- The Washington Times - Friday, June 11, 2004

Pakistan has been quietly trying to purge al Qaeda supporters from its armed forces since December, when Osama bin Laden’s network made two attempts to kill President Pervez Musharraf, according to Pakistani and U.S. officials.

Defense sources in Pakistan say military intelligence is studying the files of all officers in the rank of colonel or above to determine whether they ever associated with radical religious groups. Those uncovered are being quietly shown the door, the sources say.

They add that Gen. Musharraf intends to “cleanse” the army before this December, when he must retire from the military and plans to become a civilian president. He is also said to be consulting lawyers to determine whether he can remain in the army despite signing an agreement with opposition parties to retire before Dec. 31.

The sources say several senior generals from the era of Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq — who seized power after a military coup in the late 1970s and died in 1988 — are expected to retire by March of next year, which would make it easier for Gen. Musharraf to liberalize the armed forces.

Gen. Musharraf also is taking steps to reform his military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Western diplomatic sources in Islamabad told UPI that, on Washington’s advice, Gen. Musharraf has made a major change in ISI rules. Previously, some officers were allowed to stay for years in the intelligence organization, where in the course of their work they developed links to various political and religious groups.

Under the new arrangement, no officer will be allowed to stay in ISI for more than three years and there will be no second tours of duty with military intelligence.

U.S. officials have long suspected that al Qaeda and other Muslim extremists penetrated Pakistan’s military during the latter’s long involvement in Afghanistan, which began with the Soviet invasion in 1979 and ended after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.

But officials in Pakistan denied the penetration until last week, when Gen. Musharraf acknowledged in an interview with a Pakistani television station that al Qaeda not only infiltrated Pakistan’s military but also recruited volunteers to assassinate him.

Gen. Musharraf survived two attempts late last year — the first on Dec. 15 and the second on Dec. 25. Fifteen persons, including several of his guards, were killed in the second attack, which came on the birth date of Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), the founder of Pakistan and main force behind India’s partition in 1947 after independence from Britain.

In the TV interview, Gen. Musharraf also revealed that authorities had arrested several junior military officers for helping al Qaeda carry out the two attacks.

With 520,000 troops, Pakistan’s army is slightly larger than that of the United States — not counting the Army Reserve and National Guard — and continues to be the strongest force in Pakistan. It has ruled the country for more than half the years since 1947, and even when not in power, the army continues to have a major influence on national policies.

The religious influence in the army began under Gen. Zia, according to Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former head of ISI.

Gen. Zia ruled Pakistan during most of the Afghan war, which lasted from 1979 to 1989. He died in a plane crash in August 1988.

“Zia ul-Haq allowed religious organizations to preach in the army. Soldiers and officers were allowed to attend religious gatherings,” said Gen. Qazi.

Before Gen. Zia, the army observed rules left by the British, who strictly discouraged religious influence in the armed forces. One of the groups Gen. Zia allowed to preach to the army is Tableeghi Jamaat — the Party of Islamic Preachers.

Tableeghi Jamaat does not directly participate in politics or preach among non-Muslims. Instead, it prepares Muslims for “a pure Islamic way of life,” and its definition of this is very close to that of Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers.

Most Tableeghi leaders come from the Deobandi school of Sunni Islam. Deoband is the name of a town north of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh, India, where a madrassa — an Islamic religious school — was created in the 1860s as a reaction to British colonial rule.

The doctrine’s central idea is that Islamic societies have been eclipsed by European or Western culture because Muslims turned away from the original teachings of their religion in their haste to Westernize themselves. The Deobandi solution is for Muslims to return to the purity and austerity of their desert origins.

Fugitive former Afghan leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other Taliban leaders, and their teachers in Pakistan, are also adherents of Deobandi doctrine. Many in Pakistan believe this is why so many who listen to Tableeghi sermons join extremist religious parties.

“Tableeghi supporters are naturally inclined to support religious extremists because they subscribe to the same concept of creating a pure Islamic society,” said Rasheed Khalid, who teaches politics at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University.

Gen. Musharraf identified the al Qaeda kingpin who recruited volunteers to kill him as Amjad Farooqi, a Deobandi like the Taliban and the Tableeghis. The Pakistani president said Farooqi also organized the murder of captive American journalist Daniel Pearl, killed in Pakistan more than two years ago.

Investigators in Pakistan say Farooqi exploited Tableeghi Jamaat preaching connections to enter the Pakistani army. They say he first befriended officers attending Tableeghi meetings, then was able to create a network in Pakistan’s army and air force.

Gen. Musharraf, however, insists he is “200 percent confident” that senior army officers were not involved with the extremists.

“But it remains to be seen if the extremists have only infiltrated the lower ranks or have sympathizers among commissioned officers as well,” said political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.

UPI recently reported that one of the suicide bombers who tried to kill Gen. Musharraf last Christmas was a Pakistani army captain, Mohammed Jamil. His severed head was found near one of the two vehicles used in the Dec. 25 attack, but only recently identified. He was among several hundred Pakistani regulars serving with the Taliban before September 11, who were repatriated to Pakistan under an agreement with Afghanistan.

The ISI interrogated Jamil on his return from Afghanistan and declared him clean, but the captain later joined the radical Jaish-e-Mohammed and recruited volunteers for the suicide bombings intended to kill Gen. Musharraf.

Jaish-e-Mohammed is also a Deobandi group, and had close ties to the Taliban.

Pakistani investigators say Farooqi and Jamil worked together on the plan to kill Gen. Musharraf. Farooqi’s connections can be gauged from the fact that although Gen. Musharraf has personally supervised efforts to catch him, he remains at large, hiding among sympathizers.

Gen. Musharraf conceded this when he said in a recent television interview: “We came close to catching this mastermind several times, but he [always] escapes.”

Farooqi, from Toba Tek Singh in remote Punjab province, joined the militant Harkatul Jihad-e-Islami as a teenager. In 1992, the group sent Farooqi, then 18, to Afghanistan for training in weapons and tactics.

Farooqi fought with the Taliban against the rival Northern Alliance. In Afghanistan, he is said to have met Osama bin Laden and become a trainer at an al Qaeda camp. One of the al Qaeda leaders Farooqi was in close contact with was Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, reputedly al Qaeda’s No. 3 man and chief planner of the September 11 attacks.

Investigators say the two plotted to abduct and kill Mr. Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, in early 2002.

Farooqi provided the militants who guarded Mr. Pearl in Karachi, they say.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, arrested in March 2003 near Islamabad, is now in U.S. custody.

Farooqi is also said to have had close ties to Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the British-born militant convicted of plotting Mr. Pearl’s abduction and slaying.

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