Out with the old
Pakistani intelligence officials now believe that Wali-ur-Rehman, a militant commander in South Waziristan who was in the running for the leadership of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan after the death of the group’s founder Baitullah Mehsud last August, is now in charge of the TTP’s operations (WSJ, Tel, AP, Wash Post). Pakistani officials recently reversed statements claiming a drone strike in January had killed Baitullah’s successor Hakimullah Mehsud, and are now saying he was seriously injured and has been sidelined.
The New York Times writes that Pakistani officials are coming around to the idea that the military will eventually have to confront the various militant groups operating in North Waziristan, where Hakimullah has reportedly sought refuge (NYT). There is considerable debate among military sources over the timing and extent of the operations, even as there is consensus that going into the tribal agency — "with its tangle of tribes, Qaeda militants, antistate groups and Haqqani supporters, thought to be in the thousands" — will be a difficult task.
Khalid Khawaja, a former Pakistani intelligence official who was kidnapped several weeks ago by a group calling itself the "Asian Tigers," was recently found shot and killed in North Waziristan with a note from the organization claiming responsibility (Dawn, Geo). Tribal elders who fled Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan last fall are refusing to return, citing fear of the Taliban (AP).
Saeed Shah profiles militancy in Pakistan’s Punjab province, which the provincial governor called a "bomb" waiting to explode (McClatchy, Guardian). The U.S. is making moves to transfer $600 million to Pakistan as reimbursement for its military operations against militants in the country’s northwest (AFP). And water continues to be a point of contention between India and Pakistan (AP).
Unidentified men on motorcycles threw acid on the faces of three young sisters in Kalat, a town in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, yesterday, causing serious facial burns (BBC, Reuters, ET, Daily Times). The attack mirrors an incident two weeks ago also in Baluchistan, when two sisters, 11 and 13, were sprayed with acid while returning home from a shopping trip. Pakistani police have captured an alleged would-be suicide bomber in Lahore, and two more Swat Taliban commanders have been arrested in Khyber (ET, Daily Times). The BBC adds to reporting that targeting killings in the scenic Swat Valley hint that Taliban militants are returning after last year’s Pakistani military operations there (BBC).
A very tough year
NATO’s chief civilian official in Afghanistan Amb. Mark Sedwill warned yesterday that British and NATO forces could expect to be engaged in combat for "another three or four years" and cautioned that 2010 will be a "very tough year" (Guardian). Sedwill commented, though, that "We cannot allow judgment of success to be the absence of casualties."
The Journal has today’s must-read looking at a system introduced in Afghanistan in January whereby Afghans can call 119 to report dishonest policemen to a hotline, and other mechanisms being put into place to deal with the country’s pervasive corruption (WSJ). One such plan is to use blue dye to mark Afghan government fuel, 20 percent of which is lost or stolen by traffickers; a $240 gallon of blue dye is enough to color nearly 9,000 gallons of fuel.
Telephone ft. U.S. military
Several U.S. service members in Afghanistan have created a YouTube remake of Lady Gaga’s "Telephone" (Gawker). They alternate between regulation camouflage and sparkly costumes.