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

New York

Targeted deaths curb al-Qaida's expansion

From Paisley Dodds writing for the AP.

Recent targeted attacks that killed militants in Somalia, Indonesia and Pakistan have chipped away at al-Qaida's power base, sapping the terror network of key leaders and experienced operatives who train recruits and wage attacks.

Intelligence officials said Friday that the military strikes have reduced al-Qaida's core leadership to only a handful of men and diminished its ability to train fighters. This, they said, has forced al-Qaida to turn to its global affiliates for survival.

Not only are experienced leaders in short supply, but finances are short too.

A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work, said it appeared many factions were starting to fight among themselves for leadership, and ranks are turning on each other because they are suspicious and the finances are slowing.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Afghan war reaches a tipping point

Below is a great article from Asia Times Online which not only discusses the tactical implications of the airstrike against the Taliban in Kunduz, but also the strategic implications for NATO as a whole. For strategic implications we have:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) handed down to the Taliban a big political victory as a result of the air strikes in the northern province of Kunduz on Friday, which left over 100 people dead and injured. The Taliban propaganda portrayed the incident as "an intentional massacre".

However, the political impact is felt on several planes. These include, first and foremost, the sense of shock in Germany, where well over two-thirds of people already favor a withdrawal of the 4,500-strong German contingent from Afghanistan. Given the burden of history that Germany is fated to carry, the mere suggestion of the Bundeswehr having committed a war crime abroad becomes a sensitive issue. The political class in Berlin will keenly watch how the groundswell of public opinion pans out in the federal election due on September 27.

On the tactical/operational level, we have:

On the other hand, the Taliban are spreading their wings in the northern provinces, all according to a plan. The stage has come when it is important for the Taliban to demonstrate in political terms that they can expand the war to places of their choice. In military terms, the Taliban tactic aims at overstretching NATO....

No one needs to explain to the Taliban the strategic importance of Kunduz, which used to be center of their military command in northern Afghanistan before their ouster in October 2001. The demographic structure of the region provides an ideal platform for the Taliban's political work.

Finally, Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar discusses what is really at stake during the war in Afghanistan.

Germany is well aware that wars abroad are a serious business. In Afghanistan, in particular, the war has far-reaching consequences, being vastly more than a mere fight against international terrorism; it is also about NATO's future role as a global political organization and the "unfinished business" of the Cold War, as well as about defining the new world order.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Afghan Provincial Governor Praises German Army

From Der Spiegel.

The German army has been inundated with international criticism for ordering an air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers in Afghanistan. But the governor of Kunduz province where the attack happened has now praised the German forces. "They made the right decision at the right time," Mohammed Omar told SPIEGEL.

If you find this interesting, look at this.

German soldiers had always been criticized in the past for not taking robust enough action, he said. "They either flee back to their camp or they sit around crying," said Omar. The population had gotten the impression that the Germans were working together with the Taliban, he added. Now a gang of criminals had been caught in the act, he said.

Omar visited the German military base in Kunduz on Monday. He said he didn't know how many civilians were killed in the air strike. "But the Germans have the support of the population. We didn't receive any of the complaints one usually gets in cases where civilians are killed."

Eyewitnesses said there were 60 armed Taliban on the scene along with 15 to 20 other people. "But at half past two at night, no normal civilians would dare to go out in this area, which is more than four kilometers from the nearest village," said Omar.

Anyone in the vicinity of the fuel tankers must have been criminal or a supporter of the Taliban, he said. The US criticism of the attack appeared to be a gut reaction, he added. "The Americans probably didn't eat well and had bad dreams."

So, the attack was at 0230 in the morning. I agree with this article. Anybody 4 kms from their village at 0230 in the morning must have been supporting the insurgents.

To read the complete article, click here.

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After Baitullah, TTP loses support at home and abroad

From Shaukat Qadir writing for The National.

More than a month after Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a US drone strike at his father-in-law’s house, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remains a diminished force. Not that the death of one man can spell the end of the organisation – many of the Mehsud tribe would say Baitullah was a CIA agent anyway – but the TTP has lost both support inside Pakistan and a connection to al Qa’eda’s foreign forces.

Shaukat Qadir provides and interesting prespective, backed by the history of tribes in the region, and an even more interesting conclusion.

While the struggle against US occupation is unlikely to diminish in intensity, military operations in Waziristan may not even be necessary. If a ground attack proceeds, it is likely to be much easier than it would have been were Baitullah alive and supported by his foreign troops. Has the tide turned? The anti-Taliban feeling in mainland Pakistan certainly seems to have become more unanimous than the anti-American feeling, at least for the time being.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Pakistan Taliban appears in turmoil

From Yahoo.

Pakistan's Taliban appears in turmoil after reports of a deadly shootout between contenders to replace the shadowy movement's leader, believed to have been killed in a US drone attack.

This article should be read in unison with these other articles to get a complete picture of what is happening in Pakistan. The most important point comes out in this article from the Daily Times.

The people of Mingora have long been used to the sight of bullet-riddled bodies dumped on the streets. For months these used to be government officials, policemen or women killed by the Taliban, the Times has reported. Now the pattern has been reversed.

The Taliban are being hunted down by the security forces and families of their former victims.

Other important articles are here, here, and here. Needless to say, most of them point to a general dissatisfaction with extremists by the population. An insurgency first and foremost needs tacit support of the population. It appears that both the Taliban and Al Qaeda have lost their popular support.

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Pakistan wields a double-edged sword

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

The first few thousand of more than 3 million people displaced by fighting in Pakistan's Swat and Malakand regions in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) have returned to their homes. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a tour to a refugee camp, said this week he was "optimistic" about the job more than 30,000 troops are doing in tackling militants in the area.

The months-long offensive in and around Swat has, however, stirred bitter resentment against the Pakistan Army and its Operation Rah-e-Raast (Operation for the Right Path), despite the positive spin the authorities try to put on the operation and their claims of killing top Taliban commanders.

Syed Saleem Shahzad describes some interesting missteps by the Pakistani Army in this article. He describes a credibility problem which has resulted in the Pakistani Taliban uniting vice being fragmented.

The incident stunned the army and it was faced with the reality that far from eliminating Baitullah, he had emerged as the leader of all of the Pakistani Taliban; tribal feuds had been put aside. This was despite the fact that the army clarified on a number of occasions that the military operation was only against Baitullah, not even against his tribe. Clearly, no one believed the army.

One thing which is certain is that a fight against an insurgency the population must be protected, respected, and secured. If the Pakistani Army is not keeping this in mind, it will not succeed. The insurgents will, when attacked, hide among the population and use them as shields. The Pakistani Army needs to restain itself to ensure it does not appear to be fighting the population and focus its efforts on the insurgents. If that means a known insurgent goes free, so be it. But collateral damage must be minimized. In this way, the population will decide to not support the insurgent and will begin to support the government.

A counter-insurgency is a tricky, tricky road to travel on and it must be done with care. The US learned this tough lesson in Iraq. The Pakistani Army will eventually learn this lesson in Pakistan. Unfortunately, until it does, civilians may suffer, from both sides of the conflict.

The good news is Pakistan is now starting to fight the insurgents in their country. The bad news is that tacit support of an insurgency comes not from believing in the insurgent's cause, but from fear of the insurgent's brutal methods. It is difficult to fight a war without brutality, but that is what a counter-insurgent must do everyday. And that is the lesson which Pakistan is now learning.

A final note. The Pakistani Army will learn how to fight the insurgency since the government is a freely elected entity. It will change its methods because it must to survive. An insurgent does not need to, and in fact, when push comes to shove, an insurgent will always sacrifice a civilian. This note is why an insurgency is best dealt with by a democracy which is answerable to its people.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Taliban uses Afghan fear to fight surge

From The Washington Times.

The Taliban is seeking to blunt the surge of an additional 20,000 U.S. troops through stepped-up attacks on Afghans working with the U.S.-backed government, U.S. and Afghan officials say.

This is the first mistake insurgents make when confronted with death. They start attacking the population indiscriminantly.

A U.S. defense official, who also spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the nature of his work, said the Taliban has been "invoking fear" by targeting innocent people who work for the U.S.-led coalition.

They will target known collaborators with the Coalition Forces, but also innocent folks. This word will get around, just like it has in Iraq. Mark my word, this is the beginning of the end for the Taliban. An insurgency cannot survive without the tactic support of the population. Fence sitters will stop becoming fence sitters when they see innocent people murdered.

When the insurgents need to resort to murder to maintain control, they have lost.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Pakistan now facing 2-front war in Waziristan

From Saeed Shah writing for the Mcclatchy Newspapers published in the Miami Herald. The article starts with:

A militant commander in northwest Pakistan tore up a peace deal with the Pakistani government Tuesday, dealing a major blow to the government's campaign against Islamist insurgents in the extremist-controlled Waziristan region.

So the militant commander "tore" up the peace deal which will deal a "major blow" to Pakistan. Why?

"This accord is being scrapped because of Pakistan's failure to stop the American drone attacks in North and South Waziristan," said Ahmadullah Ahmadi, a spokesman for Bahadur. "Since the army is attacking us in North and South Waziristan, we will also attack them."

So, the Predator attacks must be hurting them, and hurting them hard, so hard, in fact, they have decided it is better to go to war with Pakistan than continue to be hit by predator attacks. However, this conclusion is never reached. Instead the conclusion that is reached is Pakistan now has to face a 2-front war.

"You have to have a strategy to isolate Baitullah, clear the Mehsud area, then make arrangements for (fighting) Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur," said Asad Munir, a former head of military intelligence for the tribal area. "You have to make every effort to separate the Wazirs and the Mehsuds."

Well really. That is surprising. I bet the only person who knew Pakistan was going to try to deal with Mehsud first and then Nazir and Bahadur was Mr. Munir. That is probably the reason Pakistan has been denying they are aware of the attacks and is representing they are powerless to stop the attacks.

I bet the fact that Pakistan was aware of the attacks never entered into the thought process of Nazir and Bahadur. I bet, seeing their fellow Taliban wiped out in Swat and a major offensive ongoing in South Waziristan and knowing they were next, never entered into their thought process that they better now side with Baitullah before his forces are wiped out.

I believe in this particular case, the Obama administration is on target.

The Obama administration contends that the drone attacks are hurting the ability of Taliban and al-Qaida commanders to plan and mount operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that the domestic political fallout from the strikes hasn't hurt the Pakistani government too badly, said two U.S. officials who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

Yes folks, Afghanistan and Pakistan are connected. They are linked. You cannot win one without the other. Surprise. We haven't heard that before. If that means you have to fight all enemy forces at one time, that is what it means. Would you rather fight one at a time? Of course, and Pakistan has been doing a great job up until now to fight only one, but Pakistan nor the US get to decide when the enemy will begin to fight. The enemy does. And the enemy has.

Will it be a different battle now? Sure. Were contingencies drawn up in case this happened? Undoubtedly. Did everybody know this day was coming? Of course.

What is more important is to see what comes next. And that will begin to shed some light on what the contingency plan really is.

To read the full article, click here.

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Support for Pakistan's anti-Taliban war seen solid

From Faisal Aziz writing for Reuters.

I wrote awhile back that Al Qaeda and the Taliban create enemies where ever they go. It takes awhile, but it is always the endstate. This seems to have finally happened in Pakistan.

In the 1980s, Pakistan began used Islamist guerrillas for foreign policy aims, first in Afghanistan to fight Soviet invaders and later in the disputed Kashmir region where Pakistan- backed Muslim fighters battled Indian rule.

That engendered considerable sympathy for the "jihadis".

But Pakistanis were shocked when the Taliban defied a peace deal that had given them virtual control of the Swat valley northwest of Islamabad and went on the offensive, seizing a district just 100 km (60 miles) from the capital in April.

Video footage of Taliban flogging a teenaged girl in Swat and a pro-Taliban cleric's proclamation that the constitution was un-Islamic contributed to a sea-change in opinion.

"It's an existential threat now to the state.

It is the same story everywhere, but this realization represents the death of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the region. Yes there will be fighting, probably even years of it, just like in Iraq, but the fact is, the insurgency will lose more and more support daily from this point forward.

The siginificance of Pakistan is this is the last unassailable base for Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda will lose here, not only militarily, but also its economic support from other Islamic countries.

For a full read of the article, click here.

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Uprising against Taliban spreads in Pakistan's tribal region

From eNews 2.0.

Pressed by military and partly disgusted by brutality exercised by Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, Pakistani tribesmen are rising up against Islamic militancy in some parts of the tribal region along Afghan border and other areas.

Three ethnic Pashtun tribes in Bajaur district - the Salarzai, Tarkhani and Utmankhel - raised a "Lashkar," or private army, of around 10,000 tribesmen to drive Taliban out of their area, after weeks of fierce fighting between security forces and militants resulted in heavy civilian casualties and property losses.

"We have been told very clearly by the authorities that the only way to avoid collateral damage is that we clear our areas of Taliban and bring stability here," said tribal elder Fazal Karim, who leads the Lashkar.

Why are the tribes beginning to go against Al Qaeda/the Taliban?

Around 3.5 million tribal people practice a form of Islam that is integrated with an archaic moral code of conduct and honour, very similar to the one described in ancient Greek Homeric poems and Icelandic Kings' sagas, where warriors are hailed as heroes.

On the other hand, Taliban ideology is based on a reductionist version of Islam stripped of secular Pashtun cultural content. It undermined the traditional tribal structure when enforced, and led to resentment among the locals who had provided shelter to hundreds, if not thousands, Taliban and al-Qaeda fugitives following US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Taliban executions, extreme torture, opposition to social and economic development projects and girls' education further deepened the split and banded together people in some areas for an indigenous armed resistance.

"What these gangs of thugs and criminals brought in the name of Islam is barbarism," said Karim, whose fighters have cleared around 90 per cent of Salarzai sub-district of Bajaur.

Al Qaeda/the Taliban disenfranchise people wherever they go due to their harse interpretation of Islam. The war against Al Qaeda/the Taliban is not a "US war" as is often quoted from Pakistani people. It is a war of freedom. It is a war of liberty.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan engages the tribes in effort to fight the Taliban

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

As the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency rages in northwestern Pakistan, the Pakistani government has stepped up its efforts to engage the local tribes to battle the extremists.

The effort to gain the support of the Pashtu tribes in northwestern Pakistan was highlighted when General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the Chief of Staff of the Pakistani Army visited the Bajaur tribal agency, where a two-month old offensive against the Taliban is still underway.

Kiyani "expressed his satisfaction that local tribesmen have risen against miscreants and are fully supporting the Army," Geo TV reported. Miscreant is a term often used by Pakistanis to refer to foreign or al Qaeda fighters. "He reiterated that success in this operation was directly linked with popular support" in the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province.

As usual, Mr. Roggio does an excellent job at detailing the issues with bringing the tribes on board to assist the military in routing the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

For a full read, click here.

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In life, or death, Baitullah's fight endures

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

As reports swirl about the possible death by illness of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, 34, the fact is that as long as he is alive, no matter how sick, he will remain an inspiration for regional jihadis; should he die, he will be replaced and the battle that he fights will continue undiminished.

Baitullah died from kidney problems and high blood pressure, Pakistan's GEO Television reported this week. This is disputed in militant and Western circles.

The ethnic Pashtun guerrilla commander from the South Waziristan tribal area rose to prominence after Taliban leader Nek Mohammed was killed in a US Predator drone attack in 2004. In December 2007, a Taliban shura, a 40-member council, chose Baitullah to unify its operations in Pakistan under a united front called the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistan Taliban Movement, which is fighting Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas. The area also serves as a haven for militants active in the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.

Another interesting article by Mr. Shahzad on the tribal make up in the FATA region.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban, al-Qaeda fight to the death in Pakistan

From M & C, South Asia.

When thousands of Pakistani troops backed by tanks and artillery moved into Bajaur tribal district to retake a strategic checkpoint from Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, many thought it would be a relatively easy walk for professional soldiers with huge fire power.

But the tenacious resistance the militants offered and the superb guerrilla warfare they used in the six-week pitched battles with government forces came as more than a surprise....

The commanding officer of Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps, Major General Tariq Khan, told reporters early this week that if the insurgency was dismantled in Bajaur, 65 per cent of the militancy in the country's tribal areas would be brought under control.

The Taliban also realize this and have moved reinforcements of guerillas from across the border as well as from at least three neighbouring tribal districts. The main fighting from the rebel side is being led by an Afghan commander Qari Ziaur Rehman, who is assisted by well-trained al-Qaeda fighters of Arab, Chechen and Uzbek origin.

'There is substantial evidence that heavy weaponry is being moved into Bajaur from Afghanistan,' said Pakistani army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas, complaining that there was no serious effort by the International Security Assistance Force operating in Afghanistan to stop militant infiltration across the border.

Loses of 1000 militant is the reason why the Taliban are concripting males into fighting for the Taliban. While the fighting is intense, there are rays of hope.

However, back in Bajaur there are some positive signs of change, with locals in some areas defying Taliban terror and the Islamists' hard-line shariah law.

Emboldened members of three tribes - the Salarzai, Tarkhani and Utmankhel - last week announced that they would organize an army of volunteers to defend their respective areas against the Taliban.

'Many people still remain reluctant to support the government, because they are not sure whether (government) forces will fight the militants till the last or withdraw after a peace deal with them as they did in North and South Waziristan,' said a local journalist, who gave his name as Shah.

The fear for the civilians caught in the middle of this fighting is that as soon as the troops leave, the well-trained and well- organized Taliban army will settle in and create a new hell for them, he said.

Once again, fighting an insurgency is difficult.

The population must be secured so they stop sitting on the fence, tacitly supporting the insurgency, to supporting the government. As Pakistani forces continue their operations inside of Bajaur, the population is rising up against the Taliban.

Mandatory conscription, killing of innocent muslims, killing of tribal leaders, destruction of crops and electric powerlines, and other such indiscriminant violence which the Taliban and Al Qaeda use to subdue a population over time only causes the population to turn against them and to side with the government who brings law and order, peace and prosperity.

Al Qaeda did not want the democratic election in Pakistan to occur. To stop it, they killed Bhutto. However, the election happened. That fact cannot be changed. A democratic government is now in charge in Pakistan. With the democratic government, now the military has began to battle the Taliban/Al Qaeda in earnest.

As the battle wages, the population will rise up against the Taliban and Al Qaeda if the government can secure the population. This battle is now taking place in Bajaur. As MG Khan states, the outcome of Bajaur could quell 65 percent of the militancy in Pakistan. If Bajaur is successfully liberated from the Taliban/Al Qaeda and the population is secured, expect a rapid defeat of the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

While battles will continue to wage for a few years as the Taliban/Al Qaeda attempt to regroup, if the Pakistani Army is successful in Bajaur of routing the Taliban/Al Qaeda and securing the population while maintaining the strong tribal structure in the region, the Taliban's/Al Qaeda's defeat will be more rapid in this area than it was in Al Anbar in Iraq as the population in this region has long been relatively peaceful, orderly, and forgiving of other tribes resulting in much trade in this region. Al Qaeda/the Taliban has attempted to destroy this historic tribal structure and control all trade/commerce in the region just as Al Qaeda in Iraq attempted to do in Al Anbar.

Even Alexander the Great knew this was not the way to quell this region. Apparently, the Taliban/Al Qaeda have never read the history of this region. It is a lessen they are going to regret not learning.

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Taliban Conscripting Sons In Pakistan

From ThreatsWatch.

A Frontier Corps officer in the tribal region in Pakistan says that the Taliban has conscripted sons in the region, threatening families if they refuse to submit their male children.

On Friday, a Pakistani military commander accused insurgents of forced conscription.

“All families were asked to give their one male child to this (militant) movement, and this was done forcibly, and if somebody doesn’t do it, his house would be destroyed,” said Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan of the paramilitary Frontier Corps.

It is nearly impossible to independently confirm the details provided by Khan and others in the military.

Perhaps it may be difficult to confirm this particular instance, but this is one of the means by which al-Qaeda sought to bolster their forces in Iraq, and one which ultimately undermined their existence as the Iraqi people turned.

Long made short, this represents a few things.

1. A sharp fall in man power. Pakistan has claimed to kill 1,000+ in the area since August ops began.

2. Difficulty recruiting. Enticing the faithful followers has proven for the moment not enough.

3. A certain level of desperation. Such measures are not taken when a group senses imminent victory, but more so when holes need plugged.

This is as close to an admission that Pakistani military operations have met with some success as you are likely to ever see. An admission in actions, not words.

Interesting analysis. I remember in late 2006/early 2007 when Iraq was considered lost despite underlying signs to the opposite, namely, a population fed up with insurgents, but still sitting on the fence awaiting a strong military to secure them. Are we possibly seeing the same thing in Pakistan now?

I agree with ThreatsWatch's assessment. This act is not done by a group sensing imminent victory. This act will only make fence sitters go against the Taliban just as fence sitters in Al Anbar went against Al Qaeda in Iraq once a surge of American forces assured their security.

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5 top militants among 1,000 killed in Pakistan

From The Daily Star.

Pakistan said yesterday that troops have killed 1,000 Islamist militants in a huge offensive, a day after President Asif Ali Zardari lashed out at the US over a clash on the Afghan border.

Five top al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders were among the dead in a month-long operation in Bajaur district, currently the most troubled of Pakistan's unstable tribal areas close to the porous frontier, a top official said.

In a further sign of the instability gripping Pakistan since the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad at the weekend, three suicide bombers blew themselves up in a shootout with police in Karachi.

Reporters were flown by helicopter to Khar, the main town in restive Bajaur, for a briefing on the military operation launched in August against Islamist militants who had taken control of most of the region."

The overall toll is over 1,000 militants," said Tariq Khan, inspector general of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, adding that 27 soldiers had also been killed in the fighting."This is a centre of gravity for the militants," Khan told journalists. "If they lose here they lose everything."

Pakistan is now beginning to battle insurgents in earnest within its own territory. While their numbers on enemy loses are often inflated and friendly loses often deflated, this article shows that Pakistan is now engaging the insurgents.

For a full read, click here.

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Militants shake off Pakistan's grip

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

Behind closed doors in Washington, London and Islamabad a few months ago, the consensus was to initiate a strategic phase of "conflict escalation" in the region, even though it was acknowledged that the price for this would be a surge in militancy in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is what happened, and, given the popularity of the Taliban among Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, peace treaties were then viewed as the best solution, provided the terms and conditions were set by the international and regional players and not by the Taliban.

This did not work, as militant activities have broken the will of Pakistan's leaders, so much so that they are using back channels to sign new peace agreements, but this time on the Taliban's terms.

For a full read of Mr. Shahzad's sobering assessment of Pakistan, click here.

I am not sure I agree with this assessment as spectacularly brutal Al Qaeda attacks in the past have only turned moderate Muslims away from Al Qaeda if a military presence provided security to the population. However, I do recognize this is a big if in Pakistan.

Escalation of attacks in the FATA and NWFP regions in Pakistan are needed to take pressure off of Afghanistan. Simultaneously, these attacks in Pakistan are intended to disrupt future planning and logistics of militants in Pakistan.

A push by Pakistani ground forces aided by precision air power from the US (whether Predator drones or Air Force fighter/bombers) may be needed to significantly disrupt militants in these regions.

While the initial reaction will be a loss of support for the Pakistani government by the people, weakening Al Qaeda/Taliban rule in the region and the presence of Pakistani troops providing security for the populous can shift this initial loss of support into strong support for a Pakistani military presence providing security and liberty for Pakstanis in this region.

While I agree with Mr. Shahzad that this escalation of conflict is not without risk, if played correctly, it could solve the militancy issue in Pakistan once and for all. However, I too am concerned whether the Pakistani leadership and military can pull off this conflict escalation and see it through to its nature end. Simultaneously, I am also concerned about how upcoming US elections may result in a dramatic shift of policy in mid-stream of this conflict escalation in Pakistan.

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Al-Qaida Top militant Held For Marriott Bombing


Pakistani security agencies Tuesday claimed to have arrested a close aide of Al-Qaida's number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, in connection with the Marriott Hotel bombing in the capital Islamabad that killed more than 50 persons and injured more than 250 others.

If truly a close aide to Zawahiri, this capture may prove to be very significant in the coming days, weeks, and months.

For a full read, click here.

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How to Defeat al Qaeda: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

From CQ.

Don’t believe him? Consider, Bergen says, al Qaeda’s strategic errors: the bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2005, which killed about 222 and wounded 338; the bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2003, which killed about 35 and wounded more than 160; the hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, in 2005, which killed about 60 and wounded 115; and, of course, Sept. 11, which killed nearly 3,000. Al Qaeda’s attacks have been so egregious, even Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor, Salman al-Awda, took, to the airwaves in 2007 to denounce the al Qaeda leader, and his tactics, by name.

Now, al Qaeda is suspected of being involved in the Marriott Hotel bombings in Pakistan this past weekend, which so far has killed 53 and wounded more than 260.

What all these attacks have in common is the condemnation of not only the mostly Islamic governments of the countries where they occurred but also other Islamists. Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killing of innocent Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere has only intensified the jihad from within.

While I believe Al Qaeda is self-destructing from within due to its brutal tactics, I do believe its brutal tactics would more likely lead to intimidation of a populous if not confronted by a strong military seeking to secure the population and fighting against Al Qaeda.

However, I do agree with the article when it states we [thru our military forces] will not defeat Al Qaeda, only Islam will. For Islam to succeed in defeating Al Qaeda, these countries need to be supported by all our instruments of national power. Suporting governments fighting against the war of terror is the diplomatic arm of the four instruments of national power. Showing Al Qaeda's atrocities is the informational arm. Al Qaeda's source of fighters need to be given other employment, the economic arm of national power.

All four instruments of national power must be used in conjunction. In Iraq, the government needed to be overthrown, which is why the military instrument was the most heavily used. So to in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan freely elected a democratic government. In this region, we need to focus our effort on informational, diplomatic, and economic efforts; however, the military arm still needs to be used to keep the insurgents off balance.

For a full read, click here.

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The gloves are off in Pakistan

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

Pakistani authorities have compared Saturday evening's devastating truck suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel in the capital Islamabad to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

In terms of its psychological effect, the blast, which killed more than 80 people, injured hundreds and burnt out the hotel, has traumatized the nation, and, like 9/11, marks the beginning of a new battle: this time not the "war on terror", but the war by terrorists.

Pakistan is now the declared battleground in this struggle by Islamic militants to strike first against American interests before the United States' war machine completes its preparations to storm the sanctuaries of al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Just how will Pakistan fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Syed Saleem Shahzad notes in his article that over 300 American "trainers" just arrived in Pakistand and have taken over large area in Tarbella where the CIA operated out of in the 1990s.

There is little doubt in the minds of those familiar with the American activities at Tarbella that preparations are being made for an all-out offensive in North-West Frontier Province against sanctuaries belonging to the Taliban and al-Qaeda led by bin Laden. Pakistani security sources maintain more American troops will arrive in the coming days.

Now the battle for Pakistan begins in earnest.

I noted before Al Qaeda's bombing of the Marriott hotel was a huge mistake. It did not accomplish its tactical objective (killing Pakistani and foreign leaders) nor its operational objective (making the Pakistani leadership succumb to Al Qaeda's rule), and it had strategic consequences. Pakistanis themselves do not want a rampant insurgency in their country. The Marriott bombing shows they have one and the newly elected leadership will now go after them in earnest. The Marriott bombing has allowed the Pakistani leadership to take off their shackles to allow the full force of American Intelligence into Pakistan to hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership.

Do not forget that Pakistan represents Al Qaeda's last unassailable base from which to plan, coordinate, and conduct terrorist training and operations. Al Qaeda saw this battle coming with the loss of Iraq which is why Al Qaeda forces there have been redirected to Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the surge of forces in Afghanistan and Pakistani forces in the FATA/NWFP region, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will now be battling for their last remaining sanctuary.

Expect a tough, violent battle in this region. As the battle continues, expect Al Qaeda to alienate the Pakistani population more and more with indiscriminant attacks on innocent civilians to intimidate them. However, expect the Pakistani military to provide security rapidly for the population effectively limiting the intimidation. With an intelligence network already deeply entrenched in Pakistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will not last for very long. Nor will Pakistani leaders who are in bed with these members.

Looking back, one can understand why Al Qaeda fears a democracy more than anything else. It spells their death and destruction.

As we look forward from 9/11, we see several democracies on the rise in Muslim countries -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Al Qaeda made Iraq its central front of its war of terror. It lost that battleground despite the help of some unlikely players, namely Iran and Syria. The small surge of American troops in Afghanistan coupled with a new defensive posture of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan due to attacks directly in Pakistan will result in Afghanistan's democracy coming of age next year or a year later. Finally, with its defeat in Pakistan, we will now have three countries which have fought and won their democratic right.

The only thing we need to do at this point is to continue to support democratic reforms in these countries. This fact should be the crux of the debate when American go to the polls in November.

Al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks not only sought to bring down America militarily, but also economically. It was close to achieving its goal, and may very well do so in the near future. However, we should not go down without a fight. It appears the real fight has just begun, now that the battle for Pakistan begins in earnest.

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Zardari vows to root out terror from Pak

From South East Asia News.

In a reaction to last night's suicide attack on a hotel in Islamabad killing around 50 persons, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said that the country will not be deterred by the 'cowardly acts of terrorism' and that the new PPP-led alliance government will purge their country of this "cancer".

Addressing his nation on TV late on Saturday, Zardari said that he was aggrieved by the losses in the massive bomb attack and that he knew how it felt to lose a loved one.

He asked his countrymen to 'turn their grief into power'.

The terrorists would bow before Pakistan one day, he said and added that those who had carried out the attack in the holy month of Ramazan were not Muslims.

The President said that the terrorists had turned the happy moment of the restoration of democracy into that of grief, and asked all political parties to unite against terrorism.

A few hours earlier, in his maiden address of the joint session of the Pakistan Parliament, Zardari said that Pakistan was passing through a critical phase and must root out all forms of terrorism and extremism from its soil."

We must root out terrorism and extremism wherever and whenever they may rear their ugly heads," he said and added: "Let everyone have an opportunity to make an informed judgment about the risks to our beloved country and about how we should move forward with responsibility and clarity of vision."

He also said that his country won't tolerate attacks by any foreign forces on its soil, though he didn't name any country. "We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism," Zardari said.

The text above should make jihadists cringe. While it has been stated that jihadists were after high-level American personnel in their attack, Zardari was also supposed to be at the hotel during the attack but was not. The jihadists were undoubtedly trying to get a twofor by taking out high level foreigners (American and British) and the Pakistani President too.

Zardari's response is noteworthy in several respects.

First, he touches muslims directly by stating attacking during the holy month of Ramadan was "not muslim" and "cowardly".

Second, he goes after terrorists directly stating they are a "cancer", vowed to root them out wherever they show their "ugly heads", and noted Pakistan is going through a "critical phase and must root out terrorism".

Third, he appeals to Pakistanis by stating the terrorists have turned the "restoration of democracy [in Pakistan] into grief" and asked Pakistanis to turn this "grief into power".

Fouth, he inspired nationalism by stating he would not allow "violation of our [Pakistani] sovereignty".

Finally, he brought it to the very personal level stating "he knew how it felt to lose a loved one".

All of these tied together should definitely make jihadists cringe. This high profile attack did not endure Pakistanis to Al Qaeda nor did it accomplish its tactical objective of killing high profile foreigners or harming Zardari. It will undoubtedly make normal Pakistanis, religiously fasting during Ramadan, wonder why Al Qaeda chose to attacks during this holy time. More to the point, the attack was triggered right when the hotel was filled with Pakistanis who would be eating their evening meal after fasting.

This attack could only hurt the jihadist's brand. Yes, it will make individuals fearful, but if the Pakistani military begins an all out offensive, with quite assistance from the US, the military can use this turbulent time, in which Zardari tells Pakistanis to turn their grief into power, to root out terrorists on its soil while maintaining to the popular support of the people.

The coming days and actions by the Pakistani government will be critical. It will be interesting to see if this great blunder by jihadists will be used against them as it should. If it is, we will see the populous rise up against jihadists in Pakistan. If it is not, we continue to see tacit support of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the FATA/NWFP regions.

UPDATE: South East Asia News Net is reporting the blast may have been meant for the Pakistani Parliament, not foreign dignitaries as orginally suspected.

The terror attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was supposedly aimed at Pakistan's parliament where the entire civil and military leadership of the country had gathered to listen to the first address by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Right now, the only foreigner officially killed in the attack was the Czech ambassador to Pakistan. While a supporter of western forces in their global war on terror, the Czech republich is hardly a country with a reputation of going after jihadists.

It appears the intitial analysis is still correct. Strategically, the bombing of the Marriott hotel is huge blunder for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They did not apparently kill foreigners they were after, they did not get Zardari, nor did they get Pakistani parliamentarians. However, they have brought their terrorist brand home in a way not seen since the assassination of Bhutto, which resulted in the PPP sweeping elections in this country. Now that the PPP is in power, its full force can be brought to bear upon Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In addition, Pakistan will now get much needed international support to help the newly elected democratic government against Al Qaeda. The US will be able to hide its support among the various players which will now flock to Pakistan's side, especially given Zardari's recent speech above. Both President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have expressed uninamity with Pakistan over the hotel blast.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have given the Pakistani government a choice. Either submit to terrorism or fight it. It appears the Pakistani government will now take on these forces directly.

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Jihadi Hellish message to Pakistan

Walid Phares' take on the bombing in Pakistan.

As shown by world networks, the hellish flames ravaging the Mariott Hotel in Islamabad seemed like a vision of the Apocalypse. That's at least how many survivors of the Terror attack that massacred more than 60 and wounded hundreds have described it: "The end of the World." But beyond the barbaric bloodshed and the human suffering ensuing, the heavy question fuses fast: How to read this Jihadi mayhem and what is the message behind the bombing?

As usual, Walid Phares provides interesting insights into Islamists tactics and objectives.

For a full read, click here.

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Explosion at Pakistan Marriott hotel kills 40

From AP.

A massive truck bomb devastated the heavily guarded Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital Saturday, killing at least 40 people and wounding at least 100. Officials feared there were dozens more dead inside the burning building.

The Marriott has been a favorite place for foreigners as well as Pakistani politicians and business people to stay and socialize in Islamabad despite repeated militant attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but Pakistan has faced a wave of militant violence in recent weeks following army-led offensives against insurgents in its border regions.

Al Qaeda/the Taliban are ramping up violence in Pakistan. Such a high profile and civilian target will result not in the government backing down but instead in loss of popular support (over time) for these Islamists groups.

For a full read, click here.

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Where Eagles Dare

From Michael Yon reporting from Afghanistan.

When I was briefed on the top-secret mission before it was launched, I thought : “Good grief. I might have to report on the failure of one of the largest and most important missions of the entire war.”

What what the largest and most important mission of the entire war?

The top-secret mission was to deliver a new turbine to the Kajaki Dam. The second-largest hydro-electric dam in Afghanistan, Kajaki is designed to operate three turbines, and was originally built with American money in 1953 to provide electricity to Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. But that was another era of the Great Game. Only two out of three turbines were installed, and they fell apart when the Soviet Union pulled out from Afghanistan in 1989.

During the march to Kajaki Dam, the convoy was ambushed several times but managed to bring all turbine components safely to the dam. The Taliban sustained 200-250 killed during the mission which tells one the importance they put on stopping this mission. Not a single Coalition Soldier was a combat casualty.

I agree with Michael Yon. Doubling power generation at Kajaki Dam may have very well been one of the most important missions of this war.

For a full read, click here.

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Right at the Edge

From The New York Times.

Late in the afternoon of June 10, during a firefight with Taliban militants along the Afghan-Pakistani border, American soldiers called in airstrikes to beat back the attack. The firefight was taking place right on the border itself, known in military jargon as the “zero line.” Afghanistan was on one side, and the remote Pakistani region known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, was on the other. The stretch of border was guarded by three Pakistani military posts.

This article is an interesting read and describes the diverse loyalties among Pakistani's leadership with regards to the Taliban. While the reporter has not researched some details (like Namdar's murder for helping the CIA against the Taliban), it does show how politics make interesting partners and describes the problems of defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the FATA/NWFP regions. Finally, the article does not get into the details of how or why the new Pakistani government may go against the Taliban and Al Qaeda where previous governments tacitly supported these entities.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan public expect healing touch from Zardari

From Monsters and Critics.

Ijaz Afridi, a school teacher, is indifferent to the election of Asif Ali Zardari as Pakistan's new president. He is too busy with receiving condolences from visitors for his cousin, who was butchered by a suicide bomber together with 35 other people on Saturday, as lawmakers were voting for the new head of the state.

A single attacker in his twenties blew up his explosive-laden car after failing to cross a security checkpoint in a busy market just outside Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Saturday.

Afridi continues to state,

'It makes no difference to us whether Zardari or someone else becomes the president of Pakistan. The Taliban will rule this area and our brothers, fathers and sons will continue to become the food of conflict between them and security forces,' said Afridi....

How to stop and reverse the Taliban's infiltration into Pakistan is perhaps going to be the foremost challenge for Zardari....

'People want him to deliver political goods and in the list of these political goods security stands at the top,' said Rasool Bux Raees, a professor in political science at the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences.

He warns if Zardari fails, people might become disillusioned with the democracy and look for alternatives either in military or even in the extremist forces....

'I will assess Zardari's performance on what he does for the poor people like me,' said Irshad Ahmed a construction worker as he carried a bag of cement on his back in an upmarket neighbourhood of Islamabad.

'I earn 6,000 rupees (around 45 US dollars) a month and everything is spent on buying food for my five children, wife and me. But we need more than that. My children want to buy new clothes on Eid (Muslim festival at the end of fasting month of Ramadan) and I do not have money for that,' he added.

This article truly describes the battle Pakistani leaders have in front of them. They must secure the population by lessening insurgent control, bring in economic prosperity and freedom to the region, and allow people the ability to provide for their families. Otherwise the people will look first and foremost for security, even if it comes from insurgents.

The one advantage the Pakistani government has is it is a freely elected government which can be put out of power by the very people who put it into power. As such, a democracy must govern for the people if it hopes to remain in power. This fact became lost on Musharraf when he deposed the judges and declared emergency rule. As such, the people put him and his party out of office. Simultaneously, insurgent groups also suffered at the polls which tells the people of Pakistan want security, liberty to pursue a better life, and a good life for their family.

In addition, the military has maintained an apolitical stance, a first in Pakistan, while all these power changes have taken place. People are hopeful in Pakistan. The government must now focus on securing the population which means eliminating the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency. Once secure, the Pakistani economy will start to blossum and people like Ahmed will not only be able to buy just food for his children, but also new clothes. However, the Pakistani government must do it in a way so as to maintain popular support otherwise we may see a future election of salafists in Pakistan. We can only hope the new leadership in Pakistan can build an effective coalition and govern for the betterment of the people who elected them into office.

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Pakistan reopens vital border crossing to NATO

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

Pakistan has reopened the vital Torkham border crossing point to NATO supply trucks destined for Afghanistan. The crossing point was closed late on Sept. 5, the same day the Pakistani military threatened to retaliate against the US for conducting attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda inside Paksitan.

Pakistan's defense minister said the border closure was meant to show the US that it would not tolerate airstrikes and raids inside its borders, Daily Times reported.

It is interesting to note it is also being put out through other government channels that the Khyber Pass was closed due to security reasons. Whenever there is confusion like this within one government, it usually points to a political vice a security issue. Expressed a different way, the security reason was the excuse to close the crossing but the real reason was political.

As Mr. Roggio points out, the US has conducted many raids within Pakistan recently to include assaulting in forces in helicopters. One of the many reasons Musharraf lost power in Pakistan is his close ties with the US. This mistrust from the people also made it difficult for him to fully engage the Taliban/Al Qaeda in the tribal regions.

Pakistani leaders still want the same ties with the US, but they do not want to run the risk of losing the popular support of the people. So where does that leave them? The Pakistani leadership can express their anger at the US and even close a crossing for a day to show their anger. Standing up in this way to the US endures them with their people. At the same time, they can allow US forces to continue to bomb Al Qaeda positions in the tribal regions to keep Al Qaeda on the defensive, and quite possibly get lucky enough to kill a significant leader here and there.

Since a counterinsurgency is not only a military fight, but also a fight for popularity among the people, the Pakistani government puts itself in a win-win situation. Al Qaeda leaders are taken out which increases the popularity of the government and helps in protecting the population. The Pakistani government protests and occassionally closes a vital supply route to show the US it can affect its supplies to Afghanistan. The people are happy because their leadership is showing them they are not puppets to the US and will stand up for their sovereignty.

I believe Pakistani and US leaders have finally come up with a winning strategy in dealing with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan will continue to use US high technology to strike deep targets within its borders keeping the Al Qaeda leadership on the run. In turn, Al Qaeda and the Taliban respond to such attacks with suicide bombs against the populous which results in the populous moving against these groups which makes it easier for Pakistan to use its military internally to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Since the key terrain in a counterinsurgency is the populous, winning over this terrain is key to stopping an insurgency. This fact is something Musharraf failed to accomplish but the PPP leadership in Pakistan is focusing on. Only when the population turns against the insurgent can military forces be used effectively to hunt key leaders which run the insurgency. What we are seeing now in Pakistan are shaping operations to win over the key terrain, the population. This ballet between shaping operations and decisive operations will continue until the population is fully won over, at which time we will see more direct military actions. This fact was also the reason why a temporary halt in direct military operations was called for in Pakistan during the month of Ramadan.

Make no doubt about it. Pakistani leaders want to ensure the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban are conducted on their terms, meaning defeating these insurgencies while maintaining power of the government. This fine balancing act is what Musharraf was unable to maintain. We will see if the PPP can maintain the balancing act better.

As winter approaches in this region, the insurgents will again go to ground and begin planning operations for next spring. Come next spring, we will see more Coalition troops in Afghanistan who will be able to move out and confront the Taliban. We will see the Pakistani military begin to take the fight more directly to the insurgents in the FATA/NWFP regions. We will see the population in Pakistan come closer and closer in line with the elected government and begin to rise up against the insurgents who will move their operations to the Afganistani side of the border just in time for Coalition forces to finish them off. A year or two from now, Pakistan will have a greatly diminished insurgent problem. As such, Afghanistan will also benefit.

The birthplace of the Salafist insurgency will be no more or will move to another location to begin to rebuild its base of support. Iraq will be a relatively free democratic government supportive of US interests in the region as will Pakistan and Afghanistan. Iran will probably be closer and closer to acquiring a nuclear warhead or will have finally acquired one. But it will be surrounded by a NATO member, Turkey, to the north and US friendly regimes to its west, Iraq, and east, Afghanistan which will have large armies to prevent it from using it fanaticism to "wipe" Israel off the map. Pakistan and India will become partners freeing up their forces to focus on the common enemy in the region, Iran. Who knows, Israel and Syria may have established diplomatic ties by then, further isolating Iran.

With all these US friendly regimes on its borders, intelligence coming out of Iran will be easier as their borders are infiltrated by tribal boundaries which overlap territorial boundaries. Good intelligence is the key factor which prevent wars and if wars become inevitable, its what makes wars winnable.

As I described above what is undoubtedly the long term strategic goal of the US above, it is not by any means as rosy as it appears. Three countries are also vying for control of this region, namely Iran, Russia, and China. Russia and China are two superpowers we know how to deal with. They have established countries and are players in the world economy. They too suffer from insurgencies. They will be easy to bring along as gains in this region will undoubtedly make these countries economically more secure. Iran is the country not willing to be a member of the greater world economy and is the promoter of a global insurgency. It is, in reality, the last unassailable base for radical islamic forces.

It must, in time, be taken to task for support to radical islamists. That is why Iran let us move into and dethrone Saddam. That is why Iran is now supporting an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. It knows its time will come. It; however, can only delay the inevitable.

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Jirga announces sanctions against Taliban supporters

From the Daily Times.

A grand tribal jirga of the Salarzai tribes in Bajaur Agency on Friday announced tougher sanctions against supporters of the Taliban.

The new sanctions include the torching of houses and a fine of Rs 1 million for Salarzai tribesmen providing refuge to the militants, tribal elders told Daily Times.

Elders of all the Salarzai tribes participated in the jirga, which also decided that the Taliban would not be allowed to disrupt peace in the Salarzai tehsil.

Addressing the jirga, Malak Manasab Khan, Malak Bakhtawar Khan, Malak Abdul Nasir and Malak Muhammad Younas said, “Pakistan is our country and we don’t want militancy here. Those involved in creating law and order problems in the tehsil have no right to live here.” [emphasis added]

I have stated several times before, the Taliban/Al Qaeda make enemies wherever they go as most Muslims, like most Christians, just want to live in peace, have the liberty to pursue happiness, and support their families. They made enemies in Al Anbar, Iraq and were booted out of this region with the help of a surge of Marines. Jirga councils have often sprung up in Pakistan only to have their members murdered shortly thereafter, thus intimidating the rest of the population from taking further action against them.

It is hoped the recent meeking between Pakistani and US military leaders aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln have accounted for the stabilizing military presence needed in the FATA/NWFP regions to allow jirgas like the one listed above survive to put their actions into deeds.

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Afghanistan's war has a new battlefield

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

In anticipation of a new era in Pakistani politics under president-in-waiting Asif Ali Zardari, the first volleys have been fired in a renewed joint Pakistan-North Atlantic Treaty Organization venture to fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda beyond Afghanistan's borders.

Barely a week after a meeting on the US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian Ocean between the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, and the chief of the Pakistani Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, to discuss infiltration points for militants going from Pakistan to Afghanistan and to pin-point al-Qaeda training camps, American special forces carried out two attacks inside Pakistan.

However, according to the Daily Times, the Khyber Pass is closed. This strategic route brings about 70% of all supplies needed by Coalition forces in Afganistan.

Pakistan stopped supplies to the United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan through its western Torkham border on Friday, citing security concerns.

A senior official said the measure followed increasing Taliban threats to trucks carrying the supplies.

“All Afghanistan-bound supplies for the International Security Assistance Force have been stopped as the [Torkham] highway is vulnerable,” Khyber Agency Political Agent Tariq Hayat told Daily Times, dismissing the impression that the decision is a reaction to continued United States attacks in Waziristan.

It will be interesting to watch this situation develop. Has Pakistan committed to the war on terror as discussed by Syed Saleem Shahzad or is Pakistan forcing the US to stop cross border attacks by closing the Khyber Pass? I believe we will have to wait and see how this situation unfolds.

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Pakistan: Banks directed to freeze Taliban accounts

From AKI.

Pakistan's central bank has directed the country's commercial banks to freeze the bank accounts of one of the country's most violent militant groups, the Tehrik-e-Taliban.

The State Bank of Pakistan spokesman, Syed Wasimuddin said that directives had been issued for the closure of all the accounts of the Tehrik-e-Taliban from Monday.

Under the move, no amount can be deposited or withdrawn from their accounts.

Pakistan is beginning to fight earnestly against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, not only with its military instrument of national power as noted by its recent battles, but also its economic instrument as noted by the article above. The people used the diplomatic instrument by electing the PPP into office and not voting for Islamist parties. Pakistani papers have began to report on atrocities committed by the Taliban and Al Qaeda employing the informational instrument of national power. One can call all these instruments now as shaping operations for the eventual defeat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Pakistan is the last unassailable base for both of these groups.

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Ex-prime minister Sharif quits Pakistan coalition [And Pakistan bans Taliban]

From Yahoo via AP.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says he is withdrawing his party from Pakistan's ruling coalition.

The move will likely concentrate power in the hands of the main ruling Pakistan People's Party, which wants to maintain the country's close ties with the United States.

But an even more important is this statement.

Pakistan banned the Taliban on Monday, toughening its stance after the Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for deadly suicide bombings against one of Pakistan's most sensitive military installations.

The ban imposed by the fragile governing coalition comes just a week after the ouster of Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally whose departure has prompted concern that the nuclear-armed country is too unstable to beat back extremists.

Ayone caught aiding the Taliban in Pakistan — which will have its bank accounts and assets frozen — faces up to 10 years in prison.

The Interior Ministry announced the ban 24 hours after rejecting a Taliban cease-fire offer in Bajur tribal region, a rumored hiding place for Osama bin Laden, where an army offensive has reportedly killed hundreds in recent weeks.

For a full read, click here.

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Taleban winning war, says Zardari

From the BBC.

Asif Ali Zardari said, in a BBC interview, that the world and Pakistan were losing the war on terror.

"It is an insurgency", he said, "and an ideological war. It is our country and we will defend it.

"The world is losing the war. I think at the moment they (the Taleban) definitely have the upper hand.

"The issue, which is not just a bad case scenario as far as Pakistan is concerned or as Afghanistan is concerned but it is going to be spreading further. The whole world is going to be affected by it."

Mr Zardari's strong remarks came shortly after the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) put his name forward as its presidential nominee.

It is interesting that Zardari would come out publically with a statement like this prior to him being elected by parliament and the provincial assemblies unless he is repeating a new anti-Taliban/Al Qaeda sentiment in Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan not only voted Musharraf out due to his desposition of judges and emergency rule, but also because of his inability to confront insurgents in his country. Not only did the PML-Q suffer at the poles during this last election, but so did the political parties of extremists. Pakistanis, like Iraqis, want to live in peace, have the freedom to provide for their families, and buy items to make their life easier. These truths are why Al Qaeda alienates people where ever they house themselves. Al Qaeda alienated Sunnis in Al Anbar in the middle of 2006. The surge of US forces in the middle of 2007 allowed these Sunnis to confront and overcome Al Qaeda. So too, the election of new leadership in Pakistan is allowing Pakistanis to confront Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Now it is up to the Pakistani military in conjunction with the political leaders to provide the security needed for the citizens of Pakistan to overcome these extremists.

We will see if the political leadership can part with their difference long enough to focus on the true battle before them in Pakistan. The current judges in Pakistan are truly just as unbiased as the deposed judges. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are the real battle which Pakistanis need to focus in on.

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Pakistan rejects truce offer by militants in tribal area

From Dawn.

Pakistan on Sunday rejected a ceasefire offered by Taliban militants in the troubled Bajaur tribal region near the Afghan border as troops killed seven more rebel fighters, officials said. Advisor to Prime Minister on Interior Affairs Rehman Malik immediately rejected the offer. “We will not accept the ceasefire,” Malik told reporters in Islamabad. “We do not believe in their verbal commitments. If they are sincere they should first surrender,” he said, adding that tribal militants have violated their pledges in the past after troops stopped their operations. Pakistani forces moved into Bajaur, a known hub of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, earlier this month. The government says at least 500 militants have been killed since then. Troops fired artillery shells and gunship helicopters pounded suspected militant hideouts almost daily since the operation was mounted on August 6.

Times are changing in Pakistan. Pakistani rulers now understand how insurgents are undermining Pakistan both locally and globally. It is not just Afghanistan's problem. Now it is up to the PPP to keep their coalition strong so they can face the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

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Militants ready for Pakistan's war

From Asia Times Online.

Pakistan has two options. The country can give in to militancy or it can conduct military operations against it, influential advisor to the Interior Ministry, Rahman Malik, said on Thursday. And the government is not going to negotiate with militants, he added.

His remarks follow a suicide bomb attack outside the country's main defense industry complex at Wah, 30 kilometers northwest of the capital Islamabad, which killed as many as 100 people. The Pakistani Taliban immediately claimed responsibility, saying the attack was in response to the military's recent air bombardment of Bajaur Agency, which led to the displacement of 250,000 people.

Rahman's comments amount to a declaration of war on growing Islamic militancy, but it could be that the new civilian Pakistani leadership is steering the "war on terror" in the wrong direction.

Rahman's remarks cannot be dismissed as a knee-jerk reaction in the heat of the moment. Only a few hours before the suicide attack, the chief minister of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Amir Haider Khan Hoti, announced in a policy statement that even if militants shunned violence and laid down their weapons, they would not be pardoned.

Similarly, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, who spoke to US President George W Bush by telephone on Thursday morning, rejected any possibility of dialogue with militants.

The above are very powerful statements from Pakistan's leadership and builds upon partnerships and plans created in the later part of 2007.

The new elected government is expected to be an active partner in the South Asian war theater and its military will help the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The coordination will be similar to that between Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and NATO.

NATO command will identify problem areas and Pakistan will hit those targets. A plan, drawn up between the Americans and Pakistan in 2007, will be implemented under which Peshawar, capital of NWFP, will serve as a base camp from where, under American guidance, the Taliban's bases will be targeted. The Taliban use these bases to launch operations into Afghanistan.

It seems, Pakistan has finally declared war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Previously I noted that the Pakistani people elected businessmen to head the government and an insurgency is bad for business. It appears the new government has finally made the decision to rid itself of its insurgent problem. It will be interesting to watch how this situation develops.

If this article from Syed Saleem Shahzad is true, we should begin to see much more Pakistani Army involvement in the FATA and NWFP region. Recent actions in Pakistan point to the governments change of policy to include recent battles in Peshawar, Swat, and increased Predator strikes in South Waziristan.

2007 was the year in which Al Qaeda lost Iraq. I predicted 2008 will be the year Al Qaeda lost Pakistan. This battle will undoubtedly now go into 2009. A second round of troop increases will finally hit in Afghanistan in 2009 where we are likely to see the situation in Afghanistan greatly change around towards the US's favor. All of this in plenty of time for the vast majority of troops to withdraw from Iraq by 2011. What a difference 2007 was when the US committed to defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq vice withdrawing US forces under pressure. Just a little over a year later, Pakistan is now committed to the War on Terror. It needs to be remembered that Al Qaeda's last unassailable base is in Pakistan which is why this battle in the greater War on Terror will be so important to the overall war.

For a full read, click here.

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Musharraf quits; suspense mounts on his next move

From the Times of India.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's decision to resign on Monday brings to an end a tumultuous nine-year reign that thrived with US backing, but succumbed under impeachment threat following the first free and fair elections he conducted after grabbing power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

During his resignation speech, Musharraf said,

"I don't want anything from anybody. I have no interest. I leave my future in the hands of the nation and people," he said. One main coalition party, that of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whom Musharraf ousted in 1999, has insisted he face trial for treason. Bhutto's party says parliament should decide. Musharraf ended his final address as president with the words: "May God protect Pakistan, may God protect you all. Long live Pakistan forever."

Given the current situation in Pakistan, this was the smartest move for Musharraf. His resignation will take away a major issue within the newly elected government and decrease Al Qaeda's/the Taliban's ability to use Musharraf's continued presence as a political tool.

However, with Musharraf out of the way, it will be seen whether the coalition between PPP and PML-N can survive or whether infighting between these two disparate parties will break out. In addition, it will be interesting to see if these parties can now band together to meet the Al Qaeda/Taliban threat in the FATA region.

For a full read, click here.

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Govt's writ in tribal areas to be ensured: PM Gilani

From Dawn.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Friday said the writ of the government in the tribal areas will be ensured and sought opposition's cooperation in this regard. Speaking in the National Assembly in response to Aftab Ahmed Sherpao's point of order he said: “We are here to protect the life and property of the people...otherwise I have no right to be the prime minister.” He repeated government's resolve to political dialogue with those who were ready to lay down arms and urged the tribesmen to dissociate themselves from the militants. Stating that the militants were exploiting people in tribal areas due to lack of education, economic development and other basic amenities of life, Gilani said the government wanted development of tribal areas and would use force only as the last resort. He said the provincial government entered into agreements with the local people to maintain peace but regretted that girls schools, CDs and barber shops were torched and FC people were targeted. “The writ of the government was challenged which necessitated the action.” On Thursday, he said, some terrorists were nabbed from Rawalpindi and Karachi and added that there was a network of terrorists operating in the country. He said in view of the situation in the tribal areas, members of National Assembly and Senate from FATA were given briefing by the army chief. He also said that such elements were mostly foreigners including Chechens and Uzbeks.


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Missiles kill 10 militants South Waziristan tribal region

From Dawn.

At least 10 militants were reported killed when four missiles fired from Afghanistan hit their hideouts in a Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region, officials said Wednesday. The missiles struck two militant hideouts in Baghar village in the area Tuesday night, a senior security official told AFP. “At least 10 militants were killed in the strikes according to our initial reports,” he said.

What is interesting about this release is the missiles apparently came from Afghanistan. APF via Yahoo is reporting

In Kabul, the US military said the missiles were not fired by either NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) or the US-led coalition.

"This is not true. We have no reports of missiles being fired into Pakistan," US-led coalition spokesman Lieutenant Nathan Perry told AFP.

The US Central Intelligence Agency is also known to operate pilotless drone aircraft armed with missiles, but it was not available for comment.

The initial story from Dawn makes it seem like surface-to-surface missiles. However, the Yahoo story seems to link missiles from a Predator aircraft, which would seem more realistic. We will continue to monitor the story for more details.

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Posters slamming ‘Talibanisation’ appear in Karachi areas

From the Daily Times.

Hundreds of posters condemning the Talibanisation in Karachi were seen on walls across the provincial capital on Saturday, a satellite channel reported.

The posters contained gruesome images of severed heads and mutilated limbs, Dawn News reported, adding that most of the posters were found in North Karachi, New Karachi, North Nazimabad and Gul Baharabad areas of country’s financial hub. The posters put on walls by ‘citizens of Karachi’ did not contain the name of any organisation or group, the channel added, saying that the posters had sparked a debate about the threat of Talibanisation in Karachi.

This is similar to how the resistance started in Al Anbar. Karachi is worth watching for this reason.

For a full read, click here.

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US runs out of patience with Pakistan

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times.

The words came from Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the weekend, threatening to send troops into Pakistani territory in hot pursuit of the Taliban, but Islamabad has no doubts Karzai was reading from a script prepared by the United States.

The message is crystal clear: Pakistan's failure to cooperate at the sub-strategic level leaves the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with no alternative but to mobilize the newly trained Afghan National Army into Pakistan whenever it sees fit.

Mr. Shahzad always has some interesting insights when it comes to Pakistan. This article is no different. For a full read, click here.

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Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online. A very interesting development, if true, in the Khyber Pass region in Pakistan.

KARACHI - The Taliban and their al-Qaeda associates, in what they considered a master stroke, this year started to target the Western alliance's supply lines that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Their focal point was Khyber Agency, in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a key transit point for as much as 70% of the alliance's supplies needed to maintain its battle against the Afghan insurgency.

The spectacular blowing up on March 20 of 40 gas tankers at Torkham - the border crossing in Khyber Agency into Afghanistan's Nangarhar province - sent shock waves through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led (NATO) coalition. So much so that it made a deal for some supplies to transit through Russia, a much more arduous route.

The Torkham success was followed by a number of smaller attacks, and the Taliban's plan appeared to be going better than they could have expected.

Then came this week's incident in which the Taliban seized two members of the World Food Program (WFP) in Khyber Agency, and it became obvious the Taliban had been betrayed, and all for the princely sum of about US$150,000.

Their Khyber dreams are now in tatters.

With friends like this ...

When the Taliban's new tactic emerged, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - which Pakistan's intelligence community says maintains its biggest South Asian presence in Pakistan - sprung into action and staged a coup of its own. But that's getting ahead of the story.

After coming under intense pressure in its traditional strongholds in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, al-Qaeda and the Taliban staged a joint shura (council). This meeting concluded that they had to be especially careful of local political parties and tribals who were all too ready to sell themselves in the US's quest to find Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. The council pointed to the example of Iraq, where the US's policy of courting Sunni tribes to turn against al-Qaeda has had marked success.

At this point, the council hit on the idea of taking the initiative and turning Taliban and al-Qaeda attention on Khyber Agency with the aim of bleeding the Western coalition without having to launch major battles.

This was fine in theory, but there were practical difficulties: the agency is the most unlikely place for "Talibanization". The majority of the population is Brelvi-Sufi Muslim, traditionally opposed to the Taliban's Deobandi and al-Qaeda's Salafi ideology. Being an historic route for armies and traders, the population is politically liberal and pragmatist, not easily swayed by idealist and Utopian ideology such as the Taliban's and al-Qaeda's.

So the Taliban sent in its own fighting corps gathered from other tribal areas, and drafted in Ustad Yasir, a heavyweight Afghan commander, from Afghanistan. These predominantly Pashtun fighters consider the Afridi and Shinwari tribes, the natives of Khyber Agency, as materialist and non-ideological, but all the same a local host was essential for their operation.

The Taliban hit on one of the few Salafis in the area, Haji Namdar, as their point man. Namdar is not a traditional tribal, he's a trader who has worked in Saudi Arabia. His Salafi ideology and the fact that he is a practicing Muslim lent him credibility - and trustworthiness - in the eyes of the Taliban.

Namdar came on board, offering to provide the Taliban with sanctuary for their men, arms and supplies along the main road leading to the border area. He gave these assurances to Taliban leaders in his own home.

The Americans were fully aware of the Taliban's designs on Khyber Agency and invested a lot in the tribes to protect the route. In response, the Taliban threatened tribal chieftains, and launched a suicide attack on a jirga (meeting) convened to discuss eradicating the Taliban from the area. Over 40 tribals were killed.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte also visited Khyber Agency to meet with chiefs, but out of fear for the Taliban only six tribal elders showed up. It appeared the Americans had been outwitted, but their game was not over.

Anyway, with the Taliban's arrangement with Namdar, the stage was set and they steadily stepped up their attacks on convoys heading for Afghanistan, leading to the capture of the two WFP members and their vehicle on Monday.

Things start to go wrong

Unlike in previous Taliban attacks in the area, local paramilitary forces chased the Taliban after this incident. The Taliban retaliated and five soldiers were killed, but then their ammunition ran out and they surrendered the two workers and tried to flee, but they were blocked.

The Taliban called in reinforcements, but so did the paramilitary troops, and a stalemate was reached. Eventually, the Taliban managed to capture a local political agent (representing the central government) and they used him as a hostage to allow their escape.

They retreated to their various safe houses, but to their horror, paramilitary troops were waiting for them and scores were arrested, and their arms caches seized. A number of Taliban did, however, manage to escape once word got out of what was happening.

The only person aware of the safe houses was Namdar, their supposed protector: they had been sold out.

Their worst suspicions were confirmed when Namdar broke his cover and announced on a local radio station that Taliban commanders, including Ustad Yasir, should surrender or face a "massacre", as happened when local tribes turned against Uzbek fighters in South Waziristan in January 2007.

Namdar said that he had the full weight of the security forces behind him, and he did not fear any suicide attack. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately called an emergency shura in North Waziristan to review the situation. Al-Qaeda's investigations revealed that the CIA and Pakistani intelligence had got to Namdar and paid him $150,000 in local currency.

The immediate result is that Taliban operations in Khyber Agency have been cut off. This in itself is a major setback, as the attacks on supply lines had hit a raw NATO nerve.

In the broader context, Namdar's betrayal vividly illustrates the dangers of traitors within the ranks of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The fear is that the various peace deals being signed now between the Islamabad government and selected tribal leaders could lead to a whole new batch of betrayals. The conclusion, therefore, is to go all-out to stop the government's dialogue process with militants and tribals.

Very interesting.... At the same time a peace accord is being finalized with the Taliban. This peace accord, unlike others has a specific timetable for eliminating foreigners.

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Details of the 15-Point Draft Agreement between Taliban Commander Baitullah Mehsud and the Pakistani Government


MEMRI has release the 15-point peace agreement between the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani Government. While peace with the Taliban in Pakistan has not worked in the past, I do find items 8, 9, and 13 interesting in this peace agreement.

8. The Mehsud tribe will expel all foreigners in its areas, and will not allow its region to be used as shelter for militants.

9. Within a month of signing the agreement, the expulsion of foreign elements will begin; if the process is not completed, the tribe will receive a one-month extension.

13. If the Mehsud tribe fails to eliminate suspicions of militant training in the area, the government will have the right to take action as per tribal customs and traditions and the Frontier Crimes Regulation.

The last peace accord did not include a timetable for expulsion of foreign elements. This peace agreement does, and it also spells out what will happen if expulsions fail to happen within two months. Finally, I found it interesting the Pakistani military withdraw from the region was not put under the same timetable.

15. Government troops will begin phased withdrawal from the region of Mehsud tribe after the agreement is signed.

It will be interesting to see if the Pakistani Taliban do not adhere to item 9, if the Pakistani military will adhere to its requirements in item 13. Given the timing of the expected signing, it appears if the Pakistani Taliban do not obey item 9, then would should see the Pakistani Army commit forces into the FATA and NWFP regions around July, at the height of the summer.

The timing will also give the Pakistani military time to regroup and replan a thrust into these regions.

For a full read, click here.

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US, Pakistan say Taliban commander killed

From Dawn.

A Taliban commander blamed for the deadliest attack on U.S. troops has been killed in a shootout with security forces in Pakistan, American and Pakistani officials said. Police killed Ahmad Shah, also known as Mullah Ismail, at a roadblock near Peshawar, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said. Two U.S. security officials confirmed Shah's death in a shootout and said Pakistani authorities had his body. U.S. and Afghan officials have described Shah as the leader of Taliban militants who ambushed a group of U.S. commandos in June 2005 and shot down a Chinook helicopter sent to rescue them. Sixteen American special forces members died on the helicopter. Jehanzeb Khan, a police official in Badhber, six miles south of Peshawar, said local officers responding to an emergency call about a kidnapping on April 10 set up a roadblock to check passing vehicles and opened fire on one car when the driver tried to speed away. Khan said two suspected kidnappers were killed and their victim, an Afghan national, was freed unharmed. He said the dead men carried papers that identified them as Haroon and Noor Agha. He said local police took the bodies to a local morgue and had no more details about the case. But the senior Pakistani intelligence official said the papers were false and further investigation had identified one of them as Shah. He did not identify the second man or provide other details of the incident. Spokesmen for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan and the Pakistan army said they could not confirm Shah's death. Zabiullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, also said he did not know if Shah had been killed.

While I am not keeping a running count. Senior Taliban commanders are dropping like flies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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The Taliban talk the talk

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

With the destruction of a bridge on the Indus Highway in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) region of Darra Adamkhel last weekend, the Taliban have taken another step towards choking the supplies that flood through Pakistan to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission in Afghanistan.

At the same time, the Taliban believe an agreement Russia concluded with NATO at its summit last week will not alleviate the situation. Moscow agreed to the transit of food and non-military cargo and "some types of non-lethal military equipment" across Russia to Afghanistan. NATO is acutely aware that the 70% of its supplies that enter Afghanistan through Pakistan are in jeopardy with the Taliban's new focus on cutting transit routes.

Syed Saleem Shahzad discusses "new" tactics the Taliban may be employing this year.

These developments take place as the Taliban-led battle in Afghanistan is about to enter a new phase; for the first time since their ouster in 2001, the Taliban will scale back their tribal guerrilla warfare and concentrate on tactics used by the legendary Vietnamese commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, an approach that has already proved successful in taming the Pakistani military in the tribal areas.

It is a very interesting read with input from NATO, the Taliban, and humanitarian organizations and how each side sees the battle going in Afghanistan. One thing that General Giap had going for him which the Taliban do not is an overwhelming anti-war movement in America. While the war in Iraq is not popularly supported, this same is not true for Afghanistan. From the American public's perspective, it is ambivalence at best.

General Giap lost every battle and his army suffered immense loses. The Taliban do not have the numbers in their insurgency to properly employ General Giap's techniques which is another reason to suspect their adoption of his tactics. Finally, the precision guided munitions have vastly changed the ability of counterinsurgent forces from General Giap's time. These munitions allow the Americans to surgically strike the Taliban in Pakistan. Albiet, the popularity of the war in Pakistan is akin to Vietnam's popularity in America.

They do; however, have an unassailable base in Pakistan. They also have a point of weakness for the Americans, namely the Khyber Pass that General Giap did not have. It will be interesting to see how the Taliban adopt and adjust General Giap's tactics. Only then will we know if they will ultimately be successful in adopting his tactics.

For a full read, click here.

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The Afghanistan success story

From the American Thinker.

Mr. Ray Robison discusses Afghanistan. He shows quite clearly that Afghanistan is a success story despite media misreporting. I particularly like the facts he reports.

Here are a dozen more facts from the report you are unlikely to see in media reporting:

1. The Afghan Army is growing in size, experience, and leadership capabilities.
2. A recent study found that 90% of the Afghan population trusted the countries military force.
3. More than 4,000 km of roads have been built where only 50 km existed in 2001.
4. The rehabilitation of the North-East power system has advanced and access of the rural households to electricity has been significantly increased.
5. In 2007 alone, ISAF nations completed 1,080 civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) projects.
6. 2,000 schools were built or repaired in the last five years and around 6.4 million children (including 1.5 million girls) are now in schools.
7. Since 2001, both infant and under-five mortality has declined by 26% and 22% respectively.
8. In 2001, 8% of Afghans had access to some form of healthcare. Now more than 80% of the population has access to medical care.
9. The non-opium economy has grown at an average of 12% over the past four years; the number of poppy-free provinces has grown from six in 2006 to 13 in 2007.
10. Afghan public support for international involvement in Afghanistan remains high with around 70% of Afghans supporting the presence of international forces.
11. The majority of Afghans believe their country is going in the right direction and 84% support their current government (as opposed to 4% who would support the Taliban).
12. They also maintain a positive view of reconstruction efforts with 63% saying that reconstruction efforts in their area have been effective since 2002.

For a full read, click here.

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Top Taliban militant arrested, 15 killed in Afghan raids

From Yahoo via AFP.

In Kandahar city, police arrested Taliban commander Abdul Jabar, who served as deputy to captured militant leader Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the interior ministry said.

The ministry described Jabar as the most senior Taliban commander after Dadullah, who was taken into custody in Pakistan in February.

Taliban Commanders are beginning to drop like flies in Afghanistan. On 16 March, Al Qaeda confirmed nine of its leading commanders had died in southern Afghanistan. With the capture of Dadullah and Abdul Jabar, Al Qaeda/the Taliban are losing commanders at a high rate this year.

For a full read, click here.

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New Pakistani lawmakers flashier, more secular

From Lauren Frayer, AP writer, in the Deseret Morning News.

Parliament's parking lot was crowded Wednesday with new Mercedes and Toyota sports utility vehicles festooned with flashy tire rims and hood ornaments. Women in bright colors clogged past in heels and huge designer sunglasses. Bodyguards fanned out.

The Feb. 18 elections saw a hard-line coalition of religious groups lose control of the country's northwest along the Afghan border, and only six Islamists win seats in parliament, compared to 68 in the previous legislature. Many conservative-minded allies of Musharraf also lost their seats.

In the last parliament, about a dozen female lawmakers from the religious alliance wore body-shrouding black veils that concealed everything except their eyes.

But as parliament elected its first female speaker Wednesday, just a single lawmaker — one of 74 women in the 342-seat house — covered her face with a light beige wrap. Others wore traditional flowing gowns, some with bare heads and others with their hair only partially covered by loose scarves.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban cannot be taking this display as a good sign for their future. One thing this article points out is wealthy businessmen, possibly connected to previous regimes, have taken over the country. One thing is for sure, businessmen do not like turmoil and militancy in their own backyard. Its bad for business.

It will be interesting to see how the cards fall. But given the flashy dress of the females in parliament, I do not believe the newly elected business people will side with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Instead, if anything, they will continue with Musharraf's economic reforms he emplaced just before the recent elections to bring industry to the tribal regions. That's good for business.

In addition to these economic reforms, he instilled Regional Coordinating Offiers, District Coordinating Officers, and Tribal Agents in the tribal regions to administer the new economic reforms. That's good for government coffers, which these folks are now administering.

While Musharraf is not well liked by the PPP nor the PML-N, he is a great military leader and may just be kept in position to fight the militancy in the tribal regions. If Al Qaeda/Taliban militancy is reduced in the region, all the better for business. If the coming war devastates certain areas, Musharraf can always be used as a scapegoat. In many respects, the current status quo with Musharraf as president (with reduced powers) and the PPP and PML-N ruling parliament is a marriage made in heaven. Given the coalition between the PPP and PML-N has a majority of PPP members in it who are anti-militant, they may just keep the current situation in effect, as long as it is good for business.

Reinstatement of deposed judges who only look forward and not backward to Musharraf's emergency rule could do a lot to increase popularity of the ruling PPP and PML-N while keeping Musharraf in power, as long as he keeps miltancy in check.

For a full read, click here.

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Dozens of NATO oil tankers destroyed on Pakistani-Afghan border

From Monsters and Critics.

Dozens of tankers carrying oil for NATO forces were destroyed Sunday in a bomb blast targeting a Pakistani border crossing where they awaited clearance to enter Afghanistan, officials said.

'The explosion took place this evening when the oil tankers were parked in the parking lot of Torkham border in the tribal town of Landi Kotal. More than 60 tankers caught fire and 35 of these were completely destroyed,' a government official Bismillah Khan told Deutsche Presse-Agentur DPA.

This attack is part of Al Qaeda's ongoing strategy this year. It seeks to disrupt NATO forces where it hurts most, logistics coming through Pakistan. Al Qaeda suspects supplies through the Khyber Pass is NATO's "Achilles' heel".

The US is paying a hefty price to tribes in the Khyber Pass region to protect these fuel shipments. As such, these tribes have generally been loyal to the US and Pakistani effort in the region.

Three possible scenarios exists here:

1. The tribes have turned against American forces and are no longer protecting fuel shipments. If this situation is the case, Americans will have to seek different (and possibly much more costly and potentially less abundant) methods to bring supplies into Afghanistan. While possible, this situation does not seem probable as fuel shipments through the Khyber Pass have gone unimpeded for many years now.

2. The tribes have not turned against American forces and Al Qaeda infiltrators managed to execute this attack despite tribal protection. If this situation is the case, then Al Qaeda has alienated another set of tribes. In doing so, this attack may show the desperation of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda's recent attack on a tribal jirga which was being held to gather support against Al Qaeda militants in the region is another desperate attack. While this attack is definitely dramatic, US and Pakistani forces will ensure the fuel shipments are better protected in the future.

3. Given that Afghan National Army had to dispatch two fire brigades to the attack, the attack may have occurred on a seam between Pakistani tribal protection and Afghan National Army protection on the Afghani side of the border. If this is the case, this seam will be closed rapidly and we should not see anymore dramatic attacks such as this one. While attacks will persist, they should include tens of tankers being destroyed. Rather we should see one here, one there.

While the loss of 60 plus tankers is definitely significant, it should not significantly disrupt NATO's future missions if NATO can stop further dramatic attacks. This situation is worth watching to see how NATO, Pakistan, and Afghanistan respond to this potential "Achilles' Heel" to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. NATO and Afghanistan must protect the shipments to continue their mission. Pakistan must protect the shipments to continue its aid from America.

This attack may force the new Pakistani government's hand against the militants as they were recently seeking peace talks with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Again, we will have to wait and see reactions on both sides of the border.

For a full read, click here.

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Where is Pakistan Heading?

From Farhana Ali writing for the Counterterrorism Blog.

Last month, I traveled from Islamabad to Peshawar and then headed north to Kashmir. To understand where Pakistan is today and where it is heading, I presented the following briefing to the U.S. Congress.

Today, there is cautious level of enthusiasm and hope in the country, made evident by the February 18th election results which confirmed the popularity of the country's two main centrist parties. It would be an understatement to say that the Pakistani public desires change, and hope that the new civilian government, which convened in Parliament this month, will be able to mitigate the rising threat of suicide attacks. The new government has a great burden and responsibility to counter the threats from the Pakistani Taliban, local emirs / commanders in the northwest province, and the terrorists' claim to Pakistan's settled territories, such as Swat.

Pakistanis have selected and been granted a democracy. They hope the democracy will be able to tame the militants in their country. Most importantly, Farhana Ali points out a changing attitude among Pakistanis.

Based on my recent trip, it seems to me that an issue of great importance revolves around perceptions of the war on terrorism. How is the war perceived by the general public and established elites? With militants' largely striking Pakistanis, as opposed to Westerners in the country, the Pakistani public is now beginning to view the U.S.-led war on terror as "their" war; there is general acceptance that this battle that can only be won in the long-run with support from the local population to root out criminal and terrorists from within their families, neighborhoods, and communities. According to a prominent editor of the Daily Times, winning the war on terrorism in Pakistan will required the support of "the people a a whole." [Emphasis Added]

This is an important shift in thinking from the immediate years following 9/11, when any military operation or counter-terrorism cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan was regarded as being driven by the United States for American strategic interests.

The key change in attitude which is happening in Pakistan is a result of Al Qaeda's heavy handedness in the region. Originally, Pakistani thought the war against terrorism was something which was thrust upon them due to neighboring Afghanistan's support for Al Qaeda. Now with Al Qaeda routed out of Afghanistan (for the most part), Al Qaeda is attempting to turn the tribal areas into a sanctuary. In doing so, they are alienating the population which while extremely religious, are not extremists. People in the region listen to western music and watch western movies. They go to barber shops. Women are actively engaged in the tribal family. Al Qaeda seeks to destroy these freedoms.

As such, people in the region are beginning to realize Al Qaeda and the Taliban are against them. Al Qaeda, once again, is wearing out its welcome by imposing its strict interpretation of Islam. Farhana Ali notes how the US can assist Pakistan in its war on terror. His analysis is interesting indeed and coincides with Musharraf's multi-pronged strategy to deal with militancy in his country.

As stated before, whether or not Musharraf survives as president, he has set into motion the instruments of national power to deal with militancy in his country.

1. He has established a democracy which militants abhor.

2. He has established Regional Coordinating Officers, District Coordinating Officers, and Tribal Agents in the tribal areas to give representation to tribes within the governmental structure.

3. He has established an economic package to enhance the quality of life in the tribal regions. He plans to bring in industry and economic activity into this region.

4. Finally, he is battling militancy within his country using the military.

All these factors, taken together, will isolate and reduce the influence of extremists in the region.

For a full read, click here.

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Missile strike kills 20 in South Waziristan

From Matt Dupres at The Long War Journal.

A devastating explosion destroyed the fortress-like home of a tribal elder in South Waziristan on Sunday, killing up to 20 people and leaving five others injured today, state-run Pakistan Television announced. Foreign fighters and Taliban insurgents are believed to be among the dead. One of three missiles fired from an “unidentified location,” with several local tribesmen believing they were fired from Afghanistan, is responsible for the massive explosion, according to witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press of Pakistan. Other residents reported seeing a drone circling the village shortly before the blasts occurred and added foreigners with links to al Qaeda have lived in the area for some time.

What is really cool is nobody knows how it is happening, just it is happening. This is the fourth strike in less than three months. If you are Pakistani Taliban or Al Qaeda in the FATA or NWFP region, these four attacks have got to make you nervous.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan opposition parties win over independents to tighten grip on parliament

From Dawn.

Parties opposed to President Musharraf have won the allegiance of 11 lawmakers who contested last month's elections as independents, the election commission said Friday. Seven independents have joined Pakistan People’s Party while four have lined up with Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz, according to a breakdown provided by the commission. No lawmakers have joined pro-Musharraf parties. The election commission said 18 parliamentarians will remain independent after Thursday's deadline to sign up for a party. The cutoff also triggered the allocation of additional seats reserved for women and non-Muslims. PPP now has 120 lawmakers in the 342-seat National Assembly, the commission said. The PML-N has 90, while the PML-Q has 51. The election commission said 11 seats in the National Assembly remain vacant. The results in seven constituencies are in litigation, while voting in three places has been delayed by either security concerns or the death of a candidate. One seat reserved for a woman will be decided by drawing lots because two parties - the PML-Q and an alliance of religious parties - have an equal claim on it.

What is significant here is a PPP and PML-Q coalition now has a majority of the seats in a new coalition. Take this together with the Army's backing of Musharraf and the fact that the PML-Q still maintains a majority in the senate, a coalition between the PPP and PML-Q is a likely prospect as is Musharraf's continuation of the Presidency. Musharraf announced the parliament will be convened within 10 days. The next ten days will see interesting political maneuvering in Pakistan.

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Pakistan's generals come down hard

From Asia Times Online.

With Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's allies routed in last month's parliamentary elections and civil society led by lawyers aggressively calling for his dismissal and trial for his actions in the "war on terror" over the past eight years, Musharraf has received a boost with the top military brass putting their weight behind the presidency.

Faced with rising militancy, the military did not have much option but to close ranks and back the US push to tackle Taliban and al-Qaeda militants head-on.

Militants in Pakistan have stepped up their attacks. As a result, General Kayani only has the choice of bringing the battle directly to the militants in Pakistan.

The raids reinforce the conviction that there is no longer any chance for reconciliation, at least for this year, and that the Pakistan armed forces and the militants will be battling it out with full force, whether in the main cities or in the tribal areas along with North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.

Thursday's Corps Commanders' meeting confirms this open battle against the militants as a continuum of the Washington-led "war on terror".

For a full read, click here.

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US to send 100 military trainers to Pakistan

From South East Asia News.

The US military is planning to send around hundred American trainers to work with a Pakistani paramilitary force that is fighting against al Qaeda, the Taliban and other radicals in that country's troubled tribal areas, US military officials have said.

Initially trainers would be restricted to training compounds, but after seeking permission from the Pakistan Government they could accompany Pakistani troops on missions "to the point of contact" with militants, the New York Times quoted a senior US military official, as saying.

The British Government is also mulling sending a similar training mission to Pakistan, officials said. However, a spokesman at the British Embassy here had declined to comment over the matter

Right now about 50 US forces are in Pakistan. This will quadruple their number. The British are also looking at providing training. Training will be focused on the Frontier Corps according to this article. Undoubtedly, training will focus on linking the military muscle to the Frontier Corps ability to gather intelligence. This is being done in Iraq through Joint Security Stations. In addition, General Kayani has requested intelligence personnel.

The US Central Command has sent a four-member intelligence team to Pakistan at the request of Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The Americans are also helping with techniques on sharing satellite imagery and addressing Pakistani requests to buy equipment used to intercept the militants' communications, a senior American officer said.

General Kayani is upgrading his satellite and signal intelligence in the FATA/NWFP regions. He is getting counterinsurgency training for his military and the Frontier Corps. He has also apparently approved more armed Predator overflights as noticed by the two recent attacks on high value targets. All facets needed to conduct a successful counterinsurgency are starting to be applied.

HUMINT on the ground in terms of Frontier Corps.

SIGINT intercepts to localize terrorists, track movements, and establish cell linkages.

IMINT to put faces to other intelligence and allow for precision strikes.

Precision Strike capability in terms of Predators to reduce civilian casualties.

Pakistani Military to conduct raids for high value targets and to assist the Frontier Corps in security of the populous.

Joint Security Stations manned with District Coordinating Officers, Tribal Agents, Frontier Corps, and Pakistani Military.

Loss of tacit support from the populous. This facet is something only Al Qaeda/Taliban can give up. They are losing support due to their indiscriminant killings and attacks on tribal leaders.

As intelligence builds, Al Qaeda/Taliban will run out of hiding places, be killed and captured, or be forced back into the mountainous regions along the Afghanistani border. Either way, 2008 will be a year in which Al Qaeda/Taliban will be pushed out of their unassailable base and brought back to mountainous caves preventing them from executing complex attacks and limit their ability to support terror activities abroad or in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

2008 in Pakistan will look very similar to 2007 in Iraq from Al Qaeda's perspective.

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Doctor: 40 dead in Pakistan attack

From Yahoo via AP.

A suicide bomber blew himself up Sunday at a large meeting called by tribal elders pushing for peace in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 40 people and injuring more than 100, witnesses and officials said....

The five tribes involved wanted to finalize a resolution calling for punishing anyone who sheltered or helped militants, including those of al-Qaida and the Taliban, Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said on state-run Pakistan Television.

This attack is reminiscent of similar attacks against Al Anbar tribes in Iraq and signals a complete break with these tribes and Al Qaeda/Taliban. There is no way reconciliation can now happen between these tribes and Al Qaeda/Taliban.

While the Pakistani people believe the US is responsible for increased violence in their country, much like the Sunnis in Iraq initially did, attacks like these will focus anger at Al Qaeda/Taliban and decrease support for these terrorists.

It is key to understand an insurgency can only exist with tacit support of the populous. Once the populous turns against an insurgency, it is doomed to fail.

Al Qaeda is repeating their failed policies of indiscriminant murder of any entity that opposes it. As such, it not only loses tacit support, but creates significant enemies which turn on the organization.

Musharraf's and General Kayani's multi-pronged strategy takes this fact into account. An insurgency cannot be won by military forces. Military forces can only help secure a population which wants to secure itself.

The fact that five tribes were finalizing a resolution to punish anybody who helped or sheltered militants show the complete lack of support for Al Qaeda/Taliban and the active maneuvering by tribes against Al Qaeda/Taliban.

Just like in Al Anbar, a military presence is needed to provide security for the population. Once they have some semblance of security, locals will begin to point out Al Qaeda/Taliban members in the area. As opposed to creating CLCs from scratch as American's did in Iraq, Pakistan already has frontier corps of locals to provide security. Pakistan should begin vetting these members to ensure they are on the government's side, employ these members at checkpoints to limit Al Qaeda's/Taliban's movements in the region, and establish joint security stations with the Frontier Corps, the Pakistani military, and tribal leaders. Pakistan will find this solution as they have a perfect template in Iraq to go by and have the basic template already installed in Pakistan.

I have noted before that 2008 will be the year of Al Qaeda's/Taliban's destruction in the final unassailable base. Attacks like these will initially terrorize the populous, but eventually cause the populous to act against Al Qaeda/Taliban.

For their part, Pakistanis need to understand this is not a war the US created in Pakistan or Musharraf caused. It is a war against Pakistanis by Al Qaeda/Taliban. Attacks against high profile targets such as the one noted above will sway the population against Al Qaeda/Taliban. Instead of securing their future, they are adding nails to their coffins.

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Pakistan, US raise militant tempo

From Asia Times Online.

With the United States missile attack on an important Taliban compound in Azam Warsak village in the South Waziristan tribal area in the early hours of Thursday, a new phase in the regional "war on terror" - joint Pakistan-North Atlantic Treaty Organization strikes - has begun.

The attack is also a stark reminder to the newly elected Pakistani politicians who recently put their weight firmly in favor of dialogue rather than military operations against militants. This underscores their limited role in the coming months in concentrating on domestic issues while the bigger battles are dealt with by NATO and the Pakistani military command.

For a full read, click here.

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Egyptian al Qaeda leader reported killed in South Waziristan airstrike

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

Pakistani and US intelligence are attempting to sort out the names of the al Qaeda and Taliban operatives killed in yesterday's airstrike in Azam Warzak, South Waziristan. Initial reports indicated Arabs and fighters from Central Asia were killed in the operation. One report indicates an "al Qaeda fugitive from Egypt" was among those killed, sparking rumors that Ayman al Zawahiri was the target of the strike.

South Waziristan Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, who is often characterized as a "pro-government" Taliban leader, appears to be the center of the storm. "Sources said that the militants belonged to the Abu Hamza group whose leader was said to be a follower of local militant commander Maulvi Nazir," Dawn reported. The attack occurred at the home of Shero Wazir, a follower of Nazir "who had rented it out to an Arab."

It will be interesting to see the fallout from this strike as the Pakistani government has just entered into a peace accord with the Wazir tribe in this region. If the Waziri tribe was hiding militants, they violated the peace accord. If however, the Waziri tribal leaders set up these militants and provided intelligence to Pakistan and the US, it may signal a significant break with Al Qaeda.

Either situation puts the Waziri tribe on the defensive, either from the government or Al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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Reviving the North Waziristan Peace Accord May Stabilize Tribal Pakistan

From The Jamestown Foundation.

A day before Pakistan’s crucial February 17 parliamentary elections, the military government renewed the September 2006 North Waziristan peace accord. The move is widely seen as part of a revived effort to restore peace and order to the region under the aegis of the new military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who took over the military leadership after President Musharraf retired from that post. Indeed, the agreement came two days after General Kayani visited the regional military headquarters in Miranshah and handed gallantry awards to soldiers there (Dawn [Karachi], February 18).

However, Afzal Khan notes the difference between this accord and previous accords.

There are two principal differences between the 2006 and the 2008 accords. While the 2006 accord was negotiated with so-called militant Taliban leaders, the 2008 accord involves 286 tribal elders representing all the sub-clans of the Utmanzai Wazirs and Daurs that dominate the region. In a region with nearly 400,000 inhabitants, the Utmanzai Wazirs outnumber the Daurs almost two to one. North Waziristan is spread over 1,817 square miles, with the Daurs living in the fertile Tochi River valley and around the principal towns of Miranshah and Mirali.

The 2008 accord also extends its writ over all North Waziristan, in contrast to the 2006 accord that was mostly limited to Miranshah because that was where the principal militant group leader, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, held sway. Representatives of the militant leader were also present at the jirga (tribal assembly) this time around and endorsed the decision (Dawn, February 18). The inclusion of Mirali—the tribal agency’s second largest town—in the present accord is important because of the activity of foreign militants around there, as seen in the CIA drone attack that killed al-Libbi.

For a full read, click here.

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‘Zardari, Fahim and Rashid on terrorist hit list’

From the Daily Times in Pakistan.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Vice Chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and former federal minister Sheikh Rashid are among the politicians placed on the terrorists’ hit list, according to a letter issued by the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC).

A few interesting items come out of this article.

1. While Bhutto was expressly anti-Taliban, Zardari and Fahim have not been so expressive as Bhutto in this regard. In fact, they are forming a coalition with the PML-N which seeks to establish peace with the Taliban vice war in the tribal regions.

2. The PPP was not seeking an alliance with Musharraf's PML-Q which is currently battling the Pakistani Taliban and has assocations with the US. In addition, there is an effort possibly in the future impeach Musharraf once the coalition gains strength.

Given the above, why would the Taliban/Al Qaeda put these members on a hit list? It must be something being worked under the table with the PML-Q and the PPP.

It will be interesting to see how the PPP reacts to being on the Taliban's hit list. Their reaction may very well determine how Pakistan deals with the Taliban in the future. This situation is worth watching.

For a full read, click here.

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US experts expect Pak Army push in tribal area

From The News International.

Pakistan's military appears to be preparing for a new tribal-area offensive against the Taliban leader blamed for the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, US officials and experts say....

They expect military action to curb Mehsud's rising influence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas possibly in the coming weeks as Pakistan's newly elected civilian leaders try to form a coalition government."

Baitullah has gone and got himself so visible. He wants to kind of consolidate all of the Fata underneath his control, and because he's sticking out so far, the Pakistanis are going to hammer him down," said one US defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It will be interesting to see if this offensive happens. Given the fact the Pakistani government just reached a peace accord with the Wazir and Daur tribes in North Waziristan on 19 February 2008 which many feel will fail like past peace accords.

However, as noted before, this peace accord is unique as it was reached with tribes vice militants in the area. In addition, this peace accord was made with tribes who do not align themselves with the Pakistani Taliban of Baitullah Mehsud. Most notably, it was made with the Wasiri tribe which suffered the lose of nine tribal elders at the hands of Baitullah Mehsud in January 2008 and attempted to bring a lashkar against him.

Making peace with Baitullah's enemies, establishment of Regional and District Coordinating Offices in the tribal areas, and economic incentives to the region are all part of Musharraf's and General Kayani's multi-pronged strategy to fracture the Pakistani Taliban and eventually bring peace to the region.

While we in the US may not like this or past peace accords, it is in effect the same accords we are making with the Sunni tribes in Iraq. Musharraf and General Kayani know they cannot defeat the Pakistani Tribes and Taliban; however, they do believe they can defeat the more extremists elements within these groups. To do this, they must use fractures within the tribes. They have done this with the recent peace accord with the Wasiri and Daur tribes. It appears they will use this peace with these tribes to allow more freedom of action of military forces in Waziristan against Baitullah's Pakistani Taliban.

If we see an offensive happen against Baitullah with participation of the Wazir and Daur tribes, Musharraf and General Kayani may succeed their battle against the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda as a whole in the region.

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France eyes sending troops to Afghan combat zone

From Yahoo via Reuters.

France may send hundreds of ground troops to east Afghanistan where NATO-led forces are fighting al Qaeda-backed insurgents, Le Monde newspaper reported on Tuesday....

France has about 1,900 soldiers under NATO's Afghan command, most of them based in relatively calm Kabul, and Le Monde said the fresh troops would be deployed outside the capital.

"Their destination would be zones of potentially fierce fighting, preferably the eastern region of Afghanistan close to the tribal areas of Pakistan," it said.

You got to like Sarkozy.

For a full read, click here.

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Qaeda's Zawahri vows revenge over Libi killing: Web

From Yahoo via Reuters.

Al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri vowed revenge for the killing of a top group commander in a suspected U.S. attack in Pakistan, speaking in a video posted on the Internet on Wednesday.

"No chief of ours had died of a natural death, nor has our blood been spilled without a response," Zawahri said in the video posted on an Islamist Web site, referring to the killing of Abu Laith al-Libi.

If one wonders whether or not Libi was a high level Al Qaeda operative, this statement should answer the question.

For a full read, click here.

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The Taliban have Kabul in their sights

From Asia Times Online.

As Pakistani politicians scramble to form a coalition government following last week's parliamentary elections, there has been a surge in violence in the Swat Valley and in other parts of North-West Frontier Province, and on Monday a senior army officer was assassinated.

Syed Saleem Shahzad discusses the Taliban's future plans.

Asia Times Online investigations show that the Taliban's three-pronged plan for their spring offensive comprises cutting off NATO's supply lines running from Pakistan to Afghanistan, recruiting fresh volunteers and, most importantly, the creation of a strategic corridor running from Pakistan all the way to the capital Kabul.

And he provides some insight to NATO's and Pakistan's counterstrategy.

American special ground troops have escalated their activities in Kunar and Nooristan provinces and a US base in Kunar, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency, is now fully operational. Once the operations are in full swing, Pakistan will provide assistance through its air base in Peshawar for attacks on militant bases in the agencies.

"The operation has to start in the month of March as the Taliban have to launch their operation in April," a Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online.

Musharraf has instilled a multi-pronged strategy to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban whether or not he maintains his position as President.

For its part, as Al Qaeda/Taliban continue to attack inside Pakistan, they continue to lose popular support, which will eventually be their downfall.

In addition, tribes which are benefitting from allowing supplies through the Khyber Pass will have to be dealt with by Al Qaeda/Taliban.

Either way, this spring should bring an interesting time in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For a full read, click here.

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Suicide bomber kills senior Pakistani general in Rawalpindi

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

The Taliban have struck again in the military garrison city of Rawalpindi. The latest suicide attack in the sister city of Islamabad claimed the life of Lieutenant General Mushtaq Ahmed Baig, the Surgeon General of Army Medical Corps. Mushtaq is the senior-most officer killed since the al Qaeda attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.

Seven others were killed in the attack and 20 were wounded after a Taliban suicide bomber rammed into Mushtaq's staff car. The attack occurred close to the military hospital and a post office. Several vehicles and shops were damaged in the strike.

Today's suicide bombing comes one day after the re-arrest of senior Taliban leader Mullah Obaidullah Akhund in Lahore. Obaidullah was in Lahore raising money to fund Taliban operations in Afghanistan.

For a great roll up of recent bombings in Pakistan, click here.

As Al Qaeda and the Taliban ramp up attacks in Pakistan, it will be interesting to see the elected coalitions that form to counter these attacks. It will shape the way of Pakistan's future.

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Pakistan: The Light at The End of The Tunnel

From Amir Taheri.

A year ago it was out of the question. A month ago, it looked like a bad bargain for all concerned. A week ago, it loomed on the horizon like a prelude, rather than a substitute, for civil war.

And, yet, last Monday, Pakistanis turned up in millions to confound doomsayers by voting in what now looks like the country's first free and fair general election with results that few would contest.

Mr Taheri goes on to state how the election showed lack of support for Islamists.

The Unified Assembly for Action (MMA), a coalition of Islamists that won almost 11 per cent of the votes in the last general election five years ago saw its share drop to around three per cent. It lost control of the only one of Pakistan's four provinces that it governed. Almost all its principal leaders lost their seats. In the provincial assembly of Sindh, the MMA won no seats.

Worse still, the Islamists' defeat in the Northwest frontier Province came at the hands of the avowedly secularist Awami League Party (ANP) which preaches a form of socialism.

He also notes that the party of the military, PML-Q, Musharraf's party lost.

The message of this election is clear: the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis reject both military rule and its political twin of Islamism. The twins started dominating Pakistani politics in the 1970s when General Zia ul-Haq overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a military coup. Unable to build a popular political base, the general played the Islamist card, using religion as an ideological prop for a corrupt and brutal regime.

What does all this mean?

The formation of a people-based government has always been a basic condition for winning the war against terror in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

That condition can now be fulfilled. In political terms, this means a strategic turning of the tide against the terrorists

This election is a nail in the coffin for Al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan - Operation in Swat relaunched

From the Daily Times.

The security forces have restarted the military operation in Matta tehsil of Swat, Channel-5 reported on Friday. According to the channel, the measure followed a remote-controlled bomb explosion in Matta. Security forces shelled suspected positions of militants from Kanju, the channel said, and the operation had not ended until midnight. daily times monitor

More to follow as this situation develops.

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Pakistan revives the North Waziristan Accord

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

Almost one and a half years after the Pakistani government signed the North Waziristan Accord with the Taliban and the agreement’s subsequent collapse last summer, a new agreement has been inked. The political administration of North Waziristan has agreed to terms with the two major tribes. The Taliban were represented at the negotiations.

Another insightful article from Mr. Roggio.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban commanders killed in Afghanistan

From Yahoo via AP.

Afghan and NATO-led troops killed two regional Taliban commanders in southern Afghanistan, and an explosion in the same province claimed the life of a British soldier, officials said Thursday.

"As a result of this successful attack (on the commanders), the Taliban's networks have suffered another severe setback," said Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

The joint NATO-Afghan forces killed commander Mullah Abdul Matin and his associate, Mullah Karim Agha, in the southern province of Helmand on Monday, the alliance said in a statement.

I know I will be sleeping a little easier tonight knowing two more Taliban Commanders are with Allah.

For a full read, click here.

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Anti-terror pact reached with NW tribesmen

From Daily Times in Pakistan.

The Wazir and Daur tribes on Monday reached an “agreement” with the North Waziristan (NW) political administration against “extremism” and “terrorism”, according to governor’s office.“

The political administration of North Waziristan and all sub-tribes and clans of Wazir and Daur tribes have agreed to jointly struggle against extremism and terrorism throughout the agency,” a press release from Governor’s House said.“

The agreement was signed in Miranshah (headquarters of North Waziristan),” it said.

The Daily Times notes the significance of this agreement.

Monday’s agreement was the first the government had signed with local tribes instead of militant groups.

An agreement with the Wasir tribe is significant in that it recently organized a lashkar against the Meshud tribe after the killing of nine of its tribal leaders. Also of significance is the Wasir tribe is led by Maulvi Nazir who made a name for himself by leading attacks against Uzbeks in April 2007, effectively clearing them out of the Wana region. Both of these tribes have influence in both North and South Waziristan. Expect these tribes to find positions in the newly established Regional Coordinating Officers (RCOs) and District Coordinating Officers (DCOs).

The lines are being drawn in the FATA region as part of Musharraf's multi-pronged strategy to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

For a full read, click here.

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Devastating suicide attack rocks Kandahar

From Matt Dupee writing for The Long War Journal.

A Taliban suicide bomber detonated himself among a densely packed crowd in southern Afghanistan during a dog fighting match, killing at least 55 people and injuring 80 others. Local Kandahar health officials have counted 70 dead bodies, and claim families took away other dead bodies from the scene for a traditional quick burial making a final death toll unknown, according to an NPR report.

The intended target of the attack appears to be Abdul Hakim Jan, an anti-Taliban militia leader, who was in attendance at the event. Jan was recently appointed as the leader of the auxiliary police force in the contested Arghandab district of Kandahar province. He opposed the Taliban in the early 1990s when he served as Kandahar’s provincial police chief. Witnesses say the bomber came within 15 feet of Jan before detonating. Investigators have so far failed to find Jan’s remains but have presumed him to be dead.

Mr. Dupee does an excellent job of detailing high profile attacks in Afghanistan. It shows how the Taliban are focusing their efforts on local representatives. However, just like in Iraq, this will eventually alienate its own citizens as they see leaders representative of their beliefs killed.

Without respect to whether dog fighting is legal or moral in this country, it is obviously part of the culture in this region. Where Al Qaeda/Taliban constantly alienates themselves is in attempting to impose its will and beliefs on citizens. Individuals who do not agree with Al Qaeda/Taliban are blasted to death by suicide bombs.

It is hard to state you are obeying Muslim tradition when you kill innocent people at a dog fight, at a mosque, or at a memorial service. While we in this country may be adverse to dog fighting, it is not worth blowing up 70+ people. For these reasons alone, Al Qaeda/Taliban will continue to alienate themselves among Afghanistanis.

It must be remembered that the Taliban in Afghanistan fell in 2001 not due to overwhelming US forces in the country attacking the government but to Special Forces uniting already anti-govenment forces against the Taliban.

The Taliban/Al Qaeda was never liked by the vast majority of Afghanistanis. Indiscriminant killings currently on the increase in Afghanistan will further alienate an already alienated Afghanistani population which is why suicide bombers were for so long no employed in Afghanistan.

The fact that they are now being employed shows how desparate the situation has become for the Taliban.

For a full read, click here.

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U.S.–Pakistan Relations: Assassination, Instability, and the Future of U.S. Policy

From The Heritage Foundation.

Conventional wisdom holds that in this part of the world stability and democracy are mutually exclusive. But in the case of Pakistan, it is increasingly clear that holding fair and transparent elections provides the best chance for stabilizing the country. Ultimately, a popularly elected civilian government working hand-in-hand with a strong military focused on its primary mission of battling extremists will provide stability and security for the Pakistani people.

Lisa Curtis delivers an excellent lecture on the way forward in Pakistan.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan’s Taliban Battle Military for Frontier Arms Bazaar and Strategic Tunnel

From the Jamestown Foundation. An excellent piece on the significance of the Khyber Pass, the Kohat tunnel, and Peshawar.

Darra Adam Khel is a familiar name to all those who have any acquaintance with Pakistan's lawless tribal frontier region of seven tribal districts, or agencies. The town takes its name from the Adam Khel clan of the Pashtun Afridi tribe native to this region. Situated about 20 miles to the south of Peshawar, capital of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and halfway to the garrison city of Kohat, Darra Adam Khel has long been considered a hub of criminals, car thefts, fake academic degrees and counterfeit foreign currencies. More importantly, this small town has a notorious reputation as South Asia’s largest illegal arms and ammunitions market (Dawn [Karachi], March 27, 2003). It is entirely run by local tribesmen without any state control or supervision. The extraordinarily skillful gunsmiths of Darra Adam Khel can make replicas of anything from small arms to AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns.

For a full read, click here.

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Senior Taliban figure caught in Pakistan

From Yahoo via AP.

Pakistani security forces critically wounded a top figure in the Taliban militia fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, among six militants captured after a firefight near the border Monday, the army said.

Mansoor Dadullah, brother of the Taliban's slain military commander Mullah Dadullah, and the five others were challenged by security forces as they crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan. They refused to stop and opened fire, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

For a full read, click here.

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The Impact of Pashtun Tribal Differences on the Pakistani Taliban

From the Jamestown Foundation.

Though members of militant Islamic groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and other jihadis have almost the same anti-United States and pro-al-Qaeda worldview, they are not especially disciplined when it comes to organizational matters. Difficulty in this area explains the existence of so many extremist factions operating under different leaders and commanders who sometimes express conflicting opinions on domestic and international issues.

President Musharraf is using these tribal loyalties to his government's advantage. As noted in a previous blog, the Pakistani government is establishing below the Governor, Regional Coordinating Officers (RCOs), District Coordinating Officers (DCOs), and making the offices of the political agents in the NWFP and FATA regions active and functional to accomplish three strategic objectives:

To strengthen the NWFP’s own financial resource base, improve its trade potential by improving its infrastructure and create necessary incentives to attract investment for industrialisation.

What was not mentioned in this Dawn article is the fact that this RCOs, DCOs, and political agents would most likely fall along tribal lines and historical leadership lineages. Bringing tribal leaders into the government may very well allow Musharraf to win over tribal alliances in the FATA and NWFP regions. As noted in the Jamestown Foundation article,

These groups also have regional and local political agendas and are, therefore, under pressure from their tribes and communities not to become involved in wider conflicts that could transform their areas into battlegrounds and contribute to their suffering.

It is precisely this split which Musharraf is trying to harnass to bring the tribal regions under control. Through the establishment of RCOs, DCOs and political agents, Musharraf is attempting to give the tribes a voice within the government and to use the governmental structure to resolve disputes. If two political agents (of say different tribes) have a dispute, then the DCO or RCO could mitigate the issue and provide a win-win situation for both tribes.

In this region tribal differences were solved by warfare which has resulted in this region never prospering, thus becoming ripe for Al Qaeda recruitment. By establishing RCOs, DCOs, and Political Agents, Musharraf is attempting to resolve differences within the governmental structure, lessen disputes, and bring economic investment to this region.

As we see the Musharraf government pursuing peace accords with tribes in the FATA and NWFP region, one must understand Musharraf is doing no different than US forces have done with Sunni tribes in Iraq.

One cannot win an insurgency by killing it. One can only win an insurgency by bringing less violent elements of the insurgency back into the government. Musharraf's plan supplies the structure to do this very thing. Musharraf is hoping the differing regional and local political agendas of the tribes will provide the impetus for them to join vice fight the government.

Once the tribes stop supporting Al Qaeda, it will be easier for Musharraf to deal with this extremist group.

For a full read of the Jamestown Foundation article, click here.

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Poll: Pakistanis turn against bin Laden

From Yahoo via the AP.

Sympathy for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has dropped sharply in Pakistan amid a wave of deadly violence, according to the results of a recent opinion poll.

The survey, conducted last month for the U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow organization, also identified the party of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as the country's most popular ahead of Feb. 18 elections, and said most Pakistanis want President Pervez Musharraf to quit.

Later, the article notes,

According to the poll results only 24 percent of Pakistanis approved of bin Laden when the survey was conducted last month, compared with 46 percent during a similar survey in August.

Backing for al-Qaida, whose senior leaders are believed to be hiding along the Pakistani-Afghan border, fell to 18 percent from 33 percent.

Support for the Taliban, whose Pakistani offshoots have seized control of much of the lawless border area and have been engaged in a growing war against security forces, dropped by half to 19 percent from 38 percent, the results said.

Just like in Iraq, when Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) begins its indiscriminate killings, popularity falls. In the case of Pakistan, it is falling sharply and rapidly. Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) are losing popular support in their last unassailable base, Pakistan. Unlike Iraq, where Al Qaeda had an infidel enemy (the US) to focus its insurgent military and propaganda efforts on, Al Qaeda can only focus its efforts in Pakistan on Pakistanis. As such, Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) are losing popular support rapidly.

The elections will show just how sharply popular support for Al Qaeda has dropped. The MMA, the political arm of insurgents, is expected to lose significantly in the election. While Musharraf's support is also suffering, a coalition between the PPP and his PML-Q party may very well happen to form a majority in the government leaving Musharraf to fight Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) while the PPP focuses on the economic front.

For a full read, click here.

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The General’s New Mission

From Newsweek.

Pakistan's latest Army chief holds the key to next week's vote, and to the future of his unstable nation....

He's been tasked with one of the toughest, most urgent military assignments in the world: reforming Pakistan's armed forces and rescuing the country itself from possible collapse.

Later, the article states,

At this point they want basically the same thing: a stable, democratic Pakistan that can defend itself against the jihadists. That goal remains elusive. Kayani has warned publicly that no counterinsurgency campaign can succeed without the public's full support. And yet less than half of Pakistan's people favor using Army forces against Al Qaeda and its allies. The last thing Kayani needs now is a bunch of camouflage-painted American Rambos running around Waziristan. Still, it won't be easy watching him go it alone.

This article gives a rough insight into Pakistani politics, its military, and the upcoming elections, but misses the main point. Namely, Musharraf has set up a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the insurgents in his country that not only involves a military solution, but also an economic and political aspect.

On the political front, Musharraf is ensuring free and fair elections which will undoubtedly result in his party losing the majority to the PPP and the PML-N. In addition, he appointed an Army Chief who is non-partisan, has instructed his military to stay out of politics, and will ensure the fairness of the elections. Finally, he has instituted restructuring of the government in the FATA and NWFP regions.

On the economic front, Musharraf has implemented capital markets and engaged in international trade and treaties which will move his country, and its people, out of poverty reducing enticement to join such extremist groups as Al Qaeda.

It is not about General Kayani and the military as this article implies. He is definitely one of the major players in Pakistan's future and will undoubtedly ensure Pakistan remains unified should the situation worsen. However, Musharraf has laid the ground work on the other instruments of national power to bring his country into the future as a democratic muslim nation, whether or not he personally survives the upcoming elections or its aftermath.

For a full read, click here.

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Media Spins Success in Afghanistan as Failure

From the American Thinker.

American and Coalition forces have taken the initiative in Afghanistan, and have the Taliban on the run. Yet major American media outlets, to the extent they cover fighting in Afghanistan, are portraying the Taliban as "resurgent". Going on the offense and succeeding at it always increases violence. But is being spun onto bad news?

The increase in fighting in Afghanistan is not a sign of a stronger Taliban, but rather a more desperate one. Despite all the media reports to the contrary it is we who are surging in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan's Interior Minister orders negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

The Pakistani government and the Taliban appear close to signing the next round of "peace" accords to end the fighting in the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. Pakistan's Interior Minister stated a deal can be made with Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, while Baitullah announces a cease-fire in northwestern Pakistan.

For a full read, click here.

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Swat fighting more deadly than Iraqi insurgency

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

More than two months after the Pakistani military launched an operation to clear the district of Swat in the Northwest Frontier Province, pockets of Taliban forces and safe havens remain. The Pakistani military and police have taken casualties far greater the combined US and Iraqi forces have fighting the insurgency in Iraq, according to an Interior Ministry report obtained by the Daily Times.

For a full read, click here.

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Chad's Future Taliban enters capital while the West is asleep

From Walid Phares at Counterterrorism Blog.

As Americans are debating who among their candidates for the primaries can best confront the Jihadists or at least preempt their offensives worldwide, future Jihadi forces have in one day invaded an African country (under European protection), a key location for the Darfur forthcoming Peace missions. In less than 12 hours the so-called armed opposition of Chad, crossed the entire country from its Eastern frontiers with Islamist-ruled Sudan to the capital N'Djamena across from Northern Nigeria. The latest reports mention fierce battles around the Presidential Palace and back and forth inside the city. But at this stage the geo-political consequences are crucial for the next stages locally, regionally and internationally. The bottom line is that in one day, what could become the future Taliban of Chad have scored a strategic victory not only against the Government of the country (which was supposed to back up the UN plans to save Darfur in Sudan) but also against the efforts by the African Union and European Union to contain the Sudanese regime and stop the Genocide. Today's offensive, regardless of the next developments, has already changed the geopolitics of Africa. Outmaneuvering the West and Africans, those regimes and forces standing behind the "opposition" have shown that they are restless in their campaign against human rights and self determination on the continent. But even more importantly the events of today shows how unprepared are Europeans and Americans in front of Jihadi regimes which seem weak on the surface but highly able to surprise and crumble Western efforts of containment.

Mr. Phares' commentary is very instructive. He also links the players behind this action. While the "coup" was ongoing, Jibrin Issa, who will probably be the new official minister of Chad, was seated in al Jazeera's studios in Qatar.

Issa played the script very well until a point where reality surfaced abruptly. At first, as I was listening to his impeccable Arabic, I was wondering why did he have this Arabian Peninsula accent and utter those mechanical sentences. It was strange to hear an African "minister" of a future regime in Chad speaking excellent Arabic, but I gave it a pass. Until, at the end of his interview he made a troubling mistake. Out of the blue he started to thank the "brave commander of the Islamic Republic of Sudan" General Omar al Bashir (the head of the regime responsible for the Genocide in Darfur) for his help to the "movement" and started to praise his "highness the servant of the two shrines," (that is the Saudi Monarch) for his support (obviously to the movement). Suddenly, and despite the frustration of the al jazeera anchor that the game may have been exposed,

I concur with Mr. Phares. Both the United States and France were asleep at the wheel and did not foresee this dramatic development. The UN for its part is continuously asleep at the wheel, so I do not fault them.

Al Qaeda has expertly opened up a new front in the Long War. And without the Chadian buffer to keep them contained, Sudan can now threaten Ethiopia's back door, resulting in Ethiopia possibly pulling forces out of Somalia to protect itself now that it is completely surrounded by violent regimes or regimes, like Kenya, who are involved in internal turmoil.

Like the Chinese entering the Korean war, it is a whole new ballgame as the geo-political situation in Northern Africa has now dramatically changed. Mr. Pharis' last statement is telling.

Let's admit it, the Jihadi strategists are having a blast. One more country has fallen on the way to Constantinople.

Let's hope Chadian forces can overcome this threat.

For a full read, click here.

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Afghanistan: Ex-Taliban Commander Lectures Mullah Omar About Koran

From RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

From his hilltop headquarters in the center of the southern Afghan town of Musa Qala, former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Salaam has a sweeping view over dusty flatlands in northern Helmand Province. But Musa Qala is like a ghost town now compared to the bustling center it had been under Taliban control last year.

Salaam continues with,

"My brothers," Salaam says, "these were the first five verses of the Koran that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at Mount Hira: 'Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created all, has created man from a blood clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who has taught by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.'”

Salaam says those verses led him to question who the Taliban really are after seeing them "taking pens from our children and taking away schools and education."

These facts are why Al Qaeda and its ilk will fail. Salaam is a powerful ally for the Coalition.

For a full read, click here.

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Operations in South Waziristan halted for peace talks

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

Just 10 days after the Pakistani military launched an offensive to clear the Taliban from South Waziristan, the fighting has been put on hold to conduct peace talks. Meanwhile, the Taliban is conducting internal negotiations with Mullah Nazir for all pro-Uzbek Taliban leaders to return to South Waziristan.

The military announced the South Waziristan cease-fire on Feb. 2. "Negotiations are underway at the time," Geo TV reported based on an official statement from a Pakistani Army colonel. "If the talks bear no fruits, then the Pakistan Army is fully geared up to undertake full-fledged military operations in Sararogha and Ladha."

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan's New Breed of Ruthless Leaders

From Susanne Koelbl writing for Spiegel.

A new generation of Taliban fighters has taken over in Pakistan's tribal regions near the Afghan border. Their ruthless leader is believed to have been involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

When an underling disobeys him, Baitullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, fines the offender 1,000 rupees, or about €11, sends him home with needle and thread, and orders him to have someone sew his own shroud within 24 hours. The offender is usually dead by the time the 24 hours are up, executed by the extremist leader's militias.

These are the type of people we are fighting against in the Long War. It is also this new breed of ruthless leaders that President Musharraf now understands he must defeat. Ms. Koelbl continues to show the difference between the older generation of Taliban leaders and the newer generation.

The old mujaheddin who fought in the war against the Soviets and the Taliban who were driven from Afghanistan in 2001, however, still respected the tribal hierarchies and the Pashtuns' rudimentary code of honor. Although it includes blood feuds, it also stringently requires that the innocent -- especially women and children -- be protected. Nowadays, on the other hand, anything done in the name of jihad seems permissible. The cooperative arrangement between al-Qaida and the Taliban has broken ranks with the ultraconservative but ordered world of the tribes living in the regions along the Afghan border. This has led to new tensions, so much so that most traditional tribal leaders are now refusing to cooperate with bin Laden's terrorist network. But members of the young neo-Taliban have used every means available to protect their foreign "guests." In the ensuing power struggle, the new Taliban commanders have already killed more than 250 tribal leaders. (emphasis added)

Not only are the younger Taliban leaders attacking innocent women and children, they are also killing their own who disagree with them. These brutal tactics are causing the Taliban to fracture. President Musharraf is using this fracture to his advantage.

In the meantime, the upstart leader has even challenged the authority of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has criticized the high civilian death toll during recent suicide bombings.

This fracture among the Taliban will continue to grow as will the fracture with older Taliban and Al Qaeda continue to become wider. As Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban turn their sights towards Pakistan, they have activated the 600,000 strong Pakistani Army against them. Where once their rear areas were safe for them to train their soldiers to fight the 100,000 strong Coalition forces in Afghanistan, now they must defend themsleves on several fronts against a much larger combined force.

In addition, the brutal tactics identified above will not help Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban with their support among people in the region. The recent missile strike which killed the top tier Al Qaeda leader, al-Libi, is testament to this fact. While undoubtedly coming from an armed UAV (read US Predator), strikes such as these inside of Pakistan are also typically backed up by intelligence on the ground and other intelligence sources. The International Herald Tribune notes that this missile strike occurred just 1.3 miles from a Pakistani military compound. However, it incorrectly interprets the significance of this fact by noting this shows how entrenched Islamic militants are in Pakistan. The article later also notes the lack of reaction from Pakistanis and the government itself but does not understand its significance.

President Musharraf early on attempted to make peace with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal region only to have peace agreements broken immediately. In response, Musharraf emplaced a pro-western Chief of Army Staff (General Kayani), made General Tariq Majid (who led the attack on the Red Mosque) the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and moved several regular Army Brigades down from Kashmir in late 2007. All of these moves are indicative that Musharraf intends to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. His recent meetings with high level US officials to assist his forces is another indicator of his intentions. Finally, his recent speech against Al Qaeda and the Taliban lays down his overall strategy in the upcoming fight.

If one examines Musharraf's recent speech, it would be noted that he spoke of multi-pronged strategy involving the military to focus on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the political process of transitioning to a democracy (not only in the settled regions of Pakistan, but also in the tribal areas), and socio-economic aspect to enhance commerce within his country to lift the masses out of poverty and dispair.

Al Qaeda's and the Taliban's current fracture and more brutal tactics only makes his job easier. Musharraf has expertly emplaced all instruments of national power for the upcoming military action he now understands he must take against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He has illicited the advantage which US technology and support will give his forces to assist is this battle. While he states unauthorized foreign intervention in Pakistan is unauthorized, he does not speak of authorized foreign intervention. This distinction is clearly evident in the recent lack of governmental reaction to the killing of al-Libi noted above.

However, above all, Musharraf must wait until after 18 February Pakistani elections when the second prong of his strategy is implemented. His country cannot be in all out war or the elctions will not be seen as free and fair effectively giving Al Qaeda and the Taliban a political victory. While Musharraf's PML-Q party will undoubtedly lose seats, the MMA (the consolidated party of the insurgents) will lose significantly more.

To ensure the success of his multi-prong strategy, Musharraf implemented the final leg of his country's national power, namely informational. He successfully accomplished this information operation when he embarked on an eight day visit to several EU nations where he laid out his military, political, and economic strategy to world leaders.

Musharraf and his generals continue for the time being to contain Al Qaeda and the Taliban. When advances are made by the Pakistan Army, it is only to contain these elements so that Pakistani's can freely make their decision as to Pakistan's future on 18 February. After the elections, Musharraf and his generals will have shaped the battlefield and international community properly to begin decisive operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban while at the same time giving freedom and democracy to his country.

The end result of Musharraf's actions will be significantly reduced fighting this spring in Afghanistan, Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda routed from Pakistan, an orderly transition to democracy, followed by signficant economic growth. It is no wonder that when asked by a reporter about possible covert operations by Americans in the region, Musharraf responds,

"The United States seems to believe that it can do something that our army cannot," he says. "This assessment is completely wrong."

It is notable that Ms. Koelbl breaks Musharraf's quote up and implies Musharraf is stating the United States' assessment is wrong. When looking at Musharraf's strategy to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban and his behind the scenes dealings with the US forces for technological support with this effort, it seems more correct that Musharraf is stating Ms. Koelbl's "assessment in completely wrong."

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Captured militant planned to hit Pakistan elections: officials

From Yahoo via AFP.

Pakistani officials said Wednesday that a key Al-Qaeda-linked militant captured in a shootout in the southern city of Karachi planned to launch terrorist attacks on rallies for next month's elections....

In Karachi, officials said Qasim Toori, a wanted member of the Sunni Muslim extremist group Jundullah (Army of God), was wounded and arrested after a raid on his hideout in the port city late Tuesday.

Al Qaeda's ultimate goal is to stop democratic elections in Pakistan on 18 February 2008. If free and fair democratice elections take place, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are doomed.

For a full read, click here.

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Terror Leader Killed in Missile Strike?

From ABC News.

Pakistani intelligence sources say they believe a "high-value" al Qaeda target was killed in a missile strike yesterday in the country's tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said there was no indication that the target was Osama bin Laden or his deputy Ayman al Zawahri, but one senior official told ABCNews.com the strike was aimed at one particular figure.

"We don't know whether we got him yet, we are sorting through it," the official said, indicating the intended target was a top leader of the terror group.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan: Shari'a Courts Spark Fears Of 'Taliban-Like State' On Afghan Border

From Radio Free Europe.

Fearing the creation of a Taliban-like state near the Afghan border, Pakistani rights activists are concerned over plans to set up a hard-line Islamist judicial system in Pashtun-populated parts of the country's Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistani Taliban grows bolder, taking fight to doorstep of frontier city

From Yahoo via McClatchy.

Islamic militants known as the Pakistani Taliban have extended their reach across all seven of Pakistan's frontier tribal regions and have infiltrated Peshawar , the provincial capital, heightening U.S. concerns that an insurrection may be broadening in the nuclear-armed nation.

US officials believe the Pakistani Taliban are not just coordinating their actions, but are formenting an insurrection in Pakistan with Al Qaeda coordinating the actions.

"These are not groups of Pashtun brigands popping potshots at army patrols," he said. "This looks like there is clearly coordination going on. This looks like an effort that appears to have been planned."

This insurrection has a two-fold purpose. First, Al Qaeda is trying to disrupt supply lines from Pakistan to US forces in Afghanistan.

The increased fighting also has U.S. officials worried about possible threats to supply lines to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan , which stretch from Karachi through the tribal territories, the State Department official said.

Secondly, Al Qaeda is attempting to relieve pressure on the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan.

"The militants are trying to put pressure on the Pakistani army so the military campaign in Waziristan is either called off or the attention is diverted," Yusufzai said.

However, these are just tactical objectives, but the strategic goal must not be forgotten. The overall goal of the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda is to instill fear in the population to gain their tacit support which will weaken Musharraf and the Army, so they can eventually take over Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal. They have accomplished instilling fear which gives them tacit support as noted by a professor at the Peshawar University.

"I almost don't go anywhere now, just to my office and my home," he said.

A few weeks ago, Taliban sympathizers briefly set up a booth at the school to collect money. The group is illegal, but police didn't stop them.

"People are afraid to confront them," said Ijaz Khan , another scholar at the university. (emphasis added)

And they have weakened Musharraf and the Army, putting both on the defensive.

Momentum by the Pakistani Taliban has thrown President Pervez Musharraf on the defensive over the army's ability to fight radicalization of his country....

But senior army officers are clearly uneasy about fighting fellow Pakistanis.

"These people are not our enemies. . . . These people have been misguided," army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said in an interview.

It remains to be seen whether the fighting will intensify enough to where Musharraf postpones elections. If he does, the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda will have won another strategic victory.

However, intense fighting in across the tribal agencies has also limited the Taliban's and Al Qaeda's freedom of action. February 18th is the key date. Pakistani Army forces are conducting containing operations in the tribal agencies until the election is over in the hope to stem the insurrection that is taking place in Pakistan. Once the elections are over, I suspect the Pakistani Army will attack the Mehsud tribe and Al Qaeda wholesale.

The questions become can Musharraf and General Kayani keep their country together for another three weeks by stemming the rise of this Taliban insurrection so they can hold successful, free, and fair elections?

If elections are held, the next question becomes can Musharraf thwart attempts to impeach him and keep the political structure in tact so he and the newly elected government can focus on the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

So far, it seems that Musharraf can keep the country together and has played his card well minus postponement of the elections for such a long time. Unfortunately, only time will tell whether on not he postponed them too long.

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Missile strike in North Waziristan kills 12

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

A suspected Taliban hideout in North Waziristan was hit with missiles as peace negotiations in North Waziristan are underway between the Taliban and the provincial government. Twelve have been reported killed in the strike, according to AFP.

The attack occurred in the town of Khushali Tari Khel near Mir Ali on the Pakistan-Afghan frontier. "The identities of the dead are not ascertained but we had reports that suspected them of being linked to the Taliban," an intelligence official told AFP. Locals claimed "tribesmen" were visiting the home of a "local elder."

For a full read, click here.

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NATO force chief vows more pressure on Taliban in 2008

From Yahoo/AFP.

NATO troops will more aggressively pursue Taliban militants in 2008 with Afghan forces playing a larger role in fighting the insurgents, the head of the force in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeill said.

General McNeill acknowledged that NATO was not doing its part. Speaking of a shortfall of 7,500 NATO troops, General McNeill stated,

The shortfall could be met if "you look at all members to do a little more", he added, noting that some nations had already stepped up such as France which will this year send military trainers to the southern province of Uruzgan.

Asked about the increase in Taliban activity in 2007, McNeill stated,

The increase in fighting was a reaction to having more troops on the ground and that soldiers moved out of their bases more to "pursue the enemy," he said.

"It was a superb year. The insurgents won nothing on the battlefield."

ISAF records showed that 70 percent of Taliban attacks, such as suicide and roadside bombings, took place in only 10 percent of the country, said the general, who first served in Afghanistan in 2002.

I find this quote fascinating. If one listens to the MSM, one gets the feel that we are barely holding on in Afghanistan. But according to the commander on the ground, one of the reasons for the increase in violence is ANA and Coalition forces moved out of bases and pursued the enemy.

While head counts are not the only metric in war. Everytime the Taliban battled with ANA or Coalition forces, deaths in the range of 25-50 were noted. In a few instances, the Taliban suffered upwards of 150-200 killed in action. Numbers like these are difficult to overcome for an insurgent.

Speaking of ANA forces,

"More important, what you will see different this year is the increased Afghan National Security Force capacity.

"So we expect to be not out front as we were last year, we expect the Afghans to be out front and we are going to support their operations," he said.

Another of ISAF's missions is to help rebuild the Afghan army, which was destroyed in the civil war of the early 1990s. It is projected to grow to number 70,000 soldiers by the end of this year.

ANA forces will begin taking the lead this year.

So what we have for 2008 in Afghanistan is an extra 3,200 Marines which will arrive in April, just in time for the spring. Increased ANA capacity with the ANA taking the lead in battles this year. Al Qaeda and the Taliban divided in purpose and in their main effort, Afghanistan or Pakistan. The Pakistani military battling Al Qaeda and the Taliban in force in the tribal regions. Al Qaeda in Iraq generally recognized as defeated.

While 2008 will be much more violent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this increase in violence should not be taken as an increase in Al Qaeda's or the Taliban's capacity. Instead, this increase in violence should be taken for what it really is, Pakistani, ANA, and Coaltion forces moving into safehavens and taking the fight to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistan: Fifty militants arrested in north-west valley

From AKI.

Fifty militants, including a local commander, were arrested during a military operation in the restive Swat valley in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Sunday.

Officials and local people said that a pro-Taliban commander, identified as Sher Mohammad Khan, and about 30 of the detained people were hardcore militants loyal to radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah and were wanted by the authorities.

While returning Swat to safety, the government is not well regarded or liked in this area.

Jirga members held both the government and militants backed by Maulana Fazlullah responsible for the situation in the valley.

They demanded an immediate halt to the military operation and the withdrawal of troops. They asked the militants to leave the area and avoid imposing a war on the peace-loving people of Swat.

The jirga said that the economy, tourism industry, education and peace and harmony of Swat had been ruined by the clashes between security forces and militants.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban wield the ax ahead of new battle

From Asia Times Online.

With the Taliban's spring offensive just months away, the Afghan front has been quiet as Taliban and al-Qaeda militants have been heavily engaged in fighting security forces in Pakistan's tribal regions.

But now Taliban leader Mullah Omar has put his foot down and reset the goals for the Taliban: their primary task is the struggle in Afghanistan, not against the Pakistan state.

Mullah Omar has sacked his own appointed leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, the main architect of the fight against Pakistani security forces, and urged all Taliban commanders to turn their venom against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, highly placed contacts in the Taliban told Asia Times Online. Mullah Omar then appointed Moulvi Faqir Mohammed (a commander from Bajaur Agency) but he refused the job. In the past few days, the Pakistani Taliban have held several meetings but have not yet appointed a replacement to Mehsud.

It appears that Mullah Omar wants the focus of Taliban operations to be in Afghanistan. Mehsud wants the focus of operations to be against Pakistan. In doing so, Mehsud has brought the wrath of the Pakistani military against the Taliban in Pakistan. During tribal jirgas, Mehsud is being offered as a martyr.

"While talking to government representatives in the jirga [peace council] we could clearly discern a grudge against Baitullah Mehsud and the Mehsud tribes by the security forces. And there are signs that the government is obsessed with a military operation to make Baitullah Mehsud a martyr," a leading member of the peace jirga in South Waziristan, Maulana Hisamuddin, commented to Voice of America.

But where does Al Qaeda stand? They want the fight in Pakistan.

This major development occurred at a time when Pakistan was reaching out with an olive branch to the Pakistani Taliban. Main commanders, including Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the main Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan, Sirajuddin Haqqani, signed peace agreements. But al-Qaeda elements, including Tahir Yuldashev, chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, undermined this initiative.

So we have Mullah Omar, who originally gave safehaven to Al Qaeda now turning against Al Qaeda and their Pakistani Taliban, Mehsud. We have discussed the split among the Taliban and Al Qaeda earlier in this blog. However, can the Taliban focus on both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Possibly.

Certainly, the Taliban will be keen to advance from these positions, but they will also concentrate on destroying NATO's supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The Taliban launched their first attack in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province on Monday, destroying a convoy of oil tankers destined for NATO's Kandahar air field.

Attacking supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan is smart from a Taliban perspective. But this supply line is not critical, it is just economical. This supply line can also be diverted. Supplies can flow in from other countries or airfields.

More importantly, Mullah Omar wants the Taliban to retake Afghanistan. Meshud and Al Qaeda want to concentrate on Afghanistan. If Al Qaeda gets its way, expect Mullah Omar to be suddenly killed by Pakistani forces. If Mullah Omar gets his way, expect Meshud to become a martyr in Pakistan. Regardless, the above is proof of a significant split among Al Qaeda and the Taliban and internally within the Taliban.

This split is something both Musharraf and the U.S. can use against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistani tanks, choppers kill dozens of militants: army

From Yahoo/AFP.

Pakistani troops backed by tanks and gunships cleared militant hideouts near the Afghan border amid fierce fighting that left eight troops and 40 rebels dead, the army said Thursday.

Thirty militants have also been arrested during clashes over the past 24 hours in the South Waziristan tribal district, the hideout of an Islamist commander accused of masterminding the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Pakistani forces have launched a major operation against extremist positions following days of gunbattles in the barren region, which the United States has identified as a key lair of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

For a full read, click here.

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Baitullah Mehsud's close aide arrested

From South East Asia News.

The Karachi Police have arrested a close associate of militant commander Baitullah Mehsud, Younas.

Police have shifted Younas to an unknown place for interrogation, Daily Times quoted sources, as saying.

Weapons and explosive material were also recovered from Younas.Younas is a 'right-hand' man of Baitullah Mehsud and brother of his spokesperson, Wahab Mehsud.

Baitullah Mehsud is head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a newly formed coalition of Islamic militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and believed to be linked to al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban a bigger problem than al Qaeda, Musharraf says

From South Asia News visa Monsters and Critics.

The Afghan-based fundamentalist Islamic group Taliban is a bigger problem for the stability of Pakistan than the al Qaeda terrorist network, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Tuesday in Paris.

'When the army battles with al Qaeda now, the number of (al Qaeda)casualties are in the single digits, three or four,' Musharraf said, suggesting that Osama bin Laden's network had been decimated. 'But the Taliban is a more serious issue.'

This change of position in Musharraf is significant in that he has steadfastly been opposed to foreign miscreants (Al Qaeda), but has consistently taken a less obtrusive tone against the Taliban.

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Admiral William Fallon meets General Kayani in Rawalpindi

From Dawn.

Head of the U.S. military's Central Command Admiral William Fallon met with Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani in Rawalpindi Tuesday, officials said.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this meeting.

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Mehsud warns of strong retaliation

From The Nation.

The Nation has an interesting article. It starts with Baitullah Mehsud.

Baitullah Mehsud, the militant commander, spearheading insurgency in South Waziristan Agency, has asked the armed forces to immediately stop, what he said, targeting the civilian population, or else be ready to face dire consequences.

While his forces have overran two forts, which were subsequently taken back by Pakistani forces, he warns of "dire consequences" if attacks continue. What specifically is he talking about?

Baitullah Mehsud also accused security forces of being involved in disgracing the tribesmen....

Security forces have intensified their operation against militants in the area after the various forts and government installations were attacked by the warring forces. During the military action, a large number of houses have been razed to ground.

Meanwhile, due to closure of roads, there is acute shortage of wheat flour, fuel and other items of daily use in the area.

Now, we see it. Since General Kayani's assignment as Chief of Staff of the Army, he has used more forceful methods against lawlessness in the FATA and NWFP regions. But key words here are important.

1. Disgracing tribesmen: This region has always been ruled by tribes and has never been conquered, neither by Alexander the Great nor Great Britain. Instead of conquering these people, both leaders decided in the end to pay tribal leaders to keep the peace. Are General Kayani's tactics bringing shame on tribal leaders due to razing of homes and the inability of tribal leaders to ensure the supply of flour, fuel, and other daily use items? But it appears that General Kayani is allowing the tribal leaders to save face.

Pakistan army has ruled out possibility of grand operation against Mehsud tribe in Waziristan.

Talking to a private TV channel, DG ISPR Major-General Athar Abbas also ruled out the deployment of tanks in the area. He said that Pakistan forces take action whenever attack is carried out on the forces or against the civilians.

So we have Mehsud accusing the government of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan accusing Mehsud. In steps the US military.

“Nonetheless, the level of cooperation, particularly in recent months, between the Pakistani military, Afghan military, and ourselves, has resulted in significant success,” he pointed out.

US Admiral Fallon said the Pakistan military’s response to the instabilities that resulted in the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) incident and these tragic bombings had caused the government to realise that they “have a significant threat.”

Admiral Fallon cites the increased cooperation between the US military and Pakistan in recent months. Could this be what Mehsud is talking about? If the Pakistani Army on the ground is being aided by American intelligence, then there is the possibility of General Kayani's forces of quelling the tribes in the region, something both Alexander the Great and Great Britain were never able to do. Commenting on this fact, Admiral Fallon states,

“And they have now moved their regular military forces into parts of this area (FATA) in an attempt to put pressure on the insurgents,” the top military official said.

“I think the insurgents now are faced with the challenge of not only having us in the west on the Afghan side, working with the afghan security forces, but now they have got the Pakistan military squeezing them on the right,” Admiral Fallon said.

Iraq was ungovernable unless a evil force such as Saddam was around to quell the divergent cultures. This premise was proved wrong. The Soviets got mired in Afghanistan as has several other occupiers. However, America is not mired in Afghanistan. Alexander the Great nor Great Britain could subdue the tribal leaders in the FATA region. Can America?

The lesson here is America will not try to subdue the tribal leaders. This distinction is where all others have failed and America will succeed. We do not invade countries to occupy them. We invade countries to ensure our security by promoting democracry. Once established, we pull out when ASKED. This fact is the key.

Democracy is a great thing. All people want it. Most do not know how to get it. In ancient times, conquests were the norm. However, the US does not wish to counquer these regions in Pakistan. We just ask that they do not allow terrorist a safe haven to train in their areas whic will lead to an eventual attack on America.

For Mehsud to come out and say Pakistan has disgraced tribal leaders, is another way of saying he is getting pressure from tribal leaders to quit the fight. Tribal leaders can deal with a capitalistic America. It is after all, what they are all about.

For a full read, click here.

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Terrorism the key challenge, Afghan leader tells parliament

From Yahoo/AFP.

President Hamid Karzai opened the third working year of Afghanistan's post-Taliban parliament saying terrorism was the nation's biggest challenge and must be fought inside and outside the country.... (emphasis added)

He again called for extremism to be fought at its "original sources," a likely reference to neighbouring Pakistan where Afghan and Western officials say Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked rebels have bases.

"Without a broad-based strategy, the fight on terrorism can't be successful and meet its goals," Karzai said.

"Targeting its original sources, drying up its finance sources and stopping the expansion of extremism must be included as the key points in the fight on terrorism."

Karzai continued with,

Another main challenge was opium production, the president also told the legislators....

"Drugs cultivation, production and smuggling, the existence of international drugs mafia and the terrorism leaders' and drugs mafia connection are another major challenge of our country," he said.

President Karzai is an outstanding leader who is not afraid to tell it like it is. Terrorism and opium is keeping Afghanistan from being a robust, vibrant, free democracy.

For a full read, click here.

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Director of Pak Intelligence Bureau shot dead

From newKerala.

A director of the Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, Nisar Khan, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in Seerikh village adjoining Mohmand tribal district in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Khan was killed near his home when he was returning home after offering early morning prayers at a local mosque, the police said.

The attackers came in a white car, shot Nisar Khan and abducted the prayer leader of the mosque who was walking with him," said Momin Khan, a local police official.

The victim was rushed to a hospital in Peshawar, the capital of NWFP, but he was declared brought dead by doctors, the Dawn quoted the police official, as saying.

The fleeing assailants released the prayer leader on the way, he added.

Who would do such a thing?

1. Pakistani Government. Why? The director is supporting Al Qaeda and the Taliban against the government. Why not just remove the director? Because he is a highly placed political official. While not know if this is the Nisar Khan being talked about, a Nisar Khan was cited on Nawaz Sharif’s first aborted attempt to return home in September 2007. In addition, a Nisar Khan is noted to be a leader in the party of PML-N, Sharif's party. Musharraf and the PML-Q would be at the top of the list if it was expected for the PML-N to get a large percentage of the votes on the 18 Februrary elections. However, this projection does not seem to be the case. In addition, if this Nisar Khan was so anti-Musharraf, why did not Musharraf sack him with judges during emergency rule?

2. Al Qaeda/Taliban. Why? Nisar Khan was no longer supporting Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban and was in fact beginning to provide intelligence on their locations in FATA and NWFP.

3. PML-N. Why? He must have fallen from favor in this party. What did he do to fall from favor in this party? Possibly turn agains the PML-N, which has supported Al Qaeda/Taliban in the past and has sided with Musharraf?

A more detailed analysis of Nisar Khan and the circumstances surrounding his death need to be conducted to see who killed him and why.

More to follow as this story develops.

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Pakistani army retakes South Waziristan fort

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal.

Just one day after the military spokesman denied the fort in Saklatoi fell to the Taliban, Pakistani special forces launched an operation to retake the outpost. Meanwhile heavy fighting was reported in the Chagmalai region, where the Frontier Corps maintains an outpost.

Pakistani commandos of the Special Services Group launched a helicopter assault on the Saklatoi Fort on Saturday. A platoon of Special Services Group commandos backed by a platoon of Frontier Corps paramilitaries stormed the compound after a heavy battle, the Pakistani military said.

For a full read, click here.

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Foreign observers to monitor elections in Pakistan

From the Pakistan Times National News Desk.

Foreign observers will have the freedom to thoroughly monitor the general elections process in the country, Caretaker Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Syed Afzal Haider said.

He expressed these views during a call on with Canadian ambassador David Collins here Friday. He said that the upcoming elections would be held in free, fair and transparent manner while all the political parties have been provided with level playing field.

Syed Afzal said a large number of foreign observers will arrive in the country so that no body can raise his or her eyebrows over the transparency of the whole process.

“Election results will be announced at the relevant polling station and transparent ballot boxes would be used,” he added.

He said caretaker government has released all the political detainees and the remaining few would be released soon.

Expressing Canadian government’s satisfaction over the caretaker government’s steps, the ambassador said they hoped the elections in Pakistan would be held in peaceful and pleasant atmosphere.

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Frontier Insurgency Spills Into Peshawar

From The New York Times.

For centuries, fighting and lawlessness have been part of the fabric of this frontier city. But in the past year, Pakistan’s war with Islamic militants has spilled right into its alleys and bazaars, its forts and armories, killing policemen and soldiers and scaring its famously tough citizens.

There is a sense of siege here, as the Islamic insurgency pours out of the adjacent tribal region into this city, one of Pakistan’s largest, and its surrounding districts

The story continues with,

At the core of the troubles here, many say, lie demands by the United States that the Pakistani military, generously financed by Washington, join in its campaign against terrorism, which means killing fellow Pakistanis in the tribal areas. Even if those Pakistanis are extremists, the people here say, they do not like a policy of killing fellow tribesmen, and fellow countrymen, particularly on behalf of the United States.

The people of Pakistan can blame the United States all they want. It is not the United States that is radicalizing the youth in Pakistan in madrasas, blowing up DVD shops, making girls wear burqas, and killing their policemen.

I believe that fact is something this article misses as it finds people who solely blame the United States and not the people who are actually doing the evil deeds.

In 2002, the MMA received 11% of the vote. The MMA is no longer a consolidated organization due to its loss of popular support. It is not expected to get half this percentage of votes in the 18 February elections.

One thing the article notes in passing is,

At one such school, in Shah Dhand Baba, a town on the northern fringes of Peshawar, the principal, Gul Bahar Begum, said she received a handwritten letter in the mail last February demanding that the students cover up or the school would be blown up.

Ms. Begum, who wears lipstick and lightly covers her hair with a scarf, and whose office is filled with sports trophies won by her students, said that about 70 percent of the girls now wore burqas when they stepped outside the school.

"It is the Islamic way to cover," she said of her instructions to the girls to cover up. "So the militants were right, but the way they imposed their decision was not."

The Sunnis in Iraq too thought initially it was the United States fault until they came under full control of Al Qaeda. Just as Al Qaeda lost popular support in Iraq due to their indiscriminate killing of innocent Muslims, so too is Al Qaeda losing support in Pakistan. It is only a matter of time before the people of Pakistan quit blaming others for letting evil doers into their cities.

Al Qaeda has no choice but to stop free and fair elections in Pakistan; otherwise it will have lost Pakistan. The elections of 18 February will end up being the deciding factor for many Pakistanis.

These Pakistanis still have one vital lesson to learn in route to becoming a democracy. A democracy is the land of the free, because of the brave.

Blaming others is only passing the buck. It is not being brave.

As Al Qaeda steps up its attacks a couple of weeks prior to the polls, we will see if Pakistanis are brave enough to have freedom.

For a full read, click here.

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The Long War Journal Roll Up of Incidents in Pakistan

From Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal regarding the claim that Pakistan killed 90 militants.

The fighting in South Waziristan continues for the third straight day. The military estimated over 90 Taliban were killed after ambushing a convoy and assaulting a fort. Both engagements were initiated by the Taliban.

What Mr. Roggio disputes is not the 90 militants killed but the unbalanced nature of the deaths.

While the incidents are more than common in Pakistan's tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, the unbalanced casualties are not. The Pakistani military claimed only four wounded while claiming to inflict 90 kills on the Pakistani forces. Pakistani troops, particularly the paramilitary Frontier Corps stationed in the region, have suffered high casualties during engagements with the Taliban.

As always, Mr. Roggio expresses the facts for others to ponder.

For a full read, click here.

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Musharraf vows to defeat conspirators

From The News International in Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday blamed internal and external elements for conspiring to destabilise the country but said the nation has the resilience to defeat all such elements.

“We can surmount all difficulties, [but] we need to have confidence in ourselves and faith in our abilities and we have to defeat such elements,” President Musharraf said at PTV’s weekly interactive programme ‘Aiwan-e-Sadr Sey’ on the “Challenges confronting Pakistan and the way forward.”

While it is important for Musharraf to rally Pakistanis for the upcoming battle, other statements made by Musharraf during this program are much more important when examining the way ahead in Pakistan.

Musharraf said the country currently faced three major challenges; terrorism and extremism; transition to democracy and need to sustain socio-economic growth. Musharraf said a few “misguided and lunatics” were attempting to force their way of life on the majority, but vowed that such elements will not succeed. “There is no place for al-Qaeda in Pakistan ... we cannot allow al-Qaeda to operate and commit acts of terrorism here or elsewhere.”

The president said “neither can we allow Taliban here or any support to them. No militants can be allowed here.” President Musharraf underlined the need for adopting a multi-pronged strategy; military, political and socio-economic to bring the country’s tribal areas at par with the rest of the country. He said there was a need to check growing extremism in the society, continue the ban on militant organisations and use of mosques for such purposes.

Musharraf strongly rejected reports of any foreign intervention in Pakistan in the garb of operation against the militants. “This is not possible ... till the time Pakistan Army is there,” he added. He said all security duties inside the country will be undertaken by the Pakistan Army. No one from outside can come into Pakistan.”

Musharraf rejected reports of any intervention in the country from across the border. He said if Pakistan needed any help in logistics or intelligence, it can ask for it. “But no one can forcefully enter Pakistan,” he added. (emphasis added)

What can be taken from Musharraf's words?

First, Musharraf discusses three major challenges:

1. Terrorism and extremism

2. Transition to democracy

3. The need to sustain socio-economic growth

He then identifies the enemy: Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In the past, Musharraf has made several references Al Qaeda and foreign "miscreants" in the past, but has never singled out the Taliban specifically. I believe this speech is the first time Musharraf stated the Taliban were not welcomed in Pakistan, nor should be supported by Pakistanis. He further states no militants can be allow in Pakistan. This change in attitude is significant and shows a fundamental shift in his policy with regards to the Taliban.

He later refers to a multi-pronged strategy to deal with with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They are:

1. Military

2. Political

3. Socio-economic

This multi-pronged strategy, in relation to Musharraf's major challenges above, define how he is going to deal with these challenges.

1. His military focus is on Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

2. His political focus is on the transition to democracy.

3. His socio-economic focus is focused on granting the FATA and NWFP regions the same rights as the rest of Pakistanis while continuing to transition the economy to a capitalistic based system.

What ground work has Musharraf laid to ensure success of his multi-pronged strategy.

1. He used emergency rule to move tens of thousand regular Army forces from Kashmir to the FATA and NWFP regions. In addition, he stepped down as Army Chief to ensure if he is impeached as president after the 18 February elections, the Army will still be solidly grounded in Pakistan under General Kayani and his impeachment would not be reflective on the Army.

2. He has banked his country's future on the 18 February elections. He has made relative peace with both the PPP and to a lesser extent the PML-N. In addition, it appears that a coalition may form between Musharraf's PML-Q and the PPP after the 18 February elections. This coalition would allow the PPP to focus on the economy and enacting laws granting freedoms to FATA and NWFP tribes on par with the settled areas of Pakistan. Musharraf can then focus on the military strategy. The transition to democracy will have succeeded on 18 February and will be unstoppable from that point on.

3. Major pipeline deals between India and Iran are already in the works. Construction at the port of Gwadar is underway. Global trade will move through Pakistan through the Gwadar port upon completion. Trade with India has increased further removing possible Kashmiri uprisings. Musharraf's transition from a national economy to a global one will result in GDP increases over the years, especially if he can keep pro-western support for his country. Basing his economy on capitalistic ideals may even make his impending war with Al Qaeda and the Taliban profitable to everyday Pakistanis.

Lastly, and possible most significantly, Musharraf has not discounted external support from the US military in Pakistan. He consistently talks of not accepting unilateral involvement of US forces. However, he clearly details that if he needs assistance, he will ask for it. Musharraf specifies that US assistance will clearly be subordinate to the Pakistani military needs and not the otherway around when dealing within Pakistan.

Musharraf has clearly implemented all elements of national power (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic) prior to the 18 February elections. for eventual success against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. By specifically naming the Taliban in his message, he has ensured the MMA will not reunite to form a opposition government. Without this opposition, the coalition with the PPP and PML-Q will use its elements of national power to rout out Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the FATA and NWFP regions.

The cards are dealt. The battlelines are being drawn. One side is trying to prevent 18 February elections. The other side is waiting on the results of the 18 February elections. Like so many purple fingers foretold of Al Qaeda in Iraq's eventual defeat, so too will successful elections in Pakistan lead to the defeat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. Just how important are these elections can be seen in Musharraf's speech.

“it is my guarantee that there will be a free, fair, transparent and peaceful election on Feb 18 ... I can say it with full sincerity.” He said the bugs, if any, in the electioneering had been removed and added that rangers and the army would be deployed to maintain the law and order, while the Election Commission would conduct the entire process.

I am wagering on Musharraf and expecting 18 February which will be celebrated in Pakistan for some time to come. It will mark the first step towards a capitalistic democracy. It will mark the beginning of the end for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It will be the birth of Pakistan on the world stage and not just in the world papers due to its harboring of Islamic extremists.

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