Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pakistan still harbors biggest enemies of U.S.

ISLAMABAD — A year after Osama bin Laden was found and killed, Pakistan still harbors, willingly or unwillingly, America's greatest enemies: current al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and Afghan insurgent leaders Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Pakistani Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed was added to that list in March, when the United States offered $10 million for his capture.

What is striking, analysts say, is how little has changed in Pakistan a year after U.S. special forces burst into a large house in Abbottabad in the early hours of May 2, 2011, and shot bin Laden dead.

Pakistan's security establishment remains addicted to using, or at least tolerating, Islamic extremist groups as its proxy warriors, despite the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers and the humiliation of bin Laden's being found not far from the country's premier military academy. While the country is fighting some jihadi groups such as the so-called Pakistani Taliban, which is broadly affiliated with al-Qaida, others are still apparently regarded as "good Taliban."

The latest incarnation of the pro-state jihadi is an alliance of mullahs, many associated with banned militant groups, called the Difa-e-Pakistan, or the Defense of Pakistan Council.

The question of whether Pakistani officials helped hide bin Laden is still unanswered. But even if there was no official complicity, Pakistan's ambivalent policy toward violent extremists would have provided the al-Qaida leader with an enabling environment, analysts say.

American intelligence believes that al-Zawahiri, who was bin Laden's deputy and succeeded him last year, also is probably somewhere in Pakistan. John Brennan, deputy national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday that al-Zawahiri, "as well as other al-Qaida leaders, continue to burrow into areas of the FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan."

The United States has always maintained that Taliban founder and leader Mullah Omar has had refuge in Pakistan since he fled Afghanistan in late 2001. He was supposedly in the western town of Quetta initially, but he could now be elsewhere in the sparsely populated Baluchistan province or melted into the chaotic megacity of Karachi.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, who took over command of the Haqqani network from his father, Jalaluddin, a veteran Pakistan-backed jihadist, spends most of his time in North Waziristan, the rugged, isolated region along the Afghan border, U.S. intelligence believes. The Haqqanis have been blamed for some of the most spectacular attacks on U.S. and allied targets in Kabul in recent years.

Many here argue that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency could find Omar or Haqqani if it wanted to, but they have concluded that for now it's not in the ISI's interests to do so. Many believe that the ISI was behind the revival of the Taliban after its 2001 defeat — a claim made, for instance, in the recently published book by leading Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan on the Brink.

Hafiz Saeed is in a different category in that he lives openly in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city. He founded, and by some accounts still runs, Lashkar-e-Taiba, an armed extremist group blamed for the 2008 terrorist assault on the Indian city of Mumbai, in which 164 people, including six American citizens, were killed.

Yet Saeed is able to appear openly on behalf of Difa-e-Pakistan, which has been hosting virulently anti-American rallies around the country. .

"The real challenge now is not 'al-Qaida Central' but organizations like Difa-e-Pakistan," said Imtiaz Gul, author of The Most Dangerous Place. "Al-Qaida in Pakistan's border region is dispersed. Groups like the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) are mercenaries and are not socially networked. But people like Hafiz Saeed and Difa-e-Pakistan have a social base."

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