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North Waziristan is the final frontier

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Sherry Rehman

There is a saying in Pakistan that if you can’t defeat your enemy, befriend him. This is particularly true in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan, where, in six agencies, there’s an unprecedented military offensive against militants. Despite many tactical alliances and ceasefire pacts in Waziristan, Pakistan has gone in with firepower backed by US drones. The cornerstone of the security policy here is to attack militants close to the al-Qaida, but spare armed syndicates that protect Pakistan’s flanks.

The turbulence in the Af-Pak border zone has led Washington to put out strategic leaks about possible military intervention inside Pakistan. The heart of the problem is what could alter the dynamics of declining US-Nato successes in the Afghan theatre. North Waziristan agency (NWA), and what the Pakistan army is able to do there, seems to have become the litmus test for US-Pakistan relations. After Faisal Shahzad’s attempted bomb attack in Times Square, the pressure on Islamabad to act against anti-US Taliban in NWA has increased. Islamabad pleads capacity constraints; the US cites commitment gaps.

The stakes are high. After failing to build institutional structures in Afghanistan, the test for Washington is linking US-Nato ground offensives in the south and Loya Paktiya to Pakistan’s push on the militant Haqqani-led groups from NWA. The Obama presidency needs a game-changer in a theatre where success is elusive despite a COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy that focuses on population safety. The expected Taliban reversals have not happened despite a massive offensive in Marjah. In Washington’s view, Pakistan is pulling its punches as it may need the Taliban when the US exits Afghanistan.

For Pakistan, this is a battle for its stability and survival. Action is overdue against terrorist and sectarian groups in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. There is a compelling need to act against extremist groups after the massacre of nearly a hundred Ahmadiyas in Lahore recently. The Punjab government needs to do a counter-terror sweep of its cities. The federal government must back up this action with pro-minority legislation. None of this requires the military to act, but such actions will see heightened terrorist attacks on civilians and military alike. This is something that the government will have to brace itself for.

The challenge in NWA is that Islamabad does not have the military or civilian capacity to open all fronts at the same time. Enmeshed in a blighted strategic endgame, with a growing terrorist threat, tanking economy and India posturing to the east, the military option in NWA cannot be a hair-trigger decision. The terrain has sobered the ambitions of several imperial powers, including the British, Russians and now perhaps the Americans. Despite impressive successes in other agencies, the army now faces 50,000 massed armed guerrillas in NWA. Hardened groups such as the Tehrik-I-Taliban, the Haqqani-group and jihadist outfits such as LeT and Lashkar-I-Jhangvi, Lashkar Zil, al-Qaida veterans and Salafists have sought sanctuary there after resisting army operations in surrounding areas. Islamabad’s fear is that if it shoves a fist into this hornet’s nest, maintaining the fragile consensus against terrorists at home would be difficult, as well as protecting its cities from further attacks.

This can be no “shock and awe” exercise that can be switched off by remote control. Pakistan has already lost over 3,000 people in two years as a result of the terrorist backlash; the economy has taken a $35 billion hit. The question is, will the US be around to help hold down Pakistan’s fist when its army swoops on al-Qaida strongholds such as Mir Ali? The military’s tactic in any counterinsurgency initiative in mountainous terrain is ‘pincer and choke’ the enemies’ escape routes. The 8,000-feet high mountainous trails in NWA are legendary for providing escape routes to Afghanistan. So, if these routes are not blocked, the whole exercise will lead to the enemy escaping to hospitable terrain. Given the unequal number of border checkposts on either side of the Durand Line, it is unlikely that any permanent flush-out of Waziristan is possible. If the NWA is grand central for terrorists, then the Afghan border provinces provide strategic depth. While the US-Nato forces in Afghanistan need to do their bit, Pakistan will have to step up border checks and review unwritten peace deals with tribal leaders who change sides too often.

The other question is: how long can the Pakistani army stay in the agencies it has secured? Is there a civilian ‘build, hold and transition’ component to the project? Once again, before putting pressure Pakistan with an escalating war, huge governance commitments such as ROZ (reconstruction opportunity zones) assistance will have to roll off the US machine. Why should Pakistan be expected to do more than reverse the Taliban tide in some areas, when US has not been able even to broker a new post-insurgency model for Afghanistan? Pakhtun alienation is not a concern for exiting nations, but it has huge blowback potential for Pakistan – Karachi is host to five million Pakhtuns.

What will help is a phase-by-phase plan for securing the area, holding it until the tribes that have been terrorized by the Taliban are able to return and do business. Second, though the elites in Waziristan’s tribal areas have been marginalized by the Taliban, they will resist governance models that diminish their pre-Taliban political powers. The military will have to stay in Waziristan until the police and frontier corps in that area is strengthened, and the tribal leadership prepares for critical reforms and political activity by mainstream parties. FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) reform will only work if introduced incrementally, and the government’s recent announcements, if implemented, will be a brave start. At the federal level, security sector reform is critical because peace deals with militants who promised not to attack government installations have almost always failed. As a temporary tactical move, there is some use in neutralizing militants to focus on the main enemy, but not in the long-run. The state must start assuming charge of security.

The politics of a military operation are never easy. No military relishes fighting inside its own borders, and no civilian, elected government embraces the use of force as a first, or even second option. The government has thrown its full weight behind the operations, despite the costs that accrue from such initiatives. As a result, Pakistan now has its own generation of lost people, human tragedies, economic crises, internal strife and political instability.

While the military presses on with an offensive in Orakzai agency, there will be little room to divert forces for anything more than strategic strikes on NWA areas where the terrorists cluster. Pakistan must dismantle al-Qaida as well as India-centric jihadist outfits as a priority. It also must allow Kabul to form its own stable government and hope for a friendly partner. But it will need Pakhtuns to maintain stability in Afghan border provinces after the expected US troop withdrawal in 2011. Seeking more than surgical raids in NWA is asking for too much. Pakistan must act decisively against terrorists, but using its own gameplan.

Sherry Rehman is a member of the National Security Committee in Pakistan’s Parliament


Lahore attacks linked to Taliban

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* Rashed Rahman says ‘nexus of all these groups coming together dangerous trend’

LAHORE: When the shooting in the prayer facility died down, Syed Rashid Rahim heard a softer chorus – the ringing of mobile phones in the pockets of the dead.

Injured in the arm and leg by attackers who killed more than 90 members of the Ahmedi sect attending prayers in Lahore on Friday, Rahim told The Financial Times that he ignored the calls, reluctant to break the news to the victims’ loved-ones.

He told the paper that he laid there for three hours as gunmen roamed the corridors and climbed the minaret, “coolly reaching into their backpacks to reload”.

“They had no repentance on their faces,” Rahim told the FT. “These people are like beasts.”

Tales of carnage have become familiar in the country, but the latest attack stood out both for its toll – one of the highest in years – and the glimpse it offered into the trends driving the evolution of the country’s terror groups, the FT said.

Police suspect the attacks were organised by the Taliban and local TV also reported that the Taliban had claimed responsibility.

Investigators believe that the trail connects extremists in Lahore to those in North Waziristan, FT said.

Witnesses told the paper that the attacks were carried out by both Punjabi and Pashtun gunmen, and the reports could mean that extremists in Punjab are being trained by the Taliban, and could reflect the growing collaboration between groups bent on overturning the state.

Trend: “We have a nexus of all these groups coming together,” said Rashed Rahman, editor of the Lahore-based Daily Times. “It is an extremely dangerous trend.” The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan grabbed headlines this month when US prosecutors linked the group to Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born US citizen charged with attempting to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square, the paper said.

CIA using smaller missiles in drone attacks: WP

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* Report says CIA using advanced surveillance techniques to minimise civilian casualties in Pakistan

LAHORE: The US Central Intelligence Agency has started using smaller missiles in its hunt for al Qaeda and other terrorist leaders in Pakistan in hope of minimising civilian casualties, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

Citing unnamed current and former officials in the United States and Pakistan, the newspaper said the new technology had resulted in more accurate strikes that have provoked relatively little public outrage.

According to the report, one such missile was used by the CIA last month in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan.

The projectile, which was no bigger than a violin case and weighed about 35 pounds, hit a house there and killed a top al Qaeda official and about nine other suspected terrorists, the paper said.

The mud-brick house collapsed and the roof of a neighbouring house was damaged, but no one else in the town was hurt, the WP said.

The CIA declined to publicly discuss its clandestine operations in Pakistan, and a spokesman would not comment on the kinds of weapons the agency is using, the report said.

But two counterterrorism officials said in interviews that evolving technology and tactics had kept the number of civilian deaths extremely low. The officials, along with other US and Pakistani officials interviewed for the article spoke on the condition of anonymity because the drone campaign is both classified and controversial.

The paper said the agency, using 100-pound Hellfire missiles fired from remotely-controlled Predator aircraft, once targeted Taliban largely in rural settings, but lighter weapons and miniature spy drones have made killings in urban areas more feasible, officials said.

According to an internal CIA accounting described to WP, just over 20 civilians are known to have died in missile strikes since January 2009, in a 15-month period that witnessed more than 70 drone attacks that killed 400 suspected terrorists and insurgents.

Agency officials said the CIA’s figures are based on close surveillance of targeted sites both before and after the missiles hit.

Unofficial tallies based on local news reports are much higher. The New America Foundation puts the civilian death toll at 181 and reports a far higher number of alleged terrorists and insurgents killed – more than 690.

The drone strikes have been controversial in Pakistan, as many view them as an infringement on national sovereignty.

An astonishing case of intelligence failure

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Greg Mathews

Instead of trying to see what one is looking at there will be no real lessons learnt from the stupefying attack at Khosht, Afghanistan on December 30, 2009 at the secret CIA Station. The response from US, apart from ‘frantically’ concealing a major, MAJOR case of embarrassment under a wad of conspiracy theories doggedly attempting to embolden “World’s most powerful intelligence organization” by using, ‘yet again’ the much disposable hand of ISI, Pakistani intelligence services – all in a desperate attempt to tuck away CIA’s own inadequacies.

Renowned think tanks like Stratfor are churning out stories that link the attack to the ISI, all from the grapevine and speaking of speculation pulled out of nowhere else but ‘widespread rumors’ mostly concocted inside a conspicuous coterie of ISI bashers that cannot be missed out, needless to say, for obvious reasons. Yet these ‘rumors’ are failing horribly from dressing the unreserved embarrassment of CIA’s spectacular intelligence failure that enabled the Taliban to inflict the heaviest loss to a leading US spy agency in the past 26 years!

What Stratfor shouldn’t have missed out on is the magnitude of animosity among Muslims against the US that compelled a Jordanian medical doctor of Palestinian origin with a Turkish wife to team up with other Arab nationals from Al-Qaeda and seek help from Afghan and Pakistani Taliban under the umbrella of Al Qaeda to make this attack possible. It shows the growing frustration and disgust from the US policies and explains for growing Islamic militancy transcending borders and joining hands to fight what they perceive as a common enemy.

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