May 28 , 2010
Faisal Shahzad and the Taliban
The attempted car bombing of Times Square in New York City on May 1 came as a shock to many Americans, and particularly to Pakistani-Americans. Faisal Shahzad turned out to be a Pakistani-American from the proverbial “good family”, his father a successful career military officer, and Faisal himself having lived most of his adult life in America, ending up with a wife and children, and even a mortgage that had fallen into foreclosure. These days, what could be more all-American than that?
In the days after the bombing, the Obama administration fumbled a little. Shahzad almost left the country before his plane was called back and he was arrested. Apparently, here is a small glitch in how rapidly a name gets onto the no-fly list used by the airlines. Secondly, although Shahzad was granted his Miranda rights, the Attorney General made some noises about how American citizens suspected of terrorism should possibly have their full legal rights somewhat cut down to allow a more rigorous interrogation presumably. Even Glenn Beck found this outrageous. Hopefully, Obama regains his bearings on the importance of upholding civil rights and the rights of the accused in general.
For Pakistani-Americans it has been a trying time. Already the news from Pakistan in the American media is uniformly bad, and this only confirms the negative impression many Americans have of Pakistan.
But the big questions still remain unanswered. Why did Shahzad undertake this bombing attempt? Who funded the cost? Who did the planning? Who trained Shahzad in the technique of building a fertilizer-based car bomb? These sorts of fertilizer bombs are commonly used by the Taliban, however, Shahzad’s version used the wrong kind of fertilizer and so was not capable of actually exploding. His bomb was a dud in reality.
To the extent there is a trail, it seems to point toward the TTP, commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban. In fact, they quickly claimed credit for the bombing attempt, even before Shahzad had been captured or his name made public. It may have been an attempt to avenge the drone strikes in the Tribal Areas the US has been carrying out with such frequency under Obama. It also makes it quite likely that the US will step up its campaign against the TTP, if it finds evidence suggesting a link. And that leads to North Waziristan, where the TTP have found sanctuary.
For Pakistan, this attack may force the hands of the government and army into North Waziristan. Over the last year the Pakistani state has battled the Taliban in Swat and Bajaur and then in South Waziristan. But it has not totally defeated and dismantled them. In fact much of the Taliban retreated and regrouped in North Waziristan under the protection of Jalaluddin Haqqani. America has been encouraging Pakistan to push into North Waziristan and finish the job. The Pakistan Army has been hesitant, saying that it lacks the resources after the campaign in South Waziristan. The Army has taken over 2000 casualties in its war with the Taliban. Meanwhile, Taliban terror attacks in Pakistan in the last year killed over 3000 civilians, more than the civilian death toll in Afghanistan in 2009. US drone strikes killed about 700 people in FATA in 2009, many of those were likely civilians, but there were certainly many Taliban casualties among that figure.
Pakistan sees Haqqani as a useful ally to have in the great game of influence-seeking in Afghanistan. To give up that chit for nothing is hard for the Pakistani Army and the government to do. But the pressure to shut down the militant operations entirely will continue to build on Pakistan. The Pakistani game of trying to distinguish between good extremists and bad ones, between those fighting for Kashmiri freedom and those in Al-Qaeda, between the Pakistani Taliban seeking to overthrow the Pakistani state, and the Afghan Taliban who seek to dominate Afghanistan, is getting harder and harder to maintain. All of these groups have melded together into a Jihadi free-for-all. The extremists cannot be contained and channeled into discrete ventures that serve the interests of the Pakistani state and Army. Instead, they are a Frankenstein’s monster. The only option is to bring them to an end. Otherwise even if there are no more attacks in the US, there will be plenty more attacks in Pakistan. For its own sake, Pakistan must bring the violent and armed Taliban movement to an end.