Friday, 12 April 2013

True story

"Today, the world superpower is having its own way, without any consent from Pakistan," former Interior Minister Rehman Malik said last month. Despite such pronouncements, there's been speculation that the story might have been different behind the scenes. In a cable sent in August 2008 and later posted online by Wikileaks, then-U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson mentioned a discussion about drones during a meeting that also involved Malik and then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. "Malik suggested we hold off alleged Predator attacks until after the Bajaur operation," Patterson wrote. "The PM brushed aside Rehman's remarks and said, 'I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.' " Unmanned U.S. drones began launching attacks in Pakistan in 2004, by which time Musharraf had been president for five years after taking power in a bloodless coup. He said that Pakistani leaders would OK U.S. drone strikes after discussions involving military and intelligence units and only if "there was no time for our own ... military to act." This happened "only rarely," said Musharraf, who left office in 2008 and spent years in exile before returning to Pakistan last month to launch a political comeback. But sometimes, he said, "you couldn't delay action." "These ups and downs kept going," he said. "It was a very fluid situation, a vicious enemy, ... mountains, inaccessible areas." Musharraf said that one of those killed by U.S. drones was Nek Mohammed, a tribal leader accused of harboring al Qaeda militants in Pakistan's western border region. At the time, in June 2004, Pakistan intelligence sources said Mohammed died after Pakistani forces launched a missile at a house where he was staying.

Musharraf comes clean on drone strikes

Ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf acknowledged his government secretly signed off on U.S. drone strikes, the first time a top past or present Pakistani official has admitted publicly to such a deal. Pakistani leaders long have openly challenged the drone program and insisted they had no part in it. Musharraf's admission, though, suggests he and others did play some role, even if they didn't oversee the program or approve every attack. In an interview this week in Islamabad, Musharraf insisted Pakistan's government signed off on strikes "only on a few occasions, when a target was absolutely isolated and no chance of collateral damage." Still, his admission that Pakistani leaders agreed to even a limited number of strikes runs counter to their repeated denunciations of a program they long claimed the United States was operating without their approval. The drone strikes -- which the nonpartisan public policy group New American Foundation estimates have killed at least 1,990 people in Pakistan, including hundreds of civilians -- are unpopular in Pakistan.

Security concerns

Back at home, Thatcher was a highly polarizing figure in British politics. Police are stepping up security ahead of the funeral, amid concerns that protesters angered by Thatcher's actions in office may take to the streets. Many Britons blame her for creating soaring unemployment, when she reduced or eliminated many government subsidies to businesses and took on unions. Her battle with striking coal miners won her few friends in mining communities in northern England and Wales. But supporters believe the tough reforms she pushed through transformed the British economy and gave many working people new freedoms. London's Metropolitan Police, the City of London Police, who cover the city's financial district, and the British Transport Police are working together "to ensure that events that day pass off safely," a statement said. Police officers will be deployed along the route, with other mobile groups ready to be deployed to any outbreaks of trouble, the Met Police said. The force has urged anyone planning protests to let police know ahead of time. "There has been much speculation about what levels of protest may take place. I would ask anyone who wishes to demonstrate then, or in the coming days, to come and talk to us," Commander Christine Jones said. "The right to protest is one that must be upheld. However, we will work to do that whilst balancing the rights of those who wish to pay their respects and those who wish to travel about London as usual." Police will implement a range of security measures in line with the current threat level, Jones said. London's Evening Standard newspaper reported Wednesday that anarchists are planning to stage a mass "party" Saturday in Trafalgar Square to celebrate Thatcher's death. Ian Bone, founder of the Class War group, is quoted by the newspaper as saying thousands of anti-Thatcher protesters will gather from across the country for the event. They'll include miners and steel workers scarred by her battle with the unions, he said. Trafalgar Square, in the heart of London, was the scene of violent rioting in 1990 against a hugely unpopular tax brought in by Thatcher. The so-called poll tax was levied on community residents rather than property. A post on what appears to be Bone's blog also calls on people to attend the "Class War Party" in Trafalgar Square. "Best night out since the poll tax riot," it promises.