Archive for the 'Terrorism' Category

The Bin Laden Files

A series of Al Jazeera reports on leaked files from the Abbottabad Commission which reveals Osama bin Laden’s life on the run and the “collective failure” of the Pakistani military and government to locate him. (Read here)



A night of terror on Nanga Parbat

Peter Miller in National Geographic:

Late last Saturday night, gunmen dressed in paramilitary uniforms entered Base Camp at Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s second-highest peak, and murdered ten foreign mountaineers and a Pakistani cook. A spokesman for an Islamist militant group later claimed credit for the killings. It was the first time climbers had been targeted in that manner in Pakistan. The victims included three Ukrainians, three Chinese, two Slovaks, a Nepali, a Pakistani, and a Lithuanian named Ernest Marksaitis.

Sher Khan, a Pakistani climber, returned to Base Camp at Nanga Parbat at about two o’clock on Saturday afternoon, June 22. He’d been suffering from the effects of high altitude at Camp 1 and wanted to rest. Besides the other mountaineers at Base Camp, many of whom were also sick, there were about a dozen members of the staff, mostly local people. After a cup of light soup, he climbed into his sleeping bag, still not feeling well.

In this interview, he tells National Geographic what happened on the mountain that night.

What was the first sign of trouble?

I woke up suddenly around 9:30 [in the evening]. I heard noises around my tent. What’s going on, I thought. Is somebody fighting or what? I opened my tent flap a little and saw a person carrying a Russian Kalashnikov about 20 meters away. He was wearing a local camouflage uniform.

Then right in front of my tent I saw someone with a terrorist. His name was Ernest, a climber from Lithuania. And he was saying, “I am not American. I am not American.”

From another direction I heard, “Go out. Go out. Go, go.” They were trying to pull the Chinese out from their tents. “Taliban! Al-Qaeda! Surrender!” They were trying to tell the foreigners to surrender. More:

The mood in Pakistan on eve of elections

Salman Hameed in Irtiqa (via 3quarksdaily):

Pak-pollPakistan’s elections are scheduled for May 11th. There have already been a tremendous number of casualties – mostly by the Taliban (of the Pakistani flavor) targeting the relatively more secular parties. Here is from the horse’s mouth:

“Taliban shura had decided to target those secular political parties which were part of the previous coalition government and involved in the operation in Swat, Fata and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwah,”adding that “the organisation followed the instructions of the Taliban shura and that it was the shura that decided which political parties to target, where and when.”

To another query that the Taliban were making ground and paving way for some parties to win the elections and denying space to others, he said: “neither we are against nor in favour of the PTI, PML- N, JI and JUI-F,” adding that “We are against the secular and democratic system which is against the ideology of Islam but we are not expecting any good from the other parties either, who are the supporters of the same system, but why they are not targeted is our own prerogative to decide.”

Shamefully, none of the parties not targeted by the Taliban have unequivocally condemned this Taliban assault on democracy. But to add to the uncertainty, just a few hours ago, Imran Khan of PTI also got injured when he fell off a lifter while getting on a stage for a political rally. This is big news as he is one of the leading contenders in the upcoming elections.

But what are the major concerns of Pakistanis? The Pew forum has a new survey out that focuses on Pakistan. Perhaps, not surprisingly, crime and terrorism is at the top at 95 and 93% respectively. But note that even Sunni-Shia tensions are labeled as a “very big problem” by over half of the respondents, and the conflict between the government with the judiciary and the military is not considered that much of a problem. More:


Taliban in Karachi: the real story

Fahim Zaman and Naziha Syed Ali in Dawn:

ON the evening of March 13, Director Orangi Pilot Project Perween Rahman was shot and killed by masked men half a kilometre from her office just off Manghopir Road in Karachi. The police were quick to point a finger at the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

In an “encounter” the very next day, they killed Qari Bilal who they claimed was a leader of the TTP and the mastermind behind Ms Rahman’s murder. Many in the development sector, however, believe she was targeted because she had fallen foul of the city’s land mafia because she was placing their activities on record. They may both well be right, even if Qari Bilal was falsely accused by law-enforcement agencies.

The latest players in Karachi’s land grab — for long the domain of those with close links to the major political parties and forces amongst the establishment here — are TTP elements who have been putting down their roots in various parts of the city over the past couple of years.

Large swathes of Pakhtun neighborhoods in districts west and east, as well as pockets in districts Malir, central and south are reported to be under the influence of the TTP. While all 30 or so of its factions have a presence in the city, the most influence is wielded by the Hakimullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah factions.

According to local police and residents of the affected areas, elements belonging to the TTP have entrenched themselves in these areas after having terrorised the local Pakhtun population into submission, and driven out the ANP from most of its traditional strongholds. More:

Time Person of the Year 2012 runner-up: Malala Yousafzai, the Fighter

From Time magazine:

malala-TimeAyesha Mir didn’t go to school on Tuesday, Nov. 27, the day after a security guard found a shrapnel-packed bomb under her family’s car. The 17-year-old Pakistani girl assumed, as did most people who learned about the bomb, that it was intended for her father, the television news presenter Hamid Mir, who often takes on the Taliban in his nightly news broadcasts. Traumatized by the near miss, Ayesha spent most of the day curled up in a corner of her couch, unsure whom to be angrier with: the would-be assassins or her father for putting himself in danger. She desperately wanted someone to help her make sense of things. At around 10:30 p.m., she got her wish. Ayesha’s father had just come home from work, and he handed her his BlackBerry. “She wants to speak to you,” he said. The voice on the phone was weak and cracked, but it still carried the confidence that Ayesha and millions of other Pakistanis had come to know through several high-profile speeches and TV appearances.

“This is Malala,” said the girl on the other end of the line. Malala Yousafzai, 15, was calling from the hospital in Birmingham, England, where under heavy guard she has been undergoing treatment since Oct. 16. “I understand that what happened was tragic, but you need to stay strong,” Malala told Ayesha. “You cannot give up.” It was one of the few times Malala had called anyone in Pakistan since she was flown to England for specialized medical treatment after a Taliban assassin climbed onto her school bus, called out for her by name and shot her in the head on Oct. 9. Her brain is protected by a titanium plate that replaced a section of her skull removed to allow for swelling. But she spoke rapidly to the older girl in Urdu, encouraging her to stand up for her father even if doing so brought risks. As an outspoken champion of girls’ right to an education, Malala knew all about risk — and fear and consequences — when it comes to taking on the Taliban. “The way she spoke was so inspirational,” Ayesha says. “She made me realize that my father was fighting our enemies and that it was something I should be proud of, not afraid.” The next day Ayesha returned to school. And with that call, Malala began to return to what she seems born to do — passing her courage on to others. More

Inside Osama Bin Laden’s final hours

In an adaptation from his new book, Mark Bowden weaves together accounts from Obama and top decision-makers for the full story behind the daring operation. In Vanity Fair:

‘In the name of Allah the most gracious the most merciful. Praise Allah and pray on his prophet. To the esteemed brother, Sheikh Mahmud, Allah protect him.”

Holed up in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Osama bin Laden sat at a computer and set down his thoughts in a long letter dated April 26, 2011, to Atiyah Abdul al-Rahman, his third-in-command and the link to his far-flung and beleaguered followers—the man he addressed as Sheikh Mahmud. It was the al-Qaeda leader’s sixth spring of confinement in Abbottabad. His hair and beard had grown white. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden’s life had shrunk to the cramped and crowded space of the upper two floors of a house behind high walls. His days consisted of familiar routines, rarely broken: his meals, his seven daily prayer sessions, his readings, the poetry lessons for his children and grandchildren, the sermons to three of his wives, the brisk daily walk around the vegetable gardens.

In his letter to Sheikh Mahmud, he raced to catch up with the Arab Spring, to interpret the events in light of his own immutable beliefs. Bin Laden also hammered home some advice about security. After more than nine successful years in hiding, he considered himself to be an expert: “It is proven that the American technology and its modern systems cannot arrest a Mujahid if he does not commit a security error that leads them to him,” he wrote. “So adherence to security precautions makes their advanced technology a loss and a disappointment to them.”

The computer turned bin Laden’s words into neat lines of uniform Arabic. He was feeling confident. He had five days to live. More:

What scares the Taliban

Pat Bagley in The Salt Lake Tribune:

The 1995 Kashmir hostage crisis

Suzanne Goldenberg reviews “The Meadow: Kashmir, Where the Terror Began” by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark (Penguin). In Himal Southasian:

One of the satisfying things about being a reporter is the idea that once you have filed your story, you are free. No more wasted afternoons waiting for call-backs, no more re-writing intros, no more fretting over nuance and meaning. Push the send button, and it’s done. Move on.

That’s the theory anyway. As it turns out, there are stories that defy closure.

One of those, for me, involves the events described in The Meadow: Kashmir, Where the Terror Began by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, which deals with the kidnapping of six Western tourists in Indian-administered Kashmir.

A quick recap for those not burdened with my obsessions: The tourists – two Britons, two Americans, a Norwegian and a German – were taken hostage by a then-unknown Kashmiri militant group in July 1995. The kidnapping was claimed by a group called al-Faran, but that name turned out to be an alias adopted for this particular mission. Al-Faran, it turns out, was an offshoot of Harkat-ul-Ansar. The Islamist militant group was based in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, and had bases in Afghanistan, but its main focus and area of operation was the Kashmir valley, inside Indian-administered Kashmir. Some of those involved in the kidnapping in the name of al-Faran had also been involved in the kidnapping of two Western tourists a year earlier. But in that instance the Westerners were released, unharmed, within a matter of days.

In the Kashmir kidnapping most of the hostages were not so lucky. One American escaped and – it seems as improbable to me now as it did then – was personally rescued by the governor’s security advisor, who just happened to be in the area in his helicopter. The Norwegian was brutally executed, trussed up like an animal and then beheaded. The other four are presumed dead. Their bodies were never discovered. More:


Sabrina De Sousa: a spy’s story

Seema Sirohi on how Sabrina De Sousa, a former US diplomat of Indian origin, was swept up in the undertow of the war on terror. In The Caravan:

Sabrina De Sousa had agreed to meet me earlier this summer, but only after doing a background check of sorts. Diplomatic caution, after all, never fades. It was a sweltering afternoon, and the fit, young-looking 56-year-old walked into a café in downtown Washington, DC, dressed in a black floral dress and heels. For someone with a Europol warrant out against her, she seemed cheerful and upbeat.

Sabrina was engaging yet cautious about revealing the details of what she called her “troubles”. As a former US diplomat, she said, she is “under legal obligation not to discuss details” of her work. (News reports have quoted her former colleagues identifying her as a CIA agent.) Now she has a court case against her in Italy and is fighting the US government to get protection.

In a mildly English-Indian convent-school accent harking back to her years growing up in Bombay, Sabrina raced through names of people related to her case. She was sentenced in 2009 by an Italian court to five years in prison, along with 22 other Americans, following a trial in absentia (none of them has been extradited). Speaking to me, she threw out pointers, counted the landmarks in her struggle, offered up opinions and key dates. She seemed consumed by it all, almost a quasi-lawyer herself. But it also seemed to animate her greatly. Fighting back, she declared, was “a matter of principle”. She called herself “collateral damage” in the war on terror.

An Italian reporter had compared Sabrina to Mata Hari, calling her an “aggressive” CIA agent who had built a chain of relationships in Milan to get information. She was dubbed “the Tiger with stiletto heels and fists of steel”—a description that better sums up her life today, she told me. More:

And here in WPost

In troubled Pakistan, still time for high society

Declan Walsh from Karachi in NYT:

Can celebrity and fashion save Pakistan from its dark image? That’s the proposition of Hello! Pakistan, a glossy new magazine that has opened a new window into the lives of the country’s gilded elite, and rekindled an old debate about their role in a troubled society.

Hello! Pakistan is the local edition of the British celebrity magazine Hello!, famous for its soft-focus interviews with movie stars and lavish photo spreads of aristocrats and minor royalty. But the Pakistani publishers promise something different: an emphasis on their country’s “soft side” that cuts across the relentless Western focus on burqas, bombs and the Taliban.

“We’re not out to save the world,” said Zahraa Saifullah Khan, 29, the magazine’s Pakistan-born, England-educated publisher. “But this is a starting point, to show that we’re not all a bunch of terrorists with beards.”

Many young Pakistani professionals, tired of their country’s portrayal as a caldron of chaos, would applaud that idea. But not all agree that airbrushed images of the moneyed upper-crust is the way to achieve it.

“It’s life within the bubble,” said Shakir Husain, a software entrepreneur who set up Fashionistas Against the Taliban, a satirical Facebook group that has acquired cult status in Pakistani social media. “And that bubble is filled with self-congratulatory nonsense.” More:

The poetry of Al Qaeda and the Taliban

Faisal Devji in the NYT Sunday Review. [Devji is a fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and the author of the preface for the forthcoming anthology “Poetry of the Taliban.”]

In fact, poetry has long been a part of Muslim radicalism; the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, for example, was the author of a large collection of verse. Today, the Taliban’s Web site features poems written by the group’s members and sympathizers, both men and women. Recitations are frequently recorded and stored on cellphones and transferred from one person to another by way of Bluetooth technology.

Many Afghan and Al Qaeda poems — which come from distinct but hybrid literary traditions — are, as might be expected, political. In a statement broadcast on Al Jazeera in December 2001, Osama bin Laden quoted the following verses from one of his favorite contemporary poets, Yusuf Abu Hilala, changing the last line and replacing the word “castles” in the original with “towers,” as a reference to the destruction of the World Trade Center:

 Though the clothes of darkness enveloped us and the poisoned tooth bit us,

 Though our homes overflowed with blood and the assailant desecrated our land,

 Though from the squares the shining of swords and horses vanished,

 And sound of drums was growing

 The fighters’ winds blew, striking their towers and telling them:

 We will not cease our raids until you leave our fields.


Afghanistan: The Taliban’s high-tech urban strategy

Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai in Newsweek:

Qari Jamal has returned safely from a reconnaissance mission in Kabul. Short, thin, and immaculately dressed, the fresh-faced 25-year-old relaxes in a house near the Afghan-Pakistan border and tells how he toured the city with his digital camera, looking like an innocent civilian as he scouted sites for future Taliban attacks. “The work is both easy and difficult,” he says. “We have to photograph and survey the area, get the exact GPS coordinates, and note the daily movements of the security forces guarding the installation, without getting caught.” Polishing his glasses on his long, spotlessly white shirttail, he mentions one of the targets he and other undercover Taliban have been casing near NATO headquarters: the Ariana Hotel—a CIA operations center, Jamal calls it. “This is a most attractive target for the fedayeen,” he says. He’s talking about suicide bombers.

The young Afghan belongs to a dangerous new breed of Taliban militants. He grew up in a city, not in a mud-hut village in the backcountry, and he got his education not only at a madrassa but also at a public high school in Pakistan, and then at a college where he majored in information technology. His beard is neatly trimmed, and he doesn’t even carry a gun. Instead, he says, his weapons are a MacBook computer, a clutch of mobile phones, and an array of IT gadgets, from digital cameras to webcams and GPS devices. Citified techies like him are playing an essential role in helping the guerrillas to reshape their strategy with attention-grabbing surprise assaults in places that previously were spared from the heaviest fighting. More:

The Peshawar Bomb Disposal Squad

Kiran Nazish in The Express Tribune:

Just as I had almost given up hope that he would tell me his story, he looked up and spoke: “I can’t remember exactly which wire I was on when the explosion took place, but I was almost done defusing the bomb.”

I tried to make sense of what he had said, and he looked as confused as I felt, but then he explained further. “There were two bombs planted in this girls’ school, but we knew of just one. While I was defusing this one,” he stretched out his hands, as if working on an invisible bomb, “there was an explosion from the other side.” His eyes grew wide and he leaned forward as he spoke, “Eleven young girls were killed, and so many were injured. I just lost one finger from the shrapnel.” He shook his head, seeming disappointed at having lost ‘just’ one finger.

Saleem Khan, 45, has defused more than a hundred bombs in his time with the Peshawar Bomb Disposal Squad and once he starts telling his tale, it’s not hard to see why the loss of a finger seems like a small thing to him.

Many of his friends in the squad have lost an arm or a leg while defusing bombs, but some have lost much more. Two of his best friends died in blasts while on duty — friends he had grown up with. One of them, an eager young man called Mushtaram, joined the Peshawar bomb disposal squad because he could not find any other means to support his wife and four-year-old son. More:

This is not zero tolerance, Mr. Prime Minister

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

You see, 10 years ago, I visited a woman named Raja Begum in Anantnag. She was the mother of Zahoor Dalal, one of the five men murdered in Pathribal. Throughout the time I spent in her house, she wept quietly in one corner and didn’t say a word. All the talking was done by another relative. As I left, I made one last attempt, asking her whether there was anything she wanted to tell the people of the country. “Zahoor can’t come back but those who did this should be punished before my eyes,” she replied. “Why did they pick up an innocent man and murder him? If there is a government, if there is justice, the people who did this must be punished.”

I wrote about Pathribal and its aftermath countless times but wanted to make another push for justice in this case. My question to Dr. Singh, then, was really Raja Begum’s, the partial discharge of a debt journalists accumulate as they run from story to story. And as expected, the Prime Minister promised to look into the matter. I have no idea what enquiries or exertions he has made on the case since then but the facts themselves are quite simple. And, in the context of the recent exposé of fake encounters in Machhil in Kupwara, they reveal a pattern of impunity that ordinary Kashmiris will be condemned to endure until India gets a Prime Minister brave enough to put a stop to it.

A group of terrorists, most probably from the Lashkar-e-Taiba, arrived at the Chattisinghpora village in Anantnag district in the dead of night on March 20, 2000. They made all the Sikh men assemble and gunned them down in cold blood. Five days later, L.K. Advani, who was Union Home Minister at the time, told a nation still recovering from shock that the heinous crime had been solved with the killing of five “foreign militants.” In an FIR filed on March 25, officers from the Rashtriya Rifles and the Special Operations Group of the State police said they had managed to corner and kill the five terrorists in a fierce encounter at Pathribal-Panchalthan. The bodies of the men, which had been burned beyond recognition, were buried in a common grave.

Unfortunately for the army, the five men killed were not terrorists or foreign nationals. They were civilians who had been picked up in and around Anantnag on March 24. More:

Inside the mission to catch 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

In The Atlantic:

In August, the FBI caught a break when it questioned a brother-in-law of KSM, Abdul Samad Din Muhammad, who had been arrested and questioned in the United Arab Emirates in November 2001 and extradited to Pakistan in 2002. Muhammad told FBI agents that Aziz Ali was in constant contact with his uncle, KSM. He also said Aziz Ali received a constant stream of Arab visitors from Pakistan at the airport and that Ali had suddenly bolted from the UAE a day or two before the Sept. 11 attacks. He didn’t have his belongings together, but insisted on leaving. When Muhammad asked Aziz Ali why he was in such a rush to leave, he didn’t get a satisfactory answer. FBI deputy legal attaché Jennifer Keenan, who was working closely on the case, was now certain that the way to get to KSM was through his nephew.

More raids initially yielded nothing, but in early September, the Pakistani police got lucky. Neighbors had pointed out that there was an awful lot of traffic through a house in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighborhood. Police nabbed a man leaving the house on his way to pay utility bills. Agents of the ISI investigated and detained the man, a Saudi native, who said he managed the house. His name was Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani. Rabbani’s driver proved to be quite talkative. He said Rabbani and his brother managed several similar guesthouses, all of which had a constant stream of guests. He helpfully gave police the addresses of the houses.

One of the houses was nearby, on Tariq Road. Authorities raided it and found the brother there, along with two other men, two women, and three children. They also found 20 carefully wrapped passports and almost two dozen SEGA game consoles that had been modified for use as detonators for explosives. The passports were for members of Osama bin Laden’s family. The police interrogated the children to determine if they were bin Laden’s. One of the women was a caretaker, and one child was hers. Two of the children were brothers. The other woman was a nanny to the brothers — and the man was her companion. The two boys, ages seven and nine, were named Omar and Abdullah. No, they said, their father’s name was not bin Laden; it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The women were caretakers and nannies. More:

What does Pakistan want?

Steve Coll in The New Yorker:

In late February, I travelled to Pakistan and met with a number of military officers there, including several senior ones. They explained how they saw, from their side, the rise and collapse of the strategic dialogue with Washington.

It is a story laced with the generals’ resentments, geopolitical calculations, fears, and aspirations. Listening to them after absorbing the recent months of Pakistan ennui and Pakistan bashing in Washington was like watching one of those movies where a single narrative is told and retold selectively, from irreconcilable points of view.

Some of the basics of the Pakistan Army’s arguments about the Afghan war and the struggle against Al Qaeda-influenced terrorist groups are contained in a twelve-page document called “Ten Years Since 9/11: Our Collective Experience (Pakistan’s Experience).” The document, labelled “Secret,” is below; it has not previously been published.

Despite its classification, the essay is perhaps best understood as part of a Pakistani strategic communications or lobbying campaign. (Presumably, the sources that provided the document to me were undertaking an act in that campaign.) This particular text was a basis for briefings that General Ashfaq Kayani, the powerful Army chief, provided to NATO leaders at closed meetings last September, around the tenth anniversary of the 2001 attacks. It updates a case Pakistani generals have been making in meetings with their counterparts for years: that the casualties, economic disruption, and radicalization Pakistan has suffered from because of spillover from the American military campaign in Afghanistan are deeply underappreciated. The essay declares that Pakistan’s total casualties—dead and wounded—since 2001 in the “fight against terrorism” number about forty thousand. More:

In hiding, Bin Laden had four children and five houses

Declan Walsh from Islamabad in NYT:

Osama bin Laden spent nine years on the run in Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, during which time he moved among five safe houses and fathered four children, at least two of whom were born in a government hospital, his youngest wife has told Pakistani investigators.

The testimony of Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh, Bin Laden’s 30-year-old wife, offers the most detailed account yet of life on the run for the Bin Laden family in the years preceding the American commando raid in May 2011 that killed the leader of Al Qaeda at the age of 54.

Her account is contained in a police report dated Jan. 19 that, as an account of that frantic period, contains manifest flaws: Ms. Fateh’s words are paraphrased by a police officer, and there is noticeably little detail about the Pakistanis who helped her husband evade his American pursuers. Nevertheless, it raises more questions about how the world’s most wanted man managed to shunt his family between cities that span the breadth of Pakistan, apparently undetected and unmolested by the otherwise formidable security services.

Bin Laden’s three widows are of great interest because they hold the answers to some of the questions that frustrated Western intelligence in the years after 2001. They are currently under house arrest in Islamabad, and their lawyer says he expects them and two adult children — Bin Laden’s daughters Maryam, 21, and Sumaya, 20 — to be charged on Monday with breaking Pakistani immigration laws, which carries a possible five-year jail sentence. More:

A personal Quest to clarify Bin Laden’s last days

Declan Walsh from Rawalpindi in NYT:

In his quest for the truth about his country’s most notorious guest, Shaukat Qadir started where it all ended: the room where Osama bin Laden was killed.

Last August, Mr. Qadir, a retired Pakistani Army brigadier, retraced the steps of the American commandos who stormed through the corridors of Bin Laden’s hide-out on May 2.

Climbing the stairs to the second floor, Mr. Qadir passed a body outline that marked the spot where Bin Laden’s 22-year-old son, Khalid, was shot dead. Then he turned to a small room with a low ceiling, an empty wardrobe and a tight cluster of bullets holes in one wall, he said. Above that, on the ceiling, was a fading splash of blood that, his Pakistani intelligence escort told him, belonged to Bin Laden.

“As a former soldier, I was struck by how badly the house was defended,” Mr. Qadir said in an interview. “No proper security measures, nothing high-tech — in fact, nothing like you would expect.”

Mr. Qadir’s quixotic investigation began as a personal attempt to truth-check the competing accounts of Bin Laden’s last years in Pakistan. But his work has already come under scrutiny and criticism, mostly on the grounds that his heavy reliance on Pakistani military and intelligence sources leaves him open to official manipulation. More:

My drone war

Pir Zubair Shah in Foreign Policy:

“We don’t even sit together to chat anymore,” the Taliban fighter told me, his voice hoarse as he combed his beard with his fingers. We were talking in a safe house in Peshawar as the fighter and one of his comrades sketched a picture of life on the run in the borderlands of Waziristan. The deadly American drones buzzing overhead, the two men said, had changed everything for al Qaeda and its local allies.

The whitewashed two-story villa bristled with activity. Down the hall from my Taliban sources sat an aggrieved tribal elder and his son in one room and two officers from Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate in another. I had gathered them all there to make sense of what had become the signature incident of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan: an American drone strike, one of the first ordered on the watch of the new U.S. president, Barack Obama. The early 2009 strike had killed a local elder, along with his son, two nephews, and a guest in the South Waziristan town of Wana. Several sources had told me the family was innocent, with no connections to the Taliban or al Qaeda. But traveling to Waziristan had become too dangerous even for me, a reporter who had grown up there. So instead I had brought Waziristan to Peshawar, renting rooms for my sources in the guesthouse. I had just one night to try to figure out what had happened.

I spent the night running from room to room, assembling the story in pieces. On the first floor sat the dead elder’s brother and nephew, who told me what little they knew of the incident. On the second floor, the ISI officers, over whiskey and lamb tikka, described their work helping U.S. intelligence agents sort out targets from among the images relayed back from the drones. Then there were the two Taliban fighters, whom I had first met in Waziristan in 2007. One had been a fixer for the Haqqani network, skilled at smuggling men and materiel from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The other drew a government salary as an employee of Pakistan’s agriculture department but worked across the border as an explosives expert; he had lost a finger fighting the allied forces in Afghanistan. None of the men in the house knew the others were there.

The two fighters described how the militants were adapting to this new kind of warfare. The Taliban and al Qaeda had stopped using electronic devices, they told me. They would no longer gather in huge numbers, even in mosques to pray, and spent their nights outside for safety, a life that was wearing thin. “We can’t sleep in the jungle the whole of our lives,” one told me. Gradually, a picture of a rare incident came into focus: a deadly strike that had mistakenly taken out a man with no connection to al Qaeda or the Taliban. More:

Taliban cut nursing woman’s breast, asked others to eat pieces

Iftikhar Firdous in The Express Tribune:

Peshawar: Kashmala Bibi* says her cousin’s breasts were cut into pieces when five militants walked into their house and saw the woman breastfeeding her child. One of the insurgents then asked the other women around to eat the pieces.

This is one of the many tales of horror recorded in a report titled “Impact of crisis on women and girls in Fata”.

The report, released by human rights organisation “Khwendo Kor” (Sisters’ Home in Pashto) with financial support from UN-women, is based on case studies of women from the tribal belt living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s IDP camps.

Women in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are more susceptible to violence and abuse in a post-conflict scenario, whether or not they are part of the conflict, it says.

Another stark revelation made in the report is that women in camps were forced to have sexual intercourse in exchange for food and non-food items. Girls and widows were at greater risk.

The surveys from Nahqai and Jalozai camps further show that women were uncomfortable going to restrooms because there was little privacy as men constantly lurked around.

“A security officer forced me to have sex in exchange for cooking oil and pulses when I was collecting food at the main entrance of the camp,” a 22-year-old woman Nighat* from the Jalozai Camp is quoted as telling the discussion group. More:

The ally from hell

Pakistan lies. It hosted Osama bin Laden (knowingly or not). Its government is barely functional. It hates the democracy next door. It is home to both radical jihadists and a large and growing nuclear arsenal (which it fears the U.S. will seize). Its intelligence service sponsors terrorists who attack American troops. With a friend like this, who needs enemies?

Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic:

SHORTLY AFTER AMERICAN NAVY SEALs raided the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in May and killed Osama bin Laden, General Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistani chief of army staff, spoke with Khalid Kidwai, the retired lieutenant general in charge of securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Kidwai, who commands a security apparatus called the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), had been expecting Kayani’s call.

General Kayani, the most powerful man in a country that has only a simulacrum of civilian leadership, had been busy in the tense days that followed the bin Laden raid: he had to assure his American funders (U.S. taxpayers provide more than $2 billion in annual subsidies to the Pakistani military) that the army had no prior knowledge of bin Laden’s hideout, located less than a mile from Pakistan’s preeminent military academy; and at the same time he had to subdue the uproar within his ranks over what was seen as a flagrant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by an arrogant Barack Obama. But he was also anxious about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and he found time to express this worry to General Kidwai.

Much of the world, of course, is anxious about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and for good reason: Pakistan is an unstable and violent country located at the epicenter of global jihadism, and it has been the foremost supplier of nuclear technology to such rogue states as Iran and North Korea. It is perfectly sensible to believe that Pakistan might not be the safest place on Earth to warehouse 100 or more nuclear weapons. These weapons are stored on bases and in facilities spread across the country (possibly including one within several miles of Abbottabad, a city that, in addition to having hosted Osama bin Laden, is home to many partisans of the jihadist group Harakat-ul-Mujahideen). Western leaders have stated that a paramount goal of their counterterrorism efforts is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of jihadists. More:

The American behind the 2008 attack on Mumbai

Watch A Perfect Terrorist on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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From NPR:

American David Coleman Headley was one of the leading planners of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people over three days at two five-star hotels, a train station and a small Jewish community center.

Headley, the son of a Pakistani father and an American mother, had been chosen for the mission because he looked like a non-Muslim Westerner. He used those looks — and his U.S. passport — to plan logistics for several of the places attacked in Mumbai.

Headley’s role in the Mumbai attacks is the subject of a new Frontline documentary by ProPublica reporter Sebastian Rotella. A Perfect Terrorist — which airs on PBS on Nov. 22 — chronicles Headley’s journey from the United States to Mumbai, and reveals what U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials knew about him before and after his mission.

Before Headley became a terrorist, he was what Rotella calls “a walking mix of cultures.” His mother was part of an elite family from Philadelphia; his father was a Pakistani. Soon after his birth in the United States, Headley and his parents moved to Pakistan. After his parents divorced, Headley’s mother moved back to the U.S. Headley stayed in Pakistan with his father, who sent him to elite military schools. But after getting into some trouble, Headley was sent to live with his mother above her bar, the Khyber Pass Pub in Philadelphia. More:

Sebastian Rotella‘s investigation in ProPublica:

Chapter 1: “The Prince”

David Coleman Headley is not his original name.

The 51-year-old was born Daood Gilani in Washington, D.C. His father, Syed Saleem Gilani, was a renowned Pakistani broadcaster. His mother, Serrill Headley, was a free spirit from a wealthy Philadelphia family. They moved to Pakistan when he was a baby, but the parents divorced and Serrill returned alone.

Headley grew up in an environment of Pakistani nationalism and Islamic conservatism. During a war with India in 1971, a stray bomb hit his elementary school in Karachi, killing two people. The incident stoked his hatred of India, according to his later accounts.

Headley attended the Hasan Abdal Cadet College, where he met his friend Tahawwur Rana. During testimony at Rana’s trial this year in Chicago, Headley said he was proud of studying at the elite military school, though he did not graduate. He described Rana as a “very good” student and himself as “very bad.”

Rana’s wife recalled an anecdote about Headley’s approach to morning prayers.

“Dave, he knocks on all the doors of students and he says, ‘Get up, get up, it’s time for prayer,’ ” Samraz Rana said in an interview. “And then when everybody gets up, he went to his room and went to sleep, you know. So he was laughing, he was like that.” More

Talk in Pakistan: When will US attack?

Salman Masood from Islamabad in IHT:

The United States might still be weighing its options about how to deal with Pakistan, but many politicians, retired army generals and popular television talk show hosts here have already made up their minds that America is on the warpath with their country.

Such is the media frenzy and warmongering that popular talk show hosts have even begun discussing possible scenarios of how Pakistan should react if the United States attacks the country. One television news channel has even aired a war anthem.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has called on a conference of opposition political parties and government’s allies for Thursday to discuss the crisis. The government is also enlisting allies.

Islamabad, the capital, has seen a flurry of diplomatic activity with the visits of Chinese and Saudi officials. The American ambassador, Cameron Munter, has also met with President Asif Ali Zardari and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir. More

The Haqqani clan: the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war

In The New York Times:

They are the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war, a ruthless crime family that built an empire out of kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, even trucking. They have trafficked in precious gems, stolen lumber and demanded protection money from businesses building roads and schools with American reconstruction funds.

They safeguard their mountainous turf by planting deadly roadside bombs and shelling remote American military bases. And they are accused by American officials of being guns for hire: a proxy force used by the Pakistani intelligence service to carry out grisly, high-profile attacks in Kabul and throughout the country.

Today, American intelligence and military officials call the crime clan known as the Haqqani network — led by a wizened militant named Jalaluddin Haqqani who has allied himself over the years with the C.I.A., Saudi Arabia’s spy service and Osama bin Laden — the most deadly insurgent group in Afghanistan. In the latest of a series of ever bolder strikes, the group staged a daylong assault on the United States Embassy in Kabul, an attack Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged Thursday was aided by Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. More: And more here

Pakistan’s ‘WSJ ad,’ now on video


On Sept. 10, Pakistan ran this advert in The Wall Street Journal to promote its counter-narrative to the U.S.’s version of what is going on in the war against terrorism.

The U.S. says Pakistan is harboring Taliban militants. Pakistan maintains that it’s losing thousands of soldiers fighting them.

Now, Pakistan has produced this slick video version of the ad, complete with a native English voice-over and dramatic Hollywood music.

Who was behind Pakistan’s 9/11 ad?


Pakistan’s officialdom is proving reluctant to take responsibility for dreaming up a half-page advertisement taken out in The Wall Street Journal last weekend to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The ad asked, “Which country can do more for your peace?” It went on to list the sacrifices that Pakistan has made in fighting terrorism over the past decade, including suffering almost 3,000 deaths of armed forces personnel.

One Pakistani government official said the idea for the ad came from the army’s public relations division, which has been keen to counter the U.S.’s contention that Pakistan continues to harbor Taliban militants. More:

Also in WSJ: It was not clear whether the ad was carried in other U.S. publications. Pakistan’s government also tried to place it in the New York Times. The Times asked for “more clarity in the ad about who was placing it,” according to a spokeswoman for the newspaper. The Times did not hear back from the government and so has not yet run the ad, she said.

Pakistan newspaper Dawn, which describes the ad as “a feeble attempt” to reach out to the American public, said it was first offered to the New York Times “but they refused to publish it, forcing Pakistani officials to go to a business newspaper with a specialised but influential readership.”

After 9/11, hate begat hate

Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and the author of “Taliban” and “Descent into Chaos”, in The New York Times:

In their shock after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans frequently asked, “Why do they hate us so much?” It wasn’t clear just who “they” were — Muslims, Arabs or simply anyone who was not American. The easy answer that many Americans found comforting was equally vague: that “they” were jealous of America’s wealth, opportunities, democracy and what have you.

But in this part of the world — in Pakistan, where I live, and in Afghanistan next door, from which the Sept. 11 attacks were directed — those who detested America were much more identifiable, and so were their reasons. They were a small group of Islamic extremists who supported Al Qaeda; a larger group of students studying at madrasas, which had expanded rapidly since the 1980s; and young militants who had been empowered by years of support from Pakistan’s military intelligence services to fight against India in Kashmir. They were a tiny minority of Pakistan’s 150 million people at the time. In their eyes, America was an imperial, oppressive, heathen power just like the Soviet Union, which they had defeated in Afghanistan.

Now, with the United States about to enter the 11th year of the longest war it has ever fought, far more of my neighbors in Pakistan have joined the list of America’s detractors. The wave of anti-Americanism is rising in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, even among many who once admired the United States, and the short reason for that is plain: the common resentment is that American plans to bring peace and development to Afghanistan have failed, the killing is still going on, and to excuse their failures Americans have now expanded the war into Pakistan, evoking what they did in the 1960s when the Vietnam war moved into Laos and Cambodia. Moreover, while Pakistanis die for an American war, Washington has given favored deals to Pakistan’s archenemy, India. So goes the argument.

The more belligerent detractors of America will tell you that Americans are imperialists who hate Islam, and that Americans’ so-called civilizing instincts have nothing to do with democracy or human rights. A more politically attuned attitude is that the detractor doesn’t hate Americans, just the policies that American leaders pursue.

But both groups feel trapped: Afghanistan is still caught up in war, and my country is on the brink of meltdown. And so now there is something beyond just disliking America. We have begun to ask the question of 9/11 in reverse: why do Americans hate us so much ? More:

The journalist and the spies

In New Yorker, award-winning journalist and author Dexter Filkins on the murder of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, a man who exposed Pakistan’s secrets

On May 30th, as the sun beat down on the plains of eastern Pakistan, a laborer named Muhammad Shafiq walked along the top of a dam on the Upper Jhelum Canal to begin his morning routine of clearing grass and trash that had drifted into the intake grates overnight. The water flow seemed normal, but when he started removing the debris with a crane the machinery seized up. He looked down and saw, trapped in the grates, a human form.

Shafiq called some colleagues, and together they pulled out the body. Occasionally, farmers and water buffalo drown in the canal, float downstream, and get stuck in the grates, but never a man in a suit. “Even his tie and shoes were still on,” Shafiq told me. He called the police, and by the next day they had determined the man’s identity: Syed Saleem Shahzad, a journalist known for his exposés of the Pakistani military. Shahzad had not shown up the previous afternoon for a television interview that was to be taped in Islamabad, a hundred miles to the northwest. His disappearance was being reported on the morning news, his image flashed on television screens across the country. Meanwhile, the zamindar—feudal lord—of a village twenty miles upstream from the dam called the police about a white Toyota Corolla that had been abandoned by the canal, in the shade of a banyan tree. The police discovered that the car belonged to Shahzad. Its doors were locked, and there was no trace of blood. more

Life goes on. It must

Namita Bhandare for AW. In our part of the world we don’t have a single 9/11 but an embarrassment of choice, terror as number soup. How many days do we set aside to mourn our dead, victims of someone else’s war? When you live amidst risk, life has a way of just going on.

Already the front pages are crowded: Air India plane buys are under fire, BJP leader L.K. Advani dares government to arrest him in the cash for votes scam and did Reliance violate government norms?

Two days ago there was no other news. The phone had started ringing minutes after the bomb blast at Delhi High Court’s gate number five. Facts were still fuzzy: was it a bomb in a briefcase? How many injured? Any dead? Was there a second blast? Twitter was abuzz and so was my phone.

Lawyer Arjun Pant, my friend took my call just to say, “I’m ok,” and then hung up. I found out later that he had been busy helping the wounded, no time for leisurely fact exchanges. That moment, that precise moment when a bomb goes off is a call for action. When I spoke to him again later that evening, he told me he had returned home, his white shirt splattered with blood. He sounded weary more than shocked.

Within a few hours Arjun will be back at the courts. Apart from a full bench reference to those killed the previous day and an unusually high deployment of commandoes and cops, Delhi High Court was going about its business: a bunch of income tax cases here, a Delhi Jal Board hearing there.

I am always slightly bemused when I read reports about a city’s ‘resilience’ after yet another bomb blast. It’s as if we have a choice. When your daily life is littered with conversations about red alerts, when a weekend trip to the local movie hall must be conducted through a metal detector, when frisking and searches become routine at community celebrations, when livelihoods must continue to be earned, and commutes negotiated hours after a bomb blast on a train, do we really have a choice but to go on? Continue reading ‘Life goes on. It must’

9/11: Portraits of grief

A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, The New York Times revisited families to learn how they have coped, changed and carried on since that day.