Okay, time for me to eat a bit of crow. Back in the middle of August, I claimed “Pakistan Revolution Fizzling Out” and said that the dual protests led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri were turning out to be much smaller than anticipated and that they would quickly fade away. Two weeks later, those protests continue and are showing signs of eroding the power of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The protests had remained largely peaceful until this weekend when the protesters tried to remove barriers of shipping containers so that they could storm the Prime Minister’s house. Security forces around the residence reacted strongly and now most sources agree that at least three people have died and hundreds have been injured. Meetings are taking place along multiple fronts, with Sharif having met with the head of the military, various representatives of the protests meeting with the government and the Supreme Court offering to become involved (it has already ruled against the protests). The situation is quite fluid today and Sharif has called for a joint session of Parliament for tomorrow.
Despite all this, Sharif for now remains adamant that he will not step down:
According to sources, the embattled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif informed army chief General Raheel Sharif that he will not resign in the wake of protests by Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Insiders said that in the meeting that lasted over two hours, the prime minister and army chief discussed the ongoing political crisis in detail – and its likely fallout.
Sources said that General Sharif presented a range of options before Nawaz, including stepping down for a month to allow for investigations over last year’s elections to conclude.
However, a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader insisted that the prime minister will not step down, and will in fact address a joint session of Parliament on Tuesday.
When the government’s television station was overrun by the protesters, the military stepped in to retake the building:
Pakistani troops took control of security at the headquarters of the state-run television network on Monday after hundreds of demonstrators stormed the building and forced the network to temporarily halt broadcasting.
Antigovernment demonstrators armed with sticks and batons ransacked the Pakistan Television building in central Islamabad on Monday morning, smashed vehicles in the parking lots and cut transmission cables in the newsrooms. PTV officials said that at least 20 cameras were missing.
To illustrate just how fluid the situation has become, consider this bit of reporting from Dawn [Javed Hashmi is the President of Imran Khan's PTI party but appears to be in the middle of a falling out with him]:
Hashmi said he was ashamed and said he was sure Imran was too.
“Now I’m going to say something and maybe Imran will refute that as well but it would be good if he didn’t.”
“Imran had told the core committee it won’t be called a martial law…we will file a petition in the Supreme Court and get a judge of our choosing…and he will say okay…we didn’t talk about Bangladesh…that CJ will validate the actions that will be taken eventually…today I have heard that CJ has called all judges…Justice Jilani will retire and the current CJ will become chief justice…and they will get rid [of the government]“.
“When Imran laid out the plan, I said to Imran, Khan sahab what are you doing? What are you getting involved in? You have our support. You have the support of so many people…Khan said we are going ahead…he said I am telling you there will be elections in September and everything has been worked out.”
According to Reuters, some believe that the crisis is reaching a decisive moment:
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Reuters the government was preparing to launch a selective crackdown against protesters, possibly later on Monday, and warned demonstrators against storming government buildings.
“The writ of the state must be enforced. We hope to make a decisive move sometimes later today, not in the evening but even before that,” he said. “I personally feel that the next few hours will determine the course of coming events.”
Reuters doesn’t believe, however, that the military intends to seize control completely:
How the crisis ends will be ultimately decided by the army. If the protests get out of hand, the military could step in decisively, imposing a curfew or even martial law.
There is also a question mark over how much protest leaders are capable of controlling their own people, many of them frustrated after weeks of hardship and no solution in sight.
Alternatively, the army could side with the protesters and put pressure on Sharif to resign, in which case an interim government would have be put in place and early parliamentary elections held to elect a new government.
However, few observers believe the army is bent on seizing power again. A weakened Sharif would allow the army to remain firmly in charge of key issues such as relations with India and Afghanistan while allowing the civilian government to deal with day-to-day economic problems in which it has little interest.
It goes almost without stating that the situation in Pakistan should be watched very carefully over the next few days.
Last week, I noted that two opposition parties in Pakistan were organizing what they said would be massive marches on Islamabad aimed at bringing down Pakistan’s government. While crowd size estimates vary widely, it is clear that the hoped-for participation of a million demonstrators fell far short, probably hitting at best 5% of that total. With the turnout so low, Reuters reports that most Pakistani newspapers this morning are running editorials critical of Imran Khan and his PTI party:
The government’s offer of talks followed a call from Khan on Sunday for his supporters not to pay taxes or utility bills. His appeal met with widespread ridicule since most Pakistanis who can get away without paying taxes and utility bills already do so – a major contributor to the country’s economic woes.
In a veiled threat, Khan also warned that he may not be able to stop his supporters from marching on parliament and the fortified enclave where most foreign embassies are located.
Such a move would be a recipe for violence given the heavy deployment of riot police and paramilitary forces.
On Monday morning, most newspapers published critical editorials of Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party.
“Were Mr. Khan’s threats not so risible they would be worthy of the severest condemnation,” said Dawn, one of the country’s most respected papers.
But it appears that the marchers will be given access to the Red Zone around parliament:
The Supreme Court has rejected the federal government’s plea seeking to restrain protesters from moving toward the Red Zone area of the capital.
“That is something for the government to handle,” Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk said, while rejecting the attorney general for Pakistan’s (AGP) plea to pass an order stopping protesters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) from entering the area.
Perhaps because his proposal about boycotting taxes and utility bills has been met with ridicule, Khan’s party is trying to clarify somewhat:
Speaking to Dawn, Ghani said provincial taxes will be collected as per routine but the public will not be paying any federal taxes along with electricity and gas bills.
He said the civil disobedience movement was against the corrupt and incompetent federal government and not the government managing the province.
And it turns out that PTI believes it has some leverage in this move:
Responding to a question, Ghani said that if the centre dared to disconnect power supply to KP, the province will have the right to stop supply from Tarbela which falls within the provincial jurisdiction.
That is quite a threat, since the generators at Tarbela dam supply 16% of Pakistan’s electricity. The dam sits only about 30 miles from Islamabad.
Meanwhile, both Khan and PAT leader Tahirul Qadri have given the government 48 hours to respond to their latest demands, and Qadri has outright rejected the idea of talks with a government-appointed committee.
I will keep an eye out for further developments, but it looks now as though Nawaz Sharif and his government will survive this challenge.
Back in January of last year, the sudden return to Pakistan of cleric Tahir ul Qadri, who had been in a form of exile in Canada, threatened to derail the elections that took place two months later. There were accusations at the time that he was working on behalf of the military. Qadri did not take part in the elections (and is being called out for that now), but he started agitating again last month, with his large demonstrations leading to the arrest of large numbers of his followers and a number of deaths in clashes between his followers and police.
Yesterday, it was announced that Qadri will lead a “revolution march” that begins on August 14 and is intended to turn into a siege of Islamabad. From Geo News:
Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief, Dr. Tahirul Qadri Sunday said the ‘revolution march’ will begin on August 14.
“No one will return till the government is toppled and the system changed,” Dr. Qadri told his workers and asked them to take a pledge by raising their hands.
But it will not be just Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party marching in Islamabad on the 14th. The article continues:
Addressing the PAT workers who had gathered here to observe the party’s Yaum-e-Shuhda, the PAT chief said both ‘Azadi March’ of Imran Khan and ‘revolution march’ of his party will be staged on the same day of August 14.
Dawn is now counting down the days to the march (and somehow they borrow from the NCAA basketball tournament to call this march madness), and frame the major questions the demonstrations pose:
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Azadi March and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri’s ‘Revolution March’ will now storm the capital together, further intensifying the stand-off with the government.
Many questions remain unanswered at this stage. Will Imran’s ‘peaceful’ rally be hijacked by Qadri’s more volatile protesters? Whose demands is the combined march really about — Qadri’s, or Imran’s?
Will speculations of a military intervention push the situation beyond the point of no return for Nawaz and co.?
Pakistan’s government continues to negotiate with the groups and refuses to release the 1500 Qadri supporters who have been jailed. Significantly, the government also has called an additional 3000 federal troops to Islamabad to shore up preparations already undertaken by the military:
Pakistan Army’s 111 Brigade, Rangers, elite force and intelligence agencies personnel have already been assigned security duties in Islamabad as PTI and PAT gears up for a march towards the capital to oust the government on August 14.
The federal government called in military to Islamabad, from August 1 by invoking Article 245, for assisting the civil authorities in maintaining law and order situation of Islamabad for three months.
Ironically, despite his government calling in the military to deal with the chaos surrounding the march, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is accusing former military dictator Pervez Musharraf (and by extension, Pakistan’s military) of being behind the movement:
In a speech that addressed the ongoing political crisis in the currently, the prime minister on Monday asked who is behind the calls for revolutions and marches in the country.
“I can’t help but laugh at the agendas of these long marches,” Nawaz Sharif said, indirectly referring to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).
“It hurts and confuses me – who has given them these agendas?”
The government has accused “Musharraf’s friends” of being behind the political chaos in the country, with PTI and PAT leaders Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri calling for the prime minister to step down with a march on August 14.
In a veiled reference to former military ruler General (retired) Musharraf, he asked why those who invited the war on terror in Pakistan are not held accountable.
“Have we not learned lessons from what this country has suffered? The constitution has been uprooted, rule of law has been flouted…we suffered billion of dollars in losses [as a result of Pakistan’s involvement]. Who sowed the seeds of terrorism?” he asked.
“Who is going to hold them accountable?”
This week promises to be very revealing about the future of Pakistan’s politics. And shouldn’t someone be raising those same questions from Sharif here in the US? Have we not learned lessons from what we have suffered, as our constitution also was uprooted and rule of law flouted? Shouldn’t we hold someone accountable here?
Earlier in the week, I wondered whether John Brennan had helped to shape the new counterterrorism policy that Pakistan is rolling out and whether it might be a ploy by Pakistan to capture some of the US counterterrorism dollars that would suddenly become available after a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Under such a scenario, the key event to watch for would be any action taken by Afghanistan against the Haqqani network or other groups that find haven in Pakistan but carry out their attacks only in Afghanistan. More details of the policy are now being revealed, and with them come some suggestions that the Haqqanis might not be targeted, but other major developments suggest that tighter cooperation with the US is occurring.
Tom Hussain of McClatchy seems to have been first to break the news (on Wednesday) that Pakistan may still choose not to go after the Haqqani network:
Pakistan announced Wednesday that it was ending its 7-month-old policy of trying to reconcile with its Taliban insurgents and vowing to answer each terrorist attack with military strikes on the militants’ strongholds in northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
But the government stopped short of abandoning its attempts to engage willing Taliban factions in a peace dialogue, underlining that Pakistan’s national security policy remains focused on restricting attacks within its borders, rather obliterating the militants altogether.
That means that militants who use Pakistan for a staging base to attack U.S. and Afghan forces in neighboring Afghanistan will still be allowed to operate, as long as they observe a cease-fire in Pakistan.
Political analysts said the national security policy unveiled Wednesday offered an easy way out for militant factions that wanted to disassociate themselves from the TTP, however: They simply have to stop attacking Pakistani government forces.
That makes it likely that Pakistan won’t take any military action against the Haqqani network, an ally of the Afghan Taliban that controls significant territory in the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal agencies.
The network is a major source of friction between Pakistan and the United States, which previously has accused Pakistan’s security services of complicity in several of the network’s high-profile attacks on Afghan government and U.S. targets in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Widely viewed as a projector of Pakistan’s influence into Afghanistan, the Haqqani network has distanced itself from the TTP during the Taliban group’s six-year insurgency by signing peace agreements, fronted by the local Wazir tribe, that predate the 2009 launch of counterterrorism operations.
Accordingly, it won’t be targeted by the Pakistani military as long as it doesn’t side with the TTP.
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
With mounting pressure from many sides, Pakistan is quickly approaching a decision point at which it must choose whether it prefers to pursue peace talks with militant groups or to take military action against them. The latest spectacular incident involved a splinter group of Pakistan’s Taliban executing 23 Pakistani Frontier Corpsmen who had been in custody since being captured in 2010. This killing has caused at least a temporary pause in the ongoing peace talks between representatives of the TTP and Pakistan’s government.
The Express Tribune brings us word of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reaction to the executions:
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday condemned the execution of kidnapped soldiers by a Taliban faction, warning that the deaths could affect ongoing peace talks.
“Such incidents have an extremely negative impact on the ongoing dialogue aimed at promoting peace,” Nawaz said in a statement issued by his office.
A faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from the northwestern Mohmand district claimed on Sunday night that they had killed 23 paramilitary Frontier Corps members who were kidnapped in June 2010.
Sharif goes on to note that this is just the latest attempt to disrupt the peace talks:
Nawaz added that Pakistan “cannot afford such bloodshed” and lamented that previous attempts to start dialogue were “sabotaged whenever it reached an encouraging stage”.
So while this disruption of the talks is clearly the responsibility of the Mohmand splinter group of the TTP that carried out the executions, recall that the US disrupted the talks last November with a drone killing of the TTP leader the day before talks were to begin.
In its coverage of the executions, Dawn notes the decision that Pakistan faces:
Highly placed sources have said the military was prepared to launch a full scale operation against militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan.
Sources said the army was awaiting a green signal from the government, adding that a large number of troops were being dispatched to North Waziristan from various formations across the country.
Meanwhile, army formations were carrying out field firing and battle inoculation exercises which are being regarded as preparations of a possible operation.
The exercises were aimed as practice for troops in operating under real battlefield environment with live firing of various weapon systems, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
Meanwhile, those who have been appointed to the negotiating group on behalf of the TTP are doing their best to get the talks going again.
Sadly, though, violent pressure on Pakistan’s government is continuing on many more fronts. Continue reading
After a cancelled meeting earlier in the week, peace talks between Pakistan’s government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a Taliban group that has been carrying out terrorist attacks against targets inside Pakistan, have gotten underway. Although Reuters reported that the meeting was in an undisclosed Islamabad location and Dawn reported that the meeting was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House in Islamabad, it appears that both stories have elements of truth. From the Express Tribune:
The meeting of government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) peace talks committees started at an undisclosed location in Islamabad at 2:24pm on Thursday, Express News reported.
The meeting later shifted to Pakhtunkhwa House.
The Dawn story reports that there was a “cordial atmosphere”, but adds another very important point:
Sources said that talks were being held in a cordial atmosphere and that negotiations would now be continued on a daily basis.
With daily meetings planned, it sounds like the talks could be more than a mere formality.
Returning to the Dawn story, we have the line-up of negotiators for each side:
The government’s negotiators include Irfan Siddiqui, special assistant to the prime minister and coordinator of the committee, Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistan ambassador to Afghanistan, Peshawar-based journalist Rahimullah Yousufzai and retired Major Amir Khan.
Negotiators from the TTP’s side include Maulana Samiul Haq, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Professor Mohammad Ibrahim.
The TTP had initially also nominated Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and former Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) lawmaker Mufti Kifayatullah in their committee. However, both later refused to be part of the committee.
Although none of the stories point it out, I find it very interesting that at least part of today’s discussions were held at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House. Even though Imran Khan declined to be a part of the negotiating team for the TTP, recall that his PTI party controls the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. After a bit more poking around, I found this version of an AFP story on the meetings that has a photo of the outside of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House. Note the emblem on the gate in the photo. It clearly is the emblem of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and not of Pakistan’s government (see here), suggesting that Khan’s provincial government may well be playing the role of a host or facilitator for the talks. There also appears to be a restaurant in Islamabad with the name Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House, but the AFP photo appears to rule out the restaurant.
An official speaking to Reuters also added to the importance of the meetings:
“The progress of the talks will be submitted to the prime minister,” the government official, who declined to be named, as he is not authorized to comment on progress of the talks, told Reuters.
Recall that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had the establishment peace talks with the Taliban as one of his main campaign promises. Note also that Imran Khan made ending US drone strikes one his main campaign issues. With Sharif monitoring the talks and Khan providing a venue (at least for today), it then becomes very interesting that the spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Office today said that the announced US slowdown on drone strikes is not enough. She stated that the strikes have to end altogether. Although Sharif’s government has called for an end to drone strikes several times in the past, reiterating it today could well be important in the context of the talks and Khan’s potential role as a mediator of sorts.
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
For both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prospect of a future not marred by terrorist attacks is a strong incentive to explore peace talks with the Taliban groups that have fueled the bulk of the violence in both countries. Over the past few years, there have been many attempts to start such talks, but these efforts have not been successful so far. At times, one or more of the many sides involved in the talks has proposed an opening stance that was known to be untenable to another side. Also, parties not involved in particular sets of talks have taken active steps to derail them, such as when Karzai went ballistic over the sign on the door of the Taliban office in Doha (disrupting US-Taliban talks) and a US drone strike took out Hakimullah Mehsud just before he joined a set of talks in Pakistan (disrupting Pakistan-Taliban talks).
Today’s New York Times informs us that Hamid Karzai has been secretly working to establish talks with the Afghan Taliban since announcing in November that he would not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement even though his own loya jirga urged him to do so. This disclosure, mostly communicated to the Times through anonymous sources, but confirmed by Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi, seems to account for a fair amount of Karzai’s behavior while refusing to sign the BSA and taking repeated steps that seem aimed at creating more friction between the US and the Karzai government.
Those providing the new narrative to the Times paint the talks between Karzai and the Taliban as not getting beyond initial contact and into discussion of substantive issues. The reasoning, according to these sources, is that by merely maneuvering Karzai into refusing to sign the BSA, the Taliban can achieve their primary goal of getting the US out of Afghanistan completely, so they would have no incentive to enter into an actual peace agreement with Karzai:
Western and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the peace contacts, said that the outreach was apparently initiated by the Taliban in November, a time of deepening mistrust between Mr. Karzai and his allies. Mr. Karzai seemed to jump at what he believed was a chance to achieve what the Americans were unwilling or unable to do, and reach a deal to end the conflict — a belief that few in his camp shared.
The peace contacts, though, have yielded no tangible agreement, nor even progressed as far as opening negotiations for one. And it is not clear whether the Taliban ever intended to seriously pursue negotiations, or were simply trying to derail the security agreement by distracting Mr. Karzai and leading him on, as many of the officials said they suspected.
So we now have a complete reversal of stances from early last summer. Recall that US diplomats had quietly worked for over a year to establish talks with the Taliban, with the Taliban going so far as to open an office in Doha. However, Karzai felt that the office presented too many of the trappings of a government in exile and he managed to scuttle those US-Taliban talks. I held out hope for the ascendance of a more moderate faction of the Afghan Taliban in the aftermath of that fiasco. Whether the secret approach to Karzai came from these more moderate elements is an interesting question worth considering, especially since only a few month elapsed between Karzai’s tantrum over the office in June and the secret communications starting in November. At any rate, we have gone from the US appearing to promote the talks and Karzai disrupting them to Karzai promoting talks and the US releasing information that seems aimed at scuttling them.
If the US truly cared about bringing peace to Afghanistan, an interesting new bargaining position would be to threaten both Karzai and the Taliban that they intend to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year even if Karzai doesn’t sign the BSA, but that if a peace agreement is reached, the US would leave and provide a portion of the funding that the US now dangles as incentive for signing the BSA. Such a position by the US would allow the Taliban and Karzai to unite behind their one common goal–the removal of all US troops. With public opinion of the US effort in Afghanistan at an all-time low, promoting a full withdrawal would be a welcome development in the US.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the issue of peace talks with the Taliban is as muddy as it is in Afghanistan. Consider how the first screen of today’s Washington Post story on the talks loaded on my phone this morning: Continue reading
Yesterday, I speculated on whether Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was turning his back on his campaign promise of peace talks with the Taliban so that he could seek US counterterrorism funds suddenly not being used in Afghanistan. Today’s New York Times joins me in pointing out the key role of counterterrorism in an important US-Pakistan meeting in Washington today:
Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Pakistan’s foreign and national security policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, here on Monday, and counterterrorism operations are to be a major subject of discussion, a senior State Department official said Sunday.
The Times article, however, centers on a key piece of context that I hadn’t brought into yesterday’s speculation. The growing likelihood that all US troops will be forced to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year in the absence of a signed Bilateral Security Agreement means that the US needs a new home for its drones:
The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.
The concern has become serious enough that the Obama administration has organized a team of intelligence, military and policy specialists to devise alternatives to mitigate the damage if a final security deal cannot be struck with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has declined to enact an agreement that American officials thought was completed last year.
If Mr. Obama ultimately withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s drone bases in the country would have to be closed, according to administration officials, because it could no longer be protected.
Oh, the horrors of it all! Who can bear the tragedy of all those poor, homeless drones, wandering around the world with no base close enough for a rapid trip inside the borders of a sovereign nation that has stated in no uncertain terms that it considers drone strikes to be illegal and to be war crimes?
The Times article reminds us that the US once used a base inside Pakistan for drone flights:
Their base inside Pakistan was closed after a shooting involving a C.I.A. security contractor, Raymond Davis, and the raid into Pakistani territory that killed Osama bin Laden, both in 2011.
That bit simplifies the Shamsi Air Base story a bit. While it is true that Pakistan stated that they were kicking the US off the base in June of 2011, not very long after the Osama bin Laden raid (and a bit longer after the Raymond Davis fiasco), the US didn’t actually leave the base until December, after the US killed 24 Pakistani troops at a border station.
So it would seem to me that in today’s talks with Aziz, Kerry will be dangling a couple billion dollars that will be Pakistan’s for the taking, but only if they meet two conditions. Condition one will be to continue Sharif’s new-found enthusiasm for attacking militant groups and condition two will be to re-open Shamsi air base for the US to continue drone operations.
Should such an agreement come to pass, it would completely invalidate the elections that Pakistan held last May, in which Pakistan for the very first time experienced a peaceful transition from one elected government to another. One of Sharif’s main campaign points was the establishment of peace talks with the Taliban. He now is carrying out military actions against them instead. Imran Khan, who came in second in the election, campaigned on a pledge to end US drone strikes. Opening a base inside Pakistan for US drones would render votes cast for Khan meaningless.
Perhaps the only solace that the US would be able to offer Pakistan should they agree to re-open Shamsi to drones would be that after the formal US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the base in Shamsi would almost certainly be used by the US to violate Afghanistan’s sovereignty on a regular basis, just as the US has been doing lately to Pakistan from Afghanistan.