This is the first part of a series on the new face of the “war on terror” in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. This follows the latest US Special Forces operations inside Pakistan in the last few days. Journalist and analyst Khawar Mehdi tells Pepe Escobar about the main political players involved; the strain the new US strategy puts over the Pakistani military and government; the ways Pakistani public opinion and tribal area Pashtuns are angrily reacting to it; and the consequences of renewed anti-US sentiment spreading to most sectors of Pakistani society.


Story Transcript

The revamped war on terror exposed
Pepe Escobar talks to Khawar Mehdi

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Over seven years after 9/11, it’s still unfinished business in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, and in the Pakistani tribal areas. I’m here with Khawar Mehdi, who’s a specialist in the jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the tribal areas. I had the pleasure to work with him many times in Afghanistan in the tribal areas and in Pakistan, before 9/11 especially. Khawar used to live in Pakistan until 2005. He was imprisoned and tortured by the Musharraf regime because he was investigating the presence of Taliban inside Pakistani territory. He’s been living in the US since 2005. What I have here in my hands, this is just one volume of the eleven-volume encyclopedia of the jihad in Afghanistan. This is the jihad bible. Every planner and trainer in al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or in the tribal areas, they have this bible and they know how to use it. Khawar has privileged information about what’s really happening on the ground in the tribal areas, and this is what we’ll be talking about next. There’ll be three stages of the so-called new war on terror as defined by the Pentagon and by Washington. We are now in the first stage, so it’s very important to remember the timeline. President Bush authorized Special Forces incursions, commandos going inside the tribal areas, in July. Then there was a very important meeting between Admiral Mullen and General Kiyani in mid-August. Two weeks after that meeting, more or less, in early September there was the first incursion. The Pentagon says that they killed al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. Local sources in the tribal areas stress that 15 civilians were killed, including women and children. This is a very dangerous escalation. How would you position the timeline? And what can you add to the timeline so people can better understand what’s really going on in the tribal areas?

KHAWAR MEHDI, PAKISTAN ANALYST: See, my understanding about this is that the key of new strategy for terror, war on terror, in Afghanistan/Pakistan starts from the departure of Musharraf. So there is a background of a relation between Musharraf and White House, and which was very close. So Washington lost its key player in the whole conflict.

ESCOBAR: So in terms of Pakistani politics, how the main players are positioned vis-à-vis this new Bush administration push?

MEHDI: Actually, situation on the ground that Americans have no trust with a person they can really rely on, no matter it is Zardari as a civilian in presidency—

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ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: The situation doesn’t help democracy.

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—or Kiyani, the head of Armed Forces. So the problem right now, both of these individuals have their own importance as well as war is concerned, because this war from very beginning needed a political maneuvering in the Pakistani society and a military operation on the front where militants are operating. [inaudible] we saw that during the Musharraf time, this critical front was completely silent, and the whole thing was just simply based on military surgical operations. And we saw the failure. Now Zardari has a position I don’t know how effectively he can use to maneuver, and go in to the common people, and sell the war as a Pakistani war.

ESCOBAR: He’s trying to sell it.

MEHDI: He is.

ESCOBAR: He just said a few days ago that we stand—you know, vis-à-vis the United States, we are side by side.

MEHDI: But it is seven years after. How much Pakistani people are ready to buy this idea? It is definitely a war to fight for the Pakistani people. It is against the common way of Pakistani life. It is against the cultural and, you know, traditional way of Pakistani life. What Taliban or these jihadis are offering is simply very strange. At the same time, it has its own global aspects, where we see the partners are coming in. Well, unfortunately, our partners in this war do not behave as partners; they are behaving as masters. So this the biggest disconnect between the global community and the local or regional forces as Pakistan and others. And then it comes to the Pakistan army. Again the question is: is this army capable of dealing with this threat? The second question is if there is a will. Now, what is the capacity of one army is a motivation of its soldiers, officers, and their personnel on ground, which includes intelligence agencies and other logistic areas. I don’t see this army is in real terms capable of fighting this war alone, because it’s personnel, it’s officers, it’s mid-level officers, and the soldiers.

ESCOBAR: Pashtuns against Pashtuns.

MEHDI: Pashtuns. It is even not all about Pashtuns anymore. It is a question of Muslims. Our people is always used, our people, no matter it is Pashtun or non-Pashtun. Pakistan has four basic ethnic communities. There is really a wave of anger among the common people. And some of these communities, those were not very much in line with the insurgency led by Taliban or al-Qaeda element getting angry and angry. We know about at least two big jirgas, which are—.

ESCOBAR: Tribal councils.

MEHDI: Yes, tribal councils invited in North Waziristan and in Khyber Agency, where, in North Waziristan, they simply talk about that “we are the people who never supported insurgency, but we cannot tolerate these attacks in our lands, and we cannot tolerate our innocent people killed for nothing.” So in North Waziristan, they simply say and openly that, “no matter America has how sophisticated technology. But if we need it, we will fight with stones.” And there is a tradition in tribal society, when they want to fight against their enemy or implement the decision of their jirga of tribal council, they invoke Lashkar, they call tribal army. So they announced that if it is not stopped, we will enforce our Lashkar, invoke our Lashkar—or army, you can call—and we may go Afghanistan and fight against our enemies.

ESCOBAR: So we may face the prospect of millions of tribals in the tribal areas picking up arms against the US.

MEHDI: Well, millions may be exaggerated, but definitely it is an out-of-proportion size. A same jirga took place in Khyber Agency. A Kuki Khel tribe, which is a sub tribe of Afridi tribes, who are known for their political sort of moderate way of thinking, have announced similar thing. But the problem which may arise from Kuki Khel tribe is that this tribe lives on the Grand Trunk Road, which is the major supply route for US and NATO forces inside Afghanistan. All these supplies come from the port city of Pakistan, Karachi. So they can disrupt the supply. They can easily do it. And no number of army or force can stop them from it.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Khawar Mehdi

Khawar Mehdi, born in Rawalpindi, is a Pakistani journalist and political analyst. Even before 9/11 he had advised numerous journalists, academics and researchers from North America and Europe working in the tribal areas of Pakistan and in Afghanistan. In 2004 he was imprisoned and tortured by President Pervez Musharraf's regime while investigating the presence of Taliban training camps inside Pakistan. He was released thanks to an international media campaign - after a personal intervention by Musharraf. Mehdi has unparalleled access to sources in Pakistan's FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). He has been living in Virginia since 2005, working as an analyst/consultant.