Obama widening missile strikes inside Pak

22 02 2009

: Report21 Feb 2009, 1107 hrs IST, IANS
Source: Times of India

NEW YORK: The Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) inside Pakistan by attacking amilitant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government, the New York Times reported on Saturday.Two missile strikes over the last week, on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud, represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft, the influential US daily said in a report from Washington.
Under President George Bush, the US frequently attacked militants from al-Qaida and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, the Bush administration policy of using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign, the Times said.

Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and wife of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

Bush included Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the CIA and American commandos were authorised to capture or kill. The Times said it was unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks, which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on Monday, hitting camps run by Mehsud’s network.The Saturday strike was aimed specifically at Mehsud, but he was not killed, the Times said citing Pakistani and American officials.

The Monday strike, officials cited by the Times said, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant.By striking at the Mehsud network, the US may be seeking to demonstrate to Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the Pakistani leader. But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation with nuclear weapons, at risk, the daily said.The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard C. Holbrooke, the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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opinion: A just war on terror —Rafia Zakaria

24 01 2009

Source: Dailytimes

A just war on terror can only be a war that abandons force and invests faith in the idea that if people are no longer bombed in the name of protecting America, they will themselves join the just fight against terror?

On January 2, 2009, his first day in office, Barack Obama ordered the shutting down of Guantanamo Bay within a year. This pivotal move was long expected by his supporters and marked the beginning of what has been touted as the forthcoming theme of Obama’s nascent presidency: regaining America’s moral stature in the world.

By all accounts, shutting down Guantanamo seems to be a calculated symbolic first move, putting a dramatic and visible end to the kind of flippant rejection of the rule of law so closely associated with the Bush-Cheney Administration.

In addition to the Guantanamo order, another executive order forbade the use of torture in the interrogation of terror suspects in an effort to show, in the president’s own words, “that we are able to follow the core standards of conduct not solely when it is easy but also when it is hard.”

However, the closure of Guantanamo and the official cessation of the use of torture, welcome as it is, puts into focus what will be the Obama administration’s most challenging task in the days ahead: redefining the war on terror as a just war. Inherent in this project is reconfiguring not simply the means and rules by which America conducts warfare but also taking a second look at the strategic goals that Obama has not questioned in his campaign.

One notable example of these is the oft-repeated American aim of catching and imprisoning Osama bin Laden, something Obama has continually recounted during his campaign speeches. The issue of bin Laden’s pursuit and the concomitant portrayal of the Afghan war as the “right” and “just” war by Obama raises the question: can an unmanned drone attack on Pakistani territory in pursuit of this goal, and the killing of innocent civilians that routinely accompanies such attacks, be considered a “just” act equally capable of the moral high ground America achieves to recapture?

The answer from the Pakistani side is no, but will Americans be tempted to believe that all sins of the Bush Administration have been instantly absolved with the closure of Guantanamo and the forbidding of torture?

If they do indulge in such moral compartmentalisation where constitutional flouting in America is considered impermissible but killing civilians abroad is not, then little will have changed in the moral calculus of evaluating America. Americans may indeed believe themselves redeemed by eliminating the visible symbol of Guantanamo, but the rest of the world, most prominently the Muslim world towards which Obama has extended a conciliatory hand, will shake its head with the same disgust and disappointment that has marked its relationship with America in the past eight years.

The juxtaposition of the symbol of Guantanamo and the use of military power against civilians illustrates how both are ultimately symbols of imperial overreach that cannot be reconciled with moral leadership. It also brings forth another crucial dynamic of the war on terror: the gaping economic chasm existing between the countries where it is conceptualised and the countries where it is waged.

Take for example the following scenario: if a future terrorist attack on the United States were traced to a small village on the outskirts of London, how would the United States respond? Would a surgical strike that eliminates the village be an option?

The scenario sounds ludicrous since no one would even consider such a route, but the underlying logic it exposes is integral to understanding the moral dimensions of a war that is waged in a certain way when it involves poor countries and another where rich industrialised nations are involved.

Imagine further if such a strike on an English village is permitted and an unmanned drone kills members of a wedding party. It is undoubted, of course, that the world would be up in arms with moral outrage; there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was an unjust act, despite the presence of possible terrorists.

The purpose of drawing attention to such a hypothetical scenario is not to argue for its plausibility or probability but to emphasise how the Obama’s administration’s strategic military goals may clash with their stated moral goals. This often unaddressed aspect of the war on terror has successfully been used by Islamist groups to cast the struggle as one between the world’s haves and its have-nots. A war where powerful nations can gloss over the sovereignty of poor ones and the lives of the cab drivers in Gaza cannot be equivalent to those of the ones in New York City is thus as much a moral quagmire as Guantanamo and the use of torture.

Recasting the war on terror requires re-evaluating the use of any military options against civilian populations. Support for groups like Al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e Taliban in the Muslim world persists because they are unfailingly able to portray themselves as the “little guy”, the weapon-less, ragtag warriors of faith fighting a military behemoth armed with drones and F-16s. The populations where they have taken root are all identify with being the “little guy”, and when a bomb falls on their village, the memory of burned CD shops, destroyed schools and public floggings fades under the deafening onslaught of an enemy that can kill without sending a single soldier.

In other words, the inherent destruction promised by military operations cannot possibly salvage moral standing for a superpower with much blood on its hands.

Undoubtedly, the impending closure of Guantanamo shows that the Obama administration is invested in turning the tide. The precept that insists that the Guantanamo inmates could be held indefinitely, tortured and refused a fair trial is the same doctrine that says civilian populations in areas where Al Qaeda may be hiding are mere collateral damage.

Accepting this fundamental similarity and abandoning both as epithets of the imperial overreach that has so maligned America in the Bush years requires elevating moral leadership not simply as a rhetorical theme but as a priority superseding the nation’s reliance on brute military force. A just war on terror, thus, can only be a war that abandons force and invests faith in the idea that if people are no longer bombed in the name of protecting America, they will themselves join the just fight against terror.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at rafia.zakaria@gmail.com





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.