Monday, May 26, 2008

Why Baitullah Mehsud Matters

The man that some believe responsible for the killing of Benazir Bhutto is the primary link between Pakistan and the Taliban. A recent deal between Pakistan and the militants may allow Mehsud to consolidate his power:

Daniel Markey, a former State Department specialist on South Asian issues, sat down with the Council on Foreign Relations to speak about the rise of the "Mehsud" tribes and their leader.

...the Pakistani army has really moved into the area in force and enforced an economic blockade against Mehsud tribes before starting negotiations. It has inflicted various punishments on some of the tribal villages to demonstrate that the army, in fact, has the upper hand. That's one difference. The other difference that I was told about on my trip is that this time the Pakistani government claims to be negotiating, not with the Taliban directly, but with tribal leaders. This is a potentially significant difference because the army—or the Pakistani government—claims that by negotiating with tribal leaders, not militants, they can hold these tribal leaders accountable for enforcing the agreement and make them, the tribal leaders, crack down on the militants who are among them.

So who is Baitullah Mehsud and why should we care about him?

He is viewed as a menace to internal security in Pakistan and is also probably connected to broader terrorist and militant activities in the region and possibly beyond that. Now on the other hand, he comes from the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. He is not a traditional leader of the Mehsud tribe. He is a self-appointed leader of a group called the “Pakistani Taliban.” There are other leaders, people who have gained leadership either through hereditary titles or because they are popular representatives of the wider tribe, who would be normal negotiating partners with the Pakistani army under these conditions. Those are the leaders whom the Pakistani government claims to be working with to hammer out a deal. Those are the leaders who would be held responsible for making sure people like Baitullah Mehsud and his associates are kept in line if a deal is worked out.

Now the relationship between those more legitimate tribal leaders and militants like Baitullah Mehsud is not entirely clear. By many accounts, at this stage of the game Baitullah Mehsud and the other militants actually have more power than the tribal leaders and are really calling the shots, in which case this may not be a serious distinction that the Pakistani government may be making. That's one reason why the United States and others need to be concerned about this deal.

Markey breaks down why it is important to know who Mehsud is and why he may either be yet another distant cousin of a wannabe terrorists or someone who may one day be a more deadly threat to the West than Osama bin Laden:

I think there are three broad categories that the United States needs to be worried about in Pakistan's tribal areas. The first would be that of Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant of the Pakistan Taliban. The second would be the Afghan Taliban, sort of symbolized by Mullah Omar, the former leaders of Afghanistan prior to September 11 who fled to Pakistan. The third would be al-Qaeda and other foreign, international terrorists. Now the connections between all of these as well as many other types of militant organizations in the area are often very, very difficult to discern.

It would appear, given Baitullah Mehsud's own rhetoric, and he's talked about the need to destroy New York, to destroy London, to destroy Washington, that he is definitely, at least rhetorically, on a similar page as al-Qaeda. He has claimed to have had contact with al-Qaeda leaders, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former al-Qaeda leader who was killed in Iraq. Also his wide use of suicide bombing as a tactic is something that didn't really happen much in Pakistan much beforehand. So it’s a relatively new thing and it's obviously very consistent with the wider al-Qaeda strategy. So he may be connected to that as well. Whether he is actually involved in helping to harbor senior al-Qaeda leaders or has regular connections with them, is at this point impossible to say.

What's especially troubling is that, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Bush Administration lacks a cohesive plan for dealing with the likes of Mehsud. In a report entitled "The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas" from April of this year, the Mehsud tribes and Baitullah Mehsud are not even identified by name. But the most troubling aspect of the report is this:

The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA region. Since 2002, the United States has relied principally on the Pakistani military to address its national security goals. There have been limited efforts, however, to address other underlying causes of terrorism in the FATA by providing development assistance or by addressing the FATA’s political needs. Of the over $10.5 billion that the United States has provided to Pakistan from 2002 through 2007, we identified about $5.8 billion specifically for Pakistan’s FATA and border region; about 96 percent of this funding reimbursed Pakistan for military operations in the FATA and the border region. According to Defense and State Department officials, Pakistan deployed up to 120,000 military and paramilitary forces in the FATA and killed and captured hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives. In October 2007, State reported that it had determined that Pakistan was making “significant” progress toward eliminating the safe haven in the FATA. However, we found broad agreement, as documented in the unclassified 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), State and embassy documents, as well as among Defense, State, and other officials, including those operating in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA.

No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed, as stipulated by the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, recommended by the independent 9/11 Commission, and mandated by congressional legislation. Since 2003, the administration’s national security strategies and Congress have recognized that a comprehensive plan that includes all elements of national power—diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support—was needed to address the terrorist threat emanating from the FATA. Furthermore, in 2004, a provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (Intelligence Reform Act) established the NCTC to develop comprehensive plans to combat terrorism that included clear objectives, the assignment of tasks among executive branch departments, and interagency coordination. We have previously reported on the need for these and other elements to enhance interagency cooperation and improve effectiveness. The NCTC also was tasked with monitoring each department’s efforts. However, neither the NCTC, the NSC, nor the other executive branch departments have developed a comprehensive plan that integrates the capabilities of the executive agencies and the intelligence community. As a result, since 2002, the embassy has had no Washington-supported, comprehensive plan to combat terrorists and close the terrorist safe haven in the FATA. In 2006, the U.S. government, in conjunction with the government of Pakistan, began an effort to focus more attention on other key elements of national power, such as development and public diplomacy, to address U.S. goals in the FATA. In support of this effort, Defense, State, and USAID began to develop department-specific plans and hold interagency meetings to address security and development issues in the FATA.

The GAO went on to call for the Bush Administration to:

We recommend that the National Security Advisor and the Director of the NCTC, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and State, and the Administrator of USAID, the intelligence community, and other executive departments as deemed appropriate, implement the congressional mandate to develop a comprehensive plan using all elements of national power to combat the terrorist threat and close their safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA region.

The comprehensive plan should also include key components called for in the Intelligence Reform Act, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, and components that we have previously reported as being needed to improve the effectiveness of plans involving multidepartmental efforts to combat terrorism.17 The plan should (1) place someone directly in charge of this multidepartment effort to improve accountability; (2) articulate a clear strategy to implement the national security goal to destroy terrorists and close the safe haven in the FATA; (3) clarify roles and responsibilities of each department for implementing the goal; (4) provide guidance on setting funding priorities and providing resources to meet these national security goals; and (5) require a monitoring system and provide periodic reports to Congress on the progress and impediments to meeting national security goals in Pakistan.

So there is no question--Congressional oversight means nothing. Despite the best efforts of the Congress to try to do something, anything to get the Bush Administration to actually fight terrorism, they drag their feet and do nothing. Not surprisingly,

State and ODNI did not comment on our recommendation, while Defense and USAID concurred with our recommendation. In general, they all commented on their individual planning efforts and interagency meetings to coordinate these efforts that began in 2006. This, however, was not the focus of our review; our report assessed whether a comprehensive plan had been developed that incorporated all elements of national power. We plan to conduct a detailed assessment of the individual agency efforts from 2002 to the present as part of our broader engagement efforts and look forward to working closely with ODNI, Defense, State, USAID, and other agencies in assessing their plans and efforts to meet national security goals in Pakistan.

State’s comments assert that embassy and U.S. government efforts to date have resulted in a comprehensive strategy. We disagree and note in our report that, while the initiatives begun by Defense, State, and USAID are being coordinated by the embassy, they have not been fully approved or integrated into a formal, comprehensive plan. While we acknowledge that this effort is a step in the right direction toward implementing the 2003 national security strategy, the recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, and Congress, it is unclear whether the new approach will include all of the key elements of national power, such as intelligence, economic, and law enforcement support.

ODNI’s comments stated that they agreed with our finding that the United States had not met its national security goals in Pakistan’s FATA and that countering the growth of terrorist safe havens requires all elements of national power. They disagreed, however, that the United States lacks plans to combat terrorism in the area.

Your Bush administration at work. While actual terrorists are busy working out the details, they're paralyzed by the Iraq War and they're more concerned with glossy pictures in the entryway, a phony legacy that has already dissipated into nothing, and anything but actually stopping them.

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