The Daily Beast reports: Donald Trump’s new national security advisor, Gen. H. R. McMaster, will be seeing some familiar names and some familiar problems coming across his desk in the next few days, and months, and very likely years. And they’re not good news.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are coming back into view as centers of terror and unrest potentially every bit as dangerous to the United States as the so-called Islamic State that operates in Iraq and Syria. And Afghanistan’s a part of the world where McMaster discovered his hard charging left him with limp results.
In 2010 his mission was to curb corruption in the U.S.-backed Afghan government — graft, bribery, and theft that undermined everything Washington thought it was trying to do. But some of the people that the United States sent out to build the Afghan nation turned out to be just as corrupt as the locals. And McMaster, even though he worked to understand the Afghan culture, sometimes lost patience.
Asked at a teleconference what he thought Afghans saw as an acceptable level of corruption, McMaster shut down the questioner, acting as if the inquiry made no sense at all and was, indeed, completely unacceptable.
Of course, the problem continued. And what we see now confirms what Af/Pak hands have known all along: the corruption is not just about money, it’s about the whole record of the Afghanistan and Pakistan conflict. You can’t trust the governments you support, not when they are talking about money, and much less when they talk about peace or about “victory.” [Continue reading…]
Micah Zenko and Jennifer Wilson write: In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single “strike,” according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the United States dropped 3,027 more bombs — and in one more country, Libya — than in 2015. [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: Pakistan is turning them back. Thousands who spent their life savings on a bid to resettle in Europe are being told it’s time to head home. Inside Afghanistan, tens of thousands have become internally displaced in recent months as fighting between the Taliban and government security forces rages in several provinces. The refugee crisis could reach unprecedented numbers, with as many as 1.5 million returning home, many involuntarily, by the end of the year, according to humanitarian organizations.
Yet, there is no plan to adequately address this humanitarian emergency. Its scale and the international community’s dismissive attitude toward the plight of vulnerable Afghans is shameful. Pakistan, home to 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees and some 700,000 undocumented Afghans, has begun to crack down on those refugees living in the country without permission. By the end of this year, as many as 360,000 could be forced to return to Afghanistan, if current rates hold, according to the United Nations refugee agency. This year’s number of returnees is about four times higher than last year’s.
Among those caught in Pakistan’s toughening stance is Sharbat Gula, the subject of a famous photo that was published on a cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985. That photo was taken at a refugee camp in Pakistan when she was about 12. Ms. Gula, now in her 40s, was recently arrested and deported back to Afghanistan because she had been living in Pakistan without legitimate papers.
As Afghans become ever more hopeless about the future of their country, a rising number have set out on long and perilous journeys to Europe. Last year, 213,000 Afghans made it to Europe, where leaders have been grappling with the even larger influx of Syrians. While Syrians are not being forced to return home, European leaders last month struck a deal with the government of Afghanistan to establish a mechanism for the return of tens of thousands of Afghans who have failed to get asylum or legal residency in Europe. Under the deal, the Afghan government agreed to accept even citizens who fear for their safety if they were to return home.
Those who go back home, often having spent all their money on smugglers, face grinding poverty and violence. Within the country, about 221,000 Afghans fled their homes between January and August, according to the United Nations. For many, the only option is to pitch a tent in one of the country’s bulging and poorly serviced refugee camps.
The United Nations refugee agency has been making desperate pleas to donors for more assistance as winter approaches. Last month, it said it needed $181 million to cover basic operations in the months ahead. Fulfilling that need immediately is the least the international community can do. Beyond that, it will need to rethink its long-term approach to Afghan refugees and how to resettle more abroad in the years ahead. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The Taliban’s internal debate over whether and how to negotiate with the Afghan government is playing out in the open, even as there have been renewed attempts to restart talks.
Breaking with nearly 15 years of public silence, Sayed Muhammad Tayeb Agha, who until recently was the Taliban’s chief negotiator and head of their political commission, issued a letter about peace talks to the insurgency’s supreme leader over the summer and discussed reconciliation efforts in an interview with The New York Times in recent days, his first on the record with a Western publication in years.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times and appeared in the Afghan news media, Mr. Agha supported the idea of talks, and said the insurgency should be urgently trying to position itself as an Afghan political movement independent from the influence of Pakistani intelligence officials who have sheltered, and at times manipulated, the Taliban since 2001.
Mr. Agha led efforts to open the Taliban’s political office in Qatar in 2011, and he was instrumental in negotiations that led to the release of the last known American prisoner of war held by the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in exchange for the release of five Taliban detainees from the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. But he became disgruntled over the internal power struggle that broke out in 2015 after the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, for whom he was a trusted aide. He remains in exile abroad. [Continue reading…]
Dawn reports: The United States reminded India and Pakistan on Thursday that nuclear capable states do not threaten to use atomic weapons in any conflict.
The US government also categorically said that it considered the Sept 18 attack on an Indian military facility in Uri a terrorist attack.
The warning to avoid a nuclear conflict followed reports in the international media that both Indian and Pakistani governments had intensified their rhetoric and hinted at the possibility of nuclear military actions against each other.
“Nuclear-capable states have the responsibility to exercise restraint regarding nuclear weapons and missile capabilities,” a spokesperson for the US State Department told Dawn when asked to comment on these reports. [Continue reading…]
Rafia Zakaria writes: By the year 1871, British officials stationed in India had learned to ride elephants. This was in fact exactly what Sir Henry Durand, Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, was doing when he fell to his death. In the sad record of the event, Sir Henry is described riding in a howdah atop an elephant while traveling through the North-West Frontier Province, ‘which was in his charge’. The elephant, which belonged to an Indian chief, was led through a covered gateway that was ‘too low for it to pass through’. As a result, Durand the younger writes: ‘My father, a man of great height, was forced backward and thrown out across a low wall, which so injured his spine that he died the same day.’
The unceremonious death of Durand the elder, the ‘man of great height’, can well be a study of the British in India at the time. They had quashed a mutiny in 1857, and conquered both the fertile province of Punjab and the southern province of Sindh. Yet they remained curiously vulnerable to surprises on the wild edge of the northwestern corner of their empire. Mortimer Durand, then in his 20s, would attempt to tame the frontier which had taken his father. It was Mortimer, and not the elephant-riding Sir Henry, who would be the architect, and namesake, of a border that remains a frontline for battles between superpowers to this day.
Durand the son arrived in India not long after his father’s death. He was searching not simply for accolades as a diplomat and colonial administrator, but also for a connection with his much adored but distant, and now late, father. Durand left his mark on the land, literally carving a border where there was none. [Continue reading…]
Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani social media celebrity, was murdered by her own brother on Saturday. Imaan Sheikh writes: I noticed Qandeel Baloch for the first time in 2013 on an episode of Pakistan Idol, where she came to audition, and threw a baby fit when she didn’t qualify. The whole thing was over-the-top, and seemed staged to build hype. Some were annoyed, others entertained. Either way, it was one of the most memorable auditions in the programme’s history.
Then, last year, I saw a lot of people sharing parody videos featuring a girl with heavily kohled eyes and a spoilt, slow, bad gal accent. I looked into who was being mocked and found a familiar face. Qandeel Baloch was taking Facebook by storm with phone-shot dramatic videos talking about her daily life. Singing, being brazen and conceited, occasionally proposing to Pakistani cricketers.
Most people cringe-shared Qandeel’s videos. But rest assured, everyone watched them.
Earlier in her career, she had slut-shamed another artist on live TV, which was why I side-eyed her for a long time. But the fact of the matter was: I’d never seen another woman be so bold on the Pakistani internet, without a man running her page or managing her. She was being sexy and sassy of her own volition, cell phone recording the whole thing, and uploading it for millions to see.
In a part of the world where girls are taught to be neither heard nor seen, here she was, demanding she be both.
Many described her videos as “shameless”. She was called an “attention whore”. And even the people who loved her didn’t love her all the time.
But in a country where womanhood has long been defined by varying versions and degrees of enforced shame, her lack of it looked like a revolution.
In a world where family matters are supposed to be whispered about behind closed doors, Qandeel talked openly about how she was forcibly married at 17, and was tortured by her husband who even threatened to burn her face with acid. She escaped with her baby son, whose custody she lost, and took refuge at a welfare centre.
Even her horrifying domestic violence case was called “drama” and laughed at by hundreds of Pakistanis, some of whom I expected to know better.
She was already called a blemish on Pakistan’s sparkling image, a national shame, a shame for the Muslim ummat, but after the recent release of a music video she starred in, the entitled and the self-righteous made it a mission to bring her down. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: President Barack Obama secretly ordered the strike on Mullah Mansour after first trying to bring him to the negotiating table. Initially, there was hope in Washington that Mullah Mansour would be more open to negotiations than his predecessor, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Obama administration officials were divided over whether the Pakistanis were capable or willing to deliver Mullah Mansour for the negotiations.
U.S. officials said the Pakistanis tried and grew frustrated in February by Mullah Mansour’s refusal to send representatives to meet with the Afghan government.
Around the same time, people who maintain contacts with the Taliban began to report that Mullah Mansour had left Pakistan and was spending time in Iran.
U.S. intelligence agencies received information that allowed them to track Mullah Mansour’s movements, including details about devices he used for communications, U.S. officials said.
That allowed the spy agencies to present policy makers with a choice: If and when Mullah Mansour were located in Pakistan, should the U.S. strike?
Mullah Mansour’s travels made it easier to find him. In contrast, the Central Intelligence Agency spent years looking in vain for an opportunity to kill the reclusive cleric he replaced, Mullah Omar.
An April 19 Taliban attack in Kabul targeted Afghanistan’s secret service, killing more than 60 people and underlining for the Americans the extent to which Mullah Mansour had chosen a military course. A decision was made that he should “face the consequences” of his refusal to negotiate, a senior administration official said. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: U.S. President Barack Obama approved the drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour because the Taliban leader was overseeing plans for new attacks on American targets in Kabul, the Afghan capital, U.S. officials said on Monday. [Continue reading…]
Drone strikes are always carried out in the name of necessity. From the president on down, everyone wants to be able to claim that the decision to launch a deadly attack was driven by an imminent threat, there being no legal basis for indiscriminate killing or vengeance.
In the case of the assassination of the Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in Pakistan over the weekend, Obama’s comments on the killing suggest that this actually had less to do with preventing an imminent attack, than it was a kind of experiment.
No one knows what the consequence of killing Mansour will be, but Obama apparently thought that the potential benefits outweighed the risks.
An otherwise risk-averse president always seems confident about the bets he places when they involve Hellfire missiles.
The Wall Street Journal reports: Mr. Obama, speaking Monday during a visit to Hanoi, said the drone strike against Mr. Mansour did not constitute a “shift” in the U.S. mission. “We are not re-entering the day-to-day combat operations that are currently being conducted by Afghan forces,” he said.
He stressed Saturday’s airstrike was an opportunity for the Taliban to shift direction in favor of reconciliation talks, because Mr. Mansour for months has been against those talks.
Whether Mr. Mansour’s death changes things remains to be seen, according to those who track the group. Some believe his death could lead to a power struggle, accelerating the Taliban’s breakup. A main breakaway group already is being funded by the Afghan government as part of an effort to splinter the movement, The Wall Street Journal reported.
It was disclosed last year that the former Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died two years earlier.
However, the infighting is unlikely to encourage the group to negotiate with the Afghan government, according to those familiar with its operations. Mr. Mansour’s death actually may make it difficult for moderates among the Taliban to negotiate. [Continue reading…]
Although it is Pakistan that has traditionally been condemned for secretly supporting Afghan insurgents, analysts say Iran also provides weapons, cash and sanctuary to the Taliban. Despite the deep ideological antipathy between a hardline Sunni group and cleric-run Shia state the two sides have proved themselves quite willing to cooperate where necessary against mutual enemies and in the pursuit of shared interests.
Mullah Mansoor first entered Iran almost two months ago, according to immigration stamps in a Pakistani passport found in a bag near the wreckage of the taxi he was travelling in when he was killed by a US drone strike.
The passport, in the name of Wali Muhammad, also showed he had only just returned to Pakistan from the border crossing of Taftan, some 280 miles (450km) away from the site where he was killed, an area called Ahmed Wal, where he had stopped for lunch. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The U.S. drone strike that killed Taliban chief Akhtar Mohammad Mansour represents another escalation of U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan by trying to cripple an insurgent group that has for years found refuge on Pakistani soil.
The strike early Saturday marks the most aggressive U.S. military action in Pakistan since the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. It is also thought to be the first time that the U.S. military has directly targeted the top leader of the Afghan Taliban, a potentially destabilizing action that could leave the group violently lashing out as it seeks to find a new leader.
President Obama called Mansour’s death “an important milestone.”
“We have a high-profile leader who has been consistently part of operations and plans to potentially harm U.S. personnel and has been resistant to the kinds of peace talks and reconciliation that could ultimately bring an end to decades of war in Afghanistan,” he said during a visit to Vietnam.
While Obama denied that the attack represented a shift in the U.S. approach, analysts see it as an escalation.
“This is an unprecedented move to decapitate the Taliban leadership in its safe haven of Pakistan,” said Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the Brookings Institution. “It exposes Pakistan’s role in promoting and protecting the Taliban, and will provoke a crisis in U.S.-Pakistan relations.”
But unlike the bin Laden raid, which prompted outrage in Pakistan, the reported strike on Mansour drew a fairly muted reaction Sunday from Pakistani government and military leaders, even as Afghan officials cheered and described the attack as proof of the Afghan Taliban’s deep presence in Pakistan. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The killing of Mansoor represents a remarkable expansion of the programme because it happened well outside the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan where nearly all known strikes have taken place, usually focusing on al-Qaida and allied groups.
US officials said the attack took place near Ahmad Wal, suggesting it was the first ever known strike in the vast southern province of Balochistan, where the insurgency’s “Quetta Shura” leadership council is thought to be based, and one of very few to target a senior member of the Afghan Taliban.
The drones were described as having been piloted by US special forces – suggesting it was not a CIA operation, as is usually the case with attacks inside Pakistan. [Continue reading…]
Express Tribune reports: Pakistan on Sunday denounced the US drone strike believed to have killed the Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour as a violation of its air space and said only negotiations could bring a lasting peace to Afghanistan.
The statement, issued by the Foreign Office late Sunday, said one of the victims of the attack was a driver named Muhammad Azam while the identity of the second “is being verified”.
“On late Saturday 21st May, 2016, the United States shared information that a drone strike was carried out in Pakistan near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area,” in which Mansour was targeted, it said.
“This information was shared with the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff after the drone strike.”
The statement denounced the drone attack as a “violation of [Pakistan’s] sovereignty, an issue which has been raised with the United States in the past as well.”
It said that a four-country group comprising the United States, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan last met on Wednesday to discuss ways to restart stalled peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban and that the group had collectively decided “a politically negotiated settlement was the only viable option for lasting peace in Afghanistan”. [Continue reading…]
Check out my study on why killing the leaders of militant groups like the Taliban make them even more extreme: https://t.co/1QWOmFflee.
— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) May 22, 2016
The Guardian reports: Because US drone strikes are cloaked in secrecy, occur in remote or dangerous locales and target people presumed to be terrorists, Americans rarely hear from survivors or their relatives. But a theme emerges in interviews the Guardian has conducted with more than half a dozen drone survivors: the pain from the strike never ends, as the apparatus of secrecy renders closure unobtainable.
According to six people in Pakistan and Yemen who have lost their brothers, sons and grandparents to drone strikes, the strike lasts a moment and the consequences last a lifetime. Most of them have never told their stories to an American reporter. Some of them have theories about whom the US was targeting, while others are left guessing. The interviews were facilitated by the human rights group Reprieve and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights and conducted in translation.
The people are left impoverished, anguished and infuriated. Justice, let alone apologies, never arrive, even as a modest amount of blood money flows from the local governments. The United States, which styles itself a force for justice in the world, is to them the remote force that introduced death into their lives and treats them like they are subhuman, fit only to be targeted. At any moment, they fear, another drone could come for them.
The White House has said it will soon release of a tally of drone deaths. Relatives of the dead and survivors of the attacks expect little of it to include the truth, and doubt it will lead to the public apologies they desire – particularly since a senior aide to Barack Obama recently told the Atlantic that the president “has not had a second thought about drones”.
The CIA would not comment for this piece. An Obama administration official said: “It is certainly not the case that lives of a certain nationality are more valuable to us than those of any other. What is true, however, is that the president has said … that the American people need information to hold their government accountable. That is in part why we have been especially transparent when it comes to the deaths of US citizens.”
Nabila’s father, and Mamana’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, took a different view. “If America kills any westerner, one of their own, white people, they apologize and compensate. But if it’s Pakistanis like us, they don’t care. In my opinion, America treats us worse than animals.” [Continue reading…]
Once upon a time, if a war was going to destroy your world, it had to take place in your world. The soldiers had to land, the planes had to fly overhead, the ships had to be off the coast. No longer. Nuclear war changed that equation forever and not just because nuclear weapons could be delivered from a great distance by missile. To use a term that has become commonplace in our world when discussing commerce, the prospect of nuclear conflict has globalized war and it’s a nightmare of the first order.
In the post-Cold War world, Exhibit A in that process would certainly be the unnerving potential for a nuclear war to break out between India and Pakistan. As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author most recently of The Age of Aspiration: Money, Power, and Conflict in Globalizing India, makes clear today, there is no place on the planet where a nuclear war is more imaginable. After all, those two South Asian countries have been to war with each other or on the verge of it again and again since they were split apart in 1947.
Of course, a major nuclear war between them would result in an unimaginable catastrophe in South Asia itself, with casualties estimated at up to 20 million dead from bomb blasts, fire, and the effects of radiation on the human body. And that, unfortunately, would only be the beginning. As Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon wrote in Scientific American back in 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani arsenals were significantly smaller than they are today, any major nuclear conflagration in the region could hardly be confined to South Asia. The smoke and particulates thrown into the atmosphere from those weapons would undoubtedly bring on some version of a global “nuclear winter,” whose effects could last for at least 10 years, causing crop shortfalls and failures across the planet. The cooling and diminished sunlight (along with a loss of rainfall) would shorten growing seasons in planetary breadbaskets and produce “killing frosts in summer,” triggering declines in crop yields across the planet. Robock and Toon estimate that “around one billion people worldwide who now live on marginal food supplies would be directly threatened with starvation by a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.”
To say the least, it’s a daunting prospect at the very moment when the Obama White House has just ended the president’s final Nuclear Security Summit with fears rising that Pakistan’s new generation of small, front-line tactical nuclear weapons are “highly vulnerable to theft or misuse.” Hiro, an expert on the South Asian region, suggests just why a nuclear war is all too conceivable there and would be a catastrophe for us all. Tom Engelhardt
The most dangerous place on Earth
A nuclear Armageddon in the making in South Asia
By Dilip Hiro
Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades, the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It’s possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might — given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors — lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration. In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on “nuclear winter” on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension.
Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era.