As far back as in 2005, when he was serving as US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann warned that if the US did not address al Qaeda’s new sanctuary in Pakistan it would “lead to the re-emergence of the same strategic threat to the United States that prompted our intervention in 2001.”
This warning came in a secret internal memo that the National Security Archive just released, along with a stash of other documents. Taken together, these documents shed considerable light on the ups and downs of the US-Pakistan relationship since the 9/11 attacks, and the cost to Pakistan of America’s military escalation.
Neumann saw the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan as a direct product of the “four years that the Taliban has had to reorganize and think about their approach in a sanctuary beyond the reach of either government.” The sanctuary in question was Pakistan’s semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a region bordering Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden and his cohorts settled after their defeat by the US-led coalition.
How and why this porous mountainous region of less than 16,000 square miles turned into a sanctuary for al-Qaeda and its affiliates is the subject of my recent book, The Most Dangerous Place, which chronicles the cost to Pakistan of America’s recent foray into Afghanistan. Initially, as Neumann cabled Washington, “the tribes were overawed by U.S. firepower” but it wasn’t long before a “no-go areas” sprang up where the Taliban could plan their resurgence in Afghanistan.
n FATA, Al Qaeda found local and foreign allies and facilitators to launch attacks on the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. But their presence was not only felt across the border. Inspired and energized by Afghan militants, the Pakistani militant groups loosely banned by General Musharaff which had been operating in the Punjab and Kashmir soon made their way to FATA, where they joined forces and formed a new and more lethal Pakistani Taliban. Tehreeke Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a vicious al-Qaeda auxiliary that came into being in the mountains of Waziristan, where Faisal Shehzad, the man behind the botched Times Square bombing, received his terrorist training.
The hunt for al Qaeda plucked these ultra-conservative and practically lawless regions from obscurity and brought them into the international limelight. The Waziristan region in particular became a breeding ground for future terrorists, something Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, the head of the mighty Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, cautioned the US about in September 2001.
“We will not flinch from a military victory… but a strike will produce thousands of frustrated young Muslim men, it will be an incubator of anger that will explode two or three years from now,” Mahmud told ambassador Wendy Chamberlin on September 23rd, according to a 12-page document, “Islamabad 5337, PTP 7930.”
Prophetic words indeed. In the last nine years, particularly since 2007, thousands of angry young Muslims, inspired by al Qaeda and trained in the remote FATA regions, have swelled the ranks of radical outfits such as the TTP. Hundreds have blown themselves up in suicide bombings across Pakistan, killing over three thousands innocent women and children as well as security personnel – all in the name of Jihad against the “infidels occupying Afghanistan.”
If you are wondering why violence in Pakistan has been sharply spiking with every US military surge in Afghanistan, and why hundreds of young men in Pakistan’s tribal areas have suddenly turned against their state, you will find a concise primer in my book. You might want also to consider browsing the recently declassified US documents released by the National Security Archive; they make for uncomfortable reading.