New year, new attacks
Militants began the new year by opening fire on a van in the Swabi district of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, killing seven Pakistani teachers and health workers, six of them women, in an attack that appeared to be a continuation of recent violence against aid workers in the country (NYT, Guardian, Tel, AFP, AP, BBC, Reuters).
Ten days earlier, a suicide bomber struck a rally held by the anti-Taliban Awami National Party on December 22 in Peshawar, leaving nine people dead, including Bashir Bilour, the second most senior member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial Cabinet and a popular, outspoken critic of the Taliban (AP, NYT, NYT, Reuters, AJE). Also on December 22, police officials in Sindh Province said a mob in the remote village of Seeta had forced its way into the police station where authorities were holding a man accused of burning a Qur'an the previous day (Reuters). The angry crowd dragged the accused out, tortured him and then burned him alive.
In a letter purportedly sent by Pakistani Taliban spokesman Amir Muawiya, to The News on December 27, Muawiya said that the group's conditions for a ceasefire include the adoption of Islamic law and the ending of ties with the United States (Reuters). On the same day, Pakistani Taliban militants kidnapped at least 22 policemen from three posts on the outskirts of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (NYT, AP, BBC, CNN). The next day, December 28, Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud released a video in which he said his group is willing to negotiate with the government, but "asking us to lay down arms is a joke" (Reuters). And on December 29, the bodies of 21 of the kidnapped policemen were discovered in the Jabai area of Peshawar, after one policeman managed to escape and alerted authorities to their location (AP, BBC, CNN, Reuters).
Also on December 29, an explosion -- possibly caused by a gas cylinder -- on a passenger bus in Karachi killed six people and wounded over 50 others (CNN, Reuters). The next day, 19 Shi'a Muslim pilgrims were killed when their convoy of buses was struck by a remote-detonated roadside bomb in the Mastung district of Balochistan Province, where sectarian Sunni militants are known to headquarter their operations (NYT, BBC, AP). On December 25, gunmen wounded prominent Sunni Muslim cleric Auranzeb Farooqi and killed three of his guards and his driver in the southern port city of Karachi in another apparent sectarian attack (AP).
On December 27, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of murdered Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Asif Ali Zardari, began his public political career with a speech marking the fifth anniversary of his mother's death, and a pledge that the Pakistan People's Party would continue to fight militancy and uphold democracy in Pakistan (BBC, AJE, AJE, CNN). And Pakistani authorities said on December 29 that they are investigating allegations that cough syrup killed 33 people over the previous three days in and around the eastern city of Gujrunwala (AP).
The World Health Organization reports that cases of measles soared in Pakistan in 2012, with 306 children dead from the disease (AP). And nearly two-decade-old rumors that iodine causes infertility continue to cause Pakistanis to avoid consuming iodized salt, leaving many with the serious side effects of iodine deficiency (Post). Finally, Declan Walsh published a must-read for the Times on December 29 about the Pakistani Taliban's capture and killing of men in Pakistan's tribal belt who are suspected by the militant group of being spies for the U.S. drone campaign in the region (NYT).
A female police sergeant identified as Nargis shot and killed an American civilian police trainer at police headquarters in Kabul on December 24, in the latest episode of insider attacks in Afghanistan (NYT, NYT, Post, CNN). Nargis told officials that she had set out that morning to "kill a high official," and chose American police adviser Joseph Griffin, who worked for DynCorp International, after scouting several other government buildings in the capital city. At a press conference, Afghan officials showed Nargis' Iranian passport, but did not make direct connections between her nationality and her motivation for the killing.
A suicide bomber killed an Afghan guard and two civilians in an attempted attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province on December 26, almost exactly three years after a suicide bomber entered that base and killed seven CIA employees (NYT, Post, AP, Guardian, AJE, CNN). On December 27, national television stations in Afghanistan aired a video of an Afghan National Army soldier being executed by militants (NYT). The Afghan Army says they have no missing soldiers because militants almost always kill prisoners shortly after capturing them.
Over a ten-day span in December, at least 17 Afghan policemen were killed by colleagues while they were sleeping: four died on December 27 in Oruzgan Province when one policeman let his Taliban contacts into a check post where his fellow officers were sleeping, a local police commander in Jawzjan Province shot to death five men under his command on December 23, and a teenager drugged then shot to death eight policemen at a check post in Kandahar Province on December 18 (NYT).
On December 23, Reuters reported that Pakistani and Western officials said Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has made reconciling the Afghan government and insurgents his top priority, indicating a new resolve on the part of Pakistan to pursue peace talks in neighboring Afghanistan (Reuters, Reuters). And on December 31, Pakistan released eight members of the Afghan Taliban in a gesture of peace intended to encourage negotiations between the militant group and the Afghan government (AP, Post, Reuters, BBC, AJE). Also on December 23, Taliban representatives at a conference in France said they would not demand complete power in Afghanistan, and that they would support women's rights in a future administration, but it is unclear whether that pledge is truly the line taken by Taliban leaders in Afghanistan (AP).
A statement from the Taliban on Wednesday, January 2 compared the U.S. military's withdrawal plans in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War, calling it a "declare victory and run" strategy (AP). And in a rare interview with The Daily Telegraph published on New Year's Day, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is a U.S.-designated global terrorist, accused Britain of allowing itself to be dragged into war in Afghanistan just to "please the White House" (Tel).
More than 1,000 Afghan soldiers died in 2012, marking a 20 percent increase over the same figure for 2011, and showing the results of the first transition stages from NATO control over security operations to Afghan control (NYT). International troops, on the other hand, recorded about 400 deaths in 2012, the lowest number since 2008. As of December 31, not one British soldier had been killed for more than a month in Helmand (BBC). At the same time, NATO officials say overall violence levels fell in Afghanistan in 2012, though the number of insider attacks by Afghan security forces on their NATO counterparts rose drastically (AP).
On December 28, a 3-year-old boy became the first casualty of the bitter winter in Kabul's refugee camps, where more than 100 children died of exposure to the freezing temperatures last year (NYT). On Sunday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees distributed cold-weather supplies to families in the camps, but officials say it isn't enough (NYT).
On December 29, Pakistani authorities lifted a ban on YouTube instated on September 17 after the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims caused riots across the Muslim world (NYT). But the ban was reinstated just three minutes later, when officials discovered that the video was still available on the site.
-- Jennifer Rowland