future will feature prominently in this week's two-day summit of the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which begins Wednesday in Beijing (Reuters, AJE).
The summit will underscore the dynamics of the security situation in
Afghanistan as NATO prepares to pull out of the country by the end of
2014. In an interview published Wednesday, Chinese President Hu Jintao
indicated that a bloc that would include China, Russia, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan would like to increase their role
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will attend the conference as an observer, non-voting member in the proceedings and meet with President Hu for bilateral meetings. Coming after news Sunday that China was planning on increasing its role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Western troops in 2014, a further announcement of the signing of a preliminary strategic partnership between China and Afghanistan is expected on Friday (BBC, ET). Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also in Beijing, is expected to seek full membership for his country -- which currently holds observer status -- in the SCO and will meet on the sidelines of the summit with Chinese President Hu and Vice-President Xi Jinping (President Hu's presumed successor) to discuss the future of bilateral relations between the two countries. Zardari will also take separate meetings with Karzai and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Dawn).
Meanwhile, during his ongoing visit to India, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta emphasized Wednesday the need of the U.S. and India to work through their respective differences with Pakistan. "India and the United States will need to continue to engage Pakistan", said Panetta in prepared remarks, "overcoming our respective -- and often deep -- differences with Pakistan to make all of South Asia peaceful and prosperous (Dawn)." The remarks came after Panetta met with Indian Defense Minister AK Antony Wednesday and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday, where Panetta "underscored the link India plays between East and West Asia and how the United States views India as a net provider of security from the Indian Ocean to Afghanistan and beyond" according to his press secretary (BBC).
Suicide bombers strike in Kandahar
In Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, two suicide bombers struck a market area, killing 22 and injuring 50. The attack, which the Taliban claimed responsibility for, took place about 3 miles from the Kandahar Air Field, the massive NATO military installation (AP). Their timing coincided with a meeting at the base of four Afghan provincial governors from the south. The attacks, the deadliest in weeks, are part of a surge in violence that has swept across Afghanistan since a Taliban-led offensive which started in April (Reuters).
Meanwhile, at least 18 civilians, along with "multiple insurgents" and eight Taliban commanders, were killed by a NATO bombing in Afghanistan's Logar province south of Kabul. The strike was called in after NATO and Afghan troops came under fire after surrounding a house in a remote village of Baraki Barak which contained a number of Taliban (BBC).
A yet to be released Government Accountability Office report obtained by USA Today suggested that Pakistan has been interfering with U.S. efforts to interdict the flow of bomb-making materials from Pakistan to Afghanistan (USAToday). According to the report, "U.S. agencies have encountered ongoing challenges to their efforts to assist Pakistan, such as delays in obtaining visas and in the delivery of equipment."
America the grouch?
The U.S. indicated that it is terminating funding for a $20 million program to develop the Pakistani version of Sesame Street (WSJ). The move came after a Pakistani paper detailed charges of corruption against the local puppet theater that was involved in the project. About $6.7 million of the $20 million has already been spent on the the show -- which premiered in December 2011 under the name "Sim Sim Hamara". State Department spokesmen Mark Toner noted that "No one is questioning, obviously, the value and positive impact of this kind of programming for children. But this is about allegations of corruption (ET)."