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Who Watches the Watchmen?

Photo: NYT/AP

In last week’s Economist, an article delved into the increased use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – also known more colloquially as drones – in present-day warfare. As The Global Post noted in their related series, “The Drone Wars are the new black.”

What was once a super sleuth secret weapons program by the U.S. government is now openly referenced by the likes of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who recently said, “Having moved from the CIA to the Pentagon, obviously I have a hell of a lot more weapons available to me in this job than I had in the CIA, although the Predators weren’t bad.”

Good one Leon. Not so “secret” anymore!

During his tenure as the former director of the CIA, Panetta “oversaw a dramatic increase” of drone strikes. Since becoming president, Barack Obama has intensified the number of drone strikes in Pakistan, from one every 40 days under the Bush administration to one strike every four days. The Economist reported,

John Brennan, Mr Obama’s counter-terrorism chief, has made it clear that as America draws down its forces in Afghanistan over the next three years, there will be no let up in drone strikes, which, he claims, are partly responsible for al-Qaeda being “on the ropes”. The grim Reaper’s ability to loiter for up to 24 hours, minutely observe human activity from five miles above while transmitting “full motion video” to its controllers and strike with pinpoint accuracy has made it the essential weapon in America’s “long war”.

According to U.S. officials, the rationale for an increased usage of UAVs is obvious – the drones allow reach into places where U.S. boots cannot. They also can hit very specific targets – or at least they’re supposed to, the numbers are hotly disputed. While the U.S. government claims that the drone program [which, besides Pakistan, operate in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq] is a success, “claiming that out of the more than 2,000 people thought to be killed so far, all but 50 were militants,” the number of civilian casualties has been contested. According to analysis conducted by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann from the New America Foundation, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 is about 32 percent, versus the 25 percent cited by government calculations.

Via the Economist.

The recent death of Al Qaeda militant [and U.S. citizen] Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in a September 30th drone strike as well as the number of civilian casualties lends itself to an interesting and pertinent discussion. From a legal perspective, drones sit in an uncomfortably gray area. U.S. officials, not surprisingly, will tell you that drone strikes are perfectly within the parameters of international law. U.S. Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh has stated (via the Global Post),

It is the considered view of this Administration … that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war … the United States is in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law. As a matter of domestic law, Congress authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force through the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). These domestic and international legal authorities continue to this day.

But just who operates drones raises an issue as well. According to the Global Post, drones used by the military are considered an extension of armed conflict, and are therefore more likely to be deemed acceptable by international law standards. But what if the same system is deployed by the CIA to target a specific individual or group? What about the death of innocent civilians? Or U.S.-born citizens-turned-militants like Awlaki [btw, no love lost for Awlaki, but just raising the argument here]?

For me, the issue of drones goes beyond the issue of legality. It touches on the progression of warfare as a whole. Or whether morality, arguably the foundation of international law, is really being compromised in favor of the arbitrarily defined “greater good.” In an article by Barbara Ehrenreich for Guernica Magazine this past summer, she discussed how the emergence of a new kind of enemy – “non-state actors” – has partly contributed to a shift in how we combat war, namely with “robot”-like machines (including but not limited to drones). She wrote,

Video cameras, borne by drones, substitute for human scouts or information gathered by pilots. Robots disarm roadside bombs…today, the U.S. military has an inventory of more than 7,000 [UAVs], ranging from the familiar Predator to tiny Ravens and Wasps used to transmit video images of events on the ground. Far stranger fighting machines are in the works, like swarms of lethal “cyborg insects” that could potentially replace human infantry. These developments are by no means limited to the U.S.

This is not to say that human beings do not play a significant role in today’s conflicts. But is the “automation” of warfare something that should concern us? A guy sitting in Nevada operating a drone by a joystick may not feel the same gravity of war as a soldier fighting in the trenches. As we become more detached and more removed, are we losing touch with the humanity of warfare [and yes, that was an ironic statement, since many feel warfare is inhumane by nature]? Civilian casualties become dots on a computer screen, the collateral damage of the “best worst option.” Computer viruses affecting drones become a significant tool in cyber warfare. And we in turn become increasingly distanced from the reasons why we engage in conflict in the first place.

An interesting debate, nevertheless. Who does watch the watchmen?

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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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The WTF List

LOLCat says WTF.

 It’s Friday, (ok fine, early morning Saturday), so I thought it was high-time for some recent WTF-worthy stories:

  1. WTF #1: Wikileaks has partnered with Dawn Newspaper, India’s NDTV and the Hindu to release a new round of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Yikes. According to the cables, in 2008, COAS Gen. Ashfaq Kayani asked the U.S. to increase “Predator coverage” in South Waziristan to support Pakistan’s military operations in the tribal agency. Yes. He meant the drones. According to Dawn, which cited a report of a meeting between US CENTCOM Commander Admiral William J. Fallon and Kayani, Fallon “regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request” but said trained US Marines to could coordinate air strikes for Pakistani forces on ground. Kayani then “‘demurred’ on the offer, pointing out that having US soldiers on ground ‘would not be politically acceptable.’” Uh yeah.
  2. WTF #2: Also revealed via Wikileaks, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad recommended an increase in American military aid to Pakistan to address their “conventional disadvantage vis-a-vis India” in order to secure its cooperation in the war on terror. A year after the Mumbai attacks. Awkward.
  3. WTF #3: Meera strikes again! Our favorite Pakistani Lollywood actress and “layer” stars in a new reality show that premiered last night on Geo’s Entertainment channel. In Kaun Banega Meera Pati, aka the Pakistani Bachelorette, Meera will choose her future hubby from 13 candidates, and will reportedly get married by the 26th episode. I don’t know what’s worse – that there’s now a desi version of the Bachelorette (shoot me now), or that viewers have to wait 26 stupid episodes to watch Meera’s shaadi. Oh no jaani no.
  4. WTF #4: Former IMF managing director (and alleged rapist) Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from jail Friday after posting a $1 million bail and a $5 million bond. According to the NY Times, “He was taken to 71 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, a building that has rental apartments but is a bit of a comedown from the deluxe accommodations he had expected.” Here’s what I think – who gives an F what Strauss-Kahn thinks? The dude is an alleged rapist, a pervert, and a creep. His residence should be behind bars.
  5. WTF #5: Apparently the world is supposed to end today (May 21). Harold Camping’s prediction that Rapture (Judgment Day) would be May 21, 2011 has received unprecedented publicity and has led to a number of doomsday parties, entrepreneurs offering post-Rapture services, jokes, and heated debates on American news channels. And here I thought that Rapture was a new night club that just opened. Had I realized earlier, I would have eaten that damn cheeseburger at lunch. Sad Kalsoom.

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U.S. & Pakistan: I just can't quit you.

U.S. & Pakistan: I just can't quit you.

Amid reported tensions between Washington and Islamabad since the Osama bin Laden raid and kill, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said in statement this week,

Pakistan-U.S. relations should go forward on the basis of mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual interest.

But is the desire to mend these relations actually mutual? Just over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration remained “uncertain and divided” over their future relationship with Islamabad. One senior administration official told the media outlet, “You can’t continue business as usual. You have to somehow convey to the Pakistanis that they’ve arrived at a big choice. People who were prepared to listen to [Pakistan’s] story for a long time are no longer prepared to listen.”

But as much as U.S. senators question sending aid to Pakistan and toy with the carrots and sticks they keep lobbing that way, they ultimately don’t want to do too much to jeopardize that relationship. But not because it’s one based on mutual respect. It’s because it’s based on mutual BS. The U.S. has always viewed Pakistan as a strategic ally, while Pakistan has developed a cloying dependency on American aid. To call it mutual would be a fallacy. The current status quo in U.S.-Pakistan relations can best be described as transactional, opaque, and more often than not, hanging in the balance. Washington and Islamabad, as much as they’d really, really like to, just can’t quit each other.

U.S. - Pakistan Relations: Like Jenga!

During Senator John Kerry‘s visit to Islamabad this week, the lawmaker, dubbed by delusional Newsweek editors as the “Pakistan Whisperer,” made the grand gestures that meant almost nothing at all. According to the LA Times, Kerry delivered a very “stern message,” noting that Washington “would not tolerate Pakistan providing sanctuary to Al Qaeda and allied militant groups that target Western interests.” He said that both Washington and Islamabad had agreed to go against “high-value” targets.

But according to the Wall Street Journal today, the ISI is reportedly pressing the Haqqani network to join the nascent Afghan peace talks, mostly likely due to their desires for strategic depth in Afghanistan, as well as the network’s presence in North Waziristan. A Pakistani defense official told the WSJ that the Haqqanis can’t just be “taken out” like Al Qaeda operatives because they are part of the fabric of eastern Afghanistan and North Waziristan. He argued that the Haqqani network must be won over by talks, despite U.S. resistance to do so.

In light of this, can Washington and Islamabad genuinely work in each other’s mutual interest when much of their interests aren’t aligned?

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Deal or No Deal

What say you, Howie Mandel + Briefcase Ladies? Deal or No Deal?

It has been over a week since news broke that Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. operation in Abbottabad, and developments are still unfolding, tensions are still building, and we still are not quite sure what the hell is really going on.

On Monday, our illustrious PM Yousaf Raza Gilani made a speech before the Pakistani Parliament, strongly rejecting allegations of Pakistan’s complicity in hiding Osama bin Laden or incompetence in tracking him down. On the topic of what went wrong, Gilani did admit that there had been an intelligence failure, but refused to take sole responsibility, instead noting,  “It is not only ours but of all the intelligence agencies of the world.”

Good deflection, Jadoogar.

Gilani also used the speech as an opportunity to highlight the U.S. violation of Pakistani sovereignty, saying Pakistanis are “rightly incensed” about the covert U.S. operation on the country’s soil. He emphasized,

Abbottabad hosts a routine Military training institution, which does not require any elaborate special defence arrangement. There is no denying the US technological ability to evade our radars. We regret that this unilateral action was undertaken without our concurrence.

In several interviews post-raid, former President Pervez Musharraf came out as one of the most vocal critics of the U.S. operation, also calling it a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

But on May 9, the Guardian’s Declan Walsh reported that the U.S. and Pakistan had struck a deal in 2001 permitting a U.S. operation on Pakistani soil to go after Osama bin Laden. Walsh noted,

Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Al Qaeda No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.

A former senior U.S. official told the Guardian, “There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him. The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn’t stop us.”

Mushy! You got some ‘splaining to do!

Not surprisingly, Musharraf doth protested such reports. In an interview Wednesday, he told ABC News, “Never! And this is the assertion being cast by the Guardian and I rejected that. I condemn such an insinuation. There was no such deal.”

Interestingly, though, the Guardian wasn’t the only outlet to “cast such an assertion.” In the Friday Times last week, Ali Chishti alluded to something similar, when he quoted former intelligence chief Shah Mahboob Alam who also said, “The U.S. initiated a unilateral action based on an understanding with Pakistan from years ago.”

On Wednesday, Reuters cited more sources – current and former U.S. officials – who further said “the message that the United States would dispatch forces to go after bin Laden if it found him in Pakistan was repeatedly passed on to Pakistani authorities so that, at a minimum, Islamabad should have had no illusions about the U.S. position.”

So, deal or no deal?

It is no secret that Bush and Musharraf had a close relationship post-9/11 attacks.  In a joint statement between the two leaders in November 2001, they reaffirmed “the strength and vitality of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Pakistan,” with Musharraf welcoming Bush’s decision “to lift a number of economic sanctions that would allow for the resumption of cooperation with Pakistan.”

Mush: I got you, bra. Bush: Na, bra.

Unless Musharraf suddenly changes tact and admits to a deal (not likely) we really won’t be sure of anything, particularly if the “understanding” that was met was never put in writing. Nevertheless, given the U.S.-Pakistan history of covert deals (hello, drone strike policy), struck so that the U.S. can achieve their interests and the Pakistan state can pretend like they don’t know that we know, we can at least be justifiably suspicious.

The significant part of the deal-or-no-deal debate though, is how it has shifted our attention away from what’s really important; i.e., how the Pakistani military and our intelligence agencies either managed to allow one of the biggest intelligence failures to happen, or worse yet, how they managed to keep OBL hidden as their strategic interest for so long [read Shahid Saeed's piece at Dawn for words of wisdom as well as Chris Fair's piece for the AfPak Channel]. Forget holding the Pakistani military and ISI accountable to the Americans – hold them accountable to us, the Pakistani citizens, who bore the brunt of these misgivings.

As a nation, we often point fingers outwards instead of at ourselves. Conspiracy theories reign supreme. Political pot shots to garner votes and popularity are the norm. And amidst this circus, no one seems to give a damn about anyone but themselves. Pray tell, how can we hope for any progress if accountability is never even part of the vernacular?

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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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Bye Bye Raymond Davis

AP/NYT

The now infamous case of Raymond Davis ended Wednesday, when the American, who was indicted Tuesday for murder, was released after he reached a settlement to compensate the victims’ families. According to the NY Times, “After meeting with the American officials for more than six hours at the jail where the contractor, Raymond A. Davis, was held, the families accepted the money, ending the case.” According to Al Jazeera English’s Kamaal Hyder, under Sharia law, “when blood money does change hands and the family agree to drop charges, the court has no other option but to let the man go.”

Nevertheless, speculation is abound. Hyder, in his report, added, “But the family is not to be seen anywhere near their house, raising speculation that part of the deal was to settle the families in the U.S.” Moreover, according to the lawyers of the families, they were “forcibly taken to Kot Lakhpat Jail by unidentified men and made to sign papers pardoning Davis.” The lawyer, Asad Manzoor Butt, was quoted by the NY Times saying he was prevented from speaking to his clients all day and was warned not to speak to the news media.

Ultimately, though, the families did accept the blood money, or diyat, meaning that the courts had no choice but to release Davis. Punjab Law minister Rana Sanaullah told private television, “The family members of the slain men appeared in the court and independently verified they had pardoned [Davis].” And, while sources vary slightly on the blood money amount, (ABC News reported that $700,000 was paid to each family, totaling around $1.4 million, while Dawn reported the amount was $2.35 million), it is clear that this case is over. Raymond Davis has already left the country. The family, regardless of how they came to the agreement, accepted the settlement. The courts cannot do anything more, and frankly, neither can we.

Was this case shady? Of course. I have no doubt that there was some back-end wheeling and dealing by both U.S. and Pakistani officials to reach this conclusion. It was in the interest of the Pakistani government to not be seen as cow-towing to U.S. pressures to release Davis under diplomatic immunity. It was in the interest of the U.S. government to get Raymond Davis out, whatever the financial and diplomatic costs. So they both got their wish, didn’t they? Davis was indicted for murder charges yesterday, and he was swiftly released today after paying off the families of the men he killed in cold blood. But this was not justice, and really, it didn’t fool anyone. As Joshua Foust noted very succinctly at Registan,

What’s terrible about this outcome is, now there will be no justice in the Raymond Davis case. The best solution would have been for the Pakistani legal system to allow Davis to be extradited on the condition he be charged with murder in the U.S., and allow that trial to proceed away from the burning effigies and chants for his lynching. Unfortunately, both sides dug in their heels—first when Pakistan decided to reject the U.S.’s claims to Davis’ immunity, and then when President Obama called him “our diplomat in Pakistan” (which was clearly untrue). As both countries went further down these paths, the rhetoric became worse and worse until it seemed the two countries were heading toward a serious standoff. And now, since charges were brought and dropped, because the families of the victims have forgiven Davis, there will be no trial, and no justice.

So Raymond Davis is gone. But given the escalation of this case in the past month, I very much doubt the controversy will be completely over.

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Fox News #Fail

Silly Fox. Trix are for Kids.

Yesterday, Fox News proved yet again that it’s a credible (*cough*) news source by publishing a story they thought was real news. The article ran on the Fox Nation website with this title, “Pakistan: Islamic Clerics Protest Women Wearing Padded Bras as ‘Devil’s Cushions,’” noting (via Salon),

The Council of Islamic Ideology in Pakistan has protested the use of padded and colourful bras by Muslim women, and recommended that Pakistani Muslim researchers should try to invent an innerwear that makes female assets unnoticeable.

Really? Really? You not only thought that was a real news story, but you thought it important enough to feature on the main page of Fox Nation?! I know you think every Pakistani is a crazy fundo, Fox, but c’mon!

The bra story, which, very subtly, featured a picture of a padded bra, cited sify.com, which in turn linked to a “report” in Roznama Jawani, a satirical news site that features stories like, “Karachi Preparing a Huge Ass Bat to Beat the Sh** Out of Kamran Akmal” and “Nawaz Sharif Celebrates International Women’s Day – Looks into Getting a Boob Job.” In the bra story on the Roznama site, Zakir Naik, a supposed leading Islamic scholar, commented on the situation, noting “if the Pakistani government approves of the funding grant for this research and if Pakistan is successful at making such a bra that makes the chest of women unnoticeable, Pakistan might become the biggest exporter for Shariah compliant underwear.”

 

Via Roznama Jawani's Facebook page on the sub-page: Mankind-1 Fox News-0.

Fox Nation eventually realized their mistake (mental image of a flickering dim light bulb) and took the story down. But not before readers made a few more ignorant comments. Via Salon.com, one ‘louisiana_mom’ stated emphatically,

How can anyone in their right mind defend this religion/cult is beyond me. The silence of NOW and other women’s rights organizations speak volumes as to where their true loyalties are (and it is not for the rights for women). I cannot believe anyone in the 21st century would even entertain the thought of allowing Sharia Law into any Western county.

Oh dear God. Why are people so effing stupid?

I get it. Fox News is a joke of a news agency, so much so that they don’t even get jokes. But how hard is it to fact-check or even just click through a source’s website? If they did, they would even have seen this disclaimer:

The stories published in Roznama Jawani might only be applicable and true in another universe. That universe might be parallel to this universe. Might even be serial. Who knows?! Maybe some one does.

Roznama Jawani. Fox News approved.

(Thanks Misbah, aka, @miznaq for the story tip!)

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NYT/AP: Raymond Davis

Where to even begin with the Raymond Davis case?

In the last few weeks, tensions have escalated between the U.S. and Pakistan. The media has dubbed it “a diplomatic row,”  but even that phrase is a gross oversimplification of the situation, which is now a convoluted, complex mess. The center of the controversy is an American allegedly named Raymond Davis who, on January 27, killed two brothers in Lahore, who he claimed were trying to rob him at gunpoint.

But two things have come increasingly into question since the incident: (1) Davis’ self-defense plea and (2) Davis’ status in Pakistan.

Although Davis claimed he shot the men in self-defense – a statement supported by the State Department – a Pakistani police report said otherwise, concluding he was “guilty of murder.” According to the Washington Post, the five-page report cited investigators’ findings that Davis “shot each victim five times, including in their backs, and lied to police about how he arrived at the scene.”

Davis’ status in Pakistan, though, has become the central issue in this diplomatic storm. Although the United States insists Raymond Davis is an American diplomat, making his arrest a clear violation of diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, the details surrounding this status appear convoluted at best, fueling cries that he is in fact a private security contractor.

Soon after the shooting, Pakistani news channels broadcast what it says were images of Davis’ passport, seemingly absent of a diplomatic visa. Dunya News later televised a mobile phone video of his alleged interrogation by Punjab police, in which Davis told authorities that he was a “consultant” for the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. In the most recent and overblown claim, the Nation reported that Davis flew “into a fury” in jail upon hearing the azaan, the Muslim call to prayer. According to the article,

The inmates facing murder charges invariably display quite caution. American killer Raymond Davis, however, is a different species. Undeterred by the implications of his case, he lives in the jail the way he wants to…“Seeing four prisoners offering Asr prayers in the corridor of their barrack, Davis started grumbling in a derogatory way,” said Shah.

While Raymond Davis could very well be a private security contractor who was operating in Pakistan, (in fact, there is a lot of evidence suggesting he is, in fact, one), media coverage that further serves to demonize him is not productive. In fact, it has ultimately made Davis a caricature, a larger-than-life character who exacerbates the emotionalism that lies at the very root of this society. And, as the diplomatic tug-of-war has continued between the U.S. and Pakistan at the top, it has stoked anti-American sentiment and tensions at the local level. The Raymond Davis case has ultimately become so enormous that there is no painless conclusion.

However, here are a few observations:

  1. The Raymond Davis case highlights the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. This is a pretty obvious statement, but the threat by U.S. lawmakers that they would halt aid to Pakistan, as well as the recent statements by  PPP’s Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab (specifically that, Davis “enjoyed diplomatic immunity” and, “Why we are risking our overall good reputation before the rest of the world…America is the largest market for Pakistan, with whom we earn four billion dollars.”) further emphasize just how transactional that relationship truly is. As Raza Rumi noted, “We hate America but not American aid or arms.” Let’s face facts. We are not equal partners in our relationship with the United States. We have an American sugar daddy. And though money will certainly not buy you love (especially in Pakistan), it will definitely buy you a lot of dependency. Not a good thing.
  2. The case showcases the confusion and tenuous relations within and between political parties in Pakistan. Last week, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was dropped during the cabinet reshuffle reportedly “over his divergent opinion on the Raymond Davis issue,” when he said that Washington had pressured him for Davis’ release “but he had refused to comply on the basis that Davis is not a diplomat.” His statement led Wahab to question Qureshi’s loyalty and call for disciplinary action for humiliating party leadership. Another PPP official, in reaction to Wahab’s claim that Davis “enjoyed diplomatic immunity,” stated it was her “personal opinion,” not reflective of “party policy” or “government policy.” This series of statements highlight the confusion and lack of agreement that exists within parties. Moreover, the Davis case as a whole has and will lead to opposition parties attempting to win brownie points among the public to  gain political leverage and ultimately undermine the current government. Cue further instability.

Since this debacle started a few weeks ago, increasingly more prominent figures have stepped in, from President Obama calling Davis a diplomat and urging Pakistan to abide by the Vienna Convention, to Senator John Kerry making a last-minute trip to Pakistan to appeal for the American’s release. On the other side, Pakistani politicians are bickering while public cries for justice are growing louder by the day. You have to wonder – is there a seamless way out of this diplomatic clusterf****?

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