Posts Tagged ‘ South Waziristan ’

Western Peace Activists March in Pakistan Against Drone Strikes

By Mark Mcdonald for The New York Times

Dozens of Western peace activists, including 32 Americans, participated in a convoy in Pakistan over the weekend to protest deadly American drone strikes in the tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The motorcade was almost certain to be turned away Sunday from entering South Waziristan and the town of Kotkai, the hometown of the founder of the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government, as my colleague Salman Masood reported, was expected to block the group.

The activists, most of them from the group Codepink, object to the civilian deaths that occur in the aerial strikes against Taliban fighters and other militants. (Rendezvous recently explored the controversy over drone warfare in a piece, “Are Drone Strikes Worth the Costs?”)

“We kill a lot of innocent people,” said Medea Benjamin, a cofounder of Codepink and part of the delegation in Pakistan. She called the attacks “barbaric assassinations.”

Speaking of the tribal areas, she said, “This is a culture that very much believes in revenge, and then they seek revenge by trying to kill Americans. So we are just perpetuating a cycle of violence and it’s got to stop somewhere, and that’s why we are putting our bodies on the line by trying to go to Waziristan to say no.”

Ms. Benjamin said her group also was participating in the march to “put significant pressure on the Obama administration to come clean about these drone attacks, to recognize how inhumane and counterproductive they are.”

Before the convoy got under way in Pakistan, members of the Codepink delegation met with Richard E. Hoagland, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, and he was presented with a petition calling for an end to the drone strikes.

“I wish I could tell you how enormously, enormously careful the various deciders are before there is any strike these days,” Mr. Hoagland said. “I know you object to any strike at all, absolutely, I know that, but I wish I could also tell you the extreme process that is undertaken to avoid what is very sadly called ‘collateral damage.’ ”

“I looked at the numbers before I came here today,” Mr. Hoagland told the group, “and I saw a number for civilian casualties that officially — U.S. government classified information — since July 2008, it is in the two figures. I can’t vouch for you that that’s accurate, in any way, so I can’t talk about numbers. I wanted to see what we have on the internal record, it’s quite low.”

The so-called “peace march” — which was more like a motorcade — was organized by Tehreek-e-Insaaf, the opposition political party led by the cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan. In a recent profile in The New York Times Magazine, the writer Pankaj Mishra called Mr. Khan “Pakistan’s greatest sportsman and now its most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto.”

“His long and uncompromising opposition to American presence in the region,” the article said, “not only pleases assorted Islamic radicals; it also echoes a deep Pakistani anger about the C.I.A.’s drone attacks, whose frequency has increased under the Obama administration.”

Before the march, Mr. Khan said of the campaign of drone strikes: “It’s totally counterproductive. All it does is it helps the militants to recruit poor people. Clearly if they were succeeding, these drone attacks, we would be winning the war. But there’s a stalemate.”

In an interview on BBC Radio 4, Mr. Khan said Pakistani government officials were “completely complicit” in the U.S drone efforts, “covertly and tacitly giving their approval.”

If he becomes the Pakistani leader, Mr. Khan said, he would appeal to the United States and the United Nations to halt the aerial attacks. If those appeals failed, he said, he would have the Pakistani Air Force begin shooting down the drones.

In a scathing opinion piece Sunday in the Express Tribune newspaper from Karachi, the attorney and commentator Saroop Ijaz said Mr. Khan’s march was principally linked to domestic Pakistani politics. He also objected to Mr. Khan not denouncing Taliban suicide attacks that have killed numerous civilians. An excerpt from his commentary, headlined “Game of Drones”:

This is not about Waziristan, this is not even about drones; this is about politics and very dangerous and cowardly politics. By indulging and showing indecent deference to these murderers, Mr. Khan is insulting thousands of those dead in suicide attacks over these years.

By all means, go and play your political games and make populist, unrealistic promises, but a line needs to be drawn when the memory of thousands of our martyrs and the survival of our society is at stake. Unless, of course, Mr. Khan can give us his solemn word that his new friends are willing to lay down their weapons and stop killing our innocent civilians.
The journalist Ahmed Wali Mujeeb recently spent nearly a month in Waziristan. A condensed excerpt from his report for the BBC:

The drones do not suddenly appear over the horizon, carry out the attack and leave. At any given time of the day, at least four are hovering in the sky, emitting a distinctive and menacing buzzing sound. They call them “mosquitoes.”

“Anybody who has been listening to the buzzing all through the day usually can’t sleep at night,” says Abdul Waheed, a tribesman in North Waziristan. “It’s like a blind man’s stick — it can hit anybody at any time.”

Taliban and local tribesmen say the drones almost always depend on a local spy who gives word when the target is there. Some say the spy leaves a chip or microchip at the site, which guides drones in for the kill. Others say special marker ink is used — rather like “X” marks the spot.

Anyone coming under suspicion is unlikely to get a hearing. The Taliban kill first and decide afterwards if the suspect was involved or not. It is better to be safe than sorry, they say.
Jennifer Gibson, an attorney with Reprieve, a legal charity in Britain that represents a number of Pakistani drone victims, was a researcher in Pakistan for the recent report, “Living Under Drones,” a joint project by the law schools at Stanford University and New York University.

In a commentary for The Los Angeles Times, Ms. Gibson said drones did not simply fly to a target, launch their missiles and then withdraw to a distant base. Instead, she said, drones were “a constant presence” overhead, “with as many as six hovering over villages at any one time.”

“Parents are afraid to send their children to school,” she wrote. “Women are afraid to meet in markets. Families are afraid to gather at funerals for people wrongly killed in earlier strikes. Drivers are afraid to deliver food from other parts of the country.

“The routines of daily life have been ripped to shreds. Indisputably innocent people cower in their homes, afraid to assemble on the streets. ‘Double taps,’ or secondary strikes on the same target, have stopped residents from aiding those who have been injured. A leading humanitarian agency now delays assistance by an astonishing six hours.”

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Suicide Attack in NW Pakistan Kills 17 People

By Uaz Mohammad for The Associated Press

A Taliban suicide bomber detonated a car in an alley behind a police station in a strategically important town in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 17 police and civilians in an explosion that shattered the station and neighboring homes.

About 40 people were wounded in the attack in Lakki Marwat, which sits on the main road between Punjab province, Pakistan’s largest and most prosperous, and the North and South Waziristan tribal regions.

A Pakistani army offensive pushed many militants out of South Waziristan in October. The militants still control much of North Waziristan, where U.S. drone aircraft have been conducting a campaign of targeted killings.

Hours after the attack, officials said a suspected U.S. missile strike had killed three alleged militants in North Waziristan, home to the Haqqani network, a militant group battling U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press that a missile hit a vehicle in the Datta Khel area on the Afghan border Monday evening. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information

In Lakki Marwat, rescue workers and police officials were digging through rubble at the station, police official Ghulam Mohammad Khan said. Nine police officers, four adult civilians and four children going to school were slain in the attack.

Police official Liaquat Ali said 45 police were in the building when the bomber struck.

“I said my morning prayers and we went to sleep, then suddenly there was a big bang. All the debris fell on us,” police official Ikramullah Khan told The Associated Press from a bed in a nearby hospital, where many of the wounded lay wailing in pain as relatives comforted each other.

Emergency workers and local residents used cranes to move the rubble of the mostly destroyed police station. Books and a schoolbag could be seen in the wreckage and the twisted frames of a motorcycle and a car sat nearby. A neighborhood shop and mosque also were partly destroyed.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they targeted the police for encouraging residents to set up militias to fight the militants – known locally as lashkars. The group pledged to carry out additional attacks unless the militias disbanded.

“After the police, we will attack those active in forming anti-Taliban lashkars if they have not given up their activities,” Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The police chief of Lakki Marwat district was killed in a suicide bombing several months ago and militants have carried out a string of attacks in the area since then.

In recent days, militants have launched attacks across the nation aimed at destabilizing the country and weakening a civilian government already struggling with a massive flooding that has displaced millions and caused widespread destruction.

The deadliest have targeted minority Shiite Muslims. A suicide bombing killed at least 43 Shiite Muslims at a procession in the southwestern city of Quetta on Friday. Two days earlier, a triple suicide attack killed 35 people at a Shiite ceremony in the eastern city of Lahore.

Both were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, whose commander Qari Hussain Mehsud threatened Friday that his group would wage imminent attacks in the U.S. and Europe.

On the same day, Pakistani intelligence officials said two suspected U.S. missile strikes had killed at least seven people in North Waziristan, which is largely controlled by the Haqqani network, one of the main groups battling Americans in neighboring Afghanistan.

Bomb Strikes Shiite March in Pakistan

As Reported by The Associated Press

Three bombs ripped through a Shiite Muslim religious procession in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, killing 25 people and wounding about 150 others, officials said.

The explosions appeared to be the latest in a string of attacks by Sunni extremists against the minority Shiites they consider infidels. Allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban, the bombers are also seeking to destabilize Pakistan’s U.S.-backed government.

The blasts were the first major attacks since Pakistan was hit by devastating floods more than a month ago. Lahore, the country’s political capital and home to much of its military elite, has been regularly targeted by militants over the past two years.

The bombs exploded at three separate sites Wednesday evening as 35,000 Shiites marched through the streets of Lahore in their traditional mourning procession for the caliph Ali, one of Shiite Islam’s most respected holy men.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the blasts in a statement and said the attackers would not escape justice.

After the blasts, the marchers erupted in fury, setting fire to a police station, another police facility, two police cars and three motorcycles, said Zulfiqar Hameed, a senior police officer. Police lobbed tear gas canisters at the crowd and fired shots in the air to disperse the assailants, he said.

The first blast was a time bomb that exploded in the street near a well-known Shiite building, Hameed said. Footage of that explosion shown on Geo television showed a small blast erupting amid a crowd of people on the street followed by a large plume of smoke. Hundreds of people fled from the blast, while others rushed to carry the wounded to safety.

Minutes later, with the streets in chaos, a male suicide bomber who appeared about 18 years old tried to force his way into an area where food was being prepared for the marchers to break the traditional Ramadan fast and exploded, Hameed said. Soon after, another suicide bomber detonated himself at an intersection near the end of the procession.

Abbas Kumaili, a prominent Shiite scholar as well as a senator, called for three days of mourning over the attack and lashed out at the bombers.

”They are our enemies, both Shiites and Sunnis should remain united and foil their evil designs,” he said.

The blasts killed 25 people and wounded about 150 others, said Sajjad Bhutta, a top local government official.

Hours earlier, three people were wounded in a shooting near a similar Shiite procession in the southern city of Karachi, but senior police officer Iqbal Mahmood said the incident did not target the march.

Islamist extremists have a history of attacking Shiites, non-Muslims and others they deem unacceptable.

In July, twin suicide attacks at Pakistan’s most popular Sufi shrine killed 42 people. Another suicide bomber wounded eight worshippers at a Shiite mosque in eastern Pakistan.

Meanwhile, a bomb exploded near a police vehicle in the town of Shabqadar in northwest Pakistan, killing one passer-by and wounding 15 people including one police officer, police officer Nisar Khan said.

The bombings came after Pakistan army jets and helicopters targeted militant hide-outs near the Afghan border, killing 60 people identified as insurgents or their family members, including children, said security officials and a witness.

The attacks occurred Tuesday and Wednesday in different parts of the region.

There was no independent confirmation of the casualty figures because the area is too dangerous for outsiders to visit.

The raids Tuesday took place in several villages in Teerah Valley in the Khyber region and killed 45 people, the officials said. One official said some vehicles rigged with explosives had also been destroyed. He could not say how many.

He described the dead as insurgents, but said it was possible that people living with them could also have been killed. Separately, an intelligence officer said some women and children had been killed in the attacks.

Jihad Gul, who lives near one of the villages, said he had seen the bodies of at least 20 women and children.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said reports of civilian casualties were unconfirmed.

The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

An air attack Wednesday in the adjoining district of Orakzai killed 15 suspected militants and wounded 10 others, according to local government official Jamil Khan and a brief army statement.

Pakistan’s army has been fighting Islamist militants in different parts of the northwest for more than two years.

Militants who fled major operations in the South Waziristan and Orakzai tribal regions are believed to have set up new bases in Khyber, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of the main city in the region, Peshawar.

Going After the Haqqani Network

From the Editors of The Express Tribune

The question of the Haqqani network and how it is to be handled continues to fester. The US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, this time in London, has suggested that Pakistan needs to go after the group with more force. The warning from Mr Holbrooke will have dashed hopes, raised during Hillary Clinton’s visit, that Washington was prepared to go along with a Pakistani strategy of dialogue with the network — led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. Links between the Pakistani intelligence forces and the Haqqanis have existed since the Afghan war and they have never been explicitly denied by either party. The elder Haqqani made his name as a formidable mujahideen commander during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when he was a member of Maulvi Yunis Khalis’s Hizb-i-Islami. He was also, according to American investigative journalist Steve Coll (who recently wrote Ghost Wars : The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001), offered a major role in the government by Afghan President Hamid Karzai some years ago.

For Islamabad, the pressure is on again. The Haqqani network is seen in Afghanistan as a key problem; it has carried out numerous attacks there. Washington believes Pakistan needs to do more to support the efforts against the militants in that country. The Pakistan military meanwhile, following its operation in South Waziristan, has avoided any move into North Waziristan – despite some gentle nudging from the US – reportedly following the intervention of the Haqqanis. They are also said to be facilitating talks with other militant factions across the conflict zone.

This brings us to an old issue: that of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants. It is clear that in the minds of the Pakistani military and the agencies allied to it this line of distinction continues to exist. Of course, Washington is in many ways responsible for creating this. The ghosts of the Afghan war, the alliance it formed with the mujahideen fighting the former Soviets and the engagement of Pakistan’s agencies, notably the ISI, are today coming back to haunt it. This is not to say that the CIA didn’t have its own connections to some of these actors in the past, but the point that is missed by most people is that it is America which calls the shots in this part of the world (or perhaps in most other parts as well).

There is a need for Islamabad to think things through. The division of militants into various camps, for example, so-called ‘good’ Taliban versus so-called ‘bad’ Taliban, has to stop. Essentially, these men of violence do more harm than good. The fact that a particular faction directs its wrath outside the country and avoids targeting Pakistani security forces should not be enough to cast it in the role of an ally. The effort against militancy does need to be seen in the wider regional context, and not as a matter of narrow allegiances and temporary agreements. The people who make decisions in Islamabad should keep in mind just how unsuccessful past efforts to do deals with the militants have been — with such attempts giving groups making up the complex Taliban network in the North a chance to reorganise and strengthen themselves on more than one occasion. There is reason to believe that this has contributed to the terrorism that has claimed thousands of lives. Even if the Haqqani network did not itself send out the bombers it has acted to back forces that have played a part in encouraging militant trends. The so-called Quetta Shura, led by the elusive Mullah Omar, is among these.

This having been said, Washington too needs also to review its own demands. There have been mixed signals over recent weeks. It is possible there is a lack of clarity on strategy within the US capital. This of course means the confusion in Islamabad has grown. A clear course of action needs to be planned in unison so the militants that Washington helped nurture can be driven away.

Clinton, With Initiatives in Hand, Arrives in Pakistan

By Mark Landler for The New York Times

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here Sunday for high-level deliberations with Pakistani leaders, the latest in a series of encounters that the Obama administration hopes will chip away at decades of suspicion between Pakistan and the United States.

Hillary Rodham ClintonMrs. Clinton will announce a raft of initiatives to help Pakistan in public health, water distribution and agriculture, to be funded by $500 million in American economic aid. Among other things, the United States will build a 60-bed hospital in Karachi and help farmers export their mangoes.

Yet these projects, however beneficial to this economically fragile country, do not disguise several nagging sources of friction between the two sides. American officials still question Pakistan’s commitment to root out Taliban insurgents in its frontier areas, its motives in reaching out to war-torn Afghanistan and its determination to expand its own nuclear program.

Pakistan plans to buy two nuclear reactors from China — a deal that alarms the United States because it is cloaked in secrecy and is being conducted outside the global nonproliferation regime. Administration officials said they did not know if Mrs. Clinton planned to raise the purchase.

Relations could be further tested if the Obama administration decides to place a major Pakistani insurgent group, the Haqqani network, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Islamabad maintains ties to the group through its intelligence service, and it is seeking to exploit those connections as a way to extend its influence over Afghanistan.

For all that, tensions between the two sides have ebbed since Mrs. Clinton’s last visit here in October, when she was peppered with hostile questions in public meetings and bluntly suggested that people in the Pakistani government know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

“We needed to change the core of the relationship with Pakistan,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The evolution of the strategic dialogue, and the fact that we are delivering, is producing a change in Pakistani attitudes.”

Mr. Holbrooke noted a U-turn in Pakistan’s policy on issuing visas to American diplomats. For months, Pakistani officials had held up those applications, creating a huge backlog and frustrating the United States. But Pakistan issued 450 visas in the last five days, he said.

Mr. Holbrooke conceded that public-opinion polls toward the United States had yet to show much of a change. Mrs. Clinton may receive more criticism on Monday at a town-hall meeting in Islamabad. Her visit, which was not announced due to security concerns, is being conducted under tight security.

Vali Nasr, a senior advisor to Mr. Holbrooke, said it was unrealistic to expect “to change 30 years of foreign policy of Pakistan on a dime.” But he said, “On foreign policy issues, we’re seeing a lot more convergence.”

The United States is encouraged by the burgeoning dialogue between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Pakistani leaders, including the chief of the staff of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Any resolution of the war, Mr. Holbrooke said, must involve Pakistan.

While American officials would like to see a more aggressive Pakistani military push in North Waziristan, the stronghold of the Haqqani network, they praise the military’s campaigns in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley, where Taliban insurgents had also made gains.

Pakistan’s battle against insurgents has exacted a fearful civilian toll. Last week, a suicide bomber killed 45 people, and injured 175, in an attack on a 1,000-year-old Sufi shrine in Lahore. Many Pakistanis blame the American-led war in Afghanistan for fomenting anti-Pakistan terrorism.

A coalition of protest groups issued a statement Sunday, timed to Mrs. Clinton’s arrival, which calls for an end to the war in Afghanistan and for Americans and Pakistanis who are involved in clandestine air strikes on Pakistani targets to be tried for war crimes.

Mrs. Clinton is to meet General Kayani on Monday, after meetings on Sunday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. She was also scheduled to meet Pakistani business leaders and the head of the Pakistani opposition, Nawaz Sharif.

Mrs. Clinton has brought a shopping-bag full of commitments for Pakistan, drawn from the $7.5 billion in non-military aid, over five years, pledged by Congress last year. The emphasis is on basic services like electricity and water, politically-charged issues in this country, particularly during the hot summer.

“Our commitment is broad and deep,” said Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who is with Mrs. Clinton. “We will not do what we’ve done in the past.”

Administration officials said the project to upgrade Pakistan’s creaky power grid, which involves building hydroelectric dams and rehabilitating power plants, had helped reduce chronic power outages. But on the day Mrs. Clinton landed, television reports here warned of further outages.

Pakistan Suicide Bombing Death Toll Jumps to 102

By Riaz Khan and Nahal Toosi for The Associated Press

The death toll from twin suicide bombings in Pakistan jumped to 102 with 115 people wounded on Saturday, making it the deadliest attack this year in the country.

Authorities continued to remove debris from the site of the attack in the village of Yakaghund in a northwest tribal region, after two bombers struck seconds apart Friday near a government office.

One of the bombs appeared fairly small but the other was huge, officials said. At least one bomber was on a motorcycle.

The attackers detonated their explosives near the office of Rasool Khan, a deputy Mohmand administrator who escaped unharmed. Tribal elders, including those involved in setting up militias to fight the Taliban, were in the building, but none was hurt, according to Mohmand chief administrator Amjad Ali Khan.

Video footage showed dozens of men searching through piles of yellow brick and mud rubble for survivors. Women and children were among the victims.

Mohmand is one of several areas in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt where Taliban and al-Qaida members are believed to be hiding.

Abdul Wadood, 19, was sitting in a vehicle at the time of the bombings.

“I only heard the deafening blast and lost consciousness,” said Wadood, who was being treated for head and arm wounds in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) away. “I found myself on a hospital bed after opening my eyes. I think those who planned or carried out this attack are not humans.”

Some 70 to 80 shops were damaged or destroyed, while damage to a prison building allowed 28 prisoners — ordinary criminals, not militants — to flee, said Rasool Khan, who gave the casualty figures.

Friday’s was the deadliest attack this year in Pakistan. On New Year’s Day, a suicide car bomber struck a sports event near a meeting of tribesmen who supervise an anti-Taliban militia near the South Waziristan tribal area, killing 96 people.

Near the attack site, officials had been distributing wheelchairs Friday to disabled people and equipment to poor farmers, Amjad Ali Khan said. It was unclear how many participants in that event were among the victims.

Pakistani Taliban spokesmen could not be immediately reached after the attack. There were scattered reports the militant group’s branch in Mohmand had claimed responsibility and said it was targeting the elders.

The Pakistani army has carried out operations in Mohmand, but it has been unable to extirpate the militants. Its efforts to rely on citizen militias to take on the militants have had limited success there.

Nevertheless, there have been fewer attacks in Pakistan this year than in previous years — most notably in the northwest. In the last three months of 2009, more than 500 people were killed in a surge of attacks in the country.

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