Islamabad’ s Road Warriors, by Yossef Bodansky
Research Director, International Strategic Studies Association,
Using the ISI's skills at running covert operations and irregular warfare -- skillshoned and proven during the 1980s in the war in Afghanistan -- Islamabad has launched a major campaign to consolidate control over the Silk Road's traditional gateways to China. Fully aware of the major strategic importance of the regional transportation system,
sees in its control over these key segments of the regional road system the key to its future and fortunes. Islamabad
Essentially, whoever controls the access roads to Kashgar and Yarkand controls the gateways to
There is only yet another overland gateway into
Thus, fully aware of the crucial importance of the regional road system to the strategic survival of all powers -- both superpowers and aspirant powers -- Islamabad sees in the road system through the region -- particularly the western approaches to the Silk Road and thus the PRC -- the key to its future and fortunes.
The Pakistani strategic calculation is that if
Sophisticated as the Pakistani strategic grand design may be, it nevertheless confronts a very grim reality -- the tracks of road Islamabad is determined to control, or at the very least secure hegemony over, happen to be on the sovereign territory of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and India. However, this reality does not seem to deter or restrain
Recent ISI operations in
The key event has been rise of the Taliban as controllers of the Qandahar-Herat and Qandahar-Kabul roads. Decisions made in
By 1994, in pursuant of Islamabad's self-perceived role as the road junction for commerce and transportation between Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, itself part of Islamabad's role in the Trans-Asian Axis doctrine and the revival of the Silk Road, the ISI embarked on an ambitious program to consolidate de-facto control over the Kushka-Herat-Qandahar-Quetta highway. This road is the only strategic artery in relatively good shape that can be rebuilt and carry massive convoys with relative ease. It should be remembered that the Dostam-Massud and ISI-Tajikistan fighting have all but closed the Termez-Salang-Kabul highway.
Ultimately, this program proved to be the unintended culmination of a lengthy and multi-facetted process begun already in the early 1980s in the
Consequently, in 1994, the ISI found only "the bottom of the barrel" to deal with. Deals were struck with aspiring war-lords and drug-dealers pretending to be mujahideen commanders. These newly empowered leaders turned on the population and abused their power and special relations with
Within a few months, the situation exploded, and a new force emerged on the scene -- the Taliban. The recognized leader of the Taliban is Mulawi Mohammed Omar from
In the fall of 1994, the legend goes, the Prophet Muhammad came to Mulawi Mohammed Omar in his dream and told him to cleanse his tribe from a sinful oppressive warlord. This ISI-installed "local commanders" was notorious for rapes and pillaging. After receiving permission from his Mullah, Mulawi Mohammed Omar organized a force of 50 comrades, all former mujahideen who had served under him in the 1980s. He then assassinated the warlord, delivering a kind of "people's justice."
Following that, Mulawi Mohammed Omar distributed the warlord's confiscated property to the poor and needy of the
Reality is more mundane and strategically important. The Taliban emerged as a result of a calculated organization and activation of Islamist Pushtun forces then sponsored jointly by
Thus, although portrayed as a spontaneous grassroots movement, theTaliban are actually the result of a strategic turning point in
Now, in the late fall of 1994, both Tehran and Islamabad concluded that it was imperative for their respective intelligence services to consolidate a certain degree of control over the regional ethno-political dynamics in order to preserve the power position of their respective governments.
However, it was only by mid December 1994, that the Taliban "proved" to the ISI that they were fully aware of
Consequently, in late 1994 and early 1995,
Indeed, there was a dramatic increase in the size of the Taliban. By mid December, 3,000-4,000 religious students moved from madrassas in the NWFP across the border to join the Taliban. By early January 1995, a flood began. Most Taliban come from Sunni madrassas in Pakistani Baluchistan, from the Afghan refugee camps established in mid 1980s by the ISI to alter the demographic character of unruly
By February 1995, the Taliban forces were deployed at the gate of
The Taliban are presently controlling about one third of the
Emboldened and wisened by the accumulating experience in Afghanistan, the ISI moved quickly to transform and modify some of its key subversion and terrorism sponsorship programs from a mere attrition of hostile governments to also include an effort to establish control over the strategic axes of transportation.
This evolution of the strategic character of ISI clandestine operations is best reflected in recent transformation of the ISI-sponsored Islamist terrorism in Indian Kashmir.
This evolution of the ISI's direct involvement in the conduct of terrorist operations inside Indian Kashmir was a direct reflection of a profound change in
However, engineering studies on potential routs for a new rail-line to connect
It is this strategic consideration that has had such a major effect on the conduct and intensity of the armed struggle in Indian Kashmir. Consequently, the ISI is not only the sponsoring and guiding force behind the escalation, but the ISI increasingly participates directly in the fighting. Particularly as of the spring of 1995, the ISI has assumed direct control over the key operations in Indian Kashmir in order to ensure the strategic outcome of events. Most of these covert operations are conducted by loyal foreigners, including Afghans and Arabs, in order to ensure a semblance of deniability.
This strategic aspect of the Pakistani involvement in
Indeed the terrorist organizations most active in
The key Islamist terrorist operations in
Already in early March, a force of about 150 terrorists was identified in the area and surrounded by the Indian security forces. They withdrew into the compounds in Charar-e-Sharief where they held for more than two months, maintaining radio communications with their base in
The terrorist force was comprised of some 150 mujahideen of Harakat ul-Ansar, Hizb ul-Mujahideen, and al-Fatah Force under the command of Mast Gul (an Afghan national). In
The incident was clearly intended to spark a wider confrontation in
Moreover, on August 1, Mast Gul returned to Muzzaffarabad to a hero's welcome by a cheering crowd of several thousands. He had withdrawn into Azad Kashmir with about 100 terrorists in late July. "I will take revenge for Charar-e-Sharief's desecration by Indian forces," Mast Gul told the crowd. He vowed to continue fighting until
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam party, accompanied Gul in his triumphant return, describing him in a fiery speech as a living symbol of
Meanwhile terrorism continued in
Starting early August, there was further escalation with the launching of attacks and raids on Indian Army camps in
Starting July 4, a shadowi group of 12-15 terrorists abducted numerous Western tourists the
Al-Faran seems to be the cover name of the Islamist elite force that carried out the kidnapping of the tourists. There are indications that Al-Faran members are connected with the Harakat ul-Ansar. The kidnapping detachment is comprised of 16 terrorists -- twelve from Azad (Pakistani)
The infusion of foreigners -- mainly Afghans, Pakistani Kashmiris and 'Afghans' -- into the ranks of the Kashmiri Islamist terrorists, including key positions in the leaderships of what is being presented as a genuine national liberation struggle, has altered the character of this armed struggle. Irrespective of the true aspirations of the Muslim population of Indian Kashmir, the armed struggle currently waged in their name has very little to do with their fate and future. Through the ISI's manipulations,
Perhaps the most audacious outgrowth of the ISI's Afghan operations is the Islamist surge into
The roots of the ISI operations in
Back in the spring of 1990, the ISI established its "Afghan" Takhar Regiment. This unit was some 2,000-2,500 troop strong. It was the most tightly controlled "Afghan" unit, and the best equipped. Ostensibly, this unit belonged to Hizb-i-Islami Gulbaddin Hekmatyar and had been prepared by the ISI for resistance operations near the Soviet border. The troops were provided with the most comprehensive military training given to Afghans. Resistance sources described this unit as being turned into "a conventional army" by the ISI. In early April 1990, the force was virtually combat ready and ISI expected to commit this Afghan Army to battle within a month, once the mountain passes leading into Badakhshan were completely open.
These ISI-controlled mujahideen constitute the core of the Afghan force currently supporting the Islamist insurgency in
However, by now the regional strategic priorities have already changed. With the growing chaos in
The major escalation in the Islamist involvement in
The ISI was soon identified as the driving force behind this campaign. Anatoli Beloyusov, Deputy Director of the KGB, warned that the "strengthened influence of the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism" in
During the early 1990s, the ISI consolidated the support and training infrastructure, launching a major new effort in the camps in
The civil war that erupted with fury in
Indeed, the Islamist forces continued to expand. The headquarters of the Tajik Islamists is in
By the fall of 1993, a growing number of Arab 'Afghans' were very active in northern
In late 1993, Tajik Islamists with active support from Arab 'Afghans' planned at least two major spectacular sabotage operations that were prevented in the last minute by Russian Special Forces operating under the 201st
The failure of this audacious attempt could not reverse the escalation in terrorism in
By now, it was becoming clear that the Tajik Jihad was also being transformed into a component of a regional Jihad sponsored by the ISI and employing members of a joint mixed pool of mujahideen.
In early December 1993, during a state visit to
In early 1994, there was a growing volume of evidence that the ISI was running the various insurgency and terrorist campaigns as part of a single master plan. For example, in mid February 1994, the Indian security forces captured two senior ISI operatives inside
As with the other ISI-sponsored regional insurgencies, the strategic decisions in
Indeed, there is a large Islamist force being organized in northern
In the spring of 1995, mujahideen reinforcements were redeployed, with additional arms and ammunition delivered, on the Vanch-Yazgulem Axis. This axis was being transformed into the main axis in mujahideen operations. The deployment of a significant mujahideen detachment was completed on the same Ishkashim Axis from the Bakharak area, the site of a Tajik major training center in northern
As with the Kashmiri Islamist armed struggle, the growing involvement of the ISI was immediately followed by a noticeable infusion of foreign "volunteers." In the spring of 1995, the Afghan Mujahideen were joined by a large number of Arab fighters -- both veteran 'Afghans' and younger volunteers. All of them are well trained members of numerous radical militant Islamist organizations, many of which are very active in toppling governments in their home countries (such as
Russian experts point to the great impact the Arabs and Afghan mujahideen have on the quality of the "Tajik" forces. "High morale-fighting spirit, an excellent state of training, especially for the conduct of partisan warfare, all the more so in mountainous terrain, are a distinguishing trait of the Afghan mujahideen and the volunteers from other Muslim countries. Lately, the level of training of the detachments of the Tajik opposition has increased dramatically."
The consequent escalation of the Jihad in
Most threatening is the intensifying wave of Islamist special operations and terrorist strikes -- operations where the ISI's hand has been most distinct. By mid 1995, the emerging leadership of the high quality Tajik mujahideen was the Movement of the Islamic Revival of Tajikistan (DIVT). Its rise to prominence can be attributed directly to the conduct of an increasingly sophisticated, well organized, and tactically sound campaign of "diversion and terrorism," to use the definition of Russian military intelligence. The DIVT forces enjoy solid support and logistical system, especially a steady supply of ammunition and weapons.
The most important MIVT commander is identified as "Tajik Mujahideen Commanding General R. Sadirov" whose earlier activities are behind the present expectation for a marked escalation. Back in mid January 1995, Russian military intelligence warned that "[on] Sadirov's order, a terrorist group consisting of 40 guerrillas who underwent special training in
Indeed, in the early summer, mujahideen special forces deep inside
Taken together, these ISI-sponsored insurgency and terrorism along the western gateways to
Thus, these ISI terrorism sponsoring operations in
Dr. Yossef Bodansky
Research Director, International Strategic Studies Association,
Yossef Bodansky is the Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare at the US House of Representatives, as well as the World Terrorism Analyst with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies (Houston TX). He is also the Director of Research at the International Strategic Studies Association, as well as a Senior Editor for the Defense & Foreign Affairs group of publications.
Bodansky is the author of nine books (Target America, Terror, Crisis in Korea, Offensive in the Balkans, Some Call It Peace, Arafat's "Peace Process", Islamic Anti-Semitism as a Political Instrument, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America and The High Cost of Peace), as well as several book chapters, entries for the International Military and Defense Encyclopedia, and numerous articles in several periodicals, including Global Affairs, Jane's Defence Weekly, Defense & Foreign Affairs: Strategic Policy, and Business Week.
In the 1980s, he acted as a senior consultant for the US Department of Defense and the US Department of State. He was also a visiting scholar in the
Kashmir Information Network is grateful to Freeman Center for Strategic Studiesfor allowing us to put Mr. Bodansky's articles on