ruling party -- the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) -- announced the
nomination of a new candidate for Prime Minister Friday morning (WaPo, ET, AFP, BBC, NYT, Dawn).
Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former minister for water and power, was tapped
to replace former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani -- who was declared
ineligible to hold office this week by the Supreme Court -- after the
first candidate, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, was forced out because the
country's Anti-Narcotics Force obtained a warrant for his arrest.
Ashraf, who is expected to be confirmed by parliament on Friday evening,
is not without his own controversies, as he has been accused of
corruption and has also been implicated in the electricity crisis now
affecting the country which has led to extreme power shortages. If
Ashraf is approved by parliament, his time in the premiership still may
not last long: it is widely expected that the Pakistani Supreme Court
will ask the next Prime Minister to request that a Swiss court reopen a
corruption probe against President Asif Ali Zardari concerning business
deals in the 1990s, something Gilani refused to do which led to his
A report by the U.S. State Department's Inspector General released this week described significant harassment of U.S. diplomats working in Pakistan (ET, BBC, WaPo). "Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation," read the review. While the report said that harassment of U.S. diplomatic activities in the country was previously a problem, it reached its apex in 2011, noting the Osama bin Laden raid in May and the 24 Pakistani troops accidentally killed by NATO fire in November as causes of increased tension between the countries.
Afghan resort the newest Taliban target
A Taliban attack on a popular hotel and resort outside Kabul killed at least 20 people on Friday in a siege that lasted 11 hours and included scores of hostages (NYT, CNN, FT, USA Today, AP, Dawn). In addition to the victims of the attack, which included at least 15 civilians, all 7 militants involved in the attack were killed by Afghan and NATO forces as they fought their way into the property in a joint operation. The primary impetus given for the attack was the un-Islamic behavior that was alleged to go on at the resort -- including drinking alcohol -- and the purported presence of a high number of Westerners as the weekend approached. According to Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, "These acts are illegal and strictly prohibited in Islam", adding that "women dancers were sexually misused there." Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for the Kabul police, disputed what he called Taliban propaganda, saying that the militants had merely started firing on random civilians including families sitting down to dinner.
About that apology...
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta all but ruled out an apology to Pakistan over the 24 Pakistani soldiers accidentally killed by a NATO airstrike in November (Reuters). "We've made clear what our position is, and I think it's time to move on," said Panetta, "if we keep going back to the past, if we keep beating up each other based on past differences, we'll never get anywhere." He added that it was time to "move forward with this relationship, on the (supply routes), on the safe havens, on dealing with terrorism..." Panetta has lately used harsh rhetoric against Pakistan for what he sees as its unwillingness to sufficiently deal with terrorist safe havens in the country. In the interview, while acknowledging that the relationship was "complicated and frustrating", he nonetheless said that it was necessary and demanded hard work from both sides to resolve outstanding issues.
Anonymous U.S. officials told the Associated Press on Thursday that the U.S. has considered launching secret joint U.S.-Afghan commando raids into Pakistani territory to disrupt militants (AP). The militant networks operating in the border regions are deemed responsible for many of the raids on coalition troops in Afghanistan. However, the idea has been consistently rejected by the White House when brought up in meetings given the serious diplomatic blowback that would result from such operations. A spokesperson for Gen. John Allen, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan who is said to have been part of recent meetings about the issue, said they had no plans to push ahead with any clandestine attacks in Pakistan.
A cricketer's lament
Former Pakistani cricket team test captain Salman Butt apologized to his home country after returning to Pakistan from England where he served seven months in jail for match-fixing. Butt, who was given a five-year playing ban by the International Cricket Council, maintains his innocence with regard to the allegations and intends to clear his name, though he acknowledged that he had failed disclose the match-fixing behavior of those around him (Reuters).