President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday picked party notable Makhdoom
Shahabuddin to replace Yousaf Raza Gilani for Prime Minister (NYT, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Dawn, CNN, ET).
Mr. Shahabuddin, a member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, was the
textiles minister when the Supreme Court invalidated the premiership of
Gilani on Tuesday. According to one analyst speaking to the New York
Times, "Mr. Shahabuddin is an experienced parliamentarian, but he will
face a tough choice to balance loyalty to the president and deal with an
assertive court and a restive opposition." However, on Thursday, a
trial court in Rawalpindi issued a warrant for Shahabuddin's arrest over
his alleged links to a drug scandal in 2010 which anti-narcotics forces
have said entailed the illegal importation of the drug ephedrine.
Shahabuddin served as health minister at the time. The court also issued
the same warrant to son of the recently departed prime minister Yousaf
Raza Gilani. It is unclear how the arrest warrant would impact matters
when the lower house of parliament meets Friday to officially elect
Gilani's replacement for Prime Minister.
Targeting corruption in Afghanistan
Speaking to a special session of the Afghan parliament on Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for a redoubled effort to tackle corruption and mismanagement in the country (Reuters, WaPo, AP, Dawn). Eyeing next month's international donors conference in Tokyo, Karzai lamented that "each government worker who reaches an important rank is respected not because of his position, but by how many armed men and cars he has with him." Karzai indicated that international donors would likely pledge around $4 billion next month in assistance at the Tokyo conference, though the Afghan Central Bank this week noted that the country will need $6-7 billion dollars per year in assistance for the next decade in order to sustain sufficient levels of growth. Despite being ranked as one of the most graft-ridden countries in the world by the Berlin-based NGO Transparency International, however, Afghanistan has yet to prosecute a single high-level corruption case. In an attempt to signal his seriousness on the anti-graft front, Karzai specifically called on the U.S. to return former Afghan central bank governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat to the country. Fitrat resigned while traveling in the U.S. a year ago after being embroiled in a scandal that saw nearly $1 billion in loans disappear from Kabul Bank in 2010.
The Pentagon's top watchdog in Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), is currently investigating the Afghan government practice of taxing American companies who are involved in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan (WaPo, The Hill, BG). The SIGAR audit will specifically look at cases when American-funded services or goods in the country are subject "to tariffs, customs duties, and other taxes or similar charges by the Afghan government." In a joint statement released Wednesday, Representatives Peter Welch of Vermont and Walter Jones of North Carolina -- who have been leading the effort to investigate Afghan taxation of U.S. companies aiding reconstruction work since 2011 -- noted that the SIGAR move "is a step in the right direction."
The death toll of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan's Khost province on Wednesday increased to 21, with 3 U.S. soldiers and an Afghan interpreter counted among the dead of an attack that killed mostly Afghan civilians (WaPo, AP, NYT). The bombing was the third strike in as many days specifically targeting U.S. forces.
"Battle of the bulge"
The police chief of Pakistan's Punjab province, Habibur Rehman, has ordered 175,000 of his personnel to refrain from exceeding 38 inch waists or risk losing their jobs (Dawn). Rehman is reported to have said to some of his colleagues in announcing the rule: "I'm on a diet and if I can do it, why can't you?" According to the police in Punjab, at least 50 percent of the force is currently overweight.