Tag Archives | military-jihadi complex

Obama’s quasi-ultimatum to Pakistan

Okay, it’s a strong prod

In his opening remarks at the first Takshashila Executive Programme on Strategic Affairs, hosted by the National Maritime Foundation yesterday (wire report) (pic), K Subrahmanyam noted that the India media has ignored reports of how the Obama administration has put the squeeze on Pakistan asking it to jettison its duplicitousness with respect to jihadi groups. He chided Indian strategic analysts for assuming—on the basis of a lack of public statements over what the Obama administration intended to do about Pakistan—that Washington didn’t actually have a well-considered plan.

Today’s report in the New York Times supports Mr Subrahmanyam’s argument.

The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said.

The blunt message was delivered in a tense encounter in Pakistan last month, before President Obama announced his new war strategy, when Gen. James L. Jones, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief, met with the heads of Pakistan’s military and its intelligence service.

United States officials said the message did not amount to an ultimatum, but rather it was intended to prod a reluctant Pakistani military to go after Taliban insurgents in Pakistan who are directing attacks in Afghanistan. [NYT]

Well, it looks like the Obama administration’s answer to the question this blog has been asking for the past year is: drone strikes and ground-based covert operations deep inside Pakistani territory.

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What’s R&AW doing in the United States?

India must expand its intelligence capacity in Western countries

Until US authorities arrested David Coleman Headley/Dawood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana no public account of India’s investigations into the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai even mentioned the Chicago connection. It is highly likely that Indian investigators had no clue as to Headley and Rana’s existence, leave alone the extent of their possible involvement in terrorist attacks on Indian soil. The manner in which Rana and a woman believed to be his wife were issued a visa—bypassing standard procedures relating to visa applicants of Pakistani background—suggests that India’s external intelligence machinery was not tracking them.

That raises the big question: why was Indian intelligence unaware of the Chicago jihadi cell?

One explanation is that the R&AW staff in the United States were either incompetent or were outsmarted by Headley and Rana. The other explanation is that R&AW personnel in the United States didn’t even have the job of smelling out potential jihadis in their job scope.

Now, the R&AW doesn’t have the kind of resources to finance a huge intelligence gathering network across the United States. But if you are an intelligence agency with some resources the first thing you would do is develop some assets within the ethnic communities that are of interest to you. For instance, Indian intelligence agencies did have some assets within the North American Sikh community. The Headley-Rana case suggests that R&AW didn’t have a finger on the pulse of the Pakistani diaspora communities in the United States. It should.

Given that both al-Qaeda and the Pakistani jihadi groups are using operatives with passports issued by Western countries, it is incumbent on India to upgrade its capability to gather intelligence among the ‘South Asian’ communities in North America and Europe. This is the baseline requirement.

At a time when the intelligence apparatus failed to even spot Headley & Rana, it would be tall order to argue that India should invest in covert action capacity that can be used to target the likes of the Chicago jihadsters. The US government is more sensitive to the jihadi threat to India now as compared to a decade ago, and there is some co-operation between the two governments in tackling international terrorism, but India must have some independent options. It is possible that marginal jihadis would be deterred from placing that international call to Individual A or Lashkar-e-Taiba Member A if they knew that they might get in the way of a Chicago gangster’s truck…or bullet.

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Pakistan pummelled

If Pakistan doesn’t go after the jihadis now…

Any sensible government would respond to the kind of pummelling Pakistan has received at the hands of its jihadis this week by going on an all out campaign to pulverise its attackers. In Pakistan’s case, the sensibility of the government vitally depends on the sensibility of the top leadership of the army.

No, it’s not only about a military offensive in Waziristan, but a real nationwide crackdown against all jihadi groups.

But don’t hold your breath.

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Hitting Indian targets to hurt American strength

Washington and New Delhi must understand how the jihadis have drawn their battle lines

The first message, mainly for those in the Obama administration who use catchy phrases like ‘offshore strategy’ and ‘light footprint counter-terrorism’, is that with drone attacks, you can never really be sure whether the target was taken out. Baitullah Mehsud is probably dead. Rashid Rauf less so. Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri is probably alive. Because he’s giving interviews to the intrepid Syed Saleem Shehzad. Drones might be generally successful, but even with greatly improved technology, a strategy that solely relies on them is unlikely to do anything more than drive the terrorist trade, well, underground.

Now the interview itself. It is evident that Mr Kashmiri used the occasion to do more than signal his continued live existence. It is also evident that he is batting for the Pakistani military-jihadi complex (even as he is battling it, but this is a familiar Pakistani paradox). He denies that he was once a member of the Pakistan army’s Special Services Group (SSG), takes the party line on Indian consulates in Afghanistan and professes loyalty to Pakistan’s interests and even to its army.

He—or perhaps Mr Shehzad—reinforces the linking of the 313 Brigade (a joint venture of the five biggest Pakistani jihadi outfits) to the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. This is important, because it suggests that although the Lashkar-e-Taiba arranged for the foot soldiers, it involved actors and organisations responsible for carrying out major acts of terrorism against India in the past. And perhaps, last week’s raid on the Pakistan army’s general headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. (Perhaps, because this requires you to believe that Mohammed Aqeel alias Dr Usman, Mr Kashmiri’s associate, was caught rather than ‘caught’ by the Pakistani forces during their hostage rescue operations.)

It is what Mr Kashmiri says about the jihadi grand strategy that is most important. He concedes that “decades of armed and political struggles could not help to inch forward a resolution of (the Kashmir issue” because:

the entire game was in the hands of the great Satan, the USA. Organs like the UN and countries like India and Israel were simply the extension of its resources and that’s why there was a failure to resolve the Palestinian issue, the Kashmir issue and the plight of Afghanistan. [Asia Times Online]

Ergo, the “real game is the fight against the great Satan and its adherents” and “al-Qaeda’s regional war strategy, in which they have hit Indian targets, is actually to chop off American strength.”

There you have, expressed succinctly and lucidly, why the United States and India are fighting the same war. The Obama administration is demonstrating strategic folly by failing to contemplate the damage to its geopolitical interests and those of its allies by demonstrating a lack of will to win in Afghanistan and Pakistan. New Delhi partly believes that Afghanistan is “America’s war” and lacks the political imagination to strengthen the military component of its presence in Afghanistan. If there was any doubt that an American withdrawal from Afghanistan & Pakistan will re-escalate the insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir, Mr Kashmiri has laid it to rest.

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The Rawalpindi raid

An unsatisfactory assessment

The attackers scored the moment they penetrated the outermost cordon of the Pakistani army’s General Head Quarters (GHQ) complex. They broke a psychological barrier by striking at the heart of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. That they probably didn’t get anywhere near the innermost sanctums does not matter: they hit the beast in its own lair, engaged the defenders for almost 18 hours and captured the attention of a nation and the world.

That’s about the only assessment that can be made with any confidence at this stage. This is indeed a very unsatisfactory assessment, for it leaves almost all the important questions unanswered. But it is hard to believe any of the ‘answers’ that have been offered by authorities and analysts over the last 24 hours.

Take, for instance, the narrative that these were the Taliban who attacked the Pakistan army pre-emptively to prevent it from carrying out a counter-insurgency campaign in Waziristan. The problem with this line is that carrying out anything short of a complete decapitation strike is more likely to provoke the Pakistan army to move against the militias of Waziristan than to deter it.

The other narrative—which we might see a lot more of in the coming weeks—is the comparison to the 26/11 attack on Mumbai last year. Other than the fact that both are examples of urban guerilla warfare, there is little in common. It is too hasty to conclude that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an outfit based out of Pakistan’s Punjab province, attacked the GHQ based on the similarity of the two operations. That is because the Lashkar-e-Taiba is the GHQ’s paw, and a entrenched component of the military-jihadi complex. Unless some enraged Lashkar hands did this to demand back pay, this could not have been an LeT job.

What this means is that the star-bearing gentlemen in khaki will have to be even more careful as they go about their daily lives. In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden will tell his boss and his colleagues why he had been right all along, and why Pakistan should be the centre of the US AfPak strategy. And as usual, many people will publicly worry about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into terrorists’ hands.

Related Links: B Raman has a tentative assessment

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Why General Kayani is angry

Understanding the Pakistani military establishment’s objections to the Kerry-Lugar conditionalities

If it’s hard to determine the exact cause of the uproar in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar Bill, it is because there are many. Simply put, every quarter in Pakistan is using it as a stick to beat its opponents. While all the outrage over being insulted (via Zeitgeist Politics), having sovereignty disrespected and being distrusted by the United States contributes to the heat, dust and entertainment, the most important question is why did the Pakistan Army—and there were reports that the navy and the air force differed from their terrestrial colleagues—publicly throw up its hands in protest?

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and his senior colleagues cited “serious concern regarding clauses relating to national security” and suggested that the parliament must shape a “national response.” So what were they referring to?

The sticking points most commonly cited in the public debate over the Kerry-Lugar Bill in Pakistan are the ones attached to action against cross-border terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Now, the Pakistan army is certainly concerned about US scrutiny and pressure over these issues, but it is unlikely that these issues by themselves would cause the generals to raise the red flag. They’ve slipped out of this ring in the past, and they can do so in future.

It is more likely that the military establishment made its move because of other conditions in the Bill that seek to alter the civil-military relationship in Pakistan: by increasing development assistance, by conditioning military assistance, among others, on civilian control of the armed forces. The ambit of civilian control extends to matters like promotions of officers to senior ranks. As INI co-blogger Dhruva Jaishankar (in an email) and Pakistani blogger Kalsoom astutely point out (via Changing Up Pakistan), behind General Kayani’s missive lies the military establishment’s refusal to accept a civilian straitjacket.

There are reports in the Pakistani media about some individuals linked to the PPP government and to President Asif Ali Zardari personally played a role in encouraging the US Congress to include such terms. The insinuation is that Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, was among those responsible. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Reining in the rogue military establishment is in the interests of the PPP government, and in most countries, would be considered legitimate.

The corps commanders have clearly drafted their statement carefully. Not only does it register their opposition to accepting aid under the terms of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, it also suggests that it is the parliament—not the Zardari government, which is the executive—that should make the decision.

Neither General Kayani nor the military establishment are hurt politically if Pakistan rejects the Kerry-Lugar assistance. The prevailing schizophrenia among the public over Pakistan’s role in sponsoring international terrorism and rampant anti-Americanism will probably make them more popular. And if the Pakistan economy goes into a tailspin, it will be the Zardari government that takes the rap.

This should signal to the Obama administration that its biggest problem in AfPak is Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. The message from Washington should be “take it or leave it.”

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Kerry-Lugar, not much sugar

The United States has set the rules of good behaviour for Pakistan. It has assigned indicators to measure progress. The devil lies in between

There is a deluge of ‘analyses’ of the Kerry-Lugar bill in the Pakistani commentariat: barring some exceptions, you will find high polemic, rhetoric, idiom, metaphor and bravado. There is little by way of asking and answering who else is willing to provide financial life-support for the Pakistani government on more relaxed terms. After all, all the Friends of Democratic Pakistan met in New York last week, swore eternal goodwill and friendship, posed for the cameras but did not add much to what they had already promised. For all the outrage, it is rather unlikely that the Pakistani elite will suddenly stop cheating on their taxes and begin paying their water & electricity bills to help stand their broken republic, as the metaphor goes, on its own feet.

If, as expected, President Obama signs it into an Act, the legislation will require the US State Department to certify that the Pakistani government is on the straight and narrow in winding down nuclear proliferation and cross-border terrorism. Now, the Pakistani mindset sees these conditions—especially the mention of preventing attacks by “Lashkar-e-Taiba” and “Jaish-e-Mohammed” on “neighbouring countries”—as a sign that the United States has bowed to India’s concerns. But the hard-headed politicians in the US Congress don’t insert clauses on behalf of other countries—however friendly or strategic they might be—unless those clauses are first in the United States’ own interests. However, the Pakistani reaction, to the extent that the commentariat represents popular opinion, should rightly cause thinking Indians to challenge the lofty-softy premise that at the popular level, the Pakistani people—as against their ruling military-jihadi establishment—are against terrorist attacks in India originating from their soil.

From an Indian perspective, while a bill with such conditions is better than a bill with no such conditions, the fact remains that the Obama administration’s certification of Pakistan’s compliance will be subject to Washington’s foreign policy positions. Like the late 1980s when successive US presidents lied to Congress about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, like the famous State Department list of state-sponsors of terrorism that still doesn’t include the worst of them all, certifications under the Kerry-Lugar legislation will depend on factors that transcend truth and factual accuracy.

The extent of the gap between fact and certificate will be an indicator of the Obama administration’s own exigencies. Periodic reporting requirements also allows US interlocutors to exert regular pressure on their Pakistani counterparts. But none of this will result in the military-jihadi complex abandoning its old agenda, strategies and tactics. If the Washington’s metrics are any good, they will reflect this. And then what? Another policy review?

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Ilyas Kashmiri, Stanley McChrystal and the Obama wobble

India should ensure that the main location of Pakistan’s proxy war remains far away from home

Those who believe that the India-Pakistan ‘peace process’ that began in 2004 is responsible for the decline in terrorist violence in Jammu & Kashmir are making the oldest policy mistake—confusing correlation for causation. To understand, take a look at the curriculum vitae of Ilyas Kashmiri, an exemplary product of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, and who was reportedly killed in a US drone strike recently.

Ilyas Kashmiri onced belonged to the Pakistan army’s Special Services Group (SSG), just like General Pervez Musharraf. He fought the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, and when that war came to an end, devoted his attention to the jihad in Kashmir, changing uniforms, organisation-names and affiliations in the process. He was active on that front until he fell out with the ISI management over a corporate restructuring exercise, but by 2003, moved to Waziristan to join battle against American troops across the border. There he fought until the US drone got him. Ilyas Kashmiri didn’t move from Afghanistan to Kashmir, and from Kashmir back to Waziristan alone. His group moved with him. Nor was Ilyas Kashmiri’s outfit the only one that moved back-and-forth in this manner.

So the reason why the jihadi guns fell silent in Jammu & Kashmir was, in all likelihood, because the Pakistani military-jihadi complex didn’t have the capacity to fight a two-front war. To the extent the ‘irregular’ jihadi army was employed along the Western front it was unavailable for the proxy war against India. Now, if President Barack Obama myopically decides to retreat from Afghanistan it follows that the jihadis will make their way back to the east. Whatever this does to the geopolitical stature of the United States, it is possible that the Obama administration will attempt to appease Pakistan in order to purchase political cover for its exit from Afghanistan. As Marc Ambinder writes on his blog (LT @dubash) over at The Atlantic, Kashmir’s fate will be seen as “crucial” to the “dynamic” of Pakistan’s quest for “for living space to the north.” [Also see Manish Vij’s post on Ultrabrown]

Let us be clear: it is in India’s interests for the United States to stay in Afghanistan and fight Pakistan’s proxies and allies there. India is engaged in a proxy-war with elements, surrogates and offshoots of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. This is a war that is imposed on India, and New Delhi should persevere to keep the battlefields of that proxy-war west of the Hindu-Kush, not east of the Pir Panjal range.

Given the stakes, it is unfortunate—and unforgivable—that India has not been more than a mere spectator with respect to US policy. Indeed, even after the Obama administration began its series of policy reviews, the Indian input to the equation has been invisible. Invisible might not necessarily mean non-existent, but if there was something, then it seems to have been ineffective. Keeping Kashmir out of Richard Holbrooke’s mandate was a minimalistic achievement—ensuring that Pakistani jihadis stay out of India is the real prize.

That General Stanley McChrystal’s report was leaked to the media is understandable, not least after Mr Obama’s national security advisor had made it clear that the White House was prejudiced against strengthening US military forces in Afghanistan. Yet, even as President Obama began the initial movements of U-turn on his own commitment to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is nothing from the UPA government to try to make him stick to his old promises.

To be sure, India’s first option should be to encourage the United States to repeat the MacArthur programme in Pakistan. If the chain of Af-Pak strategy reviews are throwing up unsatisfactory policy recommendations it is because they are too fearful to accept the reality: that the solution to the problem of international jihadi terrorism lies in dismantling the military-jihadi complex in Pakistan. But if this is asking for too much, the second-best option is to ensure that the US stays on in Afghanistan.

New Delhi needs an entirely different orientation towards Washington’s Af-Pak policies: it must cast aside its quietly, quietly defensive approach to a more assertive, muscular stance.

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Little ado about Qari Saifullah Akhtar’s arrest

A big catch goes unnoticed

It is amusing to see the international media report the capture of Baitullah Mehsud’s two-bit spokesman as a headline story and if at all, somewhere towards the end of the page, mention that Qari Saifullah, the allegedly late Mr Mehsud’s “close aide” had also been taken into custody. Amusing because if the Qari Saifullah who was apprehended in Islamabad is really the Qari Saifullah Akhtar as he appears to be, then he’s really a big fish. A bigger fish than Mr Mehsud himself.

Mr Akhtar is the leader of Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami, an organisation that is the link between al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar’s Taliban and the Pakistani military establishment. His curriculum vitae is long and varied and ranges from fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, to carrying out terrorist attacks in Jammu & Kashmir, to attempting to topple the Pakistani government, to helping Mullah Omar first fight the Northern Alliance and then the United States. More recently, he has been accused of attempting to assassinate Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and of carrying out the attack on the Islamabad Marriott in 2008. Did we mention he believes that he is “a Khalifa who has the traits of both Syed Ahmed Shaheed and Ahmad Shah Abdali”—a religious ideologue and warrior rolled into one?

You would think that such a man’s arrest should make headlines in Pakistan and elsewhere. So far, it hasn’t. Three of Pakistan’s biggest English newspapers have brief reports about his capture and four-day judicial remand. The Pakistani authorities do not seem too keen to play it up, perhaps because they are unsure whether they’ll have to let him go for—you guessed it—the lack of evidence. Yet what Pakistan does with Mr Akhtar important. “If the United States yet again proves unable to ensure Akhtar’s prosecution,” a senior Union Home Ministry official told The Hindu’s Praveen Swami, “we have almost no reason to expect there will be credible action against anti-India groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

Given the state he was found in—badly injured in a drone strike—Mr Akhtar’s ‘arrest’ is probably going to save his life. It is pertinent to ask whether his arrest was motivated by a desire to bring him to justice, or merely restore him to his health.

Update: At least according to one source, Mr Akhtar was ‘arrested’ a month ago.

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Regarding terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear sites

When to worry a little and when to worry a lot

In an article for West Point’s CTC Sentinel (pdf) Bradford University’s Shaun Gregory draws attention to a serious matter—the terrorist threat to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. (linkthanks Swami Iyer)

Before we discuss the controversial part, let’s look at his conclusion.

The risk of the transfer of nuclear weapons, weapons components or nuclear expertise to terrorists in Pakistan is genuine. Moreover, knowledge that such a transfer has occurred may not become evident until the aftermath of a nuclear 9/11 in Pakistan or elsewhere in the world. It remains imperative that Pakistan is pressured and supported, above all by the United States, to continue to improve the safety and security of its nuclear weapons and to ensure the fidelity of those civilian and military personnel with access to, or knowledge of, nuclear weapons. The challenge to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from Pakistani Taliban groups and from al-Qa`ida constitutes a real and present danger, and the recent assaults by the Pakistan Army on some of these groups in FATA and in the NWFP is a welcome development. Nevertheless, more steps must be taken before the threat is neutralized and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons no longer pose an existential danger to the rest of the world. [Shaun Gregory/CTC Sentinel]

Despite reassurances by the heads of governments of Pakistan, the United States and India, this is a conclusion that few serious analysts can find fault with. Unless you are the editorial board of the New York Times you will use every opportunity available to mitigate the risk that terrorism and nuclear proliferation will come together from and/or in Pakistan. Prof Gregory does well to bring this important issue into public discussion.

The controversial part of Prof Gregory’s article was his assertion that “Pakistan’s nuclear facilities have already been attacked at least thrice by its home-grown extremists and terrorists over the last two years.” Unless he has more evidence than he reveals in the article, this argument is tenuous.

Pakistan observers have known about jihadi attacks on military and nuclear complexes and personnel, but there is little evidence in the public domain to suggest that these attacks involved an agenda to take control of nuclear weapons or radioactive material. There are a number of other possible motives: opportunism, signaling, publicity and probing.

In other words, it is possible that these targets were attacked because it was possible to attack them; they were attacked as a way of scaring Pakistanis and international donors; they were attacked because this would gain them a lot more publicity; or they were attacked to find out how well-secured the nuclear weapons complex is. Only the last is connected to nuclear terrorism, but it is still at the lower end of the scale at the other extreme of which lies an attack specifically intended to snatch or damage a nuclear weapons site. As one US official told a NYT blogger, these are large complexes (and therefore present easy targets) and an attack at the front gate cannot immediately be assumed to be the worst case scenario.

Indeed, the leadership of the military-jihadi complex might want you to believe the worst-case scenario, especially when that means you will open up your wallet to prevent it from happening. So while Prof Gregory is not wrong any analysis of terrorist attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear sites must not ignore the possibility of nuclear blackmail: the use of deliberate, calibrated insecurity to rustle up some no-strings-attached foreign aid.

Like many other analyses of the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, Prof Gregory neglects the opacity with respect to how the weapons are secured: do they use permissive-action links (PALs) or are they kept in a physically de-mated state? The two methods are likely to be mutually exclusive. As discussed in earlier posts, the answer to this question opens up a very little studied—at least in the public domain—area of risk. If there is an secret arsenal-within-an-arsenal then we should all be much more worried than we already are.

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