Wednesday, July 18, 2007

More on Pakistan's border area

Did you know we are building a huge base on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan? And that the neighborhood is not pleased? (my bold):
Western intelligence believes that Osama bin Laden, his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have free access in this region to meet and plan operations. Cross-border raids into Afghanistan are frequently staged from here.
The Bajaur area has been hit twice by Central Intelligence Agency predator drones, one specifically after Zawahiri. However, at a time when al-Qaeda is reactivated and the Taliban's main focus is to lay siege of Kabul, via adjacent Nooristan province in Afghanistan, aerial surveillance is considered insufficient.

As a result, a large US base is under construction on a mountaintop at Ghakhi Pass on the Pakistan-Afghanistan (Bajaur) border.
Militants believe this is in preparation for an operation inside Pakistan to clamp down on them as well as to renew the hunt for bin Laden and his associates. As a result, the militants have attacked the new base in an attempt to delay its construction.

"This is a matter of life and death for the mujahideen. We will shed our blood, but we will never let this base be completed," Dr Ismail told Asia Times Online while standing at the grave of his son, who was killed a few weeks ago by US forces while attacking the base.
"I know all the top Afghan officials in Kunar [province in Afghanistan] and I am aware that once this base is finished they will frequently meddle in our area. This is also a pressure for the Pakistani government. So if we remove such pressure, certainly Pakistan will not bother us, because whatever Pakistan does against us is under duress," Ismail said.

"Initially I contacted the local people in Kunar and appealed to them not to provide labor for the construction of the base. But when that did not have much effect, we asked the youths to stir up attacks, and now we have succeeded in delaying construction."

Bajaur has been the target of coalition forces from Afghanistan over the past two years, and their efforts can be expected to intensify as part their counter-terror operations.

Coalition leaders in Afghanistan believe that the Taliban's influence runs all the way from the Lal Masjid in Islamabad (now cleared) to Swat Valley and then through Malakand Agency into Bajaur Agency. From Bajaur the swath enters Kunar and Nooristan provinces in Afghanistan to the small province of Kapisa about 60km north of the capital Kabul. Bin Laden's movements have been noted several times in this belt, as have Zawahiri's. Hence renewed efforts to track them.
And China exerts great influence with Musharraf and Pakistan. They have many Chinese working in the country:
About 8,500 Chinese work in Pakistan, almost three times the number of Americans. Of these, 3,500 are engineers and technicians assigned to a variety of Sino-Pakistani projects. The remaining 5,000 are engaged in private businesses.

China's investment in Pakistan has jumped to an all-time high of US$4 billion. Its 60 companies make up 12% of the 500 foreign firms operating in Pakistan. The Chinese presence has grown dramatically since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, which brought Beijing and Islamabad together to build a naval-cum-commercial port at Gwadar, a coastal town in Balochistan.

This port alone, where construction began in 2002, employs 500 Chinese engineers and technicians. This growing Chinese presence forces Beijing to go beyond diplomatic niceties to protect its human and non-human interests in Pakistan.

And Pakistani authorities spare little effort to safeguard China's interests. Soon after the abduction of the seven Chinese on June 23, Islamabad laid siege to the Red Mosque, whose radical clerics are believed to have inspired the incident.

On July 2, the government ordered 15,000 troops around the mosque compound to flush out militants. On July 4, it arrested the leader of the militants, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who, in a strange twist, is believed to have close relations with Pakistani intelligence agencies.

After apprehending the leader, government troops moved to choking off the militants' supplies of food, water and power. But as soon as word of the revenge killing of three Chinese on July 8 reached Islamabad, it created a "perfect storm" for Musharraf. Embarrassed and enraged, he reversed the troops' strategy and ordered them, on July 10, to mount an all-out assault at the mosque, in which Aziz' brother and deputy, Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, together with scores others, was killed.

This is not the first time that Musharraf has done Beijing's bidding. He has hunted China's foes, especially members of the Uighur minority and their sympathizers among Uzbeks and Tajiks. On October 2, 2004, his troops killed Beijing's "Osama bin Laden", the leader of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement of Xinjiang, Hasan Mahsum. Xinjiang is China's only Muslim-majority autonomous region.

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