Ups and downs in Pakistan, US relations
ISPR refutes allegations against Pak army
NEW YORK (DNA) The antiterrorism alliance between the United States and Pakistan, always complicated and often shaky, was plunged into a crisis by the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 by American special forces operating deep inside Pakistan. The fact that Bin Laden had been hiding for years almost in plain sight in a medium-size city that hosts numerous Pakistani forces underscored questions about whether elements of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (or ISI), knew the whereabouts of the leader of Al Qaeda.
American-Pakistani relations were further jeopardized in 2011 by a C.I.A. contractor’s shooting of two Pakistanis and an accidental airstrike in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed.
Since then, both sides have leveled angry criticism at the other. But the Obama administration remains dependent on Pakistan’s military for help in reining in the militant groups that are driving the conflict in Afghanistan but find shelter across the border — not only the Taliban but also the Haqqani terrorist network, a ruthless crime family.
Pakistan has experienced its own internal turmoil in the form of a conflict between the government and the judiciary that has resulted in the dismissal of one prime minister in June 2012 and the arrest of another in January 2013.
In ordering the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Jan. 15 on corruption charges, the court, which is led by the independent-minded chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was likely pursuing its longstanding grudge against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Pakistan was born as an explicitly Muslim state, and the wrestling between its secular and Islamic natures has never been so pronounced as in recent years. Its other sources of unrest, including the military’s role as the arbiter of power — there have been four coups in its 60 years of independence — its rampant corruption and political instability, have been joined by the rise of Islamic militant groups that control of parts of the country’s western half and have launched attacks in the heart of its largest cities.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistan entered into an alliance with the United States that it later claimed was the result of coercion. In 2002, it came to the brink of war with India after Islamic members of a Pakistani militant group attacked India’s Parliament.
The following years were tumultuous even by Pakistan’s standards, as its military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was forced from office and a combination of the Taliban and home-grown Islamic militants spread their control from country’s mountainous western border ever further toward the capital.
General Musharraf’s successor was Asif Ali Zardari, who inherited control of the Pakistan Peoples Party from his wife, Benazir Bhutto, after she was gunned down at a political rally in 2008. But Mr. Zardari proved to be a weak and unpopular president, whose main achievement seems to have been juggling members of the Supreme Court to keep old corruption charges against him at bay.
Even that appeared to have failed when in June 2012 the Supreme Court fired the Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, for failing to comply with court orders to reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari. He was succeeded as Prime Minister by Raja Pervez Ashraf.
In August, the Supreme Court issued a contempt-of-court notice against Prime Minister Ashraf, signaling what appeared to be a rerun of the judicial proceedings in which his predecessor was ousted from office.
A five-member bench ordered Mr. Ashraf to appear before the court on Aug. 27 to explain why his government had refused to revive a corruption investigation into Mr. Zardari’s finances.
Senior lawyers said that Mr. Ashraf was likely to be charged with contempt of court, opening the way for his ouster from office.
Analysts said that Mr. Ashraf’s dismissal would be unlikely to topple Mr. Zardari’s government, which has a majority in Parliament, but that it would set off new political turmoil that might result in earlier elections, which are to take place by June 2013.
The court wants the government to write to the Swiss authorities and prompt them to reopen a long-dormant investigation into Mr. Zardari’s finances dating to the 1990s. Officials from the governing party maintain that Mr. Zardari, as head of state, has immunity from prosecution.
At the heart of the argument is a bitter three-year-old rivalry between Mr. Zardari and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
2007: Musharraf Era Ends
In 2007, Pakistan’s military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was forced from power. He was replaced by neither of his longtime rivals, Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto, who was killed by a bomb at a campaign rally. A tide of strong emotion swept Bhutto’s party into power in parliamentary elections in 2008, and her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, became president.
General Musharraf’s tenure was dominated by the aftermath of the Sept. 11th attacks, by political instability and the rise of Islamic extremist groups.
After 9/11, the United States demanded that Pakistan turn against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Mr. Musharraf agreed but then walked a tightrope between satisfying the Bush administration without inflaming Islamic groups that strongly support Al Qaeda. The mountains of western Pakistan became a haven for Al Qaeda and the Taliban and a launching pad for increasing numbers of extremist attacks in Afghanistan and within Pakistan.
Mr. Musharraf’s downfall began with his attempt to force out the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Mr. Chaudhry, in the spring of 2007, which was widely protested. Mr. Musharraf was forced to backtrack. Under pressure from the Bush administration, he began negotiations with Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister then in exile, about a power sharing agreement.
No agreement was reached, and Mr. Musharraf declared a state of emergency. Hundreds of political opponents were arrested and a majority of the Supreme Court was forced to resign. On Nov. 28, 2007, Mr. Musharraf gave up his military rank, and two weeks later ended emergency rule. By that time, Ms. Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Mr. Musharraf had deposed, were vigorously campaigning against Mr. Musharraf.
2008: The Zardari Presidency
On Dec. 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto was killed by a bomb detonated as she left a large rally, throwing the country into deep mourning. A parliamentary election was postponed until February 2008, when Mr. Musharraf’s party was routed as Mr. Zardari took charge of her political apparatus. Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif formed a governing coalition, which declared that it would seek the impeachment of Mr. Musharraf, who soon after announced his resignation.
In September 2008, Mr. Zardari was elected president, completing a remarkable swing from prisoner to exile to marginal political player to the country’s central figure.
In November, tensions with India returned to the forefront after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which were quickly linked to a Pakistani militant group, Lakshar e-Taiba. The country soon faced a financial crisis as well, as the global financial crisis cut Pakistan off from credit it desperately needed. The government reached agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $7 billion loan.
Musharraf in Exile; Charged in Bhutto Case
In 2008 Mr. Musharraf fled the country under threat of impeachment and has been living in exile in London and Dubai. He was charged in February 2011 in the Bhutto case, though Pakistani officials did not provide details of their accusations against him. In August 2011 a Pakistani court ordered that Mr. Musharraf’s property be seized and his bank accounts frozen for failing to respond to subpoenas.
2009: Domestic Campaign Against the Taliban
Pakistanis long supported the Taliban and other militant groups as allies to exert influence in neighboring Afghanistan and as a hedge against India. Unlike Afghans, they never lived under Taliban rule, and were slow to absorb its dangers.
Through 2008 and early 2009 the influence of the Taliban spread from the remote mountains along the Afghanistan border. The region of Swat, formerly a lure for tourists not far from the capital, became the scene of infiltration, intimidation and constant fighting, and in early 2009 the government reached a truce agreement with militants there. Mr. Zardari signed a measure that would impose Islamic law in the valley.
Soon afterward the Taliban took over Buner, an adjoining district only 60 miles from Islamabad. The conquest shook the central government, as well as the middle and upper classes across the country. It also caused American officials to apply enormous pressure on Pakistan to act.
The ensuing military campaign, begun in May 2009, seemed to be prosecuted with a new resolve, in what appeared to be a change of heart in the Pakistani Army, which had supported the militants for many years. Unaccustomed to urban guerrilla warfare, the military first concentrated on fighting in the rural and mountainous areas of Swat. The ensuing exodus of 1.3 million refugees was the largest mass migration of Pakistanis since the country was partitioned from India more than 60 years ago.
As the battle in Swat died down, the army’s mission turned to the rugged Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, home to Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s enemy No. 1. Mr. Mehsud was killed in August 2009 in a United States drone strike, but thousands of fighters remained entrenched in mountain terrain that is nearly impossible for conventional armies to navigate.
Many of the Pakistani Taliban fighters organized and rested in North Waziristan under the protection of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Afghan Taliban leader who runs a network of several thousand fighters of his own. Allied with the Taliban and backed by Al Qaeda, the Haqqani group makes up a significant part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, too, and American officials have pressed the Pakistani Army for an offensive against them. But the brunt of the effort against Al Qaeda and the Haqqani fighters is borne by American drone strikes launched with Pakistan’s acquiescence.
Suspicions about the role of the Pakistani military in the rise of the Taliban were underscored by the release in July 2010 of a trove of thousands of classified American military documents. The documents, made available by WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.
2010: Flooding Devastates the Nation
The summer of 2010 produced Pakistan’s worst flooding in 80 years (more on Pakistan’s 2010 floods here). In a televised address on Aug. 14, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said 20 million people, about one-ninth of the population, had been displaced by the disaster. Millions were without food, shelter and clean water.
Flooding began on July 22 in the province of Baluchistan, and the swollen waterways poured across the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province in the northwest before flowing south into Punjab and Sindh. Even as Pakistani and international relief officials scrambled to save people and property, they despaired that the nation’s worst natural calamity had ruined just about every physical strand that knit this country together — roads, bridges, schools, health clinics, electricity and communications.
The devastation raised fears of further instability. Hard-line Islamic groups stepped in to provide aid where the government failed to reach; the United States also sent aid with an eye to improving its reputation among ordinary Pakistanis.
The Pakistani military, angered by the inept handling of the floods and alarmed by a collapse of the economy, pushed for a shake-up of the elected government, and in the longer term, even the removal of President Zardari and his top lieutenants. However, the military’s preoccupation with its war against militants and reluctance to assume responsibility for the economy directly led it to emphasize it was not eager to take over the government.
Drone Warfare Escalates
An escalation of attacks in Pakistan, announced by the Obama administration in late 2010, largely involved increased drone strikes. The move reflected mounting frustration both in Afghanistan and the United States that Pakistan had not been aggressive enough in dislodging militants in the mountains.
2011: Bin Laden Killing Raises Tensions
The death of Osama Bin Laden and the circumstances that allowed him to reside quietly in a three-story house on the edge of the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, which houses military garrisons, sharply increased tensions between the American and Pakistani governments.
For nearly a decade, the United States paid Pakistan more than $1 billion a year for counterterrorism operations whose chief aim was the killing or capture of Bin Laden, who slipped across the border from Afghanistan after the American invasion.
The circumstance of Bin Laden’s death deepened suspicions that Pakistan played a double game, and perhaps even knowingly harbored the Qaeda leader. Some in Washington saw the detention of C.I.A. informants after the raid as illustrative of the disconnect between Pakistani and American priorities at a time when they were supposed to be allies.
Even before the strike against Bin Laden, Pakistan had demanded in April 2011 that the United States scale back its number of C.I.A. operatives and Special Operations forces working in the country, and suspend drone strikes on militants in northwest Pakistan. The reductions were personally demanded by the chief of the Pakistan army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The reputation of the army, the most powerful and privileged force in the country, was severely undermined by the American raid.
In July 2011, the Obama administration suspended and, in some cases, canceled hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Pakistani military, in a move to chasten the country for expelling American military trainers and to press its army to fight militants more effectively. Coupled with a statement from the top American military officer linking Pakistan’s military spy agency to the murder of a Pakistani journalist, the halting or withdrawal of military equipment and other aid to Pakistan illustrated the depth of the debate inside the Obama administration over how to change the behavior of one of its key counterterrorism partners.
In the fall, the administration stepped up its efforts at brokering a deal with militants before the last of 33,000 American “surge” troops prepared to pull out of Afghanistan.
But even inside the administration, the new initiative was met with deep skepticism, in part because the Pakistani government has developed its own strategy, one at odds with Mrs. Clinton’s on several key points. One senior American official summarized the Pakistani position as “Cease-fire, Talk, Wait for the Americans to Leave.”
In short, the United States was in the position of having to rely heavily on the ISI to help broker a deal with the same group of militants that leaders in Washington said the spy agency is financing and supporting.
An Attack Damages American-Pakistani Relations
In November 2011, American-Pakistani relations were jeopardized when a NATO air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in strikes against two military posts at the country’s northwestern border with Afghanistan. Pakistan halted joint operations and intelligence sharing on the border and angrily rejected the conclusions of an American investigation that laid some of the blame on the Pakistani military.
The airstrikes led Pakistan to immediately close supply routes into Afghanistan and plunged relations between the countries to a low point. The major stumbling block was Pakistan’s demand for a formal American apology for the airstrike. In July 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was sorry for the deaths of the soldiers. In late July, the supply routes reopened after the Pakistani cabinet approved the terms of a 10-page agreement. The deal ended a bitter seven-month stalemate between the two countries that jeopardized counterterrorism cooperation and complicated the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Tensions flared again between the two countries at a security conference in Aspen, Colo., in late July, when Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said that Pakistani Taliban fighters, who have taken refuge in eastern Afghanistan, were increasingly carrying out rocket attacks and cross-border raids against Pakistan.
Douglas E. Lute, President Obama’s top adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said, “There’s no comparison of the Pakistani Taliban’s relatively recent, small-in-scale presence inside Afghanistan to the decades-long experience and relationship between elements of the Pakistani government and the Afghan Taliban.”
Ms. Rehman also criticized the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone strikes in Pakistan, saying they had reached the point of “diminishing returns” while also whipping up anti-American sentiment in the country.
For the Obama administration, the drone strike campaign centered in northwestern Pakistan continues to be of prime importance. Although the drones are best known for targeting senior commanders of Al Qaeda, they are also aimed at Taliban fighters headed for the Afghan border.
Power has continued to be exercised largely — if more discreetly — by the military and its leader, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kaylani, who is widely regarded as the country’s most powerful figure. And while General Kaylani has pursued a more aggressive approach toward battling the militants, launching offensives to reclaim control of the western provinces, American officials remain convinced that portions of the military are still supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Conflicts Between Military and Civilian Leaders
Within the country, friction between the military and civilian leaders intensified. In October 2011, military leaders seized on an unsigned memo written after the Bin Laden raid that asked the United States for help in averting a coup and charged that it was the work of an ally of President Asif Ali Zardari. By January 2012, Pakistan’s increasingly activist Supreme Court had inserted itself into the conflict, holding hearings into what had become known as Memogate.
In June 2012, the judicial commission investigating Memogate ruled that Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States had in fact secretly approached the Obama administration in 2011 requesting help to stave off a possible military coup. But during the five months the commission took to conduct its investigation, the tensions that surrounded the case calmed, and the Memogate hearings gradually receded from the spotlight as other crises took prominence.
Among the biggest upheavals: Mr. Gilani became embroiled in a conflict with the country’s emboldened Supreme Court for failing to pursue a corruption case from the 1990s against President Zardari. The case involved alleged kickbacks Mr. Zardari received from a Swiss company. The court had insisted since 2009 that the government should write a letter to Switzerland reopening the case. But the government argued that Mr. Zardari enjoyed immunity from prosecution.
In June 2012, the country’s Supreme Court ordered his dismissal, based on its conviction of him in April for contempt of court.
After months of legal battles, Mr. Zardari’s government relented in September 2012 and agreed to write a letter to Swiss authorities reopening the case. The decision, announced in court by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, appeared to offer a potential way out of the bruising standoff with the Supreme Court.
On Oct. 10, the Supreme Court approved the draft of the letter to be written to the Swiss authorities. Farooq H. Naek, the Pakistani law minister, said the government would send the letter to Swiss officials in four weeks.
But officials in Switzerland have been quoted as saying that cases against Mr. Zardari would be revived there only if corruption cases against him were under way in Pakistan. Swiss legal experts say that given the recent expiration of a statute of limitation on the charges in Switzerland and Mr. Zardari’s presidential immunity, the chances of a new prosecution are slim, at least while Mr. Zardari remains in office.
Despite Turmoil, Government Gains in Senate Elections
In early March 2012, the government cemented its grip on power with strong gains in Senate elections that represented a psychological victory for President Zardari, and should ensure his party’s influence for another three years.
The governing Pakistan Peoples Party and its coalition allies won 32 of 49 possible seats; another 5 seats were to be announced, but the result could not prevent the government from taking control of the upper house of Parliament.
It was an important milestone for Mr. Zardari and his supporters, who in the very recent past had been dogged by speculation of a military coup and threats from assertive judges and lurid political scandals.
The outcome of the elections means that Mr. Zardari’s party will dominate the upper house until March 2015, giving it the power to block legislation — even if it is defeated in general elections, which are scheduled for February 2013.
Strained Diplomatic Relations With the U.S.
In February 2012, an inflammatory call by Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, for the secession of Pakistan’s largest province sparked an uproar in Pakistan, injecting fresh complications into stalled efforts to restart diplomatic relations between Washington and Islamabad.
The bill drew a furious reaction from Pakistani politicians and media, with Mr. Gilani calling it an attack on Pakistani sovereignty.
The furor stems partly from Pakistani sensitivities about the simmering Baluchistan conflict, which human rights groups have said has been marked by widespread rights violations, perpetrated largely by the military, yet has received sparse international attention. But it is also a measure of the tinderbox of anti-Americanism inside Pakistan.
Media reports in Pakistan accused Mr. Rohrabacher of seeking to “balkanize” Pakistan, or of acting at the behest of American intelligence agents who, the reports said, were seeking to pressure Pakistan into establishing covert listening posts on the border with Iran. Mr. Rohrabacher and Obama administration officials rejected those accusations.
A Rift Within the Pakistani Taliban
In early March 2012, the Pakistani Taliban faced the prospect of a damaging leadership rift when the abrupt dismissal of a senior commander provoked an angry reaction in the militants’ ranks. This offered the Islamabad government a fresh opportunity to weaken a foe that in recent years killed thousands of Pakistanis and tried to detonate a crude car bomb in New York’s Times Square in 2010.
Militant commanders in Bajaur, a small but strategically important tribal district on the Afghan border, spoke out strongly against the news that their leader, the Taliban deputy commander Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, had been fired at a shura, or leadership council, meeting.
In an interview, the commanders, Maulana Abdul Mutalib, Fazal Khan, Maulvi Abdullah and Liaqat Khan, threatened to set up a rival group.
Simmering tensions between Mr. Muhammad and the head of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, spilled into the open in January 2012, when it emerged that Mr. Muhammad had unilaterally entered into peace talks with the Pakistani government. Mr. Muhammad said the government had released 145 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture, an assertion not confirmed by the government.
Haqqani Network a Risk to Relations With the U.S.
In June 2012, an assault by the Haqqani network against Camp Salerno, an American base in southern Afghanistan, killed two Americans. The attack, which used suicide bombers, penetrated the defenses of a major American base to within yards of a dining hall used by hundreds of soldiers.
The Salerno attack, acknowledged at the time only in terse official statements, and others like it have cemented the Haqqani network’s standing as the most ominous threat to the fragile American-Pakistani relationship, officials from both countries say.
A new boldness from the Haqqanis that aims at mass American casualties, combined with simmering political tension, has reduced the room for ambiguity between the two countries. Inside the Obama administration, it is a commonly held view that the United States is “one major attack” away from unilateral action against Pakistan — diplomatically or perhaps even militarily, according to a senior official.
Days after the Salerno attack, the White House held a series of interagency meetings to weigh its options in the event of a major success by the Haqqanis against American troops.
The meetings yielded a list of about 30 possible responses, according to a senior official who was briefed on the deliberations — everything from withdrawing the Islamabad ambassador, to a flurry of intensified drone attacks on Haqqani targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt, to American or Afghan commando raids on Haqqani hide-outs in the same area.
There were no easy answers. Officials concluded that most options ran the risk of setting off a wider conflict with Pakistan’s nuclear-armed military. At the heart of the conundrum is the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, and its new chief, Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, who is a largely unknown quantity in Washington.
In late July 2012, Richard G. Olson, President Obama’s nominee to become the new ambassador to Pakistan, said that his top priority would be to press the government there to take more forceful measures against the Haqqani network. Mr. Olson made the pledge at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he appeared along with James B. Cunningham, the nominee to become the new ambassador to Afghanistan. At the same time, the ISI’s new chief, Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, who is largely unknown in the United States, was visiting Washington, where he was scheduled to meet with officials including David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director.
The Haqqanis Have Deep Roots in Pakistan
The Haqqanis’ formidable reputation comes from a series of “swarm” attacks that have struck at American efforts to ensure a smooth and public transition of power to President Hamid Karzai by the end of 2014. Since 2008, Haqqani suicide attackers have struck the Indian Embassy, five-star hotels and restaurants and, in September 2011, the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, and the American Embassy.
The headlines created by such violence are disproportionate to their military significance: Haqqani operations account for one-tenth of the attacks on ISAF troops, and perhaps 15 percent of casualties, senior American officials estimate. Other countries do not even consider the Haqqanis to be the most dangerous group sheltering in Pakistan, a mantle usually awarded to the more ideologically driven Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was behind the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
Yet their success is rooted in the sanctuary enjoyed by Haqqani leadership in North Waziristan, where, at the very least, they are unmolested by the Pakistani military.
That relationship stretches to the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s, when the ISI funneled C.I.A. money and weapons to Haqqani fighters. The Pakistani agency continued to send funds during the 1990s, according to a new report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
Today, the ISI admits that it maintains regular contact with the Haqqanis, but denies providing operational support. American and other Western officials, citing intelligence reports, say the ISI and the Haqqanis do more than just talk. Pakistani intelligence allows Haqqani operatives to run legitimate businesses in Pakistan, facilitates their travel to Persian Gulf states, and has continued to donate money. Senior Haqqani figures own houses in the capital, Islamabad, where their relatives live unmolested.
But, officials and some analysts caution, such links do not amount to ISI support for attacks on Americans. They may point to something more subtle: a containment policy that is devised to prevent Haqqani violence inside Pakistan, all the while providing a strategic card to help influence the future of Afghanistan.
In many ways, the Haqqanis are their own masters. Although they pledge allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, they enjoy financial autonomy thanks to a tribal crime empire based on extortion, kidnapping and smuggling. They draw operational support from other groups sheltering in Waziristan, including Al Qaeda.
American efforts to kill Haqqani leaders with C.I.A. drone strikes in Waziristan and Afghanistan have met with little success, senior officials said, partly because Sirajuddin Haqqani surrounds himself with civilians — often women and children — at his base in the town of Miram Shah.
Islamic Militants Wage Attacks
In mid-August 2012, Pakistani Taliban militants pulled 22 Shiites off buses and gunned them down in a remote northern mountain pass, in the latest iteration of a pattern of attacks targeting religious minorities.
In the remote district of Mansehra, at least a dozen militants dressed in military fatigues stopped three buses carrying passengers on a rugged road from Rawalpindi to Astore. The militants checked the identification papers of passengers, singled out the Shiites and then shot them dead at point-blank range, police officials said.
The victims were mostly young men returning to their villages for Id al-Fitr, the Islamic festival that marks the end of Ramadan.
Also in mid-August, an early morning attack on a major Pakistani air force base where some of the country’s nuclear weapons are thought to be stored set off a heavy gun battle in which eight attackers and one security official were killed.
The authorities believed Islamic militants were responsible for the attack, on the Minhas air force base in Kamra, 25 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad. The assault was a stark reminder of the militants’ determination to attack Pakistan’s most sensitive installations despite continuing military operations in their tribal hide-outs.
Over the past several years there have been several attacks on bases that are believed to be involved in the country’s nuclear program, but most evidence has suggested that the militants were targeting the country’s military capability in general.
The assault was not entirely unexpected. On Aug. 10, the daily Express Tribune, quoting intelligence officials, reported that the Pakistani Taliban were planning to attack an air force base near Lahore before Id al-Fitr, the Islamic festival that marks the end of Ramadan.
Militants have attacked Kamra three times before — in 2007, when a suicide bomber hit a bus near the entrance to the Minhas air base; in 2008, when militants fired several rockets into the base; and in 2009, when a suicide bomber riding a bicycle blew himself up on an approach road.
Violent Protest Over Anti-Islamic Film
In September 2012, violent crowds furious over an anti-Islamic video made in the United States convulsed several cities across Pakistan in a day of state-sanctioned protests, leaving up to 23 people dead and more than 200 injured in a day of government-sanctioned protests.
It was the worst single day of deadly violence in a Muslim country over the short trailer to the film, “Innocence of Muslims,” since the protests began nearly two weeks previously in Egypt, before spreading to two dozen countries. Peaceful protests had been approved by Pakistan’s government, which declared Sept. 21 a national holiday, a “Day of Love for the Prophet Muhammad,” as part of an effort to either control, or politically capitalize on, rage against the inflammatory film, which depicts the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, as a sexually perverted buffoon. For more on the video, click here.
But chaotic scenes in the streets outside suggested that if the government had aimed to harness public anger on the issue, it had failed dismally.
The next day, a Pakistani cabinet minister offered a $100,000 reward for the death of the person behind the video, even suggesting that Taliban and Al Qaeda militants could carry out the killing. Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, the federal railways minister, said that he would personally finance a bounty. But in Islamabad, the Pakistani government distanced itself from the comments.
Taliban Kills Prominent Politician; Shoots Schoolgirl
In early November 2012, Fateh Khan, a prominent anti-Taliban politician in northwestern Pakistan, was killed in a suicide bombing, underscoring the dangers faced by politicians who stand up to the insurgents.
Two security guards working for Mr. Khan and three passers-by were also killed in the attack, seen as an act of retribution by the Taliban.
In October 2012, a Taliban gunman singled out and shot a Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, 15, in retaliation for her work in promoting girls’ education and children’s rights in the northwestern Swat Valley, near the Afghan border. The brazen shooting shocked the nation and was condemned worldwide. Ms. Yousafzai is currently under treatment in England.
A Surge in Violence Against Shiites
For at least a year now, Sunni extremist gunmen have been methodically attacking members of the Hazara community, a Persian-speaking Shiite minority that emigrated to Quetta, Pakistan, from Afghanistan more than a century ago.
More than 100 Hazaras have been killed in 2012, many in broad daylight. As often as not, the gunmen do not even bother to cover their faces.
The bloodshed is part of a wider surge in sectarian violence across Pakistan in which at least 375 Shiites have died this year — the worst toll since the 1990s, human rights workers say. But as their graveyard fills, Hazaras say the mystery lies not in the identity of their attackers, who are well known, but in a simpler question: why the Pakistani state cannot — or will not — protect them.
The sense of siege in Quetta has turned to flight for many younger Hazaras, who are leaving their homes for Australia, 6,000 miles distant and the largest center of the Hazara diaspora. It is an expensive, dangerous journey: after paying up to $15,000 per head to people smugglers, many are forced to brave perilous journeys in rickety boats across the Indian Ocean. Too often, the boats sink en route, taking hundreds of lives.
Afghanistan’s President Implicates Pakistan in Bombing
In December 2012, a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul tried to assassinate the powerful new chief of Afghanistan’s intelligence servicen in a brazen attack that left him seriously wounded. Days after the attack, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said the suicide bomber came from Pakistan and the attack was organized with the help of a sophisticated foreign intelligence service.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Mr. Karzai said the attack was too sophisticated to be the work of the Taliban alone.
Mr. Karzai said he would ask for clarification from Pakistan’s president, when the two men meet in late December, on whether Pakistan’s intelligence service was involved in any way. He said he wanted Pakistan’s help in easing ordinary Afghans’ suspicions that Pakistani interests were behind the attack — if not directly organizing it, then at least providing help.
U.N. Suspends Polio Vaccines After Militants Kill Workers
In December 2012, after militants stalked and killed eight vaccination workers, six of them women, over the course of a three-day, nationwide polio vaccination drive, the United Nations suspended its anti-polio work in Pakistan, and one of the country’s most crucial public health campaigns was plunged into crisis.
Government officials in Peshawar said that they believed a Taliban faction in Mohmand, a tribal area near Peshawar, was behind at least some of the shootings.
Militant commanders have been criticizing polio vaccination campaigns — a prominent yet weakly protected sign of government presence in far-flung areas — since 2007, when Maulvi Fazlullah, a radical preacher on a white horse, strode through the northwestern Swat Valley.
Mr. Fazlullah claimed that polio vaccines were part of a plot to sterilize Muslim children, but in recent years Taliban commanders in the militant hub of North Waziristan have come up with a more political complaint: they say that immunization can resume only when American drones stop killing their comrades. Suspicion of vaccination has also intensified since the Central Intelligence Agency used a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to run a hepatitis B vaccination scheme in order to spy on Osama bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad in 2011.
Year-End Rise in Militant Violence
On Dec. 30, 2012, at least 19 Shiite pilgrims were killed when their convoy of three buses in southwestern Pakistan was struck by a remotely detonated bomb, officials said. At least 25 other people were wounded in the attack in the Mastung district of Baluchistan Province.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack on the pilgrims, but Shiite Muslim sects have repeatedly been singled out by extremist Sunni militants belonging to the banned group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has links to Pakistani Taliban militants in the tribal areas.
Earlier in the day, government officials said they had discovered the bodies of 21 tribal police officers who were kidnapped by the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. The officers, who belonged to a tribal police force, were abducted on Dec. 27 after hundreds of Taliban militants armed with heavy weapons attacked three security checkpoints on the outskirts of Peshawar.
Drone War Spurs Militants to Deadly Reprisals
Al Qaeda and the Taliban have few defenses against the American drones that endlessly prowl the skies over the bustling militant hubs of North and South Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan. C.I.A. missiles killed at least 246 people in 2012, most of them Islamist militants, according to watchdog groups that monitor the strikes.
For several years now, militant enforcers have scoured the tribal belt in search of informers who help the C.I.A. find and kill the spy agency’s jihadist quarry. The militants’ technique — often more witch hunt than investigation — follows a well-established pattern. Accused tribesmen are abducted from homes and workplaces at gunpoint and tortured. A sham religious court hears their case, usually declaring them guilty. Then they are forced to speak into a video camera.
The taped confessions, which are later distributed on CD, vary in style and content. But their endings are the same: execution by hanging, beheading or firing squad. These macabre recordings offer a glimpse into a little-seen side of the drone war in Waziristan, a paranoid shadow conflict between militants and a faceless American enemy in which ordinary Pakistanis have often become unwitting victims.
As the American campaign has cut deeply into the commands of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, drone-fearing militants have turned to the local community for reprisals, mounting a concerted campaign of fear and intimidation that has claimed dozens of lives and further stressed the already fragile order of tribal society.
The video messages from accused spies are intended to send a stark message, regardless of whether innocents are among those caught up in the deadly dragnet. The confessions are delivered at gunpoint, and usually follow extensive torture, including hanging from hooks for up to a month, human rights groups say.
Signs of a Thaw Between U.S. and Pakistan
Even so, 2012 brought signs of thawing in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. In December, the Pentagon quietly notified Congress that it would reimburse Pakistan nearly $700 million for the cost of stationing 140,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan, an effort to normalize support for the Pakistani military after nearly two years of crises and mutual retaliation.
The $688 million payment — the first since summer 2012, covering food, ammunition and other expenses from June through November 2011 — caused barely a ripple of protest on Capitol Hill.
The absence of a reaction, American and Pakistani officials said, underscored how relations between the two countries had been gradually easing since Pakistan reopened the NATO supply routes in July 2012 after an apology from the Obama administration for the errant American airstrike in November 2011.
Moreover, the two sides resumed a series of high-level meetings on a range of topics including counterterrorism, economic cooperation, energy and the security of Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.
Still Plenty of Sore Spots
There were several exceptions to the state of calm, including a tense set of discussions about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. American officials told their Pakistani colleagues that Islamabad’s move to smaller, more portable weapons created a greater risk that one could be stolen or diverted.
Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, head of the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, told a Senate hearing in December 2012 that Pakistan’s efforts to stem the flow of a common agricultural fertilizer, calcium ammonium nitrate, that Taliban insurgents use to make roadside bombs had fallen woefully short.
Also, American officials have also all but given up on Pakistan’s carrying out a clearing operation in North Waziristan, a major militant safe haven along the Afghan border. SOURCE NEW YORK TIMES MARCH 05, 2013
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