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Af Pak – Come September

September 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Analysis, war on terror

Af Pak Events

The intensity of war in Af-Pak has picked up considerably in September beginning last week of August. The pattern indicates flexing of muscle by the Punjabi Taliban and TTP across Pakistan. The numbers in Pakistan include 108 civilians, mainly Shia minority, killed and 400 wounded. In Afghanistanthe coalition forces were able to kill 64 “terrorists” of the Haqqani group in three separate incidents. It included the coalition forces repelling  Haqqani attacks at Salerno,Chapman and Margah Forward Operating Bases. The events unfolded as enumerated:

On 23 August,  the Taliban targeted mosques to take out pro-government leaders in coordinated attacks in South Waziristan, killing 25 people in three bombings and suicide attacks. The largest strike took place at a mosque in the town of Wana in South Waziristan. In the explosion, 18 people were killed.There have been 23 major attacks on mosques and other Islamic institutions in Pakistan since December 2007, according to information compiled by The Long War Journal.

On the same day Five terrorists and seven civilians were were killed when unmanned US strike aircraft fired three missiles at a compound in the village of Danda Darpa Khel, a village just outside of Miramshah in North Waziristan, according to Dawn.

On 26 August, the US  struck targets  with a predator attack in Kurram which killed four “terrorists”.

On 28 August coalition and Afghan troops beat back a complex Haqqani Network assault on two bases in eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 20 fighters and a senior commander during and after the attack. The Haqqani Network “simultaneously launched” coordinated attacks on Forward Operating Bases at Salerno and Chapman. As per ISAF, 30 Haqqani Network fighters including 13 wearing suicide vests, were killed during the Aug. 28 assault on two US bases in Khost.

On 02 September, as per ISAF press release, more than 20 members of the Haqqani Network were killedafter launching an early morning attack on Outpost at Margah in the Bermel district of Paktika province. On  the same day unmanned US strike aircraft attacked compounds in two separate strikes  in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan killing at least 15 Taliban as per media reports.

In the meanwhile, despite the floods, Shia minorities were attacked in two separate incidents in Lahore on 01 September and Quetta on 03 September29 people were reported killed and more than 200 people were wounded in bombings by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al Almi, another name for the so-called Punjabi Taliban, during religious processions. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in particular is well known for carrying out sectarian terror attacks against minority Shia, Ahmadis, Sufis, and Christians in Pakistan. In Quetta, a suicide car bomb was detonated in the midst of a Qods Day protest held by Shia Muslims who oppose Israel’s control of Jerusalem. 54 people( some reports claim 76) were killed and nearly 200 were wounded, according to reports from Geo Newsand Dawn. (Note: The figures have been compiled from the Long War Journal.)

On 01 September, the US government  designated the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as a terrorist entity, and  named Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsud as specially designated global terrorists. Hakeemullah and Waliur now have $5 million bounties out for information leading to their capture and prosecution.

On 03 September the Pakistani Taliban threatened to attack foreign aid workers delivering relief for the floods that have paralyzed much of the country.

Analysis – Pakistan’s Sectarian Violence

The patterns of these figures indicate the renewed vigour in conduct of suicide attacks and bombings by groups of all hues,backed by Al Qaeda, especiallythe attacks against religious minorities, to ignite a sectarian crisis in Pakistan. The Quetta attack immediately heightened tension between the Hazara ethnic minority – which is Shia – and the city’s Sunni majority Pushtun population. Immediately after the attack, armed Hazara men took over the streets in Quetta.

Lahore and what is happening there is important to Pakistan’s ethnic map. As per an analysis over Radio Australia by MJ Gohel, chief executive officer of the security research group, Asia Pacific Foundation,whoever wants to destabilise the country or the government has to go after Lahore. Militants in Pakistan believe that if they can turn Lahore into a battleground, then there is little to prevent the Taliban influence from spreading right across the entire country and turn it into a Taliban state.

The rise in violence levels indicates that Al-Qaeda-linked militants are exploiting the fact that the catastrophic monsoon floods that have engulfed Pakistan have put authorities under severe pressure. This gives them adequate levey to perpetuate sectarian clashes which when combined with the after affects of the floods would create the desired environment for further radicalisation of the society – an opportunity the Taliban are eagerly waiting  for.

The procession in Quetta was in observance of Al Quds Day on the last Friday of the fasting period. Al Quds is the name of the historic mosque in East Jerusalem, which is under Israeli control since 1967. Ever since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, Muslims all over the world observe the last Friday of the fasting period as Al Quds Day to remind each other that Al Quds is still under the control of Israel.This call was given by Ayatollah Khomeini in a message issued by him to all the Muslims of the world—-Shias as well as Sunnis—in August 1979. The Pakistan Taliban and the Sunnis in general believe that  Shia Iran collaborated with US for the invasion of Sunni Iraq. The attacks on Shias observing Al Quds Day in Quetta were meant to punish not only the Shias of Pakistan, but also Iran. This would fan fires amongst Iran establishment to vitiate the environment further.

The Pakistan Army has not been silent through all this. As per claims in the The News , the Pakistan Army is selectively eliminating Taliban commanders and killing Taliban prisoners. While Taliban claims should be taken  sceptically, there does appear to be some truth to this report. There have been several reports of Taliban commanders being killed months after being arrested. These could be the bad Taliban not colluding with the Pakistan Army. On ground this widens the rift between Taliban and the Pakistan Army against the theory of “Good Bad Taliban”. The Taliban and their acolytes have the easier route of putting the establishment under greater strain by inciting the ethnic violence.

Apart from their role in Pakistan, the TTP under Hakimullah Mehsud, has become ambitious and has been engaging in executing missions in Afghanistan and overseas.This is evident from the US charge of Mehsud’s alleged involvement in killing of seven Americans at a CIA base in Afghanistan and the confessions of Shahzad the NY bomber.

Analysis Afghanistan

The attacks on ISAF posts and bases with suicidal intents exhibits growing confidence of the Taliban. Despite suffering heavy casualties they have maintained reasonable control in Kandahar and have increased their influence North of Kabul. There are also reports that they have joined hands or reached an understanding with various factional militant group in the North bordering Iran and the Central Asian Republic. This has ominous portents for ISAF which is far too stretched and the ANA and ANP not yet totally effective. The forthcoming elections will provide Taliban and al Qaeda with adequate opportunities to discredit the process through violence.

The Pakistan Taliban has threatened to carry out attacks in the US and Europe “very soon”, two days after US added the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to its list of “foreign terrorist organizations”. “We will launch attacks in America and Europe very soon,” said Qari Hussain Mehsud, who is the Taliban’s top trainer of suicide bombers and Hakeemullah Mehsud’s top deputy.

The primary targets of predator strikes seem to be Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, especially North Waziristan – a terrorist training and breeding ground where the Pakistan Army has not launched operations as yet.


The floods have changed the landscape of Pakistan but not the mindset. There are ominous signs that the combined effects of the floods, inefficiency of the civil government, still hawkish India centric focus of Pakistan Army and the upper hand gained by the militant groups in fanning the sectarian fires will result in a fractured future for the Pakistani polity – at least for now. The current trend of violence may continue.

Afghanistan awaits the surge after the Iraqi pullout and it would be interesting to see General Patraeus’s strategies including the plan for the end game.

End Note

Then there was the ISI claim of India being relegated by militant threat in Pakistan. No such luck. Amidst diverse  reports on the subject,  The Nation rubbished that the militant threat could ever overtake India as enemy number one. “There is no change in Pakistan’s stance vis a vis India”. The recent instance of Pakistan needlessly hesitant in accepting India’s flood relief very well exposes the typical Pakistani mindset. As per us, this claim is purely tactical; in their heart of hearts, their mortal enemy is still India.  The Pakistani establishment has brought upon its people a virulently anti-Indian and doctored version of history. The venom is too deep seated and only an internal collapse and balkanisation of the Pakistan state can bring some genuine drift in the mindset. Under these conditions, the scenario of a lasting peace with Pakistan appears extremely remote. In the meantime Indian eyes are temporarily on the Dragon.

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12 Responses to “Af Pak – Come September”
  1. Rejesh Kartik says:

    There are more al Qaeda in Af Pak now than what Bush started with. If the current expediency of an early withdrawal clouds Obama’s vision, Patraeus will find it tough to continue any meaningful counter insurgency operations, especially when the Taliban under Haqqani refuse to talk without preconditions of withdrawal.

    Pakistan should best be left to the mercy of its gods- Shia or Sunni. All they can think of at a time like this is India – sic. The flood victims and the shias, I guess, can wait till Kayani decides how to plan greater unrest in India.

  2. Ishfaq Mirza says:

    Patraeus faces the challenge of his life time in managing Af Pak. Unlike the surge in Iraq, the surge in Afghanistan without corresponding intervention in North Waziristan and the Pakistan badlands will ensure that the surge largely remains ineffective. Solving pieces of this Zigsaw puzzle is vital to solving Af Pak. A possible solution is – greater physical activity of ISAF in Western Pakistan – an aspect that Pakistan will resist forcefully.

    Floods notwithstanding, the Pakistan establishment may have slowed down operations in FATA / KP but their focus remains Afghanistan, especially negotiations with the Taliban for a stake in the future of Afghanistan. This is the bane of any progress on Af Pak.

  3. Naresh Chand says:

    American strategy in Afghanistan is largely flawed. The tribal Jirgas and their influence decides the federal structure of Governance in Afghanistan – a place US rarely focussed on. Instead it concentrated on the Capital Kabul with an inefficient and corrupt Karzai government, whose jurisdiction seldom transcends the city limits.

    People preferred Taliban rule, despite their atrocities, because they were honest in their dealings and could implement their policies, however flawed they may be, with a peoples connect. Karzai and the Americans have taken time to understand this that people matter – even in Afghanistan.

    Haqqani group will or would have combined by now with Mehsud’s Afghan Taliban to make matters worse for America.

  4. Vijay Rawat says:

    The Americans just have to show the Afghan people at the grass root levels that they have their best interests at hand and will not leave them to the chaos that “they did before”.

    Likewise in Vietnam and now in Iraq, where the US backed first one and then another truly lousy government, put “nation-building” behind military power, and so on. Afghanistan is the same. Time to accept sunk costs and get out, latest in a line of empires that is slowly learning you can do anything with bayonets but sit on them (Napoleon, I believe).

  5. Chanakya says:

    Afghanistan needs a policy and a strategy that is thought through to continue operations in Af Pak. While Obama understood the need to link Pak with Af, he has done precious little to show for it.

    I disagree with the Obama Administration’s assertation that al-Qaeda would be able to operate with impunity if they were allowed back into Afghanistan. They can already operate with near-impunity in Pakistan, due to its nuclear arsenal. The US wouldn’t dare unleash a large-scale assault on Pakistan as it did in Afghanistan.

    Af Pak is now Pak Af and the world at war in the region needs to articulate revised policies to deal with this new equation, before internal strife burns Pakistan to the detriment of the world at large.

  6. Team SAI says:

    These excerpts from a Newsweek article predict a demonic future for the region and the world at large

    “Pakistan Taliban (Taiba)is believed to have ambitions far beyond India, says America’s top military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, and is becoming “a significant regional and global threat.”

    Operating out of the space ceded to them, and by exploiting the country’s modern telecommunications, transport, and financial systems, the Taliban, the Lashkars, and the Harakats arguably can plant a bomb in New York, Mumbai, and Kabul almost as easily as they can send a suicide bomber to Karachi or Islamabad. As long as that remains true, Pakistan will be widely viewed as the country presenting the most danger to regional and global security—and to its own stability.”

  7. Ishfaq Rana says:

    There are no signs of violence abating in Af Pak. These reports from LWJ on September 7 highlight the dimensions the conflict is taking.

    The Taliban killed 21 people in an attack on a police headquarters in Kohat and torched a girls’ school in Peshawar. The military killed two Taliban fighters in Swat and claimed the Taliban has been defeated and ejected from Arakzai. In the meanwhile a suicide bomber killed nine policemen and 10 civilians in an attack on a police station in Lakki Marwat. US Predators killed five “rebels” in an airstrike in Datta Khel in North Waziristan.



  8. Dinesh Thakur says:

    This one on history of Afghanistan being at the crossroads of conflicts is a good reminder that Afghans have suffered through centuries but never surrendered. Lessons for ISAF.


  9. Rajiv Mishra says:

    As per FP, Pakistan, it seems, is currently in battle against a multitude of domestic and external vested interests, fueled by a combination of religious zeal, political ideology, and possibly external drivers who may be using local militant groups or their splinters to keep Pakistan destabilized. It is for the mighty intelligence establishment to figure out the string-pullers. If it cannot, the collusion of ideologically driven outfits, criminal gangs and external forces — the al-Qaeda force multipliers — will keep bleeding this country.

  10. Dinesh Sahoo says:

    There is acoup brewing in Pakistan says Guardian.

    “Given all the tensions of recent weeks, it is perhaps no surprise that Pakistan’s rumour mill is filled with talk of yet another military coup. This time, however, the multiple crises may be too much for even the army to chew.

    What began in the same way as so many rumours in Pakistan do – with numerous curt, anonymous emails, text messages and iftar dinner conversations – snowballed into something of a storm. It may have been just a bit of extra masala for the evening news, but it appeared that Pakistan was heading for yet another military takeover”.


  11. chanakya says:

    FP take on centrality of Pakistan to Af Pak

    According to Woodward’s account, the centrality of Pakistan was championed early on by Bruce Riedel, the Brookings scholar who was brought on as a key figure in the Obama administration’s March 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.

    Riedel, who referred to Islamist extremists in Pakistan as the “real, central threat” to U.S. national security, personally convinced Obama, only two months after he took office, that Pakistan needed to be the centerpiece of his new strategy. Riedel’s plan involved arming the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency and increasing economic and other forms of aid to the civilian government. This marked the beginning of the term “Af-Pak,” which drove the administration’s belief that stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan were inextricably linked.

    Riedel’s Pakistan focus was not due to his confidence that the civilian government could control the military and intelligence services. In fact, he referred to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as a “liar” with regards to the activities of the secretive Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which is widely suspected of aiding the Taliban insurgency. Then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reportedly echoed Riedel’s views on this matter.

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