First Snow in Pakistan

Snow is falling in the higher passes as people prepare for winter, and the country faces the economic downturn being seen worldwide. Many pin it on the downturn in the US, but the housing bubble burst in the US is really not the whole of it, it’s just another symptom. The downturn we see now is really the spreading wake of two years of sustained high energy prices. Pakistan got an IMF loan to weather the economic drought, and the government is having the usual sniping in their chambers as everyone tries to deflect blame and flames. There have been crackdowns and arrests of Foreign exchange operators, as the government tries to prevent money from fleeing the country (note to intel types: think on who would be refugee under the current scenario, and why money would be leaving…)

The war in Bajaur and Swat continues at low key, and there is supposed to be an operation underway to tackle Mohmand agency. On the border of Mohmand in Charsadda, a suicide bomber in a van attacked a school being used by Police and paramilitaries, killing four at the gate and himself. Authorities blocked the Peshawar-Bajaur road while they investigated. There are now “Peace activists” in a camp in Peshawar led by a black turban as well. That would bear some watching, on the other hand it could just be a poseur trying to sell shuttlecock burqas…

The authorities arrested an Afghanistan Taliban ex-minister trying to leave for Dubai under false papers, the detainee was civil aviation deputy minister during the period the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan.

President Zardari is attending the UN interfaith conference and met with Sect’y Condoleeza Rice on the sidelines. The goverment has stabilized a bit in the wake of the IMF loan and after making the decision to proceed with the operations in Bajaur. While US missile strikes have become routine the outcry has lessened as suicide bombings continue and the urban core areas feel threatened.

The TTP taliban appear a bit fractured even though they are fighting to hang on in Swat and Bajaur, it appears that some are trying local warlord ploys. Any of the splinter groups will still take orders from Al Qaeda however the influence of Baitullah Mehsud has lessened in some areas, notably Khyber Agency.

What’s ahead? Expect more frontier unrest as food and fuel goes scarce in some areas due to fighting, the usual Taliban road blockages and hijackings, as well as the summer harvests running low during January-February. Border incursions to the north in Afghanistan will problably lessen and Taliban transiting north will swing wide through Iran to get around the frozen passes if they go at all with the war in the frontiers. I am seeing indications which are not yet clear of a shift in strategy, watch for movement at all Pakistan borders — this might be the beginning of an exodus.

This report was compiled from various news stories in The International News and the Daily Times

Update: TTP Claims the Suicide Bombing

Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid aka “Sa’id” Al Qaeda Leader Dead

Pakistan has announced the death of Abu Yazid “Saeed” al-Masri in the Bajaur region as a result of their ongoing offensive there. (The Reuters story specifies an “Unamed Official, but that’s normally how these reports come from Pakistan.) 
UPDATE: In the International Times they have both Taliban and “Arab” sources denying the death of Abu Yazid “Saeed” Al Masri. This looks like another false report from Pakistan’s Military at the moment, but note that the military also states that intercepted insurgent radio chatter is where they first heard of the death, we’ll give this another 48 hours since Al Qaeda ususally does confirm when we kill a leader.

Originally billed as Al Qaida’s leader in Afghanistan way back in May 2007 in an As Sahab video, he later seemed to have been replaced in subseqent announcements by other AQ leaders in Afghanistan as they tried Emir after Emir. I think this was by design after Dadullah’s death, their second tier now leads from the rear. He was the replacement after we killed Mullah Dadullah, and from what I can see he was in the second tier of leadership of Al Qaeda, managing both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here is the video announcing him as leader in Afghanistan from Memri.

While I’m calling Abu Yazid as a “tier II” leader, some refer to him as Al Qaeda’s number three, he also served time in the same cell alongside Ayman Al Zawahiri in Egypt. Regardless of where you place his position, he is part of the critical strategic leadership for AQ, and this is a tremendous blow to them if the initial reports pan out.

He was the one who declared Jihad against Turkey, and later he pops up in the news claiming credit for the Benazir Bhutto assassination for Al Qaeda. ( Rememeber that many think Baitullah Mehsud did it as well, I would still wager that AQ ordered the killing and that Baitullah managed the logistics.)
You can also see in this dispatch at Memri that he doesn’t distinguish between civilians and government for purposes of Jihad.

Here’s the story from Fox News:

Senior Al Qaeda commander Abu Saeed al-Masri has been killed in recent clashes with Pakistani forces in a Pakistani region near the Afghan border, a security official told Reuters on Tuesday.

“He was believed to be among the top leadership of Al Qaeda,” the senior security official told the news agency on condition of anonymity.

Al-Masri, which means Egyptian, was the senior most Al Qaeda operative to have been killed in Pakistan’s tribal belt since the death of his compatriot, Abu Khabab al-Masri, an Al Qaeda chemical and biological weapons expert, last month

You can also see that Abu Yazid Al Masri, like all Al Qaeda leadership, interprets Jihad the way he wants to at the moment. Here he specifically states that blowing up mosques is forbidden, but later you saw Al Qaeda suicide bomb the mosque at Charsadda in an attempt to get Aftab Ahmed Sherpao:

In the interview, Abu Al-Yazid stated that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad last June. He said that the bomber was a Saudi, and added: “We are proud to have carried out [this operation], and we congratulated our brothers for completing this task. We timed the attack in such a way that no Muslims were in the vicinity.” Abu Al-Yazid also stated that Al-Qaeda had been responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. On a previous occasion, he claimed that the organization had carried out the December 27, 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime-minister Benazir Bhutto.

Referring to the permissibility of suicide bombings, Abu Al-Yazid said that eminent Islamic scholars around the world had issued fatwas sanctioning them. He added: “Suicide attacks are justified by Islamic shari’a. [However, Islamic] scholars [who are affiliated with] governments issue whatever fatwas they are told to issue… However, suicide attacks inside mosques are forbidden.”

Meanwhile the offensive in Bajaur is continuing, I think the ruling coalition in Pakistan has realized that they must get AQ and Baitullah before the terrorists get them. ( Baitullah circulated a list of 300 PPP and PML-N stalwarts up for assassination last month.)

More at Jawa Report

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