Pakistan protecting Mullah Omar?

From The Scotsman, Jan. 18, links and emphasis added:

Mullah Omar, leader of the Taleban, is living in Pakistan under the protection of the country’s intelligence service, a captured Taleban spokesman has told Afghan interrogators.

Mohammad Hanif, a Taleban spokesman captured on Monday near the border with Pakistan, made the claim during interrogation by Afghanistan’s intelligence service, which distributed to reporters a film of what it said was his questioning.

“He lives in Quetta,” Hanif says of Omar, as he sits in an oversized chair in a dimly lit room while Afghan agents bombard him with questions. “He is protected by ISI,” the 26-year-old says in a quiet voice, referring to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, made a similar allegation during an interview last year, saying Omar lives in the south-western city of Quetta, protected by Pakistan’s security services.

But Pakistan’s interior minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, rejected the claim, saying “this is totally baseless”.

“We have no information on the whereabouts of Mullah Omar. He is not living in Pakistan,” he said.

Mr Sherpao added: “Afghan intelligence has made contradictory statements since the arrest of this so-called spokesman of Taleban. We don’t know who this person is, and from where he had been arrested.”

In the recording of his interrogation, Hanif also alleges that the former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, Hamid Gul, was supporting Taleban militants in their fight against Afghan and foreign troops.

Sayed Ansari, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence service, said Hanif’s real name is Abdulhaq Haji Gulroz, and he is an Afghan from Nangarhar’s Chaparhar district.

Mr Ansari has given conflicting accounts of Hanif’s arrest, saying on Tuesday he was picked up after crossing the border from Pakistan, but telling reporters yesterday the arrest was made about 15 miles outside the Nangahar provincial capital of Jalalabad.

Another purported Taleban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, confirmed Hanif’s arrest in a phone call from an undisclosed location, but said that the Taleban’s governing body had already appointed a new spokesman, Zadiullah Mujahid.

He said the arrest would not affect the Taleban’s campaign.

Hanif used to convey alleged statements from Omar and comment on fighting in the north, centre and east of the country.

Western and Afghan officials have claimed a number of recent successes against senior Taleban leaders.

On Tuesday, NATO-led troops and Afghan forces detained a prominent Taleban commander during a raid on a compound in southern Afghanistan.

The commander was the leader of the insurgents in Panjwayi district of neighbouring Kandahar province, where last summer NATO troops waged their biggest ground offensive in the western alliance’s history, said NATO spokesman Squadron Leader Dave Marsh.

“This seizure of a Taleban commander once again shows that there is nowhere to hide for insurgent leaders,” he added.

The captured militant, whom NATO did not identify, had fled another recent offensive by Afghan and NATO forces in the south of the country, the alliance said.

He was captured in the Gereshk district of Helmand province.

Musharraf, as we have noted before, is between the proverbial rock (pressure from the US) and a hard place (risk of all-out war on his own territory). Writes Reuters, Jan. 17:

Pakistan’s peace deals with pro-Taliban militants and tribal elders in the Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan were in jeopardy on Wednesday, a day after an army air strike on suspected Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

The timing of the attack, coinciding with a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Afghanistan, raised speculation that Pakistan was seeking to deflect U.S. criticism it was not doing enough to curb Taliban operating from its territory.

The strike — by rocket-firing helicopters on a cluster of compounds that intelligence officials said housed men loyal to pro-Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and half a dozen al Qaeda fighters — risked stirring up a hornets nest in Waziristan.

On Tuesday evening several hundred pro-Taliban militants, including Mehsud himself, gathered in Spinkay Raghza, 25 km (16 miles) north of South Waziristan’s main town, Wana, for what had all the makings of a council of war.

A source who attended told Reuters that Qari Hussein, a militant leader who called the meeting, told his followers to be prepared to take up arms once more against the Pakistan military and government functionaries.

“You should get ready. We can’t trust the government anymore. Fighting can erupt any time. Be ready for our second call,” the source quoted Qari Hussein as saying.

An intelligence official gave an even more dire version of events, saying South Waziristan’s militants believed the army had broken a treaty signed in February 2005, and would attack troops and officials inside or outside their compounds.

A Reuters witness saw helicopter gunships flying from the army’s fort in Miranshah, North Waziristan’s main town, as dawn broke less than an hour before the attack on the mountain village of Zamzola, just inside South Waziristan.

North Waziristan tribal elders who signed a pact with the government in September last year feared that saying anything about what happened at Zamzola could jeopardize their own accord.

“We don’t want to talk about it. If we speak against it or anything related to it, I know, our pact will be affected,” Malik Gul Marjan, a Dawar clan elder, told Reuters in Miranshah.

Tribesmen who are against the militants have often been targeted and people fear antagonizing either side.

“On the one side we have helicopters, and on the other hand, there is a knife, so we have no choice other than to keep our mouths shut,” said Mohammad Khan, a Miranshah shopkeeper.

See our last posts on Pakistan, Waziristan and Afghanistan.