Judge orders Pakistani intelligence services to produce missing drone victim

n13-iconReprieve: A Pakistani judge today ordered the country’s intelligence services to produce a victim of CIA drone strikes who has been missing since being seized from his Rawalpindi home a week ago.

Kareem Khan, who lost his son and brother to a 2009 CIA drone strike in North Waziristan, had been due to travel to Europe to discuss his experience with parliamentarians in a number of countries later this month. However, he has not been heard from since being detained by a group of men in police uniforms and plain clothes in the early hours of February 5.

The Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court was today hearing a Habeas petition brought by Mr Khan’s lawyer and Reprieve fellow, Shahzad Akbar. Mr Akbar argued that the intelligence services must have been responsible for Mr Khan’s arrest, as responses filed by the police indicated that they were unaware of the incident. As a result, the judge ordered the various intelligence services overseen by Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior to produce Mr Khan by Thursday February 20.

Mr. Khan was due to travel to Europe this Saturday (February 15), where he was scheduled to speak with German, Dutch and British parliamentarians about his personal experience with drone strikes and and his work as a freelance journalist investigating other strikes in the region. [Continue reading...]

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Leaked Pakistani official document records details of 330 drone strikes

FeatureThe Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports: The Bureau is today publishing a leaked official document that records details of over 300 drone strikes, including their locations and an assessment of how many people died in each incident.

The document is the fullest official record of drone strikes in Pakistan to have yet been published. It provides rare insight into what the government understands about the campaign.

It also provides details about exactly when and where strikes took place, often including the names of homeowners. These details can be valuable to researchers attempting to verify eyewitness reports – and are often not reported elsewhere. But interestingly, the document stops recording civilian casualties after 2008, even omitting details of well-documented civilian deaths and those that have been acknowledged by the government.

Last July the Bureau published part of the document for the first time. This documented strikes, which hit the northwest tribal areas of Pakistan between 2006 and late 2009, and revealed that the Pakistani government was aware of hundreds of civilian casualties, even in strikes where it had officially denied civilians had died.

The reports are based on information filed to the FATA Secretariat each evening by local Political Agents – senior officials in the field. These agents gather the information from networks of informants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the area bordering Afghanistan.

Now the Bureau has obtained an updated version of the document, which lists attacks up to late September 2013. [Continue reading...]

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Warren Weinstein appeals to Obama and Kerry to negotiate his release

Warren Weinstein, a U.S. government contractor kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan in 2011 has called on President Obama to negotiate with his captors and says he feels “totally abandoned and forgotten.” In a letter to the media, Weinstein wrote:

“I have appealed several times to President Obama to help me but to no avail. I am therefore writing now to the Media to ask that you help me to gain my release and rejoin my family – my wife, two daughters, two grandchildren and my son-in-law. I am hoping that you will take up my case on a human interest and humanitarian basis, and that you can help my family and me to convince President Obama to take action to negotiate my release.”

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Video: Unseen war

To learn more about this film, visit Exposing the Invisible.

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Pakistan’s PTI party names CIA station chief

Firedoglake: A political party in Pakistan has named the CIA station chief in the country and accused the chief and CIA director John Brennan of murder for their role in a recent drone strike in Hangu, where an Islamic school was targeted.

The drone strike on November 21 killed six and, injured a “large number of those present including children,” according to a letter submitted to police by Dr. Shireen M. Mazari, the central information secretary for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Following the strike in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, a settled urban area, a First Information Report (FIR) was submitted to a nearby police station asking them to investigate crimes committed by those who were behind the strike.

Firedoglake is not revealing the alleged station chief’s name. The identity of the alleged CIA station chief in Pakistan has already been exposed by PTI, and his alleged name is circulating in the country.

The letter nominates Brennan and alleged CIA station chief Craig Osth for “committing the gross offenses of committing murder and waging war against Pakistan.” [Continue reading...]

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Leader’s death plunges Pakistan Taliban into dangerous disarray

Reuters reports: The killing of one of Pakistan’s most wanted Islamic militants in a U.S. drone strike has exposed centuries-old rivalries within the group he led, the Pakistani Taliban, making the insurgency ever more unpredictable and probably more violent.

Hakimullah Mehsud’s death this month has set off a power struggle within the outfit’s ranks, which could further unnerve a region already on tenterhooks with most U.S.-led troops pulling out of neighboring Afghanistan in 2014.

When a tribal council declared Mullah Fazlullah as the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban last week, several furious commanders from a rival clan stood up and left.

“When Fazlullah’s name was announced, they … walked out saying, ‘The Taliban’s command is doomed’,” said one commander who attended the November 7 ‘shura’ meeting in South Waziristan, a lawless Pakistani tribal region on the Afghan border.

Others at the shura declared loyalty to the hardline new leader and stayed on to map out a plan to avenge Hakimullah’s death through a new campaign of bombings and shootings.

“This is the start of our fight with the Pakistan government, an American puppet,” the Taliban official said.

“Those who forced the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan are capable of breaking up Pakistan,” he added, alluding to senior commanders whose rite of passage into war started with the rebellion against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. [Continue reading...]

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Senior leader of insurgent Haqqani network killed in Islamabad

The Guardian reports: A senior leader of the Haqqani network, one of the most feared insurgent groups fighting western forces in Afghanistan, was gunned town in mysterious circumstances on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital city on Sunday evening, Taliban and official sources have confirmed.

Nasiruddin Haqqani died in a hail of bullets fired by unknown assailants as he bought bread in a shopping area just a few miles from the heart of Pakistan’s government.

His body was later taken away for burial in the lawless border region of North Waziristan, apparently without the knowledge of authorities.

An Islamabad police spokesman said he was unaware of either the shooting or the removal of his body, despite extensive local media coverage.

Critics of Pakistan have long claimed it tolerates the Haqqani network, or even gives it some level of official support. Islamabad does not regard the organisation as a threat to its own security and believes it may even be a useful ally in its fraught relations with Afghanistan. Intelligence officials in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, said Haqqani’s body arrived at in tribal agency at 3pm on Monday and around 25 people took part in his funeral prayers before he was buried at an unknown location. [Continue reading...]

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Saudi nuclear weapons ‘on order’ from Pakistan

Mark Urban writes: Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight.

While the kingdom’s quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran’s atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.

Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.

Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.” [Continue reading...]

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Drone strike served CIA revenge, blocked Pakistan’s peace strategy

Gareth Porter reports: After a drone strike had reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud Nov. 1, the spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council declared that, if true, it would be “a serious loss” for the terrorist organisation.

That reaction accurately reflected the Central Intelligence Agency’s argument for the strike. But the back story of the episode is how President Barack Obama supported the parochial interests of the CIA in the drone war over the Pakistani government’s effort to try a new political approach to that country’s terrorism crisis.

The failure of both drone strikes and Pakistani military operations in the FATA tribal areas to stem the tide of terrorism had led to a decision by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to try a political dialogue with the Taliban.

But the drone strike that killed Mehsud stopped the peace talks before they could begin.

Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan immediately denounced the drone strike that killed Mehsud as “a conspiracy to sabotage the peace talks.” He charged that the United States had “scuttled” the initiative “on the eve, 18 hours before a formal delegation of respected ulema [Islamic clerics] was to fly to Miranshah and hand over this formal invitation.” [Continue reading...]

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The CIA, not the Pentagon, will continue running Obama’s drone war

Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris write: In May, the White House leaked word that it would start shifting drone operations from the shadows of the CIA to the relative sunlight of the Defense Department in an effort to be more transparent about the controversial targeted killing program. But six months later, the so-called migration of those operations has stalled, and it is now unlikely to happen anytime soon, Foreign Policy has learned.

The anonymous series of announcements coincided with remarks President Obama made on counterterrorism policy at National Defense University in which he called for “transparency and debate on this issue.” A classified Presidential Policy Guidance on the matter, issued at the same time, caught some in government by surprise, triggering a scramble at the Pentagon and at CIA to achieve a White House objective. The transfer was never expected to happen overnight. But it is now clear the complexity of the issue, the distinct operational and cultural differences between the Pentagon and CIA and the bureaucratic politics of it all has forced officials on all sides to recognize transferring drone operations from the Agency to the Defense Department represents, for now, an unattainable goal.

“The physics of making this happen quickly are remarkably difficult,” one U.S. official told FP. “The goal remains the same, but the reality has set in.” [Continue reading...]

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Pakistan Taliban choose opponent of peace talks as new leader

Al Jazeera reports: Maulana Fazlullah, the new Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader, is a ruthless fighter who is vehemently anti-state and unamenable to peace talks.

Fazlullah was elected as TTP commander by a consultative council of the group on November 7, almost a week after Hakimullah Mehsud, the group’s former leader, was killed by a US drone in the tribal area of North Waziristan.

He is the first commander of the group not to come from the Mehsud tribe in Pakistan’s tribal areas, hailing instead from the northwestern valley of Swat, where he waged a bloody war against the Pakistani state from 2007 to 2009.

As chief of the local chapter of the TTP in Swat, Fazlullah drove civil and military authorities out of the area in 2007, before finally signing a peace agreement with the government in 2009.

The agreement, dubbed the “Nizam-e-Adl” (system of justice), granted the TTP virtual control over Swat and implemented their interpretation of Sharia law, in exchange for the cessation of hostilities.

It soon disintegrated, however, when Fazlullah’s men attempted to expand their sphere of control to neighbouring Buner district.

As a result, Pakistani forces moved into Swat for the second time in two years, resulting in hundreds of deaths and millions of civilians displaced. Fazlullah was finally driven out of the valley by September 2009, with several of his top commanders captured.

But while the government and civilians rebuilt lives in the valley, Fazlullah continued to conduct operations in Swat remotely, from neighbouring Dir district and, as many locals tell Al Jazeera, the Afghan border provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.

From his base, Fazlullah ordered the targeted killings of elders who led peace committees against the Taliban, as well as rights activists. Among the dozens of people the Taliban killed or attempted to kill during this time was Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl activist who rose to global prominence following the attempt on her life. [Continue reading...]

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Video — Wounds of Waziristan: Pakistanis haunted by U.S. drone war

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Barack Obama: Suspected war criminal

Shuaib Almosawa writes: Arfag al-Marwani finished his last minute shopping for the Eid al Fitr holiday by midnight, just enough time to enjoy a few hours of rest before the holiday’s dawn Fajr prayers. A 28-year-old laborer, Arfag had recently returned from working in Saudi Arabia and planned on spending the time with his family. It was August 8.

Just before making his final holiday preparations, he received a troubling phone call. Before the holiday celebrations could begin, he would have to carry out one final task.

There had been some sort of car accident involving his brothers: 24-year-old Abdullah, 17-year-old Hassan and 16-year-old Hussein. They too were on their way to the family home after finishing some last minute Eid shopping. Arfag’s thoughts drifted to news reports of the seven U.S. drone strikes in the past 11 days — one of which already targeted al Qaeda suspects in his home province of Marib. Arfag hoped that his young brothers weren’t somehow caught in the drone crossfire.

It took Arfag half an hour to reach the wreckage. Amidst the eerie quiet of the Maribi countryside, smoke still rose from the smoldering remains of his brothers’ mangled vehicle.

The strike that killed Arfag’s three brothers was the eighth out of nine total air attacks launched between July 27 and August 10. It was part of a spastic attempt to thwart what U.S. officials claimed was an al Qaeda plot to attack American interests. But the drone campaign may have only created more support for the militants, if Arfag and his grieving family are to be believed.

Government officials told the press that the strike’s targets were all al Qaeda militants. But the victims’ families say just the opposite was true: that the two teenagers and their older brother were innocent bystanders.

“Everything inside the car seemed to have been flung out of the windows by the force of the blast,” said Arfag, describing what he found at the wreckage that night.

“I found their bodies lying nearby — decapitated.”

Arfag carried the bodies of Abdullah, Hassan and Hussein to the trunk of his car one by one along with what remained of Eid gifts his brothers’ had purchased just a few hours earlier.

“They purchased two outfits for their little nieces, deserts, and a lot of fireworks. We all enjoy the Eid fireworks — they weren’t just for the boys,” said Arfag.

Arfag notified the rest of his family before he began the 50 mile drive north where the family would prepare the bodies for burial in a nearby cemetery the following day.

“Mom took pictures with her mobile phone of all of them, along with the [charred] gifts they had bought,” Arfag continued.

The August 8 strike has outraged the residents of Marib, a governorate where al Qaeda maintains a strong presence. According to some security analysts, that outrage over drone strikes directed toward the U.S. may do more harm than good in a long term struggle against AQAP, as the local Qaeda affiliate is known.

“This case gets at what I believe to be the Achilles heel of the U.S. in a place like Yemen: a lack of good, on-the-ground human intelligence,” said Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen and author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, al Qaeda and American’s War in Arabia. [Continue reading...]

Jeffrey Bachman asks: Is President Obama a suspected war criminal?

If you have read the recent reports on drone strikes by Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there is only one answer to this question … and it is not the answer most would want to hear.

If you have not read the reports, let me provide you with a brief summary of the common themes. The reports repeatedly criticized President Obama for what has been a near complete lack of transparency. Lack of transparency, according to the reports, impedes accountability. By failing to acknowledge responsibility for drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, there can be no accountability to those who have wrongfully had their innocent loved ones killed in attacks.

Frank La Rue, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, noted the role the right to information plays in promoting good governance. La Rue added that there exists a right to know the truth because the truth enables access to other rights: in this case, the right to reparations and accountability for the wrongful deaths of loved ones. [Continue reading...]

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Angry Pakistan to assess U.S. ties after drone strike disrupts peace talks

Reuters reports: Pakistan is to review its relationship with the United States, the prime minister’s office said on Sunday, following the killing of the Pakistani Taliban leader in a U.S. drone strike.

But a top-level meeting to examine relations, scheduled for Sunday, was postponed at the last minute without explanation.

Some politicians have demanded that U.S. military supply lines into Afghanistan be blocked in response.

“It is clear that the U.S. is against peace and does not want terrorism to subside. Now, we only have one agenda: to stop NATO supplies going through (the northern province of) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” Asad Qaiser, the speaker of the provincial assembly, told Reuters.

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U.S. has no interest in Pakistan’s ability to negotiate peace

BBC News reports: The US has responded to accusations from Pakistan that a drone strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud had destroyed the country’s nascent peace process.

A state department official said talks with the Taliban were an internal matter for Pakistan.

The statement insisted Pakistan and the US had a “shared strategic interest in ending extremist violence”.

It also said it could still not confirm that Mehsud had been killed on Friday.

Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador to protest over Friday’s drone strike that killed Mehsud.

The country’s foreign minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said the strike on the local Taliban leader “is not just the killing of one person, it’s the death of all peace efforts.”

It came a day before a Pakistani delegation had been due to fly to North Waziristan to meet Mehsud.

Mr Nisar accused the United States of “scuttling” efforts to begin peace talks, and said “every aspect” of Pakistan’s co-operation with Washington would be reviewed.

Information Minister Pervez Rashid said: “The US has tried to attack the peace talks with this drone but we will not let them fail.”

The US state department spokesman said: “The issue of whether to negotiate with TTP is an internal matter for Pakistan, and we refer you to the government of Pakistan for further details.”

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Pakistan Taliban rules out dialogue with government, branded as ‘U.S. slaves’

Geo TV reports: The proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has ruled out the possibility of holding a dialogue with the Pakistan government, saying talks with the ‘US slaves’ were no longer possible, Geo News reported Sunday.

“The (Pakistan) government has given us the present of Hakimullah Mehsud’s dead body,” said Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman of the banned TTP, in a media statement which has come amid optimistic statements from the Pakistan government regarding the fate of the proposed peace talks.

Shahidullah Shaid said the selection of the TTP’s successor will be made in the next couple of days.

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