Editor's note: The AfPak Brief will be taking a break for the holidays, and will resume on Wednesday, January 2, 2013.
Tahir Ashrafi, the head of an alliance of clerics called the Pakistan Ulema Council, said Thursday that some 24,000 mosques in his organization would preach against the recent killing of polio workers during Friday prayers, indicating a powerful religious response to the militant violence (Reuters). Maulana Asadullah Farooq, the leader of one of Lahore's largest madrassas, declared, "the killers of these girls are not worthy of being called Muslims or human beings." The attacks took nine lives this week, most of whom were women.
Polio drives remain suspended in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces, where the killings took place, but thousands of health workers in Lahore were given police protection to continue providing polio vaccinations to residents (AP). The attacks this week largely targeted women, who provide the "backbone" of the anti-polio campaign in a country where cultural norms prevent men from entering many homes to vaccinate children (NYT). The Taliban has in the past accused polio workers of being spies for the West, though they have denied involvement in this week's shootings.
Four suspected militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike on the Hisukhel area of Mir Ali on Friday (Dawn). And another U.S. drone reportedly crashed in South Waziristan late Thursday night (Dawn). A British court on Friday rejected an attempt by a Pakistani man to bring legal action against the British government over allegations that British intelligence had been used in U.S. drone strikes (AFP). The father of the complainant, Noor Khan, died in a drone strike last year.
Talks between representatives of the Taliban and Afghan political factions continued outside Paris on Friday, but Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid confirmed to the Times that Taliban delegate Shahabuddin Delawar's only task was "to shed light on our stances and explain our position and policies to the international community (NYT). And opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah said the talks are "not by any chance a breakthrough."
British Prime Minister David Cameron flew in secret to Afghanistan for a visit with British troops in Helmand on Thursday, a day after announcing the withdrawal of 3,800 British forces by the end of 2013 (BBC, AP, Guardian, Tel). Cameron called Afghanistan "a far better place" than it was at the start of the war in 2001, and said of NATO's withdrawal, "This is drawdown based on success, not failure."
Two police officers and five civilians were killed in a roadside bomb in the southwestern Afghan province of Nimroz on Thursday (RFE/RL). And a Georgian soldier with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been missing in southwestern Afghanistan since Wednesday (NYT).
A group of Pakistani boys who were once living on the street in Karachi are now part of a soccer team called the Street Strikers (Dawn). They were all rehabilitated by the Azad Foundation, and are now hoping to travel to Brazil in 2012 for the Street Kids World Cup.
-- Jennifer Rowland