WRITE for ATol ADVERTISE MEDIA KIT GET ATol BY EMAIL ABOUT ATol CONTACT US
Asia Time Online - Daily News
              Click Here
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese



    South Asia
     Nov 9, 2006
Afghanistan strikes back at Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - After a number of recent incidents, it is emerging that for the first time since the fall of the communist regime in Afghanistan 13 years ago, Afghan intelligence, likely with foreign assistance, is active in Pakistan.

At the same time, several attacks on Pakistani military bases - the most recent a suicide attack on Wednesday morning that killed at least 35 soldiers - add to the overall volatility of the country. And this comes at a time that the top brass are gathering at 



General Headquarters in Rawalpindi to make a vital decision on Pakistan's role in the "war on terror".

Last week, a car bomb ripped through the office of the inspector general of police in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Pakistan's Balochistan province. One policeman and two other men were killed.

This followed a bomb attack in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), in which nine people were killed and more than 30 injured.

And on Tuesday, NWFP Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai escaped unhurt in a rocket attack while he was addressing a council in Wana, headquarters of the South Waziristan tribal agency.

Initial investigations into the Quetta attack pointed to suspects of Afghan-Uzbek origin. A subsequent massive raid netted more than 70 Afghans, a few of whom admitted connections with Afghan intelligence.

A joint investigation team comprising Military Intelligence, Inter-Services Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau then grilled these suspects and concluded that the sophisticated and organizational nature of the operation was beyond the known capabilities of Afghan intelligence on its own.

"KHAD [Khadamat-e Etela'at-e Dawlati, Afghanistan's secret police] was the most active agency in the region throughout the 1980s, but most of its counter-intelligence missions were assisted by the [Soviet] KGB. KHAD's external wing carried out bomb attacks in cities such as Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi, as well as assassinations of mujahideen leaders," a senior security official told Asia Times Online on condition his identity not be revealed.

"Now, no KGB services are available to Afghan intelligence, and none of the old Soviet-trained Afghan officials remain. Thus it is a matter of surprise for Pakistan to see Afghan intelligence using methods which only a few intelligence agencies, considered the best in the world, are capable of applying," the security official said without giving names but clearly hinting at British, US and Indian intelligence.

Information acquired from the suspects rounded up in Quetta and other parts of the country revealed a network working through the Afghan consulates in Karachi and Quetta, where the Afghan Foreign Ministry had attached a number of staff who were not career diplomats but activists of the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance, a mostly non-Pashtun grouping, bitterly opposed the Taliban during their rule from 1996-2001.

According to Asia Times Online contacts, during interrogation some of the suspects talked of plans for death squads to launch attacks in Karachi and Islamabad. The facilitation was to be through the Afghan consulates in Quetta and Karachi.

The death squads were to target top religious leaders considered pro-Taliban. One of the names learned by this correspondent is Maulana Noor Mohammed (a member of parliament from Quetta), in addition to some non-political clerics in the tribal and border areas.

Certainly, such killings would anger the large pro-Taliban following in Pakistan; at the same time, they would likely fuel sectarian strife in the country as the blame would fall on Shi'ites.

More instability would be the obvious result.

Army in the firing line
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at an army parade ground in the town of Dargai in NWFP, killing at least 35 soldiers and wounding 20. Dargai is mostly pro-Taliban.

The first reaction would be to assume that this attack had nothing to do with Afghan intelligence operatives - why should they attack the Pakistani army, which is ostensibly on their side?

But if it was Afghan intelligence, as a section of Pakistani intelligence is convinced, the argument is the same as it was for the Quetta attack. In that incident the attackers selected the office of the inspector general of police because insurgents in Afghanistan target Afghan police and the Afghan National Army (ANA), in what the Afghan government calls Pakistan-sponsored attacks. So these would be tit-for-tat responses.

Wednesday's attack could also have been undertaken by al-Qaeda-linked militants. Indeed, they would be the immediate suspects. This would be because they are seeking revenge for the air attacks on a madrassa (seminary) in Bajour agency last week in which 80 people died. US drones are believed to have been involved in the attack, which officials said targeted militants.

Further, the militants would want to sabotage peace deals between Islamabad and the tribal areas. North and South Waziristan recently concluded deals under which the army would withdraw in exchange for the tribals stemming the flow of militants across the border into Afghanistan. Bajour agency was on the brink of signing such a deal when the air attacks came.

Shifting tides
According to Asia Times Online contacts, the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once the favorite of Pakistan's groups, has come out into the open in southwestern Afghanistan in a form of alliance with local Afghan governments. Gulbuddin has been considered an important player in the Taliban-led insurgency.

HIA commanders have taken control of many villages and towns. Here they have hoisted HIA flags alongside those of the local Afghan administrations, which are already filled with former HIA members. Hekmatyar has already signaled for a deal with the Afghan administration in Kabul.

Certainly Hekmatyar would not have changed his attitude toward foreign forces in Afghanistan and still demands that they announce a schedule for leaving. But Hekmatyar has always been against killing ANA or members of the police. The present arrangements in parts of the southwest between the HIA and Afghan administrations are purely local and not between North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces and the HIA.

Nevertheless, this is an important development and a positive one from Kabul's point of view.

At the same time, a number of Baloch insurgents, including top commanders of the Baloch Liberation Army, are in Kabul - again, for the first time since the fall of the communist regime in Afghanistan in 1992. The Pakistani government has been battling an insurgency in Balochistan province for many years. The last thing it would want is the insurgency to receive support - moral or any other form - from Afghanistan.

Pakistan's choices
Pakistan has been walking between the devil and the deep blue sea ever since it signed on to the "war on terror" in 2001 after ditching the Taliban.

It has constantly been criticized by Washington and Kabul for not doing enough to root out al-Qaeda militants and Taliban elements in its territory, while at the same time President General Pervez Musharraf has drawn open hostility (including assassination attempts) from militants, clerics and even sections of the armed forces.

As stated above, Pakistan recently tried to bring some security to the semi-autonomous tribal areas by signing agreements with the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan and South Waziristan, and was about to strike one with Bajour.

Pakistan tried to convince Washington that such deals would be beneficial to the "war on terror", but Washington thought just the opposite, with visions of a vast uncontrollable zone emerging in Pakistan as the strategic backyard of the anti-US movement in Afghanistan. Thus the widespread conviction that the US took matters into its own hands by launching the Bajour attack.

Apparently, Musharraf wanted to follow up this action with further attacks on suspected militants, but was dissuaded from doing so by his top brass, who argued for reconciliation with the Taliban at all costs.

As a result, Musharraf is back to square one with regard to Washington and the Taliban: he just doesn't know which way to turn. The reports of Afghan counter-intelligence activity in Pakistan make the decision all that much more difficult.

Boiled down, Pakistan has three choices, all of them tough:

  • Go head-to-head with Pakistan's militants and face intense instability in which Afghan intelligence would be ready to play its part;
  • Strike a Waziristan-like deal with militants and face Washington's wrath in the shape of more air strikes and other conspiracies, including even a coup;
  • Reassess its whole policy in the region and come up with something that would allow Islamabad once again to gain friends in Kabul as well as keep its Western allies happy.

    According to reports from Waziristan, a new video by al-Qaeda leader Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri will be released soon in which he will call for a global jihad against the US and its ally, Pakistan.

    Against this background, Pakistan's top brass will debate the options above. Whichever path they choose, it will have a defining influence on the "war on terror".

    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.)
  • NATO fighting the wrong battle in Afghanistan
    Nov 4

    NATO takes the fight to Pakistan
    Nov 2

     
     



    All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
    Copyright 1999 - 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd.
    Head Office: Rm 202, Hau Fook Mansion, No. 8 Hau Fook St., Kowloon, Hong Kong
    Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110