It seems that Mike Rogers lately is aiming to take over the Emptywheel blog. When he’s not yapping about criminalizing journalism or dissembling about Congressional briefings on the Patriot Act renewal, he’s putting out bloodthirsty endorsements of drone violence. When we last heard from him on the drone front, he was joining the mad rush to come up with the most damning indictment of Hakimullah Mehsud after the US disrupted Pakistan’s plans to start peace talks the very next day with a Taliban group headed by Mehsud. Yesterday, Rogers used a hearing of his House Intelligence Committee as a venue in which to pitch a tantrum over the US daring to adjust its drone policy, leading to fewer strikes.
Now, almost exactly three months after the Mehsud drone strike, we see the prospect for peace talks between Pakistan and the Taliban disrupted again. As I mentioned yesterday, Taliban negotiators fear that Pakistan’s government may be planning to scuttle the talks in order to launch an offensive against the Taliban in tribal areas, which might also play into a desire by Sharif’s government to be in line for counterterrorism funds which the US might not be spending in Afghanistan.
The Washington Post has Rogers’ tirade. First, there is news of a pause in drone strikes in Pakistan:
The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials.
“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.
Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
Oooh, look! There’s Marcy’s favorite word again, “imminent“. But this lull in drone strikes, coupled with the explanation offered in the Post, tells us that no suitable al Qaeda targets with credible plans against the US presented themselves in Pakistan’s tribal areas for over a month. That didn’t deter Rogers; he’s upset that any potential targets aren’t blasted immediately: Continue reading
For both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prospect of a future not marred by terrorist attacks is a strong incentive to explore peace talks with the Taliban groups that have fueled the bulk of the violence in both countries. Over the past few years, there have been many attempts to start such talks, but these efforts have not been successful so far. At times, one or more of the many sides involved in the talks has proposed an opening stance that was known to be untenable to another side. Also, parties not involved in particular sets of talks have taken active steps to derail them, such as when Karzai went ballistic over the sign on the door of the Taliban office in Doha (disrupting US-Taliban talks) and a US drone strike took out Hakimullah Mehsud just before he joined a set of talks in Pakistan (disrupting Pakistan-Taliban talks).
Today’s New York Times informs us that Hamid Karzai has been secretly working to establish talks with the Afghan Taliban since announcing in November that he would not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement even though his own loya jirga urged him to do so. This disclosure, mostly communicated to the Times through anonymous sources, but confirmed by Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi, seems to account for a fair amount of Karzai’s behavior while refusing to sign the BSA and taking repeated steps that seem aimed at creating more friction between the US and the Karzai government.
Those providing the new narrative to the Times paint the talks between Karzai and the Taliban as not getting beyond initial contact and into discussion of substantive issues. The reasoning, according to these sources, is that by merely maneuvering Karzai into refusing to sign the BSA, the Taliban can achieve their primary goal of getting the US out of Afghanistan completely, so they would have no incentive to enter into an actual peace agreement with Karzai:
Western and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the peace contacts, said that the outreach was apparently initiated by the Taliban in November, a time of deepening mistrust between Mr. Karzai and his allies. Mr. Karzai seemed to jump at what he believed was a chance to achieve what the Americans were unwilling or unable to do, and reach a deal to end the conflict — a belief that few in his camp shared.
The peace contacts, though, have yielded no tangible agreement, nor even progressed as far as opening negotiations for one. And it is not clear whether the Taliban ever intended to seriously pursue negotiations, or were simply trying to derail the security agreement by distracting Mr. Karzai and leading him on, as many of the officials said they suspected.
So we now have a complete reversal of stances from early last summer. Recall that US diplomats had quietly worked for over a year to establish talks with the Taliban, with the Taliban going so far as to open an office in Doha. However, Karzai felt that the office presented too many of the trappings of a government in exile and he managed to scuttle those US-Taliban talks. I held out hope for the ascendance of a more moderate faction of the Afghan Taliban in the aftermath of that fiasco. Whether the secret approach to Karzai came from these more moderate elements is an interesting question worth considering, especially since only a few month elapsed between Karzai’s tantrum over the office in June and the secret communications starting in November. At any rate, we have gone from the US appearing to promote the talks and Karzai disrupting them to Karzai promoting talks and the US releasing information that seems aimed at scuttling them.
If the US truly cared about bringing peace to Afghanistan, an interesting new bargaining position would be to threaten both Karzai and the Taliban that they intend to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year even if Karzai doesn’t sign the BSA, but that if a peace agreement is reached, the US would leave and provide a portion of the funding that the US now dangles as incentive for signing the BSA. Such a position by the US would allow the Taliban and Karzai to unite behind their one common goal–the removal of all US troops. With public opinion of the US effort in Afghanistan at an all-time low, promoting a full withdrawal would be a welcome development in the US.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the issue of peace talks with the Taliban is as muddy as it is in Afghanistan. Consider how the first screen of today’s Washington Post story on the talks loaded on my phone this morning: Continue reading
As the US military bumbles and stumbles toward an ignominious exit from Afghanistan that is looking more and more like it will follow the script from the Iraq exit, it appears that the final ploy from Washington is an effort to paint Afghan President Hamid Karzai as detached from reality. This current ploy seems to be serving two purposes. First, it attempts to set the stage for an end-run around Karzai in a last-ditch effort to get some other party to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement allowing US troops to stay in Afghanistan after the end of this year. Second, it is obscuring yet another incident of indiscriminate US air raids and affiliated operations resulting in civilian casualties. Totally missing from these US actions is any awareness that Afghans cooperating with the US in this operation could well be motivated by the upcoming elections or an appreciation that the willingness of some Afghan citizens to participate in fabricating charges against the US isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the Taliban as much as it represent the intense desire of many Afghans to get the US out of their country after 13 years of war.
The current circus was precipitated by the January 15 incident in the Ghorband District of Parwan province. As I noted right after it happened, distinctly different accounts of what happened appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post. Karzai appointed a commission to investigate the incident. Leading the commission was Abdul Satar Khawasi. He is a member of the Afghan Parliament and represents Parwan. He also is known to be anti-American, and articles about the commission’s report from both ToloNews and the New York Times mention a video in which he appears and:
Mr. Khawasi is heard urging a crowd of angry Afghans to wage a holy war against Americans, saying, “Anyone who sits silent is a traitor.”
The Times pointed out just after the report was released that at least one photo in the report was from 2009, but now the entire report is being questioned by the Times because of that one photo:
The CD-ROM contains nine other photographs, all of which appear to be frames from a video clip on the disk. The video purports to show the funeral of villagers who were killed in the airstrikes and houses that were destroyed. The graphic images include some of a woman whose face is gone.
The Times’ examination found no physical clues in the video that would help determine where or when it was shot. The file’s creation date is Dec. 18, nearly a month before the raid, though it may not be accurate; digital time stamps on the accompanying photos say they were created in April 2014, and the video’s embedded data could be similarly unreliable.
Even if the video is actually of a funeral in Wazghar, some Afghan and Western officials said there was no way to tell from it whether an airstrike or some other gunfire or explosion had killed the people seen being buried, or who was responsible.
But even though an Afghan villager was brought out to “identify” fellow villagers in the false photo in question, this whole episode of discrediting the commission’s report still has one major problem: Continue reading
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.
The latest effort by War, Inc. to prolong the war in Afghanistan consists of a “leak” of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan. The Washington Post dutifully stepped up to transcribe the official line, bleating breathlessly in its headline “Afghanistan gains will be lost quickly after drawdown, U.S. intelligence estimate warns”. Since drawing down our troops closes the spigot feeding war profiteers, we just can’t consider leaving:
A new American intelligence assessment on the Afghan war predicts that the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017, even if Washington leaves behind a few thousand troops and continues bankrolling the impoverished nation, according to officials familiar with the report.
And if we leave faster, Afghanistan will go to hell faster, according to our Intelligence Oracles:
The report predicts that Afghanistan would likely descend into chaos quickly if Washington and Kabul don’t sign a security pact that would keep an international military contingent there beyond 2014 — a precondition for the delivery of billions of dollars in aid that the United States and its allies have pledged to spend in Afghanistan over the coming years.
As I have long maintained, however, virtually all claims of “progress” in Afghanistan come more from a process of gaming the numbers than any real calming of the country. Consider this post from June of 2012. Note from the figure in that post that violence in Afghanistan varies greatly with the season, but that the peak level of violence increased steadily from 2006 through 2011. I intended to go back to this same source to see how the subsequent years look on the graph, but it appears that these particular reports are no longer published for the general public.
The UN does still release reports on its collection of data regarding protection of civilians in Afghanistan. Noting that the current claim regarding the “success” of the surge in Afghanistan is that it managed to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and give the government more of an edge”, consider the latest data on civilian deaths that the UN ascribes to anti-government elements in Afghanistan:
Perhaps, if we consider only deaths, an argument can be made that the rate of increase of deaths has been slowed, but there certainly is no basis for claiming that there is a trend to fewer deaths.
Lurking beneath this dire warning in the NIE is a tacit admission that the $50 billion that the US has spent to train and arm Afghan security forces has been a total waste, since the ANSF will not be able to maintain security once we are gone.
The bottom line is that the entire US war machinery has failed in every single facet of the effort in Afghanistan. Our presence has accomplished nothing but death, destruction and the wasting of nearly a trillion dollars. Our leaving will see further death and destruction. Staying longer would make no difference other than continuing to enrich War, Inc. There are no good options left, but getting our troops out at least stops the hemorrhaging of money.
Last week, I noted that the US had a perfect excuse for ending its drone strikes that are a long-running violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty because Pakistan had engaged in military action in North Waziristan to kill a number of TTP militants after a TTP suicide attack had killed Pakistani soldiers. The same pivotal town in North Waziristan where last week’s events were centered, Miranshah, made the headlines again on Christmas Day, as Barack Obama and John Brennan could not resist demonstrating to the world that the US is not a peaceful nation. A drone fired two missiles into a home near Miranshah, killing four “militants”. Those killed are widely believed to have been members of the Haqqani network (Pakistan and the Haqqani network do not attack one another the way Pakistan and the TTP do), but there are no reports of senior leaders being involved, so this may well have been a signature strike rather than a strike aimed at a particular high level militant. On Christmas. Pakistan’s government protested the strike as a violation of sovereignty, yet again.
Yes, those targeted by the US in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region are all Muslims who don’t celebrate Christmas, but there has often been a tradition in wars of ceasefires on religious holidays. There was a magical ceasefire on Christmas in World War I. Although the concept was rejected this year, there have been Ramadan ceasefires, both in Afghanistan and even in the skirmishes between Pakistan and the TTP.
Somehow, in thinking on the evil embodied by this act of death and destruction on the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, I came across this terrific post that centers on a particularly apt passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. As pointed out in the post, the passage is spoken by Marc Anthony just after the assassination of Julius Caesar:
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
The post I linked addresses the famous phrase “Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war” and should be read in its entirety. But the larger passage reads almost as if Shakespeare has foreseen the situation of a long-running period of drone attacks, especially when the drones carry Hellfire missiles. In Pakistan, “dreadful objects so familiar” have resulted in widespread PTSD among the residents who must live under the constant buzz of drones flying overhead.
Marc Anthony speaks of the attacks being out of revenge, and revenge has been a motivator for this and other strikes in Pakistan.
Shakespeare very nearly hit on the Hellfire name. Obama and Brennan would do well, though, to study up on the particular mythological figure that Shakespeare invokes with his mention of who comes “hot from hell”. A quick search gives us this on Ate:
ATE was the spirit (daimona) of delusion, infatuation, blind folly, rash action and reckless impulse who led men down the path to ruin.
How can the rash action and blind folly of repeated drone strikes lead to anything other than ruin for Obama and Brennan? Let us hope that they don’t drag the rest of us down with them.
Update: See Peterr’s comment below for the backstory of this beautiful song commemorating the Christmas ceasefire in World War I:
When NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November of 2011, Pakistan retaliated by closing both of its border crossings into Afghanistan. They remained closed until then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued an apology in July of 2012. Perhaps because that action by Pakistan stands out as one of the few times Pakistan has had a bit of an advantage in dealing with the US, Imran Khan, whose PTI political party controls the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has called for the closing of the Khyber Crossing in retaliation for the drone strike that killed Hakimullah Mehsud. Khan blames the strike for derailing for now the budding peace talks between Pakistan’s government and the Pakistan Taliban.
Yesterday, Khan provided a bit of room for maneuvering, and gave until November 20 for US drone strikes to end in Pakistan before closing the crossing:
Taking yet another staunch stance, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Monday announced to extend the deadline for blocking NATO supply lines across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP) for 15 days in respect of Moharram, asking the US administration to stop drone strikes inside Pakistan or deal with the blockade of supply lines.
In passionate speech in the NA, Khan said the KP government would suspend the supply line on November 20, urging Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seek guarantee from America that no drone strike would jeopardise future peace talks with the Taliban.
Some PML-N leaders, however, termed the change in mood of Khan and the postponement of deadline to cut NATO supply line a result of backchannel contacts with Khan by Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan. They said Nisar had saved Khan and his party’s government from a head-on clash and tensions would decline as peace talks may soon be “back on track”.
So while there may be a cooling off period before closing the Khyber Crossing, there are a number of incidents to report in the vicinity of the southern crossing at Chaman. First, Pakistan Today noted that a US drone crossed into Pakistani air space at the crossing on Monday:
An American drone violated Pakistan’s airspace by 300 meters on Monday. Security sources said the drone, controlled from US base of the Afghan Qarahag district, entered Pakistani airspace at 6am and returned after flying over the city for five hours.
This is far from the tribal area where US drones hover nonstop. The article went on to state that the last time a drone had crossed the border at this location was three weeks ago.
Ah, but it appears that the drone missed its likely target by a day. There was a suicide bombing from the Afghan side of the crossing today: Continue reading
Yesterday, I noted that the more moderate faction of the Taliban in Afghanistan was beginning to gain more visibility in the wake of moves to decrease inflammatory aspects of the Taliban office opened in Qatar ahead of planned peace negotiations. Early this morning, the militant faction of the Taliban launched a sophisticated attack in Kabul that targeted the CIA’s Kabul headquarters in the Ariana Hotel.
As the attack unfolded, it was late Monday night in the US. Gary Owen, who Tweets as @ElSnarkistani, accurately deduced from the early reports that false papers were used to get past initial checkpoints into the more heavily fortified district surrounding Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace and ISAF headquarters. See this Twitter conversation and this subsequent one for the details he was able to provide on the location where the attack took place and what it would take for insurgents to gain access.
Using tactics that the Washington Post compared to the successful attack last September on Camp Bastion that destroyed six fighter jets, the attackers wore ISAF uniforms and had coalition markings on their vehicles. From today’s Washington Post:
Gen. Abdul Zaher Cid of the Kabul police, citing security forces who witnessed the attack, said the insurgents wore uniforms that resembled those of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force and the two armored vehicles bore ISAF emblems.
One of the vehicles was able to get past a security barrier using fake documents, while the second was stopped, deputy police chief Mohammed Daud Amin said, quoting security officials present at the scene.
That bit about armored vehicles with ISAF emblems on them gave me quite a start at first, because I recalled that the US is in the process of destroying about 2000 of the heavily armored MRAP vehicles that it is not massing in other places for shipment to alternate US military sites. However, the New York Times identified the vehicle (or did two make it through?) that made it through the initial checkpoint as a Land Cruiser:
“Three suicide bombers were driving a land cruiser packed with explosives with a fake vehicle pass and they wanted to enter the presidential palace area but they were stopped at the gate,” the police chief, Gen. Ayoub Salangi, said in a brief telephone call. “We don’t know their main target.”
Once the guards realized that the pass was fake, the suicide bombers got out of the explosive-laden car and one of them detonated it, killing one of the attackers. The others got into a firefight with the guards, General Salangi said. However, people in the Afghan security forces who asked not to be identified said that there were two vehicles that got through a heavily guarded gate used only by ministerial-level officials.
Considering that this was a ministerial-level gate, the Land Cruiser makes more sense as the vehicle less likely to raise suspicions. In fact, armored Land Cruisers are even pitched to diplomats as available for rent in Afghanistan, so obtaining one of these and slapping an ISAF logo on it would seem to be a relatively easy task. However, with so many MRAPS being demobilized, we can only wonder when or if one will fall into Taliban hands and what damage they can do with it.
For a final exercise, it is very entertaining to read the coverage of this attack while looking at how each media outlet handles the question of whether to identify the Ariana Hotel as the location of CIA headquarters in Kabul. Both Reuters and Khaama Press come out and definitively say it is. The New York Times and Washington Post dance around the issue much more carefully, as does ToloNews.
The reporting at this time is uniform in saying only the insurgents (numbering from three to seven, depending on the source) and three Afghan troops were killed. Considering how long it took for the news of how damaging the attack at Camp Bastion was, it seems likely that we may never know how much damage was done to CIA headquarters in this attack, despite uniform reporting of a number of fairly large explosions in the area.
As the New York Times notes, the Taliban took steps over the weekend to remove some of the more provocative aspects of its office in Qatar from which representatives may enter into negotiations on the end of the war in Afghanistan. Specifically, they took down both the version of the Afghan flag which they used while they ruled the country and they removed the sign that could have been interpreted as a claim that they were still the legitimate government of the country:
In a possible easing of tensions that have held up an opening for peace talks by American, Afghan and Taliban officials in Qatar, the Afghan government confirmed the complete removal of an objectionable sign, flag and flagpole that had led the Afghan delegation to boycott negotiations.
“According to the timely and appropriate and precise position of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Taliban flag has been brought down from the office, the Islamic Emirate sign has been removed and the Qatari police removed the flagpole from the Taliban office,” said a statement released Sunday by the presidential palace, quoting Masoom Stanekzai, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council.
The statement referred to the signs and flag unveiled when the Taliban open their Doha office last week — their first public re-entry on to the international stage in almost 13 years. At the official opening of the office the Taliban had put up signs saying “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which is the name they used for their government when they ran Afghanistan, and they raised their white flag with black writing.
Both gestures, along with their description of the office’s mandate of speaking to foreign governments, suggested that the Taliban were trying to present themselves as an alternative to the Afghan government.
It is possible that these symbolic moves came about through an ascendance of a more moderate wing within the Afghan Taliban. Significant support for such a view comes from a remarkable interview TOLOnews correspondent Mujahid Kakar conducted with Mutasim Agha Jan, who was Finance Minister of Afghanistan when the Taliban ruled. The interview can be seen in the two-hour-plus video embedded below (with English subtitles) or the English translation can be read as a 31 page pdf file here.
There are a couple of caveats that should be kept in mind when reviewing Jan’s statements. First, the interview took place in Turkey, where Jan has resided since about 2011, when he was injured in an attack in Karachi after falling out with Taliban leaders in 2010, so the fact that he is not in either Qatar or Afghanistan suggests that he and the moderate faction for which he appears to speak still don’t feel safe in either of those locations. Second, I of course have no idea whether the translations in the video or transcript are accurate.
With those caveats in mind, however, Jan makes a number of striking statements. Early in the interview, we get a description of the moderate and extremist groups within the Afghan Taliban: Continue reading
Although the formal casting of ballots by the National Assembly was delayed for an hour by the presence of three times as many observers as the capacity of the parliament house, Nawaz Sharif breezed to an easy victory today and was elected Prime Minister for the third time in his career. Once he is sworn in later this evening by President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan will have completed its first-ever transition from one government serving out its entire elected term to another elected government. Sharif wasted no time in making headlines, as he called once again for an end to US drone strikes in Pakistan in his acceptance speech.
Dawn brings us the final tally on the voting in the National Assembly:
Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N was elected the country’s 18th prime minister in a race which also featured Pakistan Peoples Party’s Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf’s Javed Hashmi. The PML-N chief is scheduled to take oath from President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday evening.
Sharif won the office by bagging 244 votes with his rivals Fahim and Hashmi securing 42 and 31 votes respectively.
The Express Tribune describes the overcrowding and its resultant delay:
The session was delayed by an hour due to overcrowding in the parliament house as more than 2000 guests turned up to see the historic transition.
Guests, most of whom had legitimate passes to enter the parliament house, were shifted to the media gallery which frustrated reporters present at the venue. The house is meant to seat nearly 700 observers, thus the surplus of 1300 individuals added last minute chaos.
Speaker Ayaz Sadiq personally went to the media gallery to speak to disgruntled reporters and guests and urged for cooperation.
The New York Times brings us an account of Sharif’s speech:
Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, called for an end to American drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt on Wednesday, shortly after he won a parliamentary vote to lead the country for an unparalleled third time.
“The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop,” Mr. Sharif told the packed lower house of Parliament, where he won a comfortable majority of votes. “We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty.”
As the new government continues to form, it will be very interesting to see if Sharif carries through on his pledge to open negotiations with the Taliban, especially with the Taliban saying that they have withdrawn their willingness to negotiate peace after a drone strike killed their number two in command (who may well have been leading the efforts on peace negotiation).
Pakistan’s successful transfer of power from one government to another is to be commended, Perhaps the stage is now set for addressing a number of the issues the country faces beyond drones, such as the huge number of internally displaced people, stopping disappearances in Balochistan and generating enough electricity to end the load-shedding that only provides electricity to many customers for just a brief period each day.