An Antithesis of Pakistan’s Rhetoric

Gulf News, June 15, 2005

The arrest in California of a Pakistani father and son allegedly linked to terrorism highlights, once again, the superficiality of the Pakistani regime’s rhetoric about changing the country’s direction.

So far no evidence has been presented by the US officials to show that the California detainees are linked to Al Qaida, except an affidavit by one of the accused admitting to attending a militant training camp near Rawalpindi.

It is possible that the Pakistanis may turn out to be innocent of Al Qaida links, joining the ranks of hundreds of Muslims caught in America’s currently over-zealous law enforcement agencies. It is equally possible, however, that they were associated with a Pakistani jihadi group, which in turn might be linked to the global network loosely described as Al Qaida.

The Pakistani foreign office was, as usual, quick in denying that any Al Qaida facility exists in Pakistan. Of course, it is the same foreign office that, through its permanent representative to the United Nations has been periodically debating the definition of terrorism at the UN even though Pakistan has ostensibly been a crucial ally in the US-led global war against terrorism.

One could ask Pakistani officials how they can be America’s partners in fighting terrorism if they do not agree with the US definition of terrorism but that argument is not the subject of our immediate concern.

The same week that the California arrests served as a reminder of the jihadi presence in Pakistan, the famed victim of a gang rape, whose rapists had earlier been set free, was detained and forbidden from travelling abroad.

The “enlightened moderate” State in Pakistan chose to extend its protection to the perpetrators of the gang rape rather than Mukhtaran Mai, the victim.

With the passage of time, differences between the “Islamist” dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq and the “modernising” regime of General Pervez Musharraf are clearly a lot less pronounced than Musharraf’s supporters make them out to be. The military regime’s priority appears to be to suppress or deny bad news rather than to change the circumstances that give rise to it.

In the case of the California arrests, the Pakistani authorities should have obtained full information and checked the facts before setting their spin machine in motion. One of the California accused reportedly told his interrogators that he attended a jihadi facility run by Maulana Fazlur Rehman at “Tamal in Rawalpindi”.

Given that the FBI officer writing the Pakistani detainee’s statement was unfamiliar with both Rawalpindi’s geography and the who’s who of Pakistani jihadism, it is perfectly possible that he simply failed to figure out the information he was given.

Uprooting militancy

Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, originally of Harkat-ul-Ansar, has maintained a jihadi facility at Dhamial in Rawalpindi for many years. Had the Pakistan Government been serious in its claims of uprooting militancy and terrorism, it would have paid some attention to this possible link between last week’s arrests in California and a shadowy group that participated in the officially sanctioned Afghan and Kashmir jihads.

Maulana Khalil was one of the signatories of Osama Bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the United States and was reportedly in the camp struck by US cruise missiles in Afghanistan in 1998.

In January 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that Maulana Khalil remained openly active despite government-imposed bans on him and his organisations. Khalil had survived the ban in 1995 on Harkat-ul-Ansar and renamed it Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. When Harkat-ul-Mujahideen was banned after September 11, 2001, he emerged as the leader of Jamiat-ul-Ansar. Instead of doing anything about Maulana Khalil or his followers after the publication of the LA Times report, Pakistani security services threatened the newspaper’s Pakistani reporter.

The reporter’s reporting, rather than Maulana Khalil’s activities appeared to irk Pakistani officials more.

Maulana Khalil was finally arrested with considerable publicity in March 2004 only to be released quietly seven months later.
He has reportedly gone underground after the recent arrests of his followers in California.

Unlike Mukhtaran Mai, the rape victim, Pakistani authorities are unable to find and detain him.

Ironically, the same Pakistani officials who had no qualms about keeping Asif Ali Zardari (husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto) in prison without a conviction for almost eight years have never found sufficient reason to detain Maulana Khalil or several other militant jihadi leaders for that matter.

It should be obvious to all but the most na├»ve that Musharraf’s U-turn in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 has been selective and aimed more at pleasing the United States than at ridding Pakistan of domestic militant groups.

American officials regularly express the belief that Pakistan has turned the corner and can now be trusted as an American ally.

The United States sees Pakistan’s glass as half full rather than half empty. For Pakistanis faced with on-ground realities, such as militants living in their midst and the treatment of gang rape victims such as Mukhtaran Mai, there is little in the glass that gives them satisfaction.