Tragic trip: A passenger plane flying from Karachi to Islamabad on Friday crashed in bad weather as it descended into the Pakistani capital, killing all 127 people on board (NYT, BBC, Guardian, CNN, Reuters, AP, AFP). The flight, operated by the recently reopened Bhoja Air, became Pakistan's second major airline disaster in less than three years, and has sparked concern over falling safety standards in the country's notoriously corrupt, under-regulated airline industry. Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced Saturday that the airline's chief, Farooq Bhoja, has been barred from leaving the country, and leaked reports of the aviation authority's preliminary investigation of the crash said that the pilot lost control of the plane after one of its fuel tanks caught on fire (AP, Tel, BBC). Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said Sunday that all planes operated by private Pakistani airlines will be inspected, and those that fail will be grounded (AP, Dawn).
The World Bank on Saturday pledged $1.8 billion to development projects in Pakistan this year, with the majority of the funds allocated to the country's ailing energy sector (Dawn, ET). Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan on Friday agreed to a transit fee for gas obtained from Turkmenistan through the proposed TAPI pipeline, a key step toward actualizing the much-needed pipeline (DT, ET, The News). Pakistani Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dr. Asim Hussain said Friday that the TAPI pipeline "would be cheap as compared to the Iran-Pakistan (IP) [pipeline]," over which the United States has threatened Pakistan with sanctions.
Pakistan may also look to import electricity from historical rival India, if a proposal supported by the Ministry of Water and Power is approved by the federal cabinet (ET). Setting aside political issues such as the conflict over Kashmir, India and Pakistan hope to normalize ties by promoting bilateral trade, exemplified by the recent opening of a trade post at the border town of Wagah, and the reduction in the number of products from India that Pakistan had barred (AP).
Four people were killed in Balochistan on Sunday in two separate incidents in which their vehicles hit landmines, while unidentified gunmen shot dead two ethnic Hazaras in the provincial capital of Quetta (ET, ET) Two suspected terrorists were killed and one policeman injured during an exchange of gunfire in Quetta on Monday (ET, The News).
The LA Times' Alez Rodriguez reports Monday on the growing number of young Pakistani Hindu women being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam by Muslim Pakistanis who wish to marry the girls (LAT). Pakistani human rights groups have reported as many as 25 such cases per month, and the sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, Azra Fazal Pechuco, is one of many Pakistani lawmakers calling for legislation against the practice.
The United States and Afghanistan on Sunday finally agreed on the wording of a draft of a long-term strategic partnership agreement, which pledges that the United States will provide military and financial support to Afghanistan for at least ten years after the NATO withdrawal deadline in 2014 (NYT, AP, Post, LAT, CNN, Reuters, BBC, WSJ, AFP). Initialed by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Afghan national security adviser Rangin Spanta, the agreement must now be approved by the Afghan parliament and President Hamid Karzai, before it can be signed into effect by Karzai and President Barack Obama.
Afghanistan's spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) released a statement Saturday saying it had foiled two terrorist plots in Kabul, seizing several militants purportedly planning to assassinate the country's second vice president Karim Khalil, and another group smuggling 11 tons of explosives into the capital (NYT, AP, AJE,Reuters). Intelligence spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri told reporters that both groups of militants are linked to the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, and had been trained in Miranshah, Pakistan.
Afghan Army commander Masoud Karimi told CNN this weekend that U.S. troops have responded to shelling from inside Pakistan by shooting across the border at least four times in the past 10 months, and that Pakistani soldiers had been responsible for the attacks (CNN). Meanwhile, Pakistani Army Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, who commands troops in the border region, told Reuters last week that he worries that the mere impression of a Taliban victory in Afghanistan could embolden Taliban militants fighting to overthrow the government in Pakistan (Reuters).
The Associated Press and CNN revealed on Saturday that the U.S. Army has investigated 56 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and suspected of using or distributing heroin, morphine, or other opiates during 2010 and 2011, likely just a fraction of the U.S. troops involved in drug use or dealing (AP, CNN). The U.S. Army said earlier this year that it had recorded almost 70,000 drug offenses by around 36,000 soldiers between 2006 and 2011, with such offenses jumping from 9,400 in 2010 to 11,200 in 2011. Two NATO service members were killed in an explosion in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday (CNN, AP).
U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was denied entrance to Afghanistan on Friday because of his criticism of President Hamid Karzai's government (Guardian). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally conveyed a message from Karzai that Rohrabacher would not be welcome, leaving the congressman and his delegation stranded in Dubai over the weekend.
-- Jennifer Rowland