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Archive for March 17th, 2008

mehsud.jpg
New post 9/30: Baitullah Mehsud: Dead? Click here to read CHUP’s latest piece.
Tonight, CBS Evening News released rare images of Pakistan’s elusive and dangerous Taliban-linked militant, Baitullah Mehsud [see website for video]. According to the evening broadcast, the pictures are “the first ever” to surface of the alleged mastermind behind Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban, the umbrella organization of militant groups in Pakistan, [see past backgroounder on Mehsud]. Analysts have noted that Mehsud “threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” Christine Fair, of RAND Corp., called the militant a “violence entrepreneur” who is running a training camp for suicide bombers in the FATA region. She told CBS, “He may not be out there cultivating people to send them abroad, but people abroad may seek him out for the operations that they conduct back home or elsewhere.” Unlike Bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who are visible figures in the jihadist community and use propaganda to assert their power, Mehsud is a secretive tribal fighter who is cloaked in mystery. However, the militant has asserted, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.” CBS News concluded, “While Mehsud’s emergence from the shadows is worrisome, U.S. officials hope there’s an upside. As one intelligence analyst put it, if he makes himself more visible, he’ll be easier to eliminate.”
The CBS News piece is significant not just because it provides a rare glimpse of the militant leader, but also because it further affirms that this growing threat is in our backyard. It is no longer the fight that is just “occurring in the mountains,” that is just focused against Pakistani security forces. This is a battle that has spilled over into our cities and that threatens our families and our livelihood. The difference between bin Laden and the overarching Al Qaeda organization is that their network is largely virtual – their influence and connections mainly occur online, in jihadist password-protected chat rooms and via internet propaganda. The Tehreek-e-Taliban and Mehsud, in contrast, are waging a tangible war that has immediate local and national ramifications. Suicide bombers are not solely recruited or trained online, but in physical camps located in the northern tribal areas. The government, in its focus on internal bickering and details, cannot continue to avoid this problem, because it will not go away.

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protests.jpgOn Monday, Pakistan inaugurated its new Parliament that the Associated Press noted was “dominated by opponents of President Pervez Musharraf who have vowed to crimp his powers and review his U.S.-backed policies against Islamic militants.” The news agency added,  “At stake is the future course and political stability of this nuclear-armed nation of 160 million people, which is struggling with economic problems as well as militants linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.” There have been several bombings in the past three days, including the attack on Luna Caprese in Islamabad Saturday and a bomb blast on a police building in northwest Pakistan that killed three officers and wounded five. These attacks have further exacerbated perceptions of the worsening security situation and have added increasing pressure to the new government to quell this problem. According to Reuters, security was “tight” at the Pakistani Parliament on Monday, “with police and paramilitary soldiers guarding the complex and restricting traffic on the avenue outside.” In the brief ceremony, more than 300 MNAs (325 out of the 342 members) were sworn into office. Interestingly, Reuters noted the MNAs actually took oath under an old, democratic constitution, not the version Musharraf amended after he imposed emergency rule in November. The news agency further labeled this, “a sign of looming confrontation with the isolated president.”  The News added in its coverage that the 13th National Assembly session will be now adjourned until March 19th.
According to the Associated Press, Musharraf “stayed away” from the session, while PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif watched the proceedings from the gallery. PML-N lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal told reporters that their presence showed that “the people of Pakistan have rejected” Musharraf. Earlier in the day, Zardari asserted, “This is our first step. We have conveyed a message to the world community to support democracy, which defeats dictatorship.”
However,  the continuing struggle for the Prime Minister position, wrought with ambiguity, overshadowed this strong rhetoric emphasizing democratic ideals and progress. According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, “The body language at Monday’s sitting could give some indication about the strength of Ms. [Benazir] Bhutto’s own stated original choice for the office, PPP senior vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim or any potential challenger favored by her spouse and party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, or about whether Mr. Zardari would himself take the job for which he must win a National Assembly seat in a by-election.” The news agency added, “The issue of a prime minister’s choice has stolen part of the limelight from some of the other major issues of concern to the new assembly such as the potential face-off with the president over the coalition’s promise to restore about 60 superior court judges he sacked under his controversial Nov 3, 2007 emergency and the problems for the new government ranging from tackling militant violence to the citizens’ acute issues of bread and butter.” The PPP has promised to announce its PM candidate this week, before Musharraf calls a new session to elect a prime minister, which could potentially be delayed until next week.

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