25 October 2014


October 21, 2014 

Mr. Farahnaz Ispahani and Ms. Nina Shea writing on the October 16, 2014 website, The Hudson Institute, warn that “Pakistan is sliding toward extremism;” as “he appeal of Islamist extremism is mushrooming within Pakistani society…reminding us that we risk seeing the Talibanization — not simply of a small minority or ordinary citizens; but, large swaths of the populace of the world’s second largest — and only nuclear-armed, Muslim country.”

“Pakistan abound with violent sectarian and Islamist groups, headquartered in semi-autonomous tribal areas,” across the country, the two authors note. “Foreign jihadists, like American David Headly, flock to such areas as North Waziristan. Yet although Islamabad devotes a full third of its armed forces to the northwest of the country, it is also pursuing policies that encourage a mainstream slide toward extremism,” they add.

“State laws [within Pakistan], and practices relating to Islamic blasphemy, in particular, are increasingly suppressing moderate voices, while allowing extremists to dominate cultural discourse and learning.” Mr. Ispahani and Ms. Shea observe. “As a result,” they say, “extremism is making ideological inroads into wider; and, wider segments of the population.”

“A shocking example occurred last month,” they write, “with the drive-by shooting of Muhammad Shakeel Auj, Dean of Islamic Studies, at the venerable Karachi University. Auj had earned a Ph.D. after writing a comparison of eight Urdu translations of the Quran. But, some found offense in his “liberal” religious views as he passionately denounced terrorism; and, suggested that Muslim women could pray wearing lipstick…and, could marry non-Muslims.” These views made Auj a marked-man among extremists; and, “over the past two years, Auj had been subject to a barrage of blasphemy accusations, fatwas, and death threats — including that he will be beheaded,” the authors write. “Particularly troubling,” they add, “is that four of his own faculty members were allegedly behind some of the threats. They were arrested, but soon released on bail. As one obituary writer commented, Auj’s murder shows that now “even the most mainstream Sunni voices will not be tolerated.”

“Junaid Hafeez, another university professor, may soon be sentenced to death by the state,” Mr. Ispahani and Ms. Shea note. “Charged with insulting the Prophet Muhammad on FaceBook, he is now on trial for the capital crime of blasphemy. Yet, the charge is based entirely on the oral testimony of students linked to the hardline, Jamaat-i-Islami Party. Hafeez has reportedly found it difficult to find a lawyer willing to defend him; not the least because those who manage to secure an acquittal for accused blasphemers, run the risk of being seen as blasphemers themselves. And, while the state doesn’t penalize such defense lawyers, it also does little to protect them; or, punish their extrajudicial killers either. For example,” they write, “while after his first two lawyers quit following death threats, Hafeez was able to hire Rashid Rehman, a senior lawyer with Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission. But, on May 7, Rehman was shot dead in his office. His killers remain at large.”

“Liberal Muslim educators, lawyers, and human rights activists aren’t the only victims of the country’s anti-blasphemy codes,” the authors note. “Often targeted are the Ahmadis, as many as 5M strong, well-educated community that professes faith to Islam; but which is not deemed Muslim, under Pakistan’s constitution. The sect’s tenants renounce violent jihad; and, embrace the separation of mosque and state, as well as religious pluralism. They now account for 40 percent of the anti-blasphemy prosecutions, which also disproportionately target Christians, Shia, and Hindus.”

“Such extremism has touched us personally,” Mr. Ispahani and Ms. Shea write. “Our friends, Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Minority Affairs Minister, and Salman Taseer, Punjab’s former governor, were both outspoken critics of the blasphemy conviction of Christian mother, Asia Bibi, and both were gunned down in 2011. The Lahore High Court last Thursday, upheld the death sentence against Asia Bibi.”

“The blasphemy law was originally introduced to appease extremists, but has instead stimulated an appetite for more. As Bhatti noted: “This law is creating disharmony and intolerance in our society.” “He is right — it legitimizes; and, enflames religious passions over speech, while providing extremists a platform within the vey heart of Pakistani society,” the authors write, and no doubt propaganda points as well.

“American drones are now waiting aiming at Pakistan’s northwest terrorist snake pit,” the authors conclude. “But, there is no military solution to the blasphemy law. And, while it is only right that we celebrate Malala;s Nobel award, we also cannot forget the growing numbers of Pakistanis that take no pride in such an achievement.”

We Shouldn’t Be Surprised By These Observations: After All, Pakistan Gave Sanctuary To bin Laden

Carlotta Gall, the North Africa Correspondent for The New York Times; and, whom covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the paper from 2001 to 2013 — had a lengthy article in the March 23, 2014, New York Times Magazine. Ms. gall wrote, “shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, I went to live and report for The New York Times in Afghanistan. I would spend most of the next 12 years there, following the overthrow of the Taliban, feeling the excitement of the freedom and prosperity that was promised in its wake and then watching the gradual dissolution of that hope. A new Constitution and two rounds of elections did not improve the lives of ordinary Afghans; the Taliban regrouped and found increasing numbers of supporters for their guerrilla actions; by 2006, as they mounted an ambitious offensive to retake southern Afghanistan and unleashed more than a hundred suicide bombers, it was clear that a deadly and determined opponent was growing in strength, not losing it. As I toured the bomb sites and battlegrounds of the Taliban resurgence, Afghans kept telling me the same thing: The organizers of the insurgency were in Pakistan, specifically in the western district of Quetta. Police investigators were finding that many of the bombers, too, were coming from Pakistan.”

“The Pakistani government, under President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani,” Ms. Gall wrote, “was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan. The dynamic has played out in ways that can be hard to grasp from the outside, but the strategy that has evolved in Pakistan has been to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It’s through that agency that Pakistan’s true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned – a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation.”

The bin Laden Operation — And, His Pakistani Enablers

After the Dec. 27, 2007 assassination of Pakistan’s only female Prime Minister — Benazir Bhutto — al Qaeda’s fingerprints and at least support of this operation were very evident. But, Ms. Gall notes, “It took more than three years before the depth of Pakistan’s relationship with Al Qaeda was thrust into the open and the world learned where Bin Laden had been hiding, just a few hundred yards from Pakistan’s top military academy. In May 2011, I drove with a Pakistani colleague down a road in Abbottabad until we were stopped by the Pakistani military. We left our car and walked down a side street, past several walled houses and then along a dirt path until there it was: Osama bin Laden’s house, a three-story concrete building, mostly concealed behind concrete walls as high as 18 feet, topped with rusting strands of barbed wire. This was where Bin Laden hid for nearly six years, and where, 30 hours earlier, Navy SEAL commandos shot him dead in a top-floor bedroom.

“After a decade of reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan and tracking Bin Laden,” Ms. Gall wrote, “I was fascinated to see where and how he hid. He had dispensed with the large entourage that surrounded him in Afghanistan. For nearly eight years, he relied on just two trusted Pakistanis, whom American investigators described as a courier and his brother.”

“People knew that the house was strange,” Ms. Gall contends, and “one local rumor had it that it was a place where wounded Taliban from Waziristan recuperated. I was told this by Musharraf’s former civilian intelligence chief, who had himself been accused of having a hand in hiding Bin Laden in Abbottabad. He denied any involvement, but he did not absolve local intelligence agents, who would have checked the house. All over the country, Pakistan’s various intelligence agencies – the ISI, the Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence – keep safe houses for undercover operations. They use residential houses, often in quiet, secure neighborhoods, where they lodge people for interrogation or simply enforced seclusion. Detainees have been questioned by American interrogators in such places and sometimes held for months. Leaders of banned militant groups are often placed in protective custody in this way. Others, including Taliban leaders who took refuge in Pakistan after their fall in Afghanistan in 2001, lived under a looser arrangement, with their own guards but also known to their Pakistani handlers, former Pakistani officials told me. Because of Pakistan’s long practice of covertly supporting militant groups, police officers – who have been warned off or even demoted for getting in the way of ISI operations – have learned to leave such safe houses alone.”

Senior-Level Pakistani Officials Implicated In The Sheltering Of The World’s Most Wanted Terrorist

“Soon after the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house, a Pakistani official told me that the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad,” Ms. Gall asserts. “The information came from a senior United States official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid. “He knew of Osama’s whereabouts, yes,” the Pakistani official told me. The official was surprised to learn this and said the Americans were even more so. Pasha had been an energetic opponent of the Taliban and an open and cooperative counterpart for the Americans at the ISI. “Pasha was always their blue-eyed boy,” the official said. But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied that they had any knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.”

“Colleagues at The New York Times,” she added, “began questioning officials in Washington about which high-ranking officials in Pakistan might also have been aware of Bin Laden’s whereabouts, but everyone suddenly clammed up. It was as if a decision had been made to contain the damage to the relationship between the two governments. “There’s no smoking gun,” officials in the Obama administration began to say.”

“The haul of handwritten notes, letters, computer files and other information collected from Bin Laden’s house during the raid suggested otherwise, however,” Ms. Gall argues. “It revealed regular correspondence between Bin Laden and a string of militant leaders who must have known he was living in Pakistan, including Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a pro-Kashmiri group that has also been active in Afghanistan, and Mullah Omar of the Taliban. Saeed and Omar are two of the ISI’s most important and loyal militant leaders. Both are protected by the agency. Both cooperate closely with it, restraining their followers from attacking the Pakistani state and coordinating with Pakistan’s greater strategic plans. Any correspondence the two men had with Bin Laden would probably have been known to their ISI handlers.”

“Bin Laden did not rely only on correspondence. He occasionally traveled to meet aides and fellow militants, one Pakistani security official told me. “Osama was moving around,” he said, adding that he heard so from jihadi sources. “You cannot run a movement without contact with people.” Bin Laden traveled in plain sight, his convoys always knowingly waved through any security checkpoints.

In 2009, Bin Laden reportedly traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to meet with the militant leader Qari Saifullah Akhtar. Informally referred to as the “father of jihad,” Akhtar is considered one of the ISI’s most valuable assets. According to a Pakistani intelligence source, he was the commander accused of trying to kill Bhutto on her return in 2007, and he is credited with driving Mullah Omar out of Afghanistan on the back of a motorbike in 2001 and moving Bin Laden out of harm’s way just minutes before American missile strikes on his camp in 1998. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he was detained several times in Pakistan. Yet he was never prosecuted and was quietly released each time by the ISI,” she wrote.

Ms. Gall reveals that “at his meeting with Bin Laden in August 2009, Akhtar is reported to have requested Al Qaeda’s help in mounting an attack on the Pakistani army headquarters in Rawalpindi. Intelligence officials learned about the meeting later that year from interrogations of men involved in the attack. Information on the meeting was compiled in a report seen by all of the civilian and military intelligence agencies, security officials at the Interior Ministry and American counterterrorism officials.”

“At this same meeting,” she added, “Bin Laden rejected Akhtar’s request for help and urged him and other militant groups not to fight Pakistan but to serve the greater cause – the jihad against America. He warned against fighting inside Pakistan because it would destroy their home base: “If you make a hole in the ship, the whole ship will go down,” he said.

“He wanted Akhtar and the Taliban to accelerate the recruitment and training of fighters so they could trap United States forces in Afghanistan with a well-organized guerrilla war. Bin Laden said that Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the Indian Ocean region would be Al Qaeda’s main battlefields in the coming years, and that he needed more fighters from those areas. He even offered naval training for militants, saying that the United States would soon exit Afghanistan and that the next war would be waged on the seas,” Ms. Gall wrote.

“Akhtar, in his mid-50s, remains at large in Pakistan. He is still active in jihadi circles and in running madrasas – an example of a militant commander whom the ISI has struggled to control yet is too valuable for them to lock up or eliminate.”

“In trying to prove that the ISI knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts and protected him,” Ms. Gall noted her struggle — for more than two years — to piece together something other than circumstantial evidence and suppositions from sources with no direct knowledge. Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. But he had no proof and, under pressure, claimed in the Pakistani press that he’d been misunderstood. Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention. (Two former senior American officials later told me that the information was consistent with their own conclusions.) This was what Afghans knew, and Taliban fighters had told me, but finally someone on the inside was admitting it. The desk was wholly deniable by virtually everyone at the ISI – such is how super secret intelligence units operate – but the top military bosses knew about it, I was told.”

“America’s failure to fully understand and actively confront Pakistan on its support and export of terrorism is one of the primary reasons President Karzai has become so disillusioned with the United States,” Ms. Gall argued. “As American and NATO troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year, the Pakistani military and its Taliban proxy forces lie in wait, as much a threat as any that existed in 2001.”

In January 2013, Ms. Gall visited the Haqqania madrasa to speak with senior clerics about the graduates they were dispatching to Afghanistan. “They agreed to let me interview them and gave the usual patter about it being each person’s individual choice to wage jihad. But there was also continuing fanatical support for the Taliban. “Those who are against the Taliban, they are the liberals, and they only represent 5 percent of Afghans,” the spokesman for the madrasa told me. He and his fellow clerics were set on a military victory for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Moreover, he said, “it is a political fact that one day the Taliban will take power. The white flag of the Taliban will fly again over Kabul, inshallah.”

“Pakistani security officials, political analysts, journalists and legislators warned of the same thing. The Pakistani military was still set on dominating Afghanistan and was still determined to use the Taliban to exert influence now that the United States was pulling out.”

“Kathy Gannon of The Associated Press reported in September that militants from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, were massing in the tribal areas to join the Taliban and train for an anticipated offensive into Afghanistan this year. In Punjab, mainstream religious parties and banned militant groups were openly recruiting hundreds of students for jihad, and groups of young men were being dispatched to Syria to wage jihad there. “They are the same jihadi groups; they are not 100 percent under control,” a former Pakistani legislator told me. “But still the military protects them.”

“The United States was neither speaking out against Pakistan nor changing its policy toward a government that was exporting terrorism, the legislator lamented. “How many people have to die before they get it? They are standing by a military that protects, aids and abets people who are going against the U.S. and Western mission in Afghanistan, in Syria, everywhere.”

“When I remember the beleaguered state of Afghanistan in 2001,” Ms. Gall writes, “I marvel at the changes the American intervention has fostered: the rebuilding, the modernity, the bright graduates in every office. Yet after 13 years, more than a trillion dollars spent, 120,000 foreign troops deployed at the height of the war and tens of thousands of lives lost, Afghanistan’s predicament has not changed: It remains a weak state, prey to the ambitions of its neighbors and extremist Islamists. This is perhaps an unpopular opinion, but to pull out now is, undeniably, to leave with the job only half-done.”

“Meanwhile, the real enemy remains at large,” she concluded.

What U.S. Could Do if Pakistan Loses Control Over Nuclear Weapons

So, we have militant, extremist jihadism flourishing in a Muslim country that also has a substantial quantity of nuclear weapons — at least 100, according to open press reporting. Elaine Grossman, writing in the May 17, 2013 Global Security Newswire, wrote that “the U.S. Defense Department for years reportedly has war-gamed the possibility of forcibly securing Pakistani or North Korean nuclear warheads in the event of a serious crisis.” She wrote at the time, “reports about the Pentagon drafting contingency plans for possible intervention in an emergency scenario have triggered outrage in Pakistan, as well as concerns elsewhere about the feasibility or wisdom of such action.”

But, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, writing on Arms Control Association’s website, “Nuclear Security In Pakistan: Reducing The Risks Of Nuclear Terrorism,” says “three worrisome trends are exerting mounting pressure on the Pakistani military’s ability to secure its nuclear assets and prevent a nuclear catastrophe.” “First,” he writes, “growing extremism in Pakistan increases the odds of insiders in nuclear establishment, with outsiders to access nuclear weapons, materials, or facilities. Second, the rapid expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program will introduce new vulnerabilities into the security system. Finally,” he notes, “growing instability within the country could lead to unanticipated challenges to nuclear command and control procedures, resulting in a “loose nuke” scenario, a takeover facility by outsiders, or, in the worst case, a coup leading to Taliban control over the nuclear arsenal.”

“The greatest threat in a loose nuke scenario, stems from insiders in the nuclear establishment, working with outsiders, people seeking a bomb, or material to make a bomb. Nowhere in the world is this threat greater than in Pakistan,” Mr. Moeatt-Larsen writes. “Pakistani authorities have a dismal record of thwarting insider threats,” he says. For example, the network run by the father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, channeled sensitive nuclear technologies to Iran, Libya, and North Korea, for years under the noses of the establishment — before it was taken down in 2003, to the best of our knowledge.

So, the U.S. must monitor this flourishing of militant Islam in Pakistan; and, consider/rehearse what if scenarios, where a chaotic situation develops in the country; and, the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and material are compromised. V/R, RCP

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