Dispatch

Pakistan's New Networks of Terror

It's not just about Waziristan anymore. How the country's various militias are joining forces -- and what it could mean for attacks within the United States.

On May 28, several mercenaries invaded two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, and ended up mowing down nearly 100 Ahmadis, members of a breakaway sect that was officially declared to be non-Muslim in the mid-1970s. The killing was one of the boldest and most deadly in a year of bold and deadly attacks in Pakistan. And it pointed to a frightening development in Pakistani terrorism. The militants had a typical profile for jihadists in Pakistan, having trained in North Waziristan in camps connected to the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). But it also seems likely that they were connected to local Punjabi terrorist groups. In a sign of Pakistan's increasing chaos, the groups that were formerly barricaded in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghanistan border are now joining forces with groups around the country -- and the result is a networked terrorism outfit with an ever-growing capacity to produce pain and mayhem.

At the center of the current frenzy are Sunni outfits such as the Punjab-based Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and the Kashmir-focused Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba (which also keeps a headquarters in Lahore). These groups were born out of the vicious proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that began in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Concerned that Iran's revolutionary message would inspire Shiites and weaken Sunni dominance, the Saudis, whose Wahhabi brand of Islam is virulently anti-Shiite, funded and equipped Sunni militias in Punjab tasked with intimidating and eliminating prominent Pakistani Shiites.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 extended the theater of Saudi-Iranian interests to Afghanistan and provided Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, with a golden opportunity to secure international legitimacy after his 1977 coup that deposed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. With active support from the CIA, Zia not only turned Pakistan into the launching pad for the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, but also tasked his security establishment with finding ways to turn the tide of jihad on India for the liberation of Kashmir.

The Pakistani terrorist groups that emerged were supposed to bleed India and thus weaken its hold over Kashmir, two-thirds of which is under New Delhi's control. But while these radical organizations acted as Pakistan's unofficial pawns, often trained and funded by Pakistani intelligence, they became a source of religious radicalization, particularly in rural Pakistan, where they went to recruit young men to join the struggle.

Even after Gen. Pervez Musharraf banned most of these organizations in January 2002 in an attempt to appease both Washington and India, the damage only accelerated. The rank and file of these rabidly anti-Shiite organizations found a welcoming home in FATA, where al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban had settled following their retreat from Afghanistan. Dozens of Pakistani tribesmen with a history of fighting in Afghanistan joined the Taliban in solidarity and eventually formed their own movement, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban, founded in December 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud and currently led by Hakimullah Mehsud. The unintended consequence of Musharraf's ban was to turn FATA into a lawless melting pot of violent Islamists.

The turning point for the Pakistani Army came in 2004, when after a showdown with militias in South Waziristan, extremists operating in FATA began attacking the military and its information network. First came target killings, a technique that had proved effective in Iraq. Then attacks on army convoys. Pakistan's security establishment (called the ISI) was slow to come around, but gradually Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was then head of the ISI and is now Pakistan's chief of army staff, overhauled the organization, putting some officers out to pasture and transferring others.

The Pakistani Army's advance into South Waziristan in October of last year provoked an explosive al Qaeda-led reaction. In 2009, militants staged 87 suicide bombings across Pakistan, killing more than 3,000 people, to avenge the deaths and capture of fellow fighters. (To put this in perspective, until 2002 Pakistan had only suffered one single suicide attack, on the Egyptian Embassy in 1995.) Most of the violence had a direct or indirect connection to Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan's volatile eastern provinces. One of the most wanted Afghan insurgents, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his son Siraj operate in and around Waziristan.

May's failed attack on Times Square has finally brought this disastrous state of affairs to the attention of Americans. But despite the new focus on Waziristan, it's actually the nexus between jihadists based in FATA -- inspired by al Qaeda and guided by Haqqani and the Pakistani Taliban -- and militants from outside the region that is today one of the most troubling developments in Pakistan.

Increasingly, members of the Punjab-based Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, as well as breakaways from Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, are joining forces for attacks inside the country. Although the TTP is fighting to hold onto its headquarters in South Waziristan, it is still able to accommodate Punjabi comrades, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in particular. This combination of terrorist groups has already subjected Pakistan to at least 28 suicide bombings so far this year, more and more occurring outside the TTP's traditional reach in the border regions. Tuesday's brazen attack near Islamabad on a convoy of trucks bound for NATO troops in Afghanistan has security officials afraid the groups might be evolving their tactics as they work together and widen their area of influence into Punjab.

The establishment ostensibly doesn't consider Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed the real public enemy and thus does not plan any crackdown on them in the near future. But this strategy could be a tragic mistake: Although the militants operating in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions may number a few thousand, their creeping ideological appeal represents the biggest threat not only to Pakistan, but to all countries targeted by jihad -- perhaps most of all to America.

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Dispatch

Has the BP Bashing Gone Too Far?

Brits of all political stripes are getting fed up with Barack Obama's harsh rhetoric on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

First, it was the bust of Winston Churchill removed from the Oval Office. Then it was an inappropriate gift for the Queen. Now, the British press is asking again whether U.S. President Barack Obama has it in for the British, this time over BP.

There has been extensive coverage in Britain of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But now it is not the environmental damage that is the big issue; it is the economic damage to BP caused by American politicians, including the president, as they demand that BP pay for the cleanup as well as compensation, and are now demanding the company not pay its shareholders dividends.

Headlines in the British papers reflect growing pressure on the new prime minister, David Cameron, to get the Obama administration to back off. Earlier, the Daily Mail, which supports Cameron's Conservative Party, blared "Lord Tebbit and Boris Johnson attack Barack Obama's 'anti-British' rhetoric." (Lord Tebbit is a vocal former member of Margaret Thatcher's government, and Boris Johnson is the Conservative mayor of London.) The more sober Financial Times ran with "UK alarm over attack on BP," quoting business leaders.

Influential Tory commentators have also joined in with calls for Cameron to defend BP. "I hope David Cameron has the balls to ring Obama today for 'a full and frank discussion' -- diplomatic language for a blazing row," writes Iain Dale, a leading Conservative columnist. Tim Montgomerie, a prominent activist who runs the site ConservativeHome, says he hopes that "behind-the-scenes channels are being used" to convey the British government's displeasure. The Daily Telegraph's Jeremy Warner ripped Obama for "crass populism which shows very poor statesmanship."

Cameron is scheduled to speak by phone with Obama over the weekend, and the former British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, has been on the BBC's The World At One program arguing it is time for the new prime minister to take up BP's cause with the U.S. president. "The survival and ultimate prosperity of BP is a vital British interest, and I think the time has come to point it out, at a senior level, to the U.S. administration," he said.

Generally, the British don't talk about businesses in this way, unlike the French, who have "national champions," including oil companies like Total, which the French government will openly support. BP has been a completely private company since Thatcher sold off the government's shares during the 1980s.

But the debate that has erupted in Britain is motivated by more than hurt national pride. The value of BP shares has plummeted 47 percent since April, when the rig exploded, and this is hitting British pocketbooks. Last year, around 14 percent of all dividends in the country's leading share index, the FTSE 100, were paid by BP, and it is estimated that one pound in every six in pension funds comes from BP. So it's not just CEO Tony Hayward whose livelihood is being threatened -- it's those of thousands of ordinary Britons, too.

The enormous environmental and economic impact of the oil spill in the gulf region has been covered sympathetically by the British media, but now there is a growing sense that American politicians have gone too far and are causing unjustified long-term damage to BP. Even the left is growing concerned. There were critical questions from Labour peers in the House of Lords Wednesday, and Labour MP Tom Watson said Thursday, "This is now a serious crisis facing millions of pensioners in the UK, and we need to say to our U.S. allies that yes, it was a British company that made this mistake, but if they were subject to a regulatory regime in the UK they wouldn't have been able to do that and the world's insatiable appetite for oil was the cause of this, not British pensioners."

Cameron has been treading carefully so far. In comments Thursday, the prime minister responded to questions by saying he completely understands the U.S. government's frustration with BP and that his government is ready to help with the cleanup. "I completely understand the U.S. government's frustration," Cameron said. "The most important thing is to try to mitigate the effects and get to grips with the problem. It's something I will discuss with the American president when we next talk." But the prime minister gave no hint of what he might say.

Cameron came to power saying that, in contrast to the previous Labour government, he would have a "solid, not slavish" relationship with Washington. British commentators are now seeing BP as the first big test of this promise.

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