The South Asia Channel

Obama officials offer conditional messages on CIA drone strikes

Bonus read: "Jihadists focus on prison breaks," Peter Bergen and Bailey Cahall (CNN). Mixed messages  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Pakistani interviewer on Thursday that he thought the CIA drone program would end "very, very soon" as it has "eliminated most of the threats and continue[s] to eliminate it" (BBC, NYT, Post, ...

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Bonus read: "Jihadists focus on prison breaks," Peter Bergen and Bailey Cahall (CNN).

Mixed messages 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Pakistani interviewer on Thursday that he thought the CIA drone program would end "very, very soon" as it has "eliminated most of the threats and continue[s] to eliminate it" (BBC, NYT, Post, Reuters).  But Kerry did not offer specifics on a "timeline" for ending the strikes, which are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, and the State Department released a clarifying statement Thursday night that said: "Clearly the goal of counterterrorism operations…is to get to a place where we don’t have to use them because the threat goes away. Now, we’re all realistic about the fact that there is a threat that remains and that we have to keep up our fight in this and other places around the world" (FP, Pajhwok). The comments illustrate the difficulty the Obama administration is having in striking the right balance between its desire to reestablish diplomatic ties with Pakistan and its determination to strike militant groups that are attacking U.S. troops in Afghanistan from their Pakistani safe havens.

Imran Khan, the chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, appeared in front of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Friday to address a charge of contempt of court (Dawn, ET).  Khan, who has been protesting the results of the May 11 national election, has been charged for "critical and derogatory" remarks he made against the judiciary and judges of the court in several media interviews (Dawn).  Khan and his lawyer were present for the hearing, but his two-paragraph written response was deemed "insufficient" by the court.  The case has been adjourned while Khan and his lawyer work on a better response.

A dozen suspected militants were killed by the Indian army this week as they tried to cross the highly militarized Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir from the Pakistani side (AP).  Naresh Vig, an Indian army spokesman, said the fighting began Monday after soldiers intercepted militants who were crossing into a northern part of the Indian-administered section of Kashmir, and continued on Friday when militants were discovered trying to cross the LoC at three other places.  There was no independent confirmation of the fighting, but tensions have been rising in the disputed territory.

Staying on? 

With Afghanistan’s presidential election just eight month away, powerbrokers in the country’s restive south are pressing current President Hamid Karzai not to leave office when his term ends in April 2014 (Post).  According to the Washington Post, these leaders have encouraged such an extension for a variety of reasons, including a belief that poor security would limit voter turnout in the south and a feeling that Karzai is the best man for the job and should be allowed to run for a third term. Other Afghan observers say the security has improved and suggest that justification is merely a cover for Pashtun political interests.  Karzai, who is constitutionally limited to two terms, is a Pashtun himself, and comes from the southern province of Kandahar. 

An unidentified U.S. government official told Pajhwok on Thursday that the text of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) is locked in and ready to go, once President Hamid Karzai signs off on the document (Pajhwok).  According to the official, the text of the BSA, which will determine the size and shape of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan post-2014, was completed before Karzai suspended negotiations over the opening of the Taliban’s political office in Doha and the Obama administration’s intention to hold direct talks with the militant group.  While direct talks between Afghanistan and the United States on the BSA have not resumed, informal discussions have kept the progress moving along. 

A jury at Fort Bragg in North Carolina found 28-year-old 1st Lt. Clint Lorance guilty on Thursday of two counts of murder connected to a series of shootings in Afghanistan (AP, Pajhwok, Post).  Lorance was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and the judge ordered the forfeiture of his pay and his dismissal from the U.S. Army.  Prosecutors argued that in July 2012, as three men on a motorcycle approached Lorance’s patrol, Lorance ordered his men to open fire immediately, a violation of the military’s rules of engagement. Two of the men were killed, while the third ran away. 

Punjab’s new governor

Mohammed Sarwar, a former member of the British parliament and its first Muslim lawmaker, returned to his native Pakistan this week as the new governor of Punjab province (Reuters).  While the role is a relatively ceremonial one, Sarwar is looking forward to applying the knowledge he gained in Britain to Punjab, Pakistan’s wealthiest and most populous province.  As for his former position, his son Ansa was elected to replace him in Britain’s legislature.

— Bailey Cahall 

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