What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan... in Barcelona?

*** Updated below ***
This is an affair I haven't been paying that much attention. The aftermath of January 19 raids in Spain that netted an alleged militant net which was about to carry out terror attacks on Barcelona's subway, and potentially other attacks in other countries in the future. Those arrested came from, or visited a mosque in, Raval, an historic part of Barcelona where many people of Pakistani origin live.
I read back then that these guys were in some way affiliated with the Tablighi Jamaat, a proselytising organisation that is jihadi in a different way, not focused on the fighting-to-be-true-believers type radical interpretation of jihad, but instead on the let's-find-the-way-of-the-true-believer-in-ourselves-first type interpretation (despite which some of the people in connection with it have changed their mind as to what needs to be done for jihad, in the past).
The timing, by Spanish authorities, of the raids did seem to have something to do with upcoming elections in Spain (like, firstly, to really make sure there's no interference by a terror cell), but I didn't share the puzzlement of some regarding why the mostly Pakistani members of the cell (Pashtuns?, if yes, from where?) in Barcelona would want to attack a target right in Barcelona - well, first of all because they knew Barcelona better, I thought.
Now, in this AP report I came across more interesting facts:
" What does appear clear, however, is that the case has created problems between Spanish and French intelligence services - normally adept at quietly working together on cross-border operations against the Basque militant group ETA.
Spain's El Pais newspaper reported last week that the Barcelona plot was uncovered thanks to a French secret agent identified as F-1, who arrived on a train from France to join the cell. His name has been kept secret, but the fact that a newspaper got the story has caused consternation in Paris and embarrassment in Madrid.
A French security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the intelligence, told The Associated Press that counterterrorism teams in France had expressed "astonishment" about the way Spanish authorities had handled the case.
The official would not comment on separate reports from Spain that the French were furious that the use of their agent appeared in Spanish media, and that authorities had decided to make him a "protected witness."
While that status kept F-1's name secret, it was the first revelation that an agent existed at all and effectively telegraphed his identity to the members of the alleged terrorist group who had thought he was one of them. "
Not only do France and Spain have Basque militants on both sides of their Durand Line now... But France having some HUMINT on a would-be-terrorist cell like that - that's pretty impressive. Spain outing such a HUMINT asset - very unimpressive. If there ain't something else to this that we don't know of.
A further excerpt - the really interesting part from F-1 personally:
"F-1 said the group was operating on orders from Baitullah Mehsud, the militant atop the newly formed Taliban Movement of Pakistan who is blamed for the Dec. 27 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto."
By the way, one Pakistani man who was detained but later released by Spanish authorities himself also referred to the suspected militants this way: "We have no interest in these Taliban." So it's not only the Tablighi Jamaat that is being mentioned now.
I'm more than a little angry that supposedly serious journalists don't feel a need to discuss where the "Pakistanis" involved in the plot came from, from within Pakistan. Sometimes the most relevant questions are the ones they don't ask at all. (Sorry if some exception of a proper news report went undetected by my radar.)
Anyway, having talked so much of the TTP here, to finish off, here are some news for you on Pakistan's recent peace initiative vis-à-vis the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. There are elections coming up on February 18 in Pakistan, too. And the truce, if it holds, from South Waziristan to the Swat valley, may be helpful for some calm for that. But still, one thinks immediately: so much for the TTP's decisive shift of focus from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and their supposed fallout over that with Mullah Omar, suggested in the past for instance by Syed Saleem Shahzad.
Updated (February 11): An excerpt from a paper on health-related aspects of an increasingly multicultural context in Barcelona, by Hugo Valenzuela García, with a lot of information on the Pakistani community:
"Among the newcomers, the Pakistani community presents some particularities. Their community has tripled in the last five years and they are mainly concentrated in Barcelona, particularly in one district (Ciutat Vella*). The community is Muslim, markedly masculine (95%) and young (60% are between 19 and 44 years old) with primary level of studies. Most of them come from Gujrat (Punjab) and were dedicated to agricultural activities.
Today there are around 24 thousand Pakistanis censed in Catalonia, and in Barcelona their community probably surpasses 15,000 by now, bearing in mind thatmany of them are settled without legal residency. Forty per cent have been in the cityfor less than a year, and 45% between 1 and 5 years. Although most of them are unskilled workers, their economic activities are one of the most versatile in terms of labour occupation (they work as salesmen, waiters, dishwashers, construction workers, taxi drivers or informal flower or refreshment sellers on the beach) and they run their own businesses of fast-food restaurants, hairdressing salons, electronic bazaars, video clubs, kiosks, real estate agencies or construction enterprises."
So, were the people recently arrested from Gujrat in Punjab? Were they Punjabis, or were they Pashtuns settled in Punjab? Or of some other ethnicity? OMG, even the anthropologist I cited above didn't bother to examine different communities of Pakistanis - he just looked to describe a monolithic Pakistani community as such.
Anyway, regarding Pashtun militants from Punjab, here's a relevant excerpt from an Asia Times article:
"I asked the obvious question: "Are you Punjabi?" The concern on their faces was immediately noticeable. "No! We belong to this land and like many Afghans we were settled in Punjab [in Pakistan] and therefore learnt Punjabi and forgot Pashtu, but now we are back in our land and have learnt our language again," one of the men explained.
This is perhaps somewhat romantic. Although such Punjabis might have romantic ties with Afghanistan, they actually come from Pakistani Punjab. Before the partition of British India in 1947, Punjab was seen as a loyal colony of the British and their recruits fought against the Afghans. After partition, Punjabis were seen as usurpers who divided the Pashtun tribes in the name of a new country called Pakistan. To many Afghans, Punjabis are opportunists and while they claim to be Muslims, their culture is a blend of Hinduism and Sikhism.
Sadiq is not a commander: he cannot be, because whatever he might say about his ethnicity, for Afghans he is a Punjabi. I watched as he spoke fluent Pashtu to his Afghan comrades, moving from one group to another with a permanent smile on his face. Clearly, he is the natural leader of the diaspora of Punjabi guerrillas now in Afghanistan.
Sadiq was in the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani jihadi group focused on the struggle to regain Indian-administered Kashmir. He was trained by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to conduct guerrilla operations all across India. He knows how to generate resources and lead sorties.
He joined the Taliban in late 2004 as an ordinary fighter, but because of his skills he quickly rose through the ranks. He became a trainer and honed his men's battle skills. And although he is not a commander, he is more respected and important than many of them. He is the mastermind of all guerrilla operational plans in Afghanistan's Kunar Valley."
As you see, a Punjabi Pashtun was, at the time this article came out, an operational commander of the Taliban in Kunar. Before that, he worked with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Which was kind of persuaded not to fight so much directly with India, together with the other groups active in Kashmir and in India, after that didn't suit Pakistan's interests any more (in the wake of 9/11, and especially the attack on the Indian parliament in December of that year).
It would make sense to find out where the arrested Pakistanis were from, especially if French James Bonds are saying they were under Baitullah Mehsud's command.
Update no. 2 (February 11 still): It's always a little worrying when, following something like that what happened in Barcelona, a whole community is looked at in a different way. To a degree that is inevitable, but very unfortunate. Such securitisation of a community's presence can then make some bad blood, especially if a raid of the January 19 kind nets some who later turn out to be innocent. And even if that doesn't happen, arresting a grandfather "with a score of grandchildren" is still always likely to make bad blood.
Anyway, I'm still most interested in finding out the exact origin of the alleged members of the alleged Barcelona terror cell. And two articles from recent days now show a stronger connection to the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The New York Times identifies F-1 as someone who came from the FATA:

"As the terrorism suspects congregated in the largely Pakistani neighborhood here over the past few months, they were joined by a young man who called himself Asim. He had come from the Pakistani borderlands where the leadership of Al Qaeda is said to have regrouped.


Asim had been sent to Spain to be a suicide bomber, but he also was an informant for French intelligence working in the no man’s land of Waziristan in Pakistan."

As to the rest of the group:
"According to the arrest warrant in the case, three suicide bombing suspects arrived in Spain within the last four months and the bomb making suspect had recently spent five months in Pakistan."
On what the Barcelona development may signify as a deviation from previous patterns:
"In late 2004, the police arrested 11 Pakistani men on suspicion of plotting to attack two landmark buildings in Barcelona, financing terrorism and drug trafficking, although only six were convicted, two for document forgery." (An excerpt fitted here from a later part of the article - P.M.)
"Two of four suicide bombers who attacked London’s transit system in July 2005 had trained at a camp in Pakistan. Four of the five British men convicted last April in a plot to blow up targets in London using fertilizer bombs were of Pakistani origin and some had trained at a makeshift terrorist camp there.
Last September, when the German authorities broke up what they suspected was a plot to bomb an American Air Force base and the Frankfurt airport, they said three of the suspects, two of them German citizens, had trained at terrorist camps in Pakistan.
Officials say the Barcelona case points to a more serious dynamic: Pakistanis with no apparent previous links to Europe who appear to have been sent there on a terrorist mission." (Highlighting by me - P.M.)
Some of those have by the way eluded arrest so far.
Else. On January 17, back before the raid, the following happened:
"French and Spanish agents, working together, spotted two suspects tossing a plastic bag into the garbage. Inside, the agents found wires, broken timing devices, latex gloves, wire cutters, computer connectors, lead ball bearings, tubes for firework rocket propellers and small traces of a black powder containing potassium perchlorate, an explosives component commonly found in fireworks." (Highlighting by me - P.M.)
You remember what I wrote of ball bearings not so long ago in this blog, don't you?
Then here's F-1's testimony regarding the plans the terror cell would have had to execute:
"He told Spanish interrogators that the first bombing in Barcelona would be followed by demands from Al Qaeda through Baitullah Mehsud, a powerful militant commander in the South Waziristan tribal area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. If the demands were not met, there would be a second strike and then a third in Barcelona, followed by attacks elsewhere in Europe."
F-1 has an important role to play now in this affair, since he is needed as a protected witness, for there apparently isn't enough hard evidence against the alleged plotters. Nevertheless what he is reported to be saying does make more sense than the simplistic assumption of Baitullah Mehsud playing the central role in the case. Rather, I see it more likely that the global militant network, a local ally of which is Baitullah Mehsud, would have set this up so as to paint Mehsud as someone behind the attack - to give more effect to threats it would have been his role to voice. His voicing such threats would have functioned to give the "now the Taliban are coming after us because we helped the Americans too much" sort of thinking, likely to emerge in the wake of a successful attack and associated threats, more credibility. (Nevertheless the global militant network in question does show some signs of increasingly relying on Pakistanis, especially Pakistanis outside Britain, with Britain's increased alertness these days, and with Britain's generally better intel on Pakistani sources.)
Finally, I'll quote here the Los Angeles Times for some numbers - the number of people now looked at as "the Pakistani community," in France and in Spain, regardless of how much they actually are a "community" as such.
"In France, the Pakistani population has doubled in a decade and is now between 50,000 and 60,000, French officials say. The fast-growing community in Spain numbers about 60,000."
So, we're closer now, but we're still not there. Apparently the important feature of the story about Pakistanis is still that they came all the way from the country called Pakistan, and now live, instead of the country called Pakistan, in the town of Barcelona and some other places in Spain and France (beside Britain). Which is a frustrating aspect of the discourse, quite relevant from a post-colonialist perspective, revealing much (specifically post-colonial type) state-centricity. But let's hope someone, in the position to directly ask questions, does pose those in the near future.
* Ciutat Vella is where the Raval neighbourhood is.

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