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Introducing Abu Zar al-Burmi

For the November edition of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor (MLM), I have written what is probably the first publicly available English-language profile of Abu Zar al-Burmi, the mufti of the Waziristan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The MLM is only available via paid subscription, so you’ll have to be a subscriber to read the full text of my article.

Many of you Urdu speakers have heard Abu Zar’s voice before. He is the jihadi cleric debating with a counterpart from the Pakistani military in an audio recording that has spread on the Internet.

Abu Zar represents the most radical elements of Pakistan’s jihadi landscape. He and his ilk are unlikely to ever negotiate a peace with the Pakistani government. And the Pakistani government, military, and public must contend with the fact that peace talks will not end the war for some of the country’s anti-state jihadists.

Abu Zar says that his goal is shariah ya shahadat (Islamic law or martyrdom).  He will fight to the death.  Abu Zar seeks a pure Islamic state.  He says that not even a 99% Islamic state will suffice. For him, even Quaid-e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was a kafir (infidel).

One final interesting tidbit: Abu Zar is a Pakistani national of Burmese ancestry who is the leading cleric for a jihadist group founded in Uzbekistan, but now based in Pakistan’s Waziristan. His background is truly an example of globalization — but, given the IMU’s viciousness, of its ugliest sort.

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Pakistani-U.S. Raid Nabs Mullah Baradar: Kayani Doctrine in Full Effect

The New York Times reveals this evening that the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, Mullah Baradar, was arrested in Karachi on Thursday in a joint raid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.  The move is clear demonstration that the Pakistan Army, under the command of Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has a more flexible approach toward Afghanistan, guided by the realization that it has permanent interests, not permanent allies in its neighbor to the northwest.

In a recent briefing to foreign correspondents, Kayani said that Pakistan seeks a friendly government, stability, and ”strategic depth” (meaning, at the very least, that Kabul is not allied with New Delhi) in Afghanistan.  The Pakistan Army is willing to play by more conventional rules and begin to engage so-called good actors to secure these goals in Afghanistan.  Toward this, Kayani offered to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.  Having denied India a strategic pivot into Central Asia and northwestern/western Pakistan via Afghanistan (note India’s minimal role in the London talks and absence from the Istanbul talks), the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment feels more secure to broaden its ties in Afghanistan and engage the current Afghan leadership.

In addition to having been provided an opportunity to diversify its contacts in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army likely also feels a need to do so.  In my previous post, I speculated that Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.”  And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.  These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.  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?

The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment.  The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents.  It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.”  One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.

With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests.  Pakistan has an opportunity to come in from the cold and project its regional influence through more conventional and “legitimate” means.  In doing so, it can secure its interests and the respect and trust of others, while also containing the Taliban contagion infesting its border areas with Afghanistan.

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Pakistan’s Army Heads into the Belly of the Beast

Here’s a link to my latest blog post at ForeignPolicy.com’s Af-Pak Channel. It’s on the Pakistan Army’s upcoming ground operations in South Waziristan.

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Hakimullah Mehsud Confirms Baitullah’s Death

Hakimullah Mehsud has told BBC Urdu that Baitullah Mehsud died two days ago.

The BBC also spoke with Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud, who denied claims of rifts in the TTP. The report also states that Wali-ur-Rehman has been made TTP commander in the Mehsud areas of Waziristan.

So, we have a power sharing arrangement in which Hakimullah heads the TTP, but Wali-ur-Rehman runs the show in the TTP’s heartland. Given that it took the Taliban so long to acknowledge Baitullah’s death, it’s clear that there are some real internal sensitivities. The big question is: Can Hakimullah and Wali-ur-Rehman work together, or will they step on each other’s toes?

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Pakistan’s Counterinsurgency After Baitullah: Move Forward, But Not Too Fast

Almost two weeks after the killing of Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan continues to have an upper hand over the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).  But Rawalpindi-Islamabad’s gains over the TTP are unconsolidated.  The Pakistani Taliban network can rejuvenate itself.  Pakistan needs to sustain its vigilance against the militants, while at the same time not drag itself into a full-fledged conflict in South Waziristan it is not ready for.

Pakistan has managed to:

  • secure its major urban areas outside the Pashtun belt, and, to a large extent, Peshawar, from militant attacks.  There has been no equivalent of the Manawan police academy or ISI office attacks in Lahore or the Pearl Continental attack in Peshawar.
  • cleanse the Malakand division of militants (though not completely — see below) to the extent that much of the internally displaced population is returning home and willing to facilitate policing efforts to prevent a Taliban return.
  • increase approval of the Pakistan Army in the Malakand division, despite the fact that it hasn’t followed a COINdinista Network Approved Strategy (CNAS).
  • continue to penetrate terrorist cells and apprehend key facilitators, funders, and trained suicide bombers.
  • push the militant leadership into the North-South Waziristan corridor.
  • fracture the TTP leadership, or at least create the perception that it is in “disarray.”
  • put the Mehsud network — and anti-state takfiri terrorists, in general — on the defensive, both physically and ideologically.
  • maintain pressure on TTP remnants in Bajaur, Khyber, Mohmand, and Orakzai.  Note that there hasn’t been an attack on a NATO convoy in Pakistan recently.
  • transfer the Pashtun “hot potato” on to the United States.

This success is due to:

  • the use of air power against militants in the Malakand division and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that, while causing significant civilian casualties, neither turned the local population against the central government nor strained the manpower of the Pakistani security services.
  • a commitment to keep a large military presence in Swat for the next few years.
  • a sustained counterpropaganda campaign utilizing the private media and religious scholars, particularly Barelvis.
  • a clever psy-ops campaign against the TTP.
  • a whole-hearted embrace of its fallen soldiers, with public funerals made accessible to the media.
  • excellent investigative and police work done by the federal interior ministry down to the provincial police forces.
  • the decision by the Obama administration to focus drone attacks against the Baitullah Mehsud network.

The TTP has failed to:

  • prove that Baitullah Mehsud is alive.  Hakimullah Mehsud, who appears to be living, promised a Baitullah video by last Monday, but it never appeared.
  • demonstrate leadership continuity by appointing a successor to Baitullah.
  • counter Pakistan Army claims that there was a clash between Hakimullah and Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud by having the two agree on a Baitullah successor or, somehow, publicly prove they are on the same page.
  • show that it remains a force to be reckoned with by pulling off a major attack in Islamabad, Peshawar, or urban Punjab.
  • legitimize (or re-legitimize) its insurgency and campaign of terror in the eyes of the Pakistani public by linking it to Pakistan’s support for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Despite the Pakistan military’s gains against the TTP, the terrorist outfit’s senior leadership — aside from Baitullah — remains alive.  Commanders such as Faqir Muhammad and Hakimullah Mehsud are around.  But their continued existence does not preclude a disassembly of the TTP.  Afterall, it is an umbrella organization.  Disassembly would require the commanders to no longer share the same threat: the Pakistan military-intelligence establishment.  And that would require an undesirable return to a messy policy of Rawalpindi sorting out the bad guys from the less bad guys (i.e. “good” vs. “bad” Taliban).

For the Pakistan Army, South Waziristan remains the belly of the beast.  Its unforgiving land is the home of the Mehsud network as well as a host of Pakistani and foreign jihadi groups.

But, for many reasons, the Pakistan Army cannot afford a ground incursion into South Waziristan:

  • Its gains in the Malakand Division have yet to be consolidated and the troops there must remain.  Militant attacks in the North-West Frontier Province have risen in the past week.  Today, a suicide bomber struck a gas station in Charsadda, killing at least seven.  And in the past week, there have been two suicide bombings in Swat.  The most recent one occurred in Mingora, where Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is scheduled to visit on today.  These events suggest the possibility that the Taliban could pop up again amidst a returning displaced population.  A recent Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) briefing with the New York Times indicated that the Pakistan Army won’t move any additional troops from the border with India.  So Swat will utilize the Pakistan Army’s only ‘extra’ manpower.
  • It lacks the public support necessary for a sustained and costly battle there. While more Pakistanis support the fight against militants now than ever, the supporters do not constitute a commanding majority; and even among the supporters for the war, there is a high preference for peace talks.  The fight in the Malakand division was a cakewalk compared to what the Pakistan Army would face in South Waziristan.  Public support for a prolonged South Waziristan ground campaign would collapse quickly.
  • It does not have the support of the Mehsud tribe.  A Mehsud tribal leader, while visiting Islamabad, referred to Baitullah as a “shaheed” or martyr.  His tribe has yet to revolt against the Mehsud terror network, despite the Pakistani security services’ prodding.  I sensed that the tribal leader lacked trust with the military-intelligence establishment.  If his tribe stood up against the Mehsud network, only to have the Pakistan Army make a peace deal with the group, the tribal leaders who had supported the army could be targeted by the terror group.  Presently, the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment has been playing a bit of hardball with the Mehsuds by using the rival South Waziristan Bhittani tribe against them.  But, according to some reports, the Bhittanis have killed regular Mehsud tribesmen.  And some fear a new problem, a Bhittani-Mehsud tribal war, could emerge.  While there is merit to the idea of converting the Mehsuds with a bit of hard power, overdoing it could harden their resolve.  The Mehsud tribe needs to know that the Pakistan Army will have its back if it turns against Baitullah’s network and that there are costs to supporting the TTP and rewards from opposing it.
  • It has hostile forces to the Mehsud country’s north, where the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group continues to engage in suicide attacks against Pakistani security forces in North Waziristan.  A jihadi video from this summer indicates that at least one suicide bomber was an Uzbek.  Was the Uzbek with Bahadur or borrowed from Baitullah?
  • It potentially also has hostile forces to the Mehsud country’s west.  A peace deal with Maulvi Nazir, an Ahmedzai Wazir in South Waziristan, was thought to have helped contain Baitullah Mehsud and challenge irredentist Uzbek militants.  But U.S. drone attacks and possibly the encouragement of al-Qaeda pushed the militant against the Pakistani establishment.  Nazir appeared on an al-Sahab (al-Qaeda’s media arm) video damning the Pakistani state (for, among other things, its Macaulay-originated education system).   A pro-government tribal leader was recently killed in his network’s vicinity.  However, Nazir’s conflagrations with the Pakistani security forces have been limited, as compared to Gul Bahadur’s.  And, in a curious press report, he is said to have been killed on Monday in a supposed clash with Baitullah’s network.  The Mehsud network denied taking part in the battle; it is certainly possible that the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment eliminated Nazir and, neither wanting conflict with the Ahmedzai Wazirs nor wishing Wazir-Mehsud unity, sought to blame the Mehsud network instead.   It also remains possible that Nazir’s group could have really been attacked by the Mehsuds, but I am skeptical.  And Nazir still could be alive.

So, rather than being triangulated by the Ahmedzai Wazirs, Utmanzai Wazirs, and the Mehsuds, the Pakistan Army seems to be making economical use of its resources by not heightening hostilities with each tribe’s militant network at once.  The Mehsud network is the declared public enemy, while Gul Bahadur can be countered under the pretenses of ‘reluctance’ and Nazir can, possibly, be targeted through covert methods that offer deniability.  Pakistani air power and local paramilitary and army forces can continue pressure on the Mehsud network and Gul Bahadur’s group (under the cover of “retaliation”), and American drone attacks can target all three groups.  This would soften up the rough terrain of South Waziristan, weaken its jihadi infrastructure, and increase coherence in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

But, in the end, all this talk of the various Pakistani Taliban groups begets the question: whither the Haqqani network?  Does going against any or all of the jihadi three in Waziristan mean a conflict between the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment and the Haqqani network is guaranteed, if it hasn’t begun already?

This is where things get the shadiest.  How can the Haqqani network have ties to the ISI, the Baitullah Mehsud network, and al-Qaeda at the same time?  The enemy of my enemy is, perhaps, my friend; the friend of my friend can be my friend; but can the friend of my enemy be my friend?  Perhaps if the friend of my enemy is also the enemy of another enemy of mine.  But is that enough glue to hold ‘friends’ together?   The puzzle would be easier to solve if it became clear that Maulvi Sangeen — presently, the major linkage between the Haqqani and Mehsud networks — is a bit of a renegade.  It also helps to remember that jihadi groups are prone to insubordination and splintering; in fact, there have been instances in which the elimination or arrest of Taliban commanders was ‘facilitated’ by the parent group.  So, there is always more than meets the eye.

If I were a betting man, I would put my money on Rawalpindi not parting ways with the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar.  Any future political resolution in Afghanistan will involve re-balancing the ethnic power distribution there, with a re-tilt toward the Pashtuns.  The Haqqanis, Mullah Omar, and to some extent, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are Pakistan’s only Pashtun cards to play.  And everyone — the Germans, the Turks, the Indians, the Brits, the Iranians, the Americans, and hell, probably even the Polish — all have, want, and need cards to play in Afghanistan.  Let’s not be naive about Afghan independence.  It is a penetrated state; its penetration is guaranteed by the fact that it is landlocked, surrounded by middle and emerging global powers, host to a north Atlantic alliance that has found itself in the middle of Central Asia (dangerously in Chinese, Iranian, Pakistani, and Russian strategic space), home to Pashtuns and Tajiks who will ally with a foreigner to mercilessly combat one another, and a possible transit route for a number of energy pipelines in a post-peak oil, post-Chinese riding bicycles to work world.

I think a quid pro quo in the form of Baitullah for the Haqqanis and/or Mullah Omar is not probable.  Washington took out Baitullah, but he was a bigger threat to Pakistan than he was to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  Now that Rawalpindi got what it wanted, what will guarantee it reciprocating through giving up the Haqqanis and/or Mullah Omar?

Baitullah, in a loose sense, served as leverage over Pakistan.  But now he and that leverage are gone.  At the same time, the U.S.-led coalition is increasingly vulnerable as it faces an uphill battle in Afghanistan.  Days before national elections, the Afghan capital of Kabul was struck by a SVBIED with approximately 1,000 pounds of explosives.  The suicide bomber managed to penetrate the most secure area of Kabul.  The attack was a public relations coup for the Taliban, which managed to strike near the local seat of the world’s most powerful collective security alliance, led by world’s sole superpower, with a security blimp watching from the sky.

Assuming the elections turn out fine (reasonable turnout, especially among Pashtuns, no major claims of rigging, and a Karzai victory), Afghanistan remains a challenged country.  American operations in Helmand are moving slow.  Meanwhile, the Taliban are making major gains in Kandahar and areas outside the Pashtun provinces.  General Stanley McCrystal’s surrogates, i.e. those who served on his review committee, are hitting the airwaves and op-ed pages calling for a significant troop increase.  But the Obama administration remains conflicted.  National Security Advisor Jim Jones is dead against any new commitment of additional troops.  Vice President Joe Biden also seems to be extremely cold to the idea. A majority of Americans do not approve of the war in Afghanistan (though this can certainly change).  The “good war” isn’t as good as it once was.  Add to that the fact that COINdinista-style wars are expensive, while American tolerance for deficit spending has evaporated.

Washington has increasingly made clear that it is willing to negotiate with elements of the Afghan Taliban (save for the senior leadership), as long as they commit to some behavioral change (e.g. disarming and accepting the Afghan constitution).  Theoretically, it’s a perfect formula.  But in reality, it’s somewhat dangerous.  Negotiations, in the Washington consensus, are contingent upon the United States breaking the present stalemate and gaining an upper hand.  But what if the U.S.-led coalition never gains an upper hand?  Will it continue to walk into the quicksand?  This is a critical question that need to be addressed before it’s too late.

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Who is the English-Speaking Guy in the U.S. Soldier Hostage Video?

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.

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When ‘Assets’ Become Liabilities

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.

BACKGROUND

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.

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Speedy Injustice: Swat Taliban Beat a 17-Year-Old Girl

Watch the video at the bottom.

There is no trial. No due process. No evidence or witnesses as required by Islamic legal procedure. Just a band of angry young men whipping a young girl.  Accused of adultery, a more likely explanation is that a false allegation was made against her by a Pakistani Taliban warlord whose advances/courtship she spurned.  Does anyone seriously think a woman would try to commit adultery in Taliban-controlled Swat? That’s like a person causing him or herself to bleed in shark-infested water.

An entire region is in the hands of an uneducated and barbaric band of men between the ages of 15 and 35.

This is a terrorist frat party — not a liberation movement.

They call themselves Taliban, or the students, but most have spent barely a few years in school — if any. Most of these men are illiterate. The number of people they have killed outnumbers the books they’ve read. Fazlullah, who claims to be a maulana or religious scholar, worked at an amusement park and spent a maximum of a couple of years at a seminary. That does not qualify him for anything, let alone calling himself a maulana. He is a loser with a gun, holding thousands hostage — the equivalent of making one of those Columbine kids governor of Colorado.

They deem themselves Islamic, but they kill the innocent and violate every agreement they make. Their spokesmen, such as Muslim Khan and Maulvi Umar, routinely lie to the media.

They call themselves Pashtuns, and non-Pashtuns exhibit a deference to their acts, explaining them away with Pashtunwali concepts like badal (revenge) and nang (honor). But they, most often, are the initiators of violence. What of the right of the innocent they’ve targeted to enact revenge on them? No — these men are beyond reproach. And as for izzat and mishertob, there is no honor, no fealty to tribe, in killing and decapitating one’s tribal elders.

They call themselves freedom fighters, but no one has occupied Swat but them. They themselves are the occupiers. They take over the homes and property of others. They have caused tens of thousands to flee. Those who have remained or returned live in a Taliban-run open air prison.

Granted, this video is not necessarily an indication of the Swat courts run by Fazlullah’s father-in-law, Sufi Muhammad of the Tehreek-e Nifaaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi.  The video might have been recorded before the Swat peace deal; the injustice is likely perpetrated by vigilantes associated with Fazlullah.

That is not to say Sufi is a civil libertarian. But Fazlullah’s Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan – Swat, quite clearly, is a band of thugs.  Religion is used to obfuscate their criminal reality. Evidence of this is despite having all their major demands met, they remain indulged and invested in thuggery. They are looters, murderers, and destroyers. They have no creative capacity. They do not save or improve lives — despite the fact that one of the primary maqasid (objectives) of the shariah they routinely speak of is to protect the lives of human beings.

Right now, in Lower and Upper Dir, they are precipitating the breakdown of law and order by engaging in kidnapping and murder.

In Shangla, they just illegally took over an emerald mine.

Back in Swat, these self-described proponents of Islamic justice did not like a ruling made by the state sanctioned Islamic court; it wasn’t in their favor.  So what did they do?  They tried to go around the system to their warlord, Fazlullah, and get him to make his own decree.  

But Fazlullah is no judge.  He is a criminal. He, not this young girl, should whipped. In fact, he should be struck with the same whip used against this girl. And then, with that same whip, he should be hung to death at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Prison.

These men provide Pakistan not strategic depth, but strategic death.

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Deferral Till Death

Last August, I wrote:

About deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry: it is strange how so many powerful Pakistanis fear one good judge.  It is a testament to how much political and financial power are contingent upon a state of lawlessness and graft.  It is also strange that the rule of law movement is being opposed so vigorously when Baitullah Mehsud has accelerated his plans to establish his own judicial system across the tribal areas.  In a sense, Pakistanis face a choice between Iftikhar Chaudhry and Baitullah Mehsud.  Eliminating the former is a vote for the latter.

Today, President Asif Zardari is on the verge of making peace with Mehsud’s [ex?-]associate Maulana Fazlullah.  Without trying, Zardari has given up on establishing an effective civil judicial system in the greater Swat area.

At the same time, Zardari has declared war on a movement focused on establishing the rule of civil law, led by deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The formula of [Judicial System - Leading Rule of Law Movement Symbol = No Competition for Medieval Militants] has essentially been realized.

The Peoples Party has used a strategy of deferral till death (or death by deferral) for ‘contentious’ issues, such as restoration of the restored judges.

But look at the costs.  Law Minister Farooq Naik has been sitting on a “judicial reform” plan for around half a year.  Reforms that would produce speedy, effective civil justice — such as establishing night courts — are being delayed so they can be packaged with a boat load of other goodies (such as lowering the judges’ retirement age from 65 to 62 to expedite CJ Iftikhar’s retirement to December 2010).

These goodies will be packaged with another set of goodies for other political parties (Pakhtunkhwa for the ANP; provincial autonomy for the ANP & MQM) to create a mega-constitutional package.  The idea is that other political parties, save for the PML-N, will be satisfied enough as to go forward with neutering the courts (by removing the chief justice’s suo moto power) and not ask for a reduction in presidential powers.

[Regarding the presidential powers, note that on the very day Zardari was sworn in as president, Jehangir Badr began equivocating on the issue of nominalizing the presidency.  Neither the ANP nor the MQM have proposed a reduction in presidential powers.  Also, keep in mind that Washington does not trust Gilani.  He is seen as not being able to keep a secret from the ISI.]

The cost of Zardari’s power grab and war against Iftikhar is clear.  The ultimate victims of Zardari’s strategy of deferral till death are the Pakistani state system and the people it should be serving.

Update: 2/28 (12:25PM EST) — Babar Sattar, one of my favorite Pakistani columnists, writes:

“Our present system of governance is simply not sustainable and will need to be changed. But if the lawyers’ movement for reform fails, the only type of change that could follow would be the Taliban-style presently being endured by Swat.”

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Report: Baitullah Mehsud is Dead

GEO News reports that Baitullah Mehsud, the amir of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan is dead, apparently due to natural causes. Mehsud had been sick in recent days and reportedly slipped into a coma.

Pakistan’s commemorate Eid ul-Fitr today (Wednesday), marking the end of the month of Ramadan. The passing of this murderous terrorist, if true, is an Eid present of sorts for the violence plagued nation.

Expect the TTP shura council to elect a successor soon. It will, however, not be a smooth ride for the TTP, since the organization has continuously faced internal squabbling. It is possible that the TTP could elect a successor from the Mehsud tribe.

Mehsud’s death, however, will not mark the end of the TTP. Pakistan’s security forces should not take this as an opportunity to be complacent. The Pakistan military-intelligence establishment now has an opportunity to make use of potential divisions within the TTP. But while fragmenting the alliance weakens their existence as an ideological movement, it could also give birth to a wide assortment of criminal entities, further destabilizing the region.

There is no alternative to gaining the support of the local tribes, elders, wayward youth, and striking a fine balance between recognizing local autonomy and ensuring the writ of the government is present.

UPDATE: 6:12PM (New York) – BBCUrdu.com reports that a U.S. Predator drone fired two missiles at a home in North Waziristan, killing around four. Foreigners are among the dead.

UPDATE: 10:50PM (New York) – Renown Pakistani Pashtun journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai tells BBC Urdu that Mehsud’s death has not been confirmed with the Tehreek-e Taliban. Yusufzai did state that Mehsud was very ill recently, due to diabetes and heart-related afflictions.

Additionally, today’s missile strike took place in a village near Mir Ali. Yusufzai said that locals told him that the blasts were so strong they could be heard as far as Bannu and Miranshah.

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Editor:

Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

For Media and Consulting Inquiries:
E-mail // Tel: +1(202) 713-5897

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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