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THE AFGHAN PLANE HIJACKING

 

The reported hijacking of a plane of Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines, while on a domestic flight from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif, is the second major act of terrorism in Taliban-controlled territory.

The first was the car bomb explosion outside the Kandahar residence of Mullah Mohammad Omer, the Amir of the Taliban, on the night of August 24,1999, in which the Amir narrowly escaped death. Twenty others, including many bodyguards of the Amir and reportedly one of his close relatives (son?), were killed.

After enquiries, the Taliban authorities absolved the US of any blame and hinted that Shia groups, backed by external elements, had carried out the attack. However, no arrests were made.

In our paper of September 4,1999, titled "Afghanistan: In Perspective" (http://www.saag.org/papers/paper78.html), this writer had stated as follows: " Next to women, the Shias have been a major target of the brutalities and indignities of the Wahabi-Sunni-dominated Taliban Shoora and its militia called Lashkar Mohammadi. Public observance of Moharrum has been banned. So too the Shia tradition of their women joining the men in prayers during Moharrum and visits to the graves of their relatives.

"After the Taliban captured Herat on the Iran border and, subsequently, the Bamiyan province, both areas where the Shias were in a majority with a large sprinkling of Ismailis, there were reportedly large-scale massacres of the Shias and forcible re-settlement of the Shias in the Sunni-majority villages in the rest of Afghanistan and their replacement by Sunnis brought to Herat and Bamiyan from other provinces. This is being done to reduce the Shias to a minority in their traditional homelands…….

"The Shias of not only Afghanistan, but also Pakistan have been seething with anger against the Amir for the massacre of the Shias of Herat and Bamiyan. The Shias have a long memory for atrocities perpetrated on them as one saw in the death of Zia-ul-Haq in a plane crash of August 1988."

" The NWFP (the North-West Frontier Province) has many Hazaras, the same tribe to which the Shias of Bamiyan belong, and the Hazaras are known to bide their time, even if it meant years, before avenging atrocities committed on them."

" The recent (August 24) unsuccessful attempt by unidentified elements allegedly to kill the Taliban Amir at Kandahar through an explosion outside his house should not, therefore, have come as a surprise to those having their ears close to the ground in Afghanistan and the NWFP to detect signs of a possible tremor, if not a quake."

Amongst the Pakistan-based terrorist organisations, which have been closely associated with the Taliban, are the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), which was used by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for the recent hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft, and the Sipah-e-Sahaba, an extremist Sunni organisation, which has been calling for the declaration of the Shias as non-Muslims and for the proclamation of Pakistan as a Sunni state. Both these organisations are close to Gen.Musharraf and Lt.Gen.Mohammad Aziz, his Chief of the General Staff (CGS), and have their training camps in Afghan territory.

After a flare-up of anti-Shia violence in different cities of Pakistan in the second half of last year carried out by the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Mr.Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, had sent Lt.Gen.Kwaja Ziauddin, his ISI Director-General, to Kandahar to urge the Amir to close down the camps of the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the HUM and to expel their cadres from Afghan territory, to which the Amir had reportedly agreed.

On hearing of this, Gen.Musharraf sent Lt.Gen.Aziz on a secret visit to Kandahar to convey a message to the Amir that on all matters relating to the Taliban, the HUM, the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, the Taliban would follow only the instructions of Lt.Gen.Aziz and not of Lt.Gen.Ziauddin. Till February, 1999, Lt.Gen.Aziz, as Deputy Director-General of the ISI, was handling the Taliban,. bin Laden and these organisations, and, while shifting him to the GHQ as CGS in February, Gen. Musharraf, who distrusted Lt.Gen.Ziauddin, had ordered that Lt.Gen.Aziz would continue to deal with this subject.

The transfer of this subject from the ISI to the GHQ was one of the reasons for the differences between Mr.Sharif and Gen.Musharraf and, on coming to know of the secret visit of Lt.Gen.Aziz to Kandahar in the beginning of October to countermand the instructions of Lt.Gen.Ziauddin, Mr.Sharif had made up his mind to sack Gen. Musharraf.

The Taliban's policy of the resettlement of the Shias from their traditional homelands was based on a similar resettlement policy which Gen.Musharraf had followed in the Gilgit area in 1988 and was pursued with added vigour after Gen.Musharraf seized power on October 12,1999.

Mr.Ilyas Khan, a Pakistani investigative journalist, wrote in the "Herald" (January, 2000), the monthly of the prestigious "Dawn" group:" The Taliban have reportedly killed thousands of unarmed ethnic Hazara Shites in Bamiyan and Mazar-e-Sharif, and have carried out a ruthless scorched earth policy in the Shamali area, a 100 km stretch of land between Kabul and the Hindukush mountains. Apart from burning down houses, orchards and crops to permanently displace the people of Shamali area, they also resorted to the forced separation of (Shia) women from their families and their deportation to a women's refugee camp in Samarkhel, about 10 kms east of Jalalabad."

This scorched earth policy, very similar to the 1988 policy in the Gilgit region, was carried out under the supervision of Pakistani army officers deputed by Lt.Gen.Aziz and a large number of Pakhtoon Sunni ex-servicemen from NWFP and Balochistan have been resettled in place of the Shia farmers.

This has led to an exacerbation of the Shia anger against the Taliban leadership and Gen.Musharraf. Since the removal of Ismail Khan, the Governor of the Shia-majority Herat province, in 1995 and his subsequent capture by the Taliban, the Shias of Afghanistan have been without one of their legendary heroes and protectors and it should not, therefore, be a surprise if they had carried out this hijacking reportedly to demand his release.

The Northern Alliance of Mr.Burhanuddin Rabbani has denied any involvement in the hijacking. However, the demand of the hijackers for the plane to be taken to London is significant. The brother of Mr.Ahmed Shah Masood, the legendary military commander of the Northern Alliance, had been living for many years in London. He had helped a large number of Shias of Afghanistan to migrate to the UK and also enjoys considerable support in the local Shia community from India and Pakistan.

B.RAMAN                                                                    (7-2-00)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com)

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