The Next Mujahadeen?

Walter Pincus reads the 1513 page Defense Appropriations Bill, so you don’t have to. And he finds reason to worry about something that I was already worried about. For over a year, the US has been supporting Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force in the tribal areas of Pakistan that does in those areas what Pakistan’s regular military cannot do.

The Frontier Corps is a federal paramilitary force stationed in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan Province, known as FC NWFP and FC Balochistan, respectively. Both forces are separate entities that operate under the Federal Interior Ministry and are each headed by an Inspector General (IG). Both of these offices are invariably held by army officers (major generals) on deputation from the Pakistani Army.


The task of these forces is to help local law enforcement in the maintenance of law and order when called upon to do so. Border patrol and anti-smuggling operations are also delegated to the FC. Lately, these forces have been increasingly used in military operations against insurgents in Balochistan and militants in FATA.


The United States has been supporting the Frontier Corps for the last few months with provisions of the latest communication equipment and bullet-proof helmets (Dawn, December 6, 2006; Lately, it has made increased financial commitments toward the Corps capacity building, but without a mechanism to closely monitor implementation of the reforms, progress is not guaranteed.

Pincus confirms that there is a $75 million appropriation for goodies for the Frontier Corps in the Appropriation Bill. And he reports that one purpose of it is to get our Special Forces into the tribal areas.

Read more

Cable News

We’ve been discussing this in comments for several days, but I wanted to pull news together on the now-four breaks of communications fiber optic cables to the Middle East. Much thanks to Hmmm and klynn, who tracked down many of these links.

The first two cables–just off Alexandria, Egypt–went down on Wednesday. Initially, news reports assumed the two cables had been cut by a ship’s anchor, but yesterday Egypt announced that that’s not the case: the cables went down in a restricted area, and no ships were present.

No ships were present when two marine cables carrying much of the Middle East’s internet traffic were severed, Egypt’s Ministry of Communications has said, contrary to earlier speculation about the causes of the cut.


The ministry added that the location, 5 miles from the port of Alexandria, was in a restricted area so ships would not have been allowed there to begin with.

Then, on Friday, a third cable off of Dubai went down. Significantly, this cable doesn’t carry India specific traffic. Then, finally, a fourth cable, between Qatar and UAE, went down yesterday. Five days, four cables, and no ships near the first two in Egypt.

Much of the press on this pertains to India because of the impact the outages had, briefly, on India’s call centers. But India has managed to shift much of its traffic to cables going east, through Singapore and Japan. As a result, much of its big business traffic recuperated quickly. Which means the people suffering diminished or no access (this pertains to India, I’m not sure whether the same is true throughout the Middle East and South Asia) are the individual users. Read more

Is Dick Finally Going to Go After OBL?

The NYT has a disturbing story this morning, explaining that, with the US policy in tatters after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, they’re considering ratcheting up the pressure by allowing the CIA to partner with the Special Forces on operations in Pakistan.

President Bush’s senior national security advisers are debating whether to expand the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The debate is a response to intelligence reports that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts there to destabilize the Pakistani government, several senior administration officials said.


Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said. But no decisions were made, said the officials, who declined to speak for attribution because of the highly delicate nature of the discussions.

Many of the specific options under discussion are unclear and highly classified. Officials said that the options would probably involve the C.I.A. working with the military’s Special Operations forces.

Two pseudonymous counter-insurgency analysts cross-posting at Danger Zone have a good response to this: Read more

Bhutto and State

Jeff pointed to this really fascinating Novak column this morning. I find it fascinating, first of all, because the portion of the column based on Novak’s typical leak…

That attitude led a Bhutto agent to inform a high-ranking State Department official that her camp no longer viewed the backstage U.S. effort to broker a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and the former prime minister as a good-faith effort toward democracy. It was, according to the written complaint, an attempt to preserve the politically endangered Musharraf as George W. Bush’s man in Islamabad.


In early December, a former Pakistani government official supporting Bhutto visited a senior U.S. government official to renew Bhutto’s security requests. He got a brushoff, a mind-set reflected Dec. 6 at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

… seems like the counter-part to the leaks that serve as the basis for this AP story.

Senior U.S. diplomats had multiple conversations, including at least two private face-to-face meetings, with top members of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party to discuss threats on the Pakistani opposition leader’s life and review her security arrangements after a suicide bombing marred her initial return to Pakistan from exile in October, the officials told The Associated Press.


The officials said Bhutto and her aides were concerned, particularly after the October attack, but were adamant that in the absence of a specific and credible threat there would be few, if any, changes to her campaign schedule ahead of parliamentary elections.


In the meetings with U.S. officials, Bhutto aides did not ask the United States to help protect her but did inquire about the feasibility of hiring private U.S. or British bodyguards, an idea discouraged by the Americans who argued that a noticeable Western security detail would increase the threat and might become a target itself, the officials said. Read more

Is Dick Playing Games with Pakistan’s Election?

McClatchy is off to a running start in the new year–reporting that Benazir Bhutto was about to hand over to Arlen Specter and Patrick Kennedy evidence of an ISI plan to steal this next month’s election in Pakistan.

The day she was assassinated last Thursday, Benazir Bhutto had planned to reveal new evidence alleging the involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in rigging the country’s upcoming elections, an aide said Monday.

Bhutto had been due to meet U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to hand over a report charging that the military Inter-Services Intelligence agency was planning to fix the polls in the favor of President Pervez Musharraf.

Safraz Khan Lashari, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party election monitoring unit, said the report was "very sensitive" and that the party wanted to initially share it with trusted American politicians rather than the Bush administration, which is seen here as strongly backing Musharraf. [my emphasis]

Given Bhutto’s apparent worries about handing over evidence to the Bush Administration, I couldn’t help but think of this story.

Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department. Read more


Given my well-known complaint with those who have long underplayed the importance of Pakistan in our foreign policy debates, I feel like I have to say something about Bhutto’s assassination. But so far, the most intelligent thing I’ve seen written on Pakistan comes from AmericaBlog’s AJ:

The first thing to say about Bhutto’s assassination is that any kind of rush to judgment, especially along the lines of impending doom, is probably imprudent.

Unless Musharraf planned this assassination as part of a larger campaign to reimpose his power, I would imagine things are–and will remain–in a state of flux for some time. If Musharraf didn’t plan it, only sort of allowed it to happen with inadequate security, and instead Islamic extremists pulled it off, then Musharraf himself may be subject to a lot more pressure from those extremists. But we don’t know–and I’m not convinced we’ll really know for sure for some time, if ever.

And while AJ warns against seeing this as a collapse into anarchy, it seems clear that Bhutto’s assassination devastates our Pakistan policy. Here’s AJ again:

In terms of policy implications, this is reflective of a massive US foreign policy blunder, in that the Bush administration, in a monumentally stupid move, shoved Bhutto down the throat of Musharraf (and the rest of Pakistan) as a savior, despite her lack of broad popular support and general reputation as corrupt. In making someone who didn’t necessarily have the ability to deliver the savior for democracy in Pakistan, we simultaneously set up our own policy to fail and offered Musharraf a return to (or continued) total power in the event that our little power-sharing arrangement didn’t work. We also — though not only us — painted a big fat target on her back. Really a debacle all the way around.

And here’s Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler in the WaPo: Read more

NIE Timeline, Take Three

This is a compilation of the several timelines I–and others–have done so far on the NIE.

November 2006: NIE "completed"

January 5, 2007: John Negroponte resigns as DNI, reportedly because of fight over NIE; Negroponte would move to become a top official at State

January 11: US takes six Iranians in custody after a raid on a diplomatic building in Irbil, Iraq

February 2007: NIE completed; Cheney objecting to content

February 7: Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Ali Reza Asgari arrives in Turkey; he disappears there, and is presumed to have defected or been kidnapped; in March he was reported to be cooperating with western intelligence

April 26: Thomas Fingar announces NIE will be delayed due to Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery

May 12: Cheney meets with Saudi Arabia

July 2007: Intelligence community intercepts communications that verify claim Iran’s nuclear program remains suspended; Senior Administration Officials briefed

August 2007: Bush claims he learned new intelligence exists

August 9: Bush substitutes the claim that Iran was seeking nuclear technology for earlier claim that they were seeking nukes. (h/t Froomkin)

They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program. That, in itself, coupled with their stated foreign policy, is very dangerous for world stability. . . . It’s a very troubling nation right now.

August 29-30: Six nuclear warheads "accidentally" get flown from Minot AFB to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana

September 6: Israel strikes site in Syria

October 2007: BushCo considers spiking the NIE Read more