Paper no. 2022

13.11.2006

DARGAI & CHENAGAI: WAITING TO HEAR ZAWAHIRI'S VERSION - INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR: PAPER NO. 152

 by B. Raman

Forty-five Pakistani army recruits undergoing training at a Punjab Regimental Centre training school at Dargai, 100 kms north of Peshawar in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, were killed and many others were injured early on the morning of November 8, 2006, when a suspected suicide bomber ran towards them and blew himself up. Thirty-eight recruits were killed on the spot and the remaining seven died later in a local hospital. The school had about 130 recruits undergoing training. The suicide bomber struck when they were changing into uniform after completing their physical training session.

2. There was hardly any perimeter physical security at the school. The suicide bomber took advantage of this, managed to enter the school premises unchallenged, reached the vicinity of the trainees, who had gathered together in a group, and blew himself up. The suicide attack has caused nervousness among some Chinese engineers working in a project for the construction of a hydel power station in the hills overlooking the school. The army has strengthened physical security for them, even though there is no fear of any threat to them. The attack on the school had nothing to do with the Chinese-aided project.

3. Mysteriously, a big fire broke out on the night of November 11, 2006, at the Jaban Power House of Tehsil Dargai, disrupting power supply in the entire area and damaging equipment worth millions of rupees. The fire, which severely damaged five turbines, was brought under control after seven hours. The power house, which was set up by the British in 1937, has a capacity of 8.2 megawatts. The local authorities have claimed that the fire was due to a short-circuit and was not due to a terrorist attack.

4. The investigation into the suicide attack on the army recruits has not made any progress so far. The presumption in official and non-governmental circles is that the suicide attack was, most probably, in reprisal for an air attack on a madrasa at Chenagai in the Bajaur Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on October 30, 2006, in which 80 students studying in the madrasa were killed.

5. There has been considerable controversy regarding the origin of the air attack and the background of the students killed. The local villagers have been claiming that the attack was made by an American Predator aircraft, which flew into the area from Afghanistan. This has been played up by the Pakistani media.  However, no Pakistani journalist has been able to explain how illiterate and semi-literate villagers were able to identify the aircraft as an American Predator and establish that it flew in from Afghanistan.  However, this version has been strengthened by a US TV channel, which has quoted unidentified Pakistani intelligence officials as saying that the attack was carried out by an American Predator aircraft because the Americans had information that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No.2 to Osama bin Laden in Al Qaeda, was in the madrasa at that time. The Pakistani authorities have denied the presence of any high-level Al Qaeda personality in the madrasa when it was attacked.

6. The Pakistani authorities have claimed that it was they, who carried out the attack because they had received reliable intelligence that the madrasa was training suicide bombers for operations in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Army has released a list of persons killed showing all of them to be above 20 years of age. The religious parties have released their own lists of persons killed, showing them to be below 20 years of age. It is not possible to verify either list at present.

7. The attack on the madrasa led to a wave of anger and demonstrations all over the FATA. Nearly 15,000 persons demonstrated repeatedly for a week in the Bajaur Agency.  During the demonstrations, many volunteered for suicide missions against the Pakistan Army and the US. By November 5, 2006, the anger had started subsiding and it looked as if things were returning to normal in the tribal areas. And then, on November 8, the suicide bomber struck at the army training school.

8. While local officials, some Ministers of the Pakistan Government and the Pakistani media have viewed the suicide attack as in retaliation for the air strike on the madrasa, Lt. Gen. (retd) Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, the Governor of the NWFP who is responsible for supervision over the FATA and who himself is a tribal belonging to the FATA, has avoided connecting the two, saying that he would like to wait for the results of the police investigation.

9.  Mr. Rahimullah Yusufzai, a well-known Pakistani journalist who reports to the BBC Pushto service and the "News", a daily of Pakistan, has stated that after the suicide attack he received a telephone call from an unidentified person, who claimed that the attack was in retaliation for the air strike on the madrasa and was carried out by a Pakistani Taliban organisation led by one Abu Kalim Muhammad Ansari. He also warned of more suicide attacks.

10. The Pakistani authorities have denied knowledge of any such organisation or person. Both Dargai and Chenagai are strongholds of an anti-US, pro-Taliban fundamentalist organisation called the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws. Dargai is in the Malakand Division, which is part of the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas of the NWFP. Chenagai is in the Bajaur Agency which is part of the FATA. Maulana Sufi Mohammad, a local leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) in the Malakand area, left the JEI in 1992 due to differences with its leadership and formed the TNSM. When the Americans began their air strikes in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, Sufi Mohammad called for a jihad against the US and entered Afghanistan along with thousands of his followers. Many of them were mowed down by US air strikes. The survivors, including Sufi Mohammad, fled back into Malakand.

11. Gen. Pervez Musharraf banned the TNSM as a terrorist organisation on January 15, 2002, and had Sufi Mohammad arrested . He is believed to be still in jail. The organisation became dormant. When an earthquake struck Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and parts of the NWFP in October, 2005, volunteers of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and members of the TNSM were in the forefront of the humanitarian relief work. Since the Army's own relief work was found wanting, their popularity shot up and Musharraf refrained from acting against them though both had been banned as terrorist organisations on January 15, 2002.

12. There has since then been a significant resurgence in the activities of the TNSM in the Malakand Division of the NWFP and in the Bajaur Agency of the FATA. It has been organising pro-Taliban activities and is generally referred to by the local tribals as the Pakistani Taliban to distinguish it from the Afghan Taliban led by Mulla Mohammad Omar. The TNSM is presently headed by Maulana Fazalullah, the son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad.  Maulana Liaqat, who was in charge of the madrasa destroyed by the air strike and who was killed, belonged to the TNSM. The madrasa was funded by the JEI faction led by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, who is considered one of the mentors of Mulla Mohammad Omar.  Sami-ul-Haq has already started a fund collection drive to re-build the destroyed madrasa.

13. The Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are greatly worried over the suicide attack.  They are hoping that the investigation will bring out that the suicide bomber was a foreigner and not a Pakistani. Stories are already being circulated by local military officials that the suicide bomber was either an Uzbeck or a Chechen or an Uighur. If the suicide bomber turns out to be a Pakistani, it would be interpreted by many in the Pakistani armed forces as meaning that as a result of the pro-US policies of Musharraf, the alienated sections of the NWFP have started targeting the Army as an institution.

14. In the past, there had been individual terrorist attacks on officers.  Musharraf himself was a target thrice---twice in Rawalpindi and once in Karachi. His former Corps Commander in Karachi (General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, now the Vice Chief of Army Staff) narrowly escaped a terrorist strike. Mr. Shaukat Aziz, the present Prime Minister, escaped an attack in 2004 before he became the Prime Minister, but he was not from the Army. During the last three years, many Pakistani army officers and soldiers had been killed in the Waziristan area of the FATA during clashes. This is the first time that there had been a targeted attack on a large number of Army recruits in the NWFP, showing that the anger against the Army as an institution, which was previously confined to the Waziristan area, has spread outside the FATA. Next to Pakistani Punjab, the NWFP is the second most important recruiting area for the Pakistan Army.

15.  For the last two years, Musharraf has been the target of personal criticism ---initially by Zawahiri and then by bin Laden-- for co-operating with the US. Zawahiri has been projecting him as apostate and calling upon the Pakistan Army to overthrow him. bin Laden, Zawahiri, Mulla Omar and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar of the Hizb-e-Islami as well as the various pro-Taliban organisations have been making a clear distinction between Musharraf and the rest of the Army. While criticising Musharraf, they have been refraining from any criticism of the Army as an institution. Is their attitude changing as a result of the destruction of the madrasa? That is the question worrying the senior Army leadership.

16. A Predator aircraft of the CIA had made an unsuccessful attempt to kill Zawahiri in January this year in the same Bajaur Agency.Seventeen days after the attack, Zawahiri disseminated an audio message taunting the US for its botched up operation to kill him. Will he come out with a similar message on the air strike on the madrasa? If he does, it may throw light on the air strike and possibly also on the suicide attack. If he does not come out with a message, there will be fierce speculation as to why the silence this time.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail:itschen36@gmail.com)

 

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