Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November 24th, 2009

"Ha..ha...jusssttt kidding on the resignation thingy...err..."

"Resignation?! I made a funny!"

This past Saturday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters he would resign if the private security company Blackwater (Xe) was found operating in Pakistan. Following the release of Jeremy Scahill‘s piece in The Nation, “Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan,” he may have already snatched his toupee off the hat stand and headed for the hills.

Scahill, a well-known critic of private security contractors and author of the best-selling book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, found in an investigation, “At a covert forward operating base run by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater (known as Blackwater Select) are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, ‘snatch and grabs’ of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan.”

Scahill cited a well-placed source within the U.S. military intelligence apparatus, who further revealed, “The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help run a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes.” And that’s not all, noted Scahill. Some of the personnel in the program, a division so “compartmentalized” that even “senior figures within the Obama administration and the U.S. military chain of command may not be aware of its existence,” also work undercover as aid workers.

When I first saw the headline blazoned across my Twitter feed, I immediately thought the source was Pakistan’s The Nation, rather than the American media outlet The Nation. Ironic, isn’t it? Allegations of Blackwater involvement in Pakistan have been circulating for months, propagated mainly by figures from Pakistan’s “right,” such as Shireen Mazari, Zaid Hamid, and Ahmed Quraishi. While Scahill’s assessment is more grounded in direct statements (rather than circumstantial evidence), it is interesting that a Western journalist’s assertions are immediately seen as more legitimate and credible than reports in Pakistan, many of which were branded as “rumors” and garnered heavy skepticism.

I do not have enough information to verify Scahill’s assertions, but it seems significant that his entire piece is founded on three anonymous sources – one with “direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement” who worked on covert U.S. military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the second a former senior executive at Blackwater, and the third a U.S. military source with “knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” The White House, not surprisingly, did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for Scahill’s story, and Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo told The Nation, “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” adding the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

While I personally don’t know what to believe, nor do I think it really matters, I am curious to see Rehman Malik’s reaction to such a report. Will he resign as promised? In the words of the all-mighty Magic 8 Ball, “Don’t count on it.”

Read Full Post »

AFP/Getty: The Taj Hotel on fire on Nov 26 2008

As the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks fast approaches, we have been inundated with op-eds, analysis, and statements – mostly centered on the impact of 26/11 on Indo-Pak relations and the status of Lashkar-e-Taiba today. The attacks on November 26, 2008, when 10 gunmen armed with assault rifles and explosives besieged the city of Mumbai for 60 hours, killing 170 people and wounding 300 others, may not have been India’s deadliest incident, but it did change “the world’s understanding of terrorism in India as real-time television footage streamed into American and European living rooms,” noted Georgetown University’s Christine Fair. In an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, she added, “It catalyzed discussions in Washington and Delhi about Lashkar-e-Taiba and the danger that group and its fellow travelers pose not just to India but to other countries.”

During his state visit to Washington, Indian PM Manmohan Singh maintained past rhetoric when he asserted that Islamabad had not done enough against the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks. He told reporters, “We have been the victims of Pakistan-aided, -abetted and-inspired terrorism for nearly 25 years. We would like the United States to use all its influence with Pakistan to desist from that path. Pakistan has nothing to fear from India. It’s a tragedy that Pakistan has come to the point of using terror as an instrument of state policy.”

The recent arrests of two men in Chicago with alleged ties to Lashkar only further confirm suspicions of the militant group’s growing reach and influence, and how it has increasingly become a transnational threat. According to Reuters, “David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana were arrested last month and accused of plotting an attack on Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which ran cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.” According to court documents, the two men allegedly “discussed their plans with members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al-Qaeda linked Pakistan-based militant Ilyas Kashmiri,” labeled the fourth most wanted terrorist by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry. Reuters added, “Lashkar also talked to themΒ  [Headley and Rana] about possible attacks in India and suggested these should be given priority over the alleged plot in Denmark.”

Last Thursday, HBO premiered a very timely and significant film entitled, Terror in Mumbai. Narrated by Newsweek and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, The documentary chronicles the time period the ten LeT gunmen attacked Mumbai, using interviews with police, survivors, tapped phone calls between the men and their commanders in Pakistan, and footage of the captured gunmen, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab‘s confession. The film offers incredible insight into the group, the psychology of these young gunmen, and their relationship with senior figures within the organization. Here are a few of my own observations:

The Mumbai gunmen were young boys from rural Pakistan with very little exposure to the outside world. Perhaps the most chilling clips of Terror in Mumbai featured the the tapped conversations between the gunmen and their “controller,”a man by the name of Brother Wasi, allegedly based in Pakistan. According to the film, Indian undercover agents had reportedly fed 35 SIM cards to the LeT. After the beginning of the attacks on Mumbai’s Leopold’s Cafe and CST Railway Station, police began combing cell phone frequencies, and learned that three of the aforementioned SIM cards had been activated. During a very telling clip, the controller was speaking to the gunmen, urging them to set fire to the Taj Hotel. Overwhelmed by the opulence of their surroundings, the gunman said over the phone, “There are computers here with high-tech screens! It’s amazing. The windows are huge! It’s got two kitchens, a bath, and a little shop.” The controller reminded him, “Start the fire, my brother. Start a proper fire. That’s the important thing.”

The psychology of these young gunmen is fascinating, particularly since they had reportedly been indoctrinated over the course of three months, when they undertook their “training.” During this time, they went from being impressionable young boys to hardened militants. Although this is a relatively short amount of time, Reuel Marc Gerecht from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told Zakaria on his CNN GPS show, “Once you’ve sort of got the imbibed the idea of jihadism, once you’ve imbibed the idea that you can…more or less exile people from a moral universe that you live in, it’s not that difficult… to get young men to kill.” In the film, one witness at the CST Railway Station noted the gunmen “showed no fear or horror. They were like children firing toy guns…killing whoever they chose.”

In a clip where Kasab was being interrogated, he revealed that recruits during their training were “forbidden to speak to one another,” thereby furthering their isolation and strengthening the hold of commanders over these young men. At the end of their training, their commanders told them, “Guys, the time has come for your test…now we’ll know who’s for real.” When asked if he felt pity for the people they gunned down, Kasab hesitated before answering, “I did but he [the controller] said you have to do these things, if you’re going to be a big man and go to Heaven.”

Terrorism has increasingly become transnational and remote. One of the most striking parts of Terror in Mumbai was the ability of a single controller to keep not only a firm grasp on the situation, but also on the gunmen. Brother Wasi was in constant contact with the young men, who continuously updated him on their whereabouts and the overall situation. Moreover, Wasi was closely monitoring news channels’ coverage of the Mumbai attacks, allowing him further insight into the on the ground reality, or at least how media outlets were portraying them. This access allowed Brother Wasi to subsequently direct the gunmen to methods of garnering further media attention. Speaking to a gunman in the Taj Hotel, Brother Wasi said, “My brother, yours is the most important target…the media is covering it more than any other.” On his CNN show GPS, Zakaria further commented, “Brother Wasi, the remote controller of the terrorists, understands that in this day in age unless it is seen on TV around the world it has not happened.”

Now almost one year later, Terror in Mumbai is a chilling reminder of the attacks as well as the organization of the Lashkar e Taiba. Since the attacks, the Indian government has presented Pakistan with seven dossiers of evidence. However, they have all been met with Interior Minister Rehman Malik‘s demands for more information. As a result, relations between New Delhi and Islamabad remain strained. Given the current status quo and the widening trust deficit, what will it take to change the stagnant relations between India and Pakistan? In terms of the post-Mumbai investigations, which side will have to give to ensure progress?

Read Full Post »