Pakistan Security Brief
Governor Taseer’s killer confesses to crime; Police looking for cleric who inspired killer; Taseer’s killing undermines U.S. assumptions about Pakistan; large protests held in support of Qadri; Pakistan releases top al Qaeda leader from custody; PPP gives-in to PML-N agenda; U.S. to announce greater support for Pakistan.
Governor Taseer Assassination and Fallout
The bodyguard responsible for the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer today confessed to his crime in Pakistani court. Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, Taseer’s police bodyguard, said he “killed in the name of religion because [Taseer] wanted to reform controversial blasphemy laws.” According to a senior police official, Qadri “has recorded his confessional statement for the murder... in which he said that he killed Salman Taseer on his own and there was no involvement of any Islamic or militant organization.” Despite Qadri’s claims of acting alone, investigators are currently trying to trace a local cleric in Rawalpindi who is said to have inspired Qadri to commit the crime during a sermon he attended on December 31, 2010. Investigators believe that complicity extends beyond mere inspiration: one police official says there appears to have been “a (clear-cut) plan with details like possible time and place for carrying out the murder.” The cleric is part of Shahab-e-Islam, a “small Islamist group that operated in [Qadri’s] neighborhood in Rawalpindi.”
An article in the New York Times analyzes the split reactions in Pakistan to the assassination of Governor Taseer and highlights three fundamental assumptions that “underlie the Obama administration’s strategy” towards Pakistan and that are now up for question. They are that first, “Pakistan is moving toward the West, even if sporadically,” second, “that the United States can gradually deal more with Pakistan’s elected government, and less with its military,” and third “that Pakistan’s expanding nuclear arsenal is truly safe from betrayal by insiders.” According to an administration official, “everything about what’s happened in the past few days is a reminder of how we’re still losing ground in Pakistan.”
Over 50,000 people rallied in Karachi on Sunday, protesting any proposed changes to the country’s blasphemy law and in support of Mumtaz Qadri, Governor Taseer’s bodyguard and killer. The rally was spearheaded by Islamist political parties such as the Jamaat-e-Ulema-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) and extremist organizations such Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a front group for the terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). "We can't compromise on the blasphemy law. It's a divine law and nobody can change it," Qari Ahsaan, a key rally leader and member of JuD announced to the massive gathering. Controversy over the blasphemy law was aggravated by a bill submitted in parliament by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Sherry Rehman seeking the law’s modification. Rehman’s security has been bolstered following Taseer’s killing, and the increase of death threats against her since.
President Zardari is reportedly set to announce Latif Khosa, a former Attorney General and close friend, as the successor to slain governor Salman Taseer. The choice possibly represents an effort to repair relations with the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). Governor Taseer was an outspoken critic and opponent of the PML-N. Khosa, by contrast, is considered to be “soft-spoken and non-confrontational.”
Pakistan Releases al Qaeda-linked Leader
According to an Associated Press report, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of a militant group with close ties to al Qaeda, was freed by Pakistan’s security services in early December. According to Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, Akhtar was released “from four months of house arrest…because authorities finished questioning him in connection with the October 2007 attempted assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and found no grounds to charge him.” U.S. officials have criticized Akhtar’s release, citing his extensive ties to al Qaeda, and calling it yet another sign of “Pakistan's reluctance or inability to crack down on the most dangerous terrorist organizations.” One Pakistan-based analyst explains the release as a “desperate attempt by the security agencies to reunite militant groups whose members have splintered into smaller groups and in some cases, turned against Pakistan.”
According to a report in the Washington Post, the Obama administration has “decided to offer Pakistan more military, intelligence and economic support, and to intensify U.S. efforts to forge a regional peace.” This comes despite U.S. concerns that Pakistan is not acting sufficiently to counter militant groups in its tribal areas. The increased aid is reportedly an attempt to “call the bluff of Pakistani officials who have long complained that the United States has failed to understand their security priorities or provide adequate support.” The increased aid will reportedly be announced by Vice President Biden during his visit to Pakistan next week.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani acceded on Sunday to a list of demands from the PML-N in order to preserve and patch-up his shaky coalition government. The PML-N’s agenda included the reversal of a nine percent price hike on fuel, the investigation of corruption scandals and the reduction of non-development spending by one third. The move has been seen as a sign of weakness from the PPP-led government and criticized by the U.S. and international organizations such as the IMF, which see the fuel price hike and other deferred measures as essential to restoring Pakistan’s economic health.
Pakistani and Indian officials are slated to meet at a regional conference in Bhutan next month in an effort to repair relations that have remained frayed since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. According to a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, “The foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India will meet on the margins of the SAARC Standing Committee meeting scheduled to take place in Thimphu on 6-7 February 2011." The meeting will be the fourth high-level diplomatic contact in a six-month rapprochement, heavily encouraged by the U.S.
The leader of an Afghan peace council to Pakistan denied on Monday that Afghanistan and Pakistan had agreed to hold a “peace gathering,” contradicting statements made by the Pakistan foreign ministry last week. Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of Afghan President Karzai’s High Council for Peace, said in reference to last week’s meetings that the talks had been held in a “sincere atmosphere” but flatly denied as “rumors…and propaganda” that the two sides were to convene a peace jirga (council).
“Umer Nangiana, “Inspiring Taseer’s killer: Police in the trail of Pindi cleric,” Express Tribune, January 9, 2011. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/101204/inspiring-taseers-killer-police-on-the-trail-of-pindi-cleric/
Asif Shahzad, “Sermons motivated killer of Pakistani politician,” AP, January 20, 2011. Available at http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110110/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan