US strategy to 'tame' Pak militants, Taliban, al-Qaeda gaining momentum

Karachi, Oct 31 : The United States has adopted a three-pronged strategy to "tame" Pakistani militants, Taliban and al-Qaeda in the region, and it is now gathering momentum, according to the Asia Times.

The first part of the strategy was represented by former premier Benazir Bhutto's return from a self-imposed exile, and she was entrusted with presenting a hard line against militancy. Last week's bomb attack on her reception rally in Karachi, in which more than 140 people were killed, has temporarily placed her in the background.

Secondly, the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has become the key link in the talks with the Taliban insurgents.

Fazlur has already made a breakthrough by negotiating American-sponsored "small tribal jirgas" (councils) at which indigenous elements of the Afghan resistance, including the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, will discuss peace issues.

The third part of the strategy is President General Pervez Musharraf, who by using American largesse will pump millions of dollars into the tribal regions in an effort to isolate the militancy there.

This is Washington's three-pronged strategy to mobilise the masses in the region against militancy.

The US policy echoes that of 1999-2001, when Washington tried to orchestrate plans with Pakistan against al-Qaeda.

The result was the attacks of September 11, 2001, against the US. And this time too, al-Qaeda can be expected to fight back on all fronts.

The small jirgas are expected to begin early next month. Farooq Wardak, the Afghan Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Deputy Chairman of the Jirga Monitoring Commission, will lead a delegation to Islamabad at the invitation of Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao.

This is the first time that the Taliban have been given official representation in a dialogue process sponsored by Washington, and this could be the first step toward an American exit strategy for Afghanistan.

However, according to Asia Times investigations, the more the West hatches plans to isolate global jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan, the more they look for options to retaliate against the West.

Fazlur has certainly emerged as the man of the moment. He has been "honoured" with a meeting with Boucher.

Fazlur is an astute politician and his importance has grown in the past few weeks, especially in the run up to the presidential elections that saw Musharraf win another term, pending approval by constitutional authorities, and the attack on Bhutto.

"I can safely predict Fazlur will be the most important person in any future set up," said Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who was previously Pakistan's Information Minister and is considered a part of Musharraf's inner "kitchen" cabinet.

The report said that in recent days, Fazlur has spoken to top Taliban commanders, including Mullah Bredar in Quetta, and succeeded in obtaining tacit approval for a ceasefire, pending the Americans announcing a process for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Fazlur guaranteed that once the Taliban agreed to be a part of the dialogue process through the small jirgas, the US would gradually unfold its withdrawal plans.

Both parties agreed to take steps for peace and reciprocate each other's efforts. Fazlur assured the Taliban that their participation in the jirgas would be a milestone in which their resistance would be accepted as legitimate.

In the last week of September, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson visited Fazlur, after which he publicly announced that the US was ready to plan for an exit strategy from Afghanistan once a proper mechanism was in place.

But al-Qaeda ideologues have been watching developments closely, and are working on a counter strategy. The first part of this is to groom a Taliban leadership that will be inflexible on the issue of resistance.

For instance, Sirajuddin Haqqani has emerged as a caliph within the Taliban movement. He is the son of the veteran Afghan resistance figure Jalaluddin Haqqani, and the Western alliance considers him the most powerful commander in Afghanistan.

Importantly, Sirajuddin's constituency is not the Afghan Taliban but Pakistani jihadis and Arab fighters who will not compromise on their goal of complete victory for al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin is al-Qaeda's answer to Fazlur's peace process. Since the killing of Mullah Dadullah this year, there is no one in southwest Afghanistan to guarantee any deals.

Fazlur is also attempting reconciliation in Pakistan's tribal areas of Waziristan, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda have a strong grip. He is courting figures such as Sadar Abdul Rahman and Maulana Mahmood, but it is not an easy task.

"Our people supported Fazlur Rehman for the cause of Islam, but he has sold our interests for the sake of politics," Dr Essa Khan, chief spokesperson of the Pakistani Taliban told Asia Times Online.

"We want to fight American forces. We want them to come to Waziristan and attack us so that we can fight against them. We don't want to fight against our own brothers (Pakistani soldiers) who are pitched against us as Washington's ally," he said.

Essa said that once American forces attacked us in Pakistani territory, we will have a single enemy against us to fight with and we will be fighting against them with all our conviction.

Fazlur has something to give, though. By June 2008, the US will make 180 million dollars available for development work in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Patterson has been meeting the Members of Parliament from these areas (the majority of them hail from Rehman's Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam - JUI) and has assured them that the US will distribute the money with their collaboration.

Speaking to the Asia Times Online in Karachi, Bhutto dismissed any chance of reconciliation with militants until they surrendered.

"There are two theories to deal with the militants. There is the theory of a ceasefire with militants and peace treaties with them. I don't believe in any negotiations with the militants until they surrender their weapons. I completely oppose speaking to irregular militias."

Bhutto also believes that a powerful segment of the establishment is still on the side of the militants, what she calls a legacy of late dictator General Zia ul-Haq.

Bhutto's tough line, Fazlur's policy of reconciliation and Musharraf's pumping of money into the tribal areas have the single theme of isolating the militants.

These constant pressures are once again forcing al-Qaeda to spin the game so that it can also influence the "war on terror".

Western intelligence has named Abu Obaida al-Masri as the new chief of al-Qaeda's external operations with the aim of targeting Europe.

It has also revealed a powerful camp in the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. According to their information, the camp is run by Abu Haris al-Jazeri. Other prominent associates include Najib al-Fala, Omar Jalali, Bilal Abu Daghlol, Hussain al-Babi and Ahmed Taufiq. Fala and Jazeri are French citizens and the others are Tunisian.

According to the intelligence reports, this al-Qaeda camp is planning attacks in Europe, notably the United Kingdom, Germany and France. (ANI)