|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | MAJOR GENERAL (Retd) ASHOK K MEHTA|
|February 13, 2002||
Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta
The threat is real
For India the war in Afghanistan is not over. It has simply spilled over into Pakistan. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are one geographical entity as far as the scourge of terrorism is concerned and are rightly called terror factories.
Phase two of the global war on terrorism has to be fought in Pakistan to account for the thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters who have gone missing, probably escaped across the Durand Line into Pakistan and some to Iran.
The US is currently obsessed with nabbing the 'evil genius' Osama bin Laden, forgetting the thousands gone underground. Barring the roughly 200 Al Qaeda terrorists taken to a detention camp in Cuba, there is neither any official assessment nor an inventory of the disposal or whereabouts of the 50,000-strong army of the Taliban or the Al Qaeda fighters and their armouries.
One estimate puts the number of terrorists killed or surrendered at around 7,000 and 20,000, respectively. What happened to the rest? Have the bad terrorists in Afghanistan been decimated and the good ones allowed to flee into Pakistan, destined to wage a fresh jihad in Jammu & Kashmir? Is Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf going to renege on his recent promise to stop sponsoring terrorism?
Lieutenant General Kamal Matinuddin of Pakistan, in his book The Taliban Phenomenon, has written that the war in Afghanistan was his country's biggest clandestine operation. Are we about to see Pakistan reinforcing its clandestine war in J&K, despite Musharraf renouncing, indeed denouncing, terrorism and jihad on January 12? These are the questions that will trouble India's security forces and others in the region in the coming weeks.
That this threat is more real than imagined is supported by various intelligence and news reports, giving details of the secret aerial evacuation of thousands of Taliban, Pakistani and foreign advisers from Kunduz to Pakistan in November last year. Celebrated American journalist John Burns was the first to break the story saying President George Bush approved the operation on an express request from President Musharraf. Among those rescued were senior Pakistan Army officers belonging to the ISI who were guiding Taliban military operations. The three officers in charge of operations were Lt Gen Syed-ul-Zafar and Brigadiers Shamim and Haider, both from the ISI. The mysterious fires in GHQ Rawalpindi in September and January have destroyed the Afghanistan files and ISI papers. It was also reported that Brigadier Shaheed of Joint Intelligence, North, in charge of J&K, has been shifted from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad.
Pakistan specialist Christina Lamb, in her latest despatch for the London-based The Sunday Telegraph, has reported that most of the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters have escaped to Pakistan with the help of the ISI. This was a contingency feared by many Indian security experts.
India, from day one of Operation Enduring Freedom, has been telling the US that the war on terrorism has to be fought on both sides of the Durand Line. One of the reasons for the unprecedented deployment of its armed forces is to deter cross-border terrorism whose oldest victim is India. Pakistan on its part was quick to lift its troops from the Durand Line and redeploy them on the east, thereby giving the Taliban and Al Qaeda virtually safe passage into Pakistan.
Latest reports indicate that anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 terrorists may have slipped in or been evacuated from Kunduz to Pakistan, most heading for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, assuming either new names like Shoora-e-Furqan or joining re-designated groups. For the present, they are lying low.
The fresh induction of trained terrorists could raise the ante in Jammu & Kashmir. The rehabilitation of hard-core Taliban, Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters is a threat not only for India, but for others in the region as they could join hands with terror groups operating in Chinese Xinjiang, Uzbekistan and Chechnya, among other places.
Let no one forget that they can also start cross-border terrorism against the new regime in Kabul from the Pushtoon tribal areas in Pakistan and will no doubt draw support from local Pushtoons there.
The evacuation of besieged terrorist groups from Kunduz and the escape of others to Pakistan have further confused the issue, especially because of an apparent lack of US accounting of the Taliban and other terrorist groups and their weapons. Besides augmenting the threat to India, they will now be able to fight another day in another place.
The US cannot make a distinction between good and bad terrorists as this will allow the Taliban evil to shift from Kabul to Kashmir.
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