|By KATHY GANNON and SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Writers|
6:36 pm EDT Wed 01 Apr 2009
ISLAMABAD – The son of a poor potato farmer who once worked as a fitness instructor has grown into one of the most powerful militant leaders along the Pakistan-Afghan border, his rise fueled by alliances with al-Qaida and fellow Pakistani militants.
A day after Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud threatened to attack the White House, a U.S. drone fired two missiles at the alleged hide-out of one of his commanders Wednesday in a remote area of northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, killing 14 people, intelligence and local officials said.
Mehsud is now seen as posing one of the greatest threats to President Barack Obama's push to stem Pakistan's slide toward instability and turn around the war in Afghanistan, analysts and officials said.
For years, the U.S. had considered him a lesser threat than some of the other Pakistani Taliban, their Afghan counterparts and al-Qaida, because most of his attacks were focused inside Pakistan, not against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials said the U.S. has changed its view in recent months as Mehsud's power has grown and concerns mounted that increasing violence in Pakistan could destabilize the nuclear-armed ally.
"Mehsud poses a very real threat to stability and security in Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Eric Rosenbach, a terrorism expert at Harvard's Kennedy School.
The FBI said it was not aware of any imminent or specific threat to Washington, and Mehsud has not carried out any attacks outside the region. Even so, Pakistani officials said the U.S. has stepped up strikes targeting the Pakistani Taliban leader and his supporters in recent weeks.
The State Department authorized a reward of up to $5 million for Mehsud on March 25, the same day a suspected U.S. missile strike killed eight militants near his hometown in South Waziristan.
Mehsud, who is in his 30s, has so far escaped unscathed and has said he will step up attacks in Pakistan if the U.S. does not stop missile strikes along the Afghan border. He said Tuesday that his group carried out a deadly attack on a police academy in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore in retaliation for the drone strikes. That attack Monday left at least 12 people dead, including seven policemen.
Mehsud claimed responsibility for the Lahore attack and threatened Washington in a flurry of phone calls to various media outlets, but he usually relies on his spokesmen to handle the press, possibly for fear of being tracked.
Mehsud rarely travels outside his territory in South Waziristan, a vast area made inhospitable by rugged mountains. His tribesmen, foot soldiers and guards blanket the area making assaults or ambushes almost certain to fail.
But, until recently, Mehsud had been virtually ignored as a target of U.S. drone missiles that have struck the tribal regions with increasing regularity.
Pakistan has publicly criticized the U.S. missile attacks, saying they violate the country's sovereignty and kill innocent civilians.
Privately, the Pakistani government tried to convince the U.S. for months to target Mehsud, meeting resistance from American officials who felt other militants in the border region were more of a threat, said a former senior Pakistani government official. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
That perception has changed in the past few months, as Mehsud has strengthened his ties to al-Qaida and consolidated his power among fellow Pakistani militants, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said.
"I think they have now endorsed our view of him as a threat," Abbas said. "In the past, they weren't willing to consider him part of the threat."
Abbas said Mehsud draws his strength from a reservoir of suicide bombers trained in his territory and recruited by his allies, the majority of which are said to come from the violent Lashkar-e-Janghvi group based in Pakistan's Punjab province where Sunday's attack was carried out. Mehsud has bragged of having 3,000 would-be suicide bombers at his disposal.
Mahmood Shah, a retired Pakistani military officer and former frontier official, said Mehsud's strength significantly increased over the last six-to-eight months when al-Qaida started dealing directly with him rather than through the Afghan militant leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Mehsud signed a peace deal with Pakistan's army in September 2006 in which he promised to deny shelter to foreign al-Qaida fighters in exchange for an end to military operations in the region and compensation for tribesman killed by the military. The deal eventually collapsed and U.S. officials complained Mehsud used the respite to regroup, rearm and allow al-Qaida to re-establish its presence.
"A realist knows that you sometimes need to talk to bad guys to advance your interests," Rosenbach said. "But Mehsud has repeatedly violated past agreements with the Pakistani government and proven that he's not a reliable negotiating partner."
U.S. intelligence has said al-Qaida has set up its operational headquarters in Mehsud's South Waziristan stronghold and the neighboring North Waziristan tribal area, both on the border with Afghanistan. Obama said last week that al-Qaida was plotting attacks against the U.S. and other countries from its sanctuaries in Pakistan near the Afghan border.
"When he (Mehsud) talks of attacking the United States and London he is talking for al-Qaida," Shah said.
Mehsud has no record of attacking targets abroad, although he is suspected of being behind a 10-man cell arrested in Barcelona in January 2008 for plotting suicide attacks in Spain. Pakistan's former government and the CIA have named him as the prime suspect behind the December 2007 killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He has denied a role.
Mehsud further consolidated his power in February when he signed an agreement with his rivals in the area, Maulvi Nazir in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan. The alliance made it easier for al-Qaida to operate in the area because Nazir had previously allied with the Pakistani government to fight Uzbeks partnered with the international terrorist group.
The Feb. 22 communique, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, announced the creation of the Shura-e-Ittehad-ul-Mujahedeen, or Council of United Holy Warriors, and said "we must all unite" against Obama and the U.S.
The communique also declared war on Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai and their supporters, saying "we have agreed for the salvation of our religion to destroy all the infidels."
"Now Mehsud is more dangerous," said Mohammed Amir Rana, an expert on Pakistani militant groups at the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies. "Everyone now considers him the most influential Pakistani militant leader."
Associated Press writer Hussain Afzal in Parachinar and Carley Petesch in New York contributed to this report.
|Afghan-Pakistan situation dire; more troops may be needed|
Top defense officials told Congress Wednesday the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan is "increasingly dire" and said that President Barack Obama may have to send another 10,000 troops beyond the 22,000 he's announced since taking office.
|Posted on Wednesday, April 1, 2009|
By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — The situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan is "increasingly dire," top defense officials told Congress Wednesday, and they said that President Barack Obama may have to send another 10,000 troops beyond the 21,500 he's announced since taking office.
Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said the administration hasn't yet developed benchmarks to measure progress, but she predicted high human and financial costs for the U.S. in the campaign against Islamic militants in the two countries.
Adding to the bleak picture, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, expressed doubts about the reliability of Pakistani security forces in supporting the U.S. effort to curb the spread of Islamic extremism in South Asia.
Petraeus conceded that the Pakistanis have betrayed America's trust in the past. He said, however, that the U.S. must show its commitment to the region, saying: "It is important the U.S. be seen as a reliable ally." He said the military may need to send 10,000 more troops than the number Obama already has announced, and a decision must be made in the fall.
Although the administration has identified Pakistan, where al Qaida's top leaders are thought to be hiding, as key to its strategy, that strategy consists largely of encouraging the Pakistanis to take more aggressive action against the militants, which they've been loathe to do.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee said they doubted that Pakistan can be trusted to thwart Taliban and al Qaida activity in the border region with Afghanistan.
"I remain skeptical that Pakistan has the will or capability to secure their border," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee's chairman, during the three hour hearing.
Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, also testified and called the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan "increasingly dire."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he feared that the administration is incrementally increasing its presence in the region instead of making a blunt change of strategy. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who votes with the Democrats, asked if the U.S. plan for Afghanistan would better secure the U.S.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked, "How will we know if we're winning?"
The administration said it's still working out benchmarks. But Flournoy said the U.S. mission in Afghanistan will be complete when "the Afghans and Pakistanis have both the capability and the will to deal with the remaining threat themselves."
The U.S. wants to double the Afghan security forces to 134,000 troops and 82,000 policemen. Flournoy called it part of an "integrated counterinsurgency strategy," but she conceded "there will be higher human costs and higher financial costs to this effort."
To succeed, the administration's strategy not only must quell increased violence in Afghanistan, but also address the rampant corruption of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed regime and the growing Islamic militancy in neighboring, nuclear-armed Pakistan, which is a source of supplies, shelter and training for Afghan militants.
Beside more forces, the new strategy calls for a "surge" of hundreds diplomats and civilian specialists to help run elections and fight corruption and narcotics trafficking. It also calls for tripling economic aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year over five years.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
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Obama's Afghanistan plan offers few solutions for Pakistan
At least 50 die in suicide bombing of Pakistani mosque
|The New York Times|
April 2, 2009
Petraeus Warns About Militants’ Threat to Pakistan
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
WASHINGTON — Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander for Iraq and Afghanistan, warned a Senate panel on Wednesday that militant extremists in Pakistan “could literally take down their state” if left unchallenged, as he and two other top officials presented a grim picture of growing dangers in the region.
Michele A. Flournoy, a top Defense Department official, told the panel that there would be “higher human costs” for the United States in Afghanistan this year, while the chief of the military’s Special Operations commandos, Adm. Eric T. Olson, called the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan “increasingly dire.”
The trio testified jointly before occasionally skeptical members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who had their first chance to question in public some of the officials who helped formulate President Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which was announced at the White House last week.
The panel pressed the officials on two major issues: how the Obama administration will measure progress in the region and whether Pakistan and its spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, can be trusted. Mr. Obama has promised more aid to Pakistan and called on its leaders to crack down on Al Qaeda and other militant groups that operate within its borders.
Under sharp questioning from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, Ms. Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy, acknowledged the administration’s concerns about a wing of the ISI, which American intelligence officials say is providing money and military assistance to the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan.
“I think ISI is a — or parts of ISI — are certainly a problem to be dealt with,” Ms. Flournoy said.
Mr. McCain, an early proponent of the buildup of American forces in Iraq, also questioned whether the United States now had enough troops in Afghanistan. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the commander of NATO and American forces in Afghanistan, has asked for 30,000 more American troops, and Mr. Obama has so far committed about 21,000 of those. The president will make a decision this fall on whether 10,000 or so more troops will be sent.
“I think it would be far, far better to announce that we will have the additional 10,000 troops dispatched and they will clearly be needed,” Mr. McCain told Ms. Flournoy. He added: “It’s a big country. We know that was a vital element to our success in Iraq. To dribble out these decisions, I think, can create an impression of incrementalism.”
Ms. Flournoy did not react immediately to Mr. McCain’s comment, but much later in the hearing she said that “I would never have used the phrase incrementalism” to describe what she called a “very strong commitment” of American troops that are to increase to 68,000 from 38,000 by the end of this year.
Senators on the panel expressed some impatience with the Obama administration’s failure so far to articulate benchmarks for judging progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, although Ms. Flournoy promised that they would be ready soon.
“How does this end?” asked Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, echoing comments that General Petraeus once made when he was the commander in Iraq.
Ms. Flournoy responded that “a key point of defining success is when both the Afghans and the Pakistanis have both the capability and the will to deal with the remaining threat themselves.”
General Petraeus said that he would “echo” Ms. Flournoy and that “the task will be for them to shoulder the responsibilities of their own security.”
The general also said that the government was doing a “deep dive” of investigation into claims made Tuesday by the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, that his group was planning an attack on Washington. American intelligence officials were dismissive of Mr. Mehsud’s claim, but General Petraeus told the panel that “any time there is any threat that could be against the homeland, I think you have to take it seriously.”
He added, “Obviously everyone is quite riveted on analyzing that and seeing what further we can find out about that.”
Senators Press Petraeus on Deepening Ties to Pakistan
By Spencer Ackerman 4/1/09
Obama administration wants Pakistan to cooperate in plans to confront growing violence in the region.
|Some Lawmakers on Armed Services Committee Called Pakistani Government Unreliable on al-Qaeda|
By Spencer Ackerman [The Washington Independent] 4/1/09
Pakistan emerged as a target of Capitol Hill criticism on Wednesday as key Obama administration officials explained their new strategy to confront growing extremist activity in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The strategy’s call for deepening U.S. ties to the Pakistani government and military concerned some lawmakers. While no senator on the Armed Services Committee voiced opposition to the strategy, released Friday, several worried aloud to Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, that the Pakistanis were unreliable allies against al-Qaeda and its “syndicate” of extremism. Some wondered if the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency were still supporting elements of the Taliban — the Afghan Taliban were the creation of the ISI in the 1990s — and feared that additional aid and other mechanisms of cooperation that the administration is pledging to deliver to Pakistan will be misdirected or even benefit U.S. enemies.
“We have a new democratic government, [along with] parts of the military, that wants to deal with the extremist threat,” Flournoy told Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “Part of our challenge is to empower them.” Petraeus added that the administration’s entire strategy for Pakistan depended on Pakistan “embracing the idea that the biggest threat to their country is the internal extremist threat rather than the threat to the east,” referring to Pakistan’s historical enemy, India.
In the seven years since al-Qaeda’s leadership and the heads of the Afghan Taliban ensconced themselves in the tribal areas of western Pakistan following the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, they have expanded and deepened their hold on portions of the country, which U.S. intelligence has assessed for two years is a “safe haven” for al-Qaeda to plan attacks on the United States and to destabilize the region. Additionally, a new indigenous Pakistani Taliban has arisen during that period and has launched numerous attacks against the Pakistani governments of Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his successor, President Asif Ali Zardari, including the capture of the Swat Valley 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad. The Pakistani military has been beaten in outright battles with the insurgents, and for years has worked out occasional ceasefires with them, which have been violated repeatedly. Flournoy, speaking specifically about Swat, said flatly that such deals were not in the U.S. interest.
In response, Flournoy and Petraeus testified, the Obama administration would launch a mentorship program with the Pakistani military to train some of its forces in counterinsurgency techniques, which Petraeus called a “counterinsurgency fund.” (Administration officials from President Obama on down have said that the U.S. combat troops will not enter Pakistani territory.) The program would “help develop those capabilities that truly” prove relevant to the fight against insurgents in western Pakistan, Petraeus said, with Flournoy calling it “absolutely critical to the success of this strategy.” It is unclear how many U.S. trainers will go to Pakistan, for what duration and at what cost.
The Obama administration is still developing benchmarks for judging the success or failure of its strategy — an incompleteness denounced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — and Petraeus endorsed the idea of judging Pakistan by “their commitment to this threat that could literally take down their state.” He said that he had discussed reports of ISI complicity with the Taliban in his recent discussions with its chief, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, and would continue to do so. “There are accusations, frankly, some when you dig into them seem to be more ambiguous than on the surface but some of them are not,” Petraeus said, referring to alleged ISI-Taliban cooperation.
Flournoy conceded to Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) that the U.S.’s ability to secure Pakistan’s unambiguous cooperation against al-Qaeda was “an open question.” But she said the U.S.’s interest in not allowing western Pakistan to be a staging ground for attacks against the U.S. or a destabilizing force in the region meant “we need to test the proposition” through “a substantive offer of assistance and a committment to work with them.”
A major component of that offer is a forthcoming bill sponsored by the Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) will introduce a bill in the coming days that will grant $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years and condition U.S. aid to the Pakistani military on its efficacy in combating extremism in the western tribal areas.
“The purpose is to change a transactional, tactical, short-term relationship, which is the way Pakistan has seen the relationship, into a deeper, more committed, more long-lasting relationship that does not have to be dependent on who’s in power in Washington and who’s in power in Islamabad,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the committee. It is unclear when the bill will be introduced — which could come as early as today, though Jones was unsure — but the upcoming congressional recess and the pace of Senate business makes it unlikely to pass before late April at the earliest. Petraeus said the Kerry-Lugar bill was “of enormous importance” to the administration’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.
The widely-respected general has emerged as a key player in Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy for the Obama administration, appearing as both salesman and public face of the war — reminiscent of his role for the Bush administration during the troop surge in Iraq, which he commanded. In his testimony, Petraeus was careful to grant credit to Gen. David McKiernan, the ground commander in Afghanistan. But Petraeus also spoke of the numerous roles he will be playing to support the strategy, along with Amb. Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan, whom Petraeus called his “diplomatic wingman.”
Over the weekend, Petraeus attended a bull session of top military leaders at the behest of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to discuss how best to support what the administration calls its “Af-Pak” strategy.” He plans to meet with the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, in the next few days. And Petraeus said he and Holbrooke would convene an “on-site” discussion in Washington in the next several weeks with both civilians and military leaders scheduled to deploy to the region in order to gain “real synergy” between their efforts.
|By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer|
4:36 am EDT Fri 03 Apr 2009
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Militants using guns and petrol bombs attacked a terminal in northwest Pakistan on Friday holding supplies bound for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, damaging five shipping containers, said police.
International troops in Afghanistan transport up to 75 percent of their supplies via routes through Pakistan, but frequent attacks have forced the U.S. military to explore alternate paths. Reliable supply routes will become even more crucial as the U.S. deploys thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan this year.
Militants attacked the terminal on the outskirts of Peshawar city before dawn Friday, torching five shipping containers before escaping, said police official Jarod Khan.
"The terrorists first opened fire and then threw petrol bombs," he said.
Suspected Taliban militants have repeatedly struck transport depots near Peshawar in recent months, destroying scores of military vehicles, while attacks on the road through the Khyber Pass to the Afghan border have repeatedly forced its temporary closure.
U.S. and NATO officials insist the attacks have little impact on their operations, but are looking at ways to bring more supplies into Afghanistan through Central Asia — a key goal as the U.S. prepares to send 21,000 additional troops to the country this year to fight Taliban militants and train Afghan security forces.
The U.S. is expected to sign a formal agreement Friday for a new major supply route into Afghanistan, U.S. defense officials said.
While defense officials would not name the country, several Central Asian nations have recently told the U.S. they would allow cargo to transit their borders, including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, told Congress on Thursday that the military has found "decent alternatives" for the safe shipment of nonlethal goods, including three northern routes that weave through Uzbekistan.
Petraeus said about 1 percent of the roughly 3,600 containers that have moved through the Khyber Pass, which links Peshawar with Kabul, were damaged or destroyed before they reached the Afghan border because of the attacks and other mishaps.
|The Rise and Rise of the Neo-Taliban|
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
"The next thing that is going to happen is the breaking up of the Swat peace deal and the opening up of a war theater. This will shatter the entire American plans in the region and Pakistan will be left with no choice but to surrender to the will of the mujahideen."
|By Syed Saleem Shahzad|
April 03, 2009 "Asia Times" -- -KARACHI - With the number of international soldiers in Afghanistan at an all-time high, they are prepared for their toughest season yet of fighting the Taliban-led insurgency that has grown beyond recognition in the past seven-plus years.
This year, though, the 70,000 troops - 38,000 of them American - face a new and ominous challenge in the form of the neo-Taliban, a new generation of Pakistani, Afghan, al-Qaeda and Kashmiri fighters who have adopted al-Qaeda's ideology, and who plan new tactics, according to Asia Times Online investigations.
The neo-Taliban's efforts will complement the traditional guerrilla war of the Kandahari clan in southwestern Afghanistan and suicide operations in and around Kabul and in southeastern Afghanistan.
Over the years, the coalition forces have adopted specific tactics to deal with the insurgency, as Jeffrey Young explains in an essay for the US-based counter-terrorism group Chameleon Associates, "In Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots, the US military has been confronted by guerrilla - so-called 'asymmetrical' - warfare. Instead of confronting regular armies, American troops now typically face insurgents and terrorists who fight with whatever they have. The Pentagon has responded by putting greater emphasis on preparing US forces to fight the same way."
The paper, citing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates adds, "The record of the past quarter-century is clear: the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Israelis in Lebanon, the United States in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Smaller, irregular forces - insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists - will find ways, as they always have, to frustrate and neutralize the advantages of larger, regular militaries. And even nation-states will try to exploit our perceived vulnerabilities in an asymmetric way."
Neo-Taliban call new shots
Veteran Kashmiri guerrilla commander Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri is the mastermind of the neo-Taliban's new strategy, which was used with considerable success against Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir until fighting eased there a few years ago.
Ilyas Kashmir was once a hero figure of the Kashmiri separatist movement, but he fell from official grace when Islamabad, under pressure from the United States, wound down operations in Kashmir and diverted its attention to the Pakistani tribal areas to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Ilyas Kashmir was arrested by the military on concocted charges of plotting to murder then-president General Pervez Musharraf in 2003. After being released he left Kashmir, abandoning the jihad there, and settled in the North Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan.
At the height of the Kashmir troubles in the late 1990s, there were close to 800,000 Indian troops in Kashmir, which made it difficult for Pakistani militants operating there to implement traditional guerrilla tactics. Instead, in the first phase, they avoided any direct clashes with the military and hit soft targets. These included the killing or abduction of politicians and foreign tourists, hostage-taking, attacks on isolated police checkpoints and police stations, jail breaks, and the like. The first objective was to cause maximum chaos.
Legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap used similar tactics against the Americans during the Vietnam War. The difference now is that the neo-Taliban plan devised by Ilyas Kashmir will go a step further by undertaking big clashes with troops once military operations are diverted by the chaos that has been caused.
The neo-Taliban plan to spread this chaos across Pakistan, Afghanistan and India though kidnappings and attacks on high-profile people. At the same time, the Taliban's Haqqani network will carry out suicide bombing missions in Kabul and southeastern Afghanistan and the Kandahari clan will try to capture towns and villages in southwestern Afghanistan. The idea is that once the enemy's regular troops are sufficiently diverted, their convoys and bases will be attacked.
The Arab and former Kashmiri fighters that make up the bulk of the neo-Taliban have in the past years fought in Afghanistan under the command and strategy of the Taliban, but they have now effectively peeled off into a separate entity.
The key man in this is the anti-Pakistan Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), based in the South Waziristan tribal area - the same man who claimed responsibility for the attack on a police training center in Lahore on Monday.
He provides base camps for fighters and also raises money. It is estimated that in the past six months in the southern port city of Karachi alone, he has generated at least 250 million rupees (US$3.1 million) through various operations. These include extortion of fuel contractors for coalition troops in Afghanistan and ransom money from kidnappings and threats. The proceeds have been used to launch new guerrilla camps in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Echoes from the Swat Valley
In February, Islamabad and militants in the Swat Valley agreed on a peace deal to end two years of fighting; one of the stipulations was that sharia law be introduced in the area.
Commenting on the accord, a senior Pakistani militant told Asia Times Online, "The peace deal was a good gesture towards the Taliban. But it was then realized that it was a maneuver on the part of the Pakistan army. They withdrew their troops from Swat and mobilized them in the tribal areas. A sizeable number of troops were posted in Khyber Agency to provide protection to the NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] supply convoys, while other troops were beefed up in North Waziristan and in South Waziristan.
"At the same time, [US Predator] drone attacks were carried out on Baitullah's native town of Makeen in South Waziristan. But, before Pakistan could strike the mujahideen into oblivion, we struck first, all around North-West Frontier Province. The war is on," the militant said.
This was confirmed by the inspector-general of North-West Frontier Province, who said this week that over the past week or so the situation in the province had deteriorated rapidly, with kidnappings and other acts of terror on the rise.
The militant continued, "The next thing that is going to happen is the breaking up of the Swat peace deal and the opening up of a war theater. This will shatter the entire American plans in the region and Pakistan will be left with no choice but to surrender to the will of the mujahideen."
Just hours later, on Wednesday morning, it was reported that up to 70 Taliban had stormed the home of a former federal minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q - a major breech of the peace agreement.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
|By MOHAMMAD RASOOL DAWAR, Associated Press Writer|
6:48 am EDT Sat 04 Apr 2009
MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – A suicide car bomber attacked a security checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, wounding at least three soldiers in a volatile area near the Afghan border where a suspected U.S. drone missile strike killed 13 people, officials said.
The attacker rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at the entrance of army headquarters in North Waziristan and detonated his explosives, said Mohammad Azhar, a local government official.
The attack wounded three soldiers, according to a military official who said troops disrupted the attack in the town of Miran Shah by opening fire on the vehicle, causing it to explode before it reached the checkpoint. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The discrepancy between the two accounts could not immediately be explained.
North Waziristan is believed to be an important base for al-Qaida and Taliban militants who have been staging cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
A suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at an alleged militant hide-out Saturday in North Waziristan, killing 13 people, intelligence officials and residents said.
The dead and injured included local and foreign militants, but women and children were also killed in the attack, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
A local tribal elder, Dilawar Khan, confirmed that 13 people were killed in the strike, saying the owner's family was among the dead. He said he did not know the identities of the other people killed or whether there were militants staying at the home, in Data Khel village very close to the Afghan border.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The U.S. is suspected of carrying out more than three dozen such strikes over the past year in Pakistan near the Afghan border. Pakistan says the drone strikes violate the country's sovereignty, kill innocent civilians and generate sympathy for the militants. But the U.S. believes the attacks are an effective tool to combat militants in the region.
President Barack Obama has said he will step up the pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants in its territory by making aid to the country conditional on the government's anti-terrorism efforts. Pakistan has said it is committed to the fight, but many Western officials suspect the country's military intelligence agency of maintaining links with militant groups.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari defended his country's commitment to fighting Islamic militants in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, an influential former prime minister who was hanged by a military regime on charges widely seen as politically motivated.
"People around the world say that our country will disintegrate. Some say that fundamentalists will rule the country," Zardari told thousands of people who assembled Saturday morning at the slain politician's tomb in southern Sindh province.
"But we will not let it happen as long as we are alive," he said.
Bhutto was the father of Zardari's late wife, Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister who was assassinated by militants at the end of 2007 not long after returning to the country from exile to run in national elections. Pakistan and the U.S. have blamed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud for Benazir Bhutto's death and scores of other attacks in Pakistan.
Earlier this week, Mehsud claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a police academy in the eastern city of Lahore that left at least 12 people dead, including seven policeman. He warned that his group would carry out more attacks in the country unless the U.S. stops drone attacks against militants on the Afghan border.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad issued a warning Friday saying the Pakistani government has information indicating potential suicide bombers and weapons have been smuggled into the country. It said U.S. government personnel have been warned to avoid hotels in the southern city of Karachi and to restrict their movement around cities.
Mehsud also threatened on Tuesday to attack the White House, although the FBI said he had made similar threats previously and there was no indication of anything imminent. The U.S. has offered a reward of up to $5 million for Mehsud's arrest.
A day after Mehsud made his threat, a suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at the alleged hide-out of one of his commanders in a remote area of the Orakzai tribal region near the Afghan border, killing 14 people, intelligence and local officials said.
The strike was believed to be the first in Orakzai, a sign the U.S. is expanding its attack zone.
Some 700 people in Orakzai protested U.S. missile strikes Saturday, blocking a main road in the region for two hours and chanting anti-American slogans, said a local resident, Azeem Khan.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Husnain Khan in Parachinar and Ashraf Khan in Garhi Khuda Bux contributed to this report.
Foreign Militants Were in Home at the Time
Posted April 3, 2009
US drones launched a missile attack against a home in North Waziristan on Saturday morning, killing at least 13 and wounding at least eight others. Officials say that civilians were among the casualties caused by the two missiles. One intelligence official said that foreign militants were staying in the home at the time of the attack.
That attack occurred in the Datta Khel area, at around 3 AM. It was the latest in a growing number of attacks launched by the Obama Administration over the past two months.
The attacks have largely centered around followers of TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud, and Mehsud says the terror attack in Lahore earlier this week was retaliation for the US attacks. Mehsud has also threatened to launch “an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world.”
* March 31, 2009 -- TTP Leader: Lahore Was Retaliation for Drone Strikes, Eyes US Targets
* March 30, 2009 -- Pakistan Points Finger at TTP in Lahore Attack
* March 25, 2009 -- US Drone Strike Kills Eight in South Waziristan
compiled by Jason Ditz
Floggings, stonings could begin in Pakistan's scenic Swat valley
By Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers
A hundred miles northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, the Swat valley offers a chilling vision of what much of the country could become.
|Posted on Friday, April 3, 2009|
By Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers
MINGORA, Pakistan — A hundred miles northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, the Swat valley offers a chilling vision of what much of the country could become.
Where tourists once frolicked, extremists are laying the groundwork for religious courts to dispense brutal punishments under their harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
The leader of the group, Sufi Mohammad, said penalties including flogging, chopping off hands and stoning to death must be available to Swat's Islamic courts.
Floggings are the proper punishment for sexual intercourse between unmarried people, drinking alcohol and slander, Mohammad said. Thieves should have their hands chopped off, except for poor people who steal to feed themselves. The punishment for adultery is death by stoning.
"These punishments are prescribed in Islam. No one can stop that. It is God's law," said Mohammad, sitting on the floor in his makeshift headquarters in Mingora, the regional capital. Mohammad, the head of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariaht-e-Mohammadi, or Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, spoke in a rare interview with McClatchy.
An aide, Ameer Izzat, hurriedly added that tough criteria must be met for such sentences. For adultery, there must be four witnesses who saw the act of penetration, he said.
Swat, once known for its orchards and mountain streams, is the first region in mainstream Pakistan to be taken over by extremists. A leader of the Swat Taliban told McClatchy that Swat is a test case and the Taliban want Islamic law, or Shariah, introduced throughout the country.
Mohammad, who speaks softly and looks deceptively like a genial old uncle, with a flowing white beard and thick spectacles, reached his position when the Pakistani army capitulated in February after a two-year military assault on the former tourist destination by extremist Taliban.
In exchange for peace, the government agreed in talks with Mohammad to institute Shariah.
All that it takes to introduce the new system is for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to sign off on it. Zardari has hesitated, however, possibly under pressure from Western countries, which have been highly critical of the deal.
Mohammad said time was running out for Pakistan to implement the deal. He warned that if the promised new courts aren't fully operational soon, he'll abandon Swat. That would leave the area once more to the marauding Taliban, who announced a cease-fire in response to Mohammad's deal with the authorities.
"Our responsibility is to maintain the peace. When the demand (for Shariah) is met, the Taliban will put down their weapons. We will see to that. But if the government doesn't agree to implement the deal, we will just go," said Mohammad, speaking in Pashto, the regional language. "Then I don't know what will happen."
Mohammad has renounced violence and appears to have influence over the Swat chapter of the Taliban, which his son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah, heads.
Despite the "peace deal," the Taliban are far from quiet. This week in Swat, they forcibly occupied the house of a member of parliament and overran an emerald mine. If Mohammad left, however, the Taliban almost certainly would start full-scale fighting again.
The government is gambling that Shariah will split the Islamists, bringing the "reconcilable" Taliban on board while isolating the hard-core. However, Mohammad is a former jihadist who led thousands of young Pakistani men into battle against the invading U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan after 9-11, and his loyalties are unclear.
"I would not say we're heading for normality, but this is the first peace we've had here for two years," said Khushhal Khan, a senior administration official in Mingora. "This place was a war zone."
The Taliban had banned girls' education in Swat and prohibited women from shopping. Since the peace deal, those schools are open again and shops have taken down signs that barred women, but residents have few illusions about who's won.
"Ninety percent of the people of Swat wanted the militants to be defeated by the Pakistan forces, just eliminated. But that was wishful thinking," said Zia-ud-Din Yusufzai, the headmaster of a private school in Mingora, who thinks, as many Swatis do, that the Pakistani army was unwilling to fight the Taliban.
"For us, a doubtful peace is far better than a doubtful war, where the parties were not known, their aims were not known," he said. "Swat has been assigned to the militants."
Masked Taliban gunmen are no longer on the streets of Mingora. Residents no longer wake up to find their neighbors hanging from poles in the squares of the city. The bazaar is bustling once more, though with few women. The atmosphere is edgy, however.
The Swat peace deal required the Taliban only to stop displaying their weapons, not to disarm or surrender. Some of the men in the Mingora market and elsewhere in Swat are bound to be Taliban, carrying hidden guns. They've just melted back into the population. Kidnapping for ransom is on the rise, and few people venture out after dark.
At Mingora's courts, there is chaos. The new Islamic judges are sitting but aren't yet authorized to hand down sentences, pending a presidential signature on the peace deal, and procedures haven't yet been worked out. Litigants mob the courts, shouting, jostling, pushing. There's little paperwork, and no lawyers are involved.
Aftab Alam, the president of the Swat lawyers association, said that the creaking colonial-era legal system needed to be speeded up, not replaced.
"They (the Taliban) want to establish a complete autonomous state. That's the real agenda," Alam said. "A utopian empire, a Taliban empire. Sometimes utopias become real."
The Swat Taliban are waiting on the sidelines. Their spokesman and key commander, Muslim Khan, said by telephone from an undisclosed location that his group would see to it that Shariah was implemented, "whether the government likes it or not, 100 percent."
Khan added: "Swat is a test case. After this, it (Shariah) should be brought in, in the whole of Pakistan. How can we have British law here? It is the task of the Taliban to make them agree. It is our right. Ninety-five percent of the population is Muslim."
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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|AP 11:57 am EDT Sat 04 Apr 2009|
ISLAMABAD – Officials say a suicide attacker has blown himself up inside a base housing paramilitary troops in the heart of the Pakistani capital. Six soldiers have been killed and several more wounded.
Senior police official Bin Yamin says the bomber sneaked into the compound under cover of dark and detonated his explosives inside a large tent.
He says another five members of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary were wounded in Saturday's blast.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Police say an explosion near a police building in the Pakistani capital has injured at least two people.
Police official Mohammed Shoaib says the cause of Saturday evening's blast is not immediately clear. Television footage showed rescuers carrying one police officer and another man toward waiting ambulances.
|By ZARAR KHAN, Associated Press Writer|
6:18 am EDT Sun 05 Apr 2009
ISLAMABAD – A suicide bomber attacked a crowded Shiite mosque south of the Pakistani capital on Sunday, killing 22 people and wounding dozens more, officials said.
Pakistan has been plagued by rising violence outside the dangerous Afghan border region, including a suicide bombing in Islamabad on Saturday that killed eight paramilitary personnel and a deadly commando-style attack against a police academy last week in Lahore.
The suicide bomber set off his explosives Sunday at the entrance to a mosque in Chakwal city in Punjab province, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Islamabad, during a religious congregation, said Nadim Hasan Asif, a top security official in Punjab. He said the blast killed 22 people and injured more than 30.
"The suspected man was stopped at the entrance and pushed himself in and exploded," Asif said.
Chaudhry Nasrullah, the top health official in Chakwal, confirmed that 22 people were killed and that more than 50 were injured, a dozen of them critically. He appealed to the government to send helicopters to evacuate the most seriously wounded.
Farid Ali, who left the mosque just before the attack occurred, said he felt the blast on his back and looked back and saw smoke and dust.
"I saw several people lying dead," he told Express News TV. "There was blood everywhere."
Local television footage showed pools of blood on the road in front of the mosque. Torn clothes and a pair of shoes also littered the ground. Police investigators were shown collecting evidence, not far from a car and four motorcycles that were damaged by the blast.
A policeman with both his legs bandaged and another wounded man whose shirt was stained with blood were shown on hospital beds crying in pain. A woman standing in the emergency ward of the hospital wailed, "Oh my God. Oh my God."
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack, saying it was masterminded by people who are against the state and want to give Islam a bad name.
Most of the militant attacks in Pakistan take place in the area near the Afghan border, where Taliban and al-Qaida militants have established bases and often strike U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Late last month, a suicide bomber blew up in a packed mosque near the Afghan border at the climax of a Friday prayer service, killing 48 people and wounding scores more in the worst attack to hit Pakistan this year.
But militants have also stepped up attacks in Pakistan's interior.
Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed credit for a deadly attack on a police academy in Punjab's capital, Lahore, last week that left 12 people dead, including seven police. He vowed to carry out more attacks unless the U.S. stopped drone missile strikes against militants near the Afghan border.
The drone attacks have continued, and a Mehsud deputy warned last week that militants would soon strike in Islamabad.
A suicide bomber attacked a paramilitary base in Islamabad on Saturday, killing eight members of the security force and wounding four others. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the second in the capital in two weeks.
It was also unclear who carried out Sunday's attack on the mosque in Chakwal. The country has a history of sectarian attacks mostly carried out by Sunni militants against Shiites.
Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad contributed to this report.
|From The Sunday Times of London|
April 5, 2009
Daud Khattakin and Christina Lamb
AMERICAN drone attacks on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are causing a massive humanitarian emergency, Pakistani officials claimed after a new attack yesterday killed 13 people.
The dead and injured included foreign militants, but women and children were also killed when two missiles hit a house in the village of Data Khel, near the Afghan border, according to local officials.
As many as 1m people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army. In Bajaur agency entire villages have been flattened by Pakistani troops under growing American pressure to act against Al-Qaeda militants, who have made the area their base.
Kacha Garhi is one of 11 tented camps across Pakistan’s frontier province once used by Afghan refugees and now inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis made homeless in their own land.
So far 546,000 have registered as internally displaced people (IDPs) according to figures provided by Rabia Ali, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Maqbool Shah Roghani, administrator for IDPs at the Commission for Afghan Refugees.
The commissioner’s office says there are thousands more unregistered people who have taken refuge with relatives and friends or who are in rented accommodation.
Jamil Amjad, the commissioner in charge of the refugees, says the government is running short of resources to feed and shelter such large numbers. A fortnight ago two refugees were killed and six injured in clashes with police during protests over shortages of water, food and tents.
On the road outside Kacha Garhi camp, eight-year-old Zafarullah and his little brother are among a number of children begging for coins and scraps. “I want to go back to my village and school,” he said.
With the attacks increasing, refugees have little hope of returning home and conditions in the camps will worsen as summer approaches and the temperatures soar.
Many have terrible stories. Baksha Zeb lost everything when his village, Anayat Kalay in Bajaur, was demolished by Pakistani forces. His eight-year-old son is a kidney patient needing dialysis and he has been left with no means to pay.
“Our houses have been flattened, our cattle killed and our farms and crops destroyed,” he complained. “There is not a single structure in my village still standing. There is no way we can go back.”
He sold his taxi to pay for food for his family and treatment for his son but the money has almost run out. “God bestowed me with a son after 15 years of marriage,” he said. “Now I have no job and I don’t know how we will survive.”
Pakistani forces say they have killed 1,500 militants since launching antiTaliban operations in Bajaur in August. Locals who fled claim that only civilians were killed.
Zeb said he saw dozens of his friends and relatives killed. Villagers were forced to leave bodies unburied as they fled.
Pakistani officials say drone attacks have been stepped up since President Barack Obama took office in Washington, killing at least 81 people. A suicide attacker blew himself up inside a paramilitary base in Islamabad, killing six soldiers and wounding five yesterday.
|By ZARAR KHAN, Associated Press Writer|
1:10 pm EDT Sun 05 Apr 2009
ISLAMABAD – A suicide bombing at a crowded Shiite mosque south of Pakistan's capital killed 22 people Sunday, the latest evidence of how security in the U.S.-allied nation is crumbling well beyond the Afghan border region where al-Qaida and Taliban fighters thrive.
The violence came as a senior Pakistani Taliban commander said his group was behind a deadly suicide bombing Saturday night in Islamabad and promised two more attacks per week in the country if the U.S. does not stop missile strikes on Pakistani territory.
Sunday's suicide bomber set off his explosives at the entrance to a mosque in Chakwal city in Punjab province, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Islamabad, said Nadeem Hasan Asif, a top security official in the province. The blast killed 22 and wounded dozens, he said.
A little-known group believed linked to the Pakistani Taliban claimed it had staged the attack. Pakistan also has a history of sectarian violence, often involving Sunni extremists targeting minority Shiite Muslims.
TV footage showed pools of blood in front of the mosque. Torn clothes and shoes littered the ground, while at least one car and four motorcycles were damaged. A policeman with bandaged legs and a wounded man wearing a bloodstained shirt were shown on hospital beds crying in pain. A woman standing in the emergency ward of the hospital wailed, "Oh my God! Oh my God!"
Farid Ali said he was leaving the mosque when he felt the blast on his back.
"I saw several people lying dead," he told Express News TV. "There was blood everywhere."
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack and directed authorities to "bring the perpetrators to justice." Such statements from the premier have become a matter of routine in Pakistan, where extremists seem bent on wreaking havoc.
Most of the militant attacks in Pakistan occur in the northwest, where the Taliban and al-Qaida have strongholds from which they plan strikes on U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. Still, all of the country's major cities have experienced assaults.
About a week ago, gunmen raided a police academy on the outskirts of Lahore, a vibrant city in the east near the Indian border, killing at least 12 people in a commando-style attack that prompted an eight-hour standoff with security forces.
Late last month, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a packed mosque near the Afghan border at the climax of a Friday prayer service, killing 48 people and wounding scores more in the worst attack to hit Pakistan this year.
Some militant groups that are historically sectarian are believed to have forged ties with the Pakistani Taliban, themselves followers of a harsh brand of Sunni Islam.
A man who goes by the name Umar Farooq and says he speaks for the shadowy militant organization Fedayeen al-Islam told The Associated Press via telephone that the group had staged Sunday's attack on the mosque as part of a "campaign against infidels."
He also warned the U.S. to stop its drone-fired missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistan's northwest.
Little is known of the group, but it is believed linked to the Pakistani Taliban.
In the past it has said it was behind other attacks, including the bombing of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel and last week's attack on the police academy in Lahore, but officials have never named it as a primary suspect.
Ignoring official Pakistani protests, the U.S. has escalated its campaign of missile strikes since August of last year.
Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud — who also claimed responsibility for the attack on the police academy — has vowed more assaults unless the U.S. shelves the drone-fired missiles.
His deputy Hakimullah Mehsud told AP the Pakistani Taliban carried out Saturday's suicide attack against the paramilitary camp in Islamabad. He, too, cited the missile strikes, and promised that the group would carry out two suicide attacks per week in Pakistan.
He also said Pakistani troops should withdraw from parts of the northwest.
"We have shown enough restraint," Hakimullah Mehsud said. "Previously, we were striking once in three months, but from now onward we will go for at least two suicide attacks a week."
Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.
|3 Suicide Attacks in 24 Hours in Pakistan|
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH 3:36 PM ET
A suicide bomb at a Shiite mosque killed at least 26 people in another sign that the Taliban are overwhelming security.
|The New York Times|
April 6, 2009
3 Suicide Attacks in 24 Hours in Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to a crowded Shiite mosque just south of the capital on Sunday, killing at least 26 people. It was the third suicide attack in Pakistan in 24 hours, in a sign that the Pakistani Taliban are overwhelming the nation’s security forces.
The assault south of the capital, Islamabad, appeared to be carefully crafted. It took place in Chakwal, a town that historically has had strong ties to the Pakistani Army, and in a Shiite mosque, which have come under increasing attack by the Pakistani Taliban.
The bombing occurred about 12 hours after a suicide bomber struck in an upper-class neighborhood of Islamabad on Saturday night, killing eight paramilitary security officers assigned to guard foreign diplomats and wealthy residents. On Saturday morning, a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into a group of civilians on the side of the road in Miram Shah, in North Waziristan, killing at least eight people, including schoolchildren.
In a telephone interview on Sunday, Hakimullah Mehsud, a powerful deputy to Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, said the Taliban were responsible for the suicide attacks in Islamabad and Chakwal.
He said the Islamabad bombing was in retaliation for an attack against him by an American pilotless aircraft, known as a drone, on April 1 in Orakzai, southwest of Peshawar in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The attack killed at least 10 people, American intelligence officials said.
Speaking hurriedly on a land line from Orakzai, Mr. Mehsud said the Pakistani Taliban planned to carry out two bombings a week within Pakistan in what he called “revenge” against Pakistan for the American missile strikes.
He did not specify whether the attacks would be by suicide bombers or in commando-style assaults, a technique used against a police training school in Lahore last week, in which 8 police officers were killed and more than 100 were wounded. Baitullah Mehsud took responsibility for that attack and said it was in response to American missile strikes.
American military officials have said the missile strikes have killed nearly a dozen top operatives from Al Qaeda based in safe havens within the tribal areas.
The strikes, which have intensified since President Asif Ali Zardari took office in September, are among the most effective instruments in the United States arsenal against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, American officials have said.
Senior Pakistani officials have routinely protested that the drone attacks represent an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty, although the government has quietly assented to the strikes.
Hakimullah Mehsud said the attack in Chakwal on Sunday morning was carried out by a group known as the Fidayeen-e-Islam, part of the broad alliance known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban. The Fidayeen-e-Islam is believed to be led by Qari Hussain, the chief technician and motivator of Taliban suicide bombers, and is based in South Waziristan, according to Taliban experts.
Mr. Mehsud said he would release a video showing that the recent attacks were being conducted by “Pakistanis and Muslims,” and not by foreigners, as the Pakistani government has asserted.
In Sunday’s attack, a witness at the Shiite mosque told Pakistani television that the suicide bomber had been stopped at the door, but that he pushed himself forward and then detonated the explosives strapped to his body.
Separately, John Solecki, an American working for the United Nations who was abducted more than two months ago, was found on the side of a road near Quetta just before midnight Saturday, a United Nations spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, said.
The abductors called the United Nations headquarters in Islamabad shortly after 8 p.m. on Saturday, and said, “ ‘John has been released, go and pick up your man,’ ” Ms. Pagonis said.
It was the call the United Nations had been waiting for since his disappearance, and the only direct communication with his kidnappers, a group that called itself the Baluchistan Liberation United Front, she said. After reports from the abductors that Mr. Solecki was very sick, the United Nations team that picked him up was “enormously relieved to see he was not critically ill,” she said.
She declined to say where Mr. Solecki was on Sunday; The Associated Press reported he had left Pakistan for the United States.
Time Is Short as U.S. Presses a Reluctant Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ
In seeking an alliance with Pakistan against militants, America is courting a Muslim nation whose military is fixated on India.
|The New York Times|
April 6, 2009
Time Is Short as U.S. Presses a Reluctant Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Obama’s strategy of offering Pakistan a partnership to defeat the insurgency here calls for a virtual remaking of this nation’s institutions and even of the national psyche, an ambitious agenda that Pakistan’s politicians and people appear unprepared to take up.
Officially, Pakistan’s government welcomed Mr. Obama’s strategy, with its hefty infusions of American money, hailing it as a “positive change.” But as the Obama administration tries to bring Pakistanis to its side, large parts of the public, the political class and the military have brushed off the plan, rebuffing the idea that the threat from Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which Washington calls a common enemy, is so urgent.
Some, including the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the president, Asif Ali Zardari, may be coming around. But for the military, at least, India remains priority No. 1, as it has for the 61 years of Pakistan’s existence.
How to shift that focus in time for Pakistan to defeat a fast-expanding Islamic insurgency that threatens to devour the country is the challenge facing Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to the region, as they arrive in Pakistan for talks early this week.
Strengthening Pakistan’s weak civilian institutions, updating political parties rooted in feudal loyalties and recasting a military fixated on yesterday’s enemy, and stuck in the traditions of conventional warfare, are generational challenges. But Pakistan may not have the luxury of the long term to meet them.
Some analysts here and in Washington are already putting forward apocalyptic timetables for the country. “We are running out of time to help Pakistan change its present course toward increasing economic and political instability, and even ultimate failure,” said a recent report by a task force of the Atlantic Council that was led by former Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. The report, released in February, gave the Pakistani government 6 to 12 months before things went from bad to dangerous.
A specialist in guerrilla warfare, David Kilcullen, who advised Gen. David H. Petraeus when General Petraeus was the American commander in Iraq, offered a more dire assessment. Pakistan could be facing internal collapse within six months, he said.
General Petraeus, in Congressional testimony last week, called the insurgency one that could “take down” the country, which is home to Qaeda militants and has nuclear arms.
Even before the insurgency has been fully engaged, however, many Pakistanis have concluded that reaching an accommodation with the militants is preferable to fighting them. Some, including mid-ranking soldiers, choose to see the militants not as the enemy, but as fellow Muslims who are deserving of greater sympathy than are the American aims.
It is problematic whether the backing of Mr. Zardari, and the Obama’s administration’s promise of $1.5 billion in aid for each of the next five years, can change the mood in the country, said a former interior minister, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, who visited Washington last fall to meet with some of the people who are now officials in the Obama administration.
Fighting the insurgency is commonly seen in Pakistan as an American cause, not a Pakistani one, he said.
There are questions, too, of whether the Obama offer of nearly $3 billion in counterinsurgency aid can quickly convert the Pakistani military from a force trained to fight India on the plains of Punjab into an outfit that can conquer the mountains of the tribal areas, where the militants operate.
“After such a long time of being with the Americans, the country has been through such stress and strain and nothing good has come of it,” Mr. Sherpao said. “A cross-section of people is dead set against the Americans. Another section is not happy but not vocal. About 1 to 2 percent would say this policy of America should continue.”
The distrust has been heightened by charges from American officials, including General Petraeus and Mr. Holbrooke, that Pakistan’s spy agency is still supporting the Islamic militants who pour over the border to fight American troops in Afghanistan.
A former director general of the agency Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf, said the American opinions — long held but now publicly stated — did not augur well. A spokesman for the Pakistani military called them “baseless” and part of a “malicious campaign.”
“You can’t start a successful operation with a trust deficit,” General Ashraf said. “Pakistan is an ally. But then you say we are linked with the Taliban. The serving army people will say, ‘To hell with them if this is what we are going to get after laying down more than 1,500 lives.’ ” That is the number of soldiers the Pakistani Army says have been killed fighting the militants in the tribal areas.
The lack of trust was evident, military analysts said, in the American refusal to consider a request from the Pakistani military that it operate the remotely piloted aircraft the C.I.A. has been using to hit the militants in the tribal areas.
Although those Predator drones have been successful in killing top Qaeda operatives, a factor acknowledged privately by Pakistani officials, the attacks continued to be criticized even as the new Pakistani-American partnership was supposed to be taking root.
“Predator strikes are not a strategy — not even part of a strategy,” a former army chief of staff and ambassador to Washington, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, said in a front-page article in the newspaper The Nation. “They are tactical actions to ratchet up body counts.”
The Americans have been stingy on even the more basic tools for guerrilla warfare, like helicopter gunships and night-vision goggles, which Pakistan has requested for the past three years, Pakistani military officials say. There are still doubts that Washington will deliver such equipment speedily, they say.
Then there is India. Its growing presence in Afghanistan — the building of roads; the opening since 2001 of two consulates in two cities close to Pakistan — makes Pakistan believe it is being encircled, said Ishaq Khan Khakwani, a former senator from the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party.
Pakistanis complain that even though Mr. Obama, during his European trip, called for dialogue between India and Pakistan, his plans fail to address this major strategic concern.
“The United States has to get India to back off in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Khakwani, who is sympathetic to the American position. “Then Pakistan will see Indian interference is diminished and that will give confidence to Pakistan.”
The deep questioning about why the Pakistani Army should fight the Taliban reaches well down into the ranks of the soldiers and their families. Dissent on that goal has become increasingly prevalent among rank-and-file soldiers, and even in the officer corps, said Riffat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University here who also lectures to soldiers at the National Defense University.
There have been at least a half-dozen reported courts-martial of soldiers who refused to fight, and the real number was probably larger, Professor Hussain said.
In Jhelum, a town 100 miles south of Islamabad and a place with a proud military history, one village had shown in the boldest terms the anger about the military fighting Muslims on Pakistani soil, said Enver Baig, a former senator with the Pakistan Peoples Party, who considers himself a pro-American politician.
When the body of a soldier killed in the tribal areas was taken home to his family last year, the father refused to accept his son’s coffin, Mr. Baig said.
Instead, the father took off his shoe and used it to slap the army officer who had escorted the body.
A month later, when another soldier’s body was delivered to the same village, the army left the body on the village outskirts, Mr. Baig said.
By Norman Solomon
April 06, 2009 "Common Dreams" -- Top Democrats and many prominent supporters -- with vocal agreement, tactical quibbles or total silence -- are assisting the escalation of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The predictable results will include much more killing and destruction. Back home, on the political front, the escalation will drive deep wedges into the Democratic Party.
The party has a large anti-war base, and that base will grow wider and stronger among voters as the realities of the Obama war program become more evident. The current backing or acceptance of the escalation from liberal think tanks and some online activist groups will not be able to prevent the growth of opposition among key voting blocs.
In their eagerness to help the Obama presidency, many of its prominent liberal supporters -- whatever their private views on the escalation -- are willing to function as enablers of the expanded warfare. Many assume that opposition would undermine the administration and play into the hands of Republicans. But in the long run, going along with the escalation is not helping Obama; by putting off the days of reckoning, the acceptance of the escalation may actually help Obama destroy his own presidency.
Ideally, in 2009, Democratic lawmakers would see as role models the senators who opposed the Vietnam War -- first Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening, and then (years later) others including Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. Earlier and stronger opposition from elected officials could have saved countless lives. The dreams of the Great Society might not have been crushed. And Richard Nixon might never have become president.
Now, everyone has the potential to help challenge the escalation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan war -- on a collision course with heightened disaster.
Over the weekend, the Sunday Times of London reported that U.S. drone attacks along the Afghan-Pakistani border on Saturday killed "foreign militants" and "women and children" -- while Pakistani officials asserted that "American drone attacks on the border . . . are causing a massive humanitarian emergency." The newspaper says that "as many as 1 million people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army."
This is standard catastrophic impact of a counterinsurgency war. In short, as former Kennedy administration official William Polk spells out in his recent book "Violent Politics," the key elements are in place for the U.S. war in Afghanistan to fail on its own terms while heightening the death and misery on a large scale.
Citing UN poverty data, a recent essay by Tom Hayden points out that in Afghanistan and Pakistan "the levels of suffering are among the most extreme in the world, and from suffering, from having nothing to live for, comes the will to die for a cause." While the Washington spin machine touts development aid, the humanitarian effort adds up to a few pennies for each dollar going to the U.S. war effort.
A report from the Carnegie Endowment began this year with the stark conclusion that "the only meaningful way to halt the insurgency's momentum is to start withdrawing troops. The presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban." Hayden made the same point when he wrote that "military occupation, particularly a surge of U.S. troops into the Pashtun region in southern Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the surest way to inflame nationalist resistance and greater support for the Taliban."
Over the weekend, in his pitch for more NATO support, President Obama tried to make the U.S. war goals seem circumscribed: "I want everybody to understand that our focus is to defeat Al Qaeda." But there's no evidence that Al Qaeda has a significant foothold in Afghanistan. That group long since decamped to Pakistan.
In any event, the claim that a massive war is necessary to fight terrorism is hardly new. Lest we forget: After George W. Bush could no longer cling to his claims about WMDs in Iraq, he settled on the anti-terrorist rationale for continuing the Iraq occupation.
Even among allies, the anti-terrorism rationale is not flying for a troop buildup in Afghanistan. After Obama's latest appeal to the leaders of NATO countries, as the New York Times reported Sunday, "his calls for a more lasting European troop increase for Afghanistan were politely brushed aside."
Europe will provide no more than 5,000 new troops, and most of them just for the Afghan pre-election period till late summer. In the words of the Times: "Mr. Obama is raising the number of American troops this year to about 68,000 from the current 38,000, which will significantly Americanize the war."
For those already concerned about Obama's re-election prospects, such war realities may seem faraway and relatively abstract. But escalation will fracture his base inside the Democratic Party. If the president insists on leading a party of war, then activists will educate, agitate and organize to transform it into a party for peace.
The mirage of wise counterinsurgency has been re-conjured by the Obama White House, echoing the "best and brightest" from Democratic administrations of the 1960s. But the party affiliation of the U.S. president will make no difference to people far away who mourn the loss of loved ones. And, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan or the United States, the president will be held to the astute standard that Barack Obama laid out as he addressed unfriendly foreign leaders in his inaugural speech: "People will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."
Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is "Made Love, Got War." He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign.
|Expert: Pakistan may fall|
US terrorism expert gives apocalyptic assessment of Pakistani situation.
|The Times of India|
7 Apr 2009, 0149 hrs IST, TIMES NEWS NETWORK & AGENCIES
NEW YORK: Pakistan could collapse within six months in the face of the snowballing insurgency, a top expert on guerrilla warfare has said.
The dire prediction was made by David Kilcullen, a former adviser to top US military
commander General David Petraeus.
David Kilcullen is the best known practitioner of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations and had advised Gen Petraeus on the counter-insurgency programme in Iraq. Few experts understand the nature of the insurgency in Af-Pak as well and he is now advising Petraeus in Afghanistan.
Petraeus also echoed the same thought when he told a Congressional testimony last week that the insurgency could "take down" Pakistan, which is home to nuclear weapons and al-Qaida.
Kilcullen's comments come as Pakistan witnesses an unprecedented upswing in terror strikes and now some analysts in Pakistan and Washington are putting forward apocalyptic timetables for the country.
"We are running out of time to help Pakistan change its present course toward increasing economic and political instability, and even ultimate failure," said a recent report by a task force of the Atlantic Council that was led by former senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. The report, released in February, gave the Pakistani government 6 to 12 months before things went from bad to dangerous.
In an analysis piece, the New York Times cast doubts about the success of President Barack Obama's strategy offering Pakistan a partnership to defeat insurgency, as Pakistanis still consider India enemy number one.
Officially, Islamabad welcomed Obama's strategy, with its hefty infusions of American money, hailing it as a "positive change", the paper said.
But as the Obama administration tries to bring Pakistan to its side, large parts of the public, political class and the military have brushed off the plan, rebuffing the idea that the threat from al-Qaida and the Taliban, which Washington calls a common enemy, is so urgent, the newspaper added.
Some, including Pak army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and President Asif Ali Zardari may be coming around but for the military, at least, India remains priority No. 1, as it has for the 61 years of Pakistan's existence, the paper said.
How to shift that focus in time for Pakistan to defeat a fast-expanding Islamic insurgency that threatens to devour the country is the challenge facing Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, and Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to the region, as they arrive in Pakistan for talks later this week, the Times emphasised.
Strengthening Pakistan's weak civilian institutions, updating political parties rooted in feudal loyalties and recasting a military "fixated on yesterday's enemy", and stuck in the traditions of conventional warfare, are generational challenges, the paper said, warning that Pakistan may not have the luxury of the long term to meet them.
Even before the insurgency has been fully engaged, however, many Pakistanis have concluded that reaching an accommodation with the militants is preferable to fighting them. Some, including mid-ranking soldiers, choose to see the militants not as the enemy, but as fellow Muslims who are deserving of greater sympathy than are the American aims, the paper added.
It is problematic whether the backing of Zardari, and the Obama administration's promise of $1.5 billion in aid for each of the next five years, can change the mood in the country, former interior minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, who visited Washington last fall to meet some of the people who are now officials in the new administration, was quoted as saying.
"Fighting the insurgency is commonly seen in Pakistan as an American cause, not a Pakistani one," he said.
There are questions, too, of whether the Obama's offer of nearly $3 billion in counterinsurgency aid can quickly convert the Pakistani military from a force trained to fight India on the plains of Punjab into an outfit that can conquer the mountains of the tribal areas, where the militants operate, the Times said.
"After such a long time of being with the Americans, the country has been through such stress and strain and nothing good has come of it," Sherpao told Another section is not happy but not vocal. About 1 to 2% would say this policy of America should continue."
|More Drone Attacks in Pakistan Planned|
By ERIC SCHMITT and CHRISTOPHER DREW
WASHINGTON — Despite threats from the Taliban, the U.S. may expand missile strikes to another haven for militants, senior administration officials said.
|The New York Times|
April 7, 2009
More Drone Attacks in Pakistan Planned
By ERIC SCHMITT and CHRISTOPHER DREW
WASHINGTON — Despite threats of retaliation from Pakistani militants, senior administration officials said Monday that the United States intended to step up its use of drones to strike militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas and might extend them to a different sanctuary deeper inside the country.
On Sunday, a senior Taliban leader vowed to unleash two suicide attacks a week like one on Saturday in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, unless the Central Intelligence Agency stopped firing missiles at militants. Pakistani officials have expressed concerns that the missile strikes from remotely piloted aircraft fuel more violence in the country, and some American officials say they are also concerned about some aspects of the drone strikes.
But as Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to the region, arrived in Islamabad on Monday, the administration officials said the plan to intensify missile strikes underscored President Obama’s goal to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as to strike at other militant groups allied with Al Qaeda.
Officials are also proposing to broaden the missile strikes to Baluchistan, south of the tribal areas, unless Pakistan manages to reduce the incursion of militants there.
Influential American lawmakers have voiced support for the administration’s position.
Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, acknowledged last week that “the price is very heavy” when missile strikes mistakenly kill civilians, but he said the strikes were “an extremely effective tool.”
The plans have met strong resistance from Pakistani officials and have also worried some former American officials and some analysts, who say that strikes create greater risks of civilian casualties and could further destabilize the nuclear-armed nation.
“You will be complicating and compounding anti-Americanism here,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and military analyst in Islamabad. “How can you be an ally and at the same time be targeted?”
Some American experts say a crucial change in aerial warfare, in which American forces are now often stalking individuals rather than tanks and other large armaments as in past wars, has raised new legal issues.
A. John Radsan, who worked as a C.I.A. lawyer from 2002 to 2004, argued in a recent scholarly article he wrote with Richard W. Murphy, a fellow law professor, that the United States should follow the lead of the Israeli Supreme Court and require an investigation of “targeted killings” by the C.I.A. to control the practice.
While the notion of remote-control killing may seem chilling, military experts say the drones, which can transmit live video for nearly a day at a time, typically supply the weapons targeting officers with enough information to avoid civilian casualties.
Marc Garlasco, a former military targeting official who now works for Human Rights Watch, the international advocacy group, said the drones had helped limit civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the Air Force uses them to attack people laying roadside bombs and to attack other insurgents.
But in trying to take advantage of what can be fleeting chances to kill top Taliban and Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, the C.I.A. faces a much more difficult task, especially if it follows the targets into more populated areas.
“When you’re operating under very short time frames, like the C.I.A. is in Pakistan, you are exponentially increasing the risk of killing noncombatants,” Mr. Garlasco said.
In Pakistan, the extensive missile strikes have been limited to the tribal areas, and authorities say they have killed 9 of the top 20 Qaeda leaders. American officials say the missile strikes have forced some Taliban and Qaeda leaders to flee south toward Quetta, a city in the province of Baluchistan, which abuts the parts of southern Afghanistan where recent fighting has been the fiercest.
One of the prized attributes of the drones — the Cessna-size Predators and their larger and more heavily armed cousins called the Reapers — is that they can linger over an area day after day, sending back video that can be used to build a “pattern of life” analysis.
Some experts have compared them to mini-satellites that can monitor a suspected terrorist compound for weeks, watching where the people go and with whom they interact, to help confirm that the right people are being singled out for attack.
Experts say the drones also carry laser-guided weapons with small warheads that are precise enough to kill a group of people in a street without damaging nearby buildings.
Like the military services, the C.I.A. uses computer software to assess possible collateral damage, and the fusing on the bombs can be adjusted to limit their impact.
But in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it can also be hard to evaluate tips about the locations of Taliban or Qaeda leaders if there are no troops nearby to help check them out.
While the Air Force operates its drones from military bases in the United States, the C.I.A. controls its fleet of Predators and Reapers from its headquarters in Langley, Va.
The final preparations for strikes in Pakistan take place in a crowded room lined with video screens, where C.I.A. officers work at phone banks and National Security Agency personnel monitor electronic chatter, according to former C.I.A. officials.
The intelligence officers watch scratchy video captured by the drones, which always fly in pairs above potential targets.
According to the former officials, it is generally the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service or his deputy who gives the final approval for a strike. The decision about what type of weapon to use depends on the target, according to one former senior intelligence official.
Top national security leaders have approved lists of people who can be attacked, officials say, and the lawyers determine whether each attack can be justified under international law.
Mark Mazzetti and Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting.
|By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Writer|
Wed Apr 8, 2:02 pm ET
ISLAMABAD – A suspected U.S. missile struck a car in a lawless northwest Pakistani tribal region Wednesday, intelligence officials said, killing two insurgents and a civilian a day after the country again told visiting U.S. officials it opposes such attacks.
The strike was a less-than-subtle hint that the Obama administration won't give up a Bush-era tactic that Washington says has killed a string of al-Qaida operatives along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, even if it strains already-shaky relations with Islamabad.
Elsewhere in Pakistan's northwest, residents tried to force out a group of Taliban fighters who ventured into their community from a militant stronghold in the neighboring Swat Valley, triggering a clash that left at least five combatants dead. Signaling the militancy's reach, police in the south said they detained five members of an al-Qaida-linked group who planned suicide attacks in the mega-city of Karachi.
The missile strike occurred near Wana, the main town in South Waziristan tribal region, two intelligence officials said. South Waziristan is the main base of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, but there was no indication he was the target.
A drone had been flying over the area, and the missile landed after people in the car fired at the aircraft, the officials said, citing informants and agents in the field. The attack also damaged some shops in the village of Shin Warsak, wounding at least five villagers and killing one, they said.
The slain militants were from Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, one official said. Both said Taliban fighters took away the militants' bodies. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
U.S. officials rarely discuss the missile campaign, which has escalated since August. Several dozen such missile attacks, believed launched by unmanned, CIA-operated drones, have been carried out in the northwest. Pakistan has protested the strikes as a violation of its sovereignty and raising sympathy for the Taliban, scotching rumors that the two countries have a secret deal allowing the strikes.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Pakistan wants a trusting relationship with the U.S. during a Tuesday news conference with American envoy Richard Holbrooke and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But on the subject of the missile strikes, Qureshi said, "There's a gap between us and them."
Despite the strikes and a range of Pakistani efforts to stop the insurgency — from controversial peace efforts imposing Islamic law to army offensives — the militants appear to be extending their reach far beyond Pakistan's tribal regions. Sometimes they meet resistance.
A group of Pakistani Taliban fighters crossed late Monday from Swat into Buner, a previously peaceful district on the Indus River just 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Islamabad.
After the militants ignored appeals from community leaders to go back, armed tribesmen and police confronted them, sparking a battle that left three officers and two tribesmen dead, local police officer Zakir Khan said. Khan said more than a dozen Taliban also died but provided no evidence to back that assertion.
Behramand Khan, another police official in Buner, said the militants handed the five bodies to the police and that negotiations were under way for them to withdraw.
Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan denied the militants were trying to expand into Buner, calling the incident a "misunderstanding" stemming from some Taliban fighters' desire to visit a local cleric.
"They didn't know that the mullah was not there in his village," said Muslim Khan, who did not discuss any Taliban casualties. He said Taliban reinforcements arrived after news of the clash spread.
Resident Iqbal Khan said tribal elders had asked villages to arrange militias to defend against any encroaching Taliban. He said about 200 had shown up and that many remained.
"The situation is very tense. We are very worried," Khan said Wednesday, adding that a tribal council would discuss the matter soon.
The provincial government in northwest Pakistan agreed in February to impose Islamic law in Swat and surrounding areas to halt 18 months of terror and bloody fighting between militants and security forces that killed hundreds of people.
But President Asif Ali Zardari has not signed an order introducing the new legal system, fueling speculation that Washington is pressing him to hold back and that a cease-fire between the militants and the army won't hold.
Police in the southern city of Karachi said the five suspects arrested Tuesday were members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group historically blamed for vicious attacks on minority Shiite Muslims but increasingly associated with al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The suspects were arrested in the Sohrab Goth area, a major hub for Afghan refugees and tribesmen from Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region. Weapons, explosives and chemicals also were recovered, city police chief Wasim Ahmad told reporters.
He alleged the suspects planned to strike government offices and Shiite gatherings in the city and that they had attacked a critical U.S. and NATO military supply line that runs through Pakistan's northwest, but didn't elaborate.
Associated Press writers Ashraf Khan in Karachi, Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.
|The International News (Pakistan)|
Friday, April 10, 2009
By Amir Mir
LAHORE: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.
Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three attacks conducted in 2007 had slain 66 Pakistanis, yet none of the wanted al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders could be hit by the Americans right on target. However, of the 50 drone attacks carried out between January 29, 2008 and April 8, 2009, 10 hit their targets and killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda operatives. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who had been spying for the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan.
The remaining 50 drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children. The number of the Pakistani civilians killed in those 50 attacks stood at 537, in which 385 people lost their lives in 2008 and 152 people were slain in the first 99 days of 2009 (between January 1 and April 8).
Of the 50 drone attacks, targeting the Pakistani tribal areas since January 2008, 36 were carried out in 2008 and 14 were conducted in the first 99 days of 2009. Of the 14 attacks targeting Pakistan in 2009, three were carried out in January, killing 30 people, two in February killing 55 people, five in March killing 36 people and four were conducted in the first nine days of April, killing 31 people.
Of the 14 strikes carried out in the first 99 days of April 2009, only one proved successful, killing two most wanted senior al-Qaeda leaders - Osama al Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan. Both had lost their lives in a New Year’s Day drone strike carried out in the South Waziristan region on January 1, 2009.
Kini was believed to be the chief operational commander of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and had replaced Abu Faraj Al Libi after his arrest from Bannu in 2004. Both men were behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dares Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 others.
There were 36 recorded cross-border US predator strikes inside Pakistan during 2008, of which 29 took place after August 31, 2008, killing 385 people. However, only nine of the 36 strikes hit their actual targets, killing 12 wanted al-Qaeda leaders. The first successful predator strike had killed Abu Laith al Libi, a senior military commander of al-Qaeda who was targeted in North Waziristan on January 29, 2008. The second successful attack in Bajaur had killed Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al-Qaeda’s external operations chief, on March 14, 2008. The third attack in South Waziristan on July 28, 2008, had killed Abu Khabab al Masri, al-Qaeda’s weapons of mass destruction chief. The fourth successful attack in South Waziristan on August 13, 2008, had killed al-Qaeda leader Abdur Rehman.
The fifth predator strike carried out in North Waziristan near Miranshah on Sept 8, 2008 had killed three al-Qaeda leaders, Abu Haris, Abu Hamza, and Zain Ul Abu Qasim. The sixth successful predator hit in the South Waziristan region on October 2008 had killed Khalid Habib, a key leader of al-Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army.
The seventh such attack conducted in North Waziristan on October 31, 2008 had killed Abu Jihad al Masri, a top leader of the Egyptian Islamic group. The eighth successful predator strike had killed al-Qaeda leader Abdullah Azzam al Saudi in east of North Waziristan on November 19, 2008.
The ninth and the last successful drone attack of 2008, carried out in the Ali Khel region just outside Miramshah in North Waziristan on November 22, 2008, had killed al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubair al Masri and his Pakistani fugitive accomplice Rashid Rauf.
According to the figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities, a total of 537 people have been killed in 50 incidents of cross-border US predator strikes since January 1, 2008 to April 8, 2009, averaging 34 killings per month and 11 killings per attack. The average per month killings in predator strikes during 12 months of 2008 stood at 32 while the average per attack killings in the 36 drone strikes for the same year stood at 11.
Similarly, 152 people have been killed in 14 incidents of cross-border predator attacks in the tribal areas in the first 99 days of 2009, averaging 38 killings per month and 11 killings per attack.
Since September 3, 2008, it appears that the Americans have upped their attacks in Pakistani tribal areas in a bid to disrupt the al-Qaeda and the Taliban network, which they allege is being used to launch cross border ambushes against the Nato forces in Afghanistan.
The American forces stationed in Afghanistan carried out nine aerial strikes between September 3 and September 25, 2008, killing 57 people and injuring 38 others. The attacks were launched on September 3, 4, 5, 8, 12, 15, 17, 22 and September 27. However, the September 3, 2008 American action was unique in the sense that two CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters landed in the village of Zawlolai in the South Waziristan Agency with ground troops from the US Special Operation Forces, fired at three houses and killed 17, including five women and four sleeping children.
Besides the two helicopters carrying the US Special Forces Commandos, two jet fighters and two gun-ship helicopters provided the air cover for the half-an-hour American operation, more than a kilometre inside the Pakistani border.
The last predator strike on [April 8, 2009] was carried out hardly a few hours after the Pakistani authorities had rejected an American proposal for joint operations in the tribal areas against terrorism and militancy, as differences of opinion between the two countries over various aspects of the war on terror came out into the open for the first time.
The proposal came from two top US visiting officials, presidential envoy for the South Asia Richard Holbrooke and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. However, the Pakistani military and political leadership reportedly rejected the proposal and adopted a tough posture against a barrage of increasing US predator strikes and criticism emanating from Washington, targeting the Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and creating doubts about their sincerity in the war on terror and the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban.
|A rare joint talk by the Pakistani and Afghan ambassadors to the United States Thursday afternoon exposed some differences their countries have with the Obama administration’s new strategy to confront extremism in South Asia, as well as with each other.|
Said Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to Washington, and Husain Haqqani, his Pakistani counterpart, gave a wide-ranging presentation at the Atlantic Council of the United States, an organization promoting greater transatlantic ties, in which both diplomats proposed modifications to the Obama administration’s approach to the region. Jawad urged international assistance for the expansion of the Afghan security forces, a major component of administration strategy, to nearly double the size of the administration’s proposal. Haqqani bridled at the prospect of his government having to meet benchmarks for the continued provision of billions of dollars of aid that Congress and the administration have proposed. American self-perceptions as a “can-do, fix-it nation” leads to an “attitude that the world is a problem for America to fix,” Haqqani said. “Please don’t try to fix us.”
Jawad said his government “very much welcomed” the administration strategy to Afghanistan, which increases U.S. troops for the war there; accelerates the training of Afghan forces; and pledges wide-ranging support for a variety of developmental and governmental projects to stem the tide of insurgent violence. But he cited counterinsurgency theory — something that architects of the administration’s new strategy like Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy have studied closely — to say that Afghanistan ultimately “will need 400,000 security forces” to secure the population against insurgents, including 250,000 soldiers. The administration announced two weeks ago that it would bolster U.S. training and advisory programs to grow the Afghan national army to 134,000 soldiers and the national police force to 82,000 police by 2011.
Asked by TWI how long the expansion would take, Jawad estimated it would require “five to seven years.” He declined to cite a figure for how much the increase would cost. Absent the expansion, he said, “your soldiers will be dying [in Afghanistan] and we don’t like that.”
Jawad conceded that the Afghan police faced serious problems with their competence and their adherence to the law. In September, a TWI reporter in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province watched as Afghan policemen turned a joint U.S.-Afghan raid on a suspected Taliban safehouse into an opportunity to rob the house’s inhabitants , and forced the raid to come to a premature end when their U.S. partners refuse to let them loot the building. Asked by the panel’s moderator, Council President Frederick Kempe, whether Afghanistan needed to restart its police-training program from “scratch,” Jawad replied, “Unfortunately, yes.”
Haqqani, in an occasionally passionate talk, expressed frustration that the United States appeared to be dictating terms to Pakistan rather than treating it as a partner. Discussing recent reports that elements within the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency that sponsored the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s maintain a patron of extremists, Haqqani acknowledged “there is mistrust some of our security institutions” in Washington, but said the way to resolve those concerns was “by talking to us, not by beating on us.” He repeated the quote, he said, for the benefit of journalists in the room.
“Pakistan no longer lacks the will to fight terrorists and extremists,” said Haqqani, who was a close confidante of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister slain by al-Qaeda in December 2007.
Yet Haqqani made a case that the U.S. was insufficiently respectful of Pakistani sovereignty, even as Pakistani sovereignty is increasingly eroded by al-Qaeda and affiliated extremist groups that are holding territory in its western regions. On the subject of the controversial CIA-operated drones that fire missiles at suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders — and which have caused dozens of civilian casualties — “it is easier for Pakistanis to accept American technology used to take out extremists and terrorist on Pakistani soil if it’s done in partnership with Pakistan,” he said, without elaboration.
He questioned the amount of aid that the U.S. proposes to devote to Pakistani civilian institutions — a soon-to-be-introduced Senate bill proposes $7.5 billion over five years — in light of the recent government programs to takeover insurance giant AIG at a cost of $85 billion and extend a lifeline to General Motors with loans worth $13.4 billion, saying that Congress “needs to revisit” the relatively small amount of aid to a country that the Obama administration calls part of the “central front” in the war on al-Qaeda. But Haqqani urged the United States not to apply strict benchmarks to the funding, as the administration has promised. “Pakistan understands the need for accountability,” he said. “At the same time, there is a difference between accountability and intrusiveness.” He suggested that U.S. expectations of Pakistani behavior ought to be expressed privately in diplomatic communications, not by “legislating morality.”
That opened up one of several areas of gentle disagreements between the two ambassadors. “In Afghanistan, we are in favor of benchmarks and transparency,” Jawad said, contending that those Afghan ministries subject to benchmarks from the U.S. and the international community perform better than those that aren’t.
Jawad also rebuked Haqqani somewhat over the question of Pakistan’s strategic attitude towards the extremists operating on its territory. Haqqani said that Pakistan understands that “terrorism poses a greater imminent threat to our survival than some of our traditional concerns,” a reference to U.S. concerns, expressed by Obama, that Pakistan needs U.S.-backed reassurances of security regarding its traditional enemy, India. Jawad replied that while he doesn’t doubt the counterterrorism sincerity of Pakistan’s civilian government, “the military in Pakistan has capabilities to deliver but perceives India as the main enemy, not extremism.”
Still, both praised each other as partners — Haqqani called Afghanistan and Pakistan “brothers” — and pledged to work closely with the Obama administration against a shared threat. The three nations need to “overcome a trust deficit of the past and achieve a future” based on an “enduring and lasting partnership,” Haqqani said.
|Minister hits out at attacks by US drones|
A minister has called for Britain to distance itself publicly from the American policy of launching attacks on Al-Qaeda terrorists
|From The Sunday Times|
April 12, 2009
David Leppard and Abul Taher
A GOVERNMENT minister has called for Britain to distance itself publicly from the American policy of launching attacks on Al-Qaeda terrorists with pilotless drones to avoid inflaming Pakistani opinion.
Sadiq Khan, the community cohesion minister, said he had listened to the “anger and frustration” of students in Islamabad over US attacks inside Pakistan. “It’s quite clear in many Pakistani eyes that the UK is considered in the same terms as the US,” said Khan. “We want to explain that our foreign policy, especially on the issue of drone attacks, is distinct from US foreign policy.”
Khan’s comments came as the full extent emerged of what investigators believe is Pakistan-based control of the alleged Al-Qaeda plot to bomb shopping centres in Manchester over Easter.
Rashid Rauf, a fugitive British terrorist identified by MI5 as Al-Qaeda’s “director of operations” in Europe, is suspected of planning the bombing as part of a “master plan” for attacks on European cities.
Multiple cells, comprising at least 12 terrorists each, were dispatched last year from Pakistan’s tribal areas to conduct a series of atrocities in the UK, France, Belgium and elsewhere, an Al-Qaeda informant has told MI5. The cells are said to have been acting under the orders of Rauf, 27, from Birmingham, who has previously been linked to the failed suicide attack on London in July 21, 2005.
The plan was set in motion just weeks before a US Preda-tor missile strike targeted Rauf in a remote Pakistani village. Officials are still unclear whether he survived the attack last November.
Details of the plan were uncovered by MI5 last December after the arrest of 14 suspected Islamist terrorists in Brussels. Belgian prosecutors said at the time they believed the men were planning a suicide attack to coincide with a European Union summit attended by Gordon Brown.
A senior Scotland Yard official said one of the suspects had confessed that he had been “personally tasked” by Rauf to carry out the bombing. In an interview with MI5 he disclosed that Rauf, who fled to Pakistan seven years ago, had ordered a series of European attacks.
He said the Al-Qaeda chief had dispatched a cell leader to a British city to plan an attack there. Sources say the alleged Easter bomb plot is likely to have been that attack.
Last week 12 men, including 11 Pakistanis on student visas, were arrested in raids on Manchester, Liverpool and Clitheroe, Lancashire.
|updated 4:22 am EDT Sun 12 Apr 2009|
# Armed militants attack NATO supply terminal in Pakistan
# Three security guards were wounded in gunbattle, police say
# Terminal used to hold supplies to U.S., NATO-led troops in Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- More than 80 militants attacked a supply terminal in northwest Pakistan that serves U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, police said.
The militants used rocket launchers and petrol bombs to torch 10 trailers at the terminal early Sunday in Peshawar, said Warid Khan of the city's police.
An ensuing gun battle with the militants wounded three security guards, said Hassan Muhammad, also of Peshawar police.
Peshawar is the capital of the North-West Frontier Province, which intelligence officials say is rife with Islamic extremists and has been the site of recent clashes between Pakistani security forces and militants.
Because Afghanistan is landlocked, many supplies for NATO-led troops fighting Islamic militants in the area have to be trucked in from Pakistan.
Convoys carrying food and military supplies have regularly come under attack in the area.
| By Zeeshan Haider Zeeshan Haider – Mon Apr 13, 5:32 am ET|
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Taliban are imposing their rule in a Pakistani mountain valley they took over last week, spreading fear in the area only 100 km (60 miles) from the capital, police and residents said on Monday.
Surging militant violence across Pakistan and the spread of Taliban influence through the northwest are reviving concerns about the stability of the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.
Pakistan is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan but the government has been unable to check militant attacks in its cities let alone stop insurgents crossing into Afghanistan from border strongholds to battle Western forces.
Clashes erupted in Buner district last week after scores of Taliban moved in unopposed from the neighboring Swat valley, where authorities struck a deal with Islamists in February to enforce Islamic law in a bid to end violence.
Buner residents formed a militia, or "lashkar," to resist the militants and 13 people, including eight Taliban, three policemen and two villagers, were killed in clashes.
Authorities say they are negotiating with the militants to persuade them to withdraw but the Taliban have stayed put and appeared determined to take over the valley, police said.
"They are everywhere," Arsala Khan, a deputy superintendent of police, told Reuters by telephone from Buner.
"They are visiting mosques, they are visiting bazaars asking people to help them in enforcing sharia," he said.
"Buner is fast turning into Swat."
Swat, to the west of Buner, was one of Pakistan's main tourist destinations until 2007 when militants infiltrated into the North West Frontier Province valley from strongholds on the Afghan border to support a radical cleric.
Authorities agreed to an Islamist demand for Islamic sharia law in Swat in February to end the fighting but critics said appeasement would only embolden the militants to take over other areas.
Pakistan's Western allies fear such pacts create havens for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
Residents of Buner said they feared more bloodshed.
"There's panic all over," said ethnic Pashtun tribal elder Fateh Khan. "If the Taliban don't leave there will be more fighting, there might be a military operation. If that happens, who will lose? Only us."
The spread of the Taliban has alarmed many Pakistanis.
Many people were horrified when video footage emerged this month showing Taliban beating in public a teenaged girl accused of having an affair. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the flogging as "unacceptable."
But the government's support for the United States is also deeply unpopular, with many Pakistanis seeing militant violence as a result of that alliance.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who has vowed to stand up to the spread of militancy, is facing pressure from both conservatives and liberals over the issue of sharia law in Swat.
He has yet to sign into law a bill imposing it in the valley and the president's aides have said he would only sign when peace returned to the valley.
But conservatives and the main political party in the northwest, who support the law as the only way to bring peace, say he is delaying because of liberal and U.S. opposition.
Acting on Zardari's advice, the government has referred the bill to parliament which was due to debate it later on Monday.
(Additional reporting by Junaid Khan and Faris Ali; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sugita Katyal)
|Insurgents Make Inroads in Key Pakistan Province|
By SABRINA TAVERNISE, RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and ERIC SCHMITT 5 minutes ago
The Taliban is teaming up with local militant groups in Punjab, reinvigorating an alliance that poses a serious risk to the stability of Pakistan.
|The New York Times|
April 14, 2009
Insurgents Make Inroads in Key Pakistan Province
By SABRINA TAVERNISE, RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and ERIC SCHMITT
This article was reported by Sabrina Tavernise, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Eric Schmitt and written by Ms. Tavernise.
DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan — Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country.
The deadly assault in March in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, against the Sri Lankan cricket team, and the bombing last fall of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, the national capital, were only the most spectacular examples of the joint campaign, they said.
Now police officials, local residents and analysts warn that if the government does not take decisive action, these dusty, impoverished fringes of Punjab could be the next areas facing the insurgency. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials also said they viewed the developments with alarm.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,” said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be idenfitied because he was discussing threats to the state. “If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab.”
As American drone attacks disrupt strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan — both in retaliation and in search of new havens.
Tell-tale signs of creeping militancy abound in a belt of towns and villages near here that a reporter visited last week. Militants have gained strength considerably in the district of Dera Ghazi Khan, which is a gateway both to Taliban-controlled areas and the heart of Punjab, police and local residents say. Many were terrified.
Some villages, just north of here, are so deeply infiltrated by militants that they are already considered no-go zones by their neighbors.
In at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the midsize hub of Multan, barber shops, music stores and Internet cafes offensive to the militants’ strict interpretation of Islam have received threats. Traditional ceremonies that include drumming and dancing have been halted in some areas. Hard-line ideologues have addressed large crowds to push their idea of Islamic revolution. Sectarian attacks, dormant here since the 1990s, have erupted once again.
“It’s going from bad to worse,” said a senior police official in Dera Ghazi Khan. “They are now more active. These are the facts.”
American officials agreed. Bruce Riedel, who led the Obama administration’s recently completed strategy review of Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the Taliban now had “extensive links into the Punjab.”
“You are seeing more of a coalescence of these militant groups,” said Mr. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official. “Connections that have always existed are becoming tighter and more public than they have in the past.”
The Punjabi militant groups have had links with the Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun tribesmen, since the 1980s. Some of the Punjabi groups are veterans of Pakistan’s state-sponsored insurgency against Indian forces in Kashmir. Others made targets of Shiites.
Under pressure from the United States, former President Pervez Musharraf cut back state support for the Punjabi groups. They either went underground or migrated to the tribal areas, where they deepened their ties with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
At least 20 militants killed in American strikes in the tribal areas since last summer were Punjabi, according to people from the tribal areas and Pakistani officials. One Pakistani security official estimated that 5 percent to 10 percent of militants in the tribal regions could be Punjabi.
The alliance is based on more than shared ideology. “These are tactical alliances,” said a senior American counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters. The Pashtun Taliban and Arab militants, who are part of Al Qaeda, have money, sanctuary, training sites and suicide bombers. The Punjabi militants can provide logistical help in Punjabi cities, like Lahore, including handling bombers and target reconnaissance.
The cooperation between the groups intensified greatly after the government’s siege of Islamic hard-liners at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, in mid-2007, Pakistani and American security officials say. The siege has since become a rallying cry.
One such joint operation, an American security official said, was the Marriott bombing in Islamabad in September, which killed more than 50 people.
As this cooperation intensifies, places like Dera Ghazi Khan are particularly vulnerable. This frontier town is home to a combustible mix of worries: poverty, a growing phalanx of hard-line religious schools and a uranium processing plant that is a part of Pakisitan’s nuclear program.
It is also strategically situated at the intersection of two main roads. One is a main artery into Pakistan’s heartland, in southern Punjab. The other connects Baluchistan Province in the west to the North-West Frontier Province, both Taliban strongholds.
“We are being cornered in a blind alley,” said Mohammed Ali, a local landlord. “We can’t breathe easily.”
Attacks intended to intimidate and sow sectarian strife are more common. The police point to a suicide bombing in Dera Ghazi Khan on Feb. 5. Two local Punjabis, with the help of Taliban backers, orchestrated the attack, which killed 29 people at a Shiite ceremony, the local police said.
The authorities arrested two men as masterminds on April 6: Qari Muhammad Ismail Gul, the leader of a local madrasa; and Ghulam Mustafa Kaisrani, a jihadi who posed as a salesman for a medical company.
They belonged to a banned Punjabi group called Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, but were tied through phone calls to two deputies of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the police said.
“The phone numbers they call are in Waziristan,” said a police official, referring to the Taliban base in the tribal areas. “They are working together hand in glove.” One of the men had gone for training in Waziristan last summer, the police said. The operations are well-supported. Mr. Kaisrani had several bank transfers worth about $11 million from his Pakistani account, the authorities said.
Local crimes, including at least two recent bank robberies in Dera Ghazi Khan, were also traced to networks of Islamic militants, officials said.
“The money that’s coming in is huge,” said Zulfiqar Hameed, head of investigations for the Lahore Police Department. “When you go back through the chain of the transaction, you invariably find it’s been done for money.”
After the suicide attack here, the police confiscated a 20-minute inspirational video, titled “Revenge,” for the Red Mosque, which gave testimonials from suicide bombers in different cities and post-attack images.
Umme Hassan, the wife of a fiery preacher who was killed during the Red Mosque siege, now frequently travels to south Punjab, to rally the faithful. She has made 12 visits in the past several months before cheering crowds and showing emotional clips of the attack, said a Punjabi official who has been monitoring her visits.
“She claimed that they would bring Islamic revolution in three months,” said Umar Draz, who attended a rally in Muzzafargarh.
The situation in south and west Punjab is still far from that in the Swat Valley, a part of North-West Frontier Province that is now fully under Taliban control after the military agreed to a truce in February. But there are strong parallels.
The Taliban here exploit many of the same weaknesses that have allowed them to expand in other areas: an absent or intimidated police force; a lack of attention from national and provincial leaders; a population steadily cowed by threats, or won over by hard-line mullahs who usurp authority by playing on government neglect and poverty.
In Shadan Lund, a village just north of here, militants are openly demanding Islamic law, or Sharia, said Jan Sher, whose brother is a teacher there. “The situation is sharply going toward Swat,” Mr. Sher said. He and others said the single biggest obstacle to stopping the advance of militancy was the attitudes of Pakistanis themselves, whose fury at the United States has led to blind support for everyone that goes against it.
Shabaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, said he was painfully aware of the problems of insurgent infiltration and was taking steps to restore people’s faith in government, including plans for new schools and hospitals. “Hearts and minds must be won,” he said in an interview Monday. “If this struggle fails, this country has no future.”
But people complain that landowners and local politicians have done nothing to stop the advance and, in some cases, even assist the militants by giving money to some of the religious schools.
“The government is useless,” said Mr. Ali, the local landlord. “They live happy, secure lives in Lahore. Their children study abroad. They only come here to contest elections.”
The police are left alone to stop the advance. But in Punjab, as in much of the rest of Pakistan, they are spread unevenly, with little presence in rural areas. Out of 160,000 police officers in Punjab, fewer than 60,000 are posted in rural areas, leaving frontier stations in districts virtually unprotected, police officials said.
Locals feel helpless. When a 15-year-old boy vanished from a madrasa in a village near here recently — his classmates said to go on jihad — his uncle could not afford to go look for him, let alone confront the powerful men who run the madrasa.
“We are simple people,” the man said. “What can we do?”
Sabrina Tavernise reported from Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan; Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Peshawar, Pakistan; and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington, Waqar Gillani from Dera Ghazi Khan, and Pir Zubair Shah from Peshawar.
|Inter Press Service|
by Gareth Porter, April 16, 2009
The U.S. program of drone aircraft strikes against higher-ranking officials of al-Qaeda and allied militant organizations, which has been touted by proponents as having eliminated nine of the 20 top al-Qaeda leaders, is actually weakening Pakistan’s defense against the insurgency of the Islamic militants there by killing large numbers of civilians based on faulty intelligence and discrediting the Pakistani military, according to data from the Pakistani government and interviews with senior analysts.
Some evidence indicates, moreover, that the top officials in the Barack Obama administration now see the program more as an incentive for the Pakistani military to take a more aggressive posture toward the militants rather than as an effective tool against the insurgents.
Although the strikes have been sold to the U.S. public as a way to weaken and disrupt al-Qaeda, which is an explicitly counter-terrorist objective, al-Qaeda is not actually the main threat to U.S. security emanating from Pakistan, according to some analysts. The real threat comes from the broader, rapidly growing insurgency of Islamic militants against the shaky Pakistani government and military, they observe, and the drone strikes are a strategically inappropriate approach to that problem.
"Al-Qaeda has very little to do with the militancy in the tribal areas of Pakistan," said Marvin Weinbaum, former Afghanistan and Pakistan analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence Research at the U.S. Department of State and now scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute.
John McCreary, a senior intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency until his retirement in 2006, agrees with Weinbaum’s assessment. "The drone program is supposed to be all about al-Qaeda," he told IPS in an interview, but in fact, "the threat is much larger."
McCreary observes that the targets in recent months "have been expanded to include Pakistani Pashtun militants." The administration apparently had dealt with that contradiction by effectively broadening the definition of al-Qaeda, according to McCreary.
Ambassador James Dobbins, the director of National Security Studies at the Rand Corporation, who maintains contacts with a range of administration national security officials, told IPS in an interview that the drone strikes in Pakistan are aimed "in the short and medium term" at the counter-terrorism objective of preventing attacks on Washington and other capitals.
But as they have shifted to Pakistani Taliban targets, Dobbins said, "To degree the targets are insurgents and are Pakistanis not Arabs it would be correct to assess that they are part of an insurgency." That raises the question, he said, of whether the drone program "is feeding the insurgency and popular support for it."
The drone program cannot even be expected to be a decisive factor in al-Qaeda’s ability to operate, according to McCreary. "All you can do with drones is decapitate leadership," McCreary told IPS in a recent interview. "Even in relation to al-Qaeda’s organizational dynamics, it has only limited, temporary impact."
McCreary warned that the drone strikes will cause much more serious problems when they increase and expand into new parts of Pakistan as the administration is now seriously considering, according to a New York Times article from Apr. 7. "Now al-Qaeda is fleeing to other cities, "said McCreary. "The program is escalating and having ripple effects that are incalculable."
McCreary said one of the longer-term consequences of the attacks is "the public humiliation of the Pakistan Army as a defender of the national patrimony." That effect of striking Pakistani targets with U.S. aircraft is "the least understood dimension of the attacks, the most discounted and most dangerous." McCreary said the attacks’ "ensure that successive generations of Pakistani military officers will be viscerally anti-American."
Administration officials have defended the drone strikes program as necessary to weaken and disrupt al-Qaeda to prevent terrorist attacks, and officials have leaked to the media in recent weeks the fact that the program has killed nine of 20 top al-Qaeda leaders.
But the Pakistani government leaked data last week to The News in Lahore showing that only 10 drone attacks out of 60 carried out from Jan. 29, 2009 to Apr. 8, 2009 actually hit al-Qaeda leaders, while 50 other strikes were based on faulty intelligence and killed a total of 537 civilians but no al-Qaeda leaders.
The drone strikes have been even less accurate in their targeting in 2009 than they had been from 2006 through 2008, according to the detailed data from Pakistani authorities. Of 14 drone strikes carried out in those 99 days, only one was successful, killing a senior al-Qaeda commander in North Waziristan and its external operations chief. The other 13 strikes had killed 152 people without netting a single al-Qaeda leader.
Dobbins, speaking to IPS before the Pakistani data on drone strikes was released, said it was difficult for an outsider to evaluate the benefits of the program but that "we can assess that there is a significant price that is being paid" in terms of the impact on Pakistani opinion toward U.S. efforts to stem the tide of the insurgency.
Dobbins said one of the reasons for the continuing drone attacks, despite the high political price, is that "it is an incentive aimed prodding the Pakistani government." He said he believes the United States would be happy to trade off the strikes in return for a more effective counterinsurgency campaign by the Pakistani government.
Further bolstering that interpretation of the objective of continued drone strikes is a report, in the same story in The News, that the most recent strike took place only hours after U.S. officials had reportedly received a rejection by Pakistani authorities Apr. 8 of a proposal for joint military operations against militant organizations in the tribal areas from U.S. South Asia envoy Richard Holbrooke and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who were visiting Islamabad.
Other analysts suggest that the program has acquired bureaucratic and political momentum because it a politically important symbol that the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are against al-Qaeda and because the United States has no other policy instrument to demonstrate that it is doing something about the growth of Islamic groups that share al-Qaeda’s extremist Islamic militancy.
McCreary believes that the program is related to the fear of the Obama administration that it would be unable to get support for operations in Afghanistan if it didn’t focus on al-Qaeda. "I think it was a way to link Afghanistan operations to al-Qaeda," he said.
"That suggests to me that the tactic for motivating domestic support is influencing the policy," said McCreary. The former senior DIA analyst added that the drone strike program "has acquired its own momentum, which is now having immense consequences."
Weinbaum told IPS in an interview that the drone attacks are being continued, "primarily because we’re enormously frustrated, and they represent the only thing we really have."
|Taliban Exploit Class Rifts to Gain Ground in Pakistan|
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The militants have organized landless tenants against wealthy landlords in a strategy that poses broad dangers for the rest of Pakistan.
|The New York Times|
April 17, 2009
Taliban Exploit Class Rifts to Gain Ground in Pakistan
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by engineering a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here.
The strategy cleared a path to power for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, where the government allowed Islamic law to be imposed this week, and it carries broad dangers for the rest of Pakistan, particularly the militants’ main goal, the populous heartland of Punjab Province.
In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power.
To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops, the residents, government officials and analysts said.
The approach allowed the Taliban to offer economic spoils to people frustrated with lax and corrupt government even as the militants imposed a strict form of Islam through terror and intimidation.
“This was a bloody revolution in Swat,” said a senior Pakistani official who oversees Swat, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the Taliban. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the established order of Pakistan.”
The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal.
Unlike India after independence in 1947, Pakistan maintained a narrow landed upper class that kept its vast holdings while its workers remained subservient, the officials and analysts said. Successive Pakistani governments have since failed to provide land reform and even the most basic forms of education and health care. Avenues to advancement for the vast majority of rural poor do not exist.
Analysts and other government officials warn that the strategy executed in Swat is easily transferable to Punjab, saying that the province, where militant groups are already showing strength, is ripe for the same social upheavals that have convulsed Swat and the tribal areas.
Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American lawyer and former classmate of President Obama’s, said, “The people of Pakistan are psychologically ready for a revolution.”
Sunni militancy is taking advantage of deep class divisions that have long festered in Pakistan, he said. “The militants, for their part, are promising more than just proscriptions on music and schooling,” he said. “They are also promising Islamic justice, effective government and economic redistribution.”
The Taliban strategy in Swat, an area of 1.3 million people with fertile orchards, vast plots of timber and valuable emerald mines, unfolded in stages over five years, analysts said.
The momentum of the insurgency built in the past two years, when the Taliban, reinforced by seasoned fighters from the tribal areas with links to Al Qaeda, fought the Pakistani Army to a standstill, said a Pakistani intelligence agent who works in the Swat region.
The insurgents struck at any competing point of power: landlords and elected leaders — who were usually the same people — and an underpaid and unmotivated police force, said Khadim Hussain, a linguistics and communications professor at Bahria University in Islamabad, the capital.
At the same time, the Taliban exploited the resentments of the landless tenants, particularly the fact that they had many unresolved cases against their bosses in a slow-moving and corrupt justice system, Mr. Hussain and residents who fled the area said.
Their grievances were stoked by a young militant, Maulana Fazlullah, who set up an FM radio station in 2004 to appeal to the disenfranchised. The broadcasts featured easy-to-understand examples using goats, cows, milk and grass. By 2006, Mr. Fazlullah had formed a ragtag force of landless peasants armed by the Taliban, said Mr. Hussain and former residents of Swat.
At first, the pressure on the landlords was subtle. One landowner was pressed to take his son out of an English-speaking school offensive to the Taliban. Others were forced to make donations to the Taliban.
Then, in late 2007, Shujaat Ali Khan, the richest of the landowners, his brothers and his son, Jamal Nasir, the mayor of Swat, became targets.
After Shujaat Ali Khan, a senior politician in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, narrowly missed being killed by a roadside bomb, he fled to London. A brother, Fateh Ali Mohammed, a former senator, left, too, and now lives in Islamabad. Mr. Nasir also fled.
Later, the Taliban published a “most wanted” list of 43 prominent names, said Muhammad Sher Khan, a landlord who is a politician with the Pakistan Peoples Party, and whose name was on the list. All those named were ordered to present themselves to the Taliban courts or risk being killed, he said. “When you know that they will hang and kill you, how will you dare go back there?” Mr. Khan, hiding in Punjab, said in a telephone interview. “Being on the list meant ‘Don’t come back to Swat.’ ”
One of the main enforcers of the new order was Ibn-e-Amin, a Taliban commander from the same area as the landowners, called Matta. The fact that Mr. Amin came from Matta, and knew who was who there, put even more pressure on the landowners, Mr. Hussain said.
According to Pakistani news reports, Mr. Amin was arrested in August 2004 on suspicion of having links to Al Qaeda and was released in November 2006. Another Pakistani intelligence agent said Mr. Amin often visited a madrasa in North Waziristan, the stronghold of Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, where he apparently received guidance.
Each time the landlords fled, their tenants were rewarded. They were encouraged to cut down the orchard trees and sell the wood for their own profit, the former residents said. Or they were told to pay the rent to the Taliban instead of their now absentee bosses.
Two dormant emerald mines have reopened under Taliban control. The militants have announced that they will receive one-third of the revenues.
Since the Taliban fought the military to a truce in Swat in February, the militants have deepened their approach and made clear who is in charge.
When provincial bureaucrats visit Mingora, Swat’s capital, they must now follow the Taliban’s orders and sit on the floor, surrounded by Taliban bearing weapons, and in some cases wearing suicide bomber vests, the senior provincial official said.
In many areas of Swat the Taliban have demanded that each family give up one son for training as a Taliban fighter, said Mohammad Amad, executive director of a nongovernmental group, the Initiative for Development and Empowerment Axis.
A landlord who fled with his family last year said he received a chilling message last week. His tenants called him in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, to tell him his huge house was being demolished, he said in an interview here.
The most crushing news was about his finances. He had sold his fruit crop in advance, though at a quarter of last year’s price. But even that smaller yield would not be his, his tenants said, relaying the Taliban message. The buyer had been ordered to give the money to the Taliban instead.
|By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer|
8:19 am EDT Sat 18 Apr 2009
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into a military checkpoint in Pakistan's troubled northwest on Saturday, killing at least 20 people, officials said.
The checkpoint is near the Orakzai tribal region, which has emerged in recent months as a major base for Taliban militants waging war on the Pakistan government.
The explosion wrecked a building housing troops and police next to the checkpoint, said Farid Khan, a senior police official in the nearby town of Hangu.
At least 18 members of the security forces as well as two civilians died, Khan said. More than a dozen other people were wounded, including the local police chief, other officials said.
Western nations are pressing Pakistan to take tougher action against Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.
Militants most frequently attack security forces in the northwest. However, recent attacks including assaults on the Sri Lanka cricket team and a police academy in the eastern city of Lahore have fanned fear that their reach is spreading across the country.
An apparent U.S. missile strike reportedly killed 14 suspected militants in Orakzai on April 1, the first such attack in the area since the CIA escalated attacks from unmanned aircraft last year.
|By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Writer|
6:20 am EDT Sun 19 Apr 2009
ISLAMABAD – Suspected U.S. missiles struck a Taliban compound in a northwestern Pakistan militant stronghold bordering Afghanistan on Sunday, killing three people, officials said.
The attack came a day after a suicide car bomber killed 27 people — most of them security forces — elsewhere in the northwest. A senior Taliban leader claimed responsibility for that attack, and promised more if the U.S. kept up its missile strikes in the region.
Shahab Ali Shah, the top administrative official in the South Waziristan tribal region, said five people also were wounded in Sunday's strike in the Zari Noor village area. The identities of the dead and wounded were not immediately clear.
An intelligence official confirmed the assessment that missiles were involved. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the record.
South Waziristan is the main stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who is believed allied with al-Qaida.
Since August, the U.S. has escalated its use of drone-fired missiles along Pakistan's lawless northwestern regions, where al-Qaida and the Taliban are believed to have hide-outs from which to plan attacks on American and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.
South Waziristan is a favorite target for the missiles.
The pro-Western Pakistani government has demanded an end to the strikes, saying that although they have killed several militant leaders, they also fan anti-American sentiment and violate the country's sovereignty.
Haji Gul Zaman, who lives just outside Zari Noor village, said he heard two blasts Sunday and saw plumes of smoke rising from the area. Trucks carrying Taliban fighters raced toward the scene, said Zaman. Shah said the strike also damaged several vehicles.
The suicide attack Saturday damaged about a dozen army trucks and jeeps as well as a police station at the checkpoint near the town of Hangu, said Farid Khan, a senior police official.
At least 25 members of the security forces and two civilians died, Khan told The Associated Press by phone from a hospital near the scene. Another 62 security personnel and three civilians were wounded, including the local police chief, other officials said.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander who vowed earlier this month to carry out two suicide attacks a week to press for the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from the border region and for an end to the missile strikes.
"We are meeting our pledge. ... We will intensify our attacks if the drone strikes in the tribal areas do not stop," Mehsud told AP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Pakistan is under intense international pressure to crack down on an increasingly integrated array of Islamist extremist groups operating on its soil.
The government has tried various tactics, including negotiations. It recently agreed to impose Islamic law in the northwest's Swat Valley and surrounding areas in exchange for peace with the Taliban there.
A hard-line cleric who mediated that deal demanded the government take meaningful steps to enforce the new system over the next month, including setting up proper appeals courts in four days. Already, a handful of judges trained in Islamic law have begun hearing cases.
"Mere announcement is not enough to enforce the system," Sufi Muhammad said at a rally of thousands of supporters in Mingora, the valley's main city.
The terms of the deal remain murky. Pakistani officials have insisted an Islamic judicial system in Swat would not echo the harsh edicts of the ousted Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan.
Muhammad said he and his supporters were not trying to challenge the government's authority. "We love Pakistan and are making sincere efforts for its betterment," he said.
The developments in Swat have alarmed U.S. and other Western leaders, who fear that nuclear-armed Pakistan could fall into the grip of militancy.
Donors including the U.S, Japan and Saudi Arabia on Friday pledged more than $5 billion to shore up Pakistan's shaky economy and pay for programs to alleviate poverty and bolster its security forces — twin tracks in a longer-term drive to dry up support for extremism.
Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Habib Khan in Khar contributed to this report.
39 Percent of Those Killed Were Children
by Jason Ditz, April 15, 2009
In a report to be published in tomorrow’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers have concluded that air strikes by US-led coalition forces have killed mostly women and children. 39 percent were children, while 46 percent were women.
Interestingly enough, though the high-tech weaponry used by the invading forces killed a disproportionately large number of (presumably mostly non-combatant) women and children, it showed that among victims of suicide bombings only 12 percent were children.
The researchers used a database of 60,481 civilians violently killed during the first five years of the war, which was compiled by Iraq Body Count. They say that the shocking number of women and children killed are a function of using air strikes in urban combat settings, and the report may have policy implications elsewhere, where US air strikes seem to be killing large numbers of innocent civilians as well.
Reuters North American News Service
Apr 19, 2009 02:36 EST
ISLAMABAD, April 19 (Reuters) - Pakistan has repeatedly vowed action to stop militants but analysts say denial and dithering and a seething resentment of the United States among the Pakistani people have stymied effective policy.
Escalating violence by militants and the consolidation of their grip in some places, and infiltration into others, have raised fears about the spread of Taliban influence.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan falling under the sway of al Qaeda-linked militants is a nightmare scenario for the United States and Pakistan's neighbours, and would doom U.S. efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.
"There's a great sense of angst, a sense of unravelling," said Adil Najam, professor of international relations at Boston University.
"It seems that everyone has lost control, including the military, of where things are going. I don't think they've given up the fight, it's just they don't seem to know what they can do," he said.
President Asif Ali Zardari secured more than $5 billion in aid last Friday after telling allies and aid donors in Tokyo he would step up the fight against militants. The pledges pushed up a stock market that has gained 33 percent this year.
But elsewhere the mood is grim.
Audacious militant attacks in the eastern city of Lahore and blasts elsewhere over recent weeks have sapped confidence. A suicide car-bomber killed 25 soldiers and police and two passers-by in the northwest on Saturday.
As well as across the northwest, the Taliban are infiltrating into Punjab province and Karachi city, analysts say. The release on bail of a cleric who used to run a radical Islamabad mosque has added to a feeling that the militants are on a roll.
Rumours of attacks on schools have spread panic and embassies have warned citizens of the danger of attacks and kidnapping. Members of Pakistan's moderate Muslim majority say they feel intimidated by a vocal and aggressive minority.
Compounding the unease is a sense that the government has been distracted by political wrangling and is in denial.
"The general impression and perception at this stage is the government lacks the will to assert itself," analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told Dawn television. "They are denying the threat that is moving towards Islamabad."
Policy has been flip-flopping between inconclusive military offensives and peace deals that critics say embolden the militants.
The International Crisis Group think-tank says responsibility for counter-insurgency has to be transferred to civilians from a military that continues to have links with some militant groups it sees as tools in its confrontation with India.
"It's inept in the way it conducts operations, it suffers huge losses, and then it signs peace deals, it appeases the militants," said the group's Pakistan director, Samina Ahmed.
Under the latest peace pact, authorities have virtually handed over the northwestern Swat region to the Taliban to end violence. But the militants have already pushed out and taken over a new area 100 km (60 miles) from the capital.
"The implications of appeasement are obvious," said Ahmed. "Peace deals have been signed from a position of weakness and the militants have gained ground. It is quite frightening."
LOSING THE BATTLE
Optimists had hoped the end of military rule with a general election last year would see public support coalescing around a strong stand against the militants.
But while the Taliban have been taking advantage of grievances against corrupt courts and greedy landlords to win support, they have also been able to capitalise on widespread resentment of the United States exacerbated by its attacks on militants with missiles launched from pilotless drones.
"I'm not sure the drones have actually done anything to reduce militancy but they have strengthened the Taliban argument more than any other thing," Najam said.
"The Taliban have cornered the anti-American message."
Victory over the Taliban hinged on public opinion, he said.
"If ordinary Pakistanis can turn against the Taliban then we can win this. If they don't, if they continue to be lukewarm because the Taliban are supposed to be anti-American and all that, then there's no way you can win this," Najam said.
"The battle is in the hearts and minds of Pakistani society and I think we're losing."
(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
Source: Reuters North American News Service
|updated 4:18 am EDT Wed 22 Apr 2009|
# NEW: Heavily armed men openly patrolled roads in pickup trucks
# Last week, Taliban imposed sharia law in Swat Valley as part of government deal
# Taliban's return indicates government concessions may have emboldened militants
# Pro-Taliban clerics stage rallies in Swat, Islamabad since sharia decision
By Ivan Watson
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Taliban militants who implemented Islamic law in Pakistan's violence-plagued Swat Valley last week have now taken control of a neighboring district.
Control of the Buner district brings the Taliban closer to the capital, Islamabad, than they have been since they started their insurgency. Islamabad is 60 miles (96 km) from the district.
"Our strength is in the hundreds," said Moulana Mohammad Khalil, as heavily armed men openly patrolled the roads in pickup trucks, singing Islamic anthems.
The militants had taken control of the area to ensure that Islamic law, or sharia, is properly imposed, Khalil said.
Last week, the Taliban imposed sharia law in Swat Valley as part of a peace deal with the government. Under the Taliban's strict interpretation, the law prevents women from being seen in public without their husbands or fathers.
Earlier this month, the militant movement made forays into Buner and clashed with locals before withdrawing.
Now the Taliban appear to have returned in force -- a move that indicates the recent government concessions may have emboldened the militants to expand their reach.
The Pakistani government appears unable or unwilling to stop the Taliban's steady advance deeper into the territory of this nuclear-powered country.
In the days after the government's April 13 decision to implement sharia law in Swat, pro-Taliban clerics have staged rallies in Swat and Islamabad. They have demanded the imposition of Islamic law across Pakistan and beyond.
Speaking before an audience of tens of thousands in the Swat Valley town of Mingora on Sunday, cleric Sufi Muhammed declared democracy and Pakistan's judicial system "un-Islamic."
A Taliban spokesman in Swat went a step further Tuesday, calling anyone opposed to his strict interpretation of Islam a non-Muslim.
"Let the judges and the lawyers go to Islamic university," Muslim Khan said. After "they learn Islamic rules, Islamic regulation, they can continue to work."
The rise of the Taliban in Swat has alarmed and frightened some members of local civil society there.
"This is a time bomb for the country," said Aftab Alam, the head of the lawyers' association in Swat district.
Meanwhile, in another Taliban-run region called Orakzai, details emerged of militants forcing a small community of Sikhs to pay a jaziya, or "minority tax," of 10.5 million rupees (roughly $18,000) earlier this month.
Khan said if his vision of an Islamic society is fulfilled in Pakistan, terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden will be welcome to travel and live openly here. "Sure, he's a Muslim, he can go anywhere," Khan said.
Khan added that he would like to see sharia law implemented beyond Pakistan, even in America, a country he knows intimately. For four years, the Taliban spokesman lived in the United States, working as a painter near Boston, Massachusetts.
Obama Plan "Is Not a Real Strategy"
by Jason Ditz, April 22, 2009
Having just wrapped up his high-profile visit to Pakistan, Senator John Kerry (D - MA) pointed to growing turmoil in the South Asian nation, and slammed the Obama Administration for not having “an adequate policy or plan to deal with it.” According to Sen. Kerry, the “comprehensive new strategy” the administration presented last month “is not a real strategy.”
Sen. Kerry also cautioned the administration against talking about an “Af-Pak” policy. Though aimed at presenting the administration’s view that the two conflicts are inexorably linked through a unified US strategy, the senator says “it does a disservice to both countries and to the policy” and that the respective governments “don’t see the linkage.”
The administration’s plan mostly involves vague promises of “A New Way Forward” while making the Afghan government more accountable and providing “a vibrant economy” for Pakistan, at a time when that nation is increasingly moving toward total economic ruin.
During the visit, the Pakistani government pressured Sen. Kerry for more aid, and cautioned the US against attaching any conditions to the massive aid packages already proposed by the administration. Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani said any “strings attached” to the aid would eliminate any good will the US hopes to generate by providing billions to the struggling government.
* April 22, 2009 -- Clinton Says Pakistan Is Abdicating to the Taliban
* April 22, 2009 -- Pakistan Taliban Set Up Stronghold Near Capital
* April 20, 2009 -- Pakistani PM Dismisses US Concern Over Swat Valley Peace
|The Los Angeles Times|
Clinton says the government in Islamabad is ceding more and more territory to the militants and is 'abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists' in some matters.
By Paul Richter and Mubashir Zaidi
April 23, 2009
Reporting from Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned in unusually bleak terms Wednesday that Pakistan's fragile government is facing an "existential threat" from Islamic militants who are now operating within a few hours of the capital.
Clinton told a House committee that the government in Islamabad is ceding territory and "basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists" in signing a deal that limits the government's involvement in the war-torn Swat Valley.
"I think we cannot underscore [enough] the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances," said Clinton, adding that the nuclear-armed nation could also pose a "mortal threat" to the United States and other countries.
Clinton spoke as militants expanded into new territory adjacent to the Swat Valley and 60 miles from Islamabad, and top U.S. officials continue to make regular visits to Pakistan. Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is visiting now. A special U.S. envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, was there this month.
Clinton's comments to the House Foreign Affairs Committee underscored increasing U.S. alarm at how the militants' strength has grown even as the Obama administration has begun trying to implement a new strategy for stabilizing the country. U.S. officials are worried not only about the stability of Pakistan, but also about neighboring Afghanistan, where they are committing an extra 21,000 troops this year to try to stanch the advances of the Taliban and allied insurgents.
U.S. officials have grown increasingly critical about the deal giving control in Swat to militants, who intend to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, and the prospect that the militants will use the Swat Valley to press closer to the capital.
Before Clinton made her remarks, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, a religious party within the ruling coalition, told parliament on Wednesday that the Taliban was heading toward Islamabad.
"You talk about Swat and Buner, but according to my information they have reached much closer," he said. "And if they continue advancing, there will soon be only Margalla Hills between them [the Taliban] and Islamabad," he said. Margalla Hills is the dividing line between Islamabad and the North-West Frontier Province.
Also on Wednesday, the main opposition party, which had initially supported the Swat deal, openly criticized the agreement.
"The last few days show that gun-carrying Taliban are spreading to more areas and eventually want to capture the whole of Pakistan," said Khawaja Asif, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
U.S. officials are concerned as well about other developments, including a recent decision by the Pakistani Supreme Court to release Maulana Abdul Aziz, an anti-American cleric who is accused of ties to terrorists and has sought to impose Islamic law in the Islamabad region.
The country also has been shaken by a series of urban shootouts between authorities and militants. In March, militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team, and an assault on a police academy near Lahore left 20 people dead.
On the ground, analysts said, many Pakistanis in the lower and even middle classes have a romantic view of Sharia because they are increasingly worried about their personal security and have been badly served by government courts and police. These Pakistanis also don't tend to view the nation as out of control, said Fasi Zaka, an academic, journalist and critic living in Islamabad, because most still have enough to eat and don't have the luxury of worrying about conceptual threats.
The elite sector of society tends to be more pessimistic. But they also have the ability to move their families and savings overseas.
"And I think that's part of the problem," Zaka said. "Their ability to migrate capital without suffering helps explain why the elite, businessmen, civil servants are letting go and not doing their jobs, not making tough decisions, which would entail sacrifice."
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said Clinton's assessment was incorrect.
He said in a CNN interview that the Swat Valley is ringed by mountains and isolated. He said the government was trying to bring peace by reaching accommodations with tribal groups, just as the U.S. forces did in Iraq.
"To think that that strategy somehow represents an abdication of our responsibility towards our people and towards the security of our country and the region is incorrect," Haqqani said.
But Clinton's concern was echoed by Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), the committee chairman, who said he was alarmed by predictions "that Pakistan could collapse in as little as six months."
Clinton called on Pakistanis, Pakistani Americans and others in the diaspora to "speak out forcefully" in an effort to change the attitudes of the Pakistani government.
"I don't hear that kind of outrage or concern coming from enough people that would reverberate back within the highest echelons of the civilian and military leadership," she said, in her first appearance before the committee since her confirmation hearing this year.
U.S. officials have been trying to strengthen their ties with Pakistani officials. Last week, they presided at a donor conference in Tokyo that raised as much as $5 billion in aid for Pakistan. Next month, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will travel to Washington to meet with President Obama.
The Obama administration's strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan includes tripling the amount of economic aid for Pakistan in the hopes of strengthening its economy and civil society.
Yet the relationships with both the civilian and military officials have been complex.
Clinton said that some Pakistanis are open to the return of Sharia law in the tribal regions because their national judicial system is "corrupt" and does not function in the countryside.
"If you talk to the people in Pakistan, they don't believe the state has a judiciary system that works," she said.
She said that if the government doesn't set up a functioning system, it will lose out to militants who "claim they can solve people's problems and then they will impose this harsh form of oppression on women and others, which we find unacceptable."
Testifying on another subject, Clinton signaled that the administration was in no hurry to further ease relations with Cuba, despite the flurry of seemingly positive signs between the two countries.
"We're going to proceed very carefully in this process," she said, recalling that the Cuban government had abruptly ended a thaw during the Clinton administration by shooting down two unarmed private American planes that were distributing anti-Castro leaflets.
She said the administration wanted a "change in attitude" from the Cubans, and "so far we don't really see any movement."
Zaidi is a special correspondent. Staff writer Mark Magnier in New Delhi contributed to this report.
|Pakistan Sends Special Police to Taliban-Held Area|
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH 6 minutes ago
The special constabulary forces were deployed to a district only 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad, that has come under Taliban control in recent days.
|The New York Times|
April 24, 2009
Pakistan Sends Special Police to Taliban-Held Area
By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities on Thursday deployed special constabulary forces to a strategically important district only 70 miles from the capital, Islamabad, that has come under the effective control of the Taliban in the last several days, police and residents said.
Four platoons of the Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary police force, moved into the district at the request of the civilian commissioner of the area on Thursday, following four platoons that arrived Wednesday. At least one officer was killed and another seriously wounded in a clash with Taliban militants during the deployment, police said.
The fall of the district, Buner, did not mean that the Taliban could imminently threaten Islamabad. But it was another indication of the gathering strength of the insurgency and it raised new alarm about the ability of the government to fend off an unrelenting Taliban advance toward the heart of Pakistan.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday for the second time in two weeks, reflecting the sense of alarm in the Obama administration. He was scheduled to meet with Pakistan’s top military and intelligence commanders.
Buner, home to about one million people, is a gateway to a major Pakistani city, Mardan, the second largest in North-West Frontier Province, after Peshawar. The deploying platoons, each with about 40 officers, will be used to increase the Pakistani security presence in the region. But the underpaid, poorly trained force was not expected to immediately challenge the Taliban militants, who, armed, with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, have erected checkpoints and intimidated local police, forcing them into their stations, residents.
There are about 400 to 500 Taliban fighters in the district, local authorities said.
“They take over Buner, then they roll into Mardan and that’s the end of the game,” a senior law enforcement official in North-West Frontier Province said. He asked that his name be withheld because was not authorized to speak to the news media.
The Taliban had pushed into the district from the neighboring Swat Valley, where the Pakistani Army agreed to a truce in mid-February and remains in its barracks.
In another sign that the Taliban are consolidating control of Buner, Taliban militants held a meeting, or jirga, with local elders and the local administration on Thursday, residents said, agreeing to a truce similar to the one reached in Swat.
The Taliban pledged to local leaders that they would not interfere with non-government organizations or government installations, nor openly display their weapons. Negotiations would be used to sort out friction with local residents, and there would be forgiveness for those who killed Taliban in earlier fighting.
Representatives of Mualana Sufi Mohammed, the Taliban leader who brokered the peace deal in Swat, were present at the meeting, the results of which will be announced at a public rally on Sunday, a resident in Daggar, Buner’s main city, said.
Pakistani television news reports indicated Thursday that Taliban militants were also crossing into Shandla, another district bordering Buner and Swat.
On Wednesday, officials and residents said heavily armed Taliban militants were patrolling villages, and the local police had retreated to their station houses in much of Buner. Staff members of local nongovernmental organizations had been ordered to leave, and their offices were looted, residents said. Pakistani television news channels showed Taliban fighters triumphantly carrying office equipment out of the offices of the organizations.
“They are everywhere,” one resident of Daggar said by telephone. “There is no resistance.”
The Taliban advance has been building for weeks, with the assistance of sympathizers and even a local government official who was appointed on the recommendation of the Taliban, the senior official said.
It also comes 10 days after the government of President Asif Ali Zardari agreed to the imposition of Islamic law, or Shariah, in Swat, as part of the deal with the Taliban.
A local politician, Jamsher Khan, said that people were initially determined to resist the Taliban in Buner, but that they were discouraged by the deal the government struck with the Taliban in Swat.
“We felt stronger as long we thought the government was with us,” he said by telephone, “but when the government showed weakness, we too stopped offering resistance to the Taliban.”
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was concerned that Pakistan’s government was making too many concessions to the Taliban, emboldening the militants and allowing them to spread by giving in to their demands.
“I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists,” Mrs. Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill.
She added that the deterioration of security in nuclear-armed Pakistan “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”
A senior American official said Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were prompted in part by news of the Taliban takeover in Buner. The officials said that the further erosion of government authority in an area so close to the capital ought to stir concern not only in Pakistan but also among influential Pakistanis abroad.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday for the second time in two weeks, reflecting the sense of alarm in the Obama administration. He was scheduled to meet with Pakistan’s top military and intelligence commanders.
The takeover of Buner (pronounced boo-NAIR) is particularly significant because the people there have tried in the past year to stand up to the Taliban by establishing small private armies to fight the militants. Last year when the militants encroached into Buner, killing policemen, the local people fought back and forced the militants out.
But with a beachhead in neighboring Swat, and a number of training camps for fresh recruits, the Taliban were able to carry out what amounted to an invasion of Buner.
“The training camps will provide waves of men coming into Buner,” the senior law enforcement official said.
The Taliban expansion into Buner has begun to raise alarm among the senior ranks of the Pakistani Army, said a Western official who was familiar with the Pakistani military.
On Wednesday, one of the highest-ranking army officers traveled from Islamabad to Peshawar and met with the officers of the 11th Corps, the army division based in Peshawar, to discuss the “overall situation in Buner,” the official said.
One of the major concerns is that from the hills of Buner the Taliban have access to the flatlands of the district of Swabi, which lead directly to the four-lane motorway that runs from Islamabad to Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province.
The Pakistani military does not have a presence in Buner, Pakistani and Western officials said. The main government authority in Buner is the police, who have become demoralized by their low pay and lack of equipment in the face of the Taliban, Pakistani police officials say.
The Taliban have set up checkpoints in a number of villages in Buner, intimidating policemen and forcing them into their police stations, residents in Daggar said by telephone.
The militants were patrolling the bazaar in Daggar, residents said. Women, who used to move freely around the bazaars, were scarcely to be seen, they said. Those who did venture out were totally covered.
One of the big attractions of Buner for people from all over Pakistan, the shrine of the Sufi saint Pir Baba, was now in the control of the militants, the senior law enforcement official said.
Last year, the villagers around the shrine kept the Taliban at bay when the militants threatened to take it over.
But in the last 10 days, the Taliban closed the shrine and said it was strictly off limits to women, the senior official said. The militants are now patrolling it.
The Taliban control in Buner came swiftly in the last few days, officials said.
The militants were helped by the actions of the commissioner of Malakand, Javed Mohammad, who is also the senior official in Swat and who was appointed on the recommendation of the Taliban, the senior law enforcement official said.
The Taliban began their assault on Buner in early April, when a battalion of the Taliban militia with heavy weaponry crossed over the hills from Swat to Buner, according to an account in the newspaper Dawn that appeared on Saturday.
The Taliban then captured three policemen and two civilians, and killed them, the newspaper said.
Infuriated by the killings, people in lower Buner and Sultanwas assembled a volunteer force and killed 17 Taliban fighters, the account said.
But soon after that, Mr. Mohammad tried to persuade the local elders to allow the Taliban to enter Buner, the newspaper said.
Soon afterward, Mr. Mohammad ordered the local armies to dissolve, the senior law enforcement official said. The order led many of those who had been willing to stand up to the Taliban to either flee or give up, the official said. Among those who are reported to have fled is Fateh Khan, a wealthy Buner businessman. Mr. Khan had been one of the main organizers and financiers of the private armies in Buner.
In a show of strength, the militants held a feast in the home of a local Taliban sympathizer two weeks ago, and since then the Taliban have fanned out into the district, the senior official said.
Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Islamabad, Mark Landler and David Stout from Washington, and Sharon Otterman from New York.
|By ARYN BAKER/ISLAMABAD|
12:20 pm EDT Thu 23 Apr 2009
The move by Taliban-backed militants into the Buna district of northwestern Pakistan, closer than ever to Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, have prompted concerns both within the country and abroad that the nuclear-armed nation of 165 million is on the verge of inexorable collapse.
On Wednesday a local Taliban militia crossed from the Swat Valley - where a February cease-fire allowed the implementation of strict Islamic, or Shari'a, law - into the neighboring Buner district, which is just a few hours drive from Islamabad (65 miles, separated by a mountain range, as the crow flies). (Read "At Pakistan's Red Mosque, a Return of Islamic Militancy".)
Residents streaming from Buner, home to nearly a million people, told local newspapers that armed militants are patrolling the streets. Pakistani television stations aired footage of Taliban soldiers looting government offices and capturing vehicles belonging to aid organizations and development projects. The police, say residents, are nowhere to be seen. The shrine of a local Muslim saint, venerated across the country, was closed. The Taliban, which adheres to a stricter version of Islam than is practiced in most of Pakistan, hold that worship at such shrines goes against the teachings of Islam.
Meanwhile courts throughout the Malakand division, of which Swat and Buner are a part, have closed in deference to the new agreement calling for the implementation Shari'a, law. "If the Taliban continue to move at this pace they will soon be knocking at the doors of Islamabad," Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of one of the country's Islamic political parties, warned in Parliament Wednesday. Rehman said the Margalla Hills, a small mountain range north of the capital that separates it from Buner, appears to be "the only hurdle in their march toward the federal capital," The only solution, he said, was for the entire nation to accept Shari'a law in order to deprive the Taliban of their principal cause.
The fall of Buner is raising international alarm. Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized the situation was a danger to Pakistan, the U.S. and the world. "We cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state," Clinton said. She also accused Pakistan's leaders of "basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists" by signing the cease-fire agreement. (Read "Will Pakistan Toughen Up on the Taliban?")
Even before the fall of Buner, the capital was in a state of panic. Private schools were closed for two weeks for fear that militants would attempt a siege, along the lines of the Taliban attack on a police academy in Lahore last month. And an unspecified threat against foreigners two weeks ago resulted in the closure of the U.S. embassy and the British High Commission for a day.
On Sunday, just a week after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari signed a provision allowing for the implementation of Islamic law in Malakand, Sufi Mohammad, the local religious leader who negotiated the accord (and who is father-in-law to the local Taliban leader), announced that he would not recognize the Supreme Court of Pakistan, even in cases of appeal. He also said that while the Taliban fighters would adhere to the peace agreement, they would not give up their arms. (Read "Can Pakistan Be Untangled from the Taliban?")
Read "A Pakistan Police Academy Under Fire"
Read "Benazir Bhutto: Aftermath of an Assassination"
Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, defended the government's concession to the Taliban, denying in an interview with CNN that the cease-fire agreement amounted to capitulation. He justified the action by comparing it to the 2006 U.S.-led Anbar Awakening in Iraq in which U.S. military commanders struck agreements with moderate jihadists. "We are open to criticism of that strategy, but to think that that strategy somehow represents an abdication of our responsibility toward our people and toward the security of our country and the region is incorrect," Haqqani said.
Also on Wednesday, a top adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made an explosive announcement accusing a long-simmering separatist movement in the province of Baluchistan of being sponsored by archenemy India and Afghanistan. The mysterious deaths of several Baluch leaders over the past few weeks have renewed demands for Baluch independence from the nation of Pakistan.
The implication by Rehman Malik, Gilani's Interior Affairs adviser, that neighboring countries were fomenting instability in Pakistan will only heighten regional tensions at a moment when the country is least equipped to deal with them. Already columnists in several Pakistani newspapers are warning of a return to 1971, when a separatist movement in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, ended with a civil war that split the nation.
David Kilcullen, a counter-terrorism expert for both the Bush and the Obama administrations, warned that Pakistan is on the brink of collapse. "Afghanistan doesn't worry me," Kilcullen said in an April 12 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. "Pakistan does. We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we're calling the war on terror now."
During an April 16 conference in Tokyo to raise donations for his beleaguered nation, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari warned that terrorists operating in the country posed a global threat. At that conference, countries including the U.S. and Japan pledged more than $5 billion to improve health, education and governance in Pakistan.
But with security and stability increasingly in doubt, it's becoming clear that more urgent action is needed beyond financial donations aimed at institution-building. Neither Zardari nor opposition leaders have been able to come up with answers to the insurgency. Columnist Kamila Hyat, writing in The News, called for an overhaul of current strategies, including reaching out to Pakistan's old foe, India. If Pakistan doesn't have to worry about protecting its eastern flank, she argued, it can concentrate on solving its internal problems. "The only option for Pakistan is to break free of the militant grip, focus on building a new relationship with India and realize the only hope for a brighter future lies in building regional harmony rather than waging war." It's a sound proposal for the long term, but with the Taliban already taking advantage of the peace deal in Swat to expand their reach, Pakistan may be forced into negotiating with militants first.
Read "A Pakistan Police Academy Under Fire"
Read "Benazir Bhutto: Aftermath of an Assassination"
View this article on Time.com
Related articles on Time.com:
* Can Pakistan Regain Control of Swat from the Taliban?
* Shifting Alliances Complicate U.S.-Pakistan War Against Militants
* Time and Money Running Out for Pakistan
* Why Pakistan Will Be Holbrooke's Toughest Test
* Why Pakistan Balks at Taking a Tougher Line on the Taliban
|NATO truck base also attacked; Clinton urges Islamabad to focus on threat|
msnbc.com news services
updated 2:51 p.m. ET, Thurs., April 23, 2009
ISLAMABAD - Gunmen attacked a Pakistani paramilitary force sent to a Taliban-infiltrated district just 60 miles from the capital Thursday, killing a police officer and feeding growing doubts about the government's peace deal with extremists in the area.
A meeting between Taliban representatives and tribal elders ended with the militants making some concessions but no pledge to withdraw from Buner, where they have established bases since crossing over from their stronghold in the neighboring Swat Valley.
Militants also attacked a NATO truck terminal in the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of the restive North-West Frontier Province, burning vehicles and sending a very visual message of their presence.
Swat's Taliban appear to be emboldened after their bloody, two-year campaign in the valley led the government to agree to a peace accord that imposes Islamic law in a wide swath of the northwest bordering Afghanistan.
Taliban in new area?
There were reports Thursday that fighters from the Swat Taliban also have entered another neighboring district, Shangla, said a security official who agreed to discuss the situation only if not identified because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Militants have made no secret of their desire to see Islamic law imposed across the country, and as they edge closer to Islamabad, unease about the peace deal is growing in Pakistan and in the West. The U.S. is especially concerned because it considers stability in Pakistan — and rooting out its militant sanctuaries — critical to success in the Afghan war.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told American lawmakers in an unusually blunt statement Wednesday that Pakistan's leaders were "basically abdicating to the Taliban." On Thursday, however, she said the Pakistani government appeared increasingly aware of the threat.
U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke talked to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari by telephone Thursday, but the president's office would not say if Swat or Buner were discussed. The chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, was visiting Pakistan.
As reports filtered out about Taliban fighters moving into Buner — that they were patrolling roads, broadcasting radio sermons and ordering barbers to stop shaving beards — the government sent six platoons from the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary to the district this week.
Government official Syed Mohammed Javed confirmed the deployment but would not comment on the troops' purpose. Javed did not specify the number sent; a platoon typically has 30 to 50 members.
The troops were dispatched Wednesday, Javed said. Unidentified gunmen opened fire on one of the convoys Thursday, killing an escorting police officer and wounding another in the Totalai area, said Hukam Khan, a police official.
General says not to worry
How much force the government was willing to display remained unclear, especially after the army's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, insisted the situation in Buner was not as dire as some felt. He said militants controlled less than 25 percent of the district, mostly its north.
"We are fully aware of the situation," Abbas said. "The other side has been informed to move these people out of this area."
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani insisted no group would be allowed to challenge the authority of the government, but a few lawmakers — including some who initially backed the peace deal with the Swat Taliban — said the administration had to do more to contain extremists.
"If the other party is not able to give us peace and expanding themselves to Buner and Shangla, then it is the government's duty to use its full strength to stop their expansion," said Haji Mohammad Adeel, a top member of the party that leads the provincial government in the northwest and entered into the accord in the first place.
"If the Taliban continue their advances at the current pace they will soon be knocking at the doors of Islamabad," added Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat-e-ulema-e-Islam, the country's largest Islamic party.
The provincial government agreed to the peace deal in February, but the president signed off on it only last week, under strong pressure from the national legislature.
The accord covers Swat, Buner, Shangla and other districts in the Malakand Division, an area of about 10,000 square miles near the Afghan border and the tribal areas where al-Qaida and the Taliban have strongholds.
Supporters have said the deal takes away the militants' main rallying call for Islamic law and will let the government gradually reassert control — a theory yet to be seriously tested.
Analysts said Buner is a wake-up call for a Pakistani government that has often seemed weak-willed in dealing with insurgents. But, they said, Islamabad is not in danger now.
"The military is going to be the major impediment" to taking the capital, said Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a leading political analyst. Still, he said, sympathizers in the capital could use the Buner advance as a rallying cry to cause unrest.
More than a half million people live in Buner.
No troops seen in key town
On Thursday, the bazaar in Buner's main town of Daggar and the road into the district were almost deserted, a visiting AP Television News reporter found. Police and government officials in Buner appeared to have either fled or were keeping a low profile, and there was no sign of Frontier Constabulary troops in the town.
The meeting of tribal elders and the Taliban in Daggar ended without notice the militants would leave.
A Taliban leader who goes by the name "Commander Khalil" said the militants agreed to stop patrolling in Buner, though they would keep armed guards in their vehicles.
"We are here peacefully preaching for Sharia (Islamic law). We don't want to fight," Khalil told an Associated Press reporter by phone.
Another Taliban leader, Maulana Muhammad Bashir, said the militants agreed not to target people who had opposed them in the past in Buner — a key demand of local leaders, some of whom had raised tribal militias to fight the Taliban.
Javed Khan, a top administrator in Buner, said the Taliban agreed to not exhibit weapons or interfere with government offices. The militants also promised to leave aid groups alone and return seized government vehicles, he said.
Nasir Laik, an elder at the Daggar meeting, said the militants could stay so long as they only preached.
According to officials, the Taliban have established a base in the village of Sultanwas and set up positions in the nearby hills. Residents say they have been broadcasting sermons by radio about Islam and warning barbers to stop shaving men's beards.
Officials hope to avoid a replay of the Swat conflict in Buner. In Swat, some two years of clashes between the Taliban and security forces killed hundreds and caused up to a third of the one-time tourist haven's 1.5 million residents to leave their homes.
Tough criticism from U.S.
The United States has become one of the deal's foremost critics.
"I think the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists," Clinton told lawmakers in a hearing Wednesday in Washington. But on Thursday she added that she thought Islamabad was beginning to recognize the severity of the threat posed by militants.
On Wednesday, Clinton said the Obama administration is working to convince Pakistan that its traditional focus on India as a threat has to shift to the Islamic extremists.
"Changing paradigms and mindsets is not easy, but I do believe there is an increasing awareness of not just the Pakistani government but the Pakistani people that this insurgency coming closer and closer to major cities does pose such a threat," the secretary of state said.
On Thursday, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to discuss the situation in the region, Zardari's office said without specifying if Buner was mentioned. The call came as the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, was in Pakistan for talks with officials.
NATO trucks burned
In the attack on NATO, dozens of militants armed with guns and gasoline bombs burned five tanker trucks carrying fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan, police said.
Gunmen attacked the truck depot near Peshawar before dawn on Thursday, hurling gasoline bombs that set fire to the five tankers.
Security guards fled, and the assailants escaped before police arrived.
NATO and the U.S. military insist that their losses on the transport route remain minimal and have had no impact on their expanding operations in Afghanistan. However, they have been seeking alternative routes through Central Asia.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani army killed at least 11 militants on the third day of an operation against insurgents in the northwest's Orakzai tribal region, a military statement said. The army has used airstrikes to take out militants hideouts in different pockets of the tribal region, and had already killed 27 militants in the past two days.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.