Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

  From the 'Not News' file

In the Wall Street Journal today James Conway, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, makes a contribution to the Not News file:

"Al Qaeda's Focus Is Pakistan, U.S. Senior Commander Says"

Pakistan has replaced Iraq as al Qaeda's main focus, and the terror group has stepped up its efforts to destabilize the nuclear-armed South Asian nation, according to a senior U.S. military commander.

"Iraq is now a rear-guard action on the part of al Qaeda," said Gen. James Conway, the head of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an interview. "They've changed their strategic focus not to Afghanistan but to Pakistan, because Pakistan is the closest place where you have the nexus of terrorism and nuclear weapons."

Well, ok, come to think of it there is some remarkable news buried in that intervew after all. When's the last time anybody seriously pretended to believe that Iraq had ever been "the main focus" of al Qaeda? That's at least as silly as Conway's statement on May 30, 2003 that "it remains a surprise to me now, that we have not uncovered" WMD stores in Iraq.

But the recognition that al Qaeda is focused on exerting influence in Pakistan, where there really are nuclear weapons? Even trying to destabilize the Pakistani government? That's a good fit for our Not News bureau.

Dec. 31, 2007: "Bhutto's death helps further Al Qaeda's Pakistan agenda"

Ms. Bhutto's death is a victory for Osama bin Laden's network, which called the opposition figure a tool of US influence. And, they say, Al Qaeda stands to gain most from the spreading unrest in Pakistan.

Only weeks ago, Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a message saying that Bhutto, and all those who participate in Pakistan's elections, would meet their end.


Al Qaeda has several times targeted President Mushaaraf, as well, and in recent months has twice targeted the former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao. But in all those cases, the assassination attempts failed.

The day after Bhutto was killed, Asfandyar Amir Zeb was killed by a remote-controlled bomb in Swat, an area bordering Afghanistan where the Pakistani Army is battling militants. Mr. Zeb, a member of Mr. Musharraf's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, was an outspoken critic of Islamic militancy.


US officials and Pakistani analysts have long been warning that Al Qaeda's strength has grown in Pakistan, nurtured by remote strongholds in the tribal belt and weak government counterterrorism policies. Once unknown in Pakistan, Al Qaeda-like suicide bombings are now a regular occurrence and have claimed as many as 600 lives in the last year alone.

"[Al Qaeda] seems to have increased their focus on Pakistan. There's some shift in their policy," says Mr. Shah.

Sept. 8, 2006: "Pakistan: Hello al-Qaeda, goodbye America"

With a truce between the Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad now in place, the Pakistani government is in effect reverting to its pre-September 11, 2001, position in which it closed its eyes to militant groups allied with al-Qaeda and clearly sided with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

While the truce has generated much attention, a more significant development is an underhand deal between pro-al-Qaeda elements and Pakistan in which key al-Qaeda figures will either not be arrested or those already in custody will be set free.


Thus, for example, it has now been agreed between militants and Islamabad that Pakistan will not arrest two high-profile men on the "most wanted" list that includes Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.


Pakistan has also agreed that many people arrested by law-enforcement agencies in Pakistan will be released from jail.

Importantly, this includes Ghulam Mustafa, who was detained by Pakistani authorities late last year. Mustafa is reckoned as al-Qaeda's chief in Pakistan.

Jan. 16, 2004:"Assassination tries linked to al Qaeda"

Investigators probing two recent attempts to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf are increasingly convinced of two things: Suspects linked to al Qaeda played a role, and they had help from within Pakistan's security apparatus.


This isn't the first time members of Pakistani security forces have been implicated in activities directly opposed to government policy. After the 2002 assassination attempt in Karachi, Inspector Waseem Akhtar of the paramilitary group Pakistan Rangers was arrested and accused of providing details of Musharraf's route. Last fall, authorities arrested a dozen ranking army officers for suspected links to the Taliban.

Oct. 29, 2001: "Pakistani Intelligence Had Ties To Al Qaeda, U.S. Officials Say"

The intelligence service of Pakistan, a crucial American ally in the war on terrorism, has had an indirect but longstanding relationship with Al Qaeda, turning a blind eye for years to the growing ties between Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, according to American officials.

The intelligence service even used Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan to train covert operatives for use in a war of terror against India, the Americans say.

The intelligence service, known as Inter-Services Intelligence, or I.S.I., also maintained direct links to guerrillas fighting in the disputed territory of Kashmir on Pakistan's border with India, the officials said.

American fears over the agency's dealings with Kashmiri militant groups and with the Taliban government of Afghanistan became so great last year that the Secret Service adamantly opposed a planned trip by President Clinton to Pakistan out of concern for his safety, former senior American officials said.

The fear was that Pakistani security forces were so badly penetrated by terrorists that extremist groups, possibly including Mr. bin Laden's network, Al Qaeda, would learn of the president's travel route from sympathizers within the I.S.I. and try to shoot down his plane.

Mr. Clinton overruled the Secret Service and went ahead with the trip, prompting his security detail to take extraordinary precautions. An empty Air Force One was flown into the country, and the president made the trip in a small unmarked plane. Later, his motorcade stopped under an overpass and Mr. Clinton changed cars, the former officials said.

Pakistan has been the main focus of al Qaeda for a very long time. Iraq never was.

crossposted at

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