The pieces of peace: Afghan president Hamid Karzai told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on Wednesday that both the U.S. and Afghan governments have begun secret talks with Taliban officials, which may mean that the Taliban have ended their refusal to negotiate with the Afghan government (WSJ, Tel, Reuters, NYT, AFP). Karzai arrived in Islamabad today for talks with Pakistani officials and a scheduled meeting with Maulana Samiul Haq, who is believed to be the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban (AP, Dawn, NYT,ET, BBC). And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad landed in Pakistan shortly after Karzai, ahead of trilateral talks between the three governments about a peace process for Afghanistan, improving trade ties, and fighting drug trafficking.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in Vienna on Thursday that stability and development in Afghanistan are impossible as long as "15 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product comes from the drugs trade." (Reuters, AP). NATO officials announced Wednesday that the international alliance had resumed the handover of detainees to Afghan prisons, ending a months-long moratorium on the transfers after a United Nations report was published last October revealing routine and systemic human rights abuses in Afghan prisons (Post, NYT, BBC). Over the past four months, NATO officials completed three rounds of inspections at 12 of the 19 prisons identified in the report, while the Afghan government replaced several directors at the facilities. However, NATO officials said Wednesday that the drawdown of international troops in Afghanistan will make it increasingly difficult to identify instances of abuse in the prisons (AP).
The Indian and Pakistani commerce ministers on Thursday signed three agreements on trade liberalization at the end of a four-day meeting, and Pakistan promised that it would finish a "small negative list" of products that it will continue to ban, allowing a wider array of goods to be traded between the two neighbors (WSJ, Dawn, ET, DT). The federal cabinet had deferred completion of the list on Tuesday, embarrassing the Indian delegation, which had announced that it would return from the meetings with a new list.
Two U.S. drone strikes on Thursday killed up to 17 suspected militants in the northwest Pakistani province of North Waziristan, including at least eight foreign fighters according to Pakistani officials (AFP/ET, AJE, BBC, Tel, AP, CNN). The Associated Press has a must-read on the massive crowds drawn to anti-American rallies in Pakistan organized by a coalition of banned Islamist extremists and right-wing political parties (AP). The group of leaders is known as the "Defense of Pakistan Council," and is believed by many to have the tacit approval or even support of the country's powerful military leadership.
A suicide bomber killed one person in Upper Dir on Thursday in an attack on a pro-government volunteer militia, while at least five people were injured in a grenade attack on a police vehicle in Peshawar (AFP, ET). Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) on Thursday vehemently rejected a Human Rights Watch reportpublished in January alleging that the intelligence agency had interfered with the investigation into the murder of Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad (ET, Dawn). And the commission investigating the killing of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden will reportedly further delay the release of its report because -- according to one official -- it "can't and won't name anybody" who could be held responsible for bin Laden's presence in Pakistan (ET). Finally, an attorney for Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman at the center of the so-called "Memogate" scandal, submitted documents to the investigating commission, including emails and notes that Ijaz took during purported meetings with senior Pakistani officials (Dawn).
The nude image published by FHM magazine of Pakistani actress Veena Malik sporting an ISI tattoo sparked a furor in Pakistan for its lewdness, but Malik is now having to defend herself against a far more serious allegation related to the photo (ET). A court in India recently ordered police to investigate allegations that the tattoo indicates Malik's undercover identity as a Pakistani spy sent to India by the ISI.
-- Jennifer Rowland