Police: Shahzad has no Links to Taliban; Clinton Remarks Produce Firestorm in Pakistan

Pakistani authorities doing the hard police work in Karachi of attempting to trace the network of friends and contacts of attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad have come up empty-handed. There is nothing in Shahzad’s background that links him to the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP or Taliban Movement of Pakistan), based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Pakistani police found one person in Shahzad’s circle, a relative of his wife’s, who in turn had ties to a fundamentalist group. Muhammad Rehan is a “not very active” member of the radical organization, Jaish-i Muhammadi. He and Shahzad traveled last year to the Pashtun northwest, though this trip is unremarkable because their family is Pashtuns and they are from that region. Rumors that Rehan had been arrested or that he had long lived near the radical mosque turn out not to be true, according to the Pakistani periodical, “The Nation”.

Pakistani police are unable to find any link between Rehan and the Pakistani Taliban, and can’t even find evidence of active membership in the Jaish-i Muhammad. Nor is there evidence that he introduced Shahzad to the Pakistani Taliban. Shahzad is apparently a braggart (ego inflation and delusions of grandeur are typical of terrorists) and his claim that he received training in a Taliban camp is not believable given that he had not the slightest idea how to construct a simple truck bomb. If there is one thing the Pakistani Taliban are good at, as guest op-ed contributor Stephan Salisbury noted here on Monday, it is blowing up things. In fact, the results of the intensive Pakistani investigation vindicate Salisbury’s skepticism about claims made by civilian US officials concerning this case. Informed Pakistani writer Rahim Yusufzai exhibits the same skepticism.

Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander, said last week that Shahzad was a lone wolf vaguely inspired by the Pakistani Taliban.

Other reports say that Shahzad was upset about US drone strikes on Pakistani territory, which often kill civilians.

Since Shahzad appears to live in a fantasy world, Attorney General Eric Holder was unwise to believe the tales he spun about professional training in terrorist camps of the North-West Frontier.

Why have civilian officials of the Obama administration been so eager to accept that Shahzad, a single unbalanced individual, was part of the TTP? Pakistan’s Urdu press thinks it is because the Times Square near-incident potentially gives the US leverage over Pakistani military policy in the northwest. Pakistani authorities have been willing to go after the Pakistani Taliban groups and tribes that have broken with Islamabad, such as those in Bajaur, South Waziristan, and Orakzai. But the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan still operates with impunity, though it is a) more dangerous to US troops in Afghanistan than the TTP and b) closer to Arab al-Qaeda operatives in the FATA.

On May 11, Jang‘s Mushtaq Ahmed, ‘Deploring that the United States has been persistently overlooking the effective operation being carried out by Pakistan in insurgency-hit areas of the country, the article says: “The real thing that the United States wants Pakistan to do is to launch military operation in North Waziristan. However, the Armed Forces of Pakistan have already refused to do so because they have completed their operation in the area and it is fully under their control. However, the timid and terrified Americans see the Taliban in their dreams as well. Their scare does not allow them to heave a sigh of relief. They want Pakistan to destroy its northern areas. Even if the Pakistani forces, God forbid, do so, even then the Americans will not be pacified and they will not be contented.” ‘(trans. courtesy USG Open Source Center).

The Pakistani civilians and officers in control of the government have been reluctant to go after the Haqqani network, because it is otherwise a Pakistani asset in projecting continued influence for Islamabad in the Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke remarkably harshly of Pakistan in this regard, saying that there would be ‘very severe consequences’ of an attack in the US were traced back to that country. Nawa-e Waqt fulminated on May 11, “The statement of Hillary Clinton is not only a flagrant interference in our internal affairs, but also a threat to us in clear terms. Only a formal reaction to it will not suffice, but our government and military leadership will have to tell the United States in emphatic terms that it should not consider us an easy prey. If it tries to attack our sovereignty, it will have to crack the hard nut. It is time to pull ourselves out of the war of the US interests, and our rulers should neither express any compulsion in this regard, nor should make any delay in reciprocating because for us, both the United States and India are same so far as their enmity for Pakistan is concerned.” (USG/OSC trans.) Clinton also again trotted out her allegation that someone somewhere inside the Pakistani government knows where Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are, but is refusing to tell the US. (She seems to admit that this grave charge is speculation on her part). It is possible that she is just piling on the Zardari government in hopes of inducing it to finally take on the Haqqani Network.

But Clinton has overdone it, provoking denunciations of herself in the Pakistani senate and throughout the Urdu press. President Obama’s special envoy to that country, Richard Holbrooke, keeps having to maintain that she did not say what she said.

Since Clinton is an experienced public official, it is not possible that she is misspeaking. Rather, she seems willing to risk a downturn in US relations with Pakistan in order to say harsh things publicly that a secretary of state would usually utter behind closed doors. Why is she behaving in this erratic way?

21 Responses

  1. I think Clinton is just a mouthpiece for the administration’s tough-on-terrorism PR campaign. Same with Holder. They are following the Bush paradigm: We have nothing to fear but the absence of fear itself, and always be on the lookout for a useful fallguy.

    It be nice if the administration informed us (and not via anonymous sources) the full story of the Times Square bomb itself. What was the likelihood of it actually detonating, and what damage could it do? Was the bomb plot a serious attempt to kill people or just another successful ploy to drive us deeper into the cave, and give our database experts nervous breakdowns?

    • .
      As far as the likelihood of it actually exploding, I took demolitions training in the Army more than 30 years ago, so I welcome corrections.

      My recollection is that explosions are just rapid oxidation processes, fires, that burn relatively slowly if not ignited in a way that causes extremely rapid oxidation. To wit, the propane tanks in the supposed car bomb would likely not ignite at all; if anything else in the car had blown up, that explosion would have simply sent the tanks sailing through the air, possibly igniting as they were being propelled away at high speed, but the propane would not have contributed to the initial blast. To really contribute to the initial blast, the propane should have been released from the tanks so that it could mix with the surrounding air, forming a cloud of fuel-air mixture.
      The bags of fertilizer would simply have burst, spraying unburned pellets over a wide area. The “available nitrogen” was not really available for rapid oxidation. It should have been poured into a half-full barrel of diesel fuel in order to become explosive.
      I saw a photo of an alarm clock that was purportedly going to function as a sort of time-delay ignition source. From the photo I couldn’t see how it would actually serve that purpose.
      Now, I’ve seen YouTube videos of kids mixing up explosives from hair care products, and they didn’t need any blasting caps to ignite their homemade explosives, but I think that professional bomb makers like the stability and predictability of such standardized components. If I was ever going to make a bomb, I’d try to obtain blasting caps in order to ensure my own safety when assembling it, and to ensure that I controlled when it ignited. I don’t know this, but I assume that 99% of IED’s in Iraq and Afghanistan are ignited that way. I don’t think this Times Square pretend bomber had a blasting cap.

      I suspect that, if it had worked, all it would have done was blown out the car’s windows and set the car on fire. A person within 50 feet could have been injured by the flying glass. After the car was on fire, the propane tanks would have ruptured, accelerating the fire, but not producing what you would call an explosion.

      For comparison, almost all explosions in movies and on TV are gasoline explosions. Gas / benzin is poured over whatever is going to blow up; the pyro technician waits 30 seconds to 2 minutes for the gas to evaporate and mix with the air; then a blasting cap is remotely detonated. That’s why the flames in a movie explosion billow. I’ve set off (or provided oversight of the ignition of) perhaps 40 or 50 explosions fueled with plastic explosives. It’s over pretty quick, too fast for me to see the flames without the aid of a camera.
      This guy would have caused more damage by punching a hole in his gas tank, and then setting a lit cigarette in the path of where the liquid gas would flow.
      .

      • fwiw, I totally agree with you, Brian: “I suspect that, if it had worked, all it would have done was blown out the car’s windows and set the car on fire…” But the question remains: does the mechanism = message have to blow up, to cause KIA + WIA or be otherwise damaging to be terrifying? Just being there, this smoldering SUV in Times Square ~ look at what this “inept, perhaps even impotent device” has done to the American psyche ~ to the conversation.

        When one receives a bullet by post it doesn’t have to go >BANG< to cause a Shiite or a Sunni, or an African-American, or an Irishman ~ living in the "wrong" neighborhood ~ to become totally terrorized; to pack up the families and abandon their homes; to take flight and become refugees. To be sure, the carnage is horror, but it is the message that is terror.

  2. I think Clinton is a little too afraid of the far right in America, and (like many democrats) tries to posture herself as tougher and more towards their side. That’s not moderate, but those in the FOX News world will see it as such, sadly.

    • Not sure why people apologize for Clinton (or Obama for that matter). She said (and says) what she did (does), and that’s how I’ll judge her. I have not forgotten that she was a vocal supporter of the Iraq war. I am not surprised by her “hawkish” remarks because that’s what she is – a hawk, by her own choice.

  3. While I reserve judgment, I’m coming more and more to agree with Petraeus that Shaxad’s a lone wolf homegrown. It was a clumsy and inept attempt; and I believe if he were connected to the Taliban, there would have been at least some support personnel that would have been with him in New York.
    Fertilizer bombs doesn’t sound like their style, and insurgent/terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Iraq are indeed more skilled with explosives than that. We’ve had at least eight years of experience with it, and I don’t see themm trying an untested method in the enemy heartland.
    Hillary oughtta watch herself and her words. As I remember, the Pakistani people were already against us when this so-called ‘War On Terror’ was launched. Musharraf had to keep them on a leash while keeping an eye on the INI and dealing with us. . .all simultaneously.
    We really had no reason to be there once it was found that there were less than 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It’s our presence, it seems, that perpetuates the conflict, just as it was in Iraq.
    And I don’t care for the repeated incursions into Pakistani territory. Most of all, I do not care for the slaughter of innocents and noncombatants that continues under our direction. As Britney would have put it: “Oops, I did it again. . .”
    Virtually no one understands their culture, any more than the Afghans, in my opinion. Their way is not our way. We’re like a spoilt child demanding what we want now; and that isn’t always practical.
    Obama does have a lot of problems here in the US, even dangerous ones, but I don’t believe they’re anything compared to the problems Karzai and Zardari have.
    If we keep pushing, eventually they will get tired of it. Then we’ll really be in for it. Our government had best learn some restraint, or we’ll lose our allies there, and more besides.

  4. “Why is she behaving in this erratic way?” You ask.
    I believe that the White House is feeling it is running out of time regarding their goals for Pakistan/Afghanistan.
    I think Clinton is trying to be politically ‘creative’ and is willing to take risks to push thing ‘forward’.
    It may look like she is behaving erratically to us but we don’t know what is happening behind closed doors and in private conversations.

    To me this is all about Iran.
    It is said that US is out of options regarding Iran at this time.
    I believe that the White House wants to create new options in 2011/2012, and are now pushing Pakistan/Afghanistan with all their political might into place for that to happen.

  5. It’s hard to believe that Shahzad, who had a degree in computer science and engineering, could have been so dumb as to think that his contraption would blow up. I have no such background, but I could do a more credible job of putting together something like that with no training whatever, just from reading the papers and a little background in high school chemistry long ago – and doubtless many other readers here could too.

    Who can believe that this schlemiel could have received any training in bomb-making and had any serious intent? Maybe one of these, or maybe the other, but both just cannot be.

    It is clear that Obama wants to ratchet up terrorism fear, like Bush before him, in order to justify more aggression, perhaps an open invasion and destruction of Pakistan, as the Pakistanis rightly fear. Clinton could not have spoken this way without her boss’s approval, and certainly no one will believe so.

    Pakistan, I think, will prove quite indigestible, if Afghanistan and Iraq tell us anything.

    Barbara Tuchman’s “March of Folly” seems to apply here. The Americans in Vietnam was one of her examples in that work, but the Americans were geniuses in Vietnam compared to the present generation’s pursuit of a general war against the entire Muslim world.

  6. Professor – Are you so influenced by your own denial that TTP was a serious international threat a few months back that you don’t believe John Brennan, Eric Holder and others when they say he is cooperating and he is TTP? Then, wait for the indictment….it will all come out. You believe they trash “The Nation” is peddling? Get real.

  7. The NY incident is beginning to scream false flag, although it lacks any degree of polish. The Clinton statements really floored me when I heard the sound kibble on NPR. She is unveiling her true reactionary self with the pro-Israeli screeching and imperialistic quotes. I think it shows how little has actually changed in the foreign policy arena since the election.

  8. Slang expressions such as “lone wolf” and “one-off” are probably intended to express: (A) that the agent provocateur was not acting “under the direction or direct orders” of any Islamic nation; and (B) that the agent provocateur was not one member of a conspiracy ~ meaning that “if he was, then we should expect follow-on attacks by one or more of his associates in this group to which he belongs.” But the slang, and even the professor’s reckoning that “There is nothing in Shahzad’s background that links him…” to any nation or terrorist group fails to reassure us because history reveals that these “lone wolfs” and “one-offs” have a pattern — they are serial, albeit random-periodic attacks. One gets the sense that, even if they are “self-directed,” they are persistent, and consistent in that they are all drawing upon the same, or very similar sense of some common cause célèbre.

  9. I would recommend Robert Wright’s column “The making of a Terrorist” in today’s NYT — less for his rational reasonable words, more for the irate response of so many to that same reasonableness. (At least one letter writer suggests that the Times Square Bomber “had to go through with it” or face dire consequences from Al-Qaeda and that his half-assed bomb represented … well, you get the point) — Tea Leaves.

    IMHO, there is going to be a succession of smokescreens to keep any actual discussion or news from Af-Pak at bay. The last few days have been notable for contradictory headlines and scoffing at the White House for “playing nice” with Karzai — so well has the demonization of Karzai succeeded — support for McCrystal’s surge is faltering and there has, by reports (see TomDispatch, irrc), already been a surge (or two) within the surge, as the ephemeral nature of “our” success in Marja triggered various red alerts.

  10. Even before anything disastrous happened so much drama is being created. For all we know the bomb was just a hoax by this young guy who probably did this to vent frustration at what the Us troops are doing in his homeland namely maiming and killing innocent civilians by the hundreds near his home town. Has he not got any right to be infuriated or bitter about these US drones that kill without precision people who every right to live. First of all there is no real proof that Shahzad is involved in any terrorist group. This appears highly unlikely.But before anything has been proved Clinton’s erratic statements only speak of her immature and ignorant political assumptions. She could prove disastrous for this government and for world peace.
    Already the US drones have started doing their job since a week. Hundreds of civilians are being killed on mere assumption in the NW regions of Pakistan. In fact pregnant women,children and old men have been the victims. So are the real terrorists now? What right has the US to invade the airspace of a sovereign country and bomb her civilians? Yet one small unexploded bomb is seen in a car in Times square all hell broke loose. Talk of war is on.Is this human justice? The US is supposed to be fighting for human rights and social justice or democracy in this world. People of this world must be stupid to even believe them. These are just bullies who sadistically wait for an opportunity to use their deadly weapons on poor third world countries.

  11. Why is she behaving in this erratic way?

    Because her utter insanity is being revealed.

  12. Clinton’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric reminds me of the unwise use of language and public pressure applied last month through the media against Hamid Karzi that backfired.

    President Obama and his team have finally realized their folly and are are currently wining and dining Karzai in Washington to make amends and win him back. Even the hawkish US Afghan Ambassador Eikenberry has fallen in line and profusely praising the Afghan leader.

  13. I think Secretary Clinton’s remarks are largely for domestic consumption. For the U.S. to publicly threaten Pakistan over this inept “car bombing” makes no sense at all. At the very least, we would want their cooperation in investigating any possible links, which we are not likely to obtain with threats. Hence, Clinton’s threat only makes sense as political theater, aimed at the U.S. public.

Comments are closed.