Taleban Government Appoints Two New Ministers

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Al-Qaeda's vision of global jihad doesn't resonate in the rugged highlands and windswept deserts of southern Afghanistan. Instead, the major concern throughout much of the country is intensely local: personal safety.
In a world of endless war, with a predatory government, roving bandits, and Hellfire missiles, support goes to those who can bring security. In recent months, one of the most dangerous activities in Afghanistan has also been one of its most celebratory: the large, festive wedding parties that Afghans love so much. US forces bombed such a party in July, killing 47. Then, in November, warplanes hit another wedding party, killing around 40. A couple of weeks later they hit an engagement party, killing three.
"We are starting to think that we shouldn't go out in large numbers or have public weddings," Abdullah Wali told me. Wali lives in a district of Ghazni Province where the insurgents have outlawed music and dance at such wedding parties. It's an austere life, but that doesn't stop Wali from wanting them back in power. Bland weddings, it seems, are better than no weddings at all.
Anand Gopal writes frequently about Afghanistan, Pakistan and the "war on terror". He is a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor based in Afghanistan. For more of his information and dispatches from the region, visit his website. This piece appears in print in the latest issue of the Nation Magazine.

[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English - - Hong Kong-based online newspaper with a Bangkok branch office focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe. Successor of the Hong Kong/Bangkok based print daily Asia Times that closed in 1997, it claims an average of 100,000 daily site visitors as of Feb 2006, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region. URL: http://www.atimes.com]

Pakistan: Former ISI Chief Refutes US Charges Against Him, Terms Them as Lies
SAP20081208102004 Islamabad The News Online in English 08 Dec 08
[Report by Ansar Abbasi: "Hameed Gul tears up US charge-sheet"]
[Text disseminated as received without OSC editorial intervention]
ISLAMABAD: Lt-Gen (retd) Hameed Gul finds the US chargesheet against him as a mere pack of lies and has argued that it is both fallacious and inaccurate, deviously designed to squelch his voice and to malign the ISI which he headed some 20 years ago. In a rejoinder to the chargesheet that The News reported on Sunday while quoting a secret US document recently handed over to the Government of Pakistan, the former ISI chief said the charge-sheet was devoid of substance and was based entirely on conjunctures and generalities. "It is so blatantly erroneous that even my address and passport numbers are incorrect," commented Gul, who is a known Islamist and never shied from his anti-American stance.
Willing to defend himself before any independent commission or body, he strongly refuted the allegations that accuse him of sponsoring and supporting al- Qaeda, Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and that he had been recruiting and training young men from Madrassas from Pakistan to fight against the foreign forces in Afghanistan. He said he was an ardent friend of Afghanistan. "I adore the nation for their phenomenal courage, ferocious independence and a glorious history of resistance to aggression," he said. "Many leaders of the ruling alliance in Kabul are my close friends. I have always strived to forge unity among them.
The Afghan leadership across the internecine divide knows my position and respects me for it." True to his reputation of being outspoken critic of the US, Gul said he considered American and Nato forces as aggressors, who were in pursuit of a vicious agenda for the region, especially Pakistan, and believes that the Afghan national resistance was fully justified.
It is strictly a moral and academic position which, he said, will continue to hold till the aggression is ended. Hameed Gul said he had never provided any material or financial support to the resistance nor did have the wherewithal to do so.
Referring to another charge, he said, he had never met or communicated with Baitullah Mehsud or any other leaders of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). "This piece of disinformation is mischief to tarnish my image with the ISI and the armed forces, who are engaged in fighting the TTP in Fata." He, however, explained that on this issue he and his colleagues of the Ex-Servicemen Society were unanimous that this was not our war and we should settle our internal disputes by dialogue.
Referring to the US charge that talks of his connection with Sirajuddin Haqqani, he said: "I have never seen or met Sirajuddin Haqqani. But I knew his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was one of the eminent Mujahideen leaders during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and still regard him as a great freedom fighter." Responding to another charge, he said there was absolutely no truth of his involvement in "spotting, assessing and recruiting young men from various Pakistani Madrassas" to fight the occupation forces in Afghanistan. The former ISI chief said he had no knowledge of the training camps nor did he have the time and means to indulge in such activities. He said scores of people, including national and international media, visited him every day who would vouch for his aboveboard conduct.
"I am like an open book and intend to remain so," he said, adding any agency, public or private, could look into his activities in any manner of their choosing. "I will be more than willing to cooperate," said the retired general, who has the knack of dealing with the Western and US anti- Pakistan and anti-Muslim propagandists in a befitting manner. Gul admitted that he was a patron of Ummah Tamir-e-Nau (UTN), an NGO created by some Pakistani businessmen to help revive the war-ravaged industry in Afghanistan. He said it was a noble cause and, therefore, he lent his name to it merely to promote goodwill among the Afghan people. After 9/11, the organisation was abolished and he had nothing to do with it thereafter. Immediately after 9/11, he said he was quizzed about his connection with the UTN by a general of the ISI.
He disclosed that he answered all the queries and, what he thought, to the Americans' satisfaction. He categorically said he had no direct knowledge about the relocation of al-Qaeda members from Iraq to Afghanistan but he did give his assessment of its possibility to the national and the international media. "I have no contact with al-Qaeda. However, I did meet Osama bin Laden in Dec 1993 and again in Nov 1994 when I went to Khartoum to attend the International People's Conferences called by Dr Hassan Turabi. Both these meetings were at the banquets and in full public view. I have already told the whole world about it several times."
He said the report in question was a pack of lies which had become the hallmark of the Bush administration and was not worthy of serious attention. Yet, he said, he would be prepared to present himself for examination before any international commission set up inside Pakistan provided it was not under the US tutelage.
"Finally, I leave it to the people of Pakistan to judge me in the light of my previous record and character. I wish my government would do its duty to protect innocent citizens and institutions against malicious assaults from the dark impulse in the US policy towards Pakistan. If ever there was a need to show resolve for the national honour, dignity and security, it is now," he concluded.

[Description of Source: Islamabad The News Online in English -- Website of the widely read, influential English daily, member of the Jang publishing group. Neutral editorial policy, good coverage of domestic and international issues. Hardcopy circulation estimated at 55,000; URL: http://www.thenews.com.pk]

Asia Times: On the Militant Trail, Part 1: 'A Battle Before a Battle'
CPP20090129715018 Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English 0108 GMT 29 Jan 09
[By Syed Saleem Shahzad: "On the Militant Trail, Part 1: 'A Battle Before a Battle' "; headline as provided by source]
Peshawar - the High Fort - is the capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the administrative center for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. It was one of the main trading centers on the ancient Silk Road and was a major crossroads for various cultures between South and Central Asia and the Middle East.
Located on the edge of the Khyber Pass near the Afghan border, Peshawar, with a population of several million, is the commercial, economic, political and cultural capital of the Pashtuns in Pakistan.
Peshawar and its surrounds are also now the epicenter for the Taliban and other militants in their struggle not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan but also in their bid to establish a base from which to wage an "end-of-time battle" that would stretch all the way to the Arab heartlands of Damascus and Palestine.
In a series of articles exploring the region that will examine the differing natures and strategies of various Taliban groups, Syed Saleem Shahzad begins his journey in Peshawar.
Restive North-West Frontier Province is not the destination of choice these days. Those who travel there go for business or family reasons, and the flight I took from the southern port city of Karachi to Peshawar was half empty; clearly, the region is no longer on the tourist map.
After touring the city for an afternoon and speaking to a variety of people, I was struck by its eerie similarity to Baghdad when I visited that capital soon after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 - it has the distinct atmosphere of impending chaos.
That evening I chatted with a senior al-Qaeda member who told me that the group considered NWFP and southwestern Balochistan province as already wiped off the map of Pakistani as they were now militant country. Although not entirely accurate, it portends a chilling turn in the "war on terror" in which Washington will be more concerned over the stability and security of Pakistan rather than that of Afghanistan.
The indications are that a major battle will be fought in Pakistan before the annual spring offensive even begins in Afghanistan this year.
Last December, the US Defense Department pushed for Pakistan to be given US$2.64 billion to buy better weapons and to provide more training for its police and Frontier Corps, which are at the vanguard of the battle against militants in the tribal regions.

The new administration of US President Barack Obama has appointed veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, a newly created position, so that he and Hillary Clinton - in her role as secretary of state - can work closely to try to get Kabul and Islamabad to join forces in the fight against the resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda militant groups, especially those located in Pakistan.

A deceptive calm
On the surface, life appears normal in Peshawar. Shops, public offices, banks and schools are all open, but they disguise disturbing events that are happening with increased regularity.
Heavily armed militants have begun attacking container terminals for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply trucks on their way to Afghanistan, destroying dozens of them, and there have been a series of high-profile abductions, including those of Afghan and Iranian diplomats.
Pushto stage and drama artist Alamzeb Mujahid was seized from Peshawar's Hayatabad area this month, while the beheaded body of a faith healer was found last week with a warning note attached saying that those involved in the business of faith-healing would meet the same fate.
According to militant sources, five dozen people have been abducted in the past 30 days, including Shi'ites and ex-army men and their relatives. Some were released after a ransom was paid, a few were killed and the remainder are still being held hostage by the militants.
Most of these incidents have involved militants claiming to be Taliban. However, criminal gangs have also jumped onto the ban dwagon to abduct traders for ransom. Different traders' organizations have grouped together to display black banners in the city urging the government to stem the abduction of traders.
In the face of this, security arrangements in Peshawar are extraordinarily tight. In the upscale neighborhood of University Road, which houses several international non-government organizations, United Nations offices, residences and the American Club, every nook and cranny is manned by either the police or by intelligence sleuths in civilian dress.
This has created an atmosphere of fear among people, who believe that a major showdown between militants and the security forces is imminent.
The situation was a blessing in disguise for me as I easily found a very comfortable, well-equipped room at a 20-room guest house with high-speed wireless Internet at a much cheaper price than I paid on my previous visit last year. When I checked in, I was the only guest.
Later, I spoke to Mehmood Afridi, the editor and owner of the English daily the Frontier Post. "I chose to set up my office in a bungalow because at least I can watch over the threat compared to any office in a building downtown, but still I have to spend a huge amount on armed guards."
It took almost one-and-a-half years for the US and NATO to realize the real dangers of the lawlessness in Pakistan. In 2007, Western decision-makers watched the instability in Pakistan with a smile.
Militant ideologues based in the tribal areas, such as Tahir Yuldashev, chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Shiekh Essa, were emphasizing their aim to topple the then-government of president General Pervez Musharraf before taking on NATO in Afghanistan.
A tide of insurgency swept from Afghanistan into Pakistan, but Western leaders were not too concerned as they thought this would make it easier for them in Afghanistan and that the militants would be defeated in Pakistan.
This did not prove to be the case in regard to both countries. The insurgency in Afghanistan had its most successful year in 2008, and militants have grown in strength in Pakistan. In February 2008, suicide attacks in Pakistan outnumbered Iraqi suicide attacks and strong enclaves of militants have been established in Pakistan where they never before existed.
For instance, in the strategic Khyber Agency, through which 80% of NATO's supplies pass on the way to landlocked Afghanistan, militants have gained a foothold. In Mohmand and in Bajaur tribal agencies, which cover the whole of a strategic corridor into Afghanistan which goes all the way to the capital Kabul through Kunar, Nooristan and Kapisa provinces, militants have established a presence.
An insurgency in the hitherto peaceful Swat Valley prompted Pakistan to carry out military operations, but this only turned the whole valley into hostile territory for the Pakistan army and a new nursery for the Afghan resistance.
Never before had so many well-trained and battle-hardened militants swarmed from the Swat Valley, Bajaur and Mohmand into Afghanistan, and they are preparing to do so again this year. NATO has had to seek an alternative and much more expensive supply routes through Central Asia.
As a result, the US, where strategic journals and think-thanks had been selling the idea of Pakistan's disintegration up to 2007, and promoted the concept of a united Pashtun land, is now completely geared to take all measures to protect the unity of Pakistan.
It is now believed that if Pakistan goes down, it will take its neighbors with it, with ramifications all the way to Europe and America.
Apart from a few divisive incidents, such as the Pakistan-linked terror attack on Mumbai in India last November, this realization is keeping all players, including Pakistan, the US, Britain and even India at closer levels of coordination. However, this has happened late in the game, perhaps too late.
The rise and rise of militancy
Following the ousting of the Taliban from Afghanistan by US-led forces in late 2001, militancy in the region only began to grow at a phenomenal pace over the past few years.
In 2005, a major regrouping of the Taliban began, leading the next year to meetings in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area and an agreement to fight against NATO under the command of Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani.
In April 2006, the militants verbally agreed on a ceasefire with Pakistan and then signed a formal document in September the same year. In early 2007, they broke the ceasefire, but at the same time faced a serious leadership crisis.
However, the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in July 2007 in which the radical mosque in Islamabad was stormed by security forces helped the Pakistani Taliban to regroup under the umbrella of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Taliban. The organization initially went through many difficulties due to differences over leadership, but ultimately they agreed on Baitullah Mehsud as head.
In December 2007, former premier Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden installed an amir-e-khuruj (leader for revolt) in Pakistan, and since then the militancy has gone from strength to strength.
Against this backdrop, three significant and interlinked developments occurred:
Pakistan lost a significant amount of territory in NWFP to militants.
Al-Qaeda and Pakistani militants devised a scheme in late 2008 to cut off NATO's supply lines passing through Pakistan. The move has been highly successful.
The Taliban are gaining ground in Afghanistan. According to an influential British think-tank, the Senlis Council - now renamed the International Council on Security and Development - in 2007, 54% of Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban. In 2008, the same think-tank said that 72% was controlled by the Taliban.
In the past few months, the US has stepped up Predator drone attacks on specific targets inside Pakistan. While these have aided the militant cause in that at times civilians have been killed, several key militant leaders have also died.
A meeting with al-Qaeda
I received a call on my cell phone from a number I did not recognize, but the voice was familiar.
"It is not possible to visit you at your guest house. You have to move away from the area," the man said, and then mentioned a famous landmark in the city where I had met the same person last year. I will call him Mohammad.
I was delayed leaving the guest house and had to walk about 20 minutes to the meeting place. As I approached, Mohammad crossed the road and joined me. I followed him until we reached a waiting motorbike and rider at a crowded bus stop.
Mohammad sat behind the driver and I squeezed on behind him. We must have been a sight. The front two had very long beards and robes, looking like prayer leaders, while I was wearing modern trousers and a coat. We drove for 10 minutes before reaching a big park.
"You almost put us in serious difficulties," Mohammad chided me as soon as we got off the motorbike.
"How?" I asked, surprised.
"There is an extraordinary high alert in and around the University Road area. In the past month, dozens of our fellows have been arrested in the area. Of course, we keep an eye on our targets, which are in abundance in this part of Peshawar, and intelligence and police keep an eye on us. I was waiting for you for about 40 minutes, it is just not advisable for us to stay around for so long," Mohammad explained.
"After losing ground all over, the security forces are preparing for decisive action against us. Everybody is at risk, we, our families ... I change my cell numbers on an almost daily basis, so next time you will not be able to trace me. I have changed my residence twice in the past two months and my residence is not known to anybody. At this moment, the security forces are calling the shots [in the city], but soon we will retaliate."
I questioned Mohammad on a reported split among militants which has caused Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah to remain quiet. Abdul Wali, alias Omar Khalid, Moulvi Faqir and others who were previously with Baitullah, who is ill, have now parted with him. The drone attacks have wiped out sizeable numbers of al-Qaeda members, although the word is the Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are alive.
"The news of a split is true, but it will never benefit the government," said Mohammad. "All it has done is weaken Baitullah's command. Believe you me, it will further sharpen the armed opposition against the government. The militant groups will carry out attacks with multiple strategies. Abdul Wali is still fighting against the government." (Abdul Wali had earlier been reported killed in Mohmand Agency in a military strike.)
"Al-Qaeda members have melted into various like-minded groups. Recently, Qari Ziaur Rahman led a group comprising 600, mostly Afghans and al-Qaeda members, to ransack a Pakistani security post in Mohmand Agency," Mohammad said.
"Tomorrow, when you travel to the Swat Valley, you will find that except for a few towns like Mardan, Sawabi and Charsada, all the towns are now under the Taliban. In places like Mengora and Swat, the security forces are not the ones who enforce the curfew, but the Taliban. The Taliban move freely on the streets and the security forces hide inside their sanctuaries," Mohammad said.
The Taliban's and al-Qaeda's influence is indeed multi-faceted, like their groupings. There are places like Swat and the tribal areas where the Taliban's control is a fact of life and they operate in broad daylight. In other places like Peshawar they are present, but this can only be felt, not seen.
Malakand Agency was on my itinerary, and I had been told that here there is not a single Taliban on the ground, but through fear they impose their writ.
NEXT: Faceless rule
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English - - Hong Kong-based online newspaper with a Bangkok branch office focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe. Successor of the Hong Kong/Bangkok based print daily Asia Times that closed in 1997, it claims an average of 100,000 daily site visitors as of Feb 2006, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region. URL: http://www.atimes.com]

Security beefed up in Afghan capital after violent attacks

SAP20090212950036 Peshawar Afghan Islamic Press in English 1145 GMT 12 Feb 09

Security beefed up in Afghan capital after violent attacks

Text of report in English by private Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency
Kabul, 12 February: Stringent security arrangements have been adopted in capital Kabul after yesterday's (11 February) bloody suicide and gun attacks on government buildings by Taleban.
Security forces have been strictly monitoring all the roads leading to Kabul City and police and security personnel searching vehicles and people.
"Security forces have taken strict arrangements today (12 February) and closed several roads and square after yesterday's attacks. Security personnel have started detailed search," a worker of an international organization in Kabul told Afghan Islamic Press.
He said, "Due closure of roads and search passed three km of distance in one hour which mostly require a few minutes."
Yesterday's suicide attacks and armed clashes left at least 25 people dead and dozens wounded.
Afghan Interior Minister Muhammad Hanif Atmar told a press conference in Kabul after the incidents that security would be tightened in Kabul so opponents' attacks can be stopped.
Sources told Afghan Islamic Press that personnel of National Security detained 21 suspected people and there were in search of more people of the network which has been unearthed along weapons and some document.
The Kabul raids and today's security arrangements come at a time when US President's special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan will arrive in Kabul from Islamabad today to hold talks on the current situation in Afghanistan.
About Taleban attacks in Kabul, a political analyst Ahmad Saidi said Taleban proved with yesterday's attacks that have the ability to carry out heavy attacks near Presidential Place.
He said Taleban wanted to create Mumbai attacks like situation and make heads of justice ministry and prison department but security very quickly overpowered them.
Taleban had claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened to repeat such attacks.
Though nothing has been said about the organizers of the attackers but the network of Mawlawi Jalaloddin Haqqani had been held responsible for such attacks on Serena Hotel and Mojahedin victory day ceremony last year.
It was the third time that Taleban conduct such attack despite strict security in Kabul.

[Description of Source: Peshawar Afghan Islamic Press in English -- Peshawar-based agency, staffed by Afghans. The agency used to have good contacts with Taliban leadership; however, since the fall of the Taliban regime, it now describes itself as independent and self-financing]

Recent Taleban attacks will influence decisions by USA, says Afghan paper
IAP20090215950111 Kabul Weesa in Dari 15 Feb 09

Recent Taleban attacks will influence decisions by USA, says Afghan paper

Excerpt from article, "Richard Holbrooke's visit after deadly attacks in Kabul" by pro-government Afghan newspaper Weesa on 15 February
The US embassy in Kabul has announced that Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has arrived in Kabul following a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Kabul. The attacks have demonstrated that the security situation is getting worse in the capital and other parts of Afghanistan.
The New York Times writes that Holbrooke's visit came at a time when the security forces were on full alert in Kabul city. This alert was not because of Holbrooke's visit, but because of a claim by a Taleban spokesman that eight other suicide bombers have entered Kabul and were waiting for an opportunity to carry out an operation.
[Passage omitted: known details]
No doubt the Taleban attacks are affecting negotiations by officials of the new US government focusing on the fighters' ability. The fighters control vast areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border and can attack the capital.
Wednesday's attacks [11 February] show the degree of the Taleban's relations with insurgents operating in tribal areas of Pakistan.
Holbrooke visited these areas escorted by Pakistani military personnel.
A senior official in Washington said that an initial investigation had shown that Wednesday's attacks [in Kabul city] were possibly masterminded and supported by the Jalaloddin Haqqani network based in Pakistan.
According to the US official, the Haqqani group had a hand in the terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul last summer and the group could have links with Pakistan's ISI and be cooperating with it.
Wednesday's attacks were the most severe since the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul last summer. They also remind people of the fears stemming from the attacks in Mumbai last November, the economic heart of India. Indian and US security officials discovered that a Pakistani insurgent group was behind the attacks in Mumbai.
The series of coordinated attacks brought disorder for a long time in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, where four million people are living. The highways leading to Kabul have been blocked and police officers have tried to reinforce security checkpoints. Even for hours after the attacks there was a fear of other similar attacks in Kabul. Most streets in Kabul city were empty and citizens were frightened to walk the streets.
The latest suicide operation has seriously frustrated Afghan officials. Talking about the attacks, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said: "The enemy is still able to transfer such huge quantities of arms and explosives to Kabul city and it can infiltrate government offices."
Atmar promised that he would soon adopt new and serious security measures. He said the public may not like them, but they are necessary.

[Description of Source: Kabul Weesa in Dari Pro-government daily launched in early 2006; supports reconciliation with the Taliban and Hekmatyar's groups.]

Asia Times: 'Militants Give Bloody Show of Strength in Pakistan'
CPP20090331715025 Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English 1030 GMT 30 Mar 09
[By Syed Saleem Shahzad: "Militants Give Bloody Show of Strength"; headline as provided by source]
KARACHI - Up to 20 suspected al-Qaeda-led militants, wearing police uniforms, stormed a police training camp in the eastern city of Lahore on Monday morning, killing at least 70 men and injuring scores more. The heavily armed gunmen then took hundreds of cadets hostage, who were still being held after more than six hours.
Militants sources confirmed to Asia Times Online that the raid was the first major operation of the new nexus comprising al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and Punjabi militants. They are angered by the agreement between Pakistan and the United States to hunt for top al-Qaeda and Taliban figures, as well as Pakistani militants, inside Pakistan.
The attack perfectly underscores the words of United States President Barack Obama, who on Friday, in outlining a new strategy for Afghanistan, stressed that containing militancy in Pakistan would be a focal point in the implementation of the initiative.
Reacting to Monday's attack, unlike with previous incidents in which foreign agencies were blamed, Pakistani defense analysts admitted that home-grown militants trained in the Afghan jihad were responsible.
Much of Obama's new strategy for "increasingly perilous" Afghanistan focuses on Pakistan, which will have US economic aid tripled to US$1.5 billion annually. But while Pakistan is seen as the key to eliminating the leadership of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamabad has been warned that the offer of aid is not unconditional. After years of mixed results, the US is no longer prepared to offer a "blank check".
In his speech outlining the new strategy - which will see an extra 4,000 US troops deployed to train the Afghan army - Obama declared the opening of a new front (Pakistan) in the post-September 11, 2001, US-led war in Afghanistan.
Top-level Pakistani intelligence quarters confirmed to Asia Times Online that this was agreed on during the recent visit to Washington by Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani and also when the US Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) director Leon Panetta's visited Islamabad. At these meetings, all possible targets were discussed, with specifications and a modus operandi finalized.
It is in reaction to this agreement that Monday's attack in Lahore took place, illustrating in blood how difficult it will be to contain the problem of militancy. This has a direct bearing on Afghanistan as militants use Pakistan as a base for operations across the border.
In Washington, the most important aspect of the new strategy is to contain the Taliban's central command, which operates on both sides of the border. All other steps, including the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to bring the US force to 65,000, are peripheral.
The rationale of the strategy is based on the fact that following the US invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the Taliban's command structure was destroyed. Despite having several hundred thousand fighters, the Taliban rank and file were rendered ineffective, apart from sporadic attacks in Gardez province in April 2002 and at a few other places.
The insurgency, which lacked resources and leadership, was thus not a serious threat for the coalition troops in Afghanistan until towards the end of 2003. US intelligence also managed to woo several top leaders of the former Taliban regime. These included commander Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi, former foreign minister Abdul Wakeel Mutawakil and former deputy interior minister and a commander, Abdul Razzaq, who later returned to the Taliban.
It was estimated that after the parliamentary elections of 2005, Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his close colleagues and al-Qaeda would be alienated and Washington would be able to strike deals with the "moderate" Taliban who had gained representation in parliament against Mullah Omar's orders. With a pro-Western government in place, a time frame could then be set for the US's exit.
However, several events took place which the US blamed on Pakistan - and even pre sented Islamabad evidence to this effect. These derailed the American plans.
On the fateful evening of April 19, 2003, the Hezb-e-Islami (HIA) leadership congregated in Shamshatoo camp in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan. The HIA is an Islamic organization with its roots in the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s.
The chief of the then-military wing of the HIA, Khalid Farooqui, now a member of parliament in Afghanistan, announced that a jihad would be waged against foreign troops in Afghanistan. The CIA presented photographs of the meeting to Pakistani authorities and complained that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence had facilitated the whole show. One picture showed HIA leader Qutubuddin Hilal at the meeting. According to Pakistan, he was under house arrest at his Peshawar residence.
Proof was also presented of the opening of HIA offices in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi and in Quetta, the capital of Balochinstan province. These were to recruit Afghan youths from the refugee camps to fight in Afghanistan.
However, the biggest American complaint was about the base of legendary Afghan mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, in Dande Darpa Khail in the North Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan. The Americans rightly felt that one day his camp would play a decisive role in the Taliban-led insurgency. They were dead right. In 2006, Mullah Omar appointed Haqqani his deputy and central military commander and the wily fighter was pivotal in helping the Taliban regroup, culminating in their successful spring offensive in 2006.
The Obama administration now wants to revisit the days when the Taliban were effectively without a clear leadership. The additional troops aim to clear the Taliban's sanctuaries in Logar and Wardak provinces around Kabul. But the real goal is to shoot down the Taliban's command and control structures, which would, as before, force the Taliban fighters to melt into the population.
Washington apparently believes this campaign will take a few years, but that signs of success could emerge from this year if the plan is strictly implemented. This is where Pakistan comes in, and Obama's concern that the country get fully behind the US. During his meetings with US officials, Kiani was briefed that intelligence-sharing needed to be of the highest level, including on all suspects, whether Afghans or Pakistanis. At the top of the list are anti-Pakistan tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud, Sirajuddin Haqqani - Jalaluddin's son, Mullah Omar and other senior Taliban figures, such as Mullah Bradar, Mullah Abdul Razzaq and Mullah Hasan Rahmani.
Last week, a CIA Predator drone attacked Makeen, the native town and headquarters of Mehsud in North Waziristan. Subsequently, the US placed a US$5 million ransom on his head - the first time it has done this for a Pakistani national. This happened even though Mehsud renounced violence against the Pakistani security forces after the Swat peace agreement this month. He instead will focus on foreign forces in Afghanistan. The attack on Mehsud's headquarters broke the ceasefire and a new wave of suicide attacks on the security forces has played havoc in North-West Frontier Province in the past few days.
Monday's assault on the police training camp extends the battlefield into urban areas.
On the trail of Mullah Omar
Apart from top al-Qaeda leaders, the big fish remain Mullah Omar, the biggest Taliban commander in southwestern Afghanistan, Mullah Bradar, and other Taliban leaders of the Kandahar clan. This clan hails from the region stretching from the Pakistani province of Balochistan to the Afghan provinces of Helmand, Orzgan, Kandahar and Zabul.
Their termination would likely mean the end of the Taliban movement and the beginning of an era in which Washington believes that a Western-friendly Afghan government with deep roots in the southern Afghan Pashtun tribes would emerge.
Intelligence-sharing between Pakistan and the US has res ulted in the areas of Noshki, Loralai, Zhob and Pashin in Afghanistan being identified as places where the Taliban's command council meets. The precise nature of the Intelligence-sharing is not known, but it could be similar to what Pakistan has applied in the tribal areas.
Militant sources have told Asia Times Online of the case of Asmatullah Wazir, who was an assistant political agent in North Waziristan, that is, Islamabad's man. He was abducted by the Taliban from the town of Mir Ali last December and grilled on the state's spying network in the tribal area.
Asmatullah gave 50 names of people who were receiving money on the instructions of military quarters from Islamabad. According to the militants, Asmatullah maintained that this proxy network in North Waziristan informed Pakistan about any specific al-Qaeda person, and that information was shared with the CIA. Drones would then be launched into action. In this case, the Taliban killed all of the informers, mostly Afghans, and Asmatullah was released in January.
In a similar manner, Pakistan is likely to try to infiltrate the tribal areas in Balochistan province, where a new hunt for militants is to be launched.
But nagging doubts remain over Pakistan's commitment to this plan, despite Obama's specific caution that any aid the country receives will be based on performance. Should the Taliban be successfully "decapitated", beyond the US, it would mean a victory for countries such as India, Iran and Russia, with Pakistan being sidelined in its own strategic back yard.
A recent incident underscores the US's concerns. With Pakistan's assistance, a drone attack helped eliminate several top Arab al-Qaeda militants, but when it came to cooperation on some Taliban leaders, the Pakistanis were found wanting.
On the CIA's insistence, Pakistan shared intelligence on Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin and drones were deployed in Dande Darpa Khail, with repeated attacks in a single day. Several women and children of the Haqqani family were killed. But the CIA later complained that on the day the intelligence was shared, both Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin were in Peshawar, and another son, Nasiruddin, was in Karachi.
A complicating factor is the phenomenon of the neo-Taliban - a new generation of Afghans and Pakistanis, Pashtun and non-Pashtun Taliban imbibed with al-Qaeda's ideology. Three years ago they were so few in number they did not warrant discussion. Now they number about 100,000, if not more.
In principle, there is now agreement between Pakistan and the US to eliminate all terror, irrespective of nationality. This is why Mehsud was targeted. A new operation by the Pakistani military is also planned in Mohmand Agency.
However, the neo-Taliban's leadership is well beyond Mehsud, meaning that even if the Taliban leadership in southwestern Afghanistan were contained, the neo-Taliban would remain a big factor.
Further, after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, dozens of Arabs moved to Iraq and fueled the al-Qaeda-led insurgency. The US succeeded in alienating al-Qaeda, after which many Arabs moved to Pakistan's tribal areas. This trend was first observed in the last months of 2008, and is expected to continue.
In sum, the Obama administration analyzed the situation in the perspective of the US success in the few years following 2001, as well as the success against al-Qaeda in Iraq from 2007-2008.
The neo-Taliban, with their ability to stage suicide attacks at will, are the most underestimated factor in this whole game, which means that the fight is far from over: witness Monday's carnage in Lahore.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English - - Hong Kong-based online newspaper with a Bangkok branch office focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe. Successor of the Hong Kong/Bangkok based print daily Asia Times that closed in 1997, it claims an average of 100,000 daily site visitors as of Feb 2006, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region. URL: http://www.atimes.com]

Asia Times: 'Pakistan Ponders the Price for Peace'

CPP20090409715030 Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English 1043 GMT 08 Apr 09
[By Syed Saleem Shahzad: "Pakistan Ponders the Price for Peace"; headline as provided by source]
KARACHI - The growth of insurgency in Pakistan over the past year of the United States-backed civilian coalition government in Islamabad has been far quicker than that of Afghanistan's insurgency.
This is so much so that Australian David Kilcullen, a former adviser to top US military commander General David Petraeus and best known as an expert on counter-insurgency, said in the US media this week that Pakistan could collapse within six months in the face of the snowballing unrest. Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the US Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn't control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don't follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state. In similar vein, a recent report by a task force of the Atlantic Council in the United led by former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts stated, "We are running out of time to help Pakistan change its present course toward increasing economic and political instability, and even ultimate failure." The report, released in February, gave the Pakistani government six to 12 months before things went from bad to dangerous.
Petraeus, the Central Command chief responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, echoed these sentiments when he told US Congress last week that the insurgency could take down Pakistan.
These warnings are highlighted by recent events in the country, with militants challenging the writ of the state in broad daylight. Attacks include those on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore last month, on a police academy in the same city this month and on a security forces camp in Islamabad this week. Scores of people have been killed.
Analysts believe that under immense American pressure, tough military operations - including Predator drone attacks - against militants, helped by US intelligence, have caused a disconnect between Pakistani jihadi circles and the military establishment. This, it is claimed, is a major reason for the snowballing insurgency.
On Tuesday, the inspector general of Sindh province, Salahuddin Babar Khattack, warned in a statement that there was credible intelligence to suggest that militants had entered the southern port city of Karachi and planned major sabotage activities. These could include an oil refinery complex and power stations.
Pakistani Senator Mashahid Hussain Sayed commented to a television station on Tuesday, "All intelligence agencies of the world keep connections with various elements, including the CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency). This is essential for information-gathering and I don't think anybody should have any objections when the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence) keeps such contacts with militants. After all, Israel's Mossad talks to (Lebanon's) Hezbollah and (Palestine's) Hamas despite them being bitter enemies."
In 2001, the US compelled Islamabad to make a u-turn on its Afghan policy and withdraw support for the Taliban. Pakistan, however, convinced jihadi circles that all the steps it was taking in line with US policy were superficial and temporary.
Despite much hostility between al-Qaeda and then-president General Pervez Musharraf, the situation remained mostly under control until 2006, only because there was still some trust between the militants and the army.
This trust was completely shattered in July 2007 when Musharraf sent troops into the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, which had strong links to militants. The Pakistan army tried to mend fences after Musharraf stepped down as army chief in late 2007, but under immense US pressure the army was forced in 2008 to undertake Operation Lion Heart against militants in Bajaur Agency.
The peace deal signed this February in the Swat area of Pakistan be tween militants and the army after two years of fighting saved some face for the military. But the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had reservations as all the peace would do, in its eyes, would be to allow militants to regroup for bigger and more extensive offensives in Afghanistan.
For Pakistan, though, it has to play games for its survival. The recent establishment of the Ittahad-e-Shura-e-Mujahideen (United Front of the Mujahideen) was one game brokered through legendary Afghan mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. The new forum, which includes hardline Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, said it would fight only in Afghanistan and would abide by a ceasefire in Pakistan.
But at the same time, Pakistan spied on Baitullah and provided information to US intelligence. As a result, Predator drones attacked his area in South Waziristan. He survived, but then unleashed attacks on the Pakistani security forces.
This indicates that the only way for Pakistan to maintain any semblance of calm is through peace deals. One example is southwestern Balochistan province, which is home to more Taliban than there are in North-West Frontier Province, yet there is no Taliban-led insurgency because of peace deals.
Pakistan realizes this, but apart from any political pressure from the US, it also receives extensive monetary aid from Washington. The time has come, though, that mere money might not be enough.
As Senator Mashahid commented, "What monetary aid? (Pakistan) gets US$1.5 billion per year for a five-year period. Just compare this with the $200 billion in aid the US has spent on Afghanistan and the $700 billion it has spent on Iraq. We should consider at what price we are prepared to sacrifice our national interests."
For Pakistan, the path to peace means directing the militancy westwards towards Afghanistan. Yet if NATO troops in Afghanistan are to get peace, they have to send the militants eastwards towards Pakistan.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English - - Hong Kong-based online newspaper with a Bangkok branch office focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe. Successor of the Hong Kong/Bangkok based print daily Asia Times that closed in 1997, it claims an average of 100,000 daily site visitors as of Feb 2006, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region. URL: http://www.atimes.com]

Karachi: Serious Measures Needed To Curb Militancy, Talibanization in Pakistan

SAP20090417105015 Karachi Dawn News in English 1600 GMT 15 Apr 09
[Karachi Dawn News television in English at 1600 GMT on 15 April relays live regularly scheduled "Newseye" program. Dawn News anchorperson Saima Mohsin reviews, discusses, and analyzes major developments of the day with government ministers, officials, opposition leaders, and prominent analysts in this program.]
Program: "Newseye"
Reception: Good/Fair
Duration: 60 minutes
Segment I
Mohsin opens the program by saying Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-Muhammadi [TNSM] chief Sufi Muhammad is adamant that the implementation of Nizam-e-Adl Regulation protects militants from prosecution for their past crimes. Shari'ah, as laid down in the regulation, is the law of the land in Malakand Division; the implementation of Shari'ah is a concession in exchange for militants' peace. Sufi Muhammad's interpretation and announcement of immunity for militants is raising concerns in and outside Pakistan.
Women rights is also a contentious issue. Sufi Muhammad said: "Women will have full protection and rights under Shari'ah. They will live a better life but behind the veil." This has prompted Pakistan's close allies including the US to say that the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation goes against human rights and democracy. White House Spokesperson Robert Gibbs said: "We are disappointed that the parliament did not take into account legitimate concerns around civil and human rights." Afghanistan has said that dealing with terrorists and handing over parts of one's country to terrorists could have dire consequences for the region, and for the relations between the two countries.
Mohsin replays an interview in which she asks Senator Haji Adil of the Awami National Party [ANP] whether amnesty to the militants was a part of the deal. Adil replies saying that Sufi Muhammad only demands the exchange of prisoners from the government and the Taliban, but amnesty was not declared. After the implementation of the Qazi courts, anyone affected either by the government, or by the Taliban could go to these courts.
Mohsin speaks with an expert on Pakistan-Afghanistan-US relations, and the author of Unholy Nexus, Imtiaz Gul, and discusses with him the recent bombing in Charsadda, expressing concerns over the recent rise in militant attacks in Charsadda. Gul says that this raises a question of the Nizam-e-Adl's potency in handling issues of peace and justice in the region, where innocent people are getting killed along with honest security forces. He further says that there was little doubt about the validity of Haji Muslim Khan's statement that the Pakistani Taliban would not lay down their arms and would take their struggle to new areas. Gul adds that one of Muslim Khan's associates, Mir Izzat, announced this afternoon that they planned to enforce Nizam-e-Adl far up in the north reaching Buner, Shangla, upper Dir, and lower Dir and that they would spread out and enforce "Taliban-wanted Nizam-e-Adl" as much as possible.
Gul says, "This means that we will be dealing with small Taliban kingdoms led either by Maulana Sufi Muhammad or by the people beneath him, dispensing justice, and relegating the provincial government into a nonentity. Swat and its surrounding areas will have two parallel legal justice systems; one led by Sufi Muhammad, and the other, the Pakistan Penal Code, which the chief minister said this afternoon, would stay in place. But Haji Muslim Khan has said that for them, the Islamic Shari'ah was paramount, and not the constitution of Pakistan."
Segment II
Mohsin says, "There are three overarching dimensions of the militant groups present in Pakistan, split into geographical distinctions." Newseye's Ahmed Naqvi analyzes in his report the various militant groups actively plotting against the Pakistani state, stating that remnants of the senior Afghani Taliban are based in Quetta and its outskirts, an allegation recently reiterated by US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke. In the aftermath of the Red Mosque incident of 2007, the chief of Al-Qa'ida also issued directives for launching an Islamic revolution in Pakistan. It is believed that the senior leadership of Al-Qa'ida, which is directing this revolution, is also based in Baluchistan.
In Swat the most active group has been the Swat Taliban led by Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Mullah FM for his radio broadcast. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] in Swat has been instrumental in having the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation implemented in Malakand Division.
The Azad [Pakistan-administered] Jammu and Kashmir groups agitating for Kashmiri independence include the Lashkar-e-Taiyiba and the Harkatul Mujahidin. These groups have active links and support in the Pakistani heartland, particularly in Punjab, and it is now claimed that they have increased their cooperation and support with militant groups active in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and North West Frontier Province [NWFP], which are hotbeds of militancy. "In 2007, a variety of groups teamed up under the TTP. These include Maulana Fazlullah, Faqir Muhammad who led the Bajaur insurgency, and Sadiq Noor, a leader in the North Waziristan Agency. Led by Baitullah Mehsud from South Waziristan, The TTP has also incorporated the Lashkar-e-Islam of Mangal Bagh Afridi."
Moreover, after the banning of the sectarian groups in the 1990s, several of their top leaders settled in the tribal regions and joined the ranks of the TTP, especially commanders from the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Lashkar-e-Tayiiba, the Harkat-ul-Mujahidin, and the Jaish-e-Muhammad. The TTP allegedly provides protection to two major groups active in the Afghan insurgency: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's network and Jalaluddin Haqqani's group. Sources claim that both groups have operational links with the TTP but neither is actively involved in militant activities in Pakistan.
Commenting on Newseye's report Gul says, "The United States has been saying this for a very long time now that the Taliban Shura led by Mullah Omar is basically located in Quetta. Richard Holbrooke also specifically mentioned in Brussels last month that Baitullah Mehsud and other important Taliban leaders were hiding somewhere inside Baluchistan. Maulana Sufi Muhammad has been resurrected from insignificance; he was in jail for the past six or seven years for fear of reprisal by the people who lost their families when he led about 10,000 people in Afghanistan to support the Taliban in 2001. The government and the military used him for being an elderly figure to talk to Maulana Fazlullah, who is the deputy chief of the TTP for this region. Similarly Maulana Faqir Muhammad and Mullah Nazir are deputies to Baitullah Mehsud in the areas neighboring Swat. They publicly say that their agenda is to fight US occupation in Afghanistan, however, we later saw them claiming responsibility for the attack on the Lahore police training school."
Further commenting on the shift in TTP's agenda from fighting NATO forces to fighting in Pakistan to support their cause, and now fighting for Shari'ah in the NWFP and the rest of Pakistan, Gul says, "People who want Shari'ah and Nizam-e-Adl are not identical to Baitullah Mehsud and his associates; these people have a different political agenda and want to inflict damage on the Pakistani state. They are not going to contain themselves and have used Shari'ah in Swat as a ruse to project their power, which they will now project outside Swat in the near future. He further says, "It is a political agenda which could have external fingers in it, and Sufi Muhammad could again become irrelevant because the Taliban would increasingly mount challenges on the Pakistani state, and Pakistan would not tolerate any major challenge on the very integrity of its constitution."
On 12 January 2002, General Pervez Musharraf, as president of Pakistan, banned six militant organizations that were focused only on India-occupied Kashmir. These groups, following the ban, shifted their activities and their camps into the FATA area and allied with Abdullah Mehsud and TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud. This alliance gave additional manpower to Usama Bin Ladin and Mullah Omar while Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Sirajuddin Haqqani also benefited from it. Banned outfits like the Harkat-ul-Mujahidin and the Jaish-e-Muhammad have been very active inside Afghanistan, along with the Taliban, the Hizb-e-Islami and Jalaluddin Haqqani's people. Gul says, "Jalaluddin Haqqani has been a mentor for the Pakistani Taliban and they abide by what Haqqani and Hekmatyar say. Their ideology converged, which is in disapproval of foreign troops being sent to Afghanistan, and obviously outside powers are also using these groups to further their own agendas and create instability inside Pakistan."
Segment III
Mohsin re-continues, "The Supreme Court has granted bail to former Red Mosque cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz." and he is expected to be released from prison very soon. Aziz was taken into custody following the Red Mosque operation in 2007. There were 27 cases lodged against him, one of which was dropped and bail was granted to him in 25 others. This today was the last remaining case against him.
Mohsin terms the Red Mosque as a major threat of militancy in the capital city. Gul adds by saying that the Red Mosque incident highlighted Pakistan worldwide, the siege and the actual operation symbolize the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. It served as a precursor; we had around 57 suicide attacks in 2007 and around 33 happened in the latter part of the year, displaying ferocious retaliation from these groups. There was an uproar in the Waziristan region and Baitullah Mehsud and others vowed revenge on the security forces. This incident inflicted a severe blow on the security forces and discredited it, and also showed that terror had reached the heart of Pakistan.
Gul says, "For the past one year there have been so many sieges with the issue of judges that there was hardly any focus of the civilians. This boils down to people's frustrations, unemployment, poverty, and the complications of the legal justice system. The Taliban exploits these conditions and the bureaucracy in both the federal and the provincial governments, which is insensitive and incapacitated. These are the ways how things are moving at the moment, and eventually force will have to be applied on the forces, which are threatening the very existence of this country."
Introducing Nizam-e-Adl in one district is not going to stop the ascendancy of a movement that draws its inspiration from Al-Qa'ida and similar organizations. The Pakistan military and the government require an unusual countrywide national consensus and unity to command the curb of militancy.

[Description of Source: Karachi Dawn News in English -- Pakistan's first 24-hour English language TV channel owned by the Dawn Group of Newspapers.]

Pakistan: Article Asks Govt To Plan Political Strategy for NWFP, End Army Action
SAP20090526001001 Rawalpindi Jang in Urdu 25 May 09 - 26 May 09 pp 10, 10
[Article by Hamid Mir in two installments on 25, 26 May: "Is it Waziristan After Swat?"]
Sher Khan was constantly inviting me to spend a few minutes in his tent so that I could know that it was a hell within hell. He was not wrong. The tent village set up at Government Poly Technical College, Mazdoor Abad, in Takht Bhai [a town in the North-West Frontier Province -- NWFP -- between Mardan and Malakand Division], had virtually become an oven in hot May afternoon. Sun was blazingly hot, while earth was emitting heat. When I entered his tent, his small children were trying to cool themselves with hand fans made of date tree. Sher Khan said his wife was looking after his mother in the adjacent tent. There was so much suffocation in the tent that it became difficult for me to breathe. I quickly came out of the tent and said to Sher Khan with a fake smile that he should not worry, as he would soon return to his paradise, Swat.
Sher Khan made a loud mournful sound and said with tears in his eyes, "I wish I could return to my home in Kabal [a town in Swat District]. My house there has been destroyed, and I cannot live on its rubble along with my family. I will leave my family here in the tent and go to Karachi, Lahore, or Rawalpindi to work to make some money and rebuild my destroyed house." I could say nothing after hearing Sher Khan's story. The Pakistan Army is gaining victory against the local Taliban in Swat, but Sher Khan will not be able to overcome his difficulties in the near future.
It is not the story of one person, but hundreds of thousands of residents of Swat are facing similar problems. President Asif Ali Zardari says a military operation will be conducted in Waziristan as well after Swat. At a time when the return of victims of the Malakand [Swat is a district in Malakand Division] operation to their homes seems difficult, there is anxiety over the arrival of these affected people in Karachi and interior parts of Sind Province, and houses are not being rented to them in Punjab Province; one should think several times before even talking about an operation in North Waziristan and South Waziristan after Swat. The most important point is that militancy in the tribal areas has not been created by the local people, but it was started jointly by Islamabad [federal government] and Rawalpindi [Army headquarters is situated in Rawalpindi] in the name of safeguarding national interests. Most of the people describe the recent militancy in the tribal areas as a result of the circumstances created by the former Soviet Union's military invasion of Afghanistan. But historical realities are entirely different.
It was Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's era [ 1972-77] when India, in league with Afghanistan, started interfering in the NWFP and Baluchistan Province. PPP [Pakistan People's Party] leader Hayat Sherpao was martyred in a bomb blast in Peshawar. And then India conducted a nuclear test. Therefore, in a bid to stop Indian interference in Pakistan through Afghanistan, Prime Minister Bhutto invited Afghan Government's opponents -- Golboddin Hekmatyar, Borhanoddin Rabbani, and Ahmad Shah Masud -- to Pakistan in 1975. Bhutto invited them through Gen Naseerullah Babar, the then Frontier Constabulary inspector general. The Pakistani Government also set up training camps in the tribal areas. At the same time, Sikh separatists were encouraged in Indian Punjab.
Gen Babar himself told me that the activities of Afghan rebels taught a lesson to the Afghan rulers, and Sardar Dawood, the then Afghan president, agreed to resolve the Durand Line [Pakistani-Afghan border line drawn by the British] issue in 1976. Had the Bhutto government not been toppled [by Gen Zia] in 1977, he would have settled the Durand Line issue with Afghanistan.
Gen Zia ignored Afghan rebels for quite sometime after assuming power. In the meantime, Babar established contacts with Iranian monarch Raza Shah Pehlavi as well as the US Administration to look after the Afghan rebels. When the Soviet forces entered Afghanistan in 1979, the United States started helping Afghan rebels through Gen Zia. At that time, mujahidin centers were set up in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Mohmand, Bajaur, and Khyber Agencies, and Arabs were welcomed there.
When the Soviet forces left Afghanistan after suffering a defeat in 1989, Kalashnikov rifle was very common in Pakistan. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, Hekmatyar, Rabbani, and Masud started fighting against each other. The fighting continued for several years, and finally, the Afghan civil war gave birth to the Taliban. When the Taliban movement started from Spin Boldak [an Afghan town bordering Baluchistan], Gen Babar was the Pakistani foreign minister [as published]. He needed a group in Afghanistan to safeguard Pakistan's interests in that country. Therefore, he started patronizing Taliban with the help of a US oil company representative, Robert Oakley. And very soon, the Pakistan Army also started considering Taliban its precious asset.
And the Taliban surprised even its enemies by establishing peace in Afghanistan. At that time, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan [JUI] chief Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani took me to Khyber Agency. While addressing a big public meeting there, he announced to support Mullah Mohammed Omar. Maulana Noorul Haq Qadiri, who is a federal minister in the current PPP-led government, was also present at that rally. During the second term of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [ 1996-99], Afghanistan became a shelter for the elements involved in sectarian terrorism in Pakistan. But the Pakistani military leadership was not prepared to abandon Taliban.
However, after 11 September 2001, Gen Musharraf, the then president, changed his policy and expelled the Taliban from Kabul in league with the United States. But, instead of improvement, removal of the Taliban government further deteriorated the situation in Afghanistan, and Pakistani tribal areas' youths also crossed the border and started attacking the US forces. In 2003, the then Peshawar corps commander, Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai, for the first time, told me that India had started interfering in the tribal areas through Afghanistan. In 2004, the Pakistan Army launched an operation in South Waziristan under a flawed strategy. The tribal youths started attacking the Pakistan Army in retaliation. The same operation gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban is not an organized and coordinated group, but a conglomerate of a number of groups. Baitullah Mehsud calls himself Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] chief. But in his area, the Qari Zainuddin group is a strong rival of Baitullah. The total strength of Baitullah's fighters is around 20,000. Maulvi Nazir commands about 10,000 fighters in the same area. Maulvi Nazir's militants belong to the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe and are active in Afghanistan. And the US drones have attacked the same group in South Waziristan several times.
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