‘Good’ and ‘bad’ militants again?

DECIPHERING the foreign policy and national security statements of the PML-N government is becoming an increasingly odd affair. There is the known, but unacknowledged, gap between the priorities and preferences of the political government and the military leadership.

There is also the pressure that the civilian foreign policy advisers of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appear to be under from the military to publicly articulate and defend policies that are crafted in GHQ.

But vastly experienced civilians, like foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz, appear to be adding to the confusion rather than trying to find a consistent and defendable line on vital issues.

Consider Mr Aziz’s latest pronouncement: citing fears about so-called blowback from militant groups, the foreign affairs adviser appeared to defend the state’s lack of action against sanctuaries of the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil.

While Mr Aziz made familiar reference to the state’s decision that action against militant groups should follow some kind of sequence, he appeared to suggest that decisions have yet to be made regarding “how far” and on “what scale” the state will eventually act against some groups.

Has Mr Aziz backtracked on the state’s explicit commitment that there will no longer be a policy of differentiating between so-called good and bad Taliban?

That would be an alarming and astonishing reversal made all the worse by the casual — almost careless — manner in which the remarks were given. Perhaps Mr Aziz was hoping to pre-empt pressure from a delegation of US senators visiting Pakistan.

But the foreign adviser’s remarks to a wire agency require immediate and emphatic clarification — does the state of Pakistan adhere to a policy of not differentiating between so-called good and bad Taliban?

And, if so, what is the strategy to progressively act against all militant groups that have found sanctuary on or are operating from Pakistani soil?

Surely, the remarks of a senior official such as Mr Aziz cannot simply be dismissed as a misstatement or a bungled attempt at explaining existing policy.

The existing policy — reinforced time and again since the start of Operation Zarb-i-Azb and enshrined in the National Action Plan — is to treat all militant groups as a problem that must be solved by eventual elimination.

That policy clarity matters, even if operational and strategic choices so far do not immediately reflect that.

To reiterate, the security of Pakistan and the region lies in an unambiguous policy against militancy and terrorism in all their manifestations by all countries.

Pakistan’s pledge to try and deliver the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table should not be allowed to become a reason to differentiate between militant groups over the long term.

What threatens the stability of Afghanistan inevitably threatens the stability of Pakistan — the security establishment and political leadership here cannot lapse into old, damaging habits of denial and obfuscation.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2016

Another Graduate of Gitmo Key Player In Major Terrorist Attack–Turkey’s Turn

Russian Ex-Guantanamo Detainee Linked to Turkey Airport Attack


FILE - A police officer stands guard at the entrance of the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey, June 29, 2016.

FILE – A police officer stands guard at the entrance of the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey, June 29, 2016.

Fatima Tlisova

A former detainee at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is among 30 people Turkish authorities say they have arrested in connection with last week’s terrorist attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.

A source inside the small North Caucasus Muslim diaspora in Turkey told VOA that Airat Vakhitov, who spent two years in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility after he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001, was arrested Tuesday. VOA has no confirmation of his arrest from Turkey’s government.

On Tuesday, Western media quoted Turkish government officials as saying the nation’s security services had arrested 30 people suspected of involvement in the terrorist attack, which Ankara believes was the work of the Islamic State (IS) group. According to Turkish government sources, 11 of those arrested are Russian citizens.

Salman Sever, spokesman for the Association of the Russian-Speaking Mujahidin in Turkey, which also goes by the name Union of Honor (Soyuz Chesti) and to which Vakhitov belongs, confirmed Vakhitov’s arrest in an interview with VOA via Skype.

“We hope Airat will be released soon,” Sever said.

U.S., Russian suspicions

Russia’s security services have accused Vakhitov of fighting in Syria and Iraq alongside terrorist groups, as well as recruiting foreign fighters for IS and other groups, and raising funds for terrorists.

FILE - Russian Muslim Airat Vakhitov speaks at a news conference in Moscow, June 28, 2005.
FILE – Russian Muslim Airat Vakhitov speaks at a news conference in Moscow, June 28, 2005.

Sever denied allegations against Vakhitov. “He never fought in Syria or Iraq, he was never part of IS, he was involved in humanitarian activities for the Syrian people,” he said.

Airat Vakhitov, a k a Salman Bulgarsky, is actively involved in social media campaigns that are often described as aid groups for the Syrian people, who are suffering in the cross hairs of the Bashar al-Assad regime and IS. However, his social network activities are systematically limited by the network’s security, forcing him to frequently change his Facebook and Twitter nicknames and open new accounts.

Vakhitov, 39, is an ethnic Tatar from the city of Naberezhnye Chelny in the Russian republic of Tatarstan.

In late 2001, Vakhitov was detained by U.S. troops in Afghanistan among other Taliban fighters and transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he spent two years before the U.S. government handed him and six other Russian citizens over to Russia in 2004. Shortly after arriving home, Vakhitov was released by a Russian court, which found no evidence of his alleged terrorist activities.

However, in 2005 — a year after his release — Vakhitov was arrested by the special operations group of the Russian Federal Security Service, then was released without charges after almost two months in detention.

From asylum seeker to terror suspect

Once freed, Vakhitov left Russia and received asylum in the Middle East, renouncing his Russian citizenship. Information on his country of citizenship is not publicly available.

Vakhitov spoke at the Amnesty International summit in London in 2005, sharing memories of his time as a prisoner in Guantanamo and the interrogation methods of U.S. security that he called “torture.”

FILE - In this photo made from a video, people believed to be the attackers walk in Istanbul's Ataturk airport, June 28, 2016.

FILE – In this photo made from a video, people believed to be the attackers walk in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, June 28, 2016.

Vakhitov later spoke about Guantanamo in a series of YouTube videos, in which he discussed the “American torture” in a mocking tones, comparing the methods with those used by Russian security. In one video, Vakhitov said the Americans tortured him and other detainees with “temptation,” sending “exceptionally beautiful women” as interrogators. In the video, he said Russian torture is more physical and rough.

According to VOA sources in the Russian-speaking Muslim diaspora, Vakhidov lived in Istanbul in recent years, but frequently traveled.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack that killed more than 40 people and wounded another 260, Russia and Turkey announced closer security cooperation in fighting against terrorism.

For the last decade, Turkey has become a place of asylum for the rising number of Russia’s Muslim immigrants who escape Russia to seek refuge in a “less hostile” country, the International Crisis Group reports.

ICG estimates the Russian-speaking Muslim diaspora in Turkey at around 7,000 people. Some of them are experienced in fighting against Russian forces in the ongoing conflict in the North Caucasus region.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin-appointed head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, posted on his Instagram account the names of 13 Chechens, demanding their extradition from Turkey. Kadyrov calls them terrorists.

The name of a Chechen IS fighter surfaced earlier in Turkish media, which identified Akhmed Chataev as the mastermind of the Istanbul attack.