Frederick Harrison Novels



The Drone Paradigm

a novel by Frederick Harrison

Copyright 2012 by Frederick Harrison


The house had but a single room and a shed attached at the back to serve as a kitchen.    Its few windows covered with heavy cloth, the room was illuminated by hanging kerosene lanterns, which left deep shadows in the corners.   The only furnishings were a Persian rug at the end opposite the door on which sat a low table surrounded by brocaded cushions of varied, unmatched hues and patterns.   At the table, his back to the wall, sat a bearded man wearing the robe and turban common to the populace of the area.   They had once been white, but were now colored by the red oxide dust that permeated the arid hills of northwest Pakistan in summer.   The man, Mir Batani Khan, who had been sitting there for more than two hours with eyes fixed on the door opposite, was the self-proclaimed new leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, his predecessor having been killed two weeks earlier by a CIA drone-launched missile.   The house, owned by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the ISI, was a well-guarded meeting place where people otherwise on opposite sides could get together to discuss and agree on matters of mutual interest.

            An hour later, two men came through the front door and crossed the room.  They wore robes and turbans similar to Batani’s, but theirs were pristine and being worn apparently on top of western trousers.   One of the men, tall and powerfully built, was General Pervez Orkamzi, Chief of the ISI, the other Mahmud al-Fasal, emissary of Abdul Rashid, a legend among the hard bitten fighters of the Islamic jihad.  Batani had never met Abdul Rashid, but knew he was located in Europe, and was the source of the seemingly endless supply of money and materiel that reached Islamic warriors in the far off mountains of central Asia and elsewhere in the world.   He could tell from the metal suitcase that al-Fasal was carrying that this occasion would be no different.

            As soon as the newcomers seated themselves on the cushions surrounding the table, a woman appeared from the kitchen carrying first a steaming samovar, then cups and plates of sweetmeats and tiny pastries.   She was covered head to toe in a dun colored birqa with full face covering, a slit in which permitted her to see what she was about.   After serving the men, she backed into a shadowy corner of the room to await their further needs.   General Orkamzi spoke first--- in English, their only common language.

            “We welcome you, Mir Batani Khan, and Your Excellency Mahmud al-Fasal to our humble meeting place.   The Government of Pakistan and its military establishment are anxious to assist in the successful conclusion of your business and, in doing so, advance the interests of a resurgent Islam.”

            His listeners nodded impatiently, anxious to get on with business.   With a hand resting on the suitcase beside him, al-Fasal spoke immediately to the issues at hand:

            “My brothers!  So that we are able to leave this depressing room as rapidly as possible, let me go directly to the questions Abdul Rashid wishes me to raise.   As you know, for a number of years, he has been providing substantial resources to achieve the triumph of Islam in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is prepared to continue doing so.”   His listeners waited for the other shoe to drop.

            “However,” al-Fasal continued, “conditions have changed significantly of late, and we wish to have your appraisal of these new developments and hear of the actions you are planning to take in response.”

            “To what developments are you referring, Excellency?” Orkamzi asked disingenuously, looking at Batani who said nothing.

            “I am referring to the great difficulties our friends in the mountains of both your countries are experiencing as a result of the continuing CIA success in striking them with missiles launched from drone aircraft.   There is also the offensive undertaken by your army in the border territories, General Orkamzi, as well as the improved capabilities and greater combat effectiveness of the Americans and their allies.   The net result has been that many surviving Taliban fighters have been fleeing to the cities and more have begun to leave this area entirely.   I know this because Abdul Rashid has been forced to underwrite their evacuation, and is greatly concerned that the jihad in your countries may be failing.”

            Neither of al-Fasal’s companions replied directly, recognizing that he too was being disingenuous.   Mir Batani Khan knew that the American drone attacks owed their success, in significant measure, to intelligence provided by the Pakistani ISI with the approval and support of Abdul Rashid.   Both he and Orkamzi were also aware that the Islamic fighters “rescued” by Abdul Rashid and al-Fasal were, in fact, being recruited and redeployed for service in other insurgencies, particularly in Yemen and Somalia.   The ISI chief had exacted a substantial facilitation fee to assist this movement.   Pausing to add emphasis to his next words, al-Fasal continued:

            “Most importantly of all, Abdul Rashid fails to perceive the virtue in terror-like attacks by our brothers on the innocent residents of Pakistan’s cities.   Great damage is being done to our cause, even when the targets are soldiers and policemen.   Should the Taliban persist in its present course, the situation will certainly become much worse, and it may become impossible for Abdul Rashid to continue his support.”

            Batani did not show alarm at al-Fasal’s words, nor did he bother to search Orkamzi’s face for signs of support.   Rather, he calmly took a sip of tea and made an elaborate show of selecting a fig from a plate on the table.

            “We of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” he replied finally, “greatly appreciate your advice and the assistance given us by Abdul Rashid.   We also acknowledge the truth of your criticism regarding the attacks in Pakistan’s cities, which hopefully will shortly cease.   There is a belief in the West that the Taliban is a single, unified organization in which all members obey the orders of a single leader.   This is, unfortunately, not true---at least not yet.    The attacks in Pakistan are being carried out independently by a number of elements, commonly out of frustration with their inability to deal effectively with the American drone operations, which are known to be facilitated by the ISI.   My brothers seek to cause the Pakistani government to end such assistance and to send the Americans home.    The actual result, however, has been total disaster:  the people are blaming us along with the government and the Americans, the Army is angry because we embarrass them with our attacks and kill their soldiers, and now Abdul Rashid threatens to leave us penniless.   Clearly, we must have a new strategy.”

            Orkamzi and al-Fasal exchanged surprised looks.   Their task was, perhaps, going to be less difficult than expected.

            “There is general agreement that our primary objective is to get America and NATO out of Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Batani continued, “and there would be little objection to including foreign, Islamist zealots among those to be ejected.    There is little support among our people for the jihadi fanatics who have brought us nothing but pain and destruction. 

            “Unfortunately, however, most of our leaders believe that reaching our goal requires continually attacking the infidels and inflicting upon them casualties sufficient to make them leave, as the Americans left Vietnam.   But, this approach is not proving successful, first because the infidels are a lot stronger and more numerous than we and, second, because the United States Government leadership must have some basis on which to declare victory before it can withdraw from Afghanistan without gravely jeopardizing its political future at home.   The success of the drone campaign is, unfortunately, encouraging the Americans, just as it emphasizes to us the hopelessness of our current strategy.”

            Mir Batani Khan paused at this point while he searched out another fig.

            “In considering our dilemma,” he continued finally, “we came to the realization that both the American concept of victory and ours are meaningless.   Just as we will never be strong enough to decisively defeat the invaders and their allies, they will never be able to create in their own image a regime and social order that will not begin to disintegrate the day after they leave.   The root of this dilemma is to be found in the mosques and madrassas where those who claim to speak for God instruct the common people what to believe and how to act, including to kill themselves and many others in the name of God.   Unless the most extreme of them can be eliminated and the rest controlled, there will  be little hope for peace, both within Islam as well as between Islam and the West.   We do not believe the Americans and their friends alone are up to that task.”

            Batani paused to gage the effect of his words, and saw that his listeners were eagerly awaiting his peroration.  

            “Our conclusion is that we should devote our best efforts to helping the infidels convince one another that they have succeeded in Afghanistan, and can now safely go home.   If, in doing so, we can reduce the number of our brothers killed and rebuild my country’s economic infrastructure, so much the better.   In the future, gentlemen, you will find us transformed from insurgents into dedicated international entrepreneurs, although it may be difficult at times to tell the difference.”

            His hosts were already lost in wondering how their superiors would greet Batani’s revelation, and what it would mean for their own places in the byzantine world in which they operated.   Al-Fasal pulled forward the suitcase he had brought with him.

            “I have here the funds that Abdul Rashid has sent to support your operations.   In light of your new strategy, I am curious to know what you plan to do with the money?”    Mir Batani Khan smiled.

            “It is critical that we be prepared to fill the vacuum created by the Americans’ departure, lest there be chaos.    The funds provided by Abdul Rashid---and more---will be devoted to creation of a cadre of experts and officials able to assume operational control of the country in the cause of a just and merciful Islam.   Such people must be paid at a rate sufficient to assure they will not be lured away by the ultra extremists or the CIA.   We must also be prepared to fund whatever facilitations are necessary to assure that our people and organizations are not hindered in their missions.”

            At the conclusion of the meeting, Batani was escorted by General Orkamzi to the army truck that would take him, concealed among its cargo, back to Quetta.   Mahmud al-Fasal, also preparing to leave, turned to the serving woman still standing quietly in a corner of the room:

            “Were you able to hear and understand everything, Miss Crossman?”

            “Yes, thank you, sir!”

            Hannah Crossman had also been able to record the conversation in the room on a highly sensitive device concealed under her birqa.   Since the recording was digital, it was sent that evening to Washington as an encrypted email attachment.   Two days later, when she reappeared at CIA Headquarters in Washington, the conversation had already been transcribed, and was being discussed in the Director’s seventh floor suite.

            “I’ve been waiting to talk with you, Hannah, before briefing the President on this very bizarre meeting.”   The speaker was Admiral Philip Bergen, Director of National Intelligence, who had come over from his nearby headquarters; Hannah was his immediate assistant and sometime representative in unlikely places.    She was also a member of the National Clandestine Service and a career employee of the CIA.    Contrary to the common belief that the best intelligence agents are unobtrusive, Hannah was remarkable for her beauty, which had given rise to the counter belief that no one would suspect a woman noticed by everyone of being a spook.

            “Batani’s sudden rise to the top was totally unexpected, since he was not considered a member of the inner circle.   What do we know about him?”   

            “Assuming we have the right man,” Hannah responded, “Batani is in his mid-thirties, born and raised in Kandahar.   He reportedly left Afghanistan in his late teens and ended up in Egypt, where he enrolled at Cairo University to study business administration.   While a student, he was recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood and presumably radicalized.   The file is essentially bare for the next ten years, with only low-level reports of Batani showing up in Lebanon and Yemen.   He reappears back in Afghanistan two and a half years ago, first with the Northern Alliance and then with the Taliban.   There is no photograph in the file.”

            “It’s odd that he’s made no effort to proclaim his ascendance, as though he doesn’t care whether or not anyone knows about his claim to be in charge,” CIA Director James Detwiler noted.    “I suspect the only reason he showed up at your meeting was to collect al-Fasal’s money,”

            “More than likely, he’s being quiet about it because a substantial number of his Taliban brothers have not yet accepted his claim to leadership,” Bergen responded.

“The whole business is very strange,” Detwiler’s deputy, Sam Glover, added.   “Why did al-Fasal and Orkamzi invite us to send someone to eavesdrop on this meeting?”  

            Bergen shrugged.   “I can be persuaded that it was done so we would have incontrovertible evidence that the meeting actually took place and that what was recorded was, in fact, said.    What is not clear is whether the whole thing was real or staged for our benefit.   However, I find it difficult to believe that either Orkamzi or al-Fasal thinks so little of us that he could believe we would fall for a charade.”

            “What could they have hoped to gain from faking it?”  Glover wondered.

            “I have almost the same question, even if what Hannah saw and heard was real,” Detwiler added.   “What is it that these two very astute and experienced players want us so badly to believe that they would go to such lengths?”

            “And, remember,” Glover added, “Orkamzi and al-Fasal are not principal. There are more senior people behind them.   It’s not difficult to suspect the clever hand of Abdul Rashid in this.”

            “Taken at face value, Batani’s revelation of the Taliban’s new strategy is a blockbuster,” Admiral Bergen acknowledged.   “He claims that, no matter what we do in Afghanistan---and presumably elsewhere in the Muslim world---to create the basis for a more modern and democratic society, it will ultimately be undone by the sermons of radical imams calling the faithful back to the 5th Century.   What do you think?”

            “It could be a persuasive argument,” Detwiler allowed.   “Americans have grown increasingly tired of the war, which we have already said the Afghans must resolve for themselves.   With the assistance of Batani and his associates, it might be very possible to help us convince ourselves that the end is at hand.   It would be very difficult for an American President to forego what would appear to be a golden opportunity to bring the troops home.”

            “What I would like to know,” Bergen grumbled, still unsatisfied, “is why Orkamzi and al-Fasal felt we needed to know about this first hand and in such a dramatic way?   You were there, Hannah.   What were your impressions?”

            “From the corner in which I was standing, Orkamzi’s back was to me, but I could see the faces of Batani and al-Fasal very well.   When the Taliban revealed his new strategy, the look on al-Fasal’s face and Orkamzi’s body language told me that both were taken by surprise.   I couldn’t accurately tell whether their shock was pleasant or unpleasant, but they clearly listened more intently thereafter.   If I had to bet, I would commit to Batani’s revelation not being what they brought me all the way to Pakistan to hear.

            “My strong impression is that Batani waylaid them, principally to get al-Fasal’s suitcase full of money, but also to amuse himself at their expense.   I could tell from the fleeting expressions on Batani’s face that he was enjoying himself immensely, particularly when Orkamzi and al-Fasal realized---as he knew they would--- that they had no choice but to continue supporting him.   Batani appears to have a wry sense of humor, and the way he talks leads me to believe that he’s not your usual Islamist zealot.”

            “That helps a lot, Hannah,” the Admiral responded.   “But, now I’m wondering what it was that your hosts thought Batani was going to say that rated an on-scene witness like yourself.”

            “We’ve been working covertly with Orkamzi and al-Fasal’s boss, Abdul Rashid, for several years now,” James Detwiler noted.    “We know their primary objectives are contrary to ours, but that there are certain areas in which our interests coincide and where we can help one another.   With Abdul Rashid’s influence and money, we’ve gotten Orkamzi’s intelligence people to provide targeting information for our drones, since both sides want to prevent the Islamist extremists from capturing Pakistan and the jihad.   Perhaps, Orkamzi and al-Fasal wanted to bring to our attention what they thought was a serious, new threat or requirement.”

            “That’s possible, Jim,” Bergen responded, ”but I suspect that explanation won’t satisfy the President.   You know what an intelligence junkie he is, always asking questions and demanding more details.   He wants to see me about something tomorrow afternoon, and I will need to brief him on this development.   When the President asks a serious question, it is never satisfactory for a Director of National Intelligence to answer: “Beats the hell out of me!”



Mahud al-Fasal, back in Paris, lowered himself with a sigh to the cushions in front of the low tea table, covered as usual with newspapers and correspondence from around the world.   This was the sanctum sanctorum of Abdul Rashid from which al-Fasal had never known him to stray, at least not willingly.   His large house, surrounded by a high wall, was the subject of continuing neighborhood curiosity because of the stream of limousine with dark-tinted windows that passed through its guarded gate.   No one had ever seen a person on foot, other than servants, enter or leave the premises.  People wanting to do business with Abdul Rashid invariably came to him, either in person or via the state-of-the-art communications center installed in the house.           

            However, the business affairs of Abdul Rashid had been in eclipse for almost two years, and the trend was not encouraging.   A brilliant strategist, his principal occupation was to usefully deploy enormous funds donated to the international jihad by Islamic political and business interests out of religious conviction or to protect their national and personal equities (or all of the above).    Of late, however, the movement was being buffeted by an increasingly strong divergence between fundamentalists and relative moderates, the former seeking to wage unrelenting warfare against those standing in the way of their extremist aspirations, whether they be infidels or fellow Muslims, while the latter sought to preserve relationships necessary to the international businesses and political accommodations upon which their interests and fortunes depended.  

Abdul Rashid, the ultimate middleman, realized that he could not successfully promote the interests of both sides simultaneously.    Victory by the extremists would come at the expense of the moderates who were the primary source of the very generous fees that supported the Paris household to which he was confined by the premature explosion of a bomb that cost him his legs during a less than successful career as a terrorist more than twenty years earlier.    More significantly, he believed the extremists would destroy international order, along with themselves and thousands of innocent people, in an ultimately vain pursuit of their quest.

            Mahmud al-Fasal, an Arab businessman and political operative with French citizenship, served as Abdul Rashid’s emissary to the outside world, racing from region to region in his private jet to set up operations, solve problems, and dispense large amounts of cash.    He also managed to trade for his own account in a number of international markets for desirable commodities like low-sulfur crude oil, gold, and rare earths, while dabbling also in munitions.    Success had rewarded him with a large, permanent suite in one of Paris’s finest hotels, where he could be at Abdul Rashid’s call while enjoying the amenities of the French capital.     Al-Fasal’s preference, however, was his villa on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean in the South of France, to which he repaired at the slightest provocation.   It was also enjoyed, as a discreetly private meeting place, by senior intelligence officers from countries throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, most of whom were in the pay of Abdul Rashid to one extent or another.

            Al-Fasal agreed with his employer’s view of the extremists and their ultimate threat to the Islamic cause.   At Abdul Rashid’s direction, he had established contact with Philip Bergen, proposing a covert meeting to discuss possible arrangements of mutual benefit.   The meeting, which had taken place in Paris two years earlier, established the basis for a cooperative arrangement between otherwise existential enemies that had yielded benefits to both sides in areas where their interests coincided.

            Operationally, their plan was simple and focused initially on Pakistan, which at the time offered the fundamentalists the best prospect of success.   Principal targets were the foreign jihadis who were employing their greater expertise, experience, and religious zeal to guide and stimulate international and local insurgent activities.    Many had been operating for years from the safety of the mountainous region on the border with Afghanistan, and considered themselves invulnerable.    American and Pakistani intelligence services often knew where they were, but were unable to get to them.   While directed by his masters to support their cause, Abdul Rashid was gravely concerned that, if successful in establishing a fundamentalist state in Pakistan, the extremists would ultimately deal the Islamic cause a fatal blow by uniting the rest of the world against it in a dedicated battle to the death that neither side could completely win.

            The American weapon of choice was the missile-launching Predator drone aircraft operated principally by the CIA.    Able to lurk unseen and unheard at high altitude for a long period of time, the aircraft’s sensors scanning for a target that could be still or moving, the Predator’s remote controllers could direct a relatively small Hellfire missile with almost unerring accuracy at individuals riding in a vehicle or seemingly safe indoors.   Under Abdul Rashid’s agreement with Admiral Bergen, al-Fasal arranged for General Orkamzi’s ISI to provide the Americans tactical intelligence critical to making the drones operationally effective: clear identification of the individuals to be targeted and timely tip off as to where they could be found.

            The cooperative venture succeeded well beyond expectations, and the United States poured additional resources into expanding the drones’ numbers and capabilities, in addition to boosting intelligence collection and processing.   Eventually, extremist leaders who had been unassailable in their mountain hideouts found themselves at serious risk of being suddenly killed while riding on a back road or lying in bed, their principal vulnerability being the mobile telephone, which permitted them to conduct business from remote, otherwise unreachable locations, but was also exploitable by American intelligence agencies.  

            Abdul Rashid had succeeded in preventing the extreme fundamentalists from capturing the jihadist movement in Pakistan, but at the cost of perhaps the best opportunity to establish in that country an Islamist regime to spur the revival of the fabled caliphate that once ruled much of the civilized world.    To recoup, he quickly shifted the focus of his and al-Fasal’s efforts to the Horn of Africa, specifically Yemen and Somalia, which offered perhaps the best such opportunity on the near horizon.    The new targets, however, were problematic, insofar as they were geographically much closer to the region from which the bulk of Abdul Rashid’s funding came, donations that were intended, in great measure, to buy peace and deter interference from the very people he was importing into the area.   Abdul Rashid sighed and, as Mahmud al-Fasal watched with concern, began to knead the stumps of his absent legs. 

            “What was the result of your meeting with Mir Batani Khan?” he asked.   “Hopefully, Orkamzi appreciated our assistance in getting the Americans to send a trusted representative to hear, first hand, the strategic intentions of the Afghan Taliban, so that Washington would agree to increase military and financial aid to Pakistan.    Of course, as an added benefit, that would enhance the General’s reputation among his colleagues.”  

            “A great shock, Excellency.   Orkamzi was concerned that Batani Khan, who is not well known, would scare Bergen’s representative to death.   But, it turned out that we were the ones scared.   The new Taliban strategy under Batani will be the virtual opposite of the old one that Orkamzi depended upon and the Americans expected.   Instead of waging an all-out campaign to the death to drive the infidels out, Batani intends to turn the other cheek, contriving to appear peaceable and accommodating, so that the Americans and NATO will seize the opportunity to declare victory and go home.”

            “Do you believe that approach will work?”

            “Putting myself in the Taliban’s position, I believe it is worth trying, since it is both low cost and low risk.   They can always start again to blow things up, should it fail.   I suspect that American domestic politics will be the critical element.    The war in Afghanistan appears to be dragging on with no end in sight and little concrete evidence that it can be won, assuming there would be an agreed definition of “win,” which is unlikely.”

            “Did you give Batani our funds?”

            “I did, primarily because I could think of no reason not to do so.   It is possible that his new strategy might be made to benefit our own objectives.   On the other hand, however, it may introduce entirely new elements of competition and struggle into the jihad and our relationships with the West.    We need to remember that Batani has not adopted his new strategy because he believes himself defeated, but rather because he sees a more promising path to success.”

            In Islamabad, General Pervez Orkamzi was puzzling the same questions, while attempting, with limited success, to explain the significance of Batani’s pronouncements to his General Staff colleagues.

            “It is not yet apparent what Mir Batani Khan is up to, but I am not happy with the prospect of him leading an independent Afghan Taliban movement.   Pakistan’s critical interests and long term general strategy demand that we prevent the emergence of an Afghanistan that is not closely tied to us, whether it comes under fundamentalist rule or not.   Failure in this would complete our encirclement by states larger and much better endowed than we, further reducing our already limited leverage.   In the end, we may need to kill Batani or, better yet, get someone to do it for us.”

The Drone Paradigm
Paperback - 294 Pages  - $12.95



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