Pakistan: 'Foreigners' Said Killed as Suspected US Drones Attack Seminary
SAP20081023027002 Karachi Dawn News in English 0900 GMT 23 Oct 08
Suspected American drones have fired two missiles on a religious seminary in North Waziristan which has killed 10 people. The missile strike targeted the Sirajul Uloom Madrassa set up by militant commander Jalaluddin Haqqani in Dandey Darpakhel area of Miram Shah. Security officials say the seminary was run by one of Haqqani's own commanders Mullah Mansur and was recently used as a guest house for local as well as foreign students. Sources say most of the dead are Ahmedzai Wazir tribesmen but locals say that foreigners were among the dead. Locals are still sifting through the rubble to find the remains of the dead. Meanwhile, a grand jirga from North Waziristan has complained to the Frontier [North-West Frontier Province] Governor Awais Ahmed Ghani about rise in drone attacks in the tribal belt and violation of Pakistani airspace. Mr Ghani has told the jirga that the government also condemns such missile attacks.
[Description of Source: Karachi Dawn News in English -- Pakistan's first 24-hour English language TV channel owned by the Dawn Group of Newspapers.]
Article on Attempted Afghan Government-Taliban Settlement, Stances of all Sides
GMP20081014825001 London Al-Hayah (Internet Version-WWW) in Arabic 14 Oct 08
[Article by Samir al-Sa'dawi: "Horizons of Afghan Settlement Between 'the engineer' and the Mullah, and 'Uncle Sam's Awakening'"]
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-e Eslami, has always liked to repeat that he did not go forward to shake hands with President Ronald Reagan when he received the leaders of the Afghan Mujahidin to celebrate the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from their country in the late eighties of the last century. This "rebellion" by Hekmatyar was not the result of his insistence on "hostility to imperialism," but also of his refusal to be one of a group of leaders to whom the defeat of the Red Army was attributed, because he wanted to be the leader in this field.
When the "engineer," as Hekmatyar likes his supporters to call him, saw the indications of a possible settlement between the Afghan Government and Taliban, he hastened to assert his presence in the equation by sponsoring an attack near Kabul in mid August 2008. The attack resulted in the killing of 10 French soldiers. Hekmatyar has never forgiven France its support for his opponent the late Ahmad Shah Massoud during the fighting between the 20 mujahidin groups over the Afghan capital in the early nineties of the last century.
Hekmatyar controls a strategic region at the Afghan-Pakistan borders that starts from Konar Province, where he and his supporters have secret safe shelters hundreds of miles away from the stronghold of the leader of Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, in his birthplace in Urozgan Province in the middle of Afghanistan. Despite the large distance between the two strongholds, their "two hearts" agree on hating the foreign occupation. This helps them to forget their mutual distaste that has not been erased by the changed circumstances since the mid nineties when Taliban toppled the Mujahidin Government in Afghanistan, which was headed by the "engineer."
In addition to Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar, there is a third leader that shares with them the mission of confronting the foreign occupation. He is Shaykh Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose two strongholds in Pakistan and Afghanistan were raided twice by US aircraft in September 2008 without achieving the US aim of liquidating him.
Haqqani holds the middle part of the Pakistan-Afghan borders, starting from his strongholds in the two provinces of Paktia and Paktika. Haqqani is the "engineer" of the relationship between Mullah Omar and the leader of the Al-Qa'ida Organization, Usama Bin Ladin. This is in addition to his involvement in the Pashtun structure in the tribal regions in western Pakistan, which is impregnable to the state. This made the leader of Taliban in the late nineties ask for appointing him a commander of the armed forces of the movement, despite the fact that organizationally he did not belong to the movement.
While some observers believe that Haqqani still is closer to Bin Ladin and his Deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, it is probable that Hekmatyar's relationship with Al-Qa'ida does not exceed "skirmishes" with its members when they move in the region next to his stronghold; this is because of the traditional lack of trust between the two sides, and the fact that the leader of the Hezb-e Eslami blames Bin Ladin for his support for Taliban in controlling the government in Kabul.
As for Mullah Omar, he is "balancing" two tendencies in his movement. One tendency supports the Al-Qa'ida extremists as "brethren in jihad," and another tendency opposes the Arab fighters. Even if the latter tendency accepted the pledge undertaken by Mullah Omar to "host" them, it considered that it was released from this pledge with the US attack that toppled the Taliban regime at the end of 2001. Within Taliban, this latter tendency is led by Taliban's former Foreign Minister Abdul Salam Ahmad Motawakil together with the former prominent diplomat, Abdul Salam Zaeef. Zaeef became extremely famous when he was the only Taliban window of information to the world through his daily press conferences when he was appointed as Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan at the time of the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Motawakil and Zaeef, who have been considered for a long time to be among the "intelligentsia" of the movement, have returned during the past two weeks to the line of confrontation in the light of the increasing talk about "negotiations" between Taliban and Kabul, with the consent and encouragement of the United States, in an attempt to reach a settlement to end the war in Afghanistan. This is reminiscent of contacts that were made with Motawakil after 11 July in order to reach a settlement with the Movement. The United States still insists on the condition it laid down at that time for normalization with Taliban, namely severing its relations with Al-Qa'ida, a fact that indicates the difficulty of achieving a breakthrough in the renewed attempt to establish negotiations. This is particularly true as Mullah Omar hastened last week to lay down a condition for reconciliation with the Afghan Government, namely the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan!
Uncle Sam cannot be naive to the extent of believing that Motawakil on his own is capable of "purging" the Afghan territories, especially the regions next to the Pakistani tribal Pashtunistan region, of Arab hardliners. However, Motawakil might be able to re-spread a message among the Pashtuns in the Afghan south to say that the coalition with Al-Qa'ida was, and still is bad for the Mawlawis, who are the followers of the intellectual school from which Taliban emerged in Afghanistan.
The aim of this message might be to clone the "Awakening" experiment, which started among the Sunnis in Iraq, and similar indications of it appeared recently in the eastern side of the Pashtun tribal belt in Pakistan. This cloning might extend to the creation of Awakening militias in some Afghan regions in the hope of surrounding the strongholds of extremism at the Pakistani-Afghan borders in a pincer movement, and hence easing the pressure on the coalition forces, and preventing the collapse of the regime of Afghan President Hamed Karzai as a result of the strikes by the hardliners.
Perhaps the fear of this "Awakening" is what motivated Tehran to express its opposition to the idea of a settlement with Taliban when US voices encouraging such a step flowed, and the latest of which was the voice of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Within this context, it is worth noting that Ala'eddin Borujerdi, chairman of the Iranian Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said: The western countries ought to support the Karzai Government rather than try to negotiate with Taliban.
[Description of Source: London Al-Hayah (Internet Version-WWW) in Arabic -- Influential Saudi-owned London daily providing independent coverage of Arab and international issues; commentaries occasionally critical of US policy. URL: http://www.alhayat.com/]
UK Dispatch Describes Pakistan's 'Hidden War' With Taliban, Al-Qa'ida
EUP20081023015014 London Independent Online in English 23 Oct 08
["Exclusive dispatch" by Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich: "Pakistan's Hidden War"]
War has come to the world's only Muslim nuclear state. Not just terrorist bombs, but pitched battles bringing refugees down from the mountains and even into Afghanistan. In a powerful dispatch, Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich report on the conflict which has left 200,000 people caught between the Pakistani Army, the Taliban and the tribal warlords
There was a loud, sharp sound followed by flames and massive blast of wind that threw the young boy twenty yards through the air. It felt as if he had fallen off the mountain.
When he pulled himself to his feet, dazed and battered, he discovered nine members of his family were dead and that his mother was badly wounded. All were victims of a deadly artillery shell fired by the Pakistani military battling with Taliban fighters in the country's mountainous border region. As soon as they were able, the boy's remaining family and the rest of his village fled.
That was two months ago. Now 12-year-old Ikram Ullah sits with thousands of others in a wretched, fly-ridden refugee camp close to the north-west city of Mardan, his face streaked with dirt and tears as he tells his story and wonders what will happen to him. The food is poor, there are few proper facilities and there is nothing to do. "Life here," he says, crouching in the dust among rows of canvas tents, "is filled with sadness and grief."
Ikram is not alone. Aid agencies estimate up to 200,000 desperate people have been forced to leave their villages as a result of the fighting. Scattered in camps across northern Pakistan, they offer a glimpse into a deadly conflict largely overlooked by the West but which has created chaos and misery for the region's civilian population. All the while, as the Pakistan Army bends to pressure from the US to do more to confront the Taliban militants building strongholds and extending their influence in the tribal areas, so the fall-out for the civilians gets worse. Every day their lives are threatened both by the pounding jets that sweep into the valleys on bombing runs and by the clattering helicopter gunships that the Pakistan military is using to spearhead its assaults. The people sitting in the dust are the so-called "collateral damage" of Pakistan's own war on terror.
But the danger goes far beyond that. The spread of the Taliban and the seemingly endless cycle of violence they have created threatens the very fabric of Pakistan, an unstable nuclear-armed state that at times appears on the very brink of unraveling. Were that to happen the consequences both for the country and the region would be unthinkable. The civilian administration elected earlier this year, pulled back and forth by the various pressures upon it and its stalled, stuttering approach to confronting the militants, at times looks ill-prepared to tackle this most pressing of problems.
Until now, the conflict - which can trace its roots to the 1970s and 1980s when the Pakistani military and US government funded and encouraged Islamic mujahideen fighters to wage guerilla war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan - has largely played out in remote tribal areas located along its north-western border. For those in the West it has been a conflict easy enough to ignore, should they choose. The tribal agencies have long been considered an area all but outside the control of the central government.
But that has started to change. In recent months, militants have escalated their attacks on targets linked to either the Pakistani military and police or the West in what they say is a direct response to the government's decision to bow to US pressure. The most stunning of these was the truck-bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September that more than 50 people dead, including half-a-dozen foreigners. There have also been attacks on the country's prime minister and the Anti-Terrorism Police's headquarters, while in August the Taliban claimed responsibility after two suicide bombers killed around 70 people at a munitions plant at Wah, 20 miles from the capital. A Taliban spokesman said afterwards: "Only innocent people die when the Pakistan army carries out airstrikes in Bajaur or Swat."
At the same time, areas outside of the tribal regions have seen the increasing influence of the Taliban. There was panic earlier this summer when it was claimed militants were threatening to lay siege to the strategically important city of Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province. (NWFP). In the province's Swat Valley, once a leading tourist attraction and considered the "Switzerland of Pakistan", the army has also stepped operations against militants. And last week shopkeepers in Lahore, long considered a bulwark against extremism, began publicly setting fire to DVDs of pornographic movies after receiving threats from militants.
* * *
The tribal areas are a world apart. Officially known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), they are squeezed in between Afghanistan and Pakistan's NWFP in a strip that runs north to south-west and contain some of the most mountainous and inhospitable terrain in the region. Large parts of these seven rugged agencies - North and South Waziristan, Kurram, Orakzai, Khyber, Mohmand and Bajaur - are also utterly lawless.
Peopled by Pashtun tribes famous both for their fierceness and code of traditional hospitality, the area has only ever nominally been in the control of the central government and has instead been governed by tribal leaders and their traditional jirgas, or community meetings.
The region's virtual autonomy dates to the creation of Pakistan. After the British left the subcontinent following Partition, the tribal areas technically became independent and it was up the tribal chiefs or maliks to agree whether or not to become part of Pakistan. As part of the deal that was agreed, the tribal chiefs managed to ensure they would retain the large degree of autonomy they had enjoyed under the British empire.
Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, it was through these tribal areas that dictator Zia ul-Haq - with funding from the US and Saudi Arabia - dispatched thousands of young fighters to join Afghan militias opposing the Red Army. Training camps were set up by the ISI intelligence agency along the border to prepare these fighters for battle. Praised by Ronald Reagan as "freedom fighters", these mujahideen, or holy warriors, were a crucial factor in the Soviet's decision a decade later to withdraw.
In 1994, following years of civil war in Afghanistan, the government of Benazir Bhutto, provided financial and military backing to a group of Afghan fighters based in the city of Kandahar and calling themselves "the students" or Taliban in their efforts to take control of the country. Bhutto argued that stability in Afghanistan and a government of its own sponsorship would help Pakistan. "I don't know how much money they were ultimately given," she later recalled. "I know it was a lot. It was just carte blanche." Two years later the Taliban seized Kabul and set in place an increasingly authoritarian rule that only ended when the US invaded following the 2001 Al-Qa'ida attacks on New York and Washington.
When the Taliban and Al-Qa'ida fighters they had given refuge to were forced from Afghanistan, it was into the tribal areas of Pakistan that many fled. Bin Ladin himself managed to slip away in late 2001 through the White Mountains after apparently having been surrounded by Afghan militia at Tora Bora. Ever since, he and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri have been linked to both the South Waziristan and Bajaur areas.
In these tribal areas, among fellow Pashtuns, the Taliban received warm welcome. As they were able to regroup and rebuild and to again take up battle against US and NATO forces inside Afghanistan. At the same time, their influence spread and increasing number of Pakistan Taliban were recruited to an anti-American jihad. A number of Pakistan Taliban leaders are now firmly established in the tribal areas.
It is these fighters that have been the focus of on-and-off operations by the military since Pakistan signed up to George Bush's war on terror. Both Pervez Musharraf and the recently elected civilian government have backed both negotiated settlements and military force to try and deal with the militants.
But in August, after constant pressure from Washington to do more to stop the flood of militants crossing into Afghanistan and attacking US and NATO troops, the Pakistan military launched a major operation in the Bajaur agency - home of the 12-year-old Ikram and his family. The effect has been devastating.
"When the fighter jets came into our valley four people were killed," says Abdul Rauf, a creased-faced 50-year-old refugee from a Bajaur village called Tauheedabada. "All the people were crying, we were frightened. After that we started to run away."
There are thousands of people like Rauf, thousands who have suffered tragedies like endured by Ikram. Aid agencies say a little under 200,000 people have been forced from their homes, but that is partly guesswork. "Since mid-August, we've seen an exodus of about 190,000 people from areas bordering Afghanistan. This includes Bajaur and Swat," said Vivian Tan of UNHCR. "The government tells us over 168,000 people are internally displaced in NWFP, while the Afghan authorities in Kunar province have reported about 20,000 people arriving since mid-August. We have no access to most of these border areas, so we're relying completely on government figures."
* * *
Pakistan's army is headquartered in the neat and well-tended cantonment district of Rawalpindi, the garrison city located near Islamabad. It from here that the fight against the militants is overseen and officers bristle at the suggestion that the military's efforts to root out the militants is only half-hearted.
On the wall of Lt Col Haider Baseer's office, beneath of photograph of Pakistan's founder, Mohammad ali-Jinnah, is pinned a photocopied map showing the location of some of the ongoing operations. A total of 120,000 troops are currently deployed. "We are operating in Swat, in Bajaur, in
Darra Adam Khel and North and South Waziristan," says the colonel, a military spokesman, whose office is located in a quadrangle containing sweet-smelling roses.
The colonel admits the military has been surprised by the resistance offered by the Taliban. A total of 1,400 soldiers and paramilitaries (from the Frontier Corps or FC) have been lost in operations since 2001. He says the Taliban is fighting a classic guerilla war and that both the terrain and the enemy is difficult. "Everybody has a gun," he says. "It's their culture."
The situation is made more difficult by the fact that this conflict pitches Muslim against Muslim and often - in the case of the FC - Pashtun against Pashtun. There have been reports of desertion and surrender. One military officer who has been based in Swat and Waziristan admitted this was, at least initially, a problem for many troops. "At the beginning, before we were inducted into this war, it was troubling. We asked ourselves, how are we going to fight against fellow Muslims? In the Pakistan army we were motivated to fight against India and if we die, we were told we become martyrs who go to heaven," he says. "Now I am convinced that I am fighting this war for my country and my religion. When I arrived in the tribal areas, I saw how the militants, the terrorists were working against the country and the religion. Now we see all the criminal elements getting into their fold. They do not represent Islam in any way."
What has certainly complicated matters in recent months is the involvement of US forces in the battle against militants. For a long time, the US has been using unmanned drones flown out of Afghanistan to attack suspected militant hideouts. Sometimes they claim to kill Al-Qa'ida members, often they kill civilians. In June, a US airstrike killed 11 members of the FC.
Such unauthorized air strikes have steadily fuelled popular sentiment against the US. But the situation was brought to boiling point in early September 3 when it was revealed US special forces had entered Pakistan and attacked the village of Jalal Khel in the Angoor Adda area of South Waziristan. Up to 20 people were killed, including women and children. The incident triggered angry protests from both villagers and Pakistan's political and military leaders. There were also a series of incidents of Pakistani and US troops exchanging fire along the border. "Obviously this is difficult. No-one wants to see foreign soldiers entering the country," says Col Baseer. "We have asked the US to stop the border incursions."
Yet the most serious allegation concerning Pakistan's seemingly lacklustre effort to confront the militants is that parts of the military establishment do not wish to. In particular, the shadowy ISI intelligence agency (whose director was recently changed) has been accused of maintaining operational links with the Taliban, the organisation it helped create three decades ago. Such allegations are nothing new; in 2002, for example, critics seized on a decision by Musharraf to arrest up to 2,000 militants in a purported crackdown only to release them all a few weeks later.
But this summer the CIA's deputy director, Stephen Kappes, travelled to Islamabad and presented what is said was evidence that mid-level ISI officials were involved in a suicide bomb plot hatched by a veteran Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani that targeted the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing 54 people. Haqqani had previously been described by an ISI official as an "asset".
Remarkably, members of Pakistan's government agree with the US assessment that such links remain. One recent afternoon in Islamabad, seated on the kind of overstuffed sofa so commonly found in South Asian sitting rooms, one minister said Pakistan had always considered Afghanistan its "fifth province". Such a view had created the problems the country was now facing. "The Taliban was created by the Pakistanis and the CIA. All the problems were created here. Who do you think created these people?" said the minister, who asked not to be identified. "That is why they are not prepared to take them on. They consider them their assets."
Even military officers who reject such claims admit that the US and Pakistan have different priorities when it comes to confronting the militants. This could explain why US military operations inside Pakistan using unmanned drones have largely targeted militants blamed for attacks inside Afghanistan, such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, his son, Serajuddin, and members of their network including brothers Daud Jan and Abdur Rehman. This network has been blamed by Washington being largely responsible for a 40 per cent increase in attacks in eastern Afghanistan this year.
The Pakistan military, meanwhile, has focused its efforts on militants believed responsible for attacks inside Pakistan such as Baitullah Mehsud, who operates out of South Waziristan and who was blamed for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last December, Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban leader in the Swat Valley and Faqir Mohammed, a Taliban leader in Bajaur.
"The priorities are mismatching," concedes the military's chief spokesman, Maj Gen Athar Abbas. "We cannot risk opening up another front while we don't have the resources." And while Maj Gen Abbas strenuously denies the charge of supporting the re-energised Taliban, he admits too, that indirect links are maintained. "Which agency in the world would break its last contact with them?"
* * *
One morning in mid-August, the day crisp and clean, up to 4,000 Pashtuns from the town of Salarzai in the Bajaur agency gathered to talk. Some had come from up to 10 miles away to attend the meeting, arriving in pick-ups and trucks. The younger men were dressed in Salwar Kameez and vests, while some of the older tribesman wore rough woollen clothes. Many were wearing traditional Chitrali turbans, worn only for special occasions. Almost everyone was armed with many carrying Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-launchers - "a gift from the Soviet jihad".