Monday, August 23, 2010

First Public Statement From Aafia's Son on His Disappearance and Detention


JFAC today circulate a sensational statement from Ahmed Siddiqui, the eldest son of Aafia Siddiqui, which he made to an intelligence officer after he was released from US custody in 2008. In it, he discloses for the first time the details of their abduction in 2003 and some information about his detention in the five years in which he was missing. The statement is extracted from a document provided to British journalist, Yvonne Ridley.

Ahmed states:
"I do not remember the date but it seems a long time ago i remember we were going to Islamabad in a car when we were stopped by different cars and high roof ones. My mother was screaming and I was screaming as they took me away, I looked around and saw my baby brother on the ground and there was blood. My mother was crying and screaming. Then they put something on my face. I smelt and don't remember anything.

I woke up I was in a room. There were American soldiers in uniform and plain clothes people. They kept me in different places. If I cried or didn't listen, they beat me and tied me and chained me. There were English speaking, Pashto and Urdu speaking. I had no courage to ask who they were. At times, for a long time, I was alone in a small room. Then I was taken to some childrens prison where there were lots of other children.

The American Consular, who came to me in Kabul jail, said, 'Your name is Ahmed. You are American. Your mother's name is Aafia Siddiqui and your younger brother is dead. After that they took me away from the kids' prison and I met the Pakistani consular, and I talked to my aunt (Fowzia Siddiqui)".

US-led raid kills 6 Afghan civilians

A NATO raid in Afghanistan's northern Konduz province has left six civilians dead and 11 more injured, a Press TV correspondent reports.

Provincial officials said the fatalities of the Monday raid include a woman and a child. They further added that US-led forces took four other civilians with themselves.

The Western military alliance is already under fire over the rising civilian death toll in the war-torn Afghanistan.

According to the United Nations, more than 1,200 Afghan civilians were killed during the first half of 2010.

Iran 3rd biggest donor to Pakistan

The recent floods in Pakistan have left 4.6 million people without shelter and affected about 20 million, while the population is imperiled by cholera outbreak. Iran is one of the three countries to send the highest amount of relief aid to the flood-inundated Pakistan, Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar says.

So far, Iran has sent more than 200 tons in aid for the flood-ravaged people of Pakistan, Mohammad Najjar said at a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malek on Monday.

The relief aid includes food, medicine, blankets, tents, and other necessary items delivered to the Pakistani officials, the Interior Ministry's official website reported.

"From the very first days of the recent devastating floods in Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran rushed to help the people of that country and dispatched its aids to Pakistan through its governmental and non-governmental agencies," Mohammad Najjar added.

At least 1,500 people have so far been killed in the floods which have washed through a fifth of Pakistan. The floods have affected up to 20 million others to become the country's worst-ever natural disaster.

The minister said he plans to visit the flood-stricken areas as the head of an Iranian delegation.

Pakistanis Tell of Motive in Taliban Leader's Arrest

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - When American and Pakistani agents captured Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's operational commander, in the chaotic port city of Karachi last January, both countries hailed the arrest as a breakthrough in their often difficult partnership in fighting terrorism.

But the arrest of Mr. Baradar, the second-ranking Taliban leader after Mullah Muhammad Omar, came with a beguiling twist: both American and Pakistani officials claimed that Mr. Baradar's capture had been a lucky break. It was only days later, the officials said, that they finally figured out who they had.

Now, seven months later, Pakistani officials are telling a very different story. They say they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban's longtime backer.

In the weeks after Mr. Baradar's capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.

The events surrounding Mr. Baradar's arrest have been the subject of debate inside military and intelligence circles for months. Some details are still murky - and others vigorously denied by some American intelligence officials in Washington. But the account offered in Islamabad highlights Pakistan's policy in Afghanistan: retaining decisive influence over the Taliban, thwarting archenemy India, and putting Pakistan in a position to shape Afghanistan's postwar political order.

"We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us," said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. "We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians."

Some American officials still insist that Pakistan-American cooperation is improving, and deny a central Pakistani role in Mr. Baradar's arrest. They say the Pakistanis may now be trying to rewrite history to make themselves appear more influential.

"These are self-serving fairy tales," an American official said. "The people involved in the operation on the ground didn't know exactly who would be there when they themselves arrived. But it certainly became clear, to Pakistanis and Americans alike, who we'd gotten."

Other American officials suspect the C.I.A. may have been unwittingly used by the Pakistanis for the larger aims of slowing the pace of any peace talks.

At a minimum, the arrest of Mr. Baradar offers a glimpse of the multilayered challenges the United States faces as it tries to prevail in Afghanistan. It is battling a resilient insurgency, supporting a weak central government and trying to manage Pakistan's leaders, who simultaneously support the Taliban and accept billions in American aid.

A senior NATO officer in Kabul said that in arresting Mr. Baradar and the other Taliban leaders, the Pakistanis may have been trying to buy time to see if President Obama's strategy begins to prevail. If it does, the Pakistanis may eventually decide to let the Taliban make a deal. But if the Americans fail - and if they begin to pull out - then the Pakistanis may decide to retain the Taliban as their allies.

"We have been played before," a senior NATO official said. "That the Pakistanis picked up Baradar to control the tempo of the negotiations is absolutely plausible."

As for Mr. Baradar, he is now living comfortably in a safe house of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Pakistani official said. "He's relaxing," the official said.

Many of the other Taliban leaders, after receiving lectures against freelancing peace deals, have been released to fight again.

Exactly why the Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, became so alarmed at the Afghan peace talks is unclear. Inretrospect, paranoia seems to have figured as much as national self-interest.

A senior Afghan official said that beginning late last year, his government had reached out to a number of Taliban leaders to explore the prospect of a deal. Among them were Mr. Baradar and another Taliban leader named Tayyib Agha. The Afghan official declined to say who met the Taliban leaders, but reports of such meetings have since surfaced. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president's brother, reportedly met Mr. Baradar in January, according to a former Afghan official and a former NATO official. Mr. Karzai's brother denies it.

In another overture, Engineer Ibrahim, then the deputy chief of the Afghan intelligence service, met with a group of Taliban leaders in Dubai, according to a prominent Afghan with knowledge of the meeting. Mr. Ibrahim, now with the National Security Council, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

A Pakistani spiritual leader close to the Taliban leadership said that, earlier this year, he had received a message through an intermediary that Mr. Karzai wanted to talk peace. "We rejected it," he said.

The discussions with Mr. Baradar and the other Taliban were in their early phases, but they seemed promising, the Afghan official said. Their aim was to establish conditions under which formal talks could begin.

"It was the beginning of a negotiation, so both sides staked out extreme positions," the Afghan official said. "But we sensed a readiness for peace."

When Pakistani intelligence officials learned of the overtures, they became unnerved by what they saw as an attempt by the Afghans to strike a peace deal without them. In particular, the ISI suspected the Americans were orchestrating the talks.

In January, days before Mr. Baradar's capture, a senior ISI official told The New York Times that his agency was hunting the Taliban leader because he was in contact with the Americans. The ISI official accused the Americans of disregarding Pakistan's legitimate security interests.

"We are after Mullah Baradar," the senior ISI official said. "We strongly believe the Americans are in touch with him."

A second ISI official confirmed that the Pakistanis had decided to go after Mr. Baradar to shut down what they feared were blossoming peace talks.

"This is a national secret," he said. "The Americans and the British were going behind our backs, and we couldn't allow that." American and British officials denied they were directly involved in talks with the Taliban.

Once the decision was made to detain Mr. Baradar, the Taliban leader was tracked to Karachi, a sprawling, violent city of nearly 20 million people. There, the Pakistani official said, ISI agents waited for him to activate his cellphone. After several days, the alarm went off, and the agency narrowed Mr. Baradar's whereabouts to a densely populated area of about two square miles.

That was as far as the intelligence agency's technology would go, the Pakistani official said. To pinpoint Mr. Baradar's location, ISI agents turned to the C.I.A.

Since 2001, the C.I.A. and the ISI have maintained an uneasy relationship. They have cooperated on hundreds of operations and detained dozens of militants, but they have clashed over the ISI's support for the Taliban.

Within minutes of Mr. Baradar's cellphone activation, the C.I.A. sent two unarmed American technicians to join the Pakistani intelligence agency's team, the Pakistani official said.

Activating a portable tracking device, the C.I.A. team quickly led the ISI to Mr. Baradar's home. Only four hours after his cellphone went on, Mr. Baradar was in Pakistani custody, the Pakistani official said. According to the Pakistani official, the ISI did not inform the Americans of the identity of the target.

American officials disputed this account, saying the intelligence indicated that the target was related to Mr. Baradar. But they conceded that they did not know the identity of Mr. Baradar until after the arrest.

The Pakistanis refused to allow the C.I.A. to interrogate Mr. Baradar or even to be present when they spoke. Another Pakistani official said Mr. Baradar was taken to a safe house in Islamabad, where he was debriefed. It was only several days later that the C.I.A. learned of his identity and were allowed to question him.

The Pakistani official even joked about the C.I.A.'s naïveté. "They are so innocent," he said.

Some American officials insist that while the C.I.A. may not have known whom the Pakistanis were capturing, the Pakistanis did not know either. They speculated that once the Pakistanis had Mr. Baradar, they may have decided to hold him to scuttle the peace talks. It was then, some American officials say, that the Pakistanis may have decided to detain the other Taliban leaders.

"We are not convinced that that was why Baradar was picked up," an American official in the region said, referring to the Afghan talks. "But maybe that was why he was held."

Yet other American officials said the Pakistani version seemed more credible than the C.I.A.'s. "Baradar is too high-profile for them not to have known who it was," the senior NATO official said.

Within days of Mr. Baradar's arrest, Pakistani agents picked up as many as 22 other Taliban leaders across Pakistan, according to an official with the United Nations in Kabul. The detentions included some of the most senior Taliban commanders, including Mullah Qayoom Zakir, Abdul Kabeer and Abdul Rauf Khadem.

"We know where the shadow government is," the Pakistani security official said.

The official said the detained Taliban leaders were warned against carrying out future negotiations without their permission. A former Western diplomat, with long experience in the region, confirmed that the ISI sent a warning to its Taliban protégés.

"The message from the ISI was: no flirting," he said.

Afghans close to the Taliban said the arrests of Mr. Baradar and the others illustrated the strained relationship between the Taliban and their benefactors in Pakistani intelligence. The ISI may protect the Taliban's leaders, they said, but they also limit their freedom. "When we try to act on our own, they stop us," the Pakistani spiritual leader said.

Since then, many of the Taliban leaders who were detained have been set free, officials said. Principal among them is Mr. Zakir, a Taliban commander who was released from the American prison at Guantánamo Bay in 2006.

Mr. Zakir, who took over for Mr. Baradar, is regarded as more brutal than his predecessor, unconcerned about civilian casualties - and less inclined to do a deal with the Karzai government.

Pir Zubair Shah and Souad Mekhennet contributed reporting from Islamabad, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.

Al-Qaida in Yemen: Poverty, corruption and an army of jihadis willing to fight

Dubbed an 'urgent security priority' by the US, Yemen has become a regional hub for al-Qaida. In the first of two special reports, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad meets the group's new fighters

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Jaar
The market at Jaar, a small city in Abyan province in southern Yemen, is on a filthy, dusty road strewn with garbage, plastic bottles, cans and rotten food. Plastic bags fly on the hot wind and feral dogs sniff around the vegetable stalls. Minibuses and donkey carts jostle for space on the crowded street.

Standing in the middle of the chaos is one of the jihadi gunmen for whom the town has become famous. Thin, short, with a well-groomed beard and shoulder-length hair, he is dressed in the Afghan style: shalwar kameez, camouflage vest and an old Kalashnikov. He is either a bandit imposing a protection racket on the merchants or a rebel protecting them from the corrupt regime - and most probably a bit of both.

He waves cheerfully to the people passing by, but few give him a second glance. The jihadis - like the chaos and the filth - are an established part of the landscape of south Yemen. They attend state-run mosques and Quranic learning centres and help fill the ranks of the country's security forces.

Recently, their influence has grown more threatening. In the past two years al-Qaida has established a local franchise in Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has claimed responsibility for audacious attacks - including the attempt to assassinate the British ambassador to the capital, Sana'a, earlier this year.

In Yemen, recruits can study ideology and take guidance from militant leaders, including the Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been described as "terrorist number one" by the Democrat chairman of the House homeland security sub-committee, Jane Harman. Awlaki is believed to have given guidance to the so-called underwear bombing suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and to Major Nidal Hasan, accused of murdering colleagues in shootings at Fort Hood.

With its conservative Islam, ragged mountains, unruly tribes and problems of illiteracy, unemployment and extreme poverty, Yemen has been dubbed the new Afghanistan by security experts.

The Guardian spent two months in the country, travelling to the tribal regions of Abyan and Shabwa, where al-Qaida has set up shop and where suspected US drone attacks have killed scores of civilians and few insurgents. Speaking to jihadis, security officials and tribesmen, it became clear how a combination of government alliances, bribes, broken promises and bungled crackdowns has allowed Islamists to flourish and led to the emergence of the country as a regional hub for al-Qaida.

You don't have to go deep into the mountains to hear the jihadi message. One Friday, sitting on the roof of a hotel in Sana'a, I hear the amplified prayers of a preacher ring out at the end of his sermon: "God condemn the Jews and the Christians ... God make their wives and children our slaves ... God defeat them and make the believers victorious."

Ahmad al-Daghasha, a Yemeni writer who specialises in Islamic and jihadi issues, says two factors are responsible for the growing influence of al-Qaida. "First there is the local situation, which is miserable, politically and economically," he says. "That situation is translated into many forms of resistance - the jihadis and al-Qaida are only one. Then there is the foreign oppression that we all see on television - whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine - that gives al-Qaida's rhetoric legitimacy."

In the south, government control is slipping away fast. Bandits, lawless tribes, secessionists and jihadis are all fighting the regime. Though they have few ideological connections, the groups are all contributing to one thing: a failing state where extremism can flourish.

On my first day in Jaar I toured the town with the deputy governor of Abyan province. We left the market and drove to a neighbourhood built by the Yemeni socialists in the 70s to house east European agriculturalists. The small wooden prefabs are being rebuilt with cinder blocks, as if huge grey tumours were sprouting everywhere.

At the entrance to the neighbourhood, two gunmen stood guard and graffiti sprayed on the walls declared allegiance to al-Qaida. "None of those men have been to Afghanistan, you know, but it's the look that they want to acquire," said the deputy governor.

Until last year, Jaar had been in the hands of the jihadis. The government claimed to have taken it back in an army offensive led by the minister of defence, but the neighbourhood was still out of bounds for the security forces. "Government officials cannot come here," the deputy governor said. "But I can come because I have been negotiating on behalf of the government with them for a few years now."

The rise of al-Qaida in Jaar has been a gradual process of radicalisation as generations of volunteer fighters have returned from conflicts abroad: the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s, as well as the Nato-led war against the Taliban and the war in Iraq in 2003. Veterans of these conflicts, as well as jihadis who have never fought abroad, are in the streets of Jaar fighting for influence. In the 1970s and 1980s, Jaar had been predominantly a socialist town. But when the regime in Sana'a fought the socialists in a short civil war in 1994, the Islamists fought alongside them. When the socialists were defeated, the Islamists were encouraged to take control of the area. Quranic centres, the Yemeni equivalent of madrassas, were established with government support.

Over the next 10 years, the town became a base for the Islamists: they had jobs and they received their salaries from the government and money that poured in from Saudi Arabia, in support of the Quranic centres.

I spoke to Faisal - a thin skeleton with a thick moustache balanced awkwardly on his small head - on the floor of his Spartna living room. A former Socialist party member and head of the Young Artist Association in the Abyan, he watched the Islamisation of Jaar happen.

"The socialists were defeated on 7 July 1994," he said. "On July 8 a group of Islamists came and picked me up, blindfolded me and took me to the HQ of political security. I was handcuffed and beaten there. They wanted to know if I was a communist and their commander declared I was one. Then they tied my arms to a tree and hung me there and started beating me up with a stick.

"Things started changing after that," he said. "The Islamists were given jobs, they became headmasters and officers." They closed the cinema and converted it into a mosque. Art disappeared and gradually women started wearing the full black niqab. "Last year they killed 10 men and threw their bodies in the streets, saying they were homosexuals," he said.

One of the leaders of change in the city during this time was Khaled Abdul Nabi. I met him in his madrassa-like compound. Young men doubling as students and bodyguards lurked in the alleyway in front of his house and at the bottom of his stairwell.

Khaled sat on the floor, pulling at his beard. From floor to ceiling behind him stretched bookshelves filled with thick, leatherbound books on jurisprudence and theology. A pistol was placed neatly in front of him.

In 1994, he said, they had been given promises by President Ali Abdullah Saleh that he would implement sharia law and form an Islamic state, so they had formed special units, operating under army leadership, to fight for him. "We formed a small unit with other brothers and stormed into the prison in Jaar and the police station and liberated the town before the arrival of the army. But none of the president's promises came true. He lied to us and we believed him, probably because we were naive at that time."

Nevertheless, after the war, the Islamisation of Jaar began. "Islamic preaching spread in this place in an extraordinary way. Mosques and sharia teaching centers were being built, we had lots of support and of course there was also the reaction to what was happening in the Islamic world, people became more committed to religion so they could fight the crusaders."

Abdul Nabi went on to form the Abyan-Aden Islamic Army in 1998, one of the first jihad-inspired groups operating in Yemen. It is accused of being behind several violent acts, including bombings and assassinations of security officers, as well as the kidnapping of 16 foreign tourists in 1998, which led to the deaths of four hostages.

In August 2008, Yemeni security forces killed five of Abdul Nabi's men in Abyan province and claimed they had arrested 28 al-Qaida supporters, including Abdul Nabi, himself.

After meeting Saleh, Abdul Nabi allegedly agreed to support the president in his fights against the Shia rebels in the north and separatists in the south and last year he was released in a general amnesty with about 175 Islamic militants, many of them his own men. He returned to Abyan to rebuild his organization, which is now affiliated to al-Qaida, and called for the formation of an Islamic state in southern Yemen.

"I agree with George Bush in one thing," he said, pulling at his beard. "He gave us a really accurate wisdom: you are either with us or against us, you are either with Islam or with the crusaders. I tell the Muslim clerics in the whole world you are either with the flag of the mujahideen and God is great or you are with the flag of the cross ... there is no other option."

One of the problems he faced now, he said, was with younger generations of jihadis. When jihadi leaders try to moderate their positions, the young followers will often splinter and form more radical groups, so each generation is more radical than the next.

"The shebab [young Islamists] are part of the Islamic situation in Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and Iraq and jihad is a religious duty, like fasting. But the problem is that most of them, yes they are true jihadis with good intention, they lack the knowledge."

The next generation
I was sitting with Faisal in his home in Jaar when the message came through that a young commander, Jamal, who is attached to al-Qaida in Yemen had agreed to see me.

A thin teenager was sent to lead the way. We followed him through dirt alleyways between rows of small houses of concrete cinder blocks. Plastic bottles and shards of glass crunched under our feet. A window flickered with silver light from a television and two dogs chased one another to a corner and then fought viciously.

In the darkness the town appeared even more desolate and wretched.

We entered one of the concrete shacks, which was lit by a small red bulb. There were two rooms, one by the entrance that doubled as a kitchen and a bathroom, and one that was furnished as a bedroom with brand new furniture. We sat on the linoleum-covered floor.

Jamal was in his mid 20s, with a round face, long curly hair and a pair of thin glasses that gave him the look of an art student. "Who am I?" he asked, repeating my question. "I am a mujahid. Young men dream and have ambitions in life and my ambition is to die fighting for God."

Jihad had become his life, he said. He was fighting against what enraged God ... "the drunks, the apostates and the people who stop following the religion of God."

Jamal, a jihadi fighter for six years, had been to prison a couple of times and released each time the president issued a pardon. Now he was a fugitive again. "The director of security accused us of planting an explosive device in front of his house."

How had a young man living in a poor, obscure small town in the south of a poor nation, who had not travelled further than its capital city, become a threat not only to the government of Yemen, but to the world in general.

"There are too many Arabic tragedies, in Iraq, in Chechnya, in Afghanistan and in Palestine, that makes us want to fight in the way of God," he said.

"Look this is how we started. [In 2003], after the outbreak of the Iraq war, Jaar became a big training ground for the Saudis going to Iraq. Unlike the Yemenis, the Saudis had no experience in fighting. They were very religious and had lots of money, but they didn't know how to shoot. We started training them - you know we Yemenis are taught to shoot when we are children - and then a whole ring was organized to send them to Iraq via Syria."

Saleh's government knew about the jihadi training camps, he said, and had no quibble with them as long as they didn't fight in Yemen. "Saleh told us go to Iraq but not to come back and create problems for him here."

In the winter of 2005-2006, the world began to take note of the flow of jihadis heading to Iraq and the Americans started to put pressure on Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia to stem the flow of militants. "The government exposed the ring," Jamal said. "They started arresting people when they reached the border. We started clashing with the government and we killed some of their security forces."

In 2006 he was arrested, which led to the first of several meetings with Saleh. Saleh agreed to release the prisoners in return for their promise of inactivity. Three days later Jamal was back on the streets, but trust between him and the regime did not last long.

"They put a lot of pressure on us," he said. "I was monitored. You leave your house and there is a government spy. You come back and there are two. So we changed our procedures." When the government arrested some of the jihadis, fighting broke out again. "We fought with them again. We fought the government until all of our brothers were released."

A cycle of arrests, fighting and deal making ensued, escalating the strength and anger of the jihadis. Sometimes they would be promised compensation by the president, but when they went back to Sana'a to collect the money they would be sent from one government department to the other. Weeks would pass, and so the clashes would erupt again. "Before our last meeting with the president in 2009, Jaar fell under our control. By that time, our brothers stopped going to Iraq. They said if we are not arrested on the way and we reach Iraq, either the Americans will arrest us or we would be tortured by the shia [Iraqi government]. Why not stay and fight here.

"We entered Jaar, and the town fell in our hands. We were more than 40, the police and army left, and we called Allahu Akbar, and planted mines and explosive devices in the streets, and for the first time we went back to our homes and we slept in our beds, we were no longer fugitives, we took over the security of Jaar and we imposed sharia."

A small mouse darted across the floor between our legs. It hit one of the legs and scurried under the bed.

Even this young commander had trouble with the generation of radicals coming after him.

"We were betrayed by the people of Jaar," he said. "When we used to hide in the mountains some kids from the town used to come and bring us food and clothes. We trained those kids how to use a weapon, how to wire explosive devices, how to build electrical circuits. They were young kids. We trained them how to attack, how to hide behind a wall."

He clutched an imaginary gun and manoeuvred while he was sitting cross-legged on the floor. "Those young kids started looting and beating up people. They destroyed the town."

His voice became a mixture of blame and regret. "Because of the young, we failed in ruling the town and we had to leave and head back to the mountains."

Even for Jamal, who represents the post-Iraq war generation, there is another generation after him who don't know which government property to loot and which to leave alone, a generation he thinks is unruly.

I asked Jamal if he considered himself part of al-Qaida's organisation in Yemen. "We are all connected, all the jihadis are connected," he opened his arms and pointed at the three of us sitting on the floor. "One of us is Qaida," and he pointed at himself, "the other is protecting him," and he pointed at me, "and the other is providing logistics." And he pointed at the teenager who had brought me there.

"The two," he pointed at us, "would only know the Qaida person they are in contact with, and that Qaida person [he pointed at himself] would be the only one in that group to know the leadership."

What al-Qaida gave him, he said, was organisation. "Before Wahaishy [the head of AQAP] and Rimi [the commander of its military wing] arrived here we were chaotic, we would fight the government whenever we wanted. Now we only move when we are given orders."

As we walked back through empty dark streets I asked the teenage boy leading me how the young looked at people like Jamal.

"He is like a hero for us all, we want to be like him." Why? "Because he stands for his people. He won't let the government do whatever they like."

When I met the deputy governor again, I asked him about the meetings the jihadis had with the president and the promised money. He said: "The authority wants to contain those men. They block roads and attack military checkpoints and collect fees from shop owners. Because this is not a state of law, this a state of buying people, they treated the jihadis and al-Qaida in the same way they treated the tribes, they paid them money to lie low."

"You have to understand that the military campaign will cost money, money for soldiers, for vehicles, then money in prison, money for a court case, so the state says why should we pay three million to fight them when we can pay them one million for things to calm down and avoid their evil. But the jihadis take the money, buy weapons and become stronger, and now the state regrets that policy and it is changing."

To an extent, he said, they had been trying to buy a truce. But it had been mismanaged.

At Faisal's house, I asked him what he thought of the government's attempt to crack down on al-Qaida.

"Don't believe the government when they say we are fighting the jihadis," he said. "The government gives them money, the government negotiates with them, the government uses them to fight its enemies, and then they tell the Americans give us money so we can fight al-Qaida."

He closed his eyes and sighed. "It's a comedy," he said.

'Ground Zero mosque'? The reality is less provocative

Millions of Americans are furious about the 'Ground Zero mosque'. But it doesn't exist

Charlie Brooker
Things seem awfully heated in America right now; so heated you could probably toast a marshmallow by jabbing it on a stick and holding it toward the Atlantic. Millions are hopping mad over the news that a bunch of triumphalist Muslim extremists are about to build a "victory mosque" slap bang in the middle of Ground Zero.

The planned "ultra-mosque" will be a staggering 5,600ft tall - more than five times higher than the tallest building on Earth - and will be capped with an immense dome of highly-polished solid gold, carefully positioned to bounce sunlight directly toward the pavement, where it will blind pedestrians and fry small dogs. The main structure will be delimited by 600 minarets, each shaped like an upraised middle finger, and housing a powerful amplifier: when synchronised, their combined sonic might will be capable of relaying the muezzin's call to prayer at such deafening volume, it will be clearly audible in the Afghan mountains, where thousands of terrorists are poised to celebrate by running around with scarves over their faces, firing AK-47s into the sky and yelling whatever the foreign word for "victory" is.

I'm exaggerating. But I'm only exaggerating a tad more than some of the professional exaggerators who initially raised objections to the "Ground Zero mosque". They keep calling it the "Ground Zero mosque", incidentally, because it's a catchy title that paints a powerful image - specifically, the image of a mosque at Ground Zero.

When I heard about it - in passing, in a soundbite - I figured it was a US example of the sort of inanely confrontational fantasy scheme Anjem Choudary might issue a press release about if he fancied winding up the tabloids for the 900th time this year. I was wrong. The "Ground Zero mosque" is a genuine proposal, but it's slightly less provocative than its critics' nickname makes it sound. For one thing, it's not at Ground Zero. Also, it isn't a mosque.

Wait, it gets duller. It's not being built by extremists either. Cordoba House, as it's known, is a proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, and swimming pool. Its aim is to improve inter-faith relations. It'll probably also have comfy chairs and people who smile at you when you walk in, the monsters.

To get to the Cordoba Centre from Ground Zero, you'd have to walk in the opposite direction for two blocks, before turning a corner and walking a bit more. The journey should take roughly two minutes, or possibly slightly longer if you're heading an angry mob who can't hear your directions over the sound of their own enraged bellowing.

Perhaps spatial reality functions differently on the other side of the Atlantic, but here in London, something that is "two minutes' walk and round a corner" from something else isn't actually "in" the same place at all. I once had a poo in a pub about two minutes' walk from Buckingham Palace. I was not subsequently arrested and charged with crapping directly onto the Queen's pillow. That's how "distance" works in Britain. It's also how distance works in America, of course, but some people are currently pretending it doesn't, for daft political ends.

New York being a densely populated city, there are lots of other buildings and businesses within two blocks of Ground Zero, including a McDonald's and a Burger King, neither of which has yet been accused of serving milkshakes and fries on hallowed ground. Regardless, for the opponents of Cordoba House, two blocks is too close, period. Frustratingly, they haven't produced a map pinpointing precisely how close is OK.

That's literally all I'd ask them in an interview. I'd stand there pointing at a map of the city. Would it be offensive here? What about here? Or how about way over there? And when they finally picked a suitable spot, I'd ask them to draw it on the map, sketching out roughly how big it should be, and how many windows it's allowed to have. Then I'd hand them a colour swatch and ask them to decide on a colour for the lobby carpet. And the conversation would continue in this vein until everyone in the room was in tears. Myself included.

That hasn't happened. Instead, 70% of Americans are opposed to the "Ground Zero mosque", doubtless in many cases because they've been led to believe it literally is a mosque at Ground Zero. And if not . . . well, it must be something significant. Otherwise why would all these pundits be so angry about it? And why would anyone in the media listen to them with a straight face?

According to a recent poll, one in five Americans believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though he isn't. A quarter of those who believe he's a Muslim also claimed he talks about his faith too much. Americans aren't dumb. Clearly these particular Americans have either gone insane or been seriously misled. Where are they getting their information?

Sixty per cent said they learned it from the media. Which means it's time for the media to give up.

Seriously, broadcasters, journalists: just give up now. Because either you're making things worse, or no one's paying attention anyway. May as well knock back a few Jagermeisters, unplug the autocue, and just sit there dumbly repeating whichever reality-warping meme the far right wants to go viral this week. What's that? Obama is Gargamel and he's killing all the Smurfs? Sod it. Whatever. Roll titles.

Deaths in Pakistan mosque attack

At least 16 people have been killed in a blast at a mosque inside a religious school in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region.

Intelligence officials said a prominent religious leader appeared to have been the target of the explosion in the town of Wana, near the Afghan border, on Monday.

"Apparently it was a suicide attack and Maulana Noor Mohammad was the target," the Reuters news agency cited an intelligence official in Wana as saying.

Noor Mohammad, a former parliamentarian who was running the school, was greeting worshippers after prayers at the mosque when the bomber struck.

The mosque was badly damaged in the blast, and local residents were busy trying to recover people from the rubble amid fears that the death toll could rise further.

Many wounded
A health official in a paramilitary hospital in Wana said several people had been critically wounded.

"We have received 14 injured but their condition was very critical," the official told the news agency AFP.

Locals described the cleric as an influential figure who had several times acted as a negotiator between the Taliban and the Pakistani government.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Al Jazeera's Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, said the Taliban could be behind the blast.

"They have of course carried out similar attacks in the past," he said.

"But as we know in the past several weeks as Pakistan has come to terms with terrible and devastating floods we haven't heard or seen a lot of these attacks, so this news is certainly very worrying."

Elsewhere in Pakistan's tribal belt, a landmine blast killed seven people as tribal elders met in the Khumas village of Kurram district on Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether the blast was an intended attack or whether the ordinance had exploded accidentally.

Fight to save Pakistan city from flooding


Authorities in Pakistan were battling on Monday to save a city in the flood-devastated southern province of Sindh after a mass evacuation as floodwaters threatened to wreak further havoc.

The near month-long floods have killed 1,500 people and affected up to 20 million nationwide in the country's worst natural disaster, with the threat of disease ever-present in the miserable camps sheltering penniless survivors.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from flood-threatened areas in the south on Sunday, including from Shahdadkot, with most of the city's 100,000 residents escorted to safety or making a getaway by whatever means possible.

Shahdadkot threatened
"We are right now trying to protect Shahdadkot... which is threatened by the rising floodwaters," Sindh provincial irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo told AFP.

He said an embankment built to protect the city was under pressure from the waters and "we are trying to save the city from the unprecedented flood."

"But there are still some people stranded in these villages (around Shahdadkot) and we are making efforts to rescue them," he said.

Dharejo, however, stressed there was no threat to Hyderabad, the second-largest city in Sindh and Pakistan's sixth biggest overall with a population of 2.5 million.

Pakistan's weak civilian government has faced an outpouring of fury over sluggish relief efforts, while officials warn the country faces ruinous economic losses of up to $43 billion.

Millions of survivors are in desperate need of food, shelter and clean drinking water and require humanitarian assistance to survive, as concerns grow over potential cholera, typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks.

More aid needed
The International Monetary fund is expected to begin talks with Pakistani officials on Monday on restructuring a $10 billion.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday praised the global community as emergency donations for Pakistan neared $500 million, but warned the country faces "years of need."

The United States, which has made the nuclear-armed nation a key ally in the fight against Islamic extremism, has given the most, followed by Saudi Arabia and Britain.

However, Louis-Georges Arsenault, head of emergency operations for UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund, said the international community could do far more.

"One of the major challenges we have, which is quite extraordinary, is the lack of level of support from the international community right now," Arsenault told the BBC.

"Our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we have been receiving even though this is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis that we have seen in decades."

The United Nations has increased its initial estimate of the number of people without shelter from two million to six million.

Moving to safer places
In Shahdadkot, streets were deserted and all markets shut. A group of people was seen loading their belongings into a private vehicle before leaving, an AFP photographer in the city said.

"People have migrated to safer places as they are afraid that the floodwater may inundate this town," farmer Mehram Ali told AFP.

Grocer Asghar Ali was hurriedly packing up his luggage to leave the area.

"I cannot believe my eyes when I look at the empty town, which used to hum with activity just until a few days ago," he said.

The IMF said it would meet Pakistani officials in Washington to discuss the impact of the floods, which have devastated the country's southern agricultural breadbasket and its textiles industry.

Pakistan would ask the IMF to ease the terms of a $10-billion loan it received in 2008, media reports have said.
The IMF in 2008 approved a rescue package for Pakistan as the country struggled to cope with bloody attacks by Islamic radicals, 30-year-high inflation and fast-depleting reserves.

The U.N. World Food Program said it urgently needed helicopters to get food to millions of flood victims who remain cut off by the high waters, although weather forecasters say the monsoon systems are easing off.

Canada's government, which last week announced $32 million for victims of Pakistan's floods, said Sunday it would give more aid by matching the amount donated by its citizens.

Pakistan floods: Senior UN figure criticises response

Pakistan's humanitarian crisis is the largest "in decades"

A senior United Nations official has called on the global community to urgently step up its response to the floods that have struck Pakistan.

Louis-George Arsenault, director of emergency operations for Unicef in New York, described the lack of support as "quite extraordinary".

The humanitarian crisis was the largest "in decades", he warned.

Mr Arsenault spoke as the International Monetary Fund was due to start talks with Pakistani officials in Washington.

Continue reading the main story Pakistan's Monsoon FloodsUS help warms hearts [/news/world-south-asia-11040132] Exodus from town [/news/world-south-asia-11054758] Forgotten humanity [/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/8931886.stm] Economic fears [/news/world-south-asia-11046259]

The talks on Monday will allow the IMF to assess how best to help. It says the floods that have struck Pakistan pose a "massive economic challenge" and it will review the country's budget and financial prospects.

The UN says it has raised close to 70% of the $460m (£295m) it called for in its emergency appeal. Some $54m are in uncommitted pledges, and $263m are resources available now.

In the UK, relief agencies have said public donors have given £29m ($45m) to the relief effort.

They also said the international response had been slow to build up, but that they had received more donations in the second week than the first week, which was rarely seen in appeals.

Oxfam's humanitarian director Jane Cocking said: "This is not just an appeal for one disaster. It's an appeal for many.

"What we have is a single, long event which has the scale of the tsunami, the devastation of Haiti and the complexity of the Middle East," said Oxfam's humanitarian director, Jane Cocking.

Tens of thousands of people have fled a threatened flood surge, three weeks after heavy monsoon rains first hit the country, with the south now bearing the brunt.

Millions displaced

As officials prepared for the IMF meetings, Mr Arsenault, of the UN children's fund, said: "One of the major challenges that we have which is quite extraordinary is the lack of level of support from the international community.

"Right now, our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we've been receiving, even though this is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis we've seen in decades."

Sindh is now being described as the worst-hit province
Overall, about 1,600 people have been killed and some 16.8 million affected, according to figures from the UN and Pakistani government.

In the south, the water has levelled out on the embankments around Shahdadkot, and is no longer a threat to the city, but nearly 80% of the population has already fled fearing the deluge, says the BBC's Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad.

The threat appears to have receded from the city of Hyderabad, where the flood control barriers have held against what local officials said was a "super flood".

Evacuation activities, meanwhile, have started in Thatta district next to the Arabian Sea.

Dozens more villages have been inundated, and although authorities expect flood waters to drain into the Arabian Sea over the next few days, evacuees who return may find their homes and livelihoods have been washed away.

An estimated four million people have now been displaced in the city of Sukkur alone.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is to fly on Monday to the Gilgit Baltistan region in north-eastern Pakistan, where thousands of people are still trapped in areas cut off from each other.

The region as a whole remains cut off due to the closure of the Karakoram highway, its only road link to the outside world.

'Unprecedented flood'

Sindh, in the south of Pakistan, is now being described as the country's worst-hit province, with officials saying at least 200,000 residents have fled in the last 24 hours.

The Pakistan government has said that the cost of rebuilding after the floods could be as high as $15bn (£10bn).

The UN said on Friday that more helicopters were urgently needed to reach communities cut off by the water.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) says diseases are spreading in affected areas.
Experts warn of a second wave of deaths from water-borne diseases such as cholera unless flood victims have access to supplies of fresh drinking water.

The floods began last month in Pakistan's north-west after heavy monsoon rains and have since swept south.

Five myths about the Iraq troop withdrawal

By Kenneth M. Pollack
Early Thursday, less than two weeks before the president's Aug. 31 deadline for ending American combat operations in Iraq, the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed the border from Iraq into Kuwait. With the departure of this last combat brigade, the U.S. military presence in Iraq is now down to 50,000 troops, fewer than at any time since the 2003 invasion. The shift offers a useful moment to take stock of both how much has been accomplished and how much is left to be done in what is fast becoming our forgotten war.

As of this month, the United States no longer has combat troops in Iraq.
1.Not even close. Of the roughly 50,000 American military personnel who remain in Iraq, the majority are still combat troops -- they're just named something else. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called "brigade combat teams" and instead will be called "advisory and assistance brigades." But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the differences in brigade structure and personnel are minimal.

American troops in Iraq will still go into harm's way. They will still accompany Iraqi units on combat missions -- even if only as "advisers." American pilots will still fly combat missions in support of Iraqi ground forces. And American special forces will still face off against Iraqi terrorist groups in high-intensity operations. For that reason, when American troops leave their bases in Iraq, they will still, almost invariably, be in full "battle rattle" and ready for a fight.

What has changed over the past 12 to 18 months is the level of violence in Iraq. There is much less of it: The civil war and the insurgency have been suppressed and the terrorists have been marginalized, so American troops have been able to pass the majority of their remaining combat responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces. Most U.S. troops now have little expectation of seeing combat in Iraq. Instead, they are spending more time acting as peacekeepers, protecting personnel and facilities, and advising Iraqi formations. But that didn't start this month: It's more or less what they have been doing since the "clear and hold" operations to take back the country from militias and insurgents ended in 2008.

Thanks to the troop "surge," Iraq is secure enough that it will not fall back into civil war as U.S. forces pull out.
2.Security in Iraq has improved enormously since the darkest days of 2005-2006, but the jury is still out on what will happen in the months and years ahead.

Extensive research on intercommunal civil wars -- wars like Iraq's, in which a breakdown in governance prompts different communities to fight one another for power -- finds a dangerous propensity toward recidivism. Moreover, the fear, anger, greed and desire for revenge that helped propel Iraq into civil war in the first place remain just beneath the surface.

Academic studies of scores of civil wars from the past century show that roughly 50 percent of the time, war will recur within five years of a cease-fire. If the country has major "lootable" resources such as gold, diamonds or oil, the odds climb higher still. The important bright spot, however, is that if a great power is willing to make a long-term commitment to serving as peacekeeper and mediator (the role the United States is playing in Iraq today), the recidivism rate drops to less than one in three. This is why an ongoing American commitment to Iraq is so important.

It's also worth pointing out that a civil war doesn't recur because the public desires one. Most people recognize that civil war is a disaster. Instead, such wars flare up again because leaders still believe they can achieve their objectives by force. Until they are convinced otherwise -- ideally, by a great power's military forces -- they will revert to fighting.

The United States is leaving behind a broken political system.
3.If some on the right want to claim (incorrectly) that the surge stabilized Iraq to the point that civil war is impossible, their counterparts on the left try to insist (equally incorrectly) that the change in U.S. tactics and strategy in 2007-2008 had no impact on Iraq's politics whatsoever.
Partisans will debate the impact of the surge for years to come, and historians will take up the fight thereafter. However, Iraqi politics are fundamentally different today than they were in 2006. The nation's political leaders have been forced to embrace democracy -- in many cases very grudgingly, but embrace it they have. Party leaders no longer scheme to kill their rivals, but to outvote them. They can no longer intimidate voters; they have to persuade them. And the smart ones have figured out that they must deliver what their constituents want, namely, effective governance, jobs, and services such as electricity and clean water.

Yes, Iraqi politics remain deadlocked and deeply dysfunctional, and yes, long-term stability and short-term economic needs depend on further political progress. But it is now possible to imagine Iraq muddling on toward real peace, pluralism and even prosperity -- if it gets the right breaks and a fair amount of continuing help from the United States, the United Nations and its neighbors.

Iraqis want U.S. troops to stay. Or they want them leave.
4. Be very, very careful with Iraqi public opinion. Polls are rarely subtle enough to capture the complexity of Iraqi views. Typically, they show a small number of Iraqis who want the Americans out immediately at any cost, a small number who want them to stay forever and a vast majority in the middle -- determined that U.S. troops should leave, but only after a certain period of time. When Iraqis are asked how long they believe our troops are needed, their answers range from a few months to a few years, but are strongly linked to however long the respondent believes it will take Iraq's forces to be able to handle security on their own.

One typically hears the same from people across Iraq and throughout its social and political strata. Iraqis are nationalistic, and they resent the American military presence. Many are also bitter over the mess that the United States made by invading and then failing to secure the country or to begin a comprehensive rebuilding process, failures that led to civil war in 2005-2006. Most Iraqis are relieved to have been rescued from that descent and are frightened that it will resume when the Americans leave. This is because their security forces are still untested and their political process has yet to show the kind of maturity that would provide Iraqis confidence that they are safe from the threat of more civil war. Consequently, a great many people are both determined to see all American troops leave -- and terrified that they actually will.

The war will end "on schedule."
5. Much as we should want the Obama administration to succeed in Iraq, this statement by the president in a speech to veterans this month should make us wary. If uttered in the first act of a Greek tragedy, it is exactly the kind of claim that would end in a Sophoclean fall.

As George W. Bush learned to his dismay, once you start a war, a lot of bad, unpredictable things can happen. No war has ever gone precisely according to schedule, not even those that have ended in the most dramatic victories, such as Israel's Six-Day War or the Persian Gulf War. What's more, war's aftereffects linger for many years.

Going forward, America's involvement in Iraq can (and hopefully will ) be much reduced, but the need for a U.S. presence will endure for many years. Iraq has demonstrated great potential, but at this point it is only potential. The country still holds great peril as well -- not just for Iraqis, but for our interests in one of the world's most strategically important regions.

For these reasons, Obama was right to also warn that the United States will need to remain deeply involved in Iraq and will probably face casualties there in the years to come, regardless of how we label our mission.

Kenneth M. Pollack is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is "A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East."