Pakistan: the Challenge of Militant Islam
The Friday Times
November 23, 1995
Several hundred Arab volunteers who participated in the Afghan jihad are still in Pakistan, posing a major security challenge to the state establishment and societal structure.

Among the Arab volunteers who came to Pakistan, the largest contingent reportedly was that of leaders and activists of militant Muslim groups in Egypt, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Jihad and Gamma’a al-Islamiyya. Before joining the Afghan Mujahideen, they were engaged in terrorism against their own ruling elites.

After the Soviet withdrawal, these Arab volunteers started settling down in the upper part of Kurram Agency in the tribal areas. The region is dominated by the Shias and already had a large concentration of Afghan refugees, especially members of Harkatul Mujhideen and Hizbe Islami. The Arabs fought with the Shias, forcing them to shift their abode to lower part of the Agency.”

Later, these Arabs started moving into posh localities of Peshawar like Hayatabad and University Town. Many of them still live there. Some groups were also concentrated in the Khyber Agency. There, too, fighting broke out between the Arabs and the local Afridis. The government intervened and arrested nearly 100 Arab extremists of Egyptian origin. They were given a safe passage to Afghanistan.

Inside Afghanistan, these Arabs are believed to be stationed at bases in the bordering Paktia province. These bases were built in 1988 with oil drilling equipment brought from Saudi Arabia. Hikmatyar’s men keep close contact with the Arabs there.

Since the Soviet troop withdrawal, the Arab extremists had allegedly undertaken scores of terrorist activities, including the killing of Abdullah Azzam in 1989 in a remote contol car bomb attack and the killing of a Reuter stringer Mansoor Khan, both in Peshawar. The November 1995 attack on the Egyptian Embassy was the latest act of terrorism by the Egyptian extremists.

Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar says Islamabad has so far extradited some 100 Egyptians to Cairo. Last year, following the Arab-Afridis clash in the Khyber Agency, the Bhutto government had signed an extradition treaty with Egypt. The government is likely to come under greater pressure from Cairo to extradite more of the wanted Egyptian extremists. For that, it has to counter pressure from the Jama’at-e-Islami and other political Islamist groups supportive of the extremist cause.

It is not clear yet whether the Egyptian embassy bombing was undertaken by extremists living in Pakistan or militants that might have come to the country especially for this purpose. Whatever the case may be, logistical support must have come from inside Pakistan. The militant Islamists indeed pose a grave danger to the country’s national security.

However, as long as the civil war in Afghanistan continues, groups such as Hizbe-Islam of Hekmatyar provide shelter to Arab extremists there and the latter have Pakistani sympathizers, the government’s task of tacking the extremist challenge facing Pakistan will be difficult to accomplish.