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?
It’s hard to imagine how Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s travels this week could have gone any worse. Starting off with horrible optics, Hagel began his trip with a stop in Bahrain. Although it appears that he at least had enough sense not to appear in front of the cameras with him, he did meet with Bahrian’s king even though the country continues a brutal crackdown on protests, in which mass punishment and torture by the king’s forces have been documented as ongoing. Hagel did appear in front of the cameras though, to “share a laugh” with Egypt’s foreign minister (see this photo essay and scroll down) while in Bahrain, so he did manage a public appearance with a regime engaged in violent suppression of its people.
Hagel moved on to Afghanistan. The US press had already warned us ahead of the visit that he and Karzai were not scheduled to meet even though the US is in the midst of applying incredible amounts of pressure to convince Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement by the end of this year. Or perhaps by the NATO meeting in February. Or whenever. Not content to settle for a mere snub, though, Karzai went a step further in his disrespect to Hagel. Under a story with the headline “President Karzai Leaves for Iran, While Hagel Still in Kabul“, Tolo News informed us yesterday of Karzai’s latest move:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a high-ranking delegation departed Kabul on Sunday to meet with Iranian officials, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Karzai is visiting Iran to negotiate with Iranian officials on bilateral relations between Tehran and Kabul, the Presidential Palace said in a statement.
Karzai will meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani today in Tehran, the statement added.
Karzai’s visit to Iran took place while the United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is visiting U.S forces in Afghanistan.
It appears that Karzai was treated quite well in Tehran:
And RT informs us that a security deal between Iran and Afghanistan now appears likely (h/t to Greg Bean for alerting me to this link via Twitter).
Think about that. Hagel came to Afghanistan with no Karzai meeting arranged and then while he was there, Karzai went to Tehran and announced a pending agreement. It can’t get much worse than that.
Or can it? Hagel’s next stop was Pakistan. He met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, where Sharif told him that drone strikes must stop. But while Hagel was there, the US “announced” that NATO shipments through Pakistan would resume since protests against drones have stopped. From the same Express Tribune article about the meeting with Sharif:
But a US defence official told reporters in Kabul that the suspension of shipments via Pakistan had been lifted because the protests had stopped, removing the threat to Nato trucks that move through the Torkham gate pass.
Except that the protests have not stopped. So it appears that the US withdrew that statement. From Dawn:
The visit came as Hagel’s deputies withdrew Sunday’s statement that said Nato shipments out of Afghanistan through Pakistan were to resume due to the end of anti-drone protests.
And as an added bonus, we have yet another incident of NATO supply trucks using the southern route in Afghanistan being attacked, so perhaps pressure is being ratcheted up on that route as well.
Perhaps it is time for Mr. Hagel to come home.
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.
You know that things are truly screwed up regarding US policy on Pakistan when the “best of Senators” is Dianne Feinstein, but it’s hardly surprising that Rand Paul would step up in the Senate to carry Dana Rohrabacher’s sentiments forward and attempt to cut all funding from Pakistan until Dr. Shakeel Afridi is released.
First, the good news from Feinstein. While many in Washington were getting overheated in response to a cost estimate finally being attached to the closure of NATO supply routes through Pakistan ($100 million a month), Dianne Feinstein made the courageous observation that the US could likely move ahead through the current diplomatic standoff with Pakistan by issuing a simple apology over the Salala raid:
A senior US lawmaker said on Wednesday that apologising to Pakistan over the Salala incident would improve Washington’s relations with a key ally.
“National security of the US will be better served with a positive relationship with Pakistan,” Senator Dianne Feinstein told a Senate hearing on budget priorities for 2013.
The Senator, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, observed that both sides made mistakes in handling the Nov 26 incident, which caused the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a US air raid.
Senator Feinstein noted that the dispute over the supply lines could be solved “with some civilian acceptance of the mistakes” the US had made.
Such an acceptance could also lead to the reopening of Nato supply lines, she said, adding that “it would do well to apologise” for the mistakes made.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the US was very quick to respond to this overture:
“We appreciate Senator Feinstein for showing the way forward in normalising ties in a relationship that is important to both sides and critical for stabilising the region,” said Pakistan’s Ambassador Sherry Rehman while welcoming the gesture.
Rehman’s time in Washington this week has been difficult, as seen by Rand Paul’s attempt at “diplomacy”:
US Senator Paul Rand was blocked from attaching an amendment to the farm bill that would withhold US aid to Pakistan.
The amendment would have defunded US aid to Pakistan until the country frees an imprisoned doctor, who worked for CIA in hunt for al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Rehman was happy for the move to block Paul’s action, but it appears that her task is doomed: Continue reading
There are two separate major developments coming out of Pakistan in the last 24 hours. First, US negotiators have left Pakistan without reaching an agreement on reopening NATO supply routes. Both sides appear to be trying to gloss over the obvious conclusion that this represents a major breakdown in the process, but since it appears that Pakistan is insistent on a real apology over the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last November and a stop to US drone strikes in Pakistan, there is no reason to continue the lower level talks on details of route reopening until the larger political issues are settled.
On a separate front, the commission appointed by Pakistan’s supreme court has finally delivered its report and it places blame squarely on former ambassador Husain Haqqani for authoring the memo that sought US help in avoiding a military coup days after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Haqqani has been ordered to return to the country, but he is rightly pointing out that the commission’s findings are not the result of a judicial process and that he has not yet presented his defense.
Dawn provides a summary of the breakdown in negotiations:
The Pentagon said on Monday the United States was pulling its negotiators from Pakistan but the State Department said the team could go back at an appropriate time.
Pakistan’s Ambassador in Washington, Sherry Rehman, also indicated that the talks would continue.
But diplomatic observers in the US capital noted that “no spin can hide the fact that relations between the two countries are at their worst now”, as one of them said on an American news channel.
“I believe that some of the team left over the weekend and the remainder of the team will leave shortly,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told a briefing in Washington. “This was a US decision.”
The Express Tribune offers more details:
Officials familiar with the development said the two sides have almost worked out technical details on the resumption of Nato supply lines but the deal could not be finalised due to political issues, including the US refusal to offer an explicit apology for the Salala raid and halt drone strikes.
“Unless the US offers something that resembles an apology, it is very difficult for Pakistan to reopen Nato supplies,” said an official familiar with the development.
“We want to have a package deal and the issue of apology is still included … there will be no compromise on it,” the official added.
John Brennan must feel that Pakistan’s morale has only improved marginally, because what was an average of almost one drone strike a day has now fallen to about a half drone strike a day. Three successive days of strikes (with a total death toll of 27) have brought to eight the number of strikes in the two weeks since last-minute negotiations on the reopening of supply routes through Pakistan broke down and Brennan decided to rain terror down on Pakistan once again.
Today’s attack killed 15 in Mir Ali in North Waziristan. In the AFP story carried in Dawn, we have no less than two officials confirming that those killed were “militants” even though their nationalities aren’t known:
“Fifteen militants were killed in a dawn strike on a compound. The bodies of those killed were unable to be identified,” a security official in Miramshah told AFP.
He said there were reports that some foreigners had been killed but these were unable to be confirmed.
A security official in Peshawar confirmed the attack and said 15 militants were killed.
“We have received reports that 15 militants have been killed in a drone strike but at this moment we don’t know about their nationalities,” the official said.
“We are also unclear about the number of the militants who were present in the compound at the time of attack.” The latest attack came amid an uptick in drone strikes.
Coverage of this strike in the Express Tribune is quite interesting. It has near the beginning the usual quote of a local official asserting those killed were militants, but includes an admission that “locals” were among those killed:
A security official said that the compound was targeted in the Esokhel area of Mir Ali and that locals along with foreign militants were killed. “I don’t know how many foreign militants were killed but we are sure that foreigners were among the dead,” said an official of the security force.
But then we get to a tribesman being quoted, and what he has to say is revealing:
According to a tribesman who was an eyewitness, the compound was razed to the ground after the attack. “I didn’t go near the house, as I avoid going near places where drone strikes take place,” he added.
Why would local tribesmen “avoid going near places where drone strikes take place”? Why that’s because the US intentionally targets first responders at drone strikes:
But research by the Bureau has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.
There was yet another US drone strike in Pakistan today. According to Bill Roggio at Long War Journal, today’s strike is the fourth strike in six days. After the first strike in this series, I posed the question of whether that strike was more politically based than strategically based, as the strike came just two days (Roggio has it as one day after the summit, but there are large time zone differences; the summit ended on Monday in Chicago and the first strike was early Wednesday local time in Pakistan) after US-Pakistan negotiations on reopening NATO supply routes through Pakistan broke down at the NATO summit in Chicago and on the very day that Dr. Shakeel Afridi was sentenced for treason because he helped the CIA to gather intelligence that aided the US raid to kill Osama bin Laden.
There is now ample evidence to believe that politics are indeed behind the recent strikes and, as Marcy and I have been noting on Twitter, they likely will continue on a virtually daily basis to make the political points that the US is stressing. Recall that after the first strike in the series, I quoted a Guardian article that also came to the conclusion the strike was politically motivated:
The attack came as Washington runs out of patience with Islamabad’s refusal to reopen supply routes for Nato troops in Afghanistan.
US drone strikes have complicated negotiations over the routes, which Pakistan closed six months ago in retaliation for US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border. Pakistan’s parliament demanded the strikes stop after the attack, but the US refused.
In today’s report, Roggio provides a quote with direct evidence that the strikes now are tied politically to the impasse over reopening the supply routes (although it seems likely that Dana Rohrabacher isn’t the only one advocating the use of a “stick” on Pakistan over the Afridi sentencing, too):
A US intelligence official involved in the drone program in the country told The Long War Journal that the strikes would continue now that Pakistan has refused to reopen NATO’s supply lines for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” the official said. “Unfortunately the politics of getting the GLOC into Afghanistan has trumped the targeting of bad guys in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” the official said, referring to the Ground Lines of Communication.
But hold on just a minute here. Note the misdirection in this quote. Despite the claim that the US is “targeting bad guys” with these strikes, Roggio reports elsewhere in this article that no high value target has been reported as killed in today’s attack. In fact, he reports that there have been 17 US drone strikes in Pakistan this year, but only two high value targets have been killed in them.
Where have we heard someone recently trying to make the false claim that “signature strikes” are targeted rather than based simply on patterns of activity? Why that would be in John Brennan’s April 30 drone speech, which Marcy has cleanly dissected as a failed attempt to direct attention away from the war crimes committed regularly in signature strikes.
Roggio’s anonymous source says basically that the strikes will continue until the political situation improves. Despite the source’s claim that the strikes target “bad guys” the evidence instead shows that these are signature strikes that at best target mid-level or even lower level militants who happen to be in areas “known to harbor insurgents”. Given how closely this misdirection about targeting mirrors Brennan’s speech (and the fact that Brennan himself now controls signature strikes) it seems likely that the strikes themselves are Brennan’s way of telling Pakistan that the beatings will continue until morale improves.
Dawn is reporting this morning that Pakistan is in the process of abandoning its demand that US drone strikes in Pakistan end and instead is now bargaining for joint ownership of the process, giving the Pakistanis access to key intelligence and advance knowledge of strikes. In the meantime, the Express Tribune is reporting that John Kerry is soon to be dispatched to Pakistan to convey an official apology for the November, 2011 border post attack that killed 24 Pakistani troops. Both of these developments occur within the larger framework of the US and Pakistan working to redefine cooperation on various fronts as a precursor to reopening NATO supply routes through Pakistan.
As the Dawn story points out, Pakistan seems to have moved to negotiating for joint ownership of drone strikes because the US flatly rejects Pakistan’s demand for an end to drone strikes:
Pakistan and the United States have begun exploring various options for joint ownership of drone attacks against militant targets in the tribal belt after the US flatly refused to stop the predator strikes.
“We are striving to have genuine co-ownership of the drone operations,” a senior Pakistani diplomat, who has been regularly briefed on the ongoing behind-the-scenes negotiations between Islamabad and Washington, told Dawn on Thursday.
Given the level of distrust the US has shown toward Pakistan’s intelligence operations, my guess is that sharing advance knowledge of targets will be rejected just as strongly as the concept of stopping drone attacks was dismissed. In anticipation of losing on the issue of drones, they are now being left off Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s list of areas in which the US and Pakistan are nearing final agreement:
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, while outlining the negotiation agenda at the DCC meeting over the weekend, omitted drone attacks.
“Negotiation on new terms and conditions for resumption of the Ground Lines of Communication (more commonly referred to as Nato supply routes), joint counter-terrorism cooperation, greater inter-agency coordination, transparency in US diplomatic and intelligence footprint in Pakistan, strengthening of border security and non-use of Pakistan’s territory for attacks on other countries and expulsion of all foreign fighters from Pakistan’s territory, are our fundamental policy parameters,” Mr Gilani said while listing ‘policy parameters’ for re-engagement with the US.
The current break in US-Pakistan relations was triggered by the killing of 24 Pakistani troops at a border station last November. It now appears that a formal apology for that incident is in the works:
US President Barack Obama is sending his key trouble-shooter to Pakistan later this month amidst efforts to reset ties in light of the new foreign policy guidelines recently approved by parliament.
Former presidential hopeful and chairman of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry is expected to travel to Islamabad on April 29 to meet the country’s top civil and military leadership, an official told The Express Tribune.
Kerry seems to be the go-to guy on both apologies and non-apologies, as he was dispatched for the apology for the Raymond Davis incident and was sent to tell Pakistan that we would not apologize for the Osama bin Laden killing.
Considering that Pakistan is also demanding an end to covert agents inside Pakistan, we are left to wonder whether Kerry will use his plane once again to remove spies, as he did while delivering the Davis incident apology.