As Pakistan traverses a difficult path, trying to negotiate peace with militant groups under a shaky ceasefire, provocative statements have come out this week from leading figures in the process accusing the US of not wanting the talks to succeed and even suggesting that the US would actively try to undermine them.
Today, we have this very provocative statement from Maulana Samiul Haq, who has played a prominent role in getting the peace talks under way:
Attempts will be made to sabotage the efforts of the intermediary committees with regards to the peace talks, stated Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S) chief Maulana Samiul Haq while speaking to the media in Nowshera on Wednesday.
He said that “the third enemy” will definitely do something to create obstacles, adding that USA, India and Afghanistan do not want the peace negotiations to be successful.
Dawn’s coverage of the press conference describes Haq’s statement in this way:
Haq, chief of the Taliban negotiating committee, told reporters after the meeting that the Taliban committee was seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He praised the Taliban for announcing the ceasefire and said he had asked the militants to track down whoever was responsible for the recent violence.
Moreover, he also said that the announcement of a ceasefire from both sides was a major progress and that the Taliban had been asked to probe into those responsible for recent attacks.
The chief Taliban mediator added that Afghanistan, India and the United States wanted the dialogue process to fail.
He further said that the government and Taliban should jointly unveil the enemy.
It would seem that Haq is following his own advice here, because in the aftermath of Monday’s attack on the court in Islamabad, Haq had said this:
The government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) should not blame each other for any attack and should look for “the third enemy,” stated Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S) chief Maulana Samiul Haq while talking to the media in Islamabad.
So on Monday it appears that Haq called on Pakistan to identify the “third enemy” and then today he stated that the US, India and Afghanistan fill that role.
I had missed it in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s attack, but Imran Khan did not wait to identify the US as the enemy of peace in Pakistan:
Imran Khan, chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, said on Monday that some elements, including the United States, were against peace in the country and an operation in Waziristan region was not in favour of Pakistan, DawnNews reported.
I’m guessing that John Brennan’s drone trigger finger is getting very itchy about now and that he is looking into how he can break the current lull in US drone strikes. Especially considering that the DOJ has now been asked to investigate CIA spying on Senate Inteligence Committee staff computers and Brennan’s known history of using drone strikes in Pakistan as a political retaliation tool, I don’t see how he can keep himself in check any longer.
There are now multiple reports (one of the earliest is here) that while the world was concentrating on a number of pressing developments in the Ukraine and elsewhere last week, John Brennan slipped into Pakistan to pay a quiet visit. The visit seems to me to cap a series of developments that have taken place over the last few months to put into place a counterterrorism program in Pakistan that seems modeled on the US plan. Almost exactly a month ago, I had wondered whether Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was making a play for US counterterrorism funds that would become available as the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan Today has a summary of the series of meetings that has brought us to this point:
After a nearly three-year long freeze Pak-US relations are on the mend once again. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad paved way for Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with President Obama. In December, Pentagon Chief Chuck Hagel was in Pakistan where he also met the new COAS Gen Sharif. The prime minister’s meeting with President Obama in October was followed by a flurry of visits by civilian and military leaders from both sides. Important federal ministers including Sartaj Aziz, Ahsan Iqbal, Khwaja Asif and Shahid Khqan Abbasi have made several trips to Washington to discuss energy, trade and security related issues. During the last four weeks CENTOM Commander General Lloyd J Austin visited Islamabad to hold talks with COAS Gen Sharif and CJCSC Rashad Mahmood. Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik is currently in Washington leading a Pakistani delegation to hold military to military talks. Unconfirmed reports tell of CIA chief John Brennan having paid a clandestine visit to Rawalpindi to meet COAS Gen Sharif.
The article notes that security issues are driving the meetings:
The key factor is the concern for the security of the region after the US exits from Afghanistan. Washington wants to withdraw troops in an orderly manner and to ensure that the Afghanistan and Pakistan do not fall under the influence of Al Qaeda and other militant groups with global reach, threatening the US and its worldwide interests. After trying peaceful methods which failed, the PML-N government now seems to have realised the gravity of the situation and is inclined to take on the TTP and other militant groups. It knows however that it cannot deal with them on its own.
Oh, but that passage is so loaded with meaning. Recall that the talks between Pakistan’s government and the TTP were just getting ready to get started when John Brennan called for the drone strike that took out TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud. That strike seems to have tipped the balance for the TTP and Pakistan’s government to continue back and forth strikes rather than peace talks, with Pakistan now carrying out attacks on Taliban hideouts in the tribal areas using jet fighters. The latest attack, today, appears to have killed at least 30. But Pakistan can’t take on the militants on its own, so the US has to step up with support, at least according to the prevailing thought.
But now we see that Pakistan’s cabinet is suddenly discussing a draft security policy only a few days after John Brennan’s secret visit. From Dawn:
Sources told DawnNews that in accordance with the policy, the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) would be the focal organisation for national security, adding that the heads of the armed forces would be among members of Nacta.
The cabinet agreed that all decisions pertaining to anti-terror measures would be taken at the highest levels of authority.
The policy also entails the formation of a joint intelligence directorate to make the exchange of information more effective on federal and provincial levels.
Moreover, the policy document notes that the total strength of 33 national security organisations, including the police and other civil armed forces, both at the federal as well as the provincial level, exceeded 600,000, which is more than the sixth largest standing army of the world i.e. Pakistan.
Gosh, I wonder where Pakistan could have gotten the idea for a National Counter-Terrorism Authority? Perhaps from the person who was the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center in US? That, of course, was John Brennan.
In an interesting article in The Nation, we get a description of Pakistan’s complaint that Afghanistan is not attacking and perhaps even supporting TTP fighters who flee Pakistan’s tribal areas into Afghanistan: Continue reading
Update February 14: Khan has been freed! The Express Tribune reports that he was beaten and tortured, but is now free after being blindfolded and pushed out of a van.
In a very interesting development, Al Jazeera is reporting that disappeared drone activist Karim Khan had planned to testify before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on his trip to Europe which had been planned to begin on February 15. Khan was abducted from his home on February 5 and it is widely believed that Pakistan’s intelligence service was behind the abduction.
Khan made a very dramatic entrance into the world of drone activism in November of 2010, when he sued the US for $500 million after his son and brother were killed in a drone strike in their home village of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. In the lawsuit, Khan named the Islamabad CIA station chief:
A North Waziristan tribesman, whose brother and teenage son were killed in a drone strike last year, said on Monday that he would sue all those US officials supposedly in control of the predator’s operations in Pakistan.
Karim Khan, a local journalist from Mirali town of the lawless tribal district, had sent a $500 million claim for damages to the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, CIA chief Leon Panetta and its station head in Islamabad Jonathan Banks.
Khan described how Banks’ activities lead to the deaths of innocent civilians:
He told journalists that CIA Islamabad’s chief Jonathan Banks buys information from his local agents in the area to guide the drone strike.
However, he added that this information is wrong and misleading in most occasions causing the deaths of many innocent tribesmen.
Khan’s attorney throughout this process has been Shahzad Akbar. Akbar also represents Noor Khan, whose case in the Peshawar High Court resulted in the ruling that US drone strikes within Pakistan are illegal and constitute war crimes.
The fact that Akbar has gotten this ruling seems to me to add significance to the Al Jazeera report, which appears to cite Akbar as the source of the disclosure that Khan was to testify at the ICC:
A Pakistani court has ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to produce a prominent anti-drone campaigner, who was abducted last week, by February 20, or to categorically state that they are not holding him, the activist’s lawyers say.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Shehzad Akbar, the head of Karim Khan’s legal team, called Khan’s abduction from his Rawalpindi home late on February 5 “a signature government abduction”, alleging that Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearance.
Khan had been due to fly to Europe on February 15, on a trip that would see him testify before members of the European Parliament in Brussels, UK legislators in London and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on the US’ use of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The court which issued the ruling for the ISI to present Khan was the Lahore High Court:
Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench on Wednesday issued notices to security agencies to submit their reply in a case related to disappearance of an anti-drone activist as it ordered to present the man at the next hearing.
LHC Justice Shehzad Ahmad Khan was hearing a plea filed by the family of Karim Khan, who went missing a few days back.
During the proceedings, the police denied their involvement in the disappearance. “Khan was picked up by persons wearing police uniform but he is not in our custody,” the police report claimed.
On this, the court sought reply from all intelligence agencies and ordered them to present Khan on February 20, the next date of hearing.
But the court had actually called for Khan to be produced yesterday, as well: Continue reading
The past three days have seen a number of major attacks between Pakistan’s Taliban, known as the TTP, and Pakistan’s military. On Sunday, a bomb exploded in a van transporting Pakistani troops, killing 20. This attack took place in Bannu (Bannu will return to this story in a moment). On Monday, a suicide bomber killed 13 just a few meters from the outside wall of the General Headquarters of the Pakistani Army in Rawilpindi. Today, Pakistani jets killed at least 24 with bombs dropped in North Waziristan.
It appears that in the Sunday attack, the bomb was in a vehicle rented for transporting troops:
“The explosion took place in a civil Hiace van inside Bannu Parade Ground at 8:45 am,” a senior military official told The Express Tribune. The blast occurred just as Frontier Corps (FC) troops had stepped into the van ahead of their departure.
“The K-P paramilitary unit had rented a vehicle from the market for movement of its troops,” he added. The vehicle was supposed to carry the soldiers to Razmak, a town in North Waziristan Agency.
“It wasn’t immediately known whether it was a suicide bombing or the device was detonated through a remote control,” he added. “The van driver was also killed in the blast.”
The suicide bomber in Monday’s attack was first seen on a bicycle:
District Coordination Officer Sajid Zafar Dall said that at the time of the attack a gaggle of children were heading to school. “Our initial assessment is that the bomber was possibly on a bicycle and he then approached the target on foot,” he added. Since it was morning time, RA Bazaar was bustling with office-goers and schoolchildren.
Quoting eyewitnesses, Sardar Zulfikar, the SHO of RA Bazaar police station, said the bomber was walking towards the GHQ but detonated the explosive vest the moment he saw army troops at RA Bazaar’s main roundabout, T-Chowk. The building of National Logistics Cell is located nearby.
The RA Bazaar is considered a high security zone due to its proximity with the GHQ. Police investigators believe the bomber intended to target the military headquarters. However, he couldn’t get to his target due to the tight security.
Today’s bombing by the Pakistani Air Force appears to be in response to these attacks:
Several suspected militant hideouts were trampled by Pakistan’s military’s fighter jets in Mir Ali area of the North Waziristan, killing at least 24 persons and wounding 15 more, various local news channels reported on Tuesday.
The air strike followed a series of terrorist attacks across Pakistan in the past week, including Monday’s blast on a check post in Rawalpindi that martyred 6 army personnel and 7 civilians. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed the responsibility for the attack. The events had led to a mounting pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take tougher decisions in response to the recent attacks by TTP.
“This hadn’t been planned before, and Pakistan Air Force jets were called to hit hideouts of the militants involved in attacks on security forces,” said one military official speaking on condition of anonymity.
It appears that the operations by Pakistani forces are continuing in several locations in North Waziristan.
One tidbit in the long Washington Post profile of Pakistan’s Imran Khan stands out from the standard language describing the former cricket star who has developed a strong enough political movement to control one province. Just over halfway through the article, we have this description of Khan being summoned to a meeting of NATO diplomats after his blockade of the NATO cargo route through the north of Pakistan had become established:
In a blunt signal of the coalition’s unease, about 20 diplomats from NATO countries, including the United States, summoned Khan for dinner in early December at the German ambassador’s residence in Islamabad. According to Khan and others present, the encounter became tense.
“They kept saying, ‘Look, we have nothing to do with it; it’s all the CIA’ ” carrying out the drone attacks, Khan recalled.
Think about that for a minute. The war in Afghanistan is being fought under the NATO banner. Diplomats representing the top countries in that alliance summoned Khan and then lectured him to stop interfering with their supply convoys. They tried to convince Khan that they, as the leaders of the coalition, have no control over John Brennan’s drone strikes inside Pakistan.
But these strikes, of course, are described by the US as serving to protect US troops within the NATO coalition. And the coalition leaders tell Khan that he should stop his blockade of their supplies because they have no control over the drone strikes that have his constituents so upset. In other words, NATO has no control over John Brennan. He makes his decisions on timing and location of drone strikes with no NATO oversight or even input.
Khan instantly saw the absurd depravity of that argument from NATO. The quote from the Post article above cuts the final sentence from the second paragraph. Here is that sentence, which continues Khan’s description of the meeting to the Post:
“I said, ‘Look, you are all coalition partners.’ ”
Khan understands that in a real coalition, the partners would have a say in actions with as much import as drone strikes. But the NATO representatives, who took it upon themselves to lecture Khan about his blockade, had no objection to Brennan being out of their control. Instead, they were using it as an excuse to try to convince Khan to stop obstructing their convoys.
Who is the one with moral rectitude here? The one who understands how members of a coalition should behave or the one who insists that he needs no oversight on any front for raining down death from the sky?
Not many small towns of only a few thousand people are in the news as often or as prominently as Miranshah in North Waziristan of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan. Most often, it makes the news due to a drone strike carried out by the CIA. The last two days, however, have seen Miranshah and the surrounding area in the news for events that also pertain to the militants who hide out in the area, but for a distinctly different opponent of the militants.
Yesterday, five Pakistani soldiers were killed and over thirty were injured in a suicide attack:
At least five soldiers were killed and 34 wounded when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a military checkpoint in Pakistan’s troubled northwest on Wednesday, security officials said.
The attack came in the Mir Ali area of Miranshah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, a hub for Taliban and al Qaeda linked militants on the Afghan border.
The TTP was quick to claim responsibility and to state that it was in response to the recent killing of their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike just as the TTP was readying to enter into peace talks with Pakistan.
Today, we have news that the Pakistani military has struck back against the TTP, killing 23:
At least 23 suspected militants were killed late on Wednesday during a clash with security forces in the country’s troubled northwest, officials said.
According to a security official who requested anonymity, the suspected militants tried to ambush a convoy of security forces which was returning back from Khajuri checkpost area in Mirali Tehsil of North Waziristan tribal region.
The convoy had gone in the area to rescue soldiers who were injured in a suicide bomb attack yesterday.
Security forces retaliated with gunfire and encircled the suspects inflicting heavy casualties.
The gun-battle continued for several hours during which the 23 suspected militants were killed.
Coverage of this fight in the Express Tribune notes reports of three civilian deaths and puts the fighting at more than one site:
At least 23 suspected militants plus three civilians were killed in raids and shelling by the armed forces in North Waziristan, officials said Thursday.
Clashes erupted after the insurgents attacked a convoy of security forces which was returning after rescuing soldiers wounded in Wednesday’s bombing, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The death toll could not be verified independently because of an ongoing search operation and curfew in the area.
Earlier, local security officials said six of the suspected militants were killed during raids on two hotels.
“Security forces raided two hotels in the area close to the site of the suicide bombing and intense gunbattles left six suspected militants dead and 12 others wounded,” a local security official told AFP.
It is hard to overstate the significance of this development. One of the primary justifications cited for the US drone campaign that hits Miranshah so often is that the Pakistani military is both unwilling and unable to attack the militants on its own. Today, we see that quite the opposite is true. In response to a direct attack that killed five of its own, Pakistani military forces responded with a force large enough to kill 23 militants within 24 hours of the initial attack.
In its ongoing campaign to end CIA strikes as a violation of its sovereignty, Pakistan can point to today’s development as evidence that it is perfectly capable of taking its own actions against militant groups inside its borders.
Conversely, if the CIA had intelligent leadership, they would cite this development as a reason to end drone strikes in Pakistan.
As more details emerge on the drone strike Thursday in Yemen that hit a wedding party, it is becoming clear that the New York Times got it wrong, and those killed were mostly civilians rather than mostly suspected al Qaeda militants. A follow-up story in the Los Angeles Times on Friday put the death toll at 17, with only five of the dead having suspected al Qaeda connections. But CNN’s follow-up on Friday is even worse: they put the death toll at only 14, but they carried this statement from a Yemeni official:
“This was a tragic mistake and comes at a very critical time. None of the killed was a wanted suspect by the Yemeni government,” said a top Yemeni national security official who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to talk to media.
If we read between the lines, then, it would seem that although a few of those killed may have had al Qaeda connections, they were not of sufficiently high profile to merit being wanted by Yemen’s government.
The CNN story only gets worse:
The convoy consisted of 11 vehicles, and the officials said that four of the vehicles were targeted in the strikes. Two of the vehicles were completely damaged. Among the killed were two prominent tribal leaders within the province.
This piece of information alone seems to embody all of the moral depravity of the US drone program as it now stands. Despite all the bleating about the effort put into assuring that only militants are targeted and that every effort is made to prevent civilian casualties, there simply is no justification for proceeding with an attack that intends to target fewer than half the vehicles in a large convoy. Such an attack is virtually guaranteed to kill more than just those targeted, and as discussed above, it seems very likely that even those targeted in this strike were low level operatives instead of high level al Qaeda leaders.
Sunday saw a strong response to the attacks by Yemen’s Parliament. They voted to end drone strikes in the country. From CNN:
Yemen’s parliament Sunday called for an end to drone strikes on its territory after a U.S. missile attack mistakenly struck a wedding convoy, killing more than a dozen people.
The nearly unanimous but non-binding vote was “a strong warning” to both the United States and the government of Yemeni President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a Yemeni government official told CNN.
“The Yemeni public is angered by the drone strikes,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to talk to reporters. “The people’s representatives reflected on the tone of the streets.”
The official statement carried in the Reuters story on the vote strikes a similar position to what we have been hearing from Pakistan regarding US drone strikes there:
“Members of parliament voted to stop what drones are doing in Yemeni airspace, stressing the importance of preserving innocent civilian lives against any attack and maintaining Yemeni sovereignty,” the state news agency SABA said.
There’s that pesky issue of sovereignty again. Recall that it is a huge driver for the demonstrations by Imran Khan’s PTI party that have shut down NATO convoys on Pakistan’s northern supply route. And Khan appears to be gearing up for his protests to stage major events in Lahore and even Islamabad next week.
Writing in The Atlantic this morning, Conor Friedersdorf poses some interesting questions regarding the strike: Continue reading
Recall that back in October, near the town of Saravan in southeastern Iran, 14 Iranian border guards were killed by attackers who had infiltrated from the adjacent border with Pakistan. Iran retaliated very quickly, executing 16 prisoners the next day. A previously unknown group, Jaish al-Adl, claimed responsibility and has since been described as a radical Sunni Wahhabi group with ties to Jundallah.
We learn today from Fars News that skirmishes with Iranian border guards have continued since that attack, with as many as 100 attacks having taken place since March and up to two a day since the October incident:
Lieutenant Commander of Iran’s Border Guard Force Brigadier General Ahmad Garavand vowed tough battle against any kind of terrorist move along the country’s borders, and said the border guards have repelled tens of terrorist attacks against the country.
General Garavand pointed to constant clashes between the Iranian border guards and outlaws, and said, “We have had 100 clashes since the beginning of this (Iranian) year (started March 20) and 2 border clashes per day on average after the recent terrorist attacks in Saravan.”
It would appear that the border guards are facing a budget crisis (perhaps a product of US sanctions?):
Meantime, Garavand reiterated that the government should earmark more budget for sealing the country’s borders, and said, “Only 28 percent of the required budget for sealing the borders has been allocated in the past months.”
Where the article goes next is a very interesting development. I had missed this bit of news in the original aftermath of the October incident, but Garavand mentions that the IRGC has vowed to take action in response:
After the attack the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in a statement vowed to take action against.
Perhaps this is just a natural outcome of the budget limitations of the border guards, but it seems more likely to me that this is a significant step that indicates just how seriously Iran views these border incidents. And right on cue, we have reports today by both Fars News and Mehr News that the IRGC took action to free two hostages who had been captured near the border. From the Fars story:
The Quds Forces of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) released the two hostages that had been taken by a group of outlaws in Southeastern Iran yesterday.
On Monday night a group of bandits took two Iranian citizens hostage in the city of Iranshahr in the Sistan and Balouchestan province.
Some hours later in early Tuesday morning, the captured civilians were released in an IRGC surprise operation which left three bandits dead and 3 others injured.
So we now have not just the IRGC, but the elite Quds force that reports directly to Khamenei involved in today’s incident. Continue reading
Recall that back on November 21, John Brennan allowed the CIA to carry out a drone strike that hit a settled area of Pakistan rather than the tribal areas where most strikes occur. I noted that by striking within the province governed by former cricket star Imran Khan’s PTI party, Brennan was setting himself up for some significant blowback.
Today, less than one week after the drone strike, that blowback has hit hurricane force. From The Guardian:
The political party led by the former cricket star Imran Khan claims to have blown the cover of the CIA‘s most senior officer in Pakistan as part of an increasingly high-stakes campaign against US drone strikes.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party named a man it claimed was head of the CIA station in Islamabad in a letter to police demanding he be nominated as one of the people responsible for a drone strike on 21 November, which killed five militants including senior commanders of the Haqqani Network.
John Brennan, the CIA director, was also nominated as an “accused person” for murder and “waging war against Pakistan”.
Recall that another station chief was outed in 2010, also in response to a drone strike. He left the country very quickly. If you insist on knowing the name that was revealed, this article mentions it, but the name strikes me as more of a cover name than a real name.
The document that names John Brennan and the Islamabad station chief is an FIR, or First Information Report. Here is how those reports work in Pakistan:
First Information Report (FIR) is a written document prepared by the police when they receive information about the commission of a cognizable offence. It is a report of information that reaches the police first in point of time and that is why it is called the First Information Report. It is generally a complaint lodged with the police by the victim of a cognizable offence or by someone on his/her behalf. Anyone can report the commission of a cognizable offence either orally or in writing to the police. Even a telephonic message can be treated as an FIR. It is a duty of police to register FIR without any delay or excuses. Non-registration of FIR is an offence and can be a ground for disciplinary action against the concerned police officer.
A cognizable offence is one in which the police may arrest a person without warrant. They are authorized to start investigation into a cognizable case on their own and do not require any orders from the court to do so.
In the FIR, PTI officials are claiming that the station chief does not have diplomatic immunity and should be blocked from exiting the country. I wonder if John Kerry is going to have to make another surreptitious pick-up like the one he did when he spirited out of Pakistan the unidentified driver who killed a pedestrian on his failed mission to rescue Raymond Davis before his arrest in Lahore.
Khan’s party also has been attempting to shut down NATO supply vehicles passing through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, but they have not been very successful in that regard. Returning to the Guardian article:
Khan responded with a massive rally in the provincial capital of Peshawar and ordered PTI activists to block vehicles carrying supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan.
However, party workers have struggled to identify Nato cargo amid all the sealed containers plying the roads to Afghanistan. The exercise has received no support from the national government and the police have tried to stop PTI workers blocking lorries.
There also are reports of arrests for damaging shipping containers on trucks and attacking drivers.
Khan has clearly upped the stakes in his battle with Brennan. How will Brennan respond? At a bare minimum, more drone strikes in the province seem like a pretty safe bet.
Early this morning, just hours after the US had assured Pakistan that drone strikes would be curtailed if Pakistan is able to restart peace talks with the Taliban (after the US disrupted them with a drone strike), John Brennan lashed out with one of his signature rage drone strikes that seems more calculated as political retaliation than careful targeting. Earlier documentation of political retaliation strikes can be seen here and here.
Here is how Dawn described the assurance from the US late on Wednesday:
The United States has promised that it will not carry out any drone strikes in Pakistan during any peace talks with Taliban militants in the future, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said Wednesday.
Briefing a session of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Aziz said a team of government negotiators was prepared to hold talks with former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud on Nov 2, the day after he was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had told reporters last week that the process of peace talks could not be taken forward unless drone attacks on Pakistani soil are halted.
Nisar had said that the drone attack that killed Mehsud ‘sabotaged’ the government’s efforts to strike peace with anti-state militants.
Bill Roggio, writing in Long War Journal, is convinced that the Haqqani network’s leader was the target of today’s strike:
The US launched a drone strike at a seminary in Pakistan’s settled district of Hangu, killing eight people in what appears to have been an attempt to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operations commander of the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network.
But see that bit about the strike being in “Pakistan’s settled district”? One of the many unwritten “rules” of US drone strikes in Pakistan is that they are restricted to the FATA, or Federally Administered Tribal Area, of Pakistan where Pakistani security or military personnel have little to no freedom of movement. In fact, the ability of drones to enter these otherwise forbidden territories is touted as one of their main justifications for use.
Just over a week ago, the chief fundraiser for the Haqqani network was killed near Islamabad. That killing involved a gunman, though, not a drone. If Nasiruddin Haqqani could be taken out by a gunman near Islamabad, why couldn’t Sirajuddin also have been taken out by a gunman in Hangu rather than missed in a drone strike?
Various reports on this drone strike place the death toll at anywhere from three to eight and say that either three or four missiles were fired into the seminary. The seminary appeared to be frequented by Haqqani network fighters. From the Express Tribune:
Another Haqqani source said the seminary was an important rest point for members fighting in Afghanistan’s restive Khost province.
“The seminary served as a base for the network where militants fighting across the border came to stay and rest, as the Haqqani seminaries in the tribal areas were targeted by drones,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
An intelligence source told Reuters separately that Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of Taliban-linked Haqqani network, was spotted at the seminary two days earlier.
It appears that there have been no other drone strikes outside the tribal areas since March of 2009. Roggio notes that all three of the others were in the Bannu district.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province now is governed by former cricket star Imran Khan’s PTI party. Khan already was highly agitated by the drone killing of Hakimullah Mehsud and its impact on the planned peace talks with the TTP. It seems entirely possible that striking in Khan’s province was a deliberate act by Brennan in retaliation for Khan’s rhetoric after the Hakimullah Mehsud killing. But by striking out with such rage, and especially by missing his target in a strike in a highly populated area, Brennan seems to have set himself up for a huge blowback. Khan is now ratcheting up his rhetoric considerably: Continue reading