Tag Archive | "Al Qaeda"

Pakistan Taliban regrouping outside Waziristan

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan - Since the Pakistani army launched a long-awaited offensive last month to destroy the Taliban in South Waziristan, many militants have fled to nearby districts and begun to establish new strongholds, a strategy that suggests they will regroup and remain a potent threat to the country’s weak, U.S.-backed government.

Pakistani Taliban militants have escaped primarily to Kurram and Orakzai, districts outside the battle zone but still within Pakistan’s largely ungoverned tribal areas along the Afghan border, villagers there say. The military lacks a significant presence in much of these areas, making them an ideal environment for the Islamic militants to regroup.

Newly arrived militants have terrorized Pashtun residents and replenished their coffers through kidnappings and robberies, villagers said during interviews in the Kurram and Orakzai districts. With AK-47s and rocket launchers slung over their shoulders, the militants have begun patrols through the new territory and have set up checkpoints.

“They come to our houses and terrorize us,” said Fareed Ullah, a student in Weedara, a hamlet of mud-walled huts in central Kurram. “They are kidnapping our elders and stealing our cars. We have no way of rising up against them, and there’s no government here to help us. . . . Kurram is in trouble because of them.”

Pakistani military commanders say that after five weeks of fighting, they are in the final stages of their offensive aimed at crushing Islamic insurgents in South Waziristan, a rugged expanse of mountains and plateaus that for years has served as the primary base of operations for the Pakistani Taliban and as a sanctuary for Al Qaeda fighters.

When the offensive began Oct. 17, Pakistani military leaders said they faced a fighting force of as many as 10,000 battle-hardened militants. Thus far, however, the army has put the number of militants killed at 500.

None of the Pakistani Taliban’s top leaders have been reported captured or killed. And accounts from villagers in nearby districts suggest that many militants simply fled South Waziristan.

The 30,000 troops involved in the South Waziristan offensive have reported taking control of almost all the villages and roads once held there by Taliban militants. At the start of the offensive, military commanders and government leaders said they wanted to wrap up the operation before winter set in. They now say they are on track to meet that goal ahead of schedule.

In some cases, Pakistani troops met fierce resistance from Taliban militants and Al Qaeda-allied Uzbek fighters as they advanced on villages such as Kotkai and Sararogha, a key nerve center for the Pakistani Taliban. In many places, however, troops found that Taliban and Al Qaeda militants had already left.

Army leaders say dislodging Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters from their strongholds may be enough to neutralize them.

“Once dislodged, they will be disorganized,” said Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. “Their actions will not have that kind of coordination which was displayed when they were attacking our cities and towns.”

However, militants have succeeded in engineering a devastating string of terrorist attacks on Pakistani cities that has coincided with the offensive. Especially hard hit has been Peshawar, a northwestern city with a population of almost 3 million on the fringe of Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas. More than 245 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in 10 bomb attacks in the largely Pashtun city since early October. Authorities believe militants fleeing South Waziristan to their new havens far closer to Peshawar are probably behind many of the attacks.

Taliban and Al Qaeda militants were able to easily flee South Waziristan, experts say, because government and military leaders announced their intent to carry out a major offensive in the region weeks before troops moved in. That gave militants ample time to make their escape.

“The strategy has been bad,” said Imtiaz Gul, a security analyst based in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. “You don’t carry out operations after making such announcements. This area gives them huge space for mobility. So when crunch time comes, they can disperse to safer places, regroup, reorganize and hit the state somewhere else.”

The Obama administration has said it is pleased with gains made by the Pakistani military against the Taliban in South Waziristan. But U.S. officials have nonetheless questioned Pakistan’s resolve to find and eliminate Al Qaeda leaders and commanders believed to have been hiding there.

Villagers in Kurram and Orakzai, as well as two Orakzai-based Taliban commanders, say Al Qaeda-aligned Arab, Chechen and Uzbek fighters from South Waziristan are now in their villages.

“From their faces we can see they are foreigners,” said Jaleel Rahman, a Pashtun of the village of Marghan in central Kurram. “Sometimes they speak in Arabic, sometimes in English. Their leaders stay at the houses of influential people in our area. And we can’t do anything about it.”

Almost always, militants fleeing South Waziristan arrive at night in large groups piled into Toyota Land Cruisers and pickup trucks, villagers say. The newcomers have established hide-outs in the foothills and mountains skirting the villages, and have been seen digging trenches in mountainsides. Without any troops to confront them, they freely roam through villages, demanding money, food and guns.

“They are in the hundreds here,” said Sher Muhammad, a tribesman in the village of Tandar in central Kurram. “They tell us to do what they do. And whatever they like, they get by force.”

Both the Orakzai and Kurram districts had large sections controlled by Pakistani Taliban militants before fighters from South Waziristan began appearing. However, the Taliban presence in those districts wasn’t considered as large as the militant group’s forces in South Waziristan, long considered the hub for terrorism in Pakistan.

Maulana Zainul Abideen, a Pakistani Taliban commander in the Orakzai region, said during an interview in his village of Dabori that locals have set aside empty houses for fellow militants and their families arriving from South Waziristan.

“They accompany us wherever we go on patrol,” Abideen said. “They contacted our elders, and our elders allowed them to come here.”

Another Taliban commander in the Orakzai region, Mufti Khursheed, said the fleeing militants had to agree they would not “carry out any activity without us, would have to patrol with us and would join us wherever we need them. They will not take any step without our permission.”

Pakistani fighter jets and helicopter gunships have stepped up airstrikes on suspected Taliban hide-outs in Orakzai and Kurram, military leaders say. But analysts say that may not be enough. Once South Waziristan is secured, some say, a ground offensive either in Orakzai or Kurram may be needed to keep the Taliban from establishing strongholds there on a par with what it had in South Waziristan. The military says it plans to keep a sizable troop presence in South Waziristan to hold the ground gained, just as it did in its previous Swat Valley offensive.

“The militants have the capacity to regroup and come back,” said retired Gen. Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based defense analyst. “They should not be allowed to consolidate. . . . South Waziristan has been a tactical success of sorts, but by no means is it a victory.” (News sourced from los angeles times)

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Taliban acceptable if they renounce al-Qaeda: USA

PKonweb Monitor

The Taliban can rejoin the “social and political fabric of Afghanistan” if they renounce al-Qaeda, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said on Tuesday.

Holbrooke, a close ally of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was appointed taskmaster for Afghanistan and Pakistan (AF-PAK) affairs, said it is a major part of the Unites States policies.

In an interview with SPIEGEL, Holbrooke said: “Majority of the Taliban do not support Mulla Omar’s extreme views and that there is room for them to rejoin the social and political fabric of Afghanistan if they renounce al-Qaeda and reintegrate peacefully into Afghanistan. This is a major part of the Unites States policies. Washington is not seeking to destroy every person who supports the Taliban. Our goal is to destroy al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization with global reach, which attacked the United States, which conducted attacks in London, Madrid and Bali, and Mumbai and Islamabad, which supports attacks in Afghanistan through other groups.”

Holbrooke’s statement comes as President Obama prepares to announce his decision after the Thanksgiving holidays on sending more US troops to Afghanistan. Gen McCrystal, commander of US forces in Afghanistan has said he needed around 40,000 more soldiers to fight the Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their supporters.

The US special envoy said Washington was not in Afghanistan to build a perfect democracy there but to help the Afghans strengthen their own capabilities. “We are not there to take over the country, we are there to help the Afghans build their own capacity so that their security forces can replace the international forces over an acceptable period of time,” he said.

Asked if Afghan President Hamid Karzai was still Washington’s partner in the war, Holbrooke said: “Yes, he is our partner.” The US respected Karzai and looked forward to working with him closely, he added. (MAMOSA)

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Investigators quiz Musharraf over Bhutto assassination

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A United Nations commission investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said Tuesday that it met with Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler who was in power at the time.
“The Commission of Inquiry had a frank, open and cordial conversation with former President Musharraf, having been able to pose to him many queries on issues central to its mandate,” the group said in a statement.
The statement did not say where the team met with Musharraf.

His spokesman, Nasim Ashraf, told Pakistan’s English-language newspaper, Dawn, that the meeting took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 27.

“While I met the team, I strongly oppose any international probe into Pakistan’s domestic affairs,” Musharraf said in a statement, carried by Dawn.

The U.N. commission arrived in Pakistan in July to look into the circumstances surrounding the assassination of Bhutto.

The former prime minister returned home in 2007 from a eight-year self-imposed exile to participate in the country’s general elections.

She was killed at a rally in the city of Rawalpindi on December 27 when a bomber blew himself up near her limousine. Videotape showed a gunman firing toward her vehicle as she left the rally.

Musharraf’s government and the CIA contended the killing was orchestrated by Baitullah Mehsud, a leader of the Pakistani Taliban with ties to al Qaeda.

But nationwide polls found that a majority of Pakistanis believe Musharraf’s government was complicit in the assassination.

Following her death, Bhutto’s supporters took to the streets. The ensuing violence caused damage of more than $200 million (12 billion Pakistani rupees) and killed at least 58 people, government officials said.

Her party, the Pakistan People’s Party, went on to win the most number of seats in elections held the following year.

Musharraf resigned. And Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, became president.

Zardari asked the United Nations to look into his wife’s death to try and reconcile inconsistencies of how she died and who was behind the attack.

This, despite an inquiry by London’s Scotland Yard ruled that Bhutto died from the blast and not gunfire.

The U.N. commission said in its statement that it has met with “dozens” of people in the course of its fact-finding mandate.

It is expected to submit a report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by year’s end.

(News sourced from: CNN)

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“We are NOT”

The Taliban and al-Qaeda have denied involvement in the Peshawar bomb blast and said they do not explode bombs in bazaars and mosques.

According to a statement of al-Qaeda, they are not involved in the killing of innocent people. According to al-Qaeda sources, the elements, who want to defame Jehad and refugees, are behind the Peshawar bomb blast.

The al-Qaeda sources say they would continue Jehad against America and its agents across the world. The banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in an email sent to the media also condemned the Peshawar blast and denied its involvement in the Meena Bazaar explosion.

{Source: The News}

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Deciding moments for Pakistan - Syed Atiq ul Hassan

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan

In my article on the 61st anniversary of Pakistan, published on 14th of August, 2008, titled, ‘Pakistani nation in anxiety – is it a start of an end’, I wrote; “Reassembly of Taliban & Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and rising activities of Taliban in the Northern territories of Pakistan made President Musharraf a man of broken promises in the eyes of United States. Therefore, this is time to kick out Musharraf and use the civilian card. So, who could be the best choice for Washington than Musharraf’s political foes? Increasing operation against Taliban and their supporters in the northern Pakistan and alongside Pak-Afghan border and Washington’s silence on ruling coalition’s movement against Musharraf clearly indicate the obvious deal behind the scene between Washington and ruling coalition.

Sharing common interest all these political thugs together busy in impeaching President Musharraf basically serving US agenda….. if this analysis is true than it is quite clear that ruling coalition’s move for impeachment of the President and launching the operation against Taliban and Al-Quaeda on Pakistani soil is another American game… But this time for political thugs it will be like playing with fire and this fire will spread all over Pakistan. War against Taliban inside Pakistan will transform Pakistan into Iraq. Unfortunately, my analysis is seemed to be true. Pakistan is going through the nightmare every single day. Whatever we were witnessing in Iraq is now happening in Pakistan. Pakistan is losing its civilians and army personnel almost every day. Today, a common Pakistani, in Pakistan and abroad, is fearful when see what has been happening in the country. The entire nation and institutions including secret services have been hijacked by the United States. Almost every second day, someone from US administration, senator, parliamentarian or high ranking army officer is sitting in Islamabad. On the other hand, the main cities of Pakistan are in the hands of terrorists. Even the government spokespersons are accepting that the government machinery is unable to prevent the suicide bombers. Mosque, Schools, Government offices, Police centres and even army buildings are being attacked? The leaders of Taliban have threatened to librate Pakistani cities and control Pakistani borders. United States had been forcing former army ruler General Pervez Musharraf to go after Taliban and Al-Qaeda? United States wanted to ground its troops on Pakistani soil and attack Taliban within Pakistani territory. United States wanted General Pervez Musharraf to withdraw Pakistani troops from Indian border. General Musharraf in his seven years tenure somehow managed to ignore all these US demands. United States managed to kick out General Musharraf with the help of Pakistani politicians. The only leader which could resist and might not compromise on the integrity of Pakistan was ‘Benazir Bhutto’. She was murdered and still the Pakistani nation is waiting to know the murderer/s despite her husband is the supreme power of the country. As Mr. Asif Ali Zardari and his company took control over Pakistan it looked like this was all part of the plan. Pakistan has been bombarded by what they claim Pakistani Taliban. And within a year, Pakistani troops are now engaged in fierce fighting with Taliban in South Waziristan which Pakistani military and ISI never wanted and the reasons were simple to understand. These are the same Taliban who were created by the ISI with the help of CIA. How come these elements who had been regarded as the protector of western border of Pakistan became the enemy of the State? Who are providing them heavy ammunition and courage to throw their lives in suicide missions? Whose agenda is being fulfilled? The current anarchical situation created many questions? The situation is worse than in 1971. If Pakistan further disintegrates into pieces who will be the beneficiaries? Nevertheless, any simple mind can understand by analysing the sequence of events happened since the former General Pervez Musharraf was forced to leave the power. United States could not make any progress in order to provide peace and security to the people of Afghanistan in the last 7 years instead created more uncertainty and chaos. Now as I said earlier part of the plan, United States is after Pakistan.

Eventually increase combat operations against Taliban in Afghanistan by US forces will create more repulsion on Pakistani Afghan-Pak borders. At the same time, his administration has tripled the Pakistani aid with conditions – enough bribes for Pakistani corrupt politicians to shut-up their mouth and to show the world that US want to build Pakistan. The Pakistani ruling politicians are claiming victories on Kerry-Lugar aid package of &7.5 billion. He is the same John Kerry who very loudly called Pakistan nuclear program as unsafe and to be opened for inspection during his Presidential nomination election campaign. The US administration purposely assigned Mr. Kerry the task to design Pakistan’s aid package so that Pakistan’s nuclear program can be controlled and military sovereignty can be sabotaged. According to a news report Senator John Kerry used very harsh language when he met Pakistani politicians and army generals during his recent visit of Islamabad that told them if you did not want the money say so, United States was not forcing you to take it but then bear consequences. Unfortunately, corrupt, incompetent and power greedy politicians who dragged the country into this horrible situation also showed their total failure in defeating these anti-Pakistan elements and to maintain peace, security and stability of the country. If anything can make the country free from the enemies of Pakistan is the people of Pakistan. The Pakistani nation has to show solidarity and unity among them against these terrorists. The nation has to stand-up without wasting time and fearlessly condemns these elements who have dangerous philosophies and concepts on the name of religion.

The people of Pakistan have to courageously help in identifying them to the law enforcement authorities to punish these culprits. The intellectuals, writers, journalists, artists and activists have to wake up the nation. The lawyers and civic society had demonstrated historic power to reinstate the Chief Justice. They paralysed the entire country. Now this is the real need to show to the world and to those who challenged the sovereignty of Pakistan that they will kick them out from the country and safe the borders of Pakistan. This is the time to demonstrate ‘Pakistan First’ – Solidarity, Unity and Faith.

{Source: Observer}

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Pakistan aid bill has explosive impact - Jim Lobe

By Jim Lobe

After 10 days of raging controversy centered in Islamabad, United States President Barack Obama on Thursday signed a major aid bill for Pakistan authorizing some US$7.5 billion in non-military assistance for the increasingly beleaguered country over the next five years.

The bill, which will more than triple the current level of non-military aid the US provides to Pakistan, had been designed as a dramatic show of support for the country whose full cooperation is seen as crucial to US hopes of defeating the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and destroying al-Qaeda, whose leadership is believed to be based in Pakistan’s rugged frontier region.

“This law is the tangible manifestation of broad support for Pakistan in the US, as evidenced by its bipartisan, bicameral, unanimous passage in congress,” the White House said, adding that Washington hoped to establish a “strategic partnership” with Islamabad “grounded in support for Pakistan’s democratic institutions and the Pakistani people”.

But, contrary to its intent, congressional passage of the bill on October 5 unleashed a major political crisis in Pakistan itself where the opposition and the country’s powerful army rejected several of the conditions written into the bill as violating the country’s sovereignty and dignity, whipping up already widespread anti-US sentiment in the process.

In an extraordinary “joint explanatory statement” aimed at appeasing that sentiment and annexed to the bill before Obama signed it, the new law’s two main Democratic sponsors, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry and his House counterpart, Howard Berman, insisted that “the legislation does not seek in any way to compromise Pakistan’s sovereignty, impinge on Pakistan’s national security interests, or micro-manage any aspect of Pakistani military or civilian operations”.

“This whole thing backfired badly,” rued one administration official, who asked not to be identified. “It’s left a very sour taste in everyone’s mouth, here and in Pakistan.”

The bill’s signing came on the same day that the Pakistani Taliban mounted the latest in a 10-day series of devastating multiple attacks on key army and police facilities that highlighted Washington’s longstanding concerns about the threat posed by the militants, who are regarded as closer to al-Qaeda than their counterparts in Afghanistan.

More than 30 people, including at least 19 police officers, were reportedly killed in several attacks, including one on an elite counter-terrorism training facility, in Lahore, the capital of Punjab. Those attacks came five days after Taliban guerrillas breached the security perimeter of the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi. Twenty-three people were killed in that raid, during which the assailants seized dozens of hostages.

The attacks, which were initially billed as retaliation for the August 5 killing, apparently by a US Predator drone strike, of the Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, are increasingly seen as designed to ward off a long-promised army ground offensive in the Taliban’s and al-Qaeda’s main stronghold of South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The military cordoned off the area two months ago, and its air force has recently carried out bombing runs against targets there. The delay in launching the offensive, however, has frustrated officials here who regard it as a major test of the army’s willingness to provide the kind of counter-terrorist cooperation Washington has long sought.

“If South Waziristan is indeed next, that would be a significant development,” said Bruce Riedel, a South Asia specialist and former senior Central Intelligence Agency analyst, at the Brookings Institution earlier this month. Riedel chaired the White House’s review on Afghanistan and Pakistan after Obama came to office.

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the US has provided Pakistan some $11 billion in aid, only a fraction of which, however, was devoted to non-military assistance, such as development assistance and support for political and economic reforms.

The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan was designed in major part to better balance military and non-military aid, particularly in the wake of Islamabad’s return to civilian rule in early 2008, by offering significantly greater support for democratic institutions and civil society. Washington continues to provide about one billion dollars a year to the army.

While the senate version of the bill set a number of general conditions for disbursement of the aid, including a requirement that Pakistan is making “tangible progress in governance”, such as gaining civilian control over the military and the intelligence agencies, the house version was both more specific and more demanding.

Under its terms, Pakistan could receive military aid only if the secretary of state certified that the civilian government exercised “effective civilian control over the military” and “demonstrated a sustained commitment” by “ceasing support” to terrorist groups and “dismantling terrorist bases”.

This last reference focused on Quetta - where the Afghan Taliban leadership is believed to be based - and in Muridke - where a number of anti-Indian groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out last year’s attack in Mumbai, are believed to run operations. These provisions, which could be waived by the president if it served the national interest, were incorporated into the final bill.

They nonetheless were seized on by the military high command in Pakistan which, in a formal communique directed at President Asif Ali Zardari, charged that the bill violated Pakistani sovereignty, an accusation echoed in parliament by the opposition leader, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, leaders of other parties, and the media.

Taken by surprise, Zardari, who had initially celebrated the final bill’s passage as a major achievement of his administration, dispatched his foreign minister to Washington, apparently to try to work out a face-saving solution which came in the form of the two-page “joint explanatory statement” issued by Kerry and Berman.

“Any interpretation of this act which suggests that the United States does not fully recognize and respect the sovereignty of Pakistan would be directly contrary to congressional intent,” asserted the statement.

In an editorial published on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal laid blame for the house version primarily on the 152-member congressional caucus on India and Indian Americans, which includes a number of influential Democratic and Republican lawmakers, for insisting on the offending language.

At the same time, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius complained that the administration, like Zardari, had been taken by surprise by the explosive impact of the bill.

“Richard Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, should have seen this one coming,” he wrote, noting also that the Pakistani army had also manipulated the crisis to its advantage.

“The only benefit I can see here is a perverse one,” he noted. “It may actually be easier for the Pakistani military to battle the Taliban and al-Qaeda if it’s seen by the public as standing up defiantly to American pressure.”

- Jim Lobe’s blog on US foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.

{Source: Asia Times Online}

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Obama’s Irrefutable Afghan Predicament — Dr Muqtedar Khan

By Dr Muqtedar Khan

The US is reviewing its Afghan policy after the US commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal lobbied for 40,000 additional troops, arguing that US was facing failure without them in Afghanistan. This is the second review of Afghan policy by this administration and if the General’s request is honoured it will be the second surge in Afghanistan under Obama’s command.

General McChrystal, who is widely rumoured, to have captured Saddam Hussein and killed Al Qaeda leader Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq is a former back-ops commander. Now in Afghanistan he has reported that the 100,000 plus foreign troops cannot deal with the rising power of the Taleban and risk being defeated.

The situation in Afghanistan is indeed very serious. There is no doubt about it. The Taleban have, in the last one year, nearly quadrupled their numbers, going from 7000 to over 25000, according to US intelligence. The Taleban fighters have also become more aggressive and effective in their ability to engage 
Western forces.

While their numbers have increased four times, their military activities have increased hundred times. British sources reveal that now British forces have to fight the Taleban seven times a day! Additionally the project of national building lies in tatters. The rigged elections have undermined the credibility of US sponsored democracy and the developmental projects have been very slow in implementation. The deaths of civilians by US attacks have increased and so has anti-Americanism, giving a boost to the Taleban.

The enemy, to make matters worse is proving to be very resolute, cunning, resourceful and brazen. In the past few weeks, they have attacked the Pakistani army’s national head quarters, they have staged an attack outside the Indian mission in Kabul, attacked an Italian Patrol, attacked NATO headquarters in Kabul, and attacked a US military base in Kamdesh causing heavy casualties and eventual closure of the base. They have killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians on both sides of the borders. The year 2009 has become the deadliest for US and its allies.

To compound the problem, the US now faces dwindling support for the war at home (only 40 per cent of Americans support it) and the appetite for war is declining in NATO allies, especially in Britain and Italy. Italian leader Berlusconi has promised that Italian and Western troops will soon be out of Afghanistan. All of this means that Obama will have to fight an increasingly unpopular war — that he has repeatedly labeled as necessary — with less public and ally support and against a progressively stronger enemy.

The decision that Obama faces is very difficult. His options are few and none of them is promising. If he expands the war by sending another 40,000 US troops into Afghanistan, the chances of alienating Afghans and exacerbating anti-Americanism across the region — something that he has struggled against since becoming President — will increase. Nothing acts more effectively as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda and the Taleban than the sight of US soldiers. It is also not clear that this will be the final surge. If he decides to shrink the war; withdraw from Afghanistan and only focus on Al Qaeda in Pakistan as suggested by Vice President Biden, Afghanistan will be surely lost to the Taleban. Once again it will become a safe haven for extremism, anti-Americanism and Al Qaeda. We will be back in October 2001.

If he opts for a middle way, no withdrawal and no major surge, but some escalation, then this strategy can only be defined as half measures. It will send a signal to the US military that the President does not value the advice of their commanders and it will convince the Taleban that the US is rapidly losing the stomach for a prolonged battle. 
This will only inspire them to escalate their efforts.

What the President needs to do is to think outside the box. He needs to understand that the Taleban is a regional force that seeks regional goals and may never become a global force. America is not and has never been the Taleban’s target. Al Qaeda on the other hand is a global organisation that targets the US and exists solely to undermine what it sees as US imperial designs in the 
Muslim World.

My suggestion is that for now US make truce with the Taleban and focus on Al Qaeda. If Obama can defeat them in Pakistan, reform health care at home, reduce unemployment, bring peace to the Middle East, save the environment, survive Rush Limbaugh and retain the White House in 2012, then perhaps he can try to achieve what Alexander the great, the British Empire, The Soviet Empire and the American Empire under Bush failed to achieve — subdue 
the Afghans.

- Dr Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

{Source: Khaleej Times}

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South Waziristan clashes kill 60 militants

Security forces pounded Taliban bases from the air and bore down on their leader’s hometown on Sunday, intensifying a major offensive against the militants which it said had killed 60 militants.

More than 100,000 people have fled South Waziristan, part of the tribal belt on the Afghan border that US officials call the most dangerous place on earth, staying with relatives or renting accommodation to escape the fighting.

Thousands of al-Qaeda-linked fighters are holed up in the tribal belt, where the army says the offensive is concentrated on strongholds of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) movement.

On the second day of the offensive, Taliban armed with rockets and heavy weapons put up strong resistance at Sharwangi, an area of impenetrable forest high in the mountains as fighter jets bombed positions, officials said.

The military said 60 Taliban followers had been killed, although the region is cut off from the outside world and information on militant casualties is impossible to independently verify.

‘In last 24 hours, reportedly 60 terrorists have been killed in operation Rah-e-Nijat,’ the military said in a statement.

‘Casualties of security forces are five soldiers (dead) and 11 are injured.’

Ground forces launched the three-pronged push on Saturday, starting a much-anticipated assault in a bid to crush networks blamed for some of the worst attacks that have killed more than 2,250 people over the past two years.

‘The resistance is not as stiff as we were expecting, maybe because we are still moving and not yet reached the strongholds of the Taliban like Kotkai, Makin, Ladha and Kanigurram,’ one military official told AFP.

About 20,000 to 25,000 troops headed into action after Pakistan vowed to act after attacks left more than 170 people dead in less than two weeks.

Jets carried out fresh air strikes on Sunday at Ladha and Makeen in the north, backing up troops who encountered resistance on the ground, a military official told AFP in the northwest on condition of anonymity.

He said five Taliban hideouts were destroyed. Another official said the army captured militant-held village Spinkai Raghzai, erecting a checkpoint en route to Kotkai, the home town of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

Numerous offensives against militants in the tribal belt have met with limited success, costing the lives of 2,000 troops and ending generally with peace agreements that critics say simply gave the enemy a chance to re-arm.

‘The operation will continue until the objectives are achieved. The army has blocked all entry and exit points of Waziristan,’ said army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.

Commanders have outlined an offensive lasting six to eight weeks, with the goal of finishing before the onset of harsh winter snows.

There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 TTP fighters in South Waziristan and up to 25,000 across Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt, which has a history of fierce independence and a powerful culture of revenge.

Its tribesmen famously resisted the British in the 19th century and its mountain terrain is pockmarked with goat tracks, caves and thick forest.

‘War in Waziristan will not be a simple one. Waziristan is like a black hole,’ Rahimullah Yusufzai, a tribal affairs expert, told AFP.

US officials say al-Qaeda fled into the tribal areas after US-led operations toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and is now using the area as a base for plotting attacks on the west and the region.

The offensive by security forces was accompanied by an indefinite curfew slapped on parts of South Waziristan, officials said.

Since August, more than 100,000 civilians have been registered by local authorities after fleeing South Waziristan, normally home to 600,000 people, said a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Ariane Rummery.

‘Over the last five days, 3,065 families (around 21,000 people) registered… before this latest influx there had been about 80,500 people or 11,000 families,’ she told AFP.

Pakistani officials say the number of displaced could rise to 200,000 people, who are staying mostly with relatives or renting rooms in the neighbouring districts of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan.

{Source: AFP}

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South Waziristan Op finally begins…

PKonweb Report

More than two army divisions (30,000 soldiers) launched a much-awaited ground offensive early Saturday morning in South Waziristan tribal area - suspected of being an al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold along the Afghan border. It is expected that more than 90 thousand people will migrate to Tank and Dera Ismail Khan as a result of the ongoing military operation. Some ffficials said over 5000 terrorists are present in the area, most of them hiding in the Mehsud region of Waziristan belt.

The US is racing to send in night-vision goggles and other equipment to aid the latest operation, AP reported today.

The offensive in South Waziristan follows months of air strikes intended to soften up militant defenses that also forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee. Up to 150,000 civilians have already left in recent months after the army made clear it was planning an assault.

Pakistani security forces have fought three unsuccessful campaigns since 2001 in the region, which is the nerve-center for Pakistani insurgents fighting the government. It is also a major base for foreign militants planning attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan and on targets in the West as per claims by the US.

The region is remote and mountainous. It has a leaky border with Afghanistan and fiercely independent tribes who have long resisted government interference. With winter snows just weeks away, the army has limited time to pursue a major ground attack there, and even if it does manage to wipe out its intended targets, it’s unclear whether troops will occupy the area or for how long.

In a previous interview with AP, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the assault would be limited to slain Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud’s holdings – a swath of territory that stretches roughly 3,310 square kilometres.

The plan is to capture and hold the area where Abbas estimates 10,000 insurgents are headquartered and reinforced with about 1,500 foreign fighters, most of them of Central Asian origin. ‘There are Arabs, but the Arabs are basically in the leadership, providing resources and expertise and in the role of trainers,’ he said.

Communications in and around the region appeared jammed, making it difficult to reach local residents or other witnesses, NY Times report said.

The army expects the militants to use guerrilla tactics including ambushes, suicide attacks and roadside bombs.

Despite sometimes rocky relations with the Pakistani military, the US is trying to rush in equipment that would help with mobility, night fighting and precision bombing, a US Embassy official told The Associated Press in a recent interview, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue is politically sensitive.

In addition to night-vision devices, the Pakistan military has said it is seeking additional Cobra helicopter gunships, heliborne lift capability, laser-guided munitions and intelligence equipment to monitor cell and satellite telephones.

The army has considered the weather in the timing the offensive. Snows in the region could block major roads. At the same time, a harsh winter could work to the army’s advantage by driving fighters out of their unheated mountain hideouts.

Reports have said the US and Nato have been pushing Pakistan to launch the offensive prior to the onset of winter.

US President Obama has repeatedly said the security of the United States and Pakistan are tied.

On March 27, 2009, President Obama noted, ‘Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safehaven in Pakistan..’

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US will make disastrous mistake: Mush

Former president Pervez Musharraf said here on Monday that the US would make a “disastrous” mistake if it withdrew from Afghanistan and warned that a delay in sending more troops would be seen as a sign of weakness, the Washington Times reported.

Asked by reporters and editors at The Washington Times whether the US and its allies might be seen as weak because of the prolonged debate over whether to send more forces to Afghanistan, Musharraf said, “Yes, absolutely. … By this vacillation and lack of commitment to a victory and talking too much about casualties shows weakness in the resolve.”

He said al-Qaeda was less of a threat than the Taliban, which he said was growing in strength among ethnic Pashtuns who straddled the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We must win in Afghanistan,” Musharraf said, warning that otherwise it would become a haven again for al-Qaeda as it was before the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.

“Quitting is not an option,” he said. “We should not delay. Earlier the better.”

Musharraf said US commanders shouldn’t “pursue in areas” where they have the advantage but “draw them out” into areas where the US coalition has the upper hand.

The Taliban “move with bread and onions,” Musharraf said, and don’t require the elaborate logistical support that US troops do.

Musharraf conceded that insurgents cross the border but said that money and weapons were flowing primarily from Afghanistan into Pakistan, not the other way around.

Asked whether the ISI was still helping the Taliban in order to hedge against a US withdrawal and oppose Indian interests in Afghanistan, he denied it.

“I don’t think that is correct at all,” Musharraf said.

“ISI behaves as they are ordered by the government. They never go against government policy.”

He added, “If our attitude is that the army and ISI are the culprits, God save all of us.”

Asked about Pakistan’s previous support of the Taliban, Musharraf said that Pakistan had no other option after the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan but to recognize the Taliban because a rival movement, the Northern Alliance, was supported by India and other opponents of Pakistan. “Is it in our interest to be on the Taliban side now? No,” Musharraf said.

Musharraf also denied reports that Abdul Qadeer Khan sold nuclear weapons materials and designs to Iran, North Korea and Libya with the knowledge of the Pakistani government.

{Source: The News}

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Quetta Shura tops US agenda

WASHINGTON - As American troops move deeper into southern Afghanistan to fight Taliban, the militant group’s leadership council, known here as Quetta Shura, is now high on the Obama administration’s agenda, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson has said, amid reports that Washington may start drone attacks on Balochistan’s capital.

“In the past, we focused on Al-Qaeda because they were a threat to us. The Quetta Shura mattered less to us because we had no troops in the region,” Ambassador Patterson was quoted as saying in the course of a dispatch in The Washington Post, which says that Taliban insurgents have a haven in Pakistan.

“Now our troops are there on the other side of the border, and the Quetta Shura is high on Washington’s list,” she said.

Patterson also acknowledged that the US is far less familiar with the vast desert region than with the northwestern tribal areas, where it has been cooperating closely with Pakistan for several years in the hunt for Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders and where it periodically kills militants with missiles fired from remotely-piloted aircraft.

As Patterson put it: “Our intelligence on Quetta is vastly less. We have no people there, no cross-border operations, no Predators.”

The Post dispatch from Islamabad said US officials are expressing new concerns about the role of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his council of lieutenants, claiming that they launch cross-border strikes from safe havens around Quetta.

“From our judgment, there are no Taliban in Balochistan,” Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s military spokesman, was quoted as saying.

Asked about the names of Quetta Shura leaders provided by Afghan and US officials, he said: “Six to 10 of them have been killed, two are in Afghanistan, and two are insignificant. When people call Mullah Omar the mayor of Quetta, that is incorrect.”

Gen Abbas noted that the recent Pakistani Army operation in the Swat Valley had successfully driven Taliban forces out of the area, and he said he hoped the Swat campaign had overcome any concerns Washington might have about Pakistan’s willingness to take on the insurgents.

If the US has information about Taliban leaders in Balochistan, “tell us who and where they are,” he said. “We will not allow your forces inside.”

Patterson said Pakistani officials had “made it crystal clear that they have different priorities from ours,” being far more concerned about Taliban attacks inside Pakistan than across the border. She noted that Pakistan had once trained fighters to operate against India and elsewhere and that the same groups have now turned against the state.

“You cannot tolerate vipers in your bosom without getting bitten,” Patterson said. “Our concern is whether Pakistan really controls its territory. There are people who do not threaten Pakistan, but who are extremely important to us.”

According to the Post dispatch, Pakistani officials have been accused of allowing the Taliban movement to regroup in the Quetta area, viewing it as a strategic asset rather than a domestic threat, while the Army has been heavily focused on curbing violent extremists in the northwest border region hundreds of miles away.

As a result, Pakistani and foreign analysts here told the Post that Quetta has suddenly emerged as an urgent but elusive new target as Washington grapples with the Taliban’s rapidly spreading arc of influence and terror across Afghanistan.

“Quetta is absolutely crucial to the Taliban today,” Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the Taliban told the Post. “From there they get recruits, fuel and fertilizer for explosives, weapons and food. Suicide bombers are trained on that side. They have support from the mosques and madrassas.”

Michael Semple, a former UN official in Afghanistan now based in Islamabad, described the Quetta region’s refugee camps as ‘a great reserve army’ for the Taliban. He said Pashtun tribes in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s ethnic and spiritual base, have strong ties with those on the Pakistan side.

“They are intermarried, they have Pakistani ID cards, and you can’t tell the difference,” Semple said. On the other hand, he said, reports of Taliban leaders living openly in Quetta, even attending weddings, are nonsense. “They are deeply suspicious of the Pakistanis, and they have their own agenda,” he said.

{Source: The Nation}

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Al Qaeda leader’s sons sent to S. Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has handed over to Saudi Arabia two sons of top Yemeni Al Qaeda leader Alawi who masterminded the suicide attack on Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammad bin Nayef in Jeddah last month.

Sources told Dawn that Saudi authorities had shared intelligence information about Alawi’s sons Ali and Siddique with Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik during his recent visit to Jeddah and requested cooperation in tracing and arresting the two top planners of suicide attacks.

On the basis of the information, Pakistani intelligence agencies went into action and arrested the two during a raid on sanctuary in tribal areas where they were hiding.

They were brought to Islamabad and, after brief interrogation, were sent to Saudi Arabia escorted by security officials. Getting hold of the wanted persons Prince Nayef announced the release of a five-member Pakistani family arrested earlier on the charge of smuggling drugs into the kingdom.

The operation was completed before Eid and Mr Malik announced at a news conference on the Eid day that the five Pakistanis had been released by the Saudi authorities, but he did not say what had prompted Saudi Arabia to release them.

Alawi is a top Al Qaeda leader from Yemen and his two sons were operating from Pakistan’s tribal areas, managing and supervising terror attack.

In the Jeddah suicide attack, Prince Nayef was injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Ramazan gathering.

Although there is no extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan handed over the two foreign militants bypassing its law to oblige the Saudi authorities.

Syed Rashid Husain adds from Riyadh: Five Pakistanis arrested on arrival in Jeddah with drugs in their slippers and subsequently released by the Saudi authorities are now expected to reach Pakistan on Tuesday or Wednesday. Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammad bin Nayef are in direct touch, finalising modalities of the return, Pakistan’s Ambassador Omar Khan Ali Sherzai told this correspondent. The five were expected to be sent home earlier by a Saudi special flight, but the departure was delayed because Mr Malik was not in Pakistan.

The Saudi authorities have expressed the desire that the gesture of sending the Pakistanis returning by a royal plane, a demonstration of goodwill for the people of Pakistan, required that they should be received in Pakistan by none else than the interior minister.

Eight Pakistanis were arrested in Jeddah on charges of carrying drugs. Of them ‘three have been proven to be guilty, both by our investigations and the Saudi investigations,’ the Pakistani ambassador said. These three had been involved in the drug trade for some time and had been to Saudi Arabia a number of times.

According to diplomatic sources, the group got arrested in Jeddah because of a remark recorded in the database about one of them. The immigration authorities found out that he had been coming to Jeddah on a regular basis.

During interrogation the man conceded that he was carrying drugs in his slippers and that seven other members of the group who had already been cleared and were waiting for him outside also carried drugs. This information led to the arrest of the seven.

{Source: Dawn}

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Talk Shows

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    A MUST WATCH: NRO expired today Nov 28, Eid ul Azha. Now what? Dr Shahid Masood presents past clips of his discussions on NRO with Akram Sheikh (Attorney), Ch Aitzaz Ahsan (PPP leader & lawyer), Ahmer Bilal Sufi (Intl law expert), Dr Babar Awan (PPP), Qamar Zama Kaira (PPP). New guest: Dr Mubashar Hasan, Shaheen Sehbai (Group Editor The News), Ansar Abbasi (The News Investigative Editor)

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  • 50 MINUTE with Abdur Rauf: Nov 27
    November 28, 2009 | 6:26 am

    Whither education in Pakistan? Why 10 Educational Policies in 62 years. Guests: Dr Mehdi Hasan (Educationist), Ismat Aziz (Educationist), Samar Minallah (Social Worker), Dr Mubarak Ali..

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    Friday callers’ day. Nusrat Javed and Mushtaq Minhas discuss caller’s issues and ongoing political developments..

  • SAWAL YEH HAI with Dr. Danish: Nov 27
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  • TONIGHT with Najam Sethi: Nov 27
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