Pakistan’s Border War Grows Murkier

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adnan R. Khan, AOL News

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Feb. 7) — Last week’s suicide attack in Pakistan’s volatile Lower Dir region, the site of Pakistani military operations against the Pakistani Taliban, has added fuel to an already raging wildfire of conspiracy theories in the country. The attack killed not only its presumed American targets but also two schoolgirls, and injured more than 100 others. But what caused the Pakistani government special discomfort was the spotlight it shone on the American military presence here.

For Pakistanis, that presence is only part of a larger and increasingly murky game being played out in the war-torn Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the adjoining Tribal Areas. Even as operations against militants continue, rumors of meetings between militants and the Pakistani army have clouded perceptions of the government’s strategy to confront Pakistan’s growing insurgency.

Anti-American sentiment has surged in recent days with the conviction in New York of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui on terrorism charges, a judgment the Pakistani government and the Taliban alike have condemned as proof of U.S. prejudice against Muslims.

If that weren’t enough, American intelligence sources claimed this week that a drone attack last month killed Hakimullah Mehsud, a key Pakistani Taliban leader. Officials in Pakistan, where drone attacks are another daily unwanted reminder of Islamabad’s highly unpopular cooperation with U.S., have pointedly not confirmed the death.

That disconnect highlights what has become a deadly public relations exercise, pitting a nervous U.S. administration keen to win over Pakistani public opinion against a Pakistan army that is trying both to maintain its links with shady militant groups it considers useful and at the same time appease U.S. demands that it crack down on them.

For years, Pakistan has refused to let go of its links to the militants while Washington has turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s duplicity, fearful of losing a crucial ally in its war on Islamic extremism. The net result has been confusion and chaos. Even beneath that U.S.-Pakistani tension, the war in NWFP, on the Afghanistan border, is treacherous and bewildering even to those in its midst.

“No one knows what exactly is going on,” says Faheem Urrahman, the 42-year-old mayor of Bazi Khel, a dusty town just south of Peshawar, capital of NWFP, and bordering the Khyber tribal agency. “I don’t know who exactly I’m supposed to be fighting anymore.”

Urrahman has seen first-hand how the game is played and how men like him can turn suddenly from favored ally to expendable pawn. A few short months ago, he was the darling of the Pakistani military, which lavished him with praise for raising a small army to take on Taliban-linked militants in his war-torn region of Khyber. Today, Urrahman fears for his life, and he blames not just the Taliban, but also the Pakistani Army.

A few miles from his heavily guarded compound, his sworn enemies, the Lashkar-i-Islam (LiI), an Islamist group now considered part of the Pakistani Taliban, are re-grouping. A military operation against them that began in August last year has done little to weaken their presence. The leader, Mangal Bagh, one of the most wanted men in Pakistan, remains at large, yet that operation appears to be winding down.

“I don’t understand it,” Urrahman says. “If the Pakistani army made a sincere effort to get rid of these guys, it could be over in a month.”

The abortive operation in Khyber suggests to him and others that Pakistan’s war against Islamic militancy is sometimes more a public relations exercise than a legitimate push to cleanse the country of its fundamentalist threat.

According to one senior agent with Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence, or ISI, Bagh, an illiterate former bus conductor, is only the latest in a long line of Pakistani militants groomed by ISI agents. As Taliban influence rises throughout Pakistan’s tribal areas, the ISI has struggled to maintain its influence over an ever more complex array of militant groups formed in the wake of the war in Afghanistan. “Mangal Bagh was supposed to be our man in Khyber,” says the ISI source. “But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. “

That is putting it mildly. Since Bagh took control in Khyber, Taliban influence there has skyrocketed, with violence spilling over into Peshawar itself. In August last year, the Pakistani army began a major operation, listing Bagh as one of Pakistan’s most-wanted militants and promising to rid Khyber Agency of the LiI. Months earlier, Faheem had set up his own anti-Bagh militia, after attacks against his men in Bazi Khel forced his hand. “We had the support of the military then,” he says. “I’d like to think we still have the support of the military now.”

But that appears less and less likely. The Pakistani military recently announced a moratorium on military operations and has strongly backed an initiative by Afghan President Hamid Karzai seeking reconciliation with low- to mid-level Taliban commanders. Al Jazeera recently reported that meetings were under way between the United Nations and the Quetta Council, the Afghan Taliban’s central authority, including Mullah Omar, which has been operating out of the Pakistani city Quetta bordering Afghanistan’s restive Kandahar province.

“This Khyber operation has been a game,” says one officer of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. “I can tell you from what I saw: there is no operation. Not in Khyber and not in other places the military claims it is taking on the Taliban.”

In fact, the officer says the army is still on speaking terms with Bagh, even as it claims publicly to be hunting him down.

“I saw [Bagh] meet with senior generals at Bala Hisar in the middle of December,” he says, referring to the British-era fort in Peshawar’s old city . “I don’t know what the meeting was about but I saw him come in with a convoy of military officers.”

The Pakistani military could not be reached for comment, but a former senior officer with Inter-services Public Relations, the army’s media wing, told AOL News that no one there would “ever confirm such a meeting took place.”

So where does that leave Urrahman , so recently hailed as an anti-Taliban patriot? Nervously glancing around his compound, he admits he is uneasy. Two attempts on his life in recent months have left him on edge. He never stays at the same place for more than one night. On November 8 last year, Haji Abdul Malik, another anti-Taliban militia commander operating just a few miles south, was assassinated by a suicide bomber. Urrahman senses he might be next.

“Of course I have reservations,” he says, blaming the government for not doing enough to protect him. “How can I trust the authorities after all that has happened? They haven’t arrested a single person linked to the attacks on me, even though they know who was behind them.”

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Case Against Aafia Siddiqui Begins to Unravel

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

PressTV

The case against Pakistani citizen Aafia Siddiqui, who is charged with attempted murder of FBI agents and US military personnel, is beginning to unravel as witnesses have offered conflicting accounts in testimony delivered at her trial.

The long-awaited trial of Siddiqui began in a federal courtroom in New York on Tuesday.

On January 21, which was the second day of the trial, Assistant US Attorney Jenna Dabbs showed jurors numerous photographs of the room of the Afghan police station where the shooting allegedly took place, and a photo of the cell where Siddiqui was held when she was first brought to the station on July 17, 2008, the independent online news network Mathaba reported.

But Carlo Rosati, an FBI firearms expert who testified in the federal court on Friday, expressed doubts whether the M-4 rifle, which was allegedly grabbed by Aafia Siddiqui to attack US interrogators in Ghazni, Afghanistan, was ever fired at the crime scene, the Associated Press of Pakistan said.

In addition, on the third of the trial, an FBI agent testified that the FBI did not find Aafia Siddiqui’s fingerprints on the rifle.

No Pakistanis reporters were granted press credentials when opening statements began on Tuesday.

The MIT-educated neuroscientist is currently on trial, facing charges of trying to kill US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan in 2008 and connections with Al-Qaeda operatives.

She insisted on the first day of the trial that she knew nothing about a plan to carry out terrorist attacks on targets in New York, The New York Daily News reported.

“Give me a little credit, this is not a list of targets of New York,” she said. “I was never planning to bomb it. You’re lying.”

Siddiqui told jurors at her trial on Tuesday that she was held in a secret prison in Afghanistan, her children were tortured, and the case against her is a sham.

She was ejected from the federal court on the first day of here trial after her shouting outburst.

Siddiqui vanished in Karachi, Pakistan with her three children on March 30, 2003. The next day it was reported in local newspapers that she had been taken into custody on terrorism charges.

US officials allege Aafia Siddiqui was seized on July 17, 2008 by Afghan security forces in Ghazni province and claim that documents, including formulas for explosives and chemical weapons, were found in her handbag.

They say that while she was being interrogated, she grabbed a US warrant officer’s M-4 rifle and fired two shots at FBI agents and military personnel but missed and that the warrant officer then fired back, hitting her in the torso.

She was then brought to the United States to face charges of attempted murder and assault. Siddiqui faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

However, human rights organizations have cast doubt on the accuracy of the US account of the event.

Many political activists believe she was Prisoner 650 of the US detention facility in Bagram, Afghanistan, where they say she was tortured for five years until one day US authorities announced that they had found her in Afghanistan.

JR/HGL

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Hearing Adjourned in Dr Aafia Case

December 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The Daily Times, Pakistan

LAHORE: Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court (LHC) has postponed until January 5 the hearing of a contempt petition against the government for not approaching the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui from the US custody.

The judge on December 10 had directed a deputy attorney general (DAG) to inform the court about the consequences of moving the ICJ for Dr Aafia’s release from the United States’ authorities, but the DAG did not appear in court on Monday.

Barrister Iqbal Jaffrey, counsel for Dr Aafia, has filed the petition. He submitted that the court had earlier directed the government to secure the release and repatriation of Dr Aafia within 30 days, but it had failed to comply with the court’s orders.

The counsel submitted that the court had also directed the government to move the ICJ for the release of Dr Aafia, but no action had been taken in this regard.
He said the government had allocated a substantial sum of money for pursuing the case, but did not spend a small amount to take up the matter with the ICJ.
He requested the court to initiate contempt proceedings against the respondents for defying court orders.

Dr Aafia was abducted from Karachi on March 30, 2003 and was taken to Afghanistan. Later, she was shifted to the US for allegedly attempting to kill two American investigators.

Two of her US national children are reportedly missing since her abduction while the Interior Ministry has handed over one of her children, a boy, to her sister.

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