Crazy Posturing Over Hakimullah Mehsud Drone Killing Drowns Out Key Question: Why Now?

We are awash in analyses of the drone killing on Friday of Hakimullah Mehsud, who was the leader of Pakistan’s Taliban. Declan Walsh in the New York Times captures much of the puzzlement in the DC establishment over why Pakistan is responding not with celebration that Mehsud is dead, but with sharp questions for the US over yet another violation of Pakistani sovereignty. Walsh’s quote from Bill Roggio sums it up perfectly (under a headline of “In Pakistan, Drone Strike Turns a Villain Into a Victim”):

Virtually nobody openly welcomed the demise of Mr. Mehsud, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians. To some American security analysts, the furious reaction was another sign of the perversity and ingratitude that they say have scarred Pakistan’s relationship with the United States.

“It’s another stab in the back,” said Bill Roggio, whose website, the Long War Journal, monitors drone strikes. “Even those of us who watch Pakistan closely don’t know where they stand anymore. It’s such a double game.”

And Christine Fair provided another nuanced take on Mehsud:

Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at Washington DC’s Georgetown University, claimed there was little prospect of the proposed talks achieving anything.

“The Taliban killed 40,000 people. What lunatic thought there would be peace talks,” she said. “The American taxpayer is again taking out Pakistan’s terrorist garbage.”

Not to be outdone, Mike Rogers chimed in on Sunday:

Representative Mike Rogers, who chairs the House of Representatives’ permanent intelligence committee, said the slain militant, Hakimullah Mehsud, was a “bad guy” who was connected to attacks against Pakistani soldiers and to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which has forced closures of many schools for girls.

“This was a bad guy,” Rogers said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“There’s some information recently that concerned us about the safety of our troops. I feel a little better for our troops today than I did before this event happened.”

But all of this bleating about “wrongful mourning” threatens to drown out a very important point. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan held a press conference on Saturday. Dawn provides some coverage of his comments:

Speaking to both local and foreign media today, Nisar said the identity of those killed in the drone strike was irrelevant. “The government of Pakistan does not see this drone attack as an attack on an individual but as an attack on the peace process,” he said.

The interior minister said a three-member committee, comprising of Islamic clerics, was scheduled to leave for a meeting with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership on Saturday morning.

Claiming that TTP leadership including Hakimullah was aware of the meeting, he said he had written and telephonic records of recent correspondence between the government and the militant outfit.

/snip/

Chaudhry Nisar questioned timings of the Hakimullah’s killing by the US asking why he was targeted just a day before the talks. “Can this be called supporting peace initiative?”

Most press accounts of Nisar’s press conference include a reference to Nisar questioning the timing of the strike. But on Twitter yesterday, Arif Rafiq provided more details after reviewing a video of the press conference. It appears that Nisar went on to suggest that US interest in attacking Mehsud was only very recent and that previous opportunities to strike him had been bypassed:

Rafiq on Pak IM press conf

Those two important bits of information from Nisar certainly provide a basis for the claim that the US drone strike on Mehsud seemed at least as much an attempt to derail the peace talks as it was to take out Mehsud himself. If previous opportunities had been skipped, it seems reasonable to conclude that his recent activities in moving toward peace talks were what got him killed.

It would appear that the reaction to Mehsud’s killing is continuing to gather steam inside Pakistan’s government. In addition to the calls from Imran Khan to block NATO traffic attempting to use the Khyber Pass crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is a reiteration today by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that US drone attacks in Pakistan are counterproductive:

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said “drone attacks are counterproductive” to Pakistan’s efforts for peace, Express News reported Monday.

But the venue in which Sharif delivered these remarks is very important:

He said this while speaking at Azm-e-Nau 4, one of the many military training exercises that are meant to introduce new war strategies.

And look what was included in the new war strategies:

The army allegedly shot down a drone during the exercise to demonstrate the development of anti-drone technology.

Stay tuned. This could get interesting.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

31 replies
  1. kris says:

    This is the second drone strike used to derail the peace process between the Pakistani government and Taliban. Previously, the US took out the main negotiator between the two sides. Clearly, the US does not want this process to succeed and will do whatever it takes to stop it, regardless of Pakistan’s wishes. How the MSM could miss this obvious policy decision is amazing.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Asians don’t cotton to attacks from the West, nor do they necessarily adhere to the West’s ideas of rationale thinking.

    Now it is not good for the Christian’s health
    To hustle the Aryan brown,
    For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles,
    And it weareth the Christian down.
    And the end of the fight
    Is a tombstone white
    With the name of the late deceased
    And the epitaph drear: ‘A fool lies here
    who tried to hustle the East.'”–Rudyard Kipling

    Which is basically why everyone hates the US over there, just as they hated the UK predecessors.

  3. Anonsters says:

    @kris:

    Clearly, the US does not want this process to succeed and will do whatever it takes to stop it, regardless of Pakistan’s wishes.

    Of course they don’t, and of course they will. The Taliban is still the Taliban. They haven’t become advocates for tolerance, sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. They’re still down with murdering women who want to go to school.

    The more important question than the ethics of violating Pakistan’s sovereignty, to me, is whether we should continue to think Pakistan is really our buddy. We give them way too much aid and way too much support, given their long track record of supporting people who want to attack America(ns). Maybe the good that will come out of all this will be a realization, finally, that we’ve been too generous with Pakistan.

  4. TarheelDem says:

    Can we indeed verify that the President ordered the attack? It is curious that the media has not bothered to ask him, even within a hostile frame of why was he allowing Pakistan to negotiate with terrorists.

    After all he supposedly controls the Tuesday “kill list”. Doesn’t he?

  5. bevin says:

    “The Taliban is still the Taliban. They haven’t become advocates for tolerance, sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. They’re still down with murdering women who want to go to school.”

    Dr Frankenstein, this is your monster.

  6. Nathanael says:

    When do you think Pakistan is going to kick the US out completely? It’s inevitable. Pakistan is a nuclear power now, so the US won’t dare to fight if Pakistan *does* kick the US out.

  7. C says:

    There may be another answer to the “Why now” question being “because we finally can”:

    Claiming that TTP leadership including Hakimullah was aware of the meeting, he said he had written and telephonic records of recent correspondence between the government and the militant outfit.

    If I recall correctly the last such “attack on the peace process” came after extensive electronic negotiations to bring the individual in question out of hiding. Perhaps prior opportunities were not judged to be good enough and in this case the NSA finally found the right time and location because of the ongoing negotiations and then took advantage of it.

    In short perhaps the NSA and CIA view the negotiations as simply a targeting goldmine and are acting accordingly because previous spying efforts were unable to locate the targets with any certainty.

    If that is the case then this isn’t an attack on the peace process per-se just an act that is tone-deaf to the idea of a negotiated peace. Which makes some sense. From a policy point of view we don’t gain much by stopping peace in the long run it is better for us than more training ground for the future Al Quaeda. But the IC clearly doesn’t do “long-term.”

  8. Nathanael says:

    @Anonsters: Of course Pakistan is not a US ally. What are you gonna do about it? The sensible thing is to get the hell out. The idiots in the military-industrial complex seem to be itching for war with Pakistan instead.

    We lost the war in Vietnam, we lost the war in Somalia, we lost the war in Iraq, we lost the war in Afghanistan, we lost the war in Yemen, we would lose a war in Pakistan *very* quickly. Anyone suggesting it should be cashiered out of the military.

  9. Anonsters says:

    @bevin:

    Dr Frankenstein, this is your monster.

    I don’t get it. Explain, if you have a point (as opposed to a snarky comment that zings me somehow that flew over my head).

    @Nathanael:

    Of course Pakistan is not a US ally. What are you gonna do about it? The sensible thing is to get the hell out.

    We’re not in Pakistan. We occasionally venture over there with drones for strikes, which is the problem (violation of sovereignty without Pakistan’s permission). We’re in Afghanistan. I’m not convinced complete U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is what’s right. I hate war. I don’t want it. But when we went to Afghanistan in 2001, we bought it. We’re responsible for it. We are morally responsible for that country. Not least because of all the mistakes we’ve made. Just abandoning that responsibility doesn’t seem right to me. Not least because the Taliban is still a reasonably strong, viable organization that will seek to, once again, take over Afghanistan once we’re gone. We’ve been bungling this for years and years and years. Yes, I very much fear an unending war. But I also fear what it means for us to just leave and let it all fall apart.

  10. Anonsters says:

    @C:

    In short perhaps the NSA and CIA view the negotiations as simply a targeting goldmine and are acting accordingly because previous spying efforts were unable to locate the targets with any certainty.

    This actually wouldn’t surprise me, since it reminds me of CIA monitoring of attorney-detainee meetings in GTMO through listening devices designed to look like smoke-detectors. Couldn’t get the information you wanted through torture? Let’s listen in on confidential, privileged attorney-client meetings! Blah.

  11. C says:

    @Anonsters: Yes. While a lot of hay has been made about Alexander’s claim that he sees himself as “Preventing another 9/11” I don’t think that it is the right kind of hay.

    To his supporters this is resolve, to his opponents it is a sign of hubris. In reality it is also an obsession that is used to legitimize, at least to themselves, all kinds of stupid behavior that in the long run cause more problems than they prevent.

  12. bevin says:

    Anonster the point is simple. Not only is the Taliban a creation of the US and its Saudi proxy but every one of the characteristics that you deplore, toleration and killing women seeking educations, for example were mobilised by the US to bring the Soviet Union “its Vietnam.”

    Your suggestion that this assassination, and its unmentioned, colateral killings, is justified becomes a nonsense when one recollects that it was the killers who put the Taliban up to their evil wahabi ways and, after training them carefully, unloosed them on Afghanistan’s secular government.
    Maybe you don’t do history, though.

  13. Nathanael says:

    @Bill Michtom: And Israel is an international pariah, surviving only because it’s got more military power than its immediate neighbors, and its next-but-one neighbors don’t care. (Its next-but-one neighbors are its military equals; Iran or Turkey could fight Israel to a standstill, and both together could destroy it.)

    The US seems to be trying to put itself in a similarly invidious position. Now you might think, what with the US spending more on its military than every other country in the world combined, that the US could get away with this. But the US has defective, obsolete, ideological military doctrine which is completely insane, and as a result, the US can’t actually win anything. This isn’t the US of Lincoln’s time, which dissolved the military between wars and brought in brand new people with brand new ideas for each war.

    Becoming a permanent international pariah is a *really bad move* for the United States. I would even call the sort of drone murders which make the US an international pariah *treasonous*, and I would call the NSA/CIA/DOD people who are doing them traitors. But they keep on doing it, and so far they haven’t been court-martialed for treason as they should have been. So, pariah status coming up quick!

  14. Nathanael says:

    @Anonsters: “But when we went to Afghanistan in 2001, we bought it. We’re responsible for it. We are morally responsible for that country. Not least because of all the mistakes we’ve made. Just abandoning that responsibility doesn’t seem right to me. Not least because the Taliban is still a reasonably strong, viable organization that will seek to, once again, take over Afghanistan once we’re gone. We’ve been bungling this for years and years and years. Yes, I very much fear an unending war. But I also fear what it means for us to just leave and let it all fall apart. ”

    We’ve lost. It’s already fallen apart. The best thing to do now is to *stop making it worse*. The anti-Taliban organizations, including the Afghan women’s organizations, were telling us to get out four years ago. We should listen to them.

    I know it’s hard to accept failure, but until we admit that WE FAILED, we can’t see clearly what needs to be done next — which is to GET OUT. We cannot solve this problem at this point because our military is incompetent to solve it.

    Maybe the Russians could solve it, if we asked them to. Maybe Iran could solve it, if we asked them to. Maybe if we dissolved the US military, fired all the generals and started fresh we could create a military which could. (This is arguably the correct thing to do, looking at US military history.) But in the next few years *the US cannot fix Afghanistan*. The US can only make things worse, so the best we can do is to get out.

  15. Anonsters says:

    @bevin:

    Ah, I gotcha. I didn’t understand that you were referring to our role in the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion.

    Unfortunately, that’s something we have to live with now. You would hope that kind of experience would serve as a lesson to us not to do it again, although I’m not very sanguine about our political leaders’ ability to absorb such wisdom. I’m all for reminding everyone about our role in Afghanistan’s post-Soviet issues. But that doesn’t substitute for an answer as to what we should do going forward. I’m most certainly not one of those, “Let’s look forward, not back” types who want to pretend nothing we ever did was either wrong or worth examining in detail for object lessons in what not to do again. But I’m also not someone who thinks learning from the past dictates what the future should be.

    As for this:

    when one recollects that it was the killers who put the Taliban up to their evil wahabi ways

    We didn’t create the Taliban’s ideology or otherwise “put them up to it”. They had their ideology before we ever got involved. We didn’t secretly fund Abdullah Azzam’s fatwa that ruled that it’s the duty of all Muslims to fight in Afghanistan. We didn’t secretly work with Sayyid Qutb or Hasan al-Banna.

    What we did was to take advantage of the arguments they were making in order to stick it to the Soviets. We funded and trained them; we gave them weapons. Yes, all true. All terrible ideas, I agree (as were, it seems, most of the things we did in the Cold War). But what we didn’t do was “put them up to” Wahhabism or takfirism.

  16. Anonsters says:

    @Nathanael:

    So what do you propose to do about the Taliban? Nothing?

    What happens when the Taliban reassert control over Afghanistan, once we’ve gone? They’re hiding out in Baluchistan and other Pakistan regions. You think once we’re gone they’re just going to stay in Pakistan? Do you think Pakistan isn’t going to encourage them to leave and go back to Afghanistan, once we’re gone?

    And once the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan again, do you think the Taliban aren’t going to allow terrorist networks to reestablish themselves there? These are the same Taliban who steadfastly refused to give up bin Laden, even when it was entirely in their interests to do so, and entirely contrary to their interests to protect him.

    Set aside everything’s happened (which, I’m perfectly happy to grant, has been a complete circus on our part). Exactly what future do you see Afghanistan having? You suggest Iran will handle it. I think that’s an interesting strategic decision you’re making: giving Iran basically hegemonic power over that region. I don’t suppose that’ll ever come back to haunt us, will it?

  17. JTMinIA says:

    @Anonsters: “These are the same Taliban who steadfastly refused to give up bin Laden, even when it was entirely in their interests to do so, and entirely contrary to their interests to protect him.”

    Um, that seems an interesting rewrite of history to me. Last I checked, the Taliban offered Bin Laden to Bush if Bush would stop bombing Afghanistan. Or is having asked for something (reasonable) in return count as “steadfastly refused” in your book?

  18. JTMinIA says:

    In any event, my guess is that we were using taps and traces on the phones used by Pakistan to negotiate the meeting with Mehsud in order to target the drones. Think of what that would mean for anyone considering talking instead of shooting … that the talking, itself, will used to kill you. Perpetual war, you betcha.

  19. Anonsters says:

    @JTMinIA:

    Last I checked, the Taliban offered Bin Laden to Bush if Bush would stop bombing Afghanistan. Or is having asked for something (reasonable) in return. . . .

    Yes, they “offered:”

    The offer came a day after the Taliban’s supreme leader rebuffed Bush’s “second chance” for the Islamic militia to surrender Bin Laden to the US. Mullah Mohammed Omar said there was no move to “hand anyone over”.

    So they rebuffed the American demand, then offered to turn him over the next day. What was that “offer,” though, supposing it to represent what the Taliban were actually prepared to do, as opposed to what the leader of the Taliban (Mullah Omar) said?

    Afghanistan’s deputy prime minister, Haji Abdul Kabir, told reporters that the Taliban would require evidence that Bin Laden was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US. “If the Taliban is given evidence that Osama bin Laden is involved” and the bombing campaign stopped, “we would be ready to hand him over to a third country”, Mr Kabir added. But it would have to be a state that would never “come under pressure from the United States”, he said.

    How reasonable an offer! Why, oh why, didn’t we accept?!?!

    But wait. There’s more. The Taliban had a history of “offers,” didn’t they? Why, yes, Bob:

    While the United States was thus pursuing bin Laden, he continued to be a cause of concern to Saudi Arabia. He had persisted in publicly criticizing the Saudi government, and he supported terrorist acts against the kingdom. In the spring of 1998, Prince Turki, on behalf of Saudi Arabia, had asked the Taliban to expel bin Laden. According to Turki, Mullah Omar agreed. The promise, however, wasn’t kept. [Ali Soufan, The Black Banners.]

    Or how about what Abu Jandal told interrogators, also from Soufan’s book, although the FBI 302s of their interrogation are also declassified if you want to check the source:

    When we asked Abu Jandal if he thought the Taliban would
    remain supportive of al-Qaeda if the United States attacked, he told us that the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, once said, “Only if the whole country of Afghanistan was burned and every Afghani killed would we be permitted to surrender a Muslim to the infidels.”

    But it’s touching, your willingness to believe that the Taliban are men of integrity.

  20. GKJames says:

    @Anonsters: You speak as if Afghanistan’s is a fate for Americans to decide. Afghanistan and, more important, the people who live there have never been foremost in the minds of policy makers. They’re mere props, used when convenient to justify the perpetuation of a military presence there, and are at the mercy of the outcomes of the knife-fights in the corridors of power in Washington. To be sure, that reality never gets in the way of the “moral obligation” trope.

    The reason for invading was arguably legitimate, though it’s commonly forgotten that the Taliban government at the time asked the US administration to support its extradition request with some facts supporting the allegation that Bin Laden helped perpetrate 9/11. Naturally, Bush saw this request as an affront and refused. Subsequently, having routed Bin Laden et al, he insisted that he was going to remake Afghanistan in America’s image. Moral concerns were inaudible among the cheers of approval.

  21. Jim White says:

    @JTMinIA: That may be, but also don’t forget that we snatched Latif Mehsud from Afghanistan’s intelligence service less than two weeks before Hakimullah was hit. It seems pretty likely that we got some helpful information from him.

  22. trent steele says:

    @Anonsters:
    “The more important question than the ethics of violating Pakistan’s sovereignty, to me, is whether we should continue to think Pakistan is really our buddy.”
    You demonstrate the intellect and mindset undeserving of freedom. “We” and “our” are not relevant. Small minds fall for the trick that the people on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon are “us.” They are just a group of people who happen to be in control of a vast military. What is good for them – in geopolitics, the economy, etc – has nothing whatsoever to do with 300+ million Americans. And what the Pakistani government does has nothing to do with the people there, either. Children who believe that “we” are the government are what keeps the fairytale going.
    It’s a lot easier to grasp what goes on when you find out cui bono, rather than watching dumbfounded at the “irrational” way that “we” conduct foreign policy. It is not counterproductive, it just isn’t concerned with producing anything good for the American people. Anything good that comes out of it is purely coincidental

  23. Anonsters says:

    @GKJames:

    though it’s commonly forgotten that the Taliban government at the time asked the US administration to support its extradition request with some facts supporting the allegation that Bin Laden helped perpetrate 9/11.

    See my above comment, wherein I quote the statement of their conditions for “extradition” that went quite a bit beyond what you represent them to have been.

    I really find it quite startling that people here think the Taliban are perfectly reasonable, decent dudes, and that really it’s all just evil machinations of American politicians that got us bogged down in Afghanistan, and that if we just got out once and for all, things wouldn’t be so bad.

    I find this quite startling because I tend to agree with the general slant of EW. The past 12 years have been deeply shameful ones in our history. The security state we’ve erected post-9/11 is horrifying to me.

    But I’m not so blinded by that as to think the world’s black and white, that we’re the only ones covered in the mud, and that everyone else must therefore be relatively innocent.

  24. Anonsters says:

    @trent steele:

    You demonstrate the intellect and mindset undeserving of freedom.

    I’m so happy you feel entitled to legislate who does and doesn’t deserve freedom, mein führer.

  25. trent steele says:

    @Anonsters:
    I’m free to have an opinion. It’s you who immediately assumes that someone’s opinion is tantamount to “legislat[ion]”. The mind of a statist child, indeed.
    If you think that when the U.S. military bombs, or the U.S. Ambassador negotiates, etc., that it is you doing it, too, then you are a useful idiot. Every State needs them to survive, so I hope you’ll figure it out and withdraw your support.

  26. GKJames says:

    @Anonsters: What you’re in fact startled by is your own strawman, given the absence of ANY contention by ANYONE that “the Taliban are perfectly reasonable, decent dudes.” The fact remains that they were the government of Afghanistan. Cretinous as they might have been, they were no more or less so than the stable of equally offensive regimes that the US nurtures. (And speaking of highly selective morality, how are those invasion plans for Saudi Arabia coming along?) In the end, outsiders are not going to impose a “solution” on Afghanistan. The sooner that becomes clear in Washington, the better. Every casualty in the interim is an obscenity.

  27. Anonsters says:

    @GKJames:

    Cretinous as they might have been, they were no more or less so than the stable of equally offensive regimes that the US nurtures.

    With the key difference being that the Taliban supported and nurtured radical terrorist groups, whereas other cretinous regimes, like Egypt and Saudia Arabia, tended to persecute such groups. Since such groups also targeted Egypt and Saudia Arabia themselves. Zawahiri’s main goal in life was to overthrow the Egyptian government in order to install an Islamist government. Egypt went after Egyptian Islamic Jihad for that reason. Where did EIJ find refuge? Afghanistan, with the Taliban.

  28. Anonsters says:

    @JTMinIA:

    @trent steele:

    Both of you conveniently ignore that I was making arguments based on quotations and a knowledge of who the people we’re fighting are, whereas trent steele blazed an amazing trail with “undeserving of freedom,” using much the same language that Islamists use, who say unless you’re adherents of their flavor of Islam, you’re undeserving of freedom (not to mention life). But yes, trent steele, your “logic” (calling someone undeserving of freedom and a stalinist child) is truly compelling. You’re a master of reason. I bow at your feet.

    My rhetorical reply was precisely meant to show you how ridiculous you are with your rhetoric. If you have anything of substance to say, like several other respondents to my comments above have, I’ll consider it and respond. If you want to keep hurling names, like, say, a child (Stalinist or not), consider me done with you.

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