Friday 30 December 2011

Another Balochi doctor assassinated

Dr Baqir's funeral in Jecobabad earlier today
The assassination campaign continues in Balochistan, most recently with the murder of Dr Baqir Shah yesterday in Quetta. Shah, a prominent police surgeon, conducted the postmortems on five foreigners - four Russians and a Tajik, including two women - who were shot dead by police and soldiers from the Frontier Corps in Kharotabad on 17 May. The security forces at first insisted that all five had been killed by the explosion of a hand grenade in their possession, but Dr Shah's examination proved that they had all been killed by bullets fired by the security forces themselves. The Russian and Tajik embassies both declared that their nationals had been innocent of any crime.
There had been signs that Dr Shah was in danger. Following his postmortem on the five people killed in May, he was badly beaten by a group of ten men dressed in police uniforms, who attempted to abduct him. He later issued a statement that he had received threats to his life, saying he had been pressurised to change his postmortem report.
Dr Shah was the third prominent Balochi doctor to have been killed in the last three months, prompting strikes and walk-outs by colleagues across the province. Two further doctors remain missing. The slain doctor was on his way home from Bolan Medical Complex hospital, where he worked, when two men opened fire from point blank range at his head. He was taken to Bolan Medical Complex Hospital in his car where he was pronounced dead.
His assistant, Abdul Hameed Mengal, the only witness, who was sitting in the car, told the police that when  Dr. Shah slowed his car close to his house, one of the two gunmen rushed towards him and  started firing. Both assassins covered their faces and escaped on motorcycle.
The Baloch Doctors’ Forum (BDF) strongly condemned the killing of  Dr Shah saying the incident was part of the ongoing “government-sponsored cycle of targeted assaults on Baloch doctors”.
The BDF called an emergency meeting for today (Friday) and also announced a strike in hospitals all over Balochistan in protest against Dr Shah's killing. Out-patient departments will remain closed for an indefinite period.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Who's representing the Taliban?

Useful article on who may or may not be representing the Taliban in peace talks, written by Mujib Mashal for al-Jazeera.

New evidence in Benazir murder case

Dawn reports an interesting development in the investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto, almost exactly four years ago on 27 December 2007. The paper has published a five-line letter from Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana on behalf of the then head of the ISI, to Syed Kamal Shah, secretary of Pakistan's Interior Ministry.
The letter, dated 10 December 2007 and headlined 'al-Qaeda Threat', states: "It has reliably been reported that a few extremist groups related to al Qaeda have made some plan to assassinate Mrs.Benzir Bhutto and her adviser Mr Rehman Malik on 21 December 2007. The exact plan of execution not known."
Immediately on receiving the letter Kamal Shah added in his own writing "This is a threat with specific date, we should sensitize them". He directed Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema, then director general of the Interior Ministry's National Crisis Management Cell,  to speak to Rehman Malik and warn him. Cheema wrote back to say he had done so. Malik is known immediately to have written a three-page memo requesting a tightening of security around the recently returned politician.
According to Dawn, Brig Rana, who provided the intelligence, has yet to appear in front of the official investigation into Bhutto's murder, so it is uncertain where the information originated. Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack on her car in Rawalpindi. It is widely believed that the killing was organised by Baitullah Mahsud, then leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Mahsud was killed in a drone strike in August 2009.
Bhutto in Rawalpindi moments before she was killed

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Sen. Lieberman calls for Taliban censorship

The Telegraph reports that Joe Lieberman, chair of the US Senate Homeland Security Committee, wants to block the Taliban's twitter account. Aides told the paper that pro-Taliban feeds, including @ABalkhi and @alemarahweb - which I follow - should be blocked because they regularly boast about the deaths of "cowardly invaders" and "puppet" Afghan government forces.
Grow up Mr Lieberman. We live in the information age. Censorship achieves nothing. You should be more concerned about the fact that the Taliban is far more effective in communicating its messages than US forces in Afghanistan. And it will soon have a public office in one or more Islamic countries if press reports emanating from Afghanistan today can be believed.

Body of former bank governor's killer found

More on the death of former Afghanistan central bank head Mir Najibullah Sadat Sahou, who was shot dead at the end of September in San Diego, California, which I wrote about here.
Mr Sahou, who drove a taxi, was shot dead late at night by a passenger, who then took his cab and abandoned it on a coast road several miles away. At the time there was some suggestion of a possible political motive for the killing.
Now police have revealed that recreational divers  recently found the body of the main suspect in the killing, Ismael Raul Lopez, in the Pacific Ocean. Along with the bones, divers also found part of Lopez's skull with a bullet hole in it. Police believe that the killer either jumped the curb of the coastal road by accident or intended to drive into the sea, as paint marks on the cab matched those of the wooden fence next to the road. One theory is that the 28-year-old convicted paedophile tried to commit suicide by driving the car into the ocean. When that failed he walked to the water's edge and then shot himself in the head.

Redacted version of border incident report

A redacted version of the official investigation by Brigadier General Stephen A Clark into the recent incident at the Salala Checkpoint, Khas-Kunar province on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed can be found here.
While stating that the catalyst for the engagement was the opening of fire on a joint Afghan Army/US Special Forces operation by Pakistani soldiers from the other side of the poorly demarcated border, the report admits that procedures and directives governing this kind of operation close to the border "lacked clarity and precision" and were not followed. It further states that "time-sensitive senior Command override measures" for such incidents are lacking and that a series of mis-communications within the chain of command delayed confirmation of the identity of the Pakistani forces that had been attacked.
That having been said, the hysterical reaction of the Pakistan military to the incident had more to do with internal politicking and relations between the military and the civilian government than to the incident itself. Pakistan's military and intelligence communities are increasingly disturbed by the devastation being caused to the insurgency along the border by the US drone campaign and operations such as the one that led to this firing incident. It is no secret that they are only willing to take action against insurgents who are fighting the Pakistani state itself, not against those who target NATO and US forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Monday 19 December 2011

Pakistan Taliban crisis deepens

An interesting article in Pakistan's Express Tribune sheds further light on the demise of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The article suggests that the TTP is now in terminal decline, with its leader Hakimullah Mahsud isolated due to threats from drones and from the Pakistan military.
They quote a former associate thus: “He is virtually a lonely man running for his life … he is always on the move and doesn’t meet even his once most-trusted lieutenants”.
As I suggested below in the article on Shamim Mahsud and the TTP in South Waziristan, the reason for Hakimullah's isolation is partly due to the existence of peace talks with the Pakistan government - although I was wrong in thinking that it was the Waliur Rehman faction that was excluded from talks.
In fact, it is Hakimullah who has refused to talk to Pakistan's government - presumably under the influence of al-Qaeda and other die-hard jihadists - while Waliur Rehman from South Waziristan and Maulvi Faqir Mohammad from Bajaur are reported to be in discussions.
The latest claim from Maulvi Faqir Mohammad came 10 days ago, when he said talks were progressing and that they had so far resulted in the release of 145 Taliban prisoners. However, Mullah Dadullah, leader of the TTP in Bajaur, quickly denied the claim, adding that fighting would continue until sharia law was introduced throughout the whole of Pakistan.
The Express Tribune article says that money has dried up for the TTP and this has led to the desertion of former supporters, many of whom only fought for money. The TTP's shura, or ruling council, has shrunk from nearly 40 members to less than 10.
The reason funds are in short supply, the article speculates, is that the Afghan Taliban has stopped paying the TTP because it is now in negotiations with the Afghan government.
Presumably Pakistan will introduce an amnesty for TTP members that agree to call a truce with the government, although the ISI will be happy if they continue to fight across the border in Afghanistan.
However, if talks with the Afghan Taliban leadership are really underway, this may be difficult. The big question is where this will leave the foreign jihadists. In his recent interview (see below), Shamim Mahsud was quite happy to show correspondents the houses in the Ladda area where fighters from Turkmenistan were living and training. How will they and the other foreigners fit into the picture?

Friday 16 December 2011

The murder of a good man

Zarteef Khan Afridi
How sad to hear of the murder of Zarteef Khan Afridi, coordinator in the Khyber Agency for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Afridi, 52, was shot dead by masked men on 5th December as he walked to the school in the Saparee area where he had taught for more than 20 years. The killing was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigade - a cover name that could refer to any of the half-dozen militant groups that infest the area.
Hundreds of people turned out in Peshawar on 8th December to honour Zarteef's memory. His family said that Zarteef had recently been receiving death threats because of his opposition to Taliban activity in Khyber and because of his support for women's rights - in a remarkable display of his own practical support for women's rights he married off his three daughters without asking for or receiving bride money.
He was well known for promoting education and the observance of human rights. The HRCP called him a "tireless human rights defender". Some idea of his work can be found here.
In 1996 he founded the FATA Education and Welfare Society to promote secular education over madrassah schooling. He was almost a lone voice amongst tribesmen in Khyber seeking to promote secularism. For this he was labelled by local leaders and clergy as a kaffir.
Despite the threats, which grew in regularity and vehemence, Zarteef declined to leave Khyber. Sadly, he paid with his life for this brave decision.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Confusing reports on Pakistan Taliban

TTP fighters train in South Waziristan
It's a little depressing when you cannot rely on major news agencies to get even basic details right. Both AP and Reuters are carrying reports about a journey made by their correspondents to meet leaders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Laddah region of South Waziristan.
According to the Reuters account, the group of three senior tribal journalists met with Shamim Mahsud, the "deputy commander" of the TTP at his secret base in the mountains close to the border with Afghanistan.
According to an updated report by Ishtiaq Mahsud of AP, the reporters had been invited to meet with Hakimullah Mahsud, leader of the TTP, but he had cancelled, with his aides saying he had had to meet a delegation of Afghan Taliban elders who had arrived from across the border. This report again refers to and quotes from Shamim Mahsud, now calling him the "operational commander" of the TTP.
But a third report, from Sailab Mehsud in the Dawn newspaper, differs yet again. This  says that the journalists met with Shamim Mahsud, who Sailab describes (correctly) as "the key operational commander and chief of Laddah sub-division chapter of TTP". However, he adds that "The journalists were invited to meet commander Waliur Rehman, Emir of South Waziristan Taliban, but he was busy in meetings with some Taliban delegations from Afghanistan and other areas of Pakistan. Then they had to meet Shamim Mehsud."
Confused? You should be. There is a big difference between meeting Hakimullah in South Waziristan and meeting Waliur Rahman.
It may help to know that Shamim Mahsud and Waliur Rahman, his emir, are not exactly close to Hakimullah Mahsud and the rest of the leadership of the TTP. For a time there was a blood feud between Shamim and Qari Hussein, Hakimullah's deputy, over who had the right to train suicide bombers. You can read more about that in an interesting article published by the FATA Research Centre. The fact that Shamim seems to have facilitated this unusual trip for journalists is significant, simply for this fact alone. It suggests that Shamim is attempting to reassert Waliur Rahman's claim to leadership of the TTP, perhaps because the South Waziristan faction of the group has been excluded from peace talks rumoured to have been held recently with the government.
Either way, perhaps our main foreign news agencies, on whom we rely for important information, can try a little harder to get basic information right first time.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Available in a variety of colours....

I am grateful to Mujib Masha, who tweets as @MujMash, for tweeting this fantastic pic of an old Jeep photographed recently at the Torkham border post in the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its flying an Afghan flag, so presumably it's on that side of the border.