Bonus read: "Salvaging Jinnah's Pakistan," Fatima Mustafa (AfPak).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai recommended in a meeting last week that Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a powerful ex-jihadi leader, be nominated as a candidate in next year's presidential election, potentially ending months of speculation about whom he would support (Pajhwok). According to Syed Fazl Sancharaki, a spokesman for the National Coalition Party, Karzai's announcement came during a meeting with political party representatives and former jihadi leaders. Mohammad Daud Kalkani, a leader of Sayyaf's party, confirmed the meeting had taken place but denied that Sayyaf's candidacy had been discussed.
As Afghanistan prepares for the 2014 presidential and provincial elections, NATO generals told Afghan reporters on Wednesday that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have the ability to keep security for about 95% of the country's polling centers and combat next year's annual fighting season (Pajhwok). Lt. Gen. John Lorimer, the British deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said there are currently 350,000 ANSF soldiers and policemen and that the NATO-led force is focused on improving their capabilities. Other NATO officials noted that there are also 13,000 Special Forces soldiers and 22,000 local police officers in the country. According to U.S. Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, only 12% of Afghanistan is affected by the insurgency, enabling the Afghan forces to provide the security next year's election will need.
While the ANSF may be able to secure polling stations next April, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) released a report Wednesday that showed insecurity, fraud, and registration violations had marred the first phase of the country's voter registration drive (Pajhwok). FEFA found thousands of cases where individuals had received voter cards without being asked to provide valid identification documents, as well as thousands of cards that went to people who are under age. FEFA's report also notes that insecurity led to delays in opening several voting centers, particularly those trying to register women. To combat these challenges, FEFA said Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission must do more to ensure valid documents are checked and urged the international community to strengthen its observation of the second phase of the campaign.
At least one Afghan policeman died and several other officers and civilians were injured in Takhar province on Wednesday when a bomb exploded inside a local hotel (Pajhwok). No one has claimed responsibility for the attack that targeted Afghan Local Police officers.
Peace and war
The Pakistani Taliban released a statement on Wednesday saying that they are ready for dialogue with Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif's government, but that they are also ready for a full-scale war should the government launch an operation against them (ET). The comments came from Ehsanullah Ehsan, the Taliban spokesman who was fired in June but is now a member of the group's political commission, and were a response to remarks Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan's Interior Minister, made on Tuesday. In his statement, Khan also indicated that the government is ready for peace, as well as war, with the militant group.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the rising tensions between India and Pakistan over the Line of Control in Kashmir on Thursday, warning Pakistan against using its soil for "anti-India activity" (AFP). Singh's comments came during his annual Independence Day address and followed the passage of a parliamentary resolution on Wednesday that condemned Pakistan's "unprovoked attack" that left five Indian soldiers dead last Tuesday. Pakistan has denied its involvement in the attack, the deadliest incident along the Line of Control since the two nuclear-armed neighbors signed a ceasefire in 2003. Bonus read: "Spoilers threaten Pakistan-India peace process," Associated Press (AP).
Chaudhry Barjees Tahir, the Pakistani Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, told Pakistan's Express Tribune on Thursday that India's army and intelligence agencies are behind the current "flare-up" in Kashmir, but blamed both country's armies and spy agencies for disrupting the governments' attempts to normalize relations (ET). Tahir said the conflict is designed to sabotage a scheduled meeting between Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the U.N. General Assembly meeting next month. Tahir also reiterated the Pakistani government's stance that the 1948 U.N. Security Council resolution settled the Kashmir debate and that the Kashmiris have a "right to self-determination through a plebiscite."
At least 17 people died and dozens more were wounded across Pakistan on Wednesday as a fresh wave of monsoon rains traveled across the country (Dawn, ET). The intermittent precipitation started on Tuesday night, marring Independence Day celebrations in Khyber-Pakhtunhwa and Punjab provinces. Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority has issued flood warnings and evacuation notices due to the continued rains and rising water levels.
A band with no name
In the Pragaash section of Kashmir, five girls determined to pass along the tradition of Sufi music have joined together to revive the region's first all-female rock band (ET). The band, which has no formal name, was originally formed several years ago but fell apart as members got married and stop singing. But the band's founder, Shaista - whose name was been changed to protect her identity - has found a new group of women who want to preserve the music. They have performed at local and national events, have worked with filmmakers and theatre directors, and are teaching a new generation of performers.
-- Bailey Cahall