Pakistan Security Brief
60 killed in fierce fighting over Kurram mountaintop; Obama “confirms” drone campaign inside Pakistan, Pakistan calls drone program “unacceptable;” Afghanistan to press Pakistan for greater access to Taliban; Gilani says Afghanistan security vital for Pakistani security; Supreme Court orders ISI, MI, to produce detained suspects; Hussain Haqqani leaves for the U.S.; political campaigning continues in FATA despite Taliban threats; tourism industry hit beleaguered by security fears.
Over 60 people were killed in intense fighting between Taliban militants loyal to Hakimullah Mehsud and security forces in Kurram agency on Tuesday. Government forces and militants were contesting control of Jogi, a “strategic mountaintop” that the military seized from militant control a week ago. Initial fighting led to the deaths of six soldiers and 20 militants, but a militant ambush and attempt to retake the position on Tuesday resulted in fighting that killed 10 more soldiers and 30 militants.
Police in Islamabad have begun aerial surveillance of the Pakistani capital following intelligence reports that hinted at imminent terrorist threats to Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The police plan to use helicopters to watch the city through February 5. Earlier, large numbers of paramilitary troops poured searched the nearby Margalla hills after suspects in government custody told interrogators of militants hiding in the hills waiting to strike the city.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday directed the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) agencies to produce in front of the court seven people allegedly illegally detained by the agencies. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry made the demand following a petition from the mother of some of the detained men who had been arrested in connection with a militant attack on the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in October 2009.
During a televised internet discussion, President Obama “confirmed” that unmanned U.S. drones regularly strike militant targets inside Pakistan, a rare admission regarding the highly secret program. Obama said the strikes were a “targeted focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists,” and that, for the U.S. “to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones [it is] already engaging in.” A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson “appeared to shrug off” the confirmation, saying that while Pakistan acknowledged the “tactical advantages” U.S. drones provided, the strikes were “unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable.”
According to a report by Reuters, Afghan officials will press Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar for greater “access to Taliban leaders” during her one-day visit to Kabul on February 1. Khar will be in Kabul to discuss reconciliation and peace plans with Afghanistan prior to a meeting between Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives in Saudi Arabia. Khar’s trip is the first high-level meeting between the two governments in several months and an Afghan government spokesman said he hoped it would mark “a new phase in the relationship between both countries.” Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani gave a statement on Tuesday saying that peace in Afghanistan “was critical for the peace and security of Pakistan.” During his speech he highlighted several points of cooperation between the two countries, including over the investigation into the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the construction of a Torkham to Jalalabad road and scholarship grants to Afghan students.
Memogate and Domestic Politics
Hussain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. and one of the main protagonists in the “memogate” scandal, left Pakistan early on Tuesday morning soon after Pakistan’s Supreme Court lifted a ban on his ability to travel outside the country. Haqqani is bound for the U.S. to join his wife, Farahnaz Isphahani. Prior to the lifting of the ban, Haqqani had to agree to return to Pakistan on four days’ notice if the court recalled him to rejoin proceedings in the memogate case. U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland expressed that the U.S. was “gratified” that Haqqani had been allowed to travel again and hoped that Pakistan would be able to resolve the matter “in a transparent manner and upholding the Pakistani constitution.”
A report by McClatchy Newspapers profiles open political campaigning taking place in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) for the first time in the region’s history. The FATA, governed under a separate law code than the rest of the country, had a ban on political parties lifted by President Zardari in August 2011 in the hope that participation in the political process “would help defeat the ‘militant mindset’” in the area. According to the report, electioneering ahead of parliamentary elections appears to be going strong despite fears of Taliban intimidation and “human rights abuses” by Pakistani security services.
The Washington Post looks at the difficulties Pakistan has been facing in attracting tourists who are deterred by fears of militant violence and Pakistan’s reputation as a haven for the world’s “most-wanted terrorists.” According to locals interviewed, “improving the region’s security is the only way to bring back the foreign crowds.”
“Peace in Afghanistan critical for Pakistan: Gilani,” APP, January 31, 2012. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2012/01/31/peace-in-afghanistan-critical-for-pakistan-gilani.html
“US ‘gratified’ Pakistan lifts travel curbs on ex-envoy,” AFP, January 31, 2012. Available at http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gpgq1BSwAOhNHOk-fr7KJeCTOjyQ?docId=CNG.f295a65819ad6330d7ef2c81f71eca52.2c1