Rafia Zakaria writes: Karachi has been smoldering for more than a week. On June 8 it burst into flames when the Pakistani Taliban laid siege to the city’s main airport, Jinnah International, killing at least 36 people. The firefight between the attackers and security forces was broadcast live on television, delivering images of carrier planes in flames and the sounds of gunfire and explosions. The megacity, with a population of 23.5 million, has been in a standstill since June 3, after the London arrest on money-laundering charges of Altaf Hussain, a prominent Pakistani politician and chief of the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). All transportation, businesses, schools and offices remain closed. Leery of violence from MQM activists protesting Hussain’s arrest, the city’s residents have been effectively confined to their homes. When he was released on bail last week, it seemed as though calm would finally return to Karachi.
The escalation of violence exposed the city’s vulnerabilities, including its lack of political leadership and deteriorating security infrastructure. The local law enforcement responding to the airport attack did not even have bulletproof vests and other requisite equipment to engage the assailants. Worse, it’s unclear who was in charge of the operation at the airport until the military took over.
On June 9 the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and promised more to come. In a similar ambush on June 10, unidentified gunmen attacked a security post at Jinnah, briefly engaging local police in gunfire. That the Taliban were able to take over the city’s only gateway to the rest of the world with little resistance underscores the MQM’s weakness and Karachi’s susceptibility to extremism. After controlling the city for more than two decades, the MQM is in total disarray — unable to advocate for Karachi’s security needs at the federal level or defend it from militants, including the Taliban. [Continue reading...]
An editorial in the New York Times says: The use of a sham vaccination program in the government’s hunt for Osama bin Laden has produced a lethal backlash in Pakistan where dozens of public health workers have been murdered and fearful parents are shunning polio vaccine for their children.
Leaders of a dozen American schools of public health raised an alarm with the Obama administration 16 months ago and finally got a response this month when the White House promised that the C.I.A. will no longer use phony immunization programs in its spying operations.
The fakery — one of an assortment of intelligence stratagems before the successful raid that killed bin Laden — should never have been used in a world where hardworking health care agencies depend on the trust of local communities.
The C.I.A.’s ruse involved phony door-to-door solicitations by a physician promising to deliver hepatitis B immunizations; his real purpose was to confirm bin Laden’s suspected hiding place. The ploy helped fuel a militant backlash against immunization workers, and as many as 60 health workers and police officers have since been killed.
Meanwhile, polio is on the rise, with Pakistan accounting for 66 of the 82 cases reported so far this year by the World Health Organization. Last year, there were 93 cases of polio in Pakistan, where the health organization warns that the disease is endemic, as it is in Afghanistan and Nigeria.
The C.I.A. can no longer seek to “obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material” gathered this way, according to a promise from the Obama administration. That is small comfort for those suffering the aftereffects of this ruse.
Convincing wary parents to accept polio vaccination — and finding health workers willing to risk violence — has been made more difficult than ever.
BBC News: The victory of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s elections has created as much concern in Pakistan as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to attend his oath-taking ceremony has created excitement.
Both emotions invoke images from recent history.
Concern over the BJP’s victory is linked to the widespread belief in Pakistan that the party is a political front for the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), a belligerent Hindu supremacist group that advocates a Hindu way of life and has been an active opponent of Muslim separatism in Kashmir.
Pakistan, which is 96% Muslim, disputes India’s claim over Kashmir, supports separatists there and has fought three of its four wars with India over the Kashmir region.
There are also images of the RSS-led riots that culminated in the 1992 demolition of the 16th Century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, and the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat in which more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed. [Continue reading...]
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports: Domestic buildings have been hit by drone strikes more than any other type of target in the CIA’s 10-year campaign in the tribal regions of northern Pakistan, new research reveals.
By way of contrast, since 2008, in neighbouring Afghanistan drone strikes on buildings have been banned in all but the most urgent situations, as part of measures to protect civilian lives. But a new investigative project by the Bureau, Forensic Architecture, a research project based at London’s Goldsmiths University, and New York-based Situ Research, reveals that in Pakistan, domestic buildings continue to be the most frequent target of drone attacks.
The project examines, for the first time, the types of target attacked in each drone strike – be they houses, vehicles or madrassas (religious schools) – and the time of day the attack took place. [Continue reading...]
Ahmed Rashid writes: During the Afghan elections in early April I was traveling in Central Asia, mainly in Kyrgyzstan. I wanted to inquire into the fears of the governments there as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. What did they think of the growth of Taliban and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Officials in each country cited two threats. First, the internal radicalizing of their young people by increasing numbers of preachers or proselytizing groups arriving from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East. The second, more dangerous threat is external: they believe that extremist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to infiltrate Central Asia in order to launch terrorist attacks.
Islamic extremism is infecting the entire region and this will ultimately become the legacy of the US occupation of Afghanistan, as the so-called jihad by the Taliban against the US comes to an end. Iran, a Shia state, fears that the Sunni extremist groups that have installed themselves in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the Iranian border will step up their attacks inside Iran. In February Iran threatened to send troops into Balochistan unless Pakistan helped free five Iranian border guards who had been kidnapped by militants. (The Pakistanis freed four of the guards; one was killed.)
Chinese officials say they are particularly concerned about terrorist groups coming out of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are undermining Chinese security. Although China is Pakistan’s closest ally, its officials have made it clear that they are closely monitoring the Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang province, who are training in Pakistan, fighting in Afghanistan, and have carried out several terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.
Terrorist assaults from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir have declined sharply since 2003, but India has a perennial fear that Islamic militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province may mount attacks in India. Many Punjabi fighters have joined the Taliban forces based in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and they have attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan. India is also wary of another terrorist attack resembling the one that took place in Mumbai in 2008.
For forty years Pakistan has been backing Islamic extremist groups as part of its expansionist foreign policy in Afghanistan and Central Asia and its efforts to maintain equilibrium with India, its much larger enemy. Now Pakistan is undergoing the worst terrorist backlash in the entire region. Some 50,000 people have died in three separate and continuing insurgencies: one by the Taliban in the northwest, the other in Balochistan by Baloch separatists, and the third in Karachi by several ethnic groups. That sectarian war, involving suicide bombers, massacres, and kidnappings, has gripped the country for a decade. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Until recently, polio was considered a poor man’s problem in Pakistan — a crippling virus that festered in the mountainous tribal belt, traversed the country on interprovincial buses, and spread via infected children who played in the open sewers of sprawling slums.
But since the World Health Organization declared a polio emergency here last week — identifying Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon as the world’s main reservoirs of the virus — the disease has become an urgent concern of the wealthy, too.
A W.H.O. recommendation that travelers not leave Pakistan without a polio vaccination certificate has caused confusion. Doctors, clinics and hospitals have been inundated with inquiries. The association of travel agents has reported “panic” among air travel customers.
“It’s very worrisome,” said Mohammad Akbar Khan, a passenger at the Karachi airport on Thursday, as his family clustered around a desk on the departures concourse normally used to immunize infants. “We just found out about this on the news, and we’re trying to find out what to do.”
The government, which is scrambling to meet the W.H.O. requirement, says it needs two weeks to make arrangements at airports and buy more vaccines. But to most Pakistanis, it is a jolting reminder of the gravity of a crisis that has been quietly building for years, and which is now, according to the W.H.O., spilling into other countries, threatening to undo decades of efforts to eradicate polio across the globe.[Continue reading...]
In July, 2012, the New York Times reported: Did the killing of Osama bin Laden have an unintended victim: the global drive to eradicate polio?
In Pakistan, where polio has never been eliminated, the C.I.A.’s decision to send a vaccination team into the Bin Laden compound to gather information and DNA samples clearly hurt the national polio drive. The question is: How badly?
After the ruse by Dr. Shakil Afridi was revealed by a British newspaper a year ago, angry villagers, especially in the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border, chased off legitimate vaccinators, accusing them of being spies.
And then, late last month, Taliban commanders in two districts banned polio vaccination teams, saying they could not operate until the United States ended its drone strikes. One cited Dr. Afridi, who is serving a 33-year sentence imposed by a tribal court, as an example of how the C.I.A. could use the campaign to cover espionage.
“It was a setback, no doubt,” conceded Dr. Elias Durry, the World Health Organization’s polio coordinator for Pakistan. “But unless it spreads or is a very longtime affair, the program is not going to be seriously affected.” [Continue reading...]
Seth G. Jones writes: On July 7, 2008, insurgents detonated a huge suicide car bomb outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 54 people, including an Indian defense attaché. The attack destroyed the embassy’s protective blast walls and front gates, and tore into civilians waiting outside for visas.
On one level, the attack was merely one among many that occur across this war-torn country, terribly unfortunate but numbingly frequent. But there was something particularly insidious about this one. According to United States intelligence assessments, agents from Pakistan’s chief spy organization, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, were involved in planning the attack. After being briefed by American intelligence officials, President George W. Bush dispatched Stephen R. Kappes, the C.I.A.’s deputy director, to Pakistan.
The involvement of the ISI in such a high-profile attack illustrates one of the most ignominious undercurrents of the war in Afghanistan and the subject of Carlotta Gall’s new book, “The Wrong Enemy”: the role of Pakistan. Ms. Gall, a reporter for The New York Times in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than a decade, beginning shortly after Sept. 11, is in an extraordinary position to write this important and long overdue book.
At its core, “The Wrong Enemy” is a searing exposé of Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan war, which Ms. Gall drives home in the book’s opening salvo. “Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy,” she pointedly writes. [Continue reading...]
Reprieve: 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...]
The 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...]
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.”
To learn more about this film, visit Exposing the Invisible.
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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]