It takes guts to find yourself in Mir Ali awaiting a Taliban escort. Ishtiaq Mahsud, the credited AP writer and presumed reporter, soon found himself bumping out of North and into South Waziristan during a 6 hour car ride through the mountains.
The prize, however, is worth it - exclusivity. His Taliban handlers were sent by Waliur Rehman, TTP deputy to Hakimullah Mehsud, who Mahsud found sitting “relaxed” on a carpet. Claiming to be the first interview since Pakistan’s operation started, perhaps making him talkative, Rehman discharged jewel after jewel of information.
A propaganda maze has been erected around military operations. COIN 101: what’s real and what’s not?
For starters he claims Osama bin Laden is alive and still directing al-Qaeda operations, most likely preparing for after his death. “I know he is in touch with his people and he is communicating with them to convey his instructions," Rehman said.
We will only say this: if bin Laden is dead it’s one of the best kept secrets in history, by either side, US or al-Qaeda. US and Pakistani officials will forever disagree because they’re both right - if bin Laden isn’t dead then he’s moving between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rumors also say he lives comfortably, not in a cave.
Rehman also said Hakimullah was "not far away" and safe. There’s simply no way to verify this statement, but he seems to be alive which matters most. Rehman also claimed he's lost only 20 fighters, which makes sense since Islamabad cut a ceasefire with him.
The headline leads with his claim that the TTP is reinforcing the Afghan Taliban while Pakistan occupies South Waziristan. In what amounts to a war declaration, Rehman said, "Since (President Barack) Obama is also sending additional forces to Afghanistan, we sent thousands of our men there to fight NATO and American forces. Taliban needed our help at this stage, and we are helping them."
Col. Wayne Shanks, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, headed off Rehman’s statements in what Octopus Mountain deems a good response time. Now what about a response. Shanks called Rehman's comments "rhetoric,” obviously, that were not to be believed.
"We have not noticed any significant movement of insurgents in the border area," he said.
A qualifier - “significant movement.” Why would the TTP move in large numbers to cross the border? This could have been part of the plan, and if so it would have started three months ago. The border is notoriously porous and General McChrystal was forced to abandoned some outposts, which Pakistan interpreted as shady.
How could a thousand fighters be noticed over a 75 day period along a 500 mile border? But the question is whether the TTP actually did or not. Naturally Rehman is attempting to spin the retreat from 30,000 Pakistani troops. Guerrillas don't dwell on those who speak of running and retreating. So what if they're running?
They're being chased by warplanes and gunships!
Some hundreds of fighters, maybe a few good commanders, have probably infiltrated Afghanistan as reinforcements; they can’t all hide in the cities. Afghanistan is more dangerous so the leadership won’t be going, but it stands to reason that, at least in their minds, the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban believe they can interchange.
Success is another matter, one that we’ll leave to the battlefield. Here’s two certainties: “We would again become Pakistan's brother if Pakistan ends its support for America.” Clearly meant to rattle the cage, but 100% true.
Rehman coupled this statement with a hand to the American people, something becoming common among al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, possibly an attempt isolate the US government as the enemy. He urged Obama to focus on repairing the U.S. economy and health care system.
"He should know that Americans don't want war," Rehman said. "He should use this money for the welfare of his own people." How ironic, the hundred million Americans who agree with him. They should get used to more war and more money for war.
A Guardian report outlines America’s pressure on Pakistan to either move into Balochistan itself or stand to the side.
"Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan,” General McChrystal wrote in his August review. “The Quetta shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the following year."
Pentagon officials probably started lobbying White House officials as soon as the wire came in. Unfortunately there’s no good way into Balochistan, not even planted terrorism. And again, why Balochistan if the “Quetta shura” moved to Karachi? America just wants in - regardless of the political and social consequences.
A former US official involved with Pakistan relations said the Obama administration was aware of a possible backlash, should drones start hitting Balochistan. And yet, the source added, “if we are serious about going after targets in Balochistan, particularly Quetta, then we'll have to do it ourselves.”
"We've already established that precedent with the Pakistanis," he said. "We told them: 'We want you to do this. But if you won't, we will. So get out of our way'."
Another Guardian report revealed that US Special Forces conducted black-ops unknown even to Pakistan from 2003 to 2008. Why not now? Octopus Mountain won’t be surprised if the TTP is in Afghanistan or when the first Reaper strikes, nor when the local backlash severely damages US-Pakistani relations.
Propaganda can only paper over so many leaks. This conflict won't cooled down in time for Obama's reelection campaign in summer 2011.