KARACHI - Pakistani forces have killed at least 12 and arrested 12 suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters over the past two days in a major operation at Angoor Adda, a small town on the border with Afghanistan.
The operation is being widely hailed in Pakistan as a demonstration of the country's commitment to the US-led "war on terrorism".
However, this is only a part of the story. The clash was orchestrated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a direct result of its deep penetration - and even control - of the Pakistani intelligence establishment.
The roots of this involvement can be directly traced to the fallout from the events of September 11, 2001, which saw Pakistan throw in its lot with the US. This entailed Islamabad withdrawing its long-standing support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, which it had helped propel into power in 1996, and opening its air bases to the US military for operations in Afghanistan.
It also allowed US intelligence to establish a finger-hold in the country, which the FBI has now turned into a vice-like grip through an ever-expanding network that has infiltrated, to various degrees, Pakistan's armed forces, the police and intelligence agencies.
The FBI varies its presence according to requirements in its hunt for al-Qaeda suspects, with the total number deployed anywhere between 50 and 100. It has at least three active cells, in Peshawar, on the border of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where many al-Qaeda are known to hide, in the volatile port city of Karachi and in the capital Islamabad.
The FBI initially kept a low profile, working mostly at the direction of the all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's premier intelligence outfit and effectively the architect and orchestrator of Pakistan's strategic policies.
Now, however, the FBI works autonomously, with its own separate organizational setup. This includes communications to track both mobile and land telephone calls, as well as sophisticated bugging devices. Each cell has these capabilities. In Karachi, the FBI cell operates in the Defense Housing Authority Phase VIII complex. Only two or three army officers are attached to this cell, purely for coordination purposes.
Not all are happy with this state of affairs. According to one ISI person posted in Karachi, who requested not to be named when talking to Asia Times Online, "After September 11, 2001, we were given instructions to work along with FBI operators. Initially they were given a room in the ISI's operations office. They used to give commands to us, and we had to obey them. For instance, once they asked us to send a packet somewhere. We packed it and informed them that the parcel was ready. They unpacked the parcel and asked an ISI employee to repack it in front of them. This is the way the FBI operators showed their domination over the ISI staff. At first they asked us to coordinate in operations. Later on they were given a separate place of work, then they cultivated local police officers, and several times they did not bother to inform the ISI about their operations."
The FBI cells have established direct control over the law enforcing agencies, such as the police, who take orders from FBI agents. In return, they are believed to be handsomely rewarded financially. The ISI is aware of who is on the FBI's payroll, but can do little about it.
"There is no precedent," says a retired army brigadier who was in charge of ISI operations in Afghanistan during the Soviet war of the 1980s. "Pakistan was a frontline state against the former USSR during the Afghan war. The CIA was thickly involved in operations, but the CIA was not allowed to go beyond Islamabad. Their planes, loaded with missiles and ammunition, used to land at Islamabad airport, but these consignments were just handed over to an ISI cell, which used then to pass them on to the mujahideen in Afghanistan," the brigadier said. "Even on a strategic level, the ISI used to plan operations single-handedly. The CIA only looked after the financial aspects of operations."
Now, the FBI has virtually unlimited access and control, including airports, and now it has emerged that it has recently been given access to the bank accounts of Pakistani citizens.
According to well-placed sources in the Pakistani intelligence community, some the country's former clandestine operations have now been curtailed, such as one involving the national carrier, Pakistan International Airline (PIA). PIA was once extensively used for "back-channel diplomatic activities", such as shifting missiles under the cover of routine cargo. But under heavy US pressure, PIA's reservation system is now hosted in Texas through the Sabre Group, and the movement of each and every passenger is carefully monitored, as is the cargo.
According to the Pakistani English daily, The News International, Pakistan has allowed information about foreign currency bank accounts in Pakistani banks to be shared with government authorities in the US. The FBI, according to the paper, is "seeking, and getting, the private account details of remittances being sent into banks in Pakistan from anywhere in the world".
The paper continued, "Under an agreement between the authorities of the United States and Pakistan, banks in Pakistan will be giving details of remittances flowing in or out of foreign currency accounts, which will be handed to the FBI," the paper quoted a Wall Street banker as saying. "The agreement has come into effect and the Pakistani banks are collecting details on deposits and withdrawals into and from their foreign currency accounts."
The American official, who also works as a consultant for a think tank that is collating information on remittance flows from Islamic states to the US and vice versa, said that the idea was to track the pattern of the flow of funds for possible dubious uses. "The [United States] government wants to make sure that the funds are not being used to finance terrorist activities ... and Pakistan is one of the countries under observation [for the flow of remittances]."
According to the newspaper report, when approached, an official at a branch of a Pakistani bank, after some hesitation, confirmed that details of all remittance flows from the US to foreign currency accounts in banks in Pakistan and vice versa were being given to US authorities. He refused to disclose which "authorities" he was referring to.
The Pakistani official also conceded that it was "basically illegal" to share private details of account holders with any authority, especially those not falling into the jurisdiction of the banking realm. "It's basically a political decision," the official said. "We are living in strange times. We have to sacrifice some private rights and freedoms for larger collective interest."
He added, "The current Pakistani laws don't even allow for banks to share private account details with the Pakistan government, let alone American or other foreign authorities, but then that is the price we have to pay for ensuring that a useful channel like remittances is not abused by people bent on creating upheavals."
The FBI in action
In the latest action against al-Qaeda this week, Pakistan forces are reported to have killed 12 suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters and arrested 12 more in an operation at Angoor Adda near the Afghan border. While in Afghanistan, officials reported, there were 17 deaths, including 10 government soldiers and two children.
Angoor Adda lies about 65 kilometers from Wana, the district headquarters of the South Waziristan Agency of the FATA, in the west of Pakistan. South Waziristan is the most sensitive agency of Pakistan; it is not under the direct administration of the government of Pakistan, but indirectly governed by a political agent - a system that was enforced by the British rulers.
Asia Times Online sources say that most of the suspected casualties and detainees were Central Asians and Afghans. The operation was conducted after a fire-fight in Paktika in Afghanistan in which US forces and gunship helicopters chased the fighters into Pakistani territory.
The FBI's network in this territory(which is explained in a January 10 article - A bloody destiny for South Waziristan - sprang into action and notified the FBI cell in Peshawar, which then called in the Peshawar Corps to launch the raid.
US boot camp
The FBI's operations in Pakistan apart, Islamabad has accepted an offer from the US for a number of the country's army officers to be trained in the US.
In the past few weeks, about 100 officers have been sent to the US for various short courses ranging from one to two weeks on the "war on terror". The officers include those belonging to army field units, as well as those involved in strategic and ISI services.
The FBI has also held several training sessions in Karachi in which Pakistan armed forces officials interacted with FBI operators.
Some military experts take a dim view of this. One told Asia Times Online that having army units trained by a foreign intelligence apparatus was like handing over the keys of the country to another nation as it allowed them undue influence in the armed forces.
Muttering in the ranks
Meanwhile, all is not well in the armed forces, which contain elements who are not exactly in step with the country's president, General Pervez Musharraf, who is also head of the armed forces. Many resent his siding with the US, and the country's strategic losses as a result in Afghanistan. Many also resent him wearing the two hats that he does - military and civilian - assumed after taking over the country in a bloodless coup in 1999.
The following are translated excerpts from a letter doing the rounds in military circles. It was printed on an army general headquarters letterhead.
For our national leader: We on behalf of the Pakistan army assure the nation that it is your army. This is the army of Islam and Pakistan, and we expect every member of parliament, from whichever party he belongs to, to work for the autonomy of parliament. Pervez Musharraf and his handpicked gang are imposed at the head of this nation. They are the national criminals who have not only the army but have the entire nation hostage. This is the gang of thieves and looters which has plundered the whole nation, mercilessly. At the same time, they helped the American Jews and Christians to kill our Afghan brothers. Pervez Musharraf has turned Pakistan from the fort of Islam into a slaughterhouse of the Muslims. Had this parliament not been in place, our armed forces would have been sent to kill our Iraqi brothers side-by-side with US soldiers. We request our national leadership and officials of the armed forces to bring the following matters in front of parliament.
An inquiry should be initiated into what happened on October 12, 1999 [when Musharraf seized power].
Before the US invasion of Afghanistan, all Pakistan army brigadiers and generals were allotted expensive plots in Lahore near LUMS [Lahore University of Management Sciences]. The worth of these plots ranges between Rs 7 million [US$121,000] to Rs 10 million. These officers had already received their commercial and residential land quotas.
Parliament should constitute a judicial inquiry into the chief justices of the Supreme Court and all four provincial high courts who were in office on October 12, 1999.
Our aim - a free army and an independent Pakistan.