Monday, July 2, 2012

Militants gathering in Kunar to attack Pakistan: officials

Pakistani militants operating from Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces have mobilised hundreds of fighters and acquired resources and support from other countries to launch major attacks in Pakistan, military officials said.

The officials who have access to intelligence reports said the militants led by Maulana Fazlullah had gathered 500 to 750 fighters on the border that runs along Lower Dir, Upper Dir and Chitral districts. They alleged the Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had been providing support to the militants.

Intelligence reports suggest that a RAW agent, Manohar Singh, a codename, distributed $65 million in February and March this year among the Pakistani militants in Afghanistan to sponsor attacks inside Pakistan. It was hard to verify or dispute the claim independently.

For years, Islamabad has been complaining that India uses Afghanistan for fueling terrorism in Pakistan, and New Delhi’s growing influence in the neighbouring country has been one of the factors that bedeviled relations between the US and Pakistan.

The officials said the “RAW people” were now pressuring the militants to launch attacks against Pakistan. Intelligence, they added, suggested the militants had amassed 500 fighters in Kunar’s Zor Barawal and 250 in Patash.

The officials believed the militants had built sanctuaries in Dangan, Asmar and Nari districts of Kunar besides their safe havens in Nuristan. They have also received reports that the Afghan government and Nato support the militants.

“Support from foreign countries, the huge number of fighters and enormous funding constitute really, really a serious threat,” said an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The security forces recently issued warning of cross-border attack in Dir and Chitral.

To substantiate his argument, one official said with authority that the militants had been given status of refugees. “Instead of acting against them, they are being hosted as refugees,” he pointed out.

It was also learnt that the issue has been raised with Afghanistan and Nato “several times” but they have been unwilling to act. In Kunar andNuristan provinces, officials said, the militants had been allowed to run their own administration.

The officials said people in Kunar and Nuristan had started questioning the stay of Pakistani militants. The militants recently attacked an Afghan elder with an improvised explosive device (IED) and the people asked the government there to evict them, the officials added. They said the militants also clashed with Hezb-e-Islami (Hekmatyar) fighters in Nuristan for not supporting their war against Pakistan.

Analysts differ on the officials’ claims. Brig (r) Mehmood Shah, a security analyst, sees Nato help with the Pakistani militants. “They are given refugee status, houses and rations in Kunar. The Kunar governor is also Northern Alliance’s handpicked person who has allowed militants to operate freely,” he argued. Mehmood Shah said Nato had no intention to act against the militants and Pakistan had no option but to take defensive measures as crossing into Afghanistan could invite a similar response from the other side.

Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistan ambassador to Kabul, disagrees. “What benefit Afghanistan could get by supporting these militants?” he asked and exonerated the Afghan government from the blame. He also ruled out India’s support to militants in the presence of the US forces in Afghanistan. “Pakistan can harm India more as it has more influence in Afghanistan than India,” he said. As for Nato and the US, he added, they had no control over 64 per cent area of Afghanistan and had been unable to deal with thousands of Fazlullah-like commanders.

The military officials said they had made all necessary arrangements to meet the challenge from across the Durand Line. “We have established 50 posts on the border in an area of 50 kilometres that stretched along Upper Dir and Lower Dir,” one official said. “The troops have maintained the posts during heavy snowfall in winter. The militants have failed to stage fresh attacks because the border is well-defended now,” he added.

Since September last when the military deployed around 8,000 troops in Upper Dir and Lower Dir and 5,000 in Chitral, the militants were unable to launch major cross-border attacks as they did in the preceding months. Over 100 security personnel and scores of villagers were killed in such attacks in Upper Dir and Chitral last year.

An official said the security forces had suffered five fatalities and the militants 70 during clashes from September 12 to October 26, 2011, the duration in which troops were deployed on the western border.

“Purpose of the deployment was to stop cross-border attacks and clamp down on militants’ sympathisers deep inside the border. The border is secure now, and we continue to hunt down sympathisers,” the official said.

The military has increased security on the main road in Upper Dir and is collecting weapons from the people.Pakistani Taliban based in Afghanistan are menacing peace in Upper Dir where they have failed to entrench. They asserted responsibility for a suicide attack that killed one person in Dir town in mid-February this year.

TTP Malakand region spokesman Sirajuddin Tuesday said they would launch “a full-scale war against Pakistani security forces in Malakand division.” However, his comments could not be obtained on the alleged $65 million support from India.

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