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Posts Tagged ‘ISI’

The Weekly Pah-kee-stuhn Musings

NYT/AP. Gilani: I should just Expecto Patronum all of you! All of you! Kayani: Oh God.

The problem with blogging about Pakistan is that there’s no dearth of topics and issues to write about. Turning on the television hits you with drama, intrigue, and conspiracy theories as caricatures scream in vain and to no one in particular.

And that’s just on our news channels.

Rather than be overwhelmed by the multitude of things I could write about, and hence, um, not actually write anything, I decided to spare you the excuses and just package them as a list. With a bow. And a rainbow. You’re welcome.

1. Gilani went all Jadoogar on the military. If you don’t know why Harry Potter should be jealous of Gilani Sahib, check out this past post. This week, media outlets and Twitter feeds alike were abuzz after Prime Minister Gilani fired Pakistan’s Defense Secretary [retired] General Lodhi. (Poof! He was gone. Jadoogar! Ooh!) According to media outlets, the controversy resulted from Lodhi’s statements during his Memogate investigation, claiming the Ministry of Defense (MOD) had no control over the ISI or Pakistan military.

Not surprisingly, coup rumors were abound after said news went public, as the Express Tribune reported Gilani allegedly made a “panicky” phone call to a British diplomat to support the PPP government. The British Foreign Secretary appealed for calm today, urging that all parties respect “the constitution and help ensure stability.” So military coup in the making? The jury’s still out, but I highly doubt it given the proximity (hopefully) to elections as well as the military’s own capacity to perform a coup. Al Jazeera English quoted analyst Moeed Pirzada who further iterated, “The Pakistani military is not the political player it used to be. It knows it’s not in a position to capture political power in Islamabad … not with the Supreme Court being the biggest impediment.”

But why such a high octave of rumors now? There are obviously many reasons, but one factor [purposefully?] upping the notch is…

2. The controversy known as #Memogate. Gah. I recently wrote about the first iteration of the Memogate scandal here, when Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that he was asked by [now former] Amb. Haqqani to pass a memo to former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, asking for help in reigning in Pakistan’s military establishment. The military, particularly COAS Kayani & ISI chief Pasha claim there is truth to the document & urged the judiciary to investigate its origins. Gilani claimed that Kayani & Pasha were violating the Constitution by submitting statements to the Supreme Court. ISPR responded by calling Gilani’s statements false and could have “very serious ramifications.” Gilani responded by saying the Army’s statements were – wait for it – released with his consent, i.e. “Just kidding, guys! I totes let the Army make allusions to a military coup, that would hence usurp my power!” Hee! [Note: read this great piece by Mohammed Hanif on how the military uses rumors over force.]

As the three-member judiciary panel gears up to for the memo inquiry this coming Monday, “A separate bench of the Supreme Court is scheduled to convene that day to hear the government’s explanation for failing to comply with earlier court orders to reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari,” noted the NY Times. Raza Rumi said it well when he noted, “The real threat for the government is a proactive Supreme Court which has taken a serious notice of noncompliance with its orders. The civilian government is stuck between two powerful institutions, which are no longer comfortable with business as usual.”

The ironic thing, though, is that this cacaphony still is business as usual. Politicians are not the only players who reign over politics, they are joined and often challenged by the judiciary and the military. This politicized warring, this blurring between the lines, mean we are also distracted from *real* issues like…

3. The Gas Shortage. Hello, McFly! The gas crisis in Pakistan isn’t so much a shortage as much as it’s the result of horrendous management. Or as Khurram Hussain noted in his piece for Express, it’s the result of an addiction. As CNG stations ran short on fuel and/or shut down in the country, protests broke out as people voiced their discontent. The gas shortage became visual as you would drive past rows of cars waiting at the CNG stations. But beyond the lines, beyond the protests, the crisis goes much deeper. Take away gas, and citizens are immobilized. They can’t drive their cars, they can’t take buses to get to work, they can’t cook their food. This has impacted industries, where, in Punjab, rows of factories have had to shut down. It’s affected jobs and livelihoods. In my opinion, that more than coup rumors is worrisome.

Also while you were watching Memogate

4. The Saleem Shahzad Report came out. And it was inconclusive. The Pakistani journalist was abducted, tortured and found dead outside Islamabad last year, two days after his report on connections between Al Qaeda and the Pakistan Navy was published. Although several facts pointed to an alleged connection to the ISI, the Saleem Shahzad Commission did “not hold any institution or individual responsible for his death,” instead blaming “belligerents” for the incident. Given this lack of accountability, it’s no wonder the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) once again said Pakistan was, for the second year in a row, the most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist. CPJ’s Bob Dietz told AJE,

[The media in Pakistan is] free and vibrant, but let me qualify that with saying that they are under tremendous amounts of pressure from all sides. There’s been a lot of emphasis on intelligence services attacking journalists, but the fact, if you look at the journalists slain in the last few years, is that the ISI is only one of the actors that is putting pressure on journalists, threatening them and responsible for their deaths as well.

The news about Pakistan is, as always, eventful. The negative developments couched in this list are a reflection of the ground reality, but they are also a snapshot of what’s in the news. My work convinces me every day that Pakistan is a country with tremendous potential that has been horrifically managed. We are the victims of poor leadership, institutions that care more about pointing fingers outwards than looking inward, and a number of inefficiencies in our national value chain. Peel back that rotten layer, and you see the positive stories of opportunity, innovation, and energy. It may not completely overcome the bad, but it’s enough to be the silver lining. At least in my opinion.

And if you ever need further proof of change, check out this preview for Pakistan’s Next Top Model (PNTM). Because nothing says “Pakistanis, they’re just like us! Yay!” quite like reality television franchises & model wannabes smizing. What ups, #FAT (Fashion Against the Taliban).:

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Under Pressure (Sing It, Queen)

Via NY Times/Associates Press

On Tuesday, the NY Times came out with a punchy, no-holds-barred piece, reporting that Obama administration officials believe that the ISI was behind journalist Saleem Shahzad‘s death last month.

Wait. What’s that you say, Captain Obvious? We’ve been saying that for the past month? Oh.

Well, there’s no evidence like new evidence (*jazz hands*). The NY Times cited new intelligence obtained before Shahzad’s May 29th disappearance, showing that senior ISI officials had “directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism.” Administration officials, who said the evidence was reliable and conclusive, stated that the ISI’s actions were “unacceptable and barbaric.” Another official told the NYT, “There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this.”

A TIME piece Tuesday further explored the ISI-related development, discussing how journalists like Najam Sethi and Ejaz Haider heavily criticized the military/ISI for their alleged role in Shahzad’s torture and subsequent murder. In the article,  Omar Waraich wrote, “The ISI denies that it ever threatened Shahzad or was involved in the kidnapping or killing of the journalist. The ISI has contacted Sethi, Haider and other journalists whom it feels have unfairly represented the spy agency.” Sethi told TIME, “For what I’ve been saying since the bin Laden raid, I have incurred the wrath of the ISI. The agency has officially expressed its anger and annoyance and irritation.”

This “wrath” could even turn into a court case, noted Waraich. A lawyer who served as deputy attorney general under Gen. Musharraf, Sardar Muhammad Ghazi, has filed a 20-page petition against Sethi, Haider, and Hamid Mir, telling TIME, “These people are criticizing my armed forces. They sit and castigate the army. I can’t tolerate it. There should be somebody who should come forward and say the media should be controlled.” Waraich added,

In the petition, he accuses Sethi, Haider and Mir of being “out to promote the foreign agenda to destabilize and denuclearize Pakistan.” He alleges that the journalists are intent on allowing India to “expand [its] boundaries” and are influenced by the American, Indian and Israeli intelligence agencies.

So apparently anyone who questions the actions of the state are conspirators to the Zionist/RAW/American degree? Somehow this does not surprise me.

What does infuriate me is the subsequent pressure (Waraich noted that one pro-army website even superimposed the star of David on Haider’s forehead to brand him as an Israeli agent) on journalists and figures willing to ask questions. The elements behind these tactics know very well that the aforementioned journalists aren’t foreign agents, evil mouthpieces for evil enterprises. But they’re manipulating the masses who feast madly on the coattails of conspiracy theories. They’re leveraging the anti-[insert here] sentiment that already pervades the atmosphere, framing the nationalist narrative as “with us-or-against us.” Poison lurks in that kind of polarization. For a nation crippled by the alleged transgressions of our security apparatus, this type of thinking gets us nowhere.

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WTF.

Darling readers, I apologize for the lack of consistent blogging on my end (though twice a week is still pretty good, I say!). I am in the process of launching my start-up company this Fall, so life has been a little manic. I do still read the news and opine to self about things that piss me off. Which is a lot. But because snorting and laughing snarkily to self is lonely (and not as self-indulgent as self would like), I give you yet another WTF list – this time the WTF CRAP (i.e., WTF is wrong with people?!) and WTF YAH (i.e., WTF this is awesome! Yay! Puppies!). Because there are always happy things to WTF about too:

 THE WTF CRAP LIST:

WTF-C #1: The ISI arrested five Pakistani informants who fed information to the CIA in the months leading up to the Osama bin Laden raid, reported the NY Times this week. So…they…um…arrested the guys who helped in the capture of OBL? Somewhere out there (hopefully not on a compound in the Islamabad suburb known as Abutababa), new Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is cackling gleefully. #FacePalm.

WTF-C #2: SPEAKING OF MILITANTS LIVING IN ISLAMABAD’S SUBURBS (Curse you Wolf Blitzer! You haz tainted ma city’s suburbz 4 life!), AFP (via Dawn) reports that Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, the head of Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is sitting pretty in a “suburb” of Islamabad, Golra Sharif. Given that many of these militants also sit pretty all over the country (hey, Bravo, new reality show deal?), this is massively disturbing but not surprising. Dawn reported, “The Pakistani senior government official who spoke with AP said Khalil has been arrested twice but each time was released on orders from Pakistan’s intelligence agency.” WTF.

WTF-C #3: Pakistan seems to top every freaking list these days (even the #1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches, you can’t make this stuff up). A recent Thompson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Pakistan as the third most dangerous place in the world for women. Granted, this was a poll about perceptions, but the fact that 90% of women in Pakistan experience domestic violence in their lifetime is a very depressing statistic indeed.

WTF-C #4: In some non-related Pakistan news, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned from office today after being tangled in a “lewd” sexting scandal. According to news agencies, Weiner engaged in “‘inappropriate conversations’ with six women over the last three years, including on Facebook, e-mail, Twitter and on the phone with one of the women.” During his resignation speech, in which Weiner “apologized for the mistakes he had made,” reporters cheered, they heckled, and one dude even yelled, “Are you bigger than seven inches?!” Oh dear. Why.

THE WTF YAH LIST (Because some news is fun!):

WTF-Y #1: Speaking of resignations (or things related), Jane Perlez reported this week in the NY Times that COAS Gen. Kayani “is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers” following the OBL raid. Perlez noted, “The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the Corps Commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans.” So an inter-military coup? Who knows. But until then, we can thoroughly enjoy the hilarity of “What Kayani Whispered,” an assortment of awesome photos with even more awesome captions:

Via What Kayani Whispered

WTF-Y #2: I would make a terrible rapper. This is because I sound like a Dr. Seuss rhyme when I try. (And then I wore a hat/Shaped like a cat/Where’s my bat?/Boiii) This is why I massively respect people who can rap extremely ridiculously well. Like Adil Omar. I first interviewed the rapper from Islamabad two years ago, (when he was just 17 years old), and he recently released a new music video featuring Xzibit (Yes. THAT Xzibit) and directed by Matt Alonzo (who did “Like a G6″) called, “Off the Handle.” Watch the video below and download the song here:

WTF-Y #3: The Unreasonable Institute, an accelerator program for high-potential social entrepreneurs, launched its new summer of fellows a few days ago. Saba Gul, the co-founder and executive director of BLISS (Business & Life Skills School) is at this year’s Institute, representing her amazing social enterprise, which empowers adolescent girls in rural Pakistan through education and entrepreneurship. BLISS was also just featured on NBC Nightly News, see here. Congrats and good luck at Unreasonable, Saba!

WTF-Y #4: Nothing makes me happier (or yell WTF-Yah!) than Coke Studio, which just premiered its fourth season in Pakistan. The immensely popular show, which “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music,” already has a number of memorable songs and collaborations, including Kangna. But while I will always love Coke Studio, I have also been loving another initiative, Levi’s Original songs, particularly this gem by The Strings & Zoe Viccaji:

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RIP Saleem Shahzad

Source: Washington Post

On Sunday, Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad  went missing in Islamabad. Yesterday, news agencies reported that Shahzad’s body was found about 93 miles southeast of the capital, in Sira-e-Alamgir. In the aftermath of this tragic and shocking death, the question, Who killed Saleem Shahzad? continues to echo in the halls of the blogosphere and news outlets. While nothing is certain, many fingers are squarely pointed at the ISI.

Let’s review the details.

Shahzad, a journalist for the Asia Times Online and Italian news agency Adnkronos International, went missing just two days after his report on the connections between Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Navy was published. Omar Waraich reported in TIME,

[the story said that]…Al Qaeda had attacked a naval base [PNS Mehran] in the port city of Karachi on May 22 after talks had broken down between the Pakistan navy and the global terrorist organization. In his report, Shahzad claimed that Al Qaeda had carried out the attack in retaliation for the arrest of naval officials suspected of links with the terrorist group.

Waraich reported that Shahzad was allegedly abducted by intelligence agents in Islamabad while he was on his way to Dunya News channel to discuss the findings in this aforementioned report. The next morning, Ali Dayan Hasan from Human Rights Watch, received a call from the journalist’s wife who said Shahzad told her to call Hasan “in case anything happens to him.” Hasan told the AFP,

The other day he visited our office and informed us that ISI had threatened him. He told us that if anything happened to him, we should inform the media about the situation and threats. We can form an opinion after the investigation and a court verdict, but… in the past the ISI has been involved in similar incidents.

On Monday, Hasan said he was “informed by reliable interlocutors” who had received “direct confirmation from the [ISI]” that they had, in fact, detained Shahzad, but that he was supposed to return home Monday night. According to TIME, Hasan said, “The relevant people were informed that his telephone would be switched on first, enabling him to communicate with his family… They were told that he would return home soon after.”
Obviously, Shahzad did not return home. His body was found about 100 miles from his abdandoned car, his face “severely beaten” and “showing signs of torture,” reported news agencies.
His death further highlights the dangers facing journalists in Pakistan, who are often caught between intelligence agencies and militant groups. Huma Imtiaz wrote in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel yesterday,
Journalists are picked up when they are driving down the streets, whether in the capital Islamabad or a village, and eventually  are dropped off — tortured in the case of Umar Cheema, who was abducted by security agencies after he filed a series of reports on the Pakistani military — or killed, as in the case of Hayatullah Khan, whose body appeared after he tried to cover a reported U.S. missile strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Khan’s assassins have never been found.

As a result, she noted, many “journalists end up censoring themselves, fearful of the either verbal or physical repercussions. In some cases, when journalists do file reports, channels refuse to air them — again, fearful of upsetting the men in Rawalpindi.”

Although PM Gilani ordered an inquiry into the kidnapping and murder, and pledged that the perpetrators would be “brought to book,” let’s be honest. How can you feasibly hold men accountable to the law if they see themselves above the law? We are from a country where the right arm of the state very rarely knows what the left is doing, where agencies would rather protect their assets than their citizens. Accountability is not part of our vernacular, it’s the dirt we shove shamefully beneath the carpet. Better to live in a world of delusional grandeur, we say. Better to expose our neighbor’s faults than examine our own.

My sister is a journalist. She often notes that the instinctive human reaction to a disaster, attack or bomb blast is to run away. Journalists function counter-intuitively. They run towards the chaos. They put the story before their own lives. Their courage and commitment are often why citizens can be more informed participants in the conversation, why we have the ammunition to ask the questions that should be asked. Saleem Shahzad’s death was an enormous loss for a community of journalists who will continue to report in the face of censorship, harassment, and violence. It was an enormous loss for us all. RIP.

Some relevant pieces worth reading:

  • “Criticizing Pakistan’s Military,” a Q&A with Asma Jehangir, NPR
  • “One Saleem Shahzad’s Brutal Murder & the Military,” Kala Kawa
  • “Pakistan Journalist Dead: Another One Bites the Dust,” Five Rupees
  • “Who Killed Saleem Shahzad,” Daily Beast
  •  “My Courageous Friend and Colleague,” Dawn
  • “Death of a Journalist. Warning to a Nation,” ATP

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Awesome.

Well friends, it appears after years of searching for Osama bin Laden, the hunt is over. Caput. Capiche. Ding dong the Wicked Witch is dead. Three cheers for freedom. The war is over.

Not so fast.

America may have pulled the trigger on the iconic OBL, but the “War on Terror” is not over. Tuck the #Winning hash tag and vat of tiger blood away for now, and let’s back track.

OBL, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and head of Al Qaeda, was not, contrary to public opinion, hiding in a cave in the mountains along the Afghanistan and Pakistan border. Oh no. He was killed in a well-secured compound in Bilal Town,  a residential area of  Abbottabad, Pakistan (which, despite what Wolf Blitzer will tell you on CNN, is not a suburb in Islamabad, it’s 150 km north of the capital). According to Al Jazeeera‘s Rosalind Jordan in Washington, the operation had been in the making for the last 9 or 10 months. President Obama said in his remarks Sunday night:

Last August…I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden.  It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground…finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability…After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

The Globe and Mail interviewed Abbottabad resident Esham ul Haq, who said he heard explosions and gunfire around 12:45 a.m. local time (PST) and the noises continued until about 2 a.m., followed by silence. Pakistani news agencies had also reported that “three loud blasts” were heard late that night near the Pakistani Military Academy Kakul Road and a military helicopter crashed. According to GEO News, heavy firing was reportedly heard before the crash.

Since news of the death broke, Express 24/7 confirmed that a team of four U.S. helicopters were sent to the area for the  40-minute-long operation. The LA Times cited U.S. officials, who said American operatives killed Osama bin Laden, his adult son and three others, including a woman used as a human shield during the firefight. Reports have not yet confirmed the whereabouts of AQ’s #2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. A senior intelligence official told the outlet, “In the end it was the matchless skill and courage of these Americans that insured the success of this operation.”

Therein lies a significant detail – no mention of Pakistan’s role in the operation, despite the Wall Street Journal citing a senior Pakistani official, who claimed the crashed helicopter belonged to our Army. Express 24/7 later reported that Pakistan’s military was not part of the nighttime operation, but noted that later, “Pakistani forces joined in.” President Obama, meanwhile, noted in his speech Sunday,

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was.  That is what we’ve done.  But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Currently, the details surrounding the death and the operation are still unraveling, and while I’m hesitant to make concrete conclusions at this time, I do think the lack of reported cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan for this operation is telling. First, the LA Times reports that Pakistani officials were not told beforehand about the operation. While this could be for a number of reasons, one possibility is the increasing trust deficit in U.S.-Pakistan relations, particularly on the intelligence front.  Another possibility is the fear that perceptions of U.S.-Pakistan joint operations could result in backlash for Islamabad, particularly given the anti-U.S. sentiment in the country.

The fact that our own officials have been vague for years on the hunt and capture of Osama bin Laden also raises a red flag, [see this past post on Qureshi's interview with Wolf Blitzer two years ago]. OBL wasn’t in a cave or in Afghanistan (as Karzai breathes a giant sigh of relief). He was in Abbottabad – for at least nine months (or via @DaveedGR for years) – living in a high-walled compound owned by a courier and his brother, two known bin Laden confidantes noted the LA Times. It was, noted the news agency, a property valued at $1 million “with extraordinary security features…Its 12 and 18-foot walls were topped with barbed wire. Internal walls provided extra security. It had no internet and telephone connection. And its resident burned their trash rather than dumping it.”

It was also located near a Pakistani military academy, which begs the question, was bin Laden hiding in the area because he was an ISI asset? Or did the Pakistani military know he was there and was helping U.S. forces monitor his presence? Did Pakistan know that the U.S. knew that they knew? The questions are endless and speculation is infinite.

At the end of the day, Osama bin Laden’s death, while deeply symbolic, will not greatly impact Al Qaeda’s tentacled wide network, [see Five Rupees' insight here]. U.S. military analyst Mark Kimmit told Al Jazeera, “We still have an Al Qaeda threat out there and that will be there for a number of years.” It will, however, add major boost to President Obama’s administration before his reelection campaign and invigorate millions around the world who have been impacted by the numbers of vicious AQ terror attacks throughout the years. All I can pray for is that more AQ attacks will not ensue in the wake of these developments.

P.S.: Obama’s remarks cut into Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. Poetic.

Whoops. (Via Newsweek)

You're fired.

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U.S.-Pakistan Intelligence Fall-out: Not So Groovy. Baby.

According to news outlets, “Pakistan has demanded that the U.S. steeply reduce the number of Central Intelligence Agency operatives and Special Operations forces working in Pakistan, and that it put on hold C.I.A. drone strikes aimed at militants in northwest Pakistan.”

Or as Jeremy Scahill (@jeremyscahill) tweeted, “You mean Pakistan tells the U.S. it must sharply reduce the number of times its operatives get caught.”

The demand is another sign of the unfolding fallout after the Raymond Davis debacle, and, as the NY Times noted, it signals “the near collapse of cooperation between the two testy allies.” Pakistan’s intelligence officials have asked about 335 American personnel – C.I.A. officers and contractors and Special Operations forces – to leave the country, about a 25 to 40 percent reduction in Pakistan’s U.S. presence.

The reductions were reportedly personally demanded by COAS Gen. Kayani, and were articulated during Pakistan’s intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Pasha‘s Monday meetings with CIA director Leon Panetta. According to New York Magazine, “The incident couldn’t have come at a worse time: The U.S. is frustrated at Pakistan’s seeming ineptness at tackling Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the region. And Pakistan is distrustful of Washington, believing American officials are only interested in stripping the country of its nuclear arsenal.” Just last week, the White House’s assessment of the U.S. Afghanistan/Pakistan policy was released, painting a grim picture about Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts. According to Dawn, “The report alleged that Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, continues to be the operational base of Al Qaeda and its affiliates threatening global peace.”

Pakistan has dismissed the report’s claims, but at least to the outside world, the strain between the two nations is clear. In fact, CNN noted that these aforementioned “strained” relations dominated Monday’s “frank” discussion between Panetta and Pasha, though officials later assured reporters that the meetings had been productive, and that the relationship between the two services “remains on solid footing.”

It seems that the U.S. is at least trying to placate some of Pakistan’s demands, with U.S. Ambassador Munter stating that Washington is now reconsidering its drone program, a comment he made not during his speech, but during the Q&A Monday. While Munter did not note a time line in the review of the drone program, he did say – pretty significantly – “We have habits and tendencies that don’t work for us and get in the way [of its relationship with Pakistan].”

The Ambassador also called for a renewal of ties, noting, “We’ve had some difficult days in the recent past.  But I’m here today to speak of opportunities in the future, not of problems of the past. Those problems have been acute in recent months, symbolized by the case of Raymond Davis.”

For those of you who think that the U.S. would actually halt the drone strikes in Pakistan – think again. As I’ve noted before, the drones are the best worst option to target militants that threaten U.S. interests. So a vague placation about a covert tactic that Pakistan has been very aware of should be taken with a grain of salt.

With intelligence relations, I always wonder how much of what is being said publicly truly reflects what is happening behind closed doors. Because let’s be honest – as much as the U.S. isn’t “happy” with Pakistan’s ability to battle Al Qaeda, Pakistan is, justifiably, pretty pissed off too. Even if Islamabad/GHQ have been complicit in the drone strike program and had knowledge of American personnel in the country, they don’t like being undermined in the eyes of their own population. Incidents like the Raymond Davis case and the March 17th drone strike that targeted a tribal jirga and killed large numbers of civilians and tribal fighters loyal to the Pakistani government in North Waziristan, are examples of that.

And for a report from the White House to claim that Pakistan is still not “doing enough,” despite the sustained deployment of 147,000 Pakistani troops and despite the numbers of Pakistani policemen, soldiers, and civilians that have lost their lives, comes across as callous, a far cry from “mutual respect and mutual understanding.”

After those debacles, our intelligence agency wants to be wooed. Some of the statements we’re seeing in the media or what is  really happening behind closed doors could be examples of that. But will we see any changes in U.S. policy vis-a-vis Pakistan? We’ll see about that.

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Image from UK Independent: Painting by Amina Janjua on Pakistan's Missing Persons

Guernica Magazine’s October issue has a really powerful piece about Pakistan’s missing persons, people who have disappeared  under the government label of “terrorism suspects” since the 9/11 attacks, (many from Balochistan). Guernica’s J. Malcolm Garcia wrote, “Guilt or innocence is not the issue. To impose terror on suspected terrorists, to maintain a grip on power, ah, now that is a strategy, eh?”

According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2010, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has estimated that 1,100 people “disappeared” under the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, a number that “is almost certainly an underestimate.” HRW added in its assessment, “The Zardari administration promised to resolve these cases, but it has made negligible progress. Pakistan has yet to sign the international treaty banning enforced disappearances.”

One man who disappeared in 2005 was Masood Janjua, the husband of Amina Janjua, a housewife-turned-activist, a woman who reportedly “took on” the government and the ISI to find and rescue her husband, subsequently inspiring others whose family members also disappeared under the Musharraf regime. Back in 2007, Frontline/World’s David Montero interviewed Janjua, who said, “When a person is desperate for their loved one, the person most dear to me, the person who I can’t live without…I have to give my life [to find him].” Guernica Magazine, in their piece, wrote,

More days passed [since Masood's disappearance]. The days turned into weeks, months, years. Still no Masood. Now forty-six, Amina alternates between fear, sadness, and puzzlement when she speaks of Masood’s five-year absence…But now instead of despair, a weary, hardened resolve to find him compels her. They had been married sixteen years when he went missing. Twenty-one years now, when she includes the five years he has been gone. She tries not to think what another five years will be like without him.

Montero spoke to former law minister Wasi Zafar in the aforementioned Frontline/World piece, “Pakistan: Disappeared.” Zafar told the PBS journalist, “If he’s a terrorist, he loses his rights…If in developed countries it can be done, then why not here?

Zafar’s statement begs the question – if someone is a suspected terrorist, does he (or she) have the right to a lawyer, to call their family? By virtue of still being a suspect, arbitrarily taking away these people’s rights before they have been proven guilty is and should be considered a violation of human rights, a fact that makes these suspects of terror and anti-state activities victims in the eyes of international law.

According to HRW, “In October 2009, the government amended the country’s anti-terrorism laws through presidential ordinance to further curtail the legal rights of terrorism suspects. Under the ordinance, suspects can be placed in ‘preventive detention‘ for a period of 90 days without benefit of judicial review or the right to bail.” The organization added, “Confessions made before the police or military are now deemed admissible as evidence despite the fact that torture by Pakistan’s police and the military’s intelligence services continues to be routine.”

Guernica’s piece is especially thought-provoking because it humanizes the many “persons” who have disappeared in Pakistan, some of whom lawyer Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui believes were “given over to U.S. authorities in exchange for cash and are held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.” Masood Janjua was a father and a husband, a man who went hiking and skiing “on a whim” with his family. Sheraz Arshad, the son of Mohammad Arshad, was an 18 year old who “smiled easily but shyly,” who wanted to join the army “for the opportunities an army career would present to a young man born in a humble village.”

Garcia noted one particular exchange between Amina, who now runs Defense of Human Rights, and a woman whose son disappeared:

If my son is alive, I want him here, and if he is dead, I want to know about his death, a woman dressed entirely in black tells Amina. Her son has been missing for a year. Amina holds her hand. We won’t complain to anyone if he’s dead, the woman says. We just want someone to tell us.

Though the numbers of people who have disappeared are often depicted as part of a faceless statistic, the testimonies of their families – their pain, their loss, and their struggle – should be a constant reminder of how very human this issue is, and what a gross violation of human rights is committed unabated on a regular basis within our own borders.

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"I'm not yo friend, buddy!" "I'm not yo buddy, guy!"

On Wednesday, news agencies reported that General David Petraeus, the new U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, is pushing to designate top leaders from the Haqqani Network as “terrorists.” According to the NY Times, “…Petraeus introduced the idea of blacklisting the group…late last week in discussions with President Obama’s senior advisers on Pakistan and Afghanistan.” The idea was first publicized by Senator Carl Levin on Tuesday, who just returned from Pakistan and Afghanistan. During a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Levin stated,

As a matter of fact, I think we have to include on the list other threats to the Afghan mission. We have to have, I believe, we should have on our list the headquarters of the Haqqani network. We know where they are. We know where that headquarters is… I don’t think they should be off-limits to those strikes. They directly threaten the Afghan mission.

Levin went on to add that he would pursue legislative action to ensure the Haqqani network was on the U.S. terror list, calling them “the greatest threat” to stability in Afghanistan, even more so than Taliban militants crossing the border into the country from Pakistan.

So what could this inevitably mean? Ding ding ding! More drone strikes and more pressure on Pakistan. Levin emphasized, “Can more be done? It has to be done by Pakistan, unless it is going to be done with drone attacks on their headquarters. More needs to be done by Pakistan. They have not gone into that area in North Waziristan where the Haqqanis are.”

The pressure on Pakistan to go into North Waziristan isn’t new; in fact, both the U.S. and Pakistan have been back-and-forth on this issue for months now. However, if Washington decides to rebrand [the top leaders of] the Haqqani network as “terrorists,” it does send a very clear message, especially amid reports that Pakistan’s military/ISI have begun trying “to seed a rapprochement between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Haqqani network,” (COAS Gen. Kayani has denied facilitating secret meetings between the two parties). The message – the U.S. may support Kabul’s Taliban reconciliation program, but leaders of the Haqqani network will not be included in this arrangement.

This may lead to interesting ramifications for Pakistan’s strategic depth ambitions, an effort to hedge India‘s influence in Afghanistan. The less-than-ambivalent term “terrorist” not only shifts the tone from Washington, it also leaves little breathing room for Pakistan. Terrorist/Terrorism labels aren’t light designations in this post-9/11 era, and it will be interesting to see how Pakistan responds. If the military doesn’t go into North Waziristan, will that lead Washington to feel more “justified” in increasing drone strikes in the region? (For coverage of the legal justification of drone strikes, see here.)

Watching these developments play out are akin to a complex chess game. Whose move is it next?

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The Waldman ISI-Taliban Report

Reuters Image

A report by London School of Economics has garnered a stream of news attention since its release yesterday, as well as some choice headlines, (The Sunday Times piece had my personal favorite headline, “Pakistan Puppet Masters Guide the Taliban Killers.” Seriously.) The report, written by Matt Waldman, a fellow at Harvard University, ultimately claims that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, has a direct link with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

However, unlike past assertions that “rogue elements” within the ISI were supporting the Taliban, Waldman instead argues that “this is a significant underestimation of the current role of the ISI in the Afghan insurgency.” According to Taliban commanders he interviewed, the ISI’s powerful role with the organization is “as clear as the sun in the sky.” He wrote,

The Taliban-ISI relationship is founded on mutual benefit. The Taliban need external sanctuary, as well as military and logistical support to sustain their insurgency; the ISI believes that it needs a significant allied force in Afghanistan to maintain regional strength  and ‘strategic depth’ in their rivalry with India.

I won’t go into an exhaustive post about the report, because frankly, it does point to assertions and suspicions that have been discussed and widely acknowledged for years – namely, that the ISI has supported insurgent fighters to fight proxy wars against India (Lashkar-e-Taiba for one), and the agency wants to maintain “strategic depth” in Afghanistan because of rising Indian influence in the country. For both the ISI and the Pakistani military, India is and always has been Enemy Number One. And while the military has gone against the “Pakistani Taliban,” militants that have been targeting the state and Pakistani citizens, a similar operation against the “Afghan Taliban,” (the Haqqani Network, Hekmatyar) has not exactly materialized, despite U.S. pressures.

But does this mean that the ISI-Taliban link is part of an “officially sanctioned policy”? Even Waldman isn’t 100% sure.

  1. While Waldman cites numerous academics and analysts (including Steve Coll, Ahmed Rashid, Bruce Reidel, and Seth Jones) to back his claims, his conclusions are essentially grounded in interviews  in or near Kabul and Kandahar, from February-May 2010, with nine insurgent field commanders, ten former senior Taliban officials, twenty-two Afghan elders, tribal leaders, politicians and analysts; and thirteen foreign diplomats, experts and security officials. Interestingly, Waldman did not interview any former or current officials on the Pakistani side. As a result, the report is admittedly one-sided, with claims corroborated by numerous insurgents but not by any ISI agents or even anonymous sources “close to the ISI.”
  2. In the report, Waldman prefaces his own claims numerous times, even noting, “Given that the ISI and its operations are by their nature secret, the findings described below are based on interviews and cannot by conclusively verified.” Throughout the paper, the Harvard fellow consistently hedges his findings, using terms like, “apparently” and “appears” and stated on page 11, “It should be borne in mind that insurgents may seek to shift the blame for some of their most egregious activities, such as the execution of elders or attacks on schools; they may misapprehend and overstate ISI power; or they may in fact be in a state of denial.”
  3. In an interview with Al Jazeera English, when probed by the anchor on what direct evidence he had to make such comments on an official ISI policy, Waldman answered, “Well of course Pakistan’s intelligence is not going to leave any evidence around…[but] the pressure and dependence [of these insurgents] on the ISI explains why they confided” in him for this report.

Here’s an interesting question – are insurgent commanders and militants qualified to make grand conjectures about an intelligence agency’s “officially sanctioned” policy? Are they legitimate sources for a report of this kind, that is ultimately making very serious allegations against not just the ISI, but also President Zardari? If such claims and statements were corroborated by sources within the ISI or close to the agency, such a report could be very credible. But as Huma Imtiaz noted for the AfPak Channel, “reports like Waldman’s must be read with a grain of salt” even if it tackles many of the suspicions we all continue to have.

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AFP/Getty Image

According to a senior unnamed official from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence yesterday, Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is actually alive. According to the Guardian, “Mehsud was reported to have died in a CIA drone strike in South Waziristan in January but, although Pakistan’s interior minister claimed he had been killed, the death was never confirmed by either U.S. or Pakistani intelligence.” Yesterday, the anonymous official told reporters he had seen video footage of the missile attack on Mehsud “but other intelligence had since confirmed the insurgent leader survived.” He noted, “He is alive. He had some wounds but he is basically OK.” Dawn quoted him stating further, “It was just a miracle that only one person escaped that attack, and he was Hakimullah Mehsud. Miracles do happen.”

Reuters also quoted the ISI official, who emphasized, “Initially, our intelligence in the field suggested that he was killed from the wounds he sustained in the strike but we have made checks and our intelligence has now concluded that he was wounded, not dead. It’s all based on intelligence.”

Seriously, am I taking crazy pills here? Back in January, reports of Hakimullah’s death, though not officially confirmed, were legitimized by numerous sources. For example, a local government official, citing paramilitary sources, told CNN that Mehsud was seriously injured and subsequently moved to the Orakzai region, where he died and was buried more than a week ago, a story that was then confirmed by Pakistan’s state-run television, PTV. And, although the Taliban never confirmed Hakimullah’s death (they did, in comparison, eventually confirm Baitullah‘s death), news agencies did report that at least three other Taliban sources and a government official confirmed the report, though these sources differed when he died.

What’s interesting is that even though there was a degree of certainty in past media reports about Hakimullah’s death, news agencies are now all pointing to why this could never have been true. According to numerous outlets, including Dawn and BBC News, the reasons were: (1) There was no leadership challenge to replace Hakimullah, and (2) there was no martyrdom video or official announcement of his death posted on jihadi websites or released to media outlets (a cell phone video of Baitullah’s body, in comparison, was aired on Pakistani television).

Unnamed ISI officials now indicate Hakimullah has become less effective in the hierarchy of the Pakistani Taliban, and that Waliur Rehman (who was reportedly Hakimullah’s rival in the leadership dispute following Baitullah’s death) and Qari Hussain (the suicide bomber recruiter) are now the most powerful commanders.

The story is so convoluted that it lends itself to a number of questions: First, if previous intelligence pointed to Hakimullah’s death, how can we have any faith that today’s intelligence indicating he’s alive is any better? Anonymous officials throwing around statements like, “Miracles do happen” and “It’s all based on intelligence,” do nothing but undermine the state apparatus providing this so-called intelligence. Given that getting information independently from FATA is virtually impossible and almost always devolves into a he said-(s)he said debate, media agencies can only speculate on the credibility of the stories they receive. Finally, if Hakimullah’s role is now irrelevant within the TTP command, what good does it do to confirm that he is alive three months later? Why now?

Developments like these only further expose how little we know about this entire situation, and that deaths of top leaders don’t necessarily impact the overarching TTP command. At the end of the day, though, we should treat every revelation with cautious skepticism, remembering that we still have the ability to reason, rationalize, and question. Even if it’s only speculation, we don’t have to swallow everything with doe-eyed naivete.

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