Pakistan: Now or Never?

Failed airline attack raises fresh questions about battle against al Qaeda

December 28, 2009

departuresIn the absence of a coherent narrative about the failed Christmas Day attack on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, the debate about how best to tackle al Qaeda and its Islamist allies has once again been thrown wide open.

Pakistan and Afghanistan:how do al Qaeda and the Taliban respond?

December 7, 2009

peshawar twoIn openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.

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

November 14, 2009
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.”

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

November 2, 2009

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.

The shifting alliances of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s militants

October 22, 2009

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.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and … all the other countries involved

October 20, 2009

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have questioned before the value of the “AfPak” label, which implies that an incredibly complicated situation involving many different countries can be reduced to a five-letter word.

Attack in Iran: What are the links to Pakistan?

October 18, 2009

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.

It’s still the economy, stupid, in Pakistan

October 13, 2009

A few weeks ago I asked a Pakistani diplomat what was, among the multiple threats facing the country, the single biggest challenge?

Attack in Rawalpindi: are Pakistan’s militant groups uniting?

October 10, 2009

An attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in the city of Rawalpindi has highlighted the country’s vulnerability to a backlash from Islamist militants in the Pakistani Taliban as it prepares an offensive against their stronghold in South Waziristan. It follows a suicide bombing in Peshawar which prompted Interior Minister Rehman Malik to say that ”all roads are leading to South Waziristan.”

Pakistan and Britain: On exits and entrances

September 30, 2009

With one million Britons of Pakistani origin, and as the former colonial power, Britain has a unique relationship with Pakistan. But concerns about Britain’s vulnerability to bomb attacks planned by Pakistan-based militants — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said that three-quarters of the most serious plots investigated by British authorities had links to al Qaeda in Pakistanhas made for a rocky relationship.