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March 30, 2007

Pakistan

The Madrassa Match and the Pakistani Tinderbox

The Taliban-al-Qaeda Eastern Front in the Spring Offensive Grows

By Steve Schippert | March 30, 2007

"The students from universities and colleges and youths from all walks of life ask why we do not call for jihad against a repressive regime, but I always say that the time is not ripe. But when pious lady teachers are punished and arrested for the sake of prostitutes, a call for jihad is imminent."
Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, Head of Lal Masjid madrassas, Islamabad, March 29, 2007

Events in Pakistan continue to unfold at a fast and accelerating pace, with very few positive developments for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, if any. The widely reported news this week has been the official signing of the Bajour Accord between the tribal leaders of Bajour and the Pakistani government. This was expected to occur and, while another important concession by the Musharraf government to the Islamists patiently targeting his rule, it is not the most significant development this week. Several other events signify the more troubling creep of radicalism into the Pakistani capital and the rest of the nation, and still others point to an emboldened Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. A true Eastern Front of 2007's Spring Offensive may be tangibly revealing itself in a rapid succession of unfolding events.

The Madrassa Match in Islamabad

Time will reveal the most significant event of this week, but chief among them must be considered the Lal Masjid madrassa standoff in Islamabad. In what can be described as a vice patrol, a group of predominantly female burqa-clad Islamist students had been canvassing the area trying to force local video and music shops to close due to the "vulgar" movies sold. Ultimately, they took three women captive from what they called a brothel nearby. Pakistani police then arrested two female instructors from the girls' madrassa, and the Islamist students responded by abducting two Pakistani police officers.

The Pakistani authorities responded by sacking the local chief of police, and simultaneously released the female madrassa teachers in exchange for the freed police officers. The standoff was tense, with both male and female students blocking off access streets to the Jamia Hafsa female madrassa area. The three women and a six-month old girl were released after the 'brothel' owner, Shamim Akhtar, made a public confession before reporters. She later recanted saying that the confession was forced. Of her ordeal, Akhtar said, "I was forcefully picked up, beaten and dragged along with my daughter, son's wife and a six-month-old baby to the madrassa. They beat us with batons and said the government can't do anything, and we had to read out a written confession." She said she was ultimately offered the option of a public repenting or trial in a Sharia court.

This is the same group of Islamist students that have occupied a nearby students' library for weeks in defiance of the Pakistani government. The government wanted to close the library because it claimed that it distributed militant jihadist books and pamphlets. Lal Masjid has both a male and female madrassa in operation and is known to be aligned with the Taliban.

While the Shamin Akhtar ordeal has been defused, it can be expected that more such incidents in Islamabad will occur. Umme Hassan, the principal of Jamia Hafsa female madrassa ('Jamia' means a college level religious school), said that tabs are kept on 22 total 'brothels' in the local area. A public confession from one does not resolve the issue for them. More tellingly, when she was asked about whether there are suicide bombers at Lal Masjid's Jamia Hafsa, "she said that all her students taking part in this movement were risking their lives for a great cause." And when adding that her school is to President Musharraf what Usama bin Laden was to President George W. Bush, she said of her students that "They are mentally prepared to sacrifice their lives any time."

Lal Masjid's Ghazi Abdul Rasheed is referred to as one of the most respected religious leaders in Islamabad. And while he may have in the past said "that the time is not ripe" for a call to Jihad against Musharraf and the Pakistani government, his warning this week that "when pious lady teachers are punished and arrested for the sake of prostitutes, a call for jihad is imminent" should not be dismissed.

While neither Rasheed nor Umme Hassan may hold significant power within the larger Islamist movement within Pakistan, they are clearly holders of a match that could spark the vast Pakistani tinderbox that lies at their feet. That the madrassa incident and Islamist student uprising took place in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad is of significance that cannot be overstated. It continued without an effective resolution through Pakistani police or security intervention. This is not the tribal areas and, in fact, takes place in the vicinity of Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) headquarters.

The Wider Pakistani Madrassa Problem

The problem of radicalization in madrassas run by Islamists is not isolated, but in fact pervasive throughout Pakistan. During the Jaima Hafsa kidnapping incident in Islamabad, the International Crisis Group released a study that focused on radical madrassas in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. The report, Pakistan: Karachi's Madrassas And Violent Extremism, details the situation in Karachi where the government has turned a convenient blind eye to the Islamist groups incubating there and exporting madrassa-trained fighters to the jihad against Coalition forces in Afghanistan and in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

The report's stated reason for the increasing Islamist violence fueled by madrassa-provided manpower is that Musharraf has not fostered a fully open democratic system in Pakistan. This is an off-base conclusion, as the rise in Islamist violence – particularly that increasingly turned toward the Musharraf government – is due to the fact that it is not a government dominated by radical Islamists and Sharia law. It should be recognized that the cause is decidedly not because the current government lacks a full and open democratic system. The ICG's calling for such full, fair and open democratic elections has its merits, but minimizing or neutralizing the violence of Islamists in Pakistan is not one of them.

Widening (Or Deepening) of the Taliban-al-Qaeda Eastern Front

The signing this week of the formal Bajour Accord, which cedes yet another swath of Pakistani territory to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance, is troubling in itself. But it merely represents on paper and in policy that which is proportionately more troubling: The increasing sprawl of Taliban and al-Qaeda power, control and influence, persistently creeping eastward toward Islamabad and deeper into Pakistan.

Several events serve to signify the widening and deepening of the Islamists' Eastern Front, foretelling a Spring Offensive that by all indications has greater designs on Pakistan and Musharraf than on Afghanistan and Coalition forces. While the Western Front into Afghanistan is largely a force-on-force confrontation with acts of terrorism and subversion interspersed, the Eastern Front employs a largely opposite emphasis. The events surrounding the Jamia Hafsa madrassa incidents can be seen as a natural extension or progression of events in this regard.

But consider also the ongoing situation in Tank, another agency within the North West Frontier Province that the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance has set its sights on. Just days after the Pakistani government ceded Bajour officially through signing the Bajour Accord, emboldened Islamists decided to attempt simply taking Tank by brute force. Hundreds of Taliban fighters entered into Tank agency and then the city of Tank from neighboring South Waziristan. After initially overwhelming local police and security forces, federal Pakistani forces were sent in to take control.

The city of Tank has been completely sealed and is under curfew while the government seeks a promise from a South Waziristan jirga (council) that no more attacks on Tank will occur. So long as the Islamists have aims on Tank, attacks will occur. If not taken by force, another accord for transition of control would not be deviating from past practices in other agencies like South Waziristan, North Waziristan and now Bajour.

Within Bajour itself, the day after Monday's signing of the deal between Taliban-aligned tribal elders and the Pakistani government, an assistant director of the Pakistani ISI was assassinated in an attack on his vehicle while traveling from Peshawar to Bajour's Khar. Major Hamza (aka Mohammed Sadiqi) and his subordinate were killed along with two local tribal leaders when masked attackers on motorcycles threw hand grenades into the moving car and then opened fire with AK-47s.

The assassination is very significant, likely indicating an internal ISI hit. While speculation reported suggests a Taliban rift with the ISI, there are indicators that the assassination was sophisticated enough to leave the potential of an inside hit open. The itinerary of an assistant director of the ISI is likely closely guarded, yet the attackers clearly knew the car, its route and the occupant(s). This indicates that the attackers likely had at least some working assistance from within the ISI, perhaps at a higher level than Hamza.

Alexis Debat reports that the ISI officers were seeking to speak to tribal leaders in Khar to find information on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri. If so, it would prove the hit to be almost undoubtedly an inside job. It would also mean the liquidation of an important American ally within the ISI who was assisting the United States in its pursuit of al-Qaeda leadership and a significant loss for the US intelligence and counterterrorism communities.

Could the Major Hamza assassination have simply been a Taliban rift with perceived Musharraf-loyal elements of the ISI? Perhaps. It would surely be the preferable scenario. But it seems more plausible that the assassination may have been an internal ISI hit, directed by Islamist elements of the ISI and carried out by either local tribal elements of the Taliban or ISI operatives themselves. However, attempting to distinguish between the Taliban Islamists and Islamist elements of the ISI from the outside is often a fool's errand.

It is as difficult to imagine the assassination as a sign of conflict between the ISI and the Taliban as it is to view the ongoing fighting between the Taliban and Uzbek al-Qaeda affiliates in South Waziristan as a sign of conflict between the Taliban and al-Qaeda-proper. It is, however, yet another sign of the increasing assertiveness and aggression of emboldened Islamists in Pakistani territory.

Matches In The Tinderbox: Approaching 'Jihadi Anarchy'

In the eighth suicide bombing this year in Pakistan, a Pakistani soldier was killed and six others wounded when a suicide bomber self-detonated near an army vehicle during driver training. More demonstrations are planned throughout Pakistan to stir unrest and protest Musharraf's suspension of supreme court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Barbers throughout the North West Frontier Province have been warned not to shave men's beards. Women in Bannu have been forbidden from voting.

All the while, right in the heart of Islamabad and within eyesight of the Pakistani ISI headquarters, the female students of Lal Masjid's Jamia Hafsa madrassa "project themselves as future wives and mothers of suicide bombers" while Musharraf's government gives the appearance of being able to do little more than look on. Musharraf is clearly fearful of sparking the Pakistani tinderbox through his own actions.

But as the words of Ghazi Abdul Rasheed make clear in Islamabad, Musharraf does not hold the only match. While Rasheed forewarns that "a call for jihad is imminent," former head of Indian intelligence, B. Raman, observes the cumulative effect and likewise concludes that Pakistan is "slowly moving towards a situation of jihadi anarchy."

Still in the early stages of a protracted global conflict, many changes and manifestations lie ahead in the years to come and it will remain replete with ebbs and flows throughout. Just as General Petraeus is making significant gains against al-Qaeda and aligned movements (AQAM) in Iraq, al-Qaeda and similarly motivated Islamists look to make alarming gains in Pakistan and Somalia in the 2007 calendar year. The long foreseen tide of fire is rising rapidly in Pakistan and trouble looms on the horizon.

A diligent eye must be kept on the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance's clearly active Eastern Front. Control of as many as fifty-five Pakistani nuclear weapons hangs in the balance.

March 22, 2007

Somalia

Islamic Courts Union Returns to Somalia

The Return of the ICU in Somalia Highlights Our Failures

By Kyle Dabruzzi | March 22, 2007

Just three months after Ethiopian and US forces routed the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Somalia, the organization has significantly returned to prominence. Early reports of the fighters returning to Mogadishu and other areas of Somalia relayed a quiet return by ICU of leaders and fighters. Reports now point to preparations for "a comeback."

An article released two weeks ago indicated that several hundred fighters have begun re-assimilating in Mogadishu where they "work day jobs but meet regularly with officers and tribal elders." In addition, fighters said that they kept an "underground arsenal of automatic rifles, grenades and other weapons," that survived the Ethiopian advance. Moreover, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi recently admitted that "daily attacks by insurgents are undermining the government’s ability to bring peace and assert authority."

ICU forces are proving Gedi’s words to be accurate. Using the aforementioned underground arsenal, the ICU launched numerous mortar attacks against government officials, African Union peacekeeping troops and Ethiopian troops. Wednesday, as ICU fighters battled with government forces, masked men dragged the corpses of two government soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu; a scene disturbingly reminiscent of the 1993 'Blackhawk Down' incident where two American soldiers were dragged through the streets.

Other recent attacks include a strike on the capital seaport on Tuesday just as African Union troops were securing the area, a series of mortar attacks on four areas within Mogadishu last week, and a 10-minute mortar attack on the presidential palace just hours after President Abdullahi Yusuf moved in. Also last week, Colonel Abdi Mohamed Abdulle, a Somali police commander leading a crackdown on militants, was killed by his own bodyguard, who then fled with armed gunmen.

The ICU's return to Mogadishu highlights a recurrent error in the fight against al-Qaeda and aligned organizations: the failure to pursue, capture or eliminate the leadership of enemy forces, and their supporters. In this case, Somalia's weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and the limited African Union forces supporting the TFG, will pay a significant price for the failure. Had the Ethiopian forces followed the enemy to finish them off, aided by US forces acting to constrain the flight of ICU fighters, the TFG and AU would find a significantly more stable state and a population capable of supporting the TFG's actions.

Initially, the Ethiopian advance against the ICU was swift and effective. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross noted in an article at Pajamas Media, a trusted military intelligence officer indicated his surprise at Ethiopia’s willingness to commit to the fight against the ICU. However, that commitment proved to be short-lived. In assessing the Ethiopian ousting of the ICU, U.S. diplomats noted that "Ethiopian forces captured few fighters and killed none of the top Islamists."

After the ICU’s retreat, there were many reasons to suspect that they would make a return to Mogadishu. A confidential UN report stated that "the ICU is fully capable of turning Somalia into what is currently an Iraq-type scenario, replete with roadside and suicide bombers, assassinations and other forms of terrorist and insurgent-type activities." Moreover, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the allegedly moderate leader of the ICU, threatened to initiate an insurgency in Somalia. Thus, the ICU's ability and willingness was clearly established.

Amidst the glaring signs of an impending insurgency, the Ethiopian military began pulling its troops out of Somalia just one month after over-running the ICU. And with that, the Ethiopian military’s failure to establish a secure Mogadishu has partly led to a re-infestation of ICU militiamen. Through them, the ICU will most likely continue what they previously started: An attempt to establish Somalia as a Sharia-run state and a potential safe haven for al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-aligned terrorists.

At the same time, the United States’ failure to support the UN-recognized Transitional Federal Government also hurt Somalia's chance to rebuild itself. A number of articles were released suggesting that the United States and the UN had a great opportunity to offer support to the TFG. (See here, here, and here.)

However, no financial or logistical support was provided to the TFG. The United States’ failure to establish an ambassador to Somalia indicated a lack of willingness to help the TFG and deter the ICU. As a result, the TFG has been unable to curtail the general insecurity that has returned to the country; a situation that led many Somalis to originally welcome the ICU’s prior occupation. Although a report from the State Department indicated that it would provide immediate support for the deployment of Ugandan troops into Somalia, this has proven to be inadequate support considering the resurgence of the once-retreating ICU back into Somalia.

If a second ICU advance in Somalia is to be stopped, the countries in the Horn of Africa, as well as the United States, must commit their resources to helping the TFG establish control of the country and help a TFG-led Somalia rebuild itself.

March 19, 2007

Pakistan

Musharraf and Bajour: Smoke On the Water

Deal Ceding Bajour to Islamist Terrorists Only Verbal; Why This Is Even Worse

By Steve Schippert | March 19, 2007

On Saturday, a jirga (or council) was formed in the Bajour Agency of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and announced that it will begin to observe an accord between Bajour tribal elders and the Pakistani government similar to that agreed to in the Miramshah Agreement in North Waziristan. Contrary to other reports of a formal deal in Bajour, it is important to note that the developments are based solely on a verbal agreement and not a formal written agreement between Pakistan and Bajour elders and thus the Taliban.

“The administration does not have any formal agreement with the Mamond tribe. They have only reassured us of their commitments to maintain peace in the area,” MNA Political Agent Shakeel Qadir Khan told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. In a Reuters report referred to by several Pakistani news outlets, Qadir Khan said, "Tribesmen led by elder Malik Abdul Aziz assured they would not shelter any foreign militants and would also not allow them to illegally cross the border." In the same Reuters report, he said that “the agreement with about 350 members of the Tarkani tribe was a verbal one reached with the political authorities.” Nearly all of Bajour’s population are members of the Tarkani tribe, and Mamond is considered a more localized subset of that tribe.

Whether the reported verbal agreement with the Mamond tribe can be considered representative of the whole of Bajour is uncertain. But considering there are no reports of a formal signing ceremony – a propaganda coup for the Taliban that would surely not go unexploited – it is a sign of a rushed and perhaps desperate concession by Musharraf. Indeed, the publicly claimed observance of the agreements made by the tribes of North and South Waziristan never occurred until a formal signing and ceremony occurred.

Why is this significant? Because a formal agreement, complete with a signing ceremony similar to those held in both North and South Waziristan, would indicate the natural progression of ongoing negotiations between Musharraf and the Tribal elders and the Taliban al-Qaeda alliance. But the developments over the weekend are anything but a natural progression consistent with the pace of negotiations. That the Bajour tribal elders announced pre-adherence to nothing more than a verbal agreement indicates a hasty concession by Musharraf, almost certainly as a result of the enormous pressure placed upon him through the national unrest over the controversial suspension of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

Violent clashes between Pakistani police and protesters included the use of force, tear gas and the police storming of the independent Geo television station that refused to stop broadcasting video coverage of the aggressive police action. While government and military loyalty to President Pervez Musharraf is increasingly questioned, the Interior Ministry and its police forces appear to have remained loyal. With rival internal Pakistani political parties putting aside their differences and coming to nearly unanimous agreement to protest against Musharraf (noteably without Benazir Bhutto and her powerful Pakistani Peoples’ Party), there was on the horizon – and may still be – a nearly ‘perfect storm’ of domestic uprising. With dissent most energetically led by the Islamist MMA alliance party, the true power struggle between Musharraf and Hamid Gul once again took center stage. Musharraf needed to find a way to defuse a potential domestic bomb.

With the coming annual ‘spring offensive’ by the Taliban significantly heralded this year, the increase in suicide bombing attacks deeper into Pakistan rather than nearly exclusively outward into Afghanistan should not be lost on observers. The significance is not lost on Musharraf. Six recent Taliban suicide bombing attacks inside Pakistan have killed 35. The Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance threatened that many more attacks were to come, “in effect opening a new front in their war,” this time an explicitely internal front against the Musharraf regime.

Within this context, the hasty verbal agreement ahead of a proper written formal accord is more troubling. This haste is almost certainly a sign of the concerns Musharraf has his own situation in Pakistan. That the North and South Waziristan accords have not been observed in practice by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance – including a 300% increase in cross-border attacks, contrary to the agreements – is of little significance in this respect. What is of most significance in the immediate are the driving factors that appear to have pushed Musharraf into ceding more of Pakistani territory to terrorists, ahead of even his own expected schedule.

There are implications which result in a higher level of concern for an announced verbal aggrement than would be found in the more formal agreements, such as the Miramshah Agreement of North Waziristan. As one observer told Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper, “We hope that a North Waziristan-like deal is also reached between the government and tribal militants, led by Faqir Muhammad.” Two things are clear: The agreements are officially with ‘tribal elders’ but in effect with the Taliban al-Qaeda alliance; and the rushed nature of the Bajour announcement was induced by a tumultuous weekend.

Has Musharraf recognized a potential 'perfect storm' and acted to prevent its landfall or forestalled its approach? He may have delayed the eventual direct conflict. But the likelihood of an Islamist assault on his authority remains high unless he directly confronts the Taliban al-Qaeda alliance. He must also confront their high profile supporters, such Hamid Gul, and those within his government, particularly within the ISI.

After all, the violent and tenuous situation exists not simply because the terrorists want Musharraf gone, but because they want Pakistan. There is an ocean of difference between the two aims, and Musharraf’s agreement to cede Bajour – whether hasty or formal – does nothing to change the terrorists’ quest for Pakistan.

March 15, 2007

Pakistan

Threat Perception and Risk Inversion

Why Pakistan, Not Iran, Is The Most Pressing Nuclear Threat

By Steve Schippert | March 15, 2007

"In a conversation with this reporter in October 2001, Gen. Gul forecast a future [Pakistani] Islamist nuclear power that would form a greater Islamic state with a fundamentalist Saudi Arabia after the monarchy falls."
--Arnaud de Borchgrave, August 2004

THERE REMAINS an inversion of public discourse and policy direction with regard to two of the most significant threats we face. In particular, the most pressing nuclear threat is widely perceived to be from Iran while the more imminent terrorist threat is believed to be found in Pakistan. While both threats remain very real, few seem to understand that the most imminent nuclear threat is posed by Pakistan--the only current nuclear power considerably within reach of becoming an Islamist-run state aligned with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or other Islamists. Conversely, Iran's still-developing nuclear weapons program deceptively overshadows the significant state-sponsored international terrorism emanating from Tehran. This, while Pakistan's increasingly embattled--and internally challenged--President Pervez Musharraf stands as the primary buffer between Islamist forces of the ISI, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda taking ownership of Pakistan's significant nuclear arsenal of 30 to 50 warheads.

Iran has a nearly 30-year track record of state-sponsorship of terrorism, complete with funded, supplied, and supported acts of terror and terrorists--Shi'a and Sunni alike--throughout the region and the world. Yet, though it has produced neither weapons-grade fissile material nor a viable nuclear weapon, Iran is considered by many the world's most urgent nuclear threat, rather than being addressed as the international terror sponsor that it is.

Likewise, with the presence of expanding safe-havens for the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other aligned terrorist organizations, Pakistan is primarily considered a state from which terrorists can prepare and launch future terror attacks. Pakistan certainly has elements which pose a threat of future (and current) acts of terror. However, the unsettling potential convergence of Pervez Musharraf and an assassin's bullet or bomb is all that separates a developed nuclear arsenal from these developed international terrorist networks. Should this happen to a steadily weakening Musharraf, it could give rise to the envisioned Islamist-run power in place of the current Islamic State of Pakistan, perhaps led by former ISI chief and Osama bin Laden friend, Hamid Gul.

While the terrorist threat from within Pakistan is real and present--more real and present than any nuclear threat from present day Iran--it pales in comparison to the nature of the imminent threat Pakistan's nuclear arsenal poses, with its positive control in increasing doubt.

Troubling Developments: Musharraf Cedes His Enemies' Gains

IT WAS RECENTLY REVEALED that a Bajour peace deal is imminent, modeled after the Miramshah Agreement that effectively handed the neighboring Pakistani territory of FATA's North Waziristan agency over to the Taliban. This same Bajour agreement was derailed last year by a strike on a Bajour madrassa, reportedly carried out by the Pakistani military.

Demonstrating his open alignment with the Islamists within Pakistan, Hamid Gul has effectively brought suit against the Pakistani government, seeking the protection of Bajour tribal citizens against attacks from Coalition and Pakistani troops. In the suit, which was received well by the Supreme Court judges, Gul reportedly argued that "many tribal citizens (in the Bajour Agency) are being killed daily, due to firing of Allied troops and Pakistani security forces, which was a blatant violation of article 9 of the constitution." Gul asserts that Pakistani forces must be blocked from the pursuit of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or anyone aiding these groups.

Outside the Supreme Court, counterterrorism justices in Pakistan receive harsh treatment and are under threat of attack from Pakistani Islamists. One judge who primarily hears terrorism cases survived a suicide bombing attack on March 1st in the central Pakistani city of Multan. The judge was injured but survived; three Pakistani police officers providing his security were reportedly killed.

GUL'S SUPPORT of the Taliban has been longstanding and his admiration for bin Laden open. The 9/11 Commission Report stated that after the August 1998 cruise missile strike that "missed bin Laden by a few hours," Washington officials "speculated that one or another Pakistani official might have sent a warning to the Taliban or bin Laden." The Christian Science Monitor was more specific, reporting that in the Commission's meetings "[e]vidence emerged" that "former Pakistani intelligence chief, Hamid Gul, forewarned bin Laden of the 1998 missile strikes so that he was able to escape." Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Gul said that "God will destroy the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever it will try to go from there." Calling U.S. actions a "war against Muslims," he added, "Let's destroy America wherever its troops are trapped." Gul, known as the "Godfather of the Taliban" for his role in their creation and support while head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, is also said to be friends with Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader.

When Gul's actions are combined with his past statements, it is clear he is seeking the rise of his envisioned "Islamist nuclear power that would form a greater Islamic state with a fundamentalist Saudi Arabia," as he described it to Arnaud de Borchgrave in 2001.

Should Musharraf agree, as expected, to a Bajour treaty with tribal leaders (who are acting at the behest of the Taliban), it would likely be followed by additional acts of withdrawal, just as South Waziristan and North Waziristan have proven to be but the tip of the knife. Musharraf has said that there are more deals to come. But the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance has effectively controlled regions of Pakistan with or without state-approved tribal agreements.

Such moves by Musharraf are likely attempts to stem the flood of opposition and unrest within his government. In real terms, concessions may buy him and his military more time before a confrontation with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Or they may simply provide the enemy with the time and resources needed to finish off Musharraf's regime. Either way, Musharraf is likely to gain a few months' respite from attacks. Ultimately, his enemies will demand more of what the Pakistani president has already demonstrated a willingness to surrender.

Troubling Unknowns: Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan

Pakistan's nuclear weapons and its continuing nuclear program were created and fostered by A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist responsible for establishing a global network used for proliferating nuclear technology and equipment throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, including the budding Iranian nuclear program. As detailed by Gordon Corera in his book, Shopping for Bombs, from North Korea to Libya and from Iran to South Africa, Khan's fingerprints and handiwork are virtually everywhere. And while Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, the common thread among Khan's international clients is not measured in kilowatt-hours, but rather by the presence of a nuclear weapons program.

The nuclear arsenal that Khan in large part engineered for Pakistan is believed to range from 30 to 50 warheads. That the quantity is unknown gives rise to a greater concern: An acknowledgment that if the United States does not know how many nuclear weapons are at risk of terrorist possession, it cannot possibly know where each of them is stored. It is unreasonable to assume or expect that Musharraf or anyone within the Pakistani government would share with the United States the locations of its nuclear arsenal. Such matters are closely guarded state secrets, especially when the rival neighboring Indian state is an equally secretive nuclear competitor.

If American intelligence does not know where each Pakistani nuclear weapon is located, this means that an immediate physical solution--the in-place destruction of Pakistan's distributed weapons--to the nuclear threat Pakistani weapons would pose after a fall of Musharraf is extremely unlikely. It has been reported that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are stored un-assembled and/or are not yet installed onto prospective missile delivery systems. This matters little if an initial elimination strike leaves warheads intact.

Troubling Support: 'Mysterious' Source of New Taliban Confidence

ON THE HEELS of Vice President Cheney's visit to Islamabad, developments indicate a shift in thinking for both al-Qaeda and their Taliban hosts. Cheney's visit was said to be for the purposes of sending a stern message to Musharraf about doing more to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban within Pakistan's borders. The Taliban sent a message of their own when a suicide bomber was dispatched to Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan while the Vice President was in residence.

The Taliban seem to be riding a wave of confidence. As Syed Saleem Shahzad reports, "Pakistan" has made a deal with the Taliban to provide it state-resource support for the Taliban's spring offensive into Afghanistan. Notably, Shahzad stops short of describing the Taliban's purported new sponsorship as any more specific than "Pakistan." This certainly should not be interpreted by Western readers to signify President Musharraf or members of the Pakistani government loyal to him. If Shahzad's report is accurate, however, then "Pakistan" might mean Hamid Gul and his personal network of ISI-centric Islamists. As reported, the deal is between "Pakistan" and the one-legged Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's most capable military commander who is revered among the Taliban only second to their one-eyed leader, Mullah Omar.

A further sign of resurgent Taliban confidence is the sudden public reemergence of Mullah Omar. Until now, the top Taliban leader has kept to the shadows in order to evade the American manhunt which has been underway since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Now, however, he is speaking and appearing publicly, rallying his followers for the spring offensive that he and Dadullah--and "Pakistan"--believe will finally bring them Kandahar, Kabul, and victory.

Troubling Dispersal: al-Qaeda Terrorists Leaving Pakistan

THERE ARE ALSO INDICATIONS that the nomadic nature of the Sunni Arab al-Qaeda is resurfacing. With the newly surging Taliban confidence, al-Qaeda appears to be preparing for relocation to the Middle East and Africa. There have always been differences between the predominantly native Pashtun Taliban and largely Arab al-Qaeda, including strategic, as well as ideological and religious, differences. The Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance, insofar as cohabitating is concerned, may well have "run its [productive, symbiotic] course" over the past five years, as Shahzad's source describes.

The migration of al-Qaeda from Pakistan is not new. In the latter months of 2006, it was reported that the al-Qaeda leadership sent hundreds of its terrorists from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region back to their home countries throughout the Middle East. Said al-Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna in December 2006, "We have seen that several hundred, perhaps five to six hundred al-Qaeda members who were located on the Afghan-Pakistan border, have now left." He added at the time that there was a "a shift in al-Qaeda's thinking, in strategy."

While al-Qaeda's foot-soldiers may be in exodus from Pakistan, the top echelon of al-Qaeda leadership most likely is not. There remains no safer place for bin Laden and Zawahiri to operate and direct than in the wild west tribal areas within Pakistan. There is certainly no sign of that situation changing through sustained Pakistani military action.

The most significant theater to watch is the exporting of al-Qaeda terrorists from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, where bin Laden and Zawahiri have long sought to oust the "apostate" ruling monarchy and rid the Peninsula of the infidels. To wit, three French nationals were shot to death near Medina on February 26. Saudi Arabia named al-Qaeda as the responsible group for the attacks. al-Qaeda has recently returned to publishing Sawt al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad) after months of silence. The latest issue, released in February, calls for attacks on "petroleum interests in all regions that the United States benefits from, and not only in the Middle East."

Troubling Realities: Iranian Terrorism And Pakistani Nuclear Weapons

The United States and the West should begin to view the precarious nature of the security of Pakistan's existing nuclear arsenal as the principle nuclear threat. While Iran's nuclear aims paired with the nature of the mullah regime are of great concern, that threat is undeveloped and could, at least in theory, be resolved before it becomes imminent. However, the end of Musharraf's relatively trustworthy stewardship of nuclear weapons in the midst of a hornet's nest of terrorist activity should be considered a direct concern and a growing, if not imminent, threat.

Ironically, it is the Iranian regime's continued campaign of state-sponsored international terrorism which poses the greatest threat from that country today. Their acts of terrorism for nearly 30 years continue today without consequence. Consider: the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the Marine Barracks in Lebanon; the bombing of the Jewish community center in Argentina; Iranian collusion with al-Qaeda in Sudan during the 1990s; the Khobar Towers bombing against U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia; and the evidence of Iranian Qods Force operators and EFP's and Steyr sniper rifles in Iraq killing U.S. and British soldiers. Iran has a terrorist track record that the United States seems reluctant to address.

Iran's primary threat today is clearly state-sponsored terrorism--which is why the prospect of their gaining nuclear weapons is so menacing.

But unlike Pakistan, Iran does not have nuclear weapons today. But if the end goal of Islamist terrorists is to obtain a nuclear weapon, it seems as though they have a better chance of doing so by taking over a nuclear-capable Pakistan, rather than making an Islamist Iran nuclear-capable.

In Iran the regime must change and in Pakistan the regime must stay, no matter how messy the former or how imperfect the latter. With the limited national security resources available to the United States, it is imperative that we properly focus those resources toward these aims.

[Threat Perception and Risk Inversion is reprinted courtesy The Weekly Standard]

March 12, 2007

European Union

PsyOps: Al-Qaeda's Spanish Litmus For Europe

From Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda Threatens European NATO Allies

By Steve Schippert | March 12, 2007

The trend is not new but its intensity and frequency has increased. Al-Qaeda has long sought to drive a wedge between the United States and her allies fighting the jihadiyun war on the West. Chief among those targeted are the European NATO member allies. Al-Qaeda realized reward following their Madrid attacks of 2004, as the bombings swayed an election and netted the Spanish withdrawal from Iraq. Now, French intelligence believes al-Qaeda is planning attacks on their soil before or during the upcoming elections there. Recent kidnappings of citizens of European NATO allies have been followed by demands that Germany, Austria and Italy withdraw their forces from Afghanistan. Within this context, a concerted push by al-Qaeda and aligned movements against perceived politically vulnerable European NATO allies is discernible.

Spain: Precedence of Political Gains Through Terror

On March 11, 2004, al-Qaeda aligned terrorists exploded ten bombs on crowded commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, just three days ahead of a national election. 191 commuters were killed and over 2,000 injured. At the time, Spain had troops deployed in Iraq as part of the Coalition supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Then-Prime Minister Aznar had initially blamed indigenous Basque separatist ETA terrorists for the worst terror attack in Spain’s history. ETA leaders denied any involvement. A letter was soon published by Islamists warning Spain of more attacks if it did not withdraw forces from Iraq.

With the Spanish public divided on Spain’s participation in the Iraq war, the election was expected to be relatively close, but the conservative Popular Party and Prime Minister Aznar were expected to retain control. The Socialists won the ensuing election and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero became Spain’s Prime Minister, who promptly withdrew Spain’s forces from Iraq.

But the warning before the attacks came from bin Laden himself five months prior.

In The Madrid Attacks: Results of Investigations Two Years Later, Javier Jordán and Robert Wesley wrote, "The hypothesis that the order to commit the attacks came from a higher level in al-Qaeda is largely credible. In October 2003, bin Laden explicitly threatened Spain for its military presence in Iraq. A day later, Yousef Belhadj [a terrorist from the al-Qaeda aligned Moroccan Islamic Combatants Group or GICM] bought a new card for his mobile phone and inserted "March 11" as his birthday. This could be seen as coincidental except for the fact that another of Belhadj's phones had encoded the date May 16--the date of the Casablanca attacks (El Pais, August 5, 2005)."

Through terrorist attack and the electoral results in its wake, al-Qaeda had achieved tangible gains on the ground in Iraq with Spain’s withdrawal and had effectively driven a wedge between America and a once-staunch ally. Al-Qaeda issued a truce after Zapatero’s election. And while no major attacks have occurred since, Spain has become a hub for Islamist jihadis facilitating travel and false documentation for terrorists bound for Iraq as well as from Iraq and into Europe. It is highly unlikely that the traveling Islamists are seeking gainful employment or university enrollment in their various European host countries.

Current French Presidential Election Threat

Recent reports have suggested that France may face a possible threat during its presidential elections straddling April and May 2007. The French Le Monde and London-based Al-Hayat newspapers reported secret French intelligence memos, one of which addressed “planning, from the Middle East, of a wave of suicide attacks against a European country not identified, anywhere between September 2006 and April 2007.” In Jamestown's Terrorism Focus, Kathryn Haahr wrote that "a multiplicity of indicators—threatening letters on websites close to al-Qaeda, an alleged letter from bin Laden encouraging Salafi-Jihadi groups to attack France and the arrests of various jihadis in France—suggest an attack is likely."

Days after the French reports were made public, France arrested 11 al-Qaeda suspects. Nine were in France and suspected of being part of an operating terrorist cell and two were arrested at a Paris airport where they "had just returned from abroad."

If the Islamist jihadists are planning attacks during or leading into the French elections, it is almost certainly inspired by the effectiveness of the 2004 attacks in Madrid and the favorable effect it had on the ensuing elections days later.

Threats on Austria and Germany

Through an Islamist website, al-Qaeda aligned terrorists warned Austria and Germany to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan or face terrorist attacks against civilians on their soil and against their troops in the Afghan theater. Austria and Germany have no troops in Iraq, but both nations have troops in Afghanistan in non-combat roles.

Two Germans were abducted in Iraq and appeared on a propaganda video from a group calling themselves the “Arrows of Righteousness.” One was identified as Hannelore Marianne Krause, who was seated next to her own son, also abducted in Iraq. On the video, Krause pleaded with the German government to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan. Perhaps originally a target of opportunity, the German is being exploited by jihadists in Iraq to further the aims of their fellow terrorists in the Afghanistan war.

The speaker in the video release said, “Austria has always been one of the most safe countries in Europe, depending on tourism both in summer and winter. But if it doesn't withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, it may be among targeted nations.”

That an Iraq abduction has been transformed into an Afghanistan demand is of significance to note. While many Americans tend to differentiate definitively between the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of operations, to the jihadi they are clearly both subsets of the same war.

Threats on Italy

The Taliban abducted Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a journalist from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, and accused him of being a spy for the Coalition. They had said that if it can be proved that he is not a spy, he would be released. However, his life is now under threat regardless of whether he is perceived a spy or not.

After Italy's lower parliamentary house approved a measure keeping Italy's contingent in Afghanistan as a part of NATO, the Taliban's Mullah Hayatullah Khan said, "This vote has put the life of the reporter in danger." Though no specific threat of attacks on Italian soil are known to have been made in this instance, as a participating member of NATO, it remains a standing threat.

What is significant is the marriage between the fate of non-combatants from Coalition nations at the hands of terrorists and the political actions of the captives’ home countries.

Conclusion

None of these incidents taken individually are necessarily unique or original. Abductions and demands of troop withdrawals have occurred since the beginning of the greater conflict. What is at least noteworthy, however, is the recent clustering of these events and the nations they are targeted against.

As was the case with Spain, none of the countries – France, Germany, Austria or Italy – has a strong majority public support for actions abroad aligned with the United States. Each nation utilizes a government beholden to their people through elections. The militaries of each are currently involved in the Afghanistan theater of operations. None of them have active roles in front-line combat, with the exception of French Special Forces units, which can be seen as a collective reflection of the will of the governments’ respective electorates.

In essence, these governments are not the staunch allies that, for example, the governments of Britain and Australia are. It is at least noteworthy that the Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo stands accused of spying for British troops. Yet, the withdrawal demand was not made of the British government. The governments of Italy, France, Germany and Austria are perhaps seen by the Islamist jihadists as more vulnerable to terrorist influence, as was Spain in 2004.

Political vulnerability is a force multiplier for the political tool of terrorism. This is not to say that similar results will be achieved, but rather to suggest that this perceived political vulnerability is a likely contributing factor shaping the actions of the enemy. Ultimately, it is the response of the electorates which will determine the enemy's success or failure in each endeavor. Spain serves as al-Qaeda's litmus test and should serve as the West's lesson.

Perhaps unwilling or unaware subjects of psychological warfare, the war - jihad - is waged against the you, the electorate.

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