peace talks

NY Times, Reuters Whitewash US Drone Strike Killing of Mehsud From Taliban Reasons for Karachi Airport Attack

Karachi’s Airport has resumed operations today, but a deadly late night attack shut it down for many hours overnight. It appears that ten militants entered the airport Sunday night, most likely uniformed as airport security personnel, and killed up to 18 people before they were killed by airport security and rapidly responding military units. The TTP, Pakistan’s Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The New York Times and Reuters, however, chose to be very selective in how they reported the TTP’s claim of responsibility. Both news outlets left out the TTP’s prominent mention of the US drone strike in November that killed TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud in describing the TTP’s reasons for the attack. By contrast, AP and the Washington Post included the TTP’s reference to the drone strike.

Here is how the Post article opens:

Heavily armed gunmen disguised as security forces attacked Karachi’s international airport Sunday night, killing at least 18 people before government troops regained control early Monday. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which appeared to dash hopes for peace talks.

The government said all 10 of the attackers were killed in more than five hours of fighting at the airport, which would bring the total number of deaths to 28. A doctor at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital said 18 bodies were brought to the morgue there and that 11 of the dead were airport security personnel, the Associated Press reported. The bodies of the attackers remained in police custody.

In a statement Monday, Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the attack was in response to recent Pakistani military airstrikes in northwestern Pakistan and to a U.S. drone strike in November that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the radical Islamist group.

Shahid added the attack should be viewed as a sign that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to engage the group in peace talks had failed.

“The message to the Pakistani government is that we are still alive to react to the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” said Shahid, adding the attack followed months of intensive planning.

The AP article twice mentions the attack as in response to the drone killing of Mehsud, and although it mentions Pakistan’s airstrikes in the tribal regions after peace talks broke off, it doesn’t tie those air strikes to the TTP reasons for the attack. The Times and Reuters, in contrast, only tie the attack to the air strikes and not to the Mehsud drone strike. From the Times:

 The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Monday for a ferocious overnight assault in Karachi that stretched into the morning in which gunmen infiltrated Pakistan’s largest international airport and waged an extended firefight against security forces that resulted in 29 deaths and shook the country’s already fragile sense of security.

The attack “was a response to the recent attacks by the government,” Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said by telephone. “We will continue carrying out such attacks.” He insisted, however, that the group was seeking to resuscitate peace talks with the government.

And from Reuters:

The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of insurgent groups fighting to topple the government and set up a sharia state, said they carried out the attack in response to air strikes on their strongholds near the Afghan border and suggested their mission was to hijack a passenger plane.

“It is a message to the Pakistan government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” said Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman.

“The main goal of this attack was to damage the government, including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations.”

Pakistan’s Dawn News gives the broader range of TTP explanations:

The TTP further said: “It’s just the beginning, we have taken revenge for one (Mehsud), we have to take revenge for hundreds.”

/snip/

Shahidullah Shahid moreover dismissed the Pakistani government’s peace talks methodology as a “tool of war”.

Shahidullah Shahid said the attack was planned much earlier but had been postponed due to the peace talks.

The TTP spokesman in a statement issued to the media said that the attack was also carried out to avenge the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike.

“We carried out this attack on the Karachi airport and it is a message to the Pakistani government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said.

Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the army’s air strikes in areas along the Afghan border where the insurgents are based.

By citing only Pakistan’s air strikes against the TTP, the New York Times and Reuters portray the Karachi airport attack as a problem that is solely due to politics internal to Pakistan. That is a gross misrepresentation of the situation, as the US drone strike on Hakimullah Mehsud came at an extremely critical time when the peace talks first began to look like a concrete possibility. That US strike was a huge external intervention by the US and clearly put Pakistan on a path to even more bloodshed. At least the Washington Post and AP allow their readers to see that blowback for US intervention played a significant role in this attack.

Will Successful Bergdahl Negotiations Get US-Taliban Peace Negotiations Going Again?

This weekend’s swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo has triggered responses on a large number of fronts. For now, I will leave it to others to sort through whether Obama was required to inform Congress, whether the move provides incentive to the Taliban to capture more prisoners and whether Bergdahl was a deserter. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that this prisoner exchange stands as a significant accomplishment in negotiation among parties who have seen previous attempts at negotiation fail.

Recall that back in early 2012, we first learned that the Afghan Taliban was opening an office in Qatar:

The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political address in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

So the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo was at the top of the list for setting up the office in Qatar and beginning negotiations. It is also important to note that the Haqqani Network, who held Bergdahl in Pakistan, was also to be included in the talks at the same time that the opening for negotiations was first noted and that Pakistan helped to move things along:

The US has taken Pakistan into confidence over the unprecedented development of allowing the Taliban a political office in Qatar to advance the Afghan reconciliation process, sources revealed.

A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process.

The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban.

“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.

The process suffered a major setback when the office was found to be flying the flag the Taliban used when they ruled Afghanistan and when the sign on the door seemed to suggest that the Taliban felt they were still the legitimate governing body. Hamid Karzai threw a huge fit over that development, and even though his government hadn’t been invited to the talks, he managed to stall the process. About a year and a half later, things settled down a bit and the provocative sign and flag were removed.

In today’s New York Times, we are warned not to infer that the prisoner swap means that additional talks look likely: Continue reading

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.

Who Nabbed Mutasim Agha Jan in Dubai?

While the mainstream press finally catches up to the fact that there were indeed hundreds of violent attacks on election day in Afghanistan (even though hippies could find the data over a week ago), there is yet another disturbing development in the efforts to hold talks between Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and the Afghan Taliban. I noted nearly a year ago that Mutasim Agha Jan was beginning to bring some attention to a more moderate faction within the Afghan Taliban. He was successful in getting discussions going with the Afghan High Peace Council, but one of his associates, Abdul Raqib, was gunned down in Peshawar in February just after returning from a negotiating session in Dubai. It has now been confirmed that Mutasim Agha Jan has disappeared while in Dubai as he was preparing for another round of talks there. Here is ToloNews on the disappearance:

Agha Jan, who was one of the few crucial Taliban figures that had direct contact with the HPC, lived in Turkey and recently disappeared during a tour to the UAE.

“The government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is aware of Agha Jan’s disappearance in the UAE,” MoFA spokesman Ahmad Shekib Mustaghna said on Monday.

There are rumors about the possibility that Agha Jan may have been abducted. MoFA has not released a statement in regards to the rumors, but has called the circumstances surrounding the disappearance ambiguous and questionable.

Over the past month, Agha Jan had met with the HPC delegation twice; both sides had agreed to continue peace discussions.

There is a very interesting bit of language in the Khaama Press story on the disappearance:

The ministry of foreign affairs of Afghanistan confirmed that the former senior Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has gone missing in United Arab Emirates.

Foreign ministry spokesman, Shekib Mostaghni told reporters in Kabul that the Afghan officials have started negotiations with the UAE officials regarding the fate of Agha Jan Mutasim.

Mr. Mostaghni further added that the government of Afghanistan has stepped up efforts to take practical steps to find out Agha Jan Mutasim.

Normally, I would attribute that bit about “negotiations with UAE officials” as poor translation from an initial story about Afghan officials speaking to UAE officials simply to ask questions. But there is also this report in the Express Tribune:

Last week, Mutasim’s family sources and friends confirmed to The Express Tribune that they have lost contact with him in Dubai. They were concerned that the UAE authorities might have detained and shifted Mutasim to an undisclosed location in Abu Dhabi.

The Express Tribune article also makes it clear that he has been missing for quite a while:

After a mysterious silence for nearly two weeks, the Afghan foreign ministry on Monday confirmed that Mutasim is missing in the UAE. “The Afghan government confirms that Agha Jan Mutasim has disappeared in the UAE and we are talking to senior Emirati officials to know his fate,” spokesman Ahmed Shakaib Mustaghni said in Kabul.

“The talks, unfortunately, have not yet produced any results and we do not have any more details,” Mustaghni told a weekly press briefing, according to the recorded version of the briefing received here.

So it would indeed appear that Afghanistan may be in some sort of negotiations with UAE on the fate of Mutasim. But since we don’t have confirmation yet that he actually is under UAE control, we could be back to the list of suspects I discussed in the death of Abdul Raqib also being suspects in this case as well (but read here for a pretty strong argument that Taliban hardliners were responsible for Raqib’s death). I will keep an eye out for further developments on Mutasim’s location and safety.

Widely Varying Reports on First Talks Between Pakistan Government, TTP

The first round of formal talks involving figures from Pakistan’s government and military on one side and the Pakistan Taliban, or TTP, on the other concluded Wednesday. Because the talks were held in the tribal areas, reports on how the talks went have been slow to filter out. Further, even within single media outlets in Pakistan, the reports vary widely. Consider this report from Dawn:

The first round of direct peace talks between the government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership concluded on Wednesday, with both the sides reportedly reaching an agreement on several issues, DawnNews reported.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, however, did not share any details of the landmark talks, saying only that once the negotiators returned, it would be up to the government to make statements to media.

The negotiations are part of a push by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban that would end a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years.

Sources told DawnNews that the both parties sought guarantees from each other, during the talks, which were held at Biland Khel area of Shawa Tehsil on the border of Orakzai and North Waziristan tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan.

The TTP also responded positively to the demands of indefinite ceasefire and the release of non-combatant prisoners put forward by the government’s committee, they added.

But Dawn also is carrying this story, which was put on their website a little more than a day after the one above:

Despite a degree of optimism and feel-good impression generated by the militant-handpicked committee, insiders believe the first direct face-to-face interaction with militants has hit a stalemate and unless some quick decisions are taken, it will be difficult to prolong the ceasefire. The ceasefire is to expire on Monday.

According to an insider, the militants have set two conditions for continuation of the peace talks. One, the creation of a demilitarised peace zone in mountainous Shaktoi, South Waziristan, to allow freedom of movement and two, the release of non-combatants.

The insider said the five-member militants’ committee sought written guarantees before they could commit to an extension in the month-long ceasefire. “For nearly seven hours, we talked to them about the destruction wrought by over a decade of violence, the loss of lives and property and displacement of people.

“We said ‘let bygones be bygones, let’s bury the hatchet and make a new beginning’,” the insider said.

“Nothing seemed to appeal to them. I have come back really disappointed. The chances of success and continuation are not terribly bright. This is a non-starter,” he said.

The Express Tribune, meanwhile, seems to have a more positive take on what transpired: Continue reading

Pakistan Suddenly Receives Mysterious $1.5 Billion

Back in January, I mused on whether Pakistan was making a play for counterterrorism funds that were being freed up by the US cutting back on its funding plans for Afghanistan. It now appears that Pakistan is not only starting to receive renewed flows of US defense funding, but US development funding is flowing, as well. I probably shouldn’t be so surprised by this, since the article I cited on the US cutting back on Afghanistan funding mentioned both defense and development funds, but it still remains remarkable that those funds are being so clearly moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

It appears that Pakistan has had to quickly establish a new fund for accepting the newly designated development money, which totals a whopping $1.5 billion in only one month:

As the State Bank of Pakistan remains tightlipped over the source and purpose of funding, Pakistan received another tranche of $750 million in the newly-established Pakistan Development Fund (PDF), taking the total contribution to $1.5 billion so far.

Highly-placed sources told The Express Tribune that friendly countries have injected another sum of $750 million in the PDF – an account opened to channel money from abroad. The last tranche was received in February that stabilised the dwindling official foreign currency reserves.

It is the first time that any country has generously given $1.5-billion assistance to Pakistan within one month, as Islamabad never received such an amount as ‘upfront’ payments. The US, which remains the largest contributor, always gave amounts in tranches spreading over several years. Under its five-year, $7.5-billion Kerry Lugar aid package, Washington gave less than $2.5 billion in government-to-government assistance in over three years.

However, it was not clear whether the money received is a grant or depositary loans aimed at temporarily bailing out the country.

At the very end of the article, the Express Tribune notes that Pakistan is also asking the US to expedite payments under the Coalition Support Fund, which is the route through which Pakistan is reimbursed for its defense spending related to Afghanistan security. That is very interesting, since it was only a month ago that there was a major disbursement in the CSF:

United States has released second tranche of $352 million out of a total of $1.4 billion Coalition Support Funds (CSF) that Pakistan is budgeted to receive during the current fiscal year.

This was revealed by US Ambassador Richard Olson in a meeting with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Tuesday.

According to Finance Ministry, the ambassador assured the Financial Minister that the remaining amount will be disbursed as soon as possible,

Pakistan had hoped to receive the second tranche in December last year.

It certainly stands out that what changed between December and February was Pakistan’s new-found enthusiasm for military action against the Taliban. The article also notes that this payment was meant to cover Pakistan’s expenses incurred during January to March of 2013, so the payments are lagging spending by about a year. That would be why today’s news has Pakistan urging the US to shorten the time until reimbursement: Continue reading

Mike Rogers Throws Tantrum Over Obama’s Drone Policy

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

Note to John Brennan: Do Not Extrajudicially Execute Samiul Haq

Pakistan's government released this photo of Samiul Haq meeting today with Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan’s government released this photo of Samiul Haq meeting today with Nawaz Sharif.

The United States, mostly with John Brennan raining down drones, has been determined to see that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan enters into peace talks with the Taliban. Recall that in early October, the US snatched Latif Mehsud from Afghan intelligence after they had spent months trying to convince him to help them initiate peace talks. Then, on November 2, the US killed Hakimullah Mehsud, just one day before he was to join peace talks with Pakistan. And with momentum gathering again for peace talks, Brennan even strayed outside the tribal areas of Pakistan in a botched attempt to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, but still managed to kill a senior fundraiser for the Haqqani network.

Today, showing nearly infinite patience, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is making a new effort to get the peace talks started. He has chosen to publicly announce that he has appointed a representative to contact the Taliban and work with them to get talks started. From the Express Tribune:

In his attempt to revive the process of peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked Samiul Haq to help in bringing the militant groups to the negotiation table, Express News reported on Tuesday.

Nawaz met the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Samiul Haq group (JUI-S) chief today for a one-on-one meeting at the Prime Minister House.

Talks with the Taliban was the main issue on the agenda and Haq assured the prime minister that he will use his influence to ensure the peace process progresses in the right direction.

Nawaz has been personally meeting various political and religious leaders in order to kick start the negotiation process with the militants.

Haq clearly knows who has been disrupting the previous attempts to get talks started. From Dawn:

The JUI-S chief told the prime minister that every time the government planned to talk peace with the militants, foreign powers tried to sabotage the process.

And just who might those foreign powers be? Especially the ones with the drones? From Geo News:

Talking to Geo News, Maulana Samiul Haq said that he met the prime minister on his request. He said to the best of his ability he would try to help resolve this issue and added that the core issue was to stall the drone attacks.

US should understand that talks with Taliban were in the interest Pakistan as well as regional peace. He said when we get ready, foreign pressures do not allow us to proceed. Thousands of Pakistanis have been martyred in the war, which is not ours, he said. He demanded that the losses incurred in North Waziristan be compensated and advised the PM to revisit the foreign policy of Pakistan.

Haq is to be congratulated for his courage in taking on the difficult task of starting the peace process. He knows what has happened to previous individuals who tried to get the process started and so he knows that he is taking on this assignment under great personal risk. After all, who can doubt that if Brennan does take out Haq with a drone, this description of Haq from the Express Tribune article linked above will be broadcast everywhere:

Samiul Haq is nicknamed the ‘Father of the Taliban’ and runs a madrassa where several Taliban leaders were educated.

I would think that while trying to start the peace talk process, Haq should stay well away from that particular madrassa.

Haq seems to be putting Brennan on notice with his public statement about foreign powers disrupting peace talks. By announcing Haq’s role and releasing photos of Haq visiting with him, Sharif appears to be putting Haq under whatever protection Pakistan’s government can afford him. The ball is clearly in Brennan’s court now and today is Terror Tuesday He can allow the peace process to start, or he can put Haq at the top of his list and drone for war once again.

Where Is the Moral Rectitude When Political Retaliation Drone Strike Hits Settled Area, Misses Target?

Early this morning, just hours after the US had assured Pakistan that drone strikes would be curtailed if Pakistan is able to restart peace talks with the Taliban (after the US disrupted them with a drone strike), John Brennan lashed out with one of his signature rage drone strikes that seems more calculated as political retaliation than careful targeting. Earlier documentation of political retaliation strikes can be seen here and here.

Here is how Dawn described the assurance from the US late on Wednesday:

The United States has promised that it will not carry out any drone strikes in Pakistan during any peace talks with Taliban militants in the future, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said Wednesday.

Briefing a session of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Aziz said a team of government negotiators was prepared to hold talks with former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud on Nov 2, the day after he was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan.

/snip/

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had told reporters last week that the process of peace talks could not be taken forward unless drone attacks on Pakistani soil are halted.

Nisar had said that the drone attack that killed Mehsud ‘sabotaged’ the government’s efforts to strike peace with anti-state militants.

Bill Roggio, writing in Long War Journal, is convinced that the Haqqani network’s leader was the target of today’s strike:

The US launched a drone strike at a seminary in Pakistan’s settled district of Hangu, killing eight people in what appears to have been an attempt to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operations commander of the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network.

But see that bit about the strike being in “Pakistan’s settled district”? One of the many unwritten “rules” of US drone strikes in Pakistan is that they are restricted to the FATA, or Federally Administered Tribal Area, of Pakistan where Pakistani security or military personnel have little to no freedom of movement. In fact, the ability of drones to enter these otherwise forbidden territories is touted as one of their main justifications for use.

Just over a week ago, the chief fundraiser for the Haqqani network was killed near Islamabad. That killing involved a gunman, though, not a drone. If Nasiruddin Haqqani could be taken out by a gunman near Islamabad, why couldn’t Sirajuddin also have been taken out by a gunman in Hangu rather than missed in a drone strike?

Various reports on this drone strike place the death toll at anywhere from three to eight and say that either three or four missiles were fired into the seminary. The seminary appeared to be frequented by Haqqani network fighters. From the Express Tribune:

Another Haqqani source said the seminary was an important rest point for members fighting in Afghanistan’s restive Khost province.

“The seminary served as a base for the network where militants fighting across the border came to stay and rest, as the Haqqani seminaries in the tribal areas were targeted by drones,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

An intelligence source told Reuters separately that Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of Taliban-linked Haqqani network, was spotted at the seminary two days earlier.

It appears that there have been no other drone strikes outside the tribal areas since March of 2009. Roggio notes that all three of the others were in the Bannu district.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province now is governed by former cricket star Imran Khan’s PTI party. Khan already was highly agitated by the drone killing of Hakimullah Mehsud and its impact on the planned peace talks with the TTP. It seems entirely possible that striking in Khan’s province was a deliberate act by Brennan in retaliation for Khan’s rhetoric after the Hakimullah Mehsud killing. But by striking out with such rage, and especially by missing his target in a strike in a highly populated area, Brennan seems to have set himself up for a huge blowback.  Khan is now ratcheting up his rhetoric considerably: Continue reading

Peace Initiative Gains Momentum in Afghanistan Despite Lack of Participation by US

Last week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Washington, DC for a series of meetings. The final press appearance by Sharif and Barack Obama was noted by the New York Times to be somewhat awkward as Sharif paid whispered lip service to Pakistani objections to drone attacks while Obama ignored the topic entirely. The joint appearance was quickly overshadowed by release of an article from Greg Miller and Bob Woodward leaking a number of documents relating to the drone program. Both Marcy and I commented on the release and what it could mean.

The concept of the end of the war in Afghanistan got a bit of a mention in the Times article on Sharif’s visit:

With the United States’ winding down the Afghan war, Mr. Obama reminded Mr. Sharif of the importance of a stable, sovereign Afghanistan. American officials have long been suspicious of links between the Pakistani military and militant groups like the Haqqani network, which has carried out attacks on Westerners in Afghanistan.

For its part, the Sharif government has signaled an interest in negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban, a process that analysts said the United States should encourage.

But heaven forbid that Afghanistan should attempt to talk with Pakistan’s Taliban. Recall that earlier this month, the US snatched a high-ranking figure of the Pakistan Taliban from Afghan security forces as they were bringing him to a meeting. The cover story at the time from Afghanistan was to suggest that they were attempting to start peace talks with Latif Mehsud. An article in yesterday’s New York Times suggests that Afghanistan actually intended to work with Mehsud to develop a sort of alliance with the Pakistan Taliban and to use them as a pressure point against Pakistan’s government. What intrigues me most about this possibility is that Afghanistan claimed that this tactic was merely an imitation of what the US has done repeatedly in Afghanistan:

Another Afghan official said the logic of the region dictated the need for unseemly alliances. The United States, in fact, has relied on some of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to fight the insurgency here, the official tartly noted.

“Everyone has an angle,” the official said. “That’s the way we’re thinking. Some people said we needed our own.”

Afghan officials said those people included American military officers and C.I.A. operatives. Frustrated by their limited ability to hit Taliban havens in Pakistan, some Americans suggested that the Afghans find a way to do it, they claimed.

So Afghanistan’s intelligence agency believed it had a green light from the United States when it was approached by Mr. Mehsud sometime in the past year.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, the last time we checked, the most notorious warlord war criminal of them all, Rashid Dostum, was still getting about $100,000 every month from the US while also drawing a salary as Karzai’s Army Chief of Staff. Coupling that with the Petraeus plan of incorporating the worst militias directly into the death squads of the Afghan Local Police while providing them support from the CIA and JSOC, and we can see why Afghanistan would feel that there are zero moral constraints on working with groups having a violent tendency.

But apparently in the Calvinball playing field of Afghanistan, only the US is allowed to make shadowy alliances, and so the US snatched Mehsud away from Afghanistan before any alliance could be formed. But even if we chalk that move up to an honest move to take a noted terrorist out of action, US behavior on other fronts relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan still continue to illustrate that the only US priorities are more military action in Afghanistan and more drone strikes in Pakistan.

Sharif’s next stop after Washington was London. But instead of awkward public appearances, the UK has instead set up meetings for Sharif directly with Hamid Karzai: Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz Bad day at the US Open for Eugenie Bouchard. Bummer.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @LexAlexander And I would be more than happy for the guy to be prosecuted, jailed and bled dry. Just like for the discussion to be accurate.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @JasonFritz1 We do not have such boneheadedly inflexible rules here in the desert.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @LexAlexander Absolutely. But watching people say it is a "sex crime" or that the perpetrator is a "sex offender" is disconcerting.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @MonaHol @Forbes I don't think so. None of the subjects were minors.
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz .@MonaHol No, it is not a sex crime, and that is an asinine headline for @Forbes to run. http://t.co/ecj9xtScVy
3hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV @cocktailhag Heh. And now that #Rays won, I'm putting another clear coat on door number two.
3hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @cocktailhag: @JimWhiteGNV Not as satisfying as refinishing, I expect.
3hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV Heading outside to shovel horse shit in 93F heat. Much more pleasant than watching Balfour pitch 10th for #Rays.
3hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @AntonioFrench: Organizers say today's planned protest involving halting highway traffic has been postponed at the request of the Brown …
4hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @kellyoxford @LegallyErin It is a crime, yes, absolutely. Sex crime...uh, no, it is not.
4hreplyretweetfavorite
September 2014
S M T W T F S
« Aug    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930