Who is funding FATA militancy?
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse, Islamabad August 07, 2008
Early August, Pakistani Establishment came out with its “own assessment” of the situation in the region, particularly in the context of the July 7 suicide bombing outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul. A story in a mass circulation daily (Aug 5, 2008) quoted “impeccable official sources” as saying that the military leadership provided “strong circumstantial evidence of American acquiescence to terrorism inside Pakistan,” to US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and CIA Deputy Director Stephen R Kappes during their unscheduled visit on July 12 to Rawalpindi.
Besides providing “strong evidence to the visitors on Brahamdagh Bugti’s presence in Afghan intelligence safe houses in Kabul, his photographed visits to New Delhi and his orders for terrorism in Balochistan,” Mullen and Kappes were also asked why the CIA-run predator and the US military did not swing into action when they were provided the exact location of Baitullah Mehsud.
One such precise piece of information, the paper claimed, was made available to the CIA on May 24 when Baitullah Mehsud drove to a remote South Waziristan mountain post in his Toyota Land Cruiser to address the press and returned to his safe abode.
About 30 journalists from Islamabad and Peshawar had travelled to South Waziristan on Mehsud’s invitation and this trip became an instant subject of discussion at national and international level, because of the freedom with which Mehsud’s people and he himself moved.
“Pakistani official have long been intrigued by the presence of highly encrypted communications gear with Baitullah Mehsud. This communication gear enables him to collect real-time information on Pakistani troop movement from an unidentified foreign source without being intercepted by Pakistani intelligence,” the paper wrote, raising suspicion for the first time to the possible involvement of the Americans with the militants.
Several journalists, who were part of the delegation, also appeared surprise over the organisational abilities as well as the presence of state-of-the-art means of communications.
One wonders, where they would get all these things from, quipped one of the journalists after the visit.
This suspicion on the possible backers of the militancy continues to drive, and dominate, discussions within political and security circles, more so in Peshawar, where most of the security apparatus comprises locals, who view things differently.
“We believe the Americans also have their fingers in the pie,” a very senior intelligence official had told Weekly Pulse in Peshawar shortly after the journalists’ interaction with Mehsud at a deserted school at Kotkai in South Waziristan.
He, too, recalled that the American drones rarely spare al-Qaeda operatives hiding in the tribal areas, evidenced from the 20 odd air and missile strikes so far on targets in Waziristan that took out people like Abu Lait el Libi, Hamza Rabia, and al Khubab (on July 12th).
A lot of speculation also goes into the question as to who actually is funding the militancy? Is it the Americans, the Indians, Iranians, the drug lords, the Afghans or the ISI? Or are the Taliban generating financial resources on their own through peace deals and compromises that hinge on huge payments as “compensation to the victims and affectees of military operations?
Based on what has appeared in the press so far, the question yields an interesting study.
Owais Ahmed Ghani, the governor NWFP believes that Baitullah Mehsud is spending between Rs2.5-3 billion yearly on procuring weapons, equipment, vehicles, and maintenance of families injured or killed militants.
Expressing these thoughts in a national English daily in May this year, Ghani opined that ‘narco-dollars’ were also feeding the militancy in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. A report on Afghanistan published by the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in March this year had also concluded that, “narcotics traffickers provide revenue and arms to the Taliban, while the Taliban provide protection to growers and traffickers and keep the government from interfering with their activities.”
In 2007, the report pointed out, Afghanistan provided 93 per cent of the world’s opium poppies, the raw material for producing heroin. Despite repeated calls for action against some of very prominent figures, part of, or indirectly linked with the Karzai government, nothing happened on the front.
“Drug lords only, benefit from chaos and insurgency -- whether in Afghanistan or the tribal areas. Why wouldn’t they spend part of their income on keeping the conditions volatile,” asked a security official in Peshawar.
Hameedullah Jan Afridi, the minister for Environment from Khyber Agency, has his own interesting analysis; the ‘timber mafia’ is responsible for funding militancy in the NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and the provincial government is devising a strategy to crack down on the covert industry,” private Dawn News television quoted the minister as saying.
People familiar with the tribal insurgency say that kidnappings for ransom, collection of transit fees and road taxes in areas under their control, or money collected in the name of compensation to the areas affected by military operations are also effective sources of income for the militants.
“We could gauge from the conversations with Baitullah aides that he received 2.5 million dollars in return for the release of ambassador Tariq Azizuddin,” said one of the journalists who visited Kotkai for a meeting with the militant leader.
Media report in late May, for instance, had also spoken of huge amounts being handed to Baituallah’s aides; following their withdrawal from areas like Makeen, Kotkai and Spinkai Raghzai under an understanding, army and the political administration provided tens of millions of rupees in compensation, albeit through Baitullah’s people. The latter had insisted that the government distribute the compensation through him. He distributed Rs10 million among the affected tribes in Kotkai town, which badly suffered during the military operation and almost half of the buildings had been destroyed.
A Pakhtun journalist, who spent a few days in Wana, South Waziristan, quoted a Pakistani official who wanted to remain anonymous, as saying that the government paid some Rs200 million to the Taliban to compensate for the dead and wounded in the “Zalzala Operation.” Only half of the amount, he said went into compensation.
Sources in, Wana, South Waziristan, claim that Mulla Nazir, who drove out Uzbek militants in a fierce battle in March 2007, also received several million rupees in recognition of his services.
Friends in the region also say Baitullah Mehsud, too, has received several acknowledgements from authorities, including a big piece of land in Dera Ismail Khan, and several development schemes through his cover men, who also act as interlocutors in talks with the government.
That is why the question, whether these are bribes to militants, their appeasement, or an indirect funding of their activities.
A lot of foreign development funds for Fata are being routed either through the Fata Secretariat or through various security outfits including the FC.
“And this is the money that usually is used as pay-outs to the militants as part of deals or unwritten understanding,” insisted a friend privy to how Taliban have been extracting money off government officials. He believes that donor agencies do know where some of their funding ends up. But the “burden of circumstances” makes them swallow this.
American troops, who regularly coordinate with Pakistani forces this side of the border, usually have a very, very close track of things happening here.
Even the army chief Gen Kayani admitted that the Americans “embarrass us with precise locations of militants and their movements they obtain via their satellites.”
But many question as to whether such images do not amount to “actionable intelligence” against Taliban, and whether the American and Nato forces use them only to “embarrass Pakistani military top brass in order to extract more on al-Qaeda?”
Pakistani security officials have in fact intercepted a number of Afghan and Pakistani informers, who were carrying gadgets that are totally ordinary in appearance but extremely intricate and comprehensive in mechanism, able to pinpoint locations and lead drones to suspects. Why these tools are not employed against Pakistani militants, is a million dollar question.
The writer is an Islamabad-based correspondent of a foreign news organisation.