Al Qaeda is global, fluid and unpredictable: Sherpao
* Former interior minister says formation of tribal lashkars encouraging
* Hints at external forces’ involvement in FATA insurgency
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Al Qaeda, which has mutated over the years, is now a loose network without a hierarchy, made up of groups that are global, fluid and unpredictable, former federal minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao told the US Institute of Peace on Friday.
He said Al Qaeda’s appeal is “inspirational” and it does not operate an integrated operational network, and that Al Qaeda wants to ride on the back of the resurgent Taliban movement in the region. He said one of the recruiting grounds Al Qaeda uses lies in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan that hold two million displaced people. Turning to FATA, he said the traditional tribal system, buttressed in place by the institution of the political agent, has been emasculated and needs to be rebuilt.
Lashkars: Sherpao found it encouraging that the local tribes were beginning to rise against terrorist groups, the formation of tribal lashkars being evidence of that. He called Bajaur the hub of the present insurgency, adding that the area was known for the presence of Arabs and Uzbeks. The recent fighting had displaced 250,000 locals. The Mehmand agency had also been affected by the insurgency, which had spread its tentacles to the Peshawar and Charsada districts, where the law and order situation had deteriorated.
The former minister said there are six regions in the Frontier province without a proper police force. He pointed out that the MMA government had taken no action against the rising tide of extremism because it was afraid of losing its popularity and denting its image. He faulted the government for having negotiated with militants from a position of weakness.
External forces: Sherpao said there is a lack of national consensus in Pakistan on how to fight terrorism. The tribal agencies are mired in poverty and underdevelopment and the US-promised ROZs remain a dream.
He also hinted that some “external” forces are involved in FATA, but did not specify who or what they were. US attacks in FATA, he observed, are like a shot in the arm for the insurgency and there is a growing sense of victimhood among the locals. Force alone, he warned, will not produce the desired results.
He also called for due respect to be shown to the local culture and the people’s sensitivities. He stressed that there is “no silver bullet” against extremism. It is going to be a long fight and it has to be fought with patience and determination. He said it is crucial that Pakistan’s national parliament produce a consensus on the issue of terrorism.
He added that with the Pakistan army providing in-camera briefings to lawmakers, the process may already have begun. He said the system of tribal jirgas and the leadership of maliks must be restored. The Political Parties Act should be extended to FATA, he suggested, and the Frontier Crimes Regulations should be revised and amended. The people of FATA must have the right of appeal to higher courts in Pakistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan must be on the same wavelength, he stressed. The war on terrorism can only be won thought a collective effort.
Former US ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain told the meeting that it is believed in the US that the next terrorist attack on the American homeland will come from FATA. That being the assessment, no American president has a choice but to take action. Her words suggested that she favoured continued US strikes in Pakistani territory, a view not shared by everyone in Washington. She said the Biden-Lugar bill, now making its way through Congress, will address many of the long-term issues that the tribal region faces.
The real focus of US efforts should be on the people, not the military, she said. Past military aid to Pakistan has been lopsided, she pointed out, suggesting that future military aid should be accompanied by benchmarks.