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Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

Over the weekend, more than 47 people were killed in an attack on a line of people waiting at a food distribution point at a refugee camp in Kohat in northwest Pakistan. On Sunday, another bombing targeted a Pakistani police station in the town of Billitung, killing seven and wounding around two dozen. And yesterday, two explosions struck the city of Peshawar, killing at least 23 people and wounding 42. All of these bombings were perpetrated by suicide bombers. Daniyal Noorani recently wrote and released a single entitled, “Find Heaven,” on YouTube, which addresses the recruitment of young militants (see Dawn’s interview with him here). Below, he discusses his inspiration behind the song, (to see the Urdu version, “Jannat Pao Gaye,” click here):

When Kalsoom asked me whether I would write a piece on my music video, Find Heaven, I was hesitant and I felt as if I would be tooting my own horn. But then I took a moment to think about it and realized that this was an opportunity to tell how the song came about and why I made it.

I could tell you that I sat down one day with the intention of not moving till I wrote a song that addressed the issue of extremism in Pakistan, but that would be a lie. The lyrics for “Find Heaven” was a moment of inspiration. That being said, during those days I was clearly disturbed by the events that were transpiring in Pakistan. Suicide bombings were happening on a daily basis and the subsequent public opinion, at best, was apathetic. I was wrestling both with my faith and understanding of religion. I even tried to start a blog, Forgotten Islam, as a way to try and voice my thoughts. The subject of extremism and terrorism was clearly  on my mind.

While writing “Find Heaven” I thought of it more as a narrative and story which highlighted society’s failing as opposed to thinking of it as a statement against the extremists. The goal of the song and video was more to highlight how the impoverished people of Pakistan are being manipulated and taken advantage of for the gain of a few. Given the current situation in Pakistan at that time, I thought it pertinent to use the extremists in this video. But the whole narrative would still be valid if the extremists were replaced by politicians who offered the impoverished people a form of Heaven via power, fame and money.My focus was on showing how society’s flaws force the main character to choose a certain path and that this problem of extremism is more an issue of society’s failing than that of religious ideologies clashing.

The hope that I had from this video was that people would start to ask difficult and uncomfortable questions. Why were the extremists the only one reaching out to the main character? Why don’t we have society where there is justice and equality? Where is the God in what the extremists are doing? Why aren’t we, ourselves, doing anything to stop this? I believe that once we, as a society, honestly start asking ourselves these questions, we can begin to move forward. Because one can only get to an answer if they ask a question.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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CNN: Image of a painting of Paradise allegedly used by militants to indoctrinate children.

Below is my reaction piece to a Washington Post article on rehabilitating child militants in Pakistan. The article was first published on Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel:

On Sunday, the Washington Post covered the progress of a new boarding school established to rehabilitate and deradicalize former child militants in Swat Valley, Pakistan. The army-sponsored center currently houses 86 young boys who were either captured by the military or brought in by their families. According to the Post, “Some had been trained by insurgent groups as slaves or thieves, some as bombers.”

The rehabilitation and study of these boys could provide deeper insight into the indoctrination of child militants in Pakistan as well as the broader psychology of child soldiers as a whole. According to Amnesty International, “Approximately 250,000 children under the age of 18 are thought to be fighting in conflicts around the world.” Moreover, although many child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18 years of age, significant recruitment starting at the age of 10 and the use of even younger children has been recorded.

In Pakistan, a disturbing number of suicide bombers are between the ages of 12-18 years old, about 90%, noted Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, who is the senior editor at Newsline magazine and the author of Frontline Pakistan. However, in the PBS Frontline World documentary, Children of the Taliban, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy interviewed Taliban commander Qari Abdullah who revealed he also recruits children as young as five, six and seven years old, emphasizing, “Children are tools to achieve God’s will. And whatever comes your way, you sacrifice it.”

In an interview with BBC News Hour, Chinoy noted that one of the most interesting things about meeting with the Taliban, particularly the younger militants, was that they “all look like they’re in a trance, they rock back and forth, it’s as if they’re reciting things that they have been programmed to recite.”

Pakistani authorities rescued 20 young boys who had been among hundreds recruited by the Taliban, reported media outlets in July 2009. Major Nasir Khan, a military spokesman in Swat, stated the child fighters had been heavily brainwashed by militants.  When asked what they had been told by the Taliban, the boys reportedly said, “The Pakistan army is the ally of the Western capitalist world, they are the enemies of Islam. The fight against them is justified, they are apostates, the friends of the infidels.”

In the upcoming  issue of the CTC Sentinel, S.H. Tajik notes the main theme in lectures in both the senior (ages 16 years and older) and junior (ages 7 to 15 years) camps centered on revenge.  Given that honor and revenge are intrinsically linked in Pashtun culture, this tactic is an important recruitment mechanism, and instructors often “call attention to the helplessness of Muslims whose daughters and sisters are dishonored by non-Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Young would-be suicide bombers are also persuaded by the promise of Paradise. In January 2010, the Pakistani military uncovered a Taliban compound in Nawaz Kot, allegedly used to train child suicide bombers, (though the Pakistani Taliban denies the compound was theirs). According to CNN correspondent Arwa Damon, children are shown brightly colored paintings meant to depict the heavenly delights that await them, including rivers of milk and honey and female virgins. The images stand “in clear contrast to the barren and harsh landscape surrounding [them],” drastically different from the poverty many of these young recruits face on a daily basis.

At the army-sponsored rehabilitation school, neuropsychologist Feriha Peracha says the patterns among the 86 young boys have so far been revealing. The Post reports that Peracha has observed that “most of the boys are middle children who have been lost in the shuffle of large, poor families with absent fathers. Few had much formal schooling, many are aggressive, and most score poorly on educational aptitude tests.”

While the efforts of this center should be lauded, more resources must be allocated to absorb the overwhelming number of child fighters, particularly as the Pakistani military gains ground against militants in Pakistan. The center, as a pilot school, can apply best practices from successful programs rehabilitating child soldiers in other countries. In Sri Lanka, for example, the government established numerous transit centers as part of a complex program to rehabilitate former child soldiers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The International Cricket Council (ICC), the Sri Lankan Cricket Association and UNICEF have also partnered in this effort, sponsoring a program that uses cricket to rehabilitate and engage these children.

There are universal lessons that can be drawn from past and current rehabilitation efforts. By using innovative programs like sports, children are engaged as children, not merely as reformed militants. While child soldier recruitment and indoctrination obviously varies from conflict to conflict, such programs can be adapted to the nuances of Pakistan’s situation.

Pakistan should also assess the complex root causes behind this phenomenon in order to design solutions. If a number of these children are from poor families, de-radicalization programs should also include skill-building courses that will provide these young boys opportunities after they return to their families. If rehabilitation centers are replicated, they should be adapted for the nuances of that particular village, tribal culture, and society. A one-size-fits-all model will not be able to address the complexities of Pakistan, and needs assessments must be conducted to ensure these regional differences are taken into consideration.

The growing phenomenon of child militants in Pakistan is a horrific reality, one mirrored in various conflicts throughout history. Children are targeted because they can be easily manipulated and brainwashed by a group’s ideology. In Pakistan’s northwest areas and tribal agencies, there is a younger generation whose lives have been punctured by violence — bombings, drone attacks, ongoing fighting between militants and the military. The psychological impact of conflict not just on Pakistani child militants but Pakistani children as a whole is an issue that we neglect at our peril.

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AP: A woman mourns the death of a family member in Lahore

The below piece on the recent Lahore bombings and the Punjabi militant nexus was first published on Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel, where I’m excited and honored to be a new contributor:

The last week has been tough for Pakistan. A series of attacks occurred throughout the country, including a siege of the World Vision International office in Mansehra last Wednesday that killed six aid workers, and a suicide bombing in Swat over the weekend that killed around a dozen people and wounded at least 37. However, the wave of bombings targeting the city of Lahore garnered the most attention. Last Monday, a car bombing targeted the Special Investigations group of the Federal Investigative Agency, the Pakistani equivalent of the FBI, killing at least 14 people and wounding 89 others. News correspondents said the amount of explosives “was so large it brought down the two-story building.”

This past Friday, two suicide bombers struck within 15 to 20 seconds of each other in R.A. Bazaar in Lahore, killing at least 45 people and injuring scores more. The attacks, dubbed by news agencies as “the bloodiest strike in Pakistan this year,” were later followed by six “low-intensity blasts” in the middle class residential neighborhoods Iqbal Town and Samanabad in Lahore. Although the bombs were reportedly locally made and used “a very small quantity of explosives,” the six blasts appeared to be a well-coordinated attempt to ignite panic and chaos in Lahore. Residents rushed out of their homes. Punjab’s police were filmed rushing from one site to another as the deafening sounds of another blast were heard. As Pakistanis remained riveted to their television screens, Lahore was paralyzed with terror.

In the aftermath of the bombings, it is not so much a question of “Why Lahore?” but rather, “Why not Lahore?” The series of attacks does not necessarily mean the center of violence has shifted from one major city to another. It means there was no epicenter at all. Whether or not the escalation of violence was in revenge for the death of Qari Zafar, a leader of the Punjabi militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who was killed in a U.S. drone strike, militants are sending the message that they have the ability to strike anywhere at any time. Despite the Pakistani military’s successes in northwest Pakistan over the past year, this war is far from over.

While it is convenient to attach the broader “Taliban” label to the problem, the network of players is far more complex and nebulous. Although the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan swiftly claimed responsibility for Monday and Friday‘s suicide attacks in Lahore, this organization has only been able to conduct large-scale attacks in Pakistan’s major cities with the coordination and help of militants in the southern Punjab nexus, groups that make up the oft-labeled “Punjabi Taliban.”

In the April 2009 issue of the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel, Hassan Abbas defined the Punjabi Taliban as “a loose conglomeration of members of banned militant groups of Punjabi origin — sectarian as well as those focused on the conflict in Kashmir — that have developed strong connections with Tehrik-i-Taliban, Afghan Taliban and other militant groups based in FATA and NWFP.” These organizations, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and Jaish-e-Muhammad, provide weapons, recruits, finances and other resources to the TTP and are responsible for planning many of the attacks attributed to the Pakistani Taliban.

A counter-militancy strategy in Pakistan could be successful if this TTP-Punjabi Taliban alliance is targeted and weakened. However, the clampdown has so far been insufficient as Pakistan’s leaders continue to point fingers everywhere but Punjab. Following the recent spate of violence, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that India was the “foreign hand” behind several attacks in Pakistan. Punjab’s law minister Rana Sanaullah further alleged that India’s intelligence agency RAW was involved in the attacks in Lahore, adding, “Israel and other countries could also be involved.”

At the same time, Sanaullah, a member of Punjab’s ruling party, the PML-N, chose to campaign for last week’s by-election alongside the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan leader Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi. Whether Sanaullah’s informal alliance with the SSP was merely an attempt to get votes or a more dangerous indication of his relationship with these groups, his actions further illustrate the state of denial that exists within Punjab’s leadership, as well as parts of the country’s leadership as a whole.

Pakistani political and defense analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi noted in the Daily Times, “Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership have come to the unanimous conclusion that the Taliban and other militant elements are a threat to Pakistan’s internal harmony and stability.” However, there has been a lack of cohesion in identifying the nuances of that threat and how to strategically address it. Khalid Aziz, the chairman of the Peshawar-based RIPORT (Regional Institute of Policy Research & Training) told me on Friday, “The Pakistani military is afraid of conducting operations that would create another Waziristan in Punjab, which it can hardly afford.” Ejaz Haider, the Lahore-based national affairs editor of Newsweek Pakistan, further emphasized to me that the Army “is already spread thin in areas where the TTP tried to capture territory — i.e., FATA.” What we need instead, he said, “is good, actionable intelligence to bust the [Punjabi militant] cells,” something Aziz stated can and should be done by Pakistan’s police force.

At the end of the day, the stream of bombings and the subsequent deaths of innocent civilians will continue to undermine Pakistan’s tactical successes against the Taliban. Regardless of the TTP’s actual strength, these attacks enforce the perception that no citizen in Pakistan is safe and the state is inept at protecting them. The blame game exercised by Pakistan’s leaders in Punjab and across the country will get us nowhere. Before we can address the problem properly, we must recognize it for what it is.

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Today, at least 39 people were killed and 95 were wounded in twin suicide blasts in Lahore, the second attack in the city this week. A senior official told Dawn News, “The bombers walked up to Pakistani army vehicles in the densely populated R A Bazaar area of Lahore, blowing themselves up as people sat down to eat before the Friday prayers were to begin.” My piece today in Dawn (republished below), primarily discusses Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri‘s 600-page fatwa against suicide bombing, but given recent events, it provides fodder for further debate on how to counter such attacks. Qadri’s edict, being 600 pages, has been viewed as a good but inadequate attempt to target the right audience – i.e., the young jihadists and potential suicide bombers. My point in the piece is to really find a way to implement it in a wider counter suicide bombing communications campaign so that it is effective. Because at the end of the day, we can’t just sit back and allow these attacks to keep happening:

Image from CNN: Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri

There has never been a shortage of fatwas. These legal rulings or opinions made by religious authorities address a wide array of issues concerning politics and social norms, and have both justified and widely condemned the use of violence. In 1998, Al Qaeda ideologues Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a fatwa “to kill the Americans and their allies.” However, a number of imams and scholars since have issued fatwas against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. In November 2008, for example, more than 6,000 Muslim clerics in India signed a fatwa against terrorism, following a similar edict issued earlier in the year by India’s top Islamic institution Darul Uloom Deoband.

Most recently, Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri, a Pakistani Barelvi Muslim scholar, issued a 600-page global ruling against terrorism and suicide bombing, which provides a point-by-point theological rebuttal “of every argument used by Al-Qaeda inspired recruiters.” Although many scholars have released similar fatwas in the past, Dr. Qadri, the founder of Minhaj al-Quran International, “argued that his massive document goes much further by omitting “ifs and buts” added by other thinkers,” noted the BBC.

According to the 80-page summary of the edict,

Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri goes that crucial step forward and announces categorically that suicide bombings and attacks against civilian targets are not only condemned by Islam, but render the perpetrators totally out of the fold of Islam, in other words, to be unbelievers.

The fatwa has garnered much press attention among Western news outlets, such as Fox News, CNN and the Washington Post. But while many have celebrated the release of a religious decree grounded in Islamic jurisprudence and history, others remain doubtful of its actual impact on potential young suicide bombers. While Minhaj al-Quran International is active in 70 countries and has 5,000 members in the UK, Qadri is considered to be relatively liberal and tolerant. Therefore, the people that would follow and accept his fatwa are unlikely to be the same as those susceptible to being recruited by Islamist militant groups.

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington DC, further emphasized, “The Sunni religious authority, as distinct from the Shi’a religious authority, is fragmented. So there’s not one figure who can issue a fatwa that every Sunni will listen to.” While Ahmed noted that any fatwa of this kind is important, the problem we are facing with suicide bombers “is that they are not from the same class [as moderate scholars like Qadri]. These young recruits respond much more to their own imams and preachers.”

No one questions the airtight credibility of Qadri’s text. But the issue we should raise is not whether the fatwa will have an impact, but how to ensure that it does. Fatwas or edicts of this kind can be influential if they are implemented in a culturally nuanced way, using language that can be understood by the intended target audience. In other words, if militant recruiters are using drone strikes to vilify the United States or the Pakistani government, countering this ideology requires messaging that takes similar realities into consideration. Although Qadri’s fatwa is based in exhaustive academic research, most young jihadists won’t take the time to sift through 600 pages in their decision-making.

Qadri may not be a universally accepted figure, but his text can be used as the focal point for a strategic communications campaign geared towards countering militancy and terrorism. This fatwa will only have the intended effect if local imams and religious leaders from various sects endorse and adapt it for their nuanced communities – applying Qadri’s language and framing it within the ground realities. Madrassa leaders more open to reform can incorporate the fatwa’s text into their curriculum. Imams of local mosques can use the fatwa’s framing of terrorists as today’s Khawārij in their sermons, subsequently making it digestible for the public. Rather than simply shutting down jihadist chat rooms, intelligence agencies can create pop-up ads using language from the fatwa to vilify and undermine militant ideology. Pamphlets, billboard ads, and radio spots can be other potential mediums.

We are well-aware that Islam is a religion of peace, that it has been hijacked by militant and terrorist organizations to justify violence and intolerance against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The question, therefore, is how do we use that knowledge to make a tangible difference? As an end, Qadri’s 600-page fatwa has its limitations, and could very likely end up on the metaphorical shelf, gathering dust. However, this airtight research could instead be used to enforce a more localized and nuanced campaign that could have a more strategic impact.

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Image from Reuters/CSM

In a news exclusive Wednesday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Pakistan has arrested “nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days.” Pakistan intelligence officials told the Monitor that 7 of the 15 members of the Quetta Shura are now in Pakistani custody, four more individuals than has been reported in the news so far. “This is the first confirmation of the wider scale of the Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban leadership, something the U.S. has sought,” the Monitor noted.

The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi February 6, the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, garnered much news coverage, as did the more recent capture of Maulvi Abdul Kabir, a prominent commander in charge of insurgent operations in eastern Afghanistan, and Mullah Muhammad Younis. According to the Monitor, though, Pakistan has also arrested other Afghan Taliban militants from the Quetta Shura, including Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir, who oversees the movement’s military affairs, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhunzada, and Mullah Abdul Raouf.

This development is significant because it points to a wider crackdown by the Pakistani military on the Afghan Taliban. Yesterday, Spencer Ackerman over at the Washington Independent quoted Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying,

I would say that what we are seeing is the importance of operations, on both sides of the border, and a manifestation of real progress, on the Pakistani side, of dealing with the threats that I’ve talked about; whether they’re the Pakistan Taliban, the Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda, that they all work together, and the success of one is success of the rest. So I think that the recent events have been another positive indication of the Pakistanis’ commitment to stabilizing this border area.

There has been increasing debate over these recent arrests, and whether it truly represents increased U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. In a Foreign Policy piece entitled, “Three Huge Ways Pakistan Still Isn’t Cooperating,” David Kenner wrote after the capture of Baradar,

The most optimistic explanation is that the ISI thinks the Afghan Taliban has become a threat to its interests in Pakistan, and has decided to move against the group. But  [Teresita] Schaffer also floated another, less cheerful, possibility: Baradar, as suggested by this Newsweek profile, is more open to negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai‘s government than some of the Taliban hierarchy’s hard-line members. The ISI could have arrested him in a bid to thwart negotiations meant to assimilate the Afghan Taliban back into Afghanistan’s political fold, which would likely cost Pakistan its influence as the group’s patron. In other words, given the information available to the public, the Pakistanis could have arrested Baradar with the hopes of halting Taliban attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan — or they could have arrested him in an attempt to continue those attacks.

The Christian Science Monitor offers a somewhat similar explanation for the sudden shift, noting the aforementioned crackdown may to be related to efforts by some Taliban leaders to “explore talks with Western and Afghan authorities independently of Pakistan.” The Monitor cited a UN official, who added, “Pakistan wants a seat at the table [at the negotiations]. They don’t want the Taliban to act independently.”

Arif Rafiq, over at the Pakistan Policy blog, (via Five Rupees), further noted, “And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul.  In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process.  If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?”

Ultimately, the increased arrests by the Pakistani military do represent a shift in greater U.S.-Pakistan intelligence sharing and cooperation. However, it would be naive to suggest that this was done to further American aims and strategic objectives. Quite the contrary. It’s to ensure Pakistan’s interests in the region are protected. The Army went against the Pakistani Taliban because its militants were attacking the state and harming Pakistani civilians. While the perceived crackdown on the Afghan Taliban is garnering similar results, the motivation and desired end are quite different.

At the end of the day, should Washington care about these motivations if it means Pakistan cooperates?

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The Question of Taliban Succession

In the last few weeks, it appears Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, died and came back to life several times.

According to some claims, Mehsud died from injuries sustained from a U.S. drone attack on North Waziristan on January 14. A local government official, citing paramilitary sources, told CNN that Mehsud was seriously injured and subsequently moved to the Orakzai region, where he died and was buried more than a week ago. Pakistan’s state broadcasting agency, PTV, further confirmed this story, reporting the TTP commander was wounded in a drone strike, died, and was buried.

Although TTP spokesman spokesman Azam Tariq rejected reports about the death of Hakimullah Mahsud, calling it “a part of the propaganda by the enemy,” CNN reported that at least three Taliban sources and a government official confirmed his death on Tuesday. However, sources differed on when he died. According to Samaa Television, Taliban sources noted that “Mehsud died on February 9, 2010 while he was being transferred to Karachi. The banned outfit stated that their leader succumbed to his injuries near Multan. His body was then taken back to tribal areas.”

So in all likelihood, Hakimullah Mehsud is dead. But behind every Taliban leader is another 50 raring to take his place. So the question of the hour is, what now? Will the next leader be yet another member of the Mehsud tribe or will the new leader  represent another strategic area in the militant network? Although some reports claim that Maulvi Noor Jamal (also known as Mullah Toofan) has been appointed the new TTP leader, other sources note that he has merely assumed control for the time being, until “the leadership decides its next course of action.”

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan umbrella organization was founded in 2007, by a shura of 40 senior Taliban leaders.  Hassan Abbas wrote in the January 2008 Counterterrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel, “The shura not only has representation from all of FATA’s seven tribal agencies, but also from the settled North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) districts of Swat, Bannu, Tank, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohistan, Buner and Malakand.” The late Baitullah Mehsud was appointed the new TTP leader, reportedly bringing together 13 extremist groups.

Although the TTP appeared to be a united front under Baitullah, the power struggle that reportedly ensued after his death emphasized the fragility of this alliance. Last summer, reports surfaced that Baitullah’s deputy Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rahman were killed in a dispute over who would succeed the Taliban leader. Although these reports were trumped when Hakimullah appeared before reporters as the new TTP chief, news agencies and analysts suggest that the question of succession did spark a power struggle within the organization.

Back in August, McClatchy News’ Saeed Shah reported that the final decision was made in order to avoid bloodshed, since Hakimullah “had threatened to form a breakaway group if he wasn’t given the title of leader.” Saifullah Mehsud, an analyst at the FATA Research Center, told the news agency, “The real power is in Waziristan, and Waliur Rehman will run things there. Its a clever compromise formula. Waliur Rehman has the real power.”

If this is still the case, then it is likely that Mullah Toofan has only assumed power for the time being, despite being the Taliban commander of the Orakzai and Kurram agencies, and those areas  becoming “more important to the Taliban because they are two key tribal districts to which militant leaders and fighters have been escaping after fleeing South Waziristan,” (according to the LA Times). The current (or soon-to-be) military operation in Orakzai ultimately means that fighters have or will be fleeing from those areas as well, potentially diluting the area’s strategic importance to the Taliban.

Not much will be known until the TTP shura makes their final decision, a scary thought given the wave of violence and revenge operations that occurred soon after Hakimullah assumed power. However, given that the last shura produced the “thug-like” and “ferocious” Hakimullah, who reportedly handled both a Kalashnikov and a Toyota pick-up with “legendary skill,” I actually wonder how senior Taliban leaders choose their amirs. Do wannabe TTP commanders duke it out, reality competition style? Is a non-Mehsud considered the underdog, the Karate Kids (if you will) of the tournament? Do they wax on/wax off incessantly in hopes of breaking the Mehsud stronghold? Do they speak in quiet whispers to their posters of Boom Boom Afridi on their ceiling, dreaming out loud? I guess we’ll never know…

Image from Dangerroom: You gotta train if you wanna beat out those damn Mehsuds.

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Mujahideen in 1984
Mujahideen Fighters in Afghanistan, 1984.

As the war in Afghanistan continues, so does the purported regional chess game between India and Pakistan. Below, Tariq Tufail, from Karachi, presents his views on Pakistan’s evolving policy in Afghanistan:

A huge shift in the U.S. Afghanistan policy is reportedly taking place.  The London conference and the meeting in Turkey indicate that some degree of reconciliation and an integration of the Taliban into the mainstream in Afghanistan will be attempted in the next 18 months. To support this effort, donors have already pledged about $500 million. When these events unfold, they will have a great effect on Afghanistan and the region, comparable to the Soviet withdrawal, the fall of the Najibullah Government and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

What are the ramifications for Pakistani security and foreign policy? Unfortunately, I think this policy shift comes at an inconvenient time for Pakistan, when the Pakistani public and armed forces have not completely renounced the use of Islamist proxies to achieve our diplomatic objectives. In this context, there is a great danger that Pakistan will commit foreign policy and security blunders.

First, a background:

Pakistan’s perception of its security is India-centric. To this effect, Pakistan has always sought “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Though the definition is vague (and probably dreamed up by our generals who have given us similar disastrous “strategies” in the past), the prevalent theory is that a friendly and pliable Afghan government will provide the landmass and the population in any future conflict with India. Furthermore, a Pro-Pakistan (and by implication anti-India) tilt in Afghanistan will protect Pakistan from:

(i) a two-pronged front against India
(ii) Pashtun nationalism endangering both the Durrand line and our territorial integrity

While the pursuit of “strategic depth” by itself is neither unethical nor dangerous, the method by which we had pursued it until the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has endangered our security and threatened the very existence of Pakistan.

The training of Afghan fighters for the Soviet Jihad, the infrastructure of madrassas, gun culture and drug running, have severely destabilized our tribal areas and FATA. The extremist interpretation of Islam, which provided the ideological foundation for the mujahideen, on the one hand prevented economic and social development, and on the other served as a magnet for undesirables all over the world (it was in this environment that Osama Bin Laden found refuge in Afghanistan). While it was immoral and unethical to foist this culture on the Afghans, it was also inevitable for these same extremist ideologies, gun and drug cultures  to spill on to the Pakistani side of the border, endangering our own population.

In addition to utilizing the various terrorist organizations and militants to create a pliant Afghan government, Pakistan also has had a history of using such groups against India. The hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 and its diversion to Afghanistan in order to free people of (Pakistani) Punjab origin (among them Omar Sheikh Sayeed, implicated in the killing of Daniel Pearl, and Maulana Mazood Azhar, the Amir of Jaish-e-Mohammed, implicated in assasination attempts on Gen. Musharraf) is a significant example. (Before the readers of this article protest that Pakistan had nothing to do with the Taliban, the role of Pakistani armed forces and intelligence agents in the training and nurturing of Taliban is undeniable and one can refer to the Kunduz “Airlift of Evil” also covered in “Descent into Chaos” by Ahmed Rashid.)

Fast forwarding to the future:

It is inevitable that Pakistan will play a central role in the reconciliation between the Taliban and ISAF in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s leverage arises from:

(i) the possible sheltering of the top leadership of the Taliban (including Mullah Omar, and members of the “Quetta Shura“),  as well as our influence with other figures like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatiyar,
(ii) the role of Pakistani armed forces in preventing Taliban movement from Afghanistan into Pakistan to carry out cross-border attacks and,
(iii) Our indispensability for logistic routes and supply of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The way we use this leverage will determine whether our security will be strengthened in the long term or whether we slip into another spiral of instability, several orders of magnitude worse than what we have today.

Is there a danger in reverting to Pre-9/11 status and why is it a bad idea?

COAS Kayani has indicated that Pakistan’s primary security threat is India and “strategic depth” is still being sought in Afghanistan. In addition, there is a widespread school of thought in Pakistan that the current violence and instability in the country is the result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Therefore, taking these factors into account, it is clear that the establishment finds it very attractive to revert to a pre-9/11 status – where the Taliban is supported and nurtured by the ISI and armed forces, a pliant Taliban-supported government is installed in Afghanistan with the associated medieval interpretation of Islam, and the various Afghan forces are used for leverage against India in Kashmir. In fact, this possibility has rattled India, which until a few weeks back had refused talks with Pakistan until concrete progress was made in the Mumbai case, but now is pushing for dialogue.

The prevalent sentiment that a Pre-9/11 scenario will put Pakistan on the driver’s seat in Afghanistan, India and the rest of the world, was further enforced by our foreign minister, who declared, “India had blinked on talks” and “Pakistan has held its ground.” Pakistan’s foreign minister even reneged on the progress made so far on Track-II diplomacy with India on Kashmir under the Musharraf regime. In addition, Jamaat-ud-Dawah and other “Punjabi Taliban” groups who were laying low after Mumbai, surfaced and held a rally in Muzaffarabad on Feb 5, promising, among other things, to “spread Jihad in other parts of India beyond Kashmir.” All this before talks had even begun with India. In one sense, they can be viewed as pre-talks sabre rattling, and in another sense, it can be viewed as the establishment’s desire to return to a Pre-9/11, Pre-Mumbai status quo, which may be advantageous in the short-term.

However, this line of thinking is a huge fallacy due to two reasons:
1. Proxy warfare didn’t work in Kashmir

Pakistan has to wake up to the fact that Kashmir’s “jihad” has been a spectacular failure. After sparking many wars, sending in many Jihadis, sponsoring numerous resolutions in various international fora, we are nowhere near wrestling control of Kashmir. Direct military action supported by the Mujahideen is unlikely to work. The Kargil war was a spectacular defeat–despite recent attempts to spin it as a success–Nawaz Sharif to his credit made a face-saving exit after the sudden trip to the U.S. to meet President Clinton. If anything Kargil has indicated that future wars over Kashmir will invite international wrath as well as destabilize our politics.

India has held democratic elections and thinned out their military presence in Kashmir and the number of violent incidents have gone down year after year since 2002. Even when Pakistan’s leverage on the Mujahideen was the strongest, (in the 90’s),  and India’s economy was simultaneously the weakest with a balance of payment crisis, India demonstrated that it could hold on to Kashmir. Instead of  harming India, armed jihad against India has destabilized the Pakistani population, killed and maimed Kashmiris, reduced our international standing, de-legitimized the Kashmir cause and is unlikely to yield any result in the changed international attitude towards terrorism. Moreover, China‘s wariness about the Mujahideen given the problem it faces in Xinjiang (recall that China did not support Pakistan during Kargil), the increasing economic gap between India and Pakistan (which will soon translate into a gap in defense and diplomatic capabilities) and the concomitant hardening of Indian public opinion as they flex their national strength further reduce any possibility of success.

2. With great power comes great responsibility

Secondly, if Pakistan is co-opted to hammer out a solution in Afghanistan by using our influence on the Taliban, the international community will shift responsibility to us . If another 9/11-like attack occurs by elements sheltered by the Taliban,  Pakistan will subsequently be blamed or asked to “do more”. Given the ideological leanings of the Taliban, as well as their involvement in the gun culture and violence, it is inevitable that Afghanistan will once again become a magnet for undesirable elements. Who in their right mind would want to be responsible for the actions of such elements?

Policing the behavior of Taliban, while simultaneously facing the threat of economic and military retaliation from the West for their bad behavior is an unenviable proposition.

So unpalatable as it might be, we should recognize the changed international scenario, the harm that we are causing to our population and go for a radical rethink of our Afghan policy and strategy. 

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Reuters: Wreckage of the destroyed girls' school in Dir.

On Wednesday, a bomb blast in Lower Dir killed seven people, including three schoolgirls and three U.S. military personnel, and wounded nearly 70 people, including two Americans and 63 schoolgirls, though the NY Times reported, “The medical superintendent in Timergara, the main town in Lower Dir, said that 122 girls were injured in the attack, a far higher number than originally reported.”

According to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan after the incident,

The Americans were U.S. military personnel in Pakistan conducting training at the invitation of the Pakistan Frontier Corps.  They were in Lower Dir to attend the inauguration ceremony of a school for girls that had recently been renovated with U.S. humanitarian assistance.

The bombing, which occurred just before 1100 PST, exploded “as a convoy of Pakistani security officials, journalists, and the American trainers were pulling into a girls’ school in the Haji Abad district of Lower Dir,” reported ABC News. The school destroyed in the attack, noted the news agency, was “separate from the school to which the convoy was driving.”

A girls’ school was completely destroyed Wednesday, and most of the victims were innocent children, many of who were  buried under rubble in the aftermath. That was the real tragedy today. Unfortunately, focus soon shifted to the U.S. military personnel’s  presence in Pakistan.

On Wednesday, military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas confirmed the U.S. Embassy statement that the Americans were there to train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, part of a $400 million program called “a compromise between American and Pakistani officials looking for the least intrusive way to fortify security in an area where the Pakistani government has rejected the idea of American soldiers and where even the regular Pakistani Army is often not welcome,” by the NY Times in June 2008. COAS Gen. Kayani reportedly rejected any suggestion that would allow U.S. forces to operate on the ground, but finally allowed a “plan for American military advisers to instruct Pakistani trainers, who would in turn train Frontier Corps units in counterinsurgency tactics.”

As a result, more than 20 U.S. Special Forces have been stationed in the country, reported ABC News, while the UK’s Times Online noted there were “thought to be about a dozen” American personnel. The news agency added, “Britain is also building a training camp for the Frontier Corps in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and plans to deploy 24 army trainers there, along with six Americans, for three years from August 2010.”

These reports seem to verify the identity and context of the U.S. military personnel killed and injured today. However, many in Pakistan remain suspicious of these claims, connecting them instead to Blackwater private security contractors. This suspicion, a reflection of the current sentiment in Pakistan, has been fueled further by recent developments, including remarks by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates allegedly confirming the company’s presence in Pakistan, [the U.S. embassy contends he was speaking about private security companies in general]. Soon after, NWFP senior minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour further affirmed that Blackwater personnel were not only operating in the country, but were also training Pakistanis.

Not one to avoid the anti-American bandwagon, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombing, but noted, “The Americans killed were members of the Blackwater group. We know they are responsible for bomb blasts in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities.”

Although the “military personnel were FC trainers” story seems to check out, would we ever really know otherwise? Truth be told, there have been increasing clues indicating Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan, but that does not mean that every American in Pakistan is a private security contractor. In my opinion, it is not the suspicion but the indiscriminate suspicion that I find inherently dangerous, fostering a cycle increasingly difficult to break. I’ll leave you with an interesting and insightful remark made to me by The News’ Mosharraf Zaidi:

I find it odd that objecting to a mercenary for-profit war company operating without accountability in Pakistan should be controversial at all. It’s a sad commentary on the absence of rational and linear thinking in both the so-called liberal and so-called right-wing camps. This issue has become a political football, instead of being taken seriously and resolved.

Thoughts?

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The OBL #FAIL

Cutting edge technology? Na, try Google.

Last week, the FBI published fresh photographs of Osama bin Laden in an effort to track down the Al Qaeda leader and ideologue. In the first “age progressed” mug shot, the Guardian reported, “Forensic artists used digital enhancement to modify Bin Laden’s features in an attempt to show what he might now look like.”

At first glance, it looked like OBL was either badly in need of sunlight or prescribed to the same skin regimen as the late Michael Jackson [RIP, MJ]. Turns out that “digital enhancement” was just the product of really, really ridiculously good Googling.

Gasper Llamazares

According to news agencies yesterday, the mocked up image of OBL was withdrawn by the State Department after the FBI “admitted it was partly based on a photograph of a Spanish MP taken from the internet.” The intelligence agency reportedly updated the bin Laden photo using the grey hair, jaw line and forehead of politician Gaspar Llamazares, a member of Spain’s Communist party. Ken Hoffman, an FBI spokesman told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, “The forensic artist was unable to find suitable features among the reference photographs and obtained those features, in part, from a photograph he found on the internet.”

Yikes.

According to Times Online, “Llamazares intends to ask the U.S. government for an explanation and is considering legal action.” He clarified at a news conference that he has “no similarity, physically or ideologically, to Bin Laden.” On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the lawmaker rejected the U.S.-issued apology for the mix-up, telling reporters, “I want a thorough investigation into this disgraceful case, which not only causes concern but also worry and indignation over the behavior of the FBI.”

Turns out not all intelligence is intelligent. Go figure.

With reports that Tehreek-e-Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud was injured in a drone strike last week in South Waziristan, I hope the aforementioned “cutting edge” technology won’t be used to prove this development. Because it may look a little like this:

Fake Hakimullah.

Real Hakimullah.

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Over the weekend, Pahjwok (via the AfPak Daily Brief) reported that police detained three alleged girl suicide bombers in Islamabad, “while two teenaged girl would-be suicide bombers surrendered to police in the troubled Swat valley.” The two girls, identified as Rabia and Arfa, revealed to reporters that they had been trained by militants associated with Mullah Fazlullah (the firebrand Swati cleric nicknamed the “Radio Mullah“). 14 year old Rabia noted, “During our training as suicide bombers, we have been told to believe that we would go immediately and straight to the heaven after carrying out suicide attacks in reward for this great service to Islam.” The news agency reported:

The girls said they changed their minds after coming to know that it was a wrong path to go and Fazlullah and his men were involved in torching schools and destroying bridges. She revealed dozens of girls like them fall prey to Taliban’s hands and the militants use them for suicide bombings. She appealed to all would-be suicide bombers not to carry out their attacks on the behalf of Fazlullah and his allies because such attacks result in killing of innocent people and their Muslim brethrens.

The News’ Rahimullah Yusufzai framed the two girls’ statements to the press in light of two other media events organized by Pakistani security forces on Saturday – the press conference of Mullah Fazlullah’s mother Amna Bibi and Fazlullah’s former teacher Maulana Waliullah Kabulgrami to the media. Taken alone, the statements by Rabia and Arfa are a disturbing indicator of the recruitment of female suicide bombers as well as the indoctrination of young girls and boys into militancy. When framed in light of the two other media events that day, Yusufzai noted, “it appeared that the security forces were on a mission to further damage the already battered image of the Swati Taliban.” Moreover, the statements by Mullah Fazlullah’s teacher criticizing the Swati Taliban leader and asserting that suicide bombings are un-Islamic “might influence public opinion in Malakand division and other parts of the country and harm the Taliban cause.”

It seems the military is arguably as intent in fighting this battle from an information operations standpoint as they are from a tactical perspective on the battlefield. Given the dissemination of Taliban propaganda, (often using the Al Qaeda production house Al-Sahab as their platform), Pakistan’s security forces are matching such efforts in this “battle for hearts and minds” with a campaign that villifies the enemy and sways potential Taliban sympathizers. The objective is simple: to marginalize support for these militant groups and cut their influence in this region.

That is why Yusufzai’s reaction to the military-initiated media events is interesting. He wrote:

A number of people who spoke to this writer were critical of the decision to bring Fazlullah’s mother before the cameras in Swat’s Khwazakhela area. And mind you none of them had any sympathy with the Taliban militants. In their view, keeping women and children out of the affairs of militants fighting the state should be the guiding principle of the government and the military trying to win the hearts and minds of the people in militancy-hit Frontier.

Recruiting young children and especially young girls into militancy is a disgusting tactic. That is undisputed. However, in this battle for the now-cliched “hearts and minds,” is it inappropriate or even counter-productive for Pakistan’s security forces to use them to convey that fact? Having Fazllulah’s purdah-wearing mother make an unprecedented public statement may help in villifying the enemy, but does it also earn the military supporters? Is there a line that the state shouldn’t cross?

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