The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Gates in Pakistan to discuss new anti-Taliban military operations

Wonk Watch: New York University’s Center on Law and Security has released the definitive look at nearly 1,000 post-9/11 federal terrorism cases, finding that the overall conviction rate for prosecutions involving any kind of terrorism charges is 89 percent. The full report is available here (CLS-pdf). Common enemies As U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is ...

ABDULLAH JAN/AFP/Getty Images
ABDULLAH JAN/AFP/Getty Images

Wonk Watch: New York University’s Center on Law and Security has released the definitive look at nearly 1,000 post-9/11 federal terrorism cases, finding that the overall conviction rate for prosecutions involving any kind of terrorism charges is 89 percent. The full report is available here (CLS-pdf).

Common enemies

As U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is visiting Pakistan for the first time in three years to encourage greater cooperation between Washington and Islamabad and ask what the country’s plans are for a possible military offensive against extremists in the tribal region of North Waziristan, a Pakistani Army spokesman said any action there would not happen in the next 12 months, citing the Pakistani government’s desire to consolidate current gains (BBC, AP, WSJ, Reuters, NYT, Bloomberg, FT, Dawn, Wash Post). Gates wrote in today’s News, a leading Pakistani newspaper, that "The Pakistani Taliban operates in collusion with both the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda, so it is impossible to separate these groups" (The News). Gates is scheduled to meet with several Pakistani leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari, who, after a politically shaky few months, appears to have survived in power (NYT).

The latest round of Pakistani military operations in the troubled tribal areas, begun in South Waziristan in mid-October 2009, is winding down, as Pakistan’s government yesterday agreed to sign an accord with Mehsud tribal elders transferring responsibility for security in the agency to them, a key step toward the Army’s withdrawal (Bloomberg). Pakistani press picked up on the provision of the agreement, which is reportedly to be signed on Feb. 10, requiring the tribe to hand over nearly 400 wanted militants, including the current chief of the Pakistani Taliban Hakimullah Mehsud (APP, Daily Times). Past peace deals have not held.

Earlier today, a roadside bomb apparently targeting a bus full of anti-Taliban tribal elders in the northwestern Pakistani region of Bajaur killed one woman and wounded more than 20 others (Dawn, Geo, AFP). A number of local leaders in Bajaur have been killed the same way in recent months. And a Filipino bomb making expert affiliated with Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah was reportedly killed by a suspected U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan last week (AP).

The civilian side

Hundreds of angry Afghan villagers protested in the provincial capital of Ghazni earlier today, claiming that a NATO-led raid last night killed four civilians, though the international force asserted that the dead were insurgents (AP, AFP, Reuters, Pajhwok, ISAF). NATO is said to be planning the creation of a top civilian post in Kabul parallel to the position held by top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal, possibly to be announced by the Jan. 28 international conference in London, to coordinate reconstruction (WSJ, AP). British ambassador to Afghanistan Mark Sedwill is considered a leading contender for the job.

The State Department is reportedly releasing a 30-page policy paper today outlining the Obama administration’s ambitious civilian strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which will keep hundreds of U.S. civilian experts on agriculture, communications, and other fields in Afghanistan for years to come (NYT). U.S. Special Representative to the region Richard Holbrooke and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband are scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today at 3:00pm EST on the civilian strategy ahead of the Jan. 28 conference (SFRC). And throughout today, Miliband will be answering questions about the conference and Afghanistan on Twitter @UKinUSA using the tag "#askfs" (UKinUSA).

A hot topic at the conference next week is expected to be reconciliation for Taliban fighters, and the U.K. Telegraph reports on a document endorsed yesterday by Afghan ministers and international representatives describing a plan that includes "potential exile in a third country" for the movement’s leadership (Daily Tel). However, experts are skeptical of many of the provisions of the "re-integration scheme" (FT).

Hearts and minds

The Afghan Taliban have in recent months attempted to overhaul their public image among Afghans via a new code of conduct designed to "win the favor of the people" by forbidding suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, and cutting off lips, ears, and tongues (NYT). However, enforcement of the new code of conduct has been spotty at best.

U.S. Marines are reportedly circling closer to military operations in the strategically significant southern Afghan town of Marjah in Helmand province, and some speculate operations may begin as soon as early February in the first major mission since the Obama administration committed 30,000 additional troops in December (AFP).

Profiles

Rolling Stone profiles Osama bin Laden’s fourth son, Omar, who has spoken out against the militant leader’s violent campaign, in a fascinating must-read (Rolling Stone). And Mark Magnier tells the story of an Afghan interpreter working for the U.S. government who has been unable to see his family for years because of security concerns (LAT).

It’s a real thing, folks

Twitter has emerged as an important means of communication about security, politics, and other topics among Afghans, though the use of micro-blogging and social networking websites is limited by low literacy rates and poor access to the internet in the country (Pajhwok). Twitter’s popularity in Afghanistan reportedly took off around the August 20, 2009 presidential contest.

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