Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rumblings In Pakistan Don't Sound Sweet


Will Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani be flying one of the upgraded F-16's?

1969: I had just spent a long time in Afghanistan and I was on my way to India. There's really only one way to go-- thru the Khyber Pass. It may sound romantic and hearken back to childhood stories of Gunga Din but, let me tell you, once you leave Jalalabad, it's pretty hairy right up until you get to Peshawar. And, I promise you, those are two of the scariest cities you are unlikely to ever visit. But between them is basically Pashtunistan, a tribal no man's land that recognizes no international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Earlier this week, Bush joined right in in not recognizing the international border either and, with or without the tacit support of the Pakistani government, the U.S. conducted a missile strike into South Waziristan, a bit south of the parts of Pakistan I had to drive through to get to India (almost 40 years before Bush launched his missiles).

Did you know we attacked another country with missiles and killed at least a dozen people? I didn't until a few days ago when I heard on the radio that Bush was urging Congress to allow him to use funds Congress had granted Pakistan to fight terrorists for upgrading advanced fighter jets. It made me suspicious. I knew the Indians would freak out and the Afghans would get up tight. So I figured Bush must have been trading the jet upgrades for the right to attack al Qaeda targets in western Pakistan, in what's called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, districts along the Afghan border with around 3 million people only nominally under the control of the Pakistani government and, more realistically, under the control of the Taliban.

Apparently they were aiming for a senior al Qaeda official, Abu Khabab Masri, and supposedly killed him.
The Pakistani military, as is its custom, denied knowledge of the missile strike and whether it had been carried out by the United States. American attacks inside Pakistan are highly sensitive politically.

One U.S. official familiar with the incident said the Pentagon was not involved and that "it was an agency-run op all the way," a reference to the CIA. The agency had no comment.

A U.S. counter-terrorism official in Washington said that Masri, whose given name is Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, was believed dead. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

"There is indeed a sense that he's gone," said the counter-terrorism official. "This guy not only had knowledge that was dangerous but did dangerous things with it," added the official, who described Masri as a longtime Al Qaeda specialist in poisons and explosives.

The attack came on the day that Pakistani Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani was meeting President Bush [and Barack Obama] in Washington. In the past, Pakistani authorities have sometimes aided in or carried out the reported capture or killing of a senior Islamic militant at around the time of such meetings.

But another, senior American official said that, in this case, the strike was a "strictly unilateral" one by the U.S. without any assistance from Pakistan. It was merely coincidental that it overlapped with Gillani's visit, the official said.

Many members of Congress are as pissed off as the Indians are about the U.S. shifting nearly a quarter billion dollars in counterterrorism funds to upgrading F-16 attack jets that have nothing to do with fighting terrorists and everything to do with India-Pakistan hostilities. Some members of Congress, unaware that Bush was planning an attack on militants inside Pakistan, assumed the money was to ease tensions over the 11 members of the Pakistani paramilitary forces killed in an American airstrike in the area last month. Cheekily, Bush is claiming that the F-16's will be used to fight terrorists. They never have been before. It's just another on the long list of actions Nancy Pelosi will make sure he isn't impeached for. Patrick Leahy and Congresswoman Nita Lowey are going through the motions of demanding an explanation.

This morning's NY Times is reporting that the CIA is wigging out over continued ties between Pashtun militants (that's the Taliban) and the ISI (which is the Pakistani CIA). The deputy director of the CIA went to Islamabad to confront the new government with proof that the ISI is actively supporting the militants.
The C.I.A. emissary presented evidence showing that members of the spy service had deepened their ties with some militant groups that were responsible for a surge of violence in Afghanistan, possibly including the suicide bombing this month of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the officials said.

The decision to confront Pakistan with what the officials described as a new C.I.A. assessment of the spy service’s activities seemed to be the bluntest American warning to Pakistan since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks about the ties between the spy service and Islamic militants.

The C.I.A. assessment specifically points to links between members of the spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and the militant network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, which American officials believe maintains close ties to senior figures of Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The C.I.A. has depended heavily on the ISI for information about militants in Pakistan, despite longstanding concerns about divided loyalties within the Pakistani spy service, which had close relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Interviewed by Jim Lehrer on PBS, Prime Minister Gilani said there are no links between the ISI and the Pashtun militants. He said "We would not allow that.” Congress hasn't agreed to those planes yet; I wonder if Bush is just going ahead with it anyway. No one can access how much power Gilani has over the ISI, although it isn't likely to be very much.
Over the weekend, the government announced a major change in the chain of command for Pakistan's most powerful spy agency-- but then reversed the directive 24 hours later.

The government issued a statement late Saturday, as Gillani was en route to Washington, saying that Inter-Services Intelligence, which is commanded by a senior military officer, would begin reporting directly to the civilian Interior Ministry.

But after what Pakistani press reports described as furious protests the following day from senior military and intelligence officials, the order was canceled.

The ISI, sometimes described as a state within a state, helped arm and organize the Taliban in the 1990s.

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