Pakistan: Taliban Not to Sit With US Until Exit of NATO Forces From Afghanistan
SAP20110821103013 Karachi The Express Tribune Online in English 21 Aug 11
[Report by Naveed Hussain: "Reconciliation talks: US duped by fake interlocutor in talks, says Taliban"]
KARACHI: The Taliban have raised doubts about the identity of a key interlocutor that US government officials say they have engaged with in countries as far afield as Qatar and Germany earlier this year.
A spokesman for the Taliban Zabiullah Mujahid said that the Americans may have been duped by an impostor - just as its Nato allies were earlier taken in by a fake Taliban leader. Mujahid said he was convinced that a man posing as Tayyab Agha, a confidante of reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, had duped the Americans and had possibly swindled them.
"Tayyab Agha is as close to us as ever. But he has never met with US officials," Mujahid told The Express Tribune in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. "Somebody might have swindled the US officials by impersonating Tayyab Agha," he added.
In recent months Washington has disclosed that senior State Department and Central Intelligence Agency officials have had secret 'exploratory conversations' with Tayyab Agha in Qatar and Germany. Though the talks broke down following the disclosure of Taliban negotiator's identity, it wasn't known whether or not Agha was still as close to the Taliban as before 2001.
Mujahid said that last year a shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta had milked thousands of dollars from Nato and Afghan officials after engaging them in talks as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, the second-in-command in the Quetta Shura of Taliban and civil aviation minister in the Taliban regime.
He also rubbished a claim by Afghan lawmaker Homa Sultani that she had met Mullah Omar and that he had mandated her to negotiate with US and Afghan officials on their behalf. "We were simply surprised by her claim. I don't know at whose instigation she made that claim," Mujahid said.
The Taliban field commander in the northeastern province of Kunar, Maulvi Abdur Rahim also rejected the reports of talks with the Taliban as a "conspiracy to divide their movement".
Talks on exchange of prisoners
The Taliban spokesperson, however, did admit that his group had been in talks with 'foreign officials' for the past 18 months. "But these talks should not be misconstrued as an effort to find a negotiated settlement of the Afghan issue," Mujahid said. "The agenda of these interactions was mainly the exchange of prisoners," he added.
Mujahid said that the Taliban would not sit across the table with US or Afghan officials as long as US-led Nato troops were in Afghanistan. "Our jihad against 'occupation' forces will continue till foreign forces pull out of our land," he added.
The United States is seeking, though not officially, at least five 'permanent' military bases for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. These facilities will be in places, such as Herat, along the Iranian border; Mazar-e-Sharif, along the border with Central Asian States; and Kandahar and Jalalabad, along the border with Pakistan.
'Taliban are updating their weaponry'
Earlier this month Taliban shot down a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during action in the Afghan province of Wardak, killing 31 US soldiers - most of them elite Navy SEALs - and seven Afghan troops. Some US analysts believed that the chopper was brought down not with RPG (Rocket-propelled grenade) but with I-RAM (Improvised rocket-assisted mortar), commonly known as 'flying IEDs'.
The 'flying IEDs' were first used by the insurgents against US troops during the Iraq insurgency. And US military officials suspected that they were provided to the insurgents by Iran. The analysts believe that Iran has also provided the 'flying IEDs' to the Taliban to use against their arch foe - the United States.
But Zabiullah Mujahid rejected this allegation. "We continue to update our weaponry. We continue to experiment with our arms. The Chinook helicopter was shot down with the help of a modified version of RPG," he claimed. "Our modified version of RPG can trigger a fire on its target."
Asked about the contribution of the Haqqani network which the US believes is based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, the Taliban spokesperson said, "(Jalaluddin) Haqqani is a mujahid (holy warrior). And his role in the Afghan jihad is second to none."
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking in the US National Defence University alleged earlier this week that Pakistan has links with extremist groups, including the Haqqani network. Ties with the Haqqani network are cited for Pakistan's reluctance to launch a military operation in North Waziristan Agency.
But the Taliban spokesperson rubbished the claims of outside help for their 'jihad'. "These are baseless rumours. Ours is a purely indigenous struggle. We are not getting any help from any country," he claimed.
[Description of Source: Karachi The Express Tribune Online in English -- Website of a newspaper partnered with the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times. It is part of the Lakson Group, which includes Daily Express and Express News Television in Urdu and Express 24/7 Television in English. The group's media wing has no known political affiliations and operates as a moderate, independent commercial media organization. The newspaper claims its mission is to defend "liberal values and egalitarian traditions"; URL: http://tribune.com.pk]
AFP: Al-Qa'ida 'Firmly Rooted' in Northwest Pakistan's Tribal Society
SAP20110826012001 Hong Kong AFP in English 0452 GMT 26 Aug 11
[AFP report: "Al-Qaeda Firmly Rooted in Pakistan Tribal Fiefdom"]
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Aug 26, 2011 (AFP) - With his well-groomed hair, shaven face and delicate hint of aftershave, Al-Qaeda logistician Abu Salman has operated for years in Pakistan's badlands with little fear of detection.
A decade after fleeing the US invasion of Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda bosses have carved out a new haven in Pakistan's lawless northwest, recruiting a fresh generation of footsoldiers well versed in how to escape capture.
Despite the long years of conflict, the terror network's reign of fear is too rooted for the Pakistani army or US missiles to dislodge.
When Abu Salman nears a checkpoint on the way to the group's premier bastion of North Waziristan, he turns up the music on the car stereo and lights a cigarette.
And with this simple indulgence of vices denounced by extremist adherents of Islam, he evades suspicion.
Another trick is to leave an English-language newspaper -- the ultimate trapping of a secular-minded Pakistani gentleman -- lying on the passenger seat.
In his 30s, the Al-Qaeda operative speaks to AFP under a fake name in the suburbs of Pakistan's largest northwestern city, Peshawar. Officially he is a car dealer.
The cover story allows him to swap vehicles without suspicion and so escape detection by Pakistani security forces and the American drones trying to eliminate Al-Qaeda in the frontline state in the war on terror.
A university-trained engineer, Abu Salman signed up in 2008 while working in Afghanistan.
"I saw the pain inflicted by the Americans. I realised that I hadn't done anything with my life up till then," he said.
He was given basic military training in eastern Afghanistan in late 2008 but has been integrated into the network as a logistics man, fetching food and medicine.
He personifies the success that Al-Qaeda has found in Pakistan, exploiting a mosaic of overlapping Islamist networks of foreigners and locals dating back 30 years to the mujahedeen resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan.
"Al-Qaeda has been pretty much driven out of Afghanistan, but it got stronger in Pakistan," surfing on a wave of anti-American sentiment, says Pakistani journalist and Al-Qaeda expert Zahid Hussain.
North Waziristan has an estimated several hundred foreign Al-Qaeda fighters, mostly from Arab countries and Uzbekistan, with a smattering of Africans, Chechens and Westerners, the latter mosly dual nationals.
Most arrive overland through central Asia and Afghanistan. A minority, often the most inexperienced, fly in, running greater risks of being arrested as with two French jihadists picked up this year in Lahore.
Abu Salman criss crosses between Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad and the tribal belt. "We avoid the telephone and the Internet to avoid being detected and being killed by a drone," he said.
Responsible for providing food and medication, he shops for energy drinks such as Red Bull, which he claims are "very popular" among fighters.
But if most are foreign, Abu Salman claims that "more and more Pakistanis want to join up".
"Al-Qaeda rents homes for its fighters as well as local Taliban who are less well off, basically getting funds from kidnapping for ransom," says one regular visitor to the main market in the North Waziristan capital of Miranshah, who gives the name of Ahmad Jan.
Wearing traditional Pakistani clothes, long hair and beards, turbans and a Kalashnikov slung over their shoulder, the foreigners are almost indistinguishable from the tribesmen whose daughters they marry.
Only the locals can tell the difference.
"Their skin is often lighter, thinner and taller if they're Arabs and they walk differently" says Jan.
There may be no trace of Osama bin Laden's successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, but ordinary footsoldiers take few precautions, other than avoiding restaurants for fear of being a sitting duck for a drone strike.
According to statistics compiled by American website The Long War Journal, drone strikes have killed nearly 2, 000 Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.
Abu Salman claims that most of those killed are Taliban. Visitors say that the turnover is rapid, that the dead are quickly replaced by new arrivals.
Al-Qaeda enjoys the protection of Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani whose relationship with Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI and own stronghold in North Waziristan has effectively ruled out any ground offensive.
"Everything has changed in 10 years: most of the tribal leaders have been killed and the tribal system destroyed by the Islamists. We can't dance any more, or play music at weddings," said Miranshah shopkeeper Qader Gul, 56.
"Anyone who protests risks having a member of his family kidnapped, beaten or killed," agreed Jan.
"The young generation is destroyed. It sees nothing except the drones and armed groups... In these conditions, I don't see how the young will become anything other than Taliban," said Fayaz Dawar, 30, a doctor in Mir Ali.
[Description of Source: Hong Kong AFP in English -- Hong Kong service of the independent French press agency Agence France-Presse]
Pakistan: Afghan Govt Intentionally Leaks Details of US, Taliban Meetings
SAP20110830135005 Islamabad The Nation Online in English 30 Aug 11
[Unattributed report: Karzai scuttles US-Taliban dialogue]
KABUL - Infuriated that Washington met secretly at least three times with a personal emissary of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Afghan government intentionally leaked details of the clandestine meetings, scuttling the talks and sending the Taliban intermediary into hiding, Khaleej Times reported.
In a series of interviews with diplomats, current and former Taleban, Afghan government officials and a close childhood friend of the intermediary, Tayyab Aga is hiding in Europe and is afraid to return to Pakistan because of fears of reprisals. The US has had no direct contact with him for months. A senior US official acknowledged that the talks imploded because of the leak and that Aga, while alive, had disappeared. The US will continue to pursue talks, the official said. Current and former US officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks.
The United States acknowledged the talks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who apparently fears being sidelined by US-Taliban talks, confirmed published accounts about them in June, but has never publicly detailed the content, format or participants. The first was held in late 2010 followed by at least two other meetings in early spring of this year, the former US official said. The sessions were held in Germany and Qatar, he said.
A childhood friend of Aga, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Aga was in Germany. A diplomat in the region said Aga fled to a European country after his contacts with the US were revealed.
Collapse of the direct talks between Aga and US officials probably spoiled the best chance yet at reaching Omar, considered the linchpin to ending the Taliban fight against the US-backed government in Afghanistan. The contacts were preliminary but had begun to bear fruit, Afghan and US officials said. Perhaps most importantly they offered the tantalizing prospect of a brokered agreement between the United States and the Taliban -- one that would allow the larger reconciliation of the Taliban into Afghanistan political life to move forward. The US has not committed to any such deal, but the Taliban wants security assurances from the US.
The talks were deliberately revealed by someone within the presidential palace, where Karzai's office is located, said a Western and an Afghan official. The reason for the leak was Karzai's animosity toward the US and fear that any agreement Washington brokered would undermine his authority, they said.
Karzai's office refused to comment.
Pakistan had also been kept in the dark about the talks, people knowledgeable about them said. An Afghan official with contacts with the Taliban said the insurgents decided not to tell Pakistan about the meetings with the US. At the time of the leak, Washington had already offered small concessions that the US intended as "confidence-building measures," a former senior US official said. They were aimed at developing a rapport and moving talks forward, said a current US official on condition he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic. The concessions included treating the Taliban and al-Qaeda differently under international sanctions. The Taliban argued that while al-Qaeda is focused on worldwide jihad against the West, Taliban militants have focused on Afghanistan and have shown little interest in attacking targets abroad.
Other goodwill gestures that were not made public included Aga's safe passage to Germany, US officials said. The US also offered assurances that it would not block the Taliban from opening an office in a third country, the official said. A former US official familiar with the talks said the loss of the Aga contact dismayed and angered the US side, and further eroded thin trust in Karzai. There is a difference of opinion among US diplomats, military officials and others about how directly Karzai should be blamed, but several officials agreed that the leak was an attempt to torpedo a diplomatic channel that Karzai and his inner circle w orried would sideline and undercut the Afghan leader.
As the Afghan war slides into its 10th year and Washington plans to withdraw its combat forces by the end of 2014, a negotiated settlement between the Karzai government and the Taliban has become a stated goal for the US.
Karzai has launched a separate peace outreach, with the High Peace Council representing numerous political factions. A member of that High Peace Council said the leaking of the talks reveals the level of mistrust and the lack of coordination among the key players in any eventual peace deal.
He said all the key players -- the US, Afghan government, Afghan National Security Council and the High Peace Council -- are holding separate and secret talks with their own contacts within the insurgency.
The US, for example, has also held secret talks with Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who heads the notorious Haqqani network considered by US and NATO troops in Afghanistan to be their biggest threat. That contact was confirmed by officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US
Karzai met with representatives of wanted rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is seeking greater involvement at the peace table and direct talks with the United States, said diplomats in the region.
The flurry of meetings the United States is holding with the various factions in the Afghan conflict has also extended to Pakistan, where the most powerful insurgents have found safe havens.
A month ago, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry and Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met for a marathon eight hours in a Gulf country. Peace negotiations with Afghanistan's insurgents featured prominently, said both Pakistani and US officials who would not be identified by name because of the secret nature of the meeting.
A US official familiar with the talks said Kayani made a pitch during his marathon meeting with Kerry that Pakistan take on a far larger role in Afghanistan peacemaking. The US considers Pakistan an essential part of an eventual deal, but neither the US nor Pakistan trusts the other's motives in Afghanistan.
[Description of Source: Islamabad The Nation Online in English -- Website of a conservative daily, part of the Nawa-i-Waqt publishing group. Circulation around 20,000; URL: http://www.nation.com.pk]
Pakistan Article Calls for Incorporating FATA With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
SAP20110903103021 Lahore Daily Times Online in English 03 Sep 11
[Article by Shahid Ilyas: "FATA is inhabited by normal human beings!"]
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 provided the best opportunity to the Pakistani security state to work on its agenda of crushing Pashtun nationalism and helping in realising a subservient Afghanistan.
The centuries-long great game in the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) seems to be crumbling at last, slowly but surely. Had the Pakistani state ended this game immediately after its birth in 1947, the shape of things might well have been very different. The Islamic Republic might not have seen its descent into chaos. We might not have been introduced to the scourge of suicide bombings.
The British colonialists in India used FATA -- and the then North West Frontier Province (NWFP) (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) to some extent -- as a buffer zone between its own empire and the ambitious Czarist Russia. Their main concern was the landmass inhabited by the Pashtuns, without much consideration for the lot of its inhabitants. These people were stereotyped as deeply conservative, barbaric, "immensely independent" and "warlike". This kind of stereotyping suited British imperialism in India.
Upon the birth of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan -- ostensibly ruled by their co-religionists -- the Pashtuns expected better treatment and a measure of political, economic and cultural autonomy. They expected the policy of buffer zones to come to an end, and some level of development to take place. But that was not to be. Soon they realised that the change of guard at the top was not going to translate into change of policy. The new rulers suppressed their aspirations for political autonomy, cultural rights and economic development.
The state of Pakistan refused to grant them their due rights. It also refused to give up on the policy of using their areas as a buffer zone. The Pashtuns were shocked to see that the new state intended to use their areas as a buffer zone not just against the 'godless' communists or Czarists but also against their cousins in Afghanistan who shared their language, culture, history, geography and religion. Those who raised their voices in protest were incarcerated in prisons. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, whom the Pashtuns refer to as Badshah Khan (King Khan), passed most of his life in Pakistani jails. His only crime was that he spoke for the rights of his downtrodden people.
Pakistan did not take long to turn into a security state -- a state where the military got a final say in everything. Suspicion of Pashtun intentions vis-à-vis their willingness to stay part of the Pakistani state became one of the most important elements of the policy of the security state. This suspicion necessitated the use of every means in order to keep Pashtun nationalism down. It also necessitated measures towards placing friendly governments in Afghanistan -- a government that did not question the legitimacy of the Durand Line.
One element of the security state was to keep FATA educationally and economically backward so its people were never aware enough to understand the intricacies and importance of the modern state system, modernity, human rights and nationalism. Despite the Pashtun leadership's demands that these regions be merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the security state resisted. It appointed bureaucrats to look after the interests of the security state by bribing tribal elders and made sure that the tribes had feelings of hostility towards Afghanistan. Political parties, courts and civil society were disallowed from functioning in FATA. Religious seminaries were supported and used to keep the tribes in check through religious edicts.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 provided the best opportunity to the Pakistani security state to work on its agenda of crushing Pashtun nationalism and helping in realising a subservient Afghanistan. The charge of the jihad project was handed to the Pakistani military and it was given a free hand (by the west, led by the US) to determine the ways and means by which to stop the expansion of the USSR. The Paki stani security state gave a call of jihad to its Pashtun population. Schools of brainwashing and warfare were spread across the length and breadth of FATA. Arabs were encouraged to come in and fight against the communists to 'earn' a place in paradise. The state made sure that no money or weapons went to people with nationalist/modernist leanings. Only pan-Islamists (Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the like) were seen as qualified for getting money and weapons in order to conduct jihad. Pashtun nationalists were demonised.
When the Soviets left in the late 1980s, the Pakistani state embarked on implementing the final phase of its policy -- installing a government in Kabul that did not believe in Pashtun nationalism. But the different jihadi groups soon went out of Pakistan's control and engaged in a protracted civil war that destroyed Afghan cities and physical infrastructure.
Then came the phase in which Pakistan propped up the deadly Taliban. But that project too went wrong with the attacks of 9/11. The rest is recent history. The Pakistani security state has still not given up on its policy of using religion to suppress Pashtun nationalism and using FATA as its strategic depth against India; its support of those groups of the Taliban who challenge the authority of the Afghan government is an open secret. The (Pashtun) nationalism of President Karzai and his associates and their Afghan patriotism are no secret to anyone either. And this worries Pakistan's security establishment. They feel insecure about the Durand Line. Moreover, the security establishment made all efforts to make sure that no political reforms are introduced in FATA but international pressure and the presence of Asif Ali Zardari in the Presidency, backed by the Awami National Party (ANP) -- the party of late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan -- made it possible to defy the security state and allow political parties to operate in FATA (August 2011).
The security state needs to realise that it cannot stop the tide of history. With political parties operating in FATA, the tribesmen are going to be able to see the world that they never had before. They will be introduced to new ideas. They will be introduced to the concepts of human rights, nationalism, the policies of the security state, the dismal situation in which they live as compared to others beyond their tribal borders. They will start asking questions. The security state needs to tighten its belts.