Pakistani Taliban chief warns Islamabad

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  1. ejazr

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    Asia Times Online :: Pakistani Taliban chief warns Islamabad

    NORTH WAZIRISTAN - Mualana Wali-u-Rehman, known in militant circles as "Molvi Sahib", carries a Turkish-made Zigana-K pistol and a Russian AKS-74U assault rifle. Rehman, a former activist from Pakistan's largest religious-political party, Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam, was one of the founding members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban, or TTP) in South Waziristan, when it emerged in late 2007.

    Rehman, officially a deputy in the TTP, is at present serving as de-facto chief, as his leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is in deep hiding to avoid US drone strikes. According to Taliban sources, a Taliban shura (consultative council) recently advised Mehsud to keep a low profile and avoid militant meetings.

    Rehman has been designated a "global terrorist" by the US State Department, with a US$5 million bounty on his head. Pakistani authorities have also offered a 50 million rupee (US$530,000) reward for information that leads to his capture or killing.

    He is believed to have orchestrated a 2009 suicide attack on the US Central Intelligence Agency-run Camp Chapman in Afghanistan's Khost province. Carried out by a Jordanian triple agent, Humam Khalil Al-Balawi, the suicide bombing killed seven CIA officials, including camp chief Jennifer Lynne Matthews.

    After TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a US drone strike in August, 2009, Rehman - Baitullah's former driver and spokesman - was a contender for the top TTP post. According to local sources, the Afghan Taliban are today closer to Rehman than Hakimullah. "They consider him more reliable and influential than Hakimullah in many aspects - he is easy to convince," a leading Taliban commander told this correspondent.

    Many security experts believe that there has been a substantial decline in civilian casualties from Taliban-perpetrated violence since Rehman took control of TTP -------.

    An ideologue-cum-strategist, Rehman is known among as a staid, cerebral and taciturn character - attributes that helped him quickly rise up the militant ladder. In this exclusive interview with Asia Times Online, Rehman lays out his organization's strategy, ideological orientation and geopolitical ambitions.

    The interview was conducted at a secret location in North Waziristan Agency, the second-largest of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border.

    Operations in North Waziristan
    "As far as operations in North Waziristan are concerned, the government will face only failure as they have been facing for the last 10 years in different parts of the tribal regions, " Rehman told ATol.

    "Despite government claims of success, they have faced failure in all areas during their operations. The Taliban and mujahideen are even stronger despite the operations against them."

    Ground realities contradict Rehman's claims. In recent months, successive military operations have ruthlessly rooted Taliban out from traditional strongholds in various tribal regions.

    The US has long pressurized the government to also go after the Haqqani network in the tribal regions, claiming that its failure to do so underlines the tight-knit relationship between the militant group - known for their attacks on US forces in Afghanistan - and Pakistan's intelligence agencies. However, critics in Pakistan say this would be "strategic suicide" for Islamabad.

    "If Pakistan launches operations in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network, we will react in the same manner as we have in other regions against the wrong policies of the Pakistan government," Rehman reiterated in the interview.

    "The US has long been trying to dismantle the Haqqani network in Afghanistan but they only face failure. Pakistan will also face trouble if it launches operations against the Haqqani Network. Such operations will not halt the attacks of the Haqqani network against the US forces in Afghanistan," Rehman said during the interview.

    Pakistani authorities are concerned that launching operations against the Haqqani network would impact on strategic gains made against the TTP-led insurgency across the tribal belt in recent years of fighting.

    On July 12, the TTP launched deadly attacks against Pakistani security forces in Lahore, killing nine policemen. Security agencies believe that the training and logistics for these attacks came from North Waziristan.

    Pakistan's war on terror
    Sentiment is growing in Pakistan that the government has been abandoned by its coalition partners in the war against terror in the region. A movement led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is spearheading this argument.

    "It has never been Pakistan's war - we have been serving someone else interests at the cost of our own. This is not our war, this is not Pakistan's war," Khan said while addressing a huge public rally in Peshawar on Saturday.

    These sentiments were evident in Rehman's interview with ATol.

    "Everyone knows that this is a war of others that has been imposed upon the Pakistani people by corrupt rulers. The people in this region have strong sentiments for jihad while the non-believers consider it a threat for them. That is why this region is always affected by war.

    "Our war is not based on a nationalist or separatist agenda. This is a joint Jewish-Crusader war which has spread throughout the whole world, including China, Yemen and Gulf countries," said Rehman said, reflecting al-Qaeda ideology.

    TTP operations in the West
    Due to its close links with al-Qaeda, TTP has developed an international agenda. The group has attempted various times to carry out terrorist attacks in Western countries. While the TTP-trained Pakistani American, Faisal Shahzad was foiled when he attempted to blow up an explosive laden vehicle in Times Square in 2010, Rehman says the group plans to revitalize its foreign network.

    "The restoration of network in foreign or Western countries will not a matter of days, weeks or even months. This will require continuous struggle and our members have been busy on this from day one. This strategy will bear results with the passage of time. We have to arrange many things like resources and formulation of strategy and our role will be better in this regard."

    Threats to media
    Media persons and outlets have recently been targeted across Pakistan with the attacks claimed by the TTP. The latest attack was carried out against one of Pakistan's leading news channels, "AAJ TV", when unknown assailants opened fire on the gate of its main office in Karachi.

    Pakistan was declared the world's second-most dangerous country for journalists, after Mexico, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its recent report titled "Safety and the danger of Impunity".

    During the interview, Rehman blatantly threatened media persons and outlets, calling for them to restrain themselves from demonizing the Taliban and their cause.

    "Non-believers are relying on the media more than actual war to achieve their goals. As they have complete control over media, they try to impose their ideology upon Muslims through various programs.

    "We are not against the free media but it should present neutral reports while giving coverage to both sides and presenting facts. The media persons should not become tools of media war against Mujahideen. Such persons were terminated in the past and they will face the same in the future as well," he said.

    A 'final conflict'
    In keeping with fears that the training and radicalization agenda of the TTP and al-Qaeda has increasingly converged in the tribal regions, Rehman's outlook often reflected that of the international terror organization. (See Al-Qaeda takes hold of tribal regions Jul 10, 2012 )

    "This is a final conflict taking place between Islam and Infidel forces, and our struggle will continue till the conclusion, whether it is in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India or Western countries. This is an ideological war, and our mission and struggle will continue regardless of the restrictions of borders," said Rehman.

    "The Arab Spring is a good omen. Finally a struggle based on Islamic fervor and restoration of peoples' rights has been launched against dictators who ruled their respective countries for decades. No one knows what will be the end result, but still it is a better effort and heading towards right direction. The sacrifices of the people, who shed their blood in this struggle, will pave the way for a revolution in future as well. We hope for a better end result."
     
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