Tal­iban and its tar­gets

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security -

This in­ter­view with Maulvi Umar, spokesman for Tehrik-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP), was con­ducted in Urdu on Aug. 24 in the Ba­jaur tribal zone in Pak­istan’s North West Fron­tier Prov­ince by Muza­mal Suherwardy, a se­nior cor­re­spon­dent and talk­show host for the Khabrain me­dia group and an oc­ca­sional con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Times. Umar typ­i­cally calls news or­ga­ni­za­tions to claim re­spon­si­bil­ity for sui­cide at­tacks, in­clud­ing one on Sept. 6 in which at least 35 peo­ple died.

Ques­tion: A mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion is un­der way in Ba­jaur that has brought wide un­rest through­out the coun­try. About 200,000 to 300,000 res­i­dents of the tribal ar­eas have been evac­u­ated from their homes and are lead­ing a mis­er­able life in the refugee camps. TTP is be­ing blamed for this sit­u­a­tion.

A: No, it’s wrong. The gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan should be held re­spon­si­ble. When­ever the gov­ern­ment wants, it starts a war, and the sit­u­a­tion is the re­sult of that war. There was noth­ing for a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in the area. The Tal­iban were liv­ing peace­fully here. Then, the gov­ern­ment launched a war, de­stroyed our homes and killed our broth­ers, which made the sit­u­a­tion crit­i­cal.

Q: The Pak­istani gov­ern­ment says for­eign mil­i­tants have taken refuge in the tribal ar­eas and the op­er­a­tion is against th­ese mil­i­tants. Why does TTP pro­vide shel­ter to th­ese for­eign­ers?

A: All th­ese state­ments are noth­ing but a pack of lies. The gov­ern­ment al­ways makes lame ex­cuses for a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in the tribal ar­eas. It first said that Osama bin Laden was there. We have al­ways con­tra­dicted such state­ments. The se­cu­rity forces have not even mar­tyred or ar­rested a sin­gle for­eigner in our area, the tribal ar­eas. What kind of for­eign­ers are they?

Se­condly, we call Amer­i­can and NATO for­eign­ers, and we are fight­ing against them.

Q: So, you are say­ing that TTP has not given refuge to any Uzbek, Ta­jik and Arab fight­ers?

A: Yes, we don’t have any. All TTP ac­tivists from Waziris­tan to Swat are Pak­ista­nis and pa­tri­ots, and time will tell who is more loyal to Pak­istan — the Tal­iban or the United States. We know that Amer­ica has not come in this re­gion for Afghanistan. They ac­tu­ally want to in­ter­fere in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of Pak­istan. Whom you call ter­ror­ists will ac­tu­ally help Pak­istan some day.

Q: If your fight is against Amer­ica and NATO forces, why will you kill in­no­cent Pak­ista­nis in sui­cide at­tacks?

A: The Tal­iban is go­ing through a tough time, so it has re­sorted to th­ese at­tacks. The sui­cide bombers al­ways tar­get se­cu­rity forces or gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, but some­times in­no­cent peo­ple also fall vic­tim to it. We al­ways re­gret that and seek par­don, but it hap­pens in war. It some­times be­comes dif­fi­cult to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the en­emy and in­no­cent peo­ple in the crowd.

Re­cently, we have tar­geted the Pak­istan Ord­nance Fac­tory in Wah Cantt be­cause all the weapons be­ing used in Ba­jaur against the Tal­iban and res­i­dents of the tribal ar­eas are in­vented and as­sem­bled in this fac­tory. So, we had to take action in the re­venge. (An Au­gust sui­cide at­tack on the mu­ni­tions fac­tory about 30 miles north of Is­lam­abad in Au­gust killed 60 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to Pak­istani press re­ports.)

Q: Will you at­tack this fac­tory again?

A: Yes, we can. We can hit any­where in Pak­istan. Ac­tu­ally, it was a warn­ing to the gov­ern­ment. If it does not end the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in the tribal ar­eas, we will make more sui­cide at­tacks on the mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Our sui­cide bombers are in ev­ery nook and cranny of the coun­try. They are just wait­ing for a green sig­nal from their lead­er­ship to sac­ri­fice their lives for Al­lah Almighty. Q: Is­lam ab­hors sui­cide. It’s a sin. A: Yes, you are right. Is­lam for­bids sui­cide. But [Is­lamic the­olo­gians] have given a ver­dict that when you sac­ri­fice your life to cause dam­age to the en­emy, then it´s not a sin; rather it brings the bless­ings of Al­lah.

Q: What is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween TTP and al Qaeda?

A: Al Qaeda is not just an or­ga­ni­za­tion. It has be­come an ide­ol­ogy. Who­ever is against Amer­ica is Tal­iban.

Q: Is Osama bin Laden alive? It is said that he re­mained in Ba­jaur for quite some time.

A: He must be alive. We pray to God for his long life. He is an en­emy of the United States be­cause he knows that they wanted hege­mony all over the world. Osama has set an ex­am­ple of all mu­ja­hedeen, and we’ll fol­low in his foot­prints.

Q: How do you get money to run your move­ment?

A: Tribal peo­ple and Mus­lims from all over Pak­istan and all over the world give do­na­tions for the cause.

Q: So, TTP has no fi­nan­cial con­straints? A: No, not at all. Q: How do you get weapons? A: There are wave af­ter wave of mass reser­voirs of weapons in Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas and Afghanistan. We have enough weapons to con­tinue ji­had against the Amer­i­cans till dooms­day.

The weapons we have here in Ba­jaur are from the Pak­istani army. We have huge stocks of G3s and mor­tar shells. We have ar­rested 300 army men in Waziris­tan and seized a mass amount of weapons from their cus­tody, and with that, we can fight against the Pak­istani se­cu­rity forces for 10 years. We also have ar­mored jeeps and other mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles.

Q: How is Bait­ul­lah Mehsud (the mili­tia leader ac­cused in the death of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto)?

A: He is fine. I talked to him yes­ter­day. Some­times he [falls] un­con­scious be­cause of un­con­trolled di­a­betes, but ap­par­ently he’s fine. He is a young, brave man and has ex­traor­di­nary willpower.

Q: TTP has de­vel­oped an organized army. Can you give some idea of its strength?

A: In the tribal belt, we have more than 100,000 fight­ing sol­diers. Q: Do you pay them? A: No, they vol­un­tar­ily fight against the non-Mus­lims.

Q: If you don’t pay them, how will they feed their fam­i­lies?

A: They do la­bor and busi­ness be­sides their ji­had ac­tiv­i­ties to feed their fam­i­lies. TTP has told them that the war will con­tinue for years so they could con­tinue with do­mes­tic mat­ters. How­ever, th­ese days, we are in a war­like con­di­tion in the tribal ar­eas, so they have aban­doned their other busi­ness and are fully con­cen­trat­ing on ji­had.

Q: Does TTP pro­vide train­ing to its sol­diers?

A: Ob­vi­ously, we train our sol­diers. We teach them to use all kinds of weapons be­sides phys­i­cal train­ing.

Q: How much time does train­ing take?

A: There are dif­fer­ent cour­ses, rang­ing from two months to five years.

Q: Do you only use teenagers for sui­cide at­tacks be­cause they have im­ma­ture minds that are easy to ma­nip­u­late?

A: No, it’s not so. We don’t force any­body to do sui­cide at­tacks. They au­to­mat­i­cally come to us and re­quest a chance to sac­ri­fice their lives for Al­lah. We teach our chil­dren. They study the Ko­ran, un­der­stand it and mem­o­rize it, and when they be­come to­tally ready, then they are re­cruited for ji­had. You will find not even a sin­gle child among us. How- ever, we have a lot of en­er­getic young peo­ple.

Q: It is said that their minds have been pre­pared for sui­cide at­tacks since child­hood.

A: No, no, it’s not right. We nei­ther pre­pare peo­ple for sui­cide at­tacks nor preach the action. Peo­ple au­to­mat­i­cally come and re­quest [. . . ] a chance to sac­ri­fice their lives for Al­lah, and then we train them.

Q: How do you re­cruit sui­cide bombers? It’s quite im­pos­si­ble for a com­mon man to [get] ac­cess to you.

A: It’s not so. Peo­ple who have a de­sire eas­ily ac­cess us. Re­cently, an Urdu-speak­ing man from Karachi came to me for sui­cide at­tack train­ing. I thought he had some fi­nan­cial con­straints or a scuf­fle with his fam­ily. But he told me that he was quite wealthy and he just wanted to sac­ri­fice his life for Al­lah. So, we trained him, and he did a very suc­cess­ful sui­cide at­tack.

Q: Why are only young peo­ple from 18 to 20 years old sui­cide bombers? Why not peo­ple in their 40s and 50s?

A: War is in the blood of young peo­ple. You can learn it from his­tory.

Q: Why do you tar­get schools and com­mer­cial ar­eas where civil­ians work?

A: As I have al­ready told you, we never tar­get civil­ians, but they some­times come in the way of our tar­gets, but we try our best only to hit armed forces be­cause we do con­sider it a ma­jor sin to kill an in­no­cent man.

Q: Is for­mer Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf still your tar­get?

A: In­shal­lah, if we get a chance.

Q: How does TTP se­lect its tar­get for sui­cide at­tacks?

A: TTP body has a pro­gram for sui­cide at­tacks. I can’t give you any more in­for­ma­tion about it.

Q: Do you have a sep­a­rate unit for sui­cide bomb­ing?

A: Yes. It’s very se­cret and con­fi­den­tial. They don’t com­mu­ni­cate their plans to other leaders of the move­ment. They al­ways keep their plans highly con­fi­den­tial. Very [few] peo­ple know about th­ese plans.

Q: Then how do you claim the re­spon­si­bil­ity within few min­utes of the at­tack?

A: A co­or­di­na­tor in­forms us about the blast, and then we ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Q: Why do you claim the re­spon­si­bil­ity?

A: It’s part of our war strat­egy. If the gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan cre­ates hype of its op­er­a­tions in the tribal ar­eas, why should we not tell the world that we have taken re­venge?

Q: What is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween TTP and the Tal­iban in Afghanistan?

A: They both are ji­hadi or­ga­ni­za­tions. How­ever, Afghan Tal­iban are only ac­tive in Afghanistan, but we are ac­tive in both Afghanistan and Pak­istan. Here, we have adopted a de­fen­sive strat­egy. How­ever, in Afghanistan, we have re­sorted to ag­gres­sion against the NATO forces.

Q: Is Mul­lah Muham­mad Omar alive? (The Tal­iban leader of Afghanistan was ousted by U.S.-led forces af­ter the 2001 at­tacks on the United States.)

A: Yes, he is alive. Tal­iban are united against Amer­ica un­der his lead­er­ship. Q: Have you ever met him? A: No, never. How­ever, we have talked on a wireless phone.

Q: Have you ever met Osama [bin Laden]? A: No, I have never seen him. Q: Are there any Uzbeks, Ta­jiks or Arabs fight­ing in Afghanistan?

A: Maybe, but I don’t know them. Dur­ing the Tal­iban regime, they were there. But now, I don’t know.

Q: What can be done to stop more sui­cide at­tacks?

A: It’s very sim­ple and clear. The gov­ern­ment should show some flex­i­bil­ity and end the [mil­i­tary] op­er­a­tion in the tribal ar­eas. You saw a peace­ful time dur­ing the Feb. 18 gen­eral elec­tions be­cause at that time, the army and gov­ern­ment showed flex­i­bil­ity.

Q: Tell me about the sit­u­a­tion in Ba­jaur.

A: Thanks to God, we have to­tal con­trol over the area. The army re­treated thrice from here. Now the gov­ern­ment is just do­ing bom­bard­ment and shelling through fighter jets, killing in­no­cent peo­ple. If they want to fight with Tal­iban, they should come and face us on the land. Shelling from war planes is not a brave act. [. . . ]

Q: Can you imag­ine a new beginning with a gen­eral amnesty so that peo­ple could live in a peace­ful Pak­istan?

A: If the gov­ern­ment ends its op­er­a­tion and stops killing Tal­iban, we can also re­view our de­ci­sions.

MUZA­MAL SUHERWARDY/SPE­CIAL TO THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Maulvi Umar, at the top of a moun­tain on the Pak­istani-Afghan bor­der in Ba­jaur, has a wa­ter bot­tle for liv­ing in caves and an AK-47 for his de­fense. (The Tal­iban says it is a Klashinkov.)

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