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    South Asia
     Oct 7, 2006
Taliban put Pakistan on notice
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - With trouble on the battlefield, US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has recommended, for the first time since September 11, 2001, the need to bring the Taliban into the Afghan government. At the same time, Pakistan is secretly playing its own game of carrot and stick in Afghanistan to influence events to its liking.

However, two quick warning signals to Islamabad this week convey the unmistakable message that regardless of what

Washington or Islamabad might desire, the Taliban are the ones who will decide which carrots and which sticks to play.

Last month could prove to be pivotal in determining the ultimate fate of the Taliban and Afghanistan, and even the United States' "war on terror".

The Taliban, after the success of this year's spring offensive, have drawn up a blueprint for an Islamic intifada in Afghanistan next year in the form of a national uprising and an internationalization of their resistance.

This followed a "peace" deal between the Pakistani Taliban in the Waziristan tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan in which Islamabad agreed to release some al-Qaeda suspects in return for the Taliban stopping cross-border activities.

President General Pervez Musharraf then went to Washington, where he announced that foreign forces in Afghanistan would be given the right of hot pursuit into the tribal areas. He also said the authorities would take action against former army officials associated with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for supporting the Taliban.

That all is not well with this agreement is illustrated by two events this week. First, a missile landed in Ayub Park, the highest-security zone in Rawalpindi, just a few hundred meters from Musharraf's official residence at Army House. The next day, several rockets apparently linked to a mobile phone for firing were found near parliament in Islamabad.

Asia Times Online has learned that the incidents were a clear show of disapproval in Waziristan over Musharraf's basking in "Washington's charm", and that he had not implemented a key aspect of the peace accord - the release of al-Qaeda suspects - despite numerous promises.

In other words, the Pakistani Taliban are using their own stick to keep Islamabad in line.

The sore point, as mentioned, was the release of "al-Qaeda-linked" Pakistani militants arrested in Pakistani cities. The Pakistani authorities did release many, but a few, whose arrest was also known to US intelligence, were not. Musharraf said they would be freed once he returned from Washington, but this did not happen. Negotiations were still taking place when an incident happened that angered the Pakistani Taliban.

Progress arrested
Shah Abdul Aziz of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a six-party religious alliance, is a member of the National Assembly from Karak in North-West Frontier Province. Though his direct party affiliation is with the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam led by Maulana Samiul Haq (the father of the Taliban), his real status derives from his being a veteran mujahideen from the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He vocally supports the Taliban, Arab militants and Osama bin Laden, and his fiery speeches on these topics are compiled into compact discs that are popular among the Pakistani Taliban.

Shah Mehboob Ahmed is a younger brother of Shah Abdul Aziz and also enjoys a great deal of respect among local as well as Afghan Taliban for helping the mujahideen.

The story starts when Mehboob hosted a British-born Pakistani, known only as Abdullah, who was on a list of wanted people. Abdullah then went to Islamabad and met with the biggest Taliban-supporting cleric, Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, at Lal Mosque. As Abdullah left the mosque, he was picked up by intelligence agencies. One of the leads acquired from Abdullah was that he had been hosted by Mehboob. So Mehboob was also detained.

Shah Abdul Aziz, the member of parliament, contacted ISI high-ups about his brother's arrest and was informed that he would be released soon after formal investigations. However, neither Abdullah nor Mehboob was released.

This took tension between the Pakistani Taliban and the authorities to boiling point, with the former charging that not only had Islamabad not fulfilled its promises to release all Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees, but it was violating the agreement and arresting such people as Mehboob and Abdullah.

Islamabad responded that the two were part of Indian intelligence's proxy network, and that was why they had been held - not because of any possible links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban did not buy this and made it clear that as the authorities had violated the agreement, they should be ready to face the Taliban's music.

At this point Musharraf said in an interview in the US that some retired ISI officials could be assisting Taliban insurgents, adding: "We are keeping a very tight watch and we will get hold of them if that at all happened. I have some reports that some dissidents, some retired people who were in the forefront in the ISI during the period of 1979 to 1989, may be assisting the links somewhere here and there."

This set off heated debate in Pakistan, leading some people to speculate that Hamid Gul, one of the most popular Islamist generals and Musharraf's immediate boss and close associate before September 11, 2001, might be arrested. Speaking to Asia Times Online, Gul termed Musharraf's statement a reflection of his "impulsive nature" and said he was in danger of opening up a "Pandora's box".

The upshot of all this, according to signals reaching this correspondent, is that Musharraf has been put on notice. The first two incidents this week caused no damage. That was possibly the intent. This is unlikely to be the case with the next ones.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing .)

Taliban lay plans for Islamic intifada (Oct 6, '06)

Pakistan reaches into Afghanistan (Oct 3, '06)

Afghanistan: Why NATO cannot win (Sep 30, '06)


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