Wonk Watch: "Randomized Impact Evaluation of Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme FINAL REPORT," Andrew Beath, Fotini Christia, and Ruben Enikolopov (World Bank).
At least eight people were killed and about 16 were injured in the southwestern Pakistani city of Chaman on Wednesday when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the Afghan Customs House near the border's "Friendship Gate" (Dawn, ET, Pajhwok). There have been no immediate claims of responsibility, and the Bab-e-Dosti pass has been closed until further notice. Chaman is a small town in Balochistan, and is one of two main crossing points for supplies going to NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan.
The Chaman blast occurred just a few hours after two Pakistani soldiers were killed and four were injured in Balochistan's Awaran district, though it is unclear if the incidents were related (Dawn, ET, Pajhwok). The soldiers were in the Mashkay section of the district to carry out relief efforts related to last week's earthquake when their vehicle struck a landmine. An investigation into the incident is underway.
A day after a group of Pakistani clerics issued a call for a ceasefire between the country's government and Pakistani Taliban, a spokesman for the Taliban welcomed the suggestion and said the militant group would "reconsider [its] stance if the government was ready for a break in fighting" (Dawn). Speaking to reporters on Tuesday night, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed that the government could take the lead in stopping the war, but added that: "We are ready to proceed with the APC (All Party Conference) suggestions and willing to have peace."
The Global AgeWatch Index 2013, the first survey of its kind to collect global data on the well-being of the world's rapidly aging population, ranked Pakistan as the third worst country for a person to grow old in (AFP, ET). The index, released on Tuesday by HelpAge International and the U.N. Population Fund, ranked 91 countries based on data describing older people's education, employment, environments, health, and incomes. Afghanistan was also ranked and came in last (RFE/RL).
Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Afghanistan's most prominent Salafi leader, resigned from parliament on Wednesday and announced his candidacy for next April's presidential election, becoming the latest contender to enter the race (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Sayyaf currently heads the Daawat-i-Islami group and was a top anti-Soviet guerrilla leader in the 1980s. He has also been accused of human rights violations during Afghanistan's civil war.
Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, current President Hamid Karzai's advisor on military affairs, also announced his resignation on Wednesday (Pajhwok). While he did not provide a specific reason for his resignation, Pajhwok Afghan News reported that he had recently received an information packet on running in the election, fueling speculation that he will also jump into the race.
Afghan women have also entered the political arena, though not as presidential candidates - at least not yet. Last week, Fawzia Koofi, an influential female lawmaker and outspoken human rights advocate, unveiled the "Wave of Change," a female-led political movement designed to consolidate the fragile gains made by Afghan women over the last 12 years, and encourage them to participate in public life (RFE/RL). While the movement does have its share of skeptics, Koofi promised her supporters that she would help bring Afghanistan "out of the days of darkness and bring about change."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai restated his position on the proposed Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States on Tuesday, providing further information about the "sticking points" his spokesman eluded to on Monday (AFP, Pajhwok, Reuters). According to multiple reports, the issues are a U.S. desire to run independent counterterrorism missions from bases in Afghanistan after 2014, and a U.S. refusal to agree to a wide-reaching promise to protect the country from foreign aggression. Several U.S. leaders, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, have said that they hope to have an agreement signed before the end of the year, but Afghan officials have replied that the next Afghan administration could sign the document as well.
One day after Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, fired two generals for failing to adequately protect Afghanistan's Camp Bastion from Taliban attack last September, U.S. Central Command released the final report of its investigation into the incident that left two Marines dead, eight American personnel injured, and six fighter jets in flames (RFE/RL). According to the report, officers had "consistent indicators" of Taliban interest in attacking the facility, and it was those conclusions that led to the generals' firings.
Hekmatullah, a former Afghan National Army soldier accused of killing three Australian troops in August 2012, has been captured and will be put on trial, Australian forces said Wednesday (AFP, AP, BBC, Pajhwok). Hekmatullah, who like many Afghans uses one name, was captured by Pakistani forces in February but was just recently transferred to Afghan authorities. Gen. David Hurley, the Australian Defense Force Chief, told reporters that they had waited to make the announced until Hekmatullah had been deported to Afghanistan, and that he will likely be charged with murder.
Pakistan's silent film
When Pakistan emerged as a nation in 1947, talking films were the worldwide norm and Pakistan's film industry followed suit - until now (ET). Faraz Waqar wrote and directed Pakistan's first silent film - Meeeowww Billi aur World War 3 - and is getting ready to submit it to a number of international film festivals. While the movie may be inspired by the era of silent films, its political message focuses on the current situation in Syria and the Middle East. The film was shot entirely in the United Arab Emirates and involved an international team of actors, cinematographers, and crew.
-- Bailey Cahall