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Oct 8th, 2009

Afghanistan could become the theater for a proxy war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan …

Afghan War Fought on Multiple Fronts

Suicide bombing at embassy shows Pakistan, India inherently involved

Taliban takes credit for latest suicide bomb (NBC Nightly News, Oct. 8, 2009) — A suicide bombing near the Indian Embassy in Kabul kills 17 people. NBC’s Brian Williams reports. (00:19)

October 8, 2009

KABUL — The suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on Thursday lays bare the reality that this conflict is a single war with multiple fronts that extend from Afghan battlefields to Pakistan’s fractured political scene and include the vital interests of India and the United States.

The bomber detonated an explosives-packed Sport Utility Vehicle near the outer perimeter wall of the Indian Embassy compound, killing at least 17 people — all Afghans — and wounding nearly 80 others including three Indian security guards. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

International efforts to end Afghanistan’s violence are complicated because the major players see their interests differently. The U.S. goal is to prevent al-Qaida from regaining its bases in Afghanistan, where it trained militants and plotted the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

Pakistan, with archrival India to the east, believes it needs a friendly government in Afghanistan on its western border, preferably one without close ties to the Indians. For its part, India seeks regional allies and access to oil- and gas-rich central Asia.

As the war enters its ninth year, President Barack Obama is considering whether to focus the fight in Afghanistan against al-Qaida’s allies in the Taliban or shift to more missile strikes and special operations raids against al-Qaida in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country where the terror movement’s leadership is believed hiding.

Cross-border conflict

Whatever option Obama chooses, the administration must wrestle with the fact that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can be secure as long as instability plagues the other. Militants move freely from one country to another, sheltering among the ethnic Pashtun community that lives on both sides of the border.

Pakistani tribesmen loosely allied with the Afghan Taliban have ambushed convoys carrying supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Last spring, Pakistani Taliban moved into a district only 60 miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, raising alarm until Pakistan’s military drove them back weeks later.

“A valid Afghan strategy cannot be separate from what happens in Pakistan,” former Pentagon analyst Anthony Cordesman said. “At the same time, it is clear that Afghanistan’s future will play a critical role in defining Pakistan’s security.”

India too is at risk from Muslim extremist groups nurtured over the years by the Pakistani military to fight the Indians in Kashmir, a mountainous region straddling both countries and claimed by each. …

Since the fall of the Taliban in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, both Pakistan and India have competed for influence in Afghanistan. Over the last decade, India has poured nearly $1.2 billion into Afghanistan, helping fund projects such as a new Parliament building in Kabul, roads and power plants.

The Indian factor

“Pakistan views India’s growing influence in Afghanistan as a threat to its own interests in the region,” wrote Jayshree Bajoria of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Afghanistan holds strategic importance for India … because it is a gateway to energy-rich Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.”

A report last year by the Pakistan Policy Working Group, an independent, bipartisan group of American experts on U.S.-Pakistani relations, described Afghanistan as “a new battleground for IndoPakistani hostility.”

“Continued Pakistani ambivalence toward the Taliban stems in part from its concern that India is trying to encircle it by gaining influence in Afghanistan,” the group said in a report. “Pakistani security officials calculate that the Taliban offers the best chance for countering India’s regional influence.”

Full story


10/10/2009 Update

10 Killed in Gunbattle at Pakistan’s Army HQ

Brazen assault on compound is 3rd major attack in a week

Soldiers secure the perimeter of Pakistan’s army headquarters after a deadly attack on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2009. (Photo credit: Adrees Latif / Reuters)

October 10, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Gunmen wearing military uniforms and wielding assault rifles and grenades attacked Pakistan’s army headquarters Saturday, sparking a ferocious gunbattle that killed four of the assailants, two senior officers and four other soldiers, authorities said.

Two of the attackers managed to infiltrate the heavily fortified compound in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, and troops were trying to flush them out hours after the initial assault, the military said. An Associated Press reporter at the scene heard four gunshots from inside the compound — long after an army spokesman said the situation was under control.

The audacious assault was the third major militant attack in Pakistan in a week and came as the government said it was planning an imminent offensive against Islamist militants in their strongholds in the rugged mountains along the border with Afghanistan.

The incident showed that the militants retain the ability to strike at the very heart of Pakistan’s security apparatus despite recent military operations against their forces and the killing of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a CIA drone attack in August. …

The attack Saturday began shortly before noon when the gunmen, dressed in camouflage military uniforms, drove in a white van up to the army compound and tried to force their way inside, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said.

The assailants shot at the guards at one checkpoint, killing some of them, and then jumped out of the van and ran toward a second checkpoint, he said. Abbas said the guards were likely confused by the attackers’ uniforms.

The heavily armed attackers then took up positions throughout the area, hurling at least one grenade and firing sporadically at security forces, said a senior military official inside the compound. The official, who said top army officials were trapped in the compound during the assault, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. …

Image: Rescuers go through the wreckage of a bus which was hit by a car-bomb explosion in Peshawar
Suicide blast kills 49 at Pakistan bazaar (MSNBC, Oct. 9, 2009) — A suicide bomber struck a busy market in northwest Pakistan, killing 49 people and wounding more than 100.’s Dara Brown reports. (00:57)


Abbas said six troops were killed and five wounded, one critically. Those killed including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel. …

The gunbattle was the third major attack in major cities in recent days, following a car bombing that killed 49 on Friday in the northwestern city of Peshawar and the bombing of a U.N. aid agency Monday that killed five in Islamabad. The man who attacked the U.N. was also wearing a security forces’ uniform and was granted entry to the compound after asking to use the bathroom.

The attack appeared to be a message to the army that the militants intend to ramp up their strikes across the country in response to the government’s planned offensive against Taliban strongholds in the border region of South Waziristan.

Pakistan vowed Friday to launch the new offensive in the wake of the massive Peshawar bombing.

The United States has been pushing Pakistan to take strong action against insurgents using its soil as a base for attacks in Afghanistan. The assault could be risky for the army, which was beaten back on three previous offensives into the Taliban heartland. …

Full story


Late update

Gunmen Hold Hostages in Pakistan Army HQ

Stand-off (MSNBC, Oct. 10, 2009) — Militants hold several security officers hostage at army headquarters in Pakistan. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports. (00:40)

October 10, 2009

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Militants were holding between 10 to 15 security officers hostage inside Pakistan’s army headquarters Saturday after they and others attacked the complex in an audacious assault on the country’s most powerful institution. …

An army statement said more than two terrorists were holding several officers hostage in a “security office building” inside the heavily fortified complex close to the capital.

The whereabouts of military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was not known. Separate army statements said he had attended meetings at the headquarters and at the president’s office in nearby Islamabad during the day. …

Full story


10/11/2009 Update

Pakistan Commandos Rescue 39 Hostages, 3 Die

This handout image released by the Pakistani military’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) directorate on October 11, 2009, reportedly shows the body of a suspected Taliban militant lying on the ground after being killed during an attack on a Pakistan security forces checkpoint at army headquarters in Rawalpindi. (Photo credit: Inter Services Public Relations / AFP — Getty Images)

The Associated Press and Reuters via
October 11, 2009

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Pakistani commandos stormed an office building on Sunday and rescued 39 people whom suspected Taliban militants took hostage after a brazen attack on the army’s headquarters.

Saturday’s attack on the tightly guarded army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi came as the military prepared an offensive against the militants in their stronghold of South Waziristan on the Afghan border.

The strike at the heart of the powerful military called into question government assertions the militants were virtually crippled by recent setbacks. But a top official said it only underlined the need to finish them off.

Three hostages, two commandos and four of the gunmen were killed in the pre-dawn rescue operation, said army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas. One wounded gunman was captured.

“Now there is no terrorist left there. The operation is over,” Abbas told Reuters. …

Commandos launched their rescue assault under cover of darkness with a blast and gunfire erupting at 6 a.m.

“They were in a room with a terrorist who was wearing a suicide jacket but the commandos acted promptly and gunned him down before he could pull the trigger,” Abbas said of one large group of hostages.

“Three of the hostages were killed due to militant firing,” he said. More hostages were later found alive. …

Audacious ‘swarm’ attacks

The Rawalpindi raid bore the hallmarks of several similarly audacious “swarm” attacks this year.

In March, gunmen attacked Sri Lanka’s cricket team as it drove to a match in the city of Lahore and weeks later militants raided a police cadet college in the same city [link added: 3/26/2017 update].

Those attacks were blamed on the Pakistani Taliban, widely believed to have been helped by militant groups based in Punjab province.

At least some gunmen who carried out the Rawalpindi raid this weekend were believed to have been Punjabis. Some hostage takers’ phone calls were intercepted and they were speaking Punjabi, a security official said.

The United States needs Pakistani help against militants crossing into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces there and has been urging action against Afghan Taliban factions on the border.

In March, militants pushed to within 60 miles of Islamabad, sparking grave concern among allies, including the United States, for Pakistan’s prospects and fears for the safety of its nuclear weapons.

In late April, the army launched an offensive in the Swat valley, 80 miles northwest of Islamabad, and largely cleared the Taliban out.

The militants suffered another big blow on August 5, when their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a missile attack by a U.S. drone aircraft. His successor vowed revenge last week.

A week ago, Baitullah Mehsud’s successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, told journalists summoned to a briefing in South Waziristan that the Taliban would launch more attacks on military, government and other targets in the country. …

Full story


Times of India photo gallery (graphic content)


10/12/2009 Update

Pakistan: Fears of Militant Groups Teaming Up

Latest bombing leaves 41 dead; follows deadly attack on army complex

Pakistani security personnel stand beside the wrec...
Wreckage of a destroyed vehicle after a suicide bomb blast in Shangla district on October 12, 2009. The bomber, reported to be aged about 13, flung himself at a military convoy passing through a busy market in Shangla, a northwest district near Swat where the army claimed to have flushed out Taliban rebels after a fierce offensive. (Photo credit: Allam Khan / AFP — Getty Images)

October 12, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Militants from the heart of Pakistan teamed up with Taliban insurgents from the remote Afghan border region to carry out the bold weekend assault on army headquarters, the army said Monday — an ominous development as the fourth major attack in just over a week killed 41 people at a northwestern market.

The prospect of militant networks from across Pakistan cooperating more closely could complicate a planned offensive against the Taliban in their northwest stronghold, a push seen as vital to the success of the faltering U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

New details about the alleged leader of the 22-hour attack on army headquarters less than 10 miles from the Pakistani capital underscored the bonds among the groups. Officials said Mohammad Aqeel, a former member of the army medical corps, had ties to the Taliban as well as to two al-Qaida-linked militant groups in the Punjab, Pakistan’s dominant and most populous province.

The Punjab connection is significant because it means the Taliban may be spreading their influence beyond their traditional base of ethnic Pashtuns in tribal areas on both sides of the Afghan border. Ethnic Punjabis, by contrast, dominate the army and the major institutions of the Pakistani state. Al-Qaida is primarily Arab.

The Taliban said their Punjab faction carried out the attack in that province — the first time they had referred to such an outfit — and vowed to activate cells outside the Pashtun heartland of the lawless frontier region.

“This was our first small effort and a present to the Pakistani and American governments,” Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told The Associated Press. Tariq said the group was seeking vengeance for the killing of its leader in a CIA drone strike. …

Taliban stepping up attacks

Monday’s suicide bombing took place in Shangla, a Pashto-speaking area of the Swat Valley region. The attacker was apparently targeting a military vehicle, but most of the victims were ordinary Pakistanis.

It was the deadliest attack in the region since the army claimed to have cleared the valley of militants in an offensive earlier this year. While many insurgents were killed or captured in the army offensive, others are believed to have gone to rural areas or neighboring districts.

TV footage of the bombing showed vegetable stands with their wares spilled on the street, two-story buildings with their fronts torn away and several wrecked cars. …

The attack killed 41 people, including six security officers, and wounded 45 others, provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks in the past week as the military has been preparing to launch a major offensive against the militants in their stronghold, the border region of South Waziristan. …

The surge in terror attacks follows a relatively calm September. It has dashed any hopes the militant movement would collapse in disarray after losing its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. missile strike in August.

Full story


Related report

Pakistan nuclear weapons vulnerable to attack? (AP, Oct. 12, 2009) – An audacious weekend assault by Islamic militants on Pakistan’s army headquarters is again raising fears of an insurgent attack on the country’s nuclear weapons installation. … Analysts are divided on how secure these weapons are. Some say the weapons are less secure than they were five years ago, and Saturday’s attack would show a “worrisome” overconfidence by the Pakistanis. … Full story


4/25/2010 Update

Indo-Pakistan Proxy War Heats Up in Afghanistan

By Tim Sullivan

April 25, 2010

KABUL — Across Afghanistan, behind the obvious battles fought for this country’s soul, a shadow war is being quietly waged. It’s being fought with spies and proxies, with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money and ominous diplomatic threats.

The fight pits nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan against one another in a battle for influence that will almost certainly gain traction as the clock ticks down toward America’s military withdrawal, which President Barack Obama has announced will begin next year.

The clash has already sparked bloody militant attacks, and American officials fear the region could become further destabilized. With Pakistani intelligence maintaining ties to Afghanistan’s Taliban militants, India has threatened to draw Iran, Russia and other nations into the competition if an anti-Indian government comes to power in Kabul. …

For both India and Pakistan, Afghanistan is an exceedingly valuable prize.

To India, ties with Kabul mean new trade routes, access to Central Asia’s vast energy reserves and a way to stave off the rise of Islamic militancy. It means the chance for New Delhi to undermine Islamabad as it nurtures its superpower aspirations by expanding its regional influence.

While Pakistan is also desperate for new energy supplies, its Afghan policy has been largely shaped by the view that Afghanistan is its natural ally. The two countries share a long border, overwhelmingly Muslim populations and deep ethnic links.

Then there is fear. Pakistan and India have already fought three wars over the past seven decades, and Pakistani military leaders are terrified of someday being trapped militarily between India on one border and a pro-India Afghanistan on the other. …

The shadow war began in earnest in the wake of the 2001 U.S. invasion, when the Taliban government was forced from power and New Delhi began courting Afghanistan’s new leaders. It was a move into a country that Islamabad, a fierce supporter of the Taliban government, had seen as its diplomatic territory for two decades. But New Delhi quickly became a close ally of President Hamid Karzai, who will travel to India early next week for talks aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries.

On the surface, both India and Pakistan are bringing help to a country that desperately needs it.

New Delhi has built highways in the western deserts and brought electricity to Kabul. It is constructing a new Parliament building and offers free medical care in clinics across Afghanistan. Despite its immense spending needs — India has widespread poverty and staggering infrastructure problems despite its rapidly growing economy — it has given more than $1.3 billion in development aid.

That, in turn, has sparked Pakistani efforts, with Islamabad spending about $350 million on everything from school textbooks to buses. …

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, laid out the situation bluntly: “While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures,” he warned in a report late last year.

Heightened tensions are the last thing the U.S. wants. The Afghan war has killed more than 1,800 coalition soldiers — more than 1,100 of them Americans. More than 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed just last year. …

India has paid heavily for its Afghan involvement. The Indian Embassy was bombed in 2008 and again last year, leaving 75 people dead. Six Indians were killed by militants during the construction of an India-funded highway.

Two Kabul guest houses popular among Indians have been attacked. The last attack, in February, left at least six Indians dead and forced New Delhi to temporarily close its medical and teaching missions in Kabul. India blamed that attack on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, the same group believed to be behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

India and the United States have both said the embassy attacks were carried out by militants allied to Pakistan’s ISI.

The Pakistanis “are bringing the proxy war to Afghanistan and we are the targets,” said [Jayant] Prasad, [the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan].

It’s an accusation that Pakistan angrily denies.

“India has always used Afghanistan against us,” said [Mohammad] Sadiq, the Pakistani ambassador.

Karzai has made little secret of his preference for India. The president, who was educated in India, has loudly welcomed New Delhi’s assistance while rarely mentioning Pakistan’s aid.

Other Afghan officials barely disguise their distrust of Pakistan.

Pakistan wants “a puppet state in Kabul, a subservient state,” said Muradian, the foreign ministry adviser. “India wants a stable, pluralistic Afghanistan.” …

New Delhi’s biggest worry is that U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan before Karzai’s government is in full control of the country. An early withdrawal, India fears, could allow Islamabad and the Taliban militants to gain more power in Afghanistan and potentially even usher in another government hostile to New Delhi. …

India warns it could form a coalition with Iran — an alliance that would infuriate Washington — if the Taliban appear poised to return to power. The “self-interested coalition” could include Russia and several Central Asian states that would also fear a Taliban return, according to an Indian with knowledge of the diplomatic maneuvering. …

Full story



Returning Exiles Signal Iraq-Iran Warming

October 8, 2009

BAGHDAD — Twenty families who were sent into exile in Iran by Saddam Hussein following a failed uprising returned Thursday to Iraq, another sign of Baghdad’s warming relations with Tehran.

Iraq has been delicately balancing its relations with Iran and the U.S. But with U.S. troops withdrawing from Iraq by the end of 2011, the Shiite-dominated government has been working to strengthen relations throughout the Middle East, primarily with Shiite-dominated Iran. …

Many Iraqi Shiites fled to Iran under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government. During the Iran-Iraq war, some even fought on the Iranian side against [Saddam’s regime]. …

Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — October 8, 2008

After the Primary Election: Day 29

One year ago today, on the 29th day after losing my 2008 primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, in line with my focus on national security, I republished an Oct. 8, 2002 open letter by Michael Livingston outlining why the invasion of Iraq would be a mistake on both rational and moral grounds and explained why I did not oppose the Iraq war at the outset.

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