Wonk Watch: "Pakistani Public Opinion Ever More Critical of U.S." (Pew)
A Sunni Muslim militant attacked a bus carrying 40 Shi'a Muslim pilgrims from Iran to the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Thursday with a suicide car bomb, killing at least 14 and injuring 30 (ET, Dawn, AP, Reuters, AFP, BBC). The Pakistani sectarian militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for other attacks on Sunni Muslim establishments. In a separate incident earlier on Thursday, seven Pakistani paramilitary soldiers died when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Pakistan's northwestern tribal area (ET, Dawn).
You're not the boss of me
In a statement posted on a Taliban website, the Afghan Taliban denied that they had received permission from Pakistan to send a representative to Qatar for peace negotiations, saying the group is "completely free and independent in all of its affairs" (Reuters). The Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq said in an interview with Reuters earlier this week that his government had allowed some Taliban members to travel to Qatar for talks.
Afghan officials lauded the flood of informal contacts between government and insurgent representatives this week at two conferences, one in Paris and one in Tokyo, as a sign that the Taliban may be reneging on their pledge to talk only to the Americans in any peace negotiations (NYT). Bonus read: Omar Samad, "Afghanistan's Track II rally" (FP).
And in New Delhi on Thursday, Afghan officials appealed to foreign companies to invest in Afghanistan in order to help relieve the country of its reliance on international aid (AP, Post). India in particular has signaled its willingness to become more involved in Afghanistan's future by hosting the international business conference and planning to invest in Afghanistan's copper and gold mines (WSJ). Bonus read: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, "It's the economy...Even in Afghanistan" (FP).
Reuters reports that arguments over legal protections for U.S. soldiers who remain in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal deadline in 2014 are likely to dominate discussions of a security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan (Reuters). Talks have not yet begun on the security agreement, which is expected to be finalized by May 2013.
Can't stop the music
After seeing music banned for five years by the Taliban and enduring a decade-long war, four young Afghan men have formed what they are calling Afghanistan's first rock band, named Morcha (Ants) (ET). In contrast with either the traditional Afghan love ballads or the Taliban's jihadist chants, Morcha sings about the day-to-day realities of living in a war-torn, poverty-stricken country.
-- Jennifer Rowland