The South Asia Channel

Leaked document shows al-Qaeda’s interest in grounding U.S. drones

Leaked document shows al-Qaeda’s interest in grounding U.S. drones

Anti-drone capabilities 

Several hours after the Washington Post reported that the 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s "black budget," provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, showed increased surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms, the paper released a story late on Tuesday based an another leaked document that showed al-Qaeda’s leadership created cells of engineers in 2010 that were tasked with finding ways to shoot down, jam, or remotely hijack the U.S. drones flying over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, killing their members and hindering their movements (AFP, Pajhwok).  While there is no evidence to suggest that al-Qaeda has been able to interfere with the unmanned aerial vehicles, the report says U.S. intelligence officials have closely tracked the group’s attempts to exploit the technological vulnerabilities of the weapons systems.  The top-secret assessment, titled "Threats to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles," is detailed in the extensive Post report, though the paper admits that it is "withholding some detailed portions of the classified material that could shed light on specific weaknesses of certain aircraft" (Post). 

Following the previous Post report about U.S. concerns over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad released a statement on Tuesday confirming Pakistan’s commitment to "objectives of disarmament and non-proliferation" and describing its nuclear policy as "characterized by restraint and responsibility" (MOFA, Post).  The ministry added that Pakistan has extensive physical protection measures, robust command and control institutions, and comprehensive export controls regulations that monitor its nuclear facilities and materials.  While the statement did not specifically comment on the pattern of mistrust between Pakistan and the United States mentioned in the Post report, several Pakistani experts said the problem of mutual mistrust is well known and documented.  Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist and critic of nuclear arms, said: "Of course the U.S. has put Pakistan under a microscope.  Everyone knows that." 

After weeks of increased violence in Karachi and calls by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to turn the city’s administration over to the Pakistani Army, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the city on Wednesday and presided over a special cabinet meeting to discuss the situation (Dawn, ET). While Sharif admitted that the city’s inhabitants had lost faith in the police force, and that state institutions had failed to restore peace in the city, he said handing control to the army was unlikely.  He is instead in favor of handing control of the city’s security operations over to the Sindh Rangers, a provincial paramilitary organization, until peace can be restored (ET).  Pakistani newspapers also reported on Wednesday that Capt. Muhammad Nadeem, a senior navy officer and professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology, was shot and killed by unknown gunmen in Karachi, underscoring the city’s fragile security situation; Nadeem’s wife, who was wounded in the attack, is in stable condition at a nearby naval hospital (Dawn, ET).      

Arrests made

Eight Afghan police officers, including the son of Gen. Mohammad Leqaa Andarabi, a former jihadi commander and a former provincial police chief, were arrested on Wednesday in connection to the accidental deaths of six children in the Doshi district of Baghlan province on Friday (BBC, RFE/RL).  According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior, the officers are suspected of firing rockets into a pond to catch fish and hitting a crowd of children who were playing nearby (NYT). The case has been referred to a military prosecutor and it will be at least a week before the investigation into the incident is concluded.  

While there are currently no confirmed candidates for next year’s presidential election, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a key opposition leader, warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai against trying to influence the electoral process on Tuesday (Pajhwok).  Recognizing potential concerns Karzai may have regarding his status once he is no longer in power – Afghanistan has not be particularly kind to its past leaders – Abdullah said: "We don’t want the president to be worried about his future.  Instead we wish him to live a life of dignity among the people after the end of his tenure."  He says that can only be achieved if Karzai stays neutral in the contest to pick his successor.  For his part, Karzai has said he will not interfere (Post). Peter Kaestner, a senior inspector in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Inspector General, also released a statement on Tuesday saying that the United States is not backing any particular presidential candidate but will assist the Afghan government in ensuring the transparency of the April elections (Pajhwok).  

A year after attempts to privatize Afghanistan’s New Kabul Bank failed to draw acceptable bids, the country’s Ministry of Finance released a statement on Tuesday saying that it was going to try again (AP, Pajhwok).  The bank, whose near collapse in 2010 and subsequent bailout rocked the Afghan economy, was seized by regulators after an independent report revealed the bank was being run like a Ponzi scheme.  Calls for registration will close at the end of September. 

Birmingham’s new library

A new nearly $300 million dollar library in Birmingham, England was officially opened on Tuesday by Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban for advocating girls’ education last October (BBC).  Yousafzai, who was treated at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and now lives in the city, said Birmingham was "the beating heart of England" and that the library "will continue to enlighten future generations."  As part of the opening ceremony, Yousafzai added her copy of Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist to the building’s shelves, completing the library’s collection of one million books.

— Bailey Cahall