Syed Saleem Shahzad / Asia Times & Christina Lamb / The Sunday Times & Reuters – 2006-09-12 01:08:56
Pakistan: Hello Al-Qaeda, Goodbye America
Syed Saleem Shahzad / Asia Times Online
MIRANSHAH, North Waziristan (September 8, 2006) — While the truce has generated much attention, a more significant development is an underhand deal between pro-al-Qaeda elements and Pakistan in which key al-Qaeda figures will either not be arrested or those already in custody will be set free. This has the potential to sour Islamabad’s relations with Washington beyond the point of no return.
On Tuesday, Pakistan agreed to withdraw its forces from the restive Waziristan tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in return for a pledge from tribal leaders to stop attacks by Pakistani Taliban across the border.
Most reports said that the stumbling block toward signing this truce had been the release of tribals from Pakistani custody. But most tribals had already been released.
The main problem — and one that has been unreported — was to keep Pakistan authorities’ hands off members of banned militant organizations connected with al-Qaeda.
Thus, for example, it has now been agreed between militants and Islamabad that Pakistan will not arrest two high-profile men on the “most wanted” list that includes Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Saud Memon and Ibrahim Choto are the only Pakistanis on this list, and they will be left alone. Saud Memon was the owner of the lot where US journalist Daniel Pearl was tortured, executed and buried in January 2002 in Karachi after being kidnapped by jihadis.
Pakistan has also agreed that many people arrested by law-enforcement agencies in Pakistan will be released from jail.
Importantly, this includes Ghulam Mustafa, who was detained by Pakistani authorities late last year. Mustafa is reckoned as al-Qaeda’s chief in Pakistan. (See Al-Qaeda’s man who knows too much, Asia Times Online, January 5. As predicted in that article, Mustafa did indeed disappear into a “black hole” and was never formally charged, let alone handed over to the US.)
Asia Times Online contacts expect Mustafa to be released in the next few days. He was once close to bin Laden and has intimate knowledge of al-Qaeda’s logistics, its financing and its nexus with the military in Pakistan.
Militants at Large
“Now they [Pakistani authorities] have accepted us as true representatives of the mujahideen,” Wazir Khan told Asia Times Online at a religious congregation in Miranshah. “Now we are no longer criminals, but part and parcel of every deal. Even the authorities have given tacit approval that they would not have any objections if I and other fellows who were termed as wanted took part in negotiations.”
Wazir Khan was once a high-profile go-between for bin Laden and one of his closest Waziristan contacts. He was right up there on the “wanted” list. Now he can move around in the open. “The situation is diametrically changed,” he said.
From a personal point of view, things have changed for Wazir Khan and others like him, but in the bigger picture things have also changed diametrically.
Pakistan, the leading light in the United States’ “war on terror” and a “most important” non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, is returning to the heady times of before September 11 when it could dabble without restraint in regional affairs, and this at a time when Afghanistan is boiling.
“The post-September 11 situation [in Pakistan] was draconian,” a prominent militant told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. “All jihadi organizations were informed in advance how they would be [severely] dealt with in the future and that they had better carve out an alternative low-profile strategy. But some people could not stop themselves from unnecessary adventures and created problems for the establishment. This gave the US the chance to intervene in Pakistan, and over 700 al-Qaeda mujahideen were arrested.
“Now the situation changed again … we know the state of Pakistan is important for the Pakistan army, but certainly we know that the army would never completely compromise on Islam.”
The truce between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan has been a bitter pill for Washington to swallow, although Pakistan’s pledge to allow foreign troops based in Afghanistan hot pursuit into a limited area in Pakistan softens the blow a bit.
Islamabad’s overriding concern, though, is to earn some breathing space domestically, as well as get Uncle Sam off its back.
The situation in Waziristan was becoming unmanageable — it’s already virtually a separate state — and trouble is ongoing in restive Balochistan province, especially since the killing at the hands of Pakistani security forces of nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. Fractious opposition political parties have shown rare unity in attacking the government of President General Pervez Musharraf on the issue.
Redrawing the Map
An article by retired US Major Ralph Peters titled “Blood borders” published in the Armed Forces Journal last month has given Pakistan some food for thought over manipulating the geopolitical game on its own terms and conditions.
Peters, formerly assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, where he was responsible for future warfare, argues that borders in the Middle East and Africa are “the most arbitrary and distorted” in the world and need restructuring.
Four countries — Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — are singled out for major readjustments. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are also defined as “unnatural states”.
Though the US State Department was quick to deny that such ideas had anything to do with US policymaking, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey read much between the lines of talk of restructuring their boundaries.
Among Peters’ proposals was the need to establish “an independent Kurdish state” that would “stretch from Diyarbakir [eastern Turkey] through Tabriz [Iran], which would be the most pro-Western state between Bulgaria and Japan”.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz recently visited Turkey and then Lebanon, where he announced that his country would not send any peacekeeping troops to the latter. Ankara then said that if peacekeeping forces tried to disarm Hezbollah, Turkey would pull out of the peace mission. These decisions are the result of back-channel diplomacy among Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan.
Across Pakistan’s border in Afghanistan, the Taliban have control of most of the southwest of the country, from where Mullah Omar is expected soon to announce the revival of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — the name of the country before the Taliban were driven out in 2001. Once the proclamation is made, a big push toward the capital Kabul will begin.
The sounds of jail doors opening in Pakistan will jar with the United States, as will Islamabad adopting a more independent foreign policy and, crucially, aligning itself with the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, which once again could become a Pakistani playground.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Top UK Soldier Quits as Blundering Campaign Turns into ‘Pointless’ War
Christina Lamb / The Sunday Times
LONDON (September 10, 2006) — The former aide-de-camp to the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan has described the campaign in Helmand province as “a textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency”.
“Having a big old fight is pointless and just making things worse,” said Captain Leo Docherty, of the Scots Guards, who became so disillusioned that he quit the army last month.
“All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British,” he said. “It’s a pretty clear equation — if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.
“We’ve been grotesquely clumsy — we’ve said we’ll be different to the Americans who were bombing and strafing villages, then behaved exactly like them.”
Docherty’s criticisms, the first from an officer who has served in Helmand, came during the worst week so far for British troops in Afghanistan, with the loss of 18 men.
They reflected growing concern that forces have been left exposed in small northern outposts of Helmand such as Sangin, Musa Qala and Nawzad. Pinned down by daily Taliban attacks, many have run short of food and water and have been forced to rely on air support and artillery.
“We’ve deviated spectacularly from the original plan,” said Docherty, who was aide-de-camp to Colonel Charlie Knaggs, the commander in Helmand.
“The plan was to secure the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, initiate development projects and enable governance . . . During this time, the insecure northern part of Helmand would be contained: troops would not be ‘sucked in’ to a problem unsolvable by military means alone.”
According to Docherty, the planning “fell by the wayside” because of pressure from the governor of Helmand, who feared the Taliban were toppling his district chiefs in northern towns.
Docherty traces the start of the problems to the British capture of Sangin on May 25, in which he took part. He says troops were sent to seize this notorious centre of Taliban and narcotics activity without night-vision goggles and with so few vehicles they had to borrow a pick-up truck.
More damningly, once they had established a base in the town, the mission failed to capitalise on their presence. Sangin has no paved roads, running water or electricity, but because of a lack of support his men were unable to carry out any development, throwing away any opportunity to win over townspeople.
“The military is just one side of the triangle,” he said. “Where were the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office? “The window was briefly open for our message to be spread, for the civilian population to be informed of our intent and realise that we weren’t there simply to destroy the poppy fields and their livelihoods. I felt at this stage that the Taliban were sitting back and observing us, deciding in their own time how to most effectively hit us.”
Eventually the Taliban attacked on June 11, when Captain Jim Philippson became the first British soldier to be killed in Helmand. British troops have since been holed up in their compound with attacks coming at least once a day. Seven British soldiers have died in the Sangin area.
“Now the ground has been lost and all we’re doing in places like Sangin is surviving,” said Docherty. “It’s completely barking mad.
“We’re now scattered in a shallow meaningless way across northern towns where the only way for the troops to survive is to increase the level of violence so more people get killed. It’s pretty shocking and not something I want to be part of.”
France Rejects “War on Terror”
PARIS (September 7, 2006) — France issued an implicit criticism of US foreign policy on Thursday, rejecting talk of a “war on terror.” Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, speaking in parliament, expressed these views on global terrorism, while President Jacques Chirac backed France’s claims to the international front rank with a fresh defense of his country’s nuclear arsenal.
Villepin noted Chirac’s strong opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and said the Arab state had now sunk into violence and was feeding new regional crises.
“Let us not forget that these crises play into the hands of all extremists,” the prime minister said in a debate on the Middle East. “We can see this with terrorism, whether it tries to strike inside or outside our frontiers,” he added.
“Against terrorism, what’s needed is not a war. It is, as France has done for many years, a determined fight based on vigilance at all times and effective cooperation with our partners. But we will only end this curse if we also fight against injustice, violence and these crises,” he said.
Villepin’s remarks, which came a day after US President George Bush admitted that the CIA had interrogated dozens of terrorism suspects in secret foreign locations, did not explicitly mention the United States.
But his rejection of language employed by Bush, who often uses the expression “war on terror” underlined the longstanding differences between Paris and Washington.
In separate remarks, Chirac stressed that France was committed to maintaining a nuclear arsenal of its own. “In an uncertain world, facing constantly evolving threats, nuclear dissuasion guarantees our vital interests,” Chirac said on a visit to France’s Atomic Energy Commission nuclear simulation facility at Bruyeres-le-Chatel near Paris.
He stressed that France was committed to funding continuing research and development into nuclear weapons technology.
“There can be no great ambition without adequate means, that’s clear,” he said. “The position of countries is never guaranteed. In the 21st century, only those which make science a genuine priority will stay ahead.”
Both France and the United States have played down splits opened by the Iraq war, pointing especially to cooperation on attempts by the West to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But differences in tone and style have often resurfaced, notably during the Lebanon crisis, where France initially offered to send just 400 peacekeepers to Lebanon despite vigorously backing calls for an international force.
Villepin’s speech in parliament made much of France’s leading role in securing a peace agreement in Lebanon backed by the United Nations, which he said had shown the virtues of “listening and dialogue.”
“It is the duty of France and Europe to show that the clash of civilizations is not inevitable,” he said. “No one retains this wisdom, inherited from our history, as we, French and Europeans, do,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau)
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