Monday, October 16, 2006

Islamabad Rockets – The Stratfor Version

Here is another take on the Islamabad rocket ‘attack’. This time it is from Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), a leading US corporate think-tank that advises major government agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

Interestingly Stratfor suggests here that Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir - who died along with his wife and fourteen others in a mysterious crash of a PAF Fokker plane near Kohat on February 20, 2003 - was an Al Qaeda supporter.

Ummm….possible shades of Zia’s C130 in this crash?

Somehow I don’t think that we will never get to the bottom of these mysteries but suffice to say bumping irritants off has never posed a problem in Pakistan from the days of Liaquat Ali Khan onwards.

Anyway here is Stratfor's report:


STRATFOR :Pakistan: Rockets, Coup Rumors and Musharraf
October 13, 2006 23 30 GMT


Pakistani authorities announced Oct. 13 the arrest of eight militants with ties to al Qaeda, being held in connection with attempted rocket attacks in and near Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. The incident comes amid growing talk of discontent within the military with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and amid criticism from senior military intelligence officials -- signaling that Musharraf's support within the military could be waning. Though Musharraf is not faced with the prospect of losing power any time soon, opposition parties will try to take advantage of this situation, possibly creating political instability in Pakistan.


Police and intelligence agents apprehended eight al Qaeda-linked Pakistani militants in raids on undisclosed locations in Pakistan, seizing weapons, ammunition and explosives, Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told reporters Oct. 13. The same day, Asia Times Online reported that a coup plot against Musharraf had been uncovered soon after the Pakistani president's return from the United States. According to the article, more than 40 people have been arrested, most of them mid-ranking air force officers. Officials uncovered the conspirators when an air force officer used a cell phone to activate a rocket aimed at the president's residence in Rawalpindi. The rocket was recovered, and its activating mechanism, also a cell phone, revealed the officer's telephone number.

Although the reported coup attempt (which would require the involvement of senior army officials) is unlikely, it is possible that air force officials may have been arrested, some of whom might have been junior officers. Moreover, the rockets, which were all found, probably were more of a
warning than anything else. Even so,these developments indicate Musharraf might be slowly losing support from his core constituency in the military establishment -- especially given the criticism of Musharraf from former heads of the country's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Musharraf's political opponents will try to take advantage of this situation, which could lead to instability in the South Asian country.

Musharraf's recent statements show he is under a lot of strain. In comments during a dinner gathering with journalists, the day before the seventh anniversary of the coup in which he took power, he said that if moderates do not prevail over extremists in upcoming elections, then Pakistan as envisioned by its founder will be no more.

These remarks come as senior ex-ISI officials continue to express displeasure at Musharraf's accusations that former officials of the intelligence directorate continue to support the Taliban. In an Oct. 10 appearance on GEO TV's program Capital Talk, former ISI Director-General and retired Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul described Musharraf's statement as "shameful," and said it would have "harmful results" for the president, the country's intelligence services and the military. Another former ISI director-general, retired Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, said Afghan government allegations the ISI was supporting the Taliban could only be halted if Pakistan honestly told Kabul that it was "not in a position to control the Taliban from its borders." And former ISI official and retired air force squadron leader Khalid Khawaja said Musharraf had "endorsed" foreign allegations by giving such a statement. (Khawaja is well known for his ties to the murky al Qaeda-Taliban network.)

The recent story about mid-ranking air force officers is only the latest in a series of interesting accounts of links between Pakistani air force officials and al Qaeda. Musharraf himself acknowledged that noncommissioned air force personnel took part in plots to kill him in 2003. Moreover, former al Qaeda military commander Abu Zubaydah told interrogators that one of his high-ranking contacts in the Pakistani military was former air force chief Mushaf Ali Mir. Shortly thereafter, Mir died in air accident. Stratfor also has learned that many former midlevel ISI officials with the rank of major and colonel have familial ties with Islamist militants who are veterans of the 1979-89 war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

Word of links between the ISI and Islamist militants has generated a great deal of controversy -- to the extent that there was a media leak of report prepared by a think tank affiliated with the British Ministry of Defense calling for the ISI's dissolution. Clearly, the pressure is rising on Musharraf regarding the ISI controversy, but most significant is that he is being criticized from within. This is something his civilian political opponents will be looking to exploit. Should this situation lead to political unrest, his fellow generals may not be very keen to continue supporting him.

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