US-PAK relations post-2014

May 14, 2012

By Nida Afaque
ZoneAsia-Pk

The Davis affair, OBL raid, Salalah attack, closure of NATO supply routes were one pitfall succeeded by another until one could only wonder: could this get any worse? The current state of affairs does not appear any less dismal. Persistent demands of abstaining from drone strikes from Pakistan’s end have only fallen on deaf ears. Suspicions of al-Zawahiri’s presence and the US House subcommittee’s proposal of imposing conditions on aid to Pakistan indicate that reconciliation may not be around the corner. The looming withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014 also means an agreement acceptable to the regional powers has to be made before the forces exit Afghanistan.

What does this mean for Pakistan and where does it see its relations with America heading?

A good place to start is to understand United States’ objectives for the region and the role Pakistan comes to play in achieving these objectives. The US wants to ensure that terrorists from this region are no longer a threat to its national security and that Afghanistan has a democratically stable government which works in the interests of the masses. Coalition forces have been carrying out a direct attack on terrorists and have recently started divulging power to Afghan National Forces and accepting many of their terms to culminate in the Strategic Partnership Agreement.

Over the years, Pakistan’s role in the war on terror has become increasingly active. For a third world country, Pakistan has tried to relocate its meager resources and armed forces against terrorists taking refuge near the Afghan border. Thousands of lives have been lost and cities and towns have turned to dust. America, however, is not too sympathetic for it believes Pakistan is not mustering all the force it can behind this cause. One cannot blame Pakistan if they fall short in their efforts. America has not set a good precedent from the Soviet war and Iraq is still reeling from the effects of foreign intervention. It is thus quite natural for Pakistan to look out for itself by holding the Taliban card. Pakistan has protested against US demands and presence by boycotting the Bonn Conference and evacuating US forces from some of its airbases. But it will remain wary of taking drastic steps with matters like CSF funds still due unsettled.

The US needs the support of local powers to ensure sustainability of peace efforts. But reaching out to India, Russian and Central Asian republics over Pakistan only reflects American distrust of their so-called ally, Pakistan. Things are not too sunny for these Asian powers whose national economies and people are proving to be a handful for the governments. India is experiencing a decline in rupee against the dollar while Russia’s domestic politics are a major concern for its public. Russia also continues to maintain a strong influence on the central Asian republics. Even China has been losing its manufacturing activities to other countries. Therefore, these countries may not be willing to wholeheartedly participate in achieving US’s goals because of which US may have to resign to Pakistani assistance.

For Pakistan, diplomatic relations with the United States extend to the economic and social realms too. America remains amongst Pakistan’s top trading partners and has carried out developmental projects to improve living and social conditions of its people. Collaborating with NGOs and local business partners the US has funded projects aiming to tap Pakistan’s natural resources help alleviate the rampant energy crisis. Time and again US’s strong commitment towards alleviating Pakistan’s internal crises has surfaced, but this interest reflects US’s own regional interests. The US has offered cheaper gas alternatives and has tried to revive the TAPI project which had until recently lost much of its fervor in an attempt to discourage the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project. For now, despite its level of dependence on the IMF and World Bank (both of which are highly influenced by the US), and an open call for sanctions by the US, Pakistan has decided to go ahead with the IP pipeline.

Contributions in the social sector have been more than significant. Since 2002, the US has been providing $ 2 billion aid annually to Pakistan making it the third largest recipient of US aid. Just last year $ 1277 million and $ 1143 million were allocated to military and civilian programs respectively. Some of their eminent projects include Fulbright Scholarship, BISP and HEC.

After 2014, the US will have a remarkably smaller force present and with no impending security mission, Pakistan can expect them to be more forthcoming in civilian projects. In fact, America has already started to improve its image by publicizing its share in agriculture, education and health sectors. This could help legitimize US aid and at the same time make a difference to Pakistan’s paltry social welfare system.

While the governments of the two countries seem to be struggling to make things work, the masses may not harbor the same sentiments. Some conservatives have been remonstrating against US influence in Pakistan and have successfully organized themselves under the banner of Difa-e-Pakistan. Even though US aid to Pakistan is less than 1.2% of the GDP, this small amount of aid magnifies its effect in terms of the efficacy with which these institutions work, and the sectors it has been channeled towards. Breaking ties with US therefore might prove disastrous for the social welfare development, whereas aligning with them can open doors to diplomatic relations with other foreign powers. However, staying under US influence might only make us increasingly dependent, and with a strong backbone to structure and solidify the building blocks of our nation, these high levels of dependence may eventually compromise on our sovereignty. Such a mindset is also found on the American side which doubts Pakistan’s intentions in the war on terror.

Times may be tumultuous but a complete breakdown of diplomatic relations will be prevented by the interdependence of the two countries. The recent setbacks have sent the relationship decades behind. American withdrawal from Afghanistan coupled with changes in the internal climate of Asia’s regional countries will produce a shift in political and economic power dynamics.

These power dynamics may shift in favor of America. Its global power and influence is widely acknowledged. Neither Pakistan nor any of its other allies pose as a formidable competition to the US. Thus it is highly possible to expect Pakistan to bend to the terms demanded by US. But as Hafeez Malik suggests in US Relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan: The Imperial Dimension, America might lose its stronghold due to an “imperial overstretch”. Pakistan’s current civilian government has been resisting what they believe is unnecessary US interference. It did close down NATO routes, expel US forces from the Shamsi air base and may continue to stand against US imperialism. Pakistan may altogether decide to abandon the War on Terror and risk losing military and possibly civilian aid. Even worst is the possibility of US interpreting this to be a hostile move and giving in to its fears of a terrorist nation. We could then be looking at the latest venue of the War on Terror. Then again, we must not overlook the anxious efforts US is making to leave Afghanistan. Just like it came to accept Afghan demands for the transition process, it may also agree to do so with Pakistan. After all, it has repeatedly been stressed that Pakistan is an essential component to their operations in the region.

How the situation unfolds has yet to be seen but one thing is for certain; this is relationship is worth salvaging in some form than not having any relationship at all. The latest impasse is an opportunity for Pakistan and US to reach a common ground on contentious issues and build a relationship which is not based on merely temporary circumstances.


Reconciling with Reconciliation

May 11, 2012

Spearhead Research

The US Ambassador to Pakistan has worked tirelessly to put US-Pakistan relations on a positive track and both he and his wife have earned the respect of Pakistanis. He was expected to stay at least another year so there is much speculation on the reasons behind his early departure especially because the announcement comes soon after the US Secretary of State stated in India that the US believed that Ayman al Zawahiri was in Pakistan and that the US wanted Hafiz Saeed brought to justice. Ambassador Munter has been trying to find middle ground in the stand-off between the US and Pakistan and there is no doubt that he discerned the pragmatic opinion in Pakistan that wants the relationship revived and the drift into corners that overrules this pragmatism. The US talks to Pakistan from a position of strength as it is perhaps the only country that has the power to shape external environments in pursuit of its interests. The US-India relationship gets a boost whenever high ranking US officials speak down to Pakistan from India and no doubt this goes down well with the Afghan government too. Pakistan understands the coercion and pressure especially when all US aid is tied to US determination of Pakistan’s cooperation on counter-terrorism operations and actions against the use of IED’s. The US has clearly spelt out that there will be no apology from the US over the Salala incident in which twenty four Pakistani soldiers were killed by US forces and no change in the policy on Drone strikes. The US has kicked the ball fully and squarely into the Pakistani court. The next call has to be by the government of Pakistan-an elected government that is trying desperately to balance civil-military relations and establish civilian supremacy over national security policy formulation.

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Mass Assassinations Lie at the Heart of America’s Military Strategy in the Muslim World

January 3, 2011

By Fred Branfman

Greatly expanded U.S. military Special Ops teams, U.S. drone strikes and private espionage networks run by former CIA assassins create a threat to our security.

“[General McChrystal says that] for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” — “The Runaway General,” Rolling Stone, 6/22/10

The truth that many Americans find hard to take is that that mass U.S. assassination on a scale unequaled in world history lies at the heart of America’s military strategy in the Muslim world, a policy both illegal and never seriously debated by Congress or the American people. Conducting assassination operations throughout the 1.3 billon-strong Muslim world will inevitably increase the murder of civilians and thus create exponentially more “enemies,” as Gen. McChrystal suggests — posing a major long-term threat to U.S. national security. This mass assassination program, sold as defending Americans, is actually endangering us all. Those responsible for it, primarily General Petraeus, are recklessly seeking short-term tactical advantage while making an enormous long-term strategic error that could lead to countless American deaths in the years and decades to come. General Petraeus must be replaced, and the U.S. military’s policy of direct and mass assassination of Muslims ended.

The U.S. has conducted assassination programs in the Third World for decades, but the actual killing — though directed and financed by the C.I.A. — has been largely left to local paramilitary and police forces. This has now has changed dramatically.

What is unprecedented today is the vast number of Americans directly assassinating Muslims — through greatly expanded U.S. military Special Operations teams, U.S. drone strikes and private espionage networks run by former CIA assassins and torturers. Most significant is the expanding geographic scope of their killing. While CENTCOM Commander from October 2008 until July 2010, General Petraeus received secret and unprecedented permission to unilaterally engage in operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, former Russian Republics, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, the Horn of Africa, and wherever else he deems necessary.

Never before has a nation unleashed so many assassins in so many foreign nations around the world (9,000 Special Operations soldiers are based in Iraq and Afghanistan alone) as well as implemented a policy that can be best described as unprecedented, remote-control, large-scale “mechanized assassination.” As the N.Y. Times noted in December 2009: “For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.”

This combination of human and technological murder amounts to a worldwide “Assassination Inc.” that is unique in human affairs.

The increasing shift to direct U.S. assassination began on Petraeus’s watch in Iraq,where targeted assassination was considered by many within the military to be more important than the “surge.” The killing of Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was considered a major triumph that significantly reduced the level of violence. As Bob Woodward reported in The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008:

“Beginning in about May 2006, the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence agencies launched a series of top secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in extremist groups. A number of authoritative sources say these covert activities had a far-reaching effect on the violence and were very possibly the biggest factor in reducing it. Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) responsible for hunting al Qaeda in Iraq, (conducted) lightning-quick and sometimes concurrent operations When I later asked the president (Bush) about this, he offered a simple answer: ‘JSOC is awesome.’” [Emphasis added.]

Woodward’s finding that many “authoritative sources” believed assassination more important than the surge is buttressed by Petraeus’ appointment of McChrystal to lead U.S. forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s major qualification for the post was clearly his perceived expertise in assassination while heading JSOC from 2003-’08 (where he also conducted extensive torture at “Camp Nama” at Baghdad International Airport, successfully excluding even the Red Cross).

Another key reason for the increased reliance on assassination is that Petraeus’ announced counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan obviously cannot work. It is absurd to believe that the corrupt warlords and cronies who make up the “Afghan government” can be transformed into the viable entity upon which his strategy publicly claims to depend — particularly within the next year which President Obama has set as a deadline before beginning to withdraw U.S. troops. Petraeus is instead largely relying on mass assassination to try and eliminate the Taliban, both within Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The centrality of assassination to U.S. war plans is revealed by the fact that it was at the heart of the Obama review of Afghan policy last fall. The dovish Biden position called for relying primarily on assassination, while the hawkish McChrystal stance embraced both assassination and more troops. No other options were seriously considered.

A third factor behind the shift to mass assassination is that Petraeus and the U.S. military are also determined to attack jihadi forces in nations where the U.S. is not at war, and which are not prepared to openly invite in U.S. forces. As the N.Y. Times reported on May 24, “General Petraeus (has argued) that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.”

The most significant aspect of this new and expanded assassination policy is President Obama’s authorizing clandestine U.S. military personnel to conduct it. The N.Y. Times has also reported:

In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists (Military) Special Operations troops under secret “Execute Orders” have conducted spying missions that were once the preserve of civilian intelligence agencies.

Particularly extraordinary is the fact that these vastly expanded military assassination teams are not subject to serious civilian control. As the N.Y. Times has also reported, Petraeus in September 2009 secretly expanded a worldwide force of assassins answerable only to the military, without oversight by not only Congress but the president himself:

The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents. The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa. Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress. [Emphasis added]

Although sold to the American public and Congress as targeted, selective assassination aimed only at a handful of “high value” insurgent leaders, the program has in fact already expanded far beyond that. As personnel and aircraft devoted to assassination exponentially increase, so too do the numbers of people they murder, both “insurgents” and civilians.

While it is reasonable to assume that expanding the number of Special Operations commandos to its present worldwide level of 13,000 will result in increasing assassinations, the secrecy of their operations makes it impossible to know how many they have murdered, how many of those are civilians, and the effectiveness of their operations. It is not known, for example, how many people U.S. military assassins murder directly, and how many they kill indirectly by identifying them for drone strikes. Much of their activity is conducted, for example, in North Waziristan in northwest Pakistan which, as the N.Y. Times reported on April 4 “is virtually sealed from the outside world.”

More information, however, has emerged about the parallel and unprecedented mass mechanized assassinations being carried out by the C.I.A. drone programs. It is clear that they have already expanded far beyond the official cover story of targeting only “high-level insurgent leaders,” and are killing increasing numbers of people.

The CIA, of course, is no novice at assassination. Future CIA Director William Colby’s Operation Phoenix program in South Vietnam gave South Vietnamese police quotas of the number of civilians to be murdered on a weekly and monthly basis, eventually killing 20-50,000 people. CIA operatives such as Latin American Station Chef Duane “Dewey” Clarridge also established, trained and operated local paramilitary and death squads throughout Central and Latin America that brutally tortured and murdered tens of thousands of civilians, most notably in El Salvador where CIA-trained and -directed killers murdered Archbishop Romero and countless other Salvadorans.

But the present CIA assassination program in Pakistan and elsewhere is different not only because it is Americans who are themselves the assassins, but because of the unprecedented act of conducting mechanized mass assassination from the air. The CIA, as Nick Turse has reported for TomDispatch.com, is exponentially increasing its drone assassination program:

“(Drone) Reapers flew 25,391 hours (in 2009). This year, the air force projects that the combined flight hours of all its drones will exceed 250,000 hours. More flight time will, undoubtedly, mean more killing.”

There were already signs in 2009, when drone strikes were a fraction of what they are now, that they were striking large numbers of civilians and proving militarily and politically counterproductive. Most Pakistanis believe it is largely civilians who are being killed, and anti-American hatred is growing accordingly. A Gallup poll conducted in July 2009, based on 2,500 face-to-face interviews, found that “only 9 percent of Pakistanis supported the drone strikes.” A Global Research study documented the drone murder of 123 civilians in January 2010 alone.

A particularly significant indication of the drone strikes’ military ineffectiveness has come from Colonel David Kilcullen, a key Petraeus advisor in Iraq, who testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 23, 2009, that, “Since 2006, we’ve killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. We need to call off the drones.”

Kilcullen’s testimony was ignored, however, and as drone strikes have not only been continued but exponentially increased, there are increasing signs that they have vastly increased the scope of the killing far beyond the claimed “high-level insurgent leaders.” The N.Y. Times reported on Aug. 14:

[The CIA has] broadened its drone campaign beyond selective strikes against Qaeda leaders and now regularly obliterates suspected enemy compounds and logistics convoys, just as the military would grind down an enemy force.

Reuters reported on May 5 that:

The CIA received approval to target a wider range of targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas, including low-level fighters whose identities may not be known, U.S. officials said on Wednesday. Former intelligence officials acknowledged that in many, if not most cases, the CIA had little information about the foot soldiers killed in the strikes.

What this means is clear: the CIA is assassinating an expanding number of “low-level” people, labeling them as “fighters,” but has little if any idea of who they really are. The history of such mechanized campaigns from the air, such as Laos where I have studied the U.S. 1964-’73 air war intensively, is that increased warfare from the air inevitably becomes increasingly indiscriminate, destroying civilian and military targets alike. As the drone program continues to expand, it will inevitably wind up killing more civilians — and, if McChrystal is right, exponentially create more people committed to killing Americans.

Numerous moral, legal and ethical objections have been raised to this program of mass assassination. Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions, has stated that “this strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other states can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.”

The notion that a handful of U.S. military and CIA officials have the right to unilaterally and secretly murder anyone they choose in any nation on earth, without even outside knowledge let alone oversight, is deeply troubling to anyone with a conscience, belief in democracy, or respect for international law. It was precisely such behavior that made the Gestapo and Soviet secret police symbols of evil. Since the U.S. Congress has never reined in an Executive Branch that has routinely ignored international law since 1945, however, it is likely that the question of whether this program will be continued will be determined by its perceived effectiveness, not its morality.

The evidence is mounting that U.S. assassinations are so ineffective they are actually strengthening anti-American forces in Pakistan. Bruce Reidel, a counterinsurgency expert who coordinated the Afghan review for President Obama, said: “The pressure we’ve put on (jihadist forces) in the past year has also drawn them together, meaning that the network of alliances is growing stronger not weaker.”

Reidel’s striking conclusion that jihadi forces in Pakistan are stronger after six years of drone airstrikes the CIA claims are weakening them, is echoed by numerous other reports indicating that General Petraeus’ strategy of using military force against Al Qaeda, Afghan and local insurgent forces in Pakistan has pushed them further east from isolated northwest areas into major cities like Karachi, where they operate freely and work together far more closely than before. The general’s miscalculations regarding Pakistan are reason enough for him to be replaced.

In the long run, General Petraeus’ strategy of expanding both ground and mechanized assassination throughout the 1.3 billion-strong Muslim world is likely to do the greatest disservice to his country’s interests. It is true that U.S. leaders have used local forces to assassinate tens of thousands since 1945 and that while these programs were largely ineffectual, they did not lead to attacks on American soil.

But 9/11 has changed the calculus. It is clear that in today’s wired and globalized world, marked by large-scale immigration, cheap telecommunications and airline travel, where crude technologies like car bombs or IEDs can be as easily detonated in New York as in Kandahar, and where America’s enemies are growing increasingly technologically sophisticated even as nuclear weapons proliferate and become miniaturized, it is the height of folly to foment geometrically growing anti-American hatred in the volatile Muslim world.

A growing number of military and counterinsurgency experts support Colonel Kilcullen’s belief that these assassination programs abroad are not protecting Americans at home. Both the “Underwear” and the “Times Square” bombers attributed their attempts to blow up Americans to their anger at the drone strikes. While Americans were saved by their incompetence, the U.S. may not be so lucky the next time, and the time after that. One thing is crystal clear: inflaming anti-American hatred throughout the Muslim world can only exponentially increase the numbers of those committed to killing Americans.

Such fears are increasing in Washington, as the N.Y. Times reported in the wake of the Times Square bombing:

A new, and disturbing, question is being raised in Washington: Have the stepped-up attacks in Pakistan — notably the Predator drone strikes — actually made Americans less safe? Are they inspiring more attacks on America than they prevent? As one American intelligence official said, “Those attacks (on two Pakistani Taliban leaders) have made it personal for the Pakistani Taliban — so it’s no wonder they are beginning to think about how they can strike back at targets here.”

As General Petraeus and the U.S. military “make it personal” to increasing number of people throughout the Muslim world, they are recklessly sowing a whirlwind for which many of us, our children and grandchildren may well pay with our lives for decades to come.

It is difficult for most Americans to grasp the fact that their leaders’ incompetence — Republican and Democrat, civilian and military — poses one of the single greatest threats to their own safety. But only when Americans do so will there be any hope of making America more secure in the dangerous years to come.

A clear place to begin protecting America is to abandon the assassination approach to war, ditch General Petraeus, end the military and CIA’s focus on worldwide and mechanized mass assassination, and halt its reckless expansion of U.S. war-making into nuclear-armed Pakistan and so much more of the Muslim world.

Final Note: Duane ‘Dewey’ Clarridge: The True Face of U.S. Policy Toward the Muslim World

We’ll intervene whenever we decide it’s in our national security interest. And if you don’t like it, lump it. Get used to it, world!” — Duane Clarridge, interviewed by John Pilger in “The War on Democracy”

As the N.Y. Times reported, Clarridge is presently advising CIA assassination efforts in Pakistan. (“Duane R. Clarridge, a profane former C.I.A. officer who ran operations in Central America and was indicted in the Iran-contra scandal, turned up this year helping run a Pentagon-financed private spying operation in Pakistan.”) Watch an extraordinary three-minute video interview with Clarridge that reveals the true face of U.S. policy in the Muslim world.

Fred Branfman, the editor of “Voices From the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War” (Harper & Row, 1972), exposed the U.S. secret air war while living in Laos from 1967 to 1971.


Terrorism rising as Al Qaeda fades: US report

December 16, 2009

WASHINGTON: Targeted by drone strikes, Al Qaeda is losing ground and financing, even as attacks by terror groups are on the rise, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press.

Attacks by Taliban groups on civilian targets in Afghanistan are likely to increase by 20 percent this year over last year’s totals, said the report by the American Security Project, a bipartisan Washington-based organisation that analyses terror trends and the effectiveness of US counter-terror policies. The statistics do not include attacks against the military. At the same time, many Taliban groups are now increasing focus on local issues rather than Osama Bin Laden’s global struggle. “There is a larger number of groups using violence to push their own agenda,” said Bernard Finel, a senior fellow with the American Security Project.

Other analysts and government reports have noted that the Afghan Taliban are more focused on their internal fight just like insurgents in Somalia are concentrating on their own tribal battles with the government. The divide comes as Al Qaeda is losing in leadership and money. Armed drones, in clandestine attacks largely carried out by the Central Investigation Agency, have killed at least 11 of Washington’s initial top 20 Al Qaeda targets and four others who were added to an updated list, according to the security report.

In contrast to the Afghan Taliban, who appear to be well-funded by crime, contributions and the opium trade, Al Qaeda is financially weaker than it has been in several years, according to an assessment by US Treasury officials. That has led to a decline in influence. Yet the apparent diminishment of Al Qaeda influence is at odds with the sharp rise in violent attacks in Pakistan, the report added. Taliban attacks jumped from 81 in the first half of 2008 to 220 in the first half of 2009. In both cases, the report said, the numbers of the attacks are understated because they do not include strikes against the military. Also, in the case of Pakistan, some attacks may not be attributed to a particular terror group but “are almost certainly militant attacks”. ap


Top al-Qaeda operative reported killed

October 22, 2009

PESHAWAR: In the first drone strikes since the Pakistan military began its operation in South Waziristan a top al-Qaeda operative Abu Al-Masri is reported to have been killed in a strike from a US unmanned aircraft.


The incident happened in the mountains of Spalga about 10 kilometres southeast of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan.Photo by AFP

However, conflicting reports earlier suggested that Al-Masri may have been killed preparing suicide jackets in the village of Spalga.

Known as Mustafa Al-Yazid, he was urported to have links with Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi, whom US authorities arrested in an alleged plot to use homemade backpack bombs, he served three years in an Egyptian prison, in the 1980s, for supposed links to the group responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

After his release, he was also known as Sheik Said and Abu Saeed al-Masri and became a founding member of the terrorist group.

Abu Masri went into hiding after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, but resurfaced in May 2007 during a 45-minute interview posted on the web by Al-Sabah.

In August 2008, Pakistani military officials claimed Abu Masri had been killed in fighting in the Bajaur tribal area along the Afghan border. However, he turned up in subsequent al-Qaida videos, all of which had clearly been made after the Bajaur fighting.

Abu Masri appeared on an al-Qaida video posted this month, vowing to avenge the death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a CIA missile strike Aug, 6. -DawnNews


Malik slams US drone strikes

July 23, 2009

PARIS (AFP) – Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Tuesday attacked the United States’ ongoing bombing campaign against suspected militant leaders in tribal areas of Pakistan. Pakistan, fighting its own campaign against the militants, has long criticised the strikes, which have been stepped up since President Barack Obama was elected and which have reportedly killed around 700 civilians.

“Well, if you talk of drones, our whole nation has condemned them. Our four regional assemblies, our NA, our Senate all passed unanimous resolutions saying no to drones,” Malik told France 24 television.

“We said to the US: ‘You are a great champion of democracy, and here is a small democratic country with all voices saying stop the drones. I think the US must listen and must stop the drones,” he said.

“If they give us real time information we’re quite capable of handling Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. If we are given the information I assure you that we have the capability to take the necessary action against him.”

In May, Obama’s new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, described the bombing as “very effective”. “it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the Al-Qaeda leadership.” Nevertheless, while the drone war has ramped up, with reportedly 48 such strikes since August 2008, the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and other extremists continues unabated, analysts say.


Drones Hardly Ever Kill Bad Guys

May 20, 2009

By Greg Grant

The foreign policy community’s favorite counterinsurgency adviser, or at least their favorite Australian one, David Kilcullen, told lawmakers last week that the drone strikes targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Pakistan are creating enemies at a far faster rate than its killing them. According to statistics he provided, the success rate of the drone bombing campaign is extremely low: just 2 percent of bombs dropped have hit targeted militants. The other 98 percent? Those killed noncombatant Pakistani civilians, he said.

Since the drone strikes began in earnest in 2006, the U.S. has killed 14 mid-level Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. In the same time frame, the strikes have killed 700 Pakistani civilians, Kilcullen said May 7, speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism and Unconventional Threats. The strikes themselves are not particularly unpopular in the tribal areas, the FATA, that border Afghanistan, as many of the people there are weary of the militants operating in their midst. Where the strikes are extremely unpopular, he said, is in the more populated areas of Punjab and Sind, areas where there has been a big jump in militancy since the bombing campaign began.

“Right now our biggest problem is not the [extremist] networks in the FATA, but the fact that Pakistan may collapse if this political instability continues.” The U.S. should stop the bombing campaign against the Pakistani Taliban and instead return to a narrower target set aimed only at Al Qaeda operatives, Kilcullen said, as the bombing campaign has simply become too counterproductive. The Taliban run a very effective “information operations” that broadcasts the death toll from U.S. strikes to feed a rising tide of popular anger against the U.S. and western involvement in Pakistan, he said.

The issue of civilian casualties caused by U.S. bombing is not simply a humanitarian matter, but is a major factor influencing the political and ideological battles being waged in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, says CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman in an email. “Civilian casualty estimates have effectively become an extension of war by other means,” he says. “Tactics that physically defeat elements of the enemy and lose the population lose the war.”

Cordesman says the U.S. can’t bomb its way to victory in Pakistan. The U.S. is also too unpopular to put significant numbers of troops there. He says Pakistan will either succeed or fail against the Taliban based on whether it can adopt some version of the “clear, hold and build” counterinsurgency strategy the U.S. applied in Iraq, and is trying to apply in Afghanistan, versus “having the Pakistani Army smash its way into Swat and leave, which has been the high point of Pakistani warfighting to date.”


And Now Balochistan is in the Line of Fire

March 26, 2009

Faryal Leghari

Being a Baloch, my reaction to reports on planned US covert operations including airstrikes and possibly ground operations in Balochistan was immediate; one of rage. It does not mean that I am a Baloch nationalist, first and foremost I am a Pakistani and proud to be one. However, it is but natural that outrage is felt for external threats against a specific area one identifies with more emotionally than the rest of one’s country.

What I am most concerned is about the reaction of people who actually suffer the consequences of such strikes, who have lost family members and seen the annihilation of their homes?

The drone strikes are not a new feature in Pakistan’s now jaded experience of its fight against terrorism. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), bordering Afghanistan, have been subjected to the drone strikes since 2004. The Pakistan government under Musharraf had tacitly allowed CIA operated planes to carry out the attacks, against key Al Qaeda and Taleban targets.

The drone attacks that have seen a spurt since last year continue to rankle the people. Nonetheless, a growing immunity to the ongoing onslaughts against sovereignty has set in, thus suspending one in an inertial cycle of acceptance and protest. Charged statements from friends, raging from, “They will not dare! The Pakistani people and the army will never allow it” to “What do you expect? The government will agree to every thing the Americans say or want to do!” epitomises the polar dilemma Pakistan is undergoing in the war against terrorism.

Successive governments, both Musharraf’s and the current democratically elected one, have gone blue in the face denying any tacit complicity in the strikes. The undoing of the great pretence however came from an unexpected quarter in Washington this year when the full knowledge – translate approval (grudging, forced, whatever) – of the Pakistan government was revealed. To make matters worse, disclosures of secret air bases within Pakistan that were being used for the strikes came about!

Apparently, the government is in full knowledge of the strikes, and has even facilitated the use of its own airbases to strike targets inside the country! This means that all those thundering warnings against ‘violations of sovereignty’ by a cross-section of political leaders had been nothing but an elaborate exercise in deception. Previously, the strikes were assumed to be carried out by automated Predator aircraft from across the Afghan border. The whole question of the territorial violations now hangs by a tenuous thread. Is it or is it not? Emotionalism aside, the question about the necessity of the strikes is an important one and needs to be weighed in the context of its implications.

If one looks at the logic and outcome of the drone strikes from a security perspective, one could argue that the strikes did result in eliminating high value Al Qaeda targets – US military commanders list nine Al Qaeda operatives in six years of strikes exceeding 60. Quite impressive! Military logic would probably argue in favour of the significance of the targets, something beyond the comprehension of the ordinary people. However, the justification behind the attacks that somehow legalises the ‘collateral damage’ of ensuing civilian deaths is not a ground enough for appeasement, neither will it validate a future theatre expansion for the US led operations.

According to a New York Times report, extending the covert CIA strikes to Balochistan and other areas is “necessitated” by the use of these areas by Mullah Omar’s Taleban, to wage attacks inside Afghanistan. The area north of Quetta, allegedly being used as a base by the Taleban top command, is a heavily Pashtun populated area in Balochistan. The province of Balochistan that shares a long border with the south and eastern part of Afghanistan is a strategic nightmare.

Besides the cross-border traffic of insurgents, the borders with Afghanistan and Iran face heavy trafficking of narcotics, and other smuggled goods as well as human trafficking, owing to a number of factors. These range from a porous border, difficult terrain as well as the ethnic-tribal linkage between the people on either side.

The shift in focus in Washington on the war in Afghanistan has added further pressure on Pakistan that is considered a key factor in the stabilisation of the region. Obama’s plans of sending 17,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan that would be deployed along the Pak-Afghan border is part of the Af-Pak strategic doctrine. Saner voices have called for a review of additional expansion of US forces in Afghanistan, a tactic not considered feasible given the nature of the insurgency and the historical evidence.

The new Afghan strategy that is to entail recommendations following the visit of Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy, to the region earlier this year was to also incorporate inputs from subsequent tripartite meetings involving Afghan, Pakistani and US officials. While Pakistan has repeatedly pressed the US to review its drone attack strategy, the current US policy is likely to continue and even expand to new areas.

The drone strikes targeting the insurgents in FATA as well as the Pak military operations in key FATA agencies have led to a shift in strategic bases of both the Taleban and Al Qaeda to other parts of Pakistan. The question is how far will the US extend the strategic ambit of its airstrikes?

The point is to try to fathom what the recommendations made by the US defence experts, would entail. Do the Americans intend chasing Taleban and al Qaeda all over Pakistan, from remote Balochistan to Islamabad? Though Obama is yet to decide a line of action on expanding drone strikes, war drums are already being heard loudly across Pakistan. It is madness to continue with this extremely dangerous doctrine. Though the Pakistan government has expressed alarm and hoped that such a possibility would not materialise, it needs to take stern action and tell the United States that further concessions in this ongoing war on terror will not be tolerated.

If Pakistan’s stability is really the core issue, then this sort of approach has to be dropped. The trust the US military planners claim to have with Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani, and other top brass, should be demonstrated. This would require concerted coordination and joint planning based on increased ground intelligence. Any operations conducted inside Pakistan need to be done by the Pakistani forces, period. If drone strikes are necessary they should be publicly accepted and carried out by the Pakistan Air Force.

Pakistan’s leaders must realise that they cannot survive in a rapidly evolving strategic environment without their people’s support. They have to realise that Pakistani people and media have awakened to become a force, as was evident in the recent judicial movement. In short, future strategic doctrine in Pakistan in the war in terror will have to be shaped in the national interest and must take public opinion into consideration.

Faryal Leghari is KT’s Assistant Editor. The views expressed here are her own. She can be reached at faryal@khaleejtimes.com


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