February 27, 2008


A surprise show of force in Pakistan (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 2/28/08, Asia Times)

On Tuesday, it was announced that the high-profile Qari Saifullah Akhtar, named by former premier Benazir Bhutto in a book published after her death in December as the mastermind of an attempt on her life in October, had been arrested.

Akhtar was seized with his three sons in Ferozwala, near Lahore. He had not previously been named as a suspect in the October attack in Karachi in which about 200 people died. Blame for this, and the attack in Rawalpindi that did kill Bhutto in December, was laid on Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban commander.

The decision to arrest Akhtar, therefore, can be interpreted as a sign of the security apparatus flexing its muscles in the face of what it perceives as a potential political softening against militancy. [...]

In August 2004, Akhtar was arrested in Dubai and then extradited from the United Arab Emirates to Pakistan, allegedly in connection with assassination attempts on Musharraf and for involvement in terror training camps in Afghanistan. He was released from the custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the middle of last year without standing trial.

He is also said to have been the mastermind of "Operation Khilafat" to topple Bhutto's government in the mid-1990s, for which he and several army officers were arrested.

Some time later, Akhtar was released and went to Afghanistan, where he became the only Pakistani to be appointed as one of Taliban leader Mullah Omar's advisors (equal to a minister) and he was also very close to al-Qaeda's leadership.

Akhtar is the founding father of the Harkat-i-Jihad-i-Islami (Islamic Movement for Jihad) which was set up in the early 1980s to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was the only organization to separate itself from the clutches of the security apparatus and merged with the Taliban. It is still the only outfit to have shifted its base to the Waziristans and it represents Pakistani fighters in the Taliban-led resistance in Afghanistan.

The news on Tuesday of Akhtar's arrest immediately created a stir within militant camps as such a high-profile apprehension had not been expected as Musharraf's pro-United States camp is on the run and calls are mounting for the former general to be placed on trial for his actions against militants. These include military operations in the Waziristan tribal areas, in Balochistan province and against the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad last year.

If the new government won't fight the militants it makes it all the easier for us to ignore their concerns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2008 12:00 AM
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