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?