Recall that last fall, Barack Obama spent some time altering the public record on when CIA-trained death squads first entered Syria to move the date from just before the Ghouta sarin attack to just after (while also trying to shrink the size of those first groups). But the US was a month behind Pakistan’s Taliban, who also sent fighters to Syria, ostensibly on the same side as us this time, to fight pro-Assad forces. But while these efforts on the same side in Syria are having little success as Assad remains in power and might even be gaining the upper hand, the work of the CIA and Taliban on opposite sides in Pakistan has produced a devastating result, with the World Health Organization announcing yesterday that it has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the spread of polio to countries where it previously had been eradicated:
After discussion and deliberation on the information provided, and in the context of the global polio eradication initiative, the Committee advised that the international spread of polio to date in 2014 constitutes an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk to other States for which a coordinated international response is essential. The current situation stands in stark contrast to the near-cessation of international spread of wild poliovirus from January 2012 through the 2013 low transmission season for this disease (i.e. January to April). If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases. It was the unanimous view of the Committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have been met.
Although fundamentalist Islamic groups have long accused vaccination campaigns, and especially polio vaccinations, of being efforts by the West to sterilize Muslims, the very high profile case of Dr. Shakeel Afridi carrying out a hepatitis vaccination ruse on on behalf of the CIA in an effort to obtain blood samples from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad provided a refreshed incentive for attacks on vaccine programs.
Marcy pointed out the stupidity of Leon Panetta’s confirmation that Afridi worked with the CIA in the ruse the day before Panetta’s 60 Minutes segment ran:
Not only does this presumably put more pressure on Pakistan to convict Afridi of treason (he remains in custody), but it exacerbates the problem of having used a vaccination campaign as cover in the first place, confirming on the record that similar campaigns in poor countries might be no more than a CIA front.
I presume someone in the White House gave Panetta permission to go blab this on 60 Minutes; I assume he’s in no more legal jeopardy than Dick Cheney was when he insta-declassified Valerie Plame’s identity.
But shit like this discredits every single claim national security experts make about the need for secrecy. I mean, how are CIA officers ever going to recruit any more assets when the assets know that the CIA director may, at some time in the future that’s politically convenient, go on 60 Minutes and confirm the relationship?
Afridi was eventually sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, not on treason but on other dubious charges and in a shopped venue. And the fallout in Pakistan’s tribal areas from US confirmation of the vaccination ruse was exactly as might be expected: multiple deadly attacks on polio vaccine workers and many new cases of paralyzed children.
While the polio virus circulating in Syria doesn’t appear to have come directly with the Taliban fighters sent from Pakistan, it is indeed a strain from Pakistan’s tribal areas that is in Syria now:
Thirteen cases of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) have been confirmed in the Syrian Arab Republic. Genetic sequencing indicates that the isolated viruses are most closely linked to virus detected in environmental samples in Egypt in December 2012 (which in turn had been linked to wild poliovirus circulating in Pakistan).
WHO is recommending drastic measures, primarily calling for all travelers from Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria to be vaccinated for polio, preferably at least four weeks prior to international travel, but at least at departure if it hasn’t been done earlier. WHO is also calling for increased efforts in vaccinations in countries (Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria) where the virus is known to be present but from which transmission has not been seen.
So the fears from two years ago on the impact of the CIA’s actions on polio eradication are now met. But keep in mind that it’s not just vaccine programs that were put at risk by this incredibly stupid move. A large alliance of humanitarian groups complained directly to the CIA that all humanitarian groups were put at risk by the move, since the CIA ruse was carried out under cover of a humanitarian organization. Will John Brennan be able to heed this advice?
Today’s New York Times has a fascinating update on the investigation into the killing of Swedish reporter Nils Horner on March 11. Although there have been systematic attacks on journalists in the region for years, it appears that in the case of Horner, suggestions of the involvement of Western intelligence agencies are getting significant attention:
Now, some are saying Mr. Horner may have been killed as part of some shadowy intelligence war in Afghanistan waged by foreigners.
The allegation first surfaced in a widely disputed claim of responsibility issued by a group calling itself Feday-e-Mahaz, and thought to be an offshoot of the Taliban.
“This was certainly not the work of the Taliban,” Mr. Faizi said in an interview, adding that he did not believe there were any breakaway factions. “They are fictions.”
Afghan officials linked Mr. Horner’s death to the attack on Taverna du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners that suicide attackers struck in January, killing 21 people, most of them foreigners.
Though the Taliban took credit for that attack, Mr. Karzai has suggested that it may be linked to foreigners and not Afghan insurgents. Mr. Horner was shot as he tried to find and interview a chef who had escaped from that Lebanese restaurant, officials said.
“Perhaps there are some of those with fears about what he would find out,” one Afghan official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.
The official emphasized that he was speaking of the possibility that Westerners were responsible in both the restaurant attack and Mr. Horner’s shooting, and not Pakistanis, whom Afghan officials often blame after attacks because of what the official called Pakistan’s clandestine support of the Taliban.
But how on earth could such a ludicrous story get started? I mean, it’s not like the US meddles and tries to prevent the outbreak of peace talks or anything like that. Oh, wait.
Okay, but surely this meddling is recent. The history of our motives in the region must be pure. Just ask someone who has observed our actions over the years, like, say, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, (pdf):
But it was too late because some of the organizations had become a part of the Afghan
people. As for Afghanistan itself, the West did not support the Afghan organizations in
order to bring about peace, prosperity, and security in Afghanistan. The U.S. proxies in the
lSI under American control foiled every attempt to reconcile or integrate the various
Afghan organizations. Every time they saw a strong leader or an organization, they
supported him in order to split his organization off from the others. They split the group
Hezb Al-Islami Hekmatyar into two parties- one by the same name and one by the name
Hezb Al-Islami Younis Khalis and so on.
Well, yes, as Marcy notes, KSM is trolling, but there are bits that can’t be denied.
Oh, and don’t forget the use of a doctor in a vaccination ruse to obtain intelligence on the compound where Osama bin Laden was living prior to the attack that killed him. So why wouldn’t the West use a journalist? And look at Horner’s history:
Horner, 51, was an experienced Hong Kong-based reporter who had previously been in Afghanistan to witness the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and in Iraq during the war in 2003.
And just to make things juicier, even though Horner worked for Swedish radio, he held British citizenship. The Wall Street Journal article linked here notes that Horner covered Asia generally since 2001 and “had visited Kabul many times in the past”.
I’m not ready to embrace these conspiracies, but it sure is easy to see how the concept can take hold when we consider how the US has behaved in the region for decades.
The past three days have seen a number of major attacks between Pakistan’s Taliban, known as the TTP, and Pakistan’s military. On Sunday, a bomb exploded in a van transporting Pakistani troops, killing 20. This attack took place in Bannu (Bannu will return to this story in a moment). On Monday, a suicide bomber killed 13 just a few meters from the outside wall of the General Headquarters of the Pakistani Army in Rawilpindi. Today, Pakistani jets killed at least 24 with bombs dropped in North Waziristan.
It appears that in the Sunday attack, the bomb was in a vehicle rented for transporting troops:
“The explosion took place in a civil Hiace van inside Bannu Parade Ground at 8:45 am,” a senior military official told The Express Tribune. The blast occurred just as Frontier Corps (FC) troops had stepped into the van ahead of their departure.
“The K-P paramilitary unit had rented a vehicle from the market for movement of its troops,” he added. The vehicle was supposed to carry the soldiers to Razmak, a town in North Waziristan Agency.
“It wasn’t immediately known whether it was a suicide bombing or the device was detonated through a remote control,” he added. “The van driver was also killed in the blast.”
The suicide bomber in Monday’s attack was first seen on a bicycle:
District Coordination Officer Sajid Zafar Dall said that at the time of the attack a gaggle of children were heading to school. “Our initial assessment is that the bomber was possibly on a bicycle and he then approached the target on foot,” he added. Since it was morning time, RA Bazaar was bustling with office-goers and schoolchildren.
Quoting eyewitnesses, Sardar Zulfikar, the SHO of RA Bazaar police station, said the bomber was walking towards the GHQ but detonated the explosive vest the moment he saw army troops at RA Bazaar’s main roundabout, T-Chowk. The building of National Logistics Cell is located nearby.
The RA Bazaar is considered a high security zone due to its proximity with the GHQ. Police investigators believe the bomber intended to target the military headquarters. However, he couldn’t get to his target due to the tight security.
Today’s bombing by the Pakistani Air Force appears to be in response to these attacks:
Several suspected militant hideouts were trampled by Pakistan’s military’s fighter jets in Mir Ali area of the North Waziristan, killing at least 24 persons and wounding 15 more, various local news channels reported on Tuesday.
The air strike followed a series of terrorist attacks across Pakistan in the past week, including Monday’s blast on a check post in Rawalpindi that martyred 6 army personnel and 7 civilians. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed the responsibility for the attack. The events had led to a mounting pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take tougher decisions in response to the recent attacks by TTP.
“This hadn’t been planned before, and Pakistan Air Force jets were called to hit hideouts of the militants involved in attacks on security forces,” said one military official speaking on condition of anonymity.
It appears that the operations by Pakistani forces are continuing in several locations in North 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.
As we await word on why the airlines’ SABRE reservation system would go down at exactly the time the US is warning that Undie 3.0 could be underway and the US is evacuating our personnel from Yemen, there are interesting developments on the related world trend of prison breaks.
Recall that one of the large prison breaks of al Qaeda figures took place in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan on July 29, with about 250 prisoners escaping. It would appear that Pakistan had very specific advance warning on this attack, but the security personnel who were present did not do their jobs once the attack started. Today, we learn from Dawn that Pakistani Army troops have been dispatched to at least two more jails to beef up security as there appears to be a new intelligence warning addressing all jails in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa:
Amid security threats of militant attacks, Army troops were deployed on Tuesday at Central Jail Peshawar, which holds Dr Shakil Afridi and other high profile Taliban inmates, and Haripur jail.
The military sources confirmed that the troops took over the jail security on the request of the civil administration .
The source added that the deployment would not be for a long period and that the troops would be present at the prisons only to strengthen the security cordon.
Other sources said that though security warning was issued for all the jails in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province but Central Jail Peshawar could be the prime target as Dr Shakil Afridi who was convicted of assisting the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in obtaining DNA samples of Osama Bin Laden through a fake vaccination campaign was also held in the said prison.
Moreover the founder chief of the outlawed Tehrik Nifaz Sharia-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), Mualana Sufi Mohammad, the former Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan, and a number of other key commanders belinging [sic] to the Swat and Bajaur chapter of the Taliban are also jailed in the Peshawar Central Prison.
Recall that it was pointed out over a year ago that Afridi is under considerable risk being housed in a jail with such high-profile Taliban figures. Despite that risk, though, Afridi managed to be interviewed by Fox News from inside the jail, with the interview published just one day before Benghazi Day. Both Afridi and a number of guards were then retaliated against for allowing the interview to happen.
If an attack occurs on Peshawar Central Jail, it seems likely that Afridi would have a very low prospect of surviving, as both militants inside the jail and those who launch the attack from outside would be highly motivated to see him killed. It would seem to me that Pakistan could stabilize the situation somewhat by moving Afridi to an undisclosed more secure location and then making it known that he has been moved.
Yesterday, Al Jazeera published a leaked copy of the final report from the Abbottabad Commission appointed by Pakistan’s government to investigate both how Osama bin Laden could have lived within Pakistan (on military land!) for so long and how the US was able to carry out its mission to kill him without Pakistan’s military responding in any way.
The report is published as a pdf file of what is clearly a photocopy of the report. The English version has a few translation and/or transcription errors where a word here and there does not make sense. The copy is nearly complete, but Al Jazeera notes that every copy they saw was missing a page in which former ISI director Pasha described conversations Musharraf had with the US just after 9/11.
I’m about a third of the way through reading the report. So far, it has been organized as summaries of the testimony from individuals who had some sort of role at bin Laden’s compound or a role in government or law enforcement that intersected with the event. Each summary of testimony is followed by a bit of reaction from the commission itself, and this reaction can be quite pithy at times. The commission found Shakeel Afridi’s testimony completely unbelieveable, as he claimed to have no knowledge at all that he was working with the CIA. The commission also, in response to the testimony of a lower level local police figure, ascribed the abdication of duty as due to “government implosion syndrome”, adding that “This explains a lot without excusing it.”
What stands out to me in the reading so far is the role that Umar Patek could have played in aiding the US to find bin Laden. Recall that so far, the party line from the US is that bin Laden’s compound was located in Abbottabad by tracing the two couriers who lived there. However, Indonesian bomber Umar Patek was arrested in Abbottabad in January of 2011, just a few months before the May raid by the US.
Here is a bit of the testimony from the Home Secretary of Kyhber Pakhunkhwa Province (so as not to add further transcription errors, I am relying on partial screen captures of the pdf document that is in a form not allowing text to be copied):
So the arrest of Patek aroused at least some concern, but it was not followed up on. The testimony of the wife of one of the couriers, Maryam, got into a very interesting analysis of the Patek situation, though, with the commission offering some incisive deductions:
And after a page break:
Almost nobody had paid any attention to Patek’s arrest being so close in time and location to the bin Laden raid. Well, one foul-mouthed blogger did, a year ago this week:
But there’s a question that has, AFAIK, never been answered. Patek was arrested in January 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There have always been suspicions that the arrest of Patek in the city Osama bin Laden was hidden out in (Patek reportedly planned to meet OBL) helped to solidify the case that he was in fact the “Pacer” in the compound. Did Patek help the US get OBL?
Both Marcy and the commission find the interrogation window for Patek to fit extremely well with the timing of the bin Laden raid. The commission also shows considerable insight in noting that despite the efforts by bin Laden to cut off all interaction with the outside world except for the use of his two couriers, at least one high level al Qaeda affiliate may well have known that bin Laden was in Abbottabad.
While the world focuses on the role of following bin Laden’s couriers, it may well be that Patek provided some of the most actionable intelligence on bin Laden being in Abbottabad.
POGO has a story that adds a new twist to an old story.
The old story is Leon Panetta, leaking classified info, in this case, leaking info on the Osama bin Laden raid to a Zero Dark Thirty executive.
In June 2011, when he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Panetta discussed the information at a CIA headquarters event honoring participants in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to an unreleased report drafted by the Inspector General’s office and obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
“During this awards ceremony, Director Panetta specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name,” the draft report says. “According to the DoD Office of Security Review, the individual’s name is protected from public release” under federal law, the report says.
“Director Panetta also provided DoD information, identified by relevant Original Classification Authorities as TOP SECRET//SI//REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL, as well as, SECRET/ACCM,” the report says.
This is the investigation Peter King requested in 2011.
The new, but predictable, twist, is that when DOD’s Inspector General tried to investigate this, it apparently got no cooperation from Panetta himself, who had subsequently moved over to head DOD itself. More importantly, the IG stalled the report, apparently until Panetta retired.
The unknown fate of the IG report was the subject of a December 2012 email exchange—obtained by POGO—between a congressional staff member and an employee in the IG’s office. The congressional aide mentions having heard that someone in the IG’s office was “sitting on it until Secretary Panetta retires” and asks the IG employee for any information about it.
The IG employee replies: “That effort . . . has been controlled and manipulated since inception by the IG Front Office.” The employee adds: “There is a version ready to hit the street, been long time ready to hit the street…but we will see if that happens anytime soon. Highly unusual tight controls and tactical involvement from senior leadership on this project.”
The employee says the matter reflects broader problems within the IG’s office.
“I have grave concerns that the message and findings are now controlled and subject to undue influence across the board at DoD IG. I have never experienced or seen so much influence or involvement by outsiders now in developing and issuing oversight reports.”
The IG employee invokes whistleblower status.
“I consider this protected communications on alleged wrong-doings within the Government.”
While it doesn’t say so directly, POGO suggests the Obama Administration may have pulled this off by withholding the nomination for the Acting Inspector General to become its permanent IG.
The Defense Department IG’s job has been vacant since December 2011, and the office has been headed on a temporary basis by Lynne M. Halbrooks, who is now the principal deputy inspector general. She has sought support to be named permanent inspector general, a presidential appointment that traditionally involves the approval of the secretary.
In short, Panetta exposed a classified identity to a movie maker, as well as SIGINT pertaining to the Osama bin Laden raid (perhaps reports on the intercepts the government used to identify the courier?). But rather than being treated like John Kiriakou, for example, Panetta got moved into a position to prevent any release of this information.
The term “sheep dip” has been adopted to refer to the practice of having Special Forces operate under CIA guise, as they did on this OBL raid, to operate under CIA’s covert authorities. It turns out the institutional shell game with the OBL raid served not to keep secrets, nor even to sustain deniability from the Pakistanis (particularly after Panetta identified Shakeel Afridi), but rather to allow the Administration to treat this covert operation just like they do covert operations like drones (Joby Warrick’s book, The Triple Agent, includes a lot on drones that obviously comes from Panetta’s office too), to make them selectively public.
While much attention is appropriately focused on the horrific and brutal attacks by Pakistan’s Taliban on secular political parties as the country approaches elections in its first-ever transition from one civilian government to another, we have news today of a sad triumph by the Taliban as a child in North Waziristan has been diagnosed with polio after the Taliban successfully shut down polio immunizations there last summer.
Health workers are on the cusp of making polio the second disease after smallpox to be completely eradicated from the planet. The latest plan forecasts eradication by 2018, but a huge barrier is that conservative Islamic groups view Western vaccination programs as attempts to sterilize Muslims. In addition, the participation by Dr. Shakeel Afridi in a bogus vaccination program set up by the CIA to obtain DNA samples from Osama bin Laden’s compound added fresh fuel to the belief that vaccination programs also are used to spy on Muslims. Just under a month ago, a policeman protecting workers administering polio vaccine was shot and killed:
The latest attack took place in the afternoon in the Par Hoti neighborhood of the Mardan district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. The policemen, Raj Wali and Mohammad Ishfaq, were accompanying two female workers on the second day of a three-day anti-polio drive, said Wajid Ali, a local police official.
The policemen were standing guard in the street as the health workers administered drops inside a house when an unidentified gunman, who appeared to be in his early 20s, walked up to them and opened fire. Mr. Wali was killed and Mr. Ishfaq was wounded, Mr. Ali said in a telephone interview. The gunman escaped.
That killing followed the deaths of eight vaccine workers last December and the violence has led to a significant interruption in the distribution of the vaccine:
In December, at least eight people engaged in polio vaccinations were shot dead in Karachi and the north-west, and in January and February two police officers were killed in similar attacks.
The UN said last month that some 240,000 children have missed vaccinations since July in parts of Pakistan’s tribal region, the main sanctuary for Islamic militants, because of security concerns.
And it is from the tribal area of Waziristan where we have today’s sad news of a child being diagnosed with polio:
A child has contracted polio for the first time in Pakistan’s militant-infested tribal belt since the Taliban banned vaccinations a year ago, a UN official said Monday.
“The new case has been detected in North Waziristan where we had been denied access in June last year,” the World Health Organization’s (WHO) senior coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan, Elias Durry, told AFP.
Durry fears that this case is not likely to be isolated:
“We are worried because this new case comes as an example of a bigger impending outbreak of disease in the region,” the WHO official said.
In addition to making vaccination drives shorter and lower profile while working closely with security, the executive summary (pdf) for the new polio eradication plan has a key step of outreach to religious groups:
4. Religious leaders’ advocacy: markedly step up advocacy by international, national and local Islamic leaders to build ownership and solidarity for polio eradication across the Islamic world, including for the protection ofchildren against polio, the sanctity of health workers and the neutrality of health services.
Unfortunately, I don’t see an open call in the plan for bringing about an end to intelligence agencies undertaking new vaccination ruses, although “the neutrality of health services” would seem to touch on it. Meanwhile, Afridi has started a hunger strike in a desperate attempt to keep his name in the headlines.
At his confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, who has been nominated by President Obama to be the next Secretary of State, engaged in nearly ten minutes of discussion with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Paul managed to come off as not nearly as batshit insane as he sounds while campaigning (although Kerry did have to say “let me finish” several times), and actually came very close to making a good and substantial point. While discussing the issue of providing arms to Egypt, Paul mentioned the long history of the US supporting and providing arms to a series of groups including the mujahideen and even Osama bin Laden. I say Paul came close to making a good point because this part of his commentary was framed around these groups coming back to pose a threat to Israel. Paul could have made a very important point had he framed the discussion as part of the bigger issue of the blowback when these groups, especially bin Laden, set their
sites sights on the US after being funded by us as “the enemy of my enemy”. Kerry did a fine job of ending this part of the exchange, by stating that answer to the issue of arming various parties is to “make peace”.
In the final third of the video above, Paul moves to the question of relations with Pakistan. I didn’t get to watch the hearing live and haven’t yet found a transcript, but at least in the questions Paul had about Pakistan, I find myself wishing different questions had been asked. Regarding Pakistan, I would have asked Kerry if his idea of diplomacy is represented by his actions in the Raymond Davis affair, when Kerry went to Pakistan to lobby for Davis’ release and smuggled out of Pakistan the driver of the diplomatic vehicle that struck and killed a Pakistani civilian while attempting to rescue Davis from the site where he had shot and killed two Pakistanis. I also would have asked Kerry what steps he had taken personally to follow up on his pledge to Pakistan that Davis would be subject to a criminal investigation for the killings in Lahore.
Instead, Paul asked Kerry whether he would condition financial aid to Pakistan on the release of Dr. Shakeel Afridi. Neither Paul nor Kerry mentioned or condemned the vaccination ruse in which the CIA employed Afridi or the damage that ruse has done in terms of reduced polio vaccination rates and murdered health workers who were administering the polio vaccine. Instead, both lamented that someone who had helped the US to find bin Laden would find himself in jail. Kerry, however, stated that withholding aid would be the wrong approach. From the New York Times:
On Pakistan, Mr. Kerry said he had talked to Pakistani leaders about the Pakistani doctor who has been imprisoned for assisting the C.I.A.’s effort to track Osama bin Laden.
“That bothers every American,” said Mr. Kerry, who said that he was nonetheless opposed to cutting aid. “We need to build our relationship with the Pakistanis, not diminish it,” he said.
Dawn went into more detail on the exchange:
It was Senator Rand Paul, a new Republican face in the committee, who suggested cutting US aid to Pakistan “if they do not release Dr Shakil Afridi” who, he said, was imprisoned for helping the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. The Al Qaeda leader was killed in a US military raid on his compound in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011.
Mr Kerry informed the senator that he had discussed this issue directly with President Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and like most Americans found it “incomprehensible if not repugnant, that somebody who helped us find Osama bin Laden is in jail in Pakistan”.
And “that bothers every American,” he added.
The senior US lawmaker, who stayed engaged with both Pakistan and Afghanistan as President Obama’s informal emissary during his first term, urged Senator Paul to also look at what the Pakistanis say.
“Pakistanis make the argument Dr Afridi did not know what he was doing, who he was specifically targeting … it was like a business for him,” he said, adding that this was no excuse for keeping the physician in jail.
But he said that he would stay engaged with Pakistan rather than resorting to “a pretty dramatic, draconian, sledge-hammer” approach of cutting US aid to the country Senator Paul had suggested.
This discussion by Paul and Kerry of Afridi is the first time in several weeks that Afridi’s name has resurfaced. I still think it likely that Afridi will disappear from the jail where he is now held. The only question is whether he will reappear in the US (where people like Rand Paul and Dana Rohrabacher will certainly want to take him on tour with them in a victory lap) or just disappear entirely.
Providing more evidence that perhaps the best move President Obama can make for world affairs is to quickly appoint a new Secretary of Defense so that Leon Panetta can retire to a soundproof booth, five more polio workers in Pakistan paid with their lives for Panetta’s leak that conclusively tied Dr. Shakil Afridi and a vaccination ruse to the CIA effort to identify and kill Osama bin Laden. The tragic shootings in Pakistan consisted of three separate incidents in Karachi and one in Peshawar.
Dawn summarizes various news services’ reports on the shootings:
Four were killed in three different incidents in the port city of Karachi and the fifth in the northwestern city of Peshawar, on the second day of a nationwide three-day drive against the disease, which is endemic in Pakistan.
All of the victims were Pakistanis working with a UN-backed programme to eradicate polio.
Sagheer Ahmed, the health minister for Sindh province said he had ordered a halt to the anti-polio drive in the city in the wake of the shootings.
These killings come on the heels of previous incidents:
On Monday, police said a gunman killed a volunteer for the World Health Organization’s anti-polio campaign was shot dead on the city outskirts in Gadap Town.
Earlier in July 2012, a local paramedic associated with the polio vaccination was shot dead and a World Health Organisation doctor, Fosten Dido, from Ghana along with his driver were wounded in two separate attacks in the Sohrab Goth area.
WHO, a partner in government efforts to eradicate the disease, suspended vaccination activities in part of Pakistan’s largest city in July after a spate of bloody shootings.
These killings come just under three weeks since it was announced that Dr. Afridi had started a hunger strike at Peshawar Central Jail after the jail retaliated against him for his telephone interview with Fox News. Since the report of the start of the hunger strike, the jail has fired the guard whose phone was used for the interview, but I’ve seen no further reports on the status (or whereabouts) of Afridi. That is striking, since the report on Afridi’s hunger strike appeared within 24 hours of its apparent start. Further, we learn from the New York Times today that US funds for Pakistan’s military have once again begun to flow, despite repeated threats from various members of Congress that these funds would be blocked until Afridi is released from jail. These events also take place in the wake of Panetta’s ham-handed “clarification” last week on the status of Pakistan’s cooperation in anti-terrorism activity.
The Times article tells us that the Pentagon notified Congress of the release of funds to Pakistan on December 7, just a week after the Afridi hunger strike started on November 30. Is Afridi still in Peshawar Central Jail or has he been quietly released and removed from the country as part of the normalization of US-Pakistan relations?