Jonathan Manthorpe / Vancouver Sun & Lolita C. Baldor / Associated Press – 2007-03-03 22:32:56
Tackle the Taliban or We Will, the US Tells Pakistan
Jonathan Manthorpe / Vancouver Sun
(March 1, 2007) — While United States Vice-President Dick Cheney delivered an ultimatum from Washington to Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Monday, American Black Hawk and Chinook military helicopters circled over the Pakistani president’s office in Islamabad.
Combined with what was being said inside the office, such as the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Stephen Kappes, producing “evidence” of Taliban and al-Qaida operating unmolested in Pakistan’s wild western provinces, Cheney’s unsubtle message was that Washington has lost patience with Musharraf.
With winter turning to spring and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces just over the border in Afghanistan expecting a fresh offensive by Taliban fighters from bases in Pakistan, Washington wants to see an end to excuses and some vigorous action by Musharraf’s military.
Washington’s warning to Musharraf is that unless he takes action against the fighters, one, he will lose the economically essential nearly $800 million US a year in American aid and, two, NATO will mount its own raids on the Taliban camps in Pakistan. It is doubtful if Musharraf could politically survive either of those penalties.
And it is not just Washington that thinks Musharraf’s time for trimming has run out.
While Cheney made his lightning visit to Islamabad, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was also in the Pakistani capital delivering a similar message.
And in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was saying Pakistan must do more to stop the flow of militants across the border, even as he announced more money for Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
It is, of course, the Canadians, British and Americans among the NATO forces who are bearing the brunt of the fighting against the resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan. It is their troops who will have to face the expected spring invasion when veteran Taliban fighters and new recruits come out of the winter camps in Pakistan’s wild and ungovernable Baluchistan and Waziristan provinces.
Musharraf was quick to sign up for Washington’s “war on terror” after the attacks of September 2001. But the Pakistani president — a former army commander who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999 — has played a devious game in which the survival of his own regime has been as crucial an objective as the hunt for terrorists.
In truth, Musharraf faces formidable problems and Washington has been, by and large, supportive of the daunting balancing act the Pakistani president had to accomplish.
Musharraf’s central political problem is that Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, which was removed by the US and allied invasion in 2002, was a creation of Musharraf’s Inter Service Intelligence agency. The ISI fostered and continues to protect the Taliban in order to stop Afghanistan becoming a client state of Pakistan’s regional rival, India.
One critical reason why Musharraf now has to watch his back and not push the ISI too far is that the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai is seen by the Pakistani spooks as being close to New Delhi.
Another is that there is strong support for the Taliban militants among Pakistan’s substantial population of puritanical Muslims.
In pursuing his version of the war on terror, therefore, Musharraf has differentiated between the Taliban, who have been left largely untouched, and al-Qaida, whose members, with the exception of the top leaders, he has been more willing to see captured and handed over to the Americans.
Washington went along with this piece of theatre and even propped up Musharraf to the tune of nearly $30 billion US in aid since 2001 until last year when the resurgent Taliban began to be a serious threat to the whole NATO mission in Afghanistan
Musharraf first launched an army assault on the semi-autonomous tribal areas where the Taliban hang out. After an unacceptably high army death toll Musharraf turned to peace deals by which local tribal leaders agreed to curb the Taliban.
This — surprise, surprise — didn’t work and in October last year an alleged Taliban training camp at Bajaur in Waziristan was devastated in an air attack. The Pakistani military claimed responsibility, but it is almost certain the attack was made by NATO helicopters from Afghanistan.
And Cheney’s message on Monday was that more such attacks are on the cards unless Musharraf does the job first.
Jonathan Manthorpe is the Sun’s International Affairs Columnist
US Forces Routinely Pursue Taliban into Pakistan
Lolita C. Baldor / Associated Press
(March 1, 2007) — American forces on Afghanistan’s eastern border routinely fire upon and pursue Taliban enemies into Pakistan, defense officials told Congress on Thursday, offering the most detailed description to date of US action in that region.
They said the Taliban threat is greater now than it was a year ago, and they agreed that the Pakistan government can and must do more to get at the large, ungoverned sectors along the remote Pakistan border that are safe havens for Taliban insurgents. “We have all the authorities we need to pursue, either with (artillery) fire or on the ground, across the border,” said Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Lute, who is chief operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said soldiers can respond if there is an imminent threat. But he said they would have to seek the Pakistan government’s permission to go after a munitions factory further inside the Pakistani border. The discussion came just days after Vice President Dick Cheney met with Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in an effort to urge a more aggressive Pakistani effort to hunt al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who are expected to increase attacks into Afghanistan this spring.
The Pakistani military has been more aggressive in going after al-Qaida than the Taliban, who are more protected by tribal leaders in some of the border regions. Musharraf has insisted that his forces have done all they can against the extremists, but senators said it’s simply not enough.
And they quizzed Lute and undersecretary of defense for policy, Eric S. Edelman, about what more the US can do if Pakistan won’t or cannot do more. “I think we really have no alternative but to continue to work with him as best we can to encourage him to do more,” Edelman said under repeated questioning from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
“It means he has to face some difficult political choices at home and we have to encourage him to face up to those.” There have been suggestions that Congress could cut off some aid to Pakistan, but there was no discussion of that Thursday. Lute, meanwhile, provided a detailed description of when US forces can fire on and pursue insurgents across the border into Pakistan. He said they can respond when faced with a hostile act, or anyone “demonstrating hostile intent.” The final decision is made by the commander at the scene.
He would not say, however, if there are restrictions on how far into the country soldiers can go. He said the decision is based not on distance, but on the immediacy of the threat involved. “If just across the border, inside Pakistan, we have surveillance systems that detect a Taliban party setting up a rocket system which is obviously pointed west, into Afghanistan, we do not have to wait for the rockets to be fired. They have demonstrated hostile intent and we can engage them,” Lute said.
He added that if US forces learned of a munitions factory inside Pakistan, they would have to share that intelligence with the government, and would have to get permission to strike the building. Asked if Pakistan had ever turned down such a request, Lute said he would have to answer that in a closed, classified setting.
Asked about Iran’s involvement in roadside bombs in Afghanistan, Edelman said it is not the same situation as in Iraq. Military officials have displayed weapons and other equipment they said is evidence that Iran is deeply involved in deadly explosives being used in Iraq.
“We do not have the body of evidence in Afghanistan as we do in Iraq,” Edelman said. “So the sophistication of the (explosive devices) is, sort of, in a different order of magnitude.”
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