|Details of the accord, like all past accords, are unwritten. What will happen though is that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mark Grossman, will soon visit Pakistan to make the political environment conducive for the next phase.
Relations between the two nations were severely strained at the beginning of the month when US Special Forces assassinated al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the military town of Abbottabad, 60 kilometers north of Islamabad. Pakistan was embarrassed and angered when the US claimed sole responsibility for the operation in defiance of an agreement between the countries.
Contrary to all previous rhetoric by the Pakistani military establishment and briefings they delivered to a joint session of the Pakistani parliament last week, Monday's joint statement proved that Pakistan had always been onboard to work with the US and that statements issued by the military establishment were posturing.
Last Friday, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani and the Inter-Services Intelligence head Ahmed Shuja Pasha appeared in a historic joint session of parliament, the first time in 63 years that an army chief and the top man of the ISI had presented themselves before the legislature.
The joint statement pointed out that "all tracks of US-Pakistani engagement need to be revisited to assure that the countries can continue to cooperate on counter-terrorism", yet deeper problems remain, most notably among middle cadre of the military.
This was emphasized by Kiani, who told Kerry that there were "intense feelings" in the military over the raid to get Bin Laden, according to a statement issued by the army.
Many in the army still want alliances with Sunni Islamist elements in the region as leverage against India and Iran. As a result, a backlash within the military establishment against the forthcoming new phase in the war against the Afghan Taliban is inevitable. Once again, Pakistan will be caught in the middle between the US and militants, with interests on both sides.
Kerry is one of the initiators of the Kerry-Lugar bill that envisages US$1.5 billion yearly in aid to Pakistan for five years. Pakistan has already received $14.6 billion in economic and military assistance from the US since 2005. Kerry arrived in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday with a clear message that a conclusive war against Islamic militancy is wanted, and all his statements reflected this decisive theme and uncompromising stance.
"Yes, there are insurgents coming across the border," he said at the US Embassy. "Yes, they are operating out of North Waziristan (tribal area in Pakistan) and other sanctuaries, and yes, there is some evidence of Pakistan government knowledge of some of these activities in ways that is very disturbing," Kerry said.
The senator also pointed a finger at the presence of the powerful Haqqani network in North Waziristan as one of the key drivers of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan. The US tried to tighten the noose around the network when it slapped sanctions on leader Jalaluddin Haqqani's younger son, Badruddin Haqqani, last week. His name was added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists that allows the US to freeze his assets, prevent him from using financial institutions and prosecute him for terrorist activities.
Kerry said there were "deep reservations" among some American lawmakers abou t whether Pakistan shared Washington's goals in the region, but said, "Pakistan has supported our efforts to diminish the capacity of al-Qaeda over the last several years. Pakistan has allowed us to have intelligence personnel operating in Pakistan in ways that helped us to capture Osama bin Laden."
Opening of the next phase
Now that Bin Laden is dead - the pinnacle of the American-led war against militancy - the next logical targets inside Pakistan include his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani as well as other top militants.
However, after the Abbottabad incident, the role of the nuclear-armed nation's military establishment is a real question mark, both domestically and internationally. The fact that statements by the armed forces during the briefing to parliament last week were rigged with contradictions does not help their image.
On Saturday, parliament condemned the Bin Laden raid and termed it an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty and urged for an end to unilateral action within its borders, including attacks on suspected militants by US drones. It said logistical support for North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan could be withdrawn if the strikes continued.
Even as the armed forces were briefing the joint session, US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) predator drones struck North Waziristan again and parliamentarians questioned the top brass over not doing enough to prevent drone attacks inside Pakistan.
It was reported that the closed-door session was told that drones flew from Pakistan's Shamsi air base in Balochistan province, but that this facility was owned by the United Arab Emirates. This armed forces statement contradicted an ISI official spokesperson's statement published last month that Pakistan had closed Shamsi to drone flights. Later, when the strikes continued, an ISI spokesperson said the drones were coming from Afghanistan.
Some parliamentarians then objected that even if Pakistan did not own Shamsi, the drones were still using Pakistan's air space and should therefore be shot down.
"Pakistan has the capacity to strike down CIA predator drones, but then the government and the parliament should order us (to do so) and also make a commitment to stand behind the armed forces when the fierce American reaction came," air chief Rao Qamar Suleman reportedly told the joint session that continued for 10 hours.
During the session, ISI head Pasha, the person blamed for most intelligence failures, insisted that it was a collective failure of all the civilian and military law-enforcing agencies and the ISI should not be singled out. However, he offered that if parliament and the government demanded, he would resign.
What has become clear in the past few weeks is that the US wants results in a short space of time, and Pakistan has no option but to collaborate in the hunt for Taliban bigwigs hidden in Pakistan.
This would be the beginning of real fireworks within the military establishment should mid-level cadre - rogue elements - aligned with Sunni militants instigate attacks along the lines of the militant assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 that resulted in the deaths of more than 150 people. (See Al-Qaeda 'hijack' led to Mumbai attack Asia Times Online, December 2, 2008.)
After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, Pakistan's top brass took a policy turn and joined in the US's "war on terror", but a large chunk of officers took retirement and with serving colleagues they helped the Taliban. This changed the dynamics of the Afghan war theater (see Military brains plot Pakistan's downfall Asia Times Online, September 26, 2007).
This collection of former and serving officers was responsible for a number of attacks on the military, including on military headquarters in 2009 and against ex-president General Pervez Musharraf.
Kerry's visit to Pakistan was made to open a new phase of the war in South Asia and the whole exercise of the Pakistani armed forces appearing in front of parliament was not intended to show accountability but to pave the way for this stage.
This is also the time when a nexus of serving and retired soldiers could become active again to revive regional operations, in addition to a possible mutiny against the top military brass.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief and author of upcoming book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at email@example.com
[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English -- Online newspaper focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe, and a branch office in Bangkok; 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, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region; tends to be critical of the United States; URL: http://www.atimes.com]
French Expert: Al-Qa'ida Growing Stronger in Afghanistan
EUP20110518029001 Paris Le Monde in French 17 May 11
[Commentary by Georges Lefeuvre, former European Commission political attache in Pakistan, former French cultural attache in Islamabad, European Commission political analyst: "Al-Qa'ida Stronger in Afghanistan"]
Despite Bin Ladin's death, the risk of regional chaos cannot be ruled out along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the Taliban are regaining ground. Hence the pressing need to resolve the thorny Pashtun question.
If we spend too much time at our computers our political thinking could be confined to their binary mode of functioning. This is one of the lessons of the Arab Spring, which apparently nobody saw coming. Between radical Islam and the dictators that would supposedly curb it -- are binary idea if ever there was won -- there was a civil society to whom few experts paid any attention but who suddenly spoke out. Decisionmakers rarely make any reference to political anthropology.
Though we do not know how a single mode of thought is built, at least we know how it works: until a body of simple ideas collapses, it constitutes a truth on which basis political strategies are founded. Following Bin Ladin's death the same simplistic errors could well lead to terrible disappointments. However, there he is a risk of regional chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with their 200 million, managed by two fragile states, one of which possesses nuclear weapons.
There is no doubt that at the world level Al-Qa'ida is not as powerful as it claims to be; despite fearsome pockets of activity in the Sahel, it actually risks being submerged by the Arab civil revolts. Its founder's death deals a further blow to it, though this is likely to prove merely symbolic. However, it is no longer a symbolic matter when the discovery of Bin Ladin's hiding place, some 100 km from Islamabad and close to a military academy, raises serious questions about the Pakistani State, the responsibility of the military, and the complicity or neglect of the civil government.
On the basis of these two observations, commentators formulate two simple ideas: Afghanistan is no longer in the grip of the Al-Qa'ida, and Pakistan, being guilty, must be punished, unless it abandons its double game of supporting the Taliban and Al-Qa'ida while being a partner in the war on terror. It is rather more complicated than that.
It has taken the international community almost 10 years to acknowledge that in their principle of action the traditional Afghan Taliban, those waging a national jihad of reconquest, were distinct from the Al-Qa'ida networks waging an international jihad to destabilize the West. Now that this idea has been accepted, Al-Qa'ida is being relegated to Pakistan, with people concluding that Afghanistan is free of it, and that processes of reconciliation with the insurgents have become possible, justifying the gradual withdrawal of the coalition forces.
According to the United States' symbolism, most of the job has indeed been done through Usama Bin Ladin's elimination. "Justice has been done" for the September 11 attacks. That is hardly sufficient, and it must be acknowledged that Al-Qa'ida is dangerously strengthening its presence in northeastern Afghanistan.
There are three cross-border axes of insurgency between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The one in the south -- Kandahar-Quetta -- indeed corresponds to the Taliban seeking national reconquest. However, the center axis -- Khost-Miranshah -- has since 1984 been the traditional cradle of Al-Qa'ida, whose latest local manifestation is Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP,) within which Pakistani Taliban have rallied together with Bin Ladin's networks, under the benevolent hospitality of Jalaluddin Haqqani's Afghan Taliban network.
The TTP, officially established in 2007 but active since 2005, is organized in such a way as to survive Bin Ladin's elimination (irrespective of his actual operational authority, which remains to be determined.) This is proven by the terrible attack of 12 Mai, in which at least 70 people died in northwestern Pakistan, as a reprisal against Usama Bin Ladin's elimination.
The TTP has indeed extended its grip along the northern axis of insurgency, whose leaders are Fazlullah, former insurgent chief if in the Swat Valley, and Qari Ziaur Rahman, an Afghan from Kunar, former lieutenant to the late sheikh Jamil, who converted Al-Qa'ida Wahhabism in the mid-1980s. For the past two years, proceeding from the Pakistani tribal area of Bajaur, Fazlullah and Zia have carried out offensives on the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan and now fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of the US bases in 2010-2011. There has even been an operational training camp in the Korengal Valley since September 2010. The final stronghold abandoned by the United States in February, in the Pesh Valley, which grants access to Laghman province, is already occupied by insurgents.
Within the space of a few months, and with complete impunity, these TTP/Al-Qa'ida-type jihadis have kidnapped 21 tribal leaders (January,) killed nine of them (April,) and kidnapped 40 young Afghan police recruits (March.) One local contact informed me that the forces loyal to the traditional local leader, Hikmatyar (obedient neither to the Taliban nor to Al-Qa'ida) have vanished from there. So the TTP/Al-Qa'ida is not confined to Pakistan, controls Kunar-Nuristan, is proceeding westwards toward Laghman, an already threatens Kapisa, where the French troops are based. Kapisa is a strategic barrier, which TTP militants want to break down in order to facilitate their access to the major US base at Bagram and to the pockets of insurgency in the north. It would be folly to I believe that Afghanistan is exempt from any TTP/Al-Qa'ida threat. Indeed, the central and northern axes are very active.
Second, it is not enough to condemn Pakistan's double dealing in this matter. We need to decipher it in order to know how to act. Is Pakistan's support for the Taliban linked to its confrontation with India? Of course, but indirectly so. Pakistan is obsessed with the prospect that an Afghanistan not controlled by itself could someday lay claim to a "Greater Pashtunistan" that would deprive its territory of the entire Pashtun province of the northeast.
However, during the Cold War, India and the USSR encouraged this option, Pashtun nationalism being secular at that time, and the culminating period being that of Afghan President Dawood (1973-1978.) This is indeed what Pakistani Prime Minister Youssuf Raza Gilani said indirectly during his visit to Paris: "We will support (...) the reconciliation established by the Afghan authorities and the United States, as long as Pakistan's sovereignty is not called into question." (Le Monde 6 May [interview filed as EUP20110509029001])
This remark is reminiscent of the more explicit one made by Pakistani Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on 2 February: "It's not a matter of controlling Afghanistan, just securing the border (Pakistan's) in the west." From this viewpoint, Pakistan is not about to relinquish its support for the traditional Taliban waging a national jihad. However, it suffers too many terrorist acts perpetrated by the TTP throughout its territory to continue much longer supporting Al-Qa'ida, which indeed its army has been combating at least since 2009, suffering many losses.
So how are we to deal with Pakistan specifically? Certainly not by threatening the state with coercion, or armed reprisals: this is exactly what Al-Qa'ida wants, just as the international jihad would have been delighted if India and Pakistan had engaged in a military confrontation following the bloodthirsty attack in Mumbai in 2008, one of the aims of terrorist ideology being precisely to destabilize borders and nation-states in order to create scope for a great caliphate.
It would also be madness to increase the tension between the two neighboring states, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is a pressing need to find political ways to enable Pakistan to resolve its own ambiguities.
However, it is indeed the Pashtun question, on both sides of the Durand Line, that is poisoning relations between these two neighboring states and that at th e same time constitutes a fertile growth medium for the destabilizing terrorist networks. This seismic zone has been active for the past two and a half centuries (see "Af-Pak" in Le Mondial des nations ["The World Cup of Nations"], published by Choiseul, 574pp, 29 euros,) since the creation of Afghanistan, and the only way to undermine both the regular Taliban and the TTP/Al-Qa'ida networks would be to help these two states concerned to find a modus operandi for the border and a sufficiently flexible modus Vivendi for the tribes on both sides.
At loggerheads over this old dispute, Pakistan and Afghanistan will find it very difficult to achieve this on their own; would it be too much to ask the international community's diplomatic services at last to examine the problem -- the source of all this chaos and the only key to regional peace?
[Description of Source: Paris Le Monde in French -- leading center-left daily]
Pakistan: Taliban, HIA Join Hands Against Setting Up US Bases in Afghanistan
SAP20110518001001 Karachi Ummat in Urdu 15 May 11 pp 1, 7
[Unattributed report: "Jalaluddin Haqqani Working for Alliance Between Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami"]
Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan [HIA] has hinted at an agreement with the Taliban. A message in this regard from HIA chief Golboddin Hekmatyar has been conveyed to the Taliban. Sources say that after the killing of Usama Bin Ladin in an American operation, the Taliban and HIA have initiated talks to chalk out a future line of action. According to sources, an important meeting mediated by the representatives of Mawlawi Jalaloddin Haqqani took place between HIA commanders and the Taliban in Paktia Province a few days back. Later, the HIA representatives apprised Hekmatyar of details of the talks. The HIA chief said that he was ready to sign an agreement with the Taliban.
According to sources, the HIA and Taliban will join hands against the United States and allies under Hekmatyar's two-point agreement. The two sides will also adopt a joint line of action for forming a government in the future. The sources said that the Taliban had sought some time on this count. However, it has been agreed in preliminary talks that irrespective of any progress toward an agreement between them, the Taliban and HIA will not at all allow the United States to set up its permanent bases in Afghanistan.
[Description of Source: Karachi Ummat in Urdu -- Sensationalist, pro-Usama Bin Ladin Urdu daily. Harshly critical of the US, Israel, and India. Propagates Muslim unity to counter US/Western influence. Circulation 20,000. Editor-publisher Rafiq Afghan is an Afghan war veteran.]
Pakistan Article Questions Al-Qa'ida Interim Chief's 'Iranian Connection'
SAP20110531033001 Lahore The Friday Times Online in English 27 May 11 - 02 Jun 11
[Article by Ali Chishti: "Another failure; The New Al Qaeda Chief"]
Iranian commercial attaché Heshmatollah Attarzadeh was abducted from Peshawar early one morning in November 2008. He was an undercover intelligence agent. After "the failure of the Pakistani government to secure the release of Attarzadeh", Iran's intelligence minister said he had "taken the initiative and managed to rescue the diplomat".
The release of the Iranian official was actually a prisoner swap. Afghan militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani contacted Iran and brokered a prisoner exchange deal on behalf of Al Qaeda. Among those released by Iran were Osama bin Laden's daughter, and former Egyptian Special Forces colonel Saif al Adel. Adel was the operations chief of Al Qaeda since 2001 and had immense influence on Arab fighters since he was in Afghanistan.
He now lives and operates from somewhere in the Tribal Areas, as the interim chief of the terrorist network Osama bin Laden's death.
Al Qaeda faces a number of challenges after the death of its leader, a significant one from likely infighting after Dr Ayman al Zwahiri was not made the new chief. Zwahiri's Egyptian force Jihad al Islami merged with Al Qaeda in 2000. Most of the veteran Arab Afghan jihadis are not very fond of him.
Abdullah Muhammad Fazal, a top Al Qaeda ideologue and who had been trained at the key Al-Furqan Camp in Afghanistan by Saif al Adel calls Zwahiri "Johnny come-late".
Questions loom over Adel's Iranian connection and why Pakistan allowed him to sneak into FATA after his release.
"Saif has a strong operational network in Pakistan and knows how to use it," a counter terror expert said. "We are expecting more terrorist attacks in urban Pakistan and the raid on PNS Mehran might have been his first project after taking over."
[Description of Source: Lahore The Friday Times Online in English -- Website of the Independent, moderate weekly run by veteran journalist Najam Sethi. Reputed for in-depth analytic articles. Editorials analyses, and articles criticize government policies and expose its corruption and misconduct. Hardcopy circulation of 5,000; URL: http://www.thefridaytimes.com]
Karachi Daily Report: US Secretly Holding Talks With Afghan Taliban in Germany
SAP20110529115007 Karachi Ummat in Urdu 28 May 11 p 3
[Unattributed report: "Taliban Not Serious in Talks With US"]
Finally, the United States has begun negotiations with the Taliban. Germany is facilitating the talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban, with meetings taking place on German soil. Interestingly, Germany, despite being a NATO ally of the United States, has provided asylum and protection to a key Taliban leader. Now as time has come, negotiations are being held with them. On the other hand, after violating Pakistan's sovereignty, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Admiral Michael Mullen have arrived in Pakistan. Only time will tell as to what actually was the agenda they pursue. Sources stress that Tayyib Agha, who addressed a press conference on behalf of Taliban in Spin Boldak recently, said that talks are to serve no purpose without friendly relations with the Haqqani Network. Pakistan is in good terms with the Haqqani group of Taliban. On the other hand, despite mounted US pressure, Pakistan has not lost Haqqani card. Pakistan has made it clear to Clinton to stop drone attacks first, saying as to how it can convince them to talk to the United States, who are being targeted through drone strikes. The intensive talks on Clinton's agenda were cut short after this development and she returned home after a press briefing.
The sources said that talks with Agha are being held in Germany to keep Pakistani intelligence in the dark. How effective is Agha, is a question. US Senator John Kerry has also said that it impossible for Pakistan to eliminate Haqqani group but bringing Taliban to talks is easier.
Brig [Retd] Shaukat Qadir, renowned analyst, is of the view that the United States is willing to talk to the Taliban and it has been trying to hold talks with different Taliban groups, especially with Mullah Omar for long. Every Taliban group is willing to talk to the United States but according to latter, it is not willing to talk to the Haqqani faction. However, it is the latest modification in US strategy, if it has come with an intention to talk to the Haqqani group. Qadir said the Americans have been using demand for action against the Haqqani group to date to ratchet up pressure against Pakistan. He said Mullah Omar had never been willing to talk to the Americans. He said one cannot say as if the fourth and fifth tier Taliban leadership is willing to talk to the Americans but there seemed to be no serious effort on the part of the Taliban in this regard.