Event Notice: Please join the New America Foundation's National Security Studies Program TODAY at 12:15PM for a discussion about environment-related conflict in South Asia, and how to control it (NAF).
Pleas for protection
Around 2,000 people staged a sit-in protest of the targeting of Hazara Shi'a Muslims in Quetta on Friday, refusing to bury the victims of Thursday's double bombing, which killed 86 people, until the government pledged to protect the Hazara minority, which is frequently targeted by sectarian Sunni militants (NYT, VOA, CNN, NYT, BBC, Reuters). Protests continued on Saturday, as demonstrators blocked the provincial capital's main roads with the coffins of dozens of victims, and talks between a government delegation and Shi'a leaders failed (AP).
In response to the continued furor, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf visited Quetta on Sunday, where he dismissed Balochistan's chief minister, replacing him with the federally appointed provincial governor (Reuters, AP, BBC, BBC, Reuters, CNN). Ashraf also told the nation on Monday that paramilitary forces would receive police powers in Balochistan, and mourners began to bury their dead as the protests ended (ET/AFP).
A roadside bombing in North Waziristan killed at least 14 Pakistani soldiers on Sunday, just a day after Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud ordered his fighters not to target Pakistani troops in the area (NYT, Reuters, BBC, CNN). Thousands of Pakistanis on Monday joined a march on Islamabad led by Sufi cleric Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who is calling for a "moral revolution" to overthrow a corrupt government (NYT, Reuters, LAT, ET).
Indian and Pakistani military commanders met for talks at the Line of Control (LoC) dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir on Monday, where the Indian army's chief of staff Gen. Bikram Singh said he has ordered his commanders to be "aggressive" in response to any future firing by Pakistani troops over the LoC (Reuters, AFP/ET). Two soldiers from each side were killed in clashes last week, and one of the Indian soldiers was reportedly beheaded.
At a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama said that U.S. troops would begin playing a support role to Afghan forces this spring, indicating a quicker transition to Afghan control than previously planned, and also opening the door for an accelerated withdrawal schedule (NYT, Reuters, Post, AP). President Karzai said on Monday that Afghan elders will hold a jirga to decide whether U.S. troops will be granted immunity from prosecution, a key American demand in the discussions over how many U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan after NATO's withdrawal in 2014 (AFP, Reuters).
Despite persistent instability and violence, the occasional tourist still ventures to Afghanistan, perhaps for its beautiful, rugged terrain, or perhaps just for the thrill of danger (NYT). A newlywed couple disappeared in October in the militant-ridden eastern province of Wardak. Afghanistan's deputy tourism minister says, "I wouldn't call them stupid, because we don't use that word in our culture, but I would not have advised them to go there."
-- Jennifer Rowland