Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pakistanis Demonstrate Against the Bombing of Islamic School


'Death to America', vow protestors

Wed, 01 Nov 2006

Thousands of gun-wielding Pakistani tribesmen chanting "Death to America" vowed revenge on Tuesday for a deadly air raid on an al-Qaeda-linked religious school that killed 80 people.

Britain's Prince Charles was forced to cancel a key visit to a frontier city amid fears that the rallies involving more than 20 000 people would spread, although planned nationwide protests later fizzled out.

Innocents killed?

Protesters insisted the dead were innocent but a security official said al-Qaeda deputy chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the alleged mastermind of August's foiled London airliners plot frequented the school, or madrassa.

They were not there at the time of Monday's raid, the official said.

The dawn missile strike provoked a furious response in troubled Bajaur, bordering Afghanistan, where 15 000 bearded men wearing turbans burned effigies of US President George W. Bush and shouted "Death to Musharraf".

"We are ready for suicide attacks against the enemy," said cleric Inayatul Rehman to cheers from the crowd in Khar, the main town in Bajaur which is around two kilometres (about a mile) from the site of the blast.

The gathering also verbally approved a resolution to stone to death any spies for the Pakistan government or US forces in Afghanistan, an AFP correspondent said, adding that they later dispersed peacefully.

The meeting place was ringed by masked men brandishing Kalashnikovs and ammunition belts. No government security forces could be seen in the area, and most of the protesters wore black armbands.

Another 5000 tribesmen marched through Landi Kotal, the main town of nearby Khyber tribal area, blaming Musharraf for the "bloodshed of innocent tribesmen", witnesses said.

US 'behind' the strike

Local leaders in this pocket of support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban accused the United States of either ordering the strike on the madrassa or of actually carrying out the raid using Predator drones.

Military spokesperson Major General Shaukat Sultan told AFP that "there was no US role in the air strike".

Egyptian born Zawahiri, regarded as the ideological powerhouse behind al-Qaeda, was targeted in a failed CIA missile strike here in January.

The security official said he and Abu Obaida Al-Misri, al-Qaeda's operational commander in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province, bordering Bajaur, continued to visit the madrassa in Chingai village.

Al-Misri was the mastermind behind August's alleged conspiracy to blow up jets flying from London to the United States and guided Rashid Rauf, a Briton arrested by Pakistan in connection with the alleged plot, the official said.

Among those killed in Monday's raid was Maulvi Liaqat, a local Taliban commander who ran the madrassa and who is known to be a close associate of Zawahiri, security officials said.

Key US ally President Pervez Musharraf insisted that no civilians died in the raid, Pakistan's deadliest ever against insurgents.

Charles and Camilla in town

Smaller protests took place in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were due to visit a government madrassa on Tuesday before cancelling at the last minute.

Around 1500 Islamists from different groups burned a US flag in the conservative stronghold and more effigies of the US leader. A few dozen women aid workers also staged a rally.

"The only way of survival now is jihad (holy war)," Inamullah, the district chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity, told around 400 supporters. The group is banned in the United States for militant links.

Some 500 radicals also gathered in the southern city of Karachi.

But the protests were far smaller than the deadly riots that rocked Pakistan in February over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Tens of thousands took to the streets of Peshawar then and two people were killed.

Britain said earlier it had cancelled Prince Charles's trip to Peshawar on the Pakistani government's advice. Clarence House, Charles's office, told Britain's domestic Press Association the royal couple was "disappointed".

The heir to the British throne and Camilla instead visited the country's first women's university in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, and Buddhist ruins in the nearby town of Taxila.

Crowds of students at Fatima Jinnah University cheered their arrival.

"Religion has once again become a source of conflict and intolerance. But one of the tasks of education must surely be to engender the acquisition of wisdom," Charles said in a speech that he had intended to deliver in Peshawar


1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

NATO takes the fight to Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - The air attack on Monday in which up to 80 suspected militants were killed at a religious school in the Pakistani tribal area of Bajour marks the first successful operation after a tripartite meeting in Kabul on August 24 of representatives of Afghanistan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Pakistan. And it won't be the last.

It was agreed at that meeting that NATO forces operating in Afghanistan would be allowed to conduct hot-pursuit operations
across the border into Pakistan.

Although Pakistani officials claim that Monday's operation was conducted by the Pakistani military, Asia Times Online contacts in the area are convinced that foreign forces were also involved, including US unmanned Hellfire Predator aircraft. NATO and the US have only acknowledged that they provided intelligence on the possible presence of Taliban and al-Qaeda figures at the madrassa that was attacked, which was known to be pro-Taliban.

After Monday's operation, intelligence sources say that Pakistan will further facilitate NATO in the strategic back yard of Pakistan in an attempt to bolster the struggling NATO forces in Afghanistan in their battle with the Taliban.

"I can see slit throats beneath these turbans and beards," were the words of Hajaj bin Yusuf, an 8th-century tyrant in what is now Iraq, as he witnessed a gathering of leading religious and political figures.

This was the start of an article (The knife at Pakistan's throat, Asia Times Online, September 2) by this correspondent on returning from the largest-ever meeting of the Taliban in the North Waziristan tribal area two days before a peace deal was signed between the Taliban and Pakistani authorities.

The inspiration behind the quote was a genuine sense of upcoming bloodshed in the Pakistan tribal areas, given the hot-pursuit agreement in Kabul to which Pakistan had agreed in principle, though it unsuccessfully demanded a clear demarcation of the boundaries up to which hot pursuit would be allowed.

Subsequently, Pakistani officials traveled to the tribal areas, where they tried to explain their position of being under immense pressure from the increasingly desperate Americans. The Pakistanis suggested that the tribals develop a mechanism under which militants would retreat into the background, allowing the "soft-faced" (moderate) tribal leaders to come to the fore.

All the same, it was fully understood by both sides that bloodshed was inevitable, of which Monday's massacre in Bajour agency is just the beginning of a new phase in the "war on terror" battlefields that will embrace all seven of Pakistan's tribal agencies. These remote and semi-independent agencies along the border with Afghanistan have steadily developed into hideouts and bases for the Taliban and al-Qaeda and serve as the back yard for operations in Afghanistan.

The prospect of foreign forces becoming a regular feature on Pakistani soil conjures up visions of disastrous proportions. Just as such troops have been fiercely resisted in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they will be opposed in Pakistan.

More important, Pakistan will then become a new base for anti-US jihadis, that is, a new front will be opened.

The prelude to this phase was President General Pervez Musharraf's recent visit to Washington, where he was placed under heavy pressure to take a broader operational role in the US-led "war on terror". Soon after Musharraf's return home, the British commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General David Richards, visited Islamabad.

He talked to the Pakistani authorities of creating a joint operational strategy for Afghanistan. It was speculated at the time that this would involve joint patrols on the border. But sources close to the strategic quarters of Rawalpindi maintain that there is more to it than that.

In the first week of October, a team of British army officers visited the southern port city of Karachi and inspected the medical facilities in various hospitals and discussed with the administration of Aga Khan Hospital the availability of special wards with emergency facilities for wounded soldiers.

Many US troops are already stationed at Jacobabad Air Base in Sindh province, and recently the Pakistani air force reported extended reconstruction operations there that appear to be preparations for extended action. Similar information has been gathered about Kohat Air Base in North-West Frontier Province.

"The recent comment of the British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan [Richards] that NATO had failed to deliver on promises made to the Afghan people and a warning that the Taliban will be back in strength next summer explains very well these preparations," a security official told Asia Times Online.

Meanwhile, in many places in Afghanistan, especially the south, allied forces are virtually being held hostage in their bases by the Taliban.

As a result, they are negotiating with the Taliban in many districts for a peace deal to give them some breathing space, especially as the Taliban have in recent weeks focused their attentions on attacking bases, and will continue to do so until winter brings the current offensive to a standstill.

The Taliban have sustained heavy casualties from this fresh approach, but they have succeeded in rattling the nerves of the allied forces in the southwest, to such an extent that those forces feel they are rapidly losing the ground from under their feet in Afghanistan.

It is for this reason that Pakistani territory is so important, as it would give the NATO-led forces room to consolidate and take the fight into the enemy's home territory - the longer-term consequences be damned.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at