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Battle for the Soul of Pakistan

By: Bruce Riedel

2013 will be a pivotal year in Pakistani history. National elections, turnover at the top military position and the denouement in the war in Afghanistan; all promise to make it a critical year for a country that is both, under siege by terrorism and the center of the global jihadist movement. The changes in Pakistan are unlikely to come peacefully and will have major implications for India and America. The stakes are huge in the most dangerous country in the world.

Pakistan is a country in the midst of a long and painful crisis. According to the government, since 2001 45,000 Pakistanis have died in terrorism related violence, including 7,000 security personnel. Suicide bombings were unheard of before 9/11; there have been 300 since then. The country’s biggest city, Karachi, is a battlefield.

One measure of Pakistan’s instability is that the country now has between 300 and 500 private security firms, employing 3,00,000 armed guards, most run by ex-generals. The American intelligence community’s new global estimate rates Pakistan among the most likely states in the world to fail by 2030.

Pakistan also remains a state sponsor of terror. Three of the five most-wanted on America’s counter-terrorism list live in Pakistan. The mastermind of the Mumbai massacre and head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafeez Saeed, makes no effort to hide. He is feted by the army and the political elite, appears on television and calls for the destruction of India frequently and jihad against America and Israel.

The head of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Omar, shuttles between ISI safe houses in Quetta and Karachi. The Amir of Al Qaeda, Ayman Zawahiri, is probably hiding in a villa not much different than the one his predecessor was living in, with his wives and children, in Abbottabad until May 2011.

Pakistan also has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, bigger than Great Britain’s. The nukes are in the hands of the generals, the civilian government only has nominal control. President Asif Ali Zardari has only nominal influence over the ISI as well; indeed it has conspired for five years to get rid of him.

Against the odds, Zardari has survived.

By next fall, he will have served five years, becoming the first elected civilian leader to complete a full term in office and pass power to another elected government. It will be a major milestone for Pakistani democracy. He has served years in prison and lost his wife to the terrorists who besiege the nation. He has often been called a criminal by many, including his own family, and the national symbol of corruption.

Yet, as president, he presided over a major transfer of power from the Presidency to the Prime Minister’s Office, even the titular national command authority over the nukes, to ensure the country is more democratic and stable.

The parliamentary election in the spring will be a replay of every Pakistani election since 1988, pitting Nawaz Sharif’s PML against the late Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. Needless to say, many Pakistanis are sick of the same stale choices. But the odds favour the old parties. Both Sharif and Zardari are committed to cautiously improving relations with India, keeping open ties with America and trying to reform the Pakistani economy. Both will have troubled relations with the Army.

The Economist has tagged Sharif as likely to do best. If he returns to the Prime Minister’s job for a third time, it will be a remarkable turn in his own odyssey.

Sharif was removed from the office in 1999 in an illegal coup and barely escaped alive, to go into exile in Saudi Arabia. His decision to withdraw Pakistan’s troops behind the LOC, during the Kargil war, prompted his fall from power; it also may have saved the world from nuclear destruction. It was a brave move. I remember talking to him and his family in the White House the day after he made the decision to pull back, you could see in his eyes that he knew Musharraf would defame him; but he knew he was in the right.

But many Pakistanis want a new face to lead their country. Out of desperation some are turning to Imran Khan to save Pakistan. The ISI is probably helping his campaign behind the scenes to stir up trouble for the others. He is a long shot at best. He is much more anti-American, anti-drone and ready to make deals with the Taliban, to stop the terror at home. Yet, he understands well that Pakistan is a country urgently in need of new thinking.

Whoever wins will inherit an economy and government that is in deep trouble. Two-thirds of 185 million Pakistanis are under 30, and 40 million of the 70 million 5 to 19 years old are not in school. The youth bulge has yet to spike. Less than one million Pakistanis paid taxes last year. Most politicians don’t pay any taxes. Power blackouts are endemic. Clean water is increasingly scarce even as catastrophic floods are more common. Growth is 3%, too little to keep up with population demand.

So, it is no wonder that the generals prefer to have the civilians responsible for managing the unmanageable, while they guard their prerogatives and decide national security issues. As important as the coming elections will be, the far more important issue is who will be the next Chief of Army Staff.

The incumbent General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was given an unprecedented three-year extension in 2010. He is the epitome of the Pakistani officer corps and the so-called ‘deep state’. Pervez Musharraf made him Director General of the ISI in 2004. It was on his watch that the Afghan Taliban recovered and regrouped in Quetta, Osama bin Laden built his hideout 800 yards outside Kayani’s alma mater the Kakul Military Academy in Abbottabad in 2005, and planning began for the Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on Mumbai. He was DG/ISI when David Headley, the American serving life for his role in the 2008 attack, began his reconnaissance trips to Mumbai to prepare the way for 26/11. Kayani probably authorized the funds for Headley’s cover and travel. He is the first DG/ISI to become COAS. His term expires in September, 2013.

The history of civilians choosing Chiefs of Army Staff in Pakistan is not encouraging.

Continue reading Battle for the Soul of Pakistan

The enemy lies within

The enemy lies within

The attack on Pakistan’s Kamra air force base, for which the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility, is one more sign — as if more were still required — that the country’s enemy lurks within its boundaries. Militants wearing air force uniforms infiltrated the base that is rumoured to house a part of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, in a manner reminiscent of the May 2011 raid at PNS Mehran, and at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi two years earlier. Armed with RPGs and automatic rifles, and wearing suicide vests, they damaged one aircraft at the base and killed at least one air man. Though the militants were eventually eliminated, the question Pakistan should be asking is why no lessons were learnt from the earlier attacks. Only two days ago, in an address at the Kakul Military Academy on Pakistan’s Independence Day, Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the country needs to fight terrorism and militancy for its own sake. But it is unclear how far the military has addressed the spread of radicalism within its ranks, or if it even sees this as a problem. After the PNS Mehran incident, a journalist who wrote that militants had developed extensive links within the Navy paid with his life; the Pakistani media openly blamed the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence for the killing. In the latest instance too, the attackers seemed to have insider knowledge of the sprawling air base located at Attock in the Punjab province. A Pakistani newspaper had only a few days ago warned that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan was planning a raid on a PAF base, giving August 16 as a possible date, but even with such specific information, the military was caught unawares.

Continue reading The enemy lies within

Another death foretold? By Kamran Shafi

Considering how very incensed the Deep State gets the more you hold a mirror to it; and being conscious of the sudden torrent of vile abuse and, worse, dastardly and outlandish allegations presently being heaped upon yours truly, I wanted to write about dog shows and fat Labradors this week. However, this is the Land of the Pure, where ever newer horrors are visited upon us every single minute of every single day, some couched in words. All of them, you can be sure, spoken from on high: as if the sermonisers were standing on some particularly elevated moral ground, with us mortals crawling somewhere down there.

To come straight to the point, the following words in Lt.-Gen. Asad Durrani’s article “The second oldest profession” in this newspaper of May 29 sent a very, very cold chill down my spine. Said the general: “I do not know if Afridi should have been tried by a jirga or in a court of law, under tribal decree or under the country’s penal code, but I do know that for him, it is not yet all over.” And as if that was not disturbing enough: “I think Dr Afridi will get another chance to administer a polio vaccine; the next time in the Promised Land.” I ask you.

Who does not know that Dr Shakil Afridi, the man who helped our ally in the War on Terror find Osama bin Laden a few hundred metres from the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul, Abbottabad Cantonment, is a ‘Dead Man Walking’? He is in Peshawar Jail, which is as vulnerable to attack by the mighty Taliban as Bannu Jail where they first bribed their way in; then garlanded and honoured General Musharraf’s convicted attacker, Adnan Rasheed (who was sentenced to death) with a dastarbandi (adorning him with a turban), and then made video recordings of their great feat, rehearsed firing and all. We have to note that not a single person was even injured in that Great Escape in which nearly 400 prisoners, some of them dangerous terrorists, escaped. So, where’s the problem in ‘rubbing out’ Shakil Afridi in Peshawar Jail?

However, for a former head of the ISI to say almost gleefully what he said, Durrani certainly deserves mention. Specially, and I say this as someone who lauded his stand on the Mehrangate scandal: admitting that as a Pakistan army general he should not have done what he did, being such a senior person. Indeed, what he said about Afridi is way out of court.

And now to the jailbreak. There is not a squeak out of the leaders and the spokesmen of the Ghairat Brigades about that catastrophe. Remember that we know that Adnan Rasheed worked for Amjad Farooqi, who in turn worked for Abu Faraj al Libi and is also known to have been a member of these extremist organisations at various times: Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan; Harkatul Ansar; Harkatul Mujahideen; Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami in which he is said to have been this group’s pointman with al Qaeda’s International Islamic Front. Quite a beauty, what? Yet, not a word about the jailbreak and its links with al Qaeda, especially when one of the prisoners who escaped was accused of plotting to kill the then chief of army staff himself!

Continue reading Another death foretold? By Kamran Shafi

The cost of Pakistan’s double game

By Daud Khattak

Excerpt:

…. Yet even after militants were allowed to settle in the tribal areas with little resistance from the Pakistani state, the tribesmen were (and are still) told that it was because of U.S. drone strikes that these “holy warriors” fled to their areas. Hence, each missile against foreign militants or their Pakistani counterparts increased the potential number of militants flowing in and fueled rising anti-Americanism in Pakistan, serving the short-term political interests of pro-Taliban elements in the country’s security establishment, while allowing the army to play on anti-American sentiment domestically while still occasionally offering militants to the United States, either for arrest or targeting by drones, as a sign of good faith and in order to maintain a steady flow of military aid.

Recent history provides ample room for suspicion that the relationship between militants and the Pakistani military or intelligence agencies continues. Some key points should lead informed observers, for instance, to suspect some knowledge of slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s presence in the highly-secured cantonment town of Abbottabad among Pakistani intelligence officials. For instance, the structure of the house is very different from the rest of the buildings in the area, and that plus the barbed wires atop its 18 to 20 feet high boundary walls would have likely drawn some suspicion to the compound’s residents.

The compound is located less than a kilometer from Pakistan’s Kakul Military Academy. Security officials, who keep a strict watch on anyone entering and living in a cantonment zone, somehow managed to miss the compound, which sticks out from the others around it. The Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani even visited the Kakul Academy less than 10 days before the May 2 raid, something that was undoubtedly preceded by security officials combing the nearby areas for any suspicious people or activities, as is the standard practice for such visits. Additionally, locals told the writer that three gas connections were provided to the house within a few days after its construction, which otherwise takes weeks if not months. But again, no alarm was raised.

Additionally, groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan (SSP) continue to operate openly despite being nominally banned. Indeed, locals I have spoken with in Kurram agency blame Pakistani intelligence for bringing the Sunnis against the Shi’a there, simply to show the world that Pakistan is heading towards de-stabilization and only U.S. and international support can save the society from becoming radical (not to mention the benefit accrued by the Haqqani network, who now have space to operate if their North Waziristan sanctuary is compromised). And a brief look at some of the militants operating in Pakistan currently raises questions about how they have been able to implant themselves and continue operating.

For instance, is it believable that Khyber agency-based militant and former bus driver Mangal Bagh, a warlord with no more than 500 volunteers, can operate just 15 kilometers away from Pakistan’s 11 Corps headquarters in the town of Bara, kidnapping people from Peshawar and other parts of the country, attacking powerful tribal elders, ministers, and journalists from Khyber agency, attacking NATO supply convoys, and carrying out public attacks and executions? Maulana Fazlullah, a leading warlord in the Swat Valley, a man who was once a chair-lift operator on the Swat River, became the most powerful commander in the area in a span of two years, with little government opposition. When the military conducted an operation in Swat upon the request of the secular Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) government in Khyber-Puktunkhwa, Fazlullah somehow managed to break a cordon of 20,000 soldiers backed by helicopters and jets to escape. And in Bajaur, Taliban commander Faqir Muhammad’s forces were “cleared” in 2008, but though hundreds of thousands of locals were displaced, their houses destroyed, their crops burnt and their cattle killed, Faqir Muhammad continues to leave peacefully in the agency.

And those who rose up to confront the Taliban received little protection from the government. When the ANP, after coming into power in Khyber-Puktunkhwa, raised its voice against the Taliban, party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan was attacked by a suicide bomber inside his house in his hometown of Charsadda. Since then, the party leadership has lived in Islamabad. The party’s spokesman and Information Minister Mian Iftikhar’s son was killed by armed men close to his house last July. Mian Iftikhar and another outspoken minister of the KP government, Bashir Bilour, escaped several attempts on their lives; Asfandyar Wali Khan’s sister Dr. Gulalay, who is not involved with party politics, was attacked in Peshawar, and ANP lawmaker Alam Zeb Khan was killed in a bomb attack in the same city, before finally the party leadership and members were forced to stop their vocal opposition to the militants.

To read complete article: Foreign Policy

via Wichaar

Pakistan and the US: beyond the tailspin – Dr Mohammad Taqi

Excerpt:

The military events surrounding Senator Kerry’s Pak-Afghan visits suggest that the US is not about to blink first. The question remains whether the Pakistani establishment will pull back from the brink

So, he surrendered to parliament. Or did he? The Pakistani government’s minister for information would have one believe that he did. But General Ahmed Shuja Pasha may actually be recalling Julius Caesar’s words: veni, vidi, vici! The only difference is that when Caesar claimed ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, he was reporting to the Roman Senate about his swift military victory over Pharnaces II of Pontus. However, for all practical purposes, General Pasha and the security establishment’s triumph is on the domestic front. For now, they seem to have vanquished parliament quite successfully. Like Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the PPP, PML-Q and the MQM threw themselves into the military’s arms with a fervent “…and yes I said yes I will Yes”. The PML-N’s chiding notwithstanding, Generals Pasha and Ashfaq Kayani had their cake and got to eat it too.

The well-choreographed Pasha tamasha in parliament and the events preceding and after it has left the Pakistani parliament weaker than ever before. Many of us never had any illusions about the security establishment’s tall tale that the civilians should take charge of foreign and security affairs. But anyone who still had a doubt about the ones calling the shots need not look any further than the US Senator John Kerry’s very first stop on his visit to Pakistan this week. Despite his recent tame requests for the prime minister to convene parliament to discuss the Osama bin Laden fiasco, General Kayani did not find anything wrong with Senator Kerry seeing him before meeting the civilian leadership. A simple change in the visiting senator’s itinerary could have been requested — and very likely accepted by the guest — but it was not. Well, so much for the military’s newfound love for parliament’s supremacy. But one must give credit where it is due. A bakery-running enterprise may not be a fighting force but it could be pretty deft at politics.  ….

…. No matter how Pakistan spins it, the tailspin in its relationship with the US and the world at large cannot be reversed by returning the stealth H-60 Blackhawk’s tail. The Pakistani brass is way too familiar with the words “peanuts” when describing a disproportionately minuscule response to tectonic shifts in geopolitics. Osama bin Laden’s lair, less than a mile away from the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, is not a pinprick that the world, let alone the US, would forget so easily. The Pakistani parliament may have been duped with it, but there is every indication that the US Congress and the White House consider the ‘intelligence failure’ excuse an insult to their intelligence.

Senator Kerry’s soft but measured tone indicates that the Pakistani brass still has some time, perhaps through July, to make serious amends but all options, including moving the UN, remain on the table. The senator also seems to have spelt out some of the bare-minimum metrics for any rapprochement. Pakistan’s position vis-à-vis Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura on the one hand and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and its various incarnations on the other, will certainly determine the future relationship between Pakistan and the world at large. But if the senator’s visit to Khost — across from North Waziristan — is any indication, the dismantling of the Haqqani network is at the top of the confidence-building agenda. The military events surrounding Senator Kerry’s Pak-Afghan visits suggest that the US is not about to blink first. The question remains whether the Pakistani establishment will pull back from the brink. Unlike the Pakistani parliament, the UN Security Council may actually be difficult to conquer.

To read complete article: Daily Tiems

Is it not time for Gen Kayani to call it quits and take along with him the DG ISI and the air chief?

Time for heads to roll – By Babar Sattar

Excerpt:

OUR military and intelligence agencies stand indicted for being complicit with terror groups and our best defence seems to be to plead incompetence.

Osama’s refuge in the shadows of the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul and his killing without the knowledge or permission of Pakistani authorities have not only raised piercing questions about the country’s willingness to function as a responsible state but also cast fundamental doubts on the ability of our national security apparatus to protect Pakistan against foreign intervention.

An ISPR release after Thursday’s corps commanders’ conference that broke the security establishment’s silence on the Osama operation is mostly gibberish.

While admitting “shortcomings in developing intelligence” on Osama’s presence in Pakistan, it goes on to blow the ISI’s trumpet for extraordinary achievement all around. The commanders feel betrayed by the CIA for not telling the ISI where Bin Laden was hiding.

The release doesn’t say why the military failed to detect foreign choppers and troops in our territory for an hour and 40 minutes. ….

…. In a functional democracy, these gentlemen would be sacked after such a debacle. Unfortunately, national security related decisions in Pakistan fall within the exclusive domain of the military, which jealously guards its turf. But responsibility must accompany such power. And the responsibility for erosion of our international credibility and increased threat to security personnel and citizens from terror networks nestled within Pakistan rests squarely on the military’s shoulder.

Be it a rise in suicide bombing and terror incidents within Pakistan, an increase in US drone strikes in our territory, the Mumbai attacks or the Osama operation, the threat to Pakistan’s interests for being perceived as a pad for terrorist activity and to its citizens as targets of terror has proliferated under Gen Kayani’s watch. Is it not time for Gen Kayani to call it quits and take along with him the DG ISI and the air chief? Shouldn’t these heads roll to account for failing to do their jobs?

With them in the driving seat it might neither be possible to hold a transparent inquiry into the security breaches that led to the Osama operation and its execution without Pakistan’s knowledge nor engage in a rethink of our perverse national security mindset. Can we shed some baggage and create room for untainted faces and ideas?

The concept of sovereignty assumes control over the territory a state claims. We cannot continue to shirk responsibility for the men, material and money transiting in and out of Pakistan and simultaneously wail at the disregard for our sovereignty. It is time to publicly articulate our legitimate security interests linked to the future of Afghanistan and develop a regional consensus around it, instead of vying for the whole hog.

It is time to completely liquidate the jihadi project and cleanse our state machinery of those who believe in its virtue. And it is time to shun the delusions of grandeur and conspiracy that prevent us from realising our potential as a responsible and industrious nation.

Read more : DAWN

BIN LADEN – PAKISTAN LOSES A STRATEGIC ASSET

The curious case of Osama bin Laden

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Excerpt:

….. But then it turned out bin Laden was not hiding in some dark mountain cave in Waziristan. Instead, probably for at least some years, he had lived comfortably smack inside the modern, peaceful, and extraordinarily secure city of Abbottabad. Using Google Earth, one sees that the deceased was within easy walking distance of the famed Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul. It is here where General Kayani had declared on April 23 that “the terrorist’s backbone has been broken and inshallah we will soon prevail”. Kayani has released no statement after the killing.

Still more intriguing are pictures and descriptions of bin Laden’s fortress house. Custom-designed, it was constructed on a plot of land roughly eight times larger than the other homes in the area. Television images show that it has high walls, barbed wire and two security gates. Who approved the construction and paid for it? Why was it allowed to be away from the prying eyes of the secret agencies?

Even the famous and ferocious General Hamid Gul (retd) — a bin Laden sympathiser who advocates war with America — cannot buy into the claim that the military was unaware of bin Laden’s whereabouts. In a recorded interview, he remarked that bin Laden being in Abbottabad unknown to authorities “is a bit amazing”. Aside from the military, he said “there is the local police, the Intelligence Bureau, the Military Intelligence, the ISI — they all had a presence there”. Pakistanis familiar with the intrusive nature of the multiple intelligence agencies will surely agree; to sniff out foreigners is a pushover.

So why was bin Laden sheltered in the army’s backyard? General Pervez Musharraf, who was army chief when bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad was being constructed in 2005, unwittingly gives us the clearest and most cogent explanation. The back cover of his celebrated book, In The Line Of Fire, written in 2006, reads:

“Since shortly after 9/11 — when many al Qaeda leaders fled Afghanistan and crossed the border into Pakistan — we have played multiple games of cat and mouse with them. The biggest of them all, Osama bin Laden, is still at large at the time of this writing but we have caught many, many others. We have captured 672 and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totalling millions of dollars. Here, I will tell the story of just a few of the most significant manhunts”.

So, at the end of the day, it was precisely that: A cat and mouse game. Bin Laden was the ‘Golden Goose’ that the army had kept under its watch but which, to its chagrin, has now been stolen from under its nose. Until then, the thinking had been to trade in the Goose at the right time for the right price, either in the form of dollars or political concessions. While bin Laden in virtual captivity had little operational value for al Qaeda, he still had enormous iconic value for the Americans. It was therefore expected that kudos would come just as in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Kuwaiti-born senior al Qaeda leader who was arrested in Rawalpindi, or Mullah Baradar, the Taliban leader arrested from Karachi.

Events, however, have turned a potential asset into a serious liability. Osama’s killing is now a bone stuck in the throat of Pakistan’s establishment that can neither be swallowed nor spat out. To appear joyful would infuriate the Islamists who are already fighting the state. On the other hand, to deprecate the killing would suggest that Pakistan had knowingly hosted the king of terrorists.

Now, with bin Laden gone, the military has two remaining major strategic assets: America’s weakness in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. But moving these chess pieces around will not assure the peace and prosperity that we so desperately need. They will not solve our electricity or water crises, move us out of dire economic straits, or protect us from suicide bombers.

Bin Laden’s death should be regarded as a transformational moment by Pakistan and its military. It is time to dispense with the Musharraf-era cat and mouse games. We must repudiate the current policy of verbally condemning jihadism — and actually fighting it in some places — but secretly supporting it in other places. Until the establishment firmly resolves that it shall not support armed and violent non-state actors of any persuasion — including the Lashkar-e-Taiba — Pakistan will remain in interminable conflict both with itself and with the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2011.

To read complete article : The Express Tribune