I have always respected Zahid Hussain as a true journalist, getting out and ‘reporting as seen’ in contrast to a sedentary recipient of news at second hand like me. His book The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan and how it Threatens America (Free Press 2010) has set up a rival narrative to the media-propelled version of what happened at Lal Masjid in 2007 and tells us how appeasement was offered to the rising Taliban warlords in the tribal areas.
General Orakzai in Peshawar prevented Musharraf in 2002 from moving against the militants and their patron al Qaeda, disbelieving America and the ISI but fearing “the large presence of foreigners because action against them would spark a tribal uprising” (p.32). The ethnic rage of the Pashtun all over the world is understandable, but it is difficult to grasp why Punjabi General Safdar Hussain, who succeeded General Orakzai in Peshawar, was moved to sign fake, self-damaging deals with warlords Nek Muhammad and Baitullah Mehsud.
Hatred of America, it appears, was the common cause. General Hussain was blamed for the humiliation of the Pakistan Army as fallout from these peace deals: “His commitment to the alliance with the United States was questionable. A year earlier, when I met him at the ISI headquarters, he predicted excitedly that the American forces were going to be bogged down in Afghanistan. ‘That is what we want,’ he said then. Little did he know that his troops would soon be confronted with their own serious challenge” (p.71).
Musharraf was attacked by the state’s own proxy warriors; yet he could not get his generals to act. Orakzai was actually made governor of the NWFP after retirement! Warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan, the first frontman of al Qaeda, had promised to get rid of the ‘foreigners’ he was hosting. Zahid Hussain writes: “But he never delivered on those promises, instead using the accords to create an umbrella of protection for al Qaeda forces” (p.35).
The book notes: “A large number of Pakistani officers also refused to accept that the 9/11 attacks were planned by al Qaeda; they believed it was a ‘Jewish conspiracy’ against Muslims, and many of them considered Osama bin Laden an ‘Islamic warrior’” (p.61).
In 2003, al Qaeda-linked Jaish-e-Mohammad nearly killed Musharraf and in 2004, Nek Muhammad ambushed an army convoy near Wana. When the army went after Nek Muhammad, the Lal Masjid in Islamabad issued a fatwa against Pakistani troops, advising Muslims not to give Islamic burial to the martyred soldiers (p. 71). After that several officers were court-martialled for refusing to fight.
In 2007, Lal Masjid was al Qaeda’s watering hole: “The militant clerics of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid — who were affiliated with al Qaeda and both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leadership — were to prove a pivotal turning point in the fate of Musharraf’s rule” (p.105). Lal Masjid snipers shot Lt-Col Haroon Islam, the commander of the special forces, triggering the operation against Lal Masjid (p.111).
One cleric Abdul Rashid had become inspired after an hour-long meeting with Osama bin Laden in Kandahar during which he picked up bin Laden’s glass of water and drank from it, saying “I drank from your glass so that Allah would make me a warrior like you” (p.112). And what happened to the Pakistani commandos who attacked Lal Masjid? Two months later, a suicide bomber killed 22 of the SSG’s officers in a mess, with the help of an insider, Captain Khurram (p.121). Another Major (retd) Haroon Ashiq killed Major-General Ameer Faisal Alvi in Islamabad on al Qaeda’s orders (p.170).
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2010.