North Waziristan

Moral Rectitude? No, John Brennan is a Honey Badger

A tweet yesterday by Arif Rafiq noted that there was a US drone strike in North Waziristan yesterday just a few hours before Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would visit a spot only 20 miles away. At the New York Times article Rafiq linked:

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan visited a military camp in the tribal district of North Waziristan on Thursday in what was seen as a pointed show of support and an attempt to bolster his troubled relationship with the country’s top generals.

The rare visit by Mr. Sharif to the tribal belt came three months after the military launched a sweeping offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan, a hub of Taliban and Qaeda activity.

/snip/

His visit to Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, on Thursday showed Mr. Sharif standing staunchly behind the country’s generals. “Our courageous troops are fighting a difficult war against an invisible enemy,” he told soldiers. “This is a war for the survival of Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s military claims that 80 percent of North Waziristan has been wrested from the militants and that at least 1,000 militants have been killed in the offensive, known as Zarb-e-Azb, which started on June 15. The figures are impossible to independently verify because the area is out of bounds for most reporters.

According to Pakistan Today, Sharif was emphatic in claiming victory by Pakistan over the militants they were attacking in North Waziristan:

Praising Pakistan Army for the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the prime minister said he visited areas of North Waziristan which used to be havens for terrorists but now the army had purged all anti-state elements from there.

Despite Sharif’s claim of total victory over the terrorists, the US obviously feels the job is not complete, as drone strikes this week have been heavy, including the strike Rafiq notes in the Times article as only 20 miles from where Sharif would visit a few hours later.

The beginning of this week was marked by observance of Eid-ul-Azha, but the religious holiday had no bearing on the timing of drone strikes by the CIA. This Express Tribune article notes that US drone strikes in North Waziristan killed five in the pre-dawn hours Monday, another five later on Monday, six early Tuesday, and another eight also on Tuesday.

And then as AP recounts, there were two separate attacks overnight Wednesday and Thursday that killed five more. Near the end of the Times article linked by Rafiq, we get the observation of how close in location and timing it was to Sharif’s visit:

In an unexpected turn, Mr. Sharif’s visit also had an unusual dimension in terms of his relationship with the United States. Hours before he arrived, an American drone fired a missile at a vehicle in Datta Khel, 20 miles west of the camp where Mr. Sharif visited. Four people were killed and two were wounded, a Pakistani security official said on the condition of anonymity.

Clearly, when it comes to drone strikes in Pakistan, John Brennan is a honey badger. He don’t care about religious holidays. He don’t care about the Pakistani military claiming to have established control of North Waziristan. He don’t care about the Prime Minister entering the area. John Brennan just don’t care.

Who ever heard of a honey badger with moral rectitude?

Pakistan’s Punjabi Taliban to Cease Internal Attacks, Continue Them in Afghanistan

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

Pakistan Operation: 800,000 Displaced, Army Claims Zero Civilian Deaths, Barber Aided Taliban Escapees

Screengrab from Express Tribune video of Miramshah on July 10, 2014

Screengrab from Express Tribune video of Miramshah on July 10, 2014

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.

Pakistan Military Offensive in North Waziristan Unleashed

Because I was away on an extended family trip ending last week, I was unable to comment on Pakistan launching a full-blown military operation in North Waziristan. Many had long held the view that such action would never be undertaken, but it would seem that terrorist attacks in several locations around Pakistan at a time when the government was attempting to hold peace talks with the Taliban finally provoked military action. Dawn provides this interactive map of major events so far. As you mouse over the map, blue circles are air strikes, green circles are ground attacks and red circles are drone strikes. Details should pop up at each circle:

The operation is named Zarb-e-Azb. In the Express Tribune’s summary of the actions, we get this translation of the name:

The meaning of Zarb-e-Azb is sharp and cutting. It’s reportedly the sword used by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the battle of Badar.

The same Express Tribune story carries the June 15 announcement of the offensive by ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations):

ISPR press release announces launch of military operation.

“DG ISPR has said that on the directions of the Government, Armed forces of Pakistan have launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan Agency. The operation has been named Zarb-e-Azb,” said the press release.

The ISPR statement went on to add that terrorists in North Waziristan had waged a war against the state of Pakistan and had been disrupting life in all its dimensions, stunting our economic growth and causing enormous loss of life and property. “They had also paralysed life within the agency and had perpetually terrorised the entire peace loving and patriotic local population,” the statement added.

“Our valiant armed forces have been tasked to eliminate these terrorists regardless of hue and colour, along with their sanctuaries. With the support of the entire nation, and in coordination with other state institutions and Law Enforcement Agencies, these enemies of the state will be denied space anywhere across the country. As always, armed forces of Pakistan will not hesitate in rendering any sacrifice for the motherland,” said the statement.

The operation has included air strikes by Pakistan’s air force along with ground action. Notably, there also have been at least three US drone strikes apparently coordinated with the offensive.

Remarkably, Pakistan’s Foreign Office is warning diplomats in Karachi to be on guard and to restrict their movements. Although the warning does not appear to mention a link to the action in North Waziristan, it seems likely that the military action is seen as contributing to increased risk of terror attacks across the country.

As might be expected, the military action has precipitated a huge spike in internally displaced people. Since those displaced are coming from the region where radical groups have disrupted vaccination plans, there is concern that polio will be spreading as residents are displaced. However, officials are making the best of a bad situation and are using the movement of families as an opportunity to vaccinate children as they cross checkpoints:

On the one hand, the movement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan Agency provides officials an opportunity to vaccinate children who were inaccessible to health workers since June 2012, on the other hand, there are concerns that the virus could spread with the movement of these children.

These fears are exacerbated by the fact that the movement is taking place during the summer season, a high transmission season for the poliovirus.

Speaking with The Express Tribune, Acting Country Head of World Health (WHO) in Pakistan Dr Nima Saeed Abid said all efforts are being made to vaccinate children from Waziristan at checkpoints set up for IDPs.

/snip/

So far a total of 221,253 children have been vaccinated against polio at check posts set up, according to the Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell.

I will try to keep an eye on developments in this operation but will be traveling again next week.

Postscript: While this post was being written, Pakistan announced that the Haqqani Network is among the targets of the offensive but that the offensive is Pakistan’s alone rather than a joint US-Pakistan action. How can US drone strikes be part of a Pakistan-only offensive? It also should be noted that the military is providing death toll information for “terrorists” and soldiers but does not mention civilian deaths.

Pakistani Troops Seize Miram Shah. Does That Remove Drone Strike Justification?

Aside from a May 14 drone strike described as being on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, there have been no documented US drone strikes in Pakistan since December 26 of last year. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism links this break in drone strikes to the peace talks that Pakistan has been engaged in with the Taliban. On the surface, then, one might expect this week’s offensive carried out by Pakistani troops in the North Waziristan stronghold of the terrorists targeted by the US to signal both the end of the peace talks and the opportunity for the CIA to re-start its drone campaign. As the New York Times reports, the peace process does appear to be dead:

Analysts cautioned that the surge in fighting did not appear to be the start of a much-anticipated military offensive across North Waziristan — a longstanding demand of American officials. But it did appear to spell an effective end to faltering peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban.

“The talks will fizzle out if this campaign continues,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and political analyst. “The military leadership feels the militants aren’t serious about talking — and I think the civilian leadership is starting to see that too.”

But note that even though this isn’t seen as the beginning of a major offensive, Pakistani troops are now in control of Miram Shah:

Pakistani soldiers seized control of a neighborhood dominated by foreign Islamist militants in the North Waziristan tribal district on Thursday as part of the most concerted military operation in the area in several years, a senior security official said.

Over 1,000 troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, moved after dawn into a neighborhood on the edge of the district’s main town, Miram Shah, that had become a sanctuary for Uzbek and Chinese fighters, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

If Miram Shah and its surrounds are now under the control of the Pakistani military, then one of the Obama administration’s criteria for use of drones could well no longer apply to the area. See this post by bmaz on the issue of “Kill or Capture”. While the central issue in that analysis is the decision to kill US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, we see that one of the justifications trotted out by the Obama administration was that al-Awlaki could not be captured to be brought to trial. The claim could well have been bogus, as bmaz states:

Who says there was no way between the combined capabilities of the US and Yemen Awlaki could not at least be attempted to be captured?

But with the Pakistani military now controlling Miram Shah, shouldn’t they be in a position to capture terrorists that the US wants to be taken out of action? That is, if they haven’t already been killed by the offensive:

“Troops used explosives to blow up more than a hundred houses belonging to militants in Machis Camp,” an intelligence official in Miramshah said. He added that artillery and helicopter gunships were targeting militant hideouts while troops on the ground had begun a door to door search operation for militants.

The military also targeted suspected militant hideouts in the nearby town of Mirali. “The troops have destroyed about 300 shops in the main Mir Ali bazaar,” a local official told AFP.

A spokesman for Inter Services Public Relations insisted the security forces were carrying out a ‘sanitisation’ operation in response to heavy shelling from militants on security installations in Miramshah following Wednesday’s air strikes in North Waziristan.

Today’s figures put the death toll in this week’s operation at more than 80.

It remains to be seen whether the CIA will re-start drone strikes around Miram Shah. While the peace talk process appears to be dead, if the military continues to hold some of the prime territory where US targets have resided, carrying strikes on those sites may be subject to a different prohibition.

Imran Khan, Samuil Haq State US Does Not Want Peace Negotiations in Pakistan

As Pakistan traverses a difficult path, trying to negotiate peace with militant groups under a shaky ceasefire, provocative statements have come out this week from leading figures in the process accusing the US of not wanting the talks to succeed and even suggesting that the US would actively try to undermine them.

Today, we have this very provocative statement from Maulana Samiul Haq, who has played a prominent role in getting the peace talks under way:

Attempts will be made to sabotage the efforts of the intermediary committees with regards to the peace talks, stated Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S) chief Maulana Samiul Haq while speaking to the media in Nowshera on Wednesday.

He said that “the third enemy” will definitely do something to create obstacles, adding that USA, India and Afghanistan do not want the peace negotiations to be successful.

Dawn’s coverage of the press conference describes Haq’s statement in this way:

Haq, chief of the Taliban negotiating committee, told reporters after the meeting that the Taliban committee was seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He praised the Taliban for announcing the ceasefire and said he had asked the militants to track down whoever was responsible for the recent violence.

Moreover, he also said that the announcement of a ceasefire from both sides was a major progress and that the Taliban had been asked to probe into those responsible for recent attacks.

The chief Taliban mediator added that Afghanistan, India and the United States wanted the dialogue process to fail.

He further said that the government and Taliban should jointly unveil the enemy.

It would seem that Haq is following his own advice here, because in the aftermath of Monday’s attack on the court in Islamabad, Haq had said this:

The government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) should not blame each other for any attack and  should look for “the third enemy,” stated Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S) chief Maulana Samiul Haq while talking to the media in Islamabad.

So on Monday it appears that Haq called on Pakistan to identify the “third enemy” and then today he stated that the US, India and Afghanistan fill that role.

I had missed it in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s attack, but Imran Khan did not wait to identify the US as the enemy of peace in Pakistan:

Imran Khan, chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, said on Monday that some elements, including the United States, were against peace in the country and an operation in Waziristan region was not in favour of Pakistan, DawnNews reported.

I’m guessing that John Brennan’s drone trigger finger is getting very itchy about now and that he is looking into how he can break the current lull in US drone strikes. Especially considering that the DOJ has now been asked to investigate CIA spying on Senate Inteligence Committee staff computers and Brennan’s known history of using drone strikes in Pakistan as a political retaliation tool, I don’t see how he can keep himself in check any longer.

How Will Pakistan Implement New Security Policy?

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.

He continues:

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.

A very similar interpretation was offered by AFP on Thursday: Continue reading

Afghan Army Post in Kunar Province Overrun by Taliban, 21 Killed

[youtuber youtube='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiVw94CuwGg']

 

In the worst attack in at least six months, Taliban fighters overran an Afghan army base in Kunar province near the Pakistan border, killing 21 Afghan soldiers who were said to have been sleeping at the time of the attack. It appears that a very large Taliban force carried out the attack. The New York Times carried a statement from the Afghan Defense Ministry that “hundreds” of fighters were in the attack and that the battle lasted four hours, while the Washington Post stated that “more than 100″ Taliban fighters carried out the attack.

The Times article informs us that at least one version of events suggests that the Taliban had infiltrators on the base who helped the assault forces:

One of the Afghan soldiers taken prisoner, who later escaped and was interviewed in the eastern city of Asadabad, said he believed that the insurgents had entered the fortified base with the collusion of infiltrators who had been on guard duty in the base’s three watchtowers and outside its barracks. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

“I believe these four soldiers had links with the Taliban,” he said. “They shot our soldiers while they were sleeping. When others woke up, they were taken alive, along with me.” He said that he and three other soldiers had managed to escape from the insurgents as they fled the area.

The Times article also states that as the US draws down its forces, Afghan units no longer are accompanied by US forces and “do not have the close air support they often enjoyed”. It should be noted, though, that Afghan forces have already retaken the base. Also note that, as seen in the accompanying video of the funeral in Kabul for those killed, and as noted in this article in ToloNews, Afghan helicopters were at least available to ferry the dead, and so we are left to wonder if they were also involved in the re-taking of the base.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai canceled a planned trip in response to the attack and called for Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban forces which find refuge in Pakistan. It is not clear if Karzai was aware that on Sunday, Pakistan killed at least 38 suspected militants in North Waziristan in air raids carried out by Pakistani jets. Yet another high ranking member of Pakistan’s Taliban also was gunned down today, as well.

Interestingly, at least one person the New York Times talked to about the attack seemed to think that there are still problems with screening of Afghan security forces since there are hints that sympathizers let the Taliban onto the base:

“My cousin was killed in the attack yesterday,” Hajji Alif Khan, from Khost Province, said at the ceremony at the military hospital. “I want to see the bloodshed ended in this country in my lifetime. It is enough, we lost thousands of people. Let’s stop this war,” he said.

But in the meantime, he said, “They should check every soldier’s background.”

Gosh, we were told about a year and a half ago that screening was now very good

Disappeared Pakistani Drone Activist Planned ICC Testimony

[youtuber youtube='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqX1jLSw3t0']

 

Update February 14: Khan has been freed! The Express Tribune reports that he was beaten and tortured, but is now free after being blindfolded and pushed out of a van.

In a very interesting development, Al Jazeera is reporting that disappeared drone activist Karim Khan had planned to testify before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on his trip to Europe which had been planned to begin on February 15. Khan was abducted from his home on February 5 and it is widely believed that Pakistan’s intelligence service was behind the abduction.

Khan made a very dramatic entrance into the world of drone activism in November of 2010, when he sued the US for $500 million after his son and brother were killed in a drone strike in their home village of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. In the lawsuit, Khan named the Islamabad CIA station chief:

A North Waziristan tribesman, whose brother and teenage son were killed in a drone strike last year, said on Monday that he would sue all those US officials supposedly in control of the predator’s operations in Pakistan.

Karim Khan, a local journalist from Mirali town of the lawless tribal district, had sent a $500 million claim for damages to the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, CIA chief Leon Panetta and its station head in Islamabad Jonathan Banks.

Khan described how Banks’ activities lead to the deaths of innocent civilians:

He told journalists that CIA Islamabad’s chief Jonathan Banks buys information from his local agents in the area to guide the drone strike.

However, he added that this information is wrong and misleading in most occasions causing the deaths of many innocent tribesmen.

Khan’s attorney throughout this process has been Shahzad Akbar. Akbar also represents Noor Khan, whose case in the Peshawar High Court resulted in the ruling that US drone strikes within Pakistan are illegal and constitute war crimes.

The fact that Akbar has gotten this ruling seems to me to add significance to the Al Jazeera report, which appears to cite Akbar as the source of the disclosure that Khan was to testify at the ICC:

A Pakistani court has ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to produce a prominent anti-drone campaigner, who was abducted last week, by February 20, or to categorically state that they are not holding him, the activist’s lawyers say.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Shehzad Akbar, the head of Karim Khan’s legal team, called Khan’s abduction from his Rawalpindi home late on February 5 “a signature government abduction”, alleging that Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies were responsible for the disappearance.

Khan had been due to fly to Europe on February 15, on a trip that would see him testify before members of the European Parliament in Brussels, UK legislators in London and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on the US’ use of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The court which issued the ruling for the ISI to present Khan was the Lahore High Court:

Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench on Wednesday issued notices to security agencies to submit their reply in a case related to disappearance of an anti-drone activist as it ordered to present the man at the next hearing.

LHC Justice Shehzad Ahmad Khan was hearing a plea filed by the family of Karim Khan, who went missing a few days back.

During the proceedings, the police denied their involvement in the disappearance. “Khan was picked up by persons wearing police uniform but he is not in our custody,” the police report claimed.

On this, the court sought reply from all intelligence agencies and ordered them to present Khan on February 20, the next date of hearing.

But the court had actually called for Khan to be produced yesterday, as well: Continue reading

More Fallout From Hakimullah Mehsud Drone Killing: Polio Vaccines Halted in Waziristan

Yesterday, we got the tremendous news that after having lead the world in the number of polio cases as recently as 2009, the World Health Organization announced that there have been zero polio cases in India for three consecutive years. In today’s Express Tribune, we see a discussion of whether and how Pakistan can now rise to the challenge of polio eradication. In the article, we learn that the US drone killing of Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud not only disrupted the developing plans for peace talks between the Taliban and Pakistan’s government, but it also affected polio vaccinations in North and South Waziristan:

According to the State Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarrar, NWA and South Waziristan did not receive any immunisation in months, contrary to former North Waziristan Agency (NWA) surgeon Jan Mir Khan, who was part of recent polio efforts. “After the drone strike that killed Hakimullah, it all stopped. Not just the peace talks, but also our efforts,” she says.

The terrible impact of the CIA’s vaccination ruse employing Dr. Shakeel Afridi in the search for Osama bin Laden has been extensively documented here, but this is the first time I have seen a suggestion that backlash to a drone strike directly resulted in polio vaccines being denied to children. Tarrar is not ready to give up, however, and believes that Pakistan and the Taliban will eventually come to an agreement that will allow vaccinations to resume:

Saira Tarrar also emphasised that the people of the area need to be part of the solution. “Parents are now sick of the ban; this pressurises the Taliban.”

“There is an accessibility problem in Fata, but by 2014, we will get a bargain and get some access.” And access is key, as far as Elias Durray, the head of Polio Eradication at the World Health Organization in Pakistan is concerned. “Immunisation prevents circulation. The virus won’t vanish on its own.”

Let us hope that Pakistan can achieve full vaccine coverage and have polio disappear as quickly in Pakistan as it did in India. Of course, this will require the US actually letting peace negotiations between the Taliban and Pakistan come to fruition, so success is far from guaranteed.

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