Tag Archives: ISI

The media and the manhunt

The media buzz around the death of OBL on May 2, 2011. Published in The Friday Times, 6 May, 2011.

With the first five months of the year, a plethora of changes have happened making world politics unrecognizable from one year before.  One of the biggest was the on May 2 when news of the capture of Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad exploded on TV screens and in newspapers. The facts that Western media has focused on have been that the US led operation focused on one of Bin Ladens trusted couriers and a protégé of one of the architects of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (New York Times, ABC News, US Government). The compound where Bin Laden was hiding was valued at $1 million and had 12 to 18 foot walls with barbed wire. And was 8 to 10 times larger than surrounding houses.

Senior US officials initially told news agencies that Bin Laden’s body would be disposed of in accordance with Islamic tradition, which involves ritual washing, shrouding and burial within 24 hours, and Bin Laden was buried at sea (LA Times, Washington Post). The Guardian was of the view that US concern over Bin Laden’s burial place turning into a shrine were probably unfounded, since the Wahhabi/Salafi tradition rejects such things. “Burial at sea is rare in Islam, though several Muslim websites say it is permitted in certain circumstances. One is on a long voyage where the body may decay… The other is if there is a risk of enemies digging up a land grave and exhuming or mutilating the body – a rule that could plausibly be applied in Bin Laden’s case,” reported the paper.

The news was celebrated in many foreign capitals with crowds gathering outside the White House to celebrate and spontaneous celebration all over the US. French Foreign Minster Alain Juppe called it a “victory for all democracies fighting the abominable scourge of terrorism”. British Prime Minister David Cameron said it would “bring great relief to people across the world” (Express Tribune). The US had warned of possible threats of retaliation (CNN). In UK Heathrow airport has stepped up security and many other countries fear protests. In Pakistan US and UK embassies have put their citizen on high alert.

Headlines across America and Europe on May 2 were ‘The most wanted face of terrorism’ (New York Times), ‘A day for justice’ (Chicago Tribune), ‘An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth’ (Der Spiegel) and ‘Born to privilege, he dies a pariah (Wall Street Journal). Local newspapers however have been skeptical of the facts (Dawn News), and the Television media will undoubtedly resort to more fact digging and speculation.

The Taliban in Afghanistan had no immediate official reaction, though a local commander in Paktia said the killing “will affect their morale and will trigger the violence” and a commander in Baghlan promised revenge (NYT, Guardian). Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed bin Laden’s death and called it a catastrophe (AFP).

Reports say that officials in the Middle East did not have immediate reactions, and responses were “mixed” on the Arab street (CNN, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times). However Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned the killing and described bin Laden as a “holy warrior” (CNN).

The coming weeks will of course clarify more facts about the operation as well as create more controversies. Dawn News for example said on May 2 that Bin Laden might not have been killed by US forces but his own guard. The paper quotes a Pakistani official who visited the site after the US assault team left, “From the scene of the gun battle it doesn’t look like he could have been killed at point blank range from such a close angle, while offering resistance.”

The western media sees the proximity of a military academy to Bin Laden compounds as an obvious proof of Pakistani military and intelligence being involved in hiding him and other leaders of the Al-Qaeda (BBC, CNN). This reaction is not just isolated to the media but world leaders as well. Israel has called this the “liquidation” of Bin Laden. India lashed out at Pakistan, saying that terrorists find sanctuary in Pakistan (Express Tribune, AFP).

There will again be a reevaluation of the US-Pakistan relationship not only but the respective governments but also by the media. Shuja Nawaz writes for Foreign Policy saying that the Pakistani military’s official reaction to the death of Bin Laden will be telling. If the operation was carried out in close cooperation then the trajectory of this declining relationship may be reversed. Even though Obama has acknowledged the role of Pakistan in the war against terrorism, it is not clear what that role has been with regards to the capture. Foreign media has generally reviewed Pakistan unfavourably and credit for the capture has solely been awarded to the US.

The general consideration of the western media is that only one of head of the Al-Qaeda hydra has been cut off. Der Spiegel is of the view that Bin Laden has left behind one of the most resilient and effective terrorist networks the world has ever seen. The death will weaken Al-Qaeda but for some time now others have been in charge of planning global terrorism. “I suspect the al-Qaeda senior leadership will splinter… this will create a vacuum,” said Marc Sageman, a former CIA analyst as when Al-Qaeda leaders became consumed with mere survival, other groups will try to pick up the slack.

The future of terrorism may still be secure. The Taliban is entrenched in Afghanistan and Pakistan, terrorist groups in Yemen, Algeria and Iraq have adopted the Al-Qaeda brand and in Somalia, al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists are growing. Ayman al-Zawahiri is expected to be number one on the FBI’s most wanted list (ABC News). Reports say that the power balance will shift to Yemen (Der Spiegel). John Brennan, US Chief of Counterterrorism may have spoken too soon when he said that that “Al-Qaeda is something in the past.”

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WikiLeaks’ Pakistan

The WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables about Pakistan has shed new light on US-Pakistan relations. The leaked communications reveal Washington’s frustration with Islamabad and the civil-military struggles within Pakistan. Dispatches from early 2010, for instance, quote the aging Saudi monarch calling President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress: “When the head is rotten it affects the whole body”.

ISI still in the game: The cables from Secretary of State acknowledge that Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, but some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayabba (LeT) and other extremist organizations.

Biden and Brown on militancy and aid: According to the cable documenting US Vice President Biden’s March 27, 2009 meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, there was no real possibility of defeating Al Qaeda without also “dealing with Pakistan”. Vice President Biden said he worried that NATO countries in Europe underestimated the threat from the region and viewed the problem as an economic development issue rather than a security issue, despite the fact that Afghan opium is primarily exported to Europe; and Europe has been the victim of several terrorist attacks originating from the region.

During this meeting, Vice President Biden commented that it was difficult to convince Pakistan to commit to developing its counter-insurgency potential as the threat from India made Pakistan devote defence spending to conventional warfare capabilities. Thus in the meantime “we [US] need to develop our relationship with Pakistan beyond its current transactional nature to a long-term strategic partnership. We should begin with $1.5 billion per year in economic assistance that is unconditional and supplement that with military assistance that is conditioned on the modernization of its command structure and active action in the field to combat insurgents. It would be difficult to convince Congress to support such a plan, particularly the unconditional civilian component.”

Biden noted that with the exception of the UK and a few others, very few Europeans were taking action. Brown agreed that there was a significant terrorist as more than 30,000 Pakistanis travel back and forth to the UK each year and two-thirds of the terrorist threats that UK security forces investigate originate in Pakistan. The roots of terrorism in Pakistan are complicated and go beyond the madrassas to, in some areas, a complete societal incitement to militancy.

The Zardari-Kayani-Sharif triangle: US Vice President Biden and US Prime Minster Gordon Brown felt that Zardari’s commitment to combating terrorism was unclear, although “he always says the right things”. The only way to reduce the threat and eventually draw down NATO’s commitment to the region was by increasing the capacity of Afghan and Pakistani security services. The 2009 cable says that Biden commented that Zardari had said to him: “ISI director, and Kayani will take me out”. Brown thought this unlikely and said that Kayani did not want to be another Musharraf; rather he would give civilian leadership room to function. However, Kayani was suspicious of the Sharif brothers and Zardari.

According to leaked cables, Nawaz Sahrif has been telling the US ambassador he was “pro-American”, despite his public stance and thanked the US for “arranging” to have Kayani appointed as the Army chief. US Ambassador Anne W Patterson shot this down by saying that, “The fact that a former prime minister believes the US could control the appointment of Pakistan’s chief of army staff speaks volumes about the myth of American influence here.”

Furthermore, US and General Kayani worried that Zardari would renege on his word of pardoning Musharraf. Patterson’s view according to the cable was that “Zardari is walking tall these days, hopefully not too tall to forget his promise to Kayani and to us on an immunity deal”.

Human rights and the Pak army: Secret cables for the US Embassy in Islamabad address concerns about Pakistan security forces’ human rights abuses against terrorists in Malakand Division and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The cable acknowledges the difficult of accuracy but reports from a variety of sources suggested that Frontier Corps and regular Pakistan Army units involved in direct combat with terrorists may have been involved:

“The crux of the problem appears to centre on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extra-judicial killing of some detainees… Revenge for terrorist attacks on Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps personnel is believed to be one of the primary motivating factors for the extra-judicial killings. Cultural traditions place a strong importance on such revenge killings, which are seen as key to maintaining a unit’s honor. This fear is well-founded as both Anti-Terrorism Courts and the appellate judiciary have a poor track record of dealing with suspects detained in combat operations such as the Red Mosque operation in Islamabad and have repeatedly ordered their unconditional release.”

The cable also implicates the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Police in the abuse of terrorist suspects allegedly responsible for attacks on police stations and says that this is a separate problem from those detained by Frontier Corps and Pakistan Army units. The cable highlights areas for assistance in this regard; creation of new ordinances, reform of prison rehabilitation programs and help from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) and the UK government.

Washington worried about Abdul Qadeer Khan: Cables from Hillary Clinton’s office from 2008 say that the US was strongly opposed to AQ Khan’s release and would undermine the positive steps Pakistan had taken on non-proliferation. The document urged Pakistan to consider the long-term gains it could garner from the international community by continuing Dr Khan’s current status rather than the short-term domestic political gains that could result from his release.

Bin Laden and General Musharraf: Anne W Patterson in leaked documents has claimed that Pakistan had concerns that the US would desert Islamabad after they catch Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Thus Pakistan feels hesitant in fully cooperating with its key ally. Anne W Patterson said that the relationship between the two countries was one of co-dependency: “Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows that Pakistan cannot survive without our support”.

In a meeting held in April 2007, Musharraf told Senator John McCain that although he had no solid evidence, he believed Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri were in Bajaur Agency, since it was in the territory of Afghan militant leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and bordered Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He also spoke about Karzai’s frequent pronouncements about Pakistan’s failure to capture Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Quetta: “Let me tell you, Omar would be mad to be in Quetta – he has too many troops to command in southern Afghanistan to make it feasible. In fact, the only parts of Balochistan with Pakistani Taliban are Afghan refugee camps which we are planning to shut down.”

Musharraf also said that most Pashtuns in Balochistan were traders and had no reason to join the Taliban. They want roads to increase their trade, not to fight. The same could not be said for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Compiled from WikiLeaks archives. The Friday Times, 10 Dec, 2010