Watching the video of Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, held hostage by the Haqqani network, I was shocked to hear a man in the background speaking what appears to be British-accented English. The man asks Bergdahl (at 1:25), “Any message to your people?”
So who is this mystery man? Among the possibilities: a Pakistani or Afghan-born militant educated in Britain or an English-medium school in his home country; a Brit of Pakistani or Afghan descent; or a British convert to Islam.
My initial speculation was that the voice could be of Rashid Rauf, the British-Pakistani militant who was said to have been killed in a drone strike last year in North Waziristan. But Salman Masood of the New York Times, who met Rauf when the latter was on trial in an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, tells me that it’s unlikely that the voice is Rauf’s.
Update: I’m viewing the full, 28-minute video and it’s clear that the person is an Afghan or a Pakistani Pashtun. His Pashto/Afghan accent slipped once or twice in the first few minutes of the full video, which was not apparent in the ABC News excerpt. The person, however, is fluent in English, and not an illiterate guy from the village. Could be an Afghan or Pakistani Pashtun who has lived in the UK.
The kidnapping of a young American soldier by the Jalaluddin/Sirajuddin Haqqani network puts Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment in a difficult position, especially if the soldier is being held in North Waziristan. Rawalpindi could face the choice of having to permit a U.S. ground incursion into Pakistan’s tribal areas or conducting a raid against the Haqqani network itself.
The Pakistan military has had ties with a handful of Afghan Muslim militant leaders and groups since the 1970s, which have been proven to be fairly useful in attempts to shape developments in the weak, yet often antagonistic neighboring state.
Since that time period, relations with a variety of actors have changed or fluctuated. The network of the late Younus Khalis, now led by his son, Anwarul Haq Mujahid, has turned against the Pakistan military. In its current form, the Tora Bora Mujahideen, it is allied with al-Qaeda as well as the Tehreek-e Taliban of Swat. Anwarul Haq was recently arrested in Peshawar; also, he sent forces into Swat to support Fazlullah’s insurgency.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the blue-eyed boy of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) till the mid-1990s, was ditched once the Taliban proved to be a viable force that could break the stalemate in Kabul. Hekmatyar at one point was receiving support from two competing states, Iran and Pakistan, and later fell solely into Tehran’s camp, especially after September 11. But Hekmatyar was soon pushed out of Iran and, according to press accounts, has maintained a more cooperative relationship with the Pakistan military since then.
In contrast to the Khalis and Hekmatyar networks, there appears to have been far less volatility in Pakistan military-intelligence establishment relationship’s with the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network, now primarily run by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin, seems to serve at least two functions for Rawalpindi: one, it helps stunt growing Afghan-Indian economic and security ties (by ensuring there are costs to their advance); two, it provides intelligence on the other Afghan and Pakistani militant groups in the area, particularly Baitullah Mehsud’s group.
SOPHIE’S KAYANI’S CHOICE?
Now that seemingly cooperative relationship could be in jeopardy as it clashes more overtly now than ever with Pakistan’s alliance with the United States.
Concerns over the ISI’s contacts with the Haqqani network have been expressed by Washington off the record for at least a year, and on the record, since April. There is no indication of the ISI facilitating attacks against U.S. forces, but there are reports that it aided in the Haqqani network’s attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
With the significant possibility that the American soldier kidnapped by the Haqqani network is being held in North Waziristan, Pakistan could be compelled to make a choice between the Haqqanis and Washington.
Naturally, the U.S. military seeks the return of its soldier alive and by whatever reasonable means necessary. If the U.S. soldier is in Pakistan, then a possible demand from Washington to Rawalpindi could be: get us the soldier back or we’ll do it ourselves. Granted, Washington will not push for a drastic solution that would result in more harm than good, but there is likely a sense of urgency.
Since the hostage is military, the United States is — again, assuming the soldier is in North Waziristan — reeled into the Haqqani’s purported safe haven. There is less incentive for the Haqqani network to hold on to him for a prolonged period of time, since that would increase the risk of the protective Durand Line ‘wall’ being breached by U.S. forces. The Haqqani network’s demands for the U.S. to stop operations in Ghazni and Paktika are unrealistic. As a result, an execution, which would be valuable for the Haqqani network’s propaganda, is likely and that is a scenario Washington would like to avoid.
As Rawalpindi is pressed to make a choice between the Haqqani network and Washington, there are possible indications that its relationship with the former have deteriorated.
The Pakistan military-intelligence establishment’s attempts to isolate Baitullah Mehsud from neighboring militants have faced difficulty and Haqqani does not seem to have played the intended role. The North Waziristan-based Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is close to the Haqqanis, has partnered with Mehsud and attacked the Pakistan Army, despite the latter’s attempts to avoid hostilities. Also, Maulana Sangeen, a major Haqqani network commander, was, according to one report, at the same funeral in which Baitullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain were reportedly attacked. However, Sangeen later denied he was present at the funeral, telling The News he has nothing to do with the internal fighting Pakistan. At the very least, a key Haqqani commander is publicly trying to avoid the impression of hostilities with the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment.
It’s certainly possible the Haqqani network has kept the soldier in Afghanistan. The group has a strong presence inside Khost, Paktia, and Paktika provinces in areas that are no-go for Afghan and U.S.-led coalition soldiers. If the soldier is in these areas, Pakistan would avoid having to make a difficult choice.
DRONE ATTACKS CAUSING A RE-ALIGNMENT IN THE AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN WAR?
But let’s assume the Haqqanis are now leaning against the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment or at least entertaining the thought. Why would that be the case? I’ll answer the question with another question. What do the Haqqanis, Mehsud, Gul Bahadur, and Maulvi Nazir all have in common (besides being Pakistani/Afghani Pashtun militants nominally loyal to Mullah Omar, supported now or previously by Pakistan’s intelligence services, and linked to transnational jihadists)? They are the targets of U.S. drone attacks.
At least in the case of Gul Bahadur, Mehsud, and Nazir, the drone attacks, besides eliminating some high-value targets with increasing precision (though the civilian casualties are often either underestimated or overestimated), are also pushing them toward increased cooperation. They are all threatened by U.S. drone attacks abetted by the Pakistani state. The Haqqani network shares a similar predicament as the aforementioned trio. Will it fully
While Pakistan should ultimately disentangle itself from a scenario in which it is connected to a group that is causing harm an ally, it cannot presently afford an all-out confrontation from a grand alliance of militants. Pakistan declaring an all-out war against jihadis would push these groups into the arms of al-Qaeda and create an unprecedented convergence of rural, urban, and tribal militants inside the country.
And so, even if the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment would like to abandon the distinction between ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’, the costs of doing so right now would be far too much. Pakistan would actualize the words of Ayman al-Zawahiri and make itself at the “heart” of a struggle between the West and jihadist forces.
Update: The interregator in the hostage video claims that the solider is in Kandahar.
Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]
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