Pakistan Militants Prepare For Ethnic-Based War in Afghanistan after NATO Withdrawal
KABUL – Militants in Pakistan’s most populous province are said to be training for what they expect will be an ethnic-based civil war in neighboring Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw in 16 months, according to analysts and a senior militant.
In the past two years the number of Punjab-based militants deploying to regions bordering on Afghanistan has tripled and is now in the thousands, says analyst Mansur Mehsud. He runs the FATA Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank studying the mix of militant groups that operate in Pakistan’s tribal belt running along much of the 2,600-kilometer (1,600-mile) Afghan-Pakistan border. Mehsud also says more than 150 militant groups operate in the tribal regions, mostly in mountainous, heavily forested North Waziristan.
“Before, they were keeping a low profile. But just in the last two or three years hundreds have been coming from Punjab,” said Mehsud. “Everyone knows that when NATO and the American troops leave Afghanistan there will be fighting between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns, mostly Hazaras.”
Sunni Punjabi militants will side with the Afghan Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun, Afghanistan’s dominant ethnic group and the majority ethnic group in Pakistan’s northwest region that borders Afghanistan. Like many in the Taliban, the Punjabi militants share a radical and regressive interpretation of Islam.
“We will go to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban as we have done in the past,” said a senior member of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an militant Sunni Muslim group, who goes by a nom de guerre, Ahmed Zia Siddiqui. In an interview with The Associated Press in Pakistan, he said Punjab-based militants were preparing for ethnic-based war in Afghanistan after the foreign withdrawal.
Despite being outlawed in Pakistan, Siddiqui’s group is among the most active and violent, providing a cadre of suicide bombers for attacks against the Hazara ethnic minority both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. It has taken responsibility for dozens of attacks that have killed hundreds of minority Shiites in Pakistan. It has also been implicated in some of the most spectacular attacks in Pakistan, including the 2008 bombing of a five-star hotel in the capital and an assassination attempt on former dictator and U.S. ally Gen. Pervez Musharraf. (AP)