Posts Tagged ‘ Ayman al-Zawahiri ’

Pakistan’s 10 Years of Chaos

As Reported by Jennie Matthew for AFP

The 9/11 attacks that thrust Pakistan into the war on terror have brought the nuclear-armed state to its knees, fighting Islamist radicals at home and risking pariah status abroad.

It was already evening in Pakistan when television channels, recently deregulated by then president General Pervez Musharraf, began broadcasting the terrifying scenes from the twin towers in New York.

Few slept that night, realising immediately that the world had changed forever and that Pakistan was in the eye of the storm after spending years fostering extremist movements for its own ends.

“My immediate thought was ‘oh my God, more trouble coming onto Pakistan’,” said author Imtiaz Gul, who has written extensively about the subsequent war and its fallout at home.

“My fears have been borne out… The 9/11 events shocked Pakistan into an unprecedented crisis of insecurity,” he said.
It didn’t take long for Musharraf to weigh up conditions imposed by Washington and announce on September 19 that Pakistan would offer its airspace, territory and capabilities to help the United States defeat terrorism.

But as America put the finishing touches to its war plans, Pakistan desperately tried to persuade its Taliban allies in Afghanistan to give up Osama bin Laden and avert catastrophic military action, to no avail.

Within weeks, bin Laden, his future successor Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leaders had fled the American invasion into Pakistan.

And there in the northwestern tribal belt, which no government has been able to subjugate, they found refuge among an extremist support network dating back to the 1990s jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

They regrouped, forming bases used by the Taliban to direct the insurgency in Afghanistan and training camps for Al-Qaeda to brainwash young extremists from all over the world into carrying out terror attacks.

As a result, the last decade has made the only Muslim nuclear power more unstable than ever before in its bloody and chaotic 64-year existence.

The watershed came in July 2007 when government troops cleared out extremists preaching hate from the Red mosque in the heart of the capital Islamabad.

The militants declared war and in the past four years, around 500 bomb attacks have killed 4,600 people, according to an AFP tally.
Just when it appeared things couldn’t get worse, this year the US discovered bin Laden living close to Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, sending in Navy SEALs to kill him and sinking already fractured US-Pakistani relations.

“No doubt that this is absolutely the worst time for the country,” said Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, whose book “Taliban” became an international bestseller after 9/11.

Rashid describes Pakistan as “completely isolated” by a war that “brought terrorism, sectarianism, a weakening of the state (and) much greater ethnic insurgencies” within the country.

But the blame — he says — is Pakistan’s for frittering away American aid money and refusing to realign its national security priorities.
“Politically, the most far-reaching mistake was the hosting and relaunching of the Afghan Taliban by the military and the intelligence agencies. That was enormously detrimental and led to the growth of the Pakistani Taliban.” Pakistan routinely proclaims to have sacrificed the most of any country fighting terror.

The government claims that 35,000 people have been killed. The army confirms the deaths of 3,019 soldiers since 2001 — more than the 2,684 Western soldiers to have died in Afghanistan.

More than three million people have been displaced by violence and counter-terrorism activities in Pakistan since 9/11, according to International Crisis Group figures released in 2010.

The army says 147,000 troops are deployed in the northwest compared to 35,000 in October 2001, a drastic reversal from the previous concentration along the Indian border in the east.

Yet extremism has increased. An average of one US drone strike every four days against militants in the tribal belt is raising fears that the campaign is recruiting a new generation of insurgents and suicide bombers.

Jihadist groups — fostered by Pakistan’s security establishment to fight India in Kashmir and maintain Afghanistan as a strategic asset — have splintered, and increasingly turned the guns on their old allies in the state.

“Pakistan is a lot less secure country now than 10 years ago, because it has become a battleground, an extension of the Afghan war. Pakistan is now facing a serious threat for its stability,” said journalist Zahid Hussain.

Yet the public discourse concentrates less on how to defeat militancy than debating the merits of the hugely unpopular US alliance.
Trust between Islamabad and Washington is at an all-time low. Cooperation between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI spy agency is poor. Blame games on both sides are played out in the media.

Compounding the sense of crisis is the country’s economic meltdown. Pakistan says losses related to the war are $68 billion. Critics say the country has squandered up to $20 billion in aid given by the United States. “The biggest mistake was the failure to really address strategic issues in the economy. Pakistan could have changed its very weak economic structure at that point in time,” said Rashid.

Instead crippling inflation, rampant unemployment and an energy crisis with power cuts of up to 16 hours a day have left millions wondering how to fill the void.

US Suspends Pakistan Military Aid as Diplomatic Relations Worsen

By Saeed Shah for The Guardian

The Pakistan military declared it did not need US military aid as the White House confirmed that it would withhold some $800m (£498m) in assistance to the country’s armed forces.

The row will worsen the already poisonous relationship between the two “allies”, which since the unilateral US raid to kill Osama bin Laden in May has lurched towards breakdown.

Pakistan recently expelled US military trainers from the country, limited the ability of US diplomats and other officials to get visas, and restricted CIA operations on its territory. “The Pakistani relationship is difficult but it must be made to work over time. But until we get through these difficulties we will hold back some of the money that the American taxpayers have committed to give them,” William Daley, the White House chief-of-staff, told ABC News on Sunday.

At stake is Pakistani co-operation against al-Qaida, the Taliban and other extremist groups, which the increasingly bitter relationship is putting at risk. Much of al-Qaida’s remaining leadership is believed to be hiding in Pakistan, while Pakistani territory is used as a safe haven by Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network, fighting across the border in Afghanistan.

The new US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, said over the weekend that he believed Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was in Pakistan’s tribal area and “he’s one of those we would like to see the Pakistanis target”. Pakistan responded by asking for the US to share the intelligence on Zawahiri’s whereabouts.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is meanwhile fighting its home-grown extremists in the tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, where a new offensive was launched earlier this month. Major General Athar Abbas, the chief spokesman for the Pakistan military, said that the military had received no formal notification of any aid being cut. He also pointed out that the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, had already declared that cash reimbursements to the military, known as coalition support funds, should go instead to the civilian government, where there was more need.

“We have conducted our [anti-extremist] military operations without external support or assistance,” said Abbas. “Reports coming out of the US are aimed at undermining the authority of our military organisations.”

Critical stories about Pakistan are leaked on an almost daily basis to the American press, riling Pakistani public and official opinion against Washington. Many in Pakistan believe there is a concerted American effort to weaken Pakistan and its armed forces, which are some of the largest in the world.

For Washington, Pakistan’s refusal to launch an offensive against the Haqqani network and suspicions that Bin Laden benefited from some kind of official support to live in Pakistan has corroded ties.

There are also questions hanging over future civilian aid, which is meant to provide $1.5bn a year in economic help.

Cyril Almeida, a columnist with Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, said the country was in danger of becoming internationally isolated, while US policy towards Pakistan was muddled.

“The US can’t decide they if they want to stay in this relationship or cut Pakistan off,” he said. “These leaks and pressure tactics just confirm to the army generals the view that America is no friend of Pakistan and it wishes Pakistan harm.”

Since 2001, the US has provided $21bn in civilian and military assistance, including $4.5bn in the 2010-2011 financial year, as aid was increased under the Obama administration. Two proposed bills in Congress over the last week, which were voted down, would have cut off aid to Pakistan altogether.

Pakistan’s economy is spiralling downwards, with electricity shortages shutting down industry, and rising food and fuel prices causing protests on the streets. Karachi, the country’s economic powerhouse, is often shut down by ethnic gang violence, which has claimed more than 100 lives in the current spate of bloodshed.

The Tangled Reality of US/Pakistan Relations

By Mark Urban for The BBC

WASHINGTON – The current crisis in US/Pakistan relations is not the first – but it is the most difficult one since 9/11, and it could easily be aggravated further by the intelligence arising from the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound.

For this reason, Washington insiders are not so sure that diplomatic moves to ease the problem will succeed.

Senator John Kerry has just been in Islamabad asking for “action not words” from the Pakistani authorities. He says he has gained some agreement for practical steps but, apart from gaining the return of remnants of the US helicopter that was destroyed at the compound, has not yet specified what these might be.

This morning he and other members of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will be holding hearings on Pakistan, including the question of how the billions given in aid could be used more effectively to buy the kind of counter terrorist cooperation that the Americans are after.

Juan Zarate, counter terrorist adviser to President George W Bush, argues that the kind of benchmarks that congressmen have advocated in the past for linking aid to performance on specific actions against militant groups could prove counter-productive in the short term because the Pakistanis consider this “humiliating”.

He poses the further question, “what happens tomorrow if we have to go after Ayman al-Zawahiri?”, referring to the former Al Qaeda number two and presumed leader after Bin Laden’s death.

The question of what leads are thrown up by the intelligence trove from the raided Abottabad compound is now in itself a key factor in whether Mr Kerry and members of President Barack Obama’s administration are able to soothe the relationship. Myriad questions arise from the material seized on flash drives and laptops.

Pakistani officials insist there was no contact between their Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Bin Laden – but what about possible ties with the courier who owned the house and was the key figure in sheltering him?

Will phone numbers leading to ISI officials be found in Bin Laden’s effects? Will there be intelligence that allows the CIA to quickly pinpoint Dr al-Zawahiri or other key figures who might now take control of Al Qaeda?

John McLaughlin, deputy director of the CIA until 2004, argues that even in this current difficult moment for US/Pakistan relations, America will reserve the right to act unilaterally against terrorist targets in Pakistan.

He believes though that ties can slowly be re-built with Pakistan, despite the fact that the raid, mounted without their leaders’ foreknowledge, gave them their “biggest shock for a generation”.

At previous moments of tension between the two countries, accommodations have been found. Intelligence about Al Qaeda suspects has flowed or the army has been sent in to one of the restive tribal areas on the Pakistan border. The US has signed off on new aid payments.

What tends to happen though is that within months, the Americans again accuse the Pakistanis of foot dragging in the fight against militancy, and Islamabad for its part counters with arguments that the US routinely violates its sovereignty.

The tangled reality of the situation is made worse by the fact that Pakistani ministers, mindful of anti-American sentiment in their country, will often not admit publicly to their agreement to drone strikes or other steps. Many people I have spoken to here compare the relationship to a dysfunctional marriage in which both sides need one another but find the reality of daily life increasingly unbearable.

There are those who see ways though in which the two countries might navigate their way through the perfect storm of recrimination and resentment that the Bin Laden operation has produced.

Juan Zarate and some others believe that if the materials seized in the raid produce some nugget of intelligence that leads to the discovery of Dr al-Zawahiri or other key figures, the US may chose to trust the Pakistanis with this knowledge, and make them partners in acting upon it.

If the exploitation of the intelligence went wrong and a leak was suspected the US could use this to place further pressure on Pakistani ministers. But if it all went well, trust might be re-built. The problem is though that there are many within the secret side of US counter terrorism who, because of the way that Osama Bin Laden hid for years where he did, are no longer prepared to take that risk.

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