Explosive mood in Pakistan

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Pakistani security agencies over the past few days have seized 28,000 kilograms of explosives in the city of Lahore, as well as anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and ammunition and suicide vests, a well-placed senior security official has told Asia Times Online.

The crackdown in the capital of Punjab province undoubtedly prevented another attack by al-Qaeda – there have been several over the past few years – and the opening up of a battle front in the city. However, the security official warned that al-Qaeda-linked militant attacks were still expected “from the southern port city of Karachi to the tribal areas”.


is regularly a victim of militant attacks, but the focus of al-Qaeda and its allies until now has primarily been on the supply lines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that pass through Pakistan and on the Taliban-led insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

A possible intensification of attacks across Pakistan comes at a critical time for the United States as it struggles to find a breakthrough in the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan, especially ahead of mid-term elections in November in the US, where the war is becoming increasingly unpopular.

Pakistan is a crucial factor in any decision Washington makes over Afghanistan. Any US efforts to engage the Taliban and get them to join a reconciliation process with the Afghan government will require Pakistani assistance. Similarly, the US needs Pakistan to crack down on militant bases that feed into the insurgency, notably in the North Waziristan tribal area that borders Afghanistan, which also serves as the global headquarter of al-Qaeda’s operations.

The key figure in Pakistan in terms of the US’s war efforts is Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, who is scheduled to retire this November. To date Pakistan’s Washington-backed government has shown no sign of seeking an extension for him. Under Kiani the military apparatus has worked hard to solicit the Afghan Taliban for a basic level of reconciliation. Plans are in place for an operation in North Waziristan, but Kiani has indicated that he will decide when to go ahead, if at all.

Western media have exaggerated apparent relations between Afghan commander Sirajuddin Haqqani and the Pakistan military. For once, however, the military is pleased as this is the kind of influential role that Pakistan wants to play in Afghanistan in the future. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the famed mujahideen commander who fought against the Soviets. The Haqqani network, which has a base in North Waziristan, is one of the most powerful insurgent groups in Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani has acquired huge influence over the past few years in the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Khost, Paktia and Paktika. He has also fully supported attacks co-ordinated and facilitated by al-Qaeda, such as the ones in Kabul and on Bagram air base this year.

While he travels extensively in Afghanistan, North Waziristan is still his strategic backyard, and here he is completely dependent on al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-inspired groups. For this reason he contributed to the anti-Shi’ite attacks in Kurram Agency in 2007 and he has sent his men to support local Sunni militias. During the military offensive in 2009 against militants in South Waziristan, Sirajuddin Haqqani provided sanctuary to escaping Mehsud militants.

However, while Sirajuddin Haqqani is al-Qaeda’s asset, his ailing father Jalaluddin is somewhat different as he has long-standing friendships with several Pashtu-speaking officers who are now high-ranking.

After September 11, 2001, when Pakistan had joined the US’s “war on terror”, Jalaluddin was invited a few times to Islamabad to get him to separate from the Taliban. He was not a part of the original Taliban movement but he unconditionally surrendered and supported the Taliban when they emerged in the mid-1990s and then took power in Kabul in 1996. He led his own faction as a “moderate” Taliban.

Pakistani officials assured Jalaluddin that he could become prime minister – or even president – in the new Afghanistan following the Taliban’s ouster in late 2001. He refused outright, saying he was still loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. If Jalaluddin were to separate from Mullah Omar, it would jolt the Taliban movement, but it would also cost him his command in several Afghan provinces. Further, he would lose his al-Qaeda-supported base in North Waziristan and within months he would be yesterday’s man.
In the year 2010, Jalaluddin’s stance remains the same, as does the position of his son Sirajuddin.

As it scrambles for solutions, Washington has encouraged Afghan President Hamid Karzai in his dealings with the Pakistani security apparatus to strike deals with the Taliban in Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan.

Karzai has called for the delisting of some Taliban from a United Nations terror list and has released hundreds of Taliban and people linked to the Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He also booted out two prominent anti-Pakistan figures, including the head of the National Directorate of Security, Amrullah Saleh. He was a senior figure in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance that helped the US oust the Taliban regime in 2001. Also sacked was interior minister Hanif Atmar, who as a young man served in Afghanistan’s communist-era intelligence agency and fought mujahideen opposed to the Soviet occupation.

“This decision leaves Hamid Karzai under a serious security threat,” a former Afghan general who served with the communists as well as with the mujahideen against the Soviets told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity. “His overtures with Pakistan are unlikely to bear fruit in terms of a breakthrough with the Taliban, but now he keeps up the hostility level with the northern Afghan militant factions who have encircled him deeply inside Kabul.”

In the mean time, a large terror attack could once again change the dynamics of the region, whether it took place in Afghanistan, Pakistan or even India.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

( Asia Times Online )


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