Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New York Times on ISI; Serena Hotel Attack (Plus Update Connecting the Two and Historical Background)

David Rohde and Carlotta Gall deserve huge credit for an outstanding investigative article today on Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. This article makes sense out of all the contradictory indications about the ISI's links to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as well as other armed militant groups. It also covers the ISI's role in domestic politics, including election rigging. It is clear from the article that a military regime cannot (and some will not) control the militants it created and that the military will also not permit civilians to take control of the state. But at least President Bush is hard at work building the broadest possible global alliance against Iranian speedboats and Filipino radio pranksters. Bush reportedly does not believe his own intelligence agencies' report on Iran, as it failed to coincide with what he knows to be true. (More on this from Scott Horton....)

The attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul is a shock for all of us foreigners who have gone there for tea. conferences, or brunch, even if we never stayed there. Like most people who go in and out of the Kabul expatriate community, I imagine, I knew a couple of people who were there -- in my case including some Norwegian diplomats.

News reports mention that this was Afghanistan's only "five-star" hotel. They don't mention that nearly all Afghans live in "zero-star" conditions, including the thousands of people who pass that traffic circle every day and see inaccessible luxury behind thick walls. The rioters attacked the Serena in May 2006, apparently believing that alcohol is served there, though it is not.

I am sure that the people of Kabul don't want more violence in their city. They were badly frightened by the riots in 2006. But there is huge resentment and anger building up at the overbearing foreign presence. The May 2006 riots were sparked by an accident where US military vehicles killed a pedestrian. Afghans see and often do not distinguish among the "Chinese restaurant" brothels and the glittering restaurants (by Afghan standards, not ours) serving luxuries, including alcohol, to foreigners, some of whom are being highly paid to destroy Afghanistan's opium livelihood, which Afghan Islamic figures say is no worse than the alcohol they drink at night after destroying farmers' poppy crops.

Many Afghans think that money that is supposed to be used to help them is instead being used to pay for the good life for foreigners in the Serena hotel. Alas, it is true. When aid donors boast of how much technical assistance they are giving Afghanistan, they provide data on the size of the contracts they have given to consultants. I have spent some of the grant and contract money that pay for my salary and travel expenses on meals and tea at the Serena Hotel. These expenses are counted as someone's assistance to Afghanistan.

This is a new kind of target for the Taliban. Foreigners going to restaurants in Kabul (including some where, unlike the Serena, alcohol is in fact served), sometimes joke that they feel like targets. Up to now, however, they have not been. The Taliban have mostly attacked the international forces and Afghan army, police, and officials, as well as other "collaborators," such as employees on reconstruction projects or public figures who support the government. Sometimes they kill civilians indiscriminately when they attack government buildings (including cases when they killed students in schools). But as far as I know, this is the first attack targeted at the foreign assistance community and the "corrupt" lifestyle it has brought to Afghanistan. I imagine it will not be the last.

Update: AP quotes Amrullah Saleh, head of the National Security Directorate of Afghanistan, as saying that the attack was planned by the network headed by Siraj Haqqani, a native of Khost currently based in the North Waziristan Tribal Agency of Pakistan. So it seems the two posts above might be connected. In case this hypothesis proves true, here is some background.

Haqqani's father, Mawlawi Jalaluddin, was a highly praised mujahidin commander in the 1980s. He was called "Haqqani" because he attended the Deobandi madrasa Haqqaniyya in Akhora Khattak on the Grand Trunk Road between Peshawar and Islamabad, headed by Senator Sami-ul-Haq of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema. This madrasa trained many Taliban leaders.

Haqqani was one of the CIA's favorites because of his penchant for "killing Russians" and executing Afghan "communist" prisoners after trial for apostasy. He was one of ten commanders known as "unilaterals" who got aid directly from the CIA, not filtered through the ISI. His huge base (later occupied by al-Qaida) was built by a Pakistani construction company connected to the military and paid for by private Saudi donations (not sure whose, but it could easily have been Bin Laden).

Though not a member of the Taliban core group in southern Afghanistan (he is from the Zadran/Jadran tribe in Khost, in the east), he became an important minister and commander of the Taliban, leading offensives in the Shamali plain north of Kabul in cooperation with al-Qaida.

During the Coalition operation against the Taliban in the fall of 2001, the ISI brought Haqqani to Islamabad several times, offering him to the U.S. as a "moderate Taliban" replacement for Mullah Umar, but Haqqani did not cooperate or at least he didn't deliver. In December 2001 Mawlawi Jalaluddin announced that despite his opposition to the U.S. invasion, now was the time for peace in Afghanistan, and he sent a delegation from the Jadran tribe to attend the inauguration of Hamid Karzai. Someone (reportedly Mawlawi Jaluluddin's rival, Pacha Khan Zadran, though there are other suspects as well) warned the U.S. that Taliban were approaching Kabul, and a U.S. bombing raid killed over 60 elders of the tribe who were on their way to Kabul for reconciliation.

Since that time, Mawlawi Jalaluddin (who may have died -- reports are unclear) and his son Sirajuddin have built up a powerful front based in North Waziristan. The Jadrans remain factionalized and their loyalties have vacillated -- today many are serving in pro-government militias, and cross-border attacks from Waziristan are said to have decreased.

The Haqqanis are considered by the U.S. military to constitute almost a separate operation from (though nominally affiliated with) the Taliban under Mullah Umar. They are one of the pivotal points of cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as the Haqqanis have close relations with Baitullah Mahsud, Amir of the Pakistani Taliban and commander in South Waziristan.

If anyone believes that the ISI does not know where the Haqqanis are, there is a bridge not far from my office in lower Manhattan I would like to show you.

Historical Note: In May 2002 in Kabul I attended a meeting at the home of the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, where he received a delegation from the Jaji tribe in Paktia, neighbors (and at times rivals) of the Jadrans. The Jaji elders reminded Zahir Shah that their fathers and grandfathers had helped his father, Nadir Shah, overthrow a usurper in Kabul, Amir Habibullah Kalakani, known as Bacha-i Saqaw (son of the water carrier) and Khadim-i Din-i Rasul Allah (servant of the religion of the Messenger of God). Habibullah came from the Tajik village of Kalakan north of Kabul, which briefly became a "Maoist" bastion in the early 1980s.

The elders offered to help Zahir Shah evict the Northern Alliance from Kabul, as they had helped his father before him. Zahir Shah said he wanted to work for peace and asked them to participate in the Emergency Loya Jirga scheduled for the following month.

By the way, when Nadir Shah (then Nadir Khan) mobilized the Jajis, Jadrans, Ahmadzais, and Tanis against Amir Habibullah, he was sitting in Waziristan, receiving aid from the British through the political agents in the Tribal Agencies. . . .


Anonymous said...


The US just doesn't get it and it sure ain't going to change. You cannot wake up a rock.

The living conditions of Afghans, Pakisanis, Iraqis, and Palestinians is unbearable, and getting worse. But, they took comfort knowing the US prioritized the Iranian speed boats. The US and Israel now want to make the Iranians suffer on the level of the others via a new invasion and occupation.

There is no God. There cannot be a God. Sorry, but I have lost faith in a high power who would allow humans to suffer in this manner.

Unknown said...

The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men (Benai Adam). Psalm 115:16. It might have been a bad decision, but it's too late now.

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