Suspected Bomber Shahzad's Ties To Pakistan

Faisal Shahzad, suspected in the Times Square attempted bombing, allegedly told investigators he got bomb training in Waziristan. Author Ahmed Rashid warns that neither the CIA nor Pakistan's intelligence agency knows much about what happens in Waziristan.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

We now know that suspected Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, spent time in Pakistan recently. Documents indicate that Shahzad received bomb-making training in north Waziristan, a region of Pakistan known as a haven for numerous extremist groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, who have released videos claiming responsibility for Saturday's attempted car bomb.

Author and journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote about north Waziristan in today's Washington Post. In a moment, he joins us to talk about the mysterious connection between the Times Square bomber and the Pakistani Taliban.

But first, if you're a Pakistani-American and want to weigh in on the conversation, or if you have questions about Pakistan's side of the story, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now is Ahmed Rashid. He's author of "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building In Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia." He's on the phone from Lahore, Pakistan. Welcome to the show.

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Author, "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia"): Thank you.

ROBERTS: So evidence has emerged that Faisal Shahzad was in north Waziristan, although we should say that officials emphasize they have not yet linked him to any terrorist group. How significant is that north Waziristan connection and does it indicate ties to the Pakistani Taliban?

Mr. RASHID: Well, north Waziristan is really the most lawless of the seven tribal agencies. What we've seen over the last 18 to 20 months is that the Pakistan army has been in and conducted offensives in the other six agencies but has not conducted an offensive in north Waziristan, which means that all the groups and the leadership and the people in Taliban and militants who've been escaping the army offensives have all conglomerated in north Waziristan. And there are some very longstanding groups who are based there anyway, such as al-Qaida, the Afghan Taliban, a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, and elements of the Pakistani Taliban.

And now they're being joined by people escaping from the army offensive in other areas, as well as by groups from - groups who come from Punjab and Karachi, who've also set up shop there. So there's a real state of anarchy there.

Just in the last week, we had one of the top Taliban leaders, Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who is supposed to be dead and had been supposedly killed by drone missile in January suddenly popped up alive. And apparently, he'd been hiding out in north Waziristan. And then a very prominent intelligence officer retired, who had been very sympathetic to both al-Qaida and the Taliban was executed up in north Waziristan, in a very mysterious way which nobody yet quite understands. So it's a really anarchic situation there.

ROBERTS: Well, the Pakistani Taliban leader you mentioned, Hakimullah Mehsud, the one who turned out not to be killed by U.S. drones, on Monday, he released a video promising more attacks on U.S. cities. Is there a link between that and the Times Square incident this weekend?

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, I mean, I think that was coincidental that his video should come out just as the New York City bombing attempt took place. I don't think the Pakistani Taliban, as they're presently constituted, that is the tribesmen who make up most of the Pakistani Taliban, are capable of carrying out attacks in the United States and other places. But there are certainly Pakistani groups in north Waziristan who have been working for a long time with al-Qaida, who are educated, who are very ideologically attuned to the whole idea of global jihad against the United States and western Europe.

It is quite possible that, you know, one of these groups helped train Shahzad. We don't know exactly where he got his training from and which group he was affiliated with. But, certainly, you know, if not the Pakistani Taliban, there are other smaller groups who do have that capacity.

ROBERTS: Well, you say in your piece in The Washington Post that there are so many different groups using North Waziristan as a hub, I mean, not just Pakistani Taliban but, as you said, Punjabi groups, Chechen groups. What kind of a place is it? Is it very remote? Why is this such a haven for these groups?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I mean, it is geographically a very difficult place. It has very high mountains. Parts of it are very heavily forested. It's very under-populated. There's very little agriculture. There's very little water. It's a very difficult place to live in. And, certainly, it's a very difficult place to launch a military offensive with thousands of troops trying to sweep the mountains and the valleys.

But one of the main reasons it's been left alone for so long is that the main actor there is Jalaluddin Haqqani. He is an Afghan ally of the Taliban. He's been fighting the Americans. Most recently, his forces conducted this attack against the American outpost in which seven or eight CIA agents were killed. Now, he carries a lot of clout, both on the Afghan side of the border and in - on the Pakistani side in North Waziristan.

And the Pakistan army has deliberately not gone up against any of the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan, including Haqqani. And so North Waziristan, in a sense, has been left alone and has been left under the tutelage of Haqqani, except that now Haqqani, I think, no longer controls a lot of the areas because it seems a lot of new groups have come in and set up camp there and are doing their own thing.

ROBERTS: And is there any political will for the Pakistan government or Pakistan army to change that strategy and actually launch some kind of an offensive there?

Mr. RASHID: Well, there's been a lot of American pressure over the last few months, obviously, for the Pakistan army to go in. And we are hearing reports now that the army is considering an offensive. I would think that this - if Shahzad is traced back to North Waziristan on one of the groups operating there, I think it will be probably - the army will be obliged to go in there.

But it - you know, North Waziristan is really a quagmire right now. There are thousands of fighters there. There are dozens of groups. Many of them, you know, trained in suicide bombing and, you know, desperate to try and kill as many Pakistani soldiers as possible. Any kind of offensive in North Waziristan is going to be something very difficult. But the fact is that it's going to get more difficult as the weeks and months go by because these groups are just going to consolidate and solidify their presence there and bring in more and more fighters.

ROBERTS: And are they fighting amongst themselves?

Mr. RASHID: Well, not so far. I mean, there have been bouts earlier, two years ago, where some of the Pakistani Taliban were fighting each other. But at the moment, there is one particular Pakistani Taliban leader, Gul Bahadur, who has a sort of alliance with the military in that he has promised not to attack the Pakistan army, but he has continued to attack American and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

Now, that kind of due, which was tenable perhaps a year or so ago is no longer tenable now. It's not acceptable to the Americans, it's not acceptable to the Afghans, and it's not acceptable to Pakistan now, really, because somebody like Gul Bahadur, who was running a fairly disciplined Pakistani Taliban network in North Waziristan is no longer in control of that network. There are all sorts of groups who are willing to do anything.

ROBERTS: My guest is Ahmed Rashid. His op-ed in today's Washington Post is called "North Waziristan: Terrorism's New Hub." He's joining us on the line from Lahore, Pakistan. And if you'd like to join us, the number is 800-989-8255, or send us email: talk@npr.org.

Let's hear from Pharron(ph) in Cincinnati. Pharron, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

PHARRON (Caller): Yes, hi. I'm a Pakistani American. And my parents had the privilege of immigrating to the U.S. early on in the '50s, so we've seen quite a bit of change in the U.S. as well as in Pakistan in all that time.

Now, my father had a lot of dedication, of course, towards both countries and tried to take some of what he had learned from the U.S. back to his homeland in Pakistan and set up a school back in his village, trying to teach a lot of the American values of democracy and justice, et cetera - basically, a lot of human values. But it's really a sad, sad situation. I see, my father, my parents, myself, always we see what has happened to Pakistan and we're kind of caught between trying to see peace and American security objectives achieved with (unintelligible) things like drone attacks, but then we see the side effects of what happens when some of the terrorist elements are driven deep into the heart of Pakistan.

My brother and I actually had the chance of visiting Pakistan a couple of years ago and we're almost at the Marriott Hotel when it was blown up. We would've been having dinner not more than 20 feet away from where the truck was - where the truck exploded.

So it's really been quite a difficult challenge for Pakistani-Americans staying in the United States. And a lot of times, when we go for a visit to Pakistan, the - your friends over here say, oh, my God, you're going to Pakistan. We're never going to see you again. And then on the other hand, when you're in Pakistan, you see friends over there, they say, oh, my God, it must be terrible living in America. You know, they're really tough on Muslims over there. So this is just kind of a divide that we live between as Pakistani-Americans.

ROBERTS: Pharron, thank you so much for your call.

You write in The Washington Post, Ahmed Rashid, that what's happening in North Waziristan is having global impact. Something has to be done about a region that's become an even greater terrorist hub than Afghanistan before 2001. Pakistan's leaders, both civil and military, should take the lead in finding a solution to the problem. What do those solutions possibly include?

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, clearly, the army has to go in to North Waziristan, but there also has to be much greater backup from the civilian governments in Pakistan. There has to be a parallel program of developments and reconstruction. A lot of this is very similar to what, perhaps, General McChrystal is trying to do in Afghanistan, that it's not just a question of going after the bad guys, it's also a question of protecting the population. And what we've seen in Pakistan and in these offensives in the tribal areas, frankly, have been very little of the second part of the effort.

In other words, very little of the development effort of the reconstruction, rebuilding civilian institution, civilian administration. Now, partly, that's the fault of the civilian government, for not being more proactive in handing over the authority to the army. Partly, it's been the fault of the army by not encouraging the civilians to come back in again, and not offering them the kind of protection that is needed to get a civil administration up and running again.

The problem is that you had so many tribal elders and civil administrators, teachers, journalists, lawyers killed by the Taliban, that the professional civilians are very reluctant to go back in.

ROBERTS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's take a call from Zerene(ph) in Fremont, California. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ZERENE (Caller): Thank you, Rebecca. Unfortunately, what's happening in Afghanistan - I'm an Afghan-American - this has been going on for such a long time and the (unintelligible) Pakistani government is at fault not controlling Waziristan. And I don't know how America is dealing with Waziristan as well. When we left Afghanistan, obviously we had to pass through Waziristan and Tora Bora area, it's a no-man's land. You can do whatever you want to do. But Pakistani government needs to stop that because (unintelligible) Afghanistan all the suicide bombers, about 85 percent are Pakistanis. And others are Chechens or Chinese or somebody else. But Pakistani government needs to take control of Waziristan. It seems like they don't care. And they're training more animals to come and start bombing or suicide bombers.

ROBERTS: Zerene, thank you for your call.

ZERENE: And that's very unfortunate.

ROBERTS: Ahmed Rashid, what are the prospects for that, of taking control of Waziristan?

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, I think we lost - Pakistan lost a golden opportunity after 9/11. When the Taliban were defeated and - I think at that moment, if the Pakistan government, the military, at that time President Musharraf had taken control of the tribal areas and mapped out a political future for the tribal areas. Because I think, you know, we must understand that, you know, their political status is very amorphous. It's not really a part of Pakistan, yet it is a part of Pakistan. So that has to be clarified.

And in the last 10 years, nothing has been done to clarify their political status, bringing them into the mainstream of Pakistan, into the state, making them into a separate province or aligning them with one of the existing provinces. Plus, of course, alongside that you need development and reconstruction, education, job creation, all the rest of it. None of these things are being really effectively done. And they have only started to be implemented, literally in the last 18 months or two years. So a lot of time has been wasted, unfortunately. And that is, you know, not so much the cause of the Americans. That's very much -because, you know, the Pakistan government, the Pakistani military have not moved fast enough in trying to bring these tribal areas into the mainstream.

ROBERTS: And what is the role of U.S. policy?

Mr. RASHID: What is the role of U.S. - of what?

ROBERTS: Of U.S. policy in, say, for instance, hunting Pakistan Taliban?

Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, I mean, the U.S. has had a very one-track policy for a long time, which was, you know, bring us al-Qaida. And we're not particularly bothered about the Taliban. And that was certainly the policy during the Bush administration, where they were pushing the Pakistanis to bring in more and more al-Qaida. Now, the fact is that the Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, had also sought refuge in Pakistan and in these tribal areas. And they were launching attacks into Afghanistan, and of course resuscitated the whole Taliban movement in Afghanistan. And at the same time, they were helping create the Pakistani Taliban. And it was only in 2007, perhaps the last year of the Bush administration, that we actually saw the Bush team start pushing the Pakistanis to do something about the Taliban, because suddenly people woke up, the Americans woke up and realized that the Taliban were a real threat to the Afghan government as well as to the Pakistan government.

And so the actions we've seen, unfortunately, have been very late, golden opportunities much earlier on when things were much more stable and the population was more supportive, and the Taliban were not so strong. And that period, you know, between 2001, 2006, nothing was done.

ROBERTS: Ahmed Rashid is author of "Dissent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation-Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia." He joined us on the phone from Lahore, Pakistan. We know it's very late for you there. Thank you so much for staying up to be with us.

Mr. RASHID: Thank you so much.

ROBERTS: Tomorrow - this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News, I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington.

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