Bowe Bergdahl Freed by Taliban, But at What Cost?

3021491393_53dd3e2663_z.jpg

Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 12:42 p.m. DST, 2 June 2014

"Early-morning dismounted patrol mission" Photo by:  The U.S. Army

AN AMERICAN SOLDIER captured in Afghanistan in 2009 is returning home. 28-year-old Bowe Bergdahl was the last prisoner of war from the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom conflicts.

His homecoming marks the end of an ongoing discussion with Taliban executives, which were largely mediated by Qatari representatives. Since 2011, the United States has actively pursued Bergdahl's release. A recent video provided by Taliban leaders indicated the young man's failing health.

In June of 2009, Bergdahl left his military outpost in Paktika, Afghanistan for reasons still unknown. Outside of the military stronghold, Bergdahl was captured by Taliban affiliates. Those close to the family have described Bergdahl as a sensitive, questioning young man who was struggling with aspects of his service. This, coupled with the possibility of preexisting mental health problems could help to explain his disappearance.

The nation celebrates his arrival, but Bergdahl's release is not without a price. Five Taliban officials are scheduled to be released from Guantanamo Bay detention center and transported to Qatar. Here, the five are required to spend one year, and will be monitored to some extent.

Those safeguards are not enough to prevent their return to extremism, according to some conservative members of Congress, namely Californian Representative Howard McKeon and Oklahoman Senator James Inhofe. The two have become outspoken critics of the White House's secret negotiations.

Among their concerns--Congress was not notified about the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees a month in advance as per federal law, and the move to bring Bergdahl out of harm's way broke a longstanding American policy of not negotiating with terror groups.

In the years since his son's capture, Robert Bergdahl has learned Pashto, the language widely spoken in Afghanistan. Using this new skill set, R. Bergdahl has made efforts to speak with Taliban members to arrange his son's release.

According to officials, B. Bergdahl has spoken relatively no English in the past five years and he is having difficulty communicating in his native tongue. His father will help him in the meantime, as he adjusts to civilian life in his hometown of Hailey, Idaho.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

Pregnant Pakistani Stoned in "Honor Killing" Outside High Court

stoning-of-woman.jpg

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Islam does not allow for "honor killings." And yet, a 25-year-old pregnant Pakistani woman is the latest victim of murder at the hands of her family. The couple had been engaged for several years, and were only recently married.

Farzana Parveen was beaten and stoned to death earlier today, 27 May 2014, outside of a high court in Lahore. Parveen and her newlywed husband Mohammad Iqbal had traveled to the court earlier today to debunk claims that Iqbal had abducted Parveen. The bride's family had reported the false claims to police in order to regain custody of the woman.

Before the couple had a chance to testify their mutual love, they were surrounded by a group in excess of 20. According to police, someone in the crowd shot a handgun into the air as the mob attempted to kidnap Parveen. Their efforts were ineffective, and at this point the assemblage struck Parveen with sticks and stoned her with bricks from an adjacent construction site. The brutal public display is continuing to draw disapproval by officials and the community.

The attackers included her father and several brothers. So far, only her father, Mohammad Azeem, has been detained. Officials are now searching for the brothers and other family members that conspired in the brutal murder.

Conservative communities in Pakistan practice arranged marriage. Through matrimony, many Pakistani families seek to associate with another family of like class, wealth and ethnicity. Today, marriage outside of this tradition is performed more often, but the stigma against an unendorsed marriage is strong.

According to Amnesty International, 960 "honor killings" were recorded in Pakistan in 2010. That number could likely be higher, as crimes against women are often unpunished and underreported in the region. Most follow a similar equation--males execute a female family member, in order to redeem the family name for the alleged immorality of the female relative.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

Related articles

The Efficacy of Drone Assassinations

drone-aircraft-photo-courtesy-of-abayomi-azikiwe.jpg

Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 04:35 a.m. DST, 24 May 2014

"Protest against US wars and drone attacks" Photo by: Fibonacci Blue

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The White House announced this week that it will release classified documents about the planning and justification behind drone attacks that killed four American expatriates in 2011.

Growing pressure from a bipartisan array of Senators and legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were instrumental in the forthcoming publication, which will be made available in the coming weeks.

2011 was a deadly year for American citizens living in the Middle East. In September, Anwar al-Awlaki and his affiliate Samir Khan were killed during a drone strike in Yemen. Both men were proud al-Qaeda operatives, but Khan was not targeted in the unmanned attack. However, his death was seen as a bonus for Washington, who was aware that Khan's role in al-Qaeda included writing and editing for the English-language al-Qaeda magazine Inspire.

Days later, al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a similar fashion when a remotely piloted aircraft took his life, supposedly by accident. Abdulrahman was born in Denver, Colorado and had been living with his father in Yemen until late September. Additionally, a November offensive in Pakistan killed U.S. citizen Jude Kenan Mohammad via aerial fire.

It was all but inevitable that the United States would pursue the elder al-Awlaki, who had a hand in the 9/11 terror plot and the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. Publicly, he spoke out against the September 11th attacks as a misuse of Islam and participated in interviews with The New York Times under the guise of a moderate Muslim. All the while, al-Awlaki was leading a secret life of hateful blogging, where he encouraged violence against Israeli and American citizens.

However, as heinous as his duplicity, no one expected his teenage son to be targeted and killed by drone attacks weeks after al-Awlaki's elimination. Military coordinators claim the heavy shelling that killed the young al-Awlaki was unintentional, a tactic often employed to excuse drone hostility gone wrong. Despite this feigned contrition, drone operators subsequently killed five students and three teachers in the Khyber-Pakhtunkwah Province of Pakistan in November 2013.

I am not sure which is worse -- a callous disregard of this tragedy or the inept military strategy behind it. Though the actions of the adults targeted and killed by the drones was equally and morally reprehensible; as American citizens they had the right to due process, and if found guilty, imprisonment.

The American military's silence on this matter is consistent with a policy that tacitly condones the use of remote control assassination machines despite the collateral damage of innocent bystanders. This article does not serve as a blanket indictment of U.S. military strategies that serve to protect its citizenry from terrorism, but it does advocate for the need of greater transparency.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

Malala Yousafzai, Two Years After Attempted Assasination

Malala Yousafzai, Oval Office 11 October 2013, Photo Courtesy of White House

Malala Yousafzai, Oval Office 11 October 2013, Photo Courtesy of White House

UNITED STATES - On October of 2012, 14-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot for speaking up about women's rights to education. As an inside correspondent with BBC, subject of two documentaries and frequent guest in newsrooms, Yousafazai was becoming the poster child of youth activism and women's rights. A Taliban gunman attempted to silence her and to set an example. She was hospitalized for three months.

The attack failed to curb her passion for political activism and, with international support, she continued her crusade for education soon after her recovery. Instead of silencing her and the movement, the attack raised global awareness with spokespeople from the US, the UK and Canada showing their outrage and support.

The next time she spoke publicly was on 12 July 2013 -- her birthday. She celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City where she spoke to a global audience about the role youth can play in ensuring worldwide education. She supported the Global Education First Initiative, which aims to have all school-age children, particularly girls, in school by year 2015. The day became known as Malala Day.

Another namesake is the Malala Fund, which has raised $7 million to spend on education projects in remote areas of Pakistan.

The most recent effort is the We Are Silent Campaign, to be held on April 17. She encourages the world to take a 24-hour vow of silence in honor of 31 million girls worldwide who are denied an education.

Since the shooting, Time magazine featured her in 2013 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. She made history as the youngest nominee for the (2013) Nobel Peace Prize, and was nominated again in 2014. With help from journalist Christina Lamb she's written a memoir entitled "I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up For Education and was Shot by the Taliban." She's gone to Buckingham Palace and the White House and plans to continue her career in political activism.

Opposition to Child Marriage in Pakistan Gains Momentum

girls-in-school-in-khyber-pakhtunkhwa-pakistan-by-dfid-uk-department-for-international-development.jpg

PAKISTAN - Child marriages are a major and disturbing problem in Pakistan and elsewhere. Eleven percent of the world's children will be married before the age of 15 -- amounting to over 2 million child brides. In Pakistan 7% of girls married are under the age of 15, according to UNICEF. This number may be higher as there are many unreported cases. However, there has been an increased effort to raise awareness and lower these numbers.

Former prime minister and UN education official Gordon Brown proposes "child marriage-free zones' in Pakistan. One of his concerns about child marriage is that not many girls are able to finish school. This leads to few women being able to be productive and influential members of society, which in turn makes it harder for them to help other girls escape forced marriage. Brown aims to break this cycle.

He wants teachers and girls to work together to fight child marriage. He wants girls to know their rights and feel empowered enough to stand up to those trying to force them into marriage. Brown is also working to raise global awareness and commitment. The UN is giving 10 million dollars and the EU is giving 100 million euros (about 138 million dollars) to the cause. The message they are trying to send is that it is important that all children need to be educated, and there is international support to make this happen.

The fight against child marriage in Pakistan also has internal support, notably from legislator Marvi Memon. Ms. Memon is a conservative politician and businesswoman, serving as the central and public figure of the Pakistan Muslim League presided by Nawaz Sharif. She's introduced a bill to Pakistan's National Assembly that calls for stricter punishments to those involved with child marriage.

Currently the penalty for arranging child marriage is only $10 and a month in jail. Memon wants to raise that to $1000 and a two-year jail sentence.

She's facing opposition from the Council of Islamic Ideology. The CII says that marriages of anyone who's reached puberty, regardless of age, are acceptable under Islamic law. According to them any laws restricting marriage of girls who've reached puberty, including the minor punishments already in place, contradict the teachings of the Koran.

With the help of Islamic scholars, Memon wants to fight back by showing that Islam is supportive of women. Child marriage has health risks because child brides often conceive shortly after marriage. With their bodies not ready for pregnancy, there are often complications involving both mother and child. It does not go against Islamic law to try to prevent this.

If the bill is passed, it may be hard to enforce. Even with official government support, Pakistani police may be hesitant to interfere with what for many is a culturally acceptable norm.

Child marriage is not an easy-fix problem. But with Brown's campaign for education and global awareness and Memon's fight for stricter consequences, there is hope for the future of Pakistani girls.

Pakistani Elections: Uncertain, Yet Laudable Milestone

will-the-ppp-survive-photo-courtesy-of-the-insider-brief.jpg

Sam Hargadine, ContributorLast Modified: 13:40 p.m. DST, 03 April 2013

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Photo by Reuters, Faisal Mahmood, Pakistan Politics Election

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The smoke filled back-rooms of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, would make even 1920s Chicago blush. Power is concentrated among a few connected families with long histories intertwined by periods of conflict and cooperation.

Often times it seems the phrase, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', is an apt characterization for the evolving coalitions that have kept the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in power.

But stay in power it has, at least for its first five-year term. For the first time since Pakistan's partition from India, in 1947, a civilian government is preparing to transfer power democratically. Elections are scheduled for 11 May 2013; however, the outcome is uncertain.

The PPP has marked its five-year tenure with corruption charges, poor governance, and weak oversight of the military. The likelihood of it retaining power is bleak.

The leading candidates include the main conservative opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif; Imran Khan, a famous cricket star; and (less likely) former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

The PPP's most important security victory has been the relative pacification of the Swat Province in Northwest Pakistan. This achievement is distracted from however by Karachi's, Pakistan's business hub, slide towards violence. Minority groups and religious moderates are consistently threatened and/or attacked there.

All in all, the PPP should be given credit for its completion of a five-year term. It managed to wield enough influence among the military to stave off a coup; no small feat for a country that has had gruesome natural disasters and security breaches in the last term.

This laudable milestone however does not mean the PPP deserves to retain power. Transferring power will be current President Zadari's legacy. It is either that or a legacy of extreme corruption and impotency.

Follow Sam Hargadine on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributor: @SamHargadine

Pakistani Minister Pledges $100,000 for Murder of Anti-Islamic Filmmaker

fatah-youth-photo-by-ahmad-al-bazz.jpg

Death Mask of Oliver Cromwell, Photo by LisbyISLAMABAD, Pakistan – From 2002 to 2010, the United States gave $13.3 billion in security-related aid to Pakistan, and $6 billion for economic assistance. It subsequently increased following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the retaliatory attack by the U.S. n the Taliban regime. More than $5.3 billion is pledged for the 2012 fiscal year of which $2.3 billion is earmarked to help the country’s counter-terrorism efforts. (Source: ABC News)

Despite this massive amount of financial support provided by the U.S. to Pakistan, there have been mounting tensions between the two nations, as well as a significant spike in mistrust following the death of Osama bin Laden on 2 May 2011.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a Pakistan government minister has offered $100,000 (£61,616) bounty for the death of the maker of an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. According to Reuters, Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour said he would pay the reward for the "sacred duty" out of his own pocket.

The incendiary film has sparked protests across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, but in many instances the film has been used as an excuse by those who harbor resentment of the slow pace of change following the Arab Spring; and in the case of the murder of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, as cover for a coordinated, paramilitary terrorist attack.

Though Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Obama and other U.S. government officials have vigorously condemned the film, this has failed to placate the mobs which have taken to the streets of Islamic nations.

Since the violent protests erupted in Pakistan at least 20 people died in clashes between anti-film protesters and Pakistani police. U.S. citizens have been warned against traveling to the region and an advertising campaign designed to calm tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan is being vigorously promoted.

The Pakistani government has disavowed Mr. Bilour’s statements but is currently in discussions about what if any action to take against him. At this point he will remain in his position even as he reaffirmed his commitment to “pay whoever kills the makers of this video $100,000, and if someone else makes other similar blasphemous material in the future, I will also pay his killers $100,000.”

The low-budget film was produced in 2011 and posted to YouTube where it languished without incident until it was promoted in the U.S. by an anti-Islamic pastor. It was subsequently discovered by Muslim news-makers, at which point, though it is unclear when, it was translated into Arabic.

The film is extremely inflammatory, depicting the Prophet Mohammad in an unflattering and blasphemous manner. The alleged producer of the trailer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is in hiding.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias