Bonus read: "Afghanistan's new election laws," Jed Ober (AfPak).
After days of clashes, tensions between India and Pakistan over the Line of Control in Kashmir continued to worsen on Thursday when India directly accused the Pakistani army of involvement in the ambush that killed five Indian soldiers on Tuesday (BBC, NYT, Reuters, VOA). Speaking in front of the Indian parliament, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said, "It is now clear that specialist troops of [the] Pakistan army were involved in this attack," the strongest statement to date from the Indian government. Pakistani officials have strongly denied any involvement in the incident, which came as the two nuclear-armed neighbors consider restarting peace talks in January.
Antony's comments came just hours after Pakistani military officials said that one Pakistani civilian was seriously wounded along the Line of Control on Thursday when Indian troops opened fire in the Tatta Pani section of Kashmir (Dawn, Reuters).
The United States has been careful to avoid placing blame in the incident, with Jen Psaki, a State Department spokesman, saying: "We are concerned about any violence, as always, along the Line of Control. We understand the governments of India and Pakistan are in contact over the issue. We continue to encourage, of course, further dialogue" (Dawn, ET). While a special hotline between the two countries was established on Wednesday to discuss the reciprocal attacks, Indian officials are being pressured to postpone any talks with Pakistan indefinitely (VOA).
At least eight people were killed and 20 others were injured in Quetta on Thursday in a suicide attack at the Police Lines mosque (ET). According to the news report, around 300 to 400 people were at the mosque to attend the funeral procession for Mohib Ullah, a police officer who was killed by unknown gunmen earlier that day (Dawn, ET). Four of Mohib Ullah's children and two additional police officers were also injured in that attack.
According to the New York Times, jihadists around the world are celebrating the fact that a communication from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda Central's leader, to Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of the group's Yemeni affiliate, led to the closure of dozens of U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and North Africa (NYT, NYT). American officials said it was highly unusual for Zawahiri, who is believed to be in Pakistan, to discuss operational matters with affiliate leaders, which is what caused the worry over the potential threat. In online forums, jihadists wrote, "America is in a condition of terror and fear from Al Qaeda," and "We hope to hear more of such psychological warfare." Government officials in the countries where the diplomatic facilities were closed also criticized the Obama administration's decision, saying the sense of panic and perceived weakness played into the hands of the jihadists.
Change of heart?
Afghan President Hamid Karzai once again invited the Afghan Taliban to join in peace talks on Thursday when he invited them to open a political office in Afghanistan (Pajhwok). Interestingly, Karzai told the Taliban that they would not have to remove their signs, flags, and banners from an Afghan office, saying that they were removed from the group's Qatar office because "you were not free there; you were guests and even not accorded hospitality." When the Taliban opened their political office in Doha in June, they displayed the movement's white flag and a plaque that read "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," two moves that caused Karzai to halt reconciliation talks with the group and negotiations with the United States over a bilateral security agreement that will determine the size and shape of the American mission after December 2014.
Ambassador James Dobbins, the Obama administration's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told reporters on Thursday that Pakistan's concerns about India's presence in Afghan cities like Kandahar and Jalalabad "were not groundless. They are simply, in our judgment, somewhat exaggerated" (Pajhwok). In the interview with BBCHindi.com, Dobbins added that, "India had a strong economic and cultural presence in Afghanistan. It's perfectly reasonable for them to have a diplomatic and consular presence in the country." Dobbins' comments came almost a week after an attempted suicide attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad. Not surprisingly, Pakistani media focused on the "not groundless" section of Dobbins' statement while Afghan media emphasized the "somewhat exaggerated" portion (ET).
At least 14 women and children were killed and 4 were injured in Nangarhar province on Thursday when a bomb exploded in the graveyard where they were picnicking (Pajhwok, Reuters). Thursday is the first day of the Muslim holiday Eid ul-Fitr and it is common for Muslims to pay their respects at the graves of loved ones. According to Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, the provincial governor's spokesman, most of the victims were from one family.
Millions of Muslims around the world celebrated the beginning of Eid ul-Fitr on Thursday, a three-day festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan (NYT, Pajhwok). While many celebrations included morning prayers, special feasts, and fireworks, in Afghanistan, special prayers for lasting peace were offered up in mosques across the country. President Hamid Karzai, in particular, took a moment to thank the Afghan security forces for their sacrifices and called for the Taliban to lay down their arms, stop killing Muslims, and join the political process.
-- Bailey Cahall