While the mainstream press finally catches up to the fact that there were indeed hundreds of violent attacks on election day in Afghanistan (even though hippies could find the data over a week ago), there is yet another disturbing development in the efforts to hold talks between Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and the Afghan Taliban. I noted nearly a year ago that Mutasim Agha Jan was beginning to bring some attention to a more moderate faction within the Afghan Taliban. He was successful in getting discussions going with the Afghan High Peace Council, but one of his associates, Abdul Raqib, was gunned down in Peshawar in February just after returning from a negotiating session in Dubai. It has now been confirmed that Mutasim Agha Jan has disappeared while in Dubai as he was preparing for another round of talks there. Here is ToloNews on the disappearance:
Agha Jan, who was one of the few crucial Taliban figures that had direct contact with the HPC, lived in Turkey and recently disappeared during a tour to the UAE.
“The government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is aware of Agha Jan’s disappearance in the UAE,” MoFA spokesman Ahmad Shekib Mustaghna said on Monday.
There are rumors about the possibility that Agha Jan may have been abducted. MoFA has not released a statement in regards to the rumors, but has called the circumstances surrounding the disappearance ambiguous and questionable.
Over the past month, Agha Jan had met with the HPC delegation twice; both sides had agreed to continue peace discussions.
There is a very interesting bit of language in the Khaama Press story on the disappearance:
The ministry of foreign affairs of Afghanistan confirmed that the former senior Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has gone missing in United Arab Emirates.
Foreign ministry spokesman, Shekib Mostaghni told reporters in Kabul that the Afghan officials have started negotiations with the UAE officials regarding the fate of Agha Jan Mutasim.
Mr. Mostaghni further added that the government of Afghanistan has stepped up efforts to take practical steps to find out Agha Jan Mutasim.
Normally, I would attribute that bit about “negotiations with UAE officials” as poor translation from an initial story about Afghan officials speaking to UAE officials simply to ask questions. But there is also this report in the Express Tribune:
Last week, Mutasim’s family sources and friends confirmed to The Express Tribune that they have lost contact with him in Dubai. They were concerned that the UAE authorities might have detained and shifted Mutasim to an undisclosed location in Abu Dhabi.
The Express Tribune article also makes it clear that he has been missing for quite a while:
After a mysterious silence for nearly two weeks, the Afghan foreign ministry on Monday confirmed that Mutasim is missing in the UAE. “The Afghan government confirms that Agha Jan Mutasim has disappeared in the UAE and we are talking to senior Emirati officials to know his fate,” spokesman Ahmed Shakaib Mustaghni said in Kabul.
“The talks, unfortunately, have not yet produced any results and we do not have any more details,” Mustaghni told a weekly press briefing, according to the recorded version of the briefing received here.
So it would indeed appear that Afghanistan may be in some sort of negotiations with UAE on the fate of Mutasim. But since we don’t have confirmation yet that he actually is under UAE control, we could be back to the list of suspects I discussed in the death of Abdul Raqib also being suspects in this case as well (but read here for a pretty strong argument that Taliban hardliners were responsible for Raqib’s death). I will keep an eye out for further developments on Mutasim’s location and safety.
The first round of formal talks involving figures from Pakistan’s government and military on one side and the Pakistan Taliban, or TTP, on the other concluded Wednesday. Because the talks were held in the tribal areas, reports on how the talks went have been slow to filter out. Further, even within single media outlets in Pakistan, the reports vary widely. Consider this report from Dawn:
The first round of direct peace talks between the government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership concluded on Wednesday, with both the sides reportedly reaching an agreement on several issues, DawnNews reported.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, however, did not share any details of the landmark talks, saying only that once the negotiators returned, it would be up to the government to make statements to media.
The negotiations are part of a push by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban that would end a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years.
Sources told DawnNews that the both parties sought guarantees from each other, during the talks, which were held at Biland Khel area of Shawa Tehsil on the border of Orakzai and North Waziristan tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan.
The TTP also responded positively to the demands of indefinite ceasefire and the release of non-combatant prisoners put forward by the government’s committee, they added.
But Dawn also is carrying this story, which was put on their website a little more than a day after the one above:
Despite a degree of optimism and feel-good impression generated by the militant-handpicked committee, insiders believe the first direct face-to-face interaction with militants has hit a stalemate and unless some quick decisions are taken, it will be difficult to prolong the ceasefire. The ceasefire is to expire on Monday.
According to an insider, the militants have set two conditions for continuation of the peace talks. One, the creation of a demilitarised peace zone in mountainous Shaktoi, South Waziristan, to allow freedom of movement and two, the release of non-combatants.
The insider said the five-member militants’ committee sought written guarantees before they could commit to an extension in the month-long ceasefire. “For nearly seven hours, we talked to them about the destruction wrought by over a decade of violence, the loss of lives and property and displacement of people.
“We said ‘let bygones be bygones, let’s bury the hatchet and make a new beginning’,” the insider said.
“Nothing seemed to appeal to them. I have come back really disappointed. The chances of success and continuation are not terribly bright. This is a non-starter,” he said.
There is a major new development in the ongoing saga of incidents along the Iran-Pakistan border. Recall that a group of Sunni extremists, Jeish Al-Adl, captured five Iranian border guards in early February (after killing 14 in an attack last October). Iran had briefly claimed that the guards had been released earlier this month, but then quickly backed down on that claim. It seems that Iran has difficulty getting accurate information on the status of the guards, as they first denied and then finally confirmed that the highest ranking of the guards, Jamshid Danaeifar (his face is circled on a photo of the detained guards that is circulating on Twitter) has been executed:
Informed sources in Pakistan confirmed earlier reports that Jeish al-Adl terrorist group has executed one of the five Iranian border guards that it abducted along Iran-Pakistan border on February 6.
The sources told FNA in Islamabad on Monday that “Jeish al-Adl has martyred one of the kidnapped border guards”.
This is while the Iranian Interior Ministry earlier today rejected Jeish al-Adl’s claim.
“We don’t confirm this report; were it true, we would have been informed,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Hossein Ali Amiri said on Monday.He said that the five border guards are kept in Pakistan at present and are safe and sound.
Amiri made the remarks after Jeish al-Adl claimed on its tweeter page that it has killed Jamshid Danayeefar, one of the kidnapped border guards.
News of the execution came just as Iran had been expressing hope that the guards were about to be released. From an earlier report on Sunday by Fars News:
Efforts and consultations with the Pakistani officials still continue to secure the release of the five border guards abducted along Iran-Pakistan border on February 6, an Iranian official announced on Sunday.
“Talks with national and local Pakistani officials have been held at different levels and they have made some promises,” Governor-General of Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province Ali Awsat Hashemi told FNA today.
He expressed the hope that the five young border guards would be released to return to their families soon.
Writing at the International Policy Digest, Sadaf Megan informs us that Jeish Al-Adl has stated that if their demands on the release of prisoners are not met, they will execute another prisoner in ten days:
In the statement following the announcement of his death, Jaish al-Adl demands that if 50 of their prisoners are not released by Iran then Jaish al-Adl will execute another hostage within 10 days.
The clock is ticking for the four remaining “pasdar(s)” or guards. In the meantime it seems unlikely that the Iranian government will be able to fulfill or want to meet the demands of Jaish Al-Adl. A regime that does not succumb to threats and ultimatums by the West is unlikely to make a deal with a terrorist group.
The article also has interesting background information on Jeish Al-Adl, providing perspective on the relationship with Jundallah:
Jaish al-Adl operates in the Sistan-Baluchistan region of Iran, and frequently utilizes the Iranian-Pakistani border to carry out attacks. Cross border operations have been practiced during the time of Abdolmalek Rigi’s Sunni Balochi group, Jundallah. After Iran executed Rigi in 2010, Jundallah dissolved and merged with Jaish al-Adl.
Stay tuned for further developments. With Pakistan still reeling from the Carlotta Gall article the Express Tribune wound up censoring entirely because of its revelations of ISI sheltering bin Laden, they risk displaying more evidence of collaboration with terrorists if they are unable to secure the release of the remaining border guards before the next one is executed.
The New York Times has just released an excerpt from Carlotta Gall’s upcoming book “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014″. Recall that Gall lived in Afghanistan and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Times from 2001-2013 (Declan Walsh also covered Pakistan from inside Pakistan until he was expelled just before the election in 2013). The biggest revelation in the excerpt is that Pakistan knew about, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, actively sheltered, Osama bin Laden when he was in hiding in Pakistan.
Gall claims that then-ISI head Ahmed Shuja Pasha had direct knowledge of bin Laden’s presence:
Soon after the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house, a Pakistani official told me that the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The information came from a senior United States official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid. “He knew of Osama’s whereabouts, yes,” the Pakistani official told me. The official was surprised to learn this and said the Americans were even more so. Pasha had been an energetic opponent of the Taliban and an open and cooperative counterpart for the Americans at the ISI. “Pasha was always their blue-eyed boy,” the official said. But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied that they had any knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
Although Pasha knew, it appears that ISI compartmented the knowledge very carefully:
In trying to prove that the ISI knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts and protected him, I struggled for more than two years to piece together something other than circumstantial evidence and suppositions from sources with no direct knowledge. Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. But he had no proof and, under pressure, claimed in the Pakistani press that he’d been misunderstood. Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention. (Two former senior American officials later told me that the information was consistent with their own conclusions.) This was what Afghans knew, and Taliban fighters had told me, but finally someone on the inside was admitting it. The desk was wholly deniable by virtually everyone at the ISI — such is how supersecret intelligence units operate — but the top military bosses knew about it, I was told.
Gall’s reporting on Taliban factions and their madrassas came at great personal risk. This story picks up at a point where her Pakistani colleagues have been picked up by the ISI at the hotel where they were staying and she had been summoned to meet the ISI agents outside: Continue reading
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
Earlier this week, I noted that a ranking member of Afghanistan’s Taliban, Abdul Raqib, was gunned down in Peshawar, Pakistan. It turns out that Raqib wasn’t just any Taliban leader, though. He had in fact just returned from Dubai, where he had been participating in peace talks with the Afghan government.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke out against the killing. From ToloNews:
President Hamid Karzai Tuesday condemned the assassination of Taliban commander Mullah Abduil Raqib, calling him a victim of peace. He went on to invite Raqib’s group Tehreek-Islami Taliban to return to Afghanistan.
Mullah Abdul Raqiq was gun downed in the Pakistani city of Peshawar by unidentified attackers on Monday. On Tuesday, a military helicopter transferred his body to his native town in northern Takhar province.
This is not the first time a Taliban leader has been targeted in Pakistan. The U.S. has waged an intensive drone war on Taliban commanders throughout Pakistan in recent years. Karzai has been highly critical of the attacks on Taliban leaders, claiming the U.S.’ aggression has pushed Taliban leaders away from negotiations.
“We saw several green lights from those willing to start the peace negotiation process, but most of them were assassinated,” Karzai’s deputy spokesman Fayeq Wahidi said. “The killing of Maullah Raqiq is part of the coordinated murders.”
Although the ToloNews article doesn’t come out and say it explicitly, a report by BakhtarNews does say that Raqib had been to Dubai for the peace talks and had just returned when he was killed:
President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing of Maulawi Abdul Raqib Takhari member of Tehrek Taliban and called him an open e[sic] victim of the path of peace. Maulawi Abdul Raqib former minister of refugee affairs of Taliban government who has been supporter of peace and understanding in Afghanistan, after participating at the recent peace talks in Dubai led by Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim returned to Peshawar and he was killed there on Monday.
Returning to the ToloNews article, we see that while Karzai had blamed “US aggression”, the attendees of the funeral blamed Pakistan’s ISI for the killing:
Participants in the burial ceremony accused the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) of being behind the assassination.
“People shared their sorrows in the burial ceremony. He was working for peace. People chanted slogans against those killing him; they blamed ISI for the killing,” Takhar Governor Abdul Latif Ibrahimi said.
The Taliban is not a monolithic entity, and Mutasim Agha Jan’s moderate faction is often opposed by more militant members of the group. As might be expected, they are speaking out once again to say that Jan does not speak for them and that they do not condone the peace talks:
The Taliban militants group in Afghanistan denied reports regarding peace talks between the Afghan government officials and Taliban group leaders in United Arab Emirates.
Zabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban group, following a statement, said Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim does not represent the Taliban group and has not links with the movement.
Mujahid his statement further added that no member of the Taliban group has attended any talks with the Afghan government officials in Dubai.
Clearly, the talks between Karzai’s government and Agha Jan’s group are opposed by the US (as seen here), the ISI (as seen in the funeral comments above) and by more militant factions of the Afghan Taliban itself.
Keep in mind, though, that the US has tentatively reached out to another faction of Taliban figures active in Afghanistan. We saw earlier this week that the US is seeking a prisoner exchange that could free Bowe Bergdahl. In this case, it appears that the Haqqani network is now holding Bergdahl, and so they are the target of the talks. An article in today’s Dawn accounts for what appears to be a new-found urgency on the part of the US to find Bergdahl:
Highly credible sources told DawnNews that during meetings with Pakistan’s top defence and military officials, General Lloyd J Austin, chief of the United States Central Command, sought Pakistan’s help in tracing the kidnapped US soldier before any possible military operation was launched in North Waziristan.
If Pakistan does indeed launch military action in North Waziristan, it appears that the US fears that Bergdahl could be in danger. Pakistan has long been accused by the US of harboring and even assisting the Haqqani network, so it is quite interesting that this potential military action has raised concerns. It isn’t clear whether these concerns relate to Bergdahl simply being in an area of military action or if the US thinks that Pakistan will actually attack suspected Haqqani network hideouts.
The question now becomes why any member of the Haqqani network would show up for negotiations with the US, given the recent death rates for negotiators.
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 last time we checked in on the ongoing incidents along the Iran-Pakistan border, fourteen Iranian border guards had been killed on October 25 in an attack and Iran had promptly executed sixteen prisoners the next day in retaliation. A subgroup within Jundallah, Jeish Al-Adl, was credited for the attack, and Iran made veiled accusations about what countries might be backing the group.
A bit later, on November 5, an Iranian legislator (who seems to make mostly hard-liner pronouncements) publicly accused the United States and Pakistan’s ISI of being behind Jeish Al-Adl’s actions:
An Iranian lawmaker says the US and Pakistani intelligence services lead the Pakistan-based Jaish-ul-Adl terrorist group responsible for the recent deadly attack on Iranian border guards.
“The key point in this case is the role that US spy agencies play by means of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in conducting such terrorist attacks. This issue has been confirmed in the meeting between representatives of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and members of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee,” Javad Karimi Qoddousi said on Monday.
He added, “The direct affiliation of these groups to US spy agencies and the ISI’s control over such terrorist outfits have been authenticated.”
The next day, a prosecutor in the border town of Zabol was killed. Jeish Al-Adl quickly claimed responsibility:
The Sunni armed group Jaish-ul Adl has claimed responsibility for the assassination of a public prosecutor in Iran’s southeast, media reports say.
Thursday’s reports came a day after Mousa Nouri - prosecutor of the city of Zabol, which lies near the Afghan border in Sistan-Baluchestan province - was slain in a “terrorist attack,” according to officials.
Jaish-ul Adl, the rebel group formed last year whose name means Army of Justice in Arabic, said in a statement Wednesday night that the killing was carried out in retaliation for a mass hanging last week.
“After the hanging of 16 innocent young Baluchis, the fighters decided to take revenge and kill a judicial official,” read the statement posted on the group’s website, jaishuladl.blogspot.fr.
Security forces later killed four rebels in a separate clash near Mirjaveh, a town close to the border with Pakistan, officials said last week.
But Iran announced on November 18 that they had captured the prosecutor’s killers. They went to great lengths to point out that the killers were drug smugglers unrelated to Jeish Al-Adl: Continue reading
It seems that Mike Rogers lately is aiming to take over the Emptywheel blog. When he’s not yapping about criminalizing journalism or dissembling about Congressional briefings on the Patriot Act renewal, he’s putting out bloodthirsty endorsements of drone violence. When we last heard from him on the drone front, he was joining the mad rush to come up with the most damning indictment of Hakimullah Mehsud after the US disrupted Pakistan’s plans to start peace talks the very next day with a Taliban group headed by Mehsud. Yesterday, Rogers used a hearing of his House Intelligence Committee as a venue in which to pitch a tantrum over the US daring to adjust its drone policy, leading to fewer strikes.
Now, almost exactly three months after the Mehsud drone strike, we see the prospect for peace talks between Pakistan and the Taliban disrupted again. As I mentioned yesterday, Taliban negotiators fear that Pakistan’s government may be planning to scuttle the talks in order to launch an offensive against the Taliban in tribal areas, which might also play into a desire by Sharif’s government to be in line for counterterrorism funds which the US might not be spending in Afghanistan.
The Washington Post has Rogers’ tirade. First, there is news of a pause in drone strikes in Pakistan:
The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials.
“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.
Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
Oooh, look! There’s Marcy’s favorite word again, “imminent“. But this lull in drone strikes, coupled with the explanation offered in the Post, tells us that no suitable al Qaeda targets with credible plans against the US presented themselves in Pakistan’s tribal areas for over a month. That didn’t deter Rogers; he’s upset that any potential targets aren’t blasted immediately: Continue reading
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.
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: Continue reading