Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Pakistan Watch - 8

Asia Times reports (h/t BRF):
he high-profile arrest of a group of Pakistani militants in mid-April in the restive Afghan province of Helmand by the Afghan army and their subsequent handover to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for grilling exposed a jihadi network running to the heart of urban Pakistan.

In the course of interrogation, the militants confessed to being recruited, trained and then launched into Helmand after spending some time in places such as the southern port city of Karachi and Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province.

They also gave details of their Pakistani leaders and their activities, including how these leaders could move around freely and how they owned huge religious establishments.

The report of the interrogation of the militants, circulated to all tiers of NATO command, including the top military and diplomatic command, raises immediate questions on the competence and the commitment of the Pakistani government in controlling militants.


While US officials were shuttling back and forth to Pakistan, seven youths were seized by the Afghan National Army (ANA) in the Gramsir district of Helmand province.

Pakistani youths from the tribal areas and the cities have frequently been arrested or killed by NATO troops in Afghanistan. Most of these youngsters went to the country in the zeal of jihad, and they could usually be linked to particular stand-alone point-persons.

This time it was different.

Three of the men have been identified as Enyatur Rahman (North-West Frontier Province - NWFP), Saeed (NWFP) and Imran (Punjab). When they were apprehended along with the four others, a Pakistani Taliban commander named Mansoor, based in Helmand, aware of the possibility of them exposing a major jihadi network inside Pakistan, tried his level-best to negotiate with ANA to prevent them from falling into the hands of NATO.

But a little mishandling caused ANA to turn them over to NATO.

There is an arrangement between the Taliban and ANA all over the south of Afghanistan, especially in Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Helmand and Ghazni provinces.

Under this, when ANA troops are sent on patrol inside Taliban areas, they pay the Taliban to avoid being killed. The price is arms, ammunition or rockets, which is handed over and then reported as having been lost during an encounter with the Taliban.
In turn, when ANA arrests any Taliban fighters, they demand cash money for their release. If the fighters are Pakistani or non-Afghan, ANA takes a little longer to negotiate a price, but if the fighters are Afghans, ANA personnel will not take unnecessary risks. Either they strike a deal then and there and release the Taliban fighters, or within a few days they hand them over to NATO. The reason is to avoid direct confrontation with the Afghan Taliban and their tribal constituencies, which could cause problems in any prolonged negotiations.

Under this arrangement, as the seven men were Pakistani, Mansoor started negotiations with ANA for the release of his men. ANA demanded US$200,000, Mansoor countered with an offer of 2 million rupees (US$25,000), which was refused. Mansoor then arranged for 10 million rupees to be paid, but since almost 10 days had passed, ANA handed the Pakistanis over to NATO.

Mansoor mishandled the situation on two counts. First, he did not involve the Afghan Taliban command, and secondly he took too long in reaching an agreeable figure.

Apparently, the youths soon began talking under interrogation. In particular, they gave details of a jihadi network known for its past association with the defunct Jaish-e-Mohammad. They also gave details of their backgrounds and how they were recruited and how they had spent time in different Pakistani urban centers, where the leaders of their network openly ran religious establishments.

This information was shared with concerned Pakistani quarters, but by that time all senior Pakistani Taliban commanders had gone underground. In the bigger picture, though, the incident provided Washington the ammunition it needed to really go after the Pakistan national leadership and warn that the entire country needed to stand up as one to fight against all sections and groups of the Taliban in the country. They reminded that it is not any particular government or political party, but the state of Pakistan that is running out of time.

This is where a new joint government involving Sharif could come into play, and Pakistan will once again be dancing to American tunes.

The Pakistani Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies obviously will not stand back. Al-Qaeda's command has already drawn up plans to stir up a reaction all across the country - the masses will be urged to show their allegiance in black and white.