Taliban kill General (r) Amir Faisal Alvi, a former head of the military Special Services Group (SSG). Taliban are under pressure…

In the name of revenge
Friday, November 21, 2008
It appears that General (r) Amir Faisal Alvi, a former head of the military Special Services Group (SSG), who was shot dead in a daring attack in Islamabad, may have been killed in revenge for his past involvement in operations against militants in the tribal areas. No other motive has been suggested for the assassination, carried out by killers, riding motorbikes and a jeep, who opened fire on the general’s car and then fled. The ex-military man had been receiving threats from the Taliban for several months. His murder was obviously planned well in advance. It is thought he was made a target because he commanded the SSG group in a covert operation against militants, ‘Operation Mountain Lion’ carried out in Waziristan in 206, with US and British involvement. At least 12 militants had been killed by Alvi’s unit, others arrested. Among them were a number of foreigners.

The Taliban, it seems, were eager to deliver a clear-cut message. The retired general was seen as a ‘soft target’. His death, alongside that of his driver, is a reminder of the extremist hatred for the forces acting against them and of their ruthlessness. The game of revenge is obviously a dangerous one. It is not known if other targets are in sight. The killing could also set a pattern that ‘copy cat’ assassins emulate, to gun down, in a similar fashion, those involved in actions against militants at various times. The thought is a terrifying one. We already have, in our society, far too many strands of violence. An addition to them is obviously not a development to look forward to. Solutions to the situation are not easy to find. But the government must, with the military and other security outfits, consider a way to make the country a safer place; heads must be put together to find a way. Unless we can achieve this, the walk down the dangerous path that leads only to darkness will not be halted and this cannot augur well for any of us anywhere in the country. (The News)


Terrorists under pressure

Gunmen on a motorbike intercepted the private car of a former head of Special Services Group, Major General Ameer Faisal Alvi (Retd), and shot him and his driver dead on the outskirts of Islamabad on Wednesday. While a section of opinion attributes the killing of the general to personal enmity, the manner of attack shows it more likely to be the handiwork of an Al Qaeda-Taliban hit squad. The actual operation is more likely to be performed by any one of the sectarian groups that are affiliated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Recall the terrorist attack against the Surgeon General of Pakistan Army and the suicide-bombing of a commando unit that had taken part in the 2007 Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad. The modus operandi in this case is, however, closer to how the sectarian groups have been operating and targeting their respective leaders. The general had retired in 2006 and headed commando operations in South Waziristan during his tenure as the top SSG commander.

Determined military operations in Bajaur and Swat have brought the terrorists under pressure. For the first time the military is not only being supported by local tribes, there are local militias to back up action by the army. Mohmand Agency is the latest to challenge the Taliban. After the exit of President Pervez Musharraf from the scene, many developments have strengthened the position of Pakistan against the foreign elements located inside its territory and their local supporters.

An elected government has been able to get an agreement of disparate elements in parliament on how to tackle terrorism in the Tribal Areas. The backing to the military operations in the Tribal Areas comes from a parliament that wants dialogue with elements on the condition that they put down arms and talk. The consensus among the ulema on terrorism through suicide-bombing has also become a significant factor in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. Within months, disagreement over terrorist attacks has changed into a firm opposition to the acts of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and more and more of the Taliban leaders are suing for peace. Therefore, the killing of a retired SSG officer is an act of desperation.

While achieving these successes, Pakistan remains firmly opposed to CIA attacks inside Pakistan. The reason for this opposition emanates from the experience of the Pakistan army in the Tribal Areas. The population in the affected area are Pakistanis mentally linked to a Pakistani sense of the nation. Attacks from across the Durand Line, while killing innocent people as collateral damage, affect the minds of this population and incline it to prepare for war instead of preparing for peace with Pakistan. Although some of the drone attacks have killed important Al Qaeda men — the latest being the one killed in Bannu — the net effect of these strikes is negative for Pakistan and tends to roll back its gradual progress towards pacification. The latest attack inside the settled area of the NWFP may in fact have inflicted an equal setback on Pakistan as on Al Qaeda.

Reconciliation is the only way out and that is what Pakistan is trying to achieve through military operations. The idea is not to kill people but to deploy power in such a manner that people vulnerable to the power of Al Qaeda turn away from it and resume their allegiance to Pakistan. That is why the stance taken by the Pak army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani includes finding a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan from where it is leaking into Pakistan. There are many NATO commanders who actually believe this to be the only way to go. Why is this considered important?

The final objective of Pakistan is to drive Al Qaeda out of the region, not to force it to fight to the end taking along a large Pakistani population. Before Al Qaeda is compelled to leave, it has to be isolated and separated from its local support base. Therefore Pakistan has to fight elements who benefit from the presence of Al Qaeda. This can be done only through re-establishing the writ of the state in the Tribal Areas. That is one reason why Pakistan concentrates more on the Taliban and not on Al Qaeda. The elimination of Al Qaeda and its extermination by blocking its exit may be an American objective but it lacks realism in the eyes of Pakistan. The organisation is amorphous and exists in many parts of the world. Pakistan doesn’t want more martyrs whose ghosts may haunt it in the future; it wants a return to normalcy with its people secured against violence.

A clear backing of the army operations from the civilian government has partly turned the battle against Al Qaeda and signs of this reversal are visible. Suicide-bombers are still being sent out but they are less and less effective. With time, as vigilance and pre-emptive action increases, these attacks will lose their appeal, certainly for those who do it partly for money. In the NWFP, political power is with people who fight the war for the survival of Pakhtun identity. The religious parties who helped entrench terrorism in the Tribal Arras are out of power and are now embroiled in scandals. This is the tipping point in Pakistan’s war against Al Qaeda. No slippage from this point should be allowed. (Daily Times)