December Issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Books | Published 15 years ago

Imtiaz Gul is a well-known and highly respected journalist who has covered Pakistan in general and the North West Frontier Province in particular for almost two decades. His book The Enemy Within is the outcome of his personal observations and interactions with the Taliban, tribal people, the military and other security officials and civil servants dealing with the Frontier. Besides this, his work has also benefited from the insights offered by other journalists and their writings.

The prologue to the book begins with the dramatic siege of the village Landi Dok in Kaloosha district in South Waziristan by the Scouts on March 16, 2004. The Scouts wanted to capture Tahir Yaldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Waziristan (IMU), along with his 25 followers. But why had Islamic militants from far away Central Asia established themselves in Pakistan’s FATA?

This is the theme of the first chapter, aptly entitled ‘Why Pakistan’s Tribal Areas Fell to Al-Qaeda.’ The story is a familiar one: the army and the ISI believed that Pakistan should set up a friendly regime in Afghanistan so that the Durand Line is not questioned and the army can use that country in case of a war with India. This desire for ‘strategic depth’ opened up FATA to battle-hardened Islamic militants who had first arrived here to help the Americans in their proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

But Imtiaz Gul does more than repeat this hackneyed storyline. He begins with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s policy of training Islamic dissidents from Afghanistan to pressurise the Kabul government in the mid-1970s. Somehow, when these nefarious policies are being made, nobody considers the moral dimension but, as we have seen in recent history, all of them backfire and haunt their perpetrators for decades. Unsurprisingly, Bhutto’s policy also backfired. But Bhutto was overtaken by events and General Zia’s Islamisation policies strengthened Islamic radicals and reduced the power of liberal ideas in Pakistan. It also increased sectarianism, which resulted in the deaths of prominent Shias.

US policy was even more short-sighted than Pakistan’s. The Americans poured in their resources to give the Soviets a bloody nose but did not foresee that the spirit of Islamic militancy they had created would turn against them because of their own unpopular and unjust policies in favour of Israel and their imperial hubris. But the Arabs, brought into Pakistan and Afghanistan, stayed back and, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, declared jihad against the Americans.

But Imtiaz Gul does not confine himself to these well-known facts. He gives contemporary facts in order to provide an understanding of how our tribal areas became host to Islamic militants from all over the world.

He explains the activities of both Al-Qaeda and Pakistan-based organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Brigade 313, Al-Badr Mujahideen and Jamaatul Furqan. All of them drew inspiration from the Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — once favoured by Pakistan — Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Omar and Maulvi Nabi Mohammedi. By providing this information, Imtiaz Gul is among the few Pakistani authors who have given any attention to the Punjab factor. Ordinarily, Pakistanis have been in the habit of ignoring the Punjab-based groups because they fought a proxy war against India for Kashmir. However, Imtiaz Gul gives detailed accounts of how all these jihadi groups share certain aspects of their worldview.

However, the author describes the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in more detail. It has a 40-member consultative council (Shura) and has representatives from all seven agencies. Leaders very rarely give interviews to the media and the author reveals that he was present in an interview where Baitullah Mehsud boasted that he possessed suicide bombers (‘atom bombs’ as he called them) which he would use against Pakistan’s forces if they dared to attack him. The author also tells us how the Taliban control people in the areas which they rule. They always impose their stringent interpretation of the Shariah and punish people for transgressions or for perceived disloyalty to them. Among the most interesting narratives is Mullah Nazir’s resistance to the Uzbek militants and the resulting attempts to kill him.

The militants are not a single united group. However, Gul’s area-by-area treatment of the whole FATA region is a welcome addition to this field of study. Equally useful is the chapter providing profiles of militants, which gives us a short biographical note on each high-profile militant.

Imtiaz Gul’s chapter on the ISI is instructive though there is no new material in it. One nugget of information, though available earlier, is worth repeating: Benazir Bhutto did not know that the ISI was training and infiltrating fighters across the LoC. This may sound surprising but it also tells us that our civilian prime ministers have little power — and even knowledge — of foreign policy. This lack of unity in the exercise of power and the presence of several power centres has made Pakistan insecure, but there has been no scholarly study of it.

The last chapter ‘Who Funds Militancy in FATA?’ is the most interesting of all. Here, the author goes through all the theories about who funds the militancy in FATA. After all, with hundreds of Pakistanis dying every other day in bomb attacks, people want to know who is paying for this. There are many conspiracy theories and the author considers some of them.

Some believe the Americans themselves are involved, but the only evidence they offer is that American drones hit Al-Qaeda operatives in FATA (Abu Lait el libi, Hamza Rabia, Abu Khabab al-Misri etc) but not the Pakistani leaders of the militants. This appeared to be true when this book went to the press as Baitullah Mehsud was still alive. However, now that a drone strike has eliminated him, this claim does not stand ground. Another theory is that India funds this insurgency to take revenge on Pakistan for having supported Sikh dissidents and the proxy war in Kashmir. However, no hard proof is offered about the FATA situation considering the fact that the Taliban are violently anti-India. Yet another theory is that the ISI is in cahoots with the militants. While this was true in the past, it is hard to believe that the ISI would be supporting those who attacked the GHQ and against whom the army is presently fighting a war. It is possible, however, that some operatives still have a soft corner for groups which operate or may possibly operate in the future in Kashmir or India. The author leaves this possibility unexplored.

Gul ends the book with the words: “The terror that was planned and nurtured in FATA is now knocking at our own doors.” Indeed it is, and it is only these kind of facts presented by researchers that will awaken Pakistanis to their problems. In the end, it must be pointed out that this is journalistic work not a scholarly treatise. This does not, however, diminish the worth of the book, which is extremely insightful. Its strength is Imtiaz Gul’s deep knowledge of the area, its language and its history. He has talked to, formally and informally, the most important actors in the area and his language is absorbing and clear. The book is highly recommended to all those who want to understand the current security situation in Pakistan.