Archive for July, 2010

With Friends Like These…

By Ron Moreau for Newsweek

The Afghan Taliban say they have one thing in common with the Americans: they’re both getting played by Pakistan. 

The Afghan Taliban logistics officer laughs about the news he’s been hearing on his radio this past week. The story is that a Web site known as WikiLeaks has obtained and posted thousands of classified field reports from U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and hundreds of those reports mention the Americans’ suspicions that Pakistan is secretly assisting the Taliban—a charge that Pakistan has repeatedly and vehemently denied. “At least we have something in common with America,” the logistics officer says. “The Pakistanis are playing a double game with us, too.”

Pakistan’s ongoing support of the Afghan Taliban is anything but news to insurgents who have spoken to NEWSWEEK. Requesting anonymity for security reasons, many of them readily admit their utter dependence on the country’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) not only for sanctuary and safe passage but also, some say, for much of their financial support. The logistics officer, speaking at his mud-brick compound near the border, offers an unverifiable estimate that Pakistan provides roughly 80 percent of the insurgents’ funding, based on his conversations with other senior Taliban. He says the insurgents could barely cover their expenses in Kandahar province alone if not for the ISI. Not that he views them as friends. “They feed us with one hand and arrest and kill us with the other,” he says.

The militants say that most often they’re dealing with middlemen who appear to be merchants, money-changers, or businessmen, although the assumption is that they’re working for Pakistani intelligence. Some provide money, some motorbikes; others supply contacts for sources who can provide weapons. One smuggler who funnels much of his profits to the insurgency claims that Pakistani forces reserve one remote border crossing in Baluchistan for the Taliban and force civilians to divert to far-off posts.

But many insurgents still blame the Pakistani government for its cooperation in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. “We can’t forget or forgive Pakistan for turning against us nine years ago,” says a senior Taliban intelligence operative, also speaking with NEWSWEEK along the remote border. And the betrayals didn’t stop there. Every Taliban can recite a long list of insurgent leaders who have been arrested in Pakistan or who were killed in Afghanistan with assumed Pakistani complicity. One of the biggest losses was Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, a driving force in the Taliban’s revival whose hideout near Quetta was raided by Pakistani forces in 2006. He fled across the border, where he was killed in a U.S. airstrike. Another was Mullah Dadullah Akhund, one of the insurgency’s most feared commanders, who died in a coalition raid in Helmand—with the help of the ISI, the Taliban suspects. The insurgents say he was too brazen, too independent, and too close to Al Qaeda for Pakistan’s comfort.

The militants say that most often they’re dealing with middlemen who appear to be merchants, money-changers, or businessmen, although the assumption is that they’re working for Pakistani intelligence. Some provide money, some motorbikes; others supply contacts for sources who can provide weapons. One smuggler who funnels much of his profits to the insurgency claims that Pakistani forces reserve one remote border crossing in Baluchistan for the Taliban and force civilians to divert to far-off posts.

But many insurgents still blame the Pakistani government for its cooperation in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. “We can’t forget or forgive Pakistan for turning against us nine years ago,” says a senior Taliban intelligence operative, also speaking with NEWSWEEK along the remote border. And the betrayals didn’t stop there. Every Taliban can recite a long list of insurgent leaders who have been arrested in Pakistan or who were killed in Afghanistan with assumed Pakistani complicity. One of the biggest losses was Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, a driving force in the Taliban’s revival whose hideout near Quetta was raided by Pakistani forces in 2006. He fled across the border, where he was killed in a U.S. airstrike. Another was Mullah Dadullah Akhund, one of the insurgency’s most feared commanders, who died in a coalition raid in Helmand—with the help of the ISI, the Taliban suspects. The insurgents say he was too brazen, too independent, and too close to Al Qaeda for Pakistan’s comfort.

Some leading Taliban even suspect that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader and symbol of their jihad, may also be in ISI custody. He has appeared in no videos and issued no verifiable audio messages or written statements since he disappeared into the Kandahar mountains on the back of Baradar’s motorcycle in late 2001. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the ISI arrested us all in one day,” says a former cabinet minister. “We are like sheep the Pakistanis can round up whenever they want.”

On top of the years of grudges, there’s a persistent strain of ethnic animosity between the Taliban’s overwhelmingly Pashtun membership and its mostly Punjabi patrons from Pakistan’s security forces. The insurgents refer contemptuously to the ISI as “blacklegs,” for their supposedly darker skin. “Any commander who is more or less self-sufficient and independent of Pakistan becomes more popular with his fighters,” the intelligence officer says. Nevertheless, the insurgents see little choice about accepting any help they can get from Pakistan.

The Pakistanis, for their part, continue to resist U.S. pressure for strikes against Taliban sanctuaries. “Their aim seems to be to prolong the war in Afghanistan by aiding both the Americans and us,” says the logistics officer. “That way Pakistan continues to receive billions from the U.S., remains a key regional player, and still maintains influence with [the Taliban].” And which side is Pakistan on? “That’s a foolish question,” says Anatol Lieven, a professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. “Pakistan is on Pakistan’s side, just as America is on America’s.” Nobody knows that better than the Taliban.

Karzai Questions Allies’ Willingness to Act on Pakistani Terror Havens

As Reported by the Voice of America

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is questioning the willingness of Western allies to go after terrorist sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan.

Mr. Karzai said Thursday that the war against terrorism is “not in Afghanistan’s homes and villages” but in the sanctuaries and training centers that lie outside the country.

The Afghan leader told reporters in Kabul that only international forces have the ability to tackle such insurgent forces.

President Karzai’s comments come after the website WikiLeaks released thousands of classified U.S. military documents that allege Pakistan’s intelligence agency was actively collaborating with Afghan Taliban militants.

Pakistan has dismissed the allegations.

Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit called Mr. Karzai’s remarks “incomprehensible.”  He said Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul was seeking clarification, noting the neighboring nations have been closely cooperating against terrorism.

President Karzai on Thursday also condemned  WikiLeaks’ release of the military documents and said their leak endangers the lives of Afghans who worked closely with NATO forces.  He said he has ordered a government review of the files.

The 91,000 documents also contain details of civilian casualties allegedly caused by coalition forces.  

U.S. officials have also condemned the documents’ release and launched an investigation into the source of the leak.

What We Know About Crashed Flight in Pakistan

By Max Fisher for The Atlantic Wire

A passenger airliner has crashed outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, reportedly killing all 152 people aboard, including two Americans. The flight, run by Pakistani airline Airblue, was traveling from Karachi. The plane crashed in the unpopulated Margalla Hills amid harsh weather and is not believed to have harmed any bystanders. At this point it remains unclear what precisely caused the crash and how officials will respond. Here’s what we know and possible explanations for what happened.

  • Flight Wasn’t Diverted Despite Bad Weather  The New York Times’ Adam Ellick reports, “Hashim Raza Garvaizi, a captain for Pakistan International Airlines, told GEO television that the airport’s runway has instruments that allow planes to land in weather conditions when there is no visibility. Mr. Garvaizi knew the pilot and said he had an impeccable record. He speculated that the plane could have been struck by lightening or that wind currents could have caused it to dip lower than expected. Mr. Garvaizi said another flight was diverted to Lahore about 30 minutes before the Airblue crash.” The Wall Street Journal’s Zahid Hussain adds, “Many other flights in to Islamabad were cancelled or diverted on Wednesday morning and it isn’t clear why the Airblue flight was given the go-ahead to approach the airport.”
  • Eyewitness: Plane ‘Lost Balance’  The Washington Post’s Shaiq Hussain finds an eyewitness. “A witness, Shahid Ameen, who was in a nearby residential section at the time of crash, said that he saw the plane with a low flight pattern. He said it looked ‘as if the plane had lost balance before I saw it coming down.’”
  • Technical Problems Uncertain  The Wall Street Journal’s Zahid Hussain reports, “Aimal Ahmed, an Airblue spokesman, said the plane was eight years old and flight worthy. ‘There was no technical fault in the plane when it took off. All the safety requirements were completed,’ he said. … ‘We are not sure whether the accident was caused by a mechanical fault or bad weather,’ Mr. Malik told the reporters.”
  • Islamabad Airport’s Dangerous Landing Issues  Pakistan Express Tribune columnist Meekal Ahmed explains the peculiarities of Islamabad airport.

If you are using runway 12 as it seems (the Murree road side) there is no ILS [instrument landing system]. The ILS is on runway 30 (the opposite side). So the procedure (which I never thought was safe) is you fly the ILS to 30 and then you break off and turn right and fly parallel to the Margalla hills and then turn back in and land on 12. It’s not a circle but more of a race-track pattern.

You may ask why not have the aircraft turn left rather than right towards the Margalla Hills. The reason is that on the left of runway 30 is Dhamial Air Base, GHQ and so on and as far as I remember that is all so-called “Restricted” airspace. You cannot fly over it.

This is CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) not as stated above.

Final point, when you are flying parallel to the Margalla Hills, you are required to keep the airport on your left in sight. So I can visualize the captain in the left seat looking left. Maybe the [flight officer] was flying and craning his neck too. They just seem to have drifted into the Margalla Hills — perhaps because of high winds. They lost what is called “Situational Awareness”. Basically they did not know where they were.

  • Airport Has One of World’s ‘Worst Weather Conditions’  Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports, “The craggy Margalla Hills to the north of the capital and unpredictable wind patterns can make an approach extremely difficult [a Pakistani pilot] said, going so far as to describe Islamabad as ‘one of the worst weather conditions in the world. … Irregular wind systems surround the Margalla Hills often make it difficult for the pilots while in the air.’”
  • Why Recovery Will Be So Difficult  Reuters’ Kamram Haider relates:

More than 90 bodies had been recovered so far, but the bad weather was making recovery efforts difficult.
“We have suspended the air operation because of rain. It will take a long time to clear the area. There’s no way to transport bodies from the site except via helicopters and even helicopters cannot land there,” said Aamir Ali Ahmed, senior city government official, said.

Rescuers said they had to dig through the rubble with their bare hands, with fire and thick smoke hampering their work. The fire has since been extinguished, but access to the hillside remained limited to pedestrians and helicopters.

“You find very few intact bodies. Basically, we are collecting bodies parts and putting them in bags,” police officer Bin Yameen.

What is Wikileaks?

By Jonathan Fildes for The BBC News

Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks is once again at the centre of attention as it makes public more than 90,000 secret records of incidents and intelligence reports from the US military about the war in Afghanistan. It is the latest in a long list of “leaks” published by the secretive site, which has established a reputation for publishing sensitive material from governments and other high-profile organizations. 

In April 2010, for example, it posted a video on its website that shows a US Apache helicopter killing at least 12 people – including two Reuters journalists – during an attack in Baghdad in 2007. A US military analyst is currently awaiting trial, on charges of leaking the material along with other sensitive military and diplomatic material.

In October 2009, it posted a list of names and addresses of people it claimed belonged to the British National Party (BNP). The BNP said the list was a “malicious forgery”.

And during the 2008 US elections, it published screenshots of the e-mail inbox, pictures and address book of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Other controversial documents hosted on the site include a copy of the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta, a document that detailed restrictions placed on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.  It provoked controversy when it first appeared on the net in December 2006 and still splits opinion. For some it is lauded as the future of investigative journalism. For others it is a risk.

In mid-March 2010 the site’s director, Julian Assange, published a document purportedly from the US intelligence services, claiming that Wikileaks represented a “threat to the US Army”.  The US government later confirmed to the BBC that the documents were genuine. To keep our sources safe, we have had to spread assets, encrypt everything, and move telecommunications and people around the world”  “The unauthorised publication of Army and DoD sensitive documents on Wikileaks provides foreign intelligence services access to information that they may use to harm Army and DoD interests,” a spokesperson told BBC News.

The site now claims to host more than one million documents. Anyone can submit to Wikileaks anonymously, but a team of reviewers – volunteers from the mainstream press, journalists and Wikileaks staff – decides what is published.  “We use advanced cryptographic techniques and legal techniques to protect sources,” Mr Assange told the BBC in February. 

The site says that it accepts “classified, censored or otherwise restricted material of political, diplomatic or ethical significance” but does not take “rumour, opinion or other kinds of first hand reporting or material that is already publicly available”. “We specialise in allowing whistle-blowers and journalists who have been censored to get material out to the public,” said Mr Assange.

It is operated by an organisation known as the Sunshine Press and claims to be “funded by human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public”.  Since it appeared on the net, it has faced various legal challenges to take it offline.

In 2008, for example, the Swiss Bank Julius Baer won a court ruling to block the site after Wikileaks posted “several hundred” documents about its offshore activities. However, various “mirrors” of the site – hosted on different servers around the world – continued to operate. The order was eventually overturned Wikileaks claims to have fought off more than “100 legal attacks” in its life, in part because of what is described as its “bulletproof hosting” The site is primarily hosted by Swedish ISP PeRiQuito (PRQ), which became famous for hosting file-sharing website The Pirate Bay.

“If it is legal in Sweden, we will host it, and will keep it up regardless of any pressure to take it down,” the ISP’s site says.  The site also hosts documents in other jurisdictions, including Belgium. Its experience of different laws around the world meant that it was drafted to help Icelandic MPs draw up plans for its Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI). The plan calls on the country’s government to adopt laws protecting journalists and their sources.

“To keep our sources safe, we have had to spread assets, encrypt everything, and move telecommunications and people around the world to activate protective laws in different national jurisdictions,” Mr Assange said at the time.

“We’ve become good at it, and never lost a case, or a source, but we can’t expect everyone to go through the extraordinary efforts that we do.”  Despite its notoriety, the site has faced financial problems. In February, it suspended operations as it could not afford its own running costs.  Donations from individuals and organisations saved the site.

Mr Assange told the BBC that the site had recently gone through “enormous growth” and had received an “extraordinary amount of material”.  “It exceeds our ability to get it out to [the] public at the moment,” he said in February.

As a result, he said, the site was changing and hoped to set up a number of “independent chapters around the world” as well as to act as a middle-man between sources and newspapers.   “We take care of the source and act as a neutral intermediary and then we also take care of the publication of the material whilst the journalist that has been communicated with takes care of the verification.”

“It provides a natural… connection between a journalist and a source with us in the middle performing the function that we perform best.” The latest documents – released in partnership with the New York Times, the Guardian and the German news magazine Der Spiegel – appear to be the first high-profile example of this new tactic.

Pakistan Suicide Bomber Targets Mourners

As Reported by BBC News

A suicide bomb near Peshawar has killed seven people near a gathering mourning a cabinet minister’s son murdered in a suspected Taliban attack, police say.

About 20 people were also injured when the bomber struck on foot near the home of Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain in the town of Pabbi. Three policemen and four civilians died. The minister was not among the mourners.

The Taliban has told the BBC it killed his 28-year-old only son two days ago. The suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a mosque where people had gathered in mourning on Monday.

Police said the attacker was dropped off by a man on a motorcycle near the minister’s home in the town, 26km (16 miles) east of Peshawar.

“He [the bomber] was a young boy,” senior police officer Liaquat Ali told news agency Reuters.

“He was trying to cross the checkpost but when our policemen caught him, he exploded himself.”

Mian Iftikhar Hussain is considered the provincial government’s most outspoken critic of the Taliban militants who have carried out dozens of bombings in the area.

BBC Islamabad correspondent Ilyas Khan, whose hometown is Pabbi, says the minister and other VIPs were probably not the direct targets of this blast, as it was well known they were gathering at a college building several kilometres away.

Our correspondent says the militants may have been sending a message that they can reach Mr Hussain’s home should they choose.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ehsabullah Ehsan, has told the BBC the group was responsible for gunning down the minister’s son, Rashid Hussain, near his home in Pabbi on Saturday.

The town is close to the home village of Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, who admitted to trying to blow up New York’s Times Square in May.

Bombs and attacks blamed on Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants have killed more than 3,500 people across Pakistan, it is estimated, since government troops besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

Much of the violence has focused on north-west Pakistan’s border area with Afghanistan, where US and Nato troops are battling to turn around a nine-year war against the Taliban.

Clinton Adds to Curious History of Mango Diplomacy

By Sebastian Abbot for The Associated Press

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered Pakistan help last week in exporting mangoes to the U.S. in a bid to dampen anti-American sentiment, it marked the latest chapter in the fruit’s curious history of diplomacy and intrigue.

Clinton’s offer came three years after the Bush administration opened up the U.S. market to Indian mangoes in exchange for allowing Harley-Davidson to sell its famed motorcycles in India - a deal that generated goodwill as the two countries finalized a civilian nuclear agreement.

Washington’s mango-powered diplomacy this time around is part of a broader $7.5 billion aid effort that is meant to improve the image of the U.S. in Pakistan, a move officials hope will provide the Pakistani government with greater room to cooperate on turning around the war in Afghanistan.

“I have personally vouched for Pakistani mangoes, which are delicious, and I’m looking forward to seeing Americans be able to enjoy those in the coming months,” Clinton said during her visit to Islamabad last week.

The prominence of mangoes in South Asian diplomacy should come as no surprise since scientists believe the sweet and fleshy orange fruit originated in the region before Buddhist monks and Persian traders introduced the plant to other areas of the world.

Pakistan and India recognize the mango as their national fruit, and summer in both countries is defined by the sights and sounds of vendors hawking piles of soft, sweet-smelling mangoes or pureeing them to create refreshing drinks that cut through the scorching heat.

Officials from both countries have exchanged crates of mangoes over the years in an attempt to soften tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals that have fought three wars since the partition of British India created the two nations a little over 60 years ago.

Former Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq may have begun the tradition when he swapped mangoes in the early 1980s with the Indian prime minister at the time, Indira Gandhi. The exchange took place several years before ul-Haq was killed in a plane crash that conspiracy theorists blame on a crate of mangoes placed on board moments before takeoff that was supposedly sprayed with a poisonous gas that killed the pilots and other passengers.

But like almost everything else, mangoes have also been a source of tension between Pakistan and India since the two countries view each other as competitors in the export market. Indians and Pakistanis argue over who grows the best mangoes – a debate that resembles the tussle between Lebanon and Israel over who can claim the mashed chickpea dish hummus as their own.

If all goes to plan, Americans will get a chance to conduct their own taste test once Pakistani mangoes break into the U.S. market. The U.S. plans trial shipments later this year and has pledged to support a three-year program to promote the export of Pakistani mangoes by sea to America, the world’s largest importer of the fruit. The initiative is part of a $21 million program to boost Pakistan’s agriculture. The U.S. will help finance hot water treatment facilities, sorting and grading machines and cold storage facilities.

India, meanwhile, is the world’s largest mango producer with about 13 million tons each year, far exceeding all other countries, including Pakistan, which comes in fifth place with about 1.6 million tons. But both countries have struggled to build the necessary infrastructure to really boost exports.

“Farmers are very grateful for the U.S. help,” said Muzaffar Khan Khakwani, the owner of a mango farm near the central Pakistani city of Multan that is benefiting from American aid. “It’s not just the financial help. It’s the capacity building and the exposure of farmers to well managed orchards.”

But it remains to be seen how quickly Pakistan can benefit from Clinton’s recently announced initiative. India had trouble with logistics and pricing when it first tried to export its mangoes to the U.S.

It is even more uncertain whether U.S. aid will really dent anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and motivate the government to step up support for the Afghan war, a move the Pakistanis have resisted for years.

As an Indian proverb says, “You can’t hurry a mango tree to ripen its fruit.”

 

Going After the Haqqani Network

From the Editors of The Express Tribune

The question of the Haqqani network and how it is to be handled continues to fester. The US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, this time in London, has suggested that Pakistan needs to go after the group with more force. The warning from Mr Holbrooke will have dashed hopes, raised during Hillary Clinton’s visit, that Washington was prepared to go along with a Pakistani strategy of dialogue with the network — led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. Links between the Pakistani intelligence forces and the Haqqanis have existed since the Afghan war and they have never been explicitly denied by either party. The elder Haqqani made his name as a formidable mujahideen commander during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when he was a member of Maulvi Yunis Khalis’s Hizb-i-Islami. He was also, according to American investigative journalist Steve Coll (who recently wrote Ghost Wars : The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001), offered a major role in the government by Afghan President Hamid Karzai some years ago.

For Islamabad, the pressure is on again. The Haqqani network is seen in Afghanistan as a key problem; it has carried out numerous attacks there. Washington believes Pakistan needs to do more to support the efforts against the militants in that country. The Pakistan military meanwhile, following its operation in South Waziristan, has avoided any move into North Waziristan – despite some gentle nudging from the US – reportedly following the intervention of the Haqqanis. They are also said to be facilitating talks with other militant factions across the conflict zone.

This brings us to an old issue: that of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants. It is clear that in the minds of the Pakistani military and the agencies allied to it this line of distinction continues to exist. Of course, Washington is in many ways responsible for creating this. The ghosts of the Afghan war, the alliance it formed with the mujahideen fighting the former Soviets and the engagement of Pakistan’s agencies, notably the ISI, are today coming back to haunt it. This is not to say that the CIA didn’t have its own connections to some of these actors in the past, but the point that is missed by most people is that it is America which calls the shots in this part of the world (or perhaps in most other parts as well).

There is a need for Islamabad to think things through. The division of militants into various camps, for example, so-called ‘good’ Taliban versus so-called ‘bad’ Taliban, has to stop. Essentially, these men of violence do more harm than good. The fact that a particular faction directs its wrath outside the country and avoids targeting Pakistani security forces should not be enough to cast it in the role of an ally. The effort against militancy does need to be seen in the wider regional context, and not as a matter of narrow allegiances and temporary agreements. The people who make decisions in Islamabad should keep in mind just how unsuccessful past efforts to do deals with the militants have been — with such attempts giving groups making up the complex Taliban network in the North a chance to reorganise and strengthen themselves on more than one occasion. There is reason to believe that this has contributed to the terrorism that has claimed thousands of lives. Even if the Haqqani network did not itself send out the bombers it has acted to back forces that have played a part in encouraging militant trends. The so-called Quetta Shura, led by the elusive Mullah Omar, is among these.

This having been said, Washington too needs also to review its own demands. There have been mixed signals over recent weeks. It is possible there is a lack of clarity on strategy within the US capital. This of course means the confusion in Islamabad has grown. A clear course of action needs to be planned in unison so the militants that Washington helped nurture can be driven away.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 78 other followers

%d bloggers like this: