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June 22, 2011

Brigadier’s arrest shows extent of radicalisation


June 22, 2011

LAHORE: The arrest of Brigadier Ali Khan of the Pakistan Army for his alleged ties to Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), a banned Islamic militant group, believed to be working in tandem with al-Qaeda under the garb of pan-Islamism, speaks volumes about the growing radicalization of Pakistani armed forces.
The scary development has set alarm bells ringing for the Pakistani military leadership, which is already under sharp criticism for the May 2 Abbottabad commando raid by Americans and the subsequent terrorist attacks targeting highly sensitive military installations in various parts of the country. The infiltration of the Karachi naval base on May 22 by al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked fidayeens only gave credence to some earlier reports that the audacious assault could not have been possible without “inside help”.
The military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas has already confirmed that Brigadier Ali Khan was being interrogated by the country’s Military Intelligence unit. The Brigadier, who had been posted at the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Army in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, and was in charge of drafting army regulations, was actually taken into custody in May 2011.
Well-placed military sources say efforts were being made to arrest other members of the group who were in contact with Ali Khan, who is the highest-ranking serving army officer arrested in a decade. His arrest for his militant connection has surprised his colleagues since he comes from a family with three generations of military service, and had a brilliant service record. While his father was a junior commissioned officer, his younger brother is a colonel in an intelligence agency. His son and son-in-law are both army captains. However, the military sources say Ali Khan was arrested after getting clearance from none other than Army Chief General Kayani who was shown convincing evidence of the Brigadier’s militant links.
However, it is not the first time that allegations have been

made about links between elements in the Pakistani military and the militants belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir. At least two serving army officers were court martialled in 2010 for their alleged links with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir which represents a new breed of Islamic fundamentalists, who study at top British and American schools yet abhor Western values, advocate a pan-Islamic state and favour the removal of Pakistan’s pro-US government. The Pakistani military authorities had denied last week that a serving major was among several people who had been detained on charge of being CIA informants and passing on information which helped the US track down and kill al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. But it soon transpired that Major Amir Aziz, a doctor in the Pakistan Army’s medical corps, had been picked up.
Similarly, on May 30, 2011, hardly a week after the May 22 fidayeen attack on the Mehran Naval base in Karachi, the Pakistani military authorities arrested from Lahore a former commando of the Pakistan Navy, Kamran Ahmed, and his younger brother, Zaman Ahmed, for aiding the attackers. Kamran, who joined the Pakistan Navy in 1993 and was trained as a Special Services Group commando, was detained on charges of providing maps of the Mehran Naval base to the attackers. He had served at the Iqbal Naval base in Karachi till 1997 and was later transferred to the Mehran Naval base where he served till 2003, before being court-martialled by his institution and terminated from service in 2003 for assaulting a senior fellow officer.
However, Kamran is not the only Navy officer to have been arrested for his links with jihadis. Another Pakistani marine commando from the Waziristan tribal region, who had been posted at the Mehran Naval airbase, was arrested in January 2011 for his alleged links with militants. During interrogation, he disclosed that al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants had plans to target some key naval installations, including oil depots and power grid stations.
As a matter of fact, the spectre of Islamist infiltration has haunted the armed forces of Pakistan for decades. The creeping coup of conservatism in the armed forces is a legacy of the country’s third military dictator, General Ziaul Haq, under whose command the state policies were centred on Islam; religious sermons by fanatic mullahs in military units were encouraged and even Tableeghi Jamaat members were allowed to preach in the garrisons at will. This drift within the armed forces was first revealed during Benazir Bhutto’s second tenure as Prime Minister in 1995, when a group of senior Army officers headed by a Major General was busted planning to topple the government and to eliminate the existing Army leadership, with the prime aim of enforcing Islamic Shariah in the country.
The subsequent arrest of dozens of commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the Army and the Air Force in connection with the December 2003 suicide attacks targeting Musharraf’s cavalcade in Rawalpindi did not, consequently, come as a great surprise to many. And it probably did not surprise the military leadership that al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants had penetrated the Pakistan Army and Air Force units to preach their brand of jihad and recruit personnel to assassinate none other than their own Army Chief. After surviving twin assassination attempts, Musharraf had ordered the purging of known Islamists from superior ranks of the armed forces.
In January 2005, almost a year later, after court martial proceedings, a military court headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Sultan Noor Ali Khan of 96 Medium Air Defence Regiment, sentenced three Air Force officers to terms ranging from two to nine years for alleged links with the Jaish-e-Mohammad led by Maulana Masood Azhar. Nauman Khattak, 18, and Saeed Alam, 19, were sentenced to two years in prison, while the third airman, Munir Ahmed, was awarded a nine-year sentence.
Three months later, in March 2005, the trial court handed down death sentence [in absentia] to another accused in the conspiracy to assassinate Pervez Musharraf, Naik Arshad Mahmood of the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Army and others, including Havaldar Mohammad Younis of the 98 Air Defence Regiment of the Army, who was awarded 10 years with hard labour, and Lance Naik Zafar Iqbal Dogar of the SSG, who abandoned the mission halfway and became a key state witness. Six months later, on September 18, 2005, yet another military trial court sentenced Major Adil Qudoos to 10 years in prison, Colonel Abdul Ghaffar to three years and Colonel Khalid Abbasi to six months. Major Attaullah, Major Faraz and Captain Zafar were dismissed from service.
However, in an unprecedented move, never heard in the Pakistan Army, Abdul Islam Siddiqui, an Army soldier, was executed on August 20, 2005 after being tried in a closed-door Field General Court Martial, headed by a Major General. The 35-year-old Siddiqui was charged with pressing the button of the remote control device which caused an explosion targeting Musharraf in Rawalpindi on December 14, 2003. The execution was clearly meant to give a clear message to the Islamists in uniform that they would be dealt with an iron hand. The charges against Islam Siddiqui included abetting mutiny against the Army chief and attempting to persuade “a person in the military” to rebel against the government. Islam Siddiqui was also charged with receiving terrorism training in Bhimber (Jammu Kashmir) at a Jaish-e-Mohammad-run training camp. But his family members insisted that Islam Siddiqui was actually arrested in South Waziristan after he had refused to fight against local tribes suspected of having links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The South Waziristan military operation had turned out to be the biggest dent in the Pakistani Army discipline as several units reportedly declined to be posted in South Waziristan and dozens of troops refused to continue the fight against tribes. The development literally choked the military high command which had to recall most of the troops from the frontline. These developments clearly indicated that conflicting ideologies have caused fissures in the Pakistan armed forces, pitting Islamists against reformists. The split actually sharpened in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks because of Musharraf’s attempts under American pressure to give his Army a liberal outlook, acceptable to the United States.
There are strong indications to suggest that Islamic extremists are still sprinkled within the lower ranks of the armed forces and have been involved in several attacks. One such attack targeting the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army was carried out in October 2009 by a group of attackers, led by Mohammad Aqeel alias Dr Usman, who had served as a nursing assistant in the Army Medical Corps, Rawalpindi before abandoning the army in 2004 to join hands with Commander Ilyas Kashmiri.

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