Tag Archive for 'Taleban'

My drone war

Pir Zubair Shah in Foreign Policy:

“We don’t even sit together to chat anymore,” the Taliban fighter told me, his voice hoarse as he combed his beard with his fingers. We were talking in a safe house in Peshawar as the fighter and one of his comrades sketched a picture of life on the run in the borderlands of Waziristan. The deadly American drones buzzing overhead, the two men said, had changed everything for al Qaeda and its local allies.

The whitewashed two-story villa bristled with activity. Down the hall from my Taliban sources sat an aggrieved tribal elder and his son in one room and two officers from Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate in another. I had gathered them all there to make sense of what had become the signature incident of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan: an American drone strike, one of the first ordered on the watch of the new U.S. president, Barack Obama. The early 2009 strike had killed a local elder, along with his son, two nephews, and a guest in the South Waziristan town of Wana. Several sources had told me the family was innocent, with no connections to the Taliban or al Qaeda. But traveling to Waziristan had become too dangerous even for me, a reporter who had grown up there. So instead I had brought Waziristan to Peshawar, renting rooms for my sources in the guesthouse. I had just one night to try to figure out what had happened.

I spent the night running from room to room, assembling the story in pieces. On the first floor sat the dead elder’s brother and nephew, who told me what little they knew of the incident. On the second floor, the ISI officers, over whiskey and lamb tikka, described their work helping U.S. intelligence agents sort out targets from among the images relayed back from the drones. Then there were the two Taliban fighters, whom I had first met in Waziristan in 2007. One had been a fixer for the Haqqani network, skilled at smuggling men and materiel from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The other drew a government salary as an employee of Pakistan’s agriculture department but worked across the border as an explosives expert; he had lost a finger fighting the allied forces in Afghanistan. None of the men in the house knew the others were there.

The two fighters described how the militants were adapting to this new kind of warfare. The Taliban and al Qaeda had stopped using electronic devices, they told me. They would no longer gather in huge numbers, even in mosques to pray, and spent their nights outside for safety, a life that was wearing thin. “We can’t sleep in the jungle the whole of our lives,” one told me. Gradually, a picture of a rare incident came into focus: a deadly strike that had mistakenly taken out a man with no connection to al Qaeda or the Taliban. More:

A jihadi village of white al-Qaeda fighters

Investigators have discovered a village of white German al-Qaeda insurgents, including Muslim converts, in Pakistan’s tribal areas close to the Afghan border. From the Telegraph:

The village, in Taliban-controlled Waziristan, is run by the notorious al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which plots raids on Nato forces in Afghanistan.

A recruitment video presents life in the village as a desirable lifestyle choice with schools, hospitals, pharmacies and day care centres, all at a safe distance from the front.

In the video, the presenter, “Abu Adam”, the public face of the group in Germany, points his finger and asks: “Doesn’t it appeal to you? We warmly invite you to join us!”
According to German foreign ministry officials a growing number of German families, many of North African descent, have taken up the offer and travelled to Waziristan where supporters say converts make up some of the insurgents’ most dedicated fighters. More:

Pakistan conflict map

A map produced by the BBC suggests only 38% of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and surrounding areas is under full government control.

 This map of the area is a snapshot of the current situation. However, with ongoing fighting between the Pakistan armed forces and the Taleban the situation on the ground could change in the future.

This map of the area is a snapshot of the current situation. However, with ongoing fighting between the Pakistan armed forces and the Taleban the situation on the ground could change in the future. BBC

The map, compiled by the BBC’s Urdu language service, was based on local research and correspondent reports as well as conversations with officials.

It shows the Taleban strengthening their hold across the north-west.

Pakistan is currently engaged in a military offensive aimed at regaining part of the region from the Taleban.

There was an international outcry recently when the militants moved into Buner district, just 100km (67 miles) from Islamabad.

The report the map was based on covered the 24 districts of NWFP and the seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). More:

[Click on the map for province-wise situation]

Taliban flog 17-year-old girl as she begs for mercy

WARNING: This video contains images some people may find disturbing.


The chilling video shows Taleban members flogging a teenage girl in the Swat valley in Pakistan. The girl had been accused of adultery and received 37 lashes. As two men hold her down, she pleads for mercy: “Please stop it,” she is heard crying in Pashto. “Either kill me or stop it now.”

The video was shot using a cell phone. Contacted on phone by The Guardian, Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan claimed responsibility for the flogging. “She came out of her house with another guy who was not her husband, so we must punish her. There are boundaries you cannot cross,” he said. He defended the Taliban’s right to thrash women shoppers who were inappropriately dressed, saying it was permitted under Islamic law. Click here to read the story.

Pakistan region in grip of fear as leader begins to implement Sharia law

The Guardian report from Mingora:

With his flowing white beard and thick spectacles, Sufi Muhammad has an avuncular air about him that can initially appear reassuring.

But all that changes when the 70-year-old kingpin of the Swat valley opens his mouth to promise more of the kind of punishment meted out to the 17-year-old local woman captured in the mobile video footage.

Muhammad is leader of an Islamist movement that has long since agitated for sharia justice. And he took a big step towards his objective in February when he struck a “peace for sharia” deal with the authorities under which the Taliban would stop a two-year armed campaign in the region in return for the establishment of new religious courts. In a rare interview with any media outlet, domestic or foreign, he told the Guardian that the new courts would formalise penalties including flogging, chopping off hands and stoning to death. More:

Obama ponders talks with Taliban

In an interview with The New York Times aboard Air Force One, President Obama said the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan. He said as part of a process of reconciliation, the US would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan — like it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Q. Do you see a time when you might be willing to reach out to more moderate elements of the Taliban, to try to peel them away, towards reconciliation?

A. I don’t want to pre-judge the review that’s currently taking place. If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region. But the situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex. You have a less governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes. Those tribes are multiple and sometimes operate at cross purposes, so figuring all that out is going to be a much more of a challenge.

Click here to read the rest of the story, and here for the full text of the interview

Perves Musharraf was playing ‘double game’ with US

New book claims President Musharraf’s military actively supported Taleban whilst taking millions of US dollars to fight them. Catherine Philp in The Times:

mushWashington sent Special Forces into Pakistan last summer after intercepting a call by the Pakistani army chief referring to a notorious Taleban leader as a “strategic asset,” a new book has claimed.

The intercept was ordered to confirm suspicions that the Pakistani military were still actively supporting the Taleban whilst taking millions of dollars in US military aid to fight them, according to the “The Inheritance,” by the New York Times correspondent David Sanger.

In a transcript passed to Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence in May 2008, General Ashfaq Kayani, the military chief who replaced Pervez Musharraf, was overheard referring to Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset”. The remark was the first real evidence of the double game that Washington had long suspected President Musharraf was playing as he continued receiving US military aid while aiding the Taleban.


Pak makes a Taliban truce, agrees to Islamic law in Swat

Pamela Constable from Peshawar in The Washington Post:

The Pakistani government, desperate to restore peace to a Taliban-infested valley once known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan,” agreed Monday to enforce strict Islamic law in the surrounding district near the Afghan border, conceding to a long-standing demand by local Islamist leaders who in turn pledged to ask the fighters to lay down their arms.

In announcing the agreement, Pakistani officials asserted that the adoption of Sharia law would bring swift and fair justice to the Swat Valley, where people have long complained of legal corruption and delays. They said the new system would have “nothing in common” with the draconian rule of the Taliban militia that ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, during which thieves’ hands were amputated and adulterers were stoned to death.

More here and here. And the Dawn report on the Malakand sharia deal

Writ of the state

Dawn comment: There is no percentage in talking to people who despise the values one holds dearest and are committed to inflicting death and destruction aimed at overthrowing the state of Pakistan. There is no scope here for negotiation until – and that time is still distant – the Pakistan government and military can dictate terms and talk to the Taliban from a position of strength. The deals cut in the past in sheer desperation encouraged the militants. They sent a signal that the Tehrik-i-Taliban was in the ascendancy and could call the shots as it pleased. They allowed the militants to regroup and recruit more unemployed, brainwashed young men who have been led to believe that the west (all of it, without exception) is evil, that democracy is abhorrent and Pakistani political leaders who espouse secular values and enjoy popular support are worthy of death. More

Taleban threaten to blow up girls’ schools if they refuse to close

From the Times:

girlsThe Taleban have ordered the closure of all girls’ schools in the war-ravaged Swat district and warned parents and teachers of dire consequences if the ban is flouted.

In an announcement made in mosques and broadcast on radio, the militant group set a deadline of January 15 for its order to be obeyed or it would blow up school buildings and attack schoolgirls. It also told women not to set foot outside their homes without being fully covered.

“Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week.


Pakistan turns to ‘friends’ in its hour of need

Jeremy Page from Islamabad in the Times:

Welcome to Pakistan’s “Street of Dreams” – your chance to buy into a future free of suicide bombers, power cuts, crumbling infrastructure and bad shopping.

So goes the sales pitch for Canyon Views, a 1,000-acre complex of 5,000 luxury homes in Tuscan, Portuguese and Moorish styles being built on the outskirts of the Pakistani capital. “It’s a dream come true,” said a sales executive on a recent tour. “This is the new Islamabad.”

When a Dubai-based developer invested $2.4 billion (£1.6 billion) in this and two similar projects in Pakistan in 2006, the dream seemed almost real. The economy was booming, the consumer class spending, the stock market outperforming the world. The first 250 villas – costing as much as $400,000 each – sold in a flash.

How times have changed.


An old army in a new war

The Pakistani army is engaged in a gritty battle with Afghan militants in a border area where it has never had authority. Jason Burke reports from Loesam in the Guardian:

Loesam is a long way from anywhere. Once a small town in north-west Pakistan, on the Afghanistan frontier, it has been razed to the ground. The bazaar is a pile of rubble, homes scraped down to their concrete foundations. The only building still upright is the mosque that stands in the corner of what once was the local petrol station. The population has fled.

A few hundred metres out of Loesam, the 25th Punjab regiment of the Pakistani army is digging in. Those few hundred metres were seized the day before in a short, sharp engagement with militants entrenched in mud-walled compounds, stands of slim ash, birch trees and dry valleys with their yellow dust walls on their outskirts.


Murdered by Taleban

Lieutenant-Colonel Malalai Kakar, Afghanistan’s highest-ranking woman police officer, was praised for her toughness but was murdered by the Taleban. Her obituary in The Times:

Kakar, just over 5ft tall, became a revered figure in Kandahar after dispatching three assassins in a shoot-out

Kakar became a revered figure in Kandahar after killing three assassins in a shoot-out

Kakar was the first woman to become a police detective in the ultraconservative Kandahar – a dangerous place for any police officer let alone a woman. Kandahar, the birthplace of Taleban extremism, is the largest city in southern Afghanistan and its surrounding province of the same name has a population of about 900,000.

Kakar rose through the ranks to become the country’s most prominent policewoman as the head of the crimes against women department of the Kandahar police, leading a team of nearly a dozen policewomen. Her main roles were to sort out family disputes, protect women from domestic violence and run the women’s prison.


Zardari is even more afraid than Musharraf

In The Spectator, Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi say the Marriott bomb in Islamabad shows how weak the new Pakistani President is in the face of the Talebanised sectors of this failing state:

The Pakistani Taleban could not wage war across the border were it not for the long-standing infiltration of the Pakistani army and ISI by jihadists. For years, the Pakistani-Indian conflict over Kashmir was the pretext for ignoring this. Similarly, rivalry with India served as the justification for Mr Zardari’s predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf, to protect Abdul Qadeer Khan, the alleged rogue physicist who we now know helped provide nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Zardari’s rival and occasional partner, Nawaz Sharif, a recent resident of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, continues his historic alignment with the jihadists.

Zardari insists that his government can handle the situation without foreign involvement. Such arguments are simply more rhetoric. They cover a policy of accommodation with the Taleban invaders, best exemplified when the Pakistani army fired at US helicopters on 21 September, the day after the Marriott atrocity. A week before, Pakistani forces were officially ordered to shoot at American troops if the latter crossed the barely defined Afghan border.


The Long Road to Chaos in Pakistan

By Dexter Filkins, who has covered the Afghanistan and Iraq wars for The New York Times:

Tyler Hicks / NYTimes

Gun market: Near the Khyber Pass is Peshawar, the administrative center for the tribal areas where the Taliban regroups and rearms. Photo: Tyler Hicks / NYTimes

It was more than a decade ago that Pakistan’s leaders began nurturing the Taliban and their brethren to help advance the country’s regional interests. Now they are finding that their home-schooled militants have grown too strong to control. No longer content to just cross into Afghanistan to kill American soldiers, the militants have begun to challenge the government itself. “The Pakistanis are truly concerned about their whole country unraveling,” said a Western military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is sensitive.

That is a horrifying prospect, especially for Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government, its first since 1999. The country has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. The tribal areas, which harbor thousands of Taliban militants, are also believed to contain Al Qaeda’s senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.


The Taleban besiege Kabul

Jeremy Page from Kabul in The Times:

The lorry drivers who bring the Pepsi and petrol for Nato troops in Kabul have their own way of calculating the Taleban’s progress towards the Afghan capital: they simply count the lorries destroyed on the main roads.

By that measure, and many others, this looks increasingly like a city under siege as the Taleban start to disrupt supply routes, mimicking tactics used against the British in 1841 and the Soviets two decades ago.

Abdul Hamid, 35, was ferrying Nato supplies from the Pakistani border last month when Taleban fighters appeared on the rocks above and aimed their rocket-launchers at him, 40miles (65km) east of Kabul. “They just missed me but hit the two trucks behind,” he said. “This road used to be safe, but in the last month they’ve been attacking more and more.”


‘Touch wood,’ Karzai said to me. You hear it all the time

From The Spectator:

There is something oddly soothing about going to sleep to the sound of gunfire in Kandahar airbase. The shots are fired by British troops, honing the night combat skills which achieved such success over the Taleban last winter. The fighting season was due to start four weeks ago, when the poppy harvest ended – but so far, nothing. British commanders are quietly optimistic that the Taleban has counted its 6,000 dead, learned it cannot win firefights and switched to guerrilla tactics instead.

Only in Afghanistan could the rockets being fired into the Kandahar airbase be seen as a sign of progress. Much as the prospect may terrify visitors, the soldiers themselves are sanguine. For those who were in the Iraqi bases being shelled 60 times a night, using body armour for pyjamas, the four-a-week rate of Kandahar is nothing. The main complaint of the servicemen and women is that the Taleban may well have gone underground and sporadic missile alerts could be all the action they see.


Afghan woman is all about business

In The Christian Science Monitor, Gayle Tzemach reports from Kabul on woman entrepreneur Kamela Sediqi who teaches Afghans around the country the skills they need to start ventures.

In a small office hidden behind a gate in Kabul, Kamela Sediqi sits at her laptop and builds her business. The unlikely entrepreneur is the architect of Kaweyan Business Development Services, a consulting firm she started in 2004 with only her computer and her determination.

Barely 30 and on her third startup, Ms. Sediqi employs 25 men and women, more than half of them full time. She started her first venture, a tailoring business, to support her mother and brother during Taliban rule. In the end, it provided work for more than 100 women. And it gave Sediqi the entrepreneurial bug that eventually led her to Kaweyan – a service firm that had few capital needs at the outset.