FATA Situation – Status Report, April 2011

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Context
PoliTact’s recent assessment suggested that US and Pakistan at are both posturing to move ahead with their respective visions of the future, without concern for the other. This is markedly different from the earlier approach, in which both attempted to persuade and influence each other through a series of strategic dialogues. In this FATA situation report, we note events unfolding since the Pasha-Panetta and Kiyani-Mullen meeting this month, to estimate the future direction of US-Pakistan relations.

Analysis

The Role of Raymond in Pakistan and ISI

The Raymond Davis incident in Lahore on January 27th caused the US-Pakistan relations to go downhill. The drone attacks that in the past occurred routinely have now become a primary source of tension between the two countries. Since the Raymond incident, the US-Pakistan relation is being re-evaluated by both countries. Whereas US has wanted to continue as usual, from Pakistan has indicated that would no longer be the case. According to media reports, Pakistan has asked US to:

  • Reduce the number of its security personnel in Pakistan.
  • Stop drone attacks in the FATA.
  • Share information about US operatives in Pakistan and the nature of their operation.

PoliTact has verified through its sources that American personnel in Pakistan are indeed leaving. Many houses rented in places such as University Town, Peshawar, are being vacated and their leases are not being renewed. Reports also indicate that US has vacated the Shamsi Airbase located in Baluchistan, which was used for drone related operations.

These developments pose a question about what information Pakistan was able to obtain from Raymond that set in motion the resetting of US-Pakistan defense cooperation at this crucial juncture of Afghan conflict. Following is information PoliTact has deciphered through media analysis, about the covert role of Raymond and other similar operatives in Pakistan. Subsequent official statements emanating from US have substantiated some of these claims, such as the one related to Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

  • Raymond was trying to make contacts and obtain information about the group responsible for Mumbai Attack, Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT).
  • He was also gathering information related to the nations nuclear program.
  • He had connections to Taliban in Waziristan, where he had also made frequent trips. His travel was possibly connected to the planning of drone attacks and attempts to influence the peace talks independent of Pakistan. Some analysts in Pakistan have interpreted his visits to Waziristan as confirmation that Raymond was involved in planning extremist attacks in the country.

Thus from the above observations, Pakistan would have developed the following damming conclusions:

  • US is actively involved in containing Pakistan.
  • US and India (and possibly others like Israel and UK) were cooperating in conducting operations with in the country.

It should be noted that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) probably knew about these activities for a while and decided to make them public using the Raymond incident. And, since Pakistan has come out in the open about CIA’s role, the Americans are not hesitating to disclose what they know about ISI’s character and its role in supporting Afghan Taliban and LeT.

Drone Attacks continue – Message from US

As PoliTact had noted in evaluating the leaks of WikiLeaks, when governments try to narrow the gap between what they know and the general public, it has usually represented an desire to change policy. So its clear that by making public what Pakistan Army knew about the nature of operations being carried out by Raymond Davis, the country wanted to reset the red lines around such covert strategies and tactics. However, the release of Raymond after a bitter public backlash did not go well with many hard-line and nationalist groups in the country. Thus, Pakistan army has a need to appear tough and convey that it is fully cognizant of the nations interest. On the other hand, after the Raymond incident, US is not in a mood to cut ISI any slack and has continued the drone attacks.
There have been three drone attacks since the Raymond incident and it’s interesting to note the timing, where they occurred, who was targeted.

  • The March 17 attack took place a day after the release of Raymond Davis, in Data Khel area of North Waziristan. Two contradictory explanations emerged on who was targeted; the first one indicated it was a peaceful jirga while the other reports stated that militants linked to Hafez Gul Bahadur were attacked. The incident resulted in more than 40 deaths. General Kiyani issued strong statements afterwards condemning the drone tactics.
  • The second drone attack occurred on April 13th occurred in South Waziristan, soon after the Pasha-Panetta meeting (April 11) in Washington
  • The third predator strike took place on April 22nd in Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, where militants belonging to Hafez Gul Bahadur and Haqqani network are known to exist. This attack took place after the Kyani-Mullen Meeting held on April 19 in Pakistan.

Although no pubic information was available after the Pasha-Panetta meeting, before meeting Kiyani, Mullen spoke with Pakistan’s media and made a number of significant statements. Mullen pointed to long-term ISI ties to Haqqani network, a group responsible for killing American troops in Afghanistan. He stated: “ISI has a long standing relationship with the Haqqani network, that does not mean everybody in ISI but it is there.” He further added that groups such as LeT pose a global threat.

Through these reecent drone attacks, US has conveyed a public message that it would continue with the UAV tactic, irrespective of the political consequences for Pakistan. Additionally, most of the post Raymond incident drone attacks have targeted the good Taliban that do not direct attacks at Pakistan but do carry out strikes in Afghanistan against the Americans and the coalition forces.

Significant Activity Report for Af-Pak Region

The tensions between US and Pakistan are in all likelihood extremely unnerving for both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. The good Taliban, as Pakistan defines them, must be watching intensely for signs if Pakistan army is about to change its position under US pressure, and what that would mean for their future.

Since the recent drone attacks and particularly after the Kiyani-Mullen meeting, there has been a surge in attacks particularly directed against the Pakistan’s armed forces. Following is a representation of some key political, military, and security developments related to FATA and other areas of Af-Pak region, since the Kiyani-Mullen meeting.

  • Chief of US Pacific Command Admiral Robert Willard told US lawmakers on April14th that Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba has declared a holy war (jihad) on the US and is seeking to expand the scope of its activities to Europe and other places. Admiral Willard stated there was proof of the group’s existence in the broader Asia Pacific, Europe, Canada, and America. Admiral Willard warned the group no longer focuses solely on India or the South Asian region.
  • Joe Biden, the US Vice President, said on April 19th that NATO can tackle Libya without America’s assistance, claiming that US initiatives are better concentrated on places such as Egypt or Pakistan.
  • US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on April 20th pressurized the administration of President Obama on its Afghan War strategy, insisting that troop pullout shouldn’t be based on “political calculations”. Boehner headed a six-member US congressional delegation to visit Afghanistan, and held meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and David Petraeus,
  • General Kiyani visited troops in Mohmand Agency on April 21st. Pakistan army launched the second phase of the Operation Brekhna against militants, to clear the Suran sector near the Afghan border. According to ISPR, the Dawezai area was cleared in the first phase of the operation, which was initiated in January and caused the displacement of 50,000 people.
  • At least 14 Pakistani troops were killed on April 21st when militants from neighboring Afghanistan targeted a paramilitary check-point in Kharkai village in Lower Dir. Around 20 militants also died in the gun battle.
  • In response to Pakistan’s demand to be provided drones so it can target extremist itself, US announced on April 21st that it would be giving Pakistan 85 small ‘Raven’ drones for surveillance purposes.
  • Pakistani military targeted three suspected militant hideouts in Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency on April 22 with gunship helicopters, killing up to eight militants and wounding 11.
  • US drone attacks in Pakistan’s restive tribal area of North Waziristan on April 22 killed 25 suspected militants and wounded several others. According to reports, the attack occurred in the town of Mir Ali that is controlled by Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
  • News emerged on April 22nd indicating US personnel have left Shamsi Air Base, from where some of the drone flights are known to originate.
  • Chief of a tribal militia and three of his colleagues were killed on April 23 in a suicide bombing in Bajaur Agency. The attack took place in Salarzai sub-division, northeast of Khar. According to security officials a soldier belonging to Dir Scouts was also killed in the attack, while Lt Col Hyder Bangash was injured. Media reports suggest the attack took place after a jirga was held to discuss the situation resulting from April 21st attack on check-post in Lower Dir.
  • Supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan resumed on April 24th after a protest rally against US drone attacks blocked a key highway in the Pakistani city of Peshawar for three days. The rally was held by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Speaking at the rally, Tehreek-e-Insaaf chairman Imran Khan warned the government that if drone strikes are not stopped in a month, his party workers would close NATO supply routes all over the country and march towards the capital Islamabad.
  • NATO forces in Afghanistan said on April 27th that they had killed a senior Al-Qaeda commander who was their second most-wanted men in the country. According to ISAF, Saudi national Abu Hafs al-Najdi, aka Abdul Ghani, died in an aerial strike on April 14 in the eastern province of Kunar. Kunar lies adjacent to Bajuar Agency in Pakistan.
  • Three attacks were carried between April 26 and 28 on Navy Busses in Karachi, killing about 10 people and injuring close to 60 people. According to media sources in Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Baluch Liberation Front (BLF) claimed responsibility for the attacks, carried out through the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).
  • The defense officials of UK to include General David Jackson met with US Defense Sectary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, for over three hours on April 27th. According to Gates, the talks focused on the military campaign in Libya and the war in Afghanistan. The officials also discussed the changes taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Border security troops from Pakistan and Afghanistan exchanged fire on April 27 in the tribal district of South Waziristan. Up to 12 Afghan National Army soldiers and one member of the Pakistani paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) died in the clash, which took place near the Angoor Adda region of the district. At least three FC servicemen and eight civilians were also injured.

Conclusion

In the post Pasha-Panetta and Kiyani-Mullen meeting environment, there has been an uptick of extremist activity targeting Pakistani armed forces. Meanwhile, both US and Pakistan are continuing to posture that they are unwilling to move from their respective positions. Additionally both ISI and CIA are publicly accusing each other, a matter previously limited to private dealings.

US has launched drone attacks against Taliban that Pakistan considers ‘good’ and, on the other hand, it does not appear that the country is going to discontinue support for Haqqani’s in the near future. US is also increasing pressure on Pakistan through slowing down the economic aid and through its influence on IMF and World Bank. Meanwhile, by visiting Afghanistan and meeting Karzai, the Pakistan’s political and military leadership is signaling it is moving ahead with the political solution to the Afghan conflict, with or without US support.

With the situation in Middle East increasingly uncertain and with reports of Pakistan’s military dealings with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, US would want Pakistan to keep its focus on FATA and to not let Al Qaeda, and other affiliated groups, to exploit the volatility in the region. However, Pakistan wants the shift to the political solution for the Afghan conflict, particularly in the face of its dire economic circumstances.

 

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