Friday, November 20, 2009

Afghan Surveys

Today (er, yesterday) I came across two extremely interesting surveys of Afghanistan that were conducted earlier this year and released in the last few weeks, both of which had surprising results. The first was conducted in June and July (before the botched election) by the Asia Foundation, and was impressively comprehensive, featuring interviews in every single province and coming in at 231 pages. Needless to say, I have not read all, or even a substantial portion, of it yet. There are a few things that jump out at me from what I've read so far, though:

•First of all was the way the numbers stacked up against the US. 42% of Afghans thought the country was going in the right direction; Real Clear Politics has us at 37.8%. 68% of Afghans approved of Parliament's performance, compared to only 27% for Congress.

•Ironically, there was great faith in the electoral process; 64% thought that the election would be free and fair. I rather suspect that number has since changed.

•Security in the west of the country has decreased dramatically; see next item. I suspect that part of this is due to the militants having been flushed out of Helmand earlier this year.

•There were a number of villages that the surveyors were unable to visit, usually because of insecurity, inaccessibility (e.g. due to flooding), or there just not being any village by that name (maps of Afghanistan are absolutely awful; I would know). Of the 102 data points (12% of the total) that could not be visited due to insecurity, four were in Kabul (Province), two were in Kapisa, two were in Wardak, five were in Logar, two were in Nangarhar, eleven were in Kunar, one was in Daikundi (the Taliban were also present), eleven were in Ghazni, three were in Paktia, two were in Paktika, two were in Khost, eleven were in Qandahar, one was in Zabul (the Taliban were also present), four were in Uruzgan, seven were in Badghis, three were in Herat, four were in Farah (one of which had a Taliban presence), three were in Baghlan (two with Taliban presences), eight were in Kunduz (where the Taliban is currently trying to shut down an alternate supply line we're establishing so that we don't have to rely so much on the Khyber Pass), three were in Balkh, and ten were in Faryab. Additionally, one data point in Nimroz could not be visited due to the presence of the Taliban but not insecurity. Tomorrow or Saturday I will put together a map depicting this information.

The other poll was by Oxfam; the BBC has a nice summary here. I personally view this one as being less interesting because it was not nearly as comprehensive and was done all the way back from January to April. Additionally, the way in which the data is presented is not very clear, and from what I've been able to garner from it in my current half-asleep daze, I have some serious reservations about its accuracy.

However, some of the questions it asked were extremely interesting, especially what the respondents considered to be the main causes of the present conflict. The answers both give and take hope: On the one hand, only 18% identified the presence of foreign forces as a major factor, on the other hand, the economy (70%) and corruption (48%) were both considerably higher than the Taliban (36%). While I don't think anyone was seriously expecting the Taliban to be number one, it still would have made things infinitely simpler. This is of course assuming that the results are reliable, which I will have to determine at a later date.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rah-e-Nejat Update

I have compiled a basic map showing Operation Rah-e-Nejat (click for larger version). Green icons indicate cities held by the Pakistani Army and black icons those held by the Taliban. The three red lines are the three "axes" referred to in news reports: the Razmak-Makin Axis, the Shakai-Kaniguram Axis, and the Jandola-Sararogha Axis. Note that while Kaniguram is still held by the Taliban, it has been surrounded by Pakistani forces and will probably soon fall.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pakistan begins Taliban operation

The Pakistani military has begun a ground offensive against Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan.

The ground operation began early on Saturday, advancing from at least three directions - Zhob to the south, Razmak to the north and Jandola from the east. Air power was also put to use.

About 28,000 troops are to be employed in the offensive against about 10,000 Taliban.

The move followed crisis-talks and a meeting headed by Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, on Friday in which it was decided to launch the operation against Taliban.

The drive comes after continued bomb attacks in the country over the past two weeks that have killed more than 150 people.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Waziristan offensive "imminent"

Pakistani jets bomb S Waziristan

Pakistani aircraft have attacked suspected Taliban fighters in South Waziristan near the Afghan border, in advance of an imminent ground assault.

The air raids on Sunday night came less than 24 hours after commandos stormed an office building and rescued dozens of security officials taken captive after an attack on the general army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

"The jets hit and destroyed two of their hideouts in Makeen and Ladha and we have a total of about 16 militants killed," a unnamed Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters news agency.

But the military has been conducting air and artillery strikes in South Waziristan for months, while moving troops, blockading the region and trying to split armed opposition to Islamabad's authority.

However, a ground offensive has yet to begin and may prove to be the army's toughest test since fighters turned on the state.

Imminent attack

Nevertheless, Rehman Malik, the interior minister, in an interview in Singapore said a ground offensive was "imminent".

"There is no mercy for them because our determination and resolve is to flush them out," he said.

"They have no room in Pakistan, I promise you."

Malik said members of the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda were suspected to have been behind Saturday's attack on army headquarters, which ended a week when suicide bombers struck in the capital Islamabad and Peshawar, killing more than 50 people.

He also said the offensive against the fighters in South Waziristan was no longer a matter of choice.

"It is not an issue of commitment, it is becoming a compulsion because there was an appeal from the local tribes that we should do the operation," Malik said.

Provincial links

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Imtiaz Gul, a political analyst, said he agreed that the government was correct to commence an offensive against South Waziristan.

"A lot of al-Qaeda and ideologically tainted people belonging to the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan under the patronage of the Taliban are sheltering there," he said.

But not everyone agrees. Zafar Jaspal, a Pakistani analyst, believes that Islamabad has concentrated too much on the Swat valley and South Waziristan.

"Till today, the government has no clear strategy on how to deal with the militants who are residing in southern Punjab," he told Al Jazeera.

"The person who was captured alive after [the GHQ attack] comes from Punjab, and other members of that group are also from Punjab ... certainly the government needs to have a parallel strategy - for Punjab as well as South Waziristan."

Al Jazeera


And so it begins.

This is not quite the final push — Orakzai is still in the Taliban's hands — but it might as well be. Once Waziristan has been won, the fate of the Pakistani Taliban will have been sealed. Most surviving militants will probably flee into Afghanistan, in a remarkable mirroring of the events eight years ago. This time, though, the US military will be there to meet them. The tactical imperative of increasing the number of troops in eastern Afghanistan is more clear now than ever: a Taliban surge is coming, and there must be an American surge to counter it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So who is this guy?

Hakimullah Mehsud, who the Taliban say is their new leader in Pakistan, came to prominence in 2007 after a number of spectacular raids against the army.

At that time he was one of several commanders under Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who the militants have admitted was killed in a US drone strike in early August.

When I met Hakimullah - a nom de guerre, his real name is Zulfiqar - in South Waziristan in October 2007 he had just been appointed Baitullah's chief spokesman.

His audacious capture of 300 Pakistani soldiers had led to us travelling to meet the kidnapped troops.

Still only 28 at the time, Hakimullah was clearly someone to be reckoned with.

Despite his pleasant demeanour and cheeky smile, danger radiated from the man.

The kidnapping incident added to his prestige. Pakistan's government eventually released several high-profile militants in line with Taliban demands.

Since then, Hakimullah Mehsud's star has continued to rise.

Battle skills

But his beginnings were hardly auspicious.

Born in the region of Kotkai near the town of Jandola in South Waziristan, Zulfiqar Mehsud's only schooling was at a small village madrassa in Hangu district.

One of the other students at the time was Baitullah Mehsud, but he dropped out.

Zulfiqar Mehsud later joined up with his fellow clansman in jihad (holy war), initially acting as bodyguard and aide to the older militant.

Baitullah's consolidation of most of Pakistan's Taliban groups into a single entity provided growing opportunities for his talented young friend.

Zulfiqar Mehsud was already famous within the Taliban for his skills in battle - his ability to handle a Kalashnikov and a Toyota pick-up were legendary.

"He is the best after Nek Mohammad," our Taliban driver told us during a hair-raising journey before the meeting in 2007.

Nek Mohammad was the founder of the Taliban movement in Pakistan.

He was killed in a suspected US drone attack in 2004, but not before he had made the Pakistani Taliban a force to be reckoned with.


The comparison with Hakimullah Mehsud sits well - both handsome young men with that extra aggressive instinct.

But Hakimullah Mehsud also has a wild streak which borders on the reckless.

When we met on that autumn day in 2007, he took us for a drive.

To demonstrate his skill with the vehicle, he drove like a man possessed, manoeuvring around razor sharp bends at impossible speeds.

He finished the demonstration by braking inches short of a several hundred foot drop.

While the rest of us sat in stunned silence, he just laughed chillingly and stuck the car in reverse to smoothly continue the journey.

"I went to Karachi once when I was a small boy," he told me when I asked how and where he had travelled in Pakistan.

"But I used to go to Punjab quite often, and have been to Islamabad several times, though not recently."

I asked him when he was last in Islamabad.

"It was in 2005," he answered, before adding spontaneously: "I was looking for [former President Pervez] Musharraf, but I couldn't find him."

He then rattled off the names of a number of Islamabad landmarks which he had scouted during his trip.

"I looked all over, but he was not around so I came back."

Convoy attacks

Our second meeting was in May 2008, at the now famous press conference organised by Baitullah Mehsud.

Hakimullah Mehsud had become a commander in his own right - masterminding the campaign against the Nato convoys in the Khyber tribal region and Peshawar.

He was later appointed Taliban commander for the regions of Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai.

In these areas, he has played a key role in a campaign of attrition against the Pakistani army.

In this respect he remains true to Baitullah Mehsud's ideology - carving out a Taliban emirate in Pakistan and taking on the army to defend it.

His appointment will be seen as confirmation that hardliners are in the ascendancy in the Pakistani Taliban.

It remains to be seen, though, whether he can actually bring all the Taliban factions under his control.

If he can, then Pakistan's security establishment's recent claims of victory may have come a bit too soon.

Via BBC.


This may not have been that smart a move on the part of the TTP. While this Mehsud certainly seems like a highly competent commander on the ground, it remains to be seen what sort of grasp he has on overall campaign strategy, let alone running an organization (the TTP is not in firm control of the regions he was in charge of, except possibly Orakzai). In particular, I suspect his youth and recklessness, which benefit him so much when chasing down a convoy in the Khyber Pass, will be potentially disastrous in the politico-military game the Taliban is playing with Islamabad.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pakistan 'expands war on Taliban'

Pakistan's military is beginning a significant move into South Waziristan, where the
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan - or the Pakistani Taliban - are based, US officials have said.

The operation is said to be targeting Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and will be carried out with greater support from the US.

Witnesses and intelligence officials said Pakistani aircraft had bombed a stronghold of Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday, the Pakistani Taliban leader, in the South Waziristan.

"Four fighter jets bombed parts of Makken early on Saturday but we don't know about the extent of damage or any casualties," Mohammad Khan, a shopkeeper in the area said.

Pakistan's Geo TV reported that large numbers of people were migrating from South Waziristan to North Waziristan.

"Operations that appear to be under way now would be the largest operations that have been undertaken in Waziristan," a US defence official said on Friday.

"We think that the initial phases of that operation have already begun."

Pakistan says it has almost completed an offensive to drive Taliban fighters out of the Swat Valley, an area to the north of Waziristan in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Fight 'to the end'

Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, said on Saturday he would fight the Pakistani Taliban "to the end".

"This war has the support of parliament, the support of the political parties as well as the people of Pakistan," he said in a televised address to the nation broadcast after 1am (1900 GMT on Friday).

"We are fighting a war for our sovereignty. We will continue this war until the end, and we will win it at any cost," he said.

"These people want to capture the institutions of Pakistan by spreading terrorism and by intimidating the people.

"They have killed thousands of innocent people."

Zardari's comments came after two suicide bomb attacks on Friday, claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, in Lahore and Nowshera, in NWFP, killed at least eight people, including a pro-government religious leader.

Maulana Sarfraz Naeemi, known to oppose the Taliban, had condemned the use of suicide bombings.

The US defence official said on Friday that the Pentagon expected Pakistan to conduct "fairly significant combat operations in South Waziristan".

Another US official said Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders were "under very significant pressure", while a third US official said the US would be providing increased intelligence and surveillance support to Pakistan.

Taliban 'resistance'

Pakistan's recent operations have been under way for six weeks, taking the military first into Buner and Upper Dir districts, then into the Swat Valley.

The first US official warned that "isolated pockets of resistance still remain" in parts of the Swat valley as the Pakistani army worked to finish the two-month campaign, and that Islamabad needed to brace for more attacks.

"[Mehsud] has turned suicide bombing into a production output not unlike Toyota outputs cars," the official, who described the Mehsud as leading an extensive network of religious schools that sold or bartered child suicide bombers in NWFP, said.

The key element of the US Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, the defence official said, is to have troops put pressure on al-Qaea and Taliban fighters believed to be operating out of safe havens in Waziristan.

From Al Jazeera.


First a president was elected who is extremely popular in the Muslim world, then that president gave a speech that surpassed their wildest hopes, then al-Qaeda announced that it's broke, and now Pakistan has finally, at long last, taken the fight against the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan and its allies to Waziristan itself. Meanwhile, troops and development projects pour into Afghanistan, and public opinion in Pakistan turns against the TTP.

Could this be the beginning of the end?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Taliban again fails to kill a single hostage

Pakistan rescues abducted students

The Pakistani military has rescued 80 students and teachers taken captive by Taliban fighters in the country's northwest tribal region.

The military launched a pre-dawn raid on Tuesday in a bid to end the hostage drama, military and government officials said.

Major-General Athar Abbas said that 80 people, 71 of them students, were recovered by forces in the Goryam area as their convoy of vehicles was heading towards South Waziristan.

"Everyone is safe and sound," Abbas said.

The release of the hostages was confirmed by Sardar Abbas Rind, chief of the administration in the northwestern town of Bannu.

Earlier, officials had said police were negotiating with the Taliban via tribal elders for the captives.



First the Afghan Army (not NATO) rescued those forty hostages in Khost a few weeks ago, now the Pakistani Army rescues eighty hostages in Waziristan, and the Taliban isn't able to take out a single one, as you would normally expect. Not as strategically important as the reclamation of Mingora, but still perhaps indicative of a larger process.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Russia ends Chechnya operation

Russia says it has ended a decade-long operation against separatist fighters in Chechnya, in a move that could see thousands of troops withdrawn from the territory.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, ordered the move, which took effect on Thursday, Russia's anti-terror committee said.

About 20,000 troops are expected to pull out.

A committee statement read: "The decision is aimed at creating the conditions for the future normalisation of the situation in the republic, its reconstruction and development of its socio-economic sphere."

Chechnya has been badly damaged during two wars with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The population is regularly subjected to curfews, roadblocks, limitations on journalists, spot searches and detentions.

Critics argue that major violations of human rights have been carried out in the former breakaway republic under the auspices of the military presence.

People living in Grozny, Chechnya's capital, cheered and waved Russian and Chechen flags in reaction to Thursday's news.

Nikolaus von Twickel, a reporter from the Moscow Times, told Al Jazeera that while the decision to end the operation was likely to be welcomed by most people in Chechnya, it was not unexpected.

"The situation on the ground has become relatively stable. So the news this morning wasn't that much of a surprise really," he said.

Road to peace

The "counter-terrorist operation" was approved in 1999 by Boris Yeltsin, the former Russian president, who sent troops in to end the Muslim-majority region's short-lived independence.

There are still sporadic clashes between separatists and troops, but the opposition has largely been silenced under the local leadership of Ramzan Kadyrov.

Kadyrov, who abandoned the separatist cause to become president, is alleged to have allowed the kidnap, torture and murder of opponents and is seen as a brutal stooge of the Russian leadership.

Kadyrov, who is backed by the Kremlin, expressed "great satisfaction" over the announcement.

"Today Chechnya, as thousands of guests can testify, is a peaceful developing area and the cancellation of the operation will only encourage its economic growth," he told Russia's Interfax news agency.

"The militant leaders, on whose conscience lies the pain and suffering of thousands of people, have been eliminated, captured or taken to court."

Russia has withdrawn most of its army units from Chechnya, but thousands of police from other Russian regions and scores of special service units still patrol there.

Via Al Jazeera.


Chechnya has been one of al-Qaeda's biggest recruiting tools. This most likely represents a major defeat for them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Swat Taliban extends ceasefire

Taliban fighters in Pakistan have declared an indefinite ceasefire in the Swat valley in the northwest of the country, the group's spokesman has said.

Tuesday's announcement came after the army said it was suspending operations in the troubled region.

"We have agreed on an indefinite ceasefire," Muslim Khan, the Taliban spokesman in Swat, said.

"We are releasing all prisoners unconditionally. Today we released four paramilitary soldiers and we will release all security personnel in our custody as a goodwill gesture."

Khan said the Taliban in the valley, led by Maulana Fazlullah, also decided to release three people, including two politicians, as a "goodwill gesture".

'Optimism and hope'

The fighters had earlier announced a 10-day truce in Swat which the latest announcement extends indefinitely.

Tayyab Siddiqui, a Pakistani political analyst, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday there is "a lot of optimism and hope" that the ceasefire would hold.

He said the military option had not been as successful at it was anticipated and that both sides were "exhausted".

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from the Pakistan capital, Islamabad, said details about the ceasefire were yet to emerge.

"The Taliban have been steadfast in their demands, saying they want to be in control of the type of sharia that's introduced," he said.

"They want a release of all Taliban prisoners, and they want the Pakistani army to leave the area."

Maulana Fezlullah the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, is due to give a radio address on Tuesday evening where he'll clarify all these details.

The developments come after the Pakistani government signed a controversial deal with a pro-Taliban cleric to enforce sharia law in Swat in an effort to restore peace.

The Pakistani authorities had been negotiating with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, Fazlullah's father-in-law and leader of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi, regarding the implementation of sharia in the region.

On Monday, the Pakistani Taliban announced a separate ceasefire in the Bajaur region, neighbouring Swat.


Bajaur is a major transit route for the fighters travelling to fight US and Nato forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The US and other Western governments had criticised the Swat truce and negotiations, saying they could create a safe haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban in the region.

Unlike in Swat, the Taliban in Bajaur had been losing ground in recent months, most analysts say.

The Pakistani military began its offensive against fighters in Bajur in September last year and claims to have killed around 1,500 Taliban fighters.

Fighting began in Swat in late 2007 after hundreds of fighters infiltrated from Afghan border enclaves to support Fazlullah and his drive to introduce hardline Islamist rule.

From Al Jazeera.


I have been extremely busy lately, and probably will be for the rest of the semester.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The radical Islamist who came in from the cold

Ghaffar Hussain was once a radical Islamist with the group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now he is part of the Quilliam Foundation, a British think tank seeking to combat extremism. He spoke with Der Spiegel about the Islamist worldview and the pleasant feeling of omniscience.

Some of those who have become radicalized have not been very successful in their former lives. It's like they are losers who seek to transform themselves into winners...

Yes, and the elite factor definitely plays a role as well. I have met many radical people who wouldn't want to discuss their ideas with someone knowledgeable, because they knew they would not win that debate. But for them their mind-set is very comfortable. They are the vanguard, everything makes sense for them. They have a network, a group of friends. It can be very attractive to suddenly be convinced that you alone now know what's really going on. You are a real Muslim, the others have been infiltrated by the West and are corrupted. Certainly you are better than your parents so you don't have to listen to them anymore.

But to leave your country, join a terrorist organization and live in Waziristan with no prospect of ever returning to a normal life in the West is also a risk?

Those types of people think that there is nothing worthwhile left for them to come back to. There are others, of course, who have families and prefer to live in the West and be armchair radicals...

Like you, when you were a member of the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir?

In a way, yes. I was a political activist, and Hizb ut-Tahrir didn't advocate that we join the battlefield.

From your experience, once you really enter that Islamist ideology, how does it change you?

It gives you moral and political certainty. Understanding geopolitics for a 15-year-old is very difficult -- but all of a sudden everything is very easy: Ah, this is why they are all fighting against us!

Radicalization is a process. It's not like you are a moderate on Monday, but wake up on Tuesday as a would-be-terrorist. Can this process be stopped once it has started?

Yes, the process can be stopped, if these people are exposed to alternative points of view before it's too late. Before they will only socialize with people who supply them with radical answers to the questions that drive them. Basically these people are looking for answers and they often find radical answers most convincing because they seem to explain everything. This is the point where they need to be confronted with information that contradicts the Islamist narrative. There's also a scriptural aspect to this: You have to show to them that Islam as such does not support many of the Islamists' arguments.

Generally, what role does religious knowledge play in the process of radicalization? A lot of jihadist leaders, for example, talk a lot about faith without having much in the way of a theological education. Even Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri fall into that category.

Religion is not what motivates people. They don't pick up the Quran and say: Ah, this is what I've got to do! They are motivated by politics. But when Islamists show their worldview they always provide some scriptural justification. As a rule, 90 percent of their speeches are political, but they will also say: And the Quran supports this, and the Prophet supports this, so as to make the argument look Islamic.

What were the main factors that made you turn away from radical Islamism?

I managed to keep an open mind even when I was an activist for Hizb ut-Tahrir. That allowed me to analyze different perspectives. I also read a lot about history independently, I analyzed politics independently and I kept speaking to Muslims who followed different ideas. So I had access to quite a wide variety of information, which eventually made me realize that I was following a very narrow interpretation at best. But a lot of people won't expose themselves to all that; they feel too comfortable with their new truths and new friends.

Was this narrowness of interpretation decisive for you? Or was it also a matter of truth and historical accuracy?

Some of what I used to believe was definitely false. Islamism is a modern idea, and it was influenced by European movements like Marxism and Socialism. Islamists reinterpret Muslim history according to their ideology. And that leads to a complete misreading of, for example, the Ottoman Empire's history.

At the Quilliam Foundation you are looking at ways to counter radicalization. You also make use of religious authorities. How does that work?

We will take up a specific issue and then we'll try to get respected scholars to take a clear position in opposition. We have done this, for example, with suicide bombings or the concept that all Muslims must be united under one leadership. We want to show that what radicals believe is in fact a very narrow politically motivated religious standpoint that needs to be exposed for what it is. We don't want to unite everyone under one alternative idea, though.

When the Quilliam Foundation was set up, as a think tank staffed with former radical Islamists, did you find it difficult to enter the public debate? Or was yours a voice that all sides were eager to listen to?

It was actually quite easy to enter the public debate. People were definitely looking for new and original voices on this topic.

Since you started the project, have you actually managed to convince radical Islamists to break away from their groups and their ideology?

Yes. We have individually spoken to people we knew and managed to take away between 30 and 40 from these organizations, some even from senior positions. We have also tried numerous times to engage these organizations in public debates with us, but they haven't accepted the offer. But I think we are on the right track. They are definitely not as confident anymore as they used to be.

The Quilliam Foundation is unique in the sense that there are no comparable institutions outside the U.K. Do you have plans to expand?

On the long term, yes. First we want a solid base in Britain that will be a working model that we can then export to Europe and the U.S.

Der Spiegel, via

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pakistan to allow sharia in Swat

Pakistan's government has agreed to restore sharia, or Islamic law, in the Swat Valley and neighbouring areas of the country's northwest as part of a peace deal with local pro-Taliban fighters.

The agreement was reached after talks in Peshawar between members of Tahrik-e-Nafiz Shariat Muhammadi and officials of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government on Monday.

Announcing the decision to restore sharia, a spokesman for the NWFP government said Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, had already agreed in principle to this concession to the region's religious conservatives.

"All un-Islamic laws related to the judicial system, those against the Quran and Sunnah, would be subject to cancellation and considered null and void," a NWFP spokesman said in a statement following the talks.

Officials gave few details of the kind of sharia they were planning to implement in the Malakand region, which includes Swat Valley, but said that laws that fail to comply with Islamic texts would be suspended.

The Pakistani government has also agreed its troops will refrain from launching military operations in Swat as part of the deal.

Religious conservatives

The Tahrik-e-Nafiz Shariat Muhammadi, or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, has long demanded the implementation of sharia in the region.

"This is not the first time Sharia law has been imposed in this area," Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder said, reporting from Pakistan.

"In the mid 90s it was imposed following violent protests by the movement for the implementation of sharia law there.

"The majority of people in that area are very conservative. They have been demanding the implementation of sharia law because they say the other law takes far too long to dispense justice, and the demand is for swift justice.

"However, this will not mean that the groups opposed to the government will be dispensing that justice. The government of Pakistan will appoint the judges."

Shuja Nawaz, a strategic analyst with the South Asia Centre , told Al Jazeera that the agreement could prove problematic for Pakistan in future.

"It will mean that the government is ceding territory to the Taliban, which will be a repeat of what happened when prime minister Benazir Bhutto was in power in 1994 and a number of districts in Swat and Malakand were handed over to essentially the same group so they could impose their rather convoluted view of sharia on those districts.

"The moment you cede space to them, the Taliban will want to extend that control and then the government will have to go through this business of sending in the military yet again to clear and hold the territory."



The most important thing here is that the government will be the one appointing the judges. We shall have to see what kind of judges the government will appoint.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Homegrown Jihad

These camps have been operating for quite some time. Hopefully the Obama administration will do a better job with them than the Bush administration did.

H/T Blogs For Victory.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Taliban mounts deadly Kabul raids

At least 20 people have been killed and several others wounded after suicide bombers and armed men attacked government offices in the Afghan capital Kabul, officials say.

Wednesday's attacks on buildings of the justice ministry and the department of prison affairs took place near the presidential palace and the US embassy.

Two suicide bombers were shot inside the ministry during a gun battle, and a third suicide bomber was shot later, an official said.

At least four Afghan security personnel were killed in the fighting, with 13 more injured.

A separate suicide blast took place in the north of Kabul, killing another 10 people.

Suicide bombers

Dhabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Al Jazeera by telephone that the group was behind the Kabul assaults.

Witnesses said the attackers opened fire indiscriminately in front of the justice ministry headquarters.

Officials said five men stormed the building equipped with AK-47s, grenades and wearing suicide vests.

At least two suicide bombers separately attacked the prison affairs department in the same complex.

Security forces said they prevented another possible raid by shooting a suicide attacker next to the buildings of the foreign-affairs and education ministries.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a French military officer and an Afghan interpreter were killed, and a French soldier seriously wounded, in a gun battle following a landmine blast on Wednesday.

The men were on security patrol in Logar province when the explosion occurred, a French military spokesman said.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

'New tactic'

Describing the co-ordinated attacks in Kabul, Qais Azimy, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said: "It is a success for them [the Taliban] ... It shows that they are still powerful."

Azimy said that the attacks so close to the presidential palace showed that the Taliban can still hit any location.

"Over a year ago that kind of attack could be a surprise, but not anymore" he said.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Faheem Dashty, chief editor of the Kabul Weekly, said: "The Taliban is choosing a new kind of tactic, which is a chain of attacks on the same day.

"This was a lapse in the security belt around Kabul. We have security on main roads entering Kabul but in other areas we don't have enough [measures] to stop people carrying out an attack [of the kind] that happened today."

Al Jazeera's Hamish Macdonald, also in Kabul, said that the justice ministry and prisons department appeared to have been deliberately targeted by the Taliban, in response to the alleged mistreatment of Taliban prisoners.

The attacks occurred on the eve of a visit to the country by Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Taliban, which once ruled Afghanistan, was driven out of Kabul following a US-led invasion in late 2001.

However, Taliban fighters have since regrouped, launching attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan from bases in the region between the two countries.

Al Jazeera

Monday, February 2, 2009

US spy planes hover over Chitral

CHITRAL: Extending violations of country’s air space, CIA-operated US spy planes were seen flying over the area of Chitral, causing panic among the locals.

According to the media reports, US spy plane hovered over the area of Chitral town at very low altitude for more than 1 hour and retuned to Afghanistan without taking any action.

The flight of US spy planes frightened the local people who came from their houses, offices and shops to see the politesses plane. When contacted Chitral Police confirmed flying, however, reluctant to tell it was US spy planes.

Via Online INN.


WTF?! The Taliban isn't even active in Chitral! Why in God's name are we terrifying the locals there?

Al Jazeera discovers Swat

About time. Swat fell to the Taliban late last year, and Mingora, the capital, has already been retaken.

As a side note, the reporter has a very peculiar accent that I can't quite place.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Map update


The Pakistani government claims to have regained control of a number of areas. I'm somewhat skeptical of this, and indicated the government's claims only as much as is tactically reasonable.

Progress is slowly being made in Swat, with the capital city of Mingora being retaken recently.

Ghazni is still out of date, and I want to check Loghman and Kapisa as well. My complete district level base map of Pakistan is nearing completion; I'll include it while I work on the individual tehsils (Pakistani tehsil ≈ Afghan district).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yemen and Saudi al-Qaeda arms merge

Al-Qaeda groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia have announced they are merging their operations, raising fears of new attacks in the region.

The organisation said on Tuesday that the joint forces would carry out operations across the Arabian peninsula and beyond.

Nasir Wuhaishi was named as the head of the new combined al-Qaeda unit.

Wuhaishi's appointment was confirmed by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the deputy al-Qaeda chief, in a video posted online.

The group's deputy was named as Said Ali al-Shihri, a former prisoner at the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention facility, who was released from Saudi custody in 2007.

Yemeni authorities said they had stepped up security following the announcement.

'Huge significance'

Analysts say Yemen is of huge significance to al-Qaeda.

"Weapons, training, crossing points and the launch of operations have all come from Yemen," Abd Alelah-Haidar, a "terrorism" specialist who has met Wuhaishi, told Al Jazeera.

"This country is seen as having strategic significance, not only by al-Qaeda, but also by others. [However,] their operations are not confined to the Arabian peninsula but also include Iraq, Afghanistan, Nahr al-Bared [in Lebanon], and Palestine."

The announcement follows a number of attacks by al-Qaeda in Yemen.

An attack outside the US embassy in Sanaa earlier in the week is believed to have been carried out by the group.

Yemeni police arrested three men on Monday after they fired on security forces near the embassy. No one was hurt in the incident.

Nineteen people died in an attack targeting the US embassy last September for which al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Via Al Jazeera.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Map update


NATO has launched an offensive in the Baluchi Valley, and Pakistan has launched one in Mohmand Agency. I'm currently working on showing the districts in the rest of Pakistan. Ghazni still needs to be updated.

Also, what will hopefully be my final semester at Berkeley has begun.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Map update

10 January 2009

Still some updating left to do, especially in Ghazni. Additionally, the fighting in Bajaur has gone down due to Pakistani troops being redeployed to the border with India.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Future of Afghanistan

As you may have heard, the United States Institute for Peace has released a major report on Afghanistan, which can be downloaded here. I have not yet had the chance to read it, but have heard good things about it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Map update

Because I had been spending so much time on the map itself (along with other school things), it seems I let my data get pretty badly out of date. This version has been corrected to account for the falls of Logar and Wardak provinces, with a few other corrections. Note, though, that it is still not completely up to date.