Governor gunned down
Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province and a member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, has been shot nine times and killed by one of his security guards in Islamabad in the most high-profile political assassination in Pakistan since the death of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 (AP, ET, Reuters, WSJ, Guardian, BBC, NYT). Taseer, a close ally of Pakistani president and Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, recently spoke out against Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws and is considered progressive. The suspected shooter, named in press reports as Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, has reportedly been taken into custody (ET, Geo, CNN, Dawn). Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik said Qadri confessed to shooting Taseer because of the governor's opposition to the blasphemy laws (AFP, CNN, AP). The government of Pakistan has announced three days of national mourning and an investigation into the assassination (Geo, ET).
The assassination comes amid continuing political turmoil in Pakistan: opposition leader Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N has given the PPP government of prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani three days to agree to key reforms or the PML-N will join with other opposition parties to move against the government (AFP, AP, ET). Sharif called for the government to reverse recent increases in fuel prices and cut government spending by 30 percent, among other demands. The PML-N said yesterday that it would not seek a no-confidence vote in Gilani because that would "damage the whole country" (Reuters).
Gilani spent yesterday meeting with political leaders from the PML-N and PML-Q in efforts to shore up the PPP-led coalition after the recent withdrawal of the MQM, which left the government without a majority in the National Assembly (Post, WSJ, Dawn, Daily Times, ET, AP, Times, The News). Zardari, who is reportedly scheduled to visit the U.S. next week, expressed his support for Gilani yesterday, and a State Department spokesman said the coalition crisis "is about internal politics in Pakistan" (AFP, Reuters).
Yesterday in Karachi, a senior worker for the MQM and a member of the rival ANP, and three others, were shot in what appear to be the year's first targeted killings, sparking angry protests (Dawn, Daily Times). In Orakzai agency in the northwest, a Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan member chopped off the hand of a tribesman accused of theft (Dawn).
Bombs across Afghanistan
Earlier this morning, a bomb in a bag killed one Afghan policeman and wounded several others in a rare attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul, on the seventh anniversary of the adoption of Afghanisan's post-Taliban constitution (Reuters, Tolo, CNN, NYT, AP, AFP, Pajhwok). Gunmen also reportedly opened fire on a mosque in Herat, killing four civilians, and the day before, a mosque in Baghlan was targeted (AP). A bag of explosives yesterday killed one civilian and injured five others in Herat city, in an attack claimed by the Taliban (Pajhwok, CNN).
Several outlets report more on the deal between leaders of the Alikozai tribe who have reportedly promised to halt insurgent attacks, and Afghan and coalition forces in Sangin district of Helmand province, with the AP noting that "it is unlikely that violence will cease immediately" and the Times of London reporting that "at least one prisoner was released to secure the deal" (AP, WSJ, McClatchy, Times, Guardian). The last Alikozai anti-Taliban uprising, in 2007, reportedly failed because of a lack of resources and help from the coalition.
Two more stories round out the day's Afghanistan news: a five-judge panel set up by the Afghan Supreme Court, which "numerous Afghan officials, opposition politicians and human rights activists" have called "politically motivated and redundant of existing structures," will rule within two weeks on more than 400 cases of alleged fraud in last September's parliamentary elections, which could affect the results of some races (WSJ, NYT); and infrastructure projects built as part of the Commander's Emergency Response Program are reportedly "crumbling under Afghan stewardship" (Post).
The year in Afghan sports
Afghan athletes won nearly 200 medals last year in various regional and international competitions in martial arts, cricket, football, wrestling, and others (Pajhwok). In 2009, Afghan sportsmen won 72 medals.