Little Games

Connecting the dots in Waziristan, Afghanistan, Islamabad, Davos and London

The United States ‘offers’ to send special forces and military assistance to the Pakistani army fighting the Taliban militia in South Waziristan and other tribal areas. Politicians, pundits and even ordinary people around the world publicly express worries about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into jihadi hands.

Baitullah Mehsud, until recently the anointed leader of the Pakistan Taliban, gives an interview to Al Jazeera, stating that it was the United States that posed a threat to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, not he.

Around this time, Mullah Omar—he with only one eye—sacks Baitullah Mehsud, for attacking Pakistani forces instead focussing on the US-NATO troops on the Afghanistan side of the border.

General Musharraf is in Europe finding it hard going answering questions about his own role in Pakistan’s political crisis. Around this time, back home in Rawalpindi, General Khalid Kidwai, the most public face of Pakistan’s nuclear command, reassures the media on custodial control. And then, Pakistan announces that it has raised the state of alert over nuclear weapons.

So what’s happening?

Mullah Omar’s public signal—that Afghanistan should be the focus of the Taliban insurgency—indicates that he would rather not have US forces fighting on the Pakistan side of the border, sandwiching the insurgents. It also serves Musharraf’s interests. He can now tell the insistent Americans that their ‘help’ is less necessary now.

Baitullah Mehsud’s statement on the danger to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sounds identical to what the Gul & Co faction of the military establishment would argue. The message is directed at the Pakistani people, but it is almost certain that the signal is also meant for external parties with an interest in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Here’s an hypothesis: Musharraf & Co and Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban have found reason to strengthen their long-standing alignment. The threat of US military intervention in Pakistan have compelled them to distance Gul & Co and the Baitullah-led Pashtuns on the Pakistani side. But this not a ‘hard’ split—for Mullah Omar & Co can’t do without help from the Pakistani side. And Baitullah Mehsud & Co can’t do without access to the lucrative drugs smuggling trade centred around Afghanistan.

That leaves us with the announcement about the raised alert levels. Why announce this publicly, at a time when General Kidwai & Co are playing down the risk of losing custodial control? Well, Musharraf probably reckons this kind of news will make European audiences more favourably disposed to his protestations of indispensability.

Be scared, very scared

Worries over Pakistan’s crown jewels

When B Raman says what he says, it is time to start worrying.

They have succeeded in killing her. They will now step up their efforts to eliminate Musharraf. Whoever was responsible for killing her could not have done it without inside complicity. If Al Qaeda is already having sleeper cells in the GHQ, there is an equal danger that it already has sleeper cells inside Pakistan’s nuclear establishment too. [SAAG/Outlook linkthanks Swami Iyer]

The evidence the CIA destroyed…

…might have incriminated Saudi and Pakistani governments in the 9/11 conspiracy

Over at The Huffington Post Gerald Posner reveals that the tapes that the CIA destroyed might have exposed the role of senior Saudi and Pakistani officials in the 9/11 attacks (linkthanks Swami Iyer). Because one of the tapes they destroyed concerned the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. As Posner first revealed in his 2003 book, Zubaydah’s capture was followed by the deaths of four people, three Saudi princes and one Pakistani air chief, within a few days of each other and under mysterious circumstances. And Zubaydah had named these very four people.

Zubaydah is the only top al Queda operative who has secretly linked two of America’s closest allies in the war on terror — Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — to the 9/11 attacks. Why does Bush, and the CIA, continue to protect the Saudi Royal family and the Pakistani military, from the implications of Zubaydah’s confessions? It is, or course, because the Bush administration desperately needs Pakistani and Saudi help, not only to keep Afghanistan from spinning completely out of control, but also as counterweights to the growing power of Iran. The Sunni governments in Riyadh and Islamabad have as much to fear from a resurgent Iran as does the Bush administration. But does this mean that leads about the origins of 9/11 should not be aggressively pursued? Of course not. But this is precisely what the Bush administration is doing. And now the cover-up is enhanced by the CIA’s destruction of Zubaydah’s interrogation tapes.

The American public deserves no less than the complete truth about 9/11. And those CIA officials now complicit in hiding the truth by destroying key evidence should be held responsible. [The Huffington Post]

Who orchestrated Rashid Rauf’s escape and why

Seven possibilities

1. The ISI—because Rauf was working for them, and, like Omar Saeed, just can’t be allowed to fall into the hands of British or American authorities. Like what Rauf’s lawyer alleges, he could have been “mysteriously disappeared”. If this is so, the good people at the Gulshan-e-Abad mosque might be the last ones to have seen him alive.

2. The ISI (Musharraf & Co)—because they wanted to hand him over to British authorities in an off-the-books transaction. The British authorities might, after a decent interval and due process, extradite two Baloch nationalist leaders that Pakistan wants in return. Since there would be no formal quid pro quo, the British government will avoid criticism for engaging in this ugly trade.

3. Jaish-e-Mohammed/Al-Qaeda/The ISI (Gul & Co)—because he was working for them and there was a risk that he would be extradited to the UK.

4. The British/Americans—because they suspected that the Pakistanis will never let Rauf fall into their hands, ever.

5. Rashid Rauf’s family—because he was family. The Rauf family does not lack resources or connections. The story of his escape suggests that the family did play a role in facilitating his escape. Whether they did so on their own accord, or were merely acting on behalf of someone else is the question.

6. The Baloch insurgents—because they wanted to prevent him being exchanged for Faiz Baluch and Hyrbyair Marri, Baloch nationalist leaders currently in British custody. The fact that there was official collusion in Rauf’s escape makes this explanation extremely unlikely.

7. Rashid Rauf himself—because the story of his escape, incredible as it seems, could actually be true. He seized the moment and fled.

Weekday Squib: How Rauf escaped

Please make it more believable!

When it was time to take Rashid Rauf back to Adiala jail after his court appearance, one of his uncles convinced the policemen on duty to use his comfortable Mitsubishi station wagon for the journey, instead of the usual police van. They stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant at Jinnah Park along the way. And then allowed Rauf and his uncle to pray at a mosque at Gulshan-e-Abad while they waited in the car outside. They even unlocked his handcuffs. After twenty minutes had passed, the policemen went in to see what was taking Rauf so long. And found that uncle and nephew had slipped out through the back door.

Quite a lot to swallow. Especially when Rauf’s lawyer says the uncle could not have been in the mosque because he was away in the Kashmir region.

They’ve formed a team to investigate how all this happened. They have started arresting uncles. But they are also saying that “at this time it is impossible to tell if Rashid Rauf is in Pakistan” and dropping hints that “it would be such a terrible thing” if he were to head for the North West Frontier Province and then on to Afghanistan.

One can understand that why the ISI should want to spirit him away. But taking the plot from Bollywood comedies is just too much.

Things that go Rauf into the night

The screenplay takes a surprising turn

Rashid Rauf freed himself from his handcuffs and melted away into the crowd. That he could unlock handcuffs is not the most surprising about his escape. For Rauf, one of Britain’s most wanted terrorists was being escorted to court by a grand total of two constables of the Pakistani police force. And Pakistan—where he pulled the Houdini act—is still a FATWAT. [Related Posts: Rauf and court]

But even that is not the most surprising thing about his escape. For he was treated as ordinary criminal because an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan dismissed charges of terrorism against him for the lack of evidence, and referred him ordinary courts to be tried for ordinary crimes, like forgery.

The Pakistani authorities just sprung the the prime suspect in a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners from their own custody, to prevent his extradition to Britain. So here’s the most surprising thing of all: there are still some people in this world who believe they’ll help catch Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Update: Before he escaped, Rauf was allowed to stop by for lunch at a fast food restaurant and pray at a mosque.