Copyright © 1995 Yossef Bodansky
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Kashmir is unique among all the crisis points along the Indo-Pakistani border in that a marked escalation of the fighting -- both insurgency and regular -- is virtually inevitable before any effort for a peaceful solution can succeed. The primary reasons is the extent of the ideological commitment and self-interests of several of the key players involved.
For Islamabad, the liberation of Kashmir is a sacred mission, the only task unfulfilled since Muhammad Ali Jinnah's days. Moreover, a crisis in Kashmir constitutes an excellent outlet for the frustration at home, an instrument for the mobilization of the masses, as well as gaining the support of the Islamist parties and primarily their loyalists in the military and the ISI.
The ISI has a major interest to continue the crisis. Back in the 1970s, Pakistan started to train Sikhs and other Indian separatist movements as part of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's strategy for forward strategic depth. Pakistan adopted the sponsorship of terrorism and subversion as an instrument to substitute for the lack of strategic depth and early warning capabilities. The Pakistani sponsored terrorists and the Pakistani intelligence operatives in their ranks would be able to warn Pakistan of any impending Indian invasion, and then launch a guerrilla warfare against the Indian Army even before it reached the border with Pakistan. Therefore, sponsoring separatist subversion has become a crucial component of Islamabad's national military strategy.
During the 1980s, the ISI completed a vast training and support infrastructure for the Afghan resistance that was also used for the training and support of other regional groups. There was a corresponding ideological development in Indian Kashmir. Since 1984, virtually suddenly, the prevailing popular sentiments in Indian Kashmir was that "Islam is in Danger," and that sentiment, rather than nationalism, began mobilizing the youth.
The timing of the change was not spontaneous. Hashim Qureshi, the founder of the nationalist JKLF [Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front] recently recalled how "in 1984 ISI Generals and Brigadiers approached me with the offer: 'get us young people for training from the Valley so that they could fight India on return.'" When he refused, Qureshi explained, his struggle was taken over by the ISI who installed Amanullah Khan. "It is tragic that so-called nationalist Amanullah Khan and some of his supporters started the present struggle in Kashmir in league with the ISI. A man with common intelligence can understand that any movement started in a Muslim majority area with the help of Pakistani military intelligence will eventually mean religious struggle." Qureshi stressed that by 1993 "Amanullah proved that he was an agent of the ISI" having sacrificed the nationalist liberation struggle in Kashmir on the altar of Islamist politics. Qureshi himself had to flee Pakistan and seek political asylum in Western Europe.
Meanwhile, by the late-1980s, with the war in Afghanistan slowing down, the vast network of training camps for Afghan Mujahideen was transformed by the ISI into a center of Islamist terrorism throughout south Asia, as well as the melting pot of the world wide Islamist Jihad. This transformation concurred with an active ISI program "to initiate full-fledged subversion in Kashmir Valley" that is still escalating. At first, the ISI's assistance to the Kashmiri Islamists was funnelled through Gulbaddin Hekmatiyar's Hizb-i Islami, thus providing Islamabad with deniability.
Islamabad increases its support for Islamist terrorism in Kashmir because there is a genuine whole hearted commitment to Jihad among the Kashmiri terrorists and their international volunteers. Moreover, the ISI transformed its major paramilitary command into a major political force as a direct result of their increase of support for terrorism in India. Presently, there is a need for a mission use for the ISI's numerous para-military and Afghan forces, as well as an institutional interest in preserving the political clout that comes with these operations. Islamabad finds a task for the ISI's vast Pakistani and Afghan cadres previously involved in sponsoring the Jihad in Afghanistan but who are now no longer needed, that would keep them away from domestic politics and power struggles. Indeed, the escalation of terrorism and subversion since the early 1990s is considered a part of the ISI's implementation of a long-term program.
Iran considers an escalation in the Jihad for the liberation of Kashmir a key for the assertion of strategic prominence of the Tehran-led Islamic Bloc, as well as a demonstration of its regional power position. In order to expedite the implementation, the Iranians are utilizing a sacred mission, that is, liberating the area of Ayatollah Khomeyni's roots, as a rallying point. The extent of agitation and indoctrination of Iranian, Afghan, Kashmiri, Indian/Pakistani and other volunteers in the special forces and terrorist training camps in Iran makes it impossible to call off such a Jihad for any reason.
Similarly, the Armed Islamic Movement, as well as several Saudis, Gulf Arabs, and other supporters of Islamist causes, put Kashmir high on their list of jihads to be fought. Indeed, Kashmir is mentioned in lists of sacred goals recovered in Israel (HAMAS), Algeria (FIS), Sudan, Egypt, to name but a few examples. Kashmir is a high priority objective because of the firm belief in the possibility of success. It is an easy campaign to wage for logistical considerations because of the presence of numerous cadres and large weapon stockpiles in Afghanistan and Pakistan. AIM's operations are closely coordinated in Tehran and Khartoum.
All of these states and organizations have large, highly trained and well equipped forces. Virtually all of these forces have not yet been committed to the Kashmiri jihad. The sole attempt for mass mobilization, in 1992, was stopped by the Pakistani authorities for fear of Indian retaliation. However, Islamabad desperately needs an external challenge for its own domestic political reasons, ranging from diversion of popular attention away from the domestic collapse to finding "something to do" for the ISI and the military other than meddling in politics. Islamabad would receive massive financial assistance from Iran, Saudis and Gulf Arabs, as was the case during the Afghan war, if there is a jihad to be waged. Kashmir is the only viable option. Moreover, even if Islamabad is reluctant to move, many of the irregulars -- Pakistanis, Afghans, Kashmiris and Arab 'Afghans' -- will eventually start the escalations on their own with a nod and a wink from the ISI and the military, thus dragging the supporting powers -- themselves already bound by their declaratory commitments -- into the rapidly escalating crisis.
Presently, Pakistani officials repeatedly vow to "liberate" Kashmir, or enforce the recognition of "Muslims' rights" in the Valley, even at a risk of a major crisis. This rising militancy of Pakistani officials is far from being empty rhetoric. Islamabad uses the escalation in Kashmir as a cover for the overall expansion of the terrorist training and support system for operations in Central Asia and elsewhere in the world.
In order to escalate their Islamist Jihad, the ISI established in the early 1990s the Markaz-Dawar, a center for world wide Islamist activities. Mulavi Zaki, the center's spiritual leader, told the trainees that their destiny was to fight and liberate "the land of Allah from infidels" wherever they might be. The commanders and instructors are AIM members, primarily Ikhwan from Algeria, Sudan and Egypt. Most of them had fought for more than a decade in Afghanistan.
In early 1992, with world attention paid to their presence in Peshawar area, some of these 'Afghans' were transferred to Azzad Kashmir where new camps were being built for them by the Pakistani Army. By early 1993, there were over 1,000 'Afghan' Mujahideen in the Markaz-Dawar alone. Following the completion of advance training, they are being sent to Kashmir, Algeria and Egypt.
Since mid 1993, despite Islamabad's claims to the contrary, the main offices of the Islamist terrorist organizations remained functioning in Peshawar. The series of "raids" by police since October 1992 had resulted in the transfer of some of the 200 hard core terrorists specifically wanted by the West to facilities near Jalalabad, just across the Afghan border. In principle, the reports of mass deportation of 'Afghans' from Peshawar by the Pakistani government were baseless. In the fall of 1993, an Arab 'Afghan' with first hand knowledge confirmed that "Pakistan pushed them out of the door only to open a window for them to return and they come and go as they wish in Peshawar."
In the summer of 1993, the ISI had in the Markaz-Dawar another force of some 200 Afghans -- mainly Jallalluddin Haqqani's people from the Khowst area -- that operated under direct ISI command and were earmarked for special operations in Kashmir. According to Muhammad Fazal al-Hajj, a PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] terrorist captured in southern Kashmir in the summer of 1993, additional 'Afghans' and Afghans were being prepared by the ISI for the forthcoming escalation. At least 400 'Afghans' and Afghans were known to being organized in one camp, where they were trained by the ISI to augment and provide quality core of leadership for the Kashmiri Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. There was a corresponding expansion of advance preparations of Islamist terrorists for operations in forward bases in Kashmir. Some 600 terrorists, about half of them veteran 'Afghans' and Afghans, were already at the final phase of their training.
Ultimately, many Arab volunteers continue to arrive in Peshawar almost every day. The main Ikhwan facility is the Maktaba-i-Khidmat originally established by the late Shaykh Abd Allah Azzam and now run by his successor Shaykh Muhammad Yussaf Abbas. It still processes the volunteers for AIM. At present, however, many of the volunteers are then dispatched to the numerous training camps run by Arab 'Afghan' militants inside Afghanistan. The ISI continues to provide the weapons and expertise. In July 1994, Sardar Abdul Qayum Khan, the prime minister of Pakistani Azzad Kashmir, acknowledged that "there are a number of elements from various nationalities who participate in the Jihad." He identified most of them as "Arab 'Afghans'."
Meanwhile, the Government of Afghanistan also increased its support for terrorist training and preparations. This growing direct involvement is important because the main operating bases for the ISI's operations in Central Asia are in northern Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the fall of Kabul, many Arab 'Afghans' returned to Peshawar where they were organized by the Pakistani government to support various Islamist causes in concert with Iran and Sudan. Many of them returned to Afghanistan as quality forces and personal guard details. For example, Ahmad Shah Massud maintains some 70-80 Arab 'Afghans' in southern Kabul for special tasks, from "help" in political purges to fighting Gulbaddin Hekmatiyar.
In early December 1993, during a state visit to Pakistan, the Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Maulana Arsalan Rahmani, elaborated on Kabul's perception of the Islamist struggles world wide, and especially in south and central Asia. He hailed Afghanistan's active support for Islamist armed causes world wide and stressed that "we don't consider this support as intervention in any country's internal affairs." Maulana Arsalan Rahmani admitted that Afghanistan was providing military assistance to various insurgencies because "we cannot remain aloof from what is happening to the Muslims in occupied Kashmir, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Somalia, Burma, Palestine and elsewhere. ... We are not terrorists but Mujahideen fighting for restoring peace and preserving honor."
He acknowledged that Afghanistan also played a major role in a recent major development among the Islamist organizations fighting in Indian Kashmir, namely, the merger of the Harakat ul-Jihad Islami and Harakat ul-Mujahideen into the potent Harakat ul-Ansar. This support for the unity was but part of the active support given by Afghanistan to the Islamist fighters in Kashmir, Tajikistan, and Bosnia. "There are about 8,000 members of Harakat ul-Ansar who are supporting the Kashmiri struggle against Indian occupation," Maulana Arsalan Rahmani stated.
In early 1995, the Harakat ul-Ansar was maintaining offices in most Pakistani cities, as well as training facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It expanded its global reach in support for Islamist causes. "Ours is a truly international network of genuine Muslim holly warriors," explained Khalid Awan, a Pakistani member. "We believe frontiers could never divide Muslims. They are one nation and they will remain a single entity." Harakat ul-Ansar are known to be fighting in Kashmir, the Philippines, Bosnia, Tajikistan, and the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the ISI continues to provide the terrorists with new weapons. In the summer of 1993, the Kashmiri Mujahideen were provided with long range and powerful missiles -- Saqr missiles of Afghan War vintage. At that time, the Kashmiri and ISI crews were being trained in the use of these missiles in Pakistani Kashmir.
Subsequently, there has been a marked expansion of smuggling of quality weapons from Pakistan into Kashmir as of late 1993. There has been a corresponding change in the terrorists' tactics, introducing hit and run strikes by highly trained and well equipped detachments. Among the new weapons now used in Kashmir are 107mm rockets, 60mm mortars, automatic grenade launchers (Soviet and Chinese models), modification of 57mm helicopter rocket pods with solar-powered sophisticated timing devise for delayed firing barrages of rockets, and LAW-type tube-launched ATMs (Soviet and Chinese models). A threshold was crossed in the spring of 1994, when the ISI began providing the Kashmiri Islamists with Stinger SAMs. Indian security forces captured a Stinger on 30 April 1994.
As of the fall of 1993, the Kashmiri terrorists also began using sophisticated communication systems including small radios (including systems with frequency hopping, selective broadcast, digital burst communications, etc.) and collapsible solar-panels for reload systems, as well as frequency scanning devise for detecting and homing on military-type broadcasting. All the communication systems are of NATO/US origin, with some components made in Japan.
All of these systems had been used by the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, having been provided via the ISI. There has been a large increase in the quantities of small arms provided to the Kashmiris, including Type 56 ARs (PRC AK-47s), several types of machineguns, long-range sniper rifles, pistols and RPGs, all of Soviet and Chinese makes. Some of the Kashmiri terrorist began carrying highly specialized weapons such as pen-guns for assassinations.
The ISI 'Afghan' and Kashmiri forces also assist the flow of weapons and expertise to the Sikhs in the Punjab. The main weapon depots for this new surge in subversion and terrorism are in Baramulla and Kupwara area of the Kashmir Valley, where ISI-trained Sikhs run the depot. In addition, there is a key depot for the Bhinranwale Tiger Force of Khalistan in Singhpora. The source of these weapons are two Hizb-ul-Mujahideen officials known to the Sikhs as Al-Umar and Fiaz Ahmad.
In early 1994, the ISI already had a force of 2,000-2,500 highly trained mujahideen assigned for Kashmir, including Kashmiris, Arab 'Afghans' and Afghans. The key force includes 1,000 Pakistani (inc. Pakistani-born Kashmiris), 500 Afghans, as well as numerous Saudis, Egyptians, Sudanese, Algerians, Nigerians, Jordanians/Palestinians and other foreign volunteers. Their main training bases are in Peerpanjal range area. By the spring of 1994, when the weather permitted the resumption of large-scale terrorist operations, the ISI controlled mujahideen, most of them non-Kashmiri 'Afghans', were already firmly in control of the escalation. Some of these ISI-mujahideen ultimately operated as the Al-Mujahideen Force, ostensibly a "Kashmiri grass-roots" force with allegiance to Sardar Abdul Qayum Khan.
In April-May alone, some 400 of these 'Afghans' were infiltrated into Kashmir. Shaykh Jamal-Uddin, an Afghan mujahid recently captured in Kashmir insists that the ISI-sponsored Islamist forces already in Indian Kashmir are larger. "There are several thousand Afghans/'Afghans' in the Valley," he stressed. The ISI-sponsored mujahideen operate mainly under the banners of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Harakat ul-Ansar. Several highly trained Afghans and Sudanese operatives were infiltrated into the Valley to assume command over key networks of these operations, as well as impose Islamism on the local population.
The summer of 1994 was a fundamental turning point in the conduct of the Pakistan-sponsored Jihad in Kashmir. The change did not take place on the battlefield. In order to ensure its tight dominance over all aspects of the escalating Islamist Jihad in Kashmir, Islamabad organized the 13 leading Islamist organizations into the United Jihad Council [Muttahida Jihad Council - MJC] under the leadership of Commander Manzur Shah, the leader of Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, and under the tight control of the ISI. Among the member organizations: Harakat ul-Ansar, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, Al-Jihad, Al-Barq, Ikhwan-ul-Mussalmin, Tariq-ul-Mujahideen, and all other Islamist militant organizations. The declared objective of the escalating Jihad is to join Pakistan.
In early June 1994, Commander Manzur Shah declared that the sole objective of the escalating Jihad in Kashmir is to incorporate it into Pakistan. "The declarations of all Kashmiri militant organizations have announced [that] Pakistan is their ideal and goal. ... The freedom fighters will surrender [Kashmir] to the Pakistani military and government." Commander Manzur Shah stressed that "the Jihad has been getting stronger... The Mujahideen are getting organized now and are attacking the Indian military strategically." He admitted that Indian Kashmiri Muslim leaders were assassinated or attacked in order to prevent them from reaching an agreement with the Indian government. "Wali Mohammed would not have been assassinated and the caravans of Farooq [Abdullah] and Rajesh Pilot would not have been attacked if the climate was conducive to political action."
Meanwhile, a campaign of assassinations was launched in order to eliminate the Kashmiri civic leadership that opposed the escalation of the Jihad. On 20 June 1994, Islamist terrorists assassinated the Kashmiri scholar Qazi Nissar Ahmad. He was kidnapped a night before and pressured to endorse the anti-India Jihad. He refused and was killed. A key member of the assassination squad was Fayaz Ahmad Mir a.k.a. Abu-Bakr of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Ahmad was the 17th Kashmiri Muslim scholar and civic leader to be assassinated by Islamists for refusing to join the anti-India struggle.
Thus, by the fall of 1994, the ISI was already successful in consolidating control over the Islamist armed struggle in Kashmir. The ISI can now ensure that key operations and major escalation in Kashmir will serve the strategic and political priorities and interests of Islamabad.
This marked escalation in the ISI's support for the Islamist insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir is a direct by-product of Pakistan's national security policy and grand strategy. Ms. Bhutto has repeatedly emphasized the centrality of the annexation of the entire Kashmir for the long-term development of Pakistan. The new rail-line that will connect Karachi and Central Asia must pass through Indian-held Kashmir to be engineeringly and economically effective. Ms. Bhutto's Islamabad considers the opening of the road to Central Asia by using Pakistan as the region's gateway to the Indian Ocean as the key to the growth of Pakistan's commercial activities. Kashmir is also Pakistan's true gateway to the PRC and into Central Asia -- the path of the new Silk Road. And there lies the future and strategic salvation of Pakistan.
Indeed, Islamabad expresses its support for "the liberation of Kashmir" in more than words. ISI support for Islamist terrorism and subversion in Kashmir continues to grow. In recent months, there has been a noticeable improvement in the professional skills of Islamist terrorists operating in Kashmir -- the result of the more thorough training received in ISI-run camps in Pakistan. The is also an increase in the deployment of high quality Afghans, Pakistani Kashmiris, and Arab 'Afghans' into Indian Kashmir in order to bolster the local terrorist organizations. Increasingly using sophisticated and heavy weapons recently supplied by the ISI in Pakistan, these expert terrorists carry out quality operations. The quality of the weapon systems available to the Kashmiri insurgents crossing over from Pakistan also continue to improve. Islamabad is fully aware of the extent of its active support for subversive operations inside India, and considers it a tenet of its regional security policy.
Pakistan knows that the active pursuit of the current Kashmir strategy may lead to an escalation of the face off with India. Islamabad is ready to deal with this eventuality while increasing its all out support for the Kashmiris. Indeed, Pakistani officials are raising the ante of Islamabad's Indian strategy. In mid February 1995, a Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that "if India carries out another aggression and war breaks out between Pakistan and India, it would not be a war of a thousand years or even a thousand hours but only a few minutes and India should not be oblivious to the potential devastation." (The "thousand year war" is a reference to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's statement of the extent of Pakistan's commitment to a struggle with India.) Other Pakistani officials were quick to clarify the statement. They stressed that the statement "warned India not by implication but in clear terms that the next war will only last a few seconds and will bring inconceivable destruction and devastation. This clearly indicates that the Pakistani Government has bravely displayed its nuclear capability." The officials added that "Pakistan is really in a position to strike a heavy blow against India through its nuclear capability."
What is most significant in both the spokesman's statement and the subsequent clarifications is their context. The strategic logic of using the nuclear factor to offset any deficiencies in conventional military power has been the cornerstone of Pakistan's nuclear strategy. Recently, a more assertive element was first introduced to the nuclear strategy by Islamist politicians. The overall Pakistani strategic confidence has been expressed in brinkmanship statements coming out of Islamabad since the fall of 1993. For example, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the Jamaat i-Islami Chief Senator, urged the Bhutto government "to declare Jihad on India to save Kashmir Muslims from total annihilation." There is no other way to resolve the crisis, he declared. "Let us wage Jihad for Kashmir. A nuclear-armed Pakistan would deter India from a wider conflict," he stressed. Thus, the statement of mid February 1995 confirms that the Bhutto Government has indeed adopted the strategy and policy outlined by the Islamists.
As the spring of 1995 draws near and the weather improves, the ISI is about to unleash a new cycle of terrorism and subversion. Considering the extent of the training, preparations, and organizational effort invested in the Kashmiri Islamist insurgency during the last few years, it is safe to assume that the fighting in the Kashmir will escalate markedly in the coming year. Numerous additional highly trained and well equipped Mujahideen, many of them professional special forces and terrorists, will join the fighting in Kashmir and will even expand the struggle into the rest of India. They already have in place extensive stockpiles of weapons as well as large sums of money to sustain and support their Jihad. Their primary mission, however, will not be the liberation of Kashmir but rather furthering the strategic interests of Islamabad and Tehran.
Using the ISI's skills at running covert operations and irregular warfare -- skills honed and proven during the 1980s in the war in Afghanistan -- Islamabad has launched a major campaign to consolidate control over the Silk Road's traditional gateways to China. Fully aware of the major strategic importance of the regional transportation system, Islamabad sees in its control over these key segments of the regional road system the key to its future and fortunes.
Beijing's present and near-future grand strategy considers the revival of the Silk Road as a primary regional strategic entity. The on-land transportation system -- stretching along the traditional Silk Road -- is of crucial significance to the consolidation of the Trans-Asian Axis -- Beijing's key to global power posture and strategic safety. The PRC's self-acknowledged naval inferiority reduces the strategic use of the Indian Ocean, thus only increasing the importance of the on-land lines of communications -- the Silk Road -- for the consolidation and enhancement of the Trans Asian Axis.
The Silk Road is actually a set of primary axes of transportation through the heart of Asia. The principal axes run in parallel between the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and the heart of China -- roughly from east to west and vise versa. A set of auxiliary axes, roughly perpendicular to the principal axes, feed into the Silk Road from the heart of Russia or from the shores of the Indian Ocean. The primary choke point of the Silk Road and its gateway into China is the Taklamakan Desert. West of the Taklamakan Desert are the strategic cities of Kashi (traditional name Kashgar) and Yarkand -- both in Xinjiang in western PRC. Several axes of transportation -- both the principal axes traversing through the Balkh and Pamir mountains (to-day's northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan respectively) as well as a feeder axis from the Indian Ocean through the lower Himalayas (today's Pakistan and Indian Kashmir) -- converge on Kashi and Yarkand, from where they proceed into the Chinese interior.
Essentially, whoever controls the access roads to Kashgar and Yarkand controls the gateways to China on the Silk Road.
There is only yet another overland gateway into China -- the brand new and fragile Karakoram Highway. Twisting through northern Pakistan along a narrow corridor and precarious mountain passes, the Highway enters into western China where it feeds into Kashi (Kashgar) and the traditional roads encircling the Taklamakan Desert. Work on the Karakoram Highway started in 1967. A passable road was completed only in 1978, and fully opened for traffic in 1986. The Karakoram Highway was a tremendous engineering feat of the PRC. More over, the mere existence of the Karakoram Highway is a strategic breakthrough for Beijing and Islamabad because it broke the isolation of both Pakistan and the PRC, ensuring a corridor between them that can withstand blockade even during most intense warfare.
Islamabad considers the Karakoram Highway as a symbol and manifestation of the unique Sino-Pakistani relationship and strategic unity of purpose. Recently, Islamabad expands this theme to include the emerging Silk Road. For example, Pakistani officials stressed in late December 1993 that "the role of China in the construction of the Silk Route has made the bilateral relations as strong as the Karakoram Highway."
Thus, fully aware of the crucial importance of the regional road system to the strategic survival of all powers -- both superpowers and aspirant powers -- Islamabad sees in the road system through the region -- particularly the western approaches to the Silk Road and thus the PRC -- the key to its future and fortunes.
The Pakistani strategic calculation is that if Pakistan is the dominant or hegemonic power over the western gateways to China -- a crucial component of both the Silk Road (actually) and the Trans-Asian Axis (strategically, metaphysically) -- Islamabad will be in a position to exert influence over the entire Trans-Asian Axis. Such a position, reinforcing Pakistan's already unique position as the linch-pin between the PRC and the Tehran-led Islamic Bloc, will enable Pakistan enjoy economic and political benefits in the process way beyond what it could have hoped to gain on the basis of the country's objective economic, scientific-technological, and population posture, and even the realistic future potential. Essentially, the Pakistani strategic logic behind the drive to control the western gateways to China is to transform Islamabad's strategic position as the linch-pin between the Islamic Bloc and China into a tangible reality on the ground.
Sophisticated as the Pakistani strategic grand design may be, it nevertheless confronts a very grim reality -- the tracks of road Islamabad is determined to control, or at the very least secure hegemony over, happen to be on the sovereign territory of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and India. However, this reality does not seem to deter or restrain Islamabad. Therefore, in pursuit of these objectives, the ISI has recently launched a relentless drive to ensure that local Islamist irregular forces -- most of them already Pakistan's proteges for they are sponsored by the ISI -- will control all key roads and axes in order to create a regional dependence on Islamabad to ensure safety of traffic -- in other words, recognize Islamabad's hegemony over the western gateways of China.
Recent ISI operations in Afghanistan can be considered the trend setter. The accumulating Afghan experience of the ISI convinced Islamabad of the strategic importance of roads and provided precedents for using state-controlled irregular warfare -- like the Afghan mujahideen forces -- as strategic instruments for state policy. By the mid 1990s, the ISI would support major campaigns of its protege forces in order to ensure Islamabad's control over strategic sites and assets.
The key event has been rise of the Taliban as controllers of the Qandahar-Herat and Qandahar-Kabul roads. Decisions made in Islamabad between late October and early November 1994 concerning means to achieve Pakistan's control over key roads in Afghanistan would drastically change the character of Afghanistan, and the region as a whole.
By 1994, in pursuant of Islamabad's self-perceived role as the road junction for commerce and transportation between Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, itself part of Islamabad's role in the Trans-Asian Axis doctrine and the revival of the Silk Road, the ISI embarked on an ambitious program to consolidate de-facto control over the Kushka-Herat-Qandahar-Quetta highway. This road is the only strategic artery in relatively good shape that can be rebuilt and carry massive convoys with relative ease. It should be remembered that the Dostam-Massud and ISI-Tajikistan fighting have all but closed the Termez-Salang-Kabul highway.
Thus, Pakistan embarked on an ambitious project to repair the most damaged sectors of the Kushka-Herat-Qandahar-Quetta highway in Afghanistan. Work began by tribal contractors with long-established contacts with Pakistan. However, in order to ensure Pakistan's actual control over this vital road, the ISI began subverting local leaders and chieftains by making deals with them (giving weapons and money, providing outlets for Helmand Valley drugs, etc.).
Ultimately, this program proved to be the unintended culmination of a lengthy and multi-facetted process begun already in the early 1980s in the Qandahar area. At first, ISI-sponsored Islamist mujahideen purged the local pro-Royal Pushtun tribal leadership. In the late 1980s, this purge led in turn to a series of assassinations of local elders and chieftains. Then, in the last days of the Communist regime, the Jowzjani-led WAD [Afghan Intelligence] special forces destroyed the substitute tribal leaderships pushed in by the ISI in order to ensure Kabul's hold over the strategically vital Qandahar and Afghanistan's southern regions. By the time the Jowzjani effort collapsed with Najib's Kabul, the region's indigenous leadership was already completely destroyed.
Consequently, in 1994, the ISI found only "the bottom of the barrel" to deal with. Deals were struck with aspiring war-lords and drug-dealers pretending to be mujahideen commanders. These newly empowered leaders turned on the population and abused their power and special relations with Pakistan -- still Afghanistan's sole gateway to Western goods.
Within a few months, the situation exploded, and a new force emerged on the scene -- the Taliban. The recognized leader of the Taliban is Mulawi Mohammed Omar from Qandahar. He is a veteran Pushtun mujahideen commander turned religious student. The legend of his rise to a leadership position is indicative of the socio-political motivation of the Taliban movement as a whole.
In the fall of 1994, the legend goes, the Prophet Muhammad came to Mulawi Mohammed Omar in his dream and told him to cleanse his tribe from a sinful oppressive warlord. This ISI-installed "local commanders" was notorious for rapes and pillaging. After receiving permission from his Mullah, Mulawi Mohammed Omar organized a force of 50 comrades, all former mujahideen who had served under him in the 1980s. He then assassinated the warlord, delivering a kind of "people's justice."
Following that, Mulawi Mohammed Omar distributed the warlord's confiscated property to the poor and needy of the Qandahar area. Subsequently, Mulawi Mohammed Omar established a local religious leadership to administer the distribution of the wealth. He accepted the warlord's weapons and fighters into a fledgling religious movement under his command. The new command would be known as the Taliban -- students of religious schools -- in honor of the origin of its leaders.
Reality is more mundane and strategically important. The Taliban emerged as a result of a calculated organization and activation of Islamist Pushtun forces then sponsored jointly by Tehran and Islamabad. As the legend goes, the hard core of the Taliban are indeed Pushtun religious students and young Islamist clergy. Many of them are veterans of the war, and all are graduates of training camps and higher schools in Iran and Pakistan. They are both nationalist and Islamist. They indeed were eager to rebel against the corrupt ISI-installed warlords and crime-bosses. However, until they began receiving support from the ISI they were unable to do anything. Then, once empowered, they initially established themselves in the Qandahar area where the destruction of the long-established tribal royalist leadership left a void yearning to be filled. The Taliban's first success -- the seizure of Qandahar in November 1994 -- is considered the beginning of their campaign.
Thus, although portrayed as a spontaneous grassroots movement, the Taliban are actually the result of a strategic turning point in Tehran and Islamabad. Significantly, their initial rise in the fall of 1994 was made possible because it coincided with a profound reevaluation of the situation in the region in both Islamabad and Tehran. Both governments now accepted the reality of the collapse of the Afghan state. They could no longer escape the realization that, ultimately, all the regional states would fracture to a certain degree along ethno-nationality lines. It should be stressed that for the last decade such a change was the Soviet objective, and this evolution is indeed the lasting historical impact of the war in Afghanistan.
Now, in the late fall of 1994, both Tehran and Islamabad concluded that it was imperative for their respective intelligence services to consolidate a certain degree of control over the regional ethno-political dynamics in order to preserve the power position of their respective governments. Southern Afghanistan would be the first stage. And so, after the Taliban's initial success in stabilizing Qandahar in mid November, and the unquestionable popular support they were enjoying, Islamabad was ready to negotiate with Tehran the next moves.
However, it was only by mid December 1994, that the Taliban "proved" to the ISI that they were fully aware of Islamabad's strategic interests and regional priorities. By then, the Taliban were moving westward into the Helmand Valley, killing the drug lords associated with both Hekmatyar and the ISI. The "spark" happened when a local Hekmatyar commander blocked and hijacked a Pakistani 30-truck convoy on its way to Central Asia in order to compel the ISI to do something about the Taliban. However, the ISI "hinted" to the Qandahar elders that the warlord was a fair game. Immediately, a 2,500 strong force of Taliban materialized out of the blue in Qandahar. Well equipped and well led, this Taliban force took on the Hekmatyar warlord and freed the convoy. Significantly, the Taliban did not extract any booty from the convoy, and even retrieved loot from local villages and returned it to the convoy. The incident proved to Islamabad conclusively that they could indeed do business with the Taliban.
Consequently, in late 1994 and early 1995, Islamabad "saw the light." The ISI began assisting the Taliban in a massive way, providing new Kalashnikov assault rifles, large quantities of ammunition, training, logistics, etc. Indeed, in a meeting in Islamabad in December 1994, Hekmatyar complained to then ISI chief Lt.Gen. Javed Ashraf about the ISI's growing assistance to the Taliban. At the same time, the ISI was closely monitoring the increasing flow of Pakistani-Pushtun volunteers to join the Taliban. Significantly, the Taliban's emerging political religious leadership was made of proteges of the Pakistani (and increasingly regional) Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam under the leadership of Maulana Fazlur Rahman. By mid 1995, the Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam is increasingly an umbrella organization for a dozen smaller Islamist organizations including some of the most violent in Pakistan.
Indeed, there was a dramatic increase in the size of the Taliban. By mid December, 3,000-4,000 religious students moved from madrassas in the NWFP across the border to join the Taliban. By early January 1995, a flood began. Most Taliban come from Sunni madrassas in Pakistani Baluchistan, from the Afghan refugee camps established in mid 1980s by the ISI to alter the demographic character of unruly Baluchistan. By February 1995, the Taliban forces reached some 25,000, predominantly Pushtuns. There were also over a thousand Tajiks and Uzbeks from the Jowzjani special forces sent to Qandahar in the last days of Najib's regime. These troops would not only add military skills and expertise, but would soon open channels of communications to Dostam, their former commander, to build cooperation with NIM (National Islamic Movement forces of General Abdul Rashid Dostam).
By February 1995, the Taliban forces were deployed at the gate of Kabul. In late February, they pushed Hekmatyar from his stronghold in Maidan Shahr (30 km south of Kabul) and closed on Charasiyab, Hizb-i-Islami's main point of shelling Kabul. Gulbaddin Hekmatyar and a few close aides had to flee Charasiyab, leaving behind their entire arsenal and stockpiles. A series of subsequent setbacks in fighting with Rabbani's forces in the Kabul area and a brief but dramatic rift with Tehran (including the assassination of Iran's most favorite Afghan mujahideen commander), did not change the overall strategic posture of the Taliban.
The Taliban are presently controlling about one third of the territory of Afghanistan and spreading. Some of their elements reached western Afghanistan and had a few skirmishes with Ismail Khan's people before Iranian mediators negotiated a deal that includes a virtually unlimited use of the road between Herat and Kushka. Consequently, the Taliban secured for Pakistan control over the sole non-Iranian route between the Indian Ocean and Central Asia -- the Herat-Qandahar-Quetta segment of the Kushka-Herat-Qandahar-Quetta highway -- the road Islamabad has been yearning for dominance over.
Emboldened and wisened by the accumulating experience in Afghanistan, the ISI moved quickly to transform and modify some of its key subversion and terrorism sponsorship programs from a mere attrition of hostile governments to also include an effort to establish control over the strategic axes of transportation.
This evolution of the strategic character of ISI clandestine operations is best reflected in recent transformation of the ISI-sponsored Islamist terrorism in Indian Kashmir.
Pakistan did not "discover" the Kashmir issue as a result of the revival of the Silk Road. Pakistan has always coveted Kashmir. Since the late 1940s, all Pakistani governments considered India's control over large parts of Kashmir the unfinished component of the legacy of Jinnah. However, in recent years there has been a profound transformation of the Pakistani-supported armed struggle in Kashmir. Initially, as of the mid 1980s, there has been a gradual Islamicization of the Kashmiri forces -- a phenomena reflecting the growing importance of, and dependence on, Pakistani training and supplies. Then, as of the early 1990s, there has been a marked intensification of the ISI's direct involvement in, and control over, these operations.(2)
This evolution of the ISI's direct involvement in the conduct of terrorist operations inside Indian Kashmir was a direct reflection of a profound change in Islamabad's strategic approach to the Kashmir question. As of late 1993, Mrs. Bhutto has been stressing the centrality of the annexation of the entire Kashmir for the long-term development of Pakistan. This strong position was based on Islamabad's perception of its vital interests as a key player in the PRC's Trans-Asian Axis design. It did not take long for Islamabad to realize that opening Central Asia by using Pakistan as the gateway to the Indian Ocean could become the key to Pakistan's economic growth.
However, engineering studies on potential routs for a new rail-line to connect Karachi and Central Asia concluded that if such a line is to be viable from economic point of view -- both costs of construction and of operations -- it must pass through Indian Kashmir. By the fall of 1993, Islamabad had to confront the reality that Pakistan's true gateway to the PRC and into Central Asia -- the path to the future and strategic salvation of Pakistan -- was passing through Indian Kashmir.
Islamabad is not willing to accept the situation where its vital strategic life-line passes through the territory of its arch-nemesis -- India. As New Delhi began discussing the possibility of elections in Kashmir -- a process that would legitimize Indian sovereignty over Kashmir -- it became imperative for Islamabad not only to destabilize the area to the point of postponement of the elections, but to escalate the armed struggle to reach a point that would compel an Indian withdrawal. Considering the crucial importance of Indian Kashmir to Islamabad's emerging vital interests, Islamabad can see no substitute to the annexation of this area to Pakistan. Thus, the ISI has embarked on the relentless escalation of terrorism throughout Kashmir.
It is this strategic consideration that has had such a major effect on the conduct and intensity of the armed struggle in Indian Kashmir. Consequently, the ISI is not only the sponsoring and guiding force behind the escalation, but the ISI increasingly participates directly in the fighting. Particularly as of the spring of 1995, the ISI has assumed direct control over the key operations in Indian Kashmir in order to ensure the strategic outcome of events. Most of these covert operations are conducted by loyal foreigners, including Afghans and Arabs, in order to ensure a semblance of deniability.
This strategic aspect of the Pakistani involvement in Kashmir is best manifested in the evolution of the Islamist terrorist and subversion struggle in the region. The increased ISI presence, including taking over key operations, has both operational and strategic meaning. At the operational level, there is a distinct "Afghanization" of the struggle -- key operations are conducted by forces comprised of Afghans and Pakistan-born Kashmiris, as well as an assortment of Arab 'Afghans.' Their introduction in growing numbers should not be perceived merely as a reaction to the growing effectiveness of the Indian security forces.
Indeed the terrorist organizations most active in Kashmir are almost totally manned by foreigners -- mainly Afghans and Pakistani Kashmiris. Harakat-ul-Ansar, the largest Kashmiri group with forward headquarters in Muzzaffarabad, and Markaz Dawa al Irshad, the militant wing of Lashkar-e-Tayeba with headquarters in Muridke near Lahore, have very few Indian Kashmiris in the ranks of their elite fighters. Another active organization -- Al-Barq -- is comprised of a mix of Indian Kashmiris, Afghans and Pakistani Kashmiris. Further more, both Markaz Dawa al Irshad and Al Barq are closely associated with Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam of Pakistan under the leadership of Maulana Fazlur Rahman. All together, there are well over 5,000 foreign mujahideen in the ranks of the Kashmiri Islamist organizations -- most of them from Pakistan (non-Kashmiris), Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain. The thousands of mujahideen born in Azad (Pakistani) Kashmir are not counted here.
The key Islamist terrorist operations in Kashmir since the spring of 1995 testifies to this trend:
On 10 May 1995, on the Muslim holiday Id-al-Zuha, Islamist terrorists burned down the 14th century shrine to Sheikh Nooruddin Wali (Kashmir's patron saint that is revered by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs) and the adjoining Khankah mosque in Charar-e-Sharief, some 18 miles southwest of Srinagar, Indian Kashmir. The buildings were torched in the middle of a clash with Indian security forces initiated by the Islamist terrorists.
Already in early March, a force of about 150 terrorists was identified in the area and surrounded by the Indian security forces. They withdrew into the compounds in Charar-e-Sharief where they held for more than two months, maintaining radio communications with their base in Pakistan. Apprehensive about the dire ramifications of damaging the sacred mosque and shrine, the Indian forces besieged the compound but did not attack it. The eruption of fighting and fire on May 10 must have been instigated on order from Pakistan for there was no irregular activity on the Indian side.
The terrorist force was comprised of some 150 mujahideen of Harakat ul-Ansar, Hizb ul-Mujahideen, and al-Fatah Force under the command of Mast Gul (an Afghan national). In Muzzaffarabad, Pakistan, the headquarters of ISI-sponsored Mujahideen, Sardar Basharat Ahmed Khan of Harakat ul-Ansar acknowledged that many of the mujahideen in Charar-e-Sharief were actually Pakistani nationals, some not even Kashmiri. He explained that "40 or 42 of the mujahideen killed belong to Harakat ul-Ansar and 26 of them hailed from Azad Kashmir and Pakistan."
The incident was clearly intended to spark a wider confrontation in Kashmir, primarily in order to prevent the elections New Delhi had scheduled for the summer.
Moreover, on August 1, Mast Gul returned to Muzzaffarabad to a hero's welcome by a cheering crowd of several thousands. He had withdrawn into Azad Kashmir with about 100 terrorists in late July. "I will take revenge for Charar-e-Sharief's desecration by Indian forces," Mast Gul told the crowd. He vowed to continue fighting until Kashmir's "freedom."
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam party, accompanied Gul in his triumphant return, describing him in a fiery speech as a living symbol of Kashmir's Jihad. The mere presence of Qazi Hussain Ahmed is of importance. As of April 1995, in his capacity as the leader of Islamic Jihad of Pakistan, Qazi Hussain Ahmed was nominated by the leadership of the Khartoum-based Armed Islamic Movement (AIM) to be in charge of a terrorist headquarters and regional center in Karachi that is responsible for Islamist activities (training, equipping, operational support, etc.) in Pakistan (including Indian Kashmir), Afghanistan, and Albania (including Kosovo).
Meanwhile terrorism continued in Kashmir. On July 20, a major bomb blast left 17 dead and over 40 wounded in Purani Mundi (Jammu). It was a sophisticated bomb concealed in a auto-rickshaw that blew up in middle of crowded street. Then, on July 26, a second bomb exploded in Jammu city, wounding 12. Both bombs were made of RDX, and their mechanism was similar to previous bombs attributed to ISI-trained terrorists. Indeed, the on July 27, Harakat ul-Ansar claimed responsibility for the two bombs in Jammu.
Starting early August, there was further escalation with the launching of attacks and raids on Indian Army camps in Kashmir. At least one camp in Bhadarva was temporarily seized by the mujahideen, long enough for them to remove weapons and ammunition. Meanwhile, Hizb ul-Mujahideen forces conducted diversionary raids in the area, further complicating the security forces' ability to react to the raids. In these operations, the attackers were using tactics taught by the ISI in the late 1980s for similar type of raids against Afghan government facilities in eastern Afghanistan. Indeed, Harakat ul-Ansar, that claimed responsibility for these attacks, acknowledged that many of the commanders and mujahideen killed in the operations against Indian Army camps were Afghan and Pakistani volunteers.
By now, Kashmir was already at the height of a still lingering crisis -- the kidnapping and holding of Western tourists.
Starting July 4, a shadowi group of 12-15 terrorists abducted numerous Western tourists the Lidder Valley area, about 32 kilometers from Pahalgam. Some of the tourists were released and one succeeded to escape, leaving six in captivity. The group identified itself as Al-Faran, and demanded the release of 22 commanders of all Kashmiri terrorist organizations currently in Indian prisons. It subsequently modified the demand to only 15 leaders. The Kashmir hostage crisis reached a new level on August 13 when Al-Faran beheaded a Norwegian hostage and then dumped his head and body. New threats for the safety of the remaining hostages and renewed demands for the release of the jailed terrorist leaders were issued by Al-Faran.
Al-Faran seems to be the cover name of the Islamist elite force that carried out the kidnapping of the tourists. There are indications that Al-Faran members are connected with the Harakat ul-Ansar. The kidnapping detachment is comprised of 16 terrorists -- twelve from Azad (Pakistani) Kashmir, two from Afghanistan, and two Indian Kashmiris who act as guides. The terrorists were equipped with sophisticated weapons and modern communications equipment. They seem well organized and enjoying pre-installed strong logistical support at each of their hide-outs. Moreover, Moulana Fazlur Rahman was approached by the UK in effort to negotiate with the kidnapper and was even granted visa for a "private" visit to India. This alone confirms the general leaning of the Al-Faran. As discussed above, the Taliban, another protege group of Rahman, is closely associated with the ISI.
The infusion of foreigners -- mainly Afghans, Pakistani Kashmiris and 'Afghans' -- into the ranks of the Kashmiri Islamist terrorists, including key positions in the leaderships of what is being presented as a genuine national liberation struggle, has altered the character of this armed struggle. Irrespective of the true aspirations of the Muslim population of Indian Kashmir, the armed struggle currently waged in their name has very little to do with their fate and future. Through the ISI's manipulations, Islamabad has transformed the Kashmiri struggle into a drive for Kashmir's unification with Pakistan and away from the origins and indigenous quest of the popular struggle -- a quest for Kashmiri self-determination and independence from both India and Pakistan. This is only natural considering that Islamabad's primary objective is to make Kashmir Pakistan-controlled so that the key transportation routes can be built in order to feed into the Silk Road.
Perhaps the most audacious outgrowth of the ISI's Afghan operations is the Islamist surge into Tajikistan in order to consolidate control over segments of the Silk Road itself.
The roots of the ISI operations in Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan can be traced to Islamabad's efforts to ensure that their protege at the time -- Gulbaddin Hekmatyar -- took over Kabul following the collapse of the Communist regime.
Back in the spring of 1990, the ISI established its "Afghan" Takhar Regiment. This unit was some 2,000-2,500 troop strong. It was the most tightly controlled "Afghan" unit, and the best equipped. Ostensibly, this unit belonged to Hizb-i-Islami Gulbaddin Hekmatyar and had been prepared by the ISI for resistance operations near the Soviet border. The troops were provided with the most comprehensive military training given to Afghans. Resistance sources described this unit as being turned into "a conventional army" by the ISI. In early April 1990, the force was virtually combat ready and ISI expected to commit this Afghan Army to battle within a month, once the mountain passes leading into Badakhshan were completely open.
These ISI-controlled mujahideen constitute the core of the Afghan force currently supporting the Islamist insurgency in Central Asia.
However, by now the regional strategic priorities have already changed. With the growing chaos in Central Asia, it was imperative in Beijing to prevent the emergence of neither a pro-Moscow nor a nationalist regime in Tajikistan. Beijing is dead set against having a Moscow-dominated regime on its border considering the nationalist fervor of the new Russian elite. Further more, Beijing is apprehensive about the spread of Central Asian quest for Islamic self-identity across the border into the volatile Xinjiang. The best way to reduce the threat of both developments is to destabilize any future Tajik government. The ensuing escalation of special and terrorist operations from northern Afghanistan into Central Asia, sponsored by the ISI but serving Chinese interests, can be seen as further development and expansion of the mutual long-term strategic cooperation and close working relations between the services of the two countries.
The major escalation in the Islamist involvement in Tajikistan started in late 1990. Vladimir Petkel, the Chief of the Tajik KGB, stressed that "subversive activities against Tajikistan have been stepped up," and that he feared "an outburst of subversive activities in local areas." The KGB correctly identified this outburst of violence as the beginning of a regional surge. "There are no grounds for complacency in the present situation in Central Asia. The situation is deteriorating and confrontation is growing," Petkel warned.
The ISI was soon identified as the driving force behind this campaign. Anatoli Beloyusov, Deputy Director of the KGB, warned that the "strengthened influence of the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism" in Tajikistan was "directly linked to increased activities by Pakistani special services." He described a Pakistani "Program M" intended to "destabilize the socio-political situation in the USSR's Central Asian republics." In the summer of 1991, Moscow had "incontrovesible evidence" that the ISI was creating "an armed Afghan opposition" in order to infiltrate and subvert Soviet Central Asia. Beloyusov explained that "schools have been set up in Afghan settlements near the border to give religious and military instructions to young Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmens." Once ready, these men were being dispatched to carry out "hostile activities against the USSR."
During the early 1990s, the ISI consolidated the support and training infrastructure, launching a major new effort in the camps in Afghanistan, as well as Peshawar, to recruit veteran fighters for the Jihad in Tajikistan. This campaign was given the aura of an all-Islamic campaign sponsored by the Armed Islamic Movement (AIM). Indeed, the ISI-sponsored operations in Central Asia were run by Muhammad Ibrahim al-Makkawal. He is an Islamist Egyptian and former colonel in the Egyptian Army who arrived in Pakistan in 1989, and had been operating a humanitarian organization in Peshawar as a cover. In 1992-93, al-Makkawal had been to all the Central Asian states as well as Kashmir to personally study the conditions in these important theaters of the Islamist Jihad, as well as inspect and oversee the operations of his people. In the summer of 1993, al-Makkawal insisted that he and 10-12 Egyptian Islamists under his command stayed in Pakistan only for training, and that actual fighting of the Jihad was carried out from and on hostile territory.
The civil war that erupted with fury in Tajikistan in early 1993 was a revival of old tribal rivalries hijacked by the Islamists who, by providing weapons, expertise, and leadership, became the dominant force. The ISI and its Arab 'Afghans' were crucial to this manipulation and transformation of the war in Tajikistan. The problem in Tajikistan was only intensifying, stressed a high ranking Russian diplomat. He warned that Russia's "future relations with Iran and Pakistan will depend on whether these states take into account Russia's interests in Central Asia, above all Tajikistan." He diplomatically identified the countries responsible for the escalation of subversion in Tajikistan, explaining that "Tajik Islamists undergo training in Afghanistan, a country much influenced by Pakistan and Iran."
Indeed, the Islamist forces continued to expand. The headquarters of the Tajik Islamists is in Taloqan, Afghanistan. The forces of the Tajik Islamists are aided by Afghan and Arab 'Afghans,' as well as the Afghan government. These bases in Afghanistan are key to the Tajiks organization, arming and training. The Afghans infiltrate hundreds of highly trained fighters into Tajikistan from their bases in Afghanistan. For example, Abu-Salman, a veteran Saudi 'Afghan' is the commander of a Tajik Islamist commando operating deep inside Tajikistan. Ahmad Shah Massud is a key supporter of the Tajiks and has a special headquarters near their center to closely oversee their activities and ensure support. In Kunduz, Pakistani assistance is channelled through Gulbaddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i Islami. In early 1993, about 1,000 Tajiks were being trained at any given time at the Kunduz camps alone, mainly the Imam Shahib camp. Other training camps are at Chah-i Ab and Khuajagar, both north of Taloqan. Money comes from Arab Islamists in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states via Pakistan. In early 1993, French relief officials described "significant Arab presence in Kunduz."
By the fall of 1993, a growing number of Arab 'Afghans' were very active in northern Afghanistan in providing support for the Islamist subversion in Tajikistan. Most important are the Arab 'Afghans' operating in the Mazar-i Sharief, Takhar and Tashqurghan areas in northern Afghanistan where they have training camps to support Islamists not just in Tajikistan, but in Central Asia and Indian Kashmir. Of note are the camps for Tajik Islamists who fight for Abdol Ghafur. The most important camps are in Imam al-Bukhari (former military air base) and Bagh Sharkat, both near Kunduz. The Afghans, Arab 'Afghans' and their Tajik mujahideen operate together, conducting joint raids deep into Central Asia beyond Tajikistan. These offensive raids at time include more than 500 Tajiks led by dozens of Arab 'Afghans.' Weapons and ammunition are received from Pakistan via Hizb-i-Islami of Gulbaddin Hekmatyar and Ittihad-i-Islami of Rasul Sayyaf. Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan directly finance the 'Afghan' Islamists and their camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In late 1993, Tajik Islamists with active support from Arab 'Afghans' planned at least two major spectacular sabotage operations that were prevented in the last minute by Russian Special Forces operating under the 201st MRD's Kulyab regiment. The first operation was an attempt to place three truck-bombs driven by suicide drivers under the massive Nurek Hydroelectric Power Station. The operation was prevented when the Russians ambushed and shot the drivers to death on approach to the dam. Had the trucks exploded as planned, the ensuing wave would have been 86 meters high, 53 kms wide and 1,385 kms deep. Over 2,000 villages and seven cities in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenia would have been flooded. A member of this terrorist network, captured by the Russians, disclosed active preparations to blow up by a suicide truck the nitrogen mineral fertilizer plant near Yavan. This operation would have led to mass poisoning and death of people all over the region.
The failure of this audacious attempt could not reverse the escalation in terrorism in Tajikistan. Other terrorist operations, though less spectacular, were successful. It was not by accident that the most important operations in this cycle were against axes of transportation. For example, on 26 November 1993, a powerful bomb derailed the main train between Termez (Afghan border, Uzbekistan) and Khalton (Tajikistan). The bomb exploded near Kurgan-Tyube (Tajikistan). The terrorists came from the direction of Afghanistan. In early 1994, Tajik security officials were bracing for spectacular terrorist operations, to be carried out by "a kind of 'fifth column' opposition exists in the Tajik capital and its suburbs numbering many hundreds." They added that recently, "Tajikistan's special services got hold of a coded message from representatives of the so-called irreconcilable opposition in Afghanistan recommending that terrorist acts against the Tajik leadership be stepped up."
By now, it was becoming clear that the Tajik Jihad was also being transformed into a component of a regional Jihad sponsored by the ISI and employing members of a joint mixed pool of mujahideen.
In early December 1993, during a state visit to Pakistan, the Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Maulana Arsalan Rahmani, admitted that Afghanistan was providing military assistance to various Islamist insurgencies because "we cannot remain aloof from what is happening to the Muslims in occupied Kashmir, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Somalia, Burma, Palestine and elsewhere. ... We are not terrorists but Mujahideen fighting for restoring peace and preserving honor." He acknowledged that Afghanistan also played a major role in the consolidation of the potent Harakat ul-Ansar. This support for the unity was but part of the active support given by Afghanistan to the Islamist fighters in Kashmir, Tajikistan, and Bosnia. "There are about 8,000 members of Harakat ul-Ansar who are supporting the Kashmiri struggle against Indian occupation," Maulana Arsalan Rahmani stated.
In early 1994, there was a growing volume of evidence that the ISI was running the various insurgency and terrorist campaigns as part of a single master plan. For example, in mid February 1994, the Indian security forces captured two senior ISI operatives inside Kashmir. Sajjad Afghani Khan and Mohammad Massud Azhar are both veterans of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Mohammad Massud Azhar is also a veteran trainer and organizer, long involved in preparing expert cadres in ISI camps in Pakistan for operating in hostile and challenging environments such as Kashmir, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. For example, Azhar organized a force of 50-60 ISI-controlled Pakistani operatives that are still conducting special operations in Tajikistan under the banner of Nahza Islam.
As with the other ISI-sponsored regional insurgencies, the strategic decisions in Islamabad were quickly manifested in armed operations inside Tajikistan. Starting the winter of 1994-95, there has been an escalation in the pressure on the Russian-led Border Guards along the Afghan-Tajik border. The new escalation went beyond the on-going intensification of infiltration efforts. Recent operations reflect distinct growing professionalism of the Tajik mujahideen. Not by accident, the Tajiks were employing tactics quite similar to these of the ISI-sponsored elite Afghan mujahideen units in the late 1980s. However, Russian security officials noted that a growing number of the Afghan "mujahideen" they were now encountering along the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border were too young to have been combat veterans of the war in Afghanistan. Instead, they were trained only recently, mainly in camps in either northern Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Indeed, there is a large Islamist force being organized in northern Afghanistan on the Tajik border. In the spring of 1995, according to Russian experts with on-site experience, there were some 12,000 mujahideen in northern Afghanistan alone. They were divided between two main grouping of 5,000-6,000 men each -- on the Kulyab (Khatlovskiy) Axis and on the Badakhshan Axis. The main Tajik bases are near Kalay-Kuf, Nusay, Bakharak, and Fayzabad. Other Tajik centers are co-located with the key Afghan facilities in Badakhshan. Moreover, the major local Afghan mujahideen forces, a total strength of some 14,000 men -- including Abdul Basir Khaled's 29th Infantry Division, and also major detachments under the command of Khirodmand, Bakhadur, Zabed Vadud, Abdul Kadyr and a number of other lesser commanders in Afghan Badakhshan -- actively support the Tajik Islamist forces. Indeed, the Tajik mujahideen routinely rely on, and get assistance from, several thousand Afghan mujahideen on the Kulyab Axis. It should be remembered that the key Afghan forces -- both regular and irregular -- in the area are under the control of General Dostam who has reached several "understandings" with the ISI on co-existence and cooperation in the pursuit of common objectives.
In the spring of 1995, mujahideen reinforcements were redeployed, with additional arms and ammunition delivered, on the Vanch-Yazgulem Axis. This axis was being transformed into the main axis in mujahideen operations. The deployment of a significant mujahideen detachment was completed on the same Ishkashim Axis from the Bakharak area, the site of a Tajik major training center in northern Afghanistan.
As with the Kashmiri Islamist armed struggle, the growing involvement of the ISI was immediately followed by a noticeable infusion of foreign "volunteers." In the spring of 1995, the Afghan Mujahideen were joined by a large number of Arab fighters -- both veteran 'Afghans' and younger volunteers. All of them are well trained members of numerous radical militant Islamist organizations, many of which are very active in toppling governments in their home countries (such as Egypt and Algeria), that have offices and camps in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities. These Arabs arrived in the camps in northern Afghanistan in an organized fashion from Pakistan, bringing with them large quantities of weapons, ammunition, and other equipment. Additional Arab volunteers and supplies continue to arrive from Peshawar. Moreover, the Arabs have been receiving very large sums of money, originating in Arab states, via Pakistan. This money is used for the escalation of the Tajik Jihad -- mainly training, arming and in effect controlling Tajik and Afghan detachments.
Russian experts point to the great impact the Arabs and Afghan mujahideen have on the quality of the "Tajik" forces. "High morale-fighting spirit, an excellent state of training, especially for the conduct of partisan warfare, all the more so in mountainous terrain, are a distinguishing trait of the Afghan mujahideen and the volunteers from other Muslim countries. Lately, the level of training of the detachments of the Tajik opposition has increased dramatically."
The consequent escalation of the Jihad in Tajikistan reached a point that Russian experts already point to the greater strategic ramifications. One Russian expert, Semen Bagdasarov, stressed that "he who even nominally does not control Gornyy Badakhshan [an area where the ISI-sponsored mujahideen are most active] does not control all of Tajikistan. At the same time, one can say without any exaggeration that the withdrawal of the [Russian] border troops from Tajikistan -- this is a geo-political catastrophe both for the states of Central Asia and also for Russia."
Most threatening is the intensifying wave of Islamist special operations and terrorist strikes -- operations where the ISI's hand has been most distinct. By mid 1995, the emerging leadership of the high quality Tajik mujahideen was the Movement of the Islamic Revival of Tajikistan (DIVT). Its rise to prominence can be attributed directly to the conduct of an increasingly sophisticated, well organized, and tactically sound campaign of "diversion and terrorism," to use the definition of Russian military intelligence. The DIVT forces enjoy solid support and logistical system, especially a steady supply of ammunition and weapons.
The most important MIVT commander is identified as "Tajik Mujahideen Commanding General R. Sadirov" whose earlier activities are behind the present expectation for a marked escalation. Back in mid January 1995, Russian military intelligence warned that "[on] Sadirov's order, a terrorist group consisting of 40 guerrillas who underwent special training in Pakistan is prepared to cross the [Amu Daria] river onto the territory of Tajikistan. It is assumed that they will operate in the central areas of Tajikistan and in Dushanbe with small teams of 3-4 men." Analysis of the training received by this group suggested a major rise in audacious terrorist operations, particularly assassinations as well as attacks on, and neutralization of, key roads and axes of transportation.
Indeed, in the early summer, mujahideen special forces deep inside Tajikistan, most likely Sadirov's ISI-trained detachments, were becoming audacious. For example, on June 12 they assassinated Col. Izatullo Kuganov -- the commander of a Tajikistan SPETSNAZ unit and a close political ally of President Emomali Rakhmonov. It was a highly professional job done with an assault rifle from a very close range, leaving no traces of the assassins. This assassination is not an isolated case, but rather the first of a trend. Russian intelligence has learned that the Pakistan-trained elite mujahideen have been instructed that "they should destroy first of all Russian officers." This, the Tajik Islamist leadership is convinced, will bring about a collapse of the Russian support for the Government of Tajikistan. Should this happen, the road will be open for a militant Islamist surge into, and throughout, Central Asia.
Pakistan's terrorism sponsoring activities along the Silk Road are both an instrument of Islamabad's regional strategy and an expression of its apprehension of domestic crisis. By the summer of 1995, fully aware of the ramifications of the ISI's escalating operations, Islamabad is wavering between self-confidence in a vastly improved strategic posture and fear of a strategic backlash that will, in turn, greatly exacerbate an already tenuous internal situation. Therefore, the crisis environment emanating from the ISI's regional activities serves to both divert the public's attention from domestic crisis to an external threat, as well as bolster the government's own self-confidence. Moreover, Islamabad is increasingly apprehensive about the unstable regional posture the ISI is essentially creating, and especially backlash from neighboring states, friends and foes alike, whose regional interests are adversely affected by the ISI's activities. Consequently, the Islamabad is committed to further escalating the ISI's terrorism sponsoring operations along the Silk Road in order to improve and secure Pakistan's own posture in the vital gateways to China at all costs and in any regional environment.
Taken together, these ISI-sponsored insurgency and terrorism along the western gateways to China are therefore strategic developments of grave ramifications. The PRC is increasingly apprehensive about the revival of Islamist sentiments, including a fledgling armed struggle in Xinjiang, and a growing Russian influence over the former Soviet states of Central Asia. Considering its global strategic orientation, Beijing is happy with the Pakistani subversion of these states and the ISI's confrontation with crawling Russian influence. Beijing is most satisfied with the fact that these Pakistani operations serve the PRC's regional interests without getting the PRC actually involved or even implicated in the covert operations or use of force. Moreover, the net result of these ISI-sponsored covert operations is a further increase in the Chinese influence and consolidation of anti-West posture along the Trans-Asian Axis.
Thus, these ISI terrorism sponsoring operations in Afghanistan, India, and Tajikistan are yet another manifestation of Islamabad's determination to increase the importance of its role as the linch-pin of the Trans-Asian Axis. Pakistan is determined to become a power to be reckoned with by its mere control over choke-points, not achievements or economic capabilities. The sponsoring of terrorism and subversion by the ISI is presently Islamabad's primary and proven instrument in this great endeavor.
1. Yossef Bodansky is the Director of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the U.S. Congress, as well as the World Terrorism Analyst with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies (Houston TX). He is a contributing editor of Defense and Foreign Affairs; Strategic Policy, the author of three books (Target America, Terror, and Crisis in Korea), several book chapters, and numerous articles in several periodicals including Global Affairs, JANE's Defence Weekly,Defense and Foreign Affairs; Strategic Policy, Business Week. In the 1980s, he acted as a senior consultant for the Department of Defense and the Department of State.
The opinions expressed in these articles are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, U.S. Congress, or any other branch of the U.S. Government.
2. For in-depth analysis of the overall evolution of the Pakistani terrorist and subversive operations in Kashmir see this author's study Pakistan's Kashmir Strategy also published by the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.