Archive for the ‘FATA’ Category
New York- On February 5th, I participated in a Huffington Post Live discussion entitled “Engaging The Taliban” (featured below) after the trilateral meeting between David Cameron, Asif Ali Zardari, and Hamid Karzai at the British Prime Minister’s country residence outside London. The topic concerned the withdrawal of NATO and ISAF troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and the idea of some kind of vague peace deal with the Taliban midwifed by Pakistan and meant to take place in Qatar. That talk inspired my lengthy article in today’s edition of Asia Times Online (at left).
Afghanistan, once a byword for forgotten backwater, has had its war become internationalized to the absurd point where even a good number of tiny non-NATO, non-Western nations like Georgia (desire to join NATO), the United Arab Emirates (business interests, Islamic hearts-and-minds credibility), and Tonga (pressed by the UK) have inserted troops. And nations like these have done so in the context of their very diverse, often non-overlapping agendas.
For Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnicities who house a sense of collective victimhood, this is the equivalent of having the fox guarding the hen house. Despite US troops and intelligence officers partnering up with warlords who were deemed “legendary” in the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom, there are certainly no angels among any of Afghanistan’s warlords of all hues despite a certain amount of rather theatric press reportage at the time. But renewed political power for the Taliban, whose enemies believe it would use to gain military power in the theater of Afghanistan’s gun-barrel politics, would be the surefire catalyst for a retro-themed civil conflict.
Some factional military leaders especially those of the Jamiat-i-Islami/Shura-i-Nazar type whose 1980s and 1990s-era leadership has suffered a string of assassinations attributed to the Taliban such as Burhanuddin Rabbani and Muhammed Daud Daud in 2011, may likely be content to exact retribution in some form. Abdul Rashid Dostum– another sworn enemy of the Taliban who knows that he is on their target list–could easily fully remobilize his Junbesh-i-Milli militia when push comes to shove.
But the risks for the integrity of the Pakistani state have changed entirely since the Taliban swept in Kabul in 1996. The creeping Talibanization of Pakistan creates an entirely different calculus. Additionally anti-Shia/Hazara violence in Balochistan being carried out by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi seems to be at an all-time high, a dire crisis which Pakistan’s political leaders refuse to effectively address. All sorts of Taliban factions are now operating in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, and inflaming tensions with the very territorial, virulently anti-Pashtun Muttahida Qaumi Movement which portrays itself as the guardian of mohajir identity in southern Sindh Province.
Part of the advantage of Pakistani hegemony over Afghanistan in the 1990s was that Islamabad could have groups that it was funding or manipulating outside of its territory. Afghanistan was relegated to an obscure, abandoned backwater that was essentially a free-fire zone for regional proxy warfare. States from all over Eurasia were dragged into Afghanistan’s internecine battles.
Following 9/11, the Afghan morass brought into most if not all of the armies of the Western world. At the same time, Pakistan’s military and intelligence apparatus was ejected after the fall of Konduz in late November 2001. Now as the West and its allies clamor for the exits, Pakistan, Iran and other regional powers will be forced to reassess their role in the future of Afghanistan. And it does not look promising. The Pentagon would like to leave a residual number of troops behind for training and “support” missions pending an as yet unspecified status-of-forces agreement being worked out with Kabul.
Though the United States ending its combat mission in Afghanistan has made a big splash in the news, there has already been an attrition on Western troop numbers. Dutch troops packed up and left Uruzgan Province in August 2010 when the Netherlands enfeebled coalition government collapsed over the issue. The Dutch ditched their Australian partners in the home province of Mullah Muhammed Omar which created a vacuum that had to be filled by American troops. The French, now deployed in Mali in what is perceived as being a more immediate to France’s national interests, entirely abandoned their combat mission in Kapisa Province in November 2012. The final French combat troops then departed Afghanistan altogether in December 2012. New Zealand plans on pulling out the majority of its troops from Bamiyan Province by April of this year.
In the understated words of noted Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai: “2014 and the Western withdrawal will not mean Pakistan’s problems are over.”
Los Angeles- On Friday evening (GMT), I appeared on BBC Arabic’s Newshour presented by Malak Jaafar to discuss reaction to that days Washington Post story entitled “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role” by Karen de Young and Greg Jaffe with Egyptian Brigadier General (retd.) Safwat al-Zayat. Thanks to my colleague Murad Batal al-Shishani for arranging this.
Los Angeles- The May issue of MLM is out. Worked hard on this one. Enjoy! If you’re not already enjoying, subscribe!
New York- On Friday evening, I launched the first issue of my new publication with the Jamestown Foundation called Militant Leadership Monitor. I have the free teaser article about the death of a Moro militant in Waziristan a few weeks ago. It’s a subscription-based site that we are doing for $150 a year for twelve issues ($300 for institutions). Our inaugural issue has profiles of Qais al-Khazali by Rafid Fadhil Ali, Dr. Khalil Ibrahim by Dr. Andrew McGregor, and Ilyas Kashmiri by Arif Jamal plus briefs by yours truly on the surrender of an Oromo Liberation Front leaders in Addis Ababa and the shoot up of Mullah Krekar’s flat in Oslo. I think we’re off to a good start…2010 is shaping up to be an interesting year.
Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn is reporting on the possible death of Baitullah Mehsud in Wednesday’s missile strike which is believed to have killed one of his wives. Mehsud’s demise would mean an uncertain fate for the future of the TTP in South Waziristan and it is not clear whether he would have a successor. Of course it has been rumoured that Mehsud has been dead before so we’ll have to wait and see on this one.
Here is the full text of the article: ”
ISLAMABAD: There is a strong likelihood that Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed along with his wife and bodyguards in a missile attack two days ago, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters.
‘We suspect he was killed in the missile strike,’ Malik said on Friday. ‘We have some information, but we don’t have material evidence to confirm it.’ Meanwhile, Director General ISPR Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas cautioned that the reports of Mehsud’s death are still unconfirmed. ‘We are receiving reports and probing,’ he said. ABC News cited a senior US official as saying there was a 95 per cent chance that Mehsud was among those killed in the missile strike. US officials have visual and other indicators it was Mehsud and Pakistanis are now trying to collect physical evidence to be certain, ABC reported. A US official also told Reuters that there was reason to believe Mehsud was dead. ‘There is reason to believe that reports of his death may be true, but it can’t be confirmed at this time,’ said the official, providing the information on condition of anonymity. The official would not comment on the circumstances surrounding Mehsud’s possible death.
A relative of Mehsud’s dead wife had initially said the Taliban leader wasn’t present when the missiles struck, but rumours that he had either been wounded or killed refused to die down. The stricken house is some two hours’ walk from Makeen, and Taliban fighters had cordoned off the area, refusing to let people enter, according to villagers. A senior Pakistani security official said that aside from Mehsud’s wife, one of Mehsud’s brothers and seven of his bodyguards perished in the attack. The official said intelligence services were trying to discover the identity of another victim, and there was a good chance it was Mehsud. Intelligence agents had also picked up signs that leaders of various Taliban factions planned to gather for a shura, or council meeting, somewhere in Waziristan later on Friday.—Reuters”
Yesterday another one of the Hashwani family’s hotels was demolished in a well-planned and executed suicide attack in Peshawar. The Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel chain is owned by perhaps Pakistan’s most prominent Ismaili family, the Hashwanis. Major cooperations in Pakistan, when not wholly owned subsidiaries of the Pakistani Army, are most often familial enterprises such as the Hashoo Group. The Hashwanis had been in talks with the U.S. government to sell it the PC Peshawar property to be used as its new consular offices in light of NWFP’s ever growing importance in U.S. foreign policy. There are rumors that they were or are considering getting out of the hospitality industry altogether. Last year’s Marriott bombing was devastating to the family’s investment portfolio though its patriarch Saddaruddin Hashwani issued a defiant statement to the press that he would rebuild the Islamabad Marriott and would not bow to terrorist intimidation.
While covering the Pakistani elections last year, I often worked out of the PC Lahore’s business centre and devoured some incredible international fare at the hotel’s restaurant after long days trudging up and down Mall Road looking for stories. Even if I could have afforded to stay there, I wouldn’t have because of its obviousness as a high-value target in the wave of jihadist violence that had already engulfed the country by mid-2007. Partly for my safety, I stayed at a low profile guest house down the road. It probably doesn’t help that the 5-star hotels in Pakistan are owned by a group of Ismailis, who are a branch of Shi’ism that holds the Aga Khan in highest esteem as living imam, when considering the militants takfiri ideology. The Sunni extremists that claim to adhere to takfirism believe that individuals may declare those who follow different strains of Islam apostates and can therefore justify acts of previously imaginable terror throughout South Asia and the Middle East. Takfirism is essential in creating a sense of the “Other” in the militant mind which is used to justify attacks against those praying in mosques and eating in hotel dining rooms. Undoubtedly, the reasoning behind the attack will be attributed to either the PC’s international clientele or its possible sale to the Americans. The Ismailis as a cultural subset are extraordinarily successful business people with Shah Karim al-Hussayni, the Aga Khan, chief among them. The Aga Khan and the Hashwanis represent immense wealth in a region wracked by poverty and illiteracy-related militancy.
When I was in the country last year, the Afghan Taleban targeted the telecom company Roshan’s mobile phone transmission towers in southern Afghanistan after having previously attacked the Serena hotel in Kabul. The Taleban issued a communique stating they wanted the towers shut down at night because they believed their movements could be tracked by coalition forces and the mobile signals were being used to target them. Ismaili business interests seemed to be under sustained assault. Now again, the Taleban’s attacks on the Roshan towers and the Serena were very likely of a purely strategic nature but the fact that the towers are owned by the Aga Khan (and his European consortium partners) doesn’t exactly help. A major segment of the Aga Khan’s charitable work is aiding remote Ismaili communities in Central and South Asia who the Taleban consider to be apostates similar to the Twelver Shi’i Hazara they attempted to annihilate in the 1990’s.
I had some of the same thoughts regarding Benazir Bhutto. Not only was she Shi’i, like her father Zufliqar and the country’s father Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but she came from the rich and resented zamindar feudal structure in Sindh province that is another post-colonial relict of British divide et impera strategy. As I’ve written previously regarding Sri Lanka, the Crown’s modus operandi was to favor ethnic and religious minorities over the unwashed masses in order to maintain control over the populace and extract their colonies natural wealth with as little disruption as possible. I’m sure the Pakistani Taleban didn’t need Benazir to be a land owning Twelver to declare her an apostate but I doubt her lineage and status helped her case. Benzair spent the last morning of her life meeting with Hamid Karzai at the Islamabad Serena (which a friend of mine photographed hours before her assassination).People across the region who depend on the Ismaili establishment for employment, sustenance and remittances have suffered enormously from the Taleban’s unforgiving insurgency and reconciliation cannot begin soon enough should the kinetic war-fighting cease anytime soon. Inshallah!
UPDATE: The death toll from the PC attack now stands at 17.
Link to the HuffingtonPost version.
I participated in a contentious debate on the BBC at the last minute today with Owen Bennett-Jones, author of Eye of the Storm, who was hosting a show from Islamabad. Initially, I didn’t realize I was on with a perennially controversial figure in Islamic politics in Pakistan Khalid Khawaja whom I met at his lawyer’s office in Rawalpindi last year. Pakistan is convulsing in the largest humanitarian crisis since the catastrophic Partition of British India in 1947.
The Pakistani army is waging a difficult battle against those it terms “Miscreants” which the Western media knows collectively as the Taleban. Meanwhile millions of civilians, much like those in Sri Lanka, are caught dangerously in the middle. If Islamabad treats its own citizens as badly as Colombo, there will be plenty of trouble ahead. The rifts within Pakistani society have become so deep that solutions, rather than traditional exchanges of blame and conspiracy theories, are desperately in order. The United States is attempting to partner with Asif Ali Zardari who many Pakistanis see as an integral part of the problem much the way Afghans now view Hamid Karzai. Siding with inept and inherently corrupt leadership further perpetuates insurgency in these two vital and very fragile state structures. Taleban ideologues proclaim foremost that theirs is a war against a fraudulent leadership and a vacant justice system marketed through a prism of rigid Islamic doctrine. The Taleban’s two-front war is not terribly differing from the massive Maoist insurrection being waged against the state in central India. Pakistan has yet to adopt a viable counterinsurgency strategy and huge parts of NWFP are being displaced as a result. Fighting a conventional war against furious Pashtun religious nationalists will fail unless Pashtunistan’s legitimate issues are addressed in the long term which, so far, Islamabad does not appear inclined to do.
Podcast link here…
I have a piece this week on the Huffington Post on where Pakistan was and where it is or could be going. Read it here…