Monday, February 19, 2007

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What Pakistan giveth, Pakistan also taketh away

Like everyone else, I found today's New York Times story by Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde very disturbing:

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing abilities of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan. American officials say that the new intelligence is focused on Al Qaeda and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it.

It should be pointed out that this problem has been around for a couple of months now. Obviously, the Bush administration finds itself in a bind about what to do about Pakistan, as Mazzetti and Rohde document:
The concern about a resurgent Al Qaeda has been the subject of intensive discussion at high levels of the Bush administration, the officials said, and has reignited debate about how to address Pakistan’s role as a haven for militants without undermining the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president....

But debates within the administration about how best to deal with the threat have yet to yield any good solutions, officials in Washington said. One counterterrorism official said that some within the Pentagon were advocating American strikes against the camps, but that others argued that any raids could result in civilian casualties. And State Department officials say increased American pressure could undermine President Musharraf’s military-led government....

The analysts said that North Waziristan became a hub of militant activity last year, after President Musharraf negotiated a treaty with tribal leaders in the area. He pledged to pull troops back to barracks in the area in exchange for tribal leaders’ ending support for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but officials in Washington and Islamabad conceded that the agreement had been a failure....

Pakistani officials say that they are doing their best to gain control of the area and that military efforts to pacify it have failed, but that more reconstruction aid is needed.

What's truly depressing about this is that there is evidence that Pakistan has cracked down on other terrorist groups. For example, this Christian Science Monitor story by Anuj Chopra points out that one reason today's train bombings will not derail the south Asian peace process is because India recognizes that Pakistan is cracking down on Kashmiri terrorist groups:
Sunday's bombings may represent a departure from the fragile diplomatic cycle between India and Pakistan that made peace talks between them so vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Unlike the response to the [July 2006] Mumbai bombings, the reaction to the attack on the Samjhauta Express underscored India's new reluctance to point fingers at Pakistani militants. Instead, Indian and Pakistani officials have denounced the act of terrorism and are hewing toward peace in a process that began in 2004.

"We expect the peace process will hold," said Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, Pakistan's foreign minister on Monday.

"No hasty conclusions will be drawn on who is responsible for these attacks," Mr. Kasuri told New Delhi Television, a local news channel, expressing grief over the death of innocent civilians, a majority of whom are Pakistani....

Mr. [Ajit] Doval [former director of India's Intelligence Bureau] said that he suspects the same perpetrators involved in previous attacks – namely Pakistan-based Islamist groups Lashkar-i Tayyaba and Jaish-e Muhammed.

What is baffling about the attacks, he says, is that the bombers are targeting Pakistani citizens.

Doval points out that terrorism in the disputed region of Kashmir – the most contentious issue between the two countries – is at an all-time low.

The number of politically motivated killings has dropped by two-thirds since 2001 to three from 10 per day – the lowest since the Kashmiri uprising began in the early 1990's. The declining attacks could be a sign that Pakistan-based terrorist groups operating in India are feeling increased pressure from the Pakistani government, says Doval.

"Targeting Pakistani civilians could be a sign of their resentment," Doval says of the Kashmiri separatists.

I don't know enough about Pakistan's domestic politics to understand why Musharraf is able to crack down on the Kashmiri groups while he's allowing Al Qaeda groups to fester. I'm sure my readers will enlighten me.

posted by Dan on 02.19.07 at 06:43 PM


Questions about Pakistan:

Why does Osama have a haven in Pakistan?

Why did Pervez Musharraf promise GWB he would give up one of his titles (head of military and keep head of state) after a year and then renege?

Why did A.Q. Kahn, the Pakistani chief of things nuclear, get a pardon from Pervez after it was learned that Pakistan was distributing nuclear technology in the region?

Why is Pakistan building a second nuclear reactor at their weapons facility? Why was it that this was brought to the world's attention by non-governmental scientists when our intelligence services must also have known? [you can see the site in Google Earth].

What should we guess about the future of Pakistan and regional distribution of nuclear bombs?

Fact: Pakistan imports 80% of oil needs.
Fact: Pakistan has atomic bombs.
Fact: Pakistan is being allowed by the USA to greatly expand nuclear reactor capabilities.
Fact: Iran has oil

If Iran joins North Korea in "agreeing with Condi to dismantle xxx" thus diffusing the current crisis what prevents them from simply going shopping in Pakistan for finished product?

posted by: WantsToKnow on 02.19.07 at 06:43 PM [permalink]

My opinion might be a little biased as i am from India, but i will try to give a fair shake to the question, why Musharaff can crack down on the Kashmiri separatists while he's allowing Al-Qaeda type groups to flourish.

Ideally Musharaff would like to do nothing about either the Kahmiri's or Al-Qaeda. How ever post 9/11 when the role of Pakistan's military as the main sponsors of the Taliban became very hard to ignore, along with the fact that Pakistani nationals (including Khalid Sheik Muhammad) were so closely involved in global terrorism, it became impossible for Pakistan to keep the Kashmiri terror front going.Bush's "You are with us or against us" and Armitage's threat to blow Pakistan to the dark ages were not empty ones - they were real and Musharaff had to focus Pakistan's energies on fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Kashmir had to go into the backburner.

The terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 followed by India's threat to retaliate with nuclear war was the final nail in the Kashmiri terrorist coffin. Nuclear war was prevented but not before India managed to get the US reign in Musharaff on the Kashmir issue. It is no strange coincidence that violence in Kashmir which was mind numbing in the 90's is now at an all time low - when India and Pakistan have been trying to talk "peace" for the last 4 years, with American prodding.

Now, lets come to Al-Qaeda. Musharaff initially helped the US forces in the offensive against the Taliban - he had to. But he is not the only one in the Pakistani military who needs to change. The top dogs @ ISI never liked the anti Taliban war and went along as much as they "could".

Let's not forget that the Pakistan military was infused with a heavy dose of radical Islamic fundamentalism by Gen Zia during his regime. That religious zeal is the main driving force for the extremists who are still in Pakistani military today. It comes as no surprise that Al-Qaeda has bounced back a good 5 years after a crushing defeat - it was not completely eliminated in the first place. It has been helped by elements in the ISI whom Musharaff does not want to confront for fears of creating more divisions in an already divided army, which hates co-operating with the US against its former best pals. Hence the innumerable promises by Pakistan to fight with the US forces against the resurgence.

The US has become increasingly frustrated with Pakistan's promise to help quell A-Qaeda and hence the recent attack by the US directly on Paki soil.

It basically boils down to whether the US/NATO presence can be in Afghanistan for decades to come. Pakistan is hoping that it wont remain there for too long.

If by any chance, the Taliban comes back and the US thinks enough is enough, watch how quickly Pakistan will patch up again with the Taliban.

posted by: Nagarajan Sivakumar on 02.19.07 at 06:43 PM [permalink]


Here, from a Pakistani political blogger, is a reasonable theory on what might be going on. It has less to do with religion, and more to do with the Pakistani military's worries of Indian influence in Afghanistan.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 02.19.07 at 06:43 PM [permalink]

As long as America's WOT continues, and Pakistan benefits militarily from the US, AQ needs to exist. Pakistan has realized that a prolonged protracted hostility with the Indians is not in their economic interest. Having a 1.1billion booming neighbor is a great thing. I think there is a lot of pressure from the elites in Pakistan to make nice with India, and if that means Kashmir issues goes, no problem.

posted by: Amish on 02.19.07 at 06:43 PM [permalink]

The short answer is that for Pakistan to tolerate terrorism against India risks nuclear escalation. For Pakistan to tolerate the use of its territory to support terrorist violence against US/NATO forces in Afghanistan has had no consequences.

The long answer is that US/NATO strategy ignores history. Instead of our forces attacking Taliban/al-Qaida camps inside Pakistan, which will only deepen the front and arouse hostility in the wider region, a better strategy would be for the Afghans to grant complete autonomy to the Pashtun territory on their side of the border, so as to create half of the Pashtun state that Afghanistan proposed in the 1920s. US/NATO forces would then withdraw west to friendly territory (Tajik/Hazara).

Under this scenario, the Taliban could take power over the newly autonomous Pashtun region and bring al-Qaida with them. But this would actually be the beginning of the end for both of them.

Pashtun relations with Pakistan are likely to deteriorate if tribes on the Pakistan side of the border see a Pashtun state on the other side enjoying de facto independence and beckoning them to join. Pashtuns inside Pakistan today are already on very bad terms with Islamabad.

To prevent getting caught in the crossfire, the Taliban and al-Qaida will have to take sides. If they side with the Pashtuns, Pakistan will then cut its ties to the Taliban and al-Qaida. If the Taliban and al-Qaida remain loyal to Pakistan, they will become enemies of the Pashtuns.

Al-Qaida may be evicted either way because with an autonomous state (ie. something to lose that Pashtuns have never before had), the Pashtuns may want to minimize unnecessary friction with their neighbors. How long the Taliban themselves endure may also be a question since the Pashtuns have an earlier twentieth century history of moderation and will have less of a nationalist grievance (and less fear of being dominated in a larger Afghanistan) to fuel extremism.

Pakistan needs more of an incentive to cut its ties to all terrorist groups. For that to happen, it may make sense to create a Pashtun state on the Afghan side of the border.

posted by: David Billington on 02.19.07 at 06:43 PM [permalink]

The Pakistanis realize they can nowlonger wrest Kashmir from India by force - either through direct military conflict or by sponsoring terrorist groups. But that does not mean that the terrorist groups do not serve some purpose. Some quarters in Pakistan gain satisfaction from seeing India hobbled on the global stage. After all, a nation which cannot keep its own house in order can hardly be taken as a serious global power.

But the private sector in Pakistan does seem eager to put Kashmir aside and get down to business. But they do not have much say in governance matters - the military does. So long as there is some instability in the region where the U.S. needs Pakistani help, there is not much incentive to crack down harder on the Islamists in Pakistan.

posted by: KXB on 02.19.07 at 06:43 PM [permalink]

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