Talking to the enemy: Afghan president Hamid Karzai met Saturday with a Taliban-linked cleric based in Pakistan, Maulana Samiul Haq, who told Karzai he would help bring Taliban leaders to the negotiating table if the Afghan government can make it clear what it wants from the Taliban and what it can offer in return (AP, ET, CNN, DT). Talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan last week ended with Karzai wanting Pakistani officials to do more to help him negotiate with the Taliban, and Pakistani leaders saying that Karzai's demands are unrealistic (ET, Reuters, NYT). An Afghan presidential advisor, Assadullah Wafa, said Sunday that Afghanistan must resurrect its peace council for successful negotiations with insurgents, while Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin spokesman Ghairat Baheer said negotiations will fail if they don't include all militant groups (Reuters, DT, Dawn, Reuters).
Five U.S. senators told Karzai during a visit to Afghanistan on Sunday that two of his key demands as NATO winds down its operations in the country - an end to night raids and the transfer of detention operations to Afghan control - would endanger both U.S. troops and the success of the war effort (Post). Allied commanders have said that Afghan forces are ready to start taking the lead on combat operations, but the transfer of control has reportedly highlighted challenges within the Afghan armed forces, from a vulnerability to insurgent infiltration to drug use (LAT). Afghanistan's Defense Minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday that the planned reduction in NATO troops by more than one-third following the 2014 withdrawal deadline could result in a "catastrophe" for Afghanistan (WSJ).
A man posing as an Afghan senator in southern Afghanistan last week and given a significant amount of intelligence information by local officials has sparked security concerns in the country (AFP, NYT). A suicide car bomber attacked a police station in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Monday, killing one police officer (AP). Meanwhile, at least 40 Afghan children have died from cold over the past month in Afghanistan, primarily in Kabul's refugee camps, and aid groups have warned of more deaths as temperatures continue to drop (Dawn, Tel, AP).
None of your business
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Saturday condemned a resolution introduced the previous day in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) saying that Pakistan's Baloch population has "the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country" (ET, The News, Dawn). The U.S. government has sought to distance itself from the resolution, but Pakistan's Foreign Office on Monday summoned U.S. Charge d'Affairs in Pakistan Richard Hoagland to lodge a formal complaint over the bill (ET). The Los Angeles Times' Alex Rodriguez on Saturday examined Pakistan's Supreme Court investigation of country's powerful intelligence agency, and its strengthening of the judiciary's influence (LAT). Meanwhile, the Pakistani military's economic might is embodied in its production of a Pakistani version of Apple's iPad, which is even cheaper than the Chinese copycat products, and represents just one of the markets in which the security establishment has a stake (AP).
Three Pakistani officials reported Sunday that the United States has been pushing Pakistan to allow it to set up bases in Balochistan that would be used for intelligence operations against Iran (ET). The Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an umbrella organization for several of Pakistan's hardline religious and political groups, organized a rally - reportedly attended by several thousand people -- on Monday in Islamabad to protest U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, as well as the likely reopening of supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan (ET, Dawn). And the secretary of the judicial committee investigating the so-called "Memogate" scandal is in the United Kingdom today to hear testimony from Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman at the center of the case (ET, Dawn). Ijaz's credibility was called into question once again on Saturday, when the Daily Times reported that Ijaz has been ordered to pay $1.4 million in fines for bank fraud (DT).
A bomb planted by militants at a checkpoint in Khyber Agency run by a pro-government militia exploded on Sunday, killing at least eight militia members (AP, DT). And the death toll from Friday's suicide blast and small arms attack on a market in a predominantly Shi'a Muslim neighborhood in Kurram Agency soared over the weekend to 41 (Dawn, ET, AP). The authorities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) this weekend ordered 185 Afghan refugees whose heads of household are in the Afghan army to leave the country within a month, in accordance with Afghanistan's effort to cut down on insurgent infiltration of its armed forces by moving soldiers' families out of the Taliban strongholds (Dawn, AFP). And at least 11 alleged accomplices of the doctor accused of helping the CIA organize a vaccination drive in an attempt to gain access to Osama bin Laden's compound were suspended from their duties on Sunday (ET).
Those who were disappointed by the cancellation of Fashion Pakistan Week (FPW) in December will be relieved to hear that the four-day fashion extravaganza has been rescheduled for April of this year (ET). The show will feature some of the biggest names in Pakistani couture, though the fashion world is perplexed by that fact that designer heavyweight Rizwan Beyg will likely be absent once again.
-- Jennifer Rowland