Category Archives: AfPak region

10 killed in powerful blast outside Quetta mosque

Wreckage and fires after a blast at a mosque in Quetta on the day of Eid, Aug 31: A video grab

A suicide blast destroyed Eid day peace in Quetta on Wednesday, Aug 31, killing at least 10 people. As many as 22 persons were injured in the blast on Gulistan Road in the Murriabad area of the city, local police chief Ahsan Mahboob said said.

Express Taliban reported on its web site that the attacker targeted a Shiite congregation that was offering Eid prayers in a mosque. The bomb was detonated when the people were returning home after prayers. The blast also destroyed 10 cars and several houses in the vicinity.

A police official said that it may be a sectarian attack as it took place in a Shiite dominant area.

Authorities fear a rise in the number of casualties and have declared an emergency at the Civil Hospital after the incident.

The Shiite community of Quetta has announced that it will observe seven days of mourning to condemn the attack.

Members of the Shiite community also gathered and staged a protest at the site of the blast where they chanted slogans against the government.

Action Against Haqqanis -Key to Success in Afghanistan

Jalaluddin Haqqani, who heads the dreaded Haqqani 'Taliban' network in Af-Pak region

By Surender Kumar Sharma
Columnist on South Asian affairs

The US has given Pakistan time until July to capture Taliban supremo, Mullah Muhammad Omar and Operations Chief of the Haqqani Network, Sirajuddin Haqqani and has warned of military offensive in North Waziristan if the two are not captured. Besides the two, the list also includes al Qaeda’s new chief, Ayman al Zawahiri and the Libyan Operations Chief of al Qaeda, Atiyah Abad Al Rahman. This warning was reportedly given by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Chairman of US Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen during a visit to Pakistan last month.

Admiral Mullen, when asked about the possibility of Pakistan launching an Operation in North Waziristan said it was critical to go after the militants in the region for the Afghan war to succeed; but he refused to discuss specific plans for the offensive.

The Haqqanis belong to Zadran tribe, which are mostly based in Paktia and Khost provinces of Eastern Afghanistan. However, their support base has always been in the FATA’s Northern Waziristan, where they run a number of Madrassas and training camps but operate mainly in South-Eastern Afghanistan, and provinces further North towards Kabul. The dreaded network is reportedly preparing for alternative safe haven for itself in Kurram Agency. Pakistan army holds the Haqqani Network, like the Taliban, as its reserve asset for the endgame in Afghanistan.

The Haqqanis belong to Zadran tribe, which are mostly based in Paktia and Khost provinces in the Eastern Afghanistan. Their support base has always been in the FATA’s Northern Waziristan, where they run a number of Madrassas and training camps but operate mainly in South-Eastern Afghanistan or ‘Loya Paktia’ and provinces further North towards Kabul. The Network’s patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani is believed to be influenced by radical Islamist principles drawn from the early Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which were prevalent among many of the religiously-motivated Afghan mujahedeen of that time. Jalaluddin Haqqani has been a militia leader for three decades and he received money and weapons from the US during the war against the Soviets.

The US and the Coalition Forces describe the Haqqani Network as the most dangerous threat to Afghan security. Haqqani’s connection with the ISI dates back to the times of the anti-Soviet Jihad. In fact, US Intelligence believes that Islamabad maintained relationship with Taliban-associated groups, which support and conduct operations against US and ISAF Forces in Afghanistan. According to a report, Pak Army Chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was heard referring to the Haqqanis as a ‘strategic asset’.

Malt Waldman, a Senior Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, claims that Haqqanis are getting financial aid from two sources; Gulf countries – especially Saudi Arabia, that is accessed through the Saudi Bank; and from the ISI, which is accessed from the Islamic Bank of Pakistan, in which the Haqqani Network has a representative. The report is corroborated by The Times (London-May 31, 2010) that said over $920 million had flowed from Saudi Arabian donors to Afghan insurgents, mainly via Waziristan, over the last four years. Jalaluddin Haqqani also frequently travelled to the Gulf Arab states, where he is highly respected and has key contacts from the times of anti-Soviet Jihad.

The Haqqanis established a close relationship with Osama bin Laden in the 1980s and it is not a coincidence that the first camp that bin Laden created in Afghanistan – Lion’s Den and some related infrastructure – were in Haqqani’s territory. Writing in the Long War Journal, its Managing Editor, Bill Roggio claimed that Haqqani Network is known to shelter Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) commanders and fighters. Both the Haqqani Network and IMU are closely allied with al Qaeda and carry out Joint Operation with the terror groups. And both Sirajuddin Haqqani and Abu Usman Adil, the leader of IMU sit on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis or Executive Council.

There are many factions in the Taliban – both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While all are (were) loosely associated with al Qaeda, they did not always obey it. In 2007, when al Qaeda declared that its ‘Enemy Number One’ was no longer the US but Pakistan, only two factions of the Taliban, both Pakistanis – Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan and Maulana Fazlullah in Swat – responded to that call. The move was condemned by all the factions of the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani group.

According to another related report in the Washington Post, the Haqqani fighters cooperate with the Taliban but “not fully support” Mullah Omar and sometimes extract toll from Taliban fighters, who transit through their territory. They slip into Afghanistan along the mountain passes and historic trade routes, including several border crossings used by hundreds of cargo trucks each day. These militants generally fight in Afghanistan for a break of several months. When in Afghanistan, these militants move from village to village, never spending more than one night in the same house.

Haqqanis are alleged by Afghan and American Intelligence officials to have been behind the recent simultaneous attacks on government buildings in Kabul, a suicide attack on Indian Embassy on July 7, 2009, assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai in April 2008 and were behind the kidnapping of New York Times reporter, David S. Rohde, who escaped in 2009 after seven months in captivity. They also showed their muscles by staging an attack on Khost city Provincial Governor’s compound, the Police Headquarters and administrative buildings in May 2009.

An interesting thing about the Haqqanis is that about 150 of them are either killed or captured; but the group regenerates. The level of expertise in the Haqqani Network has helped the group strike targets far from its base. The UN added Haqqani’s name to its Watch List that equates to an “assets freeze, a travel ban and an arms embargo against this individual” across all the UN member states.

Less famous than al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, nevertheless, poses an intractable problem for the US forces, particularly as the focus on war shifts towards the border. The Haqqanis are reported to have about 4,000 fighters under their command. It is widely believed that militants linked to Haqqani Network are hostile to the US and NATO Forces in Afghanistan and not to the Pakistan security forces. And President Obama has announced draw down of American forces this month (July 2011).

However, American officials say that deadly cross-border raids by Haqqani militants are fuelling the Taliban insurgency inside Afghanistan and threatening efforts to stabilize the country. Pakistan has denied these reports and said that it is unable to expand its Operations into North Waziristan because of shortage of manpower and military hardware.

After an intense focus on fighting the Taliban last year, US Administration is in talks with Mullah Omer’s Deputy. At the same time, the US is reportedly trying to approach Ibrahim Haqqani, a brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani to test if he is also prepared for peace talk. Meanwhile, American Enterprise Institute has said in a report that the dreaded Haqqani Network has been preparing for alternative safe haven for itself in Kurram Agency following a tip off by the Pak Army or its Intelligence that Pak Army is preparing for an offensive. This is because it holds the Haqqani Network like the Taliban as its reserve asset for the endgame in Afghanistan.

It is in this context CIA Chief Leon Panetta has warned Pakistan that American boots would be stationed there as long as the country could not be trusted. During his meeting with Pak Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha in Islamabad (June 11), Panetta reportedly handed over satellite imagery showing two insurgent camps including the headquarters of Haqqani Network based in a girls school in Miranshah in North Waziristan.

US, therefore, should see that Haqqanis are not able to establish a Pashtun dispensation, friendly to Pakistan; and instead, seek India’ help in reviving the Northern Alliance. But if the Haqqanis succeed in their mission, it will destabilize Afghanistan and result in another round of civil war. “If that happens”, says Syed Iqbal Hasnain of the Stimson Center at Washington, “it would signal the collapse of nearly 10 years of American efforts, costing hundreds of billions of dollars to bring peace to Afghanistan”.

The Red Falcon

Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalander
Centuries ago, the Qalandar mystics emerged as a separate movement of Sufism with a distinctive style of dress and behaviour. Shaykh Jamaluddin and Hasan al Jawaliqi of Iran rank among the celebrated Qalandars. Bu Ali Shah Qalandar of Panipat migrated from Iraq to India. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Sindh is another famous Qalandar of the subcontinent.

One of the most popular qawaalis of the subcontinent ‘Dam a dam mast qalandar, Ali da pehla number, sindhdi da, sehwan da, Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar’, invokes the name of the Sindhi Sufi Lal Shahbaz. The verse demonstrates the mystic’s deep love for Imam Ali which is inscribed on his grave: ‘I am a Haidari, Qalandar and intoxicated, I am a slave of Ali Murtaza, I am a leader of those intoxicated with love, For I am a dog of the lane of “Allah’s Lion”. ’

The Hindus lovingly address Lal Shahbaz as ‘ Jhule Lal’, Lord of the Indus River. Even now at the annual Urs, one of the old caretakers is a Hindu, who performs the inaugural ritual for the annual festivities. Despite the partition of India, the environment of Sehwan Sharif is an extraordinary demonstration of Hindu -Muslim syncretism, an aspect particular to South Asian Islam.

Lal Shahbaz’s real name was Sayyid Usman Shah but he acquired the title of Lal, red, due to his habit of wearing red garments, and Shahbaz, royal falcon, for his soaring divinity. Some legends attribute the title to miracles such as taking spiritual flights to Makkah for prayers at the Kaabah. Another tale recounts how he flew to help his friend Bahauddin Zakariya whose life was threatened by the King of Multan.

Born to the mystic Syed Ibrahim Kabiruddin, Lal Shahbaz’s family drew their lineage from Imam Jafar Sadiq, a descendant of Imam Ali. The family came from Sistan, an Iranian province that borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The mystic was born at Marwand, a town in Afghanistan. The family migrated to Mashad in Iraq before returning to Marwand. At Mashad, Lal Shahbaz is said to have meditated continuously at the famous tomb of Imam Ali Reza for forty days and nights.

During his journey to the subcontinent, Lal Shahbaz stayed at the Panjgur valley of Makran, Baluchistan. The place later became known as Dasht-e-Shahbaz, where many Baluch tribesmen became his followers. The Mughal emperor Babar mentions the area in his autobiography, Tuzuk-e-Baburi.

Bowing in reverence at the Samadhi of Red Falcon
Overwhelmingly adored alike by Hindus and Muslims of Sindh, Lal Shahbaz arrived in Multan in 1263. The people of Multan besought him to stay but he continued his journey southward, eventually settling in Sehwan, a famous center of learning. Sehwan was known for its splendour and sanctity as a sacred place for Hindus of Sindh. The earlier name for Sehwan was Sivistan, the city of lord Shiva.
Lal Shahbaz settled on the outskirts of the town for six years during which he provided spiritual guidance to thousands of people.

Lal Shahbaz lived during the age of the famous Chishti Sufi Baba Farid of Ajodhan, Shaykh Bahauddin Zakariya of Multan, and Jalauddin Bukhari of Uch. They were all close friends and came to be called ‘ chaar yaar’, the four companions’.

Lal Shahbaz claimed to be the spiritual disciple of Mansur Hallaj, the tenth-century martyred mystic poet of Baghdad. He lived at the site of an old Shiv temple on the west bank of the Indus. He made his home in a hollow tree trunk where he performed his ascetic exercises. The area, now a walled garden is known as Lal Bagh, whose sweet water springs that irrigate it are attributed to the miracles of Lal Shahbaz.

Looking for blame and humiliation that is typical of the Qalandars, Lal Shahbaz then moved into the brothel area of Sehwan. This move of the mystic shocked the religious orthodoxy. It is believed that all the sex workers left their brothels and became his disciples. He encouraged his followers to use dance as a way of achieving spiritual ecstasy, a tradition still followed at his dargah in Sehwan Sharif with the accompanying of dhamaal, the beating of drums.

A stunning mausoleum with Sindhi tiles, mirror work and gold plated doors stands over his grave.

An erudite scholar, Lal Shahbaz was fluent in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and Sindhi. Several books in Persian and Arabic poetry and on philology are attributed to him. All the later Sindhi mystics including Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Makhdoom Bilawal, Sachal Sarmast and Qadir Bukhsh Bedal were devout followers of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. ?He died on the 18 Shaban 673 Hijri/ 1274 AD. A stunning mausoleum with Sindhi tiles, mirror work and gold plated doors stands over his grave.

The Hindus lovingly address Lal Shahbaz as ‘ Jhule Lal’, Lord of the Indus River. Even now at the annual Urs, one of the old caretakers is a Hindu, who performs the inaugural ritual for the annual festivities. Despite the partition of India, the environment of Sehwan Sharif is an extraordinary demonstration of Hindu -Muslim syncretism, an aspect particular to South Asian Islam.

Obama’s Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal

By Nathan Hughes
U.S. President Barack Obama announced June 22 that the long process of drawing down forces in Afghanistan would begin on schedule in July. Though the initial phase of the drawdown appears limited, minimizing the tactical and operational impact on the ground in the immediate future, the United States and its allies are now beginning the inevitable process of removing their forces from Afghanistan. This will entail the risk of greater Taliban battlefield successes.

The Logistical Challenge

Afghanistan, a landlocked country in the heart of Central Asia, is one of the most isolated places on Earth. This isolation has posed huge logistical challenges for the United States. Hundreds of shipping containers and fuel trucks must enter the country every day from Pakistan and from the north to sustain the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied forces stationed in Afghanistan, about half the total number of Afghan security forces. Supplying a single gallon of gasoline in Afghanistan reportedly costs the U.S. military an average of $400, while sustaining a single U.S. soldier runs around $1 million a year (by contrast, sustaining an Afghan soldier costs about $12,000 a year).

These forces appear considerably lighter than those in Iraq because Afghanistan’s rough terrain often demands dismounted foot patrols. Heavy main battle tanks and self-propelled howitzers are thus few and far between, though not entirely absent. Afghanistan even required a new, lighter and more agile version of the hulking mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle known as the M-ATV (for “all-terrain vehicle”).

Based solely on the activity on the ground in Afghanistan today, one would think the United States and its allies were preparing for a permanent presence, not the imminent beginning of a long-scheduled drawdown (a perception the United States and its allies have in some cases used to their advantage to reach political arrangements with locals). An 11,500-foot all-weather concrete and asphalt runway and an air traffic control tower were completed this February at Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion in Helmand province. Another more than 9,000-foot runway was finished at Shindand Air Field in Herat province last December.

Meanwhile, a so-called iron mountain of spare parts needed to maintain vehicles and aircraft, construction and engineering equipment, generators, ammunition and other supplies — even innumerable pallets of bottled water — has slowly been built up to sustain day-to-day military operations. There are fewer troops in Afghanistan than the nearly 170,000 in Iraq at the peak of operations and considerably lighter tonnage in terms of armored vehicles. But short of a hasty and rapid withdrawal reminiscent of the chaotic American exit from Saigon in 1975 (which no one currently foresees in Afghanistan), the logistical challenge of withdrawing from Afghanistan — at whatever pace — is perhaps even more daunting than the drawdown in Iraq. The complexity of having nearly 50 allies with troops in country will complicate this process.

Moreover, coalition forces in Iraq had ready access to well-established bases and modern port facilities in nearby Kuwait and in Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally. Though U.S. and allied equipment comes ashore on a routine basis in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, the facilities there are nothing like what exists in Kuwait. Routes to bases in Afghanistan are anything but short and established, with locally contracted fuel tankers and other supplies not only traveling far greater distances but also regularly subject to harassing attacks. They are inherently vulnerable to aggressive interdiction by militants fighting on terrain far more favorable to them, and to politically motivated interruptions by Islamabad. The American logistical dependence on Pakistani acquiescence cannot be understated. Most supplies transit the isolated Khyber Pass in the restive Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal Areas west of Islamabad. As in Iraq, the United States does have an alternative to the north. But instead of Turkey it is the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which runs through Central Asia and Russia (Moscow has agreed to continue to expand it) and entails a 3,200-mile rail route to the Baltic Sea and ports in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Given the extraordinary distances involved, the metrics for defining whether something is worth the expense of shipping back from Afghanistan are unforgiving. Some equipment will be deemed too heavily damaged or cheap and will be sanitized if necessary and discarded. Much construction and fortification has been done with engineering and construction equipment like Hesco barriers (which are filled with sand and dirt) that will not be reclaimed, and will continue to characterize the landscape in Afghanistan for decades to come, much as the Soviet influence was perceivable long after their 1989 withdrawal. Much equipment will be handed over to Afghan security forces, which already have begun to receive up-armored U.S. HMMWVs, aka “humvees.” Similarly, some 800,000 items valued at nearly $100 million have already been handed over to more than a dozen Iraqi military, security and government entities.

Other gear will have to be stripped of sensitive equipment (radios and other cryptographic gear, navigation equipment, jammers for improvised explosive devices, etc.), which is usually flown out of the country due to security concerns before being shipped overland. And while some Iraqi stocks were designated for redeployment to Afghanistan or prepared for long-term storage in pre-positioned equipment depots and aboard maritime pre-positioning ships at facilities in Kuwait, most vehicles and supplies slated to be moved out of Afghanistan increasingly will have to be shipped far afield. This could be from Karachi by ship or to Europe by rail even if they are never intended for return to the United States.

Security Transition

More important than the fate of armored trucks and equipment will be the process of rebalancing forces across the country. This will involve handing over outposts and facilities to Afghan security forces, who continue to struggle to reach full capability, and scaling back the extent of the U.S. and allied presence in the country. In Iraq, and likely in Afghanistan, the beginning of this process will be slow and measured. But its pace in the years ahead remains to be seen, and may accelerate considerably.

Bin-Laden and his succeesor Ayman Alzawahiri
The first areas slated for handover to Afghan control, the provinces of Panjshir, Bamiyan and Kabul — aside the restive Surobi district, though the rest of Kabul’s security effectively has been in Afghan hands for years — and the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Lashkar Gah and Mehtar Lam have been relatively quiet places for some time. Afghan security forces increasingly have taken over in these areas. As in Iraq, the first places to be turned over to indigenous security forces already were fairly secure. Handing over more restive areas later in the year will prove trickier.

This process of pulling back and handing over responsibility for security (in Iraq often termed having Iraqi security forces “in the lead” in specific areas) is a slow and deliberate one, not a sudden and jarring maneuver. Well before the formal announcement, Afghan forces began to transition to a more independent role, conducting more small-unit operations on their own. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops slowly have transitioned from joint patrols and tactical overwatch to a more operational overwatch, but have remained nearby even after transitions formally have taken place.

Under the current training regime, Afghan units continue to require advice and assistance, particularly with matters like intelligence, planning, logistics and maintenance. The ISAF will be cautious in its reductions for fear of pulling back too quickly and seeing the situation deteriorate — unless, of course, Obama directs it to conduct a hastier pullback.

As in Afghanistan, in Iraq the process of drawing down and handing over responsibility in each area was done very cautiously. There was a critical distinction, however. A political accommodation with the Sunnis facilitated the apparent success of the Iraqi surge — something that has not been (and cannot be) replicated in Afghanistan. Even with that advantage, Iraq remains in an unsettled and contentious state. The lack of any political framework to facilitate a military pullback leaves the prospect of a viable transition in restive areas where the U.S. counterinsurgency-focused strategy has been focused tenuous at best — particularly if timetables are accelerated.

In June 2009, U.S. forces in Iraq occupied 357 bases. A year later, U.S. forces occupied only 92 bases, 58 of which were partnered with the Iraqis. The pace of the transition in Afghanistan remains to be seen, but handing over the majority of positions to Afghan forces will fundamentally alter the situational awareness, visibility and influence of ISAF forces.

Casualties and Force Protection

The security of the remaining outposts and ensuring the security of U.S. and allied forces and critical lines of supply (particularly key sections of the Ring Road) that sustain remaining forces will be key to crafting the withdrawal and pulling back to fewer, stronger and more secure positions. As that drawdown progresses — and particularly if a more substantive shift in strategy is implemented — the increased pace begins to bring new incentives into play. Of particular note will be both a military and political incentive to reduce casualties as the endgame draws closer.

The desire to accelerate the consolidation to more secure positions will clash with the need to pull back slowly and continue to provide Afghan forces with advice and assistance. The reorientation may expose potential vulnerabilities to Taliban attack in the process of transitioning to a new posture. Major reversals and defeats for Afghan security forces at the hands of the Taliban after they have been left to their own devices can be expected in at least some areas and will have wide repercussions, perhaps even shifting the psychology and perception of the war.

When ISAF units are paired closely with Afghan forces, those units have a stronger day-to-day tactical presence in the field, and other units are generally operating nearby. So while they are more vulnerable and exposed to threats like IEDs while out on patrol, they also — indeed, in part because of that exposure — have a more alert and robust posture. As the transition accelerates and particularly if Washington accelerates it, the posture and therefore the vulnerabilities of forces change.

Force protection remains a key consideration throughout. The United States gained considerable experience with that during the Iraq transition — though again, a political accommodation underlay much of that transition, which will not be the case in Afghanistan.

As the drawdown continues, ISAF will have to balance having advisers in the field alongside Afghan units for as long as possible against pulling more back to key strongholds and pulling them out of the country completely. In the former case, the close presence of advisers can improve the effectiveness of Afghan security forces and provide better situational awareness. But it also exposes smaller units to operations more distant from strongholds as the number of outposts and major positions begins to be reduced. And as the process of pulling back accelerates and particularly as allied forces increasingly hunker down on larger and more secure outposts, their already limited situational awareness will decline even further, which opens up its own vulnerabilities.

One of these will be the impact on not just situational awareness on the ground but intelligence collection and particularly exploitable relationships with local political factions. As the withdrawal becomes more and more undeniable and ISAF pulls back from key areas, the human relationships that underlie intelligence sharing will be affected and reduced. This is particularly the case in places where the Taliban are strongest, as villagers there return to a strategy of hedging their bets out of necessity and focus on the more enduring power structure, which in many areas will clearly be the Taliban.

The Taliban

Ultimately, the Taliban’s incentive vis-a-vis the United States and its allies — especially as their exit becomes increasingly undeniable — is to conserve and maximize their strength for a potential fight in the vacuum sure to ensue after the majority of foreign troops have left the country. At the same time, any “revolutionary” movement must be able to consolidate internal control and maintain discipline while continuing to make itself relevant to domestic constituencies. The Taliban also may seek to take advantage of the shifting tactical realities to demonstrate their strength and the extent of their reach across the country, not only by targeting newly independent and newly isolated Afghan units but by attempting to kill or even kidnap now-more isolated foreign troops.

Though this year the Taliban have demonstrated their ability to strike almost anywhere in the country, they so far have failed to demonstrate the ability to penetrate the perimeter of large, secured facilities with a sizable assault force or to bring crew-served weapons to bear in an effective supporting manner. Given the intensity and tempo of special operations forces raids on Taliban leadership and weapons caches, it is unclear whether the Taliban have managed to retain a significant cache of heavier arms and the capability to wield them.

The inherent danger of compromise and penetration of indigenous security forces also continues to loom large. The vulnerabilities of ISAF forces will grow and change while they begin to shift as mission and posture evolve — and those vulnerabilities will be particularly pronounced in places where the posture and presence remains residual and a legacy of a previous strategy instead of more fundamental rebalancing. The shift from a dispersed, counterinsurgency-focused orientation to a more limited and more secure presence will ultimately provide the space to reduce casualties, but it will necessarily entail more limited visibility and influence. And the transition will create space for potentially more significant Taliban successes on the battlefield.

Obama’s Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Pakistan: Unpleasant Pleasantries

There are question marks over Ilyasa Kashmiri's reported death
New Delhi (Syndicate Features): No pleasantries to exchange and no truth to be told. One man, Saleem Shahzad is dead today and mysteriously buried under tons of mud leaving behind a wife with three kids and thousands of mourners. Another man, Ilyas Kahmiri, is reported to have been killed by a drone attack, but his family seeks proof of his death.

I do not intend to draw any comparison, but I still see some contrasting notions the way the society judges both men at the moment. Saleem, a brave and courageous journalist, has been murdered in the line of duty in a country which has been declared “the most dangerous place for journalists” by press freedom organisations. A true “martyr” he is who died in his pursuit of truth, which many will agree is “jihad”.

A true “martyr” he is who died in his pursuit of truth, which many will agree is “jihad”.

Ilyas Kashmiri is one of the most wanted men after Osama bin Laden (OBL). The US administration has safely refrained from confirming his death; whereas Pakistan’s prime minister, without having given any second thought, has confirmed this death.

Like Kashmiri’s family, many in Pakistan have faith in his Jihad (holy war) which he has been fighting against India and now Pakistan; and would always remember him as a martyr like OBL. In a country like Pakistan, where the majority feels pride in OBL’s knacks of scaring the world and believes in his ‘eternity,’ many Saleems will be forgotten.

Last week, the National Public Radio (NPR) from the United States did some stories to gauge the passion and views of Pakistanis on OBL. What struck me about the results was that hardly few believed that he was dead or could be killed.

Who therefore killed Saleem Shahzad? Who silenced the man who had always fought the ‘holy’ war with his pen and brought the truth about the PNS Mehran attack to the world.

All Pakistani fingers seem to point towards the dreaded ISI, which they say doesn’t seem to have learnt to cope with truth as yet.

All Pakistani fingers seem to point towards the dreaded ISI, which they say doesn’t seem to have learnt to cope with truth as yet. The memories of Hayatullah Khan, another press freedom martyr, are still fresh in the mind. It served as an eye-opener and was one of the first exposures to the horrors the agencies bring to a truth-seeker’s life.

Hayatullah’s revelation that an Al-Qaeda commander named Abu Hamza Rabia with other people was killed in a drone attack, was a reason strong enough for the ISI to eliminate him in 2006.

Today, the drones’ have become an accepted reality of Pakistan, despite all protests and hate speeches against the US. The drone attacks still violate the so-called sovereignty of Pakistan, but elimination of terrorists like Kashmiri boost the strategic alliance of both the countries. The ISI has been progressively virulent and many Hayatullahs and Saleems have tasted the sting.

Today, Ilays Kashmiri’s unconfirmed death is a boost to Pakistan’s intelligence, but it still cannot hide the embarrassment the OBL operation and the Mehran attack have brought to them.

It is a sinister fact that all attempts to control and monitor the ISI by any civilian government and all demands for its accountability have been silenced. Anyone who gets to the bottom of what the agencies are planning and performing under the popular theme of “national interest” are people like Hayatullah or Saleem. Only lucky victims like Umar Cheema get to live and relate their painful memories of torture and a persistent fear for the rest of his life.

In sheer frustration and hopelessness, what still amazes me is the fanatic absurdity and constant thirst for censorship of those who know how gigantic media has grown. Tweets are re-tweeted, statuses are shared, and bloggers blog endlessly; and in case of censorship, different proxies are used to access websites and blogs. In the nutshell, truth surfaces and resurfaces in all colours and shapes.

Hayatullah’s revelation that an Al-Qaeda commander named Abu Hamza Rabia with other people was killed in a drone attack, was a reason strong enough for the ISI to eliminate him in 2006.

Now the concepts of social media and citizen journalism have awakened a little watchdog in everyone who keeps an eye on the happenings. But Pakistan still manages to be among the countries where unlimited and unaccountable powers of institutions infringe freedom of speech and right to information.

I support any demand for an inquiry into Saleem’s killing, but I have failed to convince myself on who has the power to hold the agencies accountable. The ISI chief should appear in the Court to explain his position.

If the judiciary is now independent as stated, and is concerned with what the citizens of Pakistan face in the hands of the agencies, the country would witness sooner than later a miracle where the ISI heads would be summoned before the bar of the judiciary and face accountability without any interference. Yesterday’s shame of drones is today’s pride, but without Hayatullah. What Saleem reported and analysed will be accepted and appreciated a few years later but without Saleem. (Syndicate Features)

(*Executive Editor, South Asia Media Monitor. She blogs at and can be reached at

Who killed journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad ..?


Pak journalists protest in Lahore
(Syndicate Features): Pakistan continues to make headlines under the masthead of being the world’s deadliest country for journalists. Statistically, 16 journalists have been killed in Pakistan the past 14 months; some of the worst excesses occurred in the restive Balochistan province.

“These journalists work under extremely dangerous circumstances”, says noted Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi. The Friday Times Editor-in-Chief said that journalists are both “part of the problem and solution,” walking a fine line between reporting the public’s sentiments on Pakistan’s ongoing turmoil and reinforcing them. Sadly, what is being revealed by human rights groups (here) is that it isn’t just the terrorists and their activities that make Pakistan dangerous for journalists. In addition to anti-state elements (militants), state elements top the list for “abducting, beating, detaining, disappearing, threatening, torturing and murdering journalists, who dare to question their intervention and authority”.

40- year- old Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online’s Pakistan bureau chief, is the latest victim of the dangerous quest for honesty and truth. According to news reports, he was “picked up” in broad daylight in Islamabad on 29th May, as he was on his way to a television interview.

Fears grew for his safety after he was missing for more than 2 days, and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) believed him to be in the custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The HRW declared that Syed Saleem Shahzad could also be subjected to mistreatment and torture during “custody”. As ill-fate would have had it, police found his body in Mandi Bahauddin on Tuesday, May 31, about 150 kilometres southeast of Islamabad, days after he published an article that could have upset the powerful people at the centre of Pakistan’s war on terror.

“This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in South Asia. He has called for a “transparent investigation and court proceedings”.

The following quote from Shahzad’s final article gives an idea of just how embarrassing his latest revelations might have been to several powerful parties.

Another view of the journos protest in Lahore
‘Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals. At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces. The naval base assault was a humiliation for the Pakistani army, which battled for 17 hours against at least four heavily armed men, who blew up two surveillance planes and killed 10 soldiers’.

In a follow-up to this despatch, Shahzad had planned to explain the recruitment and training of militants. Sadly, that never happened.

As we dig into the archives of Shahzad’s bold reportage, an experience that brought him dangerously close to the dark world of Al Qaeda, Taliban and extremists’ links to Pakistani politics and security – where he often took great personal risks to deliver his unique insights, we realize the immense research and information Saleem Shehzad possessed. An expert on the Al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISI, Pakistan Army, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Islam and Lashkar-e-Taiba, his prolific journey as a reporter is as deeply rooted as the problems he focussed on.

Who will be the next target is the worry amongst Pak Journos
It is pretty obvious that he ruffled many a feathers and his honest reporting made many uncomfortable. Brief detention by the Taliban in 2006 allowed him to interview their big fish, which included Taliban commanders Sirajuddin Haqqani, Qari Ziaur Rahman, Baitullah Mehsud and Ilyas Kashmiri, who leads Al-Qaeda’s operational arm through his 313 Brigade and is suspected to be the mastermind behind the 2008 terrorist rampage that left more than 160 dead in Mumbai.

Saleem found his true calling while reporting on the symbiosis of the ISI and Taliban factions on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Recently, he focused on militant loyalists within the armed forces of Pakistan, mentioning their human resource operations and changes. His reportage has brought ISI’s former strategic asset Ilyas Kashmiri into focus, as he is now seen as the operational in-charge responsible for establishing Al-Qaeda-Taliban “terror cells”.

Saleem Shehzad may not have been targeted by the ISI, but he was surely being monitored as a potential threat by all the stakeholders. Fellow journalists reacted angrily to his death, which is not merely the murder of a journalist; but the murder of truth itself.

People are now directly accusing the ISI on television and social media forums. “Any journalist here (Pakistan) who doesn’t believe that it’s our intelligence agencies?” tweeted Mohammed Hanif, a bestselling author.

Salim Shahzad death not invain - reads the plycard
The sad thing is that Saleem isn’t the first, nor will he be the last Pakistani journalist to face such dangers to life. Last September, Umar Cheema, an investigative reporter for The News International , was kidnapped, blindfolded, stripped naked, had his head and eyebrows shaved, beaten up, filmed in humiliating positions and dumped on the side of the road six hours later.

“If you can’t avoid rape”, one of his interrogators jeered during the ordeal, “enjoy it”. The perpetrators were never found, but when asked about his suspicions, Cheema told the New York Times: ‘I have suspicions and every journalist has suspicions that all fingers point to the ISI’.

Cheema is more concerned than ever for his own safety. ‘Obviously I feel really vulnerable’ he says. ‘We need an independent commission to look into [Shahzad’s death]’.

One of the primary reasons as to why people majorly suspect the ISI is that the kind of operation in which Syed Saleem Shahzad lost his life, doesn’t seem to be the work of militant groups known for spot killings or abductions that end up in Waziristan, but of the intelligence agencies.

Shahzad was known to have sources both within the Pakistan’s intelligence community and among Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. Last October, the journalist had been called for a meeting at the ISI headquarters after he had written an article that claimed the Pakistani authorities had released from custody Afghan Taliban military commander Mullah Baradar to negotiate with the Pakistan army.

Shahzad said the mood at the meeting, at which he was asked for but declined to reveal the sources for his article, was polite but that at the end one of the senior officers had said to him: “I must give you a favour. We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, dairies and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know.”

Ali Dayan Hasan of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the journalist had taken these words as a threat. “He told me he was being followed and that he was getting threatening telephone calls and that he was under intelligence surveillance,” Hasan told Reuters. “We can’t say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI and [we have] every reason to believe that that threat was credible.”

One of the ISI’s media wing officials who attended the meeting and questioned Shahzad was Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, a naval officer.

On Monday, May 30, Pakistani intelligence officials told journalists that they had picked up Kamran Ahmed Malik, a former navy commando, in Lahore on May 27, Friday. Malik and his brother have been detained in connection with the investigation. While Malik has not been formally charged, it is widely reported that he is being held for questioning about his links to both the terrorists and former colleagues inside the navy.

When contacted on Thursday June 2 night, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir declined to comment on the raid or the death of Shahzad, saying “I don’t speak to anyone.”

Many say that if the ISI isn’t involved in the murder, then it should at least help in identifying and capturing the killers. Why? Because, it has to. And it alone can.

Amid chants of ‘Yay jo deshatgardi hay, iskay peechay wardi hay (Militancy is backed by the military) ringing around the Lahore Press Club, Pakistani journalists find themselves in a concatenation of cross fires. There is a new fear, and the government is in no mood to protect the journalists. The only official reaction is Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s suggestion that journalists should be allowed to carry small firearms for their self-defence.

As public outrage intensifies, the ISI, in a rare clarification, has felt that it needs to make its voice heard. On June 2, a senior ISI official told the government news agency, Associated Press, that allegations of the agency’s involvement were absurd. He said allegations that its operatives were behind the abduction and killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad were baseless, and vowed to help bring the perpetrators to justice. He denied that the agency had made any threats to the journalist and described Saleem Shahzad’s death as “unfortunate and tragic” and a “source of concern for the entire nation.” The intelligence official was unnamed in accordance with the nature of his job.

The ISI, which has been accused of multiple human rights abuses against journalists and political activists in Pakistan, said it was regrettable that some sections of the media had levelled such allegations against the agency. It called on them to act responsibly and suggested that it may consider taking legal action against them.

The official said that a meeting between ISI officials and Shahzad in October was part of the media wing’s mandate to keep in touch with members of the media and that it represented nothing sinister.

The only problem with this version of events is Shahzad’s last written testament to Human Rights Watch in Pakistan some months ago in which he communicated his fear that the ISI, rather than some unknown forces, had warned him off for wading into troubled waters and might exact punishment. Additionally, his wife has confirmed that a senior ISI officer was in touch with her husband and had even “interrogated” him some time ago.

Hopes for any inquiry, however, are low. Although the ISI technically reports to Prime Minister Gilani, in reality it is controlled by the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani. Although accused of numerous human rights abuses over the years, serving ISI officials have never been prosecuted.

Waseem Shahzad, Saleem’s younger brother, says ‘Nobody can say my brother backed down because of threats or bribes. He paid the ultimate sacrifice’.

Saleem Shahzad is survived by his wife, Anita, and three children. His widow wants no autopsy nor any charges filed against anyone. (Syndicate Features)

(*The author, Saad Sarfraz Sheikh, is an independent journalist and a reputed photographer based in Lahore. He can be reached at

Even without Osama, Afghan end game not in sight

Map of Afghanistan and Pakistan
By Shantanu Chakrabarti*
(* This article first appeared on POREG)

The ‘killing’ of Osama bin Laden by the US special force inside Pakistan has provided yet another opportunity to tireless analysts across the spectrum to crystal gaze the evolving situation in the Af-Pak region. The general consensus is that while euphoric speeches and statements would continue to emanate from various sections of the US establishment obviously with an eye on domestic audience, cool headed decisions would be taken soon in the background. One such decision, according to many analysts, would be to enhance the intensity of negotiations with the remnant Taliban factions.

According to a recent report appearing in the Washington Post, for instance, the US administration officials think that it would be now easier for Mohammad Omar, the leader of the largest Taliban faction, to break his group’s alliance with al-Qaeda, a key U.S. requirement for any peace deal. In their view, Osama bin Laden’s death could make peace talks a more palatable outcome for Americans and insulate President Obama from criticism that his administration was willing to negotiate with the terrorists.

This is neither breaking news nor startling development. Since 2008, there have been several signals from the US administration that it is willing to hold talks with the Taliban. With the Afghan war, in spite of tactical gains by the NATO and ISAF forces, showing no signs of ending soon and substantial reduction of American armed presence by 2014 being the declared policy of President Obama, it is but natural for Washington to become eager to try out other options particularly as the relations with the Hamid Karzai’s government have deteriorated. In 2010, according to one source, a small number of officials in the Obama Administration—amongst them was Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Af-Pak—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again. Since then contacts with the Taliban have become a key development.

On its part, the desperate Karzai government is also trying out every possible option to come to some sort of settlement with the so called liberal factions of the Taliban. Secret parleys have been reported with the Riyadh and Islamabad playing their role to perfection as key interlocutors. According to Hamid Gul, who as Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (1987-89) played the role of mid-wife at the birth of the Taliban, these Islamists have grown from strength to strength; they largely benefitted from the failure of Operation Anaconda (in 2003) and the fiasco of Operation Mushtarik at Marja in Helmand province. They have become more confident and their ranks have swelled to around 50,000 fighting men.

In a recent interview with World Security Network President Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, Gul commented: “Now that they are sensing victory their (the Taliban) morale is extremely high. Increasingly the Afghan population is turning to them as an alternative to Karzai’s corrupt and incompetent administration.” There is a ring of truth in the Gul speak.

The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, if it happens, is hardly going to be a smooth affair even if they completely de-link themselves from the al-Qaeda network. The rump Taliban groups are splintered, riven with factions, and scattered with no clear hierarchy. The Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) is the most important group. The remnants of the former Taliban government manifested as QST in 2002.

According to several documents published by the Taliban between April 2008 and May 2009, the Taliban have created additional councils to perform specific tasks. The Quetta group is led by Mullah Omar himself. Another group, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an umbrella front bringing together the Pakistan Taliban and several resistance organisations and terror groups. The other major faction is the Haqqani network set up by Jalaluddin Haqqani.

The Haqqani network has sway over several south-eastern provinces in Afghanistan. It also enjoys substantial control in North Waziristan in Pakistan. Various factions of Taliban, in all probability, have de facto control in large parts of Pashtun dominated eastern and southern Afghanistan. They know that the ‘waiting’ is going to be beneficial. Hence the signals from the top leadership that they are not interested in serious negotiations as long as foreign military forces remain in Afghanistan.

The United States, on the other hand, in all probability would insist on retaining certain key military bases in Afghanistan, particularly in the South even if there is substantial withdrawal of ground forces in 2014. Such bases will give Washington some edge in dealing with Tehran. Will Pakistan go along with the US plans or will it use its strategic leverages for a new double game?

The killing of Osama bin Laden at Abbattobad has pushed relations between the two countries to an all time low. It could turn out to be a temporary phenomenon.

Pakistan is strategically too crucial for the USA to be abandoned or pilloried at this juncture. Moreover, given the sour relationship between the Obama administration and the Karzai government, Afghanistan is hardly in a position to take advantage of Pakistan’s discomfiture.

So, the point is the endgame is still not in sight. The removal of Osama bin Laden removes a symbolic stumbling block which might encourage a spate of negotiations with the Taliban remnants. Since the Taliban are no longer a monolith and are split into multiple factions, dialogue with these Islamists is bound to be tortuous. Also the prospects of a quick breakthrough and the return of the Taliban to Kabul seem remote.

Ultimately, much would depend on the manoeuvring capacity of the Pakistan and Afghan governments and their ability to influence the US of America.(POREG)

(*The author is Convenor, Academic Committee in the Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, University of Calcutta)

Death of bin Laden and a Strategic Shift in Washington

Two apparently distinct facts have drawn our attention. The first and most obvious is U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement late May 1 that Osama bin Laden had been killed. The second is Obama’s April 28 announcement that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, will replace Leon Panetta as CIA director. Together, the events create the conditions for the U.S. president to expand his room to maneuver in the war in Afghanistan and ultimately reorient U.S. foreign-policy priorities.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan, as stated by Obama, is the destruction of al Qaeda — in particular, of the apex leadership that once proved capable of carrying out transnational, high-casualty attacks. Although al Qaeda had already been severely weakened in Afghanistan and has recently focused more on surviving inside Pakistan than executing meaningful operations, the inability to capture or kill bin Laden meant that the U.S. mission itself had not been completed. With the death of bin Laden, a plausible, if not altogether accurate, political narrative in the United States can develop, claiming that the mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished. During a White House press conference on Monday, U.S. Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan commented on bin Laden’s death, saying “We are going to try to take advantage of this to demonstrate to people in the area that al Qaeda is a thing of the past, and we are hoping to bury the rest of al Qaeda along with Osama bin Laden.”

“With the death of bin Laden, a plausible, if not altogether accurate, political narrative in the United States can develop, claiming that the mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished.”

Compound where Osama bin Laden lived at Abbattobad

Petraeus was the architect of the American counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He symbolized American will in the region. The new appointment effectively sidelines the general. By appointing Petraeus as CIA director (he is expected to assume the position in July), Obama has put the popular general in charge of a complex intelligence bureaucracy. From Langley, Petraeus can no longer be the authoritative military voice on the war effort in Afghanistan. Obama has retained Petraeus as a senior member of the administration while simultaneously isolating him.

Together, the two steps open the door for serious consideration of an accelerated withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The U.S. political leadership faced difficulty in shaping an exit strategy from Afghanistan with Petraeus in command because the general continued to insist that the war was going reasonably well. Whether or not this accurately represented the military campaign (and we tend to think that the war had more troubles than Petraeus was admitting), Petraeus’ prestige made it difficult to withdraw over his objections.

Petraeus is now being removed from the Afghanistan picture. Bin Laden has already been removed. With his death, an argument in the United States can be made that the U.S. mission has been accomplished and that, while there may be room for some manner of special-operations counterterrorism forces, the need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan no longer exists. It is difficult to ignore the fact that bin Laden was killed, not in Afghanistan, but deep within Pakistani borders. With the counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan dissipating, the nation-building mission in Afghanistan becomes unnecessary and nonessential. In addition, with tensions in the Persian Gulf building in the lead-up to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, ending the war in Afghanistan critically releases U.S. forces for operations elsewhere. It is therefore possible for the United States to consider an accelerated withdrawal in a way that wasn’t possible before.

We are not saying that bin Laden’s death and Petraeus’ new appointment are anything beyond coincidental. We are saying that the confluence of the two events creates politically strategic opportunities for the U.S. administration that did not exist before, the most important of which is the possibility for a dramatic shift in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.


America, Pakistan, Drone Politics

Predator drone over Pak airspace

A US predator drone strike killed 25 people in the village of Spinwam in North Waziristan on April 23. The dead included at least five children and four women.

In response to mounting public outrage, Pakistan’s government has repeatedly denounced the US drone strikes in recent months, calling them “unhelpful” and urging that they be discontinued or at least massively scaled back. But the Obama administration and the Pentagon have brushed these complaints aside, publicly insisted that the missile strikes are a pivotal part of the Af-Pak War, and continued to mount such strikes at a rate of well over one per week.

The Spinwam strike came on the eve of a two-day mass sit-in against the drone attacks that its organizers claim will mobilize hundreds of thousands of people. Protesters—including persons who have been displaced by the drone strikes and the counter-insurgency war that the Pakistani military has mounted in the tribal areas of Pashtun majority northwest— are to take to the streets of Peshawar, with the stated aimed of disrupting NATO shipments to Afghanistan.

Claiming it fears violence, Pakistan’s government has announced that the US-NATO supply shipments will be suspended for the duration of the protest

The capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa (the former North West Frontier Provinces), Peshawar serves as the administrative center for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)—the site of virtually all the US drone attacks.

Peshawar is also the gateway to the Khyber Pass, a vital supply line for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. While the US has gone to great lengths in recent years to develop alternate supply routes, the bulk of the food and fuel that supports the almost 150,000 US-NATO forces in Afghanistan still goes through Pakistan.

The April 23 anti-drone sit-in has been called by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice), a rightwing political party founded and led by former cricket star Imran Khan. He terms the US drone attacks as “state-sponsored terrorism.” And accuses Pakistan’s “rulers” of selling “national sovereignty for US dollars” and alleges they are complicit in the drone attacks.

Despite its professed opposition to the attacks, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP)-led government has never demanded an end to the strikes at the UN or in any other international forum. Recently, Interior Minister Rehman Malik blurted out that the attacks cannot be stopped. A senior army officer unabashedly defended the drone strikes earlier this month. Major-General Ghayur Mehmood told a press briefing, “Myths and rumours about US Predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hard-core elements and a sizable number of them are foreigners.”

Imran Khan has claimed that a consensus for taking action against the drone strikes had emerged as a result of the popular outcry over Raymond Davis saga. His party is vowing to pursue a “two-way strategy” to oppose the drone strikes “that are killing innocent civilians”—“public pressure with the country and litigations at international courts of law.”

Several other rightwing and Islamic fundamentalist parties have announced their support for the anti-drone protest. These include the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat-Ulema-Islam-Fazl, both of which have historically enjoyed close relations with the military-security apparatus, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q).

The PLM (Q) is the political party created by General Pervez Musharraf to provide a civilian-democratic fig-leaf for his US-sponsored military dictatorship. Under Musharraf, Pakistan became the logistical linchpin of the US operations in Afghanistan. At Washington’s behest, the Pakistani military launched a counter insurgency war in the historically autonomous FATA that is now entering its eighth year, and gave the CIA carte blanche to mount predator missile strikes in FATA.

These drone strikes, which have increased many-fold under Obama, have understandably become the focal point for the Pakistani people’s opposition to the Afghan War and to the US neo-colonial domination of the country—a domination that is sustained through and epitomized by the alliance between the Pentagon and the Pakistani military.

That rightwing forces, including parties with intimate ties to the military-intelligence apparatus, are able to pose as leaders of the opposition to the drone-strikes speaks to the crisis in the making that raises doubts whether it is orchestrated to a purpose.

In 2007, Benazir Bhutto and her husband, the current president Asif Ali Zardari, sought at the urging and direction of the Bush administration to strike a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, to help shore up his regime. If this bargain ultimately unravelled, it was not for any of lack of trying on the part of the PPP leaders, but because elements in the Musharraf regime, if not the General himself, balked at parting with any real power. Since coming to the head of an elected civilian government, the PPP has sought to keep the generals at bay by proving to Washington that it is an even more dependable ally in the Afghan War than they.

The government and militaries of both the US and Pakistan are trying to use the drone strikes and the popular anger that they have evoked to further their own interests; each seeking to prod the other into pursuing a strategic course more to their liking.

The US has long been urging Pakistan to launch a new military offensive in North Waziristan. The drone strikes—and threats to have US military forces cross over into Pakistan—are meant to propel a reluctant Islamabad into action.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Pakistan this week. He is known in private talks to have pressed his Pakistani counterpart, General Kayani, to launch an offensive in North Waziristan forthwith. But Mullen also gave a series of media interviews in which he suggested that the Pakistani military’s reluctance to invade North Waziristan is bound up with its longstanding relations with the Afghan warlord and erstwhile US ally Jalaluddin Haqqani and his militia network.

“It is fairly well known, Mullen told the Dawn, “(that) ISI had a relationship with the Haqqani network and addressing the Haqqani network from my perspective is critical to the solution set in Afghanistan.” He went on to add that the Haqqani question is at the “core—it’s not the only thing— but [it’s] at the core… [of the] most difficult part of the [US-Pakistan] relationship.”

The Pakistan military is as indifferent and hostile to the needs and well being of the Pakistani people. In seeking to subjugate FATA it has used carpet-bombing, disappearances, and colonial-style collective punishments.

But like Washington, it is trying to exploit the drone strikes and the mass opposition to them in Pakistan to further its own ends. These include pressing Washington for more funds and weaponry, such as Predator drones, and a decisive say in Washington’s end-game for Afghanistan. In their bid to checkmate India on the Afghan theatre, the Pakistan army is determined to use what leverage they have due to US dependence on Pakistani support to further their own predatory interests.-

-Rama Rao with Keith Jones (