The military and the political
For the second consecutive evening, a series of bombs shook Kandahar City last night, killing at least nine people including five Afghan children in five attacks that apparently targeted a police checkpoint (AP, Reuters, AJE, AFP, BBC, AP, Pajhwok). Three civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in Zabul province en route to a fruit market (AP). In northern Afghanistan, coalition forces have captured the Taliban district commander who was said to be involved in the kidnapping of a New York Times journalist and his translator last fall, and in ongoing intimidation of the local population (NYT, CNN). In the western Afghan province of Faryab, coalition forces say they have killed a Taliban shadow governor in an overnight airstrike (Pajhwok). And in the east over the last several weeks, the Pentagon claims NATO forces have killed more than 100 Haqqani network fighters in stepped up operations along the border (AP).
The Post reports that for the first time, representatives of the Taliban at preliminary high level talks with the Afghan government are believed to be authorized to speak for Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura (Post). The talks are not said to include representatives from the Haqqani group, and the Obama administration is reportedly warming up to the idea of discussions. A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that the coalition needs to continue applying military pressure to the insurgency and that it is "too soon" to suggest the "tide is turning in terms of reintegration and reconciliation" (Reuters, Pajhwok).
James Risen describes in detail how members of the extended Karzai family are using their family ties to gain power and positions of influence in Afghanistan, which former ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann asserted is part of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's "survival mechanism" (NYT). Earlier this week, Karzai and members of the Obama administration team, including the president, held a rare video teleconference to discuss a range of topics such as the "strategic vision for long-term U.S.-Afghan relations," regional relations, and the recent parliamentary election (AFP). Afghan authorities have pushed back the announcement of preliminary results of the September 18 contest by a week, to October 17, because of complaints of fraud (Pajhwok).
For the record: tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan (AP).
In the sixth attack on NATO supply lines through Pakistan since the Pakistani government ordered the closure of the Torkham checkpoint in northwest Pakistan last Thursday, gunmen shot up vehicles earlier this morning as they sat in a parking lot on the outskirts of Quetta en route to the southern Chaman border crossing (AP, NYT). Some 25 trucks were destroyed by a quickly-spreading fire, and the attack, like several others in the last week, was claimed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (AFP). NATO is due to release the results of its joint investigation with Pakistan into last week's cross-border helicopter strike that killed three Pakistani troops, which preceded the Torkham closure; Dawn reports that the two sides are haggling over the language in the report (Reuters, CNN, Dawn).
The Post analyzes the increase in tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan over the strikes and border closure more broadly (Post). The Journal reports on a recent White House assessment that aggressively criticizes the Pakistani military for avoiding "military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan," and assessed that the Zardari administration's clumsy response to Pakistan's floods "exacerbated inter-party tensions, civil-military relations, and damaged [Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's] image in the domestic and international media" (WSJ).
The BBC reports that a British man said to be killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan last month was to be the head of a new militant faction called the Islamic Army of Great Britain, which was given the task of organizing Mumbai-style attacks in the U.K. (BBC, Dawn, Tel). That decision was reportedly made at a meeting of around 300 militants in North Waziristan that was monitored by intelligence agencies three months ago. There have been 25 reported drone strikes in Pakistan since September 1 and Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. Amb. Husain Haqqani told the BBC, "The activity we see in North Waziristan, in terms of strikes and terms of measures to try to get people from al-Qaeda and associated groups, is connected to the terrorist warnings that we have heard about potential strikes in Europe" (WSJ, BBC).
As expected, yesterday failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LAT, ABC, AJE, WSJ, Tel).
Yesterday, Indian authorities in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, began to dismantle paramilitary bunkers as part of an effort to defuse tensions which have left at least 107 dead and hundreds wounded since June (CNN). The Times of India reports that two officials from the American embassy in New Delhi have met with Kashmiri separatist leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik earlier this week, ahead of a planned visit to India by Barack Obama next month (ToI).
Vegetable price gouging
Local authorities in Rawalpindi have failed to stop price gouging at vegetable stands at markets in the city, according to shoppers (The News). Fruit and vegetable sellers at Chungi No. 22 Sabzimandi are said to be particular offenders, allegedly charging double the list price for some items.