ISLAMABAD - Pakistani security agencies over the past few days have seized
28,000 kilograms of explosives in the city of Lahore, as well as anti-aircraft
guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and ammunition and suicide vests, a
well-placed senior security official has told Asia Times Online.
The crackdown in the capital of Punjab province undoubtedly prevented another
attack by al-Qaeda - there have been several over the past few years - and the
opening up of a battle front in the city. However, the security official warned
that al-Qaeda-linked militant attacks were still expected "from the southern
port city of Karachi to the tribal areas".
Pakistan is regularly a victim of militant attacks, but the focus of
al-Qaeda and its allies until now has primarily been on the supply lines of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization that pass through Pakistan and on the
Taliban-led insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.
A possible intensification of attacks across Pakistan comes at a critical time
for the United States as it struggles to find a breakthrough in the nearly
nine-year-old war in Afghanistan, especially ahead of mid-term elections in
November in the US, where the war is becoming increasingly unpopular.
Pakistan is a crucial factor in any decision Washington makes over Afghanistan.
Any US efforts to engage the Taliban and get them to join a reconciliation
process with the Afghan government will require Pakistani assistance.
Similarly, the US needs Pakistan to crack down on militant bases that feed into
the insurgency, notably in the North Waziristan tribal area that borders
Afghanistan, which also serves as the global headquarter of al-Qaeda's
The key figure in Pakistan in terms of the US's war efforts is Chief of Army
Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, who is scheduled to retire this November. To
date Pakistan's Washington-backed government has shown no sign of seeking an
extension for him. Under Kiani the military apparatus has worked hard to
solicit the Afghan Taliban for a basic level of reconciliation. Plans are in
place for an operation in North Waziristan, but Kiani has indicated that he
will decide when to go ahead, if at all.
Western media have exaggerated apparent relations between Afghan commander
Sirajuddin Haqqani and the Pakistan military. For once, however, the military
is pleased as this is the kind of influential role that Pakistan wants to play
in Afghanistan in the future. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the son of Jalaluddin
Haqqani, the famed mujahideen commander who fought against the Soviets. The
Haqqani network, which has a base in North Waziristan, is one of the most
powerful insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
Sirajuddin Haqqani has acquired huge influence over the past few years in the
Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Khost, Paktia and Paktika. He has also fully
supported attacks co-ordinated and facilitated by al-Qaeda, such as the ones in
Kabul and on Bagram air base this year.
While he travels extensively in Afghanistan, North Waziristan is still his
strategic backyard, and here he is completely dependent on al-Qaeda or
al-Qaeda-inspired groups. For this reason he contributed to the anti-Shi'ite
attacks in Kurram Agency in 2007 and he has sent his men to support local Sunni
militias. During the military offensive in 2009 against militants in South
Waziristan, Sirajuddin Haqqani provided sanctuary to escaping Mehsud militants.
However, while Sirajuddin Haqqani is al-Qaeda's asset, his ailing father
Jalaluddin is somewhat different as he has long-standing friendships with
several Pashtu-speaking officers who are now high-ranking.
After September 11, 2001, when Pakistan had joined the US's "war on terror",
Jalaluddin was invited a few times to Islamabad to get him to separate from the
Taliban. He was not a part of the original Taliban movement but he
unconditionally surrendered and supported the Taliban when they emerged in the
mid-1990s and then took power in Kabul in 1996. He led his own faction as a
Pakistani officials assured Jalaluddin that he could become prime minister - or
even president - in the new Afghanistan following the Taliban's ouster in late
2001. He refused outright, saying he was still loyal to Taliban leader Mullah
Omar. If Jalaluddin were to separate from Mullah Omar, it would jolt the
Taliban movement, but it would also cost him his command in several Afghan
provinces. Further, he would lose his al-Qaeda-supported base in North
Waziristan and within months he would be yesterday's man.
In the year 2010, Jalaluddin's stance remains the same, as does the position of
his son Sirajuddin.
As it scrambles for solutions, Washington has encouraged Afghan President Hamid
Karzai in his dealings with the Pakistani security apparatus to strike deals
with the Taliban in Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan.
Karzai has called for the delisting of some Taliban from a United Nations
terror list and has released hundreds of Taliban and people linked to the
Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He also booted out two prominent
anti-Pakistan figures, including the head of the National Directorate of
Security, Amrullah Saleh. He was a senior figure in the anti-Taliban Northern
Alliance that helped the US oust the Taliban regime in 2001. Also sacked was
interior minister Hanif Atmar, who as a young man served in Afghanistan's
communist-era intelligence agency and fought mujahideen opposed to the Soviet
"This decision leaves Hamid Karzai under a serious security threat," a former
Afghan general who served with the communists as well as with the mujahideen
against the Soviets told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity. "His
overtures with Pakistan are unlikely to bear fruit in terms of a breakthrough
with the Taliban, but now he keeps up the hostility level with the northern
Afghan militant factions who have encircled him deeply inside Kabul."
In the mean time, a large terror attack could once again change the dynamics of
the region, whether it took place in Afghanistan, Pakistan or even India.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org