The South Asia Channel

Obama announces shift in U.S. counterterrorism strategy

Event Notice: "Online Radicalization: Myths and Realities" TUESDAY, MAY 28, 2013; 12:15-1:45PM (NAF). Site Launch: See the New America Foundation’s updated drone site here. "At a crossroads" In a much-anticipated counterterrorism speech at Washington’s National Defense University on Thursday, President Obama declared that "America is at a crossroads" and sought to redefine and narrow the scope of ...

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Event Notice: "Online Radicalization: Myths and Realities" TUESDAY, MAY 28, 2013; 12:15-1:45PM (NAF).

Site Launch: See the New America Foundation's updated drone site here.

Event Notice: "Online Radicalization: Myths and Realities" TUESDAY, MAY 28, 2013; 12:15-1:45PM (NAF).

Site Launch: See the New America Foundation’s updated drone site here.

"At a crossroads"

In a much-anticipated counterterrorism speech at Washington’s National Defense University on Thursday, President Obama declared that "America is at a crossroads" and sought to redefine and narrow the scope of the country’s war with al Qaeda and its affiliates (BBCETNYT, Post).  Parts of this realignment include curtailing the use of drones in countries with which the U.S. is not at war, recommitting to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and seeking new limits on the president’s wartime power. It also includes returning the CIA to a more traditional spy agency, which will require a significant culture and generational shift after more than a decade of counterterrorism work and targeted killing (NYT). 

In a recent poll conducted for the BBC, Pakistan came in as one of the most unpopular countries in the world (BBCET). The poll asked more than 26,000 people from around the world to rate 16 countries and the European Union on whether their global influence was "mainly positive" or "mainly negative." Pakistan was second to last with only 15% looking upon it favorably, while 55% rated its impact negatively.  Narrowly beaten by North Korea (54% negative view), Pakistan was seen just four percentage points less negatively than Iran (59% negative view).  

Violence in Pakistan continued on Friday when three people were killed in a suicide attack outside a madrassa in Peshawar (DawnET).  Jamatud Dawa leader Haji Hidayatullah was believed to have been the target of the attack, though he was not near the madrassa at the time of the blast.  Elsewhere in Peshawar, gunmen opened fire on a NATO convoy Friday, killing the driver and injuring another (AFP, Dawn). 

In Karachi on Friday, unidentified assailants threw a hand grenade at a government school, injuring a teacher and three students (DawnET).  No deaths were reported in this attack, but four people died and two were wounded in three separate firing incidents across the city. 

Losing momentum

Despite the momentum for rapprochement between the Karzai government and the Taliban that seemed to be building last December, each suicide attack, kidnapping, and roadside bombing of the Taliban’s spring offensive erodes Afghan confidence that a peaceful resolution will be found before the withdrawal of coalition forces next year (Post).  Negotiations between the Taliban and U.S. officials broke down in December, and while Afghan President Hamid Karzai finally reached an agreement with Qatar on a proposed Taliban office in March, the group seems to have little interest in moving forward.  With the U.S. commitment to remove its troops by December 2014, both the Afghan government and the Taliban believe time is on their side.

While President Obama promised to complete the security transition in Afghanistan in his speech on Thursday, the focus remained on training the Afghan national security forces, not providing them with the life-saving equipment they seem to need most — helicopters (Pajhwok). According to a recent report by the Washington Post, the U.S. evacuated 4,700 Afghan soldiers by air while the Afghan air force managed only 400 such rescues (Post).  The U.S. has spent millions training and equipping the Afghan air force but with only 60 helicopters in its arsenal, many of which are out of commission at any given time, injured Afghan forces in remote areas will have to wait for military ambulances and the number of men who die from minor injuries will increase.

In Helmand province, four policemen were killed on Thursday when a roadside bomb ripped through their vehicle (Pajhwok).  Afghan officials blamed the Taliban for the attack, though no one has yet claimed responsibility. 

Summer fun

A few short years ago, the Swat Valley was under the iron fist of the Pakistani Taliban, until a Pakistani military operation ousted the militants in 2009. Now, despite some reports that the Taliban have reasserted themselves in the area, families are turning out en masse and unthreatened to blow off steam and escape the rising temperatures on the banks of the Swat River (ET).

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