"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

Gap opens between Al Qaeda and allies

From Josh Meyer writing for the LA Times.

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group's own communications.

A litany of complaints target Osama bin Laden's network and its affiliates for their actions in Iraq and North Africa, emphasis on suicide bombings instead of political action and tepid support for, or outright antagonism toward, militant groups pressing the Palestinian cause.

These complaints show the increasing "intellectual turbulence" occurring within the extremist Muslim community. This phenomenon is discussed in detail here, here, and here.

Zawahiri is attempting to limit this "intellectual turbulence" with his Q & A sessions. It is this rift between extremists which Coalition forces must use and exploit as an information operation as part of the instruments of national power to defeat Al Qaeda.

There already exists speculation that Al Qaeda is having a hard time sustaining recruitment to continue its war in Afghanistan and Iraq. With lower recruitment, some comes lower economic support. In addition, Al Qaeda's popularity is waning in Pakistan as it has in Iraq as citizens are seeing the extreme violence which Al Qaeda perpetuates.

It appears this rift is expanding as more and more Muslims, to include past extremists, are asking tough questions and not getting good answers from the Al Qaeda leadership.

The surge of American forces in Iraq not only allowed the Al Anbar Awakening to rise and spread across Iraq, but it also allowed this "intellectual turbulence" spread outside of Al Anbar into the rest of Iraq and now take center stage among Al Qaeda extremists worldwide.

As Iraq continues to prosper and increase the wealth of its citizens through freedom and democracy, many Muslims are beginning to question Al Qaeda's motives more and more while questioning American's motives less and less.

It is difficult to say the US invaded Iraq for oil when Iraqis are passing oil laws and negotiating contracts with many oil companies not of American origin.

It is difficult to keep recruitment and revenues up when Al Qaeda in Iraq's spectacular bombings are killing 20, 30, 0r 40 or more Muslims at a time, to include defenseless women and children.

It is difficult to suppress anti-Al Qaeda feelings when the popular Bhutto was gunned down in cold blood by extremists. It was well known the US worked within the Pakistani government to allow not only her return but also the chance for her to run again for Prime Minister, only to be gunned down by extremists. The assassination of Bhutto was truly a highly visible symbol of extremists killing innocent women and children across the Muslim world.

Al Qaeda's message of violent jihad is beginning to fall more and more on deaf ears. The Great Satan is not so evil anymore as it has brought freedom and prosperity to not only Shiites, but also to Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq. These three major groups are seeing Americans not as an occupier, but as a builder of countries and societies. American is clearly seen as a just arbiter in Iraq between these three groups.

If we had cut and run a year ago, Al Qaeda's crescent in northern and western Iraq would be growing right now. Iran's crescent would have control over all of central Iraq. Instead, President Bush showed Muslims he will stick with them to allow a democracy to foster and grow in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda only got more violent. Both actions, working in tandem, created the "intellectual turbulence" we see today.

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Pakistan's ruling party concedes defeat

From Yahoo via AP.

Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.

The significance of this fact cannot be understated. Musharraf's party, which came to power through a coup, held free and fair elections which resulted in it losing several parlimentary seats. And it has peacefully conceded defeat.

While Sharif is calling on Musharraf to step down, there potentially is no reason for Musharraf to do so according to the numbers.

Geo TV said unofficial tallies from 229 of the 268 National Assembly seats being contested showed Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party with 33 percent and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party with 27 percent. The PML-Q was third with 14 percent.

Thje PML-Q may align itself with the PPP to assist this party in getting a majority through a coalition with other smaller parties effectively pushing the PML-N out of a majority coalition. This idea was surfaced before the election and would allow Musharraf to continue to focus his presidency on defeating the militants while the PPP focuses on the economics of Pakistan. A major sticking point between the PPP and PML-N is that the PML-N supports the Taliban while the PPP is against Islamization of the country, especially in light of Bhutto's assassination by Baitullah Meshud.

Another fact this article brushes over, but is even more significant, is the MMA (pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman) won only eight seats or about 3% of the vote. This is a significant decrease from the 11% it won during the last elections. Not only is support waning for Musharraf's party, but so has support for the Taliban.

Musharraf saw the writing on the wall prior to the elections and spoke of his multi-pronged strategy to defeat the insurgents in his country. This strategy included:

1. Countering terrorism and extremism

2. Transition to democracy

3. The need to sustain socio-economic growth

Musharraf has just helped his country make the transition to democracy in free and fair elections resulting in his party coming in third. He has appointed General Kayani head of the military. General Kayani will ensure the fight is taken to the insurgents. He has transformed Pakistan economically by opening up the country to international trade to include several lucrative oil pipeline deals. He is transforming the FATA and NWFP region with the appointments of Regional Coordinating Officers (RCOs), District Coordinating Officers (DCOs), and making the offices of the political agents below Governors.

Pakistan's transition to democracy marks the beginning of the end of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. The PPP leading a coalition will ensure it demise. The Bhutto assassination assured this fact. Its garnering of only 3% of the vote sealed its fate.

Now it is up to the PPP to convince Pakistanis the battle against the Taliban is not just America's war, but also their own. The over 600 innocent Pakistanis murdered last year by suicide bombers helps the PPP accomplish this mission.

We will soon see if the PPP is up to this task. Aligning the PML-Q with itself will signal its intentions for not only Pakistanis, but also to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

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PAKISTAN: Jockeying For Position

From South Asia Analysis Group. A great primer on the upcoming elections.

With just a month to go before the postponed general elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies of Pakistan, which are now to be held on February 18, 2008, the election campaign is once again picking up the momentum, which it had lost after the shocking assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister, on December 27, 2007. Apparently rendered wiser by the shock and grief caused by her assassination, which was in part due to her habit of flouting security regulations, the political leaders have been more restrained in their campaigning, with their public exposure restrained to the minimum unavoidable. The consequences of another assassination by the jihadi terrorists would be incalculable for the future of the country and its political stability.

For a full read, click here.

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Hunt for Baitullah Provokes more Reprisals - International Terrorism Monitor

From South Asia Analysis Group. A great update on events in Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities, including President Pervez Musharraf, continue to be convinced that the assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, was masterminded by Baitullah Mehsud ( stated to be 32 years old), the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, who is the head of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. Baitullah himself has strongly denied this and accused the Pakistani Army of spreading disinformation in order to divert attention away from the alleged involvement of military officers in the assassination. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Benazir has not accepted the claim of the Government. It claims that before Benazir's assassination Baitullah had sent a message to her through an intermediary that he would pose no threat to her.

For a full read, click here.

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Family rule is dangerous for PPP and Pakistan: Fatima

From the Daily Times of Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto’s niece described as ‘dangerous’ the idea that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) must be led by a member of the family in an interview published on Saturday.

Fatima Bhutto, 25, is still seen by some in Pakistan as a potential heir to the family dynasty, although her cousin, Benazir’s son Bilawal, was named the PPP co-chairman after his mother’s assassination on December 27.

Fatima told the Times newspaper in London that she might be interested in a career in politics, although would not be “a symbol” for anyone, and denounced the PPP as “desperate to cash in on her (Benazir’s) blood”.

Against democracy: “It’s become in a sense the family business, like an antique shop where it’s just ‘so and so and sons’, and then grandsons and great grandsons. It just gets handed down,” she said. “The idea that it has to be a Bhutto, I think, is a dangerous one. It doesn’t benefit Pakistan. It doesn’t benefit a party that’s supposed to be run on democratic lines and it doesn’t benefit us as citizens if we think only about personalities and not about platforms,” she said. (emphasis added)

Very interesting development.

For a full read, click here.

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Tribesmen raising anti-Al Qaeda Lashkar

Dawn is reporting of major rift between Al Qaeda in tribes in South Waziristan.

Thousands of armed tribesmen of South Waziristan met here on Wednesday, vowing to organise a Lashkar to hunt down Al Qaeda-linked militants blamed for killing nine of their kinsmen.

The tribal jirga in Wana came three days after militants stormed two offices and killed nine tribal elders of a government-sponsored peace committee.

The jirga ordered tribesmen from every household belonging to the Wazir tribe to come to Wana with arms to prepare for action, a local official said.

"One man from each house should come to Wana with a gun at 10am on Thursday to plan our defence and act against those who are responsible for disorder," tribal chief Malik Ghaffar told the gathering.

Wazir tribe chief Maulvi Nazir, who earned fame after he drove out hundreds of Uzbeks from the region last year in bloody clashes, is expected to address the Lashkar on Thursday.

He did not turn up at Wednesday’s meeting but had earlier blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a local Al Qaeda commander and leader of the rival Mehsud tribe, for the killing of the peace committee members.

Residents have reported that announcements have been made on a public address system asking Mehsud tribesmen to "leave Wana to avoid losses".

Baitullah Mehsud is accused by the government of masterminding a spate of suicide attacks in the country, including the December 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi. Mehsud has denied any involvement in the killing.

Local sources told AFP his tribe was preparing a jirga to negotiate with the Wazir tribe to avoid a confrontation

A couple of significant notes here:

1. This is the beginning of the end for Al Qaeda. This is their sole remaining base of operations. Now locals have not only stopped supporting them, but if this report is to be believed, a jirga is being convened to actively go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

2. It notes that Baitullah Mehsud is a local Al Qaeda commander. Stories have been coming out stating he was a leader of the united Taliban in Pakistan, but here he is stated to be a local leader of Al Qaeda. Note again, the symbolic shift against Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Take these two facts together with an earlier reports that Al Qaeda is attempting to execute a forceful take over of the Taliban, an Afghani Taliban leader switching sides, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah defiance of dismissal by Mullah Omar, and reports of Islamic parties are losing support in Pakistan and we see mounting evidence of a significant fracture between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and between the Taliban themselves.

I reported earlier that Al Qaeda made a grave mistake in assassinating Bhutto. While initially claiming credit for Bhutto's assassination, it was never officially taken credit for due to the uprising of support for Bhutto.

Musharraf used emergency rule to reposition tens of thousand forces from Kashmir to the FATA region. With all this military supporting them, tribal leaders will feel safe confronting Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda took a great risk assassinating Bhutto and bringing its war directly to its base of operations. It saw that it could have possibly gained nuclear weapons to use against the infidel. It now will soon be battling in its sole remaining safe haven.

Not only is Al Qaeda in Iraq defeated, but so is Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and therefore, Al Qaeda in general.

2008 is quickly shaping up to be a great year for people who love freedom. With Pakistani elections on 18 February 2008, it may very well also be a great year for people who love democracy.

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Eight peace-seeking tribal elders shot dead in Pakistan

The Guardian reports today eight Pakistani tribal leaders have been assassinated in South Waziristan, home to Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

Eight tribal leaders attempting to broker a ceasefire in Pakistan's dangerous north-west province have been shot dead by suspected Islamic militants in eight separate killings.

The assassinations began late on Sunday night and continued into the early hours of Monday morning, according to a statement from a security official and the military.

The eight tribal leaders were scheduled to meet each other on Monday in Wana to discuss plans to achieve peace between between security forces and insurgents.

All the attacks happened in South Waziristan, a mountainous region close to Afghanistan where al-Qaida and Taliban militants are known to operate. The suspected insurgents killed three of the men in a market in Wana, the region's main town, while the other five were killed in attacks on their homes, the security official said.

Baitullah recently gave the Pakistani government a week to cease all operations in Swat and North and South Waziristan. It appears the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan are now making good on their threat by going after pro-government tribal leaders. Baitullah is also the chief suspect behind the recent Bhutto assassination.

This action against tribal leaders is reminiscent of Al Qaeda in Iraq's tactic of threatening and killing Awakening tribal leaders in Al Anbar which along with the US surge of forces in Iraq, caused a backlash against Al Qaeda in the Al Anbar region with has rapidly grown throughout Iraq.

Musharraf has also had a surge of his own. During the recent emergency rule, he moved tens of thousand of his military forces from the India border of Kashmir to Swat and the Waristan regions to fight Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. Since this time, these forces have liberated much of Swat and engaged in bombing targets in South Waziristan.

Musharraf will not fully engage Islamist in these regions until after the 18 February 2008 elections in order to not further destabilize his rule and/or his party's decline in the upcoming elections.

One can consider the ongoing attacks in these regions as part of Musharraf's shaping operations for the upcoming battles. Musharraf has prepositioned forces in this region where these forces got their first taste of battle in the relatively less entrenched Swat region, appointed a new Army Chief, GEN Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who is an expert at crisis management, has inside connections to the ISI, and is rather pro-western. He made arrangements for better air ground integration by accepting support of US Special Forces in Pakistan which will allow him to pinpoint targets for upcoming military actions. He made the case for the assassination of Bhutto against Baitullah Mehsud and therefore Al Qaeda and the Taliban in genreal causing them to lose more popular support. He has poised his country for movement to a democracy with upcoming elections on 18 February 2008. In addition, he amended the constitution such that he maintains control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to ensure it security, and possibly more important, his continuation of power until Pakistan becomes a fully transitions to democracy and its battle with Al Qaeda and the Taliban are over.

In terms of the instruments of power (diplomatic, information, military, economic), Musharraf has poised his country well for its upcoming battle. He has even successfully divided the insurgency in Pakistan to a certain extent. He has also adopted Indonesia's deradicalization program to help transistion radical Taliban in his country. Finally, he has positioned assets to buy over the Taliban insurgents with $800 million in aid in case, like Alexander the Great, he cannot win them over solely through military means.

2008 will be the year the Taliban and Al Qaeda are defeated in Pakistan, their last remaining safe haven. The beginning of 2008 in Pakistan reminds one of the the beginning of 2007 in Iraq. Al Qaeda and Sunnis had apparently gained strength and were looking at recapturing Iraq in total. However, a surge of US forces and diplomacy to further fracture the underlying Al Qaeda/Sunni tensions resulted in almost complete destruction of Al Qaeda in Iraq. So to in Pakistan has Musharraf poised forces and other assets to enhance fractures between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Just as Iraqis fought against the upcoming caliphate in Iraq noted by the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, so too will Pakistani fight against the Tehrik-i-Taliban.

Just as Al Qaeda made the mistake in establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, so too has Al Qaeda made the same mistake in establishing the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan. Just as Al Qaeda made the fateful mistake of assassinating Al-Risha in Al Anbar, so too has Al Qaeda made the same mistake in assassinating Bhutto.

Al Qaeda thrives by spreading fear, but as Ronald Reagan stated, "Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid". I agree with Amir Taheri, "No, Things Aren't falling apart" at least for Pakistan. In fact, all the conditions are set for 2008 to be a defeat for Al Qaeda in general as the conditions were set in 2007 for the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

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No, Things Aren't Falling Apart

Amir Taheri has a great take on Pakistan in his latest article in the New York Post. As is always with Amir Taheri, he provides his own analysis, so below is his article in full.

THE death of Benazir Bhutto in a suicide-terror operation last week has pushed Pakistan, often regarded as a backwater in South Asia, into headlines as never before.

There's no doubt that Pakistan deserves attention, provided this isn't for the wrong reasons. Although Pakistan has been a key battleground in the global War on Terror since 2001, it's little understood (not to say much misunderstood) in the West.

One American pundit asserts that Bhutto's death represents "Washington's policy failure in Pakistan." The claim is based on the belief that Bhutto was nothing but an instrument of US policy.

But Benazir and Gen. Pervez Musharraf never did anything they didn't want to do simply because the Americans, or anybody else, asked for it.

Another myth since Benazir's death is that she was a victim of the Pakistani security services. The accusation is so childish that it wouldn't have merited attention had it not received global currency from conspiracy theorists.

Secret services may have hit men and hired assassins but don't have suicide killers. That's a specialty of Islamist terror groups. Had the Pakistani secret services wished to kill Benazir, they would've organized a massive explosion like the one that the Syrian secret service used to kill former Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri in 2005.

Another myth is that Islamists are about to sweep the general election and seize power.

Today, Pakistani Islamists are at their weakest in terms of popular support. Their coalition, known as the United Action Assembly (MMA), has fragmented, its components spending more time fighting each other than their secular enemies.

In the last election, the Islamists collected some 11 percent of the votes. They would be lucky to do as well next week. Their best-known figure, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, may lose his seat.

The Islamists have held sway in the Northwest Frontier province, one of the four that constitute Pakistan, for four years and have a record of failures. They've proved the bankruptcy of their sick ideology. I doubt they would fool many Pakistanis much longer.

Although some 98 percent of Pakistanis are Muslims, few wish to live under anything resembling the Iranian regime.

Despite decades of misery under military rule, most Pakistanis cherish pluralism and free elections.

One British magazine has come out with a cover story that Pakistan is about to fall to the Taliban. This turns out to be based on a claim that "Taliban-like" groups are assuming power in parts of a mountainous enclave known as South Waziristan.

Readers might not know that the enclave covers half of 1 percent of Pakistan's territory.

South Waziristan's population is less than half a million, compared to the total Pakistani population of 169 million.

Even then, there's no evidence that the enclave is being taken over by Taliban-style groups or "Arab Afghans," as foreign terrorists are called.

What's happening is the emergence of new groups of young armed men, often wearing long hair and beards, looking for fame and fortune.

Basically, they're bandits, continuing a tradition begun more than 2,000 years ago. Alexander the Great tried to crush their ancestors by force, but failed. He then decided to use gold where steel had failed, and succeeded.

Today, too, the best policy would be buying the armed groups rather than "dishonoring" them in the battlefield, something no tribal warrior worth his salt would tolerate. (This is, perhaps, why Congress has just approved a package of $800 million for Waziristan.)

Finally, we are invited to worry because Pakistan's nuclear weapons may fall into the hands of the Taliban and/or al Qaeda.

There's no evidence, however, that the Pakistani army is about to fall apart or that the nuclear arsenal, put under Musharraf's direct control after he stepped down as army chief, is in any danger.

No, Pakistan isn't falling apart.

No, Islamists are not about to seize power.

There's no need to declare martial law, as some commentators suggest. There was no reason to postpone the elections.

Pakistan needs more, not less, democracy. The faster Pakistan returns to full civilian rule, the safer it will be - and with it the rest of us also.

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Bhutto's servant under scanner

In an interesting twist, Bhutto's servant, Khalid Shahinshah is now wanted for questiong over her assassination according to The Times of India.

An absconding servant of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, who aroused suspicion with his "strange gestures" while she was delivering her last address in Rawalpindi last week, could provide a clue to her killing, Pakistan People's Party workers said.

Khalid Shahinshah, who was hired by Bhutto on the recommendation of her security advisor Rahman Malik, has been on the run ever since footage emerged of the strange gestures he had made while standing on the dais next to Bhutto while she addressed an election rally.

Shahinshah was standing on Bhutto's left during her speech and ran a finger across his throat which implied slitting the throat. Security officials have expressed concern at his "suspicious gestures" which could not be ignored.

We will continue to watch this story as it develops. For the full read, click here.

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Musharraf: Bhutto bears responsibility for death

President Musharraf in an interview for 60 Minutes to be aired Sunday has apparently stated that Bhutto bears responsibility for her death.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf conceded that a gunman may have shot Benazir Bhutto but said the opposition leader exposed herself to danger and bore responsibility for her death, CBS News said on Saturday.

He appearently specifically said,

For standing up outside the car, I think it was she to blame alone. Nobody else. Responsibility is hers," Musharraf said in the interview taped on Saturday morning.

Musharraf also apparently conceded Bhutto was shot.

Musharraf was asked by CBS, which provided excerpts of the interview, whether a gunshot could have caused Bhutto's head injury. He replied, "Yes, yes."

The questioner asked, "So she may have been shot?" and Musharraf said, "Yes, absolutely, yes. Possibility."

For the full read, click here


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Bilawal is target now: Lal Masjid cleric

The Daily Times of Pakistan quoted Taliban cleric Maulana Mohavya Irshad, from the Lal Masjid, or red mosque, as saying,

"Bilawal is a target now...." "I don’t know much about Bilawal. I only know he is a liberal person which is a deviation from Islam. True Muslims will not allow him to go against Islam." "These true Muslims will be horrified to see an image of Bilawal dressed as the devil while standing besides a pretty girl at a decadent party at Oxford University."

While many folks try to point fingers at Musharraf for Bhutto's assassination, we have leading Taliban clerics all but pointing fingers at their next target. We have Al Qaeda and The Taliban initially claiming credit for Bhutto's assassination, but given the uproar that followed her death, these elements have since not formally taken credit. Yet, we again have leading Taliban figures coming forward threatening death to her son, Bilawal.

While Musharraf's government has not handled the assassination properly, nor has Zardari, who initally refused an autopsy on Bhutto and recently rejected Musharraf’s offer of a probe by Scotland Yard and demanded that a United Nations commission should conduct the investigation into his wife’s death.

Now we have reports of seven suspected suicide bombers having entered Rawalpindi and Islamabad to sow the seeds of more unrest.

Pakistan created the Taliban and tacitly supported Al Qaeda in its borders. It now is quickly becoming the second central front in their global jihad. One can only hope that the PPP and Musharraf can put their differences behind them and work to fight a common enemy.

True Muslims should not be "horrified to see an image of Bilawal dressed as the devil", instead they should be horrified of the numerous devils in Al Qaeda and the Taliban within their boarders.

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