Newly obtained diplomatic memos and CIA documents revealed on Wednesday that Pakistani government officials have been aware of U.S. drone strikes and endorsed the program, according to the Washington Post (AFP, RFE/RL). The files obtained by the Post contain descriptions of numerous drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal region, before-and-after photos of targets, and markings that indicate many of the files were prepared by the CIA's Counterterrorism Center specifically for the Pakistani government.
Although it's been widely known that Pakistan tacitly approved of the strikes, in spite of publicly denouncing them, the documents reveal a much more complicated and nuanced relationship. For instance, in one document, Michael J. Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, indicated that the agency was prepared to share credit with the Pakistanis if the agency could confirm that it had killed Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda operative suspected of ties to plots against India (Post). The agency would do so "so that the negative views about Pakistan in the U.S. decision and opinion making circles are mitigated," according to the memo.
Other documents reveal tenser times. Some describe meetings in which U.S. officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, questioned their Pakistani counterparts with U.S. intelligence alleging Pakistan's ties to militant groups involved in attacks on American forces (BBC). One memo from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to its embassy in Washington lists 36 U.S. citizens who it believed were CIA agents and instructed the embassy to withhold visas for those individuals.
The Post piece came as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Obama met at the White House to repair ties between the two countries (NYT, RFE/RL, VOA). While Sharif asked Obama to halt the drone program, neither government commented on the new report.
"Sandhurst in the Sand"
A new Afghan National Army officer academy opened its doors on Wednesday, intent on taking "raw but enthusiastic candidates" and turning them into the country's future military leaders (AP, BBC, Pajhwok). Dubbed "Sandhurst in the Sand," the academy is modeled after its British namesake and will be Britain's only military presence in the country after combat troops leave at the end of next year. Cadets will study at the facility for 42 weeks, and will analyze Afghan tactics in past wars against the British, as well as those the mujahideen used against the Soviets in the 1980s. The incoming class of 270 recruits was chosen from 10,000 applications, and while this first class is comprised of all male soldiers, female candidates will join the institution next year.
While many Afghan citizens said on Wednesday that they were pleased with the Independent Election Commission's decision to cut the number of presidential contenders by more than half, independent observers have criticized the move and some of the disqualified candidates have accused the government of being behind the reductions (Pajhwok, Reuters). Kabul residents told Pajhwok Afghan News that the smaller candidate pool could help prevent a run-off election, lower campaigning costs, and prompt more people to vote. Independent observers, while not necessarily against the reductions, questioned the IEC's lack of transparency as the disqualified candidates had not been informed before the reductions were announced to the media, and the Afghan election watchdog agency had not provided more information about why specific candidates were disqualified.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that a 2012 report by the International Labor Organization shows that despite spending billions of dollars in international aid to develop Afghanistan, nearly 8 out of 10 working-age Afghans are unskilled day laborers (AP). The work that they can find in the country's urban areas is "often backbreaking, always temporary and will earn [them] just a few dollars." In the more rural parts of Afghanistan, the work is seasonal and often illegal as some of the biggest employers are poppy farmers. And while Afghans worry about their current job prospects, they are also concerned about what will happen next year when foreign troops withdraw the country and take additional support jobs with them.
A British Royal Marine, known only as Marine A, was accused on Wednesday of "executing" an injured Afghan insurgent while he was serving in Afghanistan in 2011 (BBC, RFE/RL). A prosecutor told a military court in southwest England that the marine shot the Afghan in the chest at close range, and that the killing was inadvertently recorded by another soldier's helmet camera. The shooting allegedly took place in September 2011, after a military base in Helmand province was attacked by insurgents. The marine has denied the charges, as have two other soldiers - Marines D and E - whose charges were dropped in February.
It's a radio, it's a pencil... it's a president?
Since approximately 61% of Afghanistan's voting population is illiterate, each of the 10 presidential candidates for next year's election has been assigned a symbol, including a bulldozer, a Koran, a radio, and a pencil (RFE/RL). The hope is that the symbols will make voting easier by allowing voters to distinguish between the candidates. The symbols will be printed on ballot papers next to the name and picture of each candidate. With more than 5,000 possible symbols, all of the presidential candidates, and even those running in provincial elections, were able to choose their own pictures.
-- Bailey Cahall and Emily Schneider