Friday, August 24, 2007

Connecting the Dots

Some documents have recently been declassified, which clarify and elaborate on Pakistan's role -- specifically of its intel agency, the ISID -- in building up the Taliban and other terrorist groups which were directly connected to bin Laden in terms of operations and financing.

Of particular concern was the potential for Islamabad-Taliban links to strengthen Taliban influence in Pakistan's tribal regions along the border. A January 1997 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan observed that "for Pakistan, a Taliban-based government in Kabul would be as good as it can get in Afghanistan," adding that worries that the "Taliban brand of Islam…might infect Pakistan," was "apparently a problem for another day." [Doc 20] Now ten years later, Islamabad seems to be acknowledging the domestic complications that the Taliban movement has created within Pakistan. A report produced by Pakistan's Interior Ministry and obtained by the International Herald Tribune in June 2007 warned President Pervez Musharraf that Taliban-inspired Islamic militancy has spread throughout Pakistan's tribal regions and could potentially threaten the rest of the country. The document is "an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country's heart," according to one Pakistani official quoted in the article. "It's tragic it's taken so long to recognize it."

Islamabad denies that it ever provided military support to the Taliban, but the newly-released documents report that in the weeks following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996, Pakistan's intelligence agency was "supplying the Taliban forces with munitions, fuel, and food." Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Directorate was "using a private sector transportation company to funnel supplies into Afghanistan and to the Taliban forces." [Doc 15] Other documents also conclude that there has been an extensive and consistent history of "both military and financial assistance to the Taliban." [Doc 8]

You know, I like Sun Tzu as well as the next guy, but exactly how many thousands of years does it take people to realize that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is at best a temporary tactical ploy, and that when used as operational strategy, it almost invariably results in blowback? During the Cold War, that blowback most directly affected the peons of the countries that had been diddled by the humps at the CIA -- Congo, Nicaragua, Iran, etc. The hostage crisis in Iran was about the only instance of blowback that had directly affected Americans, and that was resolved on the most fortuitous and coincidental of timelines.

But as many of us already knew (though it is good to have some specifics now available), the Pakistan-Taliban relationship that began brewing in the late '90s always had potential of bubbling over. Here are some specifics:

August 1996: Pakistan Intelligence (ISID) "provides at least $30,000 - and possibly as much as $60,000 - per month" to the militant Kashmiri group Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA). Despite this aid, the group is reaching out to sponsors of international terrorism including Osama bin Laden for additional support, and may in the near future become a threat to Islamabad itself as well as U.S. interests. HUA contacts have hinted they "might undertake terrorist actions against civilian airliners." [Doc 10]

October 1996: A Canadian intelligence document released by the National Security Agency and originally classified Top Secret SI, Umbra comments on recent Taliban military successes noting that even Pakistan "must harbour some concern" regarding the Taliban's impressive capture of Kabul, as such victory may diminish Pakistan's influence over the movement and produce a Taliban regime in Kabul with strong links to Pakistan's own Pashtuns. [Doc 14]

October 1996: Although food supplies from Pakistan to the Taliban are conducted openly through Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISID, "the munitions convoys depart Pakistan late in the evening hours and are concealed to reveal their true contents." [Doc 15]

November 1996: Pakistan's Pashtun-based "Frontier Corps elements are utilized in command and control; training; and when necessary - combat" alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. [Doc 17]

March 1998: Al-Qaeda and Pakistan government-funded Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA) have been sharing terrorist training camps in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan for years [Link Doc 16], and HUA has increasingly been moving ideologically closer to al-Qaeda. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad is growing increasingly concerned as Fazlur Rahman Khalil, a leader in Pakistan's Harakat ul-Ansar has signed Osama bin Laden's most recent fatwa promoting terrorist activities against U.S. interests. [Doc 26]

September 1998 [Doc 31] and March 1999 [Doc 33]: The U.S. Department of State voices concern that Pakistan is not doing all it can to pressure the Taliban to surrender Osama bin Laden. "Pakistan has not been responsive to our requests that it use its full influence on the Taliban surrender of Bin Ladin." [Doc 33]

September 2000: A cable cited in The 9/11 Commission Report notes that Pakistan's aid to the Taliban has reached "unprecedented" levels, including recent reports that Islamabad has possibly allowed the Taliban to use territory in Pakistan for military operations. Furthermore the U.S. has "seen reports that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with materiel, fuel, funding, technical assistance and military advisors." [Doc 34]

Supposedly Barack Obama, he of blessed little experience in the cynical sausage-making of Washington, committed a major gaffe a couple weeks ago by not only refusing to rule out the possibility of military strikes in Pakistan territory, but actually endorsing it if the response from Pakistan's government was seen as ineffectual or diffident, which is not exactly an impossibility.

Let's be even more blunt about it -- we know that bin Laden is likely still alive, and likely still hiding out in the tribal provinces of Pakistan. We know from reports released in late spring/early summer by our own intel services that the operational capabilities of Taliban and al Qaeda have returned to 2001 levels; indeed, these have rightly been used as rhetorical cudgels against Cheney administration tough-guy dogma.

Since we take those facts as a given at this point, it is not unrealistic to suppose that another terrorist attack occurs, and the supply/finance chain is quickly traced back to some cave in Fundamentalist Hillbillystan. What then? Do we even want to bargain with them, or is Obama absolutely correct in saying what he said, that if God forbid something happens, and Pakistan's government doesn't satisfactorily handle it, we will? There has to be some accountability on that issue, and the moral preparation to respond appropriately, and Obama was correct in both the political and moral senses.

And these documents clearly reiterate that sad fact. Considering, however, that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are receiving heaps of military aid from us, the notion that we have created and continue to create a golem (or, even scarier, multiple golems) in the region, we still clearly have the wrong end of the stick on this. Probably unless we are willing to involve China and perhaps a resurgent (if temporarily) Russia in some sphere-of-influence-sharing discussions regarding the region, something will eventually blow along one of the many fault lines.

At the very least, we should be clear and realistic about who our friends are, and what our options are. And as long as we continue to engage even in the kabuki of chasing shadows of past mistakes, nothing gets done in the area whence most of the big trouble originates. Selling the Saudis and the Pakistanis more F-16s only complicates the scenario, to our eventual disadvantage.


Ron said...

It's not often said, but I've seen it enough times(often from some conspiracy tinged sites so one has to remain skeptical) said that Al Qaeda itself is a creation of the ISI,and that "The Base" is really "The 'base"- as in a database of clandestine operatives used to influence events in neighboring Afghanistan. It's a fact that Pakistan supports the Taliban, and I believe Musharraf is playing both sides of the field much in the same way Saudi Arabia does-giving lip service to fighting terrorism while paying tribute to them.

Andrei said...

That's often said, but the fact remains, Taliban were the creation of US back in 1980s to bring down Russia. I hope you agree.

RonB said...

No, Andrei, the Taliban was not "created" by the US. Financed by the CIA in conjunction with the ISI during the Russian occupation, yes. And I believe I said that Al Qaeda was a creation of the ISI, not the Taliban.

If you're gonna gotcha me, Andrei, read correctly.

Heywood J. said...

Created, financed, encouraged -- it's all pretty much semantics at this point. Yes, American policy in post-Soviet Afghanistan was notoriously short-sighted and fraught with blowback. Was it still the right thing to do? Geopolitically, yes, unfortunately -- the Soviet Union would have hollowed out Afghanistan and turned it into a client/buffer state.

As it was, the brutal occupation set the stage for the responsive extremism; the Americans simply (and cynically) dealt with what was there to use. It was another in a series of ugly proxy wars between Us and Them.

Another name from that era, who is another example of blowback, is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the local warlord whom America pumped big dollars into during the Soviet occupation, and who has since become one of the most sought-after of the Qaeda-style jihadis. He apparently bounces around the Iran-Afghanistan border, making nearly impossible for anyone to catch him. But like bin Laden, he was once an asset. Again, sleeping with dogs tends to affect the odds and ratio of awaking with the proverbial fleas.

Now, as for the current state of the ISI/Taliban/al Qaeda supply chain, it does seem to still originate in Pakistan, and have some sort of place in state military policy, if covertly. And if our intel estimates of Qaeda/Taliban resurgence are correct, someone is responsible for this resurgence. Pakistan has long viewed Afghanistan as a buffer state for itself against India, and cynically uses its tribalists' long-standing disdain for the Durand Line to its own advantage. And they're now our third-largest aid client, $3 bn in (mostly) military aid last year.

The question is whether Musharraf is a true believer, or merely a guy in a very tenuous, volatile position playing both sides as best he can, because right now he has no other choice. As a (for the region) fairly secularized moderate, he does appear to genuinely be of the latter stripe, and rightly no one really wants to take a chance on any of the viable alternatives. This is understandable, but not sustainable.

And at some point, the well of funding, which is Saudi oil money financing madrassas and training camps in Pakistan, and subverting honest attempts to consolidate Afghanistan, will have to be seriously addressed.

It starts with Americans enabling Saudi pelf with their lazy consumption patterns, and ethanol is worse than simply not being helpful -- it's a flat-out scam that has the ancillary problem of giving false confidence to would-be energy independence advocates.

Every jerkoff who tools around in one of these stupid 10-mpg fuck-you-mobiles, these asinine suburban tanks, needs to be told in no uncertain terms -- you are putting money directly into the pockets of the people who are passing it on to the Hekmatyars and the bin Ladens of the world. Period. Understand that, wrap your ego in it, whatever, but that's really the way it is. The world is simply too interconnected and interdependent anymore to ignore such facts, and pretend they don't matter. They do matter, and either we want to take the piss out of these people whose corrupt petrocracies are funding terrorist cells, or we don't.

Ron said...

Well. that certainly puts the lid on the pedantry, doesn't it?

Just taking objection to what appeared to be "the US is responsible for every evil" line. I think we all agree that the blowback is the real problem, nevermind who made who. I'd replace cynical with sinister at the risk of more pedantry, since these wars are mostly borne of superpowers squabbling for lesser powers' resources. It's a big ugly game of kicking the can down the road and damn the consequences.

I do still think it important to acknowledge the difference between a clandestine asset like Al Qaeda and an indigenous movement like the Taliban. I mean, we can't talk opinions until we use facts. The movements within Afghanistan are as important as the movements outside it-not that I'm about ready to compile a history of the Taliban or anything-but proper recognition of the forces at play would unmuddy some very muddy waters.

Heywood J. said...


I don't think anyone was being pedantic, really; if anything, I probably got carried away with my response, because I kept thinking of the situation in perhaps overly reductive terms.

Good points about the need to recognize the subtle but important distinctions between the two groups. Even though they are obviously in cahoots and have much more in common than not, there is undoubtedly some mutual opportunism in the relationship, and the origins of each must be fully comprehended in order to counter them. The media just hoists one or the other as an emotional totem, on cue from the administration.

And I can't help but wonder if Andrei's take is indicative of how most Russians perceive the Afghan episode in their own history, and the U.S.' role in bogging the Soviets down. I think the West let Russia down enormously in helping them make a smoother transition from communism to capitalism, resulting in a rather bellicose oligarchy headed by an authoritarian. Putin has been very effective in channeling the sentiments of citizens into a stronger, more forceful presence on the world stage.

Russia is and should be a major driver in world events, but if past resentments are being used to fuel current predicaments -- why, that's almost American of them.

thedevilzone said...

At the very least, we should be clear and realistic about who our friends are, and what our options are. And as long as we continue to engage even in the kabuki of chasing shadows of past mistakes, nothing gets done in the area whence most of the big trouble originates.

I'm going to suggest that the last big battle, the one where there was any chance of having a stable, reality-based foundation from which to work in the future, was giving Bush the AUMF authorizations back in 01/02. Once he had that, we were pretty much condemned to play the game his way for the forseeable future.

Of course you can argue about what exactly he was given authority to do, or you can say that there was no realistic chance that anyone could have resisted the pressure in the environment of the time, and that's all fine. I'm just saying that the only way we could have avoided the mess we're in would have been to refuse to hand him a vaguely-worded, open-ended blank check to do whatever he deems necessary to "fight terror" wherever he sees it, to refuse to allow him to define the fight and the enemy. Whether it could have been helped or not, we didn't. Now we're being dragged along behind him on his joyride, and there's not much we can do to stop it. If we had successfully resisted that pressure somehow, and made the case for a calm, sane approach to dealing with decentralized terrorist groups - the much-maligned "police work" approach, IMO - then maybe we'd be in an okay scenario right now.But as it is, everything from here on will be reacting to that, "chasing shadows of past mistakes", as you so aptly put it.

I'll offer up my useless prognostications: I imagine the Bushies plan on a Democrat winning the presidency next year. We've already seen how likely it is that something will be done to Iran in the next year or so, maybe in mid to late '08. I would guess that it might be nothing more than dropping enough bombs to blow up anything that could be claimed to have a vague relations to nookyuler weapons, just enough to give the hornet's nest a good whack, as it were, before handing the stick to the incoming Democratic president.

President Hillary/Obama/Kucinich (ha ha!) is already going to have a hopeless situation on their hands with Iraq and Afghanistan; what the hell could they possibly do if Bush initiated hostilities with Iran on his way out the door? They certainly couldn't ramp things up and finish the job (whatever that may be), even if they wanted to. They'd have to do something conciliatory, which would in turn be attacked mercilessly by the Republicans (since all that rhetoric about defeatist talk emboldening the enemies and disheartening the troops would, naturally, no longer be operative) as the Democrats "losing" the war on terror that the Republicans had so well in hand before being stabbed in the back by the media, voting public, etc.

The media would of course do their usual stenography, dutifully parroting the attacks for four or eight years until the ADHD American public put another Republican back in office to pick up where they'd left off.

I hope I'm just talking crazy talk, but I don't see any obvious reason to think so. But my main point was: to whatever extent my attempts to play Nostradamus might be accurate, the Democrats put themselves in a hopeless bind several years back. There really isn't anything they can do to "win" the GWOT anymore than the War on Drugs could have ever been won. They lost their chance to define the situation, and now all they can do is react after the fact to events out of their control. Iraq and Afghanistan aren't going to become secular democracies in our lifetimes. Bush/Cheney has such an obvious throbbing hard-on for doing something to Iran before leaving power. They clearly would love to have another multi-generational conflict to replace their precious Cold War, and attacking a country with half of its population under 30 years of age would seem like a fine way to achieve that.

It looks to me like the template has already been set. I sure hope I'm wrong.

thedevilzone said...

Reading back over that, I'm struck by my own pessimism. Maybe I should have just quoted Bill Paxton's obnoxious character Hudson from Aliens:

Hudson: Well that's great, that's just fuckin' great, man. Now what the fuck are we supposed to do? We're in some real pretty shit now man...

Hicks: Are you finished?

Hudson: That's it man, game over man, game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?

Hudson: Game over man... Game over!

Ripley: How long after we're declared overdue can we expect a rescue?

Hicks: [pause] Seventeen days.

Hudson: *Seventeen days?* Hey man, I don't wanna rain on your parade, but we're not gonna last seventeen hours! Those things are gonna come in here just like they did before. And they're gonna come in here...

Ripley: Hudson!

Hudson: ...and they're gonna come in here AND THEY'RE GONNA KILL US!

Heywood J. said...


No, I think pessimism is called for, and yours is plausible and well-founded. If the Dem nominee is Hillary, I don't even think the Cheneyites would have to give Iran a whack on their way out the door; she'd be happy to do it mid-'09 just to show everyone they can't get one over on her. She is the prototype DLC DINO who thinks that foreign policy is showing the loons in the Republican Party that she can be crazy-tough just like them.

Anybody else though, especially Obama, and yeah, I think you have summertime shenanigans by the outgoing crew. Much worse than snatching the W's from all the WH keyboards.

And of course you're dead on about the ADHD factor being a centerpiece of Republican strategery. Right now we're supposedly "mad" at them, but they know that, after all they've done, as long as they haven't been strung up by their heels, there's always a strong chance of bamboozling just enough people into voting against their own interests one more time.

So yeah, let the Dems take the heat for four years, stumble over themselves on manufactured "strength" issues, and then find the next Fred Thompson fake-outsider to ride in come '12. Doesn't sound crazy at all; it sounds sadly too realistic.

RonB said...

Devilzone, Bob Baer thinks the Iran attack is coming before the year is up. Check it:

I swear, I'm only linking to myself because it's easier to find there. No, really.

Heywood J. said...

Proper blogwhoring should really have a handy link, Ron. Jeez.

And nice catch. I do not understand why Baer is not accorded the same frequency and idolatry as [insert any of the numerous Billy Kristol-type useless sacks of pundit shit] on all the Serious Chat Shows. I mean I do understand, but you know what I mean.

woodguy said...


These days, isn't a pessimist just a realist with a functioning memory?

thedevilzone said...

Dammit, fellows, I was hoping someone would point out something I obviously overlooked and make me feel better, not basically agree with me! Thanks a lot. If anyone needs me, I'll be taking a bath with the toaster and hairdryer.

Who was it that said a pessimist was just an optimist in full possession of the facts? Twain? Vonnegut? Edward Abbey?

I wouldn't be surprised at all if an attack came sooner than next summer. Who knows what exactly they're thinking. I guess it's just an academic question for the historians to develop into book-length musings as to whether these nuts are insane, evil, or just that fucking dumb; the main problem is that they almost certainly are going to do it. And to get back to the original gist of this post: that almost certainly rules out anything being done in re: Pakistan, unless we're just determined to do Armageddon super-size, American style.

How the hell do we ever get out in front of this again? What will it take to totally discredit the Republicans for good? Someone strong enough to invade and occupy us? Complete economic collapse?

Heywood J. said...

How the hell do we ever get out in front of this again? What will it take to totally discredit the Republicans for good? Someone strong enough to invade and occupy us? Complete economic collapse?

Economic catastrophe sounds about right, whether it revolves around health care, oil, water, or just significant chunks of the economy being financial smoke and mirrors. The recent volatility of the stock market seems fairly ominous; it's nice that central banks and such have stepped in with a helping hand to bail people out, but that's a band-aid.

At any rate, running out of money would mean giving up at least some of our toys and distractions, and that would be a problem for our esteemed leaders. It's Dean Wormer's Axiom coming home to roost on us.

thedevilzone said...

Hey, I actually found someone who's more down about all of this than me.