bind him to laying down arms or not fighting across the Durand Line.
Baitullah Mehsud addressed his tribe after the Sararogha pact and clearly swore allegiance to Mullah Umar of the Taliban. His power over the two agencies is owed to his wealth and his ability to wage war. He goes around in a bullet-proof car and is followed around by 30 armed guards. Like Nek Muhammad, he too has two wives and has three castle-like houses in North and South Waziristan. Although he is not a tribal leader by lineage or by election, he is more respected as a warlord by the people of the two agencies than any other person. Although he denies that he received Rs 20 million (2 crore) from the secret funds of the government without signing a receipt, corps commander Peshawar General Safdar Hussain is on record as saying that the money was indeed set aside for him.
The big two-way payoff: The sociology and pattern of tribal leadership has changed since the Al Qaeda Arabs arrived in the territory. After the Taliban defeat in Afghanistan, the Arabs showed a lot of generosity to the tribal population here. Daily Times Washington correspondent Khalid Hasan reported on 17 February 2005: 'Christian Science Monitor correspondent in Pakistan Owais Tohid writes, quoting intelligence sources and for some facts, South Waziristan official Asmatullah Gandapur, that al Qaeda lured tribal militants with huge sums of money, and registers were maintained for recording salaries for local fighters. "The fighters used to get a 15,000 rupee (around $250) monthly salary. The commanders used to get advances running into millions for arms and ammunition, communication, and Land Cruisers," a local intelligence official told the correspondent. Tribesmen benefited by renting out their compounds for shelter and training camps, and providing food to foreign militants.
"A chicken worth 60 rupees (a dollar) would be sold to al Qaeda for 900 rupees ($15) and a bag of sugar worth 950 rupees ($7) would be provided for 9,000 rupees (around $150)," tribesman Mohammad Noor recalled. Similarly, a compound, which is usually rented out for $17 to $25, would be given to al Qaeda as a training camp or hideout for around $10,000. Most of al Qaeda's money was transferred from Arab countries through hawala . Some locals even witnessed al Qaeda operatives roaming around South Waziristan with bags full of dollars. "Once I visited my cousin in a remote village where everybody was talking about a rich bearded Arab distributing money among villagers. Later I came to know he was a big financier," said tribesman Farid Khan, referring to Saad bin Khadr, who was killed in a military operation in October 2003.'
This is part one of a two-part report on South Waziristan. The second instalment will be published next week.