Thursday, 14 November 2013

Meet Omar Khalid Khurasani

-Editor's note: This is a translation of a recent interview with Omar Khalid Khurasani (real name Abdul Wali), head/commander of the TTP in Mohmand, shortly after the election of Mullah Fazlullah as the new head of the organization. The interview, conducted in Pashto, has been edited down and changed to make it more comprehensible and wherever possible, avoid jargon. It does not capture the confident mannerism and fluency of the commander, for which we recommend you watch the video which is available on facebook. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to attribute the interviewers.

map of FATA source the Nation
Profile of Mohmand Agency: Mohmand Agency was created in 1951. Ghalanai is its capital town. The total area of Mohmand Agency is 2,296 square kilometer with an estimated population of 325,000 with an estimated 32,000 households. It is bound by Bajaur Agency in the North, Khyber

source FRC

Agency in the South, Malakand and Charsadda districts in the East and Peshawar district in the Southeast. The agency is inhabited by four tribes - Mohmand, Safi, Utmankhel & Shilmani.
Other tribes mentioned are branches of Mohmand (correction via Shah Zalmay)
, the Musa Khel, the Daud Khel, the Mero Khel, the Safi, the Tarakzai, the Utman Khel and the Halimzai. Safi is a small tribe but it is the most radical tribe in Mohmand Agency; Omar Khalid, the head of the insurgency in Mohmand, is also a Safi. TTP is the main militant group active in Mohmand Agency. - source FRC

Acronym use:  OKK (Omar Khalid Khurasani  ), TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ), FATA ( Federally Administered Tribal Areas), HUM (Hakeemullah Mahsud), JI (Jamaat-e-Islami), PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf), JUI (Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam)

OKK: The Pakistani government, military history and political party's record has always been one of breaking their promises and trying to trick the Taliban. With this last trick our leader Hakimullah Masud was martyred .

Now Across the ranks, whether young or old. They are all angry at this attack and the question of ( peace) talks is not onour minds.

The real issue about whether to hold talks will only happen when our new leader has had a discussion with our council and that consultation has been completed.

So when some of us say there is no question of talks ever that is not necessarily going to àlways be the case .

-- with regard to our council, it is in a state of constant change with varying number of members. It was founded in 2007, with the Ameer having a council that could be relied on for advice.

It consists of all the various branches of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) eg Malakand agency, Bajaur, Khyber agency, Orakzai agency. In fact each tribal agency of FATA has at least one member on the council. With a total of about 15- 17 members.

Interviewer: Are you and the various factions of the TTP in agreement about your new leader?

OKK: ... No question of division. After the death of our leader it takes time to get everyone on board to decide the next step.

We are a large organisation with large numbers of fighters. We're not like some small family where when the eldest dies someone else immediately takes over. This was bound to take time, the stories that are coming out of the media about splits between us are untrue.

Mohmand Agency map source FATA Research Centre

In fact when the new leader (Fazlullah) was agreed, the decision of the council was unanimous.

Interviewer: How true is it that you were also offered the leadership post but declined?

OKK: The TTP is a big organization and that requires someone with vision. While the story about myself being chosen spread in the media. In truth I'd stated I would not consider it, as early as the second day after HUMs death.

Interviewer: People are worried that after HUM death and the start of Muharram things will get worse..

OKK: Considering the loss of our leader it is obligatory for us to avenge the attack on us. Whether that is during Muharram or after, we cannot imagine not taking revenge on this 'apostate' Pakistani government.

We will take our revenge on the Pakistani army and the politicians especially those in government.

Interviewer: Will you punish Pakistan or the USA after all it was the latter that targeted HUM

OKK: America is our enemy but we don't blame them. Our real enemy is Pakistan. We will punish Pakistan because they tricked us. If the USA caused us problems now or ten years ago they have been consistent.

Our first enemy is Pakistan. If the Army, government and others hadn't helped the USA drone programme or the CIA. The USA couldn't have found us or done anything to us without their help. The USA has not hurt us as badly as Pakistan has..

Interviewer: We've seen in the past that previous TTP leaders have tried to strike the USA like the case of Faisal Shehzad etc. Is there any big strike being planned like that now?

OKK: As I've said before we see the USA and all the west as our enemy. However since there are plenty of movements going on against them in Syria etc our focus is here.. Pakistan. This is our target for now, our war is with Pakistan and once we've imposed Shariah law in Pakistan and the Caliphate is revived then we'll reconsider things.

Interviewer: How much truth is there in the statement that talks had started with the government.

OKK:.. Amongst Pakistan's political party's there are some eg PTI, JI and JUI .. that have people that want peace. In fact they seek peace for Pakistan. On the other hand there is the military and others institutions that do not want peace. This is because they will lose precious aid from the west. If they want to talk to us now it is only because of two reasons 1) Because of public pressure and calm people angry with them 2) to trick us once again

Interviewer: It is said the new TTP leader by nature is a hardliner and not interested in talks?

OKK: There is no question of his nature playing a role. I reject the media made up divisions that project one person is in favour of talks and the other is not. The truth is we ( the TTP) have to look at ourselves, our situation and the war. We have to weigh the benefits and risks to our war in any strategy. I can say that when it comes to Fazlullah, although we've not spent any one on one time together, it is not a question of him being a hard liner it depends on the consensus formed by the leadership on the right strategy.

Interviewer: How much truth is there in the allegation you're in fact supported by the Afghan, USA and India.

OKK: This is a wrong accusation, you know how you mentioned our attempts against the USA using Faisal Shehzad and .. . It's hard to imagine that we tried to attack them and then they'd give us aid. With regard to India, I myself have fought in Kashmir and have many friends amongst the groups fighting ( against them). The way we say Pakistan Army is the enemy we say the same about India.

We've not taken any hèlp from India but for example if we did we'd have asked for a anti aircraft gun to shoot down PAF jets. We haven't done that yet, if you're taking aid from someone you'd expect it to be something to hurt your mutual enemy.

Interviewer: If you were offered help though would you accept ?

OKK: We have seen no need for it, we have enough strength as it is.

Interviewer: It is said that when fighting starts in Mohmand agency fighters hide in Afghanistan. Why is that?

KHK: We're basically fighting a guerrilla war in Pakistan.

Just because we don't plant a flag and fight against them doesn't mean we can't. It is the rule of guerrilla warfare to hurt your enemy while saving yourself for another day

Interviewer: TTP are accused of destroying schools are you against education?

KHK: We're not against education after all we were educated in religious schools. We are against the Pakistani school based education system. As an alternative we've set up our own religious schools to challenge the Pakistani school system. We're teaching both religious education and practical life skills. The important part of education is the religious part.

(Our aim is ) We're destroying the old system so ours can take its place.

Interviewer: Why do the TTP block health and development programmes

OKK: We are absolutely not against development projects. We've not kidnapped anyone or placed on obstacles against development work. In fact we organize our own work in Moand agency. Saying that we won't allow NGOs in our area, we believe they are working for foreign governments hence why we target them for kidnappings.

Interviewer: What forms of media do you like or watch ?

OKK: I watch them all in fact I have a media team to monitor the radio, tv and internet.

Interviewer: How much truth is there in the statements about the result of drone attacks?

OKK: There are different reports there is amnesty international one, the government of Pakistan one, the recent British one. All I will say about drones is that they have a bad impact on civilians, especially in north Waziristan.

They don't have much impact on our fighters, in fact the strikes help us in one way. It makes the people feel vulnerable and when they feel vulnerable they turn to us which in turn makes us stronger.

Interviewer: So they don't impact you

OKK: no not at all and we're not scared of death. If we were we would never be doing this ...

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

“Here lies the Victor of Maiwand”

“Here lies the Victor of Maiwand”

by Ali Jan

Maiwand is a small village town in Afghanistan, about 45 miles from Kandahar that gained fame during the Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1880. It was at this battlefield that the British army suffered its most embarrassing defeat at the hands of Sardar Muhammad Ayub Khan, an Afghan general, whose mausoleum is in Peshawar.

He was the son of the King Ameer Sher Ali, who ruled Afghanistan from 1863-1878. Ayub Khan was born in 1855 and spent most of his early life in Afghanistan. His brother Yakub Khan ascended the throne after his father’s demise and Ayub Khan became the governor of Herat.

The term ‘Great Game’ was popularized during the British Empire’s conflict with Tsarist Russian Empire in the 19th century. Afghanistan and its monarchs became pawns in this imperial game of rivalry and strategic influence and its outcome was to have a direct bearing on the British Empire’s hold over India. The British had not forgotten the terrible First Afghan War disaster when an entire army of 15,000 was wiped out in 1842 ending the four years of their initial presence there. Retribution and vengeance were key considerations that paved the way for another military campaign. Incited by the murder of the British agent Major Louis Cavagnari at the Kabul Residency and to counter the increasing tilt towards Russia by the Afghans, the British army once again advanced into Afghanistan in 1878 commencing the Second Afghan War.

Soon after their arrival, the British deposed Ayub’s brother Yakub Khan and then a long campaign ensued. The battle at Maiwand was fought on 27th July 1880 when Ayub Khan successfully led 6000 men and intercepted the British army at this place in order to thwart their invasion of Afghanistan. The terrible heat of the Afghan summer that year and other logistic difficulties greatly disadvantaged the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment led by General Burrows in its advance and it was annihilated by the Afghans who tore through all its lines. The victory is often cited as being perhaps the only instance where an Asiatic leader won a pitched battle fought against a vastly superior European army.

Sardar Muhammad Ayub Khan is revered as a freedom fighter and national hero in Afghanistan. Many 19th century poets have composed ballads about the ‘Ghazi of Maiwand’ and glorified him for giving the foreign invaders a bloody nose. There is a monument to the battle of Maiwand in Afghanistan. The tower, known as Minar-e-Maiwand was erected by King Zahir Shah in 1959 in the town square. A Pashto inscription, taken from a poem, relates a legend how at one stage the Afghans were preparing for retreat when a young woman named Malalai, stepped forward and pleaded to them: "If you do not taste of martyrdom today on this field of Maiwand, By God I am afraid you'll lead an ignominious life forever more." It is recounted, upon hearing this the men turned back to win the battle.

A colossal cast-iron lion statue in the memory of the men of 66th Regiment of Foot who died at Maiwand stands in Forbury Gardens, Reading in Berkshire England. The few remaining survivors that managed to reach the safety of the British garrison at Kandahar, got a medal from Queen Victoria on return to their country. One of the medal recipients was a dog named Bobbie.

The unprecedented British defeat caused a sensation in Europe and provided much literary fodder for English writers such as Rudyard Kipling who composed a poem on it entitled, That Day. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Watson is actually based on a surgeon of the 66th Regiment. In A Study in Scarlet (1881), Watson describes how he got shot whilst attending to a fallen soldier at Maiwand. "How are you? …You have been to Afghanistan, I perceive." are the opening words spoken by Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson. “How on earth did you know that?” Watson asks in admiration. It is the first of many displays of Holmes's brilliant deductive abilities.

Ayub Khan’s victory was short-lived as another army under the direction of Field Marshal Frederick Roberts came in his pursuit after a few weeks. And when the British army drew back into India leaving the Afghans to govern themselves, Ayub’s cousin and staunch enemy Abdur Rahman Khan proclaimed himself Ameer routing Ayub’s supporters. Ayub Khan was forced to flee to Herat and later sought refuge in Persia where he spent many years in exile. The new King Ameer Abdur Rahman continued to hatch conspiracies against him and made his life difficult even there. On his part, Ayub Khan too tried vainly to topple him and attempted a coup against his cousin but with no luck. As time wore on and the political landscape gradually changed Ayub Khan finally turned himself over to the British emissary in Meshed, Persia. He was sent to India as a state prisoner and kept in confinement for sometime. He spent the last years of his life with his family in Lahore, living off a pension fixed by the Government of India. He died on 7th April 1914 and was buried in Peshawar.

Today, the Victor of Maiwand rests alone in his glory in a small marble mausoleum in the Durrani Graveyard near Wazir Bagh, just outside the old walled city of Peshawar. His tomb made of pure white marble is a fine example of hand craftsmanship. It has a round canopy and bears beautiful floral carvings, geometric patterns and Islamic calligraphy. The mausoleum’s construction was commissioned by the government of Afghanistan during the reign of King Habibullah Khan. The gravestone carries a Persian inscription that lavishes much praise on the inmate. Other dignitaries buried in the Durrani Graveyard compound include his mother (wife of Ameer Shere Ali and queen of Afghanistan), Sardar Ibrahim Khan (brother), Sardar Jalaluddin Khan and other close family members.

The Great Game of the old empires has entered a new round. In the current setting the rules are the same however the players and pawns are different. The future of Afghanistan, it appears, is still as undecided today as it was more than a century ago. Peace in that country may still be a long shot, however its former royal family members continue to rest in eternal peace in this quiet little graveyard.