US to hunt the Taliban inside
Pakistan By Syed Saleem
KARACHI - Since last September,
North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in
Afghanistan have been pressing Islamabad for the
right to conduct extensive hot-pursuit operations
into Pakistan to target Taliban and al-Qaeda
According to Asia Times Online
contacts, NATO and its US backers have gotten
their wish: coalition forces will start hitting
targets wherever they might be.
President General Pervez Musharraf is expected to
an important announcement on extremism during an
address to the nation in the next day or two.
The ATol contacts in Islamabad say that
coalition intelligence has pinpointed at least
four centers in the tribal areas of North
Waziristan and South Waziristan on the border with
Afghanistan from which Taliban operations inside
Afghanistan are run. These bases include arms
caches and the transfer and raising of money and
manpower, the latter in the form of foot-soldiers
to fight with the Taliban-led insurgency.
Operations inside Pakistan might be
carried out independently by the United States,
probably with air power, by Pakistani forces
acting alone or as joint offensives. In all cases,
though, the US will pull the strings, for instance
by providing the Pakistanis with information on
targets to hit.
Musharraf has apparently
already told his military commanders, the National
Security Council and decision-makers in government
of the development.
Officially, both NATO
and Pakistan deny any agreement on hot-pursuit
activities. Major John Thomas, spokesman for
NATO's International Security Assistance Force,
told Asia Times Online, "The ISAF would not strike
any targets across the border. That is not part of
our mission. We work with the Pakistani government
closely on cross-border issues. The ISAF does not
have a counter-terrorism mission that I know of."
Similarly, the director general of the
Inter-Services Public Relations of the Pakistani
Armed Forces, Major-General Waheed Arshad, said
NATO forces would not be allowed to intervene in
Pakistani areas. He conceded that Pakistan is wary
of growing extremism in the country, but said
there is no threat of Talibanization.
Taliban are a problem for Afghanistan, not
Pakistan. There are a few extremist groups
operating in Pakistan and we have our own
indigenous mechanism to counter them through
law-enforcement agencies, and through paramilitary
and military deployment," Waheed said.
Nevertheless, the ATol contacts are
adamant that an agreement is in place for
increased operations on Pakistani soil, given the
deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and US
fears of al-Qaeda using Pakistan as a base for
planning operations in the West. There are
Last month, US Central
Intelligence Agency drones targeted a
madrassa in North Waziristan, and 20 people
were killed. CIA drones tried to take out al-Qaeda
No 2 Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2006 in Bajur
Agency. Zawahiri survived, but 18 people died. In
December 2005, al-Qaeda leader Hamza Rabia was
killed by a CIA predator aircraft in the town of
Mir Ali, North Waziristan.
operations, which could begin within weeks, if not
days, are expected to be much larger in scale.
A border in name only In recent
meetings at both the policy and operational levels
between Washington and Islamabad, it was
acknowledged that Pakistan simply cannot control
its border with Afghanistan. Pakistan has
established numerous military posts in the tribal
areas, but with distances of as much as 20
kilometers between them they can't stop the
cross-border flow, especially given the rugged
nature of the terrain.
On the Afghan side of the
border, NATO and the Afghan National Army have
also established posts, but they are even less
numerous than on the Pakistani side and, given
their isolation, are
open to enemy fire.
While most of the Taliban's cross-border
activity takes place from the Waziristans, it
extends to Chaman, Zhob and Noshki in the
southwest and Bajaur and Mohmand in the northwest.
In North West Frontier Province, the
settled towns of Tank, Laki Marwat, Bannu and Dera
Ismail Khan have all but been taken over by the
Pakistani Taliban and they recruit from these
areas. The circle is expanding up to the Valley of
Peshawar, which includes Peshawar city and Mardan.
However, the Taliban's influence in the Valley of
Peshawar is still basic.
On the other
hand, a pro-Taliban force named
Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) has
spread rapidly, and its influence ranges from
Bajaur, Malakand, Swat Valley and Mingora. The
TNSM sent 10,000 men to Afghanistan in 2001 to
fight against the US-led invasion. The
organization is dedicated to the enforcement of
Islamic laws. Like the Pakistan Taliban, the TNSM
uses scores of illegal FM radio stations as a
propaganda tool, and its popularity increases with
every passing day.
All roads lead to
the mosque All these pro-Taliban/al-Qaeda
zones on the Afghan border have connections with
the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, run by
outspoken brothers Maulana Abdul Aziz and Ghazi
Abdul Rasheed. The brothers are openly pro-Taliban
and also run large Islamic seminaries for boys and
The Pakistani establishment
believes Aziz is in fact the new leader of all the
Taliban and al-Qaeda assets spreading through
northwestern Pakistan, especially the zone
commanded by the TNSM. Aziz delivers lectures by
telephone every evening to TNSM members.
Lal Masjid has had numerous high-profile
run-ins and standoffs with the government, but
Islamabad has never risked an outright
confrontation, given the power and influence of
the brothers and their standing in the jihadist
They can be expected to organize
sustained resistance should NATO/US forces launch
attacks into Pakistan. Some reports claim that
about 70 suicide bombers are waiting to be
unleashed from the mosque. But any attack on the
mosque could set off a chain reaction all the way
from Islamabad to the Afghan border and beyond, in
the process throwing Pakistan further into
At this point in the "war on
terror", this is something the US does not want,
at least not until it has had one more crack at
rooting out the Taliban and al-Qaeda from
Pakistan. Washington has paid Pakistan about $1
billion a year for the past five years for its
efforts in tackling terrorism. Now the US
administration wants more return on that money.
Musharraf already faces intense opposition
over his suspension of his chief justice on
charges of malfeasance. Both political and
religious opponents are riding the bandwagon with
a vengeance, especially as the country faces
presidential elections this year.
US officials, including John Negroponte, the
deputy secretary of state, and Richard Boucher,
the assistant secretary of state, recently visited
Pakistan to spell out to opposition leaders that
the US is still behind Musharraf, although it will
support the participation of secular, democratic
political parties in government.
development occurred even as Washington voiced its
dissatisfaction over Musharraf's performance with
regard to the Taliban: it pointed to Pakistan's
clear involvement in supporting the insurgency in
Helmand province since last year.
the US was even prepared to withdraw its support
of Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, but after
a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney to Pakistan,
the general remains in favor. Cheney's office is
believed to run the United States' Pakistan
The reasons are probably twofold:
the US needs Pakistan's support should it attack
Iran (covert operations into Iran are reportedly
already taking place from Pakistan), and the US is
concerned over the revival of the Taliban and
al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
With regard to the
latter, the head of the US Central Command,
Admiral William Fallon, followed up Cheney's
visit, warning Islamabad that the US needs
Pakistan's assistance and approval to confront the
bases. He also made it clear that any delay on the
part of Pakistan to allow NATO operations could
result in another major terror operation in the
West. And if that happens, Pakistan will face the
Musharraf has already agreed to
take some prisoners from the US detention facility
at Guantanamo Bay (see Pakistan to help as the US's
jailer, Asia Times Online, June 29).
Now he's opening his doors to the United States'
soldiers. It's a move fraught with danger for
Musharraf and Pakistan, and one that could
influence the direction of both the war in
Afghanistan and the "war on terror".
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at[email protected] .