Tragedy continues in southwest Pakistan
A massive explosion on Saturday at a crowded market in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta killed 80 to 90 people and wounded nearly 200, primarily Shi'a Muslims (NYT, LAT, AP, ET, CNN, Reuters, BBC). The attack took place in an area dominated by the city's minority Hazaras, a Shi'a sect that is often the target of violent sectarian attacks by Sunni extremists. Hundreds of Hazara women staged a sit-in on Sunday to protest the blast, refusing to bury their dead until authorities pledged to hunt down the perpetrators (NYT, AP, ET, Dawn, BBC). And thousands of Shi'a Muslims protested across Pakistan on Monday, demanding that the country's security forces protect them from violent Sunni extremists (Post, AP, The News, DT, ET, Dawn).
News reports in Pakistan say the devastating bombing could have been prevented if military intelligence and police officers had followed up sufficiently on evidence gathered against a faction of the notorious Sunni extremist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that was responsible for the double-suicide bombing in Quetta on January 10 that killed over 100 Shi'a Muslims (The News). Pakistani authorities, and particularly the powerful military, are under intense pressure from the public to stem what many are calling genocide of Pakistani Shi'as (Guardian, Reuters).
On Tuesday, Pakistani officials announced that a security operation will take place in response to the Quetta bombing, and also replaced the police chief of Balochistan Province (AP, Dawn, ET). The statement from Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf's office did not provide any details on the operation, and came as Shi'a Muslims protested for the third day in Quetta against the government's failure to prevent the attack.
Four suicide bombers dressed in Pakistani police uniforms attacked the office of the senior political official in Khyber tribal agency on Monday, killing five and wounding seven others (AP, NYT). And Indian troops reportedly shot and killed a Pakistani soldier at the Line of Control dividing the disputed territory of Kashmir last Thursday, after the Pakistani allegedly opened fire and wounded two Indian troops (NYT, WSJ).
In a speech at the Afghan National Military Academy in Kabul on Saturday, President Hamid Karzai said he would forbid his troops from requesting help from NATO forces in the form of airstrikes, and condemned the abuse of detainees in Afghan prisons (NYT, AP). Karzai said he decided on the ban after ten civilians were killed in an airstrike called during a joint Afghan-NATO operation last week. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the recently installed top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Sunday that his forces will still be able to operate effectively with the ban in place (AP).
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Tuesday that the number of civilians killed in U.S. and NATO airstrikes dropped in 2012 by almost half to 126, and the overall number of civilians killed dropped to 2,754 from 3,131 the previous year (AP, CNN). But the report from UNAMA also expressed concern about increasing targeted killings and human rights abuses by insurgent groups.
Last Wednesday, American Special Forces detained for questioning a suspected member of the Taliban along with his brother and 6-year-old son at a base in Sangin District near Kabul (NYT). The man was eventually released, but as he returned to his car he was shot and killed, sparking anger over what locals are calling an extrajudicial killing by U.S. troops. Afghan intelligence officials say they have captured the former second-in-command of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Maulvi Faqir Mohammad on Monday, while he tried to cross into Pakistan's Tirah Valley from Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province (Dawn, AP, BBC).
After months of stalled negotiations, a consortium of nations is now making a push to achieve a peace deal between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents (NYT). The latest efforts began last at the beginning of this month with a meeting in the United Kingdom between President Karzai, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, where the three leaders called for accelerating peace talk initiatives.
Pakistan to get tallest building
Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak al-Nahayan, a member of Abu Dhabi's royal family, has said he will be investing some $45 billion over the next 15 years on a massive real estate project in the Pakistani port city of Karachi (Reuters). If all goes as planned, the structure will be the tallest building in the world.
-- Jennifer Rowland