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Tuesday February 27, 2024

Counter terrorism: Afghanistan opens doors to new challenges, more opportunities

September 14, 2021

KARACHI: The ISKP instrumental in attacking innocent Hazara Muslims has suffered a serious jolt with reports of the execution of a long-sought-after key mastermind, Farooq Bangalzai. Orchestrating dozens of inglorious terrorist actions claiming lives of countless Muslims including Quetta’s Civil Hospital attack, January’s Macch massacre of 11 Hazara coalminers, shrines in Sindh and dozens of LeJ and ISKP terror attacks, he always escaped the dragnet of law.

Pakistan continues to face a serious threat from the ISKP, keeping the intelligence and security forces on toes. Being an NDS RAW terrorist module, the group’s leadership enjoyed the hospitality of its handlers in Kunar, Spin Boldak and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan. Running out of the cat’s proverbial nine lives, Farooq Bangalzai sprang from Nangarhar to Nimroz to flee to Iran, alongside the leadership of Balochistan sub-nationalists only to be executed there.

Alongside Mumtaz Pehlwan and Mufti Kabir, Farooq Bangalzai was the second tier leadership only after the ISKP chief and was the chief strategist and mastermind, called Sain Baba, who directed, trained, motivated and harboured the bunch of murdering psychos and repressive hardliners, leading to some of the most heart rending attack against Hazaras and Shia Muslims in Balochistan and Sindh. He hailed from Dera Murad Jamali and belonged to a family of ultra radicals with siblings Waheed Bangalzai and Ejaz Bangalzai of ISKP and cousin Nabi Bangalzai Abdul of the United Baloch Army, all wanted for deadly terrorist attacks and who were eventually killed by security forces.

Initially part of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, in 1998 Farooq Bangalzai was called by its chief Riaz Basra to Afghanistan to discuss raising Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Balochistan. The new assignment saw the LeJ under Farooq Bangalzai wreak havoc in Balochistan, targeting Shia and Hazara Muslims in Quetta and those travelling to and from Iran for the ritual pilgrimage, besides attacking a police training centre, taking scores of lives and jolting the security establishment and the common people alike. His list of crimes looks like more of a horror film. The Muharram processions were the worst targets. Those were horrific years in terms of loss of life of innocent Muslims at the hands of the sectarian marauders in Quetta and Mastung.

Bangalzai always remained high on the wanted list but every time evaded capture narrowly. His other test came when in 2017 following series of high impact operations by law enforcement, CTD Quetta, Quetta Police, security and intelligence agencies; they were routed from Quetta and Mastung and were desperately searching for safe havens and there was none. In this crisis situation, Farooq managed to build a long enduring and mutually-beneficial relationship with ideologically disparate and secular Baloch nationalists that continued till the end of his life.

During negotiations, Bangalzai prevailed and they handed over their camps and hideouts in the mountains of the Baloch heartland to them. Later, the intensive operations and crackdown by the LEAs against the LeJ and Jaishul Islam forced them to morph into ISKP. Farooq Banglazai who eyed the top leadership role for himself in the new organization was disappointed when the mantel was passed to 27-year-old, Mufti Hidayat, who became the first emir of ISKP’s chapter in Balochistan. Bangalzai was extremely unhappy but was accomodated in the 8-man shura. On Aug 8 2016, ISKP carried out it’s first major terror attack in Civil Hospital, Quetta in which 70 people died. LeJ’s Ali Ahmed was the suicide bomber. Bangalzai also directed major terrorist actions along Sindh-Balochistan border areas of Nasirabad, Jacobabad-Shikarpur-Sehwan attacking shrines in Sindh and Imambargahs in Balochistan, taking lives of dozens of Muslims.

Many police and CTD officials describe him as professional who would execute the plot with deadly efficiency, “keeping the Judas goats (suicide bombers and other terrorists) motivated with lies and deception of an expert handler.” With a skewed and a perverted understanding of religion brainwashed into him in his early days as a sectarian terrorist, his compartmentalized mind reserved rage and contempt for Muslims practicing the faith differently. He never allowed himself to be photographed making his identification quite a headache.

The group got severely degraded in a major security operation in 2017 when its major base in tunnels of Koh-e-Siya, Mastung, were attacked in an elaborate operation backed by army, FC, Quetta Police, CTD and aerial support, in which 12 top ISKP terrorists including Mustafa Mazari and the leader of the Sindh Daesh were killed. The base was run by his brother Ejaz Bangalzai, who survived the attack, together while Farooq, who organized things from Nangarhar.

In January 2021, Farooq Bangalzai masterminded another blood curdling attack in Macch coal mines, killing 11 Hazara miners. But would his elimination subdue the terrorism, perhaps only temporarily, as others like Mufti Kabir and Mumtaz Pehlwan are hanging around or others would rise in a matter of time. The dexterity of the security forces alone would determine if a new terrorism spike ‘lasts longer’. New challenges and opportunities are emerging with new developments in Kabul forcing several terrorist groups and their leadership escaping back into Pakistan, Iran and India to catch a breath before they roll the dice.