Right at the Edge

[Once in a while, the New York Times does some real reporting.]

So here was Namdar — Taliban chieftain, enforcer of Islamic law, usurper of the Pakistani government and trainer and facilitator of suicide bombers in Afghanistan — sitting at home, not three miles from Peshawar, untouched by the Pakistani military operation that was supposedly unfolding around us.

What’s going on? I asked the warlord. Why aren’t they coming for you?

“I cannot lie to you,” Namdar said, smiling at last. “The army comes in, and they fire at empty buildings. It is a drama — it is just to entertain.”

Entertain whom? I asked

And then the retired Pakistani official offered another explanation — one that he said could never be discussed in public. The reason the Pakistani security services support the Taliban, he said, is for money: after the 9/11 attacks, the Pakistani military concluded that keeping the Taliban alive was the surest way to win billions of dollars in aid that Pakistan needed to survive. The military’s complicated relationship with the Taliban is part of what the official called the Pakistani military’s “strategic games.” Like other Pakistanis, this former senior official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of what he was telling me.

Right at the Edge

Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

DÉJÀ VU: The Vice and Virtue brigade has taken control of a large swath of Khyber agency near the Afghanistan border. At the commander’s compound in Takya, the author and photographer encountered a group of armed men and boys sitting in a Toyota pickup truck, reminding them of Kabul in the 1990s.

PAYING THEIR RESPECTS: Munsif Khan, a spokesman for the Vice and Virtue brigade, greeting visiting Talibs at the Takya compound. He was injured in a car-bomb attack last year.

Late in the afternoon of June 10, during a firefight with Taliban militants along the Afghan-Pakistani border, American soldiers called in airstrikes to beat back the attack. The firefight was taking place right on the border itself, known in military jargon as the “zero line.” Afghanistan was on one side, and the remote Pakistani region known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, was on the other. The stretch of border was guarded by three Pakistani military posts.

The American bombers did the job, and then some. By the time the fighting ended, the Taliban militants had slipped away, the American unit was safe and 11 Pakistani border guards lay dead. The airstrikes on the Pakistani positions sparked a diplomatic row between the two allies: Pakistan called the incident “unprovoked and cowardly”; American officials regretted what they called a tragic mistake. But even after a joint inquiry by the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it remained unclear why American soldiers had reached the point of calling in airstrikes on soldiers from Pakistan, a critical ally in the war in Afghanistan and the campaign against terrorism.

The mystery, at least part of it, was solved in July by four residents of Suran Dara, a Pakistani village a few hundred yards from the site of the fight. According to two of these villagers, whom I interviewed together with a local reporter, the Americans started calling in airstrikes on the Pakistanis after the latter started shooting at the Americans.

“When the Americans started bombing the Taliban, the Frontier Corps started shooting at the Americans,” we were told by one of Suran Dara’s villagers, who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being persecuted or killed by the Pakistani government or the Taliban. “They were trying to help the Taliban. And then the American planes bombed the Pakistani post.”

For years, the villagers said, Suran Dara served as a safe haven for jihadist fighters — whether from Afghanistan or Pakistan or other countries — giving them aid and shelter and a place to stash their weapons. With the firefight under way, one of Suran Dara’s villagers dashed across the border into Afghanistan carrying a field radio with a long antenna (the villager called it “a Motorola”) to deliver to the Taliban fighters. He never made it. The man with the Motorola was hit by an American bomb. After the fight, wounded Taliban members were carried into Suran Dara for treatment. “Everyone supports the Taliban on both sides of the border,” one of the villagers we spoke with said.

Later, an American analyst briefed by officials in Washington confirmed the villagers’ account. “There have been dozens of incidents where there have been exchanges of fire,” he said.

That American and Pakistani soldiers are fighting one another along what was meant to be a border between allies highlights the extraordinarily chaotic situation unfolding inside the Pakistani tribal areas, where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban, along with Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, enjoy freedom from American attacks.

But the incident also raises one of the more fundamental questions of the long war against Islamic militancy, and one that looms larger as the American position inside Afghanistan deteriorates: Whose side is Pakistan really on?

PAKISTAN’S WILD, LARGELY ungoverned tribal areas have become an untouchable base for Islamic militants to attack Americans and Afghans across the border. Inside the tribal areas, Taliban warlords have taken near-total control, pushing aside the Pakistani government and imposing their draconian form of Islam. And for more than a year now, they have been sending suicide bombers against government and military targets in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people. American and Pakistani investigators say they believe it was Baitullah Mehsud, the strongest of FATA’s Taliban leaders, who dispatched assassins last December to kill Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister. With much of the North-West Frontier Province, which borders the tribal areas, also now under their control, the Taliban are increasingly in a position to threaten the integrity of the Pakistani state.

Then there is Al Qaeda. According to American officials and counterterrorism experts, the organization has rebuilt itself and is using its sanctuaries inside the tribal areas to plan attacks against the United States and Europe. Since 2004, six major terrorist plots against Europe or the United States — including the successful suicide attacks in London that killed 52 people in July 2005 — have been traced back to Pakistan’s tribal areas, according to Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University. Hoffman says he fears that Al Qaeda could be preparing a major attack before the American presidential election. “I’m convinced they are planning something,” he told me.

At the center of all this stands the question of whether Pakistan really wants to control the Talibs and their Qaeda allies ensconced in the tribal areas — and whether it really can.

This was not supposed to be a major worry. After the attacks of Sept. 11, President Pervez Musharraf threw his lot in with the United States. Pakistan has helped track down Al Qaeda suspects, launched a series of attacks against militants inside the tribal areas — a new offensive got under way just weeks ago — and given many assurances of devotion to the antiterrorist cause. For such efforts, Musharraf and the Pakistani government have been paid handsomely, receiving more than $10 billion in American money since 2001.

But as the incident on the Afghan border suggests, little in Pakistan is what it appears. For years, the survival of Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders has depended on a double game: assuring the United States that they were vigorously repressing Islamic militants — and in some cases actually doing so — while simultaneously tolerating and assisting the same militants. From the anti-Soviet fighters of the 1980s and the Taliban of the 1990s to the homegrown militants of today, Pakistan’s leaders have been both public enemies and private friends.

When the game works, it reaps great rewards: billions in aid to boost the Pakistani economy and military and Islamist proxies to extend the government’s reach into Afghanistan and India.

Dexter Filkins, a correspondent for The Times, reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan from 1997 to 2002. He is the author of ‘‘The Forever War.’’

About 50 Palestinians wounded in confrontations with IOF troops, settlers

About 50 Palestinians wounded in confrontations with IOF troops, settlers


April 25, 2009

NABLUS, (PIC)– Jewish armed settlers backed by Israeli occupation forces fired at Palestinian citizens in Ourif town, south of Nablus, wounding 13 civilians amidst widespread confrontations between West Bank Palestinians and IOF troops and settlers on Friday.

Local sources in the Ourif village said that six masked settlers opened fire at the citizens wounding six of them, and added that IOF troops then barged into the town, imposed a curfew and fired bullets and teargas canisters wounding seven more citizens.

The IOF command claimed that three guards of the nearby settlement of Yitzhar were wounded when armed Palestinians fired at them.

In Bil’in, Ramallah district, 25 demonstrators were treated for light to medium injuries when IOF soldiers used force to quell a peaceful anti separation wall demonstration.

Eyewitnesses said that the soldiers fired rubber-coated bullets and tear bombs at the participants in the weekly march, who included Luisa Morgantini, the deputy president of the European parliament, and Mairead Maguire, the Nobel peace laureate.

Four Palestinians were wounded in IOF shooting at a march in Ni’lin, also in Ramallah district, who were marching against the separation wall.

The IOF declared the area a closed military zone before the march started with the participation of 1,000 people including a number of foreign solidarity activists.

The IOF soldiers wounded four Palestinians in Masara village, Bethlehem district, when a massive march, grouping foreign activists including Israelis and Italians, hit the streets of the village while chanting national slogans and calls for bridling IOF crimes.

The soldiers battered the citizens after they removed barbed wires on their way to the separation wall.

Jewish settlers in Al-Khalil district attacked Palestinian farmers in Beit Ummar village while on their way to tend to their farms near the settlement of Gush Etzion.

Locals said that 20 settlers attacked the farmers with batons and other “sharp tools” and blocked their way to their farms.

IOF soldiers rounded up three young men from Nablus city on Friday and four others east of Jenin late Friday night.

In the Gaza Strip, IOF troops bulldozed cultivated lands in two incursions on Friday in central and northern Gaza.

Local sources told PIC reporter that the soldiers in armored vehicles escorted bulldozers and fired at random before the bulldozers started damaging vast cultivated areas.

Uzbek Trouble makers in Pakistan’s Frontier Regions Rogue Element Within “al Qaida”

[SEE: The IMU in Pakistan: A Phoenix Reborn, or a Tired Scarecrow?]

Turkish wing of al-Qaeda at odds with leadership, says report

A report by the Security General Directorate has stated that there is discord between Turkish al-Qaeda militants based along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and the terrorist organization’s high-level factions.

Thirty-seven people were detained in Turkey during police operations into the organization in five cities earlier this week. In addition to this major blow from the police, the recent report of the directorate revealed conflict within the organization. The report indicates that the Turkish wing of al-Qaeda has caused discord within the organization. According to the Security General Directorate’s report on al-Qaeda, a fissure appeared within the organization after disagreements between the al-Qaeda administration and the Turkish al-Qaeda militants located along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The report claims that Turkish al-Qaeda members left the camps of the organization commanded by a high-level al-Qaeda member with the codename Ebu Ahmed since they did not approve of his ideas.

The report also draws attention to the fact that al-Qaeda uses Turkey as an area of logistic support in terms of acquiring funding and fake passports. It also notes that al-Qaeda members of North African descent have started to use Turkey as a transit route on their way to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The counterterrorism units of the Gaziantep, Konya, Adana, Kahramanmaraş and Şanlıurfa police departments staged simultaneous raids on a number of houses in their respective cities earlier this week. One of the suspects, M.G.B., who was detained in Gaziantep, was found to have spent time in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, along with six other detainees. They were reported to be forming a new organization affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Counterterrorism units and police teams in a number of Turkish cities have been cooperating for months to root out cells aligned with Turkey’s al-Qaeda network; as it progresses, the investigation has yielded a significant number of arrests throughout the country. Thirty individuals allegedly linked to al-Qaeda were detained in Eskişehir earlier this month.

25 April 2009, Saturday


Comprehensive education policy soon: Gilani

Comprehensive education policy soon: Gilani

LARKANA (updated on: April 25, 2009, 16:09 PST): Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said Saturday that a comprehensive education policy would be given soon and stressed that education is important for the efforts to rid the society of extremism and terrorism. Addressing the 17th Parents Day of Cadet College Larkana, he said the policy would be in line with the needs of the time in the field of education.

He said no nation could develop without focus on education, adding that health care and education were the present government’s top priorities.

Gilani said that federal ministers for health and education, who both belong to this region, were employing all their capabilities day and night to produce results in their respective spheres.

The PM said the foundation of Cadet College Larkana was laid about 35 to 40 years ago by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and it was inaugurated by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

He said he was happy to know that some 500 cadets were acquiring education here from the interior Sindh.

Announcing Rs 150 million for the Cadet College the Prime Minister said, “I am impressed by the discipline of this College.”

More such cadet colleges will be established in remote areas of Pakistan, he said.

Why we are where we are

Why we are where we are

By Irfan Husain

A Taliban militant stands guard at a road in Buner district. - AP photo

The jihadis cannot be defeated with money alone: political will and a broad consensus backed by military might are needed. So far, there are few signs of any of this happening. – AP photo

IN the middle of Karachi stands the concrete shell of a 30-storey building. This is the structure of the Hyatt Regency hotel started in the mid-seventies, and which has remained a building site since work was abandoned in 1977.

In a sense, this hulk is a metaphor for Pakistan: a state launched with much fanfare, enthusiasm and good intentions, but which can neither be completed nor pulled down.

Any state has a number of prerequisites to function effectively: settled borders; an accord on the measure of autonomy to be exercised by the federating units; the official language; and a broad consensus on the nature and direction of the state. Another element relates to national identity. Finally, any modern state must establish its monopoly on the use and means of violence.

As an artificially created entity, Pakistan was required to define and establish these parameters. Unfortunately, it failed to do so, largely because of the long delay in forging a consensus on the constitution, and partly because of the frequent military interventions that repeatedly eroded respect for the constitution and the rule of law. Poorly educated military dictators with no sense of history attempted to come up with half-baked concepts that have laid waste to the institutions we inherited from the British.

An early problem the new state faced was the issue of borders that were left undefined by the departing colonial power. Pakistani rulers have struggled with this question, opting for military confrontation instead of dialogue and discourse. It is true that our neighbours have not been very helpful in settling the matter. Pakistani militarists have driven our foreign and defence policies, arming to repel real and perceived dangers from abroad, while creating a Frankenstein’s monster that now threatens to devour us.

As a result of this single-issue agenda, money that should have been spent on education and health was diverted into the insatiable black hole of bloated military budgets. As our population has increased without check, millions of young people remain uneducated and unemployed. Filling the educational vacuum are the thousands of madressahs, many financed by Saudi Arabia, that do not equip students for careers in the modern world. There is thus a fertile breeding ground for the Taliban and their fellow extremists to recruit foot soldiers from.

The last six decades have amply demonstrated the difficulty inherent in building a national identity based solely on religion. Talk to any conservative Pakistani today, and he will assert that as Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, the Sharia should be the law of the land. It would be futile to point out that Jinnah visualised a secular state in which all Pakistanis would be equal citizens. This lofty vision would be scant comfort to the Sikh families who have had to flee their homes in the tribal areas because demands for jaziah, the old Muslim tax on non-Muslims, were made by de facto Taliban rulers.

In order to justify the partition of the subcontinent, rulers have resorted to bewildering mental contortions. Many have tried to move our roots to the Middle East from our true origins in South Asia. This confusion is reflected in school textbooks and the media. Thus, we have young people unsure of their past, and unable or unwilling to claim their rich cultural patrimony.

The insecurity caused by the wrenching experience of Partition has seen military and civilian rulers looking to the West for military and economic assistance. For years, these anti-Communist alliances made us feel stronger than we actually were. But they also isolated us, and when the balance of power began to shift against us, the army built up a force of extremists to further its agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir. These are the militants who threaten our very survival today.

Instead of fighting them, the ruling elites continue their double game of playing footsie with the Taliban, while laying claim to billions in western aid. But the jihadis cannot be defeated with money alone: political will and a broad consensus backed by military might are needed. So far, there are few signs of any of this happening. While the Taliban walk into Buner and Dir after their uncontested victory in Swat, the army continues its policy of studied indifference, while the politicians play their power games.

The divisions in the ranks of Pakistani society over this threat are visible in the media. In a sense, this is the inevitable product of decades of brainwashing about the nature of the Pakistani state. Many people are confused about the issues underlying this crisis: having been told that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, they are now being asked to accept that the real enemy is not Hindu India, but fanatics who want to impose their stone-age rule in the name of Islam.

Such contradictions cannot be easily resolved, especially in a deeply conservative society where illiteracy is rampant. When simple, poorly educated soldiers are warned by mullahs that they will not be accorded a Muslim burial if they fall fighting the Taliban, it is understandable that they should be reluctant to go into combat. Generations of army officers have been indoctrinated at military academies into believing that India is the real enemy. It is hard for them to face reality, and reorient our defence to the west.

Since Zia began promoting Wahabi madressahs across Pakistan in the eighties, we have faced bitter sectarian strife. Anti-Shia militias have been in the forefront of the jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir, acquiring arms, training and large amounts of money in the process. These forces are now formally allied with the Taliban, and have presented their erstwhile handlers in our intelligence services with the difficult task of keeping them on our side, while simultaneously appearing to fight them.

In the long wish list prepared by the army for the Pentagon’s consideration, night-vision goggles are high in our priorities. Well-informed friends in Peshawar tell me that this equipment is on sale in the local arms bazaar, having been looted from US and Nato convoys. But if our army doesn’t want to buy the locally available goggles, could I ask them to consider fighting during the day, at least?

When you next drive past the looming shell of the Hyatt Regency, spare a thought for what might have been.


US created Taliban and abandoned Pakistan: Clinton

US created Taliban and abandoned Pakistan: Clinton

By Anwar Iqbal

US Secretary of State acknowledged that the US too had a share in creating the problem that plagues Pakistan today.

WASHINGTON: Two days of continuous congressional hearings on the Obama administration’s foreign policy brought a rare concession from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who acknowledged that the United States too had a share in creating the problem that plagues Pakistan today.

In an appearance before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Mrs Clinton explained how the militancy in Pakistan was linked to the US-backed proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

‘We can point fingers at the Pakistanis. I did some yesterday frankly. And it’s merited because we are wondering why they just don’t go out there and deal with these people,’ said Mrs Clinton while referring to an earlier hearing in which she said that Pakistan posed a ‘mortal threat’ to the world.

‘But the problems we face now to some extent we have to take responsibility for, having contributed to it. We also have a history of kind of moving in and out of Pakistan,’ she said.

‘Let’s remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union.’

‘They invaded Afghanistan… and we did not want to see them control Central Asia and we went to work… and it was President Reagan in partnership with Congress led by Democrats who said you know what it sounds like a pretty good idea… let’s deal with the ISI and the Pakistan military and let’s go recruit these mujahideen.’

‘And great, let them come from Saudi Arabia and other countries, importing their Wahabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union.’

‘And guess what … they (Soviets) retreated … they lost billions of dollars and it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.’

‘So there is a very strong argument which is… it wasn’t a bad investment in terms of Soviet Union but let’s be careful with what we sow… because we will harvest.’

‘So we then left Pakistan … We said okay fine you deal with the Stingers that we left all over your country… you deal with the mines that are along the border and… by the way we don’t want to have anything to do with you… in fact we’re sanctioning you… So we stopped dealing with the Pakistani military and with ISI and we now are making up for a lot of lost time.’

It was question from Congressman Adam Shciff, a California Democrat that spurred Secretary Clinton to delve into history and come out with an answer that other US politicians have avoided in the past.

The congressman noted that while the US had provided ‘a phenomenal amount of military support for Pakistan,’ they had not changed the paradigm.

‘And more pernicious, there are elements within the Pakistani intelligence services, the ISI that may be working at cross-purposes with us.’

‘How we can possibly be funding the Pakistani military if elements of the military or intelligence services are actually working against us and having the effect of killing our troops next door?’ he asked.

Musharraf ready to ‘run’ Pakistan

[If Pakistan brings back the American puppet who destabilized Pakistan for Bush then it deserves whatever he does to it next!]

Musharraf ready to ‘run’ Pakistan

LAHORE: Former president Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf has said he is prepared to return to office if the political and economic situation continues to deteriorate. Interviewed by Sir David Frost for the Al-Jazeera television channel, he said he would consider serving another term if he felt he could make a valuable contribution. Musharraf told Frost he had decided to resign because if he had remained in office he would have become “some kind of an impotent president. I’m not the kind of person who sits around uselessly. I can’t be a useless man”. But since stepping down, he said, he was “despondent” about what was happening particularly now that the Taliban have been allowed to introduce sharia law in Swat. He said he believed the Taliban now constituted a far greater threat to Pakistan than Al QaedaMusharraf blamed the US for the ‘trust deficit’ between Washington and Islamabad. He said President Barack Obama had not helped change the US attitude towards Pakistan and is little different from his predecessor.