Mar 27 2008
Lots happening in the war on terror if we look to Pakistan and Afghanistan today. The Washington Post has a story out today recognizing what my blog and others have been reporting from months (see here (October 07) and here (November 07) for some of my first posts on the subject). And that is we are on the hunt for al-Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal areas of Pakistan:
Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives. The moves followed a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban, the officials said.
About 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters have been killed in the attacks, all near the Afghan border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. The goal was partly to jar loose information on senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, by forcing them to move in ways that U.S. intelligence analysts can detect. Local sources are providing better information to guide the strikes, the officials said.
But other U.S. officials said that after months of prodding, the Bush administration and the Musharraf government this year reached a tacit understanding that gave Washington a freer hand to carry out precision strikes against al-Qaeda and its allies in the border region. The issue is a sensitive one that neither side is willing to discuss openly, the officials said.
The administration’s intensified effort against al-Qaeda also has benefited from shifting loyalties among residents of the border region. Some tribal and religious leaders who embraced foreign al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters as they fled from Afghanistan in 2001 now see them as troublemakers and are providing timely intelligence about their movements and hideouts, according to former U.S. officials and Pakistan experts.
“They see traffic coming and going from the fortress homes of tribal leaders associated with foreign elements, and they pass the information along,” said Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani journalist in Washington and the author of a book on Pakistan’s army. “Some quick surveillance is done, and then someone pops a couple of hundred-pound bombs at the house.”
Pakistan is ‘awakening’ to the problems of allying and literally supporting terrorists in their communities. As Bush said, you are either with us or against us. And all the irritation and hand wringing about Pakistani sovereignty would disappear if al-Qaeda and other foreigner disappeared from the tribal regions. Personally I could care less about complaints that hitting the terrorist is dangerous and causes them to respond. Hosting the terrorist is what is drawing our nation’s fire into those tribal regions. Give up Bin Laden or join the Taliban on the wrong side of our guns.
And despite the liberal-biased reporting, not every one in Pakistan is willing to get between America and our enemies. Many are pushing for the terrorists to be rounded up and sent packing:
Afrasiab Khattak, the secretary general of the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party, has said that talks with the Al Qaida and other foreign militants, many of whom come from Arab lands and Central Asia, are out of the question, the Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday.
Many here see the return of the ANP as the reassertion of tribal culture over the militancy propagated by the clerics and religious party leaders who formed the last government. The ANP leaders say they will work through the tribal code of the Pashtuns. “We would like to confront the militants on our own ground,” Khattak said. But those talks would not include everyone, he added.
He said that the negotiations were probably unsustainable with hardened militants like Baitullah Mehsud, who is heading the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and accused of masterminding most of the recent suicide bombings.
Reality is settling in and part of that reality is that the final battle will not be in Afghanistan but in the Pakistan tribal regions. Mainly because the Afghan side is making lots and lots of progress – leaving the final cesspool in Pakistan. For example, Afghan refugees are returning in huge numbers – a sign things are stabilizing:
The return of millions of refugees is seen as one of the great success stories of post-Taliban Afghanistan. More accurate than any poll, aid workers like to say, this flow of people is tangible evidence that Afghans themselves think their country is improving.
The reality is more complicated, with long-time hosts Iran and Pakistan both putting pressure on refugees to go home. But whatever the reason, an estimated five million people have been repatriated in barely six years.
It’s a staggering figure and it takes a visit to a transition centre such as the one in Kandahar province – which has handled 10 per cent of all returning refugees – to recast that flood of people into individual terms.
One final interesting article which I am still trying to digest seems to show the militants are now trying to create an independent state outside Pakist and Afghanistan:
Some insurgents claimed they want to fight for the seizure of vast swaths of Pakistan’s territory in the name of expanding Afghanistan to include the major cities of Quetta and Peshawar. Every fighter asked said those two cities belong inside Afghanistan, and all of them rejected the existing border as a legitimate boundary between the countries.
During one such interview session last year at the Kandahar Governor’s Palace, an Afghan intelligence official paraded out a group of prisoners who described themselves as Pakistanis persuaded to wage jihad against foreign troops in Afghanistan after attending madrassas in Pakistan. They gave details of an informal training camp in Chaman, Pakistan, that suggested the insurgents were making little effort to hide their activities from local authorities.
If the Taliban are creatures of Pakistan, however, The Globe and Mail’s survey suggests they are not a particularly obedient creation.
Some parts of the Taliban in particular, such as the recently created Pakistani Taliban group led by Baitullah Mehsud, have proven themselves more of a threat within Pakistan than anywhere else.
“The Islamist extremist Frankenstein is no longer confined to the whims of political power games,” wrote Irm Haleem, a South Asian expert who teaches at New York’s Seton Hall University, in an article this month that devoted itself to the comparison between the Taliban and Mary Shelley’s mythical creature.
Every insurgent asked by The Globe researcher said huge parts of Pakistan belong to Afghanistan, but they offered varying ideas about how much territory should be claimed and how it is historically justified.
The chaos seems to be these extremists have broken the bonds of their handlers and are now out in some wild blood fever trying to take over some part of the world. The fact is they are still a minority – though a very violent one. The lack of cohesion and coherence could be an indication the militancy is continuing to fracture and fall apart – as has been reported. Meshud was reportedly fired by Mulla Omar, and so when on his independent blood letting inside Pakistan. Fractures were reported to be developing between Zawahiri’s Egyptian faction inside AQ (one must assume the old Egyptian Ilsamic Jihad group with ties to Saddam) and Bin Laden’s side of the house. All signs that the shaking of the trees is actually shaking up the terrorists.
I am not sure which way Pakistan will finally end up going – there are signs the want to simply add some carrots to the sticks we will be applying. But we are circling in on AQ in their last refuge on earth – and that is a good thing.