President Donald Trump has given the CIA "secret new authority" to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, the Wall Street Journal reported March 13, citing US officials. This is said to depart from the Obama administration policy of a "cooperative approach" to drone strikes, in which the CIA used surveillance drones to locate suspected terrorists and the Pentagon then conducted the actual strike. The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was named as an example of that "hybrid approach." The report asserts that the Obama administration had the Pentagon carry out the strikes "to promote transparency and accountability." The CIA, operating under covert authority, wasn't required to report its drone strikes. The Pentagon, in most cases, was required to do so.
A suicide attack on a Sufi shrine Feb. 16 killed at least 75 worshippers and wounded dozens more—the deadliest in a string of blasts in Pakistan this week. At least 250 others were wounded, with the only hospital in the area overwhelmed. The blast went off outside the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in the town of Sehwan, Sindh province. The blast took place during Dhamal, a weekly dance ritual, with hundreds of devotees present inside the shrine and lined up to enter. The Islamic State's Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for the attack. (Hindustan Times, Indian Express, BBC News, Al Jazeera)
Pakistani authorities have driven nearly 600,000 Afghan refugees back into Afghanistan since July 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Feb. 13. HRW claims that among those forced out of the country were 365,000 of Pakistan's 1.5 million lawfully registered Afgahn refugees. HRW also alleges that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is complicit in what it calls "the world's largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times." HRW charges that Pakistani police have been using extortion to deprive Afghan refugees of much the limited income available to them, while Pakistani landlords have dramatically increased the cost of rent for Afghan refugees. The UNHCR meanwhile increased its cash grant to returnees from $200 to $400 per person to coerce the refugees to return home under cover of "voluntary repatriation."
A Pakistani anti-terrorism court acquitted 112 individuals suspected of taking part in the 2013 burning of 150 Christian homes and two churches in Lahore's Josep Colony. Ghulam Murtaza Chaudhry, the lawyer defending the suspects, stated that the suspects were acquitted because of a lack of evidence. Chaudhry stated the testimony of the plaintiffs was inconsistent and they could not identify those accused. The suspects were being charged under Pakistan's blasphemy law, which outlaws blasphemy against any recognized religion and provides penalties that range from a fine to death. At the time the acquittal was handed down, all 112 suspects were out on bail.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 26 moved the minute hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock from three minutes to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. On this year that marks the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin notes (full text at PDF; links added by CountrerVortex): "The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO; both countries continued wide-ranging modernizations of their nuclear forces, and serious arms control negotiations were nowhere to be seen. North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth underground nuclear tests and gave every indication it would continue to develop nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. Threats of nuclear warfare hung in the background as Pakistan and India faced each other warily across the Line of Control in Kashmir after militants attacked two Indian army bases."
Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."
A blast at a Sufi shrine in the Pakistani region of Balochistan killed at least 60 and injured more than 100 on Nov. 12. The Shah Noorani Shrine in the mountain town of Hub, straddling Lasbela and Khuzdar districts, was packed with worshippers when the bomb exploded. Devotees were gathered for a traditional dhamal dance ritual at the shrine to the saint Shah Bilal Noorani. The shrine's remote location has impeded rescue efforts. The shrine attracts devotees from all over Pakistan, as well as neighboring Iran. The local franchise of ISIS issued a statement taking responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency, saying it was carried out by a suicide "martyr," and sought to target "Shi'ites." The shrine is venerated by Sunnis and Shi'ites alike.
The UN on Oct. 27 adopted a resolution—hailed by disarmament campaigners as an important landmark—to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. The resolution was approved at a meeting of the First Committee of the General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters. A total of 123 nations voted in favor of the resolution, with 38 voting against and 16 abstaining. The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a "legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination." Among the 57 co-sponsors of the resolution, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa took the lead.