Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Who Is The Real Terrorist?" Reports From Pakistan And Afghanistan Differ

A couple of days ago I lost the only draft of a piece that was half-finished and already so complicated it made my head hurt. In that piece I had quoted Chris Floyd quoting Scott Horton quoting Carlotta Gall and David Rohde and Barnett Rubin. Are you with me so far?

The subject was Pakistan and Afghanistan: The piece by Gall and Rohde talked about Pakistan having lost control of the extremists that had been nurtured by the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, before Pakistan joined the War on Terror. The Rubin piece linked this loss of control to the bombing of the Serena Hotel [photo], Kabul's luxury spot for foreign visitors.

I don't have the heart to reproduce the post as I originally intended it, especially since reading it might make your head hurt, too. So I will try to give you more or the less the same information in a very different way.

I once read that the best blog entries consist of links, quotes, and comments. Maybe that's the secret.

Carlotta Gall and David Rohde in the New York Times: Militants Escape Control of Pakistan, Officials Say
Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so.

One former senior Pakistani intelligence official, as well as other people close to the agency, acknowledged that the ISI led the effort to manipulate Pakistan’s last national election in 2002, and offered to drop corruption cases against candidates who would back President Pervez Musharraf.

A person close to the ISI said Mr. Musharraf had now ordered the agency to ensure that the coming elections were free and fair, and denied that the agency was working to rig the vote. But the acknowledgment of past rigging is certain to fuel opposition fears of new meddling.

The two former high-ranking intelligence officials acknowledged that after Sept. 11, 2001, when President Musharraf publicly allied Pakistan with the Bush administration, the ISI could not rein in the militants it had nurtured for decades as a proxy force to exert pressure on India and Afghanistan. After the agency unleashed hard-line Islamist beliefs, the officials said, it struggled to stop the ideology from spreading.

Another former senior intelligence official said dozens of ISI officers who trained militants had come to sympathize with their cause and had had to be expelled from the agency. He said three purges had taken place since the late 1980s and included the removal of three ISI directors suspected of being sympathetic to the militants.

After 9/11, the Bush administration pressed Mr. Musharraf to choose a side in fighting Islamist extremism and to abandon Pakistan’s longtime support for the Taliban and other Islamist militants.

In the 1990s, the ISI supported the militants as a proxy force to contest Indian-controlled Kashmir, the border territory that India and Pakistan both claim, and to gain a controlling influence in neighboring Afghanistan. In the 1980s, the United States supported militants, too, funneling billions of dollars to Islamic fighters battling Soviet forces in Afghanistan through the ISI, vastly increasing the agency’s size and power.

Publicly, Mr. Musharraf agreed to reverse course in 2001, and he has received $10 billion in aid for Pakistan since then in return. In an interview in November, he vehemently defended the conduct of the ISI, an agency that, according to American officials, was under his firm control for the last eight years while he served as both president and army chief.

Mr. Musharraf dismissed criticism of the ISI’s relationship with the militants. He cited the deaths of 1,000 Pakistani soldiers and police officers in battles with the militants in recent years — as well as several assassination attempts against himself — as proof of the seriousness of Pakistan’s counterterrorism effort.

One militant leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, typifies how extremists once trained by the ISI have broken free of the agency’s control, turned against the government and joined with other militants to create powerful new networks.

In 2000, Mr. Azhar received support from the ISI when he founded Jaish-e-Muhammad, or Army of Muhammad, a Pakistani militant group fighting Indian forces in Kashmir, according to Robert Grenier, who served as the Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Islamabad from 1999 to 2002. The ISI intermittently provided training and operational coordination to such groups, he said, but struggled to fully control them.

Mr. Musharraf banned Jaish-e-Muhammad and detained Mr. Azhar after militants carried out an attack on the Indian Parliament building in December 2001. Indian officials accused Jaish-e-Muhammad and another Pakistani militant group of masterminding the attack. After India massed hundreds of thousands of troops on Pakistan’s border, Mr. Musharraf vowed in a nationally televised speech that January to crack down on all militants in Pakistan.

“We will take strict action against any Pakistani who is involved in terrorism inside the country or abroad,” he said. Two weeks later, a British-born member of Mr. Azhar’s group, Ahmed Omar Sheikh, kidnapped Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was beheaded by his captors. Mr. Sheikh surrendered to the ISI, the agency that had supported Jaish-e-Muhammad, and was sentenced to death for the kidnapping.

After Mr. Pearl’s killing, Pakistani officials arrested more than 2,000 people in a crackdown. But within a year, Mr. Azhar and most of the 2,000 militants who had been arrested were freed. “I never believed that government ties with these groups was being irrevocably cut,” said Mr. Grenier, now a managing director at Kroll, a risk consulting firm.

At the same time, Pakistan seemingly went “through the motions” when it came to hunting Taliban leaders who fled into Pakistan after the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan, he said.

Encouraged by the United States, the Pakistanis focused their resources on arresting senior Qaeda members, he said, which they successfully did from 2002 to 2005. Since then, arrests have slowed as Al Qaeda and other militant groups have become more entrenched in the tribal areas.

Asked in 2006 why the Pakistani government did not move against the leading Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his son Sirajuddin, who are based in the tribal areas and have long had links with Al Qaeda, one senior ISI official said it was because Pakistan needed to retain some assets of its own.

“Pakistan would certainly be better off if the ISI were never used for domestic political purposes,” said Mr. Grenier, the former C.I.A. Islamabad station chief. “That goes without saying.”
Barnett R. Rubin at Informed Comment: Global Affairs: New York Times on ISI; Serena Hotel Attack
David Rohde and Carlotta Gall deserve huge credit for an outstanding investigative article today on Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. This article makes sense out of all the contradictory indications about the ISI's links to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as well as other armed militant groups. It also covers the ISI's role in domestic politics, including election rigging. It is clear from the article that a military regime cannot (and some will not) control the militants it created and that the military will also not permit civilians to take control of the state.

The attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul is a shock for all of us foreigners who have gone there for tea. conferences, or brunch, even if we never stayed there. Like most people who go in and out of the Kabul expatriate community, I imagine, I knew a couple of people who were there -- in my case including some Norwegian diplomats.

News reports mention that this was Afghanistan's only "five-star" hotel. They don't mention that nearly all Afghans live in "zero-star" conditions, including the thousands of people who pass that traffic circle every day and see inaccessible luxury behind thick walls. The rioters attacked the Serena in May 2006, apparently believing that alcohol is served there, though it is not.

I am sure that the people of Kabul don't want more violence in their city. They were badly frightened by the riots in 2006. But there is huge resentment and anger building up at the overbearing foreign presence. The May 2006 riots were sparked by an accident where US military vehicles killed a pedestrian. Afghans see and often do not distinguish among the "Chinese restaurant" brothels and the glittering restaurants (by Afghan standards, not ours) serving luxuries, including alcohol, to foreigners, some of whom are being highly paid to destroy Afghanistan's opium livelihood, which Afghan Islamic figures say is no worse than the alcohol they drink at night after destroying farmers' poppy crops.

Many Afghans think that money that is supposed to be used to help them is instead being used to pay for the good life for foreigners in the Serena hotel. Alas, it is true. When aid donors boast of how much technical assistance they are giving Afghanistan, they provide data on the size of the contracts they have given to consultants. I have spent some of the grant and contract money that pay for my salary and travel expenses on meals and tea at the Serena Hotel. These expenses are counted as someone's assistance to Afghanistan.

This is a new kind of target for the Taliban. Foreigners going to restaurants in Kabul (including some where, unlike the Serena, alcohol is in fact served), sometimes joke that they feel like targets. Up to now, however, they have not been. The Taliban have mostly attacked the international forces and Afghan army, police, and officials, as well as other "collaborators," such as employees on reconstruction projects or public figures who support the government. Sometimes they kill civilians indiscriminately when they attack government buildings (including cases when they killed students in schools). But as far as I know, this is the first attack targeted at the foreign assistance community and the "corrupt" lifestyle it has brought to Afghanistan. I imagine it will not be the last.
Scott Horton at Harper's: Pakistan Loses Control
A recent poll suggests that half of Pakistan’s population believes that Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf, or military leaders very close to him, had something to do with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan may be the world’s center of wacky conspiracy theories, but this public perception should not be lightly dismissed. In fact the Pakistani military and its intelligence arm have deep ties in to the Islamic militants who considered Bhutto their greatest threat on the Pakistani political stage.

For those trying to make sense out of the tremendously complex, and tremendously important threads in Pakistan and Afghanistan that tie together Musharraf, the Pakistani senior military establishment, Pakistan’s Interservice Intelligence (ISI), the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, tribal chiefs and groups, and various terrorist groups which float in the shadows between all of these players, Carlotta Gall and her colleague David Rohde offer an important contribution in today’s New York Times.

I first met Gall more than ten years ago when she was working for the BBC covering Central Asia. Even then she was a very rare figure, a Westerner who tenaciously dug in to learn what was going on. Gall never thought the answers were to be found in the lobbies of the Sheratons and Intercontinentals, which is where the bulk of the press corps seem to hang out to pick up their scoops. She went to the villages and small towns to form a solid picture of the situation and she probed insistently into the shadowy world of the Pakistani intelligence service and its various cat’s paws.

Her article today gives one of the best accounts of the relationship between ISI and their radical agents, and the ambiguity of much of this relationship. It’s mandatory reading.

The ISI is the critical prop to Musharraf’s reign. It was responsible for his rigged election successes in the past and certainly will play the same role in the coming election. The Times piece goes on to offer specific detail on an internal review of the agency and its relationship with radicals, which leaves many asking who is guarding whom?

Barney Rubin goes on to link this report with the alarming bombing attack on Kabul’s luxury Serena Hotel.

Westerners are now being targeted, and the Taliban’s reach is right into their ultimate luxury sanctuary in Kabul. This development opens the year in Kabul on an appropriate note of alarm. Afghanistan is not Iraq, and the prospects for success of the Western effort there are considerably higher than in Iraq. The stakes are also higher, I believe. This is the challenge at center stage of the current conflict: the amorphous borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the ultimate growth matrix of the terrorist threat that manifested itself on 9/11, and which is, six years later, stronger than ever.
Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque: Risky Business: A Reporter in the Eye of the Storm
... a perfect description of Gall at work when I knew her in Moscow. That was how she covered the first Chechen war, a brutal affair on every side, and one swathed with many layers of lies. She went to Chechnya, to the front lines and "to the villages and small towns to form a solid picture of the situation." She would call in her stories on a satellite phone, dictating them to someone at the desk -- often me -- racing to meet the midnight deadline, sometimes with shellfire sounding in the background.

The New York Times has made many egregious hires (Judith Miller, that little Kristol guy, etc.) and many foolish, even sinister moves over the years. But in hiring Gall, who has been covering Afghanistan from the beginning of the American invasion there, they have provided us with at least one figure of great journalistic integrity, tenacity and courage among the upper echelons of the corporate media.

Horton links to Gall's latest story, written with David Rohde, exploring the shadowlands nexus between Pakistan's security forces (army and intelligence), and the terrorist factions they created, nurtured, armed, trained and now, occasionally, fight against. The story even manages to make an early mention of the American role in using Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI, to arm, fund and train a global jihad network -- the one-time "freedom fighters" now reviled by their own creators as "Islamofascists." It also notes that it was this American intervention -- begun under the saintly Jimmy Carter (even before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan) and greatly expanded under the Reagan-Bush regime -- that "vastly increased" the size of the ISI and extended its dark influence throughout Pakistani society.

This angle is not the thrust of the piece, but it is extremely rare to see even this much context in a story about the troubles in Central Asia, where ham-handed, dim-witted interventions by the bipartisan loot-and-power crowd in Washington have for decades been fomenting vast storms of blowback, which we will be dealing with for many decades hence -- with the worst storms yet to come.
Chris Floyd is right: it's great to have such a brave reporter on the scene. But it's a shame she's shackled to the corporate media, where even a short mention of the CIA's role in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a rarity.

And in this rarity the truth must be hidden in as many misleading ways as possible, by such devices as acknowledging the American influence in the 1980s but no later, hinting but never making the dubious claim that the CIA had cut all its connections with the group it had founded.

Similarly, in the hands of the New York Times, this is a story of militants who have "turned against their handlers" despite the obvious fact that it was the handlers who turned against the militants.

Obvious? If Musharraf had to purge the ISI three times, what does that tell you? It was Pervez Musharraf (at the "request" of George W. Bush) who tried to change the course of mighty rivers.

The "militants" and "terrorists" have been under attack ever since 9/11 was blamed on Osama bin Laden. And those who recall the sequence of events will remember that "blame" is the correct word. The USA asked the Taliban to turn him over, the Taliban offered to send him to any duly constituted international court if the Americans provided evidence against him, and the Americans responded with wave after wave of bombers.

This was the only response available to the United States, after all, since it had no evidence connecting Osama bin Laden with the attacks of 9/11, as even the FBI admits. Bin Laden was the scapegoat; no more, no less. 9/11 was an inside job, a multi-faceted coup d'etat for which he was blamed but which he never could have accomplished.

And you don't see the NYT talking about Pakistan's change of policy toward the militants in this light, nor do you see anything in the so-called "paper of record" about how USA has used and betrayed "freedom-fighters" all over the world.

In short, I'd rather see Carlotta Gall writing for the NYT than not, but we're still obliged to read her reports through the standard filter. In other words, the individual dots may be laid out correctly, but not always; meanwhile there are always some dots missing, and the narrative connecting the others is bound to be twisted.

And I can't deny that I'd be a lot more comfortable with the official story of 9/11 -- as well as the official story of how Pakistan lost control of the militants who attacked us on 9/11 -- if the story about the loss of control had come along before the attack, rather than six years after. But such is the nature of covert ops, I suppose. You can't always fabricate the history your cover story requires, but that's never considered a reason to cancel an operation.

Speaking of 9/11, attentive readers will have noticed that the NYT quotes Robert Grenier, who was CIA station chief in Islamabad on 9/11 and is currently a managing director at Kroll -- a company which ranks very high on the list of corporate 9/11 suspects. If there is any reason to believe this man, I have no idea what it is. So much for the "liberal media".

I disagree with Scott Horton on Western chances in Afghanistan. As I read it, Afghanistan is "lost" and always has been. The invasion was based on lies and will never amount to anything but a crime against humanity. But that won't stop the imperial adventure. Nor will most of the "dissident" media ever acknowledge it. But the "militants" will never stop trying to eject the foreign military presence -- and as long as that presence remains, the "militants" will never have to go recruiting.

Will Scott Horton write about this one day? Or will he continue to present propaganda disguised as journalism, where the "center stage of the current conflict" is "the amorphous borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the ultimate growth matrix of the terrorist threat that manifested itself on 9/11 ..."

It's beautiful English, of course. But as History it stinks.

The evil force that manifested itself on 9/11 was a lot closer to home than the amorphous borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I would have thought Scott Horton was smart enough to see that. But then again, perhaps he's shackled by Harper's. Or perhaps he never would have got the gig at Harper's... but I digress.

Listen: whoever bombed the Serena Hotel seems to understand that the foreign troops are little pawns in a big game and will be replaced as necessary, for as long as the foreigners continue to sip tea in the hotel. In other words, their "tactical shift" seems to indicate a realization that there's no point attacking the troops and leaving the foreign dignitaries alone. They don't seem to realize that the foreign dignitaries are as replaceable as the troops.

But the replaceable foreigners are hiding now, according to Eleanor Mayne in Kabul for the Telegraph: Party's over in Kabul after hotel bomb
It could have been a scene from the trendier parts of Paris, New York or London - a smart restaurant-bar packed with chic 20-somethings, debating which club to head on to as midnight approaches.

Yet L'Atmosphere, a funky French bistro with open fire, is not a hang-out on the Left Bank, Soho or Greenwich Village but in the Afghan capital, Kabul, the city that once hosted the world's most hardline Islamic regime. Its customers have been the foreign aid workers rebuilding the country.

But last week's suicide bombing of the upmarket Serena hotel, where the swimming pool and coffee bar were popular gathering points for Westerners, and the Taliban's threats have alarmed Kabul's aid workers, who have until now regarded the city as a place to let their hair down after arduous postings in remote Afghan provinces.

Many aid organisations are now in temporary "lock down" - barred from going out for anything other than essential business. On Friday night, a tour by The Sunday Telegraph of the city's nightspots, which are discreetly located in private ­villas, found most closed or nearly empty.

During the six years since the fall of the Taliban, the city has slowly acquired an unlikely status as a party town among the tens of thousands of charity workers, diplomats and security staff now based here.

The prospect of further attacks -part of a deterioration of security in Kabul in the past year - have raised the question of whether the city may end up building a version of Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, where aid and construction workers live in spartan compounds.

Such a move would not be welcomed by the capital's aid workers, many of whom club together to rent spacious Kabul mansion houses. While their colleagues in Baghdad cannot venture out without an armed escort, they can come ago largely as they please. On Fridays and weekends throughout the summer, sun-bathers crowd the grass at the swimming pool at one United Nations compound, enjoying the pool-side bar. And there are beauty salons offering relaxing Thai massages, as well as therapists, counsellors and yoga classes.

Late-night dancing, meanwhile, is guaranteed at Bayou Blues or Crazy Eight, a security contractors' hang-out where weapons must be handed in at reception.

So lively is the social scene that Kabul has its own version of Hello! magazine in the form of the monthly Afghan Scene, which features a "Be Scene" section with pictures of various expats attending photo gallery launches, dinners and occasional black tie parties.
That tells you more than you ever needed to know, doesn't it? They hate us for our freedoms?

And finally, some remarkable journalism: a point of view you will never see from the New York Times, Carlotta Gall or no.

Nawab Khair Buksh Marri interviewed by Rashed Rahman, editor of Pakistani daily The Post: "We fear extinction"
I want to ask who defines international standards. Who creates the world order? Who forms international public opinion? America and her satellites decide the price of petrol and the fate of nations. And whosoever dares disagree is a terrorist. Human beings need to think as to who is the real terrorist: the one who kills or the one who defends his right to life, the one who cons or the one who resists being conned? It is not predetermined that a superpower is civilized and peace loving by definition. Who invented and dropped the atom bomb before any other nation had an atom bomb? That is quite akin to the parable of the lion distributing the bounty. The phrase “lion’s share” does not refer to a fair and just distribution of resources. America is the lion of the international community and then she has quite a coterie of hired servants, stooges and cronies. America has colonies all over the world apart from vast interests in technology, science and research. Whoever resists America, is being labelled as a terrorist. When Osama asks America to leave his lands, he is called a terrorist, even if Osama and those of his ilk have been working for the American interests in the past. When Mullah Omar asks America to leave Afghanistan, he is given the title of a terrorist.

Those who wield power are also the arbiters of justice. Processions are taken out at Trafalgar Square every day and the British are not bothered. The rule of law is a nice accessory of the civilized world. Protests are not the sole method of defending rights. These methods can be a pressure tactic. However, they are ineffective when the powerful decide to have their way. Protests could not stop the American aggression against Iraq. The Americans said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction as if America did not have any weapons of mass destruction. Well, America was the referee and it failed to find any such weapons in Iraq. Civilized protests are ineffective in addressing deep-rooted grievances.

If you give up hope, you are dead. One needs to keep hope alive to live on. As you know the elections are round the corner. On the one hand we have the clamour of the weak. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the noise and the power of the regime. The weak are neither resourceful nor united at the moment. They do not trust each other either. It is not necessary that the equation remains the same forever.
If you haven't had enough yet, please read all of "We fear extinction".

I think you should also read all of "Militants Escape Control of Pakistan, Officials Say", but don't forget to remember the parts that aren't mentioned.

Barnett Rubin's piece, "New York Times on ISI; Serena Hotel Attack", contains a lot of detail on the terrorists who have been blamed for the attack on the Serena. Blame is not the same as guilt, as Rubin himself points out when he writes "In case this hypothesis proves true, here is some background." Regardless of who was behind the bombing, this is a very informative post.

I've said this before but just in case: bookmark Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque and read him every day. That's an order. You can thank me later.

And as for Scott Horton, I've been a bit rough on him, but he does fine work on a number of fronts. So here's another bookmark for your collection of hard-working patriots, not all of whom agree on all issues.