**The AfPak Channel editors mourn the untimely death of New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid, whose coverage of the Middle East was both exceptional and brave (NYT).**
At the first session of talks between Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan on Thursday, Afghan president Hamid Karzai reportedly became so angry at Pakistani officials for what he perceives as their tacit support for the Taliban, that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had to intervene and ask the attending officials to take a break (Guardian). At the end of the talks on Friday, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that it is "preposterous" for Afghanistan to think that Pakistan would be able to bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table for talks with the Karzai administration (AP).
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on Thursday denied Karzai's earlier claim that his administration is involved in the preliminary talks between the United States and the insurgent group's leadership (WSJ, LAT, NYT, AP). Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan Umar Daudzai confirmed that the contacts between the United States and the Taliban, which are only "exploratory" right now, have not involved Afghan officials (Reuters).
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told reporters after the talks had ended that the country's armed forces have never been involved with insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but that he "cannot deny [that] maybe there are people among our population who are involved" (Dawn, AFP/ET). And in a move likely to rile the United States, Zardari promised Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad the "expeditious implementation" of a gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan (Dawn). The U.S. State Department on Thursday expressed its concern "about the recent public appearances of Jamaatud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed," whose group is a front for Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba (Dawn, ET).
A suicide bomber detonated his vest outside a mosque just after Friday prayers in a predominantly Shi'a Muslim neighborhood of Pakistan's northwestern Kurram Agency, killing as many as 26 people (Dawn, AP, ET, The News, AFP, AJE). A clash between Pakistani soldiers and Taliban insurgents in Khyber Agency on Friday resulted in the deaths of five militants and three pro-government militia members (AFP). And Reuters reports on the Balochistan provincial government's sudden refusal last year to allow what was supposed to be Pakistan largest mining investment ever, because of perceptions that the Western mining companies planned to exploit the Baloch people's natural wealth and keep an unfair amount of the profit to themselves (Reuters).
In an attempt to prevent Taliban double agents from infiltrating the Afghan Army, Afghan officials are ordering soldiers who have family in Pakistan to either move their families to Afghanistan or leave the army (Post). Afghan army investigations of past infiltrations have revealed that many had ties to insurgents in Pakistan, but the policy is likely to exacerbate ethnic tensions and has not yet been approved for implementation in all areas of the country.
The Times' Alissa J. Rubin has a must-read on the illegal practice of baad, a traditional Afghan form of justice involving the punishing of someone whose close relative has brought dishonor on another family (NYT). And U.S. intelligence officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, painting a dismal picture of a war effort in Afghanistan hindered by "endemic corruption and persistent qualitative deficiencies in the army and police forces" (LAT).
Haroon Aloko, an Afghan Embassy staffer in Washington D.C., punched a colleague last week after an argument over who would set up a new filing cabinet and where it would be placed escalated beyond just angry words (Times). Aloko has reportedly not been punished for the assault, a development some say is symbolic of Afghanistan's problem with rampant nepotism; Aloko is the son of Afghanistan's Attorney General.
-- Jennifer Rowland