Regi’s arrest: A tug of war

[A very credible assessment of the new Pakistani/Afghan paradigm.  The Taliban arrest and subsequent denial of extradition by Lahore High Court is just another act in ongoing drama called “war on terror.”  Rigi’s arrest is quid pro quo for Predator killing of Mohammed Haqqani–the US kills one of Pakistan’s assets and Pakistan eliminates an American asset inside Iran.]

Regi’s arrest: A tug of war

Written by Miran Gichki // Saturday, 27 February 2010 08:53

The Iranian Interior Ministry announced on Feb 23, 2010, that Abdolmalek Regi, the rebel leader of the Peoples Resistance Movement of Iran (PRMI), operating from the province of Sistan-va-Balochistan, was arrested while onboard a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. On the same day, New York Times, while quoting an Aljazeera report, said Regi was arrested a week back from Pakistan and then handed over to Iran. NY Times identified the rebel group as “fighting on behalf of Sunni Muslims from the Baluchi Ethnic group in Iran and Pakistan”.

The arrest comes as a major blow to the Iranian Peoples Resistance Movement, formerly known as the Jundullah, a group which has been alleged by Iran to have the support of the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and having links to Al Qaeda. The American investigative journalist, Seymore Hersh, while writing for the New Yorker, has said that as far back as 2006 the CIA has been running its covert operations inside Iran. Whatever the truth of these claims, it seems that the Baloch resistance movement has received a major setback in the Iranian occupied Balochistan.

Let us assume, for arguments sake, that the Baloch resistance movement in Iran was being supported by the US and Pakistan and try to connect a few dots together to make sense of it all. It would be imprudent, however, to see this development in isolation to the gamut of regional issues in South Asia, and specifically Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A major development in the region was reported by the New York Times about the willingness of the Pakistani Army to play a major role in negotiations with the Afghan Taliban.

It was the first time that Pakistan has publicly declared its keen intent to act as an arbiter in negotiations with the Taliban, though it has been a long term/strategic goal for Islamabad. If the White House pursues this policy, Pakistan will be the sole winner in the nine-year war in Afghanistan. It has long been reported that the aim of Pakistan was to maintain ties with the Afghan Taliban while pretending to help the United States against them and getting billions of dollars in aid. The paper also reported the influence the Pakistani Army and its intelligence agencies have on the Haqqani network which is believed to be operating from inside Pakistan and has been responsible for deadly attacks against the US and Nato troops across the border in Afghanistan.

On February 15, NY Times reported that a joint CIA-ISI raid in Pakistan’s bustling city of Karachi led to the capture of one of the top Afghan Taliban leaders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader. The news made one wonder if Pakistan had finally turned against the Afghan-Taliban, which it has long been accused of covertly supporting. The NY Times piece quoted former CIA official Bruce Riedel, who currently is a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East at Brookings Institution, as saying that the development is a possible sea change in Pakistani behaviour.

The same newspaper a few days later reported that Barader’s arrest came as a lucky incident and not necessarily a new resolve by the Pakistani military to go after the Afghan Taliban. According to new details on the report, the Pakistani intelligence agencies did not know who they were going after. It was after a CIA tip-off that the Pakistani intelligence got hold of Barader, not knowing who they had captured. The paper also reported the marred relations the CIA and the ISI have been tugged in with reports about ISI’s support to the Afghan Taliban. It further quoted Riedel as saying that the limiting of the CIA officials to interrogate the prisoner shows the fear the Pakistani Intelligence services have if Barader discloses the ISI-Taliban nexus.

On February 16, the NY Times reported that the Pakistani military was frenzied by US attempts with negotiations or direct talks with Mullah Barader sidelining Pakistan. It quoted a Pakistani intelligence officer saying that they held strongly that the US was in touch with Barader or his close allies. A paragraph from the news report read: “On the one hand, the Americans don’t want us to negotiate directly with the Taliban, but then we hear that they are doing it themselves without telling us,” the official said in an interview. “You don’t treat your partners like this.”

Reading between the lines, one might speculate that the arrest came as strained relations between the CIA and ISI on the issue of reconciliation with the Taliban elements and Pakistani attempts to forestall those talks if they had been taking place. Pakistani intelligence wing was apparently unhappy with the US because they had rode roughshod over them, ruling out a key role for Pakistan to play in the reconciliation process with the Taliban.

It was reported on Aljazeera that Baradar’s arrest came as a US-Pakistan joint intelligence mission. In an interview with the former ISI chief and Taliban sympathizer, General (retd) Hamid Gul, the uneasiness of the some major circles about such a joint operation was evident, who termed it unusual and unprecedented. The words of the former ISI chief raise concern about the intent of Pakistan in the war on terror. If the Pakistanis are truly aligned with the US in this war, why should a joint CIA-ISI operation be seen on those lines?
Later, Aljazeera reported that the high-profile Taliban arrest by Pakistan might have come as a manoeuvre to assert its position in negotiation and reconciliation efforts planned by Washington.

Shockingly enough, another news which might have surprised political pundits was about the death of Mohammad Haqqani, the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, by a US drone strike inside the Pakistani tribal regions. The ‘Haqqani network’ has been responsible for suicide bombings and attacks on US and Nato forces plus the recent attack on the CIA base in Khost which left 6 CIA officials dead. It was also reported that the Pakistanis were reluctant to go after the Haqqani group as they viewed them as assets. This may be seen as a blow to the Pakistani efforts for reconciliation in the near future with the influence they have on the Haqqani network.
Connecting these dots together, one does not have to think too hard, and infer that there is a tit for tat between the CIA and ISI over the reconciliation process in the wake of Operation Moshtarak.

The author’s analysis on the recent developments in Afghanistan-Pakistan seems to be a possible tug of war the CIA and ISI are getting involved in. A chronological view of the events seems to support the assumption that the Pakistanis arrested Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader to mar US efforts in direct talks with Barader or his cohorts. As noted earlier, the Pakistani military has not been happy with the development and the move seems to show the US who is in control on ground. The killing of Mohammad Haqqani on the other hand, by a US drone strike seems to be a response to the Pakistani act of defiance and foiling its effort to use the Haqqani group as a tool for its influence in Afghanistan.

Coming back to where I started, if the claims by Iran about US support to the group are true, then surely there is more than the effectiveness of Vezarat-e Ettela’at va Amniat-e Keshvar (VEVAK) in the arrest of Regi. Aljazeera reported that Regi was arrested in Persian Gulf waters while he was travelling in a plane via Pakistan to an Arab country (name not disclosed). It said his plane was ordered to land in Iran while flying over the country. If these reports are true, then Iran had more than credible information about the presence of Regi on the plane, which caused Iran to break international aviation norms and force the plane to land in Iran.

If this development is part of the result of the tensions between CIA and ISI, Regi’s arrest might as well be a response to the killing of ISI’s trusted allies, the Haqqani Taliban. This is yet to be ascertained.