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Thursday, October 1, 2009

‘Quetta Shura’ is High on US Hit List

Quetta Shura’ is High on US Hit List
Afzal Khan 1 October 2009,
ISLAMABAD — Confirming reports of growing US concerns about the alleged role of Taleban leader Mulla Omar and his lieutenants in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, US ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson has said that the Afghan Taleban ‘Quetta Shura (council)’ is high on Washington’s list.
“In the past, we focused on Al Qaeda because they were a threat to us. The Quetta Shura mattered less to us because we had no troops in the region,” Patterson said in an interview with Washington Post. Her comments came amid reports that the US is focusing attention on Taleban activities in Quetta and is even planning to bomb alleged Taleban hideouts in Quetta.
“Now our troops are there on the other side of the border, and the Quetta Shura is high on Washington’s list,” Patterson said.
Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik in an interview with Reuters on Monday dismissed as “incorrect and baseless the speculations about Mulla Omar’s presence in Quetta. He said the Mulla was in Kandahar.
“The US would not be allowed to carry out drone attacks in Balochistan at any cost,” Malik said and urged the United States and Europe to provide information to Pakistan, if they have any.“Over and again this topic has been coming up. But the ‘Quetta Shura’ according to us does not exist,” he said in the interview in London.
Ambassador Patterson acknowledged that the United States is far less familiar with the vast desert region than with the northwestern tribal areas. WP also quoted other US officials as admitting that the US has no capacity to strike there, and has few windows into the turbulent mix of Pakhtun tribal and religious politics that they believe has turned the area into a sanctuary for the Taleban leaders, who are known collectively as the ‘Quetta Shura’.
Patterson put it, bluntly: “Our intelligence on Quetta is vastly less. We have no people there, no cross-border operations, no Predators.”
According to Pakistani analysts, the Taleban’s presence in the Quetta region is more discreet than it was earlier in the decade, when Omar fled there from the US and Afghan military attacks. He was joined by thousands of fighters, who blended into ethnic Pakhtun neighbourhoods and refugee camps.
“Quetta is absolutely crucial to the Taleban today,” said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani expert on the Taleban, in a telephone interview. “From there they get recruits, fuel and fertilizer for explosives, weapons, and food. Suicide bombers are trained on that side.
The Kerry-Lugar bill that provides for annual $1.5 billion US aid to Pakistan specifically requires Pakistan to act and dismantle Taleban safe haven in Quetta.
Michael Semple, a former UN official in Afghanistan now based in Islamabad, described the Quetta region’s refugee camps as “a great reserve army” for the Taleban. He said Pakhtun tribes in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan, the Taleban’s ethnic and spiritual base, have strong ties with those on the Pakistan side. “They are intermarried, they have Pakistani ID cards, and you can’t tell the difference,” Semple said.

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