TIME Bowe Bergdahl

Guantanamo Detainee Exchanged for American POW Attempts a Return to Battle

Guantanamo Future
A U.S. flag flies above buildings used for military tribunals for suspected terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on Nov. 19, 2013. Charles Dharapak—AP

A Taliban commander exchanged for the release of a POW attempts to return to the battlefield, raising questions about closing Guantanamo

When U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in May to exchange five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay for Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who had been held captive for five years, his political opponents had a field day. They warned that the detainees risked returning to Afghanistan, and to militancy. Obama, with the backing of the government of Qatar that had agreed to host the men, promised that they would be kept far from the battlefield. Seems that the men may have had other ideas. According to CNN, U.S. military and intelligence officials now suspect that at least one of the detainees has made contact with Taliban associates in Afghanistan, suggesting that he, and perhaps the others, may be planning a return.

Considering that 29 percent of all U.S. detainees who were held in the Guantanamo detention center are either suspected of or confirmed to have returned to the fight, according to a March 2015 assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. TIME’s Massimo Calabresi predicted as much back in June, just after Bergdahl was released. The recidivism rate, he wrote, “suggests that statistically at least one of the Taliban leaders will return to the field to fight Americans in Afghanistan, or elsewhere.”

At the time of the exchange, Taliban commanders who had been involved in Bergdahl’s capture, captivity and release, told TIME that the exchange — five of theirs for one of America’s — would encourage them to seek out more P.O.W.s. So far, that hasn’t happened. It’s not clear which of the five former detainees was reaching out to associates in Afghanistan, but as high-ranking commanders and former comrades-in-arms of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, any one of them could galvanize a movement that is slowly making gains in the wake of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan. Even if those plans have now been foiled, the incident may have one other far reaching consequence: as Obama attempts to close down Guantanamo for good, his opponents now have more ammunition for why he should not.

Read More: Behind the Scenes of Bowe Bergdahl’s Release

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Executes Seven Militants During John Kerry’s Visit

John Kerry Sartaj Aziz
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks as Pakistani Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz looks on during their joint press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan on Jan. 13, 2015. Anjum Naveed — AP

The secretary of state’s trip to the country comes a month after the Peshawar school massacre

Pakistani officials oversaw the execution of seven convicted militants across the country on Tuesday morning, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began the second day of his trip to the South Asian nation aimed at ramping up security and intelligence cooperation.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rescinded the country’s moratorium on capital punishment in the wake of the Taliban’s savage assault on a school in Peshawar last month, which left at least 147 dead, including 130 children.

Those executed Tuesday included militants convicted of launching deadly sectarian assaults and foiled assassination plots, according to AFP. Kerry has yet to comment publicly on their fate.

Earlier this week, Kerry unveiled a plan to provide $250 million in emergency aid to Pakistanis displaced by Islamabad’s ongoing military operations targeting Islamic militants by the country’s restive northwest frontier, according to the New York Times.

[AFP]

TIME Pakistan

Peshawar School Reopens for the First Time Since Taliban Massacre

PAKISTAN-UNREST-SCHOOLS
Pakistani soldiers stand guard as parents arrive with their children at the Army Public School in Peshawar on Jan. 12, 2015. A Majeed—AFP/Getty Images

Schools across Pakistan were on an extended break following the Dec. 16 attack, which claimed the lives of more than 140 people

Schools across Pakistan, including the one attacked by militants in the northwestern city of Peshawar, are reopening this week as they try and put a horrific month behind them.

The schools were on an extended break following the Dec. 16 attack on the Army Public School, which killed over 140 people and injured 120 others, the BBC reports.

Staff and students at the army-run school, where seven gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban massacred 132 students and several staff members, will hold a ceremony to commemorate the victims before classes resume in the coming days.

The attack, an apparent retaliation for army operations against the Taliban, was the worst-ever terrorist atrocity in Pakistan.

[BBC]

TIME Pakistan

The Fear That Haunts Peshawar

Pakistan
A Pakistani religious student stands before a tire set on fire by anti-government protesters, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Police have arrested demonstrators demanding the government to unmask culprits of the Taliban attack on a military run school where scores of children were killed on Dec. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad) Mohammad Sajjad—AP

After the Taliban killed 147 people at a local school, 136 of them children, nobody in Pakistan's frontier city feels safe

Two weeks after a Taliban attack on a local school killed 147 people, 136 of them children, the Pakistani city of Peshawar is still raw with grief and fear.

The capital city of the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (or the North-West Frontier Province as it used to be known) often finds itself in the front line of the 10-year-old Taliban insurgency and has witnessed appalling bloodshed.

But the Dec. 16 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar surpassed even those standards of horror. It was the worst single terrorist attack in the history of a country that, according to the Global Terrorism Index, is the world’s most affected by terrorism after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Authorities have beefed-up security in the face of the school carnage, and in response to threats of similar attacks from the Taliban. Checkpoints have been stepped up on roads into the city. Surprise swoops netted 1,200 suspected militants (though many were found innocent and subsequently freed) and more personnel have been assigned to guard the airport. Police have also created a One-Clink SOS app that lets a user alert the nearest 10 police stations in the event of a terrorist attack by touching a smartphone screen. But nobody feels reassured.

Peshawar mother Zubida Saleem said she would rather her children were illiterate than killed in their classroom. She has also changed their school.

“After hearing the rumors that terrorists were threatening all private schools, I stopped sending my children to a private school,” she said. “I am not at all satisfied with what the security forces do these days to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan.”

Saman, a Year 9 student at a private school in Peshawar, said that she is terrified by the thought of going to school. “It’s as if what happened on Dec. 16 happened at my school,” she tells TIME. “It could be my own friends and teachers being killed.”

Fear is also palpable at tertiary institutions. Professor Nasreen Ghufran, chair of the International Relations (IR) department at the University of Peshawar, tells TIME of the “mental stress, depression, anxiety and panic” that have set in, and of lax security.

“The security guards will do a body search of ordinary people but not of officials, which is an open violation of security rules,” she says. “My students are asking me if we can manage the security of our department by ourselves since the government has failed to give us security.”

For many, the only hope of living a life without fear lies in leaving the country. Nawaz Khan’s two sons were in the school attack. The younger son was killed, the elder was seriously wounded.

“My injured son is hospitalized and according to doctors his healing will take almost six months. He won’t be able to take his Year 9 exams. I am so stressed and worried,” he said, explaining that his family was not safe in Pakistan and that he wanted to emigrate. He appealed to the international community to provide asylum to his family.

Award-winning Rahimullah Yusufzai, who was born in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and considered an authority on its affairs, says more school attacks can be expected because educational institutions are far more vulnerable than police or military targets.

He added that “Though the armed forces have cleared various areas of North Waziristan Agency of militants, the Taliban’s top leadership is still secure and able to plan such terror attacks. The military has not conducted ground assaults in the Datta Khel and Shawal areas of the agency, where militants exercise their power freely.”

Yusufzai says that while in past some people were in favor of peace talks with Taliban, the school massacre has changed everything.

“The situation in the city is alarming and parents fear for their children,” he says. “The militants’ attack on the school shows that in the future the Taliban may attack other educational institutions, or markets, bus stands and public places because these are easy targets for them.”

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Arrests Several Suspects for Deadly Peshawar School Attack

Demonstrators in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Dec. 21, 2014, condemn the attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School in Peshawar Mohsin Raza—Reuters

Intelligence indicates plans of a new attack, says the Interior Minister

Pakistani police say they have arrested several people suspected of facilitating the attack on a school in the city of Peshawar last week, which left 148 people dead.

All seven assailants were reportedly killed in the attack, which was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban as a revenge for an army offensive in the Waziristan region, but officials believe the outfit is planning another hit, reports the BBC.

“We are receiving intelligence from across the country that the militants are getting ready for another savage and inhuman counterattack,” says Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

Pakistan lifted a moratorium on its use of death penalties following the attack in Peshawar, and has since executed six men.

[BBC]

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. Transfers 4 Guantánamo Prisoners to Afghanistan

Guantanamo Bay
A U.S. military guard on the grounds of the now closed Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 22 2013. Johannes Schmitt-Tegge—EPA

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009

Four Guantánamo prisoners were transferred to Afghan authorities, the Pentagon said Saturday, as part of a continuing push by the Obama administration to close the contentious prison.

The detainees boarded a U.S. military plane and were flown to Kabul overnight, ending a decade of detention at the prison for suspected involvement in Taliban-affiliated militias, Reuters reports.

“Most if not all of these accusations have been discarded and each of these individuals at worst could be described as low-level, if even that,” an unnamed senior official told Reuters.

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009. 132 detainees are still being held at the Guantánamo complex, which President Barack Obama vowed to shut down early in his presidency–a promise he has struggled to carry through amid legal obstacles and stiff resistance from Congress.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 18

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. By breaking with the Cuba lobby, President Obama could massively disrupt American interest group politics.

By Noah Feldman in the Salt Lake Tribune

2. Sony can take a stand against the hackers whose threats have forced them to pull “The Interview” by giving the movie away online.

By Bryan Bishop in the Verge

3. Could the West help save the ruble without throwing Putin a lifeline?

By Juliet Johnson in the Globe and Mail

4. By tracking rising global temperatures, satellites can predict cholera risk.

By Dr. Kiki Sanford in BoingBoing

5. After the Taliban’s shocking attack on a school in Pakistan, the military there understands “the Frankenstein that it helped to create must now be killed.”

By Peter Bergen at CNN

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Pakistan’s ‘War on Terror’ Only Encourages Jihadists

Funeral ceremony for the victims of the school attack in Pakistan
Pakistani people carry the coffins of the victims of a Taliban attack at an army-run school, prior to their burial, in Peshawar, Pakistan on December 17, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Maajid Nawaz is Co-Founder and Chairman of Quilliam, a think tank focusing on matters of integration, citizenship & identity, religious freedom, extremism, and immigration.

The attack on a school in Peshawar was an act of revenge for the state's militarism

International media coverage of the school attack that shook Peshawar this week, carried out at the hands of the Pakistani terrorist group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has been, for all intents and purposes, commendable. The news has resisted the urge to breeze over this abhorrent event as “just another terrorist attack in South Asia,” nor has it spared the world from the horrors of what took place that day. The barbarism, the sheer brutality, of those seven TTP terrorists has been well reflected.

However, as a British Muslim of Pakistani origin who has a deep connection to my ancestral roots, there’s a missed opportunity. Without shedding light on the ideology and context of these atrocious events, it is impossible for the rest of the world to begin to truly understand the unique cocktail of instability that is Pakistan today.

Let us address ideology first. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact of the matter is that the seven terrorists responsible for killing more than 100 children on Tuesday were not madmen. They were not sociopaths, or psychotic. What they were is a victim of the most rejectionist, poisonous, and virulent of extremist ideologies – jihadism – something that they were likely exposed to from a young age.

Each child they shot and killed, these terrorists believed, was a righteous death. And, as they prepared to push to the button that would blow them up, they will have done so thinking that paradise was where they were headed.

At this heart of their unwavering belief that they were “doing the right thing” is the ideology that consumed them. That will not come as a surprise. However, what probably will is the fact that this same ideology is not as alien as we in the West might like to think it is. Similarly, nor is the ideology of a very different jihadist group, Islamic State, so distant.

What these two groups share is a desire to implement their form of Islam over society through the establishment of what they deem to be a “caliphate” that implements their interpretation of sharia as law. This desire is something that all Islamists share – whether they are “non-violent” or “terrorist,” a motivation that permeates across all Islamist movements. It is something that will always present a problem as once someone is convinced that they have a divine right to assert their belief system over that of others, they must exclude basic rights like the fundamental human freedoms of religion and speech. This is why undemocratic ideological beliefs need to be challenged head on, no matter which religion they claim to speak on behalf of.

But what could make such an appalling ideology alluring? There is no question that the TTP are one of the worst manifestations of violent fundamentalism. No one doubts the fact that they are ruthless and merciless, the perpetrators of countless unforgivable killings. However, this most recent attack did not just spring from their irrational hatred and rejectionism, nor was it driven simply by ideology.

Rather, what caused it, as much as anything else, was a desire for vengeance. Ideology just rendered the crimes permissible.

The TTP has made no effort to hide the fact that the massacre was, in a sense, blowback from the Pakistani Armed Forces’ military operations in the tribal lands. Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which translates roughly as “Sharp and Cutting Strike,” began over the summer around the same time as the Israeli operation in Gaza. While there was massive international outcry over Gaza, though, there was a near media blackout on Pakistan.

Therefore, the military was able to act with relative impunity, a level of ruthlessness even greater than Israel and more in line with the Sri Lankan state’s operation to wipe out the Tamil Tigers.

That operation was not the first of its kind. Indeed, it is symptomatic of a more deeply rooted problem for the Pakistani state, its militarism. Coupled with a dreadful human rights culture, the Pakistani establishment’s almost exclusively military approach to countering the violent extremist forces that run riot in the country renders the jihadist ideology embodied in groups like the TTP all the more persuasive and increasingly pervasive.

As the “War on Terror” has so clearly shown, what with the abject anarchy that is rocking the countries in which the U.S. sought to wage this “war,” a military approach will not work on its own. On the contrary, it will only make things worse. Bombs and bullets are not enough; Pakistan, just like most other countries too, is in need of complimentary, civil society-led, anti-extremism measures that champion the protection of human rights of all citizens. This means crossing a bridge that there is very little appetite for right now, and entertaining some uncomfortable conversations about the role of religion in public life.

It is not sufficient for us to merely condemn the TTP’s school attack and consider ourselves somehow absolved. No one deserves thanks for condemning the brutal murder of children. How low could our expectations have possibly sunk? Moderation is entirely relative to where others around us are on a scale. If the entire scale is so skewered towards the Islamist ideology that the Afghan Taliban appear “moderate” in their condemnation of this attack, or al-Qaeda appear “moderate” in comparison to ISIL in Syria, then we are a long way off from peace.

How could such a situation emerge where the “moderate” alternatives to such brutality seem only to be other jihadist terrorists? The entire framework of debate for those populations surrounded by jihadist groups is currently occurring within the Islamist context. Without a long-term approach to uprooting the Islamist ideology itself, through civil society activism, there’s not much hope of stemming such atrocities. At the same time, the Pakistani government must recognize that it cannot, and must not, simply bomb its way out of this quagmire.

Maajid Nawaz is Co-Founder and Chairman of Quilliam, a think tank focusing on matters of integration, citizenship & identity, religious freedom, extremism, and immigration. His work is informed by years spent in his youth as a leadership member of a global Islamist group, and his gradual transformation towards liberal democratic values. His autobiographical account of his life story, Radical, has been released in the UK and U.S.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 18

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

U.S. Links North Korea to Hack

American officials have determined the government of North Korea is connected to the hack that left Sony Entertainment Pictures reeling and eventually prompted it to pull The Interview, a movie critical of the country’s leader

Understanding the Sony Hack

Everything to know about the massive hack against Sony that prompted it to nix The Interview

U.S., Cuba Make Nice

The U.S. and Cuba will work to normalize diplomatic relations for the first time in half-century, after the release of an American prisoner

Everything We Know as Serial’s Season One Ends

As the 12th installment of Serial downloads on countless phones Thursday morning, a common question will reverberate through curious minds: Did he do it? Did Adnan Syed kill Hae Min Lee on that January day back in 1999?

Elton John to Wed Longtime Partner David Furnish

The pair entered a civil partnership in 2005, but in recent weeks, rumors have run rampant about impending nuptials. Various outlets have reported that a private, intimate ceremony will take place at their Windsor estate on Dec. 21

NOAA Arctic Report Card Short on Good News

This year’s Arctic Report Card, a NOAA-led work by 63 authors, reports a continuation of Arctic warming: Alaska is seeing temperature anomalies more than 18 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the January average and temperatures are rising in region’s seas

Most of the World Is Living Longer

Life expectancy across the globe has increased by more than six years since 1990 to 71.5 years, according to a new study published Wednesday. Medical funding for fighting infectious diseases has grown since 1990 and helped drive the improvement

Scientists Spot Drugs That Could Treat Ebola

Scientists have identified 53 existing drugs that could be effective in fighting Ebola, according to newly published research that came from screening drug compounds already available to see if they can treat the deadly disease

Peshawar Death Toll at 148 as Full Horror Emerges

With the death toll from Peshawar school massacre rising to 148 — at least 132 of them children — residents of this strife-torn Pakistani city, and survivors, are struggling to come to terms with Tuesday’s horror, in which Taliban gunman attacked an army-run school

NYC Rapper Bobby Shmurda Arrested

Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda was arrested in New York City on Wednesday, in connection with an investigation into street violence and drug trafficking in the city’s outer borough. Shmurda, whose real name is Ackquille Pollard, was taken into custody by investigators

Chicago Judge Rejects $75 Million NCAA Settlement

A Chicago judge on Wednesday rejected a $75 million settlement with the NCAA on player concussions, saying the funds allocated as part of the deal would potentially fall short and urging both parties to resume negotiations

Executions in the United States at 20 Year Low

Amidst a nationwide mediation on the future of the death penalty in the U.S., the nation reached a 20-year low in carried-out executions in 2014, the Death Penalty Information Center said in its annual report

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A this Friday, December 19, at 1 p.m., with TIME managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, who recently selected The Ebola Fighters as TIME’s choice for Person of the Year 2014.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. We depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

You will need to be a TIME subscriber to read the Q & A. ($30 a year or 8 cents a day for the magazine and all digital content.) Once you’re signed up, you can log in to the site with a username and password.

Get TIME’s The Brief e-mail every morning in your inbox

TIME Pakistan

Pakistani Military Strikes Back at Taliban Following Peshawar Massacre

An army soldier stands guard inside the Army Public School, which was attacked by Taliban gunmen, in Peshawar
An army soldier stands guard inside the Army Public School, which was attacked by Taliban gunmen earlier this week, in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Dec. 17, 2014 Zohra Bensemra—Reuters

Spokesperson says more than a dozen operations have been carried out since Tuesday

The Pakistani military claims to have struck back hard against Taliban militants days after the group launched one the deadliest single-day attacks in their seven-year insurgency against the state.

In the two days since Taliban forces indiscriminately murdered more than 140 people, including 132 children, at a school in Peshawar, Pakistani security forces have launched 20 air strikes, killing an estimated 57 terrorists in the process, according to a tweet from military spokesperson Major General Asim Bajwa.

The armed forces’ representative added that operations are ongoing. Pakistan is currently in its second day of official mourning for the massacre, which sent shock waves through the country and brought renewed scrutiny to the military’s past dealings with militants within the country’s borders.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser