Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Swat Taliban extends ceasefire

Taliban fighters in Pakistan have declared an indefinite ceasefire in the Swat valley in the northwest of the country, the group's spokesman has said.

Tuesday's announcement came after the army said it was suspending operations in the troubled region.

"We have agreed on an indefinite ceasefire," Muslim Khan, the Taliban spokesman in Swat, said.

"We are releasing all prisoners unconditionally. Today we released four paramilitary soldiers and we will release all security personnel in our custody as a goodwill gesture."

Khan said the Taliban in the valley, led by Maulana Fazlullah, also decided to release three people, including two politicians, as a "goodwill gesture".

'Optimism and hope'

The fighters had earlier announced a 10-day truce in Swat which the latest announcement extends indefinitely.

Tayyab Siddiqui, a Pakistani political analyst, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday there is "a lot of optimism and hope" that the ceasefire would hold.

He said the military option had not been as successful at it was anticipated and that both sides were "exhausted".

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from the Pakistan capital, Islamabad, said details about the ceasefire were yet to emerge.

"The Taliban have been steadfast in their demands, saying they want to be in control of the type of sharia that's introduced," he said.

"They want a release of all Taliban prisoners, and they want the Pakistani army to leave the area."

Maulana Fezlullah the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, is due to give a radio address on Tuesday evening where he'll clarify all these details.

The developments come after the Pakistani government signed a controversial deal with a pro-Taliban cleric to enforce sharia law in Swat in an effort to restore peace.

The Pakistani authorities had been negotiating with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, Fazlullah's father-in-law and leader of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi, regarding the implementation of sharia in the region.

On Monday, the Pakistani Taliban announced a separate ceasefire in the Bajaur region, neighbouring Swat.


Bajaur is a major transit route for the fighters travelling to fight US and Nato forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The US and other Western governments had criticised the Swat truce and negotiations, saying they could create a safe haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban in the region.

Unlike in Swat, the Taliban in Bajaur had been losing ground in recent months, most analysts say.

The Pakistani military began its offensive against fighters in Bajur in September last year and claims to have killed around 1,500 Taliban fighters.

Fighting began in Swat in late 2007 after hundreds of fighters infiltrated from Afghan border enclaves to support Fazlullah and his drive to introduce hardline Islamist rule.

From Al Jazeera.


I have been extremely busy lately, and probably will be for the rest of the semester.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The radical Islamist who came in from the cold

Ghaffar Hussain was once a radical Islamist with the group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now he is part of the Quilliam Foundation, a British think tank seeking to combat extremism. He spoke with Der Spiegel about the Islamist worldview and the pleasant feeling of omniscience.

Some of those who have become radicalized have not been very successful in their former lives. It's like they are losers who seek to transform themselves into winners...

Yes, and the elite factor definitely plays a role as well. I have met many radical people who wouldn't want to discuss their ideas with someone knowledgeable, because they knew they would not win that debate. But for them their mind-set is very comfortable. They are the vanguard, everything makes sense for them. They have a network, a group of friends. It can be very attractive to suddenly be convinced that you alone now know what's really going on. You are a real Muslim, the others have been infiltrated by the West and are corrupted. Certainly you are better than your parents so you don't have to listen to them anymore.

But to leave your country, join a terrorist organization and live in Waziristan with no prospect of ever returning to a normal life in the West is also a risk?

Those types of people think that there is nothing worthwhile left for them to come back to. There are others, of course, who have families and prefer to live in the West and be armchair radicals...

Like you, when you were a member of the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir?

In a way, yes. I was a political activist, and Hizb ut-Tahrir didn't advocate that we join the battlefield.

From your experience, once you really enter that Islamist ideology, how does it change you?

It gives you moral and political certainty. Understanding geopolitics for a 15-year-old is very difficult -- but all of a sudden everything is very easy: Ah, this is why they are all fighting against us!

Radicalization is a process. It's not like you are a moderate on Monday, but wake up on Tuesday as a would-be-terrorist. Can this process be stopped once it has started?

Yes, the process can be stopped, if these people are exposed to alternative points of view before it's too late. Before they will only socialize with people who supply them with radical answers to the questions that drive them. Basically these people are looking for answers and they often find radical answers most convincing because they seem to explain everything. This is the point where they need to be confronted with information that contradicts the Islamist narrative. There's also a scriptural aspect to this: You have to show to them that Islam as such does not support many of the Islamists' arguments.

Generally, what role does religious knowledge play in the process of radicalization? A lot of jihadist leaders, for example, talk a lot about faith without having much in the way of a theological education. Even Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri fall into that category.

Religion is not what motivates people. They don't pick up the Quran and say: Ah, this is what I've got to do! They are motivated by politics. But when Islamists show their worldview they always provide some scriptural justification. As a rule, 90 percent of their speeches are political, but they will also say: And the Quran supports this, and the Prophet supports this, so as to make the argument look Islamic.

What were the main factors that made you turn away from radical Islamism?

I managed to keep an open mind even when I was an activist for Hizb ut-Tahrir. That allowed me to analyze different perspectives. I also read a lot about history independently, I analyzed politics independently and I kept speaking to Muslims who followed different ideas. So I had access to quite a wide variety of information, which eventually made me realize that I was following a very narrow interpretation at best. But a lot of people won't expose themselves to all that; they feel too comfortable with their new truths and new friends.

Was this narrowness of interpretation decisive for you? Or was it also a matter of truth and historical accuracy?

Some of what I used to believe was definitely false. Islamism is a modern idea, and it was influenced by European movements like Marxism and Socialism. Islamists reinterpret Muslim history according to their ideology. And that leads to a complete misreading of, for example, the Ottoman Empire's history.

At the Quilliam Foundation you are looking at ways to counter radicalization. You also make use of religious authorities. How does that work?

We will take up a specific issue and then we'll try to get respected scholars to take a clear position in opposition. We have done this, for example, with suicide bombings or the concept that all Muslims must be united under one leadership. We want to show that what radicals believe is in fact a very narrow politically motivated religious standpoint that needs to be exposed for what it is. We don't want to unite everyone under one alternative idea, though.

When the Quilliam Foundation was set up, as a think tank staffed with former radical Islamists, did you find it difficult to enter the public debate? Or was yours a voice that all sides were eager to listen to?

It was actually quite easy to enter the public debate. People were definitely looking for new and original voices on this topic.

Since you started the project, have you actually managed to convince radical Islamists to break away from their groups and their ideology?

Yes. We have individually spoken to people we knew and managed to take away between 30 and 40 from these organizations, some even from senior positions. We have also tried numerous times to engage these organizations in public debates with us, but they haven't accepted the offer. But I think we are on the right track. They are definitely not as confident anymore as they used to be.

The Quilliam Foundation is unique in the sense that there are no comparable institutions outside the U.K. Do you have plans to expand?

On the long term, yes. First we want a solid base in Britain that will be a working model that we can then export to Europe and the U.S.

Der Spiegel, via Salon.com.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pakistan to allow sharia in Swat

Pakistan's government has agreed to restore sharia, or Islamic law, in the Swat Valley and neighbouring areas of the country's northwest as part of a peace deal with local pro-Taliban fighters.

The agreement was reached after talks in Peshawar between members of Tahrik-e-Nafiz Shariat Muhammadi and officials of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government on Monday.

Announcing the decision to restore sharia, a spokesman for the NWFP government said Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, had already agreed in principle to this concession to the region's religious conservatives.

"All un-Islamic laws related to the judicial system, those against the Quran and Sunnah, would be subject to cancellation and considered null and void," a NWFP spokesman said in a statement following the talks.

Officials gave few details of the kind of sharia they were planning to implement in the Malakand region, which includes Swat Valley, but said that laws that fail to comply with Islamic texts would be suspended.

The Pakistani government has also agreed its troops will refrain from launching military operations in Swat as part of the deal.

Religious conservatives

The Tahrik-e-Nafiz Shariat Muhammadi, or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, has long demanded the implementation of sharia in the region.

"This is not the first time Sharia law has been imposed in this area," Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder said, reporting from Pakistan.

"In the mid 90s it was imposed following violent protests by the movement for the implementation of sharia law there.

"The majority of people in that area are very conservative. They have been demanding the implementation of sharia law because they say the other law takes far too long to dispense justice, and the demand is for swift justice.

"However, this will not mean that the groups opposed to the government will be dispensing that justice. The government of Pakistan will appoint the judges."

Shuja Nawaz, a strategic analyst with the South Asia Centre , told Al Jazeera that the agreement could prove problematic for Pakistan in future.

"It will mean that the government is ceding territory to the Taliban, which will be a repeat of what happened when prime minister Benazir Bhutto was in power in 1994 and a number of districts in Swat and Malakand were handed over to essentially the same group so they could impose their rather convoluted view of sharia on those districts.

"The moment you cede space to them, the Taliban will want to extend that control and then the government will have to go through this business of sending in the military yet again to clear and hold the territory."



The most important thing here is that the government will be the one appointing the judges. We shall have to see what kind of judges the government will appoint.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Homegrown Jihad

These camps have been operating for quite some time. Hopefully the Obama administration will do a better job with them than the Bush administration did.

H/T Blogs For Victory.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Taliban mounts deadly Kabul raids

At least 20 people have been killed and several others wounded after suicide bombers and armed men attacked government offices in the Afghan capital Kabul, officials say.

Wednesday's attacks on buildings of the justice ministry and the department of prison affairs took place near the presidential palace and the US embassy.

Two suicide bombers were shot inside the ministry during a gun battle, and a third suicide bomber was shot later, an official said.

At least four Afghan security personnel were killed in the fighting, with 13 more injured.

A separate suicide blast took place in the north of Kabul, killing another 10 people.

Suicide bombers

Dhabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Al Jazeera by telephone that the group was behind the Kabul assaults.

Witnesses said the attackers opened fire indiscriminately in front of the justice ministry headquarters.

Officials said five men stormed the building equipped with AK-47s, grenades and wearing suicide vests.

At least two suicide bombers separately attacked the prison affairs department in the same complex.

Security forces said they prevented another possible raid by shooting a suicide attacker next to the buildings of the foreign-affairs and education ministries.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a French military officer and an Afghan interpreter were killed, and a French soldier seriously wounded, in a gun battle following a landmine blast on Wednesday.

The men were on security patrol in Logar province when the explosion occurred, a French military spokesman said.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

'New tactic'

Describing the co-ordinated attacks in Kabul, Qais Azimy, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said: "It is a success for them [the Taliban] ... It shows that they are still powerful."

Azimy said that the attacks so close to the presidential palace showed that the Taliban can still hit any location.

"Over a year ago that kind of attack could be a surprise, but not anymore" he said.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Faheem Dashty, chief editor of the Kabul Weekly, said: "The Taliban is choosing a new kind of tactic, which is a chain of attacks on the same day.

"This was a lapse in the security belt around Kabul. We have security on main roads entering Kabul but in other areas we don't have enough [measures] to stop people carrying out an attack [of the kind] that happened today."

Al Jazeera's Hamish Macdonald, also in Kabul, said that the justice ministry and prisons department appeared to have been deliberately targeted by the Taliban, in response to the alleged mistreatment of Taliban prisoners.

The attacks occurred on the eve of a visit to the country by Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Taliban, which once ruled Afghanistan, was driven out of Kabul following a US-led invasion in late 2001.

However, Taliban fighters have since regrouped, launching attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan from bases in the region between the two countries.

Al Jazeera

Monday, February 2, 2009

US spy planes hover over Chitral

CHITRAL: Extending violations of country’s air space, CIA-operated US spy planes were seen flying over the area of Chitral, causing panic among the locals.

According to the media reports, US spy plane hovered over the area of Chitral town at very low altitude for more than 1 hour and retuned to Afghanistan without taking any action.

The flight of US spy planes frightened the local people who came from their houses, offices and shops to see the politesses plane. When contacted Chitral Police confirmed flying, however, reluctant to tell it was US spy planes.

Via Online INN.


WTF?! The Taliban isn't even active in Chitral! Why in God's name are we terrifying the locals there?

Al Jazeera discovers Swat

About time. Swat fell to the Taliban late last year, and Mingora, the capital, has already been retaken.

As a side note, the reporter has a very peculiar accent that I can't quite place.