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Context of '2005 and After: US Officials Encourage and Advise Pakistani Sunni Militant Group'

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Abdul Malik Rigi.Abdul Malik Rigi. [Source: ABC News]According to US and Pakistani intelligence sources interviewed by ABC News, US officials begin encouraging and advising Jundullah, a Pakistani militant group that has been staging attacks against Iran. The group is made up of members of the Baluchi tribe and operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran. (Ross and Isham 4/3/2007) Iran says the group is linked to al-Qaeda. (Reuters 5/13/2007) Jundullah’s leader, Abdul Malik Rigi, formerly fought with the Taliban. Alexis Debat, a senior fellow on counterterrorism at the Nixon Center, tells ABC that Rigi “used to fight with the Taliban. He’s part drug smuggler, part Taliban, part Sunni activist.” Rigi commands “a force of several hundred guerrilla fighters that stage attacks across the border into Iran on Iranian military officers, Iranian intelligence officers, kidnapping them, executing them on camera,” Debat explains. According to ABC sources, the US government is not funding the group. (Ross and Isham 4/3/2007) Rather the group is receiving money and weapons through the Afghan and Pakistani military and Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. (Ross and Esposito 5/23/2007)

Karl Eikenberry.Karl Eikenberry. [Source: NATO]In autumn 2006, President Bush declares in a White House news conference that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” but in fact intelligence reports are indicating that al-Qaeda is gaining strength in its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The New York Times will later comment, “with senior Bush administration officials consumed for much of that year with the spiraling violence in Iraq, the al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan was not at the top of the White House agenda.” Frustrated, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top US commander in Afghanistan, orders military officers, CIA, and US special forces to assemble a dossier documenting the Pakistani government’s role in allowing militants to establish their safe haven in the tribal region. According to the Times, “Behind the general’s order was a broader feeling of outrage within the military—at a terrorist war that had been outsourced to an unreliable ally, and at the grim fact that America’s most deadly enemy had become stronger.” When Eikenberry finally presents his dossier to several members of Bush’s cabinet, some inside the State Department and the CIA dismiss his warning as exaggerated and simplistic. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008) On February 13, 2007, Eikenberry states publicly before a Congressional committee that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan without addressing the safe haven across the border in Pakistan. He does not publicly discuss Pakistan’s support for the militants, but he does say, “A steady, direct attack against the command and control in Pakistan in sanctuary areas is essential for us to achieve success.” He also warns that the US is facing a “reconstituted enemy” and “growing narcotics trafficking” in Afghanistan, which could lead to “the loss of legitimacy” of the government there. Eikenberry is already due to be replaced as commander of US forces in Afghanistan by the time he makes these blunt comments. (Tyson 2/14/2007; Rashid 2008, pp. 383) The White House responds by sending Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad, Pakistan, later in February (see February 26, 2007). But there is little apparent change in Pakistan’s behavior. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)

Vice President Dick Cheney flies to Pakistan to meet with President Pervez Musharraf. The White House is tight-lipped about the trip and refuses to provide details about what the two leaders discuss. But media accounts, citing administration officials, suggest that Cheney warns Musharraf that US aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy if his government does not improve in its efforts to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban. (Sanger 2/26/2007) Cheney’s trip comes after the head of US military operations in Afghanistan compiled a dossier of evidence indicating the Pakistani government is secretly supporting the militants attacking US troops in Afghanistan (see Autumn 2006- February 2007). But Cheney is known to be a strong supporter of Musharraf and generally has blocked pressure against him (see June 27, 2007). Pakistani intelligence sources will later tell ABC news that the two leaders discussed a secret operation (see 2005 and After) to support attacks against Iran by the Sunni militant group Jundullah. (Ross and Isham 4/3/2007)

The US-government operated Voice of America (VoA) radio broadcasting service conducts a phone interview with Abdul Malek Rigi, the leader of the Sunni militant group, Jondollah. Rigi, designated by Iran as a terrorist, is introduced by VoA as the “leader of the Iranian people’s resistance movement.” (Press TV (Tehran) 4/2/2007; Haider 4/5/2007) According to US and Pakistani intelligence sources, Rigi’s group has been advised by the US and supported by Pakistan since 2005 (see 2005 and After).

Iran television reports that the country’s border patrol detained 10 people who illegally entered the country from Pakistan carrying $500,000 in cash, maps of “sensitive areas,” and “modern spying cameras.” (Reuters 5/13/2007) A senior Pakistani official will tell ABC News the 10 men were members of Jundullah. (Ross and Esposito 5/23/2007) (Jundallah is reportedly being supported by the Pakistanis and advised by US government officials (see 2005 and After).)

Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid writes an editorial in the Washington Post entitled, “America’s Bad Deal With Musharraf, Going Down in Flames.”
Cheney in Control - Rashid reveals, “Current and past US officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from [Dick] Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and refuses to brook any US criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department.” The State Department seems acquiescent to this policy, and is refusing to even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted. But the CIA and Defense Department are more resistant, and worry about the lack of an alternative to fully supporting Musharraf. Officials in these agencies, “many of whom have served in Islamabad or Kabul, understand the double game that Musharraf has played—helping the United States go after al-Qaeda while letting his intelligence services help the Taliban claw their way back in Afghanistan.”
Lack of Expertise - Due to recent turnover, there has been a “dramatic drop-off in US expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in US history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State’s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney’s office.” One former senior US diplomat says, “They know nothing of Pakistan.”
US Policy Making Matters Worse - Rashid concludes that instead of confronting the Islamist militant threat, the Pakistani army “has focused on keeping Musharraf in power—negotiating with extremists, letting radical Islamic students set up a base in Islamabad, and so forth. Meanwhile, to spook the West into continuing to support him, Musharraf continues to grossly exaggerate the strength of the Islamic parties that he warns might take over his nuclear-armed country. In fact, the United States would be far safer if it pushed for a truly representative Pakistani government that could marginalize the jihadists, rather than placing all its eggs in Musharraf’s basket.” He speculates that the US’s blind support of Musharraf allows Musharraf to continue to resist democratization and sharing power, exacerbating the crisis. “The message to the Pakistani public is clear: To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, and that includes democracy.” (Rashid 6/27/2007)


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