Monday, August 20, 2012
A reluctant Pakistani army is poised to crack down in the North Waziristan agency, the most jihad-poisoned corner of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on Pakistan’s northwestern frontier. The army’s chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will be thanking the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the so-called Pakistani Taliban, which – with its ill-judged fidayeen attack last week on the Pakistani air force’s vital Kamra base – has given General Kayani a pretext to move into North Waziristan in “the national interest” rather than in submission to Washington’s arm-twisting, which has now become irresistible. But there remain serious concerns about further two-timing by Rawalpindi. The US wants the crackdown to focus on the Haqqani faction, which fights US forces in Afghanistan from its bases around the town of Miranshah. But will General Kayani confront the Haqqanis, his most valuable proxies in Afghanistan? Or will the Pakistani army merely feint against Miranshah, while reserving its firepower for Mir Ali, the nearby town that is headquarters for the TTP?General Kayani’s likely foray into North Waziristan will impact directly on the security situation in Afghanistan, and thence on Indian interests. We must understand, therefore, the game that the Pakistani army will play. Decoding the intentions of that opaque institution is seldom easy, but General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi has done us a favour by briefing a columnist, the well-respected Cyril Almeida, whose recent column in Karachi’s Dawn newspaper bears all the telltale signs of a recent briefing from army decision makers. The column makes three points. Firstly, it argues, using boilerplate Pakistan army logic, that America is losing in Afghanistan because of the “dysfunctionality” with which it is prosecuting the war, not because of the safe refuges in North Waziristan from which the Haqqani faction operates. This is pretty much standard Pakistani logic — it’s not our fault, it’s yours! But the next point is an interesting one. The Pakistan army, says Mr Almeida, insists that the Haqqanis are not really dangerous; they only seem that way because of their high-profile attacks. In fact, the Haqqanis have no national ambitions in Afghanistan; they seek only to control the three border provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika. The US can easily wall them off inside these provinces, keeping the rest of Afghanistan a No Haqqani Zone. With the Haqqanis ensconced in Khost, Paktia and Paktika, the Pakistan army argues disingenuously that the US could deter attacks by the group on Kabul by threatening retaliation. Rawalpindi’s apparent objective is a tacit trade-off, in which the Haqqanis are handed over three Afghan provinces in exchange for a promise to leave Kabul alone. For GHQ, this is a win-win: it would be spared the embarrassment of having a soon-to-be-designated terrorist organisation operating from North Waziristan. More importantly, Haqqani control of those crucial border provinces would shift Pakistani leverage well into Afghanistan. That is exactly what strategic depth implies. Mr Almeida’s third point is that the Pakistani army has never doubted that it would have to take on the jehadis in North Waziristan, especially pan-Islamic groups like the TTP that view Islamabad and the army as hurdles on the road to an ummah. GHQ knows that it must seal off the neighbouring tribal agencies and bring in more troops to ensure that FATA is brought into the Pakistani mainstream (such as it is). But what continues to hold General Kayani back is the fear of “blowback” caused by an army offensive in North Waziristan. Successful retaliation by jehadis against “Pakistan proper” (the proper Pakistani way to refer to Punjab!) might make the generals look bumbling and inept. The Aam Pakistani might even begin to question the military’s special status. Unsurprisingly, considering the mortality rate of Pakistani journalists who peer too deeply into the radicalisation within that country’s army, Mr Almeida cloaks that crucial question in silence. Blowback in “Pakistan proper” is far less troubling to the army brass than blowback within the army itself. The issue that must give General Kayani persistent sleepless nights is: will his increasingly conservative, and in many cases radicalised, soldiers fight the Waziri militants, who have long been lauded as a sword arm of Pakistan? After all, the jihad-intoxicated gunslingers who fight for the TTP are from the same stock as the tribal lashkars that were sent into Kashmir in 1947, a celebrated chapter in Pakistan’s history. And the pan-Islamic ummah that the TTP seeks to impose on the world, including on Pakistan, would seem to many of Pakistan’s simple soldiers as only a logical extension of Pakistan’s founding belief that religion was the most important marker of identity. With Pakistan’s soldiery today drawn from exactly the same stock as Punjabi jehadis, it is inevitable that the Pakistan army’s rank and file would share an ideological affinity with the militants they will now be asked to fight. The growing associations between the Pakistan military and the jehadis are increasingly apparent. Pakistani air force commanders have complained to US diplomats that airmen would sabotage F-16s before missions against militant targets. And the jehadi attacks on the Mehran naval base in 2011, and against Kamra last week, could never have been pulled off without insider help. The question, therefore, is: will the Pakistani army begin to crack? If massive firepower and US drone strikes quickly win the day and bring the TTP to the table, Pakistani face might yet be saved. But if, as I apprehend, North Waziristan turns into a bloody grind, the generals will face increasingly strident questions from the ranks to which they have no answers.
What is worrying about the August 16 militant attack on the Minhas airbase in Pakistan is that far from being an one-off event, it was the third such attack on this military facility. The truth is that Islamicist militant attacks on Pakistani military facilities are frequent and have been able to penetrate even the most sensitive installations. The Minhas attack can be deemed a failure by the Tehreek-e-Taliban. It got through only the first security perimeter and does not seem to have done more than minor damage to one Pakistani military aircraft. But this has not always been the case. The so-called Pakistan Taliban had stormed two of the country's most-sensitive military facilities: the Army General Headquarters in 2009 and the Mehran naval base in 2011. There are two reasons why the ability of groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban to attack Pakistani military facilities is alarming. The first is that similar facilities are home to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Though there is no evidence that militants have specifically sought to obtain a nuclear weapon, at least two nuclear-related facilities — the Wah military complex where weapons are manufactured and the Sargodha nuclear storage facility — have been attacked in the past. The second concern is the increasing evidence of Islamicist penetration of the Pakistani military's rank and file. The attack on the general headquarters was done by militants who had access to uniforms, military ID cards, security licence plates, maps of the premises and layouts of the security systems. Some of the attacks have been plotted in safe houses only blocks away from the bases. Much of this points to the presence of sympathisers in the ranks of the military. The extent to which this has gone can be seen in the attempted assassinations of then Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, in a plot that included military officers. We can take only mild satisfaction in knowing that the Taliban fighters who are attacking the Pakistan military today are a product of the same army's patronage of militants whose original target was India. The same elite Special Services Group, which for years trained Kashmiri insurgents, is now finding that the same training is being imparted to the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Cross-border militancy will pale in comparison to the threat India will face if Pakistan's nuclear facilities are compromised. Rawalpindi follows every attack with strong statements about the security of its nuclear deterrent. But given the present record of base attacks, the fact that Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal for no obvious reason and that an estimated 70,000 people work for its nuclear programme, it is time Pakistan recognises that these statements reassure nobody.
The Express TribuneThe Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has condemned the blasphemy charge against an 11-year-old Christian girl who was accused of blasphemy and arrested for allegedly burning pages of a Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to learn the basics of the Holy Quran. The girl, named Rifta Masih, had burned a Noorani Qaida on August 16 and had thrown it in garbage after putting it in a plastic bag. Masih belonged to the rural area of Mehrabadi, which is next to the G-11 sector in Islamabad. In a statement, the commission said that “the fact that the girl is a juvenile and suffers from Down’s Syndrome only makes the charge more preposterous and barbaric.” The statement further stated that “it is also extremely disturbing to note that the police allowed a mob to surround the police station and demand that she be handed over.” The spread of extremism and the authorities’ preference for appeasing charged mobs, rather than taking the correct and lawful course, should make those in power as well as other political forces take serious note. It is deplorable that the country’s political leadership refrains from speaking out against extremism and the injustices towards non-Muslims. The HRCP called upon the authorities to “immediately release” the girl and provide foolproof protection to her family and the “frightened Christian community” in the area.
http://www.brecorder.comThe business community of Lahore has condemned the increasing incidents of kidnapping for ransom, extortion incidents and murders of the businessmen particularly of traders of the Hindu community. Expressing grave concern over the migration of Hindu businessmen from Jacobabad Sindh, the All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran, said that the growing trend of migration of traders particularly from minority groups will convey a wrong message globally, and obstructing foreign investment into the country. The APAT central Chairman Khawaja Shafiq and general secretary Naeem Mir termed the immigration of a number of Hindu families to India as a desperate step because of the unbridled crimes against their community. The APAT central leadership said that there was a growing sense of insecurity in the Hindu community in Jacobabad. It called for urgent steps to protecting their life and property in order to restore their confidence. They demanded of President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Governor Sindh Dr Ishrat-ul-Ebad and Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah to take serious notice of the migration of the Hindu traders to India as a last resort because of kidnappings and murders of their fellows. They demanded that the elements behind such heinous crimes against a particular community should be arrested and justice should be done. They said that the Anjuman-e-Tajiran believes in religious tolerance and harmony, asking the Hindu community to pray for the peace, progress and prosperity of the country.
As the 10th American this month is slain by a supposed Afghan ally, the wider repercussions of the shootings come into focus.They've been cut down while working out in makeshift gyms, as they bedded down for the night in remote combat outposts, after shrugging off heavy packs and sweat-soaked body armor when they returned from patrol. At the height of this dusty summer, American troops are dying at unprecedented rates at the hands of their Afghan allies. And both sides are struggling to explain why, even as they search for ways to stem what are known in military parlance as "insider" attacks. This month, at least 10 U.S. troops — including a U.S. service member shot Sunday and five members of America's elite special-operations forces slain earlier — have been killed by Afghan police, soldiers or civilian workers at military installations. As of Sunday, that accounted for a stunning 32% of the 31 American military fatalities in Afghanistan reported thus far in August by the monitoring website icasualties.org. Aside from the devastating emotional blow dealt to families of the slain service members and the effect on morale in field units, insider shootings have wider-ranging repercussions. They have provided a propaganda bonanza to the Taliban, and could threaten a linchpin of the Western exit strategy: training Afghan security forces in preparation for handing over most fighting duties to them by 2014. The military says only a very small share of insider attacks is carried out by Taliban "sleepers" in the police or army. But that opens the way to perhaps an even more alarming conclusion: that the majority of the assailants are undertaking what are in effect spontaneous, self-assigned suicide missions, because many insider shooters are killed on the spot in return fire. The military says it is working to address the threat. Changes in recent months have included the posting of armed Western troops — so-called guardian angels — to watch over others in mess halls, sleeping tents and gyms. Last week, the American commander of the NATO force, Gen. John Allen, ordered that NATO troops across Afghanistan keep a loaded magazine in their weapons, even when on base. This year, an Army captain described an informal buddy system at his base of troops signaling each other to keep a close watch on armed Afghans nearby, especially if one of their comrades was diverted by some task. "'Shona-ba-shona,' OK," the captain said, invoking the "shoulder-to-shoulder" slogan of the NATO force and its Afghan partners. "But also: 'Eyes on, all times.'" In public, Western military officials in Afghanistan have consistently sought to play down the overarching significance of such attacks, describing them as an occasional violent anomaly in an otherwise effective and mutually respectful working relationship between Afghan security forces and the NATO troops training them. "Every day, you have 500,000 soldiers and police working and fighting side by side — you talk to these guys, and they tell you they are building trust and friendship," said Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, referring to the approximate combined numbers of Afghan and Western forces. But disquiet is being expressed in high echelons. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panettatold reporters in Washington last week that he was "very concerned" about the recent spate of insider attacks, and he called President Hamid Karzai over the weekend to talk about the need for tougher selection standards for the Afghan armed forces. How to guard against such attacks is the subject of considerable debate in military leadership circles, because overtly heavy-handed measures can send a signal to the Afghans that they are not trusted, which can be taken as an insult. And in traditional Afghan culture, perceived insult can swiftly lead to exactly the sort of violence the attacks represent. Efforts on the Afghan side include assigning undercover intelligence officers to some battalions, and stricter scrutiny of recruits, including the collection of biometric data to compare against a database of known insurgents. Some observers, though, believe the safeguards built into the recruitment process, including the requirement that village elders vouch for those who want to join the army, are routinely bypassed in many provinces. "It all goes to the vetting process, to the hurry the international community is in to produce soldiers," said Daoud Sultanzoy, a former member of parliament and broadcaster. Many explanations have been floated for Afghans turning their guns on members of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization force: stress, battle fatigue, personal antagonism, cultural misunderstandings, copycat psychology, heat-of-the moment disputes in a society where arguments are often settled with a Kalashnikov. The phenomenon is so pervasive that the killings have their own evolving nomenclature. Previously, the military called them green-on-blue attacks, a color-coded reference to Afghan and Western forces. Now the preferred, more encompassing term is "insider threat," stemming from the fact that assailants have included not only uniformed police and soldiers, but also civilian members of the Afghan security apparatus, or simply someone with access to a coalition base, even in a low-level capacity. The Taliban movement has noted the rising number of insider shootings with ill-concealed delight, boasting of having infiltrated all branches of the Afghan security forces. In the past, the Taliban leadership claimed responsibility for virtually every such attack, but lately the group's publicity machine often cites individual initiative by those without links to the insurgency. "Our fighters are in the ranks of the police, army and intelligence service, but there are also some who carry out attacks on foreign troops only because they are Afghans and Muslims and act on their religious obligation to protect their country from invading forces," said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the group. "It is an indication of utter hatred against the foreigners." Motivation for the attacks remains opaque in many instances, either because the shooter is killed or manages to escape, in some cases with the suspected collusion of local authorities. Family members generally shed little light on what might have caused a relative to turn his gun on Western mentors. "He had very good relations with the foreigners, and he was trusted and liked by them," said Shamsullah Sahrahi, a tribal elder whose policeman son, Assadullah, stands accused in an insider attack this month in Helmand province. Local officials said Assadullah had invited a group of U.S. Marines to one of the nighttime meals that observant Muslims eat during the dawn-to-dusk fasting month of Ramadan, where three were shot dead and a fourth wounded. Among Afghans, particularly those serving in the security forces, the reaction to news of yet another insider attack can vary. Some express genuine-seeming shock and sadness; others voice fears that the assaults will accelerate the Western pullout and leave them unprepared to take on the Taliban alone; others suggest that foreign troops bring it on themselves. "It's not good when these things happen," said a 21-year-old Afghan army recruit waiting in line at a Kabul military induction center. "But well, maybe it's because of the Koran-burning," a reference to the accidental incineration of Muslim holy books by U.S. troops in February, which set off days of deadly rioting. Higher-ranking Afghan officials are much more likely to offer an unequivocal condemnation of the attacks, sometimes in florid terms. "I wish I could open up my chest and show the pain I feel in my heart," Col. Mohammad Akbar Stanikzai, an intelligence officer at the Afghan army's recruitment headquarters in Kabul, said when asked about the phenomenon. Some analysts believe part of the problem is the sheer longevity of the war, now in its 11th year. In the conflict's early stages, such attacks were an extreme rarity. "I wouldn't say it's normal, but I think it's understandable in a war situation which is lasting for more than a decade," said Fabrizio Foshini of the Afghan Analysts Network. "The conflict has been becoming worse, nastier — and the presence of foreign troops doesn't seem in the eyes of many Afghans to have brought positive changes."