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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pakistan's peril
A number of military developments are again making apparent the pivotal character of Pakistan in the war on terror.
19 - 07 - 2007
Three developments this week involving leading protagonists of the "war on terror" offer important signals of the state of play in key areas of conflict. First, a United States national-intelligence estimate (NIE) released on 17 July highlighted the potency of a resurgent al-Qaida that had been able to regroup, establish safe havens in northwestern Pakistan, and even pose the threat of further attacks in the American homeland.
Second, a paper from the defence select committee of Britain's House of Commons published on 18 July 2007 called for a greater Nato commitment in Afghanistan, amid grave concerns among the country's political and media class about the progress of the campaign against the Taliban.
Third, in Pakistan itself the storming of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad has generated a militant backlash that highlights the central position of the country and the regime of Pervez Musharraf in the global contest. Whatever happens in Afghanistan, and whatever al-Qaida proves capable of doing, Pakistan will be a key military and political focus.
Washington's leverage
There are persistent reports from Islamabad that the true death-toll in the Lal Masjid siege is in the high hundreds, far more than the 102 that the Musharraf administration claims (see "Pakistan signals red", 5 July 2007).
In any case, the fallout of the crisis has included by numerous attacks by radical Islamists on Pakistani army and government facilities in districts bordering Afghanistan districts.
The militants' operations have included a wave of bombings on 15 July that killed at least forty-four people; a clash with Pakistan's army near the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan on 18 July in which seventeen soldiers died; and (also on 18 July) a suicide-bombing aimed at a police college in the town of Hangu (northwest Pakistan) that slaughtered at least seven people. The attacks continue, and as many as 100 people have been killed in North-West Frontier Province alone in the past week.
The explosion of violence in the border districts seems to make clear that the September 2006 peace agreement between the Musharraf regime and local leaders in North Waziristan is defunct. This involved the army ceasing most operations against militants in return for local leaders agreeing to curb the use of the border districts as transit and training areas for the Taliban's war in Afghanistan.
The George W Bush administration - long before the events surrounding the Islamabad siege - was deeply unhappy about this deal, which it saw as unwise in principle and unworkable in practice (since the local leaders had insufficient power to stop Taliban and al-Qaida militias from continuing their operations). At the same time, Washington has been reluctant to put more pressure on Musharraf, sensitive to the fact that the Pakistani president's tenure was by no means secure in the face of a markedly anti-American mood in much of the country coupled with a large minority in Pakistan who support (wholly or in part) an Islamist political agenda.
Now, however, it looks increasingly likely that the Bush administration is prepared to exert pressure on Musharraf in the effort to encourage him to send his troops into the border districts and
attempt to take control. This would be a highly risky operation in a region notoriously resistant to what is seen as external interference; it would almost certainly entail a repeat of the heavy casualties experienced by the Pakistani army in earlier forays, which may be only one source of the doubts being expressed over the loyalty of some army officers.
In this light, Washington may be considering other options to achieve its objective in Pakistan - including direct action by US military units
operating from across the border with Afghanistan. There are precedents for such a policy, which have been highly controversial in Pakistan, including the use of armed drones to attack selected targets.
Whether or not a tougher United States policy would have an effect, the readiness to adopt it reflects spreading awareness in Washington that the campaign against the al-Qaida movement is simply not working. The new national-intelligence assessment report shows that after nearly six years of the war on terror, a vigorous al-Qaida network may be
in a position to plan assaults inside the United States. This is in the face of a massive military operation in Iraq; major commitments in Afghanistan; tens of thousands of detentions; operations in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere; a huge financial commitment; and nearly 30,000 US soldiers and marines killed or injured.
A war of automatons
In these circumstances, a serious rethink of policies might be expected. Instead, a further escalation seems more likely - rather like the much-vaunted surge in Iraq, but applied to western Pakistan. There are two pointers in particular to the way the American side of the strategy there might proceed.
The first is the construction of a large US military base at the Ghaki pass, just inside the Afghan border with Pakistan (see Syed Saleem Shahzad, "
A fight to the death on Pakistan's border", Asia Times, 16 July 2007). This is a substantial addition to the two major US facilities elsewhere in Afghanistan - at Kandahar and Bagram - and looks remarkably well situated to conduct operations in Pakistan.
The second is the decision to deploy an entirely new weapons system, an armed drone known as the
MQ-9 Reaper. Smaller reconnaissance drones such as the MQ-1 Predator have become major features of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and some of these have been equipped with two Hellfire missiles.
The Reaper is on a different scale altogether. For a start, it is four times heavier than a Predator and is the size of a fighter aircraft. Moreover, it is heavily armed and able to carry up to fourteen Hellfire missiles. It has twice the speed of the Predator yet can cruise at much lower speeds, loitering over potential target areas for up to fourteen hours at a time (see Charles J Hanley, "
Robot Air Attack Squadron Bound for Iraq", AP, 16 July 2007). This pilotless aircraft is launched under the control of local crew, but once in the air each drone is operated by two other "crew" based thousands of miles away at Creech air-force base in Nevada, connected by a real-time satellite link. At least nine of the robotic aircraft have already been built by General Atomics; sixty or more are likely to be deployed, initially in Afghanistan and then in Iraq over the next few months.
From a US perspective such automated warfare would have the advantage that US aircrew would not have to overfly Pakistan: they could merely direct the Reapers to hit targets anywhere in western Pakistan from the
safety of Nevada.
The exact political impact of such operations in Pakistan is difficult to gauge; but past experience indicates that they would provoke a very strong public reaction, possibly sufficient to destabilise a Pervez Musharraf regime already beset by many other problems. Yet it now looks possible that the Bush administration is prepared to take the risk of losing a leader it still regards as a major
ally. The predicament of the war on terror is such that almost anything goes, even the possibility of violent regime change in Pakistan. A fundamental rethink remains out of sight.
Pakistan Politics by other means

Jul 19th 2007 ISLAMABAD From The Economist print edition
General Musharraf cites the extremist threat to justify staying on as Pakistan's president in uniform. The White House falls for it
ELECTIONS loom and Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, has chosen his campaign strategy: war. This week he declared an open season on Islamist terrorists. “We are in direct confrontation with extremist forces. It is moderates versus extremists.” His comments came after a series of attacks, mainly on the army in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), claimed more than 100 lives. He also revealed that when his term of office expires in October, he will seek re-election (indirectly, from an electoral college) without stepping down as army chief. He told senior Pakistani journalists that a purely civilian government would not be strong enough to control extremists.
The general sought to allay fears about the future of democratic rule by denying that a state of emergency would be imposed, and promising that general elections would be held by early next year. American officials profess themselves reassured by his commitment to “free and fair” elections. Opposition parties question whether elections held under his auspices will be anything of the sort.
More and more Pakistanis seem disenchanted with General Musharraf, now in power for eight years. His critics feel vindicated. They had predicted that he would use the violence that followed the storming of a radical mosque in the capital Islamabad earlier this month to justify extending military rule. Conspiracy theorists went further, suggesting he had engineered the showdown for just this reason.
General Musharraf had been under pressure from a burgeoning opposition movement, formed in reaction to his attempt to sack the chief justice in March. Pakistan also faces a humanitarian disaster: flooding has affected 2.2m people in the poor, restive province of Baluchistan.
The general's robust declaration will have been music to the ears of his American backers, who had long lamented their ally's reluctance to show whole-hearted commitment to eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban holdouts. The storming of the Red Mosque, in which more than 100 people were killed, including 73 suspected militants, changed all that. “It's pretty much crossing a line and there's no going back,” said Richard Boucher, America's assistant secretary of state for South Asia.
At funeral prayers for his brother, who was killed at the mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, its leading cleric, forecast that the deaths of the militants would push Pakistan toward an “Islamic revolution”. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a top al-Qaeda leader, issued a call to arms, telling Pakistanis that “Musharraf and his hunting dogs have rubbed your honour in the dirt in the service of the Crusaders and the Jews.”
Since the bloodshed at the Red Mosque, attacks on the security forces have intensified. In one of a daily series of murderous onslaughts, a suicide-bomber on July 15th attacked an army convoy and killed at least 24 soldiers in Swat in North-West Frontier Province. Militants detonated a bomb and then opened fire on a convoy near Miran Shah in the North Waziristan tribal area on the Afghan border, killing 16 soldiers. The security forces have suffered numerous other roadside bombs, rocket-attacks and suicide-bombings.
The violence was ratcheted up further when pro-Taliban militants in North Waziristan called off their ten-month-old peace deal with the government. They accused the authorities of violating the pact. The end of the deal is a blow to General Musharraf's strategy in the tribal areas. This committed the army to withdraw from the area around Miran Shah, turning all control over to tribal elders. In return, tribesmen would prevent Taliban and al-Qaeda forces sheltering in Waziristan from entering Afghanistan. Some 600 Pakistani soldiers had died in military operations on the frontier, stoking resentment of General Musharraf among both civilians and the armed forces. Now, contrary to his own military instincts and the wishes of his high command, General Musharraf has announced the redeployment of two divisions to the region. But he said he will still be seeking peace with the militants.
Senior American officials had criticised the original deal as a failure for both Pakistan and America. The new fighting will complicate American efforts to implement a five-year development programme, pledging $750m for the tribal areas to win some hearts and minds. But, as the White House this week released a bleak intelligence assessment of the al-Qaeda threat, American officials will have been cheered by the collapse of the deal, if not by General Musharraf's hopes for its resurrection.
On July 17th the killing returned to Islamabad. A suicide attack at a rally held by the chief justice killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 40. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Its aims were unclear; its achievement was to throw the country into greater disarray.
The general hopes to unite Pakistan in a foray against extremists, cheered on by America. But his refusal to shed his uniform will be criticised by many as illegal. His decision to seek re-election from the existing electoral college, rather than one reconstituted after the general elections, will be seen as at best slippery. To win legitimacy, he may yet need to do a deal with leading secular politicians, notably Benazir Bhutto, an exiled former prime minister. But, true to his commando training, the general has, in the jargon of Western diplomats, “retaken the initiative”.
Profile: Islamabad's Red Mosque

By Syed Shoaib Hasan BBC News
The controversial Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) that is the focus of a bloody confrontation between Pakistani security forces and radical clerics and students is located near the centre of the capital, Islamabad.
A religious school for women, the Jamia Hafsa madrassa, is attached to the mosque. A male madrassa is a few minutes drive away.
Throughout most of its existence, the mosque has long been favoured by the city elite, including prime ministers, army chiefs and presidents.
Pakistan's longest-ruling dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, was said to be very close to the former head of the Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdullah, who was famous for his speeches on jihad (holy war).
This was during the 1980s when the mujahideen's fight against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was at its peak, and jihad was seen as an acceptable clarion call in the Muslim world.
The mosque is located near the headquarters of Pakistan's shadowy ISI intelligence service, which helped train and fund the holy warriors, and a number of ISI staff are said to go there for prayers.
'Terror links'
The Lal Masjid has since been a centre of radical Islamic learning and houses several thousand male and female students in adjacent seminaries.
Gen Musharraf is thus understandably perturbed by the mosque and its leaders and has repeatedly ordered action against them
Maulana Abdullah was assassinated in the mosque in late nineties, and since then the entire complex has been run by his sons, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi.
The brothers admit to having had good contacts with many of the wanted leaders of al-Qaeda, including Osama Bin Laden.
This was in the years before the 11 September, 2001 attacks on the US, when jihad was part of Pakistan's state-sanctioned policy.
Since the "war on terror" began, however, both the Lal Masjid and the Jamia Hafsa deny having had any links with organisations now banned for supporting terrorism.
But they have been vehement in their support for the "jihad against America" and have openly condemned President Musharraf.
Tribal areas
In speeches after Gen Musharraf openly announced his support for the war on terror", the mosque has been the centre of calls for his assassination.
One of these speeches was delivered by Maulana Masood Azhar, whose Jaish-e-Mohammad fundamentalist group members were later involved in several failed attempts on the life of the president.
Gen Musharraf is thus understandably perturbed by the mosque and its leaders and has repeatedly ordered action against them.
So far all attempts to rein the mosque and its leaders in have been unsuccessful.
The Lal Masjid and its madrassa also have strong links to the tribal areas of Pakistan, which provide many of their students.
In a recent interview, Abdul Rashid Ghazi said that they had the support of the Waziristan Taleban and any actions against the madrassa would have an "appropriate response".
The Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa were in the news in July 2005 when Pakistani security forces tried to raid the mosque following the suicide bombings that month in London.
The security personnel were met by baton-wielding women who refused to let them enter the mosque or seminary compound.
Authorities said the security forces were investigating a link between the seminary and Shehzad Tanweer, one of the 7 July bombers.
The school has been in the limelight ever since.
'Fight to death'
The madrassa's administration has also been particularly vocal in raising the issue of missing people in Pakistan - hundreds of suspected radical militants and their families who are allegedly in the detention of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.
It was also a leading light in the protests in Pakistan against Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad which led to demonstrations all over the Muslim world.
And it was the Jamia Hafsa which British schoolgirl Misbah Rana, also known as Molly Campbell, was reported to have been interested in joining after arriving in Pakistan at the centre of an international custody row.
The latest controversy to feature the school was when it launched a campaign against the demolition of mosques in Islamabad by the capital authority.
After the administration started the demolition of part of the mosque, said to have been constructed illegally, students of the seminaries launched an all-out campaign against them.
They prevented the authorities physically from reaching the site and then occupied the building of a nearby children's library.
Most of this was done by the female students, many of whom were carrying Kalashnikovs during the occupation.
The students then set-up a round the clock vigil and promised to "fight to death" after the government threatened to evict them.
The situation was only defused after the authorities backed down and offered talks.
The government has since reconstructed the demolished part of the mosque compound, but the administration maintains that six other mosques around the capital city which have met similar treatment should also be rebuilt.
In the meantime, students have remained in occupation of the library and have been involved in other "social activities" like the raid on the hostel.
Can Musharraf contain the militant threat?
Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC Urdu Service, Islamabad
There were no signs of joy on the face of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf when he declared that Islamabad's Red Mosque and its affiliated religious school for women had been "liberated from terrorists".
Understandably so, as the battle for the radical institution in the heart of the Pakistani capital may have pushed the country's military leader into a war that he had been working hard to avoid since 11 September 2001.
The 102 people killed in the week-long siege included 11 soldiers and an as yet unknown number of extremists and their hostages.
It was the fiercest battle fought by security forces in mainland Pakistan since Gen Musharraf vowed to dismantle the militant jihadi network in the country in the aftermath of the attacks on the US.
But even with the battle won, the president's mind may not be on its ferocity or the resultant death toll.
Instead, he may be wondering what message the battle may have sent to other religious extremists camped in mosques, religious schools or secret hideouts across the country.
Defunct militant group
Among the many questions about the Red Mosque episode which remain unanswered are the critical issues of who the militants were and what exactly they wanted.
Did they really believe that they could defeat Pakistan's half-million-strong army?
Because we had lost contact with [Jaish-e-Mohammad], we had no idea where most of its activists spent their time before some of them resurfaced at the Red Mosque. Pakistani security official
Security officials told the BBC during the siege that they had reasons to believe that most of the militants holed up inside the mosque belonged to the supposedly defunct Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammed).
Jaish-e-Mohammad was formed by a radical cleric, Maulana Masood Azhar, in early 2000 to support the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.
But Maulana Azhar was arrested and jailed in India, and the group fell into disarray.
He was released by the Indian authorities in 1999, in exchange for passengers on a hijacked Indian Airlines jet. The aircraft was allegedly seized and flown to Kandahar in Afghanistan by his supporters.
He revived the Jaish-e-Mohammad soon after returning to Pakistan and, according to Pakistani security officials, the Red Mosque was used by its members to regroup.
Despite this, Pakistani intelligence reportedly failed to monitor what the group was doing.
Security officials say they severed contact with the group after it was suspected of being involved in the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi.
"Whenever the state suddenly withdraws its support from such groups, they tend to splinter," said one senior security official.
"That is exactly what happened to Jaish, and because we had lost contact with the group, we had no idea where most of its activists spent their time before some of them resurfaced at the Red Mosque."
'Well-known figures'
Midway through the week-long siege of the mosque, interior ministry officials said they had "a very good idea" of who the militants were and to which group they belonged.
3 July: Clashes erupt at mosque, 16 killed, after long student campaign for Islamic Sharia law
4 July: About 700 students leave mosque, now besieged by security forces; mosque leader caught trying to flee wearing woman's burka
5 July: More than 1,000 students surrender to security forces
6 July: Women are allowed to leave the mosque; students' deputy leader says he would rather die than surrender
8 July: Ministers say wanted militants are holding women and children inside the mosque
9 July: Negotiators talk to mosque leader via loudspeaker without progress; three Chinese workers are killed in Peshawar over siege
10 July: Pakistani troops storm mosque after failure of talks; army says Ghazi killed
11 July: Pakistani army says all militants cleared from mosque
Many of the militants inside the mosque had clearly worked with Pakistani security services before and knew how to deal with them.
The deputy leader of the mosque, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed in the final assault, had never been secretive about his contacts with the intelligence services.
Although it seems highly unlikely that he and his supporters believed they could defeat the Pakistani army and take over Islamabad, it was obvious before the final confrontation that they were itching to take on the security forces.
Despite this, President Musharraf said he tried every trick in the book to reach a negotiated settlement with the militants.
In the hours before the final assault, many leading religious and secular figures, including politicians from the ruling party, were involved in efforts to find a last-ditch peaceful settlement.
Ghazi himself said that many of the proposals floated by the negotiators were acceptable to him but not to his "friends".
Setting the agenda
"Our analysis of the failed negotiations only points to one direction - the militants were determined to trigger a full-fledged battle," a senior security official said.
If that indeed is the case, then the logic driving their determination could have been similar to the one that had led them to attack the Indian parliament.
The obvious conclusion for an extremist mind was that the only way they could establish an Islamic state in Pakistan was through an armed and bloody uprising.
Security officials say the militants probably wanted to demonstrate to others across the country that their worldview had no political space in Pakistan.
None of the political parties, including the religious ones, were likely to come to their support if the government turned on them.
And very few people across the world were going to be concerned militants were killed on the pretext of eliminating extremism.
The obvious conclusion for an extremist mind was that the only way they could establish an Islamic state in Pakistan was through an armed and bloody uprising.
Security officials have said that if this was the message the militants wanted to send, then it may be the beginning of a new low-intensity conflict between religious fanatics and law enforcers across Pakistan.
The coming weeks and months may therefore see a series of clashes, probably starting in the conservative North West Frontier Province and then spreading elsewhere in the country.
Hence the reports of widespread troop redeployments in recent days.
President Musharraf must be painfully aware that such events could further erode his credibility as a bulwark against radical Islam, and force him to turn his army against its own people - a possibility inimical to his agenda of enlightened moderation

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