Tag Archive for 'Baitullah Mehsud'

Islamabad’s prevaricator in chief


Officials in Islamabad are notorious spinmeisters, but military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas,  the director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations, is fast becoming a prevaricator without peer. David Kenner in Foreign Policy:

Claim: In the recent Frontline documentary aired on Oct. 13, “Obama’s War,” a perplexed correspondent tried to get a straight answer from Major General Abbas. Is it true, he asked, that the Pakistani government knows where Taliban leaders such as Mullah Omar and Siraj Haqqani are located? But Abbas would not budge: “There is no truth in Mullah Omar and Siraj Haqqani remaining in Pakistan side of the border. I refute that. No one has shown any intelligence to the Pakistanis.”

Taliban groups such as these, Abbas said, “operate from Afghanistan. If somebody claims that everything is happening from this side of the border, I am sorry, this is misplaced, and we refute it.”

Reality: In 2008, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen traveled to Islamabad to present the Pakistani government with evidence that elements of Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were supporting the Taliban. Mullen reportedly provided the Pakistani government with intercepted communications between the ISI and the Taliban to prove his point. “We spoke to, clearly, the ISI’s relationship with various militant groups that they’ve had for some time,” said Mullen in the same Frontline documentary. U.S. officials, from Barack Obama on down, have continued to emphasize Pakistan’s role as an incubator of terrorist activities. The president stated this past March: “Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that Al Qaida is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan.” More:

Baitullah Mehsud

Jason Burke in the Guardian:

Baitullah Mehsud, who has been killed in a missile strike aged 39, was a pure product of the conflicts and associated social upheavals that have changed the frontier zone of north-western Pakistan beyond recognition in recent decades.

Mehsud was born in Bannu, a rough, dusty and poor town on the edge of the semi-autonomous tribal agencies along the border. His family was neither wealthy nor his tribe, the Shabikhel branch of the Mehsud Pashtuns that dominate South Waziristan, prestigious. Little is known about his early life. Like most young men from the area he was educated in a madrasa, one of the free religious schools run by hardline conservative clerics from the local Deobandi school of Islam.

The religious practices of the mountainous North-West Frontier region used to be a mix of conservative revivalism, Sufi-influenced local practices and relatively moderate traditions from the Barelvi school, which predominates in Pakistan’s lowlands, but the rapid expansion of Deobandi madrasas during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s allowed the newer, conservative strand to eradicate any competitors almost entirely. With the expansion of the madrasas came the creation of Deobandi religious political parties and armed militias, some sponsored by the Pakistani state. More:

Preventing a Taliban victory

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:

talibanNow that the army has turned serious, Baitullah Mehsud cannot expect to stroll down Constitution Avenue any time soon, nor hope to sit in the presidency.

A few thousand mountain barbarians, even if trained by Al Qaeda’s best, cannot possibly seize power from a modern, well-armed state with 600,000 soldiers. The spectre of Pakistan collapsing in six months – a fear expressed by a senior US military adviser in March – has evaporated.

But there is little cause for elation. Daily terror attacks across the country give abundant proof that religious extremism has streamed down the mountains into the plains. Through abductions, beheadings and suicide bombings, Taliban insurgents are destabilising Pakistan, damaging its economy and spreading despondency.

Look at Islamabad, a city of fear. Machine-gun bunkers are ubiquitous while traffic barely trickles past concrete blocks placed across its super-wide roads. Upscale restaurants, fearing suicide bombers, have removed their signs although they still hope clients will remember. Who will be the next target? Girls’ schools, Internet cafes, bookshops, or western clothing stores with mannequins? Or perhaps shops selling toilet paper, underwear, and other un-Islamic goods? More:

Taliban v. Taliban

Graham Usher in the London Review of Books (via 3quarksdaily):

Pakistan and India have been at war since 1948. There have been occasional flare-ups, pitched battles between the two armies, but mostly the war has taken the form of a guerrilla battle between the Indian army and Pakistani surrogates in Kashmir. In 2004 the two countries began a cautious peace process, but rather than ending, the war has since migrated to Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas on the Afghan border. ‘Safe havens’ for a reinvigorated Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, the tribal areas are seen by the West as the ‘greatest threat’ to its security, as well as being the main cause of Western frustration with Pakistan. The reason is simple: the Pakistan army’s counterinsurgency strategy is not principally directed at the Taliban or even al-Qaida: the main enemy is India.

In the Bajaur tribal area, for example, the army is fighting an insurgency led by Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of one of Pakistan’s three Taliban factions, but it’s not because he is a friend of al-Qaida. What makes him a threat, in the eyes of Pakistan’s army, is that he is believed to be responsible for scores of suicide attacks inside Pakistan (including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto). He is also thought to have recruited hundreds of Afghan fighters, among them ‘agents’ from the Afghan and Indian intelligence services – ‘Pakistan’s enemies’, in the words of a senior officer.


Baitullah Mehsud: Who is he?

Imran Lalani and Qurat ul ain Siddiqui at Dawn:

Baitullah Mehsud, the man who claimed responsibility for the attack on a police training academy in Manawan (on the outskirts of Lahore) on March 30, is a veteran of the anti-Soviet ‘jihad’ of the 1990s, and has emerged to become the top Taliban commander in Pakistan. He claims to enjoy a ‘good relationship’ with the Afghan Taliban’s top most commander Mullah Omar. In addition to directly controlling sizeable militias who have waged overt war with Pakistani security forces in Waziristan, Baitullah has also been blamed for a number of terrorist attacks in the rest of the country, including the assassination of former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto. However, despite all of his exploits, he remains elusive and shrouded in mystery. More:

From Jane’s:

Baitullah Mehsud is a Pashtun from the Shabikhel sub-tribe of the Mehsud tribe. He was born in the early 1970s in a village called Landi Dhok in the Bannu region of the North West Frontier Province, which is some distance from the Mehsud tribe’s strongholds in South Waziristan.

With a reputation based on his record as a fearless fighter willing to die for the cause, Baitullah’s lack of a religious title has not held him back. Although he is the most powerful militant commander in Pakistan, he remains a shadowy figure with perhaps a larger-than-life reputation.

Such was Baitullah influence that the government signed a peace deal with him at Srarogha in February 2005. Under the terms of the agreement, the army withdrew from the areas controlled by Baitullah and agreed to deploy only paramilitary Frontier Corps personnel – who are drawn from the Pashtun tribes – at the five forts there. In return, Baitullah agreed not to harbour foreign militants, attack government officials or block development projects. More:

The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan

Everyone in Washington is talking about Pakistan, but few understand it. In Foreign Policy, Nicholas Schmidle tells you how to dazzle the crowd at your next cocktail party.

And yet, the uptick in coverage hasn’t necessarily clarified the who’s-doing-what-to-whom confusion in Pakistan. Some commentators continue to confuse the tribal areas with the North-West Frontier Province. And the word lashkars is used to describe all kinds of otherwise cross-purposed groups, some fighting the Taliban, some fighting India, and some fighting Shiites.

I admit, it’s not easy. I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days. So to save you the trouble of having to live in Pakistan for two years to differentiate between the Wazirs and the Mehsuds, the Frontier Corps and the Rangers, I’ve written an “idiot’s guide” that will hopefully clear some things up. More:

Lahore rampage shows reach of militants


From The New York Times:

MANAWAN, Pakistan – The attackers hopped over a crumbling brick wall, wearing backpacks and belts with dangling grenades. They were young and wore beards, and by 7:30 a.m. on Monday, they were firing automatic weapons into an unarmed crowd of young police recruits.

Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, came under attack for the second time this month. This time, militants hit several hundred police cadets caught off guard during a morning drill at their academy in this village near Lahore, Punjab’s capital.

The attackers issued no demands but went on a rampage, killing at least eight recruits and instructors. One attacker was killed in the siege that followed and, in a gory finale, three detonated suicide belts, killing themselves. More than 100 people were wounded. More:

And in The Guardian:

Pakistani Taliban claim responsibility

The Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud today claimed responsibility for yesterday’s assault on the police training academy in Lahore.

Mehsud leads the biggest faction of the Pakistani Taliban and is based in the lawless South Waziristan tribal region, which borders Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, the US put a $5m (£3.4m) bounty on his head, describing him as key commander of al-Qaida.

There was also a rival claim for the attack, from a little-known group, Fedayeen al-Islam, which took responsibility for the bombing of the Marriott hotel in the capital, Islamabad, last September.

However, Mehsud’s proclamation of guilt, which tallies with the initial government investigation, is likely to be the one taken most seriously.


Pakistan in peril

William Dalrymple reviews “Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” by Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:

The tribal areas have never been fully under the control of any Pakistani government, and have always been unruly, but they have now been radicalized as never before. The rain of armaments from US drones and Pakistani ground forces, which have caused extensive civilian casualties, daily add a steady stream of angry footsoldiers to the insurgency. Elsewhere in Pakistan, anti-Western religious and political extremism continues to flourish.

The most alarming manifestation of this was the ease with which a highly trained jihadi group, almost certainly supplied and provisioned in Pakistan, probably by the nominally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba-an organization that aims to restore Muslim rule in Kashmir-attacked neighboring India in November. They murdered 173 innocent people in Bombay, injured over six hundred, and brought the two nuclear-armed rivals once again to the brink of war. The attackers arrived by sea, initially using boats based in the same network of fishing villages across the Makran coast through which a number of al-Qaeda suspects are known to have been spirited away from Pakistan to the Arab Gulf following the American assault on Tora Bora in 2001.


Why Pakistan plays ‘let’s make a deal’

Islamabad is about to cut another deal with the country’s tribal leaders. These agreements rarely last long and appear to have helped no one besides terrorists and hardened militants. But Washington should support the deal-making — at least for a little while longer, writes Daniel Markey in Foreign Policy

The Pakistanis are making deals with tribal leaders again. Islamabad now appears to be in the final stages of protracted negotiations with leaders of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan, one of seven semiautonomous areas along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The recent history of these negotiations has not been a happy one. By nearly all accounts, Taliban and al Qaeda have taken full advantage of the breathing space in Pakistan’s tribal areas to execute attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond. American critics have every reason to ask whether Islamabad’s latest deal is precisely the sort of appeasement that might reduce violence in Pakistan in the short term, but which in time promises an even more dangerous insurgency and terrorist menace.

Nor should Pakistanis or Americans kid themselves: In a few months, perhaps sooner, this deal will fall apart. Even if the tribal leaders intended to live up to their obligations—a doubtful proposition—they aren’t up to the task of expelling well-armed, battle-hardened militants.