Although their first press release announcing their change in plans earlier this month got little fanfare, now that they have followed it up with a video (fortunately, there are no beheadings in the video), the Punjabi Taliban’s decision to cease violent attacks within Pakistan is being hailed as a “Watershed Event“:
“We have decided to give up militancy in Pakistan. I’ve taken the decision in the best interests of Islam and the nation. I also appeal to all other armed groups to stop violent activities in Pakistan,” Asmatullah Muaweya, the chief of the Punjabi Taliban, said in a three-minute video message released to the media on Saturday. He added that his group would now focus on Dawah (Islamic preaching) for the “supremacy of Islam and protection of the system.”
“I’ve taken the decision after consulting religious scholars and tribal leaders,” said Muaweya whose group had been blamed for several deadly attacks in the country, especially in Punjab. He also called upon other militant groups to renounce violence and come to the negotiating table as the country was passing through a critical juncture.
Nearly lost in this fanfare about renouncing violence inside Pakistan is that we learned, even in the earlier announcement, that violence by the group inside Afghanistan would continue:
“We will confine our practical jihadist role to Afghanistan in view of deteriorating situation in the region and internal situation of Pakistani jihadist movement,” Punjabi Taliban chief Ismatullah Muawiya said in a pamphlet faxed to the media, without clarifying further.
That part of the change in plans was not overlooked by Afghanistan:
“Pakistani Charge d’Affaires Syed Muazzam Shah was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, and a strong protest was lodged over the declaration of war made by the Punjabi Taliban on the Afghan side of the Durand Line,” a Ministry’s statement said. The Dari-language statement was also emailed to The Express Tribune.
Abdul Samad Samad, head of political affairs in the Afghan foreign ministry, condemned the threats made by Muaweya, and described his remarks as “clear conspiracies against the stability and security of Afghanistan.”
“Such statements are against international laws and principles of good neighbourly relations,” the statement quoted the Afghan official as telling the Pakistani envoy.
The language gets even stronger from Afghanistan’s military:
In response to the assertions of the Punjabi Taliban, officials of the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) have warned that any attacks on Afghanistan would face harsh response from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
“We have a death message for those who want to attack Afghanistan,” MoD spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi said. “Afghanistan would be a cemetery for those who want to attack it.”
Further, Afghan politicians believe that they see the hand of ISI behind the move: Continue reading
Today, Pakistan’s military escorted selected members of the media through Miramshah, which had been ground zero for militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan and the focus of the heaviest fighting in the Zarb-e-Azb offensive undertaken by the military last month. From the video provided in the Express Tribune story on Miramshah, it is clear that the town is essentially deserted and most buildings appear to be heavily damaged.
The offensive is taking a huge toll on Pakistan. Depending on the source cited, there are either 787,000 or 833,274 people who have been displaced from North Waziristan. Those are truly remarkable numbers, as the linked Washington Post article notes that previous estimates of the population of North Waziristan were only 600,000, so it is clear that virtually all citizens have left the region.
Because the media have been banned from the region before today, Pakistan’s military has controlled the flow of information. The latest claims I can find put the death toll at 400 militants and 20 soldiers. No information on civilian deaths has been released and the military claimed that the civilian death toll was zero even after over 200 militants were said to have been killed.
One of the most remarkable stories to emerge along with those who have fled Miramshah is that of Azam Khan, who was a barber in Miramshah:
Azam Khan was one of the top barbers in Miranshah — the main town of North Waziristan — until he, like nearly half a million others, fled the long-awaited offensive unleashed by the Pakistan military on the tribal area in June.
He told AFP his business boomed in the month leading up to the army assault as the militants sought to shed their distinctive long-haired, bearded look.
“I have trimmed the hair and beards of more than 700 local and Uzbek militants ahead of the security forces’ operation,” he said while cutting hair in a shop in Bannu, the town where most civilians fled.
For years he cut Taliban commanders’ hair to match the flowing locks of former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud, killed by a US drone last November, but in May a change in style was called for.
“The same leaders came asking for trimming their beards and hair very short, saying that they were going to the Gulf and wanted to avoid problems at Pakistani airports,” Khan said.
It would seem that there is now a good chance that the real targets of this offensive left before it even began. All citizens of the region have been displaced and most buildings have been rendered useless, only to kill the low level forces who were left behind because they didn’t have the resources to flee along with their leaders.
It is looking more and more likely that Abdullah Abdullah will continue his boycott of the vote-counting process in Afghanistan. As I noted Friday, thousands of his supporters took to the streets to protest the expected outcome and to call for fraudulent votes to be discarded. Abdullah’s camp released even more evidence Saturday, consisting of two audiotapes of conversations among officials in Paktika province regarding 20 ballot boxes which were found to be already stuffed with ballots on the night before the election. ToloNews informs us that one of the tapes was a conversation between the Paktika provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) head and the executive assistant of Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail (the head of the IEC, who resigned after Abdullah released the first set of tapes). The second tape purports to be yet another recording of Amarkhail himself, this time participating in a discussion (again with the provincial IEC head) of how to deflect blame for the stuffed ballot boxes found in Paktika:
Amarkhail begins by stressing his frustration about the situation with the ANA commander revealing information to the media about the ballot stuffing. The provincial IEC head told Amarkhail that a video was made of the men stuffing 20 ballot boxes with 12,000 votes and in each box exactly 600 votes were stuffed and that the ANA wants to “broadcast this through TOLO TV.”
Concerned and upset about their position, the provincial IEC head suggests to Amarkhail that they hold a press conference defaming the ANA commander by stating that these frauds were conducted by the commander and his men.
After proposing the idea, the Gov. of Paktika, Muhebullah Samim, takes the phone approving the idea of holding a press conference expressing to Amarkhail that this is their only way out is by blaming the commander that he forced the “boys to do this and the boys will admit to it. The boys are willing to say that the ANA commander has forced them to stuff boxes.”
Content with the idea, Amarkhail agrees to the plan and begins to tell the men what needs to be done and how.
In a followup article, ToloNews provides the most incriminating part of the discussion and notes that they had reported the discovery of the stuffed ballot boxes before the election on the day they were found by the army: Continue reading
On Saturday, Hamid Mir, the most popular news anchor on Geo, Pakistan’s largest television news outlet, survived an assassination attempt. He remains hospitalized with at least six bullet wounds. Controversy has swirled since the attack, with Mir’s brother Amir Mir, also a journalist, accusing Pakistan’s ISI of being behind the attack. ISI has responded by approaching the broadcast regulatory authority in Pakistan, demanding that Geo’s license be revoked.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has denounced the move by the ISI:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by actions brought by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) against Geo Television today. In its complaint to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, the ISI accused Geo’s parent company, the Independent Media Corporation, of conducting a “false and scandalous campaign undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of state institution (ISI) and its officers.”
The media regulator has the authority to shut down broadcasters based on such complaints, and has done so under previous administrations of Pakistan.
“We call on the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority not to act on this spurious complaint, and we call on Pakistan’s security services to recognize the critical role of the media and exercise tolerance and maturity,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage.”
Declan Walsh covered the move by the ISI in the New York Times on Tuesday:
Mr. Mir survived the attack and is being treated for gunshot wounds to the chest and shoulder. But as he was still receiving emergency treatment, Geo prominently broadcast heated accusations from Mr. Mir’s brother, the journalist Amir Mir, who accused the ISI of being responsible for the attack.
During extended commentary, Geo also repeatedly broadcast a photograph of the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, while a senior journalist employed by the station called for the general to resign.
Hamid Mir, whose pugnacious style has frequently stirred up controversy, has been a fierce critic of the military, and in February he privately told station managers that he had received a threat from ISI operatives about his work, according to the station. In November 2012, a bomb was found strapped to the underside of his car outside his home in Islamabad.
On Tuesday, evidently, the generals decided they had had enough criticism.
In a four-page letter to the state-run Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, the Defense Ministry not only asked for Geo’s broadcasting license to be revoked, but called for the body to initiate criminal proceedings against Geo editors and management.
This had to be a difficult story for Walsh to cover, considering that he was mysteriously kicked out of Pakistan last May, just as elections were taking place. Walsh also this morning tweeted a link to an article in the Guardian that contains an explosive quote from the president of Geo News:
Geo’s president – a former newspaper editor named Imran Aslam – became wistful when defending his channel’s coverage after the assassination attempt on Mir. “There was a time that if they didn’t like what you wrote they censored you. They cut out a word or a line. If they got really angry they got your editor fired. Now they just shoot you.” A bullet in the head is the new form of censorship in Pakistan.
Interestingly, just after the bomb was defused on Mir’s car in November of 2012, coverage suggested that it may have been planted by the TTP, especially since Mir had been covering the TTP’s shooting of Malala Yousafzai. In an AP story carried in the Washington Post, we have this on Mir’s more recent reporting:
In recent weeks, Mir’s show gave prominent coverage to a group campaigning against the disappearances and torture of insurgents and their supporters in southwestern Baluchistan province — allegedly at the hands of ISI.
Geo is reporting that Hamid Mir is expected to make a public statement later today. I will keep an eye out for it.
Update: The Express Tribune just posted on Mir’s statement:
In a statement read out by his brother on Thursday, senior journalist Hamid Mir said that he faced threats from both state and non-state actors, Geo News reported.
On Saturday, April 21, unknown assailants shot at Mir in Karachi, critically injuring him.
Through his first official statement since the attack, Mir claimed that he had recently been approached by intelligence officers who informed him that he was on a hit-list.
He said he is making this statement despite the pressure he is facing from various quarters.
The ISI was upset with me for my coverage of Mama Qadir’s Long March, he added.
I forwarded the numbers from which I received death threats to the police, the statements reads, but the police did not do anything about it.
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.