Sunday, March 29, 2009

As Washington Escalates Military Operations, American Officials "Discover" ISI-Taliban Nexus

Long considered the realm of "conspiracy buffs" The New York Times, citing anonymous "American government officials," have belatedly "discovered" that Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) is aiding the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

That ISI operatives were reportedly involved in planning the 9/11 attacks, the ostensible reason for the 2001 U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan remains as they say, "off the table." Yet, as The History Commons reports, Operation Diamondback uncovered a 2001 plot jointly-run by ISI operatives and organized crime figures to illegally purchase weapons, including Stinger missiles and nuclear components, for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. According to The History Commons, citing The Washington Post and MSNBC:

Informant Randy Glass plays a key role in the sting, and has thirteen felony fraud charges against him reduced as a result, serving only seven months in prison. Federal agents involved in the case later express puzzlement that Washington higher-ups did not make the case a higher priority, pointing out that bin Laden could have gotten a nuclear bomb if the deal was for real. Agents on the case complain that the FBI did not make the case a counterterrorism matter, which would have improved bureaucratic backing and opened access to FBI information and US intelligence from around the world. ("Sting Operation Exposes Al-Qaeda, ISI, and Drug Connections: Investigators Face Obstacles to Learn More," The History Commons, no date)

In 1999, ISI operative Rajaa Gulum Abbas is recorded telling Glass as he gestures towards the World Trade Center in New York during an earlier phase of Operation Diamondback, "those towers are coming down." Yet authorities fail to stop the plot and two years later, 3,000 people are murdered by terrorists in New York and Washington.

The appearance of these reports in the corporate media arrive as the United States prepares a "surge" of some 17,000 American troops into Afghanistan and as the Obama administration escalates CIA drone attacks inside Pakistan. On March 18, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon is contemplating "broadening the target area" to include "a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta."

Extending military operations into the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, with the potential for "surging" CIA paramilitary officers and Special Operations troops to "kill or capture" senior Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives represents a significant escalation of the conflict.

In a March 27 announcement outlining America's new regional strategy in the "Afpak theatre," President Obama vowed to send an additional 4,000 troops under cover of "training" recruits for the Afghan National Army. The Pentagon plans to raise the total strength of the Afghan army to 134,000 by 2011.

Echoing Bush administration pronouncements, Obama told diplomats and soldiers headed to Afghanistan, "I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan." Employing rhetoric designed to sell the war to a sceptical public, Obama went on to say: "Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al-Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe havens in Pakistan."

As I reported March 7, with a recently concluded agreement amongst Pakistani Taliban fighters and their Afghan counterparts, the prospects for a bloody spring offensive are a nettlesome reminder that U.S. regional plans are so many illusions soon to be cast to the four winds.

Orchestrated by Afghan Taliban chieftain Mullah Mohammed Omar in coordination with Baitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), North Waziristan commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur and South Waziristan "emir" Maulvi Nazeer--grouped under the banner of the Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen (Council of United Holy Warriors, SIM)--the United States and their NATO allies face the prospect of ferocious multi-front attacks.

According to the Times, ISI support "consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders." Despite billions of dollars in military assistance to the corrupt Musharraf regime and the equally venal Zardari administration, Pakistan's search for "strategic depth" against their geopolitical rival India has only resulted in a furtherance of ISI/Army connivance with the Islamist far-right. The Times avers:

Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan's spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the officials said. There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections. (Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, "Afghan Strikes by Taliban Get Pakistan Help, U.S. Aides Say," The New York Times, March 26, 2009)

Citing "electronic surveillance and trusted informants," anonymous Pakistani officials have denied these ties "were strengthening the insurgency." While publicly denying state links to Islamist insurgents, the Army and ISI have historical ties--as does the CIA--to organizations such as the Taliban and the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets known as al-Qaeda.

As readers of Antifascist Calling and websites such as Global Research and the World Socialist Web Site are well aware, for three decades the United States has pursued a ruthless policy in pursuit of its own narrow interests. Far from being concerned with the economic and social well-being of the people of Central- and South Asia, America's imperialist project is designed solely for regional military domination and resource extraction vis-à-vis their geopolitical rivals Russia and China.

Indeed, since the fall of Kabul's socialist government, the United States has singlemindedly pursued policies to control the vast petrochemical resources of Eurasia.

As researcher and analyst Michel Chossudovsky pointed out, anticipating the current political demonization of the Pakistani people as a selling-point to secure the giant oil and natural gas reserves of Central Asia for American corporations,

Demonization serves geopolitical and economic objectives. Likewise, the campaign against "Islamic terrorism" (which is supported covertly by US intelligence) supports the conquest of oil wealth. The term "Islamo-fascism," serves to degrade the policies, institutions, values and social fabric of Muslim countries, while also upholding the tenets of "Western democracy" and the "free market" as the only alternative for these countries.

The US led war in the broader Middle East-Central Asian region consists in gaining control over more than sixty percent of the world's reserves of oil and natural gas. The Anglo-American oil giants also seek to gain control over oil and gas pipeline routes out of the region. ...

The ultimate objective, combining military action, covert intelligence operations and war propaganda, is to break down the national fabric and transform sovereign countries into open economic territories, where natural resources can be plundered and confiscated under "free market" supervision. This control also extends to strategic oil and gas pipeline corridors (e.g. Afghanistan). ("The 'Demonization' of Muslims and the Battle for Oil," Global Research, January 4, 2007)

All of the features described above are in play today. That media outlets such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have discovered ISI-Taliban-al-Qaeda "connections"--while glossing over and suppressing--America's operational links to these same terrorist and narcotrafficking networks, is indicative of the dire straits faced by an economically depleted and politically bankrupt empire.

Drawing (false) distinctions amongst the welter of jihadist groups that American and Pakistan have cultivated since the 1980s, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, retired admiral Dennis Blair, told Congress that the CIA's counterparts in crime, the ISI, believe there are some that "have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don't constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone."

While pursuing Mehsud and others who threaten the state's writ, the Army has been loathe to run to ground proxies such as Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, veteran narcotrafficking jihadists' who were key Pakistani-linked commanders during the anti-Soviet jihad. Considered "strategic assets" by ISI, Haqqani and Hekmatyar's networks direct fire inside Afghanistan and are therefore considered candidates "best left alone" in Blair's laconic phrase.

However, according to anonymous officials it was none other than the Haqqani network, in collusion with ISI operatives who helped plan last summer's Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul that killed 54 and wounded dozens of others.

While American and European officials are hell-bent on finding (or manufacturing) "good Taliban" with whom they can negotiate a climb down, Pentagon analysts are far-less sanguine of the prospects.

A March 1, 2009 presentation for deploying troops prepared by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2 and the TRADOC Intelligence Support Activity (TRISA), posted by the intelligence and security website Cryptome, lays out the formidable problems posed by the insurgency--and the extent of Pakistani involvement. Under the heading, "Insurgent Syndicate Characteristics," TRISA analysts aver:

The nature of the enemy in AF HAS NOT CHANGED:

* This enemy is primarily Pashtun in nature and Sunni Muslim (Wahhabi and Deobandi).

* This enemy is funded by the drug economy and Gulf Arab money (for religious reasons).

* This enemy is trained and assisted by ISID or ISID affiliated elements (Kashmiris/HuJI/LeT/HuM, with some Uzbeks.

* They are assisted by AQ [al-Qaeda] in terms of funding, foreign fighters, and other assistance.

* Logistics is the Achilles heel of ISAF operations in AF. Pak control of FATA and the Torkhum Gate. ("HB 9 Paramilitary Terrorist Insurgent Groups: Afghanistan," U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, March 1, 2009, p. 5)

As if to drive home the point that "logistics is the Achilles heel" of U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan, Dawn reported March 29 that "hundreds of suspected Taliban armed with rockets and Kalashnikovs entered the Farhad terminal at about 2am and set on fire four vehicles, three cranes, a mini-truck and six power generators." The Al-Faisal terminal near Peshawar is a major jump-off point supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan.

TRISA's "Threat Lay Down" (p. 7) estimates that some 60,000 insurgent fighters are currently arrayed against U.S. and NATO forces. Estimating Afghan Taliban strength at 30,000 fighters, fully half of the estimated number of insurgents are Pakistani. These include: TTP, 15,000; TNSM, 5,000; Lashkar-e-Toiba, 3,000; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, 2,000.

With 2,000 Al-Qaeda commandos (Brigade 055) and smaller contingents drawn from the former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and other Central Asian and Middle Eastern factions, it becomes clear that Pakistan's intelligence services, given continued support to "moderates" such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as well as to terrorist outfits such as LET and LEJ are a major source of support behind the insurgency.

This is all the more remarkable considering that LET commandos, operating in close coordination with ISI and Dawood Ibrahim's organized crime-linked D Company carried out last November's attacks in Mumbai, whilst LEJ was reportedly behind the assault on Sri Lanka's national cricket team in Lahore earlier this month.

Significantly, TRISA analysts claim that amongst the "Warlord Militias" (p. 10) currently backing Hamid Karzai's government, their operations unsurprisingly, are also financed through "crime, narco-trafficking, smuggling, illegal taxation, including illegal road checkpoints for taxation." One might reasonably infer that U.S. operations amount to little more, despite the role of the narcotics trade on both sides of the "Afpak" divide, than a battle for control over lucrative drug manufacturing and smuggling routes.

Ironically enough, despite the grave threat to Pakistani citizens in Swat Valley, indeed throughout the entire country, the Zardari administration cut a deal last month with local TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah.

The sociopathic son-in-law of Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, TNSM) leader Maulana Sufi Mohammed, a close ally of Mullah Omar, Fazlullah's criminal network has instituted a reign of terror in Swat under the banner of "Sharia law." Despite the truce, TTP militants continue to murder Swat residents and enhance the reach of various criminal enterprises, ranging from extortion, kidnapping and illegal logging through heroin processing for export.

Pakistani workers and farmers continue to pay a heavy price for the state's move to mollify the jihadist Frankenstein. For decades, having proven themselves politically useful when it comes to murdering leftists, trade union activists or uppity women and cultural workers, reactionary forces such as the TTP or the ever-pliant Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are a shadowy "third force" that can be counted on by "Military Inc." to "keep the rabble in line."

In this context, "holy warriors" linked to the TTP carried out a horrific suicide bombing inside a mosque packed with worshipers in the Khyber region on Friday, killing 50 people and wounding 158 others.

Dawn reported that the two-storey structure collapsed onto the heads of worshipers after a suicide bomber "jumped into the Friday congregation and blew himself up just when the prayers were about to begin."

Eyewitnesses told Dawn they believe the casualty figures are being under-reported by authorities and that upwards of 70 people may have been killed by the blast and the subsequent collapse of the mosque's ceiling.

The News reported Saturday that upwards of 76 people had been killed in the vicious blast, including the prayer leader, his brother, as well as truck drivers carrying goods to neighboring Afghanistan.

There were tragic scenes at the site of the explosion. Many of the dead were mutilated beyond recognition. Rescuers and grief-stricken relatives of the missing and the dead were collecting pieces of bodies in the hope of locating their near and dear ones. A goat killed by the blast was also lying near the destroyed mosque. ...

Meanwhile, some residents and injured belonging to the villages of Rekalay and Kufar Tangi said they saw aircraft flying above the area since Friday morning. They feared the blast at the mosque could have been caused by a missile fired by a US drone. (Daud Khattak & Nasrullah Afridi, "76 killed in Jamrud mosque bombing," The News, March 28, 2009)

While eyewitness accounts describe a suicide bomber as the party responsible for the horrendous attack, part and parcel of SIM's campaign to cut NATO supply lines into Afghanistan, America's escalating robot drone wars are a reminder of growing anti-American sentiment amongst Pakistanis who are the overwhelming victims of the CIA's death-from-above air campaign.

If the Swat truce is an indication of what Pakistani citizens will now face at the hands of Mehsud's TTP and their minions, the prospects for a "normal" life--short of smashing the medievalists' and their ISI handlers--are grim.

Even as CIA and Pakistani intelligence officials "are drawing up a fresh list of terrorist targets for Predator drone strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border," The Wall Street Journal reports that ISI officials are "directly supporting the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan, even as the U.S. targets those groups."

Indeed, as the Times avers, "when the Haqqani fighters need to stay a step ahead of American forces stalking them on the ground and in the air, they rely on moles within the spy agency to tip them off to allied missions planned against them."

An unspoken subtext to the Times and Journal reportage is the continued utilization of these terrorist networks--by the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Command--for covert war against Iran--even as the Obama administration seeks Tehran's assistance in battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported last July in The New Yorker the Pentagon funded the narcotrafficker Baluchi-based Jundullah organization to attack security personnel inside Iran.

While an open secret in Washington, Obama's new product roll-out in the form of an ill-conceived plan to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al-Qaeda and the Taliban has everything to do with the construction of the $7.6 billion dollar "Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline that would cross western Afghanistan east of Herat and advance south through Taliban-controlled territory towards Pakistani Balochistan province," according to Asia Times. As the World Socialist Web Site points out,

Afghanistan and Pakistan stand at a nexus of pipeline and trade routes between the Middle East, Russia, China and the Indian subcontinent, and US domination of the countries would give it decisive influence over developments in trade and strategic relations between many of Eurasia's largest and fastest-growing economies. In particular, it would cement the US' ability to mount a blockade of oil supplies for China and India in the Indian Ocean. (Alex Lantier, "Obama announces escalation of war in Afghanistan, Pakistan," World Socialist Web Site, March 28, 2009)

And with the imperialist military project going off the rails in Afghanistan as the Taliban's spring offensive looms ever-larger on the horizon, the prospects for a deadly confrontation between nuclear-armed world powers over control of oil and gas will inevitably increase.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Abu Ghraib Torture Suit Against Defense Giant CACI Goes Forward

In a blow to defense contracting giant, CACI International Inc., U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled on March 18 that a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of torture victims held at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq can proceed.

Denying CACI's motion to dismiss the former prisoners' claims, which allege multiple violations of U.S. law, including torture, war crimes and conspiracy, Judge Lee ruled that "[t]he fact that CACI's business involves conducting interrogations on the government's behalf is incidental; courts can and do entertain civil suits against government contractors for the manner in which they carry out government business. CACI conveniently ignores the long line of cases where private plaintiffs were allowed to bring tort actions for wartime injuries." According to CCR:

The Court also rejected CACI's effort to shield itself from accountability by invoking the political question doctrine. The Court found "the policy is clear: what happened at Abu Ghraib was wrong." The Court reasoned "While it is true that the events at Abu Ghraib pose an embarrassment to this country, it is the misconduct alleged and not the litigation surrounding that misconduct that creates the embarrassment. This Court finds that the only potential for embarrassment would be if the Court declined to hear these claims on political questions grounds. Consequently, the Court holds that Plaintiffs' claims pose no political question and are therefore justiciable." ("Court Rules Abu Ghraib Torture Victims Can Sue Contractor CACI, According to Legal Team for Former Detainees," Center for Constitutional Rights, Press Release, March 19, 2009)

According to CCR, CACI employees "not only participated in physical and mental abuse of the detainees, but also destroyed documents, videos and photographs; prevented the reporting of the torture and abuse to the International Committee of the Red Cross; hid detainees and other prisoners from the International Committee of the Red Cross; and misled non-conspiring military and government officials about the state of affairs at the Iraq prisons."

Filed in January 2008 under the Alien Tort Statute, the suit originally included defense contracting giant L-3 Services (the former Titan Corporation) but were "dismissed without prejudice" last year. This means the plaintiff would be allowed to bring a new suit on the same claim.

While CACI believes "it is improper for the courts to allow lawsuits against either the government or contractors by aliens detained as enemies during wartime," Washington Technology reported, the court shot down their argument.

The insider tech publication averred, "CACI sought immunity against the lawsuits and claimed that the actions of its contract interrogators at Abu Ghraib were beyond judicial review. But court martial and other testimony of the soldiers convicted of abuse linked CACI personnel to the abuse."

The giant defense firm claimed in a 2008 book, "Our Good Name," that after five years of numerous investigations no CACI employee or former employee has been charged with misconduct in connection with CACI's interrogation work.

True enough as far as it goes, the Bush gang sought to cover their tracks by crafting a legal smokescreen meant to conceal state policies that can only be described as torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, indeed on a planetary scale, and engaged in a systematic cover-up meant to shield high administration officials from the consequences.

Despite a pledge to be a "change administration," the Obama national security team has reprised many of the same policies of their predecessors. While the administration has issued orders requiring strict adherence to antitorture statutes, vowed to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention facility, has dropped the term "enemy combatant" from its lexicon and is considering to kick the phrase "global war on terror" to the curb, the substance of their policies retain many features of the previous regime in Washington.

Although a picture of systematic torture of "enemy combatants" has been slowly pried from the state, the ACLU revealed March 20, that the CIA "has a list of roughly 3,000 summaries, transcripts, reconstructions and memoranda relating to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the agency. The CIA refused, however, to disclose the list to the public. The agency also refused to publicly disclose a list of witnesses who may have viewed the videotapes or retained custody of the videotapes before their destruction."

The Agency disclosed earlier this month that it had destroyed 92 tapes of interrogations, allegedly depicting CIA officers subjecting suspects to extremely harsh interrogations methods. The Obama administration has backed the CIA stonewall. Will they now do the same for a well-connected corporation?

Between August 2003 through 2005, CACI provided up to 28 interrogators to the the U.S. military in Iraq. According to The Washington Post, CACI's 2003 Iraq interrogation contract "was awarded in 1998, with the stated purpose of providing inventory control and other routine services to the U.S. Army."

Yet in a slight of hand meant to conceal the byzantine nature of that contract, the outsourced agreement between CACI and the Army was administered by the Interior Department! One order issued in August 2003 was worth $19.9 million dollars for interrogation support. In December 2003, CACI landed a $21.8 million order for Army "counter intelligence missions at secure and fixed locations," according to the Post.

One of those "secure and fixed locations" was the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

Responding to the Court decision, CACI claims that the lawsuit is "without merit and designed to pursue a political agenda."

How upholding the rule of law and the right of injured parties to seek justice in an American court "is based upon an undefined 'conspiracy' involving the Department of Defense and the military," certainly begs the question. While dismissing the Court's reasoning, the corporate news release states:

CACI is a strong and vital partner to the U.S. government in combating terrorist attacks and saving American lives. CACI's technological advances and skilled workforce have played a key role in thwarting terrorism and defending our homeland. The men and women of this company make sacrifices every day to ensure Americans can go about their daily lives without having to worry about the next suicide bomber or aircraft attack on American soil. And they will continue to make these sacrifices for the good of their fellow Americans. ("CACI Responds to Court's Decision in Iraq Lawsuit," CACI International Inc., News Release, March 23, 2009)

One might reasonably inquire: how does the application of insidious torture techniques culled from the CIA's infamous KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual or the Pentagon's Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual-1983 compendium, or reverse-engineered Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) tactics "save American lives."

Multiple reports by investigative journalists and human rights' advocates have revealed these were precisely the methods employed at Abu Ghraib by CIA, military interrogators and outsourced contractors on detainees, many of whom had been brutalized over a period of years.

According to CCR's synopsis of the case, Al Shimari v. CACI et al.: "Among the heinous acts to which the four Plaintiffs were subjected at the hands of the defendant and certain government co-conspirators were: electric shocks; repeated brutal beatings; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; forced nudity; stress positions; sexual assault; mock executions; humiliation; hooding; isolated detention; and prolonged hanging from the limbs."

Rather than the sadistic acts of "rogue elements" or a few "bad apples," the systematic application of sensory deprivation techniques and other horrific methods designed to psychologically break down prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere are practices that evolved from the CIA's torture playbook.

The more completely the place of confinement eliminates sensory stimuli, the more rapidly and deeply will the interrogatee be affected. Results produced only after weeks or months of imprisonment in an ordinary cell can be duplicated in hours or days in a cell which has no light (or weak artificial light which never varies), which is sound-proofed, in which odors are eliminated, etc. An environment still more subject to control, such as water-tank or iron lung, is even more effective. (Central Intelligence Agency, KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrorgation, July 1963, p. 90)

The use of stress positions by interrogators to elicit compliance by "resistant subjects" was another technique employed at Abu Ghraib and across the planetary nexus of CIA "black sites." In A Question of Torture, historian Alfred W. McCoy describes the phenomenon as "self-inflicted pain." KUBARK theoreticians aver:

It has been plausibly suggested that, whereas pain inflicted on a person from outside himself may actually focus or intensify his will to resist, his resistance is likelier to be sapped by pain which he seems to inflict upon himself. "In the simple torture situation the contest is one between the individual and his tormentor (.... and he can frequently endure). When the individual is told to stand at attention for long periods, an intervening factor is introduced. The immediate source of pain is not the interrogator but the victim himself. The motivational strength of the individual is likely to exhaust itself in this internal encounter.... As long as the subject remains standing, he is attributing to his captor the power to do something worse to him, but there is actually no showdown of the ability of the interrogator to do so." (KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation, p. 94)

In other words, though completely at the tender mercies of his or her captors it is the detainee and not the interrogator, who is responsible for inflicting pain and suffering. As McCoy points out, "Synthesizing the behavioral research done by contract academics, the manual spelled out a revolutionary two-phase form of torture that relied on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain for an effect that, for the first time in the two millennia of this cruel science, was more psychological than physical."

While CACI may protest that "none of the four Iraqi plaintiffs alleges any interaction with anyone affiliated with CACI," on the contrary, CCR's case summary states that,

All of the plaintiffs are innocent Iraqis who were ultimately released without ever being charged with a crime. They all continue to suffer from physical and mental injuries caused by the torture and other abuse. Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari was detained from 2003 until 2008, during which he was held at Abu Ghraib "hard site" for about two months. While he was there, CACI and its co-conspirators tortured him in various ways. He was subjected to electric shocks, deprived of food, threatened by dogs, and kept naked while forced to engage in physical activities to the point of exhaustion. Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid was detained from 2003 until 2005, during which he was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib "hard site" for about three months. While detained there, CACI and its co-conspirators tortured Mr. Rashid by placing him in stress positions for extended periods of time, humiliating him, depriving him of oxygen, food, and water, shooting him in the head with a taser gun, and by beating him so severely that he suffered from broken limbs and vision loss. Mr. Rashid was forcibly subjected to sexual acts by a female as he was cuffed and shackled to cell bars. He was also forced to witness the rape of a female prisoner. Sa'ad Hamza Hantoosh Al-Zuba'e was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib from 2003 until 2004. CACI and its co-conspirators tortured him while he was detained there by subjecting him to extremely hot and cold water, beating his genitals with a stick, and detaining him in a solitary cell in conditions of sensory deprivation for almost a full year. Salah Hasan Nusaif Jasim Al-Ejaili was imprisoned at the Abu Ghraib "hard site" for approximately four months. While he was there, CACI and its co-conspirators stripped him and kept him naked, threatened him with dogs, deprived him of food, beat him, and kept him in a solitary cell in conditions of sensory deprivation. (Al Shimari v. CACI et al., Center for Constitutional Rights, updated March 19, 2009)

The veracity of CACI's rejection of the charges were undercut by investigative journalist Mark Benjamin in 2006. Among the infamous torture photographs released by Salon, one shows CACI interrogator Daniel Johnson placing an Iraqi prisoner in an "unauthorized stress position." Etaf Mheisen, a civilian translator with Titan Corp., was assisting Johnson during the interrogation. Army investigators concluded that there was "probable cause" that a crime had been committed, according to Salon. Corporal Charles Graner, convicted and imprisoned for his role in the scandal told Army investigators,

...that Johnson told him to inflict pain by squeezing pressure points on the same prisoner's face and body and that he "roughed up" the prisoner at Johnson's instigation. Frederick told the investigators that Johnson twice personally interfered with the prisoner's breathing and that he copied him: "I would put my hand over his mouth and pinch his nose," so the prisoner could not breathe. (Mark Benjamin, "No Justice for All," Salon, April 14, 2006)

Despite these serious charges, CACI continues to be showered with multi-million dollar contracts by the federal government. Democracy Now! reported in 2008 that the corporation received a $60 million dollar contract "to provide technical assistance" to the U.S. Army and a five-year $12.5 million award to provide "management support" to the Department of Justice.

Washington Technology revealed that the firm earned some $1,105,765,855 from defense-related contracts across a wide array of federal agencies. The Arlington, VA firm derived only $231,706,298 in civilian revenue. CorpWatch's Collaborative Research on Corporations (Crocodyl) reports:

CACI, founded in the early 1960s as California Analysis Center Inc., is almost entirely a Beltway Bandit--some 94 percent of its revenue is derived from contracts with the U.S. government. About two-thirds of that revenue comes from the Pentagon, but CACI also enjoys the patronage of the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Commerce, Justice and Transportation. At the end of its last fiscal year, CACI had a contract backlog worth some $6.4 billion. (Phil Mattera, "Company Profile: CACI International Inc.," Crocodyl, September 14, 2008)

As retired U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba, forced out of the Army after uncovering widespread prisoner abuse in Iraq wrote in Broken Laws, Broken Lives,

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

Whether the torture enablers were high government officials or corporations who have profited handsomely from America's oxymoronic "war on terror," it is a matter of justice and human decency that those who designed or perpetrated these criminal acts be brought to book.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pakistan's Democracy Movement Flexes its Muscles

In an apparent, but by no means guaranteed, victory for pro-democracy forces, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was forced to reinstate Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and other judges dismissed by the Musharraf regime in 2007.

Chaudhry, a lightning-rod for opposition to military rule, resumed his duties March 22, when supporters "of the reinstated jurist raised the Pakistani flag at his residence, in keeping with a vow made by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto before her assassination 15 months ago," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Last week's announcement by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was a major climb down for the Zardari administration and followed an escalating revolt against his authoritarian rule. The move however, came after intense behind-the-scenes pressure by the United States and the Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

More than a thousand activists, including lawyers, party workers, left-wing and labor organizers had been arrested when the crisis accelerated February 25. The Pakistan High Court barred former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and his younger brother Shabaz, toppled as the Governor of Punjab, from holding elected office, sparking outrage among citizens who believed Zardari had engineered the move.

The government has ordered that arrested protesters be released from jail and house arrest. Ali Ahmad Kurd, a leader of the protesting lawyers, told The New York Times, "No country can progress without an independent judiciary and the government--by restoring the chief justice and other judges--has also realized it, and we think it is a big success."

Among the lawyers' most prominent demands, now realized, was the restoration of Chief Justice Choudhry. Toppled by the Musharraf dictatorship, Choudhry had championed the rights of the dispossessed and disappeared, some of whom were "rendered" to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and CIA "black sites."

In addition to hauling intelligence officers into court and demanding that illegally detained citizens receive a proper hearing, the Chief Justice enraged the country's venal ruling class by blocking the privatization of the Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation.

Despite a pledge to restore the Court when he assumed the presidency in September 2008, Zardari reneged on that pledge, sparking the political crisis that ended in a route for the President.

Fearful that Choudhry would overturn the shameful National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), an unprincipled agreement brokered by the criminal Bush regime, President-General Musharraf and the late Benazir Bhutto, Zardari imposed executive rule in Punjab. As part of the U.S.-brokered deal, Musharraf had agreed to drop corruption charges against the Bhutto clan.

The die for Zardari was cast March 15, after several hours of pitched battles in Lahore between activists and police. After cruelly beating demonstrators and hurling tear gas grenades at peaceful protesters, police cordons melted away leaving the city center to triumphant pro-democracy activists.

The New York Times reported March 16, that Saturday's Lahore clash transformed into a giant antigovernment protest when "phalanxes of riot policemen here in Lahore melted away rather than continue to confront protesters who had rallied around the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, when he defied a house arrest order early Sunday."

Additionally, "party workers armed with cranes" began dismantling roadblocks by police "at junctions along the route to the capital." One of the senior officials of the Lahore government, chief magistrate Sajjad Bhutta, "told reporters he refused to carry out what he called the illegal acts of the police crackdown. He appeared among the crowds on the mall, surrounded by cheers and waving flags," according to the Times.

Top police officials in Lahore, Punjab and even nationally, refused to carry out Zardari's orders and resigned. The World Socialist Web Site reported, these "included the Deputy Inspector General and the Superintendent of Police for Lahore. In quitting his post as Pakistan's Deputy Attorney-General, Abdul Hai Gilani accused police of torturing protesters."

With the situation spinning out of control, Aitzaz Ahsan, a former PPP official and leader of the lawyers' movement declared, "The writ of the government has ended. Nobody can stop us from reaching Islamabad."

Meanwhile behind the scenes, frantic phone calls from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama's special envoy Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson demanded Zardari bring the crisis to a halt.

Dawn reported that "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told President Zardari and opposition leader and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif over the weekend US aid could be at risk unless they defused a crisis over a top judge, US officials said on Monday."

U.S. efforts, according to the Karachi-based newspaper, were "coordinated with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband" and "had exerted strong pressure for a deal." In the aftermath of the crisis, Clinton told journalists that the decision to reinstate Chaudhry "was a first step for much-needed reconciliation and political compromise in Pakistan"--on U.S. terms.

According to The New York Times Holbrooke said the United States applauded "the statesmanlike act by President Zardari and hope that it will help defuse a dangerous confrontation so that Pakistan, with the help of its many friends, can address the nation's pressing and urgent needs."

Pivotal to resolving the situation, the Pentagon had repeated consultations with Army Chief of Staff General Asfaq Pervez Kayani. While the Times claimed that "General Kayani has said he wants to keep the army out of politics," after prodding by Washington Kayani reportedly laid down the law to Zardari and Gilani after meetings on Sunday.

Dawn revealed Wednesday that "Pakistan's army chief played a crucial role behind the scenes to resolve the long march crisis, illustrating how a military with a record of seizing power could use its influence in the future, analysts said."

After nearly a decade of incompetent and corrupt rule under Musharraf, the Army now prefers to control political events from the shadows.

Security analyst Ikram Sehgal said the army was reverting to the sort of role it played through most of the 1990s, when it declined to take power but exerted its influence discreetly during periods of political turmoil.
"The army wants desperately to keep out of the situation. They realise they do not have the capabilities to run a government," Sehgal said.
"One will definitely see the army playing a role behind the scenes ... If they stepped back in it would probably be on a Bangladesh model: set up a technocratic government and run the people who run the government," he said. ("Pakistan military helped broker end to long march," Dawn, March 18, 2009)

This is a "model" the Global Godfather in Washington will likely exploit, especially as the Obama administration seeks to expand U.S. military operations--including increased drone attacks and commando assaults by CIA paramilitary officers and U.S. Special Forces--into Baluchistan, according to The New York Times.

America's Role

It is no secret that the United States, first under Bush, and now under Obama, view Pakistan as the "central front" in imperialism's oxymoronic "war on terror." For decades, the U.S. has viewed Pakistan as little more than a "strategic asset" to advance America's geopolitical goals in Central- and South Asia.

While "terrorism" and "stability operations" in Afghanistan are the pretexts for increased military intervention across the region, resource extraction and pipeline politics are the unspoken reasons for military escalation. Amid a backdrop of global capitalist economic meltdown and crisis, imperialism is playing a desperate hand to gain control over the region's vast oil and gas reserves from their geopolitical rivals, Russia and China.

Despite the crisis inside the country, CIA drones killed 24 people in tribal area of Kurram March 13, in a demonstration that come what may, the United States will do as it pleases. 50 other people were wounded in the attack, said to have targeted a "training center" run by the Taliban. The World Socialist Web Site reports,

On Thursday, US Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus and Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, delivered a closed-door briefing to leading members of the US Senate in what was apparently part of the preparation for the public presentation of the new strategy for waging the war that was first launched by the administration of George W. Bush nearly seven and a half years ago.

In an appearance on PBS Television's "Charlie Rose Show," Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the strategy review would focus on "the safe haven in Pakistan, making sure that Afghanistan doesn't provide a capability in the long run or an environment in which Al Qaeda could return or the Taliban could return." (Bill Van Auken, "U.S. missiles kill 24 in Pakistan," World Socialist Web Site, March 14, 2009)

While the Zardari government has mendaciously called on the U.S. to halt attacks by CIA Predator and Reaper drones in NWFP and FATA, as I reported February 22, the CIA and Special Forces have been using the Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan for more that a year as a launching pad for drone attacks.

The New York-based whistleblowing intelligence and security website Cryptome published a series of satellite images as part of their "Eyeball" series on February 18. One image, captured in 2006 before construction of a huge hangar meant to conceal America's robot killing machines was completed, show Predator drones on the Shamsi air strip.

According to Cryptome's anonymous correspondent, "This is a very capable base facility with a large hangar in addition to the two Predator support hangars. Nearby is a large secured compound (appears empty) which could support up to a battalion of special ops and associated command and control. The large parking area inside the compound is perfect to land choppers and leave with relative security. All security measures seem fresh." ("Surging Towards Disaster in the 'Afpak Theatre'," Antifascist Calling, February 22, 2009)

Despite Zardari's compliance with the Global Godfather's demands to use his nation as a launching pad for attacks on Pakistan's citizens, the question remains: how long will the Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi continue to support his discredited regime?

Army Chief of Staff Kayani, a former ISI director under Musharraf, is the current darling of the political and military elite in Washington, one with whom they can "do business."

With Obama's "Afpak" policy review nearing completion and after Zardari initially rejected the "compromise" brokered by Prime Minister Gilani and Kayani--with active "encouragement" by the U.S. Pentagon and State Department--will the United States, ever-fearful that a democratic alternative will "send the wrong message" to Pakistan's oppressed workers and farmers, opt for the military "alternative"?

Meanwhile, the "Old Mole" Reemerges

In Pakistan, the struggle for civil liberties and basic democratic rights, is inextricably tied to "the severing," as the World Socialist Website points out, "of the Pakistani-US strategic alliance, and the dismantling of the vast Pakistani military apparatus."

One sign that the grip of the discredited PPP and PML-N, neoliberal parties that adhere to World Bank-IMF dictates, may be loosening up is the emergence of left-wing alternatives after decades of right-wing domination.

Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the socialist Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), told researcher Ron Jacobs that "what is transpiring in Pakistan is mass power."

While conceding that the Lawyers' Movement could not have emerged victorious without the rightist PML-N and the far-right Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which had hitched their political wagons to the movement for opportunist ends, leftist forces have garnered new supporters based on the political reemergence of the trade unions and militant farmers' organizations. According to Tariq, some 5,000 new supporters have joined LPP since January.

While the corporate media in Europe and the United States portray Pakistan as a nation in need of rule by a strong hand to stem the jihadi tide, the socialist and labor movements are reemerging with a vengeance, though you wouldn't know if you only read The New York Times or watched CNN.

As the situation heated-up, leftists' and labor leaders fell victim to particularly brutal attacks by the police and security services across Pakistan. The LPP reported that Nasir Mansoor, the organization's national labor secretary, was beaten up by Karachi cops and whisked away in an ambulance March 12 to an unknown location.

Dozens of LPP members and other left-wingers had been seized by police. In addition to LPP, a founding organization of the radical leftist Awami Jamhoori Tehreek (People's Democratic Movement, AJT), members of the National Workers Party, Awami Tehreek, Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP), Pakistan Mazdoor Mehaz (PMM) and the Inqalabi Workers Committee had been seized.

Opposed to IMF-dictated economic "reforms," religious sectarianism and state repression, AJT has pledged "to strengthen the workers and peasants organization and special attention will be given to the issues of women and minorities. It calls for the abolition of all discriminatory laws against women and minorities. It has discussed the draft programme of the AJT which is mainly an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist and feudal programme."

A threat to the existing set-up in Pakistan, the AJT was formed as a principled left-win response to the military bureaucracy and feudalist oligarchs who rely on the Army and jihadists' to maintain their rule. According to the AJT's founding document,

We consider that the religious extremism and militancy has grown beyond proportion, and is a new form of fascism. These forces blunt the people's social consciousness and keep them out of political process that resultantly facilitates exploitative forces to maintain an unjust and oppressive social order. The world imperialist forces have time and again used the religious extremists for their objectives. The ruling establishment in Pakistan has deep relationship with these forces, which have been extensively deployed within and beyond Pakistan by them. This anti-people lobby is responsible for promoting aggressive religious sectarianism in the country and they havoc played on Pakistan society in the name of religion. They are responsible for permanent military infiltration in our constitution and administrative structure. Their collaboration with the military junta has seriously prejudiced national independence and democratic image of the Pakistan state. (Programme of the AJT)

Asked by Jacobs to define the current situation in Pakistan, Tariq said:

There are multiple reasons for the constant unrest in Pakistan. The foremost reason is the inability of the ruling classes in Pakistan to solve all the basic problems faced by the masses. There exists a feudalistic relationship and land is not distributed to peasants. This brings a very feudal culture and atmosphere in Pakistan. Both the main bourgeois parties, PPP and PMLN, do not speak about it anymore. The major parts of the main leadership in both parties are from the feudal class. They use the ownership of land for political purposes and to win the elections. Sixty-one years of independence have brought no real independence for the majority of the people. This is the real crisis of leadership in Pakistan. Both main parties rely on the military generals. Even in this (most recent) crisis over the days from 12-16 March 2009, the army chief was mediating between the president, prime minister and the Nawaz brothers. The Nawaz brothers (said they) were very thankful to the "positive" role of the army chief.

The failure of reformist parties like the PPP paved the way for the growth of religious extremism. The extremists were and are supported by a major section of the army. It is a very complex relationship between the rich, the army and religious extremists. It changes and adjusts all the time. 9/11 made an indispensable difference to this relationship. The fact is that the support of the ruling class for religious extremism is not open as was the case in the past, but the presence of the American forces in the region has given a real momentum for the growth of the religious fundamentalists. (Ron Jacobs, "An Interview with Farooq Tariq: Pakistan in Turmoil," CounterPunch, March 20-22, 2009)

Neither Zardari, Sharif nor other capitalist grifters are capable of resolving Pakistan's systemic crisis. Despite decades of harsh, merciless rule by oligarchs and the military, the Pakistani people are flexing their democratic muscles. Their struggle for basic economic and social rights despite the odds stacked against them, serve as an inspiration to all those who believe "another world is possible!"

Friday, March 13, 2009

America's Search for the "Good Taliban"

Reminiscent of a casting call for "America's Next Top Model," the Obama administration has embarked on a search for the ever-elusive "good Taliban" with whom it can negotiate a partial military climb-down.

In an exclusive--and revealing--March 8 interview with The New York Times, President Barack Obama declared that the United States "was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq."

Reflecting desperation and ignorance when it comes to the war-scarred Central Asian nation, like its Republican predecessor, the Democratic administration has failed to come to grips with ubiquitous facts on the ground.

A rapidly-expanding Taliban insurgency against the U.S.-led NATO occupation and the warlord-dominated Karzai regime has brought imperialism's regional domination project to a screeching halt.

After seven years of occupation and the slow bleed-out of a protracted war, the Pashtun populated southern Afghan provinces and Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are effectively controlled by a melange of far-right Islamist Talibs and drug-linked militias loyal to the Hezb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

First reported February 27 by Al Jazeera, the now not-so-secret talks amongst Afghan officials, European diplomats and Hekmatyar-aligned forces have progressed to the point that the puppet Karzai regime "has been exploring the potential for negotiations with the Taliban leadership council of Mullah Muhammad Omar," according to The New York Times.

In a March 13 follow-up article, the Times previewed the new product line that the administration will soon be rolling-out to a sceptical public tired of imperial wars and self-inflicted economic crises:

The plan reflects in part a conclusion within the administration that most of the insurgent foot soldiers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are "reconcilable" and can be pried away from the hard-core organizations of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. At least 70 percent of the insurgents, and possibly more, can be encouraged to lay down their arms with the proper incentives, administration officials have said.

However, other unnamed "officials" were far less sanguine of the prospects for the plan's success and told the Times,

Several European officials said that the overarching theme behind the Afghanistan review was that NATO was looking for a way out of Afghanistan, and that everything done now was toward that end. "The goal now is simply to get to a point to prevent Afghanistan and Pakistan from becoming a place from which you can launch attacks on the West," a senior European official said. (Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker, "Obama Afghan Plan Focuses on Pakistan Aid and Appeal to Militants," The New York Times, March 13, 2009)

While U.S. imperialism continues to dream of pipelines and military bases stretching from Baku to Karachi and beyond, the fact is that boat has long set sail.

America's Search for the "Good Taliban"

Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden claimed that "at least 70%" of Islamist Taliban guerrilla fighters were "mercenaries" who could be persuaded--with what else--cold, hard cash, to lay down their arms and join the "peace process."

According to Biden, "Five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible, not susceptible to anything other than being defeated. Another 25% or so are not quite sure, in my view, of the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency. Roughly 70% are involved because of the money."

Memo to the Vice President: that "incorrigible" five percent comprise the top leadership of the far-right Islamist movement, including al-Qaeda-linked commanders such as "Mullah Bradar, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Anwarul Haq Mujahid. These three have pledged their allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has transformed the Taliban into an ultra-conservative force compared to a few years ago when the Taliban were a Pashtun tribal movement," Asia Times reports.

In other words, nothing short of a complete U.S./NATO withdrawal from the Central Asian "battlespace" will satisfy Mullah Omar and his minions. And what of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, suddenly everyone's newest "best friend forever"?

Dubbed the "Michael Corleone of jihad" by Asia Times, the sociopathic former Afghan Prime Minister who pulverized Kabul during the post-Soviet fall-out amongst mujahedin thieves in the early 1990s, is positioning himself for whatever he can grab.

Biden certainly knows that late last year a select group of Afghan diplomats plus Karzai's brother, Ahmad Wali, finally talked to some Taliban, good or bad, with mediation by notorious Taliban-enabler Saudi Arabia. That means, with US approval. ...

Recently in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the Karzai people thought they had handed Hekmatyar the famous "offer he can't refuse": asylum in Saudi Arabia first, then return to Afghanistan with full immunity. They forgot that a proud Hekmatyar does not want asylum. He wants a piece of the action in Kabul--preferably the meatiest part. (Pepe Escobar, "Taliban set to burn the Reichstag?", Asia Times Online, March 13, 2009)

Lest we forget, this former darling of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) during the anti-Soviet jihad received the bulk of CIA-Saudi largesse as America's plan to hand the Soviet Union "its own Vietnam" worked splendidly--for the international narcotics trade and American-linked terrorist jackals.

As Alfred W. McCoy pointed out, it was none other than Hekmatyar, with Hezb-i-Islami as the "beard" for rather profitable operations on both sides of the "Afpak" border, who pioneered refining heroin inside Afghanistan.

A piece of work from the get-go, Hekmatyar was a former engineering student and founder of Afghanistan's Muslim Brotherhood. This brave mujahid cut his political teeth by throwing vials of acid in the faces of Kabul University women who refused to wear the veil. Accused of murdering a leftist student, Hekmatyar fled to Pakistan where he continued his activities with "guidance" from ISI handlers. When the Carter administration began its destabilization campaign against Kabul's socialist government at the behest of current Obama foreign policy éminence grise, Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Hekmatyar was waiting in the wings. McCoy writes:

Instead of arranging a meeting with a broad spectrum of resistance leaders, ISI offered the CIA's envoy an alliance with its own Afghan client, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the small Hezb-i-Islami guerrilla group. The CIA accepted the offer and, over the next decade, gave more than half its covert aid to Hekmatyar's guerrillas. It was, as the U.S. Congress would find a decade later, a dismal decision. Unlike the later resistance leaders who commanded strong popular followings inside Afghanistan, Hekmatyar led a guerrilla force that was a creature of the Pakistan military. After the CIA built his Hezb-i-Islami into the largest Afghan guerrilla force, Hekmatyar would prove himself brutal and corrupt. Not only did he command the largest guerrilla army, but Hekmatyar would use it--with the full support of ISI and the tacit tolerance of the CIA--to become Afghanistan's leading drug lord. (The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991, pp. 449-450)

And as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed in their 2008 World Drug Report, with Afghanistan currently producing 92% of the world's supply of illicit opium, that would give Hekmatyar literally billions of reasons to "get back into the game" as they say.

Although you wouldn't know any of this if you relied solely on The New York Times. In fact, Carlotta Gall, a journalist who certainly knows better, will only report that "Mr. Hekmatyar, a ruthless, hard-line fundamentalist known for reneging on past agreements, is widely rumored to reside in Pakistan," while glossing over his documented history as a world class drug lord fully the rival of Colombia's late, though unlamented, Pablo Escobar. And so it goes.

These however, are pipe dreams bound to end in abysmal failure for the United States. As Asia Times reports, "the Taliban have a virtual siege all around the capital Kabul" and as I write, are busily preparing their spring offensive. And with the Pakistan' Army's truce with Baitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the newly-launched jihadi outfit, Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen (Council of United Holy Warriors), planning to "surge" an estimated 15-20,000 fighters of their own across the border, one can expect a horrendous increase in violence.

In a prescient article published by Asia Times, independent journalist and researcher Anthony Fenton cites the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) on "the anticipated effect of the war's expansion on Afghans."

The anti-fundamentalist and anti-occupation women's rights group states: "The very first outcome of the surge for Afghan people will be increase in the number of civilian casualties ... In the past seven years, thousands of innocent people have been killed or wounded by the US/NATO bombardments. In the past weeks under Obama's rule, around 100 Afghan civilians have been killed."

RAWA adds that "The surge in level of troops will also [result in a] surge in protests against the US/NATO in Afghanistan and it will also push more people towards the Taliban and other terrorist groups as a reaction against occupation forces and their mistreatment against people."

Despite these dire predictions, many of which have already been bourn out on the ground--and on the bodies of ordinary Afghans caught in the crossfire--any discussion of a complete U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is "off the table."

Fenton writes, "Contrary to the elite, bipartisan consensus inside North America that supports the war's escalation, and echoing fears that are common among Afghans, RAWA argues that 'We think the 30,000 extra troops will only serve the US regional strategy in changing Afghanistan to its military base, it will [have] nothing to do with fighting the terrorist groups, as they claim'."

If history is any judge of the present American trajectory, particularly as imperialism embarks on its quixotic quest for the elusive "good Taliban," if successful, Washington would insure they were "trained-up fierce" and deployed as a new armed force for global destabilization operations in Central, South Asia and the Middle East.

As I documented in "Unconventional Warfare in the 21st Century: U.S. Surrogates, Terrorists and Narcotraffickers" (Antifascist Calling, December 19, 2008), the Pentagon's field manual (FM 3-05.130) titled Unconventional Warfare lays it out in black and white:

Irregulars, or irregular forces, are individuals or groups of individuals who are not members of a regular armed force, police, or other internal security force. They are usually nonstate-sponsored and unconstrained by sovereign nation legalities and boundaries. These forces may include, but are not limited to, specific paramilitary forces, contractors, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistance or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political "undesirables." (Unconventional Warfare, p. 1-3)

"Paging Mullah Omar, white courtesy telephone!"

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Taliban Truce and the Coming Storm in South Asia

With growing instability and political turmoil inside Afghanistan and Pakistan, due in no small measure to American efforts on both sides of the "Afpak" divide to "stabilize" the region for multinational energy companies, this spring will see the rise of combat operations inside both countries.

Pakistan is already feeling the heat generated by the imperialist Dracula and the jihadi Frankenstein.

Despite promises that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) would lay down their arms once the Army ceased operations in Swat Valley, the state's capitulatory compact has instead provided militants with an excuse to exact vengeance on their opponents whilst establishing new training camps for pressed-ganged "recruits."

Call it Pakistan's "Year Zero" when "everything changed." Not that the Americans, the state or the corporate grifters who preside over IMF-dictated privatization schemes and debt payments to foreign banks give a hoot.

The New York Times reported March 6, that just days after the truce was signed "a member of a prominent anti-Taliban family returned to his mountain village, having received assurances from the government that it was safe. He was promptly kidnapped by the Taliban, tortured and murdered."

Pir Samiullah, a moderate religious leader who took up arms against the Taliban--it should be noted against "advice" by the Army--organized a local militia that fought the TTP and booted the miscreants from their mountain village. His cousin told the Times, that after his abduction the man was held for five days before his body was dumped February 25. "There was no skin on his back," he said. "We had advised him, 'You shouldn’t go, you shouldn't trust.'"

On the ground, the situation for women is immeasurably worse. Dawn reported March 7: "Terrified, locked up at home and courting death if they go out alone, women oppressed by extremists in Swat have nothing to celebrate on International Women's Day."

Which is precisely the regime the purveyors of religious obscurantism and murderous sectarianism intend to impose throughout Pakistan, with or without blessings from Washington. After all, what better means to facilitate the drug trade or other illicit activities controlled, or "taxed," by TPP "emirs" chauffeured about in up-scale Land Rovers or Mercedes!

With death threats against "immoral" women proliferating like flies around a corpse, the prospects for education, health care, or even the simple pleasures of going shopping with friends have all but evaporated. One ninth grade pupil told Dawn, "My mother told me I can do anything, but my inner soul is shattered."

And with a recently concluded 17-point "peace" agreement with the TTP, the state and nominally "secular" parties such as the bourgeois Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Awami National League (ANL)--which trounced the fundamentalist Army clone, Jamaat-i-Islami party in last year's national elections--has agreed to close shops, ban music, "obscene" videos and in general, make life a living hell.

As the state's writ continues to contract in the face of the Taliban offensive, women, workers, religious minorities are under attack. On Thursday, a bomb partially destroyed the mausoleum of the 17th century Sufi poet Rahman Baba, in NWFP's provincial capital Peshawar. Why? Because "women were coming to pray there," according to the Los Angeles Times.

I. A. Rahman, the director of Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission told the L. A. Times, "They've given them a yard and now they're taking 2 kilometers."

Needless to say, the majority of Swat residents are terrified of TTP armed thugs and have voted on the compact with their feet, refusing to trek back to their homes, exiles in their own country. The prospects of ever returning to a semblance of a "normal" life are grim, particularly after TTP "emirs" announced in a local mosque "that every family in the village would have to contribute one young man to their ranks, according to the The New York Times. Some "peace."

Mullah Omar Enters the Frame

While corporate media have focused on last month's truce in Swat Valley, signed-off by the Zardari regime and the Army with the TTP's sociopathic "emir" Maulana Fazlullah, little mention has been made of the strategically far more critical agreement hammered out by Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

That pact, forged between the TTP and their on-again, off-again allies in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) will have far-reaching ramifications for both nations.

While the Obama administration plans to deploy 17,000 additional American troops between now and May in Afghanistan, with additional deployments possibly numbering 30,000 by years' end, Washington is desperate to wrest control of large swathes of territory controlled by the Taliban and the TTP. It would appear however, that Omar has other plans.

On February 21, The News reported that "three prominent Pakistani militant commanders ... on Friday set aside their differences and promised to jointly fight their enemy in future." A "senior militant commander" said that Pakistani and Afghan Taliban leaders,

had played a role in resolving differences among the three militant commanders. He said a 14-member Shura was formed after their final meeting that would comprise banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Taliban commander in North Waziristan and Maulvi Nazeer, militant commander in South Waziristan. (Mushtaq Yusufzai, "Top militant commanders resolve rift," The News, February 21, 2009)

In a further sign that stepped-up attacks are in the offing, Mullah Omar and the "emir" of the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets, Osama bin Laden, demanded that allied jihadi outfits in North and South Waziristan "immediately stop their attacks on the Pakistani security forces," The News reported February 24.

According to the Lahore-based newspaper, Omar first sent an envoy and then wrote a letter to the TTP's leadership council led by Mehsud, admonishing the group for attacks on their "Muslim brethren."

He told them that if they really want to participate in Jihad, they must fight the US and Nato troops inside Afghanistan because their attacks on the Pakistani security forces are undermining the objectives of the war against the invaders and cause of the Taliban movement.

"If anybody really wants to wage Jihad, he must fight the occupation forces inside Afghanistan," the source quoted Mullah Omar as having told the TTP leaders. "Attacks on the Pakistani security forces and killing of fellow Muslims by the militants in the tribal areas and elsewhere in Pakistan is bringing a bad name to Mujahideen and harming the war against the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan." (Mazhar Tufail, "Mullah Omar orders halts to attacks on Pak troops," The News, February 24, 2009)

The elusive Taliban leader, a protégé of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), was groomed by leading circles within the Army's military and intelligence bureaucracy to seize the initiative in the 1990s, and bring an end to the chaos stoked by internecine fighting amongst former mujahedin chieftains squabbling over the spoils of that destroyed nation.

By 1996, when the Taliban swept out of Pakistan's NWFP and seized Kabul, providing what Pakistan's elite (including the Bhutto and Sharif families) believed would be "strategic depth" vis-à-vis imperialist arch-rival India, the move was applauded by the Clinton administration and the multinational petroleum giants whom they served. It would appear that Omar is reprising that role today.

The Guardian reported March 3 that as a result of February talks, the warring factions that previously fought over lucrative smuggling routes have launched a new organization, the Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen (Council of United Holy Warriors, SIM).

According to Daily Times, SIM issued a pamphlet late last month vowing to target the militant groups three enemies: "Obama, Zardari and Karzai". While Mehsud and the others have promised to stop attacking the Army, Daily Times points out that "the announcement of 'Zardari' as a target while letting the Pakistan army off the hook is a menacing signal for Pakistani politics."

Pakistan is already under heavy pressure by the United States to crack down on the host of jihadi groups threatening to spread the TTP's writ outside the tribal areas into major population centers. This will prove a daunting task considering that many alleged "holy warriors" are creatures of the ISI and organized crime-linked outfits who profit from the heroin trade, illegal logging, as well as lucrative extortion and kidnapping rackets.

In this context, Omar's demand that jihadists cease attacks on Pakistani security and police and concentrate their fire instead on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, may represent maneuvers within ISI and the Army to pressurize the weak Zardari administration into doing their bidding, i.e. supporting the return of a fundamentalist Afghan government that would provide Pakistan with its ever-elusive "strategic depth." This was hammered home by Omar:

"Our aim is to liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces and death and destruction inside neighbouring Pakistan has never been our goal," he added. The source said according to Mullah Omar, the US was devising a new strategy and adopting new tactics to crush Mujahideen in Afghanistan so the Taliban, too, must forge unity in their ranks, and instead of operating in Pakistan, they must concentrate on actions against the US and Nato forces. (The News, ibid.)

The United States, ever-eager then as now, to secure oil and gas pipelines across Afghanistan for U.S. energy companies once courted the fundamentalists. Despite the upcoming "surge," America may do so once again if dictated by ubiquitous "facts on the ground."

On February 20, the Canadian Broadcasting Company reported that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Bush holdover, said that the U.S. would be willing to accept a similar deal in Afghanistan if the Swat pact succeeded.

Gates, speaking at last month's NATO conference in Krakow, Poland said: "If there is a reconciliation, if insurgents are willing to put down their arms, if the reconciliation is essentially on the terms being offered by the government, then I think we would be very open to that. We have said all along that ultimately some sort of political reconciliation has to be part of the long-term solution in Afghanistan."

How would such a "reconciliation" play itself out?

Al Jazeera reported February 27, that "secret negotiations are under way to bring troops fighting alongside the Taliban into Afghanistan's political process." Negotiations between "Taliban-linked mediators, Western officials and the Afghan government," might see the return of none other than Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the narcotrafficking leader of the ISI and CIA's favorite gang during the anti-Soviet jihad, Hezb-i-Islami.

Believed to be directing attacks against NATO and American forces from northwest Pakistan, Hekmatyar "would first be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia, under the proposal being backed by the British government." Indeed, Al Jazeera reveals the talks have progressed to the point that

Ghairat Baheer, one of Hekmatyar's two son-in-laws released from the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May last year after six years in custody, is involved in the process, according to reports.

Baheer, an ambassador to Pakistan in the 1990s, was given a visa to travel to London by British authorities last month.

Humayun Jarir, a Kabul-based politician and son-in-law of Hekmatyar, is also said to have been involved. ("Secret talks with Taliban under way," Al Jazeera, February 27, 2009)

This is rich though unsurprising, given the Americans' love affair with a man once described as the world's most powerful drug trafficker. And considering alleged ties between President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali and the heroin trade, perhaps a deal with Hekmatyar isn't as crazy as it seems at first blush.

According to The New York Times, "several American investigators said senior officials at the D.E.A. and the office of the Director of National Intelligence complained to them that the White House favored a hands-off approach toward Ahmed Wali Karzai because of the political delicacy of the matter."

So, if Hekmatyar is ready to come on-board and kick his al-Qaeda pals to the curb--as the U.S. is preparing to do with former "best friend forever" Hamid Karzai--why not let bygones be bygones? Stranger things have happened.

Whose Hand Is Behind the Lahore "Cricket" Attacks?

Inside Pakistan however, it appears some militants haven't gotten Omar's memo. On March 3, 12 heavily-armed gunmen staged a brazen attack in Lahore, Punjab's capital and Pakistan's second largest city.

While the bare facts are known, the question of who the perpetrators are--and from a parapolitical perspective, who controlled them--remains as of this writing a mystery. There are however, any number of likely suspects. To recapitulate Tuesday's events:

A convoy transporting Sri Lanka's national cricket team to a Test match against Pakistan's cricketers was ambushed by AK-47 toting terrorists who fired rockets and grenades at the entourage, killing six policemen as well as the driver of another van. 20 people were wounded including six of the athletes, two of whom remain hospitalized with bullet wounds.

Dawn reports that all of the attackers escaped and that police reinforcements from a nearby police station "only a couple of minute's walk" from Qaddafi Stadium, arrived only after the gunmen had fled. Large quantities of hand grenades, rockets launchers, AK-47s, suicide jackets, plastic explosives, pistols and walkie-talkies were recovered near the scene of the attack. The paper avers,

The large arms cache indicated that the attackers were prepared to hold out law enforcers for a longer period and raised suspicion that it might actually have been an attempt to hijack the bus carrying the Lankan cricketers.

If the ambush, however bloody, was all that the attackers were looking for they did not need to burden themselves with all the weapons they were carrying. Even though the police later on displayed the large seizure of the weapons, they refused to comment on the possibility of it being an attempt at kidnapping. (Muhammad Faisal Ali, "Sri Lankan team narrowly escape terror attack," Dawn, March 3, 2009)

Television images of backpack-toting assailants firing at the convoy bore striking similarities to last November's Mumbai terror attacks by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) militants, aided and abetted by Dawood Ibrahim's ISI-linked organized crime gang.

Indeed, on February 26, The Guardian reported that India named a high-ranking Pakistani Army officer, Colonel Sadatullah attached to the Special Communications Organization (SCO, Pakistan's NSA), implicating him in last November's assault. Citing an 11,509-page charge sheet filed by Mumbai police, investigators claim that "a total of 284 calls totalling 995 minutes were made to Pakistani handlers by the terrorists using mobile phones from the Taj Mahal hotel, Oberoi-Trident and Nariman House, a Jewish centre."

While the origin and the motives of the Lahore attackers remain a mystery, Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizer, Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, a retired ISI chief, was quick to blame India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for the attacks. Gul said on Pakistani television according to IPS that "India wants to declare Pakistan a terrorist state" and that the Lahore assault "is related to that conspiracy."

Similar charges were made, though more circumspectly, by Rehman Malik, the Prime Minister's Interior adviser, who claimed that the LET had "no links" to the attacks. He did however, manage to imply according to Dawn, that "the involvement of foreign hands in the incident cannot be ruled out." However, Asia Times reports,

Rather, judging by what was shown on Pakistani television, the attack is the hallmark of those that were waged by militants (many of them Punjabi) against Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir up until a few years ago. They were trained by the Indian cell of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

In 2005-06, these militants joined forces with the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan resistance after Pakistan closed down their training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a move that changed the dynamics of the war theater in the region. (Syed Saleem Shahzad, "'Cricket' attack marks a shift in Pakistan," Asia Times Online, March 4, 2009)

And considering the uncanny similarities to other recent attacks, The Independent avers,

The numerous failings fuelled speculation that the attack might have been, at least in part, an "inside job". In previous terror attacks in Pakistan, the perpetrators appeared to have considerable intelligence about their targets. Car bombers have struck at army and anti-terror police headquarters in the past two years without the slightest hindrance. (Omar Waraich, "Suspicions grow that attack was an 'inside job'," The Independent, March 5, 2009)

Stressing the close interconnections amongst Pakistan's security services, organized crime outfits and the shadowy networks of allied jihadi groups, security analyst Robert Emerson told The Independent, "There are various elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence set-up who appear to have special relationships with militant groups. There are also links between political and criminal organisations. It is a complex and shadowy world with conflicting agendas."

Lashkar also has connections to the murky world of Pakistani cricket. Dawood Ibrahim, a Muslim gangster boss in Mumbai, is believed to have been responsible for organising a series of bombings at the Indian city in 1993, killing 250 people, after which he fled the country for Pakistan. Ibrahim, named by the US State Department as a "global terrorist with links to al-Qa'ida and Lashkar-e-Taiba", and a major trafficker of Afghan opium, has also been accused of playing a part in the last Mumbai attack.

Victor Ivanov, the head of the Russian counter-narcotics service, said: "Evidence suggests that the regional drug baron Dawood Ibrahim had provided his logistics network to prepare and carry out the Mumbai terror attacks." (Kim Sengupta, "Strike had hallmarks of Mumbai massacre," The Independent, March 4, 2009)

What is not mentioned however, is that Ibrahim's D-Company enjoyed historical ties with the American CIA and was an asset who assisted Washington's arms smuggling to Afghan "holy warriors" during the anti-Soviet jihad. After the CIA's favorite criminal financial institution, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) went belly-up in the early 1990s, Dawood took over "management" of the port of Karachi from BCCI's "Black Network" of enforcers and assassins.

As I reported in mid-December, D-Company enjoys protected status afforded by the ISI and that Ibrahim's extensive smuggling networks along the Indian coast were in all probability used to infiltrate LET thugs into Mumbai.

Asia Times investigative journalist Raja Murthy was told by Lahore-based journalist Amir Mir that "Dawood's underworld connects and business ventures are extensive. And he sublets his name in Pakistan, Thailand, South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, to franchises in the fields of drug trafficking and gambling dens."

With contacts amongst serving and retired ISI officers, LET, other jihadi outfits and the near boundless riches afforded by his drug trafficking, smuggling and gambling empire, one cannot discount Dawood's hand as a "plausibly deniable" asset capable of providing the Lahore attackers with intelligence, arms and the means to escape the area after Tuesday's brazen assault.

Other analysts suggest that Tuesday's attack was carried out to free LET and other militant leaders arrested in the wake of the Mumbai atrocities. Investigative journalist Amir Mir writes that authorities "are trying to ascertain whether it was an attempt by the Lashkar-e-Taiba militants to hijack the bus carrying the team and to bargain the release of their chief operational commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi."

Lakhvi is currently detained in a Rawalpindi jail for his alleged role in the Mumbai attacks. Mir reports,

The authorities say the Lashkar militants involved in the Lahore assault might have in their mind the successful hijacking of an Indian passenger aircraft in 2000, which eventually compelled the BJP government in India to release Maulana Masood Azhar, the chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammad who had been serving term in an Indian jail on terrorism charges. (Amir Mir, "Was attack on Sri Lankan team a bid to release Lakhvi?", The News, March 5, 2009)

In December 1999, Indian Airlines flight 814 was hijacked and flown to Afghanistan where 155 passengers were held hostage for eight days. In return for the release of three militants incarcerated in Indian prisons, the hostages were finally freed although one passenger was brutally murdered by the assailants.

In addition to JEM leader Azhar, Omar Saeed Sheikh, a reputed ISI-MI6 asset was also freed. Sheikh, currently under a death sentence in Pakistan for the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was a former student at the London School of Economics. In the early 1990s, he joined Harkat ul-Ansar (Movement of Supporters of the Faith, HUA) and fought in Bosnia in support of U.S.-NATO destabilization operations against the former Yugoslavia.

But as with the multitude of shadowy jihadi factions operating in Pakistan, JEM and HUA were creatures of the ISI and the Army. Indeed, The History Commons reports that HUA was "a Pakistani militant group originally formed and developed in large part due to Pervez Musharraf in the early 1990s." After their release, Azhar and Sheik both returned to Pakistan, received a hero's welcome and toured the country "for weeks under the protection of the ISI."

Shortly before the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, it is alleged that Sheikh, an ISI asset and al-Qaeda operative wired $100,000 to lead hijacker Mohamed Atta. Some versions hold that Sheikh did so with express authorization by ISI chieftain Mahmoud Ahmad. The History Commons avers,

In 2001, the flight's captain, Devi Sharan, will say that the hijackers of his plane used techniques similar to the 9/11 hijackers, suggesting a common modus operandi. The hijackers praised Osama bin Laden, had knives and slit the throat of a passenger, herded the passengers to the back of the plane where some of them used cell phones to call relatives, and one hijacker said he had trained on a simulator. ("Profile: Maulana Masood Azhar," The History Commons, no date.)

All of which begs the question: If the Lahore commando which attacked the Sri Lankan cricketers employed an operational script similar to Mumbai's, and are connected to LET or other militants yet unknown, what role did ISI, retired officers or other elements of Pakistan's deep state, including organized crime assets play in the terrorist atrocity?

Just as importantly, with the obvious motive of destabilizing the country and sowing chaos, it cannot be ruled out that the United States will seize on the attack and the Swat compact with the TTP, to pressure the Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, and particularly Chief of Staff General Asfaq Parvez Kayani, newly returned from "comprehensive multilateral talks" in Washington, to once again leave the barracks.

The emergence of a highly-trained and motivated far-right jihadi base in major population centers is an ominous development for Pakistan's democratic opposition. With the weak and increasingly isolated, Zardari government planning to take stern administrative and police measures against pro-democracy protesters planning to shut Islamabad down next week, the potential for attacks by Army-backed provocateurs, under color of the "enforcement of Islamic law," cannot be discounted.