Apologies: President Barack Obama on Thursday sent an official letter of apology to Afghan president Hamid Karzai over NATO troops' accidental burning of Qurans, but protests across Afghanistan continued unabated Friday for the fourth straight day, with protesters congregating outside NATO and Afghan government installations (CNN, AP,AJE, BBC, NYT, CNN). At least two protesters were killed in Kabul on Friday and many more across the country were injured (Reuters).
The killing of two NATO service members by a man in an Afghan Army uniform on Thursday during protests in Afghanistan occurred as the U.S. military is urgently reviewing its security procedures in order to prevent such friendly fire attacks (NYT). Of the 45 incidents of violence against NATO troops by Afghan security forces or private contractors since 2007, 75% have taken place in the last two years, intensifying officials' concerns over this issue.
The Taliban's public beheading on Sunday of four men accused of being government spies, and the gruesome murder of a progressive radio station director three days later, have caused local and international officials to seriously doubt the group's claims that it has changed its violent ways (NYT). Bonus read: Rachel Reid, "'Moderate' Taliban: A wolf in sheep's clothing?" (FP).
Call to the table
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Friday voiced the country's first public appeal to the Taliban and all other Afghan insurgent groups "to participate in an intra-Afghan process for reconciliation and peace" (AP, AFP). Gilani also condemned NATO troops' burning of Qurans at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan as "utterly irresponsible and reprehensible" (AFP).
Following talks in London with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Thursday for a resumption of the full range of ties with Pakistan, saying "this relationship is simply too important to turn our back on" (AP, AFP, Dawn ). In what could be a signal that Pakistan will soon reopen supply routes to NATO troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan State Oil Co. (PSO) is looking to purchase 25,000 metric tons of jet fuel, an import that was halted after the November 26 NATO attack on a Pakistani checkpoint that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers (WSJ). Pakistan is reportedly in talks with Iran about a deal to barter a million metric tons of wheat to Iran in exchange for iron ore and fertilizer, as international sanctions have reduced the country's ability to pay for imports, particularly food (Dawn).
Associated Press reporters Asif Shahzad and Chris Brummitt have a must-read on the glimmer of hope given by a Supreme Court case against Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to the families of Pakistan's "missing" persons, who were detained by the ISI and never heard from again (AP). Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced Thursday that the government is dropping its cases against exiled Baloch dissidents, and called on the leaders to return to Pakistan to participate in talks on a political solution for the conflict in Balochistan (ET, Dawn). And President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday summoned Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman to brief the president on the inquiry into the "Memogate" controversy, as Mansoor Ijaz testified from the Pakistan High Commission in London for the third day (ET).
Reviving the joy of reading
The senior librarian at Karachi's Liaquat Memorial Library, Naheed Jahan, mourns the loss of appetite for reading books that she sees in Pakistani youth, as students focus solely on studying only what they need to know for exams (ET). Close to retirement, Jahan hopes to leave behind advice from a Pirzada Ashiq couplet:
"Sarror-e-ilm hai kaifay-e-sharab say behtar,
Koi raqeeb nahi hai kitaab say behtar"
"An intoxication with knowledge is better than intoxication with alcohol,
There is no better friend than a book"
-- Jennifer Rowland