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Tag Archives | abbottabad

A chip in every militant

Pakistan’s novel idea for dealing with terrorism.

In an interview with BBC Urdu, the Interior Minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province Col (r) Shuja Khanzada offered the following when questioned on what was being done to counter the terrorist groups active in his province:

The government has increased its monitoring of those militant and sectarian groups in the province that are listed in the Fourth Schedule.  Those individuals listed in the schedule now require permission from the police in order to travel outside Punjab province.

In the past the police had no way of monitoring the movements of these individuals.  However, we are now planning to implant microchips in these individuals in order to monitor their movement.

The joint intelligence committee has listed 1,132 individuals who have been directly involved in or have instigated or supported militancy in the province.  Of these individuals, 700 have already been arrested and we are in the process of implanting microchips in them to monitor their movement per the Fourth Schedule.  [بی بی سی اردو]

What a novel idea.

Of course, implanting microchips is easy.  A tougher question to answer is who is going monitor these 700 individuals on a continuous basis.  Moreover, Punjab police is apparently counting on these individuals not being competent enough to use Google to determine how they can jam, spoof, or simply remove microchip implants.

But it doesn’t end there:

When asked whether the Government of Punjab planned to act against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat ud-Dawah, the minister said that they were both proscribed organizations and if we feel at any time that they are breaking the law, we will act against them.

When asked if neither one of these two organizations had done anything to attract the attention of law enforcement agencies thus far, the minister indicated that they did not know of any unlawful activity attributable to these groups at this point, but that the government was taking action step-by-step.

This is par for the course.  Despite claims of having turned the corner in its fight against terrorism, Pakistan continues to tolerate – to be charitable – or sponsor – to be more accurate – terrorist groups as long as they don’t pose an immediate threat to the government or military.  In an apparent attempt to placate the U.S., Pakistan “banned” the Jamaat ud-Dawah and then very clumsily attempted to back out of its UN commitments after John Kerry’s visit in January, as Rezaul Hasan Laskar reports in the Hindustan Times.

The Long War Journal’s report earlier this week on files recovered from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad indicates that Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif attempted to negotiate with al-Qaeda and wanted to establish “normal relations” with them “as long as they do not conduct operations in Punjab.”

Indeed, LWJ’s report is instructive in how state and federal governments in Pakistan go about dealing with terrorists groups:  negotiate and plead with those that do not directly target the state, challenge (with varying degrees of sincerity) those that visibly target the military or government, and sponsor and obfuscate others that further the state’s security objectives.

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Urdunama: Indian Agent

The Abbottabad Commission Report was effectively a witch hunt that burnt no witches.  Vague references to very important people in even more important positions apart, the report names no names.  The absence of detail has angered some in Pakistan’s press corps, and none more so than veteran journalist Hamid Mir.  Mr. Mir, in his op-ed “Indian Agent,” in the Jang, inquires as to how no one in Pakistan’s political, military and intelligence communities appeared to know anything about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Like a headless chicken likely to assault anything in its path, Mr. Mir proceeds to launch a most unique tirade against Pakistan’s much-feared Inter-services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), President Asif Ali Zardari, COAS Kiyani, ex DG-ISI Ahmed Shuja Pasha and former self-appointed (and only) Field Marshal of Pakistan, Mohammed Ayub Khan.

Mr. Mir is profoundly angered that no one in Pakistan knew where Osama bin Laden was prior to the May 2, 2011 raid in Abbottabad.  This must be particularly annoying to Mr. Mir, given that he is the only journalist in the world to have found his way to Osama bin Laden, meeting with him three times (including once for an interview barely a month after the U.S was in hot pursuit of him in November, 2001).  Excerpts follow:

The operation in Abbottabad lasted for a full hour.  What were the police in Abbottabad, officers of the Pakistan Military Academy, ISI, IB and members of the Special Branch doing during this time?  Where were the defenders of this nuclear-armed nation during the assault on one of our cities? Did the Abbottabad Commission ask these questions of the leaders of our armed forces?

The report indicates that the Commission was not able to meet with those individuals most knowledgeable about the operation, but fails to name names.  No doubt, the Commission alludes to President Zardari, PM Yousaf Raza Gillani and COAS Parvez Kayani.  I knew that the Commission would let them off the hook because it did not want to embarrass the leaders of a nuclear-armed nation.

There is no new information in the Abbottabad Commission report.  Indeed, the Commission has not even been able to answer the question as to how our intelligence agencies are so proficient in being able to tap the phone lines of politicians, journalists and judges, but are incapable of determining how one of the world’s most wanted individuals came to be living a stone’s throw away from the Pakistan Military Academy.

These days, anyone that protests the narrative of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies is subjected to a cyber-war by their agents on social media platforms.  We are labeled “Indian agents” because we challenge the narrative of the establishment  No one stops for a second to think that if the U.S. was able to orchestrate such an operation in Pakistan with no repercussions, how will these intelligence agencies manage to save face if India were to do likewise?  The army and ISI didn’t have a problem transferring control of Shamsi airbase to the U.S. or permitting drone attacks inside Pakistan, but when Pakistan TV channels allow USAID to advertize content, these agencies accuse us of being bought by the U.S.

If journalists and judges were to argue that this business of attributing all attacks in Pakistan to “unidentified gunmen” has turned the law of the land into a joke, these people are immediately termed to be Indian agents.  If we really did love Pakistan and didn’t want to find employment abroad like a recently-retired chief of the ISI [presumably alluding to Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha], we must speak the truth and not be afraid of being labelled an “Indian agent.”

Conspiracy theories and labeling people “Indian agents” is nothing new in Pakistan.  The foundation for such enduring conspiracy theories was laid during the dictatorship of Ayub Khan.  Indeed, the Mother of the Nation, Fatima Jinnah was also labeled an “Indian agent” by Gen. Ayub Khan when she challenged his dictatorial regime.  Fatima Jinnah was called an “Indian agent” by the same individual who sold Pakistan’s rivers to India, bartered the aspirations of the people of Kashmir, and instituted programs to buy journalists and reporters to tow the establishment narrative.

Those that towed his official line were regarded as patriots; those that didn’t were called “Indian agents.”  True patriots, those that understand how the interests of the nation are being bartered must speak out.  However, in doing so, they must be willing to risk the very distinct possibility of being labelled “Indian agents.'” [روزنامہ جنگ]

 

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On Pakistan’s Osama bin Laden report

Nolnah’s Razor: Ascribing incompetence to that which can be adequately explained by malice.

The report of the Abbottabad Commission, which was set up to investigate the May 2011 raid by U.S. special forces that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden and his couriers, was “obtained” and published online by al-Jazeera today.  News reports tell us that the 337-page report makes “scathing reading.”

It attributes “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” in Pakistan’s apparent inability to identify that bin Laden was living in a villa located less than a mile away from the Kakul military academy for at least five years and its inability to detect the special forces contingent that traveled from Jalalabad, Afghanistan to Abbottabad to execute the mission to kill or capture bin Laden.

There are a few ways to look at the content and timing of the “leaked” report.  First, the report may be scathing in its criticism of government incompetence, but it barely entertains the possibility that official connivance played a role in bin Laden’s ability to evade U.S. pursuit for ten years.  Official denials don’t really mean much under the circumstances.  For years, Pakistani leaders claimed that bin Laden wasn’t in their country.  Gen. Musharraf claimed bin Laden was dead in 2002.

Pakistan has also, for years, denied that Mullah Omar was living in Pakistan.  Yet, multiple reports suggest that he is living in Quetta and under the protection of the ISI.  The truth will most likely be revealed once the U.S. and its allies leave Afghanistan in 2014, following which Mullah Omar will emerge triumphantly from parts unknown.

Of course, most people in India are accustomed to hearing how persons of interest to them — Dawood Ibrahim, for example — are most certainly not living in Pakistan.  For those of us on this side of the barbed-wire fence, the incompetence defense stretches credulity.

There are other interesting parts to the report.  On page 337, it concludes (emphasis added):

But finally, no honest assessment of the situation can escape the conclusion that those individuals who wielded primary authority and influence in national decision making bear the primary responsibility for creating the national circumstances and environment in which the May 2, 2011 incident occurred.  It is unnecessary to specifically name them because it is obvious who they are.  It may be politically unrealistic to suggest “punishments” from them.  But as honourable men, they ought to do honourable thing, including submitting a formal apology to the nation for their dereliction of duty.  It will be for the people of Pakistan in the forthcoming elections to pass collective political judgement on them. [al-Jazeera]

The last sentence of the concluding paragraph of the report is curious.  It apportions blame to those who “wielded primary authority and influence in national decision making,” but concludes by saying that it was for the people of Pakistan to pass a collective judgement on them in the elections.  Great, but Pakistanis don’t get to vote for their COAS or DG-ISI.  But they do cast votes on their civilian leadership.  From where this blogger is standing, the blame being apportioned here almost certainly targets Asif Ali Zardari and the PPP, rather than the Pakistani military establishment.

The other items for consideration pertaining to the release of the report are the timing and source of the alleged leak.  The leak occurs at a time when the U.S. is trying to negotiate an honorable exit from Afghanistan with the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Qatar. That the report was leaked by al-Jazeera, a news agency fully owned by the al-Thani family, which, as it happens, also rules Qatar may not be a coincidence.

This “leak” could effectively mean two things.  If the U.S. is sufficiently encouraged by the momentum and direction of the talks, it may be well-disposed towards bailing out the Pakistani military establishment from the embarrassment it has had to endure since 2011.  The discrete leak of a document via a news agency owned by a U.S. ally, which blames incompetence rather than connivance (the lesser of  two evils) while also criticizing a now mostly-irrelevant and ousted political party works well under such circumstances.

If, on the other hand, things aren’t going so well in Doha, the release of a classified report may have been viewed as necessary by some to coax Pakistan into action.  It will, of course, embarrass and anger the Pakistani military establishment.  More importantly, it will also most certainly complicate relations between Pakistan and Qatar.

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The Afghanistan endgame

Time for India to get its act together.

The United States Institute for Peace (USIP), along with the Jinnah Institute (JI), recently co-convened a project to study the perceptions of Pakistan’s “foreign policy elite” towards the Afghanistan endgame.  A summary of the discussions is available on USIP’s website (PDF), while detailed findings will be published soon.  A cursory review of the document tells us nothing new about Pakistan’s perceptions with regard to endgame scenarios in Afghanistan.  The document highlights three outcomes sought by Pakistan in Afghanistan — a “degree of” stability in Afghanistan, an inclusive government in Kabul, and limiting Indian presence to development activities.

Pakistan’s foreign policy elites perceived U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to be inconsistent and counterproductive to Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and the region.  Hardly surprising, since Pakistan’s interests never converged with those of the U.S. in Afghanistan, a fact that has only recently become apparent to some in D.C.  It should also be clear that regardless of outcomes, Pakistan will continue to seek “strategic depth” — a euphemism for territory Pakistan hopes to use against Indian interests — in Afghanistan.  But what does mean for the U.S. and India?

Some home truths, first.  Since May 2, 2011 and the events that have followed, it is now clear that Pakistan’s ability to negotiate a favorable outcome in Afghanistan is significantly diminished.  Pakistan is more marginalized today than it has ever been since 2001 in influencing outcomes in Afghanistan.  Contrast this against the sense of being on the doorsteps of victory that prevailed in Rawalpindi 16 months ago.

The discovery of bin Laden “hiding in plain sight” in Abbottabad has left Pakistan with very few fans in D.C.  While the U.S. has always sought to lessen its reliance on Pakistan, these plans have gained significant momentum.  The so-called Northern Distribution Network (NDN) now accounts for about 65% of traffic to Afghanistan (contrast this to 2010, when 70% of the traffic was routed through Pakistan).  In addition, the U.S. is now in direct negotiations with the Taliban (“direct,” because they bypass Pakistani negotiators).

How fruitful these negotiations will be remains to be seen.  There are conflicting reports in the Pakistani press that indicate that negotiations have collapsed, while reports in the U.S. indicate otherwise.  Indeed, news reports now suggest that Afghan officials, fearful that direct U.S.-Taliban negotiations would undermine President Karzai, scuttled the talks.

But the realities in Afghanistan are that President Karzai is largely isolated and running out of allies.  Apart from the fact that relations with the U.S. are chilly, Mr. Karzai is also not a popular personality in Pakistan, and is increasingly isolated from his own people.  The security vacuum, particularly in southern Afghanistan, has claimed the lives of thousands of Afghan citizens and officials, including President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and mayor of Khandahar, Ghulam Haider Hamidi over the past many months.  This security vacuum can only be addressed by helping Afghanistan protect itself and its citizens.  This means providing Afghanistan the necessary security assistance and training to allow the much-maligned ANA and local law enforcement units to play a larger role in defending the country.

It is also true that Pakistan, as a neighbor to Afghanistan, cannot be excluded from influencing  the endgame in Afghanistan.  And contrary to Pakistan’s protestations, neither the U.S. nor India would want Pakistan not to play a constructive role in shaping the future of its neighbor.  But given Pakistan’s historic involvement in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, its continuing support to Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network, and its quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s credentials are at best tainted, and are a cause for concern in India.

Further, Pakistan crying “Wolf!” over every real or imagined instance of Indian engagement in Afghanistan is a red herring.  Many of us have argued for an Indian military presence in Afghanistan and for India to train ANA personnel.  While India has trained some ANA officers, deploying a contingent of the Indian army appears remote now, given India’s preoccupation with  domestic political issues.  India has assisted Afghanistan in reconstruction and development efforts, even constructing the Zaranj-Delaram highway, which links Afghanistan with the Iranian port of Chabahar.  Of course, Pakistan’s Taliban proxies now control the highway.  It should be pretty apparent then that there is no way that New Delhi can accept Pakistan’s terms for Indian engagement in Afghanistan.

Whether Pakistan likes it or not, India must continue to engage with Afghanistan and transform its ties from merely the donor-benefactor relationship that currently exists.  New Delhi’s hesitance in forging deeper ties with Afghanistan haven’t hurt India as badly as it could have, because many of us have consistently underestimated Pakistan’s propensity and willingness to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot.

However, the U.S.’s plans to withdraw forces from Afghanistan beginning in 2014, and Pakistan’s waning influence in D.C. on Afghanistan-related issues present new opportunities to India that it must act on.  As the U.S.’s role in Afghanistan changes, so must too India’s.  India should be looking to expand ties with Afghanistan and transform the donor-benefactor relationship to one between trading partners.  Given the common threats India and Afghanistan face, deepening military and intelligence cooperation is equally important.  The question that needs to be asked is if New Delhi will take cognizance of these opportunities and act on them, or will it fritter them away, as it unfortunately has with so many countries in its immediate neighborhood.

 

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