White House releases (contested) drone kill count
The White House said July 1 that between 64 and 116 civilians have been killed by drone and other US strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya since Barack Obama took office in 2009. But this first public assessment by the administration put the civilian death toll significantly lower than estimates by various human rights groups, which range as high as 1,000 killed. Obama also signed an executive order outlining US policies to limit civilian casualties, and ostensibly making protection of civilians a central element in US military operations planning. The order requires an annual release of casualty estimates, and says the government should include "credible reporting" by non-government groups when it reviews strikes to determine if civilians were killed.
Revered Sufi singer assassinated in Pakistan
Thousands of people attended the funeral of slain qawwali singer Amjad Sabri in Karachi on June 23, the day after he was shot dead in an attack claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction. The 40-year-old Sabri, son of qawwali master Ghulam Farid Sabri, was heading to a TV station for a special Ramadan performance when two gunmen fired on his car. Qawwali is the traditional devotional music of Pakistan's Sufis, who are considered heretical by the Taliban. The Sabri family are members of the Chishti Sufi order. While the musical family has been revered since the Mughal empire, their tradition has come under growing attack in the increasingly conservative atmosphere of Pakistan. A blasphemy case was filed against Sabri last year after he mentioned members of the Prophet Muhammad's family in a song. The assassination was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban. There have been no arrests.
What was behind Af-Pak border clashes?
Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed June 20 to peacefully resolve a border dispute after clashes and a tense stand-off over Islamabad's plan to build a barbed-wire separation barrier at its Torkham border crossing. Fighting broke out on June 12, leading to fatalities on both sides—including two children on the Afghan side of the line. The crossing, in Pakistan's Khyber Agency, was re-opened afrter both sides agreed to de-escalate following a high-level meeting in Islamabad. Tensions began in April, when Pakistani authorities demolished the homes of some 300 Afghan families living in Torkham to clear way for the "gate," as the barrier is being called. The houses were bulldozed after a number of Afghan nationals refused to comply with a four-day deadline to vacate the area and cross into Afghanistan. The families protested that they had legal residency, and that the expulsions were being carried out improperly.
Mullah Mansour death: blow to Pakistan?
The apparent killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in a US drone strike May 22 actually took place in Pakistan—and without the consent of Islamabad, which has demanded a "clarification" from Washington in the hit. It was also the first US drone strike in Pakistan's restive province of Baluchistan, rather than in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where they have mostly been concentrated. The US has flown drones out of a base in Baluchistan, but never actually carried out any strikes there until now. The FATA is seen by Islamabad as something of a special case due to al-Qaeda's presence there, and the US has been given a free hand in the Tribal Areas. The insurgency in Baluchistan, in contrast, is seen strictly as Pakistan's internal war—despite the fact that the Afghan Taliban had evidently established it as their new staging area, with FATA getting too hot. This Taliban consolidation in Baluchistan was presumably permitted (if not actually overseen) by the Pakistani state. The strike on Mansour was apparently carried out from Afghan territory, and by the Pentagon rather than the CIA. And there are other ways in which the strike seems to indicate a break between Washington and Islamabad...
Global executions surge —yet again
For a third year running, Amnesty International's annual report on the death penalty notes an alarming surge in the number of executions worldwide—now reaching the highest total since 1989. At least 1,634 people were executed in 2015, a rise of more than 50% over the previous year. Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were leading the field, responsible for 89% of the executions. Iran executed at least 977 in 2015—the vast majority for drug-related crimes—compared with 743 in 2014. Those put to death included at least four who were under 18 at the time of the crime—which Amnesty called a violation of international law. Pakistan continued what Amnesty called as a "state-sanctioned killing spree" that began when a moratorium on civilian executions was lifted in December 2014. Pakistan sent at least 326 to the gallows last year, the highest annual total Amnesty has recorded for that country. Executions in Saudi Arabia rose by 76%, with at least 158 people put to death, Amnesty said. Most were beheaded, with the bodies often displayed in public.
Drone 'Kill List' target speaks
The Independent on April 12 runs a piece by one Malik Jalal, a community leader from Pakistan's tribal areas, who traveled to the UK to speak out, claiming he has been placed on the US drone "Kill List" for his efforts to broker peace with the Taliban. He writes: " I don't want to end up a 'Bugsplat'—the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. More importantly, I don't want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized. I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead."
Pakistan: government caves to Islamist protesters
Pakistan's government succeeded in persuading thousands of protesters occupying a key area of downtown Islamabad's high-security Red Zone to disperse before force is used—after several deadlines had been extended, four days into the occupation. The protesters are supporters of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri—recently executed as the assassin of a former governor who campaigned for reform of the country's blasphemy laws. The case revolves around Asia Bibi, a woman farmworker of Christian background convicted of blasphemy after being accused of dissing the Prophet in an argument over a drink of water while at work in the fields. Protesters demanded that Bibi be executed as well. This was, thankfully, not a part of the deal under which they agreed to stand down—but the government did pledge that there would be no reform of the blasphemy laws, which are enshrined in the Pakistani constitution's Article 295-C. The status of the protesters' other demands—including release of jihadist prisoners, and that Mumtaz Qadri be declared a "martyr"—remains unclear. (Express Tribune, The News, GeoTV, March 30; AP, March 28; Dawn, March 27)
Pakistan: backlash to 'un-Islamic' women's law
A conference of religious groups and political parties convened by the Jamaat-e-Islami party asked the Pakistani government on March 15 to repeal a new "un-Islamic" law that provides protections for female victims of abuse. The Women's Protection Act (PDF), passed last month by Punjab province, establishes an abuse hotline, sets up shelter homes, provides for imprisonment for violations of protection from abuse orders and establishes investigation panels. The religious groups claim the law violates the Koran, denouncing it as in conflict with both Islam and the Pakistani constitution. Earlier this month the Council of Islamic Ideology, the government's religious advising body, declared the Women's Protection Act un-Islamic.
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