By Irfan Husain Saturday, 02 Jan, 2010
IN the ancient Greek myth, when Jason and the Argonauts are on their quest to find the golden fleece, one of the more terrifying dangers they face comes from the ‘dragon’s teeth’.
These objects, when planted in the ground, cause fierce warriors called spertoi to spring forth.
I was reminded of this bit of Greek mythology as I was reading Imtiaz Gul’s extremely well-researched book The Al Qaeda Connection. The author meticulously lists all the various extremist outfits that kill under the banner of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as well as other equally lethal groups who slaughter the innocent in the name of Islam. He also gives us thumbnail sketches of various warlords who run these gangs.
Ploughing through these details, I wondered how this hydra-headed monster — to bring in another Greek legend — could ever be laid to rest. The reality is that as soon as one of these killers is eliminated, more spring forward to replace them. After Baitullah Mehsud, the vicious leader of the TTP, was finally killed in a drone attack, many Pakistanis breathed a sigh of relief. But almost immediately, Hakeemullah Mehsud took over, and has been directing a ferocious and unending series of suicide attacks across the country.
The latest atrocity on Ashura in Karachi that killed a number of Shia mourners shows that it is impossible to stop such attacks aimed at soft targets. A procession of tens of thousands, passing through miles of densely populated city blocks, simply cannot be safeguarded against determined suicide bombers.
The TTP was quick to claim responsibility for the Karachi attack, as it has done for a number of others. The question of who is funding these killers remains a mystery, although Imtiaz Gul has tried to unravel it in his book. While Saudi funding of extremist groups like the virulently anti-Shia SSP was an open secret, apparently direct government financing from Riyadh ceased after 9/11. However, Gul cites anecdotal evidence to suggest that this money has not completely dried up.
In one example, he follows the indoctrination of a young would-be suicide bomber called Mansoor Khan Dawar of Hurmaz, a small village in North Waziristan. Gul quotes Dawar talking of his training under Abu Nasir al-Qahtani:
“When I met al-Qahtani, he soon impressed me by his thoughts on Islam and America and I decided to become a suicide bomber.… I completed my training in the mountains in 20 days. Most of the time we were either training or praying, and the speeches by al-Qahtani were very emotional and motivating. Our instructors would show videos of atrocities on Muslims, and also teach us verses of the Holy Quran and hadiths against the infidels.…”
Allowed to visit his parents before his final mission, Dawar was engaged by his father, mercifully an educated man, on the jihad being waged by the extremists. He asked his son why these militants didn’t target Arabs, and whether suicide bombing was in line with the Islamic Sharia. Finally, Dawar’s father said he would not block his son’s suicidal path if he received satisfactory replies to these questions from his mentors.
Dawar posed these questions to a local teacher who passed them on to al-Qahtani over the phone. As cited by Gul, the Arab replied: “We receive funds from Arab countries, therefore we cannot carry out any attack there, and if we commit any wrong there, they will stop supply of funds to us. But jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan is lawful and even the Saudis believe so.”
Disturbed by these self-serving replies, Dawar managed to escape the clutches of these extremists through an agreement brokered by the local teacher. But he is an exception: the vast majority believe that they will achieve instant entry into heaven populated by beautiful virgins. According to one gullible bomber who failed in his mission and was captured alive, his mentor had told him that pulling the trigger on his suicide vest was like punching the button that would ignite the rocket that would carry him straight to paradise.
When Pakistani troops captured a TTP stronghold in South Waziristan recently, they came across a wall with paintings of scenes from heaven; one panel bore images of nude women. It seems these images were used in the brainwashing of impressionable, madressah-educated young men.
In an interesting section about the sources of funding this war, Gul cites a number of Pakistan government initiatives aimed at developing Fata. Apparently, warlords have received millions of rupees by way of diverted public funds. In addition, the late Baitullah Mehsud was given Rs50m to release 280 soldiers captured by him in August 2007. It seems that much of the money provided by taxpayers to develop the tribal areas is being used to slaughter the same Pakistani citizens.
The ISI connection to these killers has long attracted speculation and universal criticism. But Gul quotes both Gen Kayani who headed the ISI for some time during Musharraf’s rule, and Gen Pasha, the present head of the agency, as stoutly denying any ISI involvement. He cites Gen Pasha as declaring: “We would obviously like to fix these rogues. They are killing our own people, and are certainly not friends of this country.”
For many years, the Pakistani establishment has drawn a line between the ‘good Taliban’ and the bad guys. The former are the ones who are battling western forces in Afghanistan, while the latter are the terrorists who have killed and maimed thousands of Pakistanis. But to the rest of the world, this distinction is meaningless: they are all seen as murderous extremists who are waging jihad to impose their Stone-Age values and rules on the rest of us.
For all the talk of negotiations and deals, the fact is that these hardened killers want nothing short of a total victory. They have always used talks as a means of gaining respite, and used the time to rearm and regroup.
But this article is not a message of despair. These extremists can be defeated, provided we are willing to take the tough political decisions needed. These include a thorough reform of the madressahs that churn out the foot soldiers and the suicide bombers. Thus far, both Musharraf and Asif Zardari have failed to take the bull by the horns. Until this is done, the dragon’s teeth sown by Gen Zia will keep on multiplying.