Shifting timetable: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that he is considering holding presidential elections in 2013, a year earlier than scheduled, in order to avoid holding a national election at the same time that NATO troops will be leaving Afghanistan (AP, Reuters). The announcement came during a visit to Afghanistan by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said Thursday that the international coalition is on track to withdraw troops by the 2014 deadline, and that he expects Afghan troops to be ready to take the lead security role in the country by mid-2013 (AP).
The head of U.S. Special Operations, Adm. Bill McRaven, is reportedly designing a post-2014 war plan that involves replacing thousands of regular U.S. troops with small teams of Special Forces that would be paired with Afghan Army units to provide instruction, as well as intelligence and communication support (AP). The plan differs from that supported by Vice President Joe Biden, who has suggested U.S. Special Forces be confined largely to fortified bases, from which they can launch strategic operations against suspected terrorists. Meanwhile, a new Washington Post-ABC poll reveals that a majority of Republicans believe the war has not been worth fighting (Post).
Afghanistan has begun training female Special Forces to conduct night raids in an effort to assuage the anger caused by foreign male soldiers raiding the homes of suspected terrorists (Reuters). And McClatchy's Jon Stephenson, who was the first Western reporter to reach the site of the March 11 massacre of 17 civilians in Kandahar Province, writes about the confusion amongst villagers, officials and reporters in the days following the attack (McClatchy).
Reuters reports Thursday on the devastating impact of the Afghan insurgents' increasingly powerful bombs, which have evolved over the years from relatively crude devices using cheap explosive material and nails, to more powerful ones that are made from fertilizer smuggled in from Pakistan (Reuters). Afghan military officials also say the Taliban have begun covering bombs with urine, feces, and blood in an effort to increase the chances of infection in the victims. The Taliban are also reportedly taking special measures to protect this year's poppy harvest -- and their stake in it -- by promising protection to farmers, and attacking the officials who try to destroy the crop (NYT).
Signs of a thaw?
The Wall Street Journal's Tom Wright and Matt Murray reported Wednesday that Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said in an interview he is willing to talk to Pakistan about the disputed region of Kashmir if Pakistan shows a willingness to tackle Pakistan-based militants who attack India (WSJ). Mathai expressed concern over the ability of purported militant leader Hafiz Saeed to hold rallies and appear on television, but said he is encouraged by recent moves on Pakistan's part to improve trade ties between the two countries.
The first Pakistani trade fair in India opened Thursday in New Delhi, less than a week after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari made the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state since 2005 (Reuters, DT). And Pakistan on Thursday released 26 Indian fishermen who have been held for over two years for fishing in Pakistani waters, as a gesture of goodwill following Zardari's trip to India (Dawn).
Overcoming the oddsWhen seventh-grade Pakistani student Farmanullah lost both arms after a car accident seven years ago, he refused to let his disability deter him from succeeding at school (Dawn). This year, he scored at the top of his class in his school's annual examinations, using his toes to write his answers.
-- Jennifer Rowland