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Profile: Ahmed Rashid
Ahmed Rashid was a participant or observer in the following events:
Journalist Ahmed Rashid, a long-time expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan, will later write in a book about the Taliban that the US supported the Taliban in its early years. “Between 1994 and 1996, the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia, and pro-Western. Between 1995 and 1997, US support was even more driven because of its backing for the Unocal [pipeline] project.” He notes that many US diplomats “saw them as messianic do-gooders—like born-again Christians from the American Bible Belt.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 326] Selig Harrison, a long-time regional expert with extensive CIA ties, will later say that he complained at the time about how Pakistani ISI support of the Taliban was backed by the CIA. “I warned them that we were creating a monster.” [Times of India, 3/7/2001] There is evidence the CIA may have helped supply the Taliban with weapons during the first months of their rise to power (see October 1994).
Ahmed Rashid. [Source: Jane Scherr/ University of California, Berkeley]Ahmed Rashid, correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph, conducts extensive investigative research in Afghanistan after the Taliban conquest of Kabul. As he will later write in his 2000 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, he sees a “massive regional polarization between the USA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Taliban on one side and Iran, Russia, the Central Asian states and the anti-Taliban alliance on the other. While some focused on whether there was a revival of the old CIA-ISI connection from the Afghan jihad era, it became apparent to me that the strategy over pipelines had become the driving force behind Washington’s interest in the Taliban, which in turn was prompting a counter-reaction from Russia and Iran. But exploring this was like entering a labyrinth, where nobody spoke the truth or divulged their real motives or interests. It was the job of a detective rather than a journalist because there were few clues. Even gaining access to the real players in the game was difficult, because policy was not being driven by politicians and diplomats, but by the secretive oil companies and intelligence services of the regional states.” [Rashid, 2001, pp. 163]
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf publicly supports the Taliban. He refers to the Taliban when he says in a press conference: “I just want to say that there is a difference of understanding on who is a terrorist. The perceptions are different in the United States and in Pakistan, in the West and what we understand is terrorism.” The Taliban are closely linked to the Pashtun ethnic group, and he further refers to them as he says: “Afghanistan’s majority ethic Pashtuns have to be on our side. This is our national interest.… The Taliban cannot be alienated by Pakistan. We have a national security interest there.” Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment that this statement “outraged many Afghans, including all the anti-Taliban factions.” Rashid will add: “Such remarks were to make Musharraf a hated figure for most Afghans, something he could not live down even after 9/11.… Musharraf became known as ‘double-talk Musharraf,’ speaking with one breath about how he would turn Pakistan into a moderate Islamic state, and then just as vehemently with another supporting jihad and militancy.” That same month, Maj. Gen. Ghulam Ahmad Khan, an officer close to Musharraf, says publicly: “We are trying to stop the US from undermining the Taliban regime. They cannot do it without Pakistan’s help, because they have no assets there, but we will not allow it to happen.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 50-51, 414]
Hayatullah Khan. [Source: Public domain]In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002 (see January 31, 2002), Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will write, “Some Pakistani journalists suspected that hard-line elements in one of the [Pakistani] intelligence agencies may have encouraged militants to carry out the kidnapping of a Western journalist in order to discourage reporters from delving to deeply into extremist groups.” Rashid frequently writes for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph and is considered a regional expert. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 153]
In November 2001, Daily Telegraph journalist Christina Lamb was expelled from Pakistan after investigating the links between the ISI and the Taliban (see November 10, 2001).
Suspicions that the ISI is intimidating inquisitive journalists are strengthened in December 2003 when two French journalists working for the magazine L’Express are arrested and put on trial for visa violations after visiting the border town of Quetta to investigate how the Taliban is regrouping in Pakistan. Their Pakistani fixer is charged with sedition and conspiracy. These arrests are seen as a blunt warning to journalists to avoid Quetta, where most Taliban leaders are living.
In May 2004, journalists working for Newsweek and the New Yorker are arrested and held for several weeks after entering North Waziristan, where al-Qaeda is regrouping. This is considered a similar warning to avoid Waziristan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 426]
Two local journalists are killed by unknown assailants in Pakistan’s tribal region in 2005, causing many other journalists to avoid the region. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 275]
On December 1, 2005, the US kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza Rabia in Waziristan with a missile fired from a Predator drone (see December 1, 2005). Pakistan does not want it to be known that they are allowing the US to launch such attacks in their territory, but a local journalist named Hayatullah Khan takes photographs of pieces of the missile, which are then shown all over the world. Several days later, Khan disappears. When his body is eventually discovered, it has military handcuffs, torture marks, and five bullet wounds in the head. His family accuses the ISI of torturing and then killing him. The government promises an investigation into his murder, but does not actually conduct one. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 275]
On January 12, 2002, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives a speech denouncing violent Islamist militancy for the first time. He is essentially forced to give the speech after militants supported by Pakistan launched attacks in the disputed region of Kashmir, bringing India and Pakistan close to the brink of nuclear war. He also bans five militant groups (see January 12, 2002). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 116-118] Shortly after the speech, Pakistan arrests about 3,000 suspected militants. Musharraf is hailed in the Western media as redirecting the ISI to support the US agenda. But by the end of the month, at least 800 of the arrested are set free, including most of their leaders. Not a single one of the arrested militants is charged with any terrorist offense. [Washington Post, 3/28/2002; Time, 5/6/2002; Rashid, 2008, pp. 155] A US diplomat based in Pakistan will later say: “By March it was clear to us that Musharraf was not going to implement his promises [given in the speech]. All the arrested militants were freed, and the military had no intention of imposing any curbs on their activities.” The US State Department attempts to pressure Musharraf to keep the promises he made in the speech. However, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the US Defense Department is reluctant to pressure him, fearing that Pakistan will stop cooperating in capturing al-Qaeda leaders. Rumsfeld is apparently not concerned by the strong links between Pakistani militant groups and al-Qaeda. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 118] Within one year, “almost all” of those arrested have been quietly released. Even the most prominent leaders, such as Maulana Masood Azhar, have been released. Their banned militant organizations are running again, most under new names. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
A Pakistani attack helicopter fires at Ahmed Said Khadr’s safe house. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]Al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Said Khadr is killed in a shootout with the Pakistani army. The police received reports that senior members of al-Qaeda were hiding in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region near Afghanistan. The army attacks their safe house. After several hours of shooting, eight people in the safe house are killed and 18 are taken prisoner. One of the killed is later identified as Khadr. He is a long time Canadian citizen who ran a Canadian charity front called Human Concern International. After his death, a sympathetic jihadist group will refer to him as a “founding member” of al-Qaeda. [National Post, 10/14/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 4/20/2006] In fact, thousands of al-Qaeda-linked militants have been hiding out in South Waziristan since early 2002, with the assistance of some in the Pakistani government (see Late 2002-Late 2003). The attack comes as Pakistan is under increasing international pressure to do something about the al-Qaeda safe haven, and takes place just days before Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is due to visit Pakistan. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “Buying time by carrying out an attack just before the visit of a senior US official became a pattern for [Pakistan].” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 270]
A. Q. Khan confesses on television. [Source: CBC]After A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation network was caught selling nuclear technology to Libya, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is put in a difficult spot over how to deal with Khan. Khan is so popular in Pakistan that Musharraf would face considerable political fallout if Khan is declared a traitor or seriously punished. Khan is placed under house arrest in Pakistan. Then, on February 4, 2004, he apologizes in a carefully staged speech broadcast on Pakistani television. He says that he accepts full responsibility for all nuclear proliferation activities. He insists that neither the Pakistani government nor the Pakistani military was aware or involved in his nuclear network in any way. He asks for forgiveness. “It pains me to realize this, that my entire lifetime of providing foolproof national security to my nation could have been placed in serious jeopardy on account of my activities, which were based in good faith, but on errors of judgment related to unauthorized proliferation activities.” Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “Most experts accepted that Khan could not have carried out his business without the military’s support.” But US government officials immediately accept Khan’s apology and say that they believe Pakistan’s military had not supported his business. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 289]
In the wake of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan’s public apology for his role in nuclear proliferation on February 4, 2004 (see February 4, 2004), and the US government’s quick acceptance of that apology, it is clear the US expects more cooperation from Pakistan on counterterrorism in return. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says in an interview on February 19: “In a funny way, the A. Q. Khan [apology]… we feel it gives us more leverage, and it may give [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf a stronger hand, that Pakistan has an act to clean up. The international community is prepared to accept Musharraf’s pardoning of Khan for all that he has done, but clearly it is a kind of IOU, and in return for that there has to be a really thorough accounting. Beyond that understanding, we expect an even higher level of cooperation on the al-Qaeda front than we have had to date.” But there is no increased cooperation in the next months. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “Musharraf had become a master at playing off Americans’ fears while protecting the army and Pakistan’s national interest.… [He] refused to budge and continued to provide only minimal satisfaction to the United States and the world. He declined to give the CIA access to Khan, and there was no stepped-up hunt for bin Laden.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 289-290]
In a review of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s autobiography In the Line of Fire, Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, writes in the New York Times, “It is essential for Musharraf that Pakistan be a ‘dangerous place’: he and his country… feed off the menace.” Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid agrees. He will later write: “As long as Pakistan remained the center for Talibanization, terrorism, or nuclear proliferation, the world could not ignore the military regime or dispense with Musharraf.… The West continued to view Musharraf as the only person capable of holding Pakistan together, even though some diplomats acknowledged that ‘Pakistan now negotiates with its allies and friends by pointing a gun to its own head.’” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 291, 444]
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.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2007]
An explosion at the Red Mosque during the government raid. [Source: Inter Services Public Relations]Prior to the Pakistani Army’s raid on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) from July 3-11, 2007, the Pakistani government had generally maintained an uneasy alliance with Pakistani Islamist militants, although these militants sometimes launched violent attacks on the government. But in the immediate aftermath of the Red Mosque raid (see July 3-11, 2007), Pakistani militants and government forces openly war with each other. In 2005 and 2006, the government made peace deals with militants in the tribal regions of South Waziristan and North Waziristan (see February 7, 2005 and September 5, 2006). But these deals immediately collapse. On July 11, the last day of the mosque raid, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently condemns the raid and calls for Pakistanis to overthrow their government (see July 11, 2007). On July 12, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vows in a nationally televised address that he will crush extremists throughout Pakistan. He says, “Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan. But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists. Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country.” He also says that over the next few months, security forces will retake the tribal regions near the Afghanistan border now controlled by a mix of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militants. On the same day, Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who ran the Red Mosque along with his brother but was arrested during the raid, is allowed to speak at the funeral of his brother. He says, “God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit.” Also on July 12, the first retaliatory suicide bombings take place. [Associated Press, 7/12/2007; London Times, 7/16/2007] Over the next three weeks, 167 people, including 120 soldiers and police, are killed in 21 militant attacks, many of them suicide bombings. Most of these take place in the North-West Frontier Province and the tribal regions, both of which have a strong militant presence. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “The government’s inept handling of the [Red Mosque] crisis was a turning point for al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban, and other extremist groups, who now joined together and vowed to topple the government and create an Islamic state.” Hundreds of potential new suicide bombers vowed revenge and began training in the tribal regions. Al-Qaeda’s focus “shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where it saw a demoralized army, a terrified citizenry, and an opportunity to destabilize the state. For the first time, senior Pakistani officials told me, the army’s corps commanders accepted that the situation had radically changed and the state was under threat from Islamic extremism. In fact, the Pakistan army was now fighting a civil war.” [Rashid, 2008]
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