Monday, November 23, 2009

Pakistan’s “help” against the Taliban: It won't materialize

Two recent articles make it plain that the United States will not be able to count on Pakistan in the fight against the Taliban. Some excerpts. RLC

Why Pakistan Won't Fight the Afghan Taliban
By Omar Waraich / Islamabad Friday, Nov. 20, 2009

"The demands of its own domestic counterinsurgency campaign, doubts about the duration of U.S. commitment in Afghanistan and looming political instability in Islamabad have left Pakistan in no hurry to help out."

. . . As a weak and unpopular President scarcely seen in public and now the object of growing vilification at home, Zardari is in no position to lead a popular movement against militancy, much less to redirect his army's focus. As ever, it is the all-powerful military establishment that will make the key decisions in Pakistan.

Pakistan's military has certainly moved decisively against those militants that pose a direct challenge to its authority on home soil. Buoyed by its successes in last May's campaign to drive the Taliban out of the Swat Valley, it has for the past month deployed some 30,000 troops to confront the militants in their main stronghold of South Waziristan, along the Afghan border. . . .

The South Waziristan offensive, however, may be the limit of what the Pakistani military is willing to take on right now. It's priority after clearing the area of Taliban elements will be to hold it - and there are signs that the militants have merely scattered to areas beyond the scope of the current offensive, waiting to stage a return. "We have not been defeated," Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told reporters at a secret location on Wednesday, dismissing the army's claims. "We have voluntarily withdrawn into the mountains under a strategy that will trap the Pakistan army in the area."

. . . "Pakistan army is not going to go to North Waziristan before it completes its operation in South Waziristan." Two of the militant groups that Washington would like to see Islamabad target are based in North Waziristan: the Haqqani network and the one led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, both of whom mount cross-border attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan.

. . . [The army leaders] don't want to open a front with every militant group." The army has long insisted that it does not have the resources to counter the full range of militants based in the tribal areas. Already, military officials argue, heavy numbers are committed all along the tribal areas and in the Swat Valley. It is also forced to commit forces to guard against upsurges of militancy in other parts of Pakistan. And, of course, the army's priority remains guarding the eastern border with India. Indeed, the fact that India continues to be viewed as the principal security challenge by the Pakistani military establishment also dictates a policy toward Afghanistan that does little to help the U.S. there.

Pakistan's generals are concerned by what they perceive as growing Indian influence in Afghanistan, through the Karzai government and massive development projects. They also accuse India of using Afghanistan as a base from which to wage a proxy war on Pakistan. Its priorities make the Pakistan army unlikely to turn its fire on the Haqqani and Hafiz Gul Bahadur networks, as Obama is demanding. Instead, the army has revived a nonaggression pact with Bahadur and with Maulvi Nazir - both of which use Pakistani soil as a base from which to wage war on NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan's priority is simply to get them to agree to stay neutral or join in the fight between the army and the Pakistan Taliban. Nazir, who was freed from Pakistani custody to fight al-Qaeda-linked Uzbek militants, controls the areas of South Waziristan where the Pakistan army has positioned troops to seal off a line of retreat for the Pakistan Taliban. The danger for the U.S. is that such deals involve a nod and a wink for continued cross-border attacks, making the militants an even more potent threat.

The Haqqani network is believed to have long-standing links with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization, while senior Western diplomats allege that Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban continues to operate out of the southwestern city of Quetta - a claim furiously denied by Pakistan's military. Many suspect that the reason that the Afghan Taliban manages to operate unmolested on Pakistani soil is Pakistan's need to maintain leverage in Afghanistan, where the U.S. presence is viewed as temporary. Indeed, some Pakistani observers suggest that even if a U.S. surge is successful, it will at best lead to a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, in which Pakistan would play broker.

EXCLUSIVE: Taliban chief hides among Pakistan populace
Friday, November 20, 2009 The Washington Times Eli Lake, Sara A. Carter and Barbara Slavin

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Afghan Taliban, has fled a Pakistani city on the border with Afghanistan and found refuge from potential U.S. attacks in the teeming Pakistani port city of Karachi with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service, three current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

Mullah Omar, who hosted Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders when they plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had been residing in Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban shura -- or council -- had moved from Kandahar after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Two senior U.S. intelligence officials and one former senior CIA officer told The Washington Times that Mullah Omar traveled to Karachi last month after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. ....

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI, helped the Taliban leaders move from Quetta, where they were exposed to attacks by unmanned U.S. drones.

The development reinforces suspicions that the ISI, which helped create the Taliban in the 1990s to expand Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, is working against U.S. interests in Afghanistan as the Obama administration prepares to send more U.S. troops to fight there.

Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and analyst on al Qaeda and the Taliban, confirmed that Mullah Omar had been spotted in Karachi recently.

"Some sources claim the ISI decided to move him further from the battlefield to keep him safe" from U.S. drone attacks, said Mr. Riedel, who headed the Obama administration's review of policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan last spring. "There are huge madrassas in Karachi where Mullah Omar could easily be kept."

. . . "There are indications of some kind of bleed-out of Taliban types from Quetta to Karachi, but no one should assume at this point that the entire Afghan Taliban leadership has packed up its bags and headed for another Pakistani city."

. . . The official said that neither Osama bin Laden nor al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri has been spotted in Karachi. The official said the top two al Qaeda figures are still thought to be in the tribal region of Pakistan on Afghanistan's border.

But, the official said, other midlevel al Qaeda operatives who facilitate the travel and training of foreign fighters have moved to the Karachi metropolitan area, which with 18 million people is Pakistan's most populous city.

"One reason, [al Qaeda] and Taliban leaders are relocating to Karachi is because they believe U.S. drones do not strike there," the official said. "It is a densely populated urban area."

. . . In late 2001, a cell likely commanded by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- the admitted operational planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- abducted and killed journalist Daniel Pearl.

Mohammed, who was captured by the CIA with ISI help in Pakistan in 2003, was sent to the detention facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is now set to go on trial in New York. In 2007, at a closed military hearing at Guantanamo, he confessed that he personally beheaded Mr. Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Pakistani officials said they were perplexed by the U.S. reports regarding Mullah Omar and denied that the ISI had facilitated a move by the Quetta shura to Karachi.

. . . "We have no evidence of his presence in Pakistan," Mr. Kiani said. "If anybody in the U.S. government knows of any Quetta shura or Karachi shura, why don't they share that intelligence with Pakistan so we can take care of the issue ourselves? We have not been made aware of any presence of Mullah Omar in the region."

. . . "Our forces are fighting the Taliban in Waziristan and other areas," he said. "The terrorists are now killing and targeting innocent people in Pakistani cities. ISI is a very professional intelligence agency and these allegations are baseless."

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