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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fata’s growing disconnect

Fata’s growing disconnect
July 31, 2008, DAWN.

By Afrasiab Khattak

IT is hardly an exaggeration that the security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the entire region and indeed that of the whole world will be defined by developments in Fata over the next few months. Different scenarios are being painted by military strategists and political experts.

Al Qaeda, after regrouping in the militant sanctuaries of the area, is acquiring the capacity to repeat attacks in North America or Europe similar to those carried out in 2001 in the US.

If reports about the exchanges between Pakistan and the US at the highest level are anything to go by it is pretty clear that the US will retaliate against Pakistan, probably even more severely than it did against the Taliban-dominated Afghanistan. Similarly the use of these militant sanctuaries for cross-border fighting is so large in scale (in fact all the six political agencies bordering Afghanistan are being used) that denial in this regard is no longer plausible.

The federal government has to either admit defeat or muster the political will to resolve the problem, or else justify the existence of militant sanctuaries by explaining their usefulness to the national interest. We have run out of time and this decision cannot be delayed any more as there are no takers of the denial line.

As if this were not enough, armed lashkars (armies) from militant sanctuaries in Fata are poised to penetrate/invade the contiguous settled districts. The events in Hangu some three weeks back are a case in point. The Hangu police arrested four Taliban commanders from a car that also contained weapons, explosive material and manuals for making bombs in a place called Doaba not far away from the Orakzai Agency border.

Hundreds of Taliban surrounded the Doaba police station and demanded the commanders’ release. They also blocked the Hangu-Kurram highway. During this confrontation the Frontier Constabulary was ambushed near Zargari village and 16 security personnel were killed. Subsequently the army was called in to launch a military operation in Hangu. This action was not just in retaliation for the murder of 16 FC men but also came in view of the threat of attack by four to five thousand Taliban from Orakzai and Kurram agencies.

By now the said military operation has been completed and the targets achieved to the extent that the Taliban have been chased out of Hangu. Nevertheless, they have fled to Orakzai Agency where they are regrouping and preparing for future attacks.

The NWFP (Pakhtunkhwa) government is in a quandary. It has to call in the army whenever armed lashkars threaten to overrun a district as the police force simply does not have the capacity to fight an ever-expanding insurgency.

After Swat the army has also been deployed in Hangu. In view of the militant sanctuaries situated nearby, the army cannot be withdrawn in the near future. Imagine if the story is repeated in other vulnerable districts. Will the army also have to be deployed in all these other districts? Will such measures not bring the existence of the civilian provincial government into question?

Is it not amazing that in spite of such high stakes the presidency that has a monopoly over governance in Fata seems to show no anxiety over the prevailing situation? It is continuing with the policy of keeping Fata a black hole where terrorist groups from across the globe run their bases. It is still a no-go area for the media and civil society, and so far there is no corrective measure or policy change in sight. So much so that we have failed to take even the most preliminary step of extending the Political Parties Act to Fata.

It is only natural that we are perturbed when attacks are launched from across the border. But should we not be equally sensitive to the loss of our sovereignty over Fata to militant groups? Strangely enough we do not seem to be bothered about the militants’ total control of Fata. When the international media carries reports about this situation we dismiss them as ‘enemy’ propaganda against Pakistan. We have failed to grasp the fact that in the post-cold war world there is a universal consensus about two things. One, that all assault weapons that can be used for launching a war cannot be allowed to be kept in private possession. Two, that no state will allow the use of its soil by non-state players against another state. The entire world is astounded by our fixation with the cold war mode. We have developed an incredible capacity to live in unreality. This is indeed dangerous for any state system but it can be catastrophic for a state dancing in a minefield.

Where does all this leave the people of Fata? They are victims and not perpetrators as some people would like us to believe. They are in fact in triple jeopardy. Firstly they are groaning under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901. They have no access to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan since they are not justiciable outside of the jurisdiction of the higher judiciary.

Secondly the tribal belt has almost been occupied by foreign and local militant organisations that are better equipped, better trained and better financed than the local population. More than 160 tribal leaders have been killed by terrorists in North and South Waziristan who operate with total impunity. Today’s Fata is not dissimilar to the Taliban and Al Qaeda controlled Afghanistan before 9/11.

Thirdly, the people of Fata get caught in the crossfire between militants and security forces from both sides of the Durand Line. The so-called collateral damage has seen a cancerous growth in Fata. The people of Fata have lost the support and protection of the state. They have no access to the media, courts and hospitals or to humanitarian assistance. The only intervention by state players takes place through their armies and air forces in which people of the tribal area are mostly on the receiving end.

For any informed and sensitive Pakistani, the situation in the tribal area is the top-most priority when it comes to policy formation and implementation. We must realise that the question of dismantling militant sanctuaries in Fata and taking short-term and long-term measures to open up the area and integrate it with the rest of the country needs urgent national attention if we are to avoid the impending catastrophe.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lack of Policy Coordination on Counter-Terrorism Creating Problems

Militant Gains in Pakistan Said to Draw More Fighters
By ERIC SCHMITT, New York Times, July 10, 2008

WASHINGTON — American military and intelligence officials say there has been an increase in recent months in the number of foreign fighters who have traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to join with militants there.

The flow may reflect a change that is making Pakistan, not Iraq, the preferred destination for some Sunni extremists from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia who are seeking to take up arms against the West, these officials say.

The American officials say the influx, which could be in the dozens but could also be higher, shows a further strengthening of the position of the forces of Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, increasingly seen as an important base of support for the Taliban, whose forces in Afghanistan have become more aggressive in their campaign against American-led troops.

According to the American officials, many of the fighters making their way to the tribal areas are Uzbeks, North Africans and Arabs from Persian Gulf states. American intelligence officials say that some jihadist Web sites have been encouraging foreign militants to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is considered a “winning fight,” compared with the insurgency in Iraq, which has suffered sharp setbacks recently.

The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has dropped to fewer than 40 a month from as many as 110 a month a year ago, a military spokesman in Baghdad said Wednesday. “The sanctuary situation in Pakistan’s tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province is more, rather than less, troublesome than before,” Gen. David D. McKiernan, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview. “The porous border has allowed insurgent militant groups a greater freedom of movement across that border, as well as a greater freedom to resupply, to allow leadership to sustain stronger sanctuaries, and to provide fighters across that border.”

The suicide bombing at the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul on Monday underscored the increasing fears of American and Afghan officials that Taliban insurgents working with Pakistani intelligence operatives might have used the bombing to pursue Pakistan’s long power struggle with India.

Al Qaeda and other militant groups have used redoubts in Pakistan’s rugged mountains as havens for the past several years. But especially since the new Pakistani government sharply curtailed security operations in the tribal areas in March and began negotiating with tribal leaders to rein in the militants, the number of foreign fighters entering the tribal areas has increased “from a trickle to a steady stream,” said a Defense Department official who follows Pakistan closely, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Some of the foreign militants take commercial flights into Pakistan and make their way to the tribal areas by car or bus, while a smaller, undetermined number go overland through Iran and then up through Baluchistan, the Defense Department official said. General McKiernan said, “There are noticeably more non-Pashtun-speaking fighters than this time last year.”

Some American intelligence officials cautioned, however, that the increases were still relatively small, perhaps a few dozen — military and independent analysts estimate between 150 and 500 hard-core Qaeda fighters are operating in the tribal area — and that Al Qaeda was still recruiting fighters and suicide bombers for both Afghanistan and Iraq.

With the number of attacks in eastern Afghanistan up by 40 percent from a year ago, senior Bush administration officials have been voicing increasing alarm about the growing strength of the militants using havens in Pakistan.

“The ability of the Taliban and other insurgents to cross that border and not being under any pressure from the Pakistani side of the border is clearly a concern,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters two weeks ago in one of his most pointed comments to date on the situation. “That’s the area that needs to be addressed with the Pakistani government.”

The Bush administration is struggling to work with the Afghan and Pakistani governments to find an effective combination of political, diplomatic and military tools to help stem the increasingly entrenched insurgency, but it has faced difficulties dealing with Pakistan’s new coalition government, officials say.

“We’re trying to impress upon the Pakistanis how bad things are,” said one senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. “Before, we could go to Musharraf,” the official said, speaking of President Pervez Musharraf. “Now it’s more of a power-sharing agreement, and it’s more difficult. There’s no apparent solution at hand. The next six months look like they’ll be a lot like the past six months.”

Four senior military officials said that Al Qaeda was strengthening its increasingly close operational ties in the tribal areas with the Taliban and various other militant groups — financing, training recruits and facilitating attacks into Afghanistan, though not necessarily conducting attacks themselves.

Inside Pakistan, the forces of the Tehrik-e-Taliban of Pakistan, an umbrella group of Taliban, are most prominent among the militants. The group is led by Baitullah Mehsud, who is accused by the Pakistani government of masterminding the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December and running scores of suicide bombers on both sides of the border.

Mr. Mehsud, who has risen from near obscurity to become a powerful ally of Al Qaeda, brazenly held a news conference in May in his home base, South Waziristan, to announce that he would expand his fight against the American military across the border in Afghanistan, where the group has close links to other Taliban forces.

American options for strikes inside the tribal areas are limited. The C.I.A. has armed, remotely piloted Predator aircraft ready if high-level insurgents are located. But a Pentagon order authorizing an increased campaign by Special Operations forces in the tribal areas remains under review by administration officials.

The Pentagon moved the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to the Arabian Sea from the Persian Gulf in recent days, shortening the time that the carrier’s nearly four dozen FA-18 Hornet and Super Hornet strike planes must fly to support combat in Afghanistan.

President Bush’s new homeland security adviser, Kenneth L. Wainstein, traveled to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar and Kuwait last month, and urged leaders in those countries to help crack down on groups or individuals that are helping to finance or funnel fighters to the insurgency in the tribal areas. “We’re seeing financing and recruiting from the gulf countries going to the tribal areas,” Mr. Wainstein said in an interview.

The Saudis, in particular, committed to continuing to expand their efforts to prevent terrorist financing and facilitation from their country, a spokesman for Mr. Wainstein said in an e-mail message.

“We’re aware we’re down to the last six months,” the senior administration official said. “There’s no real time for new initiatives. What we can do is set up a number of initiatives for the next administration, to give them possible options.”

Those options, the official said, include continuing to support Pakistan’s army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who late last month was given a mandate by the new civilian government to use force in the tribal areas and the North-West Frontier Province when “verifiable intelligence” was available, Pakistani televisions stations reported.

Several American officials expressed exasperation that small elements of the Frontier Corps paramilitary force, the Pakistani Army and Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency — Inter-Services Intelligence, or the ISI — were turning a blind eye to militants launching cross-border attacks, if not supporting them outright.

“Right now, the Pakistanis are in a muddle over how to use the tribal leaders, Frontier Corps paramilitary forces and the Pakistani Army to deal with the situation,” said a senior allied military officer who has served in the region. “To complicate matters, U.S.-Pakistani relations are currently toxic.”

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Pakistan.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Durand Line & geopolitics

The News
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Zeenia Satti

When has a state ever been able to curb an insurgency without firm control over its borders? Under the guidance of the Pentagon's planners, Pakistan and Afghanistan are in the process of making history. Each seeks to curb the insurgency within its territory while keeping open its border with the other, ostensibly the very source of insurgency.

The current insurgency notwithstanding, the Pakistani-Afghan border, the Durand Line, is contested since 1947. Pakistan upholds the 1893 demarcation while Afghanistan claims more territory. The UN uses the Afghan maps. The US and NATO use the Pakistani map but mouth the Afghan view.

Pakistan had an opportunity to secure Kabul's endorsement of the Durand Line when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001. Because all three of the current incumbents, the PPP, the PML-N and Musharref held office during this period, each is to blame for missing the most expedient geopolitical moment to secure bilateral settlement of the Durand Line. In 1998 Jalaluddin Haqqani's appointment as minister for border affairs in the Taliban government meant that the key portfolio in the matter was held by the ISI's protégé. During the time in question, a nuclear-capable Pakistan, oblivious to the geostrategic implications of the 1991 invasion of Iraq, remained preoccupied with conventional strategic depth, vis-à-vis India, through Afghanistan, and failed to secure its immediate border interest.

The United States' invasion of Afghanistan turned Pakistan's "strategic depth" into a strategic nightmare. Pakistan faces a myriad of geostrategic hazards which include the cross-border infiltration of insurgents who are frequently bombed by the US in Pakistan's "lawless" areas. The locals feel terrorised and unprotected as their civilian casualties mount. Musharref's combat with the insurgents as U.S proxy provoked their incitement of the Pakhtuns against the "foreign yoke." The emotive cry of Pakhtun dignity under attack is echoed within the NWFP by groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakhtun Democratic Council. This has given rise to a Pakistani insurgency akin to the Afghan one.

India's influence in Afghanistan's Pakhtun region is enormous. Pakistan's policy has alienated everyone in Afghanistan, including Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, as well as the Pakhtuns. Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are at their worst, which makes the Durand Line a possible flashpoint of the future. Washington's declaration that FATA is a threat to US security magnifies the danger.

The current environment renders even positive developments vulnerable to manipulation by Islamabad's detractors. The ANP's victory exposes the marginality of extremism, legitimising Islamabad's fight against it. Paradoxically, while extremism serves the Taliban's purpose, the ANP gives the Karzai government an opportunity to woo Pakhtun nationalism. Both the Afghan contestants now have other avenues in the NWFP to exploit.

The Pentagon labels the Afghan insurgency "Taliban resurgence." US civil society follows suit. During a briefing in Washington's Woodrow Wilson Centre on April 18, a Rand Corporation associate and a Georgetown University professor lamented that NATO's goal in Afghanistan is complicated by a highly decentralised enemy. They called the enemy "multiple Taliban, with varying loyalties, depending on their geographic locations." The academicians failed to explain the logic through which a variety of insurgent groups are given a title that until 2001 identified a distinct Afghan faction.

Because the Afghan insurgents wear baggy clothes and do not shave regularly does not hoodwink the US commanders into believing all are Taliban. There are reasons why the insurgents are labelled so. The US intelligence seeks to shape political realities through political articulation. It seeks to isolate the population from the insurgents by identifying them as a discredited group. It also seeks the international community's acquiescence in the insurgents' massacre. Further, it triggers the resurgence of the Northern Alliance, which crystallised in 2006 as the "United Afghan National Front Opposition Group." The northern warlords' partnership with Karzai is insincere. He is considered a US puppet, just as the Taliban were considered Pakistani puppets. Karzai's appeasement of the moderate Taliban makes the northerners dread a government dominated by undesirable Pakhtun elements, motivating the northerners' reorganisation. Karzai's presence and the hoax of Taliban resurgence create fissiparous fissures in Afghanistan, straining its nationalism. If Iraq is any example to go by, this tendency will intensify under US occupation.

The Pakistani Pakhtuns left to the political and economic periphery hitherto defined themselves as peripheral. The war on terror is pressuring them into separatism. It is a maxim that in common catastrophe men move into unison. The brutality of the Afghan war is a common catastrophe for the Pakhtuns. Unless Islamabad bifurcates its Pakhtuns from the Afghan ones, their struggle to protect themselves and their interests may lead them to seek strength in cross-border territorial unison. Kabul has every incentive to fan separatism in the NWFP.

There are no economic and political boundaries in FATA. Once such boundaries are established, ethnic identities will cease to exist as "autonomous" and will become "relational" instead. The politico-economic boundaries will define the Afghan and Pakistani Pakhtuns vis-à-vis each other. With the advent of rapid development through mining, the border citizens of Arizona began to identify themselves as Mexican Indians and American Indians vis-à-vis each other, whereas in the pre-development stage they looked upon each other as one. There is a consensus among anthropologists and sociologists that ethnic identities are not static but dynamic and are socially constructed and politically contingent.

Whereas the Afghan insurgency goes beyond the Taliban, the Pakistani insurgency does not. It is peripheral and can be controlled. The first step towards the goal is to impede the Taliban mobility to and from Afghanistan. Since late August 2006, Pakistan has conducted patrol of its border jointly with the Afghan military and NATO under a tripartite agreement. This would have sufficed, but for latent interests that have pushed Pakistan in the line of fire.

The way out of this peril is the sealing of the Durand Line and its high-tech monitoring, the integration of FATA into NWFP and its rapid rural development under a robust security network. The United States' hunt for Osama bin Laden through aerial bombardment is a gimmick. Dangerous individuals are apprehended covertly, not through bombardment. Actionable intelligence on Al Qaeda should be responded to by Pakistani covert forces in the field. Withdrawing forces from FATA is a blunder equivalent to fighting the insurgency on the neocons' terms. The mess they have made on foreign lands is unacceptable even to Americans. Pakistan's leadership needs to act like Russia's Putin to prevent its fissiparous fissures from deepening.

The writer, based in Washington, is an energy consultant and analyst of energy geopolitics. Email: zeenia.satti@

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Meeting at Bacha Khan Baba's Tomb

Thanks To Dawezay Momand for sharing these links








A day after a suicide bombing in the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad, a series of explosions hit Pashtun-dominated areas of the port city of Karachi on July 7. While the Islamabad bombing indicates the growing jihadist problem in Pakistan, the Karachi blasts appear to be about strengthening Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's hold on power.

A day after Pakistan's capital city Islamabad was rocked by a deadly suicide bombing, a series of small blasts struck the port city of Karachi on July 7. The attacks occurred within a span of one hour in Pashtun-dominated areas of north and central Karachi. The devices, which appear to have been crude, killed two people and injured around 50 others, prompting small-scale riots.

The Islamabad suicide bombing is yet another indicator of Pakistan's intensifying jihadist problem. By contrast, the Karachi attacks appear to be more about Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's political survival than anything else.

Musharraf is still in the political hot seat, with his political opponents regularly calling for his removal either through an honorable exit or through an impeachment trial. Nonetheless, the beleaguered president still has staying power mainly due to severe political infighting in the newly elected civilian government and his success in packing Pakistan's Supreme Court with allies to block any legal attempts to remove him from power.

To further secure his political position, Musharraf can rely on his friends in the Mutahiddah Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Muhajir political party that long has been the kingmaker of Pakistan's main port city and closely allied with Musharraf. The MQM has no shortage of political thugs to serve Musharraf's political agenda. The group dominates the organized crime sector in Karachi's ports and has been known to instigate ethnic riots and organize large pro-Musharraf demonstrations in the past.

The July 7 attacks targeted the poor segment of Karachi's Pashtun population -- a popular target for the MQM's attempts to stir up ethnic unrest in Karachi. By playing the MQM card, Musharraf can demonstrate to his political opponents in the government that he remains the king of Karachi through his ties with the MQM, and without him, the country's largest trading hub could fall into chaos.

The MQM, meanwhile, has its own reason to play along with Musharraf's political maneuvers. The Feb. 18 general elections gave Musharraf's opponents -- the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz -- an overwhelming victory, putting the Musharraf-allied MQM in the opposition. With Musharraf in power, the MQM retains political clout in the government. But if Musharraf gets the boot, MQM leaders would have to start from scratch in buying political influence among the government's leading parties. Through intimidation tactics in Karachi, the MQM can signal that it is still a political force to be reckoned with.

While this political wrangling is certainly not atypical for Pakistan, it comes at a most precarious time. Pakistan is already approaching a crisis point as the jihadist insurgency continues to spiral out of control. Stoking ethnic unrest in Karachi for political reasons exacerbates the security dilemma confronting the state and provides a greater opportunity for the jihadists to strike.

Courtesty Whiznews