x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

In Pakistan, war would mean peace

Tribal militants pledge allegiance to Islamabad and a likely ceasefire if India shows aggression.

ISLAMABAD // A military threat from India over the Mumbai carnage could result in peace on Pakistan's war-hit western frontier, as Pashtun tribal militants vow to head east and join forces with Pakistan's army if India shows aggression. "An attack from India would be a blessing in disguise for the [North West] Frontier. Obviously the war on terror would no longer be our first priority. Our first priority would be protecting our borders and national interests," said Masood Sharif Khattak, the former head of Pakistan's main civilian spy agency the Intelligence Bureau. "It's one of the best things that could happen to the tribal areas. You would see peace prevail."

Several leaders of local lashkars (tribal militia) aligned with Taliban fighters who have been battling Pakistan's army along the Afghan frontier have pledged to switch allegiance to the army and fight alongside them if India mounts a strike in retaliation for the Mumbai siege it blames on Pakistani "elements". Others have pledged to protect the western frontier with Afghanistan against any ground invasion by US and Nato troops, so that the 100,000 Pakistani troops based there can be free to relocate to the eastern borders. Pakistani security officials have threatened to pull their troops off the western frontier, where they are engaged in battling local Taliban and preventing their incursions into Afghanistan, and redeploy them eastwards in the event of any aggression from India.

The tribal vows are rooted in history: warrior-like Pashtun tribal forces have been guarding the rugged western border and assisting the army in its previous battles with India since Pakistan was born in the bloody 1947 partition of the subcontinent. "You will likely see many Taliban groups call a ceasefire to allow the Pakistan army to focus on any Indian threat," Rasul Baksh Rais, an analyst and professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences, said in an interview. "A threat against our territory, the prospect of a war with India, this brings out a very strong sense of unity and patriotism from all groups, especially the tribals."

Lt Gen Asad Durrani, the former chief of the military's powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, told the Dawn television channel: "You just give them a call and they'll be on your side. They've got good weapons and good transport." India alleges that the gunmen who besieged its commercial capital for three days and killed 188 people came from Pakistan and were trained by the Pakistan-based militant organisation Lashkar-i-Taiba. The group spearheads the guerrilla insurgency against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority Himalayan valleys of Kashmir. It is believed to occasionally share resources with al Qa'eda. It has denied any link to the deadly Mumbai siege. As domestic pressure mounts on New Delhi for strong reprisals against its neighbour, speculation has appeared in the Pakistani press that India is considering an air-strike against the headquarters of Jamaat-ud Dawa, a renamed version of Lashkar-i-Taiba, at Muridke near Lahore close to the Indian border.

The Lashkar-i-Islam, a tribal force based in Khyber agency between Peshawar and the border, vowed to fight alongside Pakistani troops if "India violates the country's integrity", its spokesman Misri Khan said. Thousands of armed volunteers were on standby to guard "the motherland" and help the army in case of incursions by Indian forces. "We have the history of our forefathers who defended Pakistan in the past. It is our moral and religious duty to prevent anyone from capturing our soil," Mr Khan told The News daily. "I see a bright ray of peace in tribal areas," said Munir Orakzai, a federal parliamentarian who represents the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). "I can guarantee that there will be peace in tribal areas in a few days and we will be ready to fight against India on the eastern border along with Pakistan Army."

Pakistan's leaders have vowed to act against any group proven to be behind the Mumbai attacks and have proposed setting up a joint investigation team. It has requested evidence from India of its claims, but has not received any. There is frustration among Pakistanis at the absence of any evidence made public. Police, intelligence officials and journalists have descended on three different towns named Faridkot in southern Punjab, where anonymous Indian investigators allege the lone surviving gunman comes from. Records in the tiny hamlets show no one with the variety of names attributed to the gunman, and baffled locals said they do not know anyone who speaks English or has travelled more than a few dozen kilometres away. A large town called Faridkot lies on the Indian side of the Punjab, and ironically is the focus of a Pakistani feature film that was released in India two months ago called Ramchand Pakistani. It tells the true story of a Pakistani boy who wandered accidentally across the border into India and landed in jail in India's Faridkot. bcurran@thenational.ae