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NATO Expands Afghan War Into Pakistan

September 30, 2010 1 comment

On October 7 the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization military allies will begin the tenth year of their war in Afghanistan, over 3,000 miles from NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

The following month midterm elections will be held in the U.S. and NATO will hold a two-day summit in Portugal. The American administration is eager to achieve, or appear to have achieved, a foreign policy triumph in an effort to retain Democratic Party control of the Congress and NATO something to show for the longest and largest military mission in its 61 years of existence.

President Barack Obama has tripled the amount of American combat troops in Afghanistan to 100,000 and along with forces from other NATO member states and partner nations there are now over 150,000 foreign troops in the nation, the most ever stationed in the war-wracked country. 120,000 of those soldiers are now under the command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the most ever serving in a North Atlantic Alliance-led military operation. NATO Kosovo Force at its peak had 50,000 troops, but they entered the Serbian province after an almost three-month air war had ended.

The 120,000 NATO forces currently in theater – from 50 nations already with more pegged to provide troops – are at the center of the world’s longest-lasting and increasingly deadly hot war. NATO’s first ground war, its first combat operations in Asia.

Last year was the most lethal for the U.S and NATO in what is now a nine-year conflict and this year has already proven even more costly in terms of combat deaths. And there are three more months to go.

Washington and Brussels could decide to save face and end the fighting through some combination of an internal political settlement and a true international peacekeeping arrangement – rather than the subversion of the International Security Assistance Force that was established by a United Nations mandate in December of 2001 but which is now the Pentagon’s and NATO’s vehicle for waging war in Afghanistan. And in neighboring Pakistan.

But the military metaphysic prevalent in Washington over the past 65 years will allow for nothing other than what is seen as victory, with a “Who lost Afghanistan?” legacy tarnishing the president who fails to secure it and the party to which he belongs being branded half-hearted and defeatist.

As for NATO, the Strategic Concept to be adopted in November is predicated upon the bloc’s expansion into a 21st century global expeditionary force for which Afghanistan is the test case. A NATO that loses Afghanistan, that loses in Afghanistan, will be viewed more critically by the populations of its European member states that have sacrificed their sons and daughters at the altar of NATO’s international ambitions. In the words of then-Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer six years ago: “What is NATO doing in Afghanistan? Defending values at the Hindu Kush in the present day international climate. We have to fight terrorism wherever it emerges. If we don’t do it at the Hindu Kush, it will end up at our doorstep. In other words, this perception gap [of the North Atlantic military alliance operating in South Asia] in the long run must be closed and must be healed – that is, for NATO’s future, of the utmost importance.” [1]

Not satisfied with the Vietnam that Afghanistan has become, NATO has now launched its Cambodian incursion. One with implications several orders of magnitude greater than with the prototype, though, into a nation of almost 170 million people, a nation wielding nuclear weapons. Pakistan.

As the U.S. delivered its 20th deadly drone missile attack of the month inside Pakistan on the 27th, five times the amount launched in August and the most in any month since they were started in 2004, NATO conducted a series of attacks with helicopter gunships in Northwest Pakistan. Claiming the “right of self-defense” and in “hot pursuit” of insurgents that had reportedly attacked a NATO camp, Combat Outpost Narizah, in Afghanistan’s Khost province near the Pakistani border, this past weekend NATO attack helicopters conducted two forays into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where U.S. drone strikes have killed a record number of people this month.

Estimates of those killed, dutifully referred to in the Western press as insurgents, militants or terrorists, were 30, then 50, afterward 60, 70 and later “82 or higher.” [2]

The amount, like the identify, of the dead will never be definitively known.

Press reports stated the targets were members of the Haqqani network, founded by veteran Afghan Mujahedin leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who when he led attacks from Pakistani soil against Afghan targets slightly over a generation ago was an American hero, one of Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters.” Two years ago the New York Times wrote: “In the 1980s, Jalaluddin Haqqani was cultivated as a ‘unilateral’ asset of the CIA and received tens of thousands of dollars in cash for his work in fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, according to an account in ‘The Bin Ladens,’ a recent book by Steve Coll. At that time, Haqqani helped and protected Osama bin Laden, who was building his own militia to fight the Soviet forces, Coll wrote.” [3]

As to the regret that the otherwise praiseworthy Haqqani has of late allied himself with the Taliban, one voiced by among other people the late Charlie Wilson who once celebrated Haqqani as “goodness personified,” in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press last year Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told his American audience that the Taliban “was part of your past and our past, and the ISI and the CIA created them together. And I can find you 10 books and 10 philosophers and 10 write-ups on that….” [4]

On September 27 two NATO helicopters attacked the Kurram agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, killing six people and wounding eight. A local Pakistani government official described all the victims as civilians. According to Dawn News, “Nato has also shelled the area before.” [5] Three attacks in three days and as many as 100 deaths.

On the same day a U.S. drone-launched missile strike killed four people in the North Waziristan agency. “The identities of the four people killed in the attack were not known….” [6]

The above events occurred against the backdrop of the revelation in Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars that “a 3,000-strong secret army of Afghan paramilitary forces run by the Central Intelligence Agency had conducted cross-border raids into Pakistan.” [7]

After mounting in intensity for two years and consisting in part – helicopter gunship attacks and special forces assassination team raids – of covert operations, the U.S. and NATO war in Northwest Pakistan is now fully underway and can no longer be denied.

The Pentagon – the helicopters used in the attacks on September 25 and 26 were American Apaches and Kiowas – defended the strikes over the weekend as falling within its rules of engagement and Defense Department spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the U.S. had adhered to “appropriate protocol” and “Our forces have the right of self-defense.” [8]

A spokesmen for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force initially denied that Alliance forces had launched any attacks inside Pakistani territory, although Afghan police officials had confirmed that they did. On September 27, however, the International Security Assistance Force verified that NATO forces had conducted the deadly strikes. As the third attack by NATO helicopters occurred on the same day, “Coalition officials said the cross-border attacks fell within its rules of engagement because the insurgents had attacked them from across the border.” [9]

A NATO official informed the press that “ISAF forces must and will retain the authority, within their mandate, to defend themselves in carrying out their mission.” [10]

Mehmood Shah, former top security official of the Pakistani government in the region where the helicopter gunship and drone strikes have killed over 200 people so far this month, said of the recent NATO attacks: “This should be considered a watershed event. They [Nato] must be warned: the next time you do this, it can lead to war. Our units should be deployed to fire upon them. This border has sanctity. Nato must realise they have a mandate to operate in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan.” [11]

On September 27 Interior Minister Rehman Malik denounced the NATO raids as a violation of Pakistani territorial integrity and national sovereignty and told the nation’s Senate that the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad would be summoned to explain the attacks. Malik and the Pakistani government as a whole know that the Hamid Karzai administration in Kabul has no control over what the U.S. and NATO do in its own country, much less in Pakistan. The interior minister’s comment were solely for internal consumption, for placating Pakistani popular outrage, but as Pakistan itself has become a NATO partner and U.S. surrogate [12] its officials, like those of Afghanistan, will not be notified of any future attacks.

Nevertheless domestic exigencies compelled Malik to denounce the strikes inside his country and assert “I take the drone attacks in Pakistani territory as an attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan.” A senator from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz “asked the government to inform the parliament about any accord it had reached with the US under which drone attacks were being carried out.” [13]

At the same time Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit went further and lodged what was described as a strong protest to NATO Headquarters in Brussels over the weekend’s air strikes, issuing a statement that said in part: “These incidents are a clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which ISAF operates,” as its mandate “terminates/finishes” at the Afghan border.

“There are no agreed ‘hot pursuit’ rules. Any impression to the contrary is not factually correct. Such violations are unacceptable.” [14]

By the evening of September 27, after the Pakistani complaints were registered, NATO’s ISAF attempted to conduct damage control and reverted to the military bloc’s original position: That it has not launched attacks inside Pakistan at all. On that very day it had dispatched two more helicopter gunships for the third raid in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

NATO will continue to launch lethal attacks inside Pakistan against whichever targets it sees fit and will proffer neither warnings nor apologies. The U.S. will continue to escalate attacks with Hellfire missiles against whomever it chooses, however inaccurate, anecdotal and self-interested the reports upon which they are based prove to be.

The death toll in Pakistan this month is well over 200 and for this year to date over 2,000. The justification for this carnage offered by the U.S. and NATO is that it is intended to extend the policy of Barack Obama to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” insurgent networks in Afghanistan into Pakistan, supposedly the sooner to end the war.

Forty years ago Obama’s predecessor Richard Nixon began his speech announcing the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia with these words: “Good evening, my fellow Americans. Ten days ago, in my report to the nation on Vietnam, I announced the decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year. I said then that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased enemy activity in Laos, in Cambodia, and in South Vietnam. And at that time I warned that if I concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.” [15]

He claimed that “enemy sanctuaries” in Cambodia “endanger the lives of Americans who are in Vietnam,” and “if this enemy effort succeeds, Cambodia would become a vast enemy staging area and a springboard for attacks on South Vietnam along 600 miles of frontier: a refuge where enemy troops could return from combat without fear of retaliation.”

The course he ordered was to “go to the heart of the trouble. And that means cleaning out major North Vietnamese and Vietcong occupied territories, these sanctuaries which serve as bases for attacks on both Cambodia and American and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.”

The practical application of the policy was that “attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border.”

In language that has been heard again lately in Washington and Brussels – with nothing but the place names changed – Nixon claimed: “We take this action not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia, but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam….”

Washington indeed expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia, with what disastrous effects the world is fully aware, and soon thereafter departed Southeast Asia in defeat, leaving vast stretches of Vietnam and Cambodia in ruins.

Afghanistan and Pakistan will not fare any better.

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Dr. Afia Siddiqui: A Travesty Of Justice

September 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Dr. Afia Siddiqui: A Travesty Of Justice

Not unexpectedly, the 86 years jail sentence against Dr. Afia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist once dubbed by the US media as Al-Qaeda Lady, triggered outrage across the country with protesters taking to the streets in many places. It was 10 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 23) in Pakistan when US District Court in Manhattan by Judge Richard M. Berman announced the judgment but protesters were up in arms in several cities of the country. There were demonstrations, mainly from students in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar burning US flags and effigies of US leaders. They chanted anti-American slogans. In Lahore, a young demonstrator was shown on a Pakistani TV network saying that “we will burn the US consulate.”

In Karachi, a large number of people gathered at the residence of Dr. Afia’s sister Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui. She said “This decision proves that the system of justice that the US believes is its pride is no longer effective.”

Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of the Punjab Province with largest population, described it a verdict against humanity. Mufti Munibur Rehman, a prominent religious leader said that the verdict will foment extremism in Pakistan.

Maulana Fazalur Rehman, Chairman of parliament’s Kashmir Committee, announced that he will cancel his forthcoming visit to the US in protest against the US verdict.

Tellingly, Dr. Afia was quoted by Associated Press as telling the court Thursday: ”I am not sad. I am not distressed. … They are not torturing me.” ”This is a myth and lie and it’s being spread among the Muslims.” Commenting on this statement, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui said that she was perplexed with this statement that has been given under duress.

It may be recalled that in July 2009, Dr. Afia told the court that she was being tortured. The BBC reported on July 7, 2009: “While denying charges against her, she also told the court about her mistreatment in prison and desecration of the Holy Quran. She said that the Holy Quran was put in her feet. At one time she turned toward the court room packed with journalists and her well wishers and said they should tell the world that she is innocent, she is being tortured and there is a conspiracy against her.

Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui also accused the Pakistani government of collaborating with the US government in Dr. Afia’s plight. “The conviction clearly shows how enslaved our government is. The previous government (President Pervez Musharraf’s) had sold Aafia once, but the present government has sold her time and again,” she said.

The Justice for Aafia Coalition (JFAC), an umbrella body for a number of organizations, groups, and activists created in February 2010 to campaign for the opening of a full investigation into the circumstances of her detention, expressed shock at the harsh sentence passed on Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The JFAC’s statement, released soon after Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years imprisonment, said: “We are deeply saddened by the harsh sentence passed on Dr. Aafia Siddiqui by Judge Richard Berman today. “It has now been over seven and a half years since Dr. Siddiqui was abducted with her three young children by Pakistani and American agencies. She has since been separated from her children and family, detained in a series of secret prisons and physically and psychologically abused by her captors. Following a blatantly prejudiced and unfair trial in which little conclusive evidence of her guilt was presented, she was found guilty…. While we are disappointed by Judge Berman’s decision, we condemn in the strongest terms the stance of the Pakistani government towards this beloved daughter of the nation. While we must never look to the wolf for protection, we expect the shepherd to care for his flock. The Pakistani government has from the outset been complicit in Aafia’s disappearance and detention, and has displayed nothing but contempt for its people and dignity through its cowardly stance in requesting her repatriation….”

Dr Aafia says an appeal would be a waste of time

In New York, hundreds of supporters of Dr Siddiqui had gathered Thursday on the court grounds and adjoining areas protesting against her trial and conviction. “It is my judgment that Dr Siddiqui is sentenced to a period of incarceration of 86 years,” said Judge Richard Berman. Dr Aafia Siddiqui denounced the trial and said an appeal would be “a waste of time. I appeal to God.” When her lawyer Dawn Cardi said in the court that they would appeal the sentence, Dr Siddiqui shouted “they are not my lawyers”.

On February 3, 2010, a jury in New York found Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, guilty of attempted murder charges on all seven counts listed in the complaint against her. She was tried on charges of trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan on July 28, 2008. According to the prosecution, Dr. Siddiqui grabbed a US warrant officer’s rifle while she was detained for questioning in July 2008 at a police station in Ghazni and fired at FBI agents and military personnel as she was pushed down to the ground. None of the US soldiers or FBI agents was injured, but US-educated Dr.Siddiqui was shot. She was charged with attempted murder and assault and other crimes.

To borrow Stephen Lendman, “her trial was a travesty of justice based on the preposterous charge that in the presence of two FBI agents, two Army interpreters, and three US Army officers, she (110 pounds and frail) assaulted three of them, seized one of their rifles, opened fire at close range, hit no one, yet she was severely wounded. No credible evidence was presented. Some was kept secret. The proceedings were carefully orchestrated. Witnesses were either enlisted, pressured, coerced, and/or bought off to cooperate, then jurors were intimidated to convict her.”

According to prosecution Siddiqui was arrested by the Afghan police in the town of Ghazni with notes indicating plans to attack the Statue of Liberty and other New York landmarks. However, she was not charged with terrorism but charged only with attempted murder.

During the trial, the prosecution admitted that there were no fingerprints on the gun she was supposed to have wrested from one of the soldiers. No bullets were recovered from the cell.

Early in the case Siddiqui’s defense team suggested she was a victim of the “dark side,” picked up by Pakistani or U.S. intelligence, but prosecutors insisted they found no evidence she’d ever been illegally detained. By the time of the trial, no mention was made of Siddiqui’s whereabouts during her five missing years.

No explanation was given as to why a would-be terrorist would wander around openly with a slew of almost theatrically incriminating materials in her possession.

No questions were raised about the whereabouts of her two missing children, one of whom is a U.S. citizen. (Her daughter Maryam and son Ahmed later recovered from Afghanistan and handed over to Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui.)

By keeping the focus on Ghazni, the prosecution avoided the main issue in Dr. Aafia’s case: Where was she from March 2003 to July 2008 when she suddenly appeared in US custody in Afghanistan.

Four allegations

Perhaps, there were four allegations, not one, that required deliberation:

1. The first allegation against Dr. Aafia: In 2003, US authorities alleged that she had links with Al-Qaeda. Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr. Aafia were telecast with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation. At a news conference in May 2004, US Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that the FBI was looking for seven people with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. MIT graduate and former Boston resident Aafia Siddiqui was the only woman on the list.

2. The second allegation: The US authorities claimed on July 17, 2008, that Dr. Aafia was found to be in possession of some objectionable and dangerous material. According to US officials, Afghani police, acting on an anonymous tip that a foreign woman was planning terrorist activities, arrested Aafia Siddiqui outside the governor’s compound in Ghazni, and discovered in her purse bottles of liquids, bomb making instructions, and a map of New York City landmarks.

3. The third allegation: International human rights group, prior to July 17, 2008, alleged that Dr. Aafia was being held in a secret prison. She was unlawfully abducted and sexually tortured. This needed to be addressed before moving on. This allegation was against the US and Pakistani authorities.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui left her mother’s house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, Sindh province, along with her three children, in a Metro-cab on March 30, 2003 to catch a flight for Islamabad, but never reached the airport. The press reports claimed that Dr. Aafia had been picked-up by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the time of her arrest she was 30 years and the mother of Mirryam, 4 (daughter) and two sons Ahmad, 6 and Sulyman, six months.

A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Aafia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks of Osama Bin Laden. A Monthly English magazine of Karachi in a special coverage on Dr. Aafia reported that one week after her disappearance, a plain clothed intelligence went to her mother’s house and warned her, “We know that you are connected to higher-ups but do not make an issue out of your daughter’s disappearance.” According to the report the mother was threatened her with ‘dire consequences’ if she made a fuss.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics, returned to Pakistan in 2002. Having failed to get a suitable job, she again visited the US on a valid visa in February 2003 to search for a job and to submit an application to the US immigration authorities. She moved there freely and came back to Karachi by the end of February 2003 after renting a post office box in her name in Maryland for the receipt of her mail. It has been claimed by the FBI (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003, issue) that the box was hired for one Mr Majid Khan, an alleged member of Al Qaeda residing in Baltimore.

Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr. Aafia were telecast with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation. On learning of the FBI campaign against her she went underground in Karachi and remained so till her kidnapping. The June 23, 2003, issue of Newsweek International was exclusively devoted to Al Qaeda. The core of the issue was an article “Al Qaeda’s Network in America”. The article has three photographs of so-called Al Qaeda members – Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Dr. Afia Siddiqui and Ali S. Al Marri of Qatar who has studied in the US like Dr. Siddiqui and had long since returned to his homeland. In this article, which has been authored by eight journalists who had access to FBI records, the only charge leveled against Dr. Aafia is that “she rented a post-office box to help a former resident of Baltimore named Majid Khan (alleged Al Qaeda suspect) to help establish his US identity. Dr. Aafia faded into limbo for more than a year, until summer 2004 when the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI announced that she was one of seven terrorists who were planning to disrupt the American presidential elections.

Dr. Aafia’s plight was highlighted by a British journalist and peace activist, Yvonne Ridley, who flew to Pakistan to address a press conference in Islamabad on July 7, 2008. “Today I am crying out for help, not for myself but for a Pakistani woman neither you nor I have ever met. She has been held in isolation by the Americans in Afghanistan and she needs help,” Ridley told a crowded press conference.

Ridley first learnt about the woman while reading a book by Guantanamo ex-detainee Moazzam Begg. One of the four Arabs who escaped from the infamous Bagram cell in July 2005 also told a television channel that he had heard a woman’s cries and screams in the prison but never saw her.

Ridley called her the Grey Lady of Bagram because she was almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her. The woman is registered as Prisoner number 650 and the US officials can’t deny the fact, Ridley said. “I demand that the US military free the Grey Lady immediately. We don’t know her identity, we don’t know her state of mind and we don’t know the extent of the abuse or torture she has been subjected to.”

On 24th July, 2008 the Asian Human Rights Commission issued an Urgent Appeal in the case of the disappearance of a lady doctor. Amid public protests in Pakistan, on August 1, an FBI official visited the house of Dr. Aafia’s brother in Houston to deliver the news that she is alive and in custody.

One week later she was produced in a New York court where even the Judge expressed surprise at the quick extradition of Dr. Aafia from Afghanistan to New York noting that in such a short period one could not extradite a person from Bronx (a New York Borough) to Manhattan.

4. The fourth allegation: The US authorities alleged that she fired at some US soldiers, etc. while she was being interrogated, after her alleged arrest. This is the only allegation on which Aafia has been tried. In the pre-trial hearing on January 18 the prosecution admitted: Dr Aafia is not a member of al-Qaida. She has no links to any terrorist organization.

The question is why the FBI chose to charge her only with firing at the US soldiers and agents? Why she is not charged with links to Al Qaed? Why she is not charged with planning attacks on targets in New York? Remember, a map of New York land marks was found on her when she was taken into custody in Ghazni, according to prosecution. We may find answers to these questions in the post-9/11 trials of Muslims in the US. A number of Muslims were arrested on terror suspicion but never charged with terrorism or acquitted in terrorism charges. They were put on trial with flimsy charges of immigration violation, tax evasion or some other charges which have nothing to do with terrorism. Just two examples may suffice to prove my point:

Anwar Mahmood, a Pakistani immigrant, was picked up in October 2001 for taking photographs of an upstate New York reservoir. No terror-related charges were ever filed against him but investigators found him in minor violation of immigration law. After spending three years in jail, he was deported to Pakistan in August 2004 for violating immigration law.

In February 2007, a jury acquitted Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, a Palestinian-American former professor at Washington’s HowardUniversity, of terror-related charges. Tellingly, in November 2007 he was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for refusing to testify in 2003 before a grand jury investigating the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Dr. Ashqar was convicted of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice. Dr. Afia Siddiqui: A Travesty Of Justice By Abdus Sattar Ghazali, 24 September, 2010, Countercurrents.org

Aafia Siddiqui’s sentence sparks protests in Pakistan

September 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Aafia Siddiqui’s sentence sparks protests in Pakistan

NEW YORK — A Pakistani scientist convicted of trying to kill U.S. agents and military officers has been sentenced to 86 years in prison.

Aafia Siddiqui (ah-FEE’-uh sih-DEE’-kee) was sentenced Thursday in Manhattan.

She was labeled an al-Qaida supporter and was brought to the United States after her July 2008 arrest in Afghanistan. She was convicted of grabbing a rifle and trying to shoot U.S. authorities while yelling, “Death to Americans!”

Her February conviction touched off protests in Pakistan.

Prosecutors say Siddiqui is a cold-blooded radical who deserves life in prison. The defense sought a sentence of about 12 years behind bars.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NEW YORK (AP) — Aafia Siddiqui’s strange legal odyssey began two summers ago in Afghanistan, where she turned up carrying evidence that — depending on the argument — proved she was either a terrorist or a lunatic.

Which portrayal prevails will determine whether the U.S.-trained scientist from Pakistan spends the rest of her life in prison.

A judge is scheduled to sentence Siddiqui on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan. A jury convicted her in February of trying to kill U.S. agents and military officers after Afghan police detained her in 2008.

During Siddiqui’s three-week trial, FBI agents and U.S. soldiers testified that when they went to interrogate Siddiqui, she snatched an unattended assault rifle and shot at them while yelling, “Death to Americans!” She was wounded by return fire but recovered and was brought to the United States to face trial.

Her conviction touched off protests in Pakistan. On Thursday, there were more protests as hundreds chanted “Free Aafia!” at a rally in Karachi, Pakistan, while others demonstrated outside the Manhattan courthouse.

Though she was not convicted of terrorism, the government has argued that Siddiqui is a cold-blooded radical who deserves a “terrorism enhancement” under federal sentencing guidelines that would guarantee a life term.

“She made it explicit, through her own words and her conduct, her intention to kill Americans, to cause `death to Americans,’” prosecutors wrote in court papers.

Prosecutors cited threatening notes Siddiqui was carrying at the time of her detention. They directly quoted one as referencing “a `mass casualty attack’ … NY CITY monuments: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge,” and another musing how a dirty bomb would spread more fear than death. They claimed the notes, along with the fact that she was carrying sodium cyanide, showed she wasn’t an accidental menace.

“Her conduct was not senseless or thoughtless,” prosecutors wrote. “It was deliberate and premeditated. Siddiqui should be punished accordingly.”

The defense has asked the judge for a sentence closer to 12 years behind bars. Her lawyers argued in court papers that their client’s outburst inside a cramped Afghan outpost was a spontaneous “freak out,” born of mental illness instead of militancy.

“Mentally ill and caught in the crossfire of a war that is no longer fought on conventional battlegrounds, Dr. Siddiqui’s self destructive behavior got her shot once in the abdomen, charged with attempted murder and … convicted of the same,” the defense wrote.

Siddiqui’s rambling courtroom rants proclaiming her innocence and offering odd solutions for Middle East peace ran counter to the prosecution’s portrait of “a cold, calculating jihadist who set out to harm American troops by any means necessary,” the defense wrote.

Siddiqui, 38, trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University in the early 1990s. Authorities claim she returned to her native Pakistan in 2003 after marrying an al-Qaida operative related to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Testifying in her own defense while wearing a head scarf at trial, Siddiqui claimed she was tortured at a “secret prison” before her detention. Charges that she purposely shot at soldiers were “crazy,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Among Saddiqui’s possessions at the time of her arrest, the defense says, was a computer disk with an essay she’d written about feminism and her struggles as a Muslim woman living in America.

The title: “I am not a Terrorist.”

In Karachi on Thursday, about 400 activists of the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami and its allied youth group, Pasban, gathered outside the Karachi Press Club carrying pictures of Siddiqui and chanting slogans against the U.S. government and justice system.

“Free Aafia,” “We want Aafia, not dollars!” the activists chanted, a reference to U.S. aid funds given in return for Pakistan’s cooperation in battling Islamist militancy.

The group tried to march toward the U.S. Consulate, but the police stopped them before they got too close. Aafia’s sister, Fauzia Siddiqui, later went to the consulate to submit a written message, which said, “Free Aafia Now.”

“I have no good expectations from Judge Richard Berman,” Fauzia Siddiqui told reporters. “He has time and again shown his bias and he has shown his discrimination and he has shown how he has tortured the justice system of the U.S.”

___

Associated Press Writer Ashraf Khan contributed to this report from Pakistan.

Why India and the US dislike the ISI

August 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Why India and the US dislike the ISI

Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency, or ISI as it is popularly known, is seen as their nemesis by those who have tried to undermine the security interests of the country one way or the other. It is no wonder then that in past few years the Americans unleashed a strong ISI-bashing campaign, with India following suit.

The Americans made no bones about their dislike for this agency, blaming it for working against their interests in Afghanistan. The Indians also see an ISI agent behind every rock in Kashmir and in Afghanistan where they are trying to dig their heels. They do not hesitate to pin on ISI the blame for the freedom struggle in Kashmir or for acts of terrorism by Indian extremists. Until recently the Karzai government dominated by the anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance also remained hostile to ISI.

Not too long ago, under intense American pressure the weak Zardari government made an unsuccessful attempt at neutralizing and subduing this agency in disregard to the existing sensitive regional security environment, by moving it out of the army control and placing it under the controversial and embattled Zardari loyalist interior minister – Rehman Malik. This did not succeed for a simple reason. The role of ISI as the eyes and ears of the Pakistan’s military – the bedrock of country’s security, is critical particularly at a time when the country faces multiple threats to its security.

Washington’s darling in the Afghan-Soviet war

Ironically, this is the same ISI that was Washington’s darling during the 1980s when it was master minding the jihad against invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The role that ISI then played was congruent with American interests. The defeat of the Soviet Union would have meant realization of an American dream – avenging the humiliation of Vietnam. They held ISI in high esteem for its competence and professionalism and gladly funneled arms and funds to the Afghan mujahedeen through it. The ISI strategized the resistance and organized and trained the mujahedeen fighters, working in close collaboration with the CIA and the mujahedeen leaders, forcing the Soviets to retreat.

But as soon as the Americans had negotiated a quid pro quo – Russian withdrawal from South America in exchange for safe Soviet exit from Afghanistan, they disappeared in the middle of the night leaving Afghanistan in a quandary. The political turmoil that followed created chaos and instability owing to the failure of mujahedeen leadership, presenting as a result a security nightmare for Pakistan.

Taliban-US-Pakistan relations and the Indian Threat

In this chaos a group of young Afghan religious students, many of them former fighters from the resistance, calling themselves Taliban (in Pushto language Taliban means students), swept through the country with popular support to establish their rule. Interested to keep their presence alive, the Americans maintained contacts and supported them, ignoring their orthodox beliefs, their harsh rule and even the presence of Al Qaeda in their midst. This continued until it was time for the Americans to overthrow their government in order to serve the changing American interests.

While the Taliban government was in control, Pakistan too maintained friendly relations with them in the interest of keeping its western border secure, extending whatever support it could. The ISI played a role through the contacts it had developed during war against the Soviets.

In the wake of 9/11 things began to change. Having invaded Afghanistan in the name of war on terror, branding Taliban as brutes and their resistance as terrorism, the Americans wanted the Pakistan army and the ISI to join the war.

This posed a serious security concern for Pakistan. It could destabilize the Pak-Afghan border and strain relations with the Pashtun tribes on both sides of the Durand Line, the British drawn boundary that cut through the Pashtun region to divide British India and Afghanistan and which Pakistan had inherited. The fact that Pakistan’s border region, called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is autonomous where the writ of the Pakistan Government does not prevail made matters more complex.

Pakistan’s military doctrine is based primarily on meeting the main threat from India on its eastern border while maintaining a peaceful border with Afghanistan in the west. A direct conflict with the Taliban would have forced Pakistan to divert its military assets from eastern to the western front, thus thinning out its defenses against India. This was the last thing Pakistan wanted to do because of its unfavorable ratio of 1:4 against India in terms of conventional forces. Understandably, President Musharraf was unwilling to do the American bidding.

U.S. projection of its military failures onto Pakistan

There always is a problem with powers that begin to act in imperialistic fashion. Their vision of the world becomes colored. They tend to believe that pursuit of their imperialist designs takes precedence over the national interests of those who cannot stand up to them, even if that means compromising their own national and security interests. America had also been behaving as one such imperial power and treated its smaller allies more like colonies. President Musharraf was threatened that in case of noncompliance with America’s wishes, “Pakistan would be bombed into the stone-age”. Musharraf was coerced into conceding to American demands.

Despite the state-of-the-art surveillance equipment and military hardware, the US and NATO forces failed to stop the Taliban fighters from moving back and forth into the unmarked Pak-Afghan border that passes through a treacherous mountainous region to regroup and strike on the invading foreign troops. The American commanders reacted by demanding that the Pakistan army engage these fighters and seal the border. Those with even the slightest knowledge of the area would know that the Americans were asking for the moon. This was physically impossible.

Pakistan army’s operations failed. In the process it earned a severe backlash from the local tribes who resented army’s action against their kinsmen from across the border who sought refuge in their area, as it violated the old tribal custom of providing sanctuary to any one who asked for it, even it was an enemy. The Pakistan army paid a heavy price. More soldiers died in this action than the combined number of casualties that the US and NATO troops have suffered in Afghanistan so far.

President Musharraf under advice of his army commanders and the intelligence community called off the action and resorted to persuasion instead. Through jirgas (assembly of tribal elders) effort was made for the tribesmen to voluntarily stop the influx of Taliban fighters. It didn’t succeed either. This was not to the liking of the American commanders. They blamed the ISI for working against their interests.

Washington accuses the ISI of complicity with insurgents

Washington and the American media frequently alleged that elements within ISI were maintaining contacts with the Taliban and attributed the failure of American troops in combating the Taliban to these contacts. Such allegations were also found to be part of the raw, unverified and even fabricated field reports ‘leaked’ in Afghanistan recently and splashed in the western media. The Americans have in the past also described the ISI to be out of control and demanded of the Pakistan government to purge the agency of Taliban sympathizers.

This is ridiculous. Firstly, ISI is a military organization operating under strict organizational control and discipline where officers are rotated in the normal course. It functions according to a defined mandate, unlike armed forces in some other countries and unlike the CIA which is known to be an invisible government on its own. Above all, Pakistan and its military are committed to weeding out religious extremism as a matter of state policy.
Secondly, if the American troops are so incapable of overcoming a rag tag army of Taliban and if the complicity of ISI with the Taliban can be instrumental in changing the course of the American war, then it is a sad day for America as a super power and the strength of NATO forces becomes questionable.

Thirdly, in the world of intelligence, contacts are kept even with the enemy and at all times. CIA keeps contacts within Russia and other hostile countries. Israel, the great American ally, spies on America itself. It is common for all intelligence agencies to do this in the security interests of their countries. Why then should America expect an exception to be made in case of ISI? Why should contacts that ISI developed with the mujahedeen and the Taliban earlier, and which if it does still maintain, become a source of such great concern for the American administration?

Demanding that the ISI subordinate Pakistan security to U.S. interests.

It is strange that America expects ISI to serve the American agenda instead of Pakistan’s interests first. One cannot forget that the Americans have a long history of abandonment of friends and allies and when they repeat this in Afghanistan citing their own national interest, despite their promises to the contrary, why should Pakistan be expected to be caught with pants down? Why Pakistan’s military and the intelligence agency should be expected to abdicate their duty and not do what is necessary to ensure Pakistan’s security in the long term?

It has often been argued that America expects Pakistan to be actively engaged in the Afghan war in return for the military assistance it provides. The answer is quite simple. The American establishment is doing all that needs to be done in support of its own war and not for the love of Pakistan. The war is theirs, not Pakistan’s. Pakistan should do and is doing what is necessary and feasible, without jeopardizing its own security.

As for the assistance, bulk of the $10 billion that America gave in the past and was branded as “aid” was in fact the reimbursement of expenses that Pakistan had already incurred in supporting the war effort. The rest was to meet Pakistan’s needs for operations in the border areas and for fighting terrorism that arose out of the war. The Americans still owe $35 billion to reimburse the losses Pakistan has incurred due to this war. As for the F16s that Pakistan is getting from the US, it pays for them, despite strict restrictions over their usage.

The Indian-Israeli attempt to destabilize Pakistan

While Americans had their issues with ISI, the Indians and Israelis began having their own. The agency exposed the growing Indian and Israeli confluence in Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan. This happened right under the nose of the Americans and obviously not without their knowledge and consent. India having deployed its troops in the name of infra-structure development in league with Karzai government and with American funding and having established seven consulates along the sparsely populated Pak-Afghan border was engaged in heavily bribing the influential but ignorant and susceptible tribal leaders to spread disaffection among the local tribesmen against Pakistan.

Evidence was also unearthed by ISI about how the Indians bought the loyalties of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a grouping of Pakistani tribesmen from FATA and Uzbek fighters from previous wars who settled in the region. The TTP were influenced by the same orthodox religious beliefs as the Taliban in Afghanistan and were active in propagating them in their own areas. They were recruited to launch terror activities in the urban centers of Pakistan, including the capital Islamabad, and were funded, trained and equipped in Afghanistan jointly by the Indian, Israeli and Afghan intelligence agencies. A group from amongst them managed to gain control of Swat area adjoining FATA through coercion of the local population, which was later cleared by the Pakistan army after a major surgical intervention.

The ISI also laid bare strong physical evidence of Indian involvement in supporting insurgency in Balochistan by way of funding, training and equipping misguided and disgruntled Baloch elements grouped under various names including the Balochistan Liberation Army that was led by the fugitive grandson of the notable Bugti tribal chief – Akbar Bugti. His comings and goings in the Indian consulate at Kandahar and the Indian intelligence HQ in Delhi were photographed and his communications intercepted. Numerous training camps in the wilderness of Balochistan were detected where Indian trainers imparted training in guerilla warfare and the use of sophisticated weapons, which otherwise could not be available to the Baloch tribesmen. Flow of huge funds from Afghan border areas to the insurgents was detected that was traced back to the Indian consulates.

Summary and conclusion

The objective of the TTP, and behind the scene that of the Indians and the Israelis, was to make the world believe that Pakistan was under threat of capitulating to terrorist and insurgent elements who were about to take control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Their goal: to denuclearize Pakistan through foreign intervention.

These efforts have not succeeded. Undoubtedly, the army and the ISI played a crucial role in foiling the plots of subversion in Balochistan and the Pashtun region and exposing the foreign hands involved, including those of CIA, RAW, Mossad, RAMA and MI6. Terrorism may not yet be eliminated but Pakistan faces no existential threat.

It should be no surprise to the Americans, Indians and the Israelis if they find in ISI an adversary to reckon with. It is also not surprising that the ISI is in their perception, a rogue organization, for it has stood between them and Pakistan’s national security interests. Their frustration and ire, therefore, is understandable. The Real Reasons Why the US and India Demonize, Pakistan’s ISI By Shahid R. Siddiqi. Axis of Logic, Axis of Logic, Saturday, Jul 31, 2010

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US cancels plan to attack Qandahar

US cancels plan to attack Qandahar

As expected General Petraeus has canceled the plans to attack Qandahar. The attack doesn’t make any sense while Mr. Hamid Karzai is trying to build relationships with the Afghan National Resistence (aka Taliban).

He has decided a full-scale military encirclement and invasion – as American troops had done in Iraq’s Fallujah – was not an appropriate model to tackle the Taliban in the southern capital.

Gen Petraeus’s decision to revise the entire strategy comes just weeks after he arrived in Afghanistan following the abrupt dismissal of Gen Stanley McChrystal for insubordination.

Gen McChrystal had planned a summer conquest of the Taliban in Kandahar to reinvigorate the battle against the Taliban.

But the operation has been repeatedly delayed by concerns that it would not adequately restore the confidence of city residents in the security forces.

Gen Petraeus is reported to believe that the operation must be a broad-ranging counter-insurgency campaign, involving more troops working with local militias.

The plan he inherited was criticised for placing too much emphasis on targeted assassinations of key insurgent leaders and not enough on winning over local residents.

Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said yesterday that the US-led strategy in southern Afghanistan was undergoing sweeping changes.

“Kandahar is not a military operation like Fallujah,” Mr Holbrooke said. “We have Gen David Petraeus looking at the plan, scrubbing it down, looking at it again.”

President Hamid Karzai has bolstered Gen Petraeus’s efforts by agreeing to a US proposal to pay defectors from the Taliban to form local defence militias.

Mr Holbrooke, who oversees the civilian component of the American campaign in Afghanistan, has been described by Gen Petraeus as his “wing man” in the effort to reverse Taliban gains.

He said that the changes of strategy in the area also included a decision not to destroy poppy crops this year, an action that had in the past “driven” farmers into alliance with the Taliban.

He also said that the Afghan police force in Marjah – which now numbers 60 – could not yet replace thousands of US Marines. Efforts to stabilise Helmand’s Marjah have been bogged down by stronger resistance.

Gen Petraeus recruited prominent military experts who assisted him in the surge of forces that brought stability to Iraq.

Stephen Biddle, a military strategist at the US Council for Foreign Relations, coauthored as suggestion that the US would be successful in Afghanistan if it could set up a strong local government in places like Kandahar.

Defections from the Taliban are crucial to the goal of ending the war within four years but Mr Holbrooke said only insurgent groups that had split with al-Qaeda, and willing to work within the framework of the Afghan constitution would be approached.

More effort was being put into recruiting local allies on a district by district basis.

“The reintegration policy is the key to a successful counter-insurgency campaign,” he said. “As for reconciliation, it’s out there somewhere. We’ve talked about it. The US will support Afghan-led reconciliation and by that we mean we need to know what’s going on. Not much is going on now, and nothing is going on with the United States.”

Mr Holbrooke said Pakistan had dramatically increased its co-operation with the US in the battle against the Taliban but he criticised Islamabad’s continuing support for the Haqqani network of insurgents.

“Without Pakistan’s participation, this (Afghan) war could go on indefinitely,” he said. “There’s much more co-operation at every level

“But I don’t want to mislead you, it is not yet where we hope it will be. What we talk about is the Haqqani network. Let’s be very specific. It’s a real problem.” Guardian by Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent Published: 9:00PM BST 23 Jul 2010

Clinton’s colossal credibility problem in Pakistan

Clinton’s colossal credibility problem in Pakistan

While the State Department is using hyperbolic cliches like “most critical country” and “massive” aid projects, the arrival of the US Secretary of State has drawn a big yawn from the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis are well read and tune to Voice of America, the BBC, CNN, and read the New York Times, Washington Post, and also rags like the Huffington Post. Pakistanis know the innate hatred from Pakistan in the US media. Pakistanis also keep track of the happenings in the US Congress and watch Bharati (aka Indian) media to keep them abreast of the neighborhood and the intentions of Delhi viz a viz Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister recently claimed that Pakistan has lost $43 billion because of the US war in Afghanistan. Estimates from the US department of defense were more relaistic. The DOD claimed that Pakistan was losing $20 billion per year. US truck rumble through highways that were built for Pakistanis, and were not created for NATO and US war efforts. The US and NATO has not lifted a finger to repair, expand or fix the Pakistani freeways, which are the envy of South Asia–some better than US freeways. The US uses several Pakistan bases, and American mercenaries run roughshod through Pakistani immigration, and flaunt Pakistani laws in the cities.

The drones are linked to the suicide bombings. The cycle of violence continues while the US tries to force Pakistan into expanding the war–while at the same time talking to the same elements. The US has signed a Civilian Nuclear deal with a country that for fifty of the past sixty years has opposed US policies in the world. Mrs. Clinton is part of an administration that sanction Nuclear Technology on a Major Non-NATO ally, while allowing access to nukes a Soviet client state.

While there is much hoopla about the $500 million check that Mrs. Clinton in bringing to Islamabad, Pakistan could earn 20 times that number if the US allowed it fair access to American markets. Pakistan pays more tariffs on textiles than Sweden does no Volvos. Something is not right with this picture, and the US is unable or unwilling to conform the WTO free trade injunctions. Pakistan doesn’t need aid, it needs trade.

The US media keeps harping on the so called Haqqani Network which his supposedly based in Northern Waziristan. The Afghan National Resistance controls 90% of Afghanistan. Why would they need a safe haven. Before asking Pakistan to expand the war on its citizens, the US needs to recover the lands it has lost to the Afghan National Resistance movement.

While CNN highlights Richar Holbrookes’ statements that the US should change its policies about Pakistan, the drones continue to target the innocent women and children in Wazirisitan.

The region is among Washington’s “highest priorities,” Holbrooke said, but to make progress, “we need to change the core of the relationship” between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In typical US hyperbole, CNN states that Clinton will announce “massive” projects. She is playing with $500 million. How massive could the project be. Compare to the $20 billion train line that Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are stitching together from Islamabad to Istanbul. Compare to the billions of Dollars being spent on two massive dams that are being constructed by the Chinese. Compare to the massive Civilian Nuclear plants being set up Chasma. Compare to the Trans Karakorum rial line from Kashghar to Gwader being built jointly by Pakistan and China. The US projects will look puny to most Pakistanis. For the past six decades the US cannot point to a single monumental project in Pakistan–while China can point to several dozen–and the Chinese don’t crassly advertise their projects every chance they get. The Chinese do it with class, and work with the Pakistanis in a slow methodical manner.

See what CNN says.

Clinton will announce a “massive” list of aid projects for Pakistan on Monday, according to a senior U.S. official who did not want to be named talking about the announcements before they are made.

“No country in the world is getting as much attention by the United States or more support because no country is more important,” the official said.

Clinton is expected to talk about U.S. plans to spend billions of dollars on social, economic and infrastructure development, especially in Pakistan’s tribal region. She is also likely to discuss U.S. plans to help with Pakistan’s energy and water shortage.

Clinton will travel next to an international conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, and stop in South Korea and Vietnam before coming home.

During the Pakistan leg of her trip, she will meet with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari.

Clinton, who landed in Islamabad, will highlight the need for a closer relationship with Pakistan.

To CNN reporters the money being spent by Hillary Clinton may be massive, but in actual fact it is very little. Half the money spent by US Aid has to be spent on American Companies, 25% is lost in administrative expenses. The 25% that finally makes it to Pakistan goes to the Ambassador’s favorite NGO to be deposited back in Swiss bank accounts. The Dollars don’t cut the mustard, because their quantity is so little.

In the end and in actual fact, like in in all matters of life, Dollars matter very little. Threats by US politicians, sanctions on export of Nuclear Technology to Pakistan, constant ribbing about duplicity, and the do more mantra actually do more to destroy any chance of a good relationship between Pakistan and the US.

Holbrooke and others recognize that the past decade has destroyed the Pakistani-American relationship which used to be the most vibrant and close in the world. In the 60s, and 80s Pakistan was the most “allied of allies”. The US was the most popular country in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today this is not true.

Anti-American sentiment is widespread in Pakistan, and the United States hopes to build more trust between the two countries.

“There was a huge trust gap,” said Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to Holbrooke.

Nasr noted changing the relationship will take time.

“We are not going to be able to change their foreign policy on a dime,” Nasr said.

In the past year, the United States has started engaging Pakistan more, according to Nasr.

The process included Clinton’s visit to the nation last October. Her trip was followed by various high-level visits, which have made Pakistan more aware of U.S. intentions, Nasr said.

Helping Pakistan address its water issues has enabled the United States to work with provincial officials and broaden its engagement across the Pakistani government, said Maria Otero, undersecretary for global affairs.

The reports in America ignore the fact that American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatened Pakistan in the aftermath of the Times Square drama. The threat came right after the strategic dialogue had ended. Islamabad was taken aback. Most Pakistanis were livid.  “What kind of strategic dialogue is so fragile that a single incident could destroy it” many asked. Clinton was given the proper protocol by the Government of Pakistan but faced a sea of hostility by ordinary citizens when she visited Islamabad last time. She did not visit Karachi. She should. This time around Clinton is wearing the threat around her collar–and there is no erase button.

Whatever Dollars she brings is too little too late and her mouth has already destroyed her credibility in Pakistan.

US/NATO Need To Watch Their Back From Afghan Soldiers

Was the Taliban behind the actions of a rogue Afghan army soldier who allegedly shot dead three British servicemen overnight while they slept? The militants claimed that the incident, which included a shooting and a grenade assault, was a premeditated attack, part of a new strategy to push back against coalition forces spread out in record numbers across southern Afghanistan’s battle zones. Although the inside-job claim remains unconfirmed, the killings cast a shadow on the quality and reliability of Afghan security forces deployed in a hostile region where they are being groomed to take the reins of the country’s own security and wean themselves away from dependence on western troops.

The incident took place at a British military outpost in Nahr-e-Saraj district, a Taliban stronghold near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. A senior Afghan National Army (ANA) officer identified the gunman as Talib Hussein, 23, a member of the ethnic Hazara minority from Ghazni province who had served for less than a year, mainly in remote swaths of Helmand, far from home. After killing a Major in his bed, the suspect fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the base’s command center that left a British lieutenant and Nepalese Gurkha dead and four others injured, before he managed to flee outside the wire. A manhunt has ensued even as the Taliban assert he is now with them in a “safe place.”

It’s a strange sequence of events, given how the Hazara were brutally persecuted under a Pasthun-dominated former Taliban regime that massacred thousands. Today, Hazara Taliban are all but unheard of due to the history of bad blood and differences of orthodoxy: Hazaras are Shi’ite Muslims, considered heretics by the rigidly Sunni Taliban hardliners. By way of explanation, Gen. Ghulam Farook Parwani, the deputy corps commander for the ANA’s southern forces, alleged that Hussein was a habitual hashish smoker, a widespread phenomenon within the ranks. Even if it’s true, however, this hardly provides a clear motive for the deadly outburst.

But this is also not the first time that Afghan security forces in Helmand have turned against their foreign partners. In November, five British soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan policeman they were training in Nad-e-Ali district. In that incident, there were reports the policeman might have lashed out after being repeatedly insulted. While these cases are still isolated, they are sure to amplify existing anxieties felt by NATO military planners over the status of Afghan security forces, expected to shoulder greater responsibility when foreign troops eventually start to withdraw. Though the Afghan army is held in higher regard than the national police, which is widely deplored as corrupt and erratic, when put to the test, billions in American taxpayer dollars nonetheless appear to have yielded less than stellar results.

Their shortcomings were cast in sharp relief when U.S. Marines launched a February offensive to clear the Taliban out of Marjah, the opium-poppy trafficking area in central Helmand. Despite a game fighting spirit exhibited by many of the Afghan troops involved, U.S. officers grew more and more frustrated with the ANA’s general inability to follow complex orders and coordinate attacks against a determined foe. As the campaign wore on, they were largely consigned to a secondary role. Much to the dismay of American officers, these troubles persist in parts of Marjah where the Taliban has since regrouped with help from outside fighters trying to chip away at the Marines’ hard-won gains.

The summer fighting season is now in full gear across the south. Over the past 24 hours, eight American troops died in a series of attacks that included a car bomb assault and gunfight outside the Kandahar City police compound. In Marjah, where fierce firefights and roadside bomb strikes occur every day, the ANA often appear to be yet another burden for U.S. forces, with problems ranging from insubordination to the careless handling of weapons. On a morning patrol on the edge of town late last month, for example, a gunshot rang out within seconds of U.S. troops stepping outside the base, sending Marines ducking for cover. The discharge, however, was accidental, occuring as an Afghan soldier fumbled his rifle. It wasn’t the first time something like that has happened.

The love-hate relationship was better illustrated during a route clearance operation later in the week. The three Afghan army soldiers who accompanied Marines were useful when a private compound with women and children needed to be searched for possible weapons. With respect to the deeply conservative mores of the area, Marines stood back while the Afghans talked reassuringly with the family and checked things out. That same day, however, the men brazenly disobeyed the orders of a Marine officer when they refused to walk any further toward a dangerous stretch of road. They simply stood their ground as he cursed up a storm and made threats to throw them in the nearby canal, threats they could not understand.

“These guys are gonna be in pretty bad shape when we finally get out of here,” said a low-level Marine officer, shaking his head. “Most of them are a danger to themselves.” He wasn’t entirely kidding. In the case of one frontline unit based in northern Marjah, three attached Afghan soldiers, at last count, had shot themselves in the foot and one in the hand. Whether intentional or not, the upshot is that such accidents usually result in quick transfers out of the battle zone.

This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.