Wednesday, January 16, 2013

US Drone Strikes and Bloody Blowback in Pakistan

What has caused a sudden and tragic jump in mass casualty attacks in Pakistan with over 200 deaths, mostly of Hazara Shias, in a single day on January 10, 2013? Is it just impunity or blow back from intensified US drone attacks early in 2013 as President Barack Obama accelerates US pull-out from Afghanistan? Or is it lack of national political consensus in Pakistan to punish the blood-thirsty Taliban and their murderous sectarian allies like LeJ and SSP?


In a rare public statement on the effectiveness of US drone campaign in FATA, General Officer Commanding 7-Division Maj-Gen Ghayur Mehmood serving in Waziristan in 2011 said: "Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements.” In addition, Maj-Gen Ghayur, who led Pakistani troops in North Waziristan at the time, also said that the drone attacks had negative fallout, scaring the local population and causing their migration to other places. Gen Ghayur said the drone attacks also had social and political repercussions and law-enforcement agencies often felt the heat.

In other words, US drone strikes do kill mainly militants in FATA but also cause a blow back in the rest of the country for law enforcement and innocent civilians, and the Pakistani civil administration has failed miserably in dealing with it.

Blow Back:

The January 10 terrorist attacks appear to be a strong and swift blow back to the stepped up  US CIA campaign of seven strikes in the first 10 days of the year 2013. This raises a basic question as to why the Hazara community,  minorities and ordinary civilians are targeted? Here are some of the possible reasons:

1. Hazaras are a soft target. They are easily identifiable by their facial features and known to live in certain neighborhoods in and around Quetta.

2. Police in Baluchistan have miserably failed in bringing to justice the sectarian attackers who are allied with the Taliban and operate with impunity.

3. When the police do arrest and prosecute terror suspects, the conviction rate in Pakistani courts is in single digits. It's either due to inadmissible evidence, poor investigative techniques, lack of witnesses or possibly judges who fear for their lives.  Well-known terror suspects who openly confess to murderous attacks are allowed to walk free by judges for lack of eye-witnesses.

4.  Pakistani parliament has failed to enact serious anti-terrorism legislation in the last 5 years to respond to rising civilian casualties in terrorist attacks. The goverment has also failed to protect witnesses, lawyers and judges involved in prosecuting terrorism suspects.

Possible Solutions: 

1. Enact the “Investigation for Fair trial bill-2012” as soon as possible. This bill makes electronic evidence such as video footage, telephone wire-taps and e-mails admissible in terrorism  cases to reduce reliance on eyewitnesses. 

2. Start a serious witness protection program and provide enhanced security to lawyers and judges in terrorism cases.

3. Train police, prosecutors and judges in modern criminal justice techniques and processes to  increase their effectiveness.

3. Build broad national political consensus for decisive military action in FATA from where the Taliban terrorists and their sectarian allies get support and training to carry out devastating terrorist attacks against innocent civilians throughout Pakistan.


Pakistan must now prepare to better protect its civilian population from the intense blow back  as the US intensifies its drone campaign in FATA to ensure safe withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014.

Here's a recent video discussion on the subject:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Obama Re-election and Pakistan

Pakistan's Year 2012 in Review

Taliban Attacks on Polio Workers

American CIA Sponsored Fake Vaccination Campaign

Violence Against Social  Change in Pakistan

Silent Social Revolution in Pakistan

The Eclipse of Feudalism in Pakistan

Social and Structural Transformations in Pakistan

Malala Moment: Profiles in Courage-Not!

Urbanization in Pakistan Highest in South Asia

Rising Economic Mobility in Pakistan

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan


Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from Time magazine about the impunity of Shia murderer Malik Ishaq of LeJ:

The failure to stop these militants is the collective failure of Pakistan’s power elites: the politicians, the army and the judiciary. Less than 24 hours after the Quetta attacks, Malik Ishaq, a notorious LeJ leader, was in Karachi inciting further anti-Shi‘ite hatred. “I don’t have fun making speeches,” the self-confessed killer of Shi’ites told his supporters. “You know what I have fun doing.”

Ishaq was shockingly released from prison in 2011 after the courts said they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him. As is often the case, witnesses are not protected and are either eliminated or reduced to a terrified silence. The prosecution and the police fail to marshal the evidence necessary to support a conviction. There are also questions that analysts raise about Islamabad’s intelligence agencies’ links to sectarian groups like the LeJ and its parent organization, the SSP.

Ishaq has barely been prevented from roaming around freely. He was briefly taken into custody once only to be released again. He and his cohorts are also the beneficiaries of sordid deals with Pakistan’s power elites. When the army’s headquarters were under siege in 2009, Ishaq was reportedly flown from prison to help negotiate a stand-down. The Punjab government, lead by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, has courted votes alongside leaders of the anti-Shi‘ite SSP.

The failure of Pakistani authorities to protect the Shi‘ite population and act against their killers is eroding faith in the state and its institutions. Their failures amount, as Human Rights Watch has said, to complicity. It also raises troubling questions about Pakistan’s identity. In 1947, after the partition of the subcontinent, Pakistan was founded ostensibly as a state for the region’s Muslims — and the minorities that live there. The founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was himself a secular man of a Shi‘ite background.

HopeWins Junior said...

^^RH: "“I don’t have fun making speeches,” the self-confessed killer of Shi’ites told his supporters. “You know what I have fun doing.”

Do you know what happened to that Baboo Bujrangee in Gujarat? Where is that fellow now?

Is he also roaming around freely like Ishaq Malik and talking about how he ordered people killed?

Riaz Haq said...

HWJ: "Do you know what happened to that Baboo Bujrangee in Gujarat? Where is that fellow now? he also roaming around freely like Ishaq Malik and talking about how he ordered people killed?"

Well, he did roam free for a decade.

And Modi, the mastermind of the Gujarat Muslim massacre in 2002 is still ruling Gujarat and in line to be the next PM of India.

Riaz Haq said...

Forensic labs being set up in Pakistan:

PakistanToday 2011:

LAHORE - South Asia's most modern forensic laboratory is being built in Lahore, which will prove to be a milestone in eradicating crimes, bringing criminals to justice, investigating crimes on scientific lines and providing justice to people, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said on Sunday.
He was addressing a meeting during a visit to the under-construction Punjab Forensic Science Agency near the Thokhar Niaz Baig. The Punjab Police inspector general, Punjab home secretary, Punjab health secretary and other senior officials were also present on the occasion.
Shahbaz directed officials to accelerate construction work of the forensic laboratory. Forensic Laboratory Project Director Nayyar Mehmood gave a detailed briefing to the CM. Shahbaz said that the project is of international standards and has vital importance, which would not only help curb crimes but also trace criminals involved in heinous crimes for bringing them to justice.
He said that establishment of this unique and latest laboratory would not only benefit Punjab but other provinces as well. The CM said that protection of life and property of citizens and eradication of crimes is top priority of the Punjab government and establishment of the forensic lab is an important step in this direction. He said that every life is precious for the Punjab government and funds are being provided for this important project by curtailing other expenditure.

ET Dec 2012:


The Forensic People of Turkey and Dow University of Medical and Health Sciences signed a memorandum of understanding at Governor House on Tuesday to build the first forensic lab in Karachi.

Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan said that the forensic lab was necessary considering the law and order situation in the city. The lab will be set up at the Ojha campus of Dow University.

“DNA tests will help us ascertain the genealogy or personal ancestry of a person,” said Khan.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Washington Post on Obama admin playbook on drone strikes:

The adoption of a formal guide to targeted killing marks a significant — and to some uncomfortable — milestone: the institutionalization of a practice that would have seemed anathema to many before the Sept. 11 , 2001, terrorist attacks.

Among the subjects covered in the playbook are the process for adding names to kill lists, the legal principles that govern when U.S. citizens can be targeted overseas and the sequence of approvals required when the CIA or U.S. military conducts drone strikes outside war zones.

U.S. officials said the effort to draft the playbook was nearly derailed late last year by disagreements among the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon on the criteria for lethal strikes and other issues. Granting the CIA a temporary exemption for its Pakistan operations was described as a compromise that allowed officials to move forward with other parts of the playbook.

The decision to allow the CIA strikes to continue was driven in part by concern that the window for weakening al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan is beginning to close, with plans to pull most U.S. troops out of neighboring Afghanistan over the next two years. CIA drones are flown out of bases in Afghanistan.

“There’s a sense that you put the pedal to the metal now, especially given the impending” withdrawal, said a former U.S. official involved in discussions of the playbook. The CIA exception is expected to be in effect for “less than two years but more than one,” the former official said, although he noted that any decision to close the carve-out “will undoubtedly be predicated on facts on the ground.”

The former official and other current and former officials interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were talking about ongoing sensitive matters.

Obama’s national security team agreed to the CIA compromise late last month during a meeting of the “principals committee,” comprising top national security officials, that was led by White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, who has since been nominated to serve as CIA director.
Imposing the playbook standards on the CIA campaign in Pakistan would probably lead to a sharp reduction in the number of strikes at a time when Obama is preparing to announce a drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan that could leave as few as 2,500 troops in place after 2014.

Officials said concerns about the CIA exemption were allayed to some extent by Obama’s decision to nominate Brennan, the principal author of the playbook, to run the CIA.

Brennan spent 25 years at the agency before serving as chief counterterrorism adviser to Obama for the past four years. During his White House tenure, he led efforts to impose a more rigorous review of targeted killing operations. But he also presided over a major expansion in the number of strikes.

CIA officials are likely to be “quite willing, quite eager to embrace” the playbook developed by their presumed future director, the former administration official said. “It’s his handiwork.”

Brennan’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled for Feb. 7.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a TOI story on Indian home minister talking about "Hindu Terrorism" in India:

Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Sunday kicked up a storm by accusing RSS and BJP training camps promoting Hindu ``terrorism'' in the country with the main Opposition party angrily hitting back, describing the remark as an attempt to divide the nation and seeking an apology from Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

"They are talking about infiltration but we have this report that whether it is BJP or RSS, their training camps are promoting Hindu terrorism," Shinde said at the Congress meeting in Jaipur.

"We are keeping a strict eye on it. The Samjhauta Express blast, Mecca Masjid (blast), Malegaon blast — they are planting bombs and blaming minorities for it. We need to be careful for safety of our country," the minister added.

This is probably for the first time that a senior member of the government has publicly sought to link terrorism to a religious basis, with the government being chary of using terms like Islamic terrorism. Shinde directly linked BJP and RSS with groups like Abhinav Bharat, which is charged with the Malegaon and Samjhauta blasts.

There were angry exchanges between then home minister P Chidambaram and BJP MPs in the Rajya Sabha after the Congress leader said the government was going to pursue a zero tolerance policy against both jihadi terrorism and Hindu militancy. BJP sought to know why he refrained from using the term "Islamic terrorism" even though he used the words Hindu terrorism during his reply to the debate on the internal security. ...

HopeWins Junior said...

^^RH Quotes Indian politicians: "BJP sought to know why he refrained from using the term "Islamic terrorism" even though he used the words Hindu terrorism during his reply to the debate on the internal security...."

Well? Don't you think it is a good question? Does the Indian Home Minister have an answer? What do you think is a good answer to the question? Please elaborate on your view.

Riaz Haq said...

HWJ: "Does the Indian Home Minister have an answer?"

The answer is implicit in the following:

"We are keeping a strict eye on it. The Samjhauta Express blast, Mecca Masjid (blast), Malegaon blast — they are planting bombs and blaming minorities for it. We need to be careful for safety of our country," the minister added.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a News story on US assistance offer to help law enforcement in Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD: US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson Sunday said the US would extend all the necessary assistance and equipment to help Pakistani law enforcement agencies to check incidents of suicide attacks and bomb blasts.

He said the United States highly values its relations with Pakistan, adding that they acknowledge the sacrifices made by Pakistan during war on terrorism.The ambassador had meeting with Interior Minister Rehman Malik and exchanged views on bilateral relations and security situation, particularly in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

He appreciated the arrangements made by the Ministry of Interior during the long march for the security of the participants. Olson also lauded interior minister’s services for taking special measures to ensure safety of ambassadors and diplomats.

The interior minister said Pakistan was doing its level best to improve law and order but it has its own limitations. He said due to resource constraint, the law enforcement agencies were handicapped. He welcomed the ambassador’s assurance for the equipment and hoped that this would help in nabbing the miscreants. The ambassador also pointed to the assistance for improvement of power situation and for the education sector in Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are a couple of pieces on India-Pakistan latest LoC flare-up in Kashmir:

Outlook India, Jan 28, 2013:

Buried inside a report by Shishir Gupta in the Hindustan Times was the claim that two Indian soldiers were beheaded in July 2011 and “three months later, heads of three Pakistani soldiers went missing, with Islamabad lodging a protest with New Delhi.” Don’t you love it that while Indian soldiers are beheaded, Pakistani soldiers’ heads go “missing”—as though they detach themselves from the bodies of the soldiers and just disappear? The report also claimed that similar beheadings (of Indian soldiers) and heads going missing (of Pakistanis) had taken place in 2000, 2003 and 2007. When Admiral Lakshminarayan Ramdas (retd), former chief of the Indian navy, tried to say on Barkha Dutt’s show on NDTV that the Indian army has also beheaded Pakistani soldiers, he was cut short by Dutt. But in 2001, Dutt had herself written that she had seen a head displayed as a war trophy by the Indian army during the Kargil war in 1999. Two other journalists were not shy of recalling similar experiences: Sankarshan Thakur of The Telegraph (on his website) and Harinder Baweja of the Hindustan Times on Twitter.

If these incidents happen so often, why did anonymous sources in the Indian army decide to use the defence correspondents to make it seem like an unprecedented provocation from Pakistan? There is little doubt that the beheading of a soldier, and the taking away of his head as a war trophy is sickening and outrageous and every such incident should come to light. But it should also remind us of the brutalities of war, and that the LoC is a ceasefire line where hostilities have merely been halted until the next battle; that the two armies stand eye-to-eye there because of the Kashmir dispute; that Jammu and Kashmir is not a settled question. Such thoughts are apparently anti-national. And bad for TRPs.

Friday Times, Jan 18-24:

The Indian outrage turns on the alleged act of "beheading". Mainstream Indian media insists it is both unprecedented and Pakistan-centred. But the Indian media has ignored reports of beheadings by both sides in earlier encounters in the Kashmir sector. Several Indian journalists have drawn attention to such practices also by Indian troops since the Kargil conflict in 1999. Barkha Dutt, a top NDTV anchor, wrote about it in her "Confessions of a War Reporter" in Himal magazine in 2001. Sankarshan Thakur, a former editor of Kolkota's Telegraph newspaper, wrote about Naga and Jat regiment excesses in the Drass sector of Kargil in his article titled "Guns and Yellow Roses". Harinder Baweja made similar observations in "A Soldier's diary" published in India Today. And Praveen Swami confirmed such mutual incidents in a timely article in The Hindu on Jan 10th.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Guardian Op Ed on latest blowback from Mali in Algeria:

To listen to David Cameron's rhetoric this week, it could be 2001 all over again. Eleven years into the war on terror, it might have been Tony Blair speaking after 9/11. As the bloody siege of the part BP-operated In Amenas gas plant in Algeria came to an end, the British prime minister claimed, like George Bush and Blair before him, that the country faced an "existential" and "global threat" to "our interests and way of life".

While British RAF aircraft backed French military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali, and troops were reported to be on alert for deployment to the west African state, Cameron promised that a "generational struggle" would be pursued with "iron resolve". The fight over the new front in the terror war in North Africa and the Sahel region, he warned, could go on for decades.

So in austerity-blighted Britain, just as thousands of soldiers are being made redundant, while Barack Obama has declared that "a decade of war is now ending", armed intervention is being ratcheted up in yet another part of the Muslim world. Of course, it's French troops in action this time. But even in Britain the talk is of escalating drone attacks and special forces, and Cameron has refused to rule out troops on the ground.

You'd think the war on terror had been a huge success, the way the western powers keep at it, Groundhog Day-style. In reality, it has been a disastrous failure, even in its own terms – which is why the Obama administration felt it had to change its name to "overseas contingency operations", until US defence secretary Leon Panetta revived the old title this week.

Instead of fighting terror, it has fuelled it everywhere it's been unleashed: from Afghanistan to Pakistan, from Iraq to Yemen, spreading it from Osama bin Laden's Afghan lairs eastwards to central Asia and westwards to North Africa – as US, British and other western forces have invaded, bombed, tortured and kidnapped their way across the Arab and Muslim world for over a decade.

So a violent jihadist movement that grew out of western intervention, occupation and support for dictatorship was countered with more of the same. And the law of unintended consequences has meanwhile been played out in spectacular fashion: from the original incubation of al-Qaida in the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union, to the spread of terror from western-occupied Afghanistan to Pakistan, to the strategic boost to Iran delivered by the US-British invasion of Iraq.

When it came to Libya, the blowback was much faster – and Mali took the impact. Nato's intervention in Libya's civil war nearly two years ago escalated the killing and ethnic cleansing, and played the decisive role in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. In the ensuing maelstrom, Tuareg people who had fought for Gaddafi went home to Mali and weapons caches flooded over the border.

Within a couple of months this had tipped longstanding demands for self-determination into armed rebellion – and then the takeover of northern Mali by Islamist fighters, some linked to al-Qaida. Foreign secretary William Hague acknowledged this week that Nato's Libyan intervention had "contributed" to Mali's war, but claimed the problem would have been worse without it.

In fact, the spillover might have been contained if the western powers had supported a negotiated settlement in Libya, just as all-out war in Mali might have been avoided if the Malian government's French and US sponsors had backed a political instead of a military solution to the country's divisions.....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on John Kerry's response to demand for cutting aid to Pakistan during his Senate confirmation hearing:

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., opposed cutting foreign aid to Pakistan by arguing, among other things, that the Pakistanis haven’t gotten enough credit for their assistance in the operations that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Kerry was responding to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who suggested that the United States demand that Pakistan release Dr. Shakeel Afridi, whom they arrested after he helped the United States find bin Laden. Kerry noted the logistical support Pakistan provides to the Aghanistan war before suggesting that Pakistan helped American forces get bin Laden.

“Our folks were able to cooperate on the ground in Pakistan,” Kerry said during his first hearing about his nomination to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. “That’s one of the ways we were able to get Osama bin Laden. I don’t think the Pakistanis have frankly gotten credit, sufficiently, for the fact that they were helpful. It was their permissiveness in allowing our people to be there that helped us to be able to tie the knots that focused on that. To some degree — not exclusively, obviously, but to some degree.”

Kerry also pointed out that the Pakistanis “have lost some 6000 people just in the last year in their efforts to go after terrorists.”

Afridi was arrested after working as a CIA informant to help find bin Laden, who was living in a compound in Abbottobad, Pakistan, before Navy Seals killed him. He told Fox News that he has been tortured for helping with the operation.

“I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies,’” Afridi said, describing the response he got from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

The State Department has called for his release. “We believe that the prosecution and conviction of Dr. Afridi sends the wrong message about the importance of our shared interest in taking down one of the world’s most notorious terrorists,” a spokesperson told Fox.

The U.S. military didn’t tell Pakistan that the raid would take place due to fears that they would warn bin Laden. “It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission,” then-CIA director Leon Panetta said in May 2011. “They might alert the targets.”

Pakistan reportedly granted China access to the stealth helicopter that crashed during the bin Laden raid.

HopeWins Junior said...

^^RH: "Pakistan reportedly granted China access to the stealth helicopter that crashed during the bin Laden raid"

Yes, it is acts like these that show the US our geostrategic importance. The US MUST now give us BILLIONS more in aid to prevent our collapse because:
(1) Pakistan is too big to fail
(2) Taliban might take over
(3) Al Qaeda may go Nuclear
(4) South Asian Nuke-War possible

This is an excellent approach. It may just work if we keep at it.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the Guardian on an off-road car race in South Waziristan tribal area:

With its rugged hills, narrow valleys and green plains, South Waziristan has long been perfect terrain for the sort of guerrilla warfare favoured by the Taliban in its fight with the Pakistani army.

Now it's the turn of the country's fledgling off-road car-racing community to have the run of the landscape.

In an effort to persuade a sceptical public that it has got the better of the Taliban and that life in one of the country's seven troublesome tribal "agencies" is improving, Pakistan's army is inviting car enthusiasts to hold a motor rally on a 80-mile (130km) route in the region in the last week of March.

The race will start just outside the agency and pass through various key locations, including the town of the Kotkai, a former Taliban-controlled town where militants once trained child suicide bombers until the army retook the area amid heavy fighting in the summer of 2009.

Organisers hope about 50 cars and their back-up vehicles will take part in the race, which they want to become an annual fixture in Pakistan's motor sports calendar.

"Peace has returned to this area and locals will feel confident once foreigners and people from other parts of the country come," said Major Farooq Virk, a military spokesman. "It is very secure and no incident has happened in this area for the last year and a half."

So far just a handful of car enthusiasts have signed up. One of them is Asad Marwat, president of the Islamabad Jeep Club, who said some car owners may stay away because of the perceived security threats.

"If it is something for the benefit of country, and it can bring some positive images around the world, we will take our chances," he said. "Hard-core rally buffs won't have any problem."

Just three months ago authorities did their best to dissuade the politician and former cricketer Imran Khan from travelling along exactly the same route to Kotkai with a few thousand of his supporters by arguing it was too dangerous.

The army now insists that South Waziristan is safe and ready to open up for business – or at least the small portion of it that has benefited from near-saturation coverage by Pakistani troops.

Critics say peace has been achieved at the expense of the people of the area, particularly members of the Mehsud tribe, who were forced to leave South Waziristan when operations to clear the Taliban were launched in 2009.

"Such gimmicks have been tried in the past with no impact," said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a retired political agent who served in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). He recalls football and basketball matches being held in other areas where the army has dislodged militants.

"With 80% of the Mehsuds having left the area, staging such shows cannot really achieve anything," he said.


Car clubs have sprung up around Pakistan in the last 10 years with enthusiasts meeting for organised races that take advantage of the country's varied terrains, including deserts and snow-capped hills.

The most prominent Pakistani petrol-head is Mir Nadir Magsi, an elected politician once described as the "Pakistan's Michael Schumacher" for his winning streak in various rallies.

Asad Sethi, the founder of the Frontier 4x4 Car Club in Peshawar, has just returned from a weekend event in Malam Jabba, a hill town once overrun by the Taliban.


But critics are unlikely to be convinced as long as the tribesman who used to live in the area stay away.


HopeWins Junior said...

^^RH: "And Modi, the mastermind of the Gujarat Muslim massacre in 2002 is still ruling Gujarat and in line to be the next PM of India."

OMG! What is going on here?

The ultra-liberal, human-rights lecturing, minority-rights loving, always moralizing EUROPEANS are now doing this:

I thought that he was a mass-murderer like Hitler. What are the Europeans doing?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AP story on fracturing of TTP:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Five years after setting up an umbrella organization to unite violent militant groups in the nation's tribal regions, the Pakistani Taliban is fractured, strapped for cash and losing support of local tribesmen frustrated by a protracted war that has forced thousands from their homes, analysts and residents of the area said.

The temperamental chief of the group known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, recently offered to start peace talks with the government, raising the prospect of a negotiated end to Pakistan's war against insurgents in a lawless region that runs the length of the border with Afghanistan.

The group's offer of sanctuary to Afghanistan's Taliban has been one of the most divisive issues in U.S.-Pakistan relations and has confounded efforts to get the upper hand against Afghan insurgents after more than 11 years of war.

Pakistan denies providing outright military and financial help to militants fighting in Afghanistan. With 120,000 Pakistani soldiers deployed in the tribal regions, Pakistan has waged its own bloody battle against insurgents that has left more than 4,000 soldiers dead.

In interviews with analysts, residents and militant experts, Mehsud's network has emerged as a narrow collection of insurgents - often with links to criminal gangs - that has only limited influence in a vast tribal region overrun by scores of insurgent groups led by commanders with disparate agendas and varying loyalties.

Rather than a precursor to peace, Mehsud's offer to talk peace is an attempt to regain stature, silence critics and gain concessions from a weak government heading into nationwide elections, according to those familiar with the militant organization.

Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has repeatedly denied reports of divisions within the TTP, including reported challenges to Mehsud's leadership.

But Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, said Mehsud's offer to talk was an attempt to divert attention from internal rifts that are ripping the organization apart and diminishing its influence. Meshud speaks for fighters restricted to his own tribe, based in North and South Waziristan, he said.
"They are weak, there is infighting," said Mansour Mehsud, director of research at the FATA Research Center named for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Pakistan's tribal regions have a special status under Pakistani law that allows tribal traditions and customs to rule. Many of the laws and rules applying to the tribal area date back to the early 20th century when the British ruled the subcontinent. Unable to control the tribesmen, the British made agreements that allowed them safe passage through tribal territory.

"They used to have the support of most people but not anymore," said Mehsud, who has no relation to the TTP leader although he shares the same tribal links. "People used to think that they would bring justice based on the Quran but instead fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people."

Mehsud said the Pakistani Taliban also were running out of money and that extortion and kidnappings had become one of their biggest sources of income.

A wealthy trader living on the edge of the tribal area, who was afraid to give his name because he feared retribution, said the Taliban swindled thousands of dollars from him. He said he was threatened, his family was terrorized and then a bomb exploded at his home, seriously wounding his niece.

He said other businessmen told him that they too had paid large sums of money to the Taliban. In his tribal culture, he said it is shameful to admit to being robbed because it is seen as a sign of weakness, so no one has said anything.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn story on recent book about FATA and drones:

American University Professor Dr. Akbar Ahmed’s latest book “The Thistle and the Drone“, published by Washington-based Brookings Institution, has finally given voice to how the ‘War on Terror’ is being viewed as a war against Muslim tribal societies. The tribal regions, such as Waziristan in Pakistan, had historically enjoyed either remarkable internal autonomy or widespread poverty and underdevelopment. Today, the tribesmen believe drone strikes have made “every day like 9/11” for them. In wake of the Predator attacks, the tribes feel collectively terrorised, humiliated and displaced from their native lands.

Dr. Ahmed, who had previously served as a Political Agent, the highest official administrative post, in Waziristan, passionately endeavors to educate his readers with firsthand experiences on how tribal societies function and what their traditions and values mean to them.

He opens The Thistle and the Drone with a comparison of the United States’ search for Osama bin Laden, which cost trillions of dollars, and the search for Safar Khan, a notorious criminal back in the day when the author was the political agent as the agent of the tribal region:

“It was not Bush but his successor, Barack Obama, who located and killed bin Laden. But it would take a decade of war costing trillions of dollars, with hundreds of thousands of lives lost and millions displaced. Entire nations would be thrown into turmoil and the world put on high alert. I got my man alive without a single shot being fired. The writ of the government was established, justice served and the guilty man brought to book. The difference was that I worked entirely within the tribal framework and traditional social structure.”

Dr. Ahmed attributes the failure of the United States and Pakistan to deal with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other tribal worries to their ignorance of tribal lifestyles and patterns of behavior.

The author goes on to add: “Today all major decisions and initiatives in this area are being made by military officials, whereas the entire operation to get Safar Khan was led by the civilian administration in close cooperation with tribal elders and win the regions’ larger tribal networks that crossed several borders.”

But The Thistle and the Drone is not just a book about drones. It discusses how the ‘War on Terror’ has increased tensions between the central governments and the Muslim tribes living on the periphery. In addition, it also talks about the relationship between the tribes and the centre in countries where drone warfare has not yet been encountered.

It is probably the first extensive research of its kind which examines at least forty case studies spread in three continents. The core studies focus on the Pakhtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions, the Somali, the Yamenis, the Asir and Najran regions of Saudi Arabia and the Kurds of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

In all these case studies, Dr. Ahmed talks about tribal regions in the Muslim world where “the centre is failing to protect its citizens on the periphery and is not giving them their due rights and privileges according to the principles of modern statehood…wherever the tribes have lived and however fierce their resistance, the intensity and scale of the onslaught from the centre has created the same results: massive internal disruption in the periphery which has consequence for the centre.”

The Thistle and the Drone will hopefully initiate an earnest debate about tribal people whose lives have been shaken simultaneously by drone attacks, belligerent federal governments and armed insurgent groups like the TTP. In the discourse on the global ‘War on Terror’ the voices of the tribes were barely heard for one decade – and now The Thistle and the Drone has given them a remarkable voice.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Christian Science Monitor on Rand Paul fillbuster in the US Senate:

Senator Rand Paul dominated the news this week with his 13-hour filibuster about the potential for armed drone aircraft dropping their deadly payloads on Americans here in the United States.

It was a hypothetical scenario designed to pressure the Obama administration into acknowledging that noncombatant US civilians – however much they might be suspected terrorists – would not be targeted while walking down the street or sitting in a cafĂ©, that the president does not have the constitutional authority to do that.

Not so hypothetical is the issue of hundreds of other noncombatant civilians – women, children, and old men, mainly in Pakistan – ending up as collateral damage in US drone attacks aimed at those believed to be terrorists connected with Al Qaeda.

US officials acknowledge that there have been some incidents in which civilians were killed as the result of drone strikes, but the impression left is that there are few such civilian deaths.
During the confirmation hearing for CIA director John Brennan, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein said the number of civilian casualties caused by US drone strikes each year has “typically been in the single digits.”

“We only authorize a strike if we have a high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances,” Mr. Brennan said in a speech at the Wilson Center last April (at which time he was the Obama administration’s top counterterrorism official). “It is hard to imagine a tool that can better minimize the risk to civilians than remotely piloted aircraft.”

Under the circumstances, that’s difficult to prove. And as Natasha Lennard points out in Salon, “the very question of how the administration categorizes ‘civilian’ or ‘enemy combatant’ is in itself contentious.” It has been reported that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent evidence which later shows them to have been innocent bystanders.

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But that low-number assertion by Sen. Feinstein, Mr. Brennan, and others has been challenged by independent reports indicating much larger numbers of civilian casualties due to “targeted killings” by drones.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on UN finding US drone strikes in Pakistan illegal:

...Ben Emmerson spent much of the week in Pakistan soliciting the views of senior government and elected officials about the drone strikes, part of his ongoing effort to investigate the relatively new method of targeted killing. He said in a statement on Friday that he also met with representatives of the tribal areas of western Pakistan that have borne the overwhelming brunt of the drone campaign. The officials underscored to Emmerson that Pakistan doesn’t consent to the U.S. drone effort, and denied extending the tacit consent that its military — with whom Emmerson did not consult — has previously provided.

“As a matter of international law the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate Government of the State,” Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, said in the statement. “It involves the use of force on the territory of another State without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

Emmerson’s statement is carefully worded. He portrays himself as conveying Pakistan’s concerns, rather than vouching for their particulars. But it’s still the strongest statement yet by an international official calling for an end to a campaign of targeted killing that briefly flared back up earlier this year. And to call the strikes an unwarranted violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is tantamount to saying the U.S. is waging a war of aggression.

“The Pashtun tribes of the FATA area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign,” Emmerson’s statement continues, referring to the tribal areas. “It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.”

If the drone strikes continue into the next Pakistani government, Emmerson warned, the U.S. drone effort could further destabilize the nuclear power, undermining a key U.S. strategic goal at the heart of the drone strikes. He urged patience with a Pakistani military effort to eradicate al-Qaida’s allies in the tribal areas — one that official Washington has long since written off as unserious.

Significantly and subtly, Emmerson raised doubts over repeated U.S. claims that the targeting efforts behind the drones kill terrorists and spare civilians. Last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a staunch drone advocate, claimed that the drones kill only “single digits” worth of civilians annually. Many of the CIA’s strikes, termed “signature strikes,” kill people believed to fit a pattern of extremist behavior, rather than killing specific, known terrorists.


“In discussions with the delegation of tribal Maliks from North Waziristan the Special Rapporteur was informed that drone strikes routinely inflicted civilian casualties, and that groups of adult males carrying out ordinary daily tasks were frequently the victims of such strikes,” Emmerson continued. “They emphasized that to an outsider unfamiliar with Pashtun tribal customs there was a very real risk of misidentification of targets since all Pashtun tribesmen tended to have similar appearance to members of the Pakistan Taliban, including similar (and often indistinguishable) tribal clothing, and since it had long been a tradition among the Pashtun tribes that all adult males would carry a gun at all times. They considered that civilian casualties were a commonplace occurrence and that the threat of such strikes instilled fear in the entire community.”...

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report on growing Taliban violence in Karachi:

For years there have been fears that the Taliban were gaining ground in Pakistan's commercial capital, the port city of Karachi. There is now evidence that the militants' influence in the city has hit alarming new levels, reports the BBC's Ahmed Wali Mujeeb.

More than 20 people are gathered outside a ramshackle house in a suburb of Karachi - Pakistan's largest city.

They say a plot of land, which was the property of a local businessman, was forcibly occupied by a local mafia last September, and they are here to complain.

The difference now - and a source of much alarm to those in the know - is that this group of Karachi residents are choosing to bring their complaint to the Taliban.

After a two-hour session, the Taliban judge adjourns the hearing to another date and venue which he says will be disclosed shortly before the hearing.

This mobile Taliban court does not limit its interests to this one shanty town on the outskirts of Karachi. It has been arbitrating disputes across many suburbs in the metropolis.

The Taliban largely emerged in poor areas on the fringes of the city, run-down places with little or no infrastructure for health, education and civic amenities.

Their mobile courts have been hearing complaints for quite some time, but in recent months they have also started administering punishments - a sign of their growing clout.

In January, they publicly administered lashes to an alleged thief after recovering stolen goods from him. The goods were returned to the owner who had reported the theft.
Suburban Taliban

But the picture is complicated.

There is a tussle under way between mafia groups (becoming more prolific and powerful in Karachi) who seek to seize land and militant groups who are also grabbing land. This includes the Taliban, for all their willingness to arbitrate in these disputes.

It is clear that they want to tighten their grip in Pakistan's biggest city, its commercial centre. And they appear to have great influence in those suburbs dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group.

These include many of the districts on the edge of the highways and roads leading to neighbouring Balochistan province.

And when they think their authority is being encroached on, they act with deadly force: The MQM lawmaker Syed Manzar Imam was killed by Taliban gunmen in January in Orangi town, which borders a Pashtun area.

One former leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) - a party of the ethnic Pashtun nationalists - recently left Karachi and said more than 25 of his party offices had been forced to close because of threats from the Taliban.

A senior police officer who does not wish to be named told me simply: "Taliban are swiftly extending their influence.

"There needs to be a strategy to stem the Taliban's rise, otherwise the city will lose other important and central parts to them," he says.
Taliban 'gangs'

Muhammad Usman is a 26-year-old Taliban commander from the Swat valley. He came to Karachi after the Pakistani army started an operation in Swat in 2009.

He says he was first part of a group of Swati Taliban in Karachi and was offered shelter and safety by them.

After some time, he gradually got involved in what...
Karachi's network of violence

Intelligence sources say that there is one Taliban chief for the city, and heads of groups operating in different areas answer to him.

"Though the government has expressed its resolve to eradicate militancy, other state institutions are not co-operating," analyst Professor Tauseed Ahmed Khan says.

He argues that the security forces are losing morale when it comes to the battle against the militant groups and adds that this is not improved when rebels find it easy to get released on bail by the courts.

Riaz Haq said...

US issues arms sales waivers for Pakistan, reports PTI:

In an indication of the “positive trajectory” of the bilateral ties, the U.S. has issued a waiver, second in six months, for sale of major defence equipment to Pakistan citing national security interest.

The waiver issued quietly by the then Deputy Secretary of States Thomas Nides on February 15, and posted on the State Department website a week later on February 22, would pave the way for some major defence equipment sales to Pakistan.

“The Department issued the waiver because we have determined that security assistance is important to the national security interests of the United States and is a critical component of U.S. efforts to continue to build a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan grounded in concrete action on areas of shared interest,” a State Department spokesperson told PTI.

The waiver, issued within a fortnight of Secretary of State John Kerry taking the reins U.S. diplomacy on February 1, allows for the execution of America’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme, and for the sale or export of certain Major Defence Equipment (MDE).

“Major Defence Equipment,” means any U.S. manufactured defence article whose export is controlled by U.S. Munitions List which has a nonrecurring research and development cost of more than $50,000,000 or a total production cost of more than $200,000,000. These items require Congressional notification, the spokesman said.

“As a matter of policy we do not discuss proposed defence sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress,” he said, refraining to give any figure to the expected sale of major defence items to Pakistan after this waiver.

According to a known South Asia expert, the two waivers issued by the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September were sweeping and so allowed the release of all forms of assistance for the fiscal 2012 including non-military.

It seems the main purpose of the February 15 waiver was to create a positive atmosphere for meetings in Washington DC with visiting senior military officials from Pakistan.

“These waivers don’t represent an improvement in U.S.-Pakistan relations so much as they represent attempts to improve such relations,” an expert explained said adding that from the U.S. perspective, some level of working relations with Pakistan is necessary for the U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan to go smoothly.

Observing that security assistance builds Pakistan’s capabilities in countering terrorism, the State Department official said that such assistance will continue to be implemented consistent with its policy goals of supporting Pakistan’s shared interest in regional stability and countering terrorism.

“Despite the past challenges in our bilateral relationship with Pakistan, we are encouraged by recent engagements which indicate the positive trajectory of the relationship, including productive working group meetings addressing the full range of the relationship and Pakistan’s participation in Core Group meetings with Afghanistan,” the spokesperson said.

“As we have said, our number one shared priority remains pursuing our counterterrorism objectives to secure the safety of American and Pakistani citizens. We face a common threat from a common enemy, and we must confront terrorism and extremism together,” the official asserted.....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a link to a video of Express News show "To the Points" with Saleem Safi and others confirming the effectiveness of US drones in killing in TTP leaders attacking Pakistan:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Bureau of Investigative Journalism's report on drone strikes data in Pakistan's FATA:

The Bureau is publishing in full a leaked internal document – titled Details of Attacks by NATO Forces/Predators in FATA - which contains the Pakistan government’s own estimates of how many people have died in specific CIA drone strikes.

The summary report – obtained from three independent sources – covers the period January 13 2006 to October 24 2009.

Drawn from field reports by local officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the document lists over 70 drone strikes between 2006 and late 2009, alongside a small number of other incidents such as alleged Nato attacks and strikes by unspecified forces.

Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated by the leaked report to be civilian victims. Some 94 of these are said to be children.

Some CIA strikes are missing from the document. None of the five reported strikes for 2007 are listed, for example. Also missing are any biographical details of those killed, although the genders of many victims are reported and – where known – whether any children died.

The document also fails to mention details of a number of senior militant commanders known to have died in the attacks.

The Bureau believes there is a strong public interest value in publishing the report in full. A number of small distinguishing marks have been removed – otherwise the document is presented as-is.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Economist mag story on Pakistani opinion of US drone strikes in FATA:

NATIONAL surveys find that Pakistanis are overwhelmingly opposed to CIA drone strikes against suspected militants in the tribal badlands close to the Afghan border. The strikes are seen by many as an abuse of sovereignty, a symbol of American arrogance and the cause of civilian deaths. So when Sofia Khan, a school administrator from Islamabad, travelled with hundreds of anti-drone campaigners to a ramshackle town bordering the restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) last October she was stunned by what some tribesmen there had to say.

One man from South Waziristan heatedly told her that he and his family approved of the remote-controlled aircraft and wanted more of them patrolling the skies above his home. Access to the tribal regions is very difficult for foreign journalists; but several specialists and researchers on the region, who did not want to be identified, say there is at least a sizeable minority in FATA who share that view.

Surveys are also notoriously difficult to carry out in FATA. A 2009 poll in three of the tribal agencies found 52% of respondents believed drone strikes were accurate and 60% said they weakened militant groups. Other surveys have found much lower percentages in favour. But interviews by The Economist with twenty residents of the tribal areas confirmed that many see individual drone strikes as preferable to the artillery barrages of the Pakistani military. They also insisted that the drones do not kill many civilians—a view starkly at odds with mainstream Pakistani opinion. “No one dares tell the real picture,” says an elder from North Waziristan. “Drone attacks are killing the militants who are killing innocent people.”

American claims about the accuracy of its drone attacks are hard to verify. The best estimate is provided by monitoring organisations that track drone attacks through media reports, an inexact method in a region where militants block access to strike sites. However, the most thorough survey, by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, suggests a fall in civilian casualties, with most news sources claiming no civilians killed this year despite 22 known strikes.

Supporters of the drones in Pakistan’s media are even more reluctant to speak frankly. Many commentators admit to approving of drones in the absence of government moves to clear terrorist sanctuaries. But they dare not say so in print.

In 2010 a group of politicians and NGOs published a “Peshawar Declaration” in support of drones. Life soon became difficult for the signatories. “If anyone speaks out they will be eliminated,” says Said Alam Mehsud, one of the organisers, who was forced to leave Pakistan for a time.

As for Ms Khan, she has had a partial rethink. “I still want the drones to end,” she says. “But if my government wants to do something they should do it themselves, without foreign help.”

Riaz Haq said...

There are some Pakistanis who argue that even a single civilian casualty in war is unacceptable under International Law. This is not correct. Civilian casualties in war are acceptable under International Law as long as civilians are not deliberately targeted and care is taken to minimize civilian casualties.

Other talk of violation of Pakistani sovereignty. It's hard to justify claims of sovereignty over FATA unless Pakistan truly brings it into national fold by enforcing, or at least attempting to enforce, its constitution and laws. Even the Amnesty report which condemns US drone attacks in FATA is highly critical of Pakistani government's failure to act against terrorists to protect is citizens from them.

The main problem with the US drone program in FATA is its secrecy. It is covert and operated by the CIA, an intelligence agency which is supposed to collect intelligence, not wage war. It does not operate under Geneva Conventions.

Riaz Haq said...

(CIA Informant) Hassan: We are at war, and I am part of this war. When does a war make sense? To be honest, I think the US drone missions are the right thing to do. Believe me, no weapon is more effective in fighting extremists. Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Taliban for many years, was killed on Nov. 1. Many other more or less high-ranking extremists were killed before that. From a military standpoint, it's a success for the United States. And I contribute to that success.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a PakistanToday report on Pakistan Army's support for education in FATA:

Peshawar Corps Commander Lieutenant General Khalid Rabbani on Thursday said the Pakistan Army attaches immense importance to the development of education sector and is actively involved in nation building projects in areas cleared by the army.

He was addressing the inauguration ceremony of Model School Wana constructed by the Pakistan Army in South Waziristan Agency, said a press release by ISPR.

Lieutenant General Khalid Rabbani said that concerted and dedicated efforts were being made to improve literacy rate in the tribal areas. The Pakistan Army set up schools and cadet colleges where students are groomed to incorporate qualities of good and productive human beings.

Most of these schools and colleges were being constructed in the remote and far-flung areas to improve the standard of education of the so far underprivileged tribal people, he elaborated.

The corps commander praised the efforts of the army engineers and political administration for facilitating the local community in spreading rays of knowledge in the area.

Earlier on his arrival, he was received by Major General Akhtar Jamil Rao and Major General Nadeem Raza and was briefed about the ongoing developmental projects.

Riaz Haq said...

Identifying targets for the lethal American drone attacks in Pakistan was always dangerous. Then al Qaeda created its own strike force to target the informants.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan—Half a dozen men sit on the floor in a grimy rented storefront in the crowded Khyber Bazaar. A bottle of locally brewed liquor chills in a water cooler in the corner, a Pepsi bottle next to it for mixing. A Bollywood soundtrack plays in the background. It’s a farewell party for Allah Noor, who has spent the last five years identifying targets in rural Pakistan for U.S. drone strikes.

Noor, as we’ll call him, is tall and wiry. Now in his early thirties, his cheeks are sunken from smoking too much hash. He hasn’t slept in the same place two nights in a row ever since a U.S. drone killed Maulvi Nazir, his former boss, on Jan. 2, 2013. “After that,” he says, “I realized the government is playing a double game.”

“Sometimes I hide in Karachi, or in Rawalpindi, or Hyderabad, or other places. Now I have a visa for the UAE, and I fly out at 9 a.m. tomorrow.” If he doesn’t escape Waziristan soon, there may be a price on Noor’s head.

There is a saying in North Waziristan: The people there are stuck “between drones in the sky, and daggers on the earth.”

Ever since jihadis set up shop in North Waziristan in 2001, the region has become a battleground for a war between Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and a potpourri of groups with sometimes overlapping agendas. Some groups, like the one led by Maulvi Nazir, once had a truce with Pakistan, agreeing to focus on toppling the Afghan government and reestablishing Taliban rule there. Others, like the Tehrike e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) vowed to topple the Pakistani state itself. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of foreign fighters—Arabs, Central Asians, even Chinese Uighurs—flocked to North Waziristan, each bringing his own global struggle with him.

In June, Pakistan launched an all-out military offensive in the region, ostensibly to evict all the militants from the area. The army claims to have killed more than a thousand. In the meantime, more than a million people fled the region.

Even before the current military operation though, Pakistan had more than 140,000 troops stationed in FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, including many in North Waziristan. It felt the impact of most of almost three quarters of the 387 drone strikes that have hit the country. The very fact that so many troops co-existed with so many militants meant some kind of complicated alliances were afoot.

Locals like Noor knew of those alliances firsthand.

The city of Miran Shah, for example, was subjected to a nighttime curfew for years. Pakistani helicopter gunships regularly struck targets in the countryside nearby, as American drones circled overhead taking out high-value targets. One drone fired missiles, while three others tracked the target. None of this would have been possible if Pakistan did not clear the airspace in North Waziristan. Pakistani troops even fought off militants attempting to reach the wreckage of drones that had crashed.