Frosty US-Pak relations start to freeze over amid strong allegations

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / Sarah Berning

Islamabad says there will be no offensive against the Haqqani Network despite US allegations that the Pakistani intellegence service, ISI, has ties with the Islamist insurgents. Tension is growing between the two allies.

Taliban militants attacked the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul on September 13In the latest in a series of rows, Washington has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of involvement in the September 13 attack on its embassy in Kabul, raising bilateral tensions to a new level.

The White House has recently demanded that Pakistan “break any link they have” with the Haqqanis, based in North Waziristan and which was founded by former CIA asset Jalaluddin Haqqani and is today run by his son Sirajuddin.

According to an AP report, a NATO forces spokesman reiterated on Monday that the Haqqani network is still very much operating out of Pakistan. “We have no credible intelligence indicating that the Haqqani network has eliminated their operating safe havens in Pakistan,” said Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan. “They continue to plan and execute operations from across the border.”

Yet Pakistan denies having ties with Haqqani extremists. In an extraordinary meeting of top Pakistani army generals this past weekend, Islamabad decided it would not launch an offensive against the Haqqani Network.

Taliban takes responsibility

Meanwhile, as reported by AFP, the Taliban in Afghanistan has insisted it alone controls the Haqqani Network and that the operations are not run out of Pakistan.

The new string of allegations has put further strain on the already shaky US-Pakistani relations. Experts say the recent comments made by US Admiral Mike Mullen mark the height of distrust between the two allies.

There has been an increase of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan
There has been an increase of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan

In the past Pakistan’s role in the war on terror has, say US experts, been ambiguous – allegations of the Pakistani intelligence agency having ties to extremist organizations are nothing new. But what is new is that the US has come out and openly accused Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of supporting terrorist activity in Afghanistan.

Icy relations

The Haqqani Network is a terrorist-islamist organisation with close ties to al Qaeda. The US believes the group is based in the western Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan and has blamed it for a number of recent attacks in Afghanistan, the latest being the attack on the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul mid September, 2011.

Admiral Mullen’s comments serve to show how icy the US-Pakistani relationship has become, says Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai. “US officials are now openly saying that Pakistan has supported the Haqqani Network and thus that they help the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan. I believe the allegations will hurt the already strained relationship.”

Pakistan is, however, dependent on the US for aid, Yusufzai points out. The Pakistani military receives billions of US dollars in financial help. But now the demands from the US senate are loud and clear: that Pakistan take action against the Haqqani Network. Pakistani defense expert Tallat Massoud believes the US is just looking for a distraction for the lack of US success in Afghanistan. He believes the USA needs a scapegoat. He believes the attacks in Kabul have been “very embarrassing so they have been trying to pass on responsibility.”

No war on terror without Pakistan

While Pakistan sees itself as a partner in the war against terror, Massoud believes the country’s leaders do not feel they receive enough recognition for their efforts. The Pakistani people are strongly against the drone attacks in the areas bordering Afghanistan. And Islamabad was not keen about the unilateral US military operation that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May. Yusufzai fears serious consequences should the US continue to act on its own in Pakistan. “If the Americans were to conduct a military operation against the Haqqani Network in Pakistani tribal regions, Islamabad would not be able to do any thing about it. But if they start seriously considering occupying North Waziristan, they could end up provoking a war.”

There is a strong anti-American sentiment among part of the Pakistani population, who believe the recent comments from Washington are putting further pressure on Islamabad, as stated by Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in a televised interview. She warns the US that they could lose Pakistan as an ally if allegations continue. She also offers a word of caution: “if the USA wants to continue to fight terror, it must have Pakistan and the Pakistani population on its side.”

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Interview: How has Bin Laden changed the face of Pakistan?

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi

Now that it is known that bin Laden was living in Pakistan, many world leaders are waiting for an explanation. Rahimullah Yusufzai told Deutsche Welle Pakistan is under a lot of pressure.

Osama bin Laden has been killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan Were you personally surprised about the fact that bin Laden was detected in Abbottabad near Islamabad?

Rahimullah Yusufzai: I was surprised. I didn’t expect him to be in this place. I thought he could be in some big city like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al Qaeda figures who were captured in big urban centers in Pakistan – Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. I didn’t expect that the most wanted man in the world would be hiding in Abbottabad. There was no Taliban or al Qaeda presence in Abbottabad. There was no military operation, there were no drone attacks. So I think he thought this is the place where nobody would suspect that he would be hiding.

What does it mean, the fact that he was found near Islamabad?

I think it means he was overconfident because he had lived there for some time and he thought that he could stay there in hiding. Or it’s possible that he was being protected by someone, some organization – we don’t know yet. This is going to be investigated. But I think that it is an embarrassment for the Pakistani government and military that this man was able to hide so close to the Pakistan military academy and also in an army garrison town where there is such a heavy military presence and nobody knew that he was there for the last several months or maybe more than that.

You are known to have interviewed bin Laden himself several times. From your perspective, what consequences will bin Laden’s death have for al Qaeda?

Yes, I have interviewed him twice but that was way back in 1998. He was still a wanted man and he didn’t stay long enough in one place; he was moving around. That’s why when I met him, he was not staying in the place where I met him. He came there and then left. I think that is the biggest blow yet to al Qaeda. He was the founder and the financier. So al Qaeda will not be able to recover from this shock and loss. Already al Qaeda had been much weakened and I think it’s now at its weakest ever. But I think that there might be maybe in the early days [following bin Laden’s death] some attempts by al Qaeda members, by the remnants of al Qaeda or its like-minded groups to take revenge. They may try to launch attacks against the US allies. But more likely, they could do more damage in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they’re strong. I think al Qaeda will survive as a weaker militant and armed group. Maybe Dr al Zawahiri will take over as leader. But al Qaeda had already become irrelevant. You saw these uprisings in the Arab world in which al Qaeda and Osama had no role. So I think that this group now is clearly on the decline and I don’t think that now it can become a big threat.

What does the death of bin Laden mean for Pakistan on an international level?

I think Pakistan denying that he was there will not convince anybody and now nobody will believe Pakistan. Now everybody will say that other al Qaeda leaders and Taliban leaders are also hiding in Pakistan. So Pakistan will be under tremendous pressure to take action against them or maybe even allow Americans to do that. Because Pakistanis are still saying that ‘we don’t want any foreign troops on the ground.’ That’s why they have protested this unilateral American action against Osama; they say that Pakistan should have been informed. So I think that there will be more pressure on Pakistan. Pakistan is in a very difficult situation – there is an internal threat if it is seen to be cooperating too much with the US, then also there are problems because there is a really strong anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. And militants already think they will take revenge. They can’t harm America, which is far away and very secure. But they can clearly harm Pakistan. And also the public opinion has already gone against the government, is also very critical of the military. So we are facing internal problems and also external pressure from the US and its allies to do more in the war against terrorism. So I think this country is in a really difficult situation.

Is Pakistan now unmasked as being a country that favors terrorism?

I don’t think people will say that about terrorism. I think the difference of opinion between Pakistan and the US and the rest of the Western world is the policy regarding the Taliban. I think there was no difference of opinion regarding al Qaeda – Pakistan had actually taken action against al Qaeda. Why? Because al Qaeda had declared war on Pakistan. And it was behind bombings and Osama and al Zawahiri were also calling upon the Pakistanis to remove their own government to bring a change. So I think there was more love lost between al Qaeda and Pakistan, that’s why I think Pakistan and the US were on the same page regarding al Qaeda. But there are differences concerning the state of the Taliban in Afghanistan, regarding the future of Afghanistan. Pakistan wants there to be a political solution, that there are negotiations. And Pakistan wants to play a very crucial role in that. But I think Americans still want to defeat the Taliban. That is one difference. But otherwise, I think terrorism has affected Pakistan more than any other country.

So you think Pakistan will change its role in the fight against the Afghan Taliban?

I don’t know about that, because that is a different matter. But I think against al Qaeda, against Pakistani Taliban, Pakistani militants, the action will intensify, the fighting will go on. But I can’t say anything about Afghanistan because Pakistani policy, Pakistani contacts with the Afghan Taliban and with the Afghani network have not stopped. That’s a different ball game. I don’t know what is going to happen in Afghanistan but internally I think there is a clear determination to take action against all the militants whether they are local or foreign, whether they are Pakistani Taliban or al Qaeda.

So do you think the war in Afghanistan, the fighting in Afghanistan will shift over to Pakistani territory?

It has already shifted to Pakistan. There are so many attacks here, so many bombings, so many military operations, American drone attacks. So I think there is a lot of military activity and also attacks by the militants. The war is being fought in both countries. And the same number of troops are fighting in the two countries. 150,000 foreign troops, NATO forces in Afghanistan and 150,000 Pakistani troops fighting in northern Pakistan. So the numbers are the same and tactics are the same. I think the war is not limited to Afghanistan, but to AfPak, as the Americans say. So they consider this the same theater of war and Afghanistan and Pakistan are now being treated together.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Pakistani journalist. He is the Resident/Executive Editor of the Jang group’s The NEWS international at Peshawar bureau and is an op-ed writer for the monthly Newsline. He is especially noted for holding the last interview with Osama bin Laden.

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Chance auf Frieden am Hindukusch?

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi

In Afghanistan und Pakistan wird der Tod des Al Kaida-Führers Osama Bin Laden gefeiert. Die Regierungen und Menschen dort hoffen, dass sich die Sicherheitslage in der Region verbessert.

Der afghanische Präsident Hamid Karzai bei der Pressekonferenz am 02. Mai 2011 in Kabul (Foto: AP)Der Tod Osama Bin Ladens hat in Afghanistan hohe Wellen geschlagen. Der afghanische Präsident Hamid Karzai begrüßte die militärische Aktion der US-Armee und wies darauf hin, dass es sinnlos sei, im Kampf gegen den Terrismus nur afghanische Dörfer zu bombardieren. “Der Krieg muss dort geführt werden, wo der Terrorismus einen Zufluchtsort hat und wo sich seine Finanzierer und Ausbildungslager befinden”, so Karzai. Im Moment befinden sich rund 150.000 ausländische Soldaten in Afghanistan, die gegen aufständische Taliban kämpfen. Die Zukunft der Truppen ist noch offen.

Großer Schritt in Richtung Frieden

Viele Menschen in Afghanistan sehen den Tod des Al-Kaida-Führers als Beginn einer neuen Zeit. Der Frieden sei einen weiteren Schritt näher gerückt. In der südafghanischen Provinz Kandahar, wo Osama Bin Laden mehrere Jahre lebte, spricht Shirin Agha, Mitglied des Provinzrats, sogar von einer großen Wende für Afghanistan. “Die Menschen hier sind erleichtert. Bin Laden und der Terrorismus waren in Afghanistan wie eine schlimme Krankheit, die Ansteckungsgefahr sehr groß.” Nun sei die Krankheit endgültig besiegt.

Nach dem Sturz der Taliban-Regierung in Afghanistan 2001 war der Terroristenführer Bin Laden in den bergischen Grenzregionen zwischen Afghanistan und Pakistan untergetaucht. Rangin Spanta, einer der einflussreichsten Sicherheitspolitiker Afghanistans und früherer Außenminister, fordert im Interview mit der Deutschen Welle das Nachbarland auf, “ehrlich im Kampf gegen den Terrorismus” zusammenzuarbeiten.

Ehrliche Zusammenarbeit mit Pakistan gewünscht

Pakistanische Polizei untersucht Passanten vor dem US-amerikanischen Konsulat in Karachi. (Foto: EPA)

Pakistan verschärft die Sicherheitskontrolle nach dem Tod Bin Ladens

Das pakistanische Außenministerium bestätigte am Montag (02.05.)zwar den Tod von Bin Laden, räumte aber ein, dass die Regierung in Islamabad erst später von der Militäraktion gewusst habe. Pakistan sei immer bereit, sich im Kampf gegen den internationalen Terrorismus zu engagieren, so eine Sprecherin. Auch nach dem Tod von Osama Bin Laden werde Pakistan den Kampf weiter unterstützen. Nach einer Statistik der pakistanischen Regierung sind allein in den letzten Jahren mehr als 5.000 Soldaten und 30.000 Zivilisten im Kampf gegen die Terrororganisation El Kaida ums Leben gekommen. Warum sich Bin Laden offenbar seit Jahren unbehelligt nur zwei Autostunden von der Hauptstadt Islamabad entfernt aufhalten konnte, wurde nicht beantwortet.

Unterdessen werden die Sicherheitsvorkehrungen im ganzen Land, einschließlich der Hauptstadt Islamabad, auf die höchste Stufe verschärft. Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, Gouverneur der pakistanischen Grenzprovinz Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, warnt vor Vergeltungsanschlägen. ”Terroristische Anschläge passieren auf der ganzen Welt unter dem Dach der Al Kaida. Der Tod von Osama Bin Laden kann auch weitere Reaktionen auslösen.” Der Schutz von US-amerikanischen Einrichtungen wird verstärkt. Die pakistanischen Taliban drohten der Regierung in Islamabad und führenden Politikern am Montag schon mit Racheaktionen.

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