Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Blowback in Karachi

Today's Asia Times Online reports that Pakistan's al-Qaeda affiliate is stepping up attacks against the regime of U.S.-allied dictator/president Pervez Musharraf. AToL's Pakistan Bureau Chief, Syed Saleem Shahzad writes:

Tuesday afternoon's fierce gun battle in this port city [Karachi] is stark evidence that al-Qaeda-linked sleeper cells have been activated against the Pakistani state.

At least three members of Jundullah (Army of God) were killed in the clash with police and paramilitary forces. Two policemen also died. One of the dead militants was the suspected leader of the cell, Qasim Toori, who was wanted in connection with previous deadly attacks in Pakistan.

Attentive readers will recall that Jundullah, led by Baitullah Mehsud and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan chief, Tahir Yuldashev, have conveniently been accused of orchestrating Benazir Bhutto's assassination last year, on December 27. Both groups are affiliated with bin Laden and Zawahiri's Afghan-Arab database, al-Qaeda.

While the authorship of the assassination remains unclear, left-wing Pakistani sources believe Bhutto's murder was ghostwritten by far-right Islamist elements within Pakistani state security, notably the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the shadowy Intelligence Bureau (IB).

According to Shahzad,

In recent weeks, Jundullah has become estranged from the main Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar, who insists that militant activities should be confined to Afghanistan, and not directed against Pakistan.

This might be plausible given that Pakistan's quest for "strategic depth" against its regional adversaries, notably India, Russia and Iran, banks on a long-range project to install a pliant regime in Kabul. The Afghan Taliban is loath to bite the hand that feeds it, and Omar, the semi-illiterate one-eyed jihadi commander has demanded that his "brothers" attack only U.S.-led NATO forces and refrain waging war on the Pakistani state itself.

In an interview with a Taliban spokesperson, AToL's Bureau Chief informs us,

Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that when the Pakistani Taliban began fighting against the United States and other allied forces who had occupied Afghanistan, they were united. But subsequently, he said, Baitullah and other Pakistani militants had started fighting the Pakistani military and "we have cut all ties with them and openly disown them".

The Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan have already agreed on a ceasefire with Pakistan, and are expected to make an announcement to this effect within a few days.

By stoking ethnic and regional tensions, Pakistan hopes to bend the Afghan jihadis in their direction thus undercutting al-Qaeda. This is hardly a new policy, and like earlier schemes cooked-up by Islamabad is likely to fail. According to author Michael Griffin's incisive study, Reaping the Whirlwind: Afghanistan, Al Qa'ida and the Holy War [London: Pluto Press, 2003]:

The hands of Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, the US and Saudi Arabia in the formation of the first post-Soviet government was, in effect, to guarantee that it would fold. ... But despite a decade of Pakistan and US planning, there was no government-in-waiting to fill the vacuum left by the PDPA [People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan]. It had to be created from scratch, supervised by the ISI, the CIA and Saudi intelligence service from political elements initially selected for funding and fighting on the basis that they served the best interests of Pakistan, not Afghanistan. [p. 21.]

Since the U.S./Pakistan/Saudi orchestrated intervention against the leftist PDPA Afghan government thirty years ago, Islamabad has gambled it can control the far-right ├╝ber Islamist forces they have set in motion. Clearly, they have badly miscalculated. With the United States demanding military access to the semi-autonomous federal tribal regions, the prospect of permitting U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary operatives leeway to launch attacks independent of Pakistani government control has boxed-in the Musharraf regime between the devil and the deep, blue sea.

Now, it appears, al-Qaeda aligned militants are stepping-up their campaign for a regressive "caliphate" inside the Pakistani heartland itself. Shahzad writes,

The police were tipped off about the presence of a group in the eastern part of the city called Landhi which had been involved in a large bank robbery. The police launched a raid against what they thought was a bunch of criminals, and to their horror were fired on by light machine guns.

Clearly, these were no ordinary robbers, as their weapons and fighting skills quickly demonstrated. After three hours, the paramilitary Rangers were called in, but by then two policemen had been killed.

Though only a small skirmish in a wider war, Tuesday's gun battle with police is an ominous sign of things to come. Whether or not al-Qaeda will tip the balance against the Pakistani state remains to be seen. Much of the Pakistani population despise bin Laden's medieval hordes and have demonstrated time and again they have little patience for an autocratic, priest-ridden regime, especially one backed up by Washington and the armed-fist of the capitalist state.

In the short term, however, Pakistan's disastrous alliance with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia against its own people has already led to an effective split within the ranks of the Army and its various intelligence arms, with an unknown proportion of officers and security operatives dead set against rolling-up the criminal and terrorist networks they had launched.

Shortly before his brutal torture and execution by the Taliban, former PDPA leader Najibullah told an American reporter,

We have a common task -- Afghanistan, the USA and the civilised world -- to launch a joint struggle against fundamentalism. If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many years. Afghanistan will turn into a centre of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a centre for terrorism. [Griffin, p. 4.]

The proverbial chickens, with careful guidance from Washington, have now come home to roost not only, however, in Afghanistan...

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