‘Pakistan must close Taliban bases that train anti-India militants’

3 02 2009

31 Jan 2009, 1240 hrs IST, IANS

WASHINGTON: Getting Islamabad’s cooperation to close Taliban sanctuaries in its tribal areas may be Washington’s single hardest challenge as Pakistan has always used them to train people to operate in Kashmir or India, says a leading US expert.
Bruce O. Riedel, an expert on South Asia who has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Pentagon and National Security Council, says new special envoy Richard Holbrooke needs to reverse the negative momentum in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s military successes in Afghanistan have to be reversed and Islamabad must help close their sanctuaries on Pakistani territory, he said in an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank.
But Riedel says “trying to get that cooperation out of the Pakistani government in my judgment will be the single hardest test that Ambassador Holbrooke faces and in fact may be the single hardest foreign policy challenge President (Barack) Obama faces”. The Pakistani military is of two minds about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan, he said.
It has always used FATA “as the place where it could create groups like the Taliban, or encourage the development of the Taliban, where it could train people to operate in Kashmir or to operate in India”.
“But now that it sees that it’s losing control of that area, it’s increasingly concerned about the future,” Riedel added.
US Predator attacks on al-Qaida targets in that area had scored some important successes, but they had also helped further the alienation of the Pakistani people away from the US and badly eroded American brand image, Riedel said.
“Polling in Pakistan shows that a majority of Pakistanis blame America for the country’s internal violence. India comes in second place, and the al-Qaida and militancy comes in third place,” he said. “Any time that you are outpolling India as the bad guy in Pakistan, you’re in deep, deep trouble.”
Pakistan’s concerns in Afghanistan derive in large part from its concerns about India, the expert said.
“It can’t try to deal with these problems in isolation. But you also have to deal with them with a great degree of subtlety and sophistication, because there are decades-old fears among all the parties about American intentions,” Riedel said.





The Afghan-Pakistan militant nexus

29 12 2008

Source: BBC News

Seven years after 9/11, the US has declared the Afghan-Pakistan border region to be the new frontline in its war on terror. Use the map to see how militants operate on either side of the border. (Text: M Ilyas Khan)

Helmand, Chaghai

Kabul’s writ has never run strong in the remote southern plains of Helmand province. Further south, across the border in Pakistan, lies the equally remote Noshki-Chaghai region of Balochistan province.

Since 9/11, this region has been in turmoil. In the Baramcha area on the Afghan side of the border, the Taleban have a major base. The chief commander is Mansoor Dadullah. From there they control militant activities as far afield as Nimroz and Farah provinces in the west, Oruzgan in the north and parts of Kandahar province in the east. They also link up with groups based in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.

The Helmand Taleban, unlike comrades elsewhere in Afghanistan, have been able to capture territory and hold it, mostly in the southern parts of the province. They constantly threaten traffic on the highway that connects Kandahar with Herat.

Kandahar, Quetta

Kandahar has the symbolic importance of being the spiritual centre of the Taleban movement and also the place of its origin. The supreme Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, made the city his headquarters when the Taleban came to power in 1996. Top al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, preferred it to the country’s political capital, Kabul.

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As such, the control of Kandahar province is a matter of great prestige. The first suicide attacks in Afghanistan took place in Kandahar in 2005-06, and were linked to al-Qaeda. Kandahar has seen some high-profile jailbreaks and assassination bids, including one on President Karzai.

The Afghan government has prevented the Taleban from seizing control of any significant district centre or town. International forces have large bases in the airport area as well as at the former residence of Mullah Omar in the western suburbs of Kandahar city.

But the Taleban have a strong presence in the countryside, especially in southern and eastern areas along the border with Pakistan. Afghan and Western officials have in the past said the Taleban have used Quetta, the capital of the Pakistan province of Balochistan, as a major hideout as well as other Pakistani towns along the Kandahar border.

Mullah Omar is probably in hiding in Kandahar or Helmand.

Zabul, Toba Kakar

Afghanistan’s Zabul province lies to the north of Kandahar, along the Toba Kakar mountain range that separates it from the Pakistani districts of Killa Saifullah and Killa Abdullah. The mountans are remote, and have been largely quiet except for a couple of occasions when Pakistani security forces scoured them for al-Qaeda suspects.

Reports from Afghanistan say militants use the area in special circumstances. In early 2002, Taleban militants fleeing US forces in Paktia and Paktika provinces took a detour through South Waziristan to re-enter Afghanistan via Zabul. Occasionally, Taleban insurgents use the Toba Kakar passes when infiltration through South Waziristan is difficult due to intensified vigilance by Pakistani and Afghan border guards.

Zabul provides access to the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Oruzgan and Kandahar. There are few Afghan or foreign forces in the area, except on the highway that connects Qalat, the capital of Zabul, to Kandahar in the south-west, and Ghazni and Kabul in the north.

South Waziristan, Paktika

South Waziristan, a tribal district in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), is the first significant sanctuary Islamic militants carved for themselves outside Afghanistan after 9/11. Militants driven by US troops from the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar province in late 2001, and later from the Shahikot mountains of Paktia in early 2002, poured into the main town, Wana, in their hundreds. They included Arabs, Central Asians, Chechens, Uighur Chinese, Afghans and Pakistanis. Some moved on to urban centres in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Others slipped back into Afghanistan or headed west to Quetta and onwards to Iran. But most stayed back and fought the Pakistani army during 2004-05.

The eastern half of South Waziristan is inhabited by the Mehsud tribe and the main militant commander here is Baitullah Mehsud. The western half, along the border with Afghanistan, is Ahmedzai Wazir territory where the chief commander is Maulvi Nazir. The Mehsuds only live on the Pakistani side, while the Wazirs inhabit both sides of the border.

These sanctuaries directly threaten Afghanistan’s Paktika province, where the US-led forces have a base in the Barmal region and several outposts along the border to counter infiltration. Pakistani security forces also man scores of border checkposts in the region.

However, infiltration has continued unabated and the number of hit-and-run attacks on foreign troops has been one of the highest in this region. Militants based in the region are known to have carried out strikes as far away as the Kandahar-Kabul highway.

North Waziristan, Paktia, Khost

The North Waziristan region is dominated by the Wazir tribe that also inhabits the adjoining Afghan provinces of Paktika and Khost. North and South Waziristan form the most lethal zone from where militants have been successfully destabilising not only Paktika and Khost, but other Afghan provinces such as Paktia, Ghazni, Wardak and Logar. Groups based in Waziristan region are known to have carried out some recent attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well.

Tribal identities are particularly strong in Paktika, Khost and Paktia. During the Taleban rule of 1997-2001, these provinces were ruled by their own tribal governors instead of the Kandahari Taleban who held power over the rest of the country. In the current phase of the fighting they coordinate with the militants in Kandahar and Helmand, but they have stuck with their own leadership that dates back to the war against the Soviets in 1980s.

The veteran Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani is based in North Waziristan. He has wielded considerable influence over the top commanders in South and North Waziristan. He is also reported to have maintained links with sections of the Pakistani security establishment and is known to have mediated peace deals between the Pakistani government and the Wazir and Mehsud commanders in the region. Mr Haqqani is now an old man, and his son Sirajuddin has taken over most of his work.

There are many Arab and other foreign fighters in North and South Waziristan. This is due to Jalaluddin Haqqani’s close links with the al-Qaeda leadership. He married an Arab woman in the 1980s.

In view of the sensitivity of Waziristan region, US-led forces have set up a large base in Khost from where they conduct operations not only along the Waziristan region to the south but also in parts of the border region in Paktia and Nangarhar provinces to the north.

Kurram, Khyber, Nangarhar

As the Pakistani military strategists who organised Afghan guerillas against the Soviets in the ’80s discovered to their delight, Kurram is the best location along the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan border to put pressure on the Afghan capital, Kabul, which is just 90km away. But because the region is inhabited by a Shia tribe that opposes the Taleban for religious reasons, the Taleban have not been able to get a foothold here. Analysts say this is the main reason why the Taleban have taken so long to improve their strength in areas around Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.

Some militant groups in the Khyber tribal district have carried out attacks on foreign and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province. But the Pakistani government has kept a close watch on them. One reason may be to curb the ability of these groups to block the highway through Khyber which serves as the main conduit for supplies to international forces in Afghanistan that come via the Pakistani port of Karachi.

Mohmand, Bajaur, Kunar

Analysts have long suspected Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal region to be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders. The Mohmand and Bajaur tribal districts are also believed to be the stronghold of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the main Afghan guerrilla leaders of the 1980s. Mr Hekmatyar fought the Taleban in 1990s, but after 9/11 started working with them. The actual extent of cooperation is not known. The groups in Mohmand and Bajaur are members of an umbrella organisation which is headed by South Waziristan’s Baitullah Mehsud known as the Tehreek-e-Taleban (Pakistan Taleban).

Militants based in Mohmand and Bajaur have been striking at installations and supply lines of international forces based in the Narai region of Afghanistan’s Kunar province. In recent months, they are also reported to have crossed the Hindu Kush foothills to carry out attacks on foreign troops in the Sarobi, Tagab and Nejrab areas around Kabul.

Oruzgan, Ghazni, Wardak, Logar

For a long time the Taleban were unable to maintain sustained pressure on the country’s south-central highlands. But with safe sanctuaries in the border region – from the Baramcha area of Helmand province in the south, to some parts of Pakistani Balochistan, the Waziristan country and Bajaur-Mohmand territory to the east – the Taleban finally have the capacity to challenge the government in this region. The roads in Ghazni and Oruzgan are not as safe as they were a couple of years ago and officials are losing the will to maintain the government’s authority.

Training camps run by al-Qaeda and Taleban groups have multiplied in secure border regions over the last few years. Safe havens have also afforded the militants endless opportunities to find new recruits. The Waziristan region is also known to be a haven for young suicide bombers and trained in remote camps. The Taleban also appear to have had access to sophisticated military equipment and professionally drawn-up battle plans.

The strategy appears to be the same as in 1980s – ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Sporadic attacks on the security forces and the police have grown more frequent over the years, and have also crept closer to Kabul. At the same time, the Taleban have destroyed most of the education infrastructure in the countryside, a vital link between the central government and the isolated agrarian citizenry.

Oruzgan has mostly come under pressure from groups in Kandahar and Helmand. These groups, as well as those based in the Waziristan-Paktika-Khost region, have also moved up the highway via Ghazni to infiltrate Wardak on the left and Logar on the right. Safe and quiet until less than two years ago, both these provinces are now said to be increasingly infiltrated by Taleban fighters. The same is true of militants putting pressure on Kabul from Sarobi and Tagab in the east, with their tentacles stretching back to Laghman, Kunar and Bajaur.

Swat

A former princely state, Swat, in northern Pakistan, was governed by a British era law which a court declared unconstitutional in early 1990s, triggering a violent campaign for the introduction of Islamic law in the district.

The insurgency was effectively put down in 1994, but it re-emerged after 9/11, and was joined by many battle-hardened militants from Waziristan, Bajaur and the neighbouring district of Dir. During a 10-month long operation that still continues, the security forces have disrupted the infrastructure of the militants but is still to clear them out of the area. The militants have been targeting the security forces, the police, secular politicians and government-run schools.





LeT is looking at India through the global lens

29 12 2008

Source: TOI
Were the masterminds and perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage influenced by al- Qaida, the chief proponent of global jihad? In future, will sub-continental terrorists prefer to attack the ‘crusader and Jewish’ target set identified by the global jihadists as opposed to ‘Indian government and Hindu’ targets? The Mumbai attack was unprecedented in target selection; of the five pre-designated targets. Was the target selection influenced by India’s alliance with the US and Israel? The method of operation was classic al-Qaida style – a coordinated, near simultaneous attack against high profile and symbolic targets aimed at inflicting mass casualties. The only difference was that it was a fidayeen attack, a classic LeT modus operandi.

With the US deepening its political, economic and military ties with India, will Muslim extremist groups in the subcontinent come under the operational and ideological influence of al-Qaida? The Mumbai attack was a watershed. It demonstrated the stark departure by the LeT from being an anti-Indian to both an anti-Indian and an anti-western group. LeT’s direct and operational role in Mumbai attack surprised the security and intelligence services of Pakistan, India and other governments. Very much a group founded to fight the Indian presence in Kashmir, LeT has evolved into operating against targets throughout India. Today, it has moved further from a national to a regional and a global group.

Although its rhetoric has been anti-Indian, its anti-western rhetoric has grown significantly since 9/11. The mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi directed LeT military operations even outside the Indian theatre. He dispatched LeT trained Pakistani and foreign operatives to Chechnya, Bosnia and Southeast Asia. And since 2003, they have been sent to assess the situation in Iraq, and later to attack US forces in Iraq. Although LeT operatives have been arrested in the US, Europe, and in Australia, LeT was not a priority group for the international community. It is because LeT did not align itself with al-Qaida and refrained from operating in Afghanistan. But it maintained relations with al-Qaida at an operational level.

Until Mumbai, LeT has been in the category of Islamist nationalist groups. Some groups such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizbul Mujahideen remained Muslim nationalist groups. In contrast, groups in Egypt, Algeria and Indonesia that began with local agendas transformed into groups with regional and international agendas.

After the US intervention in Afghanistan, the epicentre of international terrorism has shifted from Afghanistan to tribal Pakistan. The influence of al-Qaida is profound on groups in tribal Pakistan such as Tehrik-e-Taliban and on mainland Pakistani groups. The insurgency in Federally Administered Tribal Areas is spilling to NWFP and beyond. To contain their influence, the Pakistan government proscribed a number of militant groups. By 2008, exploiting the political instability, a number of these banned groups, that adopted new names, began to operate openly.

Over time, both New Delhi and Islamabad are likely to realise the need to fight a common threat, both ideologically and operationally. Mumbai has demonstrated that the pre-eminent national security challenge facing both India and Pakistan is terrorism and not each other.

The writer teaches at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, one of the world’s largest counter-terrorism centre. He is the author of the bestselling Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror





TALIBAN says India is an "eternal enemy".

5 08 2008

Will India be able to counter this Eternal enemy the TALIBAN
Source: Rediff
August 05, 2008 17:29 IST

A top local Taliban [Images] leader has dismissed contentions by Pakistani officials that India is helping militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“We are true Muslims and true Pakistanis and are more concerned about the country’s safety than any other countryman,” Maulana Faqir Muhammad, “deputy commander” of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, told the News daily.

He said they consider India as an “eternal enemy”.

Muhammad, who leads the Pakistani Taliban in the Bajaur tribal region, also rejected reports that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed or wounded in a recent US missile strike in South Waziristan Agency.

Referring to the Taliban’s peace talks with the Pakistan government, he said the authorities were not sincere.

“We are very clear about the talks. We never denied talks with the government. If the government were not aggravating the situation here, we too would not do so. We do not want activities inside the country so that we can focus more attention across the border,” Muhammad said.

His comments came as pressure mounted on Pakistan from various countries, including the US and Afghanistan, to rein in militants operating from its soil.

He said the Pakistan government had committed “excesses” in the Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province. “If the government stopped the operations in Swat, the situation would automatically calm down within no time, but if the government continued the operation, it would face more resistance,” he warned.





TALIBAN says India is an "eternal enemy".

5 08 2008

Will India be able to counter this Eternal enemy the TALIBAN
Source: Rediff
August 05, 2008 17:29 IST

A top local Taliban [Images] leader has dismissed contentions by Pakistani officials that India is helping militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“We are true Muslims and true Pakistanis and are more concerned about the country’s safety than any other countryman,” Maulana Faqir Muhammad, “deputy commander” of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, told the News daily.

He said they consider India as an “eternal enemy”.

Muhammad, who leads the Pakistani Taliban in the Bajaur tribal region, also rejected reports that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed or wounded in a recent US missile strike in South Waziristan Agency.

Referring to the Taliban’s peace talks with the Pakistan government, he said the authorities were not sincere.

“We are very clear about the talks. We never denied talks with the government. If the government were not aggravating the situation here, we too would not do so. We do not want activities inside the country so that we can focus more attention across the border,” Muhammad said.

His comments came as pressure mounted on Pakistan from various countries, including the US and Afghanistan, to rein in militants operating from its soil.

He said the Pakistan government had committed “excesses” in the Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province. “If the government stopped the operations in Swat, the situation would automatically calm down within no time, but if the government continued the operation, it would face more resistance,” he warned.