TIME Pakistan

Pakistani Militants Kill Former Lawyer of Doctor Who Helped Find bin Laden

Afridi, lawyer for a Pakistani doctor who helped U.S. officials find al-Qaeda chief Osama bin laden, speaks to the media in Peshawar
Khuram Parvez—Reuters Samiullah Afridi, lawyer for Dr. Shakil Afridi who ran a fake vaccination campaign to help U.S. officials find al-Qaeda leader Osama bin laden, speaks to the media after appearing before the court in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Oct. 30, 2013

“We killed him because he was defending Shakil, who is our enemy”

A Pakistani lawyer who represented the doctor charged with helping U.S. intelligence authorities hunt down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed on Tuesday, according to local police in his hometown of Peshawar.

A police official said Samiullah Afridi was shot in the abdomen and neck while returning to his home and died on the spot, Reuters reports.

Afridi had reportedly received death threats for defending Dr. Shakil Afridi (no relation), who was handed a controversial 33-year jail sentence in 2012 for running a fake vaccination campaign that helped CIA agents locate the Saudi-born terrorist leader. Two militant groups, both affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, have claimed responsibility for Afridi’s murder.

“We killed him because he was defending Shakil, who is our enemy,” said Taliban splinter group Jundullah. Another Taliban faction, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar, said it killed Afridi because they couldn’t get to the doctor who “spied on our respected and supreme leader Sheik Osama.”

The lawyer had only recently returned to Pakistan, having relocated to Dubai after quitting the case last year out of concern for his safety. “Not only is my life in danger, my family is also in danger,” he had said in an interview with Reuters.

The targeting of lawyers by militant groups is not uncommon in Pakistan, says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based Pakistani political scientist and commentator, citing the murder last year of prominent prosecution lawyer Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali. Ali was involved in the trial of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, accused of masterminding the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, as well as the case of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s 2007 assassination — he was gunned down in his car last May while on his way to court.

Dr. Afridi, meanwhile, had his sentence overturned in 2013 and is currently awaiting a new trial.

“It becomes difficult to find a lawyer because nobody wants to stick their neck out, and therefore cases stay pending and nothing happens,” Rizvi tells TIME. “The government will be able to find a lawyer, maybe in a couple of months’ time, but the new lawyer will also become a target of these groups and that fear will haunt the whole process.”

Pakistani militant groups have also cracked down on polio-vaccination drives following bin Laden’s killing and Dr. Afridi’s prosecution, saying they are un-Islamic and either fronts for espionage or an attempt to sterilize Muslims.

On Tuesday, a gun attack killed two female immunization workers at an Afghan refugee camp near Pakistan’s northwestern city of Mansehra, according to Agence France-Presse. The incident is the latest in a recent spate of attacks against polio workers, 77 of whom have been killed since December 2012.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the disease still exists, and the number of polio cases recorded in the country last year reached a 14-year high of 306.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Hangs 12 Men in Largest Single-Day Execution in Nearly a Decade

PAKISTAN-CRIME-EXECUTION-PROTEST
AAMIR QURESHI—AFP/Getty Images Pakistani NGO activists carry placards during a demonstration to mark the International Day Against the Death Penalty in Islamabad on October 10, 2014.

The country's death penalty was reinstated in December and broadened to non-terrorism crimes a week ago

Pakistan hanged 12 men on Tuesday, the largest number of people put to death on the same day since a moratorium on executions was lifted in December, according to an Interior Ministry spokesman.

“They were not only terrorists, they included the other crimes,” the spokesman said, according to Reuters. “Some of them were murderers and some did other heinous crimes.”

The informal suspension of capital punishment, enacted when the current democratic government took over from military rule in 2008, was removed on Dec. 17 following a Taliban attack on a school that killed over 140 people, mostly children.

Although Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted the moratorium under pressure to expedite justice for terrorists and militants, the death penalty for non-terrorism crimes was also reinstated last week.

A total of 27 Pakistanis have been executed since the ban was lifted, and more than 8,000 remain on death row in what human-rights groups say is a severely deficient criminal-justice system.

Read next: Pakistan Court Sanctions Release of Alleged Mumbai Attacks Mastermind

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 6

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

1. India has banned a documentary on the 2012 gang rape that rocked the country. That was a huge mistake.

By Shashi Tharoor at NDTV

2. Berkeley decided to give campus departments a real incentive to cut power consumption by charging them directly — and energy use went down.

By Meredith Fowlie in The Berkeley Blog

3. Pakistan is helping Afghanistan’s president make peace with the Taliban. Other powers should back him.

By the Economist

4. Ukraine’s military will never be strong enough to beat Russia outright. But it doesn’t have to be.

By Alexander J. Motyl in Foreign Policy

5. Micro-bubbles — guided with magnets, deployed with sound waves — could revolutionize the delivery of medicine and even chemotherapy.

By Charvy Narain at the Oxford Science Blog

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 Afghanistan

Afghan Army Takes On Taliban in First Solo Offensive

In this Feb. 26, 2015 photo, Afghan security police stand guard at checkpoint in Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan
Abdul Khaliq—AP Afghan security police stand guard at checkpoint in Helmand province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Feb. 26, 2015

The Afghan army hopes to prove it can rout the Taliban without the aid of U.S. or NATO troops

(KABUL) — The Afghan army is waging its largest-ever solo offensive against the Taliban, hoping to strike a decisive blow ahead of the spring fighting season and prove it can rout the insurgents without the aid of U.S. and NATO combat troops.

Afghan troops have been slowly pushing up through a fertile river valley in the southern Helmand province, with special forces mounting nighttime helicopter raids into mud brick compounds and ground troops gradually advancing across the poppy fields that in past years have furnished the insurgents’ main cash crop.

U.S. and British troops suffered some of their biggest losses of the decade-long war here, seizing territory that was later lost by ill-equipped and poorly trained Afghan forces. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to break the grim cycle, and the latest offensive is widely seen as a test for his efforts to overhaul the army and police since taking office in September.

Ghani was personally involved in planning the operation, which is codenamed Zolfiqar — meaning double-edged sword — and which began on Feb. 10, according to Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller, deputy chief of staff for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. Ghani heads to Washington later this month, where he is expected to seek enhanced U.S. military backup, particularly air support.

“This is an incredibly important operation,” said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the secret operation. “This is Ghani’s attempt to demonstrate to the U.S. and the U.S. Congress that Afghan ground forces are able to take the lead and conduct offensive operations if they have the right enablers to support them.”

U.S. and Afghan officials say local security forces are so far proving they can take the fight to the Taliban without the aid of foreign combat troops. There are 13,000 foreign soldiers in the country, down from a peak of 140,000 in 2009-2010, with 5,000 U.S. troops engaged in counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

U.S. military leaders have advised the troops in Helmand and helped plan the operation, but American troops are not involved in the fighting.

Fuller said the troops have already cleared large areas where the insurgents had been entrenched for more than a decade, saying the Taliban’s casualties were higher than those of government forces by “a factor of 10 to one.”

He said Afghan forces had found bunkers, tunnels, trench lines, and a giant slingshot apparently used to fling grenades at government forces.

He said the Sangin district, which had seen months of heavy fighting, was declared clear on Friday, adding that Afghan forces had “met with heavy resistance that was more than they anticipated.”

Gen. Mohammad Salim Ahses, the head of the national police, told The Associated Press by telephone from Sangin that 385 Taliban fighters had been killed there, including 31 commanders. It was not possible to confirm those figures. The areas where the fighting is taking place are not accessible to journalists, and few Afghan officials were willing to speak about the operation.

The international charity Emergency said its hospitals in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital, and the national capital Kabul had seen casualties almost double in February to 226 over the same month last year due to increased insurgent violence across the country, according to program coordinator Luca Radaelli.

“We are definitely seeing a spike in the number of war casualties coming in from the operation in Helmand,” he said, adding that most were men and many were policemen. Further details on the casualties, including a breakdown of dead and wounded on each side, were not immediately available.

The real test will come later, when Afghan forces try to hold hard-won territory.

Fuller said Afghan officials have begun meeting with local leaders to plan the building of new schools, clinics, police stations and courthouses. He said tribal elders are already helping to recruit residents for the local police and border guard.

Helmand’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, said small army and police posts, each of which will house 100 men, are being built across the valley. “This time we are moving according to a proper plan” to keep the Taliban from returning, he said. “We will not leave this place alone.

TIME isis

ISIS Faces a Crowded Landscape of Terror in Pakistan

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Pakistani Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar in 2014.
Zohra Bensemra—Reuters Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Pakistani Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar in 2014.

With the Taliban dominant, ISIS will have trouble making space in Pakistan—though the group is becoming more popular

The brutal methods that the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has become notorious for were already seen some years ago, first in Afghanistan and later in Pakistan, as the two branches of the Taliban in those countries took root. The Pakistani Taliban, in many ways, are the closest analogue of the terror group now expanding across the Arab world.

Formed in 2007, the Pakistani Taliban seized territory, imposed its own brutal brand of Islamic law, executed opponents — including landowners, politicians, and others they deemed to be guilty of crimes of “vulgarity” and “heresy”. Women from among the famous “dancing girls of Swat” were found dead, their bodies dumped in the central square of Swat’s main town. Preachers of Sufi Islam, a syncretic form of the religion that puts a heavy emphasis on ascetic practices, were brutally killed – their bodies cut apart and hanged publicly.

Beheadings were also a constant feature. When the Pakistani Taliban kidnapped over 100 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan in 2007, they severed the heads of many, especially the Shia soldiers. A sword was used to cut across both ways and the head then lifted from the torso. The bodies of journalists were also discovered in some cases, dumped, with bullet holes in their backs.

READ MORE: Inside ISIS, a TIME Special Report

The Taliban, like ISIS, share a sectarian ideology. Those whom they do not deem to be in line with their brutal brand of Islam, they declare to be non-Muslims. Those who aren’t Muslims, they deem to be “worthy of being killed.” This has led to attacks on army officers and religious minorities of various stripes — Shia Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus and Christians.

The Taliban work closely with both al-Qaeda and long-established anti-Shiite groups like Sunni extremists Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. There is a lot of slippage between these groups; the boundaries between them are often ill-defined. Also, like ISIS, these groups will turn to kindap and ransom as a means of generating funds. Warren Weinstein, an American academic and development expert in his 70s, is still being held by al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas after having been sold up through various groups.

This makes Pakistan both an attractive breeding ground for ISIS, but also one that is so crowded out by entrenched terror groups that they may struggle to break into the market. “It’s an already busy landscape for militant groups,” says Simbal Khan, Pakistan scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington. “There’s no vacuum for a new group.”

That doesn’t mean they are not trying, and in some cases, already finding success. The Pakistani government has issued reports warning that “ISIS” or “Daesh” (as it is known by its Arabic acronym) has collaborated with sectarian militant groups, like Jundallah and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, along the border with Iran. Elsewhere, in November 2014, a series of former Pakistani Taliban militants announced their allegiance to ISIS and al-Baghdadi.

In Pakistan’s second city of Lahore, graffiti has appeared celebrating ISIS. Government officials and analysts say this is a more a feature of ISIS propaganda than any evidence that the group has operational capacity in Pakistan. Still, that same month, a number of ISIS activists were arrested from Lahore — they are thought to have been former members of anti-Shiite organizations that have a foothold in Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital.

After the Peshawar massacre, where Taliban soldiers slaughtered nearly 150 people at a public school, there appears to be greater clarity among Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership about the need to fight terrorism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced near the end of 2014 that there would no longer be any distinction made between “good militants” and “bad militants.” The policy of backing militants who attack Afghanistan and India while only fighting those who launched terror attacks at home in Pakistan would be reversed.

While the jury is still out on whether this will become official and lasting policy, the army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif — the most powerful man in Pakistan — has said that he will not allow a group like ISIS to establish a base inside Pakistan. They are watching events in the Arab world with mounting anxiety, but Pakistan and Afghanistan’s focus remains very much local for the moment. “The Pakistani leadership, in civvies and in uniform, are on one page,” says Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s Defense Minister. “We must fight for our existence, and the existence of all humanity.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 17

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

1. Is the Taliban’s fracturing a sign of its demise or a possible turn to a more lethal strategy?

By Sundarsan Raghavan in the Washington Post

2. To fight cybercrime, President Obama needs Silicon Valley.

By Katie Benner in Bloomberg View

3. The FDA needs updated systems to review drugs — made from our own cells — that target cancer and more.

By Peter W. Huber in City Journal

4. Our high incarceration rate no longer reduces crime.

By Lauren-Brooke Eisen in USA Today

5. Better than an action movie: Catch a college lecture on your next commercial flight.

By Kim Clark in Money

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 Pakistan

Witness the Aftermath of the Terror Attack on a Shi’ite Peshawar Mosque

At least 19 people were killed in the latest sectarian attack in Pakistan

The terror-worn city of Peshawar was struck by a new terror attack targeting a Shi’ite mosque on Friday that left at least 19 people dead.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Reuters, saying it was in revenge for the government’s crackdown on Islamist militants in the wake of the Dec. 16 assault on a Peshawar school that killed more than 150 people, mostly students. The Taliban, who have also claimed responsibility for the assault on the school, threatened more “revenge attacks” in a video sent to reporters, according to Reuters.

On Friday, five or six gunmen wearing military uniforms broke into the mosque as Friday prayers finished and opened fire, a witness told Reuters. Three explosions were heard during the attack.

The Pakistani government pledged to combat Islamist groups in the wake of the school attacks, but minority groups throughout the country say they still feel insecure. An attack last month on a Shi’ite mosque in Shikarpur killed more than 60 people.

TIME Bowe Bergdahl

Guantanamo Detainee Exchanged for American POW Attempts a Return to Battle

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

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
Anjum Naveed — AP 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.

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

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]

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