Losing Karachi

Karachi

We lost East Pakistan in 1971. Our grip on FATA is tenuous and could slip away completely if government finally caves in to Taliban demands in peace talks. Former Chief Minister Akhtar Mengal has warned that Pakistan could lose Balochistan if the situation there is not resolved. Today, Karachi too can be added to the list of areas that are falling out of state control as the nation begins to unravel.

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Cross-border attacks and Credibility

Cross border attacks are getting a lot of attention these days. The vicious murder of our soldiers by jihadi militants proves that it’s our war whether we want to admit it or not. Unfortunately, there is increasing evidence that Pakistani jihadi groups are crossing into Afghanistan to target Afghan forces. If allowed to continue, these events will destroy any credibility we have in demanding that our own sovereignty be respected.

We are often told that groups like al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba are completely unrelated. Al Qaeda is against US, Afghan Taliban is against occupation, and LeT is against occupation of Kashmir. But if LeT is really only interested in liberating Kashmir, what are they doing fighting in Afghanistan? Jihadi fighters loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur not only crossed the border into Afghanistan, the dead are being returned to Pakistan for burial after they were killed during a cross border attack.

An Afghan and coalition security force conducted an operation, in Watahpur district, Kunar province, yesterday. The target of the operation was Khatab Shafiq, a Lashkar-e-Taiba leader. Khatab Shafiq was the LeT’s senior leader in Kunar province. He was responsible for several attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, and provided money, weapons and training to insurgents in the region. Khatab Shafiq also established multiple insurgent training camps in eastern Afghanistan, where insurgents learned how to use mortars, rockets and machine guns. Most recently, he was involved with teaching insurgents how to build and emplace improvised explosive devices. During the operation, the security force positively identified Khatab Shafiq among an armed group of insurgents. After determining there were no civilians in the area, the security force engaged the insurgents with a precision airstrike away from all civilian structures. After the strike, the Afghan and coalition security force conducted a follow-on assessment and confirmed Khatab Shafiq, along with multiple other insurgents, had been killed.

Actually, this should come as no surprise. Executive Director Centre for Research and Security Studies Imtiaz Gul noted in his column for Express Tribune last week that the notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban has shown to be an illusion as both are working more closely together than has been previously admitted.

Not only are they redrawing common strategies in view of the operational and political hiccups that the US-Nato is facing in Afghanistan, but they are also becoming a source of instability in Pakistan itself. All Pakistani militant forces inimical to the US-Nato presence in Afghanistan, including the al Qaeda, who consider Pakistan as an equal culprit (for the sufferings of Afghans) have ratcheted up violence — delivering the proverbial pinpricks to Pakistani society (including the June 23 murder of nine people in Quetta).

Unfortunately, our military leadership seems to be living on a different planet. COAS issued orders to retaliate against NATO aggression, but has remained silent on the militant groups.

Our leaders are correct to hold the NATO commanders responsible for cross-border attacks against our soldiers. But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. How can we be taken seriously when we demand that militants not be allowed to cross from the Afghan side when there appears to be a steady stream of militants crossing from our side? Credibility is hard won and easily lost. Some may think it makes no difference since the Americans will be leaving soon anyway, but with our credibility in tatters, will we be taken seriously when militants cross another border?

Saying #ShutUp Doesn’t Solve the Problem

zawahiri

Yesterday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that she believes al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding in Pakistan. Foreign Minister Khar responded with grace and poise following such a serious allegation, stating that the government has no information about Zawahiri’s being in Pakistan, but that if the US does would it kindly share that intelligence with Pakistan so that they government can take appropriate action. Unfortunately, this was not the only response. In addition to the FM’s cool reaction was, of course, the predictable outburst of emotion that ignored all reason and, in trying to defend Pakistan, behaved embarrassingly.

The embarrassing response took the form of a Twitter hashtag #ShutUpClinton. As you might expect from the hashtag itself, these were not the most intelligent responses to Clinton’s accusation. They were emotional, reactive, and often attempts to change the subject by pointing out problems with US policy as if that someone excuses problems with our own.

There is no doubt that the US has made some profound mistakes. 9/11 was a terrible intelligence failure. The invasion of Iraq was based on manipulated evidence and propaganda. But just because the Americans have intelligence failures and manipulated evidence and propaganda, does that mean we should do the same?

Many people responded to the #ShutUpClinton campaign by pointing out that Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan undetected. What came to my mind wasn’t Osama, though, it was Warren Weinstein – the 70-year-old development worker who was kidnapped from his home in Lahore last August.

Overshadowed by Clinton’s remarks was another piece of news that should shake us to our core. The kidnapped American aid worker has finally been heard from – in an al Qaeda hostage video.

It was the first direct confirmation that Al Qaeda was holding Mr. Weinstein, the country director for the Washington-based consultancy J.E. Austin Associates, which contracts for the United States Agency for International Development.

Armed men snatched him from a Lahore neighborhood in August; three months later the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, said Mr. Weinstein could be released if the Obama administration stopped all airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and released several men convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Yesterday, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud declared that the 4th May suicide bombing in Bajaur district was carried out to avenge the 2006 death of an al Qaeda commander. An article in Express Tribune explains the frightening al Qaeda connection in Bajaur:

A Mohmand cleric, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad arose as the al Qaeda-backed leader of the Taliban in Bajaur, who has escaped capture for the last six years, although it was rumoured earlier this year that he may have been killed. He is an important commander with approximately 3,000 warriors under his wing and is expected to fight the post-withdrawal war in Afghanistan. In August 2008, the army launched Operation Sherdil against him to stop the Taliban movement to and from Kunar. The terrorists were ousted from the agency by 2010 but, like warlord Fazlullah of Swat, Maulvi Faqir is able to make hit-and-run raids into the area. Bajaur is far too strategically important for al Qaeda to abandon. In the coming battle, this will be the funnel through which our warriors will cross over to fight the Northern Alliance.

Maulvi Faqir has been difficult to eliminate because of his alliance-making dexterity: he is aligned to Mullah Omar and al-Zawahiri. There are other terrorist outfits in Bajaur that owe similar allegiances and are at the beck and call of Maulvi Faqir. Since 2007, the Taliban are there together with the remnants of TNSM. But the Jaish-i-Muhammad is there too, headed by Qari Ali Rehman, who will unite against the Pakistan Army despite his differences with Maulvi Faqir. The Harkatul Jihadul Islami, which was involved in the Islamabad Marriot Hotel blast, is also active in Bajaur,

As The Express Tribune notes in its editorial, “The suicide attack in Bajaur is a foretaste of what will transpire in the region after the US and Nato forces leave Afghanistan”. Forget Osama, since the past few days al Qaeda terrorists have carried out suicide bombings and released hostage videos of aid workers kidnapped from Lahore. And our response is to list the failures of American foreign policy?

Al Qaeda is operating in Pakistan, and our response is to tell Hillary Clinton to shut up? That doesn’t solve the problem, it ignores it. Whether or not Ayman al-Zawahiri is living in Pakistan is not a question of ghairat, it is a question of self-preservation. If we are unable to unwilling to admit that terrorists are in Pakistan – whether or not their names are Zawahiri – we will be the ones who continue to suffer.

Al Qaeda and Sovereignty

Ayman al ZawahiriAs if we needed any more bad news this week, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a new statement on Thursday that his terrorist group is responsible for the kidnapping of a 70-year-old American aid worker. This slap in the face couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Zawahiri claims that his al Qaeda militants kidnapped the American and is holding him on demand that the US stop air strikes against militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and releases the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. If anything, this action is only going to increase the American resolve to continue air strikes.

It should be noted that the 70-year-old man al Qaeda kidnapped is no Raymond Davis. Zawahiri couldn’t even claim the kidnapped American was an agent. Rather, he described the man as “neck-deep in American aid to Pakistan since the 1970s”. Say what you want about the effectiveness of US aid programmes, but the fact remains that Al Qaeda is essentially saying that if the Americans don’t stop killing militants, they will kill an old man who has devoted 40 years of his life to trying to help Pakistanis.

It was no secret that Al Qaeda are idiots. But what I think we were all hoping is that they were at least not being idiots in our back garden. When Osama bin Laden was discovered in Abbottabad, the nation suffered a collective shock. The world’s most wanted terrorist was not hiding in a cave in Tora Bora, he was living with his family outside Kakul.

Unfortunately, the powers that be decided that it was better to divert attention than to deal with the difficult question of how exactly he got there and managed to live unbothered and undetected by our intelligence agencies for years. Instead, the only question that seems to be asked is how the Americans managed to pull of a cross border raid without being detected.

Not that the issue of cross-border raids isn’t a good one, but let’s be honest – the Americans aren’t the first to run cross border raids into our territory without being detected. Iranian intelligence agents conducted a cross-border operation deep into our territory last year to free their diplomat who was abducted by militants in 2008. If one lesson should be taken it should be that as long as militants are using Pakistan as a base of operations, the countries affected are going to run cross-border operations. And why wouldn’t they? If we don’t respect our own sovereignty when it comes to militant groups, why should the affected countries respect it?

The Americans have continued to claim that militant groups including al Qaeda are operating freely in Pakistan. We have continued to say this is not the case, but each time al Qaeda shows up as operating in our borders, it undermines our national security. If we want to protect our sovereignty, we don’t need a plan to shoot at NATO helicopters, we need a plan to get rid of militants.

9/11 and the problem with tit-for-tat historians

Every year when 9/11 rolls around, I try my best to stop watching TV and reading the newspapers. In 2001, this date was one in which the entire world paused to think about our common humanity and, for a brief instant, set aside our petty differences. Since then, it has become the opposite, bringing out the worst in almost everyone. Whether American or Pakistani, Muslim or non-Muslim, everyone gets defensive and starts pointing fingers at each other’s faces. Aijaz Zaka Syed published a piece in The News making one of the arguments that I’ve been hearing for years: ‘What about the other victims?’ This comes up every year on the anniversary of 9/11, and I’m tired of hearing it.

The core, fundamental problem with Aijaz Syed’s piece is that he is turning tragedy into a competition. Who has suffered more? Americans or Pakistanis? Westerners or Muslims? I reject the premise of the question. Suffering is suffering. All lives are valuable, and no one should make the argument that one or the other victim of terrorism has suffered “more” or “less”. The point is that we are all victims. So why do we continue to lay the blame at America, who is also a victim? More Iraqis have been killed than Pakistanis, so should the Iraqis say that we cannot complain?

At the end of his piece, Aijaz Syed asks America to “ask yourself who and what started it all”. This is another illegitimate point. When did this tit-for-tat history start? Was it 9/11? Was it America’s invasion of Iraq in 1992? Was it Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait? Was it the Iranian revolution in 1979? Was it the CIA sponsored coup in 1953? Was it the Crusades? Was it the Battle of Tabuk? Tit-for-tat historians will always find that the other guy ‘started it’ by picking a convenient ‘start’ time and dismissing everything before.

When a tribesman reacts to a drone strike by killing some people, Taliban apologists say that he is justified because he is taking revenge for this killing. How is this different from what the Americans are doing with the drone strikes? The tribesman wants to kill American soldiers because they killed someone from his village. The American soldiers killed someone from his village because they are being targeted by jihadi militants. Tit-for-tat is not a strategy, it is a chain reaction of events that, like a snake eating his own tail, has no beginning and it has no end.

The implication of Aijaz Syed’s “who started it” comment is that the Americans started it when they meddled in Middle East countries by supporting coups and dictators. Without having the courage to come out and say so, Aijaz Syed implies that America deserved 9/11. But when it comes to their suffering, the tit-for-tat historian follows pure form, dismissing the barbaric acts that killed 3,000 innocents in one devastating attack. In a callous and embarrassing act, Aijaz Syed asks why the American’s can’t just move on.

How long will America remain handcuffed to history and stuck in this time warp? Isn’t it about time it moved on? It has already turned the world upside down, without achieving anything visible or concrete. Indeed, its overwhelming response to the terror attack has given birth to more extremists and has acted as a recruiting agent for groups like Al-Qaeda.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I read this. Aijaz Syed suggests America is ‘handcuffed to history and stuck in this time warp’, but he also suggests that the US brought 9/11 on themselves for actions they did decades ago.

If anyone thought 9/11 would prompt America to mend its ways and policies in the Middle East, well, they need to think again. Clearly, America – the militant global superpower that we get to see and experience far beyond its borders and not American people – doesn’t seem to care one way or another. It remains far from repentant.

The US has certainly been a bad player in Middle Eastern affairs in the past. The CIA’s 1953 coup against the Mossadegh government in Iran is a case in point. But then again, that was almost 60 years ago. Based on Aijaz Syed’s logic, shouldn’t al Qaeda and Aijaz Syed “just move on”? Of course, the truth is America is ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. For decades people screamed about American support for dictators. But when the Americans changed their tune and supported rebels during the Arab Spring revolutions, they were cursed for helping Arab rebels get rid of the same dictators they were blamed for supporting before! Meanwhile, the dirty little secret is that we’re the ones propping up an unpopular dictatorship in Bahrain. Does Aijaz Syed support al Qaeda attacks on Pakistan, too? Or does meddling in other countries only justify mass murders when it’s Americans who are killed?

9/11 was not a kneejerk reaction. Al Qaeda had been attacking the Americans for years before, even bombing the World Trade Center before in 1993. And obviously these attacks were not meant to stop any American policies – how can you stop an elephant from charging when you poke it in the eye? Rather the attacks were all carried out by al Qaeda as a strategy to lure the American military into a quagmire just as the Soviets had been defeated in the 1980s. It was a nefarious scheme to topple the only remaining world power that could stand in the way of their greater plans. Osama and his jihadi militants knew that innocent Afghani lives would be lost in the aftermath, but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make. In Iraq, it was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who led the jihadi strategy of stoking sectarian fighting in order to breed violence and chaos that would engulf the Americans. 35,000 people have died in Pakistan from militant violence, but what is the number of innocents killed from drone strikes? A few hundred? And Raymond Davis killed two ISI operatives who were tracking him. So who killed the other tens of thousands? It was Ilyas Kashmiri, Baitullah Mehsud, and other jihadi militants who are responsible for those deaths. Like their teacher al-Zarqawi, militant groups declare whoever they don’t like as apostate and kill with delight. Then they point West and say, ‘they started it’.

When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets stomped on. On 9/11, Osama poked the American elephant in its eye with a sharp stick to make him stomp. And ever since, jihadis and their media apologists have been blaming that elephant for stomping the grass. But neither would the elephant have lost his eye, nor the grass had been stomped if jihadis had not made this strategy of dividing moderate, peaceful Muslims and the West in a scheme to conquer them both. It’s time to end this vicious cycle of tit-for-tat history by uniting not as Christians, Muslims, Jews or Hindus; not as Americans, Pakistanis, Indians or Israelis; not as East or West…but as members of the brotherhood of humanity. Otherwise it won’t matter who started it, because in the end we will all be doomed.