Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Pakistan and Afghanistan: “the bad guys don’t stay in their lanes”

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Given the debate about whether the United States should refocus its strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan more narrowly on hunting down al Qaeda, it’s worth looking at what happened immediately after 9/11 when it did precisely that.   In a new book about his years fighting terrorism, former French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere casts fresh light on those early years after 9/11. At the time, he says, the Bush administration was so keen to get Pakistan’s help in defeating al Qaeda that it was willing to turn a blind eye to Pakistani support for militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, nurtured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to fight India in Kashmir.   Basing his information on testimony given by jailed Frenchman Willy Brigitte, who spent 2-1/2 months in a Lashkar training camp in 2001/2002, he writes that the Pakistan Army once ran those camps, with the apparent knowledge of the CIA. The instructors in the camp in Pakistan’s Punjab province were soldiers on detachment, he says, and the army dropped supplies by helicopter. Brigitte’s handler, he says, appeared to have been a senior army officer who was treated deferentially by other soldiers.   CIA officers even inspected the camp four times, he writes, to make sure that Pakistan was keeping to a promise that only Pakistani fighters would be trained there. Foreigners like Brigitte were tipped off in advance and told to hide up in the hills to avoid being caught.   Reluctant to destabilise Pakistan, then under former president Pervez Musharraf, the United States turned a blind eye to the training camps and poured money into the country. In return, Pakistan hunted down al Qaeda leaders — among them alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in 2003. ”For the Bush administration, the priority was al Qaeda,” writes Bruguiere. ”The Pakistan Army and the ISI would focus on this – external – objective, which would not destabilise the fragile political balance in Pakistan.”   Pakistan denies that it gave military support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and has banned the organisation. But India at the time accused western countries of double standards in tolerating Pakistani support for Kashmir-focused organisations while pushing it to tackle groups like al Qaeda which threatened Western interests. Diplomats say that attitude has since changed, particularly after bombings in London in 2005 highlighted the risks of “home-grown terrorism” in Britain linked to Kashmir-oriented militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province.   Last year’s attack on Mumbai, blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and more recently the arrest in Chicago of David Headley, linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and accused of planning attacks in Denmark and India (pdf document), has underlined international concern about the threat posed by the group.   But for Bruguiere, one of the major lessons was that Islamist militants can’t be separated into “good guys and bad guys”, since they were all inter-linked.    “You should take into account, this is crucial, very, very important,” Bruguiere told me in an interview. “Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistan movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba has decided to expand the violence worldwide.”   Bruguiere said he became aware of the changing nature of international terrorism while investigating attacks in Paris in the mid-1990s by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). These included an attempt to hijack a plane from Algiers to Paris in 1994 and crash it into the Eiffel Tower — a forerunner of the 9/11 attacks. The plane was diverted to Marseilles and stormed by French security forces.

This new style of international terrorism was quite unlike militant groups he had investigated in the past, with their pyramidal structures. ”After 1994/1995, like viruses, all the groups have been spreading on a very large scale all over the world, in a horizontal way and even a random way,” he said. “All the groups are scattered, very polymorphous and even mutant.”

Gone were the political objectives which drove terrorism before, he writes, to be replaced with a nihilistic aim of spreading chaos in order to create the conditions for an Islamic caliphate. For the hijackers on the Algiers-Paris flight, their demands seemed almost incidental. “We realised we faced the language of hatred and a total determination to see it through.”

Many have argued against this view of international terrorism as a new and nebulous Islamist network without obvious political objectives, which found its most powerful expression in al Qaeda. Just as Lashkar-e-Taiba grew out of rivalry between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the GIA sprang from anger about the annulment of elections in Algeria that an Islamist group was poised to win. Its attacks on Paris in the mid 1990s were seen as a reprisal for France’s role in supporting the government in its former colony. Many of those who support al Qaeda and other Islamist groups are driven by anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other perceived injustices across the Middle East. 

Yet if he is right that the United States and its allies are facing a loose international network of Islamists with no clear pyramid structure, then it would suggest that no amount of drone bombing of al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership of the kind promoted by counter-terrorism supporters would work. Nor would it be enough, alone, to address political grievances at a national level without taking account of a network which operates globally and does not recognise the validity of the nation state. Rather, you would need a sophisticated and comprehensive strategy which went far beyond the kind of focused counter-terrorism first used by the Bush administration.

Pakistan poll shows support for offensive, but U.S. blamed

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A narrow majority of Pakistanis support the army’s offensive in South Waziristan, but many still believe Pakistan is fighting “America’s war”, according to a Gilani Research Foundation poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan.

In the poll, conducted in the last week of October, 51 percent supported the offensive, 13 percent opposed it and 36 percent were unsure. A majority held the United States and Pakistan’s own government –rather than the Taliban – responsible for the situation which required the offensive in the first place.

Targeted killings in Pakistan and elsewhere : official U.S. policy now ?

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One of the things U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ran into last week during her trip to Pakistan was anger over attacks by unmanned “drone” aircraft inside Pakistan and along the border with Afghanistan.

 One questioner during an interaction with members of the public said the missile strikes by Predator aircraft amounted to “executions without trial” for those killed.  Another asked Clinton to define terrorism and whether she considered the drone attacks to be an act of terrorim like the car bomb that ripped through Peshawar that same week killing more than 100 people.

Attacking women in Pakistan

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Back in the spring, when the Pakistani Taliban still controlled the Swat valley, video footage of a girl being flogged became one of the most powerful images of their rule. The footage, shot on a mobile phone and circulated on YouTube, turned public opinion against the Taliban and helped lay the groundwork for a military offensive there.

In the latest spate of bombings sweeping Pakistan, women have again become targets.  First came the twin suicide bombing on the International Islamic University in Islamabad which included an attack on the women’s canteen.  Then last week, more than 100 people were killed in the car bombing of a bazaar in Peshawar which was frequented largely by women.

The shifting alliances of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s militants

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The Jihadica website has just posted an item about an apparent rift between al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in the so-called Quetta shura led by Mullah Omar.

“Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban and al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders have been issuing some very mixed messages of late, and the online jihadi community is in an uproar, with some calling these developments ‘the beginning of the end of relations’ between the two movements,” it says.

Attack in Iran: What are the links to Pakistan?

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A week after suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents attacked the headquarters of the Pakistan Army, a suicide bomber killed six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders and 25 other people in Shi’ite Iran in one of the deadliest attacks in years on the country’s most powerful military institution.

Were these two events connected only by the loose network of Sunni insurgent groups based in and around Pakistan? Or are there other common threads that link the two?

from Global News Journal:

Afghanistan’s protracted election sours the mood

An atmosphere of stale defensiveness has sunk over Kabul. The mood has been lowered by the protracted saga of the Afghan election count, almost two months on from the first round August 20 vote. It's a drama veering towards farce more often than post-modern play, as we wait endlessly for a result, that like Godot, does not want to come.

Winter has not yet arrived in Kabul, though the evenings are cold, quickly taking the heat of the sun out of the day. Afghan politicians are frustrated and twitchy, second-guessing the reasons for the U.N.-backed election watchdog's plodding. We are being solidly methodological to retain the confidence of all, says the Electoral Complaints Commission, as it examines thousands of dodgy votes. A thankless task, most likely. The ECC officials will be puzzling over whether a box of votes has been mass-endorsed for one candidate, and should not stand, or if the suspiciously similar ticks on the ballot paper are attributable to only one man in the village knowing how to write. Many of the rural voters will never have held a pen in their hand, argued one official. It is natural in such a tribal society for the village to establish a consensus on who to support. Do such ballot papers count? Remember Florida, and how 'hanging chads' and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore? It's that kind of agony.

Afghanistan and Pakistan: is it time to ditch “AfPak”?

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One of the arguments frequently put forward for sending more western troops to Afghanistan is that western failure there will destabilise Pakistan.

Very roughly summarised, this 21st century version of the domino theory suggests that a victory for Islamist militants in Afghanistan would so embolden them that they might then overrun Pakistan – a far more dangerous proposition given its nuclear weapons.

Afghanistan blames Pakistan for embassy bombing; India holds fire

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Afghanistan has wasted little time in accusing Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of being behind a bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on Thursday.

Asked by PBS news channel whether Kabul blamed Pakistan for the bombing, Afghan ambassador to the United States Said Jawad said: ”Yes, we do. We are pointing the finger at the Pakistan intelligence agency, based on the evidence on the ground and similar attacks taking place in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan and India: looking beyond the rhetoric (redux)

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Following up on my earlier posts here and here about what is happening behind the scenes between India and Pakistan, first a word on defining the terms. The two countries are not about to sign a peace deal. Any attempt at normalising relations will be long and painful, and as has been the case many times in the past, vulnerable to spoilers with a vested interest in stoking conflict.

Given the importance of India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistan, along with U.S. attempts to persuade the Pakistan Army to focus more on fighting Islamist militants than on the perceived threat from India, it’s worth keeping tabs on progress so far and on the outlook for the months ahead.

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