Sneak attack: Four men wearing Afghan police uniforms stormed the governor's compound in the western province of Farah on Thursday, killing at least seven people and wounding 12 others when two of the attackers detonated their suicide vests (AFP, NYT, CNN, AJE, BBC, AP). The two other attackers were shot and killed by police at the compound, while the governor and his deputy were unharmed.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari confirmed Thursday that -- accompanied by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar -- he will attend this weekend's NATO summit in Chicago, which is likely to focus on negotiating funding for Afghan security forces and the Afghan government in the years following NATO's withdrawal in 2014 (AP, AFP). Australia pledged on Wednesday to contribute $100 million per year for three years beginning in 2015, a small portion of the estimated $4 billion annual cost of sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces (AP).
In Afghanistan, where the government estimates that over 60 percent of the population suffers from a psychological disorder, some of the severely mentally ill are committed to the Mia Ali Baba shrine in Jalalabad to spend 40 days chained to a wall and fed only water, black pepper, and bread to "cure" them of their diseases (AP). Mental health doctors disapprove of the program, but the deeply religious, poverty-wracked country has few options to address severe mental illness.
Two Pakistani Air Force training jets collided in mid-air on Thursday, killing all four on board and injuring ten people on the ground in Nowshera, in the second Pakistan Air Force crash in a week (ET, AP, AFP, CNN, BBC). Meanwhile, a bomb threat on a Pakistan International Airlines plane forced the evacuation of over 150 passengers on Thursday (AFP).
Two police constables were killed and two other officials injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in Quetta on Thursday morning (ET). A bomb blast in a mechanic's shop in Peshawar killed the shop owner and injured his apprentice on Thursday (ET). Three members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and one member of the banned People's Amn Committee were shot and killed in apparent targeted killing in Karachi on Wednesday (Dawn).
U.S. intelligence officials have revealed the scale model of Osama bin Laden's compound that was used to plan the raid in Abbottabad last May, installing it in the halls of the Pentagon on Wednesday (AFP).
Artists who contributed to a 10-day art exhibition in Peshawar entitled "Face Off" and aimed at countering intolerance and radicalism in Pakistani society received a surprise affront from officials on Wednesday (ET). A "senior bureaucrat" ordered the removal of two caricatures of hardline Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Maulana Fazl ur-Rehman, a long-time ally of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.-- Jennifer Rowland
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Better late than never: The spokesman for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said Tuesday that NATO had extended an invitation to Pakistan to attend this weekend's summit in Chicago, as officials from both the United States and Pakistan indicated that the two countries are close to finding an agreement on reopening the NATO ground supply routes to Afghanistan (NYT, AP, Reuters, AFP). Hours after NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen invited Zardari to the summit, the Pakistani Cabinet's Defense Committee gave the government the green light to lift the blockade on the shipment of NATO supplies through the country (ET, Dawn, DT).
However, the reopening of the ground routes would come with a new fee that is expected to cost the United States another $1 million per day (McClatchy). The Pakistani and U.S. governments are not the only stakeholders in this likely development; many Pakistani traders made a living selling looted goods from NATO trucks, and local militants obtain weapons and ammunition when they attack the containers (Post).
At least two people were killed and several injured in Karachi on Wednesday in two separate incidents of apparent political violence, a day after seven people were shot dead across the city (Dawn, ET). Security forces killed nine militants while shelling their hideout in Orakzai Agency on Tuesday (Dawn). The Taliban released a video on Wednesday of their April 15 attack on the Bannu Central Jail in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, during which almost 400 prisoners were able to escape (ET, DT).
As Europe faces a weakened economy and is forced to implement austerity cuts across the board, the issue of funding is likely to play a critical role at the summit as NATO member states attempt to negotiate the amount of aid Afghanistan will receive after the majority of troops withdraw in 2014 (Reuters). Afghanistan's Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin said Tuesday that Afghanistan is confident that the United States will not only provide the bulk of the $4.1 billion annual budget that officials are expected to endorse at the NATO summit, but will also contribute more in order to expand the number of security forces in the country (Guardian).
Newly elected French president Francois Hollande has already been forced to renege on his campaign promise to pull all French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, forced by on-the-ground necessities to at least maintain a force of hundreds of military trainers and 150 paramilitary troops (Post). The training mission that is critical to NATO's strategy in Afghanistan is facing a significant threat, though, as the number of "green on blue" attacks on coalition service members by Afghan security forces has risen rapidly in recent months (NYT). Bonus read: The New America Foundation maintains a database of all reported green on blue attacks (NAF).
Game, set, match
Peshawar's first professional tennis tournament since 2002 began this week, with top seeds Aqeel Khan and Yasir Khan starting out strong with straight-set wins over their opponents (ET). This is the first time that Peshawar -- better known for its bomb blasts than for its tennis matches -- has ever held a national championship tournament.-- Jennifer Rowland
Enough is enough: Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar alluded on Monday to the reopening of NATO ground supply routes to Afghanistan, saying their closure was "important to make a point. Pakistan has made a point and now we can move on" (WSJ,AFP, AP, ET, Tel, DT). Khar's comments came after a series of high-level talks between U.S. and Pakistani officials, including a meeting this weekend between the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen and the chief of Pakistan's powerful military, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.
Pakistani human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar filed two cases against the Pakistani government last week, accusing officials of failing to protect their citizens from U.S. drone strikes, and demanding that they classify the strikes as war crimes and seek legal action against the United States (Post). The cases press the Pakistani government to answer tough questions, such as whether they tacitly approve the drone strikes, and if so, Shazad demands judicial inquiries into the attacks.
An explosion at a busy roundabout in Quetta on Monday killed two paramilitary troops and two civilians, and injured over 30 others (ET, The News, DT). A man claiming to be a member of the Baloch Republican Army later claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to a private TV channel. And on Tuesday, unidentified gunmen on motorcycles killed two ethnic Hazaras in Quetta in an apparent target killing (ET, The News).
Pakistani virologist Dr. Khalil Chishty is traveling home to Karachi today from Ajmer, India, where he spent two decades in jail for his involvement in a 1992 murder (ET, Dawn, The News). The Indian Supreme Court granted Chishty six months of leave on humanitarian grounds in April; he will have to return to India by November 1.
The LA Times reported Monday that an as-yet unpublished Pentagon-funded study on the Afghan Local Police (ALP) has found that many of the 13,000 local policemen are involved in criminal activity such as bribe-taking and extortion (LAT). The study also found that the ALP is failing to stem insurgent attacks, and one in five U.S. Special Forces teams advising the ALP accused their Afghan counterparts of abusing civilians.
And the Washington Post reports on Tuesday that Gen. John Allen may be leaving his post as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan early next year to take over as head of the U.S. European Command, after just a year of what was expected to be a two-year stint (Post).
Let's play bowling!
Afghanistan's first ever bowling alley is attracting quite the crowd, as young Afghans - male and female -- flock to the new activity, and bet each other against the cost of the lane fees (NYT). Some are even proving to be very talented bowlers; novice Karim Yusufi bowled a 120 on his first try and has never paid his own lane fees, as he's not yet lost a wager.
-- Jennifer Rowland
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
Deadly blow: Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a leading member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, Mullah Arsala Rahmani, as he left made his way to a government meeting on reconciliation in Kabul on Sunday (NYT, Post, CNN, Reuters, BBC, Guardian, AP, WSJ, LAT). A former Taliban minister who served as an important liaison between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents, Rahmani's death strikes another blow to the stalled peace talks with the Taliban. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied his group's involvement in the assassination. Also on Sunday, the Afghan government released a list of the next 122 districts in which responsibility for security will be transferred from NATO to Afghan forces, a process that Afghan authorities expect to complete in about six months (CNN, AP, ABC). This is the third of five security transition stages, and includes the transfer of all provincial capitals as well as districts in Kapisa, Uruzgan and Parwan provinces.
Gunmen in Afghan police uniforms shot and killed two NATO service members in the Gereshk district of Helmand Province on Saturday, a day after a man wearing an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed an American soldier in eastern Afghanistan (NYT, BBC, Guardian, Tel, Reuters, NAF). Nine civilians were killed, including a provincial council member, and at least seven wounded on Monday by an explosion in a crowded market in the northern province of Faryab (NYT, BBC, AJE).
The Times' Graham Bowley reported Saturday on the U.S. military's extensive use of aerostats, 117-foot-long helium balloons equipped with cameras, in Afghanistan, irking many locals who feel they are constantly being watched and will continue to be watched even after international troops leave the country in 2014 (NYT). The dirigibles allow NATO to keep an eye on likely targets for attack, and help to catch insurgents planting roadside bombs. And Elisabeth Bumiller profiles Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, America's only current prisoner of war, who was captured by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009 (NYT).
Exercising their recently obtained power to veto NATO's suggested operations, Afghan commanders have reportedly refused over a dozen times in the past two months to act on NATO intelligence about high-value targets, saying the night raids required to get the men would result in civilian casualties (Post). The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, is quickly shifting the U.S. military strategy from broad counterinsurgency operations to a focus on involving Afghan troops in the fight against militants (Post). "The sooner I can get [Afghan troops involved], while I still have the time and the combat power, the more I can catch them if they fall," Gen. Allen said in a recent interview.
Gen. John Allen met with Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani on Saturday, the latest in a series of high-level meetings between American and Pakistani officials attempting to improve strained relations (AP). A U.S. official said Monday that the United States has been holding intensive talks with Pakistan in recent weeks, aimed at reopening the NATO ground supply routes to Afghanistan, which Pakistan shut after NATO helicopters fired on Pakistani military posts last November (AP). And on Sunday, top military commanders from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) met in Rawalpindi to discuss border control measures, as well as mechanisms to prevent accidental cross-border incidents (Dawn, ET).
A roadside bomb targeting a police vehicle killed one police officer and wounded a dozen civilians on Saturday in Peshawar (AP). Almost half a million residents have reportedly fled Khyber Agency since the Pakistani military began an offensive against militants there in January (AFP). Pakistani helicopters struck militants hideouts on Monday, killing nine suspected Taliban fighters, and injuring five others (ET). Militants in Mohmand Agency attacked a check post run by the local anti-Taliban militia on Monday, killing a senior militia volunteer and injuring ten others (ET, Dawn). Militant attacks targeting foreign aid workers are reportedly on the rise in Pakistan (CNN).
U.S. legislators from both the Republican and Democratic parties advised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a letter on Friday to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization (AP, Reuters, LAT, AFP). Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said during interviews in London that he does not believe al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is in Pakistan, and that there is not enough evidence against Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Muhammed Saeed to arrest him (Dawn).
The Associated Press has obtained the six-page manifesto of a senior Pakistani military officer, Brig. Ali Khan, who is being held in Rawalpindi on charges of plotting with four other officers and the militant group Hizb-ut-Tahrir to take over the military, and end counterterrorism ties with the United States (AP).
The 77-page, detailed version of the Pakistani Supreme Court's judgment against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani -- released last week -- finds its basis not only in Pakistani law and legal precedent, but also in the poetry of legendary Arab poet Khalil Gibran (Newsweek). According to Newsweek, the Prime Minister scoffed at the document: "This is the first judgment in the world's legal history in which excessive use of poetry has been made the basis of conviction. Are the people of this country in future to be punished on the basis of poetry?"
-- Jennifer Rowland
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
The Rack: Michael Hastings "The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret," (Rolling Stone)
Unwelcome: NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that Pakistan is not invited to the May 21-22 NATO summit on Afghanistan in Chicago, joining India, China, and Russia on the list of countries who will not be attending (ET, Dawn). U.S. officials had previously said they hoped Pakistan would reopen the NATO ground supply routes to Afghanistan before attending the summit. The Pakistani cabinet will meet next Tuesday to discuss the reopening of ground routes, following an almost six-month blockade of the NATO supplies (AFP).
The Pakistani military said Thursday that it had successfully test-fired a short-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, the second such test by Pakistan in two weeks (AP). Four children were killed by mortar fire in the Bara region of Khyber Agency as they heeded the military's warning to flee the area before soldiers launch a large-scale operation to clear it of militants (ET, Dawn).
The Indian Supreme Court on Thursday allowed 82-year-old Pakistani microbiologist Khalil Chishti, who was convicted in January 2011 of murder in the Indian town of Ajmer, to travel to his home country for a six-month stay on humanitarian grounds (ET,Dawn, BBC). Indian and Pakistani defense secretaries are to hold talks on the disputed Siachen Glacier on June 11-12 in Islamabad (AFP). And British Prime Minister David Cameron and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani agreed in London on Thursday to improve trade relations between their two countries, and repatriate Pakistanis living illegally in Britain (Dawn, ET).
Taliban militants dressed in Afghan police uniforms blew themselves up on Thursday after being caught trying to sneak through a security checkpoint in the Yayakhil District of Paktika Province, killing two civilians and three policemen (AP). The Afghan Local Police, who are trained by American Special Forces, are being lauded for killing two of the six militants and preventing them from getting to the government offices they were targeting (NYT).
In Helmand Province, a roadside bomb killed seven civilians, and a subsequent explosion killed another civilian and a member of a local pro-government militia as they approached the scene to help (AP). And in Kunar Province on Friday, a man dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on NATO troops, killing one service member (AP, NYT, NAF). A flash flood swept through a mountainous region of the northern Afghan province of Takhar on Friday, killing at least 27 people in the second major flash flood seen in northern Afghanistan this week (AP).
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told a news conference on Thursday that the U.S. government is taking all possible measures to locate Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held captive by insurgents since his capture in Paktika Province in June 2009 (NYT).
A nine-year-old Afghan beggar named Gran became a local celebrity last month when local traders ordered him to bathe, and discovered a birthmark on his chest that looks like the map of Afghanistan (Tel). Fortune quickly followed fame for Gran, as the Helmand Chamber of Commerce gave the boy's family a $1,450 grant, a scholarship to finish school, and a plot of land to build a house.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Call to arms: In an audio statement posted on a jihadist website on Wednesday, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on Muslims to avenge the accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and said the U.S. only pretended to be sorry, while President Barack Obama's promise of an investigation was a "silly farce" (AFP, Reuters, AP). As NATO troops continue to hand over security operating to Afghan forces, the Afghan official overseeing transition activity, Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai, warned Afghans on Thursday that the next phases will be "more difficult" than the first few (Reuters).
A new study by French aid agency Solidarités International found that at least 100 young Afghan children living in Kabul's massive refugee camps died in this year's harsh winter (NYT). The study came out on Wednesday, as the U.N.'s humanitarian chief and emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos visited Kabul's camps, calling the conditions "deeply, deeply distressing" (AP). Amos also warned that the withdrawal of NATO troops over the next couple of years would result in a massive loss of jobs across the country, potentially drawing more unemployed Afghans to the capital city and worsening the severe poverty already felt there.
The Afghan central bank governor Noorullah Delawari told the Wall Street Journal this week that the bank's new regulations limiting the export of cash to $20,000 per trip are achieving their goal of slowing the flow of cash out of Afghanistan (WSJ). An estimated $4.6 billion -- most of which was obtained legally -- left Afghanistan last year through the country's main airport alone, weakening the Afghan economy and sparking fears about the growing money-laundering business. Meanwhile, over 100 girls schools have reportedly been closed in the eastern province of Ghazni in the last several weeks in response to threats that the Ministry of Education believes are part of a Taliban offensive on girls' education (Reuters).
The parents of a U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured in June 2009 in Afghanistan and believed to be held by the Haqqani Network somewhere in Pakistan, have broken their silence on the proposed prisoner swap that would see Bergdahl's release in exchange for the transfer of five Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay (AP, Post, WSJ, NYT, Reuters, Tel). Sgt. Bergdahl's parents told a local Idaho news outlet that they don't think the U.S. government is doing enough to revive talks with the Taliban on securing their son's release, which stalled in March when the Taliban accused the United States of reneging on several promises.
In a CNN interview this week, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani refuted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement on Tuesday that Pakistan must "do more" in the fight against militancy and terrorism, saying instead his country is doing all it can, and that there is "a trust deficit" between the United States and Pakistan (CNN). Gilani also reiterated in an interview with The Guardian that Pakistani authorities had no knowledge of Osama bin Laden's presence in Pakistan (Guardian).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called off most of its aid projects in Pakistan and recalled all of its foreign staff to Islamabad following the killing of ICRC employee Khalil Dale (AFP). A remote-controlled bomb killed one policeman and wounded three others during a routine patrol in Balochistan on Thursday (ET).
In a move that threatens to further strain ties between the United States and Pakistan, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for State and Foreign Operations included in its proposed 2013 appropriations bill a clause that makes aid to Pakistan contingent upon Pakistan's cooperation with the U.S. on "counterterrorism efforts and other issues" (Dawn, DT). A trilateral meeting of military officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is scheduled to take place in Rawalpindi later this week, and will focus on improving border communication (ET, DT).
Shortcuts to success
Pakistan's secondary schools have recently faced a series of cheating scandals, which continued on Wednesday when a Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) examinations controller visited a Lahore examination session and discovered a fake proctor (DT). BISE Chairman Muhammad Nasrullah Virk immediately suspended the BISE clerk who had helped the imposter draw up fake teaching certificates, and called on all exam inspectors to take action against the so-called "booti mafia."-- Jennifer Rowland
Movin' out: The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter is stepping down from his post this summer after two years, amidst reports that he is frustrated with the feeling that the CIA and Pentagon call the shots in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, forcing Munter to deal with the consequences instead of making policy (ET, Reuters, AP, WSJ). The White House is reportedly considering as Munter's replacement Richard Olson, who has headed American economic and development efforts in Afghanistan since June 2011.
The provincial parliament in the Pakistani province of Punjab on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution to reinstate Bahawalpur Province and to create a new Province in South Punjab (Dawn, ET, The News). Militants in North Waziristan Agency distributed pamphlets on Tuesday promising to continue their jihad to mark the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death (ET, AFP).
Iran is pushing Afghanistan to cancel a newly signed strategic partnership agreement with the United States by threatening to deport Afghan refugees and migrant workers if the Afghan parliament approves the pact (WSJ, AFP). Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan told the Afghan parliament last week not to ratify the agreement, and a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the continued presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would further destabilize the country.
The price of Afghan opium is likely to rise as security forces prepare to launch renewed eradication efforts, a fungus has infected the crop in the top-producing provinces of Farah, Helmand, and Kandahar, and international demand for heroin continues to increase (Reuters). As opium becomes more valuable, more Afghan farmers will be drawn to cultivating it, and farmers will be more resistant to eradication efforts, says Zarar Ahmad Muqbel Osmani, the Afghan Minister of Counter Narcotics.
Afghan officials said Wednesday that seven Afghan policemen, four employees of the Ministry of Education, and one body guard were killed in three separate attacks in Logar, Farah, and Paktika Province on Tuesday (Dawn, The News, AFP).
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was recently embroiled in a political controversy resulting in his conviction for contempt of court, recently reported his personal finances to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ET). The figures, published on Tuesday, show that Gilani's total net worth is just Rs20 million (U.S. $220,000), and that he owns no cars, claims that the Pakistani media says are probably massive underestimates.
-- Jennifer Rowland
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Accident admission: NATO officials have confirmed that Afghan civilians were killed in two recent NATO airstrikes; six members of a family were killed in southern Helmand Province on Friday, while a reported 14 civilians died in a Sunday airstrike in northwestern Badghis Province (Post, NYT). A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said Monday that they will issue a formal apology to the affected families in the next couple of days. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that continued civilian deaths could endanger the strategic partnership agreement he and President Barack Obama signed last week (Reuters, CNN). Karzai summoned U.S. Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Amb. Ryan Crocker to the presidential palace to express his anger over the recent casualties.
France's new president-elect, Francois Hollande, has pledged to pull all French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, a move which would frustrate some officials in Washington, though it would not be a drastic change from President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to withdraw French troops in 2013, a year ahead of the NATO withdrawal deadline (CNN, NYT).
The Afghan Interior Ministry on Monday condemned the Taliban's announcement last week of its annual "spring offensive," saying the Taliban "abuse their religious values" in "declaring war against the Afghan people" (AP). And flash floods in the northern Afghan province of Sari Pul on Monday killed at least 26 people, 21 of whom were attending a wedding party when the floods struck (AFP, AP). One hundred people are still missing.
Speaking at a news conference in New Delhi alongside Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Pakistan to "do more" to ensure that "its territory is not being used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks anywhere" (Reuters, AP, Dawn). But Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, the commander of Pakistani forces along the border with Afghanistan, told the Associated Press in a recent interview that the United States is scapegoating the Pakistani Army for its own failure to defeat insurgents in Afghanistan (AP). Rabbani also contended that the United States cannot ask Pakistan to take military action against all elements of insurgents in Pakistan while they are seeking dialogue with some of the insurgents just across the border in Afghanistan.
At least 30 people, including 22 Pakistani Taliban fighters, were killed Monday in North Waziristan in helicopter assaults on militant hideouts, and an explosion at an arms market (ET, AFP). And unidentified gunmen assassinated a senior police official in Quetta, Balochistan on Tuesday (ET, AFP, AP).
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday released its 77-page detailed verdict in the contempt of court case against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani (Dawn, ET). At the opening of the second annual "Aman ki Asha" Conference in Lahore on Monday, Gilani expressed Pakistan's desire to increase economic relations with India in order to establish peace between the two countries (Dawn, DT).
In the Taxila region of rural Punjab, locals are trying to revive the ancient sport of stone lifting, in which young men have to pick up 80-400 kilogram (175-880 lb) oval or rectangular stones using only their palms, and without letting the weight touch any other part of their bodies (Dawn). The sport was once a wedding ritual in which a man from the bride's side tossed the stone, and a man from the groom's side had to lift the stone into the air before the wedding could proceed, often delaying the ceremony for days.
-- Jennifer Rowland
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Risky business: The U.S. military has for several years reportedly been releasing high-value prisoners from the Parwan detention center in an effort to broker a peace deal with insurgents in Afghanistan (Post). Military officials receive promises from local village elders that violence will decrease in their towns if certain prisoners are released, and warn the prisoners that if they are caught attacking U.S. troops again they will immediately be detained. U.S. chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers (D-MI) said Friday upon his return from a visit to Afghanistan that he was struck by the difference between how the U.S. military views the war in Afghanistan and how the intelligence committee views it (Reuters). Both Rogers and Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said on Sunday that they think the Taliban is stronger now that it was before President Barack Obama sent 33,000 "surge" troops to Afghanistan in 2010 (Post).
U.S. officials have abandoned their plans to build a consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, saying the planned location of the compound is too dangerous (Post). An assessment written by the Kabul Embassy in 2009 and recently leaked to the Washington Post reveals that diplomatic officials had tried to obtain waivers for State Department building rules, and had intentionally ignored security concerns, such as the use of local building methods that would leave the compound without the ability to withstand a car bomb.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned U.S. soldiers at Ft. Benning, Georgia on Friday that incidents of misconduct by soldiers who "lack judgment, lack professionalism, lack leadership" reflect badly on the entire armed forces, and reduce the chances of success on the battlefield (NYT, AP). A man in an Afghan Army uniform opened fire on coalition forces in the Marja district of Helmand Province on Sunday, killing one service member before he was shot dead by other international troops (NYT,CNN, AP, AFP, AJE). It was the latest in a series of so-called green-on-blue attacks, which have risen sharply in occurrence this year. And five Afghan border policemen were killed on Friday night when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Nangarhar Province (Dawn, AFP, AP).
An Afghan court sentenced three in-laws of 15-year-old Sahar Gul to ten years in prison on Saturday for abusing her for five months because she refused to become a prostitute (NYT, AP). Sahar's mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, and husband locked her in a basement last year with very little food and water, and brutally tortured her, attracting international condemnation when she was released by police in December last year.
A U.S. drone strike on a house in the Shawal area of North Waziristan on Saturday killed nine suspected militants, and signaled the United States' intention to continue the attacks despite vocal Pakistani opposition (AP, CNN, Reuters, BBC, ET, Dawn). Pakistan's Foreign Office released a statement condemning the strike as a violation of international law and Pakistan's territorial integrity, and said the drone activity hinders efforts to improve diplomatic ties with the United States (Dawn).
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that Pakistani authorities have not yet taken necessary action again Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who is suspected of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks and is wanted by the United States (AFP, Reuters). Sec. Clinton also said that the United States believes al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is in Pakistan, and that the U.S. will continue to put pressure on militants who are active in the country (Dawn).
Militants attacked a Pakistani military convoy outside the city of Miranshah in North Waziristan on Sunday, killing nine Pakistani soldiers and injuring 12 (Reuters, AFP). And on Monday, Taliban fighters beheaded two Pakistani soldiers and hung the severed heads from wooden poles in Miranshah (AP, AFP). A curfew was imposed in Miranshah on Monday as a result of the violence (BBC).
Al-Qaeda's media wing, As-Sahab, posted on jihadist forums on Sunday the first video of kidnapped 70-year-old American aid worker Warren Weinstein, who disappeared in Lahore last August (AFP, AP, CNN, Reuters, BBC). In the video, Weinstein asks President Barack Obama to meet his captors' demands in order to save his life.
Crime and punishmentRawalpindi resident Faujdar Mohammad Sadiq was arrested on Saturday after his cow strayed onto a main road while the convoy of Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was passing by (Dawn). The cow and two calves were also detained and placed in a private holding area, since the police do not have the appropriate facilities for such animals at their building.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
Inside scoop: The U.S. government on Thursday released 17 letters written by Osama bin Laden during last years in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which reveal his concern over the deteriorating public image of al-Qaeda, as well as the civilians killed in attacks by regional al-Qaeda affiliates, and his attempt to remain intimately involved with the activities of his lieutenants around the world (AP, LAT, NYT). CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen detailed on Wednesday his experience inside the bin Laden compound just weeks before Pakistani authorities demolished it; he was the only journalist to gain access to the house in which the al-Qaeda leader lived his final years (CNN).
A suicide bomber struck a Pakistani market close to the Afghan border in Bajaur Agency on Friday, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens more, including four Pakistani security forces and 16 civilians (AP, Tel, NYT, BBC, CNN, ET, Reuters, AJE, The News). The attacker -- described by officials as a teenager -- approached a police checkpoint at the market on foot, and detonated his explosive vest near a group of paramilitary soldiers preparing to head out on patrol; the Tehree-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) later took responsibility.
Pakistan's National Assembly and Senate each passed resolutions on Thursday declaring their support for embattled prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who vowed to stay in his position despite opposition calls for his resignation since he was convicted of contempt of court last week (ET, Dawn, DT). Both the National Assembly and Senate are dominated by members of Gilani's own party, the Pakistan People's Party. Members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have announced a boycott of a scheduled parliamentary debate on a March 17 speech by President Asif Ali Zardari until Gilani steps down (ET, Dawn).
Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in a statement Thursday that officers had arrested a Pakistani national driving a truck packed with explosives in eastern Kabul, purportedly preventing a large-scale suicide bombing (AP, AFP). Authorities in the eastern province of Paktia said Thursday that six Taliban fighters were killed and two wounded when the bomb they were building inside of a mosque exploded accidentally.
Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Switzerland and the United Nations met Thursday at a conference in Geneva, where they endorsed a $1.9 billion plan to resettle and support almost 9 million current and former Afghan refugees, though the officials also acknowledged that the money has not yet been raised (AP).
Afghanistan's budding media is reaching out to the government for support, having seen many colleagues fall victim to threats, beatings, and even murders, often for their coverage of corruption and drug-trafficking amongst government officials (Reuters).
Dog days are over
Pakistani cricketer Muhammad Asif was released from Canterbury Prison in Kent on Thursday, after a grueling 6-month sentence for his involvement in a match-fixing scam (The News). "These six months were difficult," Asif said. "We played football and badminton and used [the] gym regularly...The staff in the Canterbury were very supportive."
-- Jennifer Rowland
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Empty promises? The much-lauded strategic partnership agreement signed by U.S. president Barack Obama on his surprise visit to Afghanistan Tuesday night reportedly has many promises but few guarantees, such as a pledge on the part of the Afghan government to address corruption, improve efficiency and protect human rights, without any consequences if it fails on any of those counts (AP). Some of these details will be worked out at the NATO conference in Chicago this month, but the existing language leaves many tough questions.
U.S. and Afghan officials have one year to decide on the details of their long-term military partnership, and President Hamid Karzai has already given troops permission to ignore American intelligence and military advice if they "have any doubt" about it, indicating Afghanistan's growing sovereignty over its military (Post). This independence has already had an economic impact; the United States recently handed over responsibility to the Afghan government for procuring military supplies, and the government abandoned domestic boot manufacturers for cheaper products from China and India (Reuters). Starting in 2010, NATO forces had adhered to an "Afghan First" rule that forced them to purchase supplies from domestic producers if possible, creating around 15,000 jobs that likely prevented many men from joining the Taliban insurgency.
Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev said on Wednesday that the continued presence of a U.S. airbase in his country after its lease expires in June 2014 will depend not only on higher rent payments, but also on Afghanistan's impact on regional security, and on the opinions of Kyrgyzstan's "strategic partners" (AP).
The Times' Declan Walsh details the impact the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound has had on Save the Children, the international aid group that Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi says introduced him to CIA agents, whom he tried to help obtain more intelligence on the Abbottabad compound and its occupants (NYT). Dr. Afridi has been in Pakistani custody since last May, and Pakistani authorities have forbidden Save the Children employees from leaving the country, prevented other employees from obtaining visas, and blocked aid supplies.
A remote-detonated bomb exploded on Thursday targeting pro-government tribal leaders in the northwest province of Bajaur, and a second bomb was detonated as security forces arrived on the scene, killing a total of five people (AP, ET, AFP). Almost a month after a massive avalanche buried 124 Pakistani soldiers and 14 civilians on Siachen Glacier, and despite many calls to settle the remote land dispute, India and Pakistan have not made any progress on finding a political solution to the Siachen conflict (Post).
Political unrest in Pakistan struck the Rawalpindi District Bar Association on Thursday, when lawyers for Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) tried to introduce a resolution to have convicted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani removed from office (ET). Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawyers chanted slogans on one side of the courtroom, while PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawyers shouted on the other side, until anger finally boiled over and a brawl broke out between the two sides.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Afghan Presidential Palace via Getty Images
On the low: U.S. President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. raid against Osama bin Laden, arriving and leaving under the cover of darkness, during which he signed a strategic partnership with the Afghan government pledging U.S. military and economic support for the country for a decade after NATO troops withdraw in 2014 (Reuters, AP, LAT, CNN, Post, NYT,McClatchy, Tel). Striking a different tone, Obama also addressed the American people from Bagram Airbase with the message that the United States will "finish the job," but that costly war is finally winding down, and told U.S. troops that there is "a light on the horizon" after all of their hard work and sacrifice.
Just hours after Obama departed on Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a powerful vehicle-borne explosive device at near a compound that houses many Westerners, killing four civilians in a passing car, one security guard, and a student and one other person walking nearby (NYT, AP, Tel, BBC, AFP, Reuters). Some of the insurgents then entered the compound, known as the Green Village, and a firefight with security forces ensued. The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack, and said it was in response to Obama's message that the war in Afghanistan is almost over.
The Taliban later announced that their "spring offensive," codenamed al-Farouq, would begin on Thursday, May 3 (AFP).
A series of bomb blasts targeting banks and ATMs across Pakistan's Sindh Province on Wednesday morning injured at least four people (ET, Dawn). A group calling themselves the Sindhu Desh Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attacks. And a remote-controlled bomb targeting a Frontier Corps (FC) convoy exploded in Kalat, Balochistan on Wednesday, killing one FC official and injuring another (ET).
Opposition politician Nawaz Sharif announced on Wednesday the schedule for a series of rallies that his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is organizing to call for Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to step down (ET, The News, Dawn). Gilani was convicted last week of contempt of court for refusing to ask Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari. Bonus read: Reza Nasim Jan, "Pakistan's federal felon" (FP).
A new report from the U.S. Department of Defense claims that Pakistan's closure of NATO ground supply routes to Afghanistan has backlogged thousands of tons of equipment, and failure to reopen the routes will "significantly degrade redeployment and retrograde operations in support of the drawdown of coalition forces" (ET, LAT, Reuters).
Bodybuilding has long been a popular activity in Afghanistan, persisting through the war against the former Soviet Union, going on quietly during Taliban rule, and exploding in popularity in recent years (HuffPo). Vice president of the bodybuilding federation Khwaja Mohammad Fardin Abassi encourages more young men to consider the sport because "even when he's wearing a shirt, he will impress the girls."
-- Jennifer Rowland
Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images)
Editor's note: The editors of the AfPak Channel are proud to announce the release TODAY of a new book by Peter Bergen, Manhunt: The 10-Year Search for Bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad, which reveals new details of the decade-long hunt and the final decision to pursue the al-Qaeda leader deep in Pakistani territory (TIME, Post, CNN).
Keeping secrets: The Associated Press reported Tuesday that NATO is not revealing every incident of "green-on-blue" violence, by remaining silent on instances in which coalition troops are only wounded or the attacker misses his target (AP). Last week, for example, Afghan policemen opened fire on U.S. soldiers, wounding two, but reporters only learned about the incident from Afghan officials and U.S. officials in Washington.
Three Afghan children were killed and another three were wounded in Taliban-U.S. cross-fire on Monday when Taliban militants attacked a contingent of American soldiers in the Shajoe district of Zabul Province (NYT, CNN, AFP). NATO reports that a Taliban leader and another insurgent were killed in a joint NATO-Afghan night raid on Monday in the eastern province of Laghman, though a local villager called the two deceased "innocent people" (AP).
European Union Ambassador to Afghanistan Vygaudas Usackas said this week that a clear commitment to good governance and transparency from Afghan officials remains one of the most significant challenges to securing the country (Reuters). A semi-annual report released by the Pentagon on Monday states that Afghanistan continues to face "long-term and acute challenges" from insurgents, as well as "widespread corruption" within the Afghan government, contradicting frequent claims by NATO officials that the coalition is seeing significant progress in the country (Bloomberg). Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasool traveled to New Delhi Tuesday for the first session of talks with senior officials there under the strategic partnership agreement signed by the two countries last October (AP).
In a country that is extremely wary of references to wars past, German soldiers returning from Afghanistan are reportedly feeling shunned and under-recognized by their government and communities (Post). Germany does not have an equivalent to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, has no official support system for veterans struggling to reintegrate into society, and officials even fear using the phrase "fallen soldiers" because of any reference it might have to World War II.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Political Counselor Jonathan Pratt on Monday to lodge a formal protest over the U.S. drone attack in North Waziristan on Sunday that killed at least three suspected militants (DT, ET). President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan laid out for the first time a detailed defense of the administration's drone program on Monday in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington (LAT, BBC, AP, ET, Post). Brennan called civilian casualties from drone strikes "exceedingly rare," and that the attacks are "in full accordance with the law," "ethical," and "wise."
The widow and mother-in-law of one of the men killed by CIA contractor Raymond Davis last January were allegedly murdered in Lahore on Monday by the widow's father (ET,AP). Widow Zahra Haider had reportedly remarried in secret, and local police said her father may have worried that she would take the money she received as compensation from the United States with her. A roadside bomb in Quetta targeting Pakistani paramilitary troops killed at least five people -- including two civilians -- and wounded a dozen others on Tuesday (AP, Dawn, ET). A policeman was killed by a remote-detonated bomb in Peshawar on Monday (Dawn, ET).
A year after the U.S. raid against Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistani officials have yet to reveal their investigation into how the al-Qaeda leader was able to live for several years in a wealthy neighborhood just a mile from the country's premier military academy (AP). The documents from bin Laden's compound, however, do reveal details of the terrorist leader's efforts to micromanage his organization from afar, and his seemingly delusional conviction that al-Qaeda could achieve its goals if it could carry out another spectacular 9/11-like attack on the West (CNN).
Karachi municipal commissioner Matanat Ali Khan is determined to encourage locals to use the city's 200 planned public restrooms, and to dispel worries like, "What if someone gets in while they are using it?" (ET). To ensure a healthy, secure environment in which people can relieve themselves, the honeycomb-shaped bathrooms will all be equipped with towels, soap, and even a personal security guard.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Editor's note: The editors of the AfPak Channel are proud to announce the release on Tuesday of a new book by Peter Bergen, Manhunt: The 10-Year Search for Bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad, which reveals new details of the decade-long hunt, and the final decision to pursue the al-Qaeda leader deep in Pakistani territory (TIME, Post).
Two Taliban insurgents made it through at least one American-operated full-body scanner with pistols hidden under the soles of their shoes on Saturday, and almost succeeded in assassinating the governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa (NYT, AFP, AP,LAT, CNN, AJE). The militants killed two of Governor Wesa's guards and took their weapons, sparking a 30-minute firefight with other security personnel that left both attackers dead. Ten members of the Afghan Local Police force traveling in a pickup truck from a ceremony on Friday were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb (AP,BBC). Children playing outside in the eastern province of Paktika on Monday triggered a buried bomb, which killed two of them and seriously wounded a third (AP).
In a statement sent to the Express Tribune on Saturday, the Afghan Taliban rejected a joint Pakistani-Afghan-American offer to guarantee safe passage to Taliban militants interested in peace talks as an "attempt to divide the militia" (ET). Chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-MI) and member Jack Reed (D-RI) left for a visit to Afghanistan this weekend "to get a firsthand look at security and political developments in the region and their impact on America's national security" (AP).
Over a decade after the United States began the war in Afghanistan, the country's capital city still has no official street map, and most streets and houses remain unnamed, unnumbered or unmarked, making police efforts to locate and detain insurgents extremely difficult (Reuters).
Let the drones resume
A U.S. drone-fired missile killed three suspected militants and wounded two others in a strike on an abandoned school in central Miranshah (NYT, Reuters, AJE, Dawn). It was the first such strike since the Pakistani parliament demanded an end to U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan two weeks ago. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday asserting that the strikes "are in total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations" (AP, WSJ).
British aid worker Dr. Khalil Ahmed Dale, an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who was kidnapped four months ago, was found dead in Quetta on Sunday morning (ET/AFP, AJE, Dawn, DT, ET). Local officials said his body bore multiple bullet wounds and signs of torture. Pakistani security officers continued for a fourth day on Monday their assault against violent gangs in Karachi's Lyari neighborhood (ET, AJE, Dawn, DT). At least 20 people have been killed in the last four days, and some residents staged a protest of the security operation on Sunday (ET).
A vehicle packed with explosives was detonated at a bus stand in the Jamrud district of Khyber Agency on Sunday, killing two people and wounding more than a dozen (ET, DT). And at least ten people, including five militants of Lashkar-i-Islam (LI), were killed in clashes between LI fighters and a pro-government militia in the Bara district of Khyber Agency on Sunday (Dawn).
Decrying and defying
Following Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's conviction last week on contempt of court charges, opposition leaders have repeatedly called on him to step down (ET, AJE, Dawn, Dawn, DT, ). But Gilani is standing firm in his position that the court does not have the authority to remove an elected official from power, and that he was only following the rules of the constitution by refusing to support the reopening of a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said on Friday that the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound a year ago was not a "silver bullet," but it did help to weaken al-Qaeda and make the United States safer (NYT). Meanwhile, a senior official in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) said Friday that his organization deserves credit for providing the CIA in November 2010 with the phone number that would lead to bin Laden's courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and the knowledge that it had last been detected in Abbottabad (Post). And the Associated Press reported Monday that experts believe al-Qaeda affiliates still pose a significant threat to the United States, despite the U.S. capture or killing of most senior al-Qaeda Central figures (AP).
In an encouraging effort to improve trade ties between India and Pakistan, Indian firms Mittal Energy Investments and Hindustan Petroleum inaugurated a $4 billion refinery on Saturday near the northern border with Pakistan (Bloomberg, Reuters). Chairman of Hindustan Petroleum Roy Choudhury said at the inauguration ceremony that Indian officials have held talks about exporting fuel to Pakistan, while Pakistan said last month it would remove gasoline from a list of banned Indian imports.
The right questions
Two months after the Afghan Taliban launched an interactive Q&A section on their official website, spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid has received a flood of questions on subjects ranging from of suicide bombings to girls' education to cricket (BBC). Though many inquirers appeared to be Taliban supporters looking for ways to help the insurgent group, others like Haseeb ur-Rehman posed boldly piercing questions: "Don't you think that killing all these people in suicide and bomb attacks every day is a big sin?"
-- Jennifer Rowland
Moving out: Osama bin Laden's three widows and 11 children and grandchildren were deported late Thursday night from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, after being detained in Pakistan for almost a year following the U.S. operation against the bin Laden compound in Abottabad last May (Reuters, ET, CNN, AP).
Despite vehement American opposition, Pakistan's state-run Inter State Gas Systems has issued a tender calling for applications from contractors interested in building the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, and one of the company's officials said they hope to begin construction by the end of the year, to (Reuters). Bilateral meetings on Thursday and Friday between U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar made little progress, with Khar standing firm on Pakistan's opposition to drone strikes, and Grossman unable to secure a promise to reopen NATO ground supply routes through Pakistan (ET, AJE).
The CIA reportedly handed over to Pakistani officials intelligence obtained from Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad that outlines al-Qaeda plots to launch attacks in Pakistan (Dawn). Details of the information remain unclear. Pakistani security forces killed four suspected militants and detained seven others in a raid on a flood-damaged girls' school being used by the men in Turbat, Balochistan on Friday morning (ET, Dawn).
NATO officials revealed Friday that a man wearing an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed an American soldier in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar Province on Wednesday, the latest in a rising trend of so-called green-on-blue attacks (AP). And on Thursday evening, an Afghan policemen opened fire on Afghan and Western troops in the Zhari district of Kandahar Province, killing at least one Afghan policeman and injuring two U.S. service members (LAT).
Unidentified hackers took down the Afghan Taliban's main website for the third time in less than a year on Thursday, replacing the insurgent group's usual propaganda with images of Taliban executions, and messages of support for the Afghan government and rejection of violence (Reuters). Pakistani, U.S., and Afghan officials said at the end of a two-day meeting in Islamabad on Friday that the three countries are working on ways to provide safe passage to Taliban militants who wish to participate in peace talks (Reuters).
The Afghan Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Afghanistan and Iran have agreed to a prisoner swap, in a sign of improving relations between the two neighbors, though it is unclear how many convicts would be transferred (Reuters). Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Musazai said that Iran is holding some 3,000 Afghans in its prisons, some having been convicted of narcotics trafficking, which carries the death penalty in Iran.
Chillin' like willens
When Lt. Col. Robert Horney asked his interpreter, Khan, why the local Afghan commander was short soldiers, Khan relayed the commander's explanation that his soldiers had gone home for leave and refused to come back; they were "chillin' like willens" (Post). Unprepared for Khan's use of the American idiom, Horney asked "Those were the exact words he used?" Khan replied, "No sir. Not exact words. But I don't just translate. I like to put it into words that you understand."
-- Jennifer Rowland
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Guilty as charged: Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday found Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani guilty of contempt of court for refusing the court's order to request Swiss officials reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, but sentenced him to just a few minutes of symbolic detention in the courtroom (ET, NYT, Post, Guardian, Tel, Dawn, LAT, AP, Reuters). Gilani could still be removed from office in the coming months for being convicted of a crime, though his lawyer has vowed to appeal the verdict.
Violent protests erupted in Karachi on Thursday following the announcement of the verdict against Prime Minister Gilani and the killing of a local Pakistan People's Party member (ET, The News). Meanwhile, Prime Minster Gilani's son Ali Musa Gilani appeared before Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) officers, and denied his involvement in the illegal import and processing for street use of the drug ephedrine (Dawn).
The U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday night for talks with officials there aimed at re-setting the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and discussing concerns raised in the Pakistani parliament's review of bilateral ties with the United States (AP, Dawn, ET/AFP, Reuters). Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told Reuters in an interview Wednesday that the country's military, traditionally a very powerful establishment, now has less influence on Pakistani foreign policy (Reuters). Khar also reiterated Pakistan's stance on U.S. drone strikes, saying "on drones, the language is clear: a clear cessation of drone strikes" (Reuters).
The deputy governor of the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan said Thursday that Taliban militants had stormed a police post along a key highway on Wednesday night, killing four officers and abducting 16 (AP, AFP).
In an effort to stop radical clerics from preaching violent or extremist views, the Afghan government is implementing a "three strikes and you're out" rule, which gives the mullahs three chances to change their rhetoric before they are dismissed and potentially sentenced to jail time (Reuters). However, the law can only be implemented at registered mosques, of which there are only 6,000 out of an estimated total of 126,000 across the country.
An estimated 60,000 four-stroke rickshaws are operating without fare meters in Karachi, frustrating passengers who pay wildly different fares depending on the time of day, and are charged extra to be taken to the city's more dangerous areas (The News). The blame doesn't lie entirely on the rickshaw drivers, who often remove the meters after registering the vehicles, because the government has failed to raise the official fare per kilometer since 2002.
-- Jennifer Rowland
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Deadly blast: A bomb exploded Tuesday near the business-class waiting lounge at a Lahore train station, killing three people, including a nine-year-old boy who succumbed to his injuries later that evening, and injuring dozens (Dawn, ET, DT, NYT, AFP, Reuters,CNN, AJE). And on Wednesday morning, police defused a bomb on a passenger train from Karachi to Peshawar, after a guard found an unattended briefcase in one of the cars (ET/AFP, The News, Dawn).
Pakistan successfully test-fired on Wednesday an intermediate-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, which likely has a range of between 3,000 and 5,000 kilometers, just six days after India launched a new nuclear-capable long-range missile with a range of over 5,000 kilometers (AP, NYT, WSJ, CNN, AJE). Lt. Gen. Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, who heads Pakistan's nuclear program and was present at the missile launch, said in a statement released by the military that the improved weapon "will further consolidate and strengthen Pakistan's deterrence abilities."
Reuters' Michael Georgy reported Wednesday on the Pakistani military's effort to use a two-pronged approach of security operations combined with re-education programs to battle militancy in the country's tribal regions (Reuters). A school dedicated to de-radicalizing former militants in Swat has graduated around 1,000 people since it began in 2010, but it remains in the hands of the Pakistani government to solidify these gains by providing graduates with jobs.
The Obama administration is reportedly considering sending one of five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo requested for release by the insurgent group directly to Afghan custody, as a goodwill gesture aimed at restarting peace talks with the Taliban (Reuters). The United States and the Taliban had previously discussed transferring all five detainees to Qatar, where the Taliban was opening an office, in return for the group's denunciation of terrorism. This plan never materialized.
NATO said in a statement on Wednesday that two coalition service members were killed in two separate attacks using improvised explosive devices; one on Tuesday and the other on Wednesday (AP). Gen. Knud Bartels, chief of NATO's Military Committee, said Wednesday that alliance members remain "cautiously optimistic" that the war in Afghanistan is "on track" (AP).
According to a report by the Post's Kevin Sieff on Tuesday, a secret girls school in the eastern Afghan village of Spina is representative of a wider trend across the country, in which locals are educating young women despite insurgents' shuttering of formal schools (Post). U.S. and Afghan government efforts to expand girls' education has been largely successful, but in areas where the Taliban are able to enforce their views these underground schools provide an alternative.
Quality over quantity
Some may think that the rising number of fashion weeks hosted by different fashion organizations in Pakistan is a positive development, but in reality it may be forcing designers to put quantity before quality (Dawn). During the Pantene Bridal Couture Week (PBCW), however, which wrapped up last week, the focus on a niche market allowed designers to wow audiences with well-thought-out creations and experimental color schemes.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Good forecast: In one of the most positive predictions yet, a senior NATO security official said Monday that the coalition is "very confident" that the Afghan National Security Forces will be ready to handle all security operations in the country by December 2014 (NYT). The assessment comes just over a week after the Taliban launched a complex series of attacks across the country, and amidst growing concern within the Afghan populace that the country's security forces will founder once international troops leave.
The long-term strategic partnership agreement approved by the U.S. and Afghan negotiating teams on Sunday is reportedly more symbolic than it is substantive, designed to send a message to al-Qaeda that the United States will maintain a presence in the region to prevent a resurgence by the group (AP). Important details such as how much funding the U.S. government will give Afghanistan after 2014, or how many U.S. troops will stay in the country, are expected to be worked out over the coming year.
Indicative of the end of the U.S. war in Iraq and drawdown in Afghanistan, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) will reportedly reorganize its spy operations to put more emphasis on new national security priorities like China and Iran (NYT, Post, LAT). A study of the DIA's work completed last year found that the agency's attention to war zones was adequate, but intelligence on other global threats was lacking.
How find you?
Pakistan's Supreme Court is expected to deliver a verdict on Thursday in the contempt of court case against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who could be forced to step down and spend six months in prison if convicted of refusing a court order to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari (AP, ET/AFP, Dawn). However, even in the case of Gilani's resignation, the ruling Pakistan People's Party has a majority in parliament that would allow them to elect a new prime minister.
Pakistan's Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) named 11 more companies in its investigation of an ephedrine quota scandal involving the illegal import and processing of the drug for sale on the black market, in which Prime Minister Gilani's son Ali Musa Gilani has also be implicated (Dawn). The prime minister has rejected the allegations against his son (Dawn, ET, DT).
U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh engaged in a violent fight in the northern Punjab city of Gunjrunwala on Monday (ET). The actual world leaders were not present of course, but two bulls with the names of the U.S. president and the Indian prime minister painted on their backs fought out the diplomatic battle on a grassy field, with Obama reigning victorious at the end.
-- Jennifer Rowland
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
Tragic trip: A passenger plane flying from Karachi to Islamabad on Friday crashed in bad weather as it descended into the Pakistani capital, killing all 127 people on board (NYT, BBC, Guardian, CNN, Reuters, AP, AFP). The flight, operated by the recently reopened Bhoja Air, became Pakistan's second major airline disaster in less than three years, and has sparked concern over falling safety standards in the country's notoriously corrupt, under-regulated airline industry. Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced Saturday that the airline's chief, Farooq Bhoja, has been barred from leaving the country, and leaked reports of the aviation authority's preliminary investigation of the crash said that the pilot lost control of the plane after one of its fuel tanks caught on fire (AP, Tel, BBC). Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said Sunday that all planes operated by private Pakistani airlines will be inspected, and those that fail will be grounded (AP, Dawn).
The World Bank on Saturday pledged $1.8 billion to development projects in Pakistan this year, with the majority of the funds allocated to the country's ailing energy sector (Dawn, ET). Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan on Friday agreed to a transit fee for gas obtained from Turkmenistan through the proposed TAPI pipeline, a key step toward actualizing the much-needed pipeline (DT, ET, The News). Pakistani Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dr. Asim Hussain said Friday that the TAPI pipeline "would be cheap as compared to the Iran-Pakistan (IP) [pipeline]," over which the United States has threatened Pakistan with sanctions.
Pakistan may also look to import electricity from historical rival India, if a proposal supported by the Ministry of Water and Power is approved by the federal cabinet (ET). Setting aside political issues such as the conflict over Kashmir, India and Pakistan hope to normalize ties by promoting bilateral trade, exemplified by the recent opening of a trade post at the border town of Wagah, and the reduction in the number of products from India that Pakistan had barred (AP).
Four people were killed in Balochistan on Sunday in two separate incidents in which their vehicles hit landmines, while unidentified gunmen shot dead two ethnic Hazaras in the provincial capital of Quetta (ET, ET) Two suspected terrorists were killed and one policeman injured during an exchange of gunfire in Quetta on Monday (ET, The News).
The LA Times' Alez Rodriguez reports Monday on the growing number of young Pakistani Hindu women being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam by Muslim Pakistanis who wish to marry the girls (LAT). Pakistani human rights groups have reported as many as 25 such cases per month, and the sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, Azra Fazal Pechuco, is one of many Pakistani lawmakers calling for legislation against the practice.
The United States and Afghanistan on Sunday finally agreed on the wording of a draft of a long-term strategic partnership agreement, which pledges that the United States will provide military and financial support to Afghanistan for at least ten years after the NATO withdrawal deadline in 2014 (NYT, AP, Post, LAT, CNN, Reuters, BBC, WSJ, AFP). Initialed by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Afghan national security adviser Rangin Spanta, the agreement must now be approved by the Afghan parliament and President Hamid Karzai, before it can be signed into effect by Karzai and President Barack Obama.
Afghanistan's spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) released a statement Saturday saying it had foiled two terrorist plots in Kabul, seizing several militants purportedly planning to assassinate the country's second vice president Karim Khalil, and another group smuggling 11 tons of explosives into the capital (NYT, AP, AJE,Reuters). Intelligence spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri told reporters that both groups of militants are linked to the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, and had been trained in Miranshah, Pakistan.
Afghan Army commander Masoud Karimi told CNN this weekend that U.S. troops have responded to shelling from inside Pakistan by shooting across the border at least four times in the past 10 months, and that Pakistani soldiers had been responsible for the attacks (CNN). Meanwhile, Pakistani Army Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, who commands troops in the border region, told Reuters last week that he worries that the mere impression of a Taliban victory in Afghanistan could embolden Taliban militants fighting to overthrow the government in Pakistan (Reuters).
The Associated Press and CNN revealed on Saturday that the U.S. Army has investigated 56 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and suspected of using or distributing heroin, morphine, or other opiates during 2010 and 2011, likely just a fraction of the U.S. troops involved in drug use or dealing (AP, CNN). The U.S. Army said earlier this year that it had recorded almost 70,000 drug offenses by around 36,000 soldiers between 2006 and 2011, with such offenses jumping from 9,400 in 2010 to 11,200 in 2011. Two NATO service members were killed in an explosion in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday (CNN, AP).
U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was denied entrance to Afghanistan on Friday because of his criticism of President Hamid Karzai's government (Guardian). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally conveyed a message from Karzai that Rohrabacher would not be welcome, leaving the congressman and his delegation stranded in Dubai over the weekend.
-- Jennifer Rowland
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
Early exit: Afghan president Hamid Karzai suggested Thursday that an "accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces" would prevent the recurrence of "painful experiences" like the release of images depicting U.S. soldiers posing with dead Afghan insurgents (LAT, CNN).
A U.S. military helicopter crashed in poor weather while responding to a suicide blast in Helmand Province on Thursday, and officials say all four people on board were likely killed (Reuters, AFP, CNN, NYT).
And Afghan security forces' handling of Sunday's coordinated Taliban attacks on Kabul sparked an outpouring of public support for the country's troops, particularly its elite Special Forces, in whom much of the country has placed its hope that Afghanistan will be able to beat back the Taliban after NATO troops leave in 2014 (Guardian).
Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed filed a petition with the Lahore High Court on Wednesday requesting that the Pakistani government provide him protection after the United States last week announced a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction (McClatchy, ET).
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry is expected to visit Pakistan on April 29 to offer a formal apology for NATO's November airstrikes on Pakistani border posts, as well as meet with the country's top civil and military officials, and with opposition politicians and civil society leaders (ET).
Dawn reported Thursday that Pakistan and the United States are discussing ways to have joint ownership over the drone strikes the CIA conducts in the country's tribal regions (Dawn). Analysts believe Sunday's attacks in Afghanistan, which U.S. and Afghan officials blamed on the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, will strengthen the United States' hand in discussions with Pakistan over drone strikes and NATO ground supply routes through Pakistan (AFP).
The head of Dawn Magazines, Murtaza Razvi, was found murdered in a friend's art studio on Thursday morning, though the perpetrator and motivation behind the murder remain unknown (Dawn, ET, DT). And violence has flared in Karachi this week, claiming at least nine lives on Friday (ET, The News).
Ever controversial Pakistani actress Veena Malik is busier than ever with movie premieres, photo shoots, and television shows, and even a newly begun singing career (ET). But it isn't all fun and games for Malik; she told the Tribune that she's sad that shooting is over for her upcoming film Mumbai 125 Kilometer, and she's "dying to be with [her] family" in Pakistan, but all of her work in India keeps her too busy to visit.
-- Jennifer Rowland
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
Grisly images: The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday published photographs depicting U.S. soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division posing with the severed limbs of dead Afghan insurgents in Zabul Province in 2010, images which are likely to worsen the damaged trust between the Afghan population and international troops (LAT, NYT, Reuters, AP ). The soldier who provided the photographs did so on condition of anonymity, and because he believes the breakdown in leadership in discipline poses a safety risk to American troops on the ground.
U.S. officials condemned the soldiers' actions, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promising that those responsible would be punished, but also expressing "regret" that the LA Times published the photographs against the Pentagon's wishes (LAT, Post, AFP, BBC, NYT, CNN, AJE, Guardian). President Barack Obama ordered a formal investigation into the photographs. The Taliban also denounced the "brutal and inhuman act," and promised to avenge the dead militants, in a statement released Thursday (AFP). And Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that the photographs are "disgusting," and the fact that they were ever taken and shared is "odious" (AP, Reuters).
Meanwhile, in Brussels, NATO defense officials agreed Wednesday on a plan to wrap up the war in Afghanistan, though critical details such as the source of billions of dollars in funding for Afghan security forces after NATO's withdrawal remained unaddressed (NYT, Post, AFP, Reuters, AP). The United Kingdom was the only nation to put a number on the aid it expects to give Afghanistan after 2014, but the other NATO member countries plan to make concrete pledges next month, preferably before the May 20 conference in Chicago on Afghanistan (Reuters, Reuters).
NATO officials insisted Wednesday that there is no "rush to the exit" in Afghanistan, despite Australia's announcement on Tuesday that its troops could pull out a year earlier than planned (Tel, CNN). And Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov harshly criticized NATO's withdrawal plans, arguing that international forces should stay in Afghanistan until Afghan troops and police are fully able to take responsibility for the country's security (AP).
Pulling no punches
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker flatly admitted that "there is no question" in the minds of U.S. officials that the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network was behind Sunday's highly coordinated attacks in Kabul, and said the United States is "pressing the Pakistanis very hard on this" (AP, Reuters).
Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said Wednesday during a visit to the site of a massive avalanche on Siachen glacier that buried over 100 Pakistani soldiers that he is in favor of demilitarizing what has become known as the world's highest battlefield (ET). Siachen is located on the northern tip of Kashmir, to which both India and Pakistan lay claim. Indian Minister of State for Defense, MM Pallam Raju, welcomed Gen. Kayani's statement on Thursday, while Pakistani Foreign Ministry Spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan said Indian and Pakistani officials are in the process of scheduling another round of negotiations over the disputed glacier (ET, Dawn).
The deportation from Pakistan of three of Osama bin Laden's widows and their nine children could take a few more days, as Pakistani authorities coordinate with the Yemeni and Saudi Arabian governments to finalize the agreement (CNN, Reuters, ET). And a Pakistani intelligence document reportedly reveals that Tehreek-e-Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud convened a meeting in North Waziristan in February to plan attacks on prominent officials if NATO ground supply routes through Pakistan are reopened (ET).
-- Jennifer Rowland
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Editor's note: Foreign Policy Magazine has published a new ebook by war correspondent Anna Badkhen entitled Afghanistan by Donkey, which chronicles Badkhen's fascinating year spent embedded with local Afghans, and features an introduction by our own Peter Bergen (FP).
Speeding things up: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Tuesday in a speech in the capital city of Canberra that the country's 1,550 troops could withdraw completely from Afghanistan in 2013, a year ahead of schedule, citing improved security on the ground as well as pointing out that "the peoples of the world's democracies are weary of this war" (NYT, LAT, Reuters, AP, CNN, BBC, AJE). Gillard said the withdrawal could begin as soon as Afghan President Hamid Karzai announces that Afghan forces are capable of taking over security operations in Uruzgan Province, where most Australian troops are stationed, a move he is expected to make this month.
Gillard's remarks came just a day before top defense officials from NATO member states met in Brussels to map out plans to hand over combat operations in Afghanistan, and to support the fragile government and military that will likely emerge after 2014 when all foreign troops are gone (AP, CNN). Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said Wednesday that the Afghan Army has reached its target of 195,000 troops, and is on track to take the lead on combat operations by the end of 2013 (AP). Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has in the past criticized President Barack Obama's setting of timelines for withdrawal from Afghanistan as a signal to the Taliban that they can wait until there are fewer international troops on the ground to launch a more forceful attack on the Afghan government (NYT). Romney has yet to detail his own strategy for Afghanistan, something he is likely finding difficult as he balances the need to differentiate his plans from those of Obama with the growing unpopularity of the war within the American public.
The experience of one NATO member country, Canada, has reportedly caused a drastic change in the relationship the public and government have with the nation's military (WSJ). The Canadian government is now advocating a greater international presence for the historically small military, and regularly praises their sacrifices in battle.
Around 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday in the northern province of Takhar after drinking water likely contaminated by extremists opposed to girls' education, according to local officials (Reuters, CNN, BBC, AFP, CNN).
Osama bin Laden's three widows and nine of his children were expected to be deported from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia around midnight on Tuesday, but bureaucratic delays held up their scheduled departure, according to the family's lawyer (AP, ET/AFP).
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the Gayari army base at Siachen glacier to show solidarity with the armed forces, who lost 128 comrades in a massive avalanche on April 7 (ET, Dawn). And Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has reportedly ordered his son to return to Pakistan to face accusations over his involvement in an alleged drug scandal (ET).
Pakistan's Supreme Court decided Wednesday to allow three Hindu women, whose families have alleged they were forced to convert to Islam, to decide on their own which religion they would like to follow (ET, Dawn, The News).
Cash rules everything around me
In Paktika Province last week, mid-level Taliban commander Mohammad Ashan walked right up to a police checkpoint holding his own wanted poster, which offered a reward of $100 for his location (Post). A U.S. soldier who arrived to confirm Ashan's identity said the militant leader himself confirmed, "Yes, yes, that's me! Can I get my award now?
-- Jennifer Rowland
Morne de Klerk/Getty Images
Reaching out: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Monday to discuss Sunday's brazen attacks in Afghanistan, which U.S. military officials agree were likely launched by the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network (Reuters, AFP, DT, AP, Dawn). According to a statement from the State Department, the Secretary "underscored our shared responsibility for robust action...to confront and defeat terrorists and violent extremists."
The AP's Chris Brummitt published a must-read on Tuesday detailing the surprising success of the a poverty-alleviation program in Pakistan called the Benazir Income Support Programme, which gives small sums of money to some of the country's poorest women (AP). Many such programs, particularly in a country like Pakistan, fall prey to corruption and inefficiency, but this scheme is based on similar ones in Africa and South America, and has proven to be very effective.
The lawyer for Osama bin Laden's three widows and children finishing up a two-week sentence in Pakistan for entering the country illegally said Tuesday that the family could be deported to Saudi Arabia late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning (Tel, Bloomberg, Dawn, AFP, AP).
The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on Monday fired four senior officials at the Bannu Central Jail, the site of a jailbreak over the weekend that freed 384 prisoners, including dozens of convicted insurgents (DT, Dawn, ET). A confidential intelligence report dated January 5, 2012 reveals that prison officials had been aware of a plot to attack the jail.
In the wake of Sunday's attack in Kabul, NATO troops gear up for Afghan insurgents' expected spring offensive, and plan to focus on securing the routes into Kabul by clearing the surrounding provinces of militants (AP). This spring will likely be NATO's last chance for an offensive push against militants, as combat operations are gradually handed over to Afghan security forces.
While Western military officials praised the Afghan security forces' response to Sunday's carefully coordinated attacks, they also acknowledged their own failure to prevent the attack, as well as their concern over the evolution of Afghanistan's insurgent groups (NYT). NATO defense and foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan, including plans for funding the Afghan army and police forces after the international coalition withdraws in 2014 (AP).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that any long-term partnership agreement with the United States must state how much money the U.S. will give to Afghan security forces after the withdrawal of American combat troops (AP). Karzai reminded Afghanistan's insurgents in a statement Tuesday that their attacks on Sunday would only "prolong a foreign presence" in the country, and did nothing to help Afghanistan (Reuters).
Missing the markLast year, Pakistan got its own version of "American Idol" with "Uth Records," a talent show designed to discover new musical talent, and turn contestants into household names (ET). Unfortunately, just as in the case of American Idol, the second season has been dramatically underwhelming.
-- Jennifer Rowland
KEVIN LAMARQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Under siege: Militants launched a series of complex, coordinated attacks across Afghanistan on Sunday afternoon, using teams of suicide bombers and gunmen to attack seven diplomatic and government facilities in Kabul (NYT, AP, CNN, WSJ, LAT, Reuters,AFP, Post). The attacks began in central Kabul, where a NATO base and many Western embassies are located, with explosions followed by rocket and small arms attacks. Militants on the other side of town fired small arms and rocket propelled grenades on the Afghan parliament from a nearby building, and some lawmakers joined Afghan security forces defending the area. Almost simultaneously, militants also attacked sites in Paktia, Nangarhar, and Logar Provinces; Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that the attacks had been planned months in advance and were designed to mark the start of the group's spring offensive (Reuters).
Fighting finally ended Monday morning around 18 hours after it began, with at least eight Afghan security forces, three civilians, and 36 militants killed (LAT, NYT, Reuters,CNN, BBC, AP, Post). One militant arrested in Kabul told authorities that the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network was responsible for the attacks, which appeared to have been designed to demonstrate the strength of the insurgency rather than to cause massive bloodshed (AP). Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Monday that the attacks represent an intelligence failure for Afghan forces "and especially for NATO" (AFP, Reuters).
The Afghan government on Saturday appointed Salahuddin Rabbani to replace his late father Burhanuddin Rabbani as the head of the High Peace Council tasked with negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban (AJE, Reuters, BBC, AP). The elder Rabbani was killed last September by a suicide attacker with a bomb hidden in his turban.
The Post's Greg Jaffe reported Saturday on the U.S. Army's struggle to secure Highway 1, Afghanistan's main road and an important link between the capital city of Kabul and the country's second largest city, Kandahar (Post). And the Times' Malia Wollan reported Saturday on the agricultural training U.S. soldiers must now undergo before being deployed to Afghanistan, to teach them about the work and specific crops that as much as 80% of the Afghan population grow to survive (NYT).
Over 100 militants belonging to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan attacked a prison in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, freeing 384 prisoners, at least 20 of whom were described by police as "very dangerous" insurgents (AP, WSJ, CNN, BBC, LAT, AFP, AJE,NYT, Dawn, DT). The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where the prison is located, sent a preliminary investigation report to the Interior Ministry on Monday, blaming the jailbreak on police and security forces, who were not prepared to respond to such an attack (Dawn, ET, The News). Some 30 prisoners returned to the jail after escaping, and around a dozen were arrested.
U.S. officials said this weekend that the United States is not considering halting drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions, after the Pakistani parliament on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution on new ties with the United States that calls for an immediate end to the attacks (AP). The Haqqani Network's supposed responsibility for Sunday's sophisticated attacks in Afghanistan could further exacerbate the tension in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship over what many in the United States see as Pakistan's reluctance to take action against militant groups based on Pakistani territory (AP).
A suspected militant tossed a hand grenade into a school in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing one six-year-old boy and wounding two other children (CNN, ET, ). Unidentified gunmen killed at least eight Shi'a Muslims and a policeman in three separate attacks in Balochistan on Saturday, bringing the two-week death toll in the province to 26 (Dawn). Residents of the provincial capital city of Quetta observed a strike on Monday to protest the recent killings (DT).
Rescue workers have yet to pull anyone, alive or dead, from beneath the 80 feet of snow that trapped 128 soldiers and 11 civilians last Saturday on the remote Siachen Glacier on the northern tip of Kashmir (AP, Reuters). The extreme conditions on the glacier, highlighted by last week's avalanche, are prompting many in Pakistan to question the need to fight with India over this tiny piece of barren land (NYT).
The defense lawyer for Osama bin Laden's three widows and children in custody in Pakistan said on Friday that his clients will be deported to Saudi Arabia his week (AP,Reuters, CNN, Dawn). The Associated Press published a story Friday on Muhammed Khurshid Khan, one of two-dozen deputy attorneys general in Pakistan, who has dedicated the past two years of his life to volunteering at Sikh shrines in both India and Pakistan in an effort to atone for the killing of Sikhs by Muslim extremists (AP).
The United States Agency for International Development is making significant cuts to the number of aid projects it runs in Pakistan, in an effort to reorganize the billions of dollars the U.S. government gives to fund development efforts in Pakistan and to create fewer but more effective projects (AP). The Pakistani government has implemented an incentive plan to draw investors to the country's Thar coal fields in the hope that tapping Pakistan's large coal reserves will help address its massive energy crisis (Reuters).
As Pakistan's Capital Development Authority (CDA) expands its tourism projects in the Margalla Hills outside Islamabad, the Pakistan Wetlands Program is concerned about the native wild monkeys' increasing consumption of junk food (Dawn). Many visitors have taken to tossing chapattis, naans, and even chocolate onto the hoods of their cars in order to get the best photographs of the monkeys, but the unhealthy diet may encourage the monkeys to stop foraging for their natural, healthy food items.
-- Jennifer Rowland
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Final decision: After weeks of what appeared to be intractable disputes, the Pakistani parliament on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal for new bilateral relations with the United States, which include demands for an immediate end to drone strikes and prohibiting the transport of lethal supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory (ET, NYT, AP, Dawn, DT, AFP, LAT, BBC, CNN, WSJ). Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani promised lawmakers that their recommendations would be implemented "in letter and spirit," while in Washington State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. officials "look forward to discussing these policy recommendations with the government of Pakistan."
As rescue workers attempt to dig a 130-foot tunnel in the snow to reach over 100 Pakistani soldiers buried in an avalanche on Siachen Glacier on Saturday, calls are growing within Pakistan to find common ground with India and to end the decades-long standoff over Kashmir (McClatchy, AFP, Dawn, ET).
As the first Pakistani trade fair in India proceeds in New Delhi, and just hours before a trade post between the two countries was to be opened at Wagah, Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma said Thursday that India has decided "in principle" to allow foreign direct investment from Pakistan (Reuters, AJE).
Gunmen in Balochistan killed three ethnic Hazaras in two separate incidents on Thursday, and provincial governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi said Friday he fears a civil war could erupt in Balochistan if targeted killings are not stopped (ET, DT, Dawn). And violence broke out in Karachi as protesters demonstrated against police raids in the Lyari neighborhood, resulting in the deaths of three people (ET).
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) sent a letter Thursday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, pushing the Secretary to address his concern that giving Afghan forces authority over night raids in the country could increase the risk to U.S. troops and jeopardize U.S. intelligence-collection efforts (AP). An agreement on night raids between U.S. and Afghan officials broke down a key barrier to finalizing a long-term strategic partnership agreement, which the Obama administration hopes to complete before the NATO summit on Afghanistan to be held in Chicago in May.
Afghan experts say rampant corruption is one of the key drivers of unrest in the country, one example being the myriad of checkpoints protecting civilians and coalition forces, that militants could only get through by bribing corrupt policemen (ET).
Short end of the cue
Pakistan's top snooker players are reportedly having a tough time in the lead-up to the Asian Championship to be held in Doha, Qatar at the end of this month (ET). Cueist Mohammad Asif laments, "People expect us to achieve a lot, but they don't see the poor training camps we get before high-profile events."
-- Jennifer Rowland
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Shifting timetable: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that he is considering holding presidential elections in 2013, a year earlier than scheduled, in order to avoid holding a national election at the same time that NATO troops will be leaving Afghanistan (AP, Reuters). The announcement came during a visit to Afghanistan by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said Thursday that the international coalition is on track to withdraw troops by the 2014 deadline, and that he expects Afghan troops to be ready to take the lead security role in the country by mid-2013 (AP).
The head of U.S. Special Operations, Adm. Bill McRaven, is reportedly designing a post-2014 war plan that involves replacing thousands of regular U.S. troops with small teams of Special Forces that would be paired with Afghan Army units to provide instruction, as well as intelligence and communication support (AP). The plan differs from that supported by Vice President Joe Biden, who has suggested U.S. Special Forces be confined largely to fortified bases, from which they can launch strategic operations against suspected terrorists. Meanwhile, a new Washington Post-ABC poll reveals that a majority of Republicans believe the war has not been worth fighting (Post).
Afghanistan has begun training female Special Forces to conduct night raids in an effort to assuage the anger caused by foreign male soldiers raiding the homes of suspected terrorists (Reuters). And McClatchy's Jon Stephenson, who was the first Western reporter to reach the site of the March 11 massacre of 17 civilians in Kandahar Province, writes about the confusion amongst villagers, officials and reporters in the days following the attack (McClatchy).
Reuters reports Thursday on the devastating impact of the Afghan insurgents' increasingly powerful bombs, which have evolved over the years from relatively crude devices using cheap explosive material and nails, to more powerful ones that are made from fertilizer smuggled in from Pakistan (Reuters). Afghan military officials also say the Taliban have begun covering bombs with urine, feces, and blood in an effort to increase the chances of infection in the victims. The Taliban are also reportedly taking special measures to protect this year's poppy harvest -- and their stake in it -- by promising protection to farmers, and attacking the officials who try to destroy the crop (NYT).
Signs of a thaw?
The Wall Street Journal's Tom Wright and Matt Murray reported Wednesday that Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said in an interview he is willing to talk to Pakistan about the disputed region of Kashmir if Pakistan shows a willingness to tackle Pakistan-based militants who attack India (WSJ). Mathai expressed concern over the ability of purported militant leader Hafiz Saeed to hold rallies and appear on television, but said he is encouraged by recent moves on Pakistan's part to improve trade ties between the two countries.
The first Pakistani trade fair in India opened Thursday in New Delhi, less than a week after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari made the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state since 2005 (Reuters, DT). And Pakistan on Thursday released 26 Indian fishermen who have been held for over two years for fishing in Pakistani waters, as a gesture of goodwill following Zardari's trip to India (Dawn).
Overcoming the oddsWhen seventh-grade Pakistani student Farmanullah lost both arms after a car accident seven years ago, he refused to let his disability deter him from succeeding at school (Dawn). This year, he scored at the top of his class in his school's annual examinations, using his toes to write his answers.
-- Jennifer Rowland
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Planning ahead: Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak said Tuesday that the number of Afghan security forces will likely be reduced to 230,000 from their peak strength of 352,000 following the NATO withdrawal in 2014 (NYT). The projected number is based on a "conceptual model" of army, police, and border-protection troops that will be able to defend Afghanistan, but will also be sustainable when foreign aid drops.
Gen. Wardak and Afghan Interior Minister Gen. Bismillah Khan Mohammadi were in Washington for meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey at the Pentagon (Post, AP,). Gen. Wardak expressed Afghanistan's appreciation for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, and argued that the continued presence of U.S. troops beyond 2014 will not only support the country's security, but will "give the right message" to the Afghan population and to insurgents. The U.S. and Afghan officials also discussed measures to stop the increasing occurrence of so-called "green on blue" attacks, such as better drug testing and background checks (WSJ).
A spokesman for the eastern province of Laghman was killed Wednesday when his motorcycle struck a roadside bomb, and a NATO service member was killed by a separate roadside bomb in Afghanistan's south (AP). The Taliban claimed responsibility Tuesday for twin suicide bombings that killed at least 18 people, a sign that the insurgent group could be ramping up their expected spring offensive (CNN, NYT).
Pakistani rescue workers continue to search for 138 people buried since Saturday in a massive avalanche on the Siachen Glacier, where they were posted at a military outpost in disputed northern Kashmir (AJE, Dawn, AFP). The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has demanded an inquiry into the conditions endured by soldiers on Siachen, where more troops have died in avalanches, crevasses, and harsh weather conditions than in battle (Tel). And environmental experts say the military presence there is also accelerating the melting of the glacier, while waste from the outposts has found its way into nearby water supplies (AFP).
The Post's Michele Langevine Leiby reported Tuesday on Pakistan's wide use of its "public order" law, Section 144, which allows the government to step in and stop any activity it deems threatening to public safety or order (Post). Section 144 was imposed last week in the northern province of Gilgit-Baltistan during an outbreak of sectarian violence, but it can also be used to ban activities like hookah smoking and political demonstrations.
After weeks of stalled discussion, the Pakistani parliament is reportedly close to an agreement on its review of bilateral relations with the United States, in which lawmakers have offered to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan on the condition that drone strikes inside Pakistan are halted completely (ET, Dawn, DT). However the hardline Jamiat-i-Islam-F and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz parties have "serious concerns" about the recommendations, and have refused to participate in further proceedings.
Pakistan's Supreme Court has taken up the investigation into M/s Berlix Lab International's illegal import of 10,000 kilograms of ephedrine, which was allegedly used to make an addictive drug known as the poor man's cocaine, and sold on the illegal drug market for $7 billion (ET, DT, Dawn). The Supreme Court on Tuesday issue a notice to Musa Gilani, the son of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, for his alleged role in the drug scandal, but the accused reportedly flew out of the country before his name could be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) (ET).
Wild wearThe third day of Pakistan Fashion Week finally showcased the ready-to-wear clothing that the event was supposed to focus on, with many designers expertly meshing traditional Pakistani styles with contemporary fashion design (ET). Designer Ahmed Bham found success in going out on a limb, encouraging men to add feminine florals and soft colors to their suiting.
-- Jennifer Rowland
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Twin blasts: Two suicide bombings in Afghanistan targeting government facilities on Tuesday killed at least 22 people and wounded two-dozen more (CNN, Reuters, AP, Tel, AFP, WSJ, Post, NYT, AJE). Suicide bombers in an SUV killed 14 people in the first attack on a provincial official's office in western Herat Province, and three suicide attackers on foot killed eight police officers when they attacked the office of a district police chief in southern Helmand Province.
NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobsen told Reuters Tuesday that the coalition has yet to see signs of a Taliban spring offensive like the one last year, which the insurgent group termed "Operation Badr" (Reuters). The traditional summer fighting season is expected to begin in the next few weeks, and NATO forces are bracing for the Taliban's possible stepped-up attacks.
Armed men on a motorcycle opened fire on a shoe shop in Quetta on Monday, killing six Shi'a Muslims and wounding three others in an apparent sectarian attack (AP, ET, Dawn, DT). McClatchy's Tom Hussain reports on the weapons smuggling networks that are purportedly bringing guns stolen from NATO armories in Afghanistan to militant groups in Pakistan, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has claimed responsibility for some of Balochistan's worst sectarian attacks (McClatchy).
Rescue efforts continued Tuesday on Siachen Glacier for 135 Pakistanis buried by an avalanche in the contested region of northern Kashmir on Saturday (AFP, ET). The deadly avalanche highlighted what some see as a senseless and expensive dispute between two countries that are wracked by poverty, over an uninhabitable icy mountain (AP).
The Times' Declan Walsh tells the story of Fakhra Younas, the Pakistani woman who committed suicide in Rome last month, 12 years after an acid attack she blames on her ex-husband left her permanently disfigured (NYT).
Attendees of Fashion Pakistan Week's first day got more of a show than they bargained for on Sunday, as ever-provocative model Mathira's top fell down during her first strut (ET). The incident set off a storm of tweets that made Mathira a top trend on Twitter in Pakistan.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
Missing on the mountaintop: An avalanche on the Siachen Glacier buried 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians posted at a military complex in northern Kashmir on Saturday, and hope dwindles for finding any survivors as three days of digging have yet to reveal any sign of life (LAT, CNN, ET, NYT, AP, AFP, AJE, Reuters, McClatchy, Dawn, Post). The United States sent a team of experts to Pakistan on Sunday to help with the rescue operation, but severe weather has kept them in Islamabad and hampered Pakistani search efforts (ET).
A top Pakistani counterterrorism official told Reuters on Friday that purported militant leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed has actually agreed to help Pakistan de-radicalize former jihadists, and pledged the support of his organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) (Reuters). The United States last week offered up to $10 million for information leading to Saeed's arrest or conviction, and he is suspected to have masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
Pakistani helicopter strikes killed 14 suspected militants in the northwestern tribal agency of Orakzai on Sunday (Reuters, ET). And around 20 militants attacked a military post in Lower Kurram Agency Sunday night, sparking a gunfight that left two soldiers and four militants dead (ET, AFP). The AFP reported Friday on the estimated 250,000 people who have fled the conflict between the Pakistani military and insurgents in Khyber Agency since January (AFP).
And the judicial commission investigating the "Memogate" scandal has ordered Pakistan's foreign and interior ministries to ensure the presence of former Pakistani ambassador to the United State Husain Haqqani at a hearing on April 12 (ET, Dawn, DT).
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari traveled to India on Sunday to visit a Muslim Sufi shrine in the first trip to India by a Pakistani head of state since 2005 (CNN, Dawn, BBC, Post, WSJ, ET, LAT, AP, DT, NYT, Reuters). Zardari also had lunch with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for "fruitful" talks on bilateral relations, during which Singh accepted Zardari's invitation to take his first trip to Pakistan since becoming prime minister in 2004.
Pakistani business leaders will host the first Lifestyle Exhibition in New Delhi from April 12-15 in the first Pakistani event of its kind in India, in which companies will showcase clothing, furniture, textiles, and other goods (Dawn, ET, The News, DT). The event follows an Indian exhibition held in Lahore a few months ago, and is designed to boost bilateral trade between the two countries.
Pakistan will reportedly sign an agreement with Turkmenistan on April 18 to finalize plans for the $7.6 billion TAPI gas pipeline, which has been encouraged by the United States in place of the proposed Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline (The News). Meanwhile, plans for the IP pipeline move ahead, too, with Russian energy giant Gazprom reportedly considering investing in the project (DT, ET).
Take the reins
The United States and Afghanistan signed an agreement on controversial night raids on Sunday, resolving a key sticking point in efforts to formulate a long-term strategic partnership agreement (Post, NYT, AP, WSJ, Reuters, LAT). The agreement gives Afghan Special Forces unique authority to carry out night raids, with help from U.S. troops provided "only as required or requested." Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator on the strategic partnership agreement, Jawed Ludin, told Reuters on Saturday that support is building in Afghanistan for a peace deal with the Taliban but Pakistan's role in the peace talks -- and its help providing access to Taliban leaders believed to be based in Pakistan -- is crucial to their success (Reuters).
NATO officials said Saturday that in partnership with Afghan troops, their forces captured a member of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan suspected of financing attacks on Afghan and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan (AP). The unnamed militant was detained on Friday during a firefight in the northern Afghan province of Faryab. And Al Jazeera reported Monday morning that former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef has fled to the United Arab Emirates because of safety concerns after U.S. troops purportedly tried to search his Kabul home twice for evidence of his connections to an international terrorist plot (AJE). U.S. officials denied any knowledge of the search operations, which were prevented by Zaeef's government-provided guards.
The Attorney General of Montana on Friday ordered the author of Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson, to pay his charity $1 million for mismanaging funds and charging "substantial personal expenses" to the organization, the Central Asia Institute (CAI) (LAT, Reuters, Tel, AP, CNN). Mortenson has come under intense criticism for fabricating stories in his book about building hundreds of school in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Energy woesSpeaking at the second national energy conference in Lahore on Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani promised that his government is doing all it can to resolve the country's debilitating energy crisis (ET). Unfortunately, his claims were colored by a power outage that struck the conference soon after it began.
-- Jennifer Rowland
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
"Negative message": Pakistan's ruling and opposition politicians on Thursday condemned the U.S. reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba and accused mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people (NYT, DT, ET, Dawn). Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said the $10 million reward for information on Saeed would "further widen the trust deficit between the two countries," while opposition lawmakers called it "mind boggling." Saeed is one of the leaders of Difa-e-Pakistan, a an umbrella political party for many of Pakistan's hardline religious groups, supporters of which rallied against the U.S. reward on Friday in Muzaffarabad, and called for jihad against the United States (AFP).
The United States on Thursday welcomed Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's trip to India on Sunday, when he will become the first Pakistani head of state since 2005 to visit his nation's historical rival (BBC, AP, AFP). The visit has been termed a "personal" trip to a Muslim shrine, but Zardari will meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for lunch on Sunday.
Senior Pakistani police official Rao Anwar Ahmed Khan, who was targeted in a suicide bombing in Karachi on Thursday, has accused a colleague and two of his brothers of orchestrating the attack (AP, ET). Unidentified gunmen assassinated the provincial leader of Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan in Quetta on Friday on his way to lead Friday prayers, sparking protests in the neighborhood (Dawn, ET, The News). And intelligence officials in Peshawar reportedly arrested several suspected terrorists and seized two suicide bomb vests at a home on Friday (Dawn, ET, The News).
Justice at last?
Afghan president Hamid Karzai has ordered a special prosecutor and special tribunal to try officials involved in the 2010 Kabul Bank scandal, and ordered the loan-takers - who include the president's brother Mahmoud Karzai - to return the hundreds of millions of dollars remaining in outstanding loans within two months (NYT, Guardian). The scandal, which involved the handing out of interest-free loans to the bankers themselves as well as their friends and family member, required an almost $900 million bailout, and has been seen as a symbol of the corruption plaguing the Afghan government.
U.S. military investigators earlier this week made their first visit to the villages where U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly massacred 17 Afghan civilians over three weeks ago (AP, CNN). Bales' lawyer John Henry Browne has said he is not sure the government will be able to convict his client without forensic evidence, and it remains unclear how much evidence the investigators were able to gather this long after the incident. Meanwhile, Afghan foreign minister Zalmay Rasool said Thursday that his country would not be used as a launching point for U.S. drone strikes following NATO's withdrawal by the end of 2014 (Reuters).
Finally, a suicide bomber killed the head of the High Peace Council in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar on Friday, Maulavi Mohammad Hashem Munib, along with his son as they traveled home from Friday prayers (AFP, AP).
Break a legA Pakistani rendition of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew will be performed at the London 2012 Olympics, the first time a Pakistani theatre group has had the opportunity to play at the Games (DT). The play's cast bemoans the lack of government support for Pakistani theatre, though, which has forced them to rehearse in unlikely locations such as science labs and rooftops.
-- Jennifer Rowland
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