Monday, 30 August 2010

Punjabi Taliban leader killed in shootout

A chorus of reports suggests that Usman Punjabi, leader of the Asian Tigers or Punjabi Taliban, and five of his followers were killed in a gunbattle with Mahsud tribal militants in a dispute over an Arab widow in the Dandy Darpakhel area of North Waziristan on Saturday.
The Asian Tigers are the group that killed former Pakistan airforce and ISI officer Khalid Khwaja earlier this year and are still said to be holding another former ISI officer and a British journalist, Asad Qureshi, who were kidnapped at the same time.
According to the AKI news agency, tension mounted between the Punjabis and local Mahsud tribal militants after an Arab was killed in a drone strike. The Mahsuds took the rich Arab widow into their custody and began making arrangements to get her married off to one of their kinsmen.
Anxious not to be left off the list of potential suitors, Usman's group insisted the woman should be allowed to make the decision herself - a rare example of jihadis allowing a woman to make a decision.
On Saturday after breakfast - which would have been before dawn during Ramadan - militants from the Mahsuds and the Punjabis gathered in a local school in Dandy Darpakhel to try to resolve the issue. The argument became so fierce that both parties pulled out their guns and opened fire. Eight people were killed in total - six Punjabis and two Mahsuds. "We have killed the spy', the Mahsud tribesmen cried after killing Usman Punjabi. Another account of the dispute, which differs in some details, can be read here.
Usman's group, which split from the equally sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, is not universally popular in the tribal areas or with the Afghan Taliban fighters, particularly since the Asian Tigers refused to release the former ISI officer, Colonel Imam, when instructed to do so by Mullah Omar. The fate of Colonel Imam and Asad Qureshi is unknown.
From this report and the two that preceded it on this blog, it is clear that all is not well between the 'Brothers'. They are killing more of their own than their enemies. All in the name of Islam.

Suspected child killer found dead

Pakistani newspapers report today that the bodies of "key Taliban commander" Qari Abdullah (pictured above) and another terrorist were found in the Santgtan area of Kabal tehsil in the Swat Valley on Sunday. He has been reported killed before, but this time it seems to be true.
Qari Abdullah, who was himself educated in a madrassa, was in charge of recruiting children to become suicide bombers in Swat in the days when the Pakistan Taliban had a free run of the area last year.
Interviewed last year before the Pakistan Taliban were routed from Swat for a PBS documentary on child bombers by Pakistani journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the confused and clearly disturbed Abdullah was first shown looking at a short film of young Hamas supporters in uniform aged around 12 who were chanting verses from the Koran.
His recruits were much younger than that, said Qari Abdullah. In fact they were mostly 5, 6 and 7. He added: "Children are tools for achieving God’s will... whatever comes your way you sacrifice it, so it’s fine... [the children] want to join us because they like our weapons. They don’t use weapons to begin with; they just carry them for us."
There is no information on who killed Qari Abdullah. He may be yet another victim of army and police units operating in Swat who seem to take no prisoners. But my guess is that there will be no shortage of suspects amongst the families whose children were abducted by Qari Abdullah and his followers.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Wazirs aim to expel Mahsuds from S. Waziristan

The death of the respected cleric, Maulana Noor Mohammad (above) and 33 others in a suicide bombing in a mosque in Wana Bazaar in South Waziristan last Monday is likely to have enormous consequences in the tribal territories and risks the outbreak of serious warfare between the Wazir and Mahsud tribes.
Maulana Noor Mohammad was an influential figure amongst the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe who dominate the area around Wana. He had just finished a lecture on the Koran after Zuhr prayers, when a young boy, aged around 15, ran up to him and detonated an explosive vest. The Maulana was buried the next day, when around 10,000 people attended his funeral. All the commercial and business centres and schools in the area closed for three days to mourn his death.
Maulana Noor Mohammad was a highly respected cleric and had been involved in the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. He is also the author of a dozen book on jihad and Islam. In 1978 he had tried to form a Taliban-like adminstration in Wana, but was prevented by the Pakistani government from doing so. He later spent four years in jail. While supporting jihad against the Coalition forces in Afghanistan, he has been strongly opposed to any attacks on the Pakistani state.
He has ten sons from two wives and his eldest son, Taj Mohammad, has been chosen as his successor by local elders and religious leaders. Taj Mohammad is a religious scholar and completed an MA with distinction at Gomal University in Dera Ismail Khan. He will take over the running of the huge madrassa built by his father in Wana where hundreds of boys are given free religious education and board and lodging. Maulana Noor Mohammad also built a madrassa in Wana that provides free religious education for Ahmadzai girls.
Elected as a member of the Pakistan National Assembly in 1997 for South Waziristan, Maulana Noor Mohammad was widely respected by local Taliban commanders, such as Mullah Nazir, Mita Khan and Malang Wazir. Many prominent Taliban had passed through his madrassa. His excellent contacts meant he played an important role as an intermediary during the military operations in Wana in 2004-5.
While no-one has yet claimed responsibility for the atrocity, on Tuesday local mosques broadcast announcements telling all members of the Mahsud tribe living in Wana as displaced persons due to Army operations, and all Tehreek-e-Taliban members to leave the area immediately. The broadcasts said they would be removed forcibly if they did not comply, in the same way as the Uzbeks of the IMU under Tahir Yuldashev were forced to leave Wana in April 2007.
These broadcasts make it clear that the principle suspect for the suicide bombing is the TTP of Hakimullah Mahsud. It was Mahsud who provided sanctuary to the Uzbeks and who now has a close alliance with them. Local people have been quoted as saying that the head of the bomber, which has been on display in Wana Bazaar, shows he was an Uzbek.
According to a recent unpublished report from the influential FATA Research Centre, Uzbeks had previously been involved in a failed suicide attack on Mullah Nazir, the overall commander of the Wana Ahmadzai Wazir Taliban, but the boy was caught by guards. Uzbeks also killed 11 of Nazir's men during Ramadan last year near Salay Roghain in the Mahsud territory as they returned for Eid from fighting the Americans in Afghanistan.
After this event, Mullah Nazir demanded that the TTP hand over the four Uzbeks and four Mahsuds involved in the killings, but this was refused.
Then on 17 August this year a clash took place between Mullah Nazir's commander Hajji Tehsil Khan and TTP commander Hafiz Khan (who was one of those involved in the killings of Wazirs last year). Tehsil Khan killed two of Hafiz Khan's men and lost one of his own. Last year he was one of the commanders who joined an anti-TTP alliance in South Waziristan along with Waziristan Baba and Turkistan Bhittani.
The Ahmadzai Wazir's decision to expel all the Mahsud IDPs on their territory will have significant consequences. There are an estimated 3,000 Mahsud families living in Wana due to the Pakistan Army's Operation Rah-e-Nijad. Many more families are in other parts of the Wazir territory. They cannot got to Tank or Dera Ismail districts because of the devastating floods that have wrecked these areas.
If the Ahmadzai Wazir elders decide the Mahsuds of the TTP were responsible for Maulana Noor Mohammad's death then open hostilities are inevitable and TTP leader will have to fight both the Army and the Wazirs. The Ahmadzai Wazirs would also probably call on their kinsmen amongst the Uthmanzai Wazirs who mostly live in North Waziristan, close to the TTP heartland.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Wikileaks - In the news for all the wrong reasons

Two weeks ago I wrote on this blog that Wikileaks guru Julian Assange had made one of the most fundamental mistakes in journalism, in that he had become the story instead of simply reporting it. I noted his histrionic attacks on human rights organisations who would not pay his organisation to redact documents that should have been redacted before they were put online and said that I thought it would all end in tears. Ironically, his correspondence was leaked and Assange complained bitterly about that.
In the time since then Wikileaks has been involved in a pointless spat with the Pentagon about who said what to whom over redacting the remaining 15,000 unpublished US Army documents on Afghanistan.
The news from Sweden, where Assange has once again been in the news for all the wrong reasons, highlights the fact that the Wikileaks project, as set up by Assange, is flawed. Whether or not he is guilty of any crime or misdemeanour in Sweden, Assange's decision to become a public personality has been a disaster. We all know that if you cannot attack the message the most effective strategy is to attack the messenger.
With a project that was bound to involve high-stakes leaks and was likely to upset powerful governments, Assange, who believes that he is the victim of a US-inspired smear, should have stayed out of the limelight and left the handling of sensitive documents to someone who was better qualified. If he believes that all documents should be in the public domain, no matter what they contain, then he is an idiot. Either way, he is now damaged goods.

Pakistan flood impact exacerbated by corruption

The floods that have devastated parts of Pakistan over the last few weeks are not the worst in the country's history, according to experts interviewed by the Express Tribune.
"Water levels in Sindh rose to similar high floods in 1992 and 1976 but the impact was not as huge. This time, flooding has been exacerbated only due to decades of government corruption and neglect”, says irrigation expert Idrees Rajput, a former member of the Sindh government.
Another expert, Arshad H Abbasi, says that Pakistan's Federal Flood Commission has misused funds and approved and executed water control projects only on paper.
The article notes that in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's worst-hit districts, Nowshera and Charsadda, the FFC claims it carried out projects worth Rs27.3 million in 2007-8 and Rs53 million in 2008-9, which were allegedly 92 per cent complete before the floods. However, local people say they cannot even identify the projects on the ground, despite the existence of official documentation. The chief minister in the Punjab has also recently inspected bogus projects in South Punjab.
The FFC told the Express Tribune that it is not an executing body, but simply provides funds to the provinces based on paperwork. "Our role is to facilitate the provinces, approve their schemes and provide funds to the respective irrigation department officials in each province”, FFC chairman Zarar Aslam told the Express Tribune. He said the FFC had no funds for monitoring the implementation of projects.
However, his organisation has come in for criticism with allegations from Transparency International Pakistan that 60-70 per cent of more than $1 billion in foreign aid for flood defence work has been embezzled. However Syed Adil Gilani, chairman of TIP, said last week that fear of misuse of funds should not halt humanitarian aid to Pakistan.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Former Egyptian jihadist predicts Taliban victory

Interesting note from the Jamestown Terrorism Monitor on a new book by former al-Qaeda ideologue and founder, Dr Fadl, that predicts a Taliban victory in Afghanistan.
Dr Fadl (real name Sayyid Imam Abdulaziz al-Sharif) was a leading member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with al-Qaeda No2 Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, but recanted his beliefs while serving a life sentence in prison in Egypt. He later criticised the 9/11 attacks as both immoral and counterproductive.
Now he has published a book in Arabic called Future of the War between America and the Taliban in Afghanistan which gives 12 reasons why the Taliban will win:
1. A successful jihad must be accompanied by a religious reform movement. The religious motivation of the Taliban (as opposed to tribal loyalties or the pursuit of wealth) meets this criterion.
2. The Taliban cause is just, as it seeks to repel foreign occupation.
3. Cross-border tribal bonds with Pakistani Pashtun tribesmen are vital to the jihad’s success; “Loyalty of the Pashtu in Pakistan to the Pashtu in Afghanistan is stronger than their loyalty to their government in Islamabad.”
4. Jihad has popular support from the people of Afghanistan, who provide fighters with support, shelter and intelligence.
5. The nature of the terrain in Afghanistan and the inaccessibility of Taliban refugees make it eminently suitable for guerrilla warfare; “He who fights geography is a loser.”
6. The backwardness of Afghanistan favours the success of jihad. The Soviet experience proved that even a scorched earth policy has little effect on people who are tolerant, patient and have little to lose in the first place. There is little in the way of cultural establishments to be destroyed – Afghanistan’s monuments are its mountains and “even atomic bombs do not affect them.”
7. As the battlefield widens beyond the Taliban strongholds in the south, occupation forces must face increasing financial and personnel losses.
8. Both time and the capacity to endure losses are on the side of the Taliban, who “do not have a ceiling to their losses, especially with regard to lives…”
9. Suicide operations make up for the shortage of modern weapons.
10. After three decades of nearly continuous warfare, Taliban fighters and leaders have the necessary experience to prevail against the occupation.
11. History is also on the Taliban’s side. Despite being world powers, both the British Empire and the Soviet Union failed to conquer Afghanistan.
12. Pakistan’s support of the Taliban provides the necessary third-party refuge and supplies to any successful guerrilla struggle.

Can anyone argue with his logic?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Environmental stresses in Pakistan

Declining Per Capita Water Availability in Pakistan (cubic meters per person annually)

A very timely report from the US Congressional Research Service focusses on the nexus between security and environmental concerns in Pakistan that may affect US security and foreign policy interests.
With much of the country presently submerged beneath flood waters and outbreaks of violence reported in some of the temporary camps set up to deal with the millions of displaced people, the report's authors are right to be concerned.
The report, Security and the Environment in Pakistan, looks at the potentially destabilising efffects of demographic trends, water scarcity, limited arable land and food security. It argues that a combination of these factors could lead to a break-down of the Pakistani state and thus lead to the growth and expansion of areas without any government control.
This in turn could strengthen radical Islamist groups that already operate on the margins of Pakistani society and in areas where the government's writ hardly reaches. As the report notes: "Preliminary findings by experts seem to indicate that existing environmental problems in Pakistan are sufficiently significant to warrant a close watch, especially when combined with Pakistan’s limited resilience due to mounting demographic stresses, internal political instability, security challenges, and limited economic resources."
Meanwhile, UK-based risk analysis company Maplecroft has today released its Food Security Risk Index, which places Afghanistan bottom of the world rankings out of 163 countries, with the greatest risk to the security of basic food staples. Maplecroft uses 12 criteria developed in collaboration with the World Food Programme to calculate the ranking including: the nutritional and health status of populations, cereal production and imports, GDP per capita, natural disasters, conflict, and the effectiveness of government.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pak Taliban hypocrites offer to save lives

That most humanitarian of organisations, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), led by the killer Hakimullah Mahsud, has offered $20 million as aid for flood victims in Pakistan if the government turns down offers of American aid.
"The government should not accept American aid and if it happens, we can give $20 million to them as aid for the flood victims,” TTP spokesperson Azam Tariq told news agency AFP by telephone.
“We will ourselves distribute relief under the leadership of our chief Hakimullah Mehsud among the people if the government assures us that none of our members will be arrested,” Tariq said.
Washington has already provided $35 million in aid, including nearly half-a-million halal meals and 12 pre-fabricated bridges. US-piloted helicopters have helped to save the lives of around 1,000 people, plucked out of the rising floodwaters that have devastated the lives of more than 12 million people.
Presumably the TTP fighters will put their suicide vests somewhere cool and dry whilst they fly off in their helicopters to rescue people - excluding Shias, Sufis, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, etc - so they can continue bombing mosques and market places once the floodwaters recede.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Assange loses the plot

What is up with Julian Assange, the computer geek behind the creation of the Wikileaks site? Assange has already broken the most basic rule of journalism by becoming the story instead of reporting it. Now he has turned on human rights groups who have asked him to redact the names of Afghans mentioned in the thousands of US military documents that have appeared on his website.
According to the Wall Street Journal, an email drawn up by Amnesty International and co-signed by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the Open Society Institute, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the International Crisis Group asked him to redact any files that are still due to be released. Wikileaks held back some 15,000 documents from its first release, saying that they were sensitive and needed redaction. However, even those documents that were released contained the names of many Afghans who are working with the Coalition forces and whose lives could be in danger as a result.
"We have seen the negative, sometimes deadly ramifications for those Afghans identified as working for or sympathising with international forces," the groups wrote. "We strongly urge your volunteers and staff to analyse all documents to ensure that those containing identifying information are taken down or redacted."
In response Assange reportedly asked the groups what they would do to help. When an Amnesty official suggested a conference call to discuss the matter, Assange is reported to have responded: "I'm very busy and have no time to deal with people who prefer to do nothing but cover their asses. If Amnesty does nothing I shall issue a press release highlighting its refusal".
Assange is clearly losing the plot. He has become so important that he can no longer deal with people who are raising serious issues. Last Friday the Pentagon denied reports that Wikileaks had sought government help in redacting the initial 76,000 documents released onto its site. Wikileaks called a press conference in London yesterday to respond to the Pentagon denial, but cancelled it with just a few hours notice. Anyone who has ever worked with leaked documents knows that just getting them is often the easiest part of the job. Knowing how and when to exploit them is much more difficult. It is a job for which Assange has no qualifications at all.
Wikileaks, incidentally, is claiming that the exchange of correspondence alluded to above is fake. Its latest tweet reads: "Don't be fooled on the "human rights groups". No formal statement. US led. Anon. given to Wall St. Journal. Why?" What can it all mean?
Can any of this be connected to the fact that Wikileaks is appealing for $700,000 to aid its "harm-minimisation review", presumably by paying people to go through the remaining documents to redact them? I'm sad to say that all of this is going to end in tears.

Taliban responsible for killing more civilians

The tactics of the Taliban and other insurgents are behind a 31 per cent increase in conflict-related Afghan civilian casualties in the first six months of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which today published its Mid-Year Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
The UNAMA statistics show that 55 per cent more children were killed compared to last year and six per cent more women. Casualties attributed to Pro-Government Forces (PGF) fell 30 per cent during the same period, mainly due to a 64 per cent decline in deaths and injuries caused by aerial attacks by Coalition forces.
“Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of this conflict. They are being killed and injured in their homes and communities in greater numbers than ever before,” said Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General.
Between 1 January to 30 June this year UNAMA's Human Rights Unit recorded 1,271 civilian deaths and 1,997 injuries. Insurgents were responsible for 2,477 casualties (76 per cent of all casualties, up 53 per cent from 2009) while 386 were attributed to PGF activities (12 per cent of all casualties, down 30 per cent from 2009).
The Human Rights Unit identified two critical developments that increased harm to civilians: the use of larger and more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs); and an increase in the number of civilians assassinated and executed by insurgents, which rose by more than 95 per cent and included public executions of children.
“The devastating human impact of these events underscores that, nine years into the conflict, measures to protect Afghan civilians effectively and to minimize the impact of the conflict on basic human rights are more urgent than ever. All those concerned must do more to protect civilians and comply with their legal obligations not to attack civilians,” said Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA.
Insurgent IEDs and suicide attacks killed 557 Afghans and injured 1,137 in the first six months of 2010 and IEDs alone accounted for 29 per cent of all civilian deaths in the period.
Air attacks by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) remained as deadly as ever, resulting in 69 of the 223 civilian deaths attributed to PGF in the first six months of 2010. This was, however, down by 64 per cent from the same period in 2009, reflecting growing implementation of ISAF’s July 2009 Tactical Directive regulating the use of air strikes and other measures to reduce civilian casualties.
As expected, more than half of assassinations and executions occurred in the southern region, where more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed in such incidents, including teachers, nurses, doctors, tribal elders, community leaders, provincial and district officials, children, and civilians working for international military forces and NGOs.
“This intensified pattern of assassinations and executions reinforced the widespread perception of Afghan civilians that they are becoming more and more the primary target in this period of conflict,” said Staffan de Mistura.
The UNAMA Human Rights Unit made the following recommendations in the report:
• The Taliban should withdraw all orders and statements calling for the killing of civilians; and, the Taliban and other insurgents should end the use of IEDs and suicide attacks, comply with international humanitarian law, cease acts of intimidation and killing including assassination, execution and abduction, fully respect citizens’ freedom of movement and stop using civilians as human shields.
• International military forces should make their investigation and reporting on civilian casualties more transparent; strengthen directives restricting air attacks and the use of night raids; coordinate investigation and reporting of civilian casualties with the Afghan Government; improve compensation processes; and improve transparency around any harm to civilians caused by Special Forces operations.
• The Afghan Government should create a public body to lead its response to major civilian casualty incidents and its interaction with international military forces and other key actors; and, improve accountability including discipline or prosecution for any Afghan National Security Forces personnel who unlawfully kill or injure civilians.

Friday, 6 August 2010

State Dept Terrorism Report makes bleak reading

The US Secretary of State's Country Reports on Terrorism 2009, published yesterday, makes bleak reading. On Afghanistan it notes that Taliban attacks increased over 2008, but that the direct influence of al-Qaeda diminished.
However, as the report notes: "the anti-government insurgency remained a capable, determined, and resilient threat to stability and to the expansion of government authority, particularly in the south and east. The insurgency continued to suffer heavy combat losses, including among senior leaders, but its ability to recruit soldiers remained undiminished. Taliban information operations were aggressive and sophisticated, including, for example, Mullah Omar’s injunctions on the Taliban website for Taliban fighters to avoid harming civilians and monitor local communities regarding their satisfaction with Taliban shadow government officials’ performance."
The report says that despite efforts by the international community to cut off funding to the insurgency, it is still getting funds from narcotics, trafficking and kidnapping, criminal enterprises and taxing local populations.
One could also add bank robbery. A few days ago six private security guards at the Kabul Bank in Mazar-e-Sharif were poisoned and then beheaded during a bank robbery. The dead men were found locked inside a room when staff arrived in the morning. Reports said the robbers had been invited by the guards to have dinner with them. Around $200,000 was missing from the bank.
As the insurgency grows in strength, Taliban strategy is becoming clearer and shows that the organisation uses different tactics in different places. In an interview in the latest edition of al-Somood, the Taliban's monthly magazine, Sheikh Nur ul-Haqq Mujahid bin Mohammed, the Taliban military commander in the Maydan Shahr district of Wardak province, stated in a recent interview that Taliban forces are trying to block a major supply corridor south of Kabul and “close it permanently.” The road connects Kabul to Kandahar and its blockage would be a major setback for Coalition forces.
Sheikh Nur ul-Haqq's interview, also states that in Kunar and Nuristan "the most suitable military method is a military clash because those two provinces possess a geographic situation suitable for this military strategy. Meanwhile, in Helmand and the southwest of Afghanistan the preferred method is to plant mines and use explosives because the terrain of those areas is desert terrain, which does not afford the mujahideen secure places to hide. As for Kabul, martyrdom operations and surprise attacks are best because the open concentration of large numbers of invaders there gives the mujahideen an opportunity to launch those kinds of campaigns against their bases and barracks."