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Jihad's new anti-US front

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November 02, 2005 18:34 IST
In my article of October 11,, I had stated as follows: 'Would the terrorist remnants attack the foreign relief teams, particularly the US helicopters? It seems unlikely because of the adverse impact which it could have on the public opinion in the affected areas. But, still, one has to be on guard.'

A US military spokesman at Islamabad announced as follows on November 1,2005: 'A United States Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter flying in the vicinity of Chakothi delivering relief aid to earthquake victims is believed to have been fired upon by a rocket-propelled grenade today.The helicopter returned safely to base at Chaklala at 1430 and an investigation was under way.'

Chakothi is about 10 kms from the Line of Control, which divides India's Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Contradicting the US statement, a Pakistani military spokesman said that relief teams deployed on the ground in that area had been using dynamite to clear landslides on the road and claimed that the US pilot seemed to have mistaken the blast for the firing of an RPG. Responding to this, a US spokesman said: 'Our air crew is familiar with RPG fire.' It remains to be determined whether it was an RPG fire or merely the sound of a controlled blast carried out by a relief team on the ground.

The incident has come in the wake of discussions, which have been going on among the various organisations which form part of the International Islamic Front as to what should be the response of the IIF to the deployment of the US and NATO military forces in Pakistan to provide relief to the victims of the recent earthquake.

The IIF is concerned over the possibility that US and NATO forces deployed in Pakistan for relief work might also have the unstated objective of hunting for the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan.

According to them, even though the US and the NATO forces being deployed are being projected by NATO spokesmen as a purely humanitarian force consisting of doctors, enginners and other experts in disaster relief, they contain important intelligence support and physical security components, whose job will be to protect the humanitarian relief component from possible attacks by jihadi terrorists and, at the same time, hunt for the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda by taking advantage of their presence in Pakistani territory.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda have reportedly been comparing the stationing of the US and NATO forces in Pakistan to the stationing of the US troops in Saudi Arabia in 1990 in the wake of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, which led to the launching of a global jihad against the US, and saying that their stationing in Pakistan, which they look upon as the Land of the Pure, would be detrimental to the interests of Islam and the Muslim Ummah.

They have reportedly been arguing that the IIF should take advantage of the presence of these forces in Pakistani territory to open a third jihadi front against the US, the other two fronts being Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Pakistani components of the IIF -- the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami -- agree with the arguments of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. However, at the same time, they want that a third front should be opened only if the mandate of the US and NATO forces is extended beyond the period of three months, as initially agreed upon by Pakistan and the NATO.

It remains to be seen whether Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda elements operating from Pakistan and Afghanistan would start targeting the US and NATO forces immediately or whether they would wait for the winter to end. It is not yet clear whether the US forces would operate separately or whether they would be integrated with those of NATO.

In the meanwhile, the deployment of NATO and US forces has been going ahead steadily. Available details are:
NATO FORCES: Total planned strength 850, consisting of contingents from Spain, Holland (first to arrive), the US, the UK, France,Germany, Italy, Turkey, Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia. The largest contingent of 380 will be from Spain. The entire NATO force will be commanded by Spanish General Bautis.

All the personnel being deployed are from the NATO Response Force, a highly trained and technologically advanced force made up of elite land, air, sea and special forces components that NATO can deploy quickly wherever needed. At the core of the force will be three engineering companies from Spain, Italy and Poland.

Explaining the objectives of the force in an interview to the Daily Times of Lahore (November 2, 2005), Spanish Ambassador to Pakistan Jose-Maria Robles Fraga, said: 'The NATO relief mission, which would stay in Pakistan for 90 days, is capable of performing missions across the whole spectrum of operations including evacuations and disaster management. If Pakistan wanted the relief mission to stay here beyond 90 days, NATO might consider it.The relief mission, which would have its own vehicles and engineering equipment, would be deployed for repair of roads and infrastructure, civil assistance and medical purposes.T hese land forces' troops will be self-sustained.'

A Deployed Joint Task Force headed by US Vice-Admiral John Stufflebeem has started operating from Islamabad. His mission has been described by the vice-admiral as 'supporting Pakistani authorities and those bringing relief supplies and aid capabilities to the affected regions.' A statement issued by the DJTF on November 1 said: 'The DJTF team is coordinating NATO relief activities with the Pakistani authorities to direct urgently needed capabilities to areas where they can do the most good.'

A hospital with advanced medical facilities manned by 150 medical personnel (60 of them women) from Holland, the Czech Republic and Macedonia is being set up at Bagh in PoK. The German air force is providing seven CH-53 Sikorsky helicopters, four of which have already arrived.

US DEPLOYMENT: The US has set up a US Disaster Assistance Centre at Islamabad headed by Rear Admiral Mike LeFever. A US military construction battalion is to establish a helicopter refuelling centre at the Muzaffarabad airfield with a capacity of 190,000 litres of purified gasoline. About 20 US helicopters are operating from the Chaklala air force base. The battalion will also clear roadways and collapsed buildings, and prepare sites to establish temporary schools for children affected by the earthquake.

General Pervez Musharraf's decision to seek US and NATO assistance and to permit the deployment of their forces has come in for strong criticism not only from the religious fundamentalist and jihadi terrorist organisations, but also from members belonging to the political parties.

While the jihadi terrorist organisations are worried over the possibility of the Western forces using their presence in Pakistani territory to hunt for the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the mainstream political and fundamentalist elements are concerned over the implications of the deployment for the future security of Pakistan's nuclear establishments.

The Hizbut Tehrir has been propagating that Musharraf's decision to seek Western deployment reflected a lack of confidence in the capabilities of his own armed forces.

Talking to media personnel at Islamabad on October 31, 2005, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz asserted that the presence of NATO forces in Pakistan did not pose a security threat to the country. He said: 'They are here to help us. Even if they are in uniform, it should not be a cause of concern.'

Musharraf as well as the US and other NATO commanders have maintained a discreet silence as to who would be responsible for the physical protection of NATO and US personnel deployed on relief work. Would it be the Pakistani military or would they be entitled to protect themselves through the use of force, if attacked by Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorists?

B Raman