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PART 1: The legacy of
Nek Mohammed

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - The name of Nek Mohammed made international headlines in the middle of last month when the charismatic former Taliban commander was killed in a Pakistani army raid near Wana, the district headquarters of the South Waziristan tribal area.

Nek was a key figure in the area, acting as a rallying point for the Afghan resistance, and as a procurer and facilitator for the many foreign and al-Qaeda fighters sheltered in the region.

Nek was a wanted man, and his death marked a significant victory for Islamabad, which is under relentless pressure from Washington to get rid of the foreign militants from the sensitive Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas from where they have declared war on US interests in Afghanistan. The foreigners include Arabs, Chechens and Chinese Muslims who have set up base camps in remote areas.

By killing Nek, though, the authorities have not been able to erase his legacy and the profound influence he has had in the area.

Nek Mohammed belonged to the Ahmed Zai Wazir tribe's sub-clan, the Yargul Khai. He received his early education at an Islamic school run by Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam leader Maulana Noor Mohammed. Nek's father, Nawaz Khan, was a tribal elite and owned property in the village of Kalosha, South Waziristan, close to the Afghanistan border.

From childhood Nek showed a tough, rigid personality, which resulted in him being expelled from the Islamic school. He joined a regular school and fared much better, before being admitted to a college run by Pashtun nationalists, the Pakhtunkho Awami Party.

He never completed schooling, though, and started a general store in Wana's main bazaar. At this time, the region was under the influence of military leader General Zia ul-Haq's policies to promote jihad in Afghanistan. In fact, the Pakistani tribal areas served as base camps for the Afghan resistance movement against the former Soviet Union, which had began a 10-year occupation in 1979.

South and North Waziristan agencies - two of Pakistan's seven tribal areas - were part of a supply line that ran to Paktia to Zabul across the border to reinforce the positions of Afghan fighters. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence set up exclusive camps in Wana, where youngsters were recruited, "motivated" and trained to supply fresh blood to the Afghan resistance movement.

Different commanders of the Afghan resistance belonging to the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) and other organizations established underground bunkers where they stored their heavy ammunition. The US Central Intelligence Agency, which had been drawn into Afghanistan's affairs to counter its Cold War rival, the Soviet Union, financed thousands of Arab fighters to gather in and around Wana, where many purchased land and established base camps and training centers.

To reinforce the Afghan jihad, ideological support was as necessary as military assistance, so policymakers in Islamabad laid the foundations for dozens of new religious schools. The young Nek, like many others at the time, was drawn into this world, and he signed on for a training camp.

And where Nek had been a mediocre pupil, he took to fighting with the zeal of a leopard, so much so that he rubbed shoulders with such frontline luminaries of the Afghan war as Saifullah Mansoor and Jalaluddin Haqqani.

These acquaintances were to bring handsome dividends.

In September 1996, the Taliban captured Kabul, ending several years of political anarchy in the country after the withdrawal of the Soviets. On the recommendation of Mansoor and Haqqani, Molvi Gul was appointed commander of the Kargha garrison, but when he was killed, 18-year-old Nek took over.

This made Nek a frontline Taliban commander against the Northern Alliance, which still controlled sections of the country. Soon he was a veteran, seeing action in the battlefields of Bagram, Bamyan and Pansher. By now Nek was a key figure in the Taliban, in charge of 3,000 men and a hero who frequently interacted with foreign fighters.

During this period Nek met al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at the Rash Khor training camp, south of Kabul. He also met bin Laden's deputy, Aiman al-Zawahir, and became friends-in-arms with Mullah Nazir, a Taliban minister; the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yaldevish, and Chinese separatist leader Hasan Mohsin.

These new friendships were to be critical to Nek, as well as to developments several years later.

In late 2001, the US bombardment of Afghanistan began in retaliation for the country harboring the al-Qaeda masterminds of the September 11 terror attacks on the United States. Kabul soon fell as the Taliban retreated with hardly a fight, and action switched to the Tora Bora, near the Pakistan border, which featured a vast network of tunnels and caves in the mountains.

An Afghan go-between, Haji Zaman, in exchange apparently for hefty bribes from the US, negotiated a ceasefire under which Arab fighters were to surrender. During a recent interview, a Taliban commander, Mohammed Rahim, who was stranded in the Tora Bora along with 100 other Taliban, revealed that during the ceasefire more than 1,000 Arabs and the 100 Taliban fled, some to Shahi Kot and others across the border to the tribal areas.

In early 2002, in a showdown in Shahi Kot, about 18 US soldiers were killed and the US mobilized heavy land troops as well as air support and bombed the hideouts of hundreds of Arabs and Chechen fighters who had made Shahi Kot their hub. As a result, the militants melted into the mountains, from where Nek helped them to settle in South Waziristan.

New housing, training camps and recruitment centers for the new Afghan jihad were established in South Waziristan, which became the operational headquarters. Money flooded in from al-Qaeda, and Nek, being the character he was, became rich.

By December 2003, Nek owned more than 40 pickup trucks and bulletproof vehicles. The Taliban leaders were underground, but the aid kept on flowing in from around the world, with Nek as the point man to distribute it.

Training camps and the resistance
By now the scattered Taliban and al-Qaeda had regrouped. They had restored their supply lines and sources of financial aid, and had begun to build new bases, hideouts and training camps on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

In this process, Nek thrived, utilizing his networks in the Pakistani tribal areas from which he hailed, especially in South Waziristan.

Nek and his foreign comrades formed a new jihadi outfit called Jaishul al-Qiba al-Jihadi al-Siri al-Alami. Another group, Jundullah, two of whose members, Attaur Rehman and Abu Musab al-Balochi (al-Baloshi), were later arrested in Karachi in connection with the recent unsuccessful attack on the Corps Commander Karachi, was formed with members from the Jaishul al-Qibla to conduct operations all over Pakistan and to "take the battle to all possible fronts".

Both organizations are aligned with al-Qaeda, but have different ways of operating.

Jundullah is a purely militant outfit whose objective is to target Pakistan's pro-US rulers and US and British interests in the country. Members receive training in Afghanistan and South Waziristan, and it is now actively recruiting.

The organization produces propaganda literature, including documentary films, and has a studio named Ummat. It does similar work for al-Qaeda's media wing, which is called the al-Sahab Foundation.

These media outlets incite the sentiments of Muslim youths by producing films showing Western - particularly Israeli and US - "atrocities" against Muslim communities. This is the basic tool through which a new generation of jihadis is being raised.

Jundullah was allegedly headed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda operational commander of the September 11 terrorist attack in the US. He was arrested in Pakistan early last year.

Suspects grilled
The US has exclusive facilities across the world to interrogate militants, many of them captured in Pakistan. They are believed to number about 3,000, and they are spread over different areas. The biggest interrogation center for al-Qaeda detainees is Bagram Air Base north of the Afghan capital Kabul. Al-Tamara detention center, eight kilometers out of Rabat in Morocco, houses dozens of people arrested in Pakistan, while others are kept in Egypt, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Soon after the attack on the Corps Commander Karachi, a number of Jundullah Pakistanis were arrested, as well as four Arabs, including al-Baloshi. During their interrogation they fingered two prominent doctors (brothers) from Karachi, Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed, who were said to have provided medical treatment to members of Jundullah. The doctors, associated with the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, were heavily involved in relief work in Afghanistan during the US invasion of that country. Later they treated several high-profile al-Qaeda leaders in South Waziristan. They are also said to have raised funds for al-Qaeda and helped several Arab families return to their countries of origin.

The doctors have since been arrested.

The interrogators also learned of two girls from Karachi who had been recruited and trained for suicide attacks against Western interests in Pakistan. As a result, the United States and the United Kingdom temporarily shut down their diplomatic facilities for fear of a terror attack.

Jundullah is now believed to have penetrated deeply into the Pakistan army, police and air force, with core centers in Rawalpindi (the twin city to Islamabad), Peshawar and Quetta.

Jaishul al-Qiba al-Jihadi al-Siri al-Alami
This organization prepares literature and films to incite hatred against the West for a new generation of jihadis. It widely facilitates training for new recruits, with facilities in South Waziristan and in the inaccessible regions of North Waziristan, beside some fresh training centers in Afghanistan in Taliban-controlled areas.

These centers mostly started operating in the middle of 2003, after the Taliban and al-Qaeda had regrouped. Initially, camps were established in Wana, Azam Warsak, Kalosha, Zareen Noor, Baghar, Dhog, Angor Ada in South Waziristan. In North Waziristan, camps were established in the border areas of Shawal, including Darey Nishtar and Mangaroti, where neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan is in control.

In Afghanistan, Zawar (Khost) was the most protected place where foreign fighters established their bunkers and hideouts. The area is under the command of Jalaluddin Haqqani.

In South Waziristan, the centers were under the command of Nek, and he is known to have hosted bin Laden and al-Zawahir on numerous occasions.

Information extracted from Jundullah detainees indicates that most were trained in South Waziristan. They claim that villages around Kalosha had been handed over to the families of Arab fighters. From the same training camps, several groups were raised to fight in Iraq.

PART 2: The US moves on South Waziristan

(Muqadar Iqbal and Zafar Mehmood Shiekh helped research this article, as well as obtain material from Rawalpindi.)

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Jul 20, 2004

Turncoats and terror in Pakistan's tribal areas (Jul 10, '04)

Pakistan gets its man - dead
(Jun 19, '04)


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