On the low: U.S. President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. raid against Osama bin Laden, arriving and leaving under the cover of darkness, during which he signed a strategic partnership with the Afghan government pledging U.S. military and economic support for the country for a decade after NATO troops withdraw in 2014 (Reuters, AP, LAT, CNN, Post, NYT,McClatchy, Tel). Striking a different tone, Obama also addressed the American people from Bagram Airbase with the message that the United States will "finish the job," but that costly war is finally winding down, and told U.S. troops that there is "a light on the horizon" after all of their hard work and sacrifice.
Just hours after Obama departed on Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a powerful vehicle-borne explosive device at near a compound that houses many Westerners, killing four civilians in a passing car, one security guard, and a student and one other person walking nearby (NYT, AP, Tel, BBC, AFP, Reuters). Some of the insurgents then entered the compound, known as the Green Village, and a firefight with security forces ensued. The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack, and said it was in response to Obama's message that the war in Afghanistan is almost over.
The Taliban later announced that their "spring offensive," codenamed al-Farouq, would begin on Thursday, May 3 (AFP).
A series of bomb blasts targeting banks and ATMs across Pakistan's Sindh Province on Wednesday morning injured at least four people (ET, Dawn). A group calling themselves the Sindhu Desh Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attacks. And a remote-controlled bomb targeting a Frontier Corps (FC) convoy exploded in Kalat, Balochistan on Wednesday, killing one FC official and injuring another (ET).
Opposition politician Nawaz Sharif announced on Wednesday the schedule for a series of rallies that his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is organizing to call for Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to step down (ET, The News, Dawn). Gilani was convicted last week of contempt of court for refusing to ask Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari. Bonus read: Reza Nasim Jan, "Pakistan's federal felon" (FP).
A new report from the U.S. Department of Defense claims that Pakistan's closure of NATO ground supply routes to Afghanistan has backlogged thousands of tons of equipment, and failure to reopen the routes will "significantly degrade redeployment and retrograde operations in support of the drawdown of coalition forces" (ET, LAT, Reuters).
Bodybuilding has long been a popular activity in Afghanistan, persisting through the war against the former Soviet Union, going on quietly during Taliban rule, and exploding in popularity in recent years (HuffPo). Vice president of the bodybuilding federation Khwaja Mohammad Fardin Abassi encourages more young men to consider the sport because "even when he's wearing a shirt, he will impress the girls."
-- Jennifer Rowland