Taliban send a bloody warning
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - The Taliban made their bloody presence felt in the Afghan capital
Kabul on Wednesday with a daring attack that claimed the lives of at least 26
people, with up to 60 injured.
Suicide bombers and gunmen, reminiscent of the Pakistan-linked terror attack on
the Indian city of Mumbai last November, stormed heavily guarded government
ministries near the presidential palace, making an unequivocal statement that
they are a factor to be reckoned with as Western-led nations scramble to
contain the Taliban insurgency and find a way to protect supply lines into
The attack, the most complex and brazen in the capital since the Taliban were
ousted in 2001, involved five armed militants
storming the Ministry of Justice building in a crowded downtown area, killing
some workers and taking others hostage. Afghan security forces exchanged
gunfire for hours before freeing the hostages and killing all of the
insurgents. At the same time, suicide bombers attacked a Prison Affairs office
in the north of the city, while a gunman opened fire outside the Education
Ministry before being killed by police.
The attack came a day ahead of a visit by Richard Holbrooke, the new United
States special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and can be seen as a clear
statement that even while furious diplomatic activity is taking place involving
among others Washington and Moscow, the Taliban voice will be heard.
The administration of US President Barack Obama, along with Britain, which has
appointed Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles as its envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan,
are attempting to strengthen Pakistan's role against the Taliban and al-Qaeda,
as well as trying to bring India into the fold of their strategic partnership.
A spokesman for the Taliban was reported to have claimed responsibility for the
incident, saying it was revenge for the mistreatment of Taliban prisoners by
Initial inquires point towards Sirajuddin Haqqani, along with other groups
including Arab and Pakistani militants. Haqqani's network is the most
resourceful and the strongest component of the Taliban-led Afghan resistance
with long-standing links to Pakistan.
The attack comes as something of a surprise as it was widely believed that the
Taliban would lie relatively low ahead of this year's spring offensive. In the
meanwhile, various diplomatic initiatives are underway for the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) forces to be fully prepared come April.
Russian connection The Obama administration went the extra mile to
achieve this task by unofficially using the services of veteran Henry
Kissinger, a former US national security advisor and secretary of state, to
deal with Russia. Kissinger has been dealing with Moscow on START (Strategic
Arms Reduction Treaty) negotiations as the accord expires in December this
On the sidelines of this past weekend's 45th Munich Security Conference,
Kissinger was instrumental in making a deal with Russia under which the most
Russian-influenced Central Asian republic, Kazakhstan, agreed to refine and
supply 100% of the oil needed for NATO in Afghanistan. Currently, 90% of the
oil is supplied by Pakistani refineries, with 5% coming from Azerbaijan and the
rest via other Central Asian sates.
Russia has also tacitly agreed to allow NATO's military supplies to pass
through its territory as routes through Pakistan are being severely disrupted.
In return, Moscow would expect NATO expansion into Europe to stop and that
other defense-related issues in Europe would take into consideration Russian
On the battlefields in Pakistan and Afghanistan, meanwhile, plans are afoot to
launch the strongest offensive yet against militants. This could begin once
Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani returns to Pakistan from the
United States where he will discuss in detail the dynamics of the militancy and
enhanced cooperation between Islamabad and Washington.
Holbrooke has already met with the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League of
Nawaz Sharif and is expected to persuade Sharif from supporting a potentially
politically destabilizing lawyers' movement in March against the government.
Pakistan is continuing its efforts to curtail militants in Khyber Agency, where
they are causing havoc with the bulk of the NATO supplies that pass through the
area on the way to Afghanistan. The next plan is to target the Taliban in
Mohmand Agency, Bajaur Agency and the Swat Valley, as well as in North
Waziristan and the South Waziristan, which serve as vital bases for the
Taliban's efforts in Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, the Pakistani Taliban have stepped up attacks on Pakistani
cities as advance warning to the Pakistani security apparatus not to implement
any joint US-Pakistan operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. These are
expected to reach deep inside Pakistani territory.
In this vicious cycle, new responses could emerge in coming days, such as
attacks in Islamabad, where security has been tightened to unprecedented
levels. Such a development in the capital of the most important non-NATO ally
would be devastating.
Across the border in India, there are also murmurings of al-Qaeda terror cells
exploding into action to deter India from aligning with Western forces against
the Taliban-led resistance in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda assesses 2009 as the year in which it could fight its fiercest - if
not decisive - battle: the flames of war could flare at any time, anywhere.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]