A String Of Attacks On Militants In Pakistan

Nov 13, 2013

A senior leader in the Haqqani network was killed on Sunday in Pakistan. Nasiruddin Haqqani was gunned down outside a bread store in Rawalpindi.

His death is the latest in a string of attacks on militants in the region. Earlier this month, a U.S. drone strike killed the Pakistani Taliban’s leader Hakimullah Mehsud. Before that, U.S. forces detained Latif Mehsud, a senior commander in the Pakistani Taliban.

New York Times reporter Declan Walsh joins Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti to discuss the string of attacks on militants.


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Let's move now to Afghanistan, where today three children were killed by roadside bombs. No one has claimed responsibility, but the Taliban has attacked Afghan security forces and NATO troops with similar devices. The situation remains messy and complex in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan, where militant leaders are being killed by U.S. drone strikes and now perhaps by other militants as well.

Declan Walsh reports for the New York Times, and he's following the story of a senior leader of the Haqqani network who was shot down outside of Islamabad on Sunday. Declan joins us from the BBC studios in London. Declan, welcome.

DECLAN WALSH: Hello there.

CHAKRABARTI: So you write about the killing of a man named Nasiruddin Haqqani. He died on Sunday in Islamabad. Who was he and why was he killed?

WALSH: Nasiruddin Haqqani was believed to be one of the senior financiers of the Haqqani network. As you said, that's one of the most formidable groups participating in the insurgency in Afghanistan and it's linked to the Taliban, technically under the Taliban but really operates independently. The Haqqani network has been responsible for some of the most famous and notorious attacks on the U.S. and on NATO forces in the last number of years. In particular they've had a lot of attacks right in the center of Kabul, very much humiliating the Afghan government.

So Nasiruddin Haqqani was believed to be one of the senior financiers of this group. He had been shunting between the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Gulf states because funding from the Middle East, particularly from countries like Saudi Arabia, has been seen to be key to the success of the Haqqani network in carrying out these attacks.

CHAKRABARTI: So just to be clear, because, you know, the web of militant groups is so complex there, do we know who killed him?

WALSH: No, we don't. Just to recap, there was two assailants riding a motorbike who pulled up alongside Nasiruddin Haqqani in a small village just on the outskirts of Islamabad - that's the capital of Pakistan - on Sunday night. They shot him outside a bread store. They sped away. As yet we've had no claim of responsibility about who's responsible for this act. There's certainly been a lot of speculation but, you know, no hard indications yet.

And as you said in your introduction, it comes following several other high profile incidents in Pakistan. We've had American drone attacks that have killed other militant leaders. And it certainly seems to signal, if nothing else, sort of a great deal of upheaval in the militant sector based in Pakistan at the moment.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. So tell us about the impact then of this upheaval and instability, I mean especially if, you know, some of the militants are being killed by other militants. And then, of course, we have the drone strikes as well. I mean, does all of this have to do with efforts around what seem to be stalled efforts to begin peace talks with the Taliban? How much does that play at all of this?

WALSH: It's hard to say for sure, but that certainly seems to be part of it. One potential key event in the last couple of months, if you like, was the arrest by American forces in Afghanistan of a Pakistani militant named Latif Mehsud. He was picked up by U.S. Special Forces. He was taken into detention. And then, if you like, people can't help making the connection between that arrest and some of these high profile killings over the last couple of weeks. So you know, some weeks after that detention we had an American drone strike that killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Now we have this shooting in Islamabad. We don't know if there's a link between all of these events, but it does seem to suggest that there is quite a degree of sort of foment in the tribal belt, you know.

WALSH: And potentially, the greater framework of this, if you like, is the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan next year, which is changing the calculation, if you like, for this very complicated mix of militants and spy agencies and various governments who are operating in that area.

CHAKRABARTI: Right. So talk to me more about that, because I was going to ask you about that. That is the major backdrop here. Is what we're seeing essentially a form of jockeying for power to fill the vacuum that may arise when the last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan?

WALSH: It's hard to avoid that conclusion. What is true - what we know for certain is that, you know, all American combat troops will have left Afghanistan pretty much by this time next year. They've been - for better and for worse, they've been sort of a fixed element, if you like, in the conflicts in Afghanistan in recent years. Now they're leaving.

And I think what we're seeing are these various actors, which range from the Afghan Taliban to their allies, the Haqqanis, to the Pakistani Taliban, to the intelligence services of Afghanistan and Pakistan - and obviously to some degree the U.S. in the background as well - all sort of recalibrating their ambitions, their strategies for what they want to happen in Afghanistan and along the border once the American troops have been taken out of the equation.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Declan, we've been talking about Afghanistan here, but of course, you know, this is happening, much of these - the drone strikes are happening inside of - in Pakistan, and this latest killing of the Haqqani network leader happened just outside of Islamabad. So how is all of this playing out on the Pakistani side of things?

WALSH: Well, it's certainly embarrassing for the Pakistani government. And there have been accusations, particularly from American officials for many years now, that the Pakistani intelligence services are, as far as they're concerned, too close to the Haqqani network. And there have been a lot of talk that Pakistani intelligence has been keeping the Haqqani network, its relationships with that group, as a sort of trump card to play in Afghanistan.

WALSH: The fact now that one of the most senior people from that group is killed, not in the tribal belt, where much of the killing has taken place in recent years but right on the edge of the capital, certainly is embarrassing for the Pakistanis. The other part of the - the other geographic element...

CHAKRABARTI: We've just got a couple seconds, Declan. I'm sorry, but to let you know...

WALSH: Sure.

CHAKRABARTI: If you could wrap up in a few seconds.

WALSH: Sure. And just to say that the other element, obviously, is in Pakistan's tribal belt, where the drone strikes have been taking place. And I think we're going to see quite a lot of developments there in the coming months as well.

CHAKRABARTI: Declan Walsh with The New York Times speaking to us from London. Declan, thank you so much.

WALSH: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.