Event Notice: Jihad and Politics in North Africa. TODAY, May 20, 2013; 12:00-1:30PM (NAF).
Unclaimed violence continues
A wave of violence swept Afghanistan this weekend, killing dozens of police officers and civilians. The attacks continued on Monday when a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform struck the provincial council building in the capital of Baghlan province, killing 14 and wounding 9 (Dawn/AFP, Pajhwok, AP, NYT, WSJ, VOA). The attack specifically targeted Rasoul Mohseni, the head of Baghlan's provincial council, who was killed in the blast. Widely regarded as the most powerful man in Baghlan, Mohseni was a veteran commander who had led northerners in a revolt against the Taliban (NYT). There were no immediate claims of responsibility, though President Hamid Karzai blamed "enemies of Afghanistan," a phrase often used in reference to the Afghan Taliban (Pajhwok).
In Kandahar on Friday, two bombs hidden in a motorcycle and a car exploded inside a gated community that was developed in part by Mahmood Karzai, President Hamid Karzai's younger brother, killing at least 9 and wounding more than 70 (NYT). An investigation is currently under way to determine how the explosive-laden vehicles slipped past the complex's heavy security but there has been no immediate claim of responsibility.
Two gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed Abdul Ghani, a district police official in the Khaki Safed district of Farah Province in western Afghanistan, in front of his home on Friday night (NYT). A spokesman for the Farah governor said the attack appeared to have been in retaliation for a recent crackdown on the Taliban that killed several militants. In the southern province of Helmand on Saturday, six Afghan policemen were killed and four others wounded when a roadside bomb was detonated near their vehicle in the volatile Gereshk district. And a bomb blast on Saturday morning in Khost, which borders Pakistan to the east, killed one border police officer and wounded eight others.
On Saturday, women's rights activists proposed revisions to Afghanistan's Elimination of Violence Against Women Act in the country's lower house of parliament, and then quickly withdrew them in the face of fierce criticism from mullahs and other conservatives (NYT). The bid to alter the unprecedented law, led by ambitious women's rights proponent and member of parliament Fawzia Koofi, has been criticized by other activists as a danger to the very existence of the law. Any attempt to amend it could result in conservatives dismantling it entirely.
Hundreds mourn PTI vice president
Hundreds of mourners turned out for the funeral of Zohra Shahid, the vice president of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, who was gunned down outside her home in Karachi on Saturday (AP, BBC). Police said gunmen on a motorcycle killed the senior party leader in an attempted robbery but others believe the attack was politically motivated. There were no immediate claims of responsibility, though Khan has blamed Muttahida Qaumi Movement party leader Altaf Hussein (Guardian).
Protests over the killing broke out on Sunday as Karachi voters headed back to the polls in an election re-run (ET). Voting in Karachi was suspended early on May 11 after reports of violent intimidation, and while there was an army presence at the constituency's polling places, Shahid's killing had an immediate impact on voter turnout. In stark contrast to the 60-percent nationwide turnout in last Saturday's election, election officials believe only about 10 percent of the 86,316 registered voters in Karachi voted on Sunday (BBC, NYT).
Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the head of Pakistan's powerful army, visited prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif on Saturday to show support for stronger democracy and greater stability (Post). The meeting, described as informal and cordial, lasted for more than three hours and was a remarkable first in a country with a long history of military coups. Former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf was granted bail on Sunday in the Benazir Bhutto murder case and the Supreme Court adjourned its hearing in the treason case against him until Wednesday (Dawn, ET, Reuters). Musharraf will have to pay two bonds worth one million rupees each, and while the bail does not grant his automatic release, some believe it "certainly paves the way for his exit" (AJ).
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a group of health workers administering polio vaccinations in the Bajaur tribal district on Monday, killing a paramilitary soldier who was escorting the team (NYT). Once again, no group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Pakistani Taliban have declared the vaccination program "un-Islamic" and have carried out attacks on polio workers in the past.
Declan Walsh, the former New York Times bureau chief in Islamabad who was expelled by Pakistan's Interior Ministry on May 10, published a must-read article this weekend on Pakistan's decaying railway as a symbol of the country's decline and a symptom of its deep-seated problems (NYT).
President Barack Obama will reportedly give a speech at the National Defense University this Thursday on U.S. counterterrorism strategy, including the legality of the CIA drone program, which has come under increasing fire this year (AP).
Samina Baig, a 21-year-old mountaineer from the Shimsal valley of Hunza, became the first Pakistani woman to scale Mount Everest on Sunday (Dawn). To the surprise of many, she joined twin sisters, also 21 years old, from India to make the climb to the summit, which she completed at 7:30 am on May 19.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Event Notice: Jihad and Politics in North Africa. MONDAY, May 20. 12:00-1:30PM (NAF).
Friday explosions rock Malakand
Two bombs exploded near different mosques in the Bazdara area of Malakand in northwest Pakistan after prayers on Friday, killing 10 and injuring at least 20 others, though the number of casualties is expected to rise (Dawn, ET). Emergency and rescue teams are at the scene and investigations into the incident are underway. Elsewhere, the driver of a NATO supply truck was shot and killed by gunmen on Thursday as he drove through the Jamrud area of Khyber, one of seven districts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Dawn). There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has rejected Imran Khan's request to recount votes in Lahore's NA-122 constituency (ET). On Thursday, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chairman gave the ECP three days to accept his parties demand to recount votes in six different constituencies. No word was given about the other recount requests. The ECP also rejected the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's request to re-poll the entire NA-250 constituency of Karachi (ET).
Police on Friday arrested Wazir Gul, the head of an inter-provincial gang of kidnappers suspected of capturing Ali Haider Gilani, though there is still no sign of former prime minster Yousaf Raza Gilani's son (Dawn, ET). On Thursday, security personnel rescued one captive and arrested four abductors, including Gul's brother, Mullah. The search for Gilani continues in Nowshera, where Thursday's arrests occurred, and Charsadda, where Gul was arrested.
The death toll from yesterday's suicide bombing in Kabul now stands confirmed at 15, with an additional 42 wounded (Dawn, Guardian, LAT, Pajhwok). Two NATO soldiers (whose nationalities remain unknown), four American contractors, and nine Afghan civilians, including two children on their way to school, were killed when a suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into a military convoy Thursday morning. With this attack, May has become the deadliest month for coalition forces in Afghanistan; 18 service members have been killed in the last 17 days (Post).
Hezb-i-Islami, the militant group responsible for yesterday's suicide bombing, said Thursday's attack marked the start of a stepped-up campaign against foreign troops in Afghanistan and promised more such assaults (NYT). While Haroon Zarghoun, a group spokesman, said U.S. military advisors were the specific targets in this attack, another spokesman, Zubair Sediqqi, stated they would also target Afghans working with foreigners (Guardian, LAT). A group once allied with the United States and considered to be more moderate than the Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami is formally split into two different factions - one that is embedded in the Afghan government and includes the ministers of agriculture, education, and economy, and one that reports to leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Pakistan (Post).
An Afghan woman whose husband was killed in the March 2012 massacre of 17 civilians that was allegedly carried out by U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales broke with tribal traditions to tell journalists from the Associated Press her account of the grisly murder (AP). Masooma, who like many Afghans only goes by one name, described how a U.S. soldier in military uniform dragged her husband out of their bedroom and then shot him before returning to the room, where he punched her 7-year-old son in the head repeatedly, shook her two-year-old daughter by her pigtails, and put the barrel of his pistol in the mouth of her crying infant. The Army is seeking the death penalty in Bales' court-martial.
Two insurgent groups in northern Balkh and Faryab provinces have joined the Afghan peace process, according to the National Security Directorate, Afghanistan's intelligence agency (Pajhwok). The 45 fighters turned in their weapons on Friday and asked about work opportunities in their areas. They join the more than 6,000 other militants who have reportedly joined the peace process since 2010, 4,500 of whom have been provided with work opportunities.
After fracturing three vertebrae, cracking a rib, and cutting his scalp during a 15-foot fall from a forklift ten days ago, PTI leader Imran Khan will likely walk out of the hospital in the next 10 to 12 days, according to PTI Vice President Asad Umar (Dawn). While Umar said Khan might participate in protests against election rigging after his release, it seems fairly certain he will be doing so from ground-level.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
New Post: Andrew Wilder and Colin Cookman, "The Return of Nawaz Sharif: Assessing Pakistan's 2013 Election" (NAF).
Deadly week continues
Two NATO service members, four NATO contractors, and at least 10 Afghan civilians were killed on Thursday when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into a two-vehicle convoy in the Shah Shahid district of Kabul (Dawn, NYT, Pajhwok, Post). NATO officials had no immediate comment on the nationalities of those killed, but Afghan police officials said they removed the bodies of four Americans from one of the vehicles. Unlike previous attacks that have gone unclaimed, insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami has claimed responsibility for this attack.
The violence on Thursday continued in the Sarobi district of Paktika Province where one Afghan civilian was killed and seven others were wounded in a suicide bombing at a local market (Pajhwok).
Stepping up their own "spring offensive," Afghan and foreign forces launched a joint clearing operation in the Hesarak district of Nangarhar province on Wednesday, killing 17 insurgents and wounding several others (Pajhwok). The operation is ongoing in the Daud Kala, Rashid Kala, and Jabarkhel districts, and a provincial police spokesman hinted the offensive would continue for a few days. U.S. forces also claimed on Thursday that 24 militants had been killed in 24 hours in similar actions around the country.
On the offensive, part two
Not to be outdone by the recent goodwill gestures of their Afghan counterparts, the Pakistani Taliban said in a statement Wednesday that they would stop attacks, provided the incoming government takes their offer for dialogue seriously (ET). A similar offer was made to the previous government, but was rescinded when the group did not receive a "positive" response. Prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif has said the offer would be considered seriously, though it is unclear what "serious" steps he would take or what would be acceptable to the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Imran Khan has filed a formal complaint with the Election Commission of Pakistan, demanding that they investigate his party's claims of vote-rigging in the elections for 25 parliamentary seats, primarily in districts of Lahore and Karachi (NYT). If the alleged electoral fraud is not addressed within three days, Khan warned that he and his supporters would stage countrywide protests.
Acting on a tip, police conducted an operation in Nowshera on Thursday to recover Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was kidnapped on May 9 while heading to a political rally in Multan. Security personnel recovered a captive and arrested four abductors, though Gilani is still missing (Dawn, ET). The police search for him is ongoing.
The Pakistani military drove the Taliban out of the northwestern Swat Valley in a successful 2009 operation, but a series of recent attacks, combined with the impending drawdown of U.S. troops just across the border, have Pakistani authorities nervous that the region once known as the Switzerland of Pakistan is poised to fall again into militant control (WSJ). Their worry is somewhat paradoxical given the longtime U.S. accusation that the insurgency continues to rage in Afghanistan in part because of Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban. But Pakistan is concerned that anti-state militants in the tribal regions will gain support from emboldened militants in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistani feature film Lamha (Seedlings in English) won the Best Feature Film Award at the DC South Asian Film Festival on Wednesday (Dawn). The only Pakistani film to be aired at the festival, Lamha revolves around loss, forgiveness, and redemption as a young couple struggles to reconnect after the death of their only child.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
The Rack: Mohsin Hamid, "Pakistan: Why Drones Don't Help" (NYRB).
On the offensive
Three U.S. soldiers were killed in the Zhare district of Kandahar on Tuesday when a roadside bomb ripped through their convoy (NYT, RFE/RL). Considered one of the most violent districts in Afghanistan, Zhare has seen an increased Taliban presence as the American force there has been cut over the past year. The attack was the second successful assault on coalition forces in as many days. As the United States and its NATO allies hand over responsibility for security operations to the Afghans, the U.S. and Afghan Special Forces contingents are taking on increasing amounts of combat (NYT). U.S. Special Operations forces are expected to make up almost one-third of the American troop presence in Afghanistan by next February, while the specially trained Afghan commandos will be heavily relied upon to fill the gap left by outgoing NATO troops.
Violence continued on Wednesday in Nangarhar province with back-to-back explosions that killed one police officer and wounded 10 civilians (Dawn, Pajhwok). The first bomb went off close to the Sherzai Stadium, and near the provincial governor's compound, in Jalalabad and the second was detonated shortly after police reached the scene. As with the other attacks this week, there has been no immediate claim of responsibility.
The four remaining Turkish engineers held hostage by the Afghan Taliban were released on Tuesday in a "goodwill gesture toward Turkey" and as an "Islamic and humanitarian gesture of respect" (Pajhwok, Reuters, RFE/RL). Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said he hoped the release of the eight Turkish captives would help bring the two Islamic nations even closer. Still no word was given about the fates of the Afghan interpreter or the two pilots who were also captured when their helicopter made an emergency landing in April.
In addition to freeing the eight Turkish hostages, the Afghan Taliban released a statement earlier this week asking members "not to create any kind of trouble" for health workers participating in the country's polio eradication program (CBC). Though they said they would not tolerate foreigners participating in the eradication program, the group recognized the science behind the vaccine and the need for preventative medicine (Tel, CBC). Since the Taliban has previously blocked eradication program, Afghan observers say it is clear the move is as much for political reasons as it is for humanitarian ones.
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's president-elect, visited opposition leader Imran Khan in the hospital on Tuesday, saying they had "made peace" and would "work together to get the country out of a quagmire of problems" (NYT). While Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party gained control of the regional government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, most independent candidates appeared to be aligning with Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), strengthening his party's position in both the National and Punjab Assemblies (Dawn, ET).
The PTI claims it has identified "significant rigging instances" in as many as 20 Punjabi constituencies and will be lodging complaints with the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Supreme Court (Dawn). Some have suggested this is a case of the party's followers being "sore losers," but others are taking the allegations seriously (ET). On Wednesday, seven men allegedly involved in rigging polling stations in the Darakhshan section of Karachi were arrested and the election in that area, which was postponed on Saturday due to widespread complaints of irregularities, has been rescheduled for May 19 (Dawn).
Speaking at the New America Foundation on Tuesday, Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, stated that U.S. claims it is in a global armed conflict with al-Qaeda and can kill its members wherever it finds them are not widely accepted among its European allies (NAF, WT). Making his first public comments in Washington since launching an investigation into the U.S. drone program in January, Emmerson called for more transparency from the Obama administration, not only to ease public concerns about the targeted killing campaign but also to combat exaggerated claims against it.
Courage under fire
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museums on Monday honored Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban last year for supporting women's education, and awarded her the annual Reflection of Hope Award (OKC). Accepted by her father, Ziauddin, the award is given in honor of the 168 people who died in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images
Event notice: Drone Wars: Counterterrorism and Human Rights, with the UN Special Rapporteur for Counterterrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson. TODAY, 12:15-1:45PM (NAF).
Full steam ahead
On Monday, as election results continued to come in with positive results for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif moved quickly to form a new government, and named Ishaq Dar as his finance minister (NYT). With the country's economy high on the party's agenda, Dar, who served in the post twice before, is considered the most experienced man for the job. An expert in finance, audits, and accounts, he would be a critical player in a country suffering a sharp economic decline.
As Pakistan's other political parties ceded their defeat, Sharif also reached out to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, inviting him to his swearing-in ceremony and renewing optimism in a thaw in relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors (BBC). Though many analysts are skeptical -- thinking a potential thaw depends more on the countries' security and intelligence apparatuses -- others are "guardedly optimistic" that the time is right for greater cooperation on shared economic and security issues (NYT, NYT).
Sharif also expressed interest in maintaining good relations with the United States, though he indicated that the CIA drone program would need to be discussed and Pakistan's concerns properly understood (Dawn). U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson called on Sharif in Raiwind to congratulate him on his victory (News).
Explosions rock Helmand
Three coalition soldiers from the central Asian nation of Georgia died on Monday when a truck bomb exploded outside the entrance of their outpost in the Musa Qala district of Helmand (Post). With 1,600 troops in Afghanistan, Georgia has the largest non-NATO contingent in the country and the deaths brought the total number of Georgian soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 22.
Elsewhere in Helmand, six civilians were killed and nearly a dozen were injured when two bombs exploded in separate incidents. The first explosion occurred when a motorbike bomb was detonated outside a livestock market in Safa, killing 3 and wounding at least 10 (Dawn, Pajhwok). A second bomb exploded in the Sistani area of Marja when a vehicle struck a roadside bomb, killing 3 and wounding one. Afghan officials blamed the Taliban for the explosions but there have been no immediate claims of responsibility.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, has said in an interview with the New York Times that there was absolutely no American or NATO involvement in airstrikes early last month in eastern Afghanistan that killed 17 women and children (NYT). "It's been investigated ad nauseam," he said, while the Afghan government has declared equally as adamantly that the deaths were caused by NATO airstrikes, and that a secretive Afghan paramilitary force linked to the CIA showed reckless disregard for civilian life when it called in the airstrikes during a fierce firefight with the Taliban that day.
As U.S. troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, many Afghans who have supported the coalition forces as translators, mechanics, cleaners, and drivers are suddenly finding themselves without jobs (LAT). In addition to losing an income than was often greater than that of typical semiskilled Afghan jobs, many of these former employees fear retaliation from the Taliban. Though the U.S. does offer a Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who provided "faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government," such visas are limited to 1,500 a year.
Activists for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) were not only accused of stuffing ballot boxes in various parts of Sindh Province, but were also allegedly filmed in the act (The Lede). The anonymous blogger who tweets satirical messages about events in Pakistan from the account ‘Majorly Profound' wondered on Saturday, "If a candidate can't even successfully run a small rigging, how do you expect them to run a country?"
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
The (Virtual) Shelf: "Bird of Chaman, Flower of Khyber" by Matthieu Aikins, a new ebook from Foreign Policy (FP).
Pakistan rocks the vote
Though votes are still being counted, two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif appears poised to claim the post for an unprecedented third time (BBC, Post). Projections indicate that Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz will claim at least 130 seats in the National Assembly, bringing it close to a simple majority in the 272-seat assembly, and it is believed alliances with smaller parties and independent candidates will put it over the top. Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party won about 30 seats each.
Allegations of vote rigging, however, particularly in Karachi, will severely delay the final vote-count. Officials in Karachi said armed supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan People's Party had forcibly taken over some polling stations in the southern port city (NYT).
After a campaign season that saw over a hundred people killed or injured in election-related violence, at least 38 people died on Saturday-Election Day-in attacks in Karachi and Quetta, as well as several in Balochistan (NYT). Two bombs targeting Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Amanullah Mehsud exploded in Karachi, though Mehsud was unhurt (UPI). And in separate incidents in Balochistan, gunmen opened fire near a polling station in Soorab, killing two soldiers from the Frontier Corps and wounding four, while in Chaman, four people were killed and 10 wounded in a shootout between supporters of rival local candidates (ET).
Violence continued in Quetta on Sunday where eight people died when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the convoy of Inspector General Police Mushtaq Sukhera, who escaped the attack (Dawn, AFP).
Despite threats of violence, Pakistanis turned out in droves on Saturday to vote in the national election. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, 60% of the country 86 million voters chose the "ballot as an alternative to the bullet," the highest turnout since 1970 (Dawn, Post). Female voters were also eager to vote and activist group "Aware Girls" fielded the first citizen election observer team consisting of women aged 12 to 27. Based in Peshawar, the "girls" monitored female-only polling stations to track campaign law violations and efforts to intimidate voters or tamper with ballots (USA Today, Post).
Ten killed, four freed
As the "fighting season" in Afghanistan picks up, 10 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed and a dozen wounded when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the Arghistan district of Kandahar on Monday (AP, Pajhwok). A popular tactic for insurgents, there has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the bomb.
Afghan officials are seeking the arrest of Zakaria Kandahari, a man they say is an American Special Forces soldier who tortured and killed civilians in Wardak Province (NYT). American officials say U.S. forces are being blamed for the actions of a rogue Afghan unit, while Afghan authorities say they have evidence of significant American involvement.
Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul in Kabul on Saturday to try to negotiate the details of the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai last May (NYT). The agreement is a framework for American commitments to Afghanistan over the next ten years, and details that remain unknown include the amount of money the United States will give to the Afghan security forces each year, as well as the specific demands made on the Afghan government to fight corruption and protect human rights.
Four Turkish engineers captured last month in Logar province by the Afghan Taliban were released on Sunday in a "gesture of goodwill towards fellow Muslims" (RFE/RL, Reuters). A total of eight Turks were captured, along with an Afghan translator and two pilots, when their helicopter had to make a hard landing in bad weather and the Afghan Taliban says it will soon release the remaining four hostages as well. However, no mention was made of the translator or the pilots, who are from Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhelwal appeared before Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, on Monday to reveal the names of legislators he previously accused of making illegal demands on the government (Pajhwok). Zakhelwal identified at least five members of parliament who he said had been involved in the smuggling of alcohol, fuel, and flour, and sought the illegal acquisition of land and license plates.
All the news that's fit to print?
While much of the world heralded Saturday's landmark election in Pakistan, there were signs the country's security and intelligence establishment remains strong. Claiming Declan Walsh, the New York Times bureau chief in Pakistan, conducted "undesirable activities," the government revoked his visa and expelled him (NYT, WSJ). While further explanation has not been forthcoming, it is a sobering reminder that the country still has a way to go in becoming a full democracy, supportive of a critical press.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Explosions rock North Waziristan, Balochistan
The death toll from election-related violence rose on Friday when two bombs targeting candidate offices exploded in Miran Shah, North Waziristan, killing 4 and wounding 15 (AP, Dawn, ET). Multiple candidates have offices in the area where the attack occurred so it is unclear who the targets were and no one has claimed responsibility, though suspicion will likely fall on the Pakistani Taliban, which has routinely threatened secular party candidates.
An electoral office for the Pakistan People's Party in Quetta, Balochistan, was also targeted and at least five people were injured when a bomb on the building's roof exploded Friday morning (Dawn, ET). In separate incidents, militants blew up three proposed polling stations in Dera Bugti, fired rockets at two polling stations in Pajgoor, and threw a petrol bomb at the Balochistan National Party Mengal's office. No loss of life was reported.
A day before the historic election, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan seemed to be enjoying a late surge of support, raising the prospect that no candidate will win a clear majority on Saturday (Dawn, ET/Reuters). This fragmentation could lead to weeks of political haggling as parties work to form a coalition, clouding some of the optimism that has accompanied the first transition between civilian governments.
More weapons more problems
As tensions continue to rise between Afghanistan and Pakistan over its disputed border, the Afghan border police are demanding more sophisticated weapons-claiming their mortars and machines are no match for Pakistan's heavy artillery and tanks (ET/Reuters). Cross-border clashes that began last week and continued on Monday have sparked widespread protests and declarations of "Death to Pakistan" (AP). With Pakistan long seen by the U.S. as a critical partner in assuring Afghanistan's security once coalition troops withdraw, the increased hostility is complicating an already contentious issue.
On Thursday, the White House disputed reports that it wants to maintain nine permanent military bases in Afghanistan after the majority of troops withdraw in 2014 (Pajhwok, White House). Contrary to recent statements made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that any U.S. presence in the country after next December would only be at the invitation of the Afghan government and that they envision a bilateral security agreement that will address the use of Afghan bases by U.S. forces.
Oh tiger, where art thou?
On Thursday, Dawn reported the death of a tigress that has served as a campaign mascot for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, Nawaz Sharif (Dawn). Many argued the death was the result of an exhaustive campaign schedule but on Friday, several media outlets reported that it had seen the tigress in her cage and that she was alive, well, and "in rude good health" (BBC, Dawn, ET, WSJ).
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Chaos in Kandahar
Afghan police forces stand accused of killing 10 protesters and wounding 14 others after opening fire on a demonstration in Kandahar Province's Maiwand District (NYT, AP, Pajhwok). Officials claim Taliban insurgents had joined the gathering and shot at the police, prompting the return fire that killed 10 people, but demonstrators disputed that statement, saying the casualties were all protesters. There was also disagreement amongst officials over whether the protest was a pro-government one in response to the recent border clashes with Pakistan, or an anti-government one in response to night raids.
This incident came as the U.S.-led coalition announced it had opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct by NATO troops during an April 28 encounter with insurgents in Zabul Province. No other details on the possible misconduct were made public.
President Hamid Karzai announced Thursday that the United States will be allowed to keep nine bases in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in December 2014 (AP). Karzai conditioned his announcement on a U.S. commitment to support Afghanistan's security, strengthen its armed forces, and work toward long-term political development.
The militant threats plaguing Pakistan's secular parties continued on Thursday with the kidnapping of Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former prime minister and Pakistan People's Party leader Yousef Raza Gilani, as he headed to an election rally in Multan (BBC, Reuters, ET). The gunmen remain unidentified and no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but the elder Gilani blamed his political enemies.
Gilani has been campaigning for his three sons in Multan, where the family is banking on their extensive patronage networks to garner the votes needed to secure seats in parliament (NYT). Particularly in rural areas, Pakistani voters see their representatives as bosses who can provide protection through handouts, influencing the police, and leaning on corrupt local officials.
Many are hailing Pakistan's upcoming parliamentary elections, the first time one elected government will be replaced by another, as a momentous achievement, but Pakistan's minority groups are not celebrating (AP). Facing increasing intolerance from religious radicals over the past five years, many of the country's Christians, Hindus, Shiite Muslims, and others believe it will only get worse after Saturday. Several Islamic extremists are candidates themselves, and the mainstream secular parties have campaigned with radicals to garner their votes.
With Pakistan's national election rapidly approaching, many analysts are saying the results are too close to call (Dawn). In a recent Herald poll, 25.7 percent of respondents said they intended to vote for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and 25.0 percent say they will vote for Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI). The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) comes in third, likely a result of voter fatigue with the current ruling party, with 17.7 percent of respondents saying they will vote for them.
It's getting hot in here
On Wednesday, Pakistan's current prime minister released the official summer dress code for federal government employees, as the use of air conditioners in government offices will be banned beginning May 15 (Dawn). Discontinuing the use of air conditioners is part of the government's austerity drive but with temperatures in Pakistan often reaching triple digits in the summer, it looks like it's going to be a humid start for the next civilian government.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
Event notice: Auditing Afghanistan, a conversation with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. TODAY, 12:15-1:45PM (NAF).
Militant attacks continued in Pakistan on Wednesday, when a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into the barrier protecting a police station in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, killing three and wounding 23 others (AFP, Dawn). Later, one person was killed and over a dozen wounded in a blast at a central market in the neighboring district of Hangu (ET, Dawn). Neither bombing appeared to be election-related violence, which has claimed over 100 lives in the past month, according to a Washington Post tally (Post, LAT).
The Taliban is not the only Pakistani militant group staging attacks on political candidates and their supporters this election season; separatists in the southwestern province of Balochistan have targeted fellow Baloch candidates and their supporters, who are seen by the separatists as betraying the cause by agreeing to participate in the upcoming elections (AP). At least six people have been killed and some 40 wounded in attacks targeting candidates in Balochistan.
Pakistani prime minister hopeful Imran Khan fell off of a forklift platform as he was being raised up to a stage on Tuesday, suffering two hairline skull fractures and a fractured backbone (NYT, AP, AFP). From his hospital bed, he made a rousing speech that asked whether Pakistanis want "a new Pakistan," and he pledged to "change the destiny of our children."
Meanwhile, the candidate who is expected to win Saturday's election, Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), pledged to improve his country's ties with India if he is elected (Reuters). "If I become the prime minister I will make sure that the Pakistani soil is not used for any such designs against India," he told CNN-IBN on Wednesday.
Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, was adjourned abruptly on Wednesday following a scuffle between members of parliament and security forces whom Speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi had called to expel a lawmaker who was causing a disturbance (Pajhwok). The Wolesi Jirga is sharply divided over whether or not to summon Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal over accusations that he failed to take advisors on foreign trips, was nepotistic in his appointments, misused his authority, gave contradictory budget figures in 2011, and collected money for President Karzai's election campaign.
Suspected insurgents joined an anti-Pakistan protest in Kandahar City on Wednesday, where they opened fire at Afghan forces nearby (Pajhwok). Eleven people were killed in the return fire from security forces, including at least eight suspected militants.
An American soldier has been pulled from the front lines in the northern Afghan province of Kunar after locals complained last week that they had seen him throw rocks at a poster of President Hamid Karzai (NYT). Fortunately, the incident did not spark any clashes between villagers and U.S. forces, but it did reveal the frustration with the war that is simmering on both the Afghan and U.S. sides.
In contrast with the often-vitriolic campaign rhetoric seen these days in Pakistan, Imran Khan's fall on Tuesday sparked a flood of get-well messages from politicians and the public alike, both in speeches and on social media (ET). Nawaz Sharif began a live statement on Geo TV with a request for prayers for Khan, while supporters tweeted messages of encouragement and even waited in tears outside the hospital for news on his condition.
-- Jennifer Rowland
BASIT SHAH/AFP/Getty Images
At least 25 people were killed on Monday when a massive bomb tore through a political rally for Munir Khan Orakzai in the tribal agency of Kurram near the border with Afghanistan, in the latest, and deadliest, attack of this election cycle (NYT, Reuters, AP, ET). Unlike other attacks, which have primarily targeted secular, liberal party candidates, this targeted Orakzai, a candidate for the religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan claimed that Orakzai was targeted because he has supported the Awami National Party and the Pakistan People's Party and in the past (Dawn).
A suicide bomber targeting a campaign rally for the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) on Tuesday killed at least 11 and wounded 35 in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (ET/AFP, Dawn). Yet another bomb blast, this one during an election rally on Tuesday for a candidate of the Pakistan People's Party, killed six people in Lower Dir (ET, Dawn).
According to data compiled by Pakistan's Centre for Research and Security Studies, in the first four months of this year, some 2,674 people have lost their lives in 1,108 incidents of political violence across the country. An additional 2,386 have been injured (ET). In the last three weeks alone, there have been around 50 bomb blasts which have killed more than 80 people, including two candidates, and more than 350 people have been injured (Guardian).
Following the second border clash between Afghan and Pakistani forces in less than a week, Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry warned Pakistan that it will "bear the responsibility for any consequences" coming from further clashes (Reuters). Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets in Kandahar chanting "Death to Pakistan" to protest the incidents, and Afghanistan also filed a formal complaint with Pakistan (AP, Pajhwok, AP).
As the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, the coalition's goal is narrowing to focus on readying Afghan forces to withstand the Taliban regardless of the country's economic and political troubles. In a recent interview, ISAF commander General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. was optimistic, saying: "I think the Taliban are going to come out of the gate [this fighting season] and they are going to run into a brick wall-and that brick wall is...going to be the Afghan security forces" (NYT).
Seven Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday: six in two separate bomb blasts in the western province of Farah; and one in a clash with the Taliban in the eastern province of Paktika (Pajhwok).
Rules of the warlords
The United States entered Afghanistan in 2001 hoping to model the country after Western democracy. Instead, the U.S. has increasingly done business according to the "rules of warlords" (Bloomberg). Corruption is tolerated, "ghost money" is transferred in suitcases and plastic bags, and the American public is bankrolling a large share of the Afghan budget. They always did say absolute power corrupts absolutely but in Afghanistan, it appears to be the dollar.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
ALI AFZAL/AFP/Getty Images
Clashes resumed along the contested Afghan-Pakistan border on Monday after Pakistani troops returned to repair a gate adjacent to a Pakistani border post between the Afghan province of Nangarhar and the Pakistani tribal agency of Mohmand that was the site of last week's firefight (Reuters, AJE, VOA). Afghanistan, which has refused to recognize the 1893 British-mandated border between the two countries, says the gate is illegally located on Afghan territory.
Just a few days after last week's border clash between Afghan and Pakistani troops, President Karzai on Saturday urged the Afghan Taliban to "turn their weapons against places where plots are made against Afghan prosperity," in a not-so-veiled reference to Pakistan (Reuters, The News, WSJ). Referring to the Afghan border guard killed in the exchange of fire last week, Karzai called on the Taliban to "stand with this young man who was martyred and defend their soil."
After a meeting with the CIA station chief in Kabul on Saturday, President Hamid Karzai said he had been assured that deliveries of cash from the U.S. intelligence agency would continue despite criticism of the arrangement from many Afghans and some Europeans and Americans (NYT). Karzai told reporters that the payments were "not unusual" among all the different sources of aid in Afghanistan, and the money provided "an easy source of petty cash" that was used to pay rent for various officials, treat wounded members of his presidential guard, and fund scholarships.
Seven U.S. soldiers and one German Special Forces officer were killed in Afghanistan on Saturday: five U.S. troops died in Kandahar when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb; two were killed in an insider attack in Farah Province; and the German soldier was killed in a small arms insurgent attack in northern Baghlan Province (NYT, Reuters, CNN, AP, LAT, RFE/RL, AP). It was the deadliest day for American forces so far this year. On Friday, President Barack Obama named James Dobbins as his special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (NYT, AFP, Post). Dobbins is a veteran diplomat who led the negotiations leading to the 2001 Bonn agreement after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In the run-up to historic general elections this Sunday, Pakistan is seeing many representatives of openly extremist and sectarian political parties contesting parliamentary seats across the country (NYT). Some 130 members of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, formerly known as the banned sectarian group Sipah e Sahaba, are running in this year's election, and have received a boost from persistent Taliban attacks on the country's more popular mainstream parties.
A Pakistani band known to produce songs critical of the country's military and civilian leadership has seen their most recent release blocked on the video-sharing website Vimeo (YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan since September) (NYT). "Dhinak Dhinak" criticizes Pakistan's generals more directly than the Beygairat Brigade's last song, and band members believe the military ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block it.
Two explosions killed three and wounded some two-dozen others near an election office of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in the Pakistani port city of Karachi late on Saturday (AP). Also on Saturday night, Pakistani troops attacked two militant hideouts in the Taliban- and Lashkar-e-Islam-held Tirah Valley, killing 16 militants ad losing two soldiers as well (AFP). And a roadside bomb targeting a military convoy in the North Waziristan tribal agency killed two Pakistani troops on Sunday.
Pakistan has asked India to return Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah (known by only one name), who was attacked by his fellow inmates at a Jammu jail days after Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh died of wounds sustained in an attack by other inmates at a Lahore jail (TOI). Pakistani officials have been granted consular access to Sanaullah.
Fishermen supporters of Sindh Provincial Assembly candidate Haji Usman Ghani held an unconventional political rally outside of Karachi on Friday - on boats floating off the coast (AP). Ghani is the underdog in a race against an incumbent Pakistan People's Party legislator, but many prospective voters in their constituency are fishermen who feel they've been neglected by the ruling party.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Political violence continues
Unidentified gunmen shot and killed Chaudhry Zulfikar, the lead prosecutor investigating the murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, as he drove to work on Friday in Islamabad (AP, ET/Reuters, Dawn, NYT). In addition to the Bhutto murder case, in which former President Pervez Musharraf has been accused of involvement, Zulfikar was in charge of prosecuting militants linked to the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
In Karachi on Friday, Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Sadiq Zaman Khattak was shot and killed along with his four-year-old son as he left a mosque (ET, Dawn). Authorities decided to postpone elections in Khattak's constituency following the shooting. Members of the Taliban posted fliers on public buildings in Peshawar warning people not to vote in next week's elections, saying that democracy is against the teachings of Islam (ET). And militants attacked a Pakistani military checkpost in South Waziristan on Friday, killing one security officer and prompting a retaliation that killed four militants (Dawn).
Just a day after an Indian man died from wounds suffered during an attack at the Pakistani prison where he was being held, a Pakistani man has been attacked in an Indian prison in Jammu, receiving severe head wounds and putting him in intensive care (Dawn, Reuters). Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry called the attack "obvious retaliation to the death of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh"
Tensions on high
Afghan security forces said Thursday that they had overrun and burned a Pakistani-held border crossing - which President Hamid Karzai complained earlier this year had been built without Afghanistan's permission -- during a clash with Pakistani troops on Wednesday night, and also took back five Afghan police posts that had been occupied by Pakistani forces (NYT, Pajhwok, Pajhwok). Meanwhile, the funeral procession for the Afghan border policeman killed in Wednesday night's clash turned into a nationalist demonstration, with Afghans pouring out onto the streets to show their support, and many declaring the clash a victory over Pakistan.
President Karzai on Thursday urged the United States to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and release all Afghan nationals being held there (AP, AFP). President Barack Obama spoke earlier this week about renewing his efforts to work with Congress and make good on his campaign promise to close the prison, as reports from Guantanamo indicate that the number of prisoners on hunger strike continues to rise (NYT). Some detainees have been on a hunger strike for months, and prison doctors are now using nasal feeding tubes just to keep them alive, which has raised questions about the ethics of forced feeding (Post).
A confidential assessment of the Afghan government's finances by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has found that even reaching the modest target of covering less than half of its own bills this year appears to have become a major challenge for the government of Afghanistan (NYT). The report attributes this difficulty to widespread tax evasion that is supported by government officials, the increased skimming of customs revenue by provincial governors, and faltering economic growth.
Finally, eight Afghan Local Police personnel were killed Thursday night by a roadside bomb in central Logar Province (Pajhwok).
-- Jennifer Rowland
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
The Rack: Steve Coll, "Remote Control: Our Drone Delusion" (The New Yorker).
An Afghan border policeman was killed and two Pakistani soldiers were injured in a cross-border clash that lasted around five hours late Wednesday night (Reuters, Dawn, AP). A Pakistani military official said the shooting was sparked by an attack on a Pakistani military checkpost, while the Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said Pakistani forces had started the firefight by shooting artillery rounds into eastern Nangarhar Province.
A spokesman for the Election Commission of Pakistan, Khursheed Alam, said Thursday that 600,000 security personnel will be deployed during the May 11 election to protect voters and candidates from Taliban attacks (AP). Militants on Thursday blew up two boys' schools in the village of Chattar in Balochistan Province that were meant to serve as polling centers on election day next week (AFP). And police arrested a suspected would-be suicide bomber in Shahdadkot. Sindh Province on Thursday, who was found with explosives and a suicide vest (ET).
Pakistani politicians on the campaign trail are making a point of highlighting their anti-American sentiments, leading some analysts to believe that regardless of who is elected next week, the new government will be more difficult for Washington to deal with than the last (AP). Other analysts say that even the candidates who are most outspoken on the issues within U.S.-Pakistan relations understand that there will not be much they can do to recalibrate such an important alliance.
An Indian man who had been on death row in Lahore for the past 16 years for his involvement in a series of bombings in Punjab Province, Sarabjit Singh, died at a hospital late Wednesday night, after being brutally attacked by fellow prisoners last Friday (AFP, Dawn). Singh fell into a coma and doctors said he had little chance of survival. Pakistani authorities have charged two of the other prisoners with his murder.
Cuba demands Gitmo closure
During a discussion at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva about the Cuban government's human rights record, Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla cleverly deflected some of the heat being directed his way by pointing to another violation of human rights in his country, in the form of the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility (AFP). Parrilla demanded that the U.S. government close the facility, which, given the U.S. government's close ties with Cuba, is likely to be a powerful motivator for the Obama administration.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
Barred for life
The Peshawar High Court on Tuesday banned former president Pervez Musharraf from running for public office for life (AP, ET, Dawn). Musharraf's lawyer Saad Shibli said he would challenge the ban on the grounds that, "About 500 officials at different levels and institutions were part of Musharraf's actions [while he was president], and if those actions come under scrutiny, all those people should be involved in this matter."
Pakistan's powerful Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani may have alluded to the military's unhappiness with the way Musharraf has been treated by the courts when he said, "In my opinion, it is not merely retribution, but awareness and participation of the masses that can truly end this game of hide and seek between democracy and dictatorship" (Reuters).
Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has not appeared to be a major target for the Pakistani Taliban, who have regularly attacked other candidates in this year's election season, and he said this week, "When I came to politics 17 years ago, I had already conquered my fear of dying" (AFP). Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has busied itself holding massive rallies around the country to drum up support, but even he was forced to cancel a public rally in Karachi last weekend after attacks on other candidates took the lives of 20 people.
A suicide bomb attack on National People's Party candidate Imbrahim Jatoi on Wednesday reportedly injured two people, though Jatoi escaped unharmed (Dawn, ET/AFP). Pakistani fighter jets strafed militant hideouts in Orakzai Agency on Wednesday, killing four militants and destroying two of their camps (Dawn).
A roadside bomb killed three British soldiers and nine Afghans in the southern province of Helmand on Tuesday, in the deadliest day for British troops in Afghanistan in more than a year (NYT, BBC, Guardian). Taliban militants in Helmand's conflict-ridden Gereshk District ambushed the convoy of a senior member of the Afghanistan High Peace Council, Malim Shahwali, who was killed in the attack along with two of his bodyguards (Reuters, Pajhwok).
During a visit to Estonia on Tuesday, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul blamed the sharp increase in Afghanistan's cultivation of poppies on the global demand for narcotics (AFP). Afghanistan grows 90 percent of the global opium supply, and a United Nations report released in April predicts record production levels this year.
An Afghan civilian and two of his children were killed on Tuesday evening when the vehicle they were travelling in struck a roadside bomb in the Charchino District of central Uruzgan Province (Pajhwok). Three female members of his family were wounded in the explosion. The spokesman for Kunar Province's governor, Wasifullah Wasfi, said Tuesday that more than 40 missiles had been fired from across the border with Pakistan onto Afghan territory (Pajhwok). No casualties were reported.
To shari'a or not to shari'a?
A new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center has found that South Asia leads the Muslim world in its desire to see the implementation of shari'a law (Pew). Large majorities of respondents around the world expressed support for shari'a, but they disagreed about which aspects of the religious law should be applied, from family law governing marriages and divorces to the lopping off of the hands of thieves.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Seven U.S. citizens were killed Monday when a civilian cargo plane crashed shortly after taking off from Bagram Air Base (NYT, CNN, WSJ). Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said militants shot down the plane, but international military officials said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed his reported receipt of "ghost money" from the CIA on Tuesday, while Afghan lawmakers demanded an explanation of the regular cash deliveries (Pajhwok, NYT). Karzai, who is on a three-nation tour of Europe at the moment, told reporters in Helsinki, "Yes, the [Afghan National Security Council] has received financial assistance from the US over the past decade, but at a reasonable scale, not at a massive one."
A roadside bomb in the northern province of Kunduz on Tuesday killed two policemen, including the local police commander Miran, who is credited with reducing insurgent attacks in the area (Pajhwok, AP). And in another northern province, Faryab, Taliban militants kidnapped seven members of the Afghan Local Police on Tuesday (Pajhwok).
A report released today by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) finds that religious freedom in Afghanistan remains "exceedingly poor" for the country's minority Shi'a Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians, as well as dissenting Sunni Muslims (AP). The report faults both the Taliban for its continued attacks on individuals deemed "un-Islamic" and the Afghan government for its failure to protect its people's freedom of belief.
The Election Commission of Pakistan postponed elections in the Jhal Magsi area of Balochistan on Tuesday after a local candidate and eight of his supporters were kidnapped on Monday night (ET). The candidate, Abdul Fateh Magsi, and three of his kidnapped supporters were found dead on Tuesday; the other five are still missing.
More than 50 people have been killed in bomb and gun violence related to Pakistan's upcoming elections, primarily perpetrated by the Pakistani Taliban, who justify their campaign by citing the Pakistani military operations against militants in the country's northwest, and criticizing the secular platforms of Pakistan's main political parties (Tel, Post). In a recent statement explaining their motives, the Taliban said the military is "responsible for displacement of millions of people, for the plight of Pashtun nation, for their abandoned villages, for the destroyed mosques."
While entrenched Pakistani politicians face violence from extremists, newcomers to elections face the daunting task of breaking into a political system that has long been dominated by just a few large, wealthy, landowning families (Post). Extensive patronage networks that critics liken to a feudal system tend to define the outcome of elections in Pakistan, and rising independent candidates are at a disadvantage without those resources or name brand appeal. Many analysts predict that the May 11 polls will result in a divided parliament in the hands of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other stalwart politicians, though the chances of new faces being elected is greater this year than it has been before.
King of Speed
24-year-old cricketer Ahmed Jamal won Pakistan's "King of Speed" competition on Monday by bowling at 143 kph (about 89 mph) (AP). He won a grand prize of 1 million rupees (about $10,000), but declined to reveal his plans for spending it.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
A bomb exploded outside an election office of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Karachi on Thursday evening, killing five in the latest Taliban-claimed attack on Pakistan's secular political parties (AP, ET, Dawn). Responding to a call from the MQM for a citywide strike, Karachi's schools, restaurants, and stores closed their doors on Friday to mourn those killed in the blast.
Pakistani officials announced Friday that they will seal the border with Afghanistan and restrict the movement of Afghan refugees inside Pakistan during the May 11 election, in an effort to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks on polling stations (AP, Dawn).
An antiterrorism court in Rawalpindi ordered former president Pervez Musharraf into custody for four days at his Chak Shahzad farmhouse on Friday, during which a team of investigators from the Federal Investigation Agency will interrogate him about his role in the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto (AJE, Dawn, ET). Musharraf is already under house arrest for allegedly jailing the country's top judges while he was still in power in 2007.
Officials in the southern province of Helmand said Friday that 45 people had been killed when their bus collided with the burning wreckage of a truck set on fire in the middle of the road by the Taliban (Pajhwok, Dawn). And five Afghan Local Police officers were drugged and then killed Thursday night in the northern province of Kunduz (Pajhwok).
Human Rights Watch issued a report on Thursday urging the Afghan government to build separate, lockable toilets and changing rooms for Afghan policewomen to protect them from sexual harassment at work (AP). The spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Sidiq Sidiqi, responded to the report by saying the government is working to fix the problem, but that it should also be commended for defying cultural norms and recruiting female police officers at all.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial Fisheries Department takes a new approach to its official responsibilities by noting its own failure to do anything about the fact that, "The main junction of the River Indus and River Kabul is heavily fished by people who use electricity produced by generators to catch fish. This practice goes on day and night while the river banks are also disturbed by dynamite" (ET). Of course, the department's director notes that he hasn't had a chance to check the department's website because he only took charge six months ago.
-- Jennifer Rowland
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
An earthquake and flash floods in eastern Afghanistan destroyed thousands of homes, devastated vast areas of farmland, and killed at least 33 people on Wednesday (Reuters, BBC, AFP, Pajhwok, Pajhwok). The death toll was expected to rise in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, where dozens were injured or remain missing after their traditional mud brick homes were destroyed in the quake.
In the once peaceful and safe western city of Herat, kidnappings for ransom are skyrocketing, with almost 500 people arrested last year on kidnapping charges compared to about a dozen five years ago (Post). The perpetrators target the relatives of Herat's wealthier businessmen and politicians, demanding tens of thousands of dollars for their release. The rising trend has locals concerned that a security vacuum left by the drawdown of NATO troops will allow not only the Taliban but also criminal gangs to flourish.
After a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the head of Pakistan's army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Brussels on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made only a very brief statement, saying, "We agreed we are committed to try to find stability and peace for both countries and the region. I think we're on a good track, but results will tell the story" (NYT, Post, Reuters). He also said the leaders were "not going to raise expectations or promise results that can't be delivered," with reference to progress on finding a way forward for peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, told NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday that Afghanistan saw "a troubling rise" in civilian casualties in the first three months of this year, with that number up 30% over the same period last year (LAT, Pajhwok). Just a day later, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan painted a very different picture, saying, "80% of the enemy attacks are occurring in areas where less than 20% of the Afghan population lives" and that the insurgency is losing relevance for the Afghan people as domestic security forces take the lead on the fight.
Ninety-three of the 166 prisoners still being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are currently on hunger strike, and prison officials are concerned some are close to death (NYT). Doubling the number of those on strike before a recent raid on a communal living space where detainees had covered cameras with blankets and refused to go into their cells, the participants say they are protesting the disrespectful handling of Qurans by prison staff during cell searches on February 6-a claim prison officials dispute. But the hunger strikes also show a growing despair amongst detainees-some of whom have been held for over a decade-that they will never be released.
An antiterrorism court in Rawalpindi ordered the arrest of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf for his role in the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 (ET). Musharraf is already under house arrest at his fortified compound outside Islamabad on charges of illegally firing and imprisoning the country's top judges when he was in power in 2009.
Of 180 million Pakistanis, 37 million women and 48 million men are registered to vote, but in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, election officials fear that Taliban threats, social taboos, and poorly organized voting drives will prevent most women from voting in the upcoming elections (AFP). In 2008, not a single vote was cast at many women's polling stations in these areas, in part due to the requirement that the women have official identification, but also because village elders forbade them from voting.
Nearly two weeks ahead of Pakistan's parliamentary elections, over 300 clerics from different schools of thought issued a fatwa declaring that casting a vote is an "Islamic obligation" and that avoiding the election booth will be considered sinful (ET). This contrasts sharply with the views of the Taliban who have declared the democratic system is "un-Islamic" and have encouraged people to stay away from the polls.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
Debate comes to the fore
In an unprecedented public hearing on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from six experts (including our own Peter Bergen) on the "Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications" of the covert U.S. drone program. Many of the panelists warned that the drone strikes are engendering deep anti-Americanism in the countries where they are taking place (Post, NYT). Among those experts was Yemeni youth activist Farea al-Muslimi, who said a drone strike hit his native village of Wessab six days ago, sparking fear and anger in the residents. "What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: There is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America," al-Muslimi said.
The U.S. soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in a middle of the night rampage last March, Sgt. Robert Bales, appeared in court again on Tuesday for a hearing that focused primarily on who would be able to testify at his sentencing if he is convicted, negotiations that could determine whether he receives the death penalty (AP).
NATO commanders in eastern Afghanistan said Wednesday that 13 insurgents had been killed in joint operations with Afghan forces in Kapisa and Nangarhar provinces (AP, ). Speaking before a gathering of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Pakistan must play a positive role in bringing long-term peace and stability to Afghanistan, and urged Pakistani authorities to take concrete action against militants launching cross-border attacks into Afghanistan (Reuters, Pajhwok).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed with a call from a group of conservative clerics for the banning of television programs that are "vulgar, obscene and un-Islamic and are counter to social morality," according to a statement he made on Wednesday (Reuters). And four children of one family were killed while one teenage girl was seriously wounded when a Taliban-planted bomb exploded while they were playing in the southern province of Kandahar on Tuesday (Pajhwok).
Blasts across Pakistan
A suicide bomber who appeared to target a prominent leader of Pakistan's ethnic Hazara minority in Quetta, Balochistan, killed six and wounded many others on Tuesday (Reuters). That attack was just one of four explosions in the provincial capital on Tuesday, which were followed by two more bomb attacks on Wednesday, one on a police station and one outside a private hospital.
In all, eight blasts were reported in three of Pakistan's provinces from Tuesday evening through Wednesday (Dawn, ET/AFP). In addition to the two Quetta blasts on Wednesday, a bomb killed at least five people at a roadside campaign office of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Karachi late Tuesday night, an explosion near the home of a Pakistan People's Party leader in Peshawar wounded three on Wednesday, and two remotely detonated roadside bombs exploded as a convoy of election candidates moved through Dera Ismail Khan, though no casualties were reported (ET, ET).
On Monday, Pakistan's Supreme Court released a list of journalists who received funds from the government totaling over $1.8 million, which was used to cover everything from hotel stays and plane tickets to vague "special assignments" (WSJ). According to some, this is known as a "bribe."
-- Jennifer Rowland
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will host the head of Pakistan's Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the foreign secretary, Jalil Abbas Jilani, along with Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the stalled peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban (Reuters, NYT, AP, The News). The meeting will come a day after NATO foreign ministers gather to talk over their countries' roles in Afghanistan after the alliance's combat mission ends in December 2014.
The office of President Karzai say their patience is running out with Pakistan, which they accuse of failing to play its role in negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders, many of whom have sought sanctuary in Pakistan (AFP).
Meanwhile, seven militants were killed in a NATO airstrike in southern Ghazni Province on Tuesday (Pajhwok). Nine deminers were kidnapped in the Maiwand district of southern Helmand Province (Pajhwok). And the Afghan government says it is negotiating for the release of eleven foreigners who are being held by the Taliban after their NATO-contracted helicopter crashed in the eastern province of Logar on Sunday afternoon (Reuters).
There has been much focus on Pakistan's first transition from one democratically elected government to the next, but in another major development, Pakistan's judiciary has grown in strength exponentially over the past five years to become an important political player (WSJ). Led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Pakistan's judges have prosecuted government officials and even opened a case against the country's powerful intelligence agency.
Former president Pervez Musharraf appeared before an antiterrorism court in Rawalpindi on Wednesday, where he was accused of involvement in the assassination of then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 (ET/AFP, Dawn). The court granted him permission to meet with his lawyers regarding the accusations. Musharraf is currently under house arrest at his fortified compound outside Islamabad and is not allowed any visitors.
And in other breaking news, Barcelona may be getting close to beating Manchester United as the most loved football team in Pakistan (Dawn). While their parents were probably wooed by United, today's generation of young Pakistani adults find themselves drawn to the Catalans, at least according to the most reliable sources: social media statistics.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Taliban play politics
In Pakistan's northwest, the secular Awami National Party is coming under sustained fire from the Taliban, with deadly attacks and threats forcing ANP candidates to stage small, tense meetings rather than the large-scale rallies that usually define Pakistani politics (NYT, AP). Even in the southern port city of Karachi, some 40 ANP activists have been killed over the past six months, effectively stifling the party's campaign there. Asad Munir, a retired Army brigadier who worked for Pakistan's intelligence agency, says, "The most effective campaign is being run by he Taliban. They are holding the state of Pakistan hostage, and doing their activities as they want." Bonus read: Daud Khattak, "Pakistani Taliban's deadly game of politics" (AfPak).
An antiterrorism court in Islamabad on Saturday ordered former president Pervez Musharraf held for another two weeks until May 4, when he will face charges over his detention of the country's top judges while he was in power in 2007 (NYT, NYT, Post, Reuters, AFP). Pakistani officials said Musharraf would be placed under house arrest at his fortified compound outside the capital, declaring it a "sub-jail," and no visitors will be allowed. The country's caretaker government said Monday that it will not file treason charges against the former president, but will leave the decision to do so up to the government elected in national election on May 11 (AP, ET).
Prime Minister hopeful Imran Khan told thousands of supporters at a rally in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday that he would order a pullout of Pakistani troops from North Waziristan and, "The money that is spent on the war in the tribal areas will be spent on the welfare of the people" (ET). Pakistan "will not be a slave to anyone," he told the cheering crowd. Pakistan's Ahmadis say they will not participate in the upcoming elections because they are still forced to identify themselves as non-Muslims on their ballots (ET). The campaign of radical Sunni Muslim cleric Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi is making Pakistan's Shi'a Muslims uneasy; they accuse Ludhianvi of rhetoric that has fueled sectarian attacks on Shi'as for decades, and fear that if he wins a seat in parliament he will be able to incite even more of these deadly attacks (Reuters). Ludhianvi's main opponent in the district of Jhang, in the heart of Punjab Province, has been banned from the race.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Iran last week also almost entirely demolished the small Pakistani town of Mashkel near the Iranian border, and aid has been slow to reach the isolated victims (AP, BBC). Four Pakistani soldiers were killed and six injured in a roadside bombing in North Waziristan on Sunday (The News, ET/AFP). Militants in Balochistan launched grenade attacks on the homes of an Election Commission of Pakistan official (injuring his teenaged daughter), and the president of the Baloch National Party on Sunday (ET). And gunmen killed two workers of the Awami National Party in the Pishin district of Balochistan.
Taliban attacks have increased 47% in the first quarter of 2013 from their level during the same period last year, from1,581 to 2,331, according to the well-respected, independent monitoring group, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (NYT). The U.S. military and the Afghan Ministry of Defense have so far refused to release their statistics on attacks this year, but the sharp increase in attacks has been widely documented in the media and by groups like the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, raising concerns that the Taliban is launching a concerted attempt to test the Afghan security forces as they take the lead on security from NATO troops in the country.
Insurgents killed six police officers at a checkpoint in the eastern province of Ghazni on Sunday, while a suicide bomber killed three civilians at a market in neighboring Paktika Province (AP). And Taliban militants cut off hands and feet of two men they accused of helping escort NATO convoys. Members of the Taliban in eastern Logar Province said they had captured all eight Turks and one Russian who were on board a NATO-contracted helicopter that was forced to make an emergency landing in bad weather late on Sunday (Reuters, Pajhwok).
NATO military officials say that Taliban militants were able to blow up a half-dozen U.S. Marine fighter jets and kill two Marines in an attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province last fall because the base commanders had scaled back patrols of the perimeter and left watchtowers unmanned (Post).
The pot industry in Pakistan
Politicians are not the only ones suffering at hands of the Taliban in Pakistan's northwest. The country's hashish producers in the fertile Tirah Valley report that the Taliban have largely taken control of the area, and with it they have obtained control of the marijuana crops and the lucrative hashish trade (Post).
-- Jennifer Rowland
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
After fleeing the Islamabad High Court on Thursday in response to an order for his arrest, former president Pervez Musharraf was escorted by police early Friday morning from his lavish compound on the outskirts of Islamabad back to the courthouse, where he was formally charged with illegally firing and imprisoning the country's top judges when he imposed emergency rule in November 2007 (NYT, Post, ET/AFP, Reuters, Dawn). Musharraf was then taken to police headquarters in Islamabad, where he will spend two days on remand ahead of a hearing.
The Pakistani High Court on Thursday granted conditional approval for former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to run for Parliament, overturning a decision made earlier this month by election officials to bar him from running because he is still being investigated for corruption and mismanagement (NYT). Ashraf appealed that decision, and the court sided with the appeal, but also ordered the government's anticorruption investigators to complete their inquiry into the former prime minister by Monday.
Militants fired four rockets from a mountainside at an election rally in South Waziristan on Friday, injuring two people (ET, Dawn). In nearby Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, four people, including two women, opened fire on a polio vaccination team, also injuring two (ET, Dawn). And the Pakistani Army has asked international aid organizations to for relief assistance in quake-hit Balochistan, where a 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed at least 40 people and destroyed thousands of homes (BBC). The death toll is still highly disputed, with a government official putting it at 12, media reports putting it at 40, and locals putting it as high as 80 (ET).
In Pakistan, women now make up the vast majority of the students studying medicine, a dramatic shift from the days before 1991 when a quota mandated that 80 percent of the seats at medical schools go to men and 20 percent to women (AP).
The spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Aimal Faizi, said Thursday that the CIA had called for the airstrike on April 7 that killed 17 Afghan civilians, including 12 children, and that the secret militias run by the U.S. intelligence agency behave as if they are "responsible to no one" (NYT). According to Afghan investigator, the April 7 operation in Kunar Province was carried out by a group of undercover paramilitary soldiers known as the 0-4 Unit, a ‘Counterterrorist Pursuit Team' "in full service of the CIA." One American CIA employee and three others working for the Agency were killed in the operation.
Taliban militants shot and killed 13 Afghan Local Police officers on Thursday night as they slept at a checkpoint in the southeastern province of Ghazni (AFP, Pajhwok). Five policemen and two civilians were injured in a car bombing on Friday in the southern province of Helmand, where ISAF and Afghan troops are carrying out a major operation against insurgents (Pajhwok).
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan Gherardo Pontrandolfi warned on Thursday that security is deteriorating across Afghanistan as the spring and summer fighting season gets underway (AP). He urged all warring parties to take steps to prevent civilian casualties.
No laughing matter
A group of young boys played a nasty prank at an apartment complex on Thursday night, calling residents at 3 in the morning out with an announcement over a mosque PA system: "Attention all residents! You are requested to leave your houses quickly and evacuate the building. An earthquake has hit" (ET). Of course, there had been no earthquake, and the 600 occupants of "Billy's Paradise" were not very happy that they had been dragged out of bed for a silly prank.
-- Jennifer Rowland
On the lam
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf fled the High Court in Islamabad on Thursday after a judge ordered his arrest in a case challenging his imprisonment of the country's top judges while he was in power in November 2007 (NYT, Reuters, ET/AFP, Dawn). In a statement on Musharraf's official Facebook page, a spokesperson said the state security apparatus escorted Musharraf from the courtroom "in the face of specific and credible physical threats to his life by the enemies of Pakistan."
Officials of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said Wednesday that "a horde of 100 miscreants" attacked KHAN'S home and beat his brother-in-law, and blamed the government for failing to provide security to the politician and his family (AFP). But Islamabad police chief Bani Amin denied that there had been a break-in at Khan's home, saying that, "If anything has happened at Imran Khan's home, it may have been because of his workers who are demonstrating at his house for party tickets." PTI members have been protesting outside Khan's home over what they see as the unfair allocation of constituencies to certain PTI candidates.
At least 24 people were killed in five separate attacks across Afghanistan on Wednesday, including seven women and children who died when their bus hit a roadside bomb in Herat Province (AP). In the eastern province of Ghazni, another roadside bomb killed five men who worked for a local government security force. In the eastern province of Laghman insurgents attacked a checkpoint, killing four local policemen. In the northern province of Jawzjan insurgents opened fire on a group of village elders, killing two health workers who were caught in the crossfire. And six Afghan soldiers were killed by the Taliban after being kidnapped while travelling home for vacation in Jawzjan.
At least 17 high school girls lost consciousness and were hospitalized after a suspected poison gas attack on their school in the northern province of Takhar on Thursday (Pajhwok). ISAF troops reportedly killed a village elder and injured his wife during an operation in the southeastern province of Paktia on Wednesday (Pajhwok). ISAF said in a statement that the operation had targeted a Haqqani Network leader.
The northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif has seen a much-needed business boom in recent years, but that economic uplift has been accompanied by a troubling expansion of the city's sex trade (NYT). Mazar-i-Sharif is less conservative than other parts of Afghanistan, and brothels once flourished openly there. Now, the prostitutes, most of whom have been forced into the trade by poverty, divorce, or the death of their spouse, operate through a secretive network and often host clients in nondescript apartments around the city, or even their own homes.
Man on the run
As Musharraf ran for his Chak Shazad residence following the high court's issuance of arrest orders, Twitter saw a flurry of posts criticizing and mocking the former president (ET). Some compared his speed to that of Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter known as the fastest man in the world, while others commented that he had taken "running for president" literally.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
New post: Michael Kugelman, "What's holding up India-Pakistan trade normalization?" (AfPak)
At least 16 people died in Peshawar on Tuesday in a suicide attack at a rally attended by senior Awami National Party (ANP) leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, who was the railways minister in the outgoing Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government (AFP, ET). Bilour escaped with cuts and bruises, and the Taliban apologized for injuring him, saying the attack was meant to target his nephew Haroon, whose father Bashir Balour was assassinated last year. The attack brought the death toll from election-related bombings on Tuesday to 20, with four killed in an attack on another politician in Balochistan earlier in the day.
In Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, the election field is comprised almost exclusively of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and two-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) (Post). But some analysts say PTI's slowly growing popularity will just siphon votes from the PML-N at the national level, boosting the chances that the outgoing PPP will win a significant proportion of the parliament.
The death toll from Tuesday's earthquake in Iran has risen to 40 in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan (Dawn, AFP, AFP, BBC). The United States offered humanitarian assistance to both Iran and Pakistan. Meanwhile a U.S. drone strike killed five suspected militants at a Taliban training compound in South Waziristan on Wednesday (AFP, Dawn).
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the United States should wait until November, when the summer fighting season has ended, to make a decision on how many U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in December 2014 (AP). The heavy fighting that is likely to ensue this summer will give American military officials the chance to assess the true strength of Afghan forces, which will give them an idea of how many U.S. troops will be necessary to help maintain stability.
Gen. Dunford added that the United States should keep troops in Kabul and in all "four corners" of the country, where the U.S. military maintains regional training centers, marking the most ambitious suggestion from the Pentagon so far for the future U.S. presence in Afghanistan (Post). Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) pushed back on Dunford's advice to delay announcing the post-2014 U.S. troop levels, saying "Don't you understand, general, that one of the reasons why we're having so much difficulty in some areas is because the Afghans don't know what our commitment is?" Dunford also insisted that the U.S. war in Afghanistan can still be won (CSM).
Taliban insurgents killed seven civilians with a roadside bomb in the western province of Herat on Wednesday, and slit the throats of four Afghan soldiers who were kidnapped while travelling home on leave (AFP, Pajhwok).
Donkeys with different carts
While much of Pakistan is in full election fervor, some Pakistanis are entirely disenchanted and uninterested in voting at all (Post)."I don't like politicians," says 70-year-old fruit vendor Amin Jan. "They are all donkeys with different carts."
HASHAM AHMED/AFP/Getty Images
A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Iran near the border with Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 40 in Iran and 12 in Pakistan's Balochistan Province (ET/Reuters/AFP, Dawn, NYT). Buildings were evacuated all over Pakistan, with Karachi reporting damage and some injuries, but no further deaths.
Ex-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has been rejected from all four constituencies in which he wanted to run for a seat in parliament (ET/AFP, Dawn). The decision of one district to approve his nomination papers, Chitral, was overturned by the Peshawar High Court. The rest were rejected outright. Meanwhile, the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Balochistan chapter Sardar Sanaullah Zehri was attacked while driving as part of a convoy from an election campaign in Zehri, Balochistan (ET, Dawn). He escaped but three of his family members were killed.
CNN's Nic Robertson reported Monday that the U.N. Special Rapporteur on drones, Ben Emmerson, who recently visited Pakistan to investigate the legality of the CIA drone campaign there, told him that "The consequence of drone strikes has been to radicalize an entirely new generation" (CNN). The Sabaoon School for boys in the Swat Valley is the Pakistani military's answer to this radicalization and to the persistent presence of militant Islamist groups in the country's northwest. The school admits boys aged 8 to 18 who have previously been recruited by the Taliban, and teaches them basic skills so that they might make a living without turning to the insurgents.
An independent report by an 11-member panel convened by the legal research and advocacy group the Constitution Project has concluded that "it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture" in the years after 9/11, and that high-level officials authorized such practices (NYT). The panel was led by two former members of Congress who also have experience in the executive branch: Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat James R. Jones. Their report concludes that torture "reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive."
Afghan commandos killed 22 insurgents on Monday when they raided a village in the eastern province of Nangarhar to capture Taliban commander Jamal Faroqi (AP). Faroqi was one of those killed in the raid, while ten other militants were captured. Separately, NATO said a joint Afghan-coalition Special Forces team captured a senior leader of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba in the eastern province of Ghazni, which is, like Nangarhar, a major thoroughfare for militants crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and back again.
At least some parts of the Afghan Army are having success as they take the lead from NATO troops, such as the 203rd Thunder Corps, which recently completed a 13-day operation to secure strategic highways leading out of Kabul, and to garner the support of villages along the way by standing up local police to protect them from insurgent attacks (AP). The Afghan National Security Forces are supposed to take the lead on all security operations across the country later this spring, and many analysts and officials in Washington have worried that they will not be up to the task, but NATO military officials say the Afghan forces have so far surpassed their expectations.
One industry on the decline in Afghanistan is the production of the Afghan burqa, which has been replaced in large numbers by Western dress and a simple headscarf (AP). And the makers of handspun burqas are also facing competition within their shrinking market from cheaper Chinese imports.
Event notice: William Dalrymple presents "Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan," THURSDAY, April 25, 2013, Women's National Democratic Club.
The Pakistani Taliban continue to target secular politicians in the country's northwest, launching a bomb attack on Sunday that killed Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Mukarram Shah as he drove through Swat, while a separate attack wounded ANP candidate Masoom Shah as he drove through Peshawar from a campaign rally (AP, BBC, ET/AFP). The provincial president of the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afrasyab Khattak, accused the government and the election commission of failing to take attacks on secular candidates seriously; negligence he said amounted to the deliberate sabotage of his party's success in the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, at least eight people were killed on Saturday when a bomb exploded on board a bus in Peshawar (BBC, AP).
A letter sent to President Barack Obama last week and signed by the nation's leading human rights organizations calls for the administration to "publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful Congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking, and response to civilian harm" (NYT). The letter represents the most serious challenge to date of the legality of CIA drone strikes, saying reports of the criteria used to select drone targets raise "serious questions about whether the U.S. is operating in accordance with international law."
At least four suspected militants were killed in North Waziristan on Sunday in the first U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in more than three weeks (ET, AFP, The News, AP, CNN). Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the strike as a violation of international laws and of Pakistani sovereignty (Dawn).
Military guards at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility clashed with detainees when they raided a communal living area early on Saturday morning to move prisoners into solitary confinement in order "to ensure the health and safety" of the detainees, at least a quarter of whom are on hunger strike (NYT, Post). The prisoners in the communal area began covering cameras, windows, and glass partitions several months ago, restricting the guards' ability to watch them. "Detainees may continue to hunger strike," said prison spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, but prison doctors will now be able to more closely monitor their conditions.
Share the blame
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday that both the United States and the Taliban are to blame for a NATO airstrike that killed 17 civilians during a fierce gunfight in Kunar Province on April 6 (AP, LAT). Members of the Afghan intelligence service called in the airstrike after they came under attack by militants while attempting to detain two insurgent commanders in the Shigal district of Kunar. Earlier this year, Karzai banned the Afghan Army from requesting U.S. airstrikes after several civilians were killed in a strike. Bonus read: Najib Sharifi and Ahmad Shafi, "Karzai's anti-U.S. rhetoric: An Afghan perspective" (AfPak).
President Karzai on Sunday also continued his complaints about Pakistan, ordering his security forces to immediately dissemble a new Pakistani border gate that he said was erected without coordination with Afghanistan (WSJ). Pakistani officials maintain that the new border gate is located fully inside of Mohmand Agency, which borders the Afghan province of Nangarhar, but Afghanistan has long disputed the Durand line drawn by the British in the 1893 to divide Afghanistan from the Raj.
Opium production in Afghanistan grew in 2012 for the third year in a row, according to a United Nations report released on Monday, and Afghanistan accounted for 75 percent of the world's heroin supply, increasing concerns among international law enforcement officials that opium cultivation could be the country's main economic driver after the NATO combat mission ends in December 2014 (NYT).
Afghans who have worked for the U.S. military wait anxiously for responses to their applications for American visas as NATO accelerates its transition out of Afghanistan, with interpreters bearing the brunt of Taliban attacks on Afghans who have supported Western forces (NYT). But a very small proportion of the applications have been accepted so far, due in large part to issues with the program itself. Only 7,500 visas are available to Afghans, compared to 25,000 for Iraqis who were involved in the U.S. war effort there. And for Afghans, only spouses and dependent children are allowed to join the applicant, excluding parents, siblings, and non-dependent children.
Cash rules everything
A new book by Vali Nasr provides piercing insight into the fraught U.S.-Pakistan relationship, often through chilling anecdotes. One can't help but find some humor in all of it, though, as Omar Waraich did in an article for TIME on Sunday: President Asif Ali Zardari once told Ambassador Richard Holbrooke that, "Pakistan is like AIG. Too big to fail." Recalling that the government had given AIG $100 billion to bail it out, Zardari suggested, "You should give Pakistan the same." (TIME)
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
Event notice: CIA veteran and New America fellow Philip Mudd will discuss his new book, Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, on MONDAY, April 15, 2013, 1:00-2:30PM (NAF).
In an interview with CNN's Nic Robertson this week, ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted that his government had signed off on CIA drone strikes in the country, becoming the first Pakistani official, former or current, to acknowledge the Pakistani government's approval of the drone campaign (CNN). Musharraf caveated that he signed off on strikes "only on a few occasions, when a target was absolutely isolated and no chance of collateral damage," but the admission still diverges sharply from the statements of most past and present Pakistani officials, who have said they oppose the strikes as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.
Musharraf is facing charges for allegedly jailing 62 judges without evidence, and for his alleged role in the assassinations of former governor of Balochistan Nawab Akbar Bugti and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Dawn). A Pakistani court extended Musharraf's bail on Friday until April 18, when the case of the illegally detained judges will be resumed.
Former agriculture minister from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province Arbab Ayub Jan escaped a bomb attack in Peshawar on Thursday night as he was returning home from an election rally (Dawn). Jan is affiliated with the secular Awami National Party, the leader of which urged Pakistani officials to provide more security to his candidates. And Pakistani police defused a bomb near a mosque in Karachi on Friday after someone reported a suspicious package (Dawn, ET).
The inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, John Sopko, said Thursday that weaknesses in a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act added by Congress last year to prevent U.S. funds from reaching militant groups in Afghanistan are rendering the new law ineffective (AP). IG Sopko said militants are still receiving U.S. funds because some new contracts simply do not include the language from the new provision, and because some contracting firms have not been informed about updates to the U.S. military's list of militant groups.
Taliban militants attacked an Afghan Army post in Kunar Province near the border with Pakistan on Friday, killing 13 soldiers (AP). Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, putting the death toll at 15 soldiers and saying the Taliban took control of the base and seized weapons and ammunition.
Karachi has been in the news lately for its spiraling sectarian and political violence, but Pakistan's largest city was also home to one of the five best performing markets in the world in 2012 (Reuters). Of course, much of that was due to President Asif Ali Zardari's announcement that individuals would be allowed to buy stocks with no questions asked about where they got the money. In a city wracked by corruption, criminal gangs, and militant groups, many experts say that move simply allowed people a get out of jail free card for money laundering.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Event notice: CIA veteran and New America fellow Philip Mudd will discuss his new book, Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, on MONDAY, April 15, 2013, 1:00-2:30PM (NAF).
Bonus read: Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland, "Syria rebel group's dangerous ties to al-Qaeda" (CNN).
A U.S. Special Operations raid targeting Hajji Janan, a Taliban weapons dealer, in Uruzgan Province on Sunday night resulted in the death of Janan's brother Khiraullah Janan, who is also the brother-in-law of Mohammed Qaseem, an aide to Karzai and a powerful figure in Karzai's Popalzai tribe (NYT). According to NATO, the U.S. soldiers only shot Khiraullah after being fired upon by "insurgents," but the provincial governor and police chief say both men were innocent, and they intervened to secure Hajji Janan's release soon after the international forces took him into custody.
A district police chief and two of his fellow policemen were killed late Wednesday night in a roadside bombing (Pajhwok, AP). And another roadside bomb killed one civilian and wounded two others in Helmand Province on Thursday.
Out of a population of 35 million, over a million Afghans are now believed to be addicted to drugs, giving it the highest proportion of drug addicts in the world (BBC). Afghanistan produces 90 percent of all the opiate drugs in the world, but for many years it was not a consumer. Afghanistan's 40 percent unemployment rate and decades of war are partially to blame for the increasing number of addicts.
Hearts and minds
Having pushed the Taliban out of some areas of the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, the Pakistani Army is now working to provide services, improve infrastructure, and support the local economy in order to win the support of a population that has long been isolated from the rest of the country (AP). The Army loosened the Taliban's hold on South Waziristan, where their development efforts are now focused, in a massive operation in 2009 that displaced hundreds of thousands of people, only about 15 percent of whom have been allowed to return. The Army only allows residents back into their villages as fast as they are able to rebuild them.
Meanwhile, in the nearby Tirah Valley, the Army continues its fierce battles with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and allied militant groups, with at least one soldier and 15 militants killed in the fighting on Thursday (Reuters, Dawn). And a candidate for a seat in the Sindh provincial assembly with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Fakhrul Islam, was shot and killed outside his home in Hyderabad on Thursday (ET, Dawn).
Like the weather
For some Pakistani politicians, there's no shame in switching parties based on who appears to be leading the polls (AFP). Arbab Khizer Hayat has done it 14 times. Politics is not about ideas, but about power," he says. "When politicians see a party becoming popular they want to join it."
-- Jennifer Rowland
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
New Post: Arsla Jawaid, "Failed city? Karachi's violent spiral" (AfPak).
Pakistan's military is struggling to push the Taliban out of the Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency, where some 30 soldiers and 100 militants died in five days of fighting recently (NYT). The Taliban remain entrenched, though, using a combination of honed guerrilla warfare tactics and extensive tribal connections to avoid defeat, which current and former Pakistani officials worry will allow the insurgents more influence over the upcoming elections.
The Taliban defeated a local pro-government militia in the Tirah Valley last month, then joined forces with another militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, and on Tuesday made local tribal leader Mangal Bagh the supreme leader of both groups (Dawn). In neighboring Orakzai Agency, at least two Pakistani security forces and eight militants were killed in clashes on Tuesday (Dawn).
Meanwhile, Taliban threats continue to prevent Pakistan's main secular parties from convening large campaign rallies, even in the country's urban centers, forcing them to conduct small-scale door-to-door campaigns for votes (ET).
A Pakistani policeman was shot and killed while escorting a group of health workers administering polio vaccinations to children in the northwestern town of Mardan (AFP, Dawn). Three members of a human trafficking ring have been arrested in Balochistan for their roles in illegally smuggling almost 100 Pakistani Hazaras last June from Indonesia to Australia, on a boat that sank and killed 94 of the asylum seekers (ET).
Just hangin' around
The eight or so Taliban officials who flew to Qatar in 2010 to begin a process of peace negotiations with the United States remain there even though peace talks have been stalled since early 2012 over a proposed prisoner exchange of five Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo Bay in return for U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl (NYT). "They are just living here enjoying the air-conditioning, driving luxury cars, eating and making babies," according to one Afghan diplomat in Qatar who sees the Taliban officials when they come to the Embassy to register the birth of a child. "It's all they can do; they have no work to do."
A helicopter crashed in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Tuesday, killing the two U.S. service members on board (Reuters, AP). An Afghan National Army soldier reportedly shot and wounded two Lithuanian forces on Sunday in what appears to be the latest insider attack (Pajhwok). And one Afghan civilian was killed when NATO forces opened fire on a vehicle in the western province of Herat on Wednesday (Pajhwok).
Party platform? Everything
Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) unveiled a 13-page manifesto on Tuesday that presents a buffet of lofty promises to the Pakistani people (ET). Under the PTI, "there will be no difference between rich and poor," corruption will be eliminated within 90 days after the party comes to power, the nation will withdraw completely from the U.S.-led "war on terror," and Pakistan's women, minorities, impoverished, dispossessed, and disabled will see justice.
-- Jennifer Rowland
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
The Rack: Ahmed Rashid, "Afghanistan After the War: Is Peace Possible?" (TNR).
New Post: Farahnaz Ispahani, "The problem with Pakistan's democracy" (AfPak).
A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said Monday that a French photographer, Pierre Borghi, who was kidnapped in Kabul almost four months ago, escaped his captors in Wardak Province and was safely transported to the French Embassy (AP, NYT). Another French civilian, identified only as a humanitarian aid worker, was also freed after being kidnapped recently, according to French news media.
In an interview with the Associated Press during a visit to Kabul on Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said he is cautiously optimistic about the Afghan Army's ability to control the insurgency as they take the lead on security operations from U.S. forces (AP). But he said the U.S. military expects parts of Afghanistan to remain contested by the Taliban for many years to come.
More than two-thirds of the inmates in Afghanistan's main women's prison, Badam Bagh, are serving time for so-called "moral crimes," which include leaving their husbands, refusing an arranged marriage, or leaving their parents' home with the man of their choice (AP). And many of these women say they were forced to commit such ‘crimes' because they were being abused by their husbands or parents.
Pakistani military officials said Monday that 30 soldiers and almost 100 militants were killed over four days of intense fighting in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced by fighting between the Pakistani Taliban and rival militant groups (AP).
At least four people were killed in separate violent attacks in Karachi on Tuesday, while the paramilitary Rangers detained 33 people in targeted operations (Dawn). Violence has been spiraling out of control in Pakistan's largest city, with some 2,200 people killed in ethnic, sectarian, and political violence there last year.
The recent emergence of the United States' lethal drone program as a major issue concerning Congress and the American public, along with the administration's announcement that it would be moving the program from the CIA to the military, signaled to many that the targeted killing campaign would become more transparent and its overseers more accountable (Post). But weeks have passed and the White House remains silent on what changes it will actually make to the program, while Congress' demands for more information on its processes have only been partially met.
Insert foot into mouth
As Pakistan approaches the historic May 11 elections, the impartial caretaker government is having a hard time maintaining said impartiality (ET). During an interview with Express News, interim Interior Minister Malik Habib Khan called Nawaz Sharif Pakistan's only true national leader, and revealed that he regularly voted for Sharif and his party in the past. Pakistan's other parties were not amused.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Editor's note: New America Foundation senior fellow Philip Mudd received a glowing review of his forthcoming book, Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, in the Wall Street Journal last week (WSJ). New America will host a book launch event for Mr. Mudd next MONDAY, April 15, 2013 (NAF).
Five Americans were killed on Saturday when a suicide car bomber attacked their convoy in Zabul Province, as they traveled with the provincial governor to the capital city of Qalat to deliver books to a new school being inaugurated there (NYT, Post, AP, BBC, LAT, CNN). Another U.S. civilian was killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, making Saturday the deadliest day for U.S. personnel in Afghanistan in eight months. Three of the dead in the Zabul suicide bombing were soldiers and two were civilians, including 25-year-old Foreign Service Officer Anne Smedinghoff, who was the first State Department diplomat to be killed in the country since the war began (NYT, AP).
An American military airstrike called in to support a joint Afghan-U.S. Special Forces operation in the eastern province of Kunar on the border with Pakistan on Saturday killed a senior Taliban commander, Ali Khan, along with at least ten children (NYT, The News, BBC, Guardian, LAT). The American forces called in the airstrike, which also wounded five women, after being bogged down in several hours of fighting with the high-profile Taliban commander and his supporters. Officials believe the women and children killed or injured in the strike were his relatives. President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into their deaths (Bloomberg).
As the Afghan Army begins taking the lead from American forces on operations this year, so far they are doing so with confidence but with mixed results (NYT, Post). Afghan missions struggle with the lack of air power the Americans have provided in the past, and their enthusiastic responses to enemy fire are not always the most efficient. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey visited Afghanistan this weekend to get a sense of the type and level of additional training the U.S. military can give to Afghan forces after the NATO combat mission ends in December 2014 (AP, LAT, VOA). His assessment will help inform how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, a decision he argued on Friday should wait until after the summer fighting season is over (AP). Bonus read: Jim Marshall, "Afghanistan 2014: A look one year out" (AfPak).
Afghan officials said Monday that a roadside bomb had struck a public bus in the restive province of Wardak on Kabul's southwest border, killing at least nine civilians (AP). Around 80 people died in Afghanistan over the past week in a spurt of violence many attribute to the beginning of the spring/summer fighting season.
How it all began
The New York Times this weekend featured an excerpt from Times reporter Mark Mazzetti's forthcoming book, which details for the first time the behind the scenes deal the CIA made with the Pakistanis in 2004 that would allow the Agency to hunt down al-Qaeda militants in certain parts of Pakistan using armed drones (NYT). As the Pakistani government struggled with a growing insurgency in the tribal regions, part of which was led by Taliban commander Nek Muhammad, it agreed to allow the CIA access to Pakistani airspace for targeted killings by drone if the CIA would first assassinate Nek Muhammad. Muhammad was killed by a missile fired from a Predator drone in June 2004. Bonus read: Peter Bergen, "Book review: ‘The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth' By Mark Mazzetti" (Post).
Drone strikes have come to define the United States' approach to counterterrorism over the past decade, a development that expert attribute to a few different factors: the drones' powerful technology that allows for precise strikes and no risk to American lives, the preferences of Pakistani and Yemeni authorities who would resist U.S. boots on the ground in their countries, and the waning need for interrogations as al-Qaeda weakens (NYT).
Pakistani military officials said Friday that four soldiers and 14 militants died that day during Army operations against warring militant groups in Khyber Agency's Tirah Valley (AP). The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and rival militant groups have been battling for land and power in the region in recent months, forcing thousands of families to flee to neighboring districts.
Pakistani election officials in the northern district of Chitral accepted former president Pervez Musharraf's nomination papers to run for parliament on Sunday, allowing the recently returned exile a sigh of relief (AP, ET). His applications to run for seats in two other areas of the country have been rejected, and are still pending in Islamabad. In one of those cases, Musharraf and dozens of other candidates were barred from running on the basis of a rarely used constitutional clause that tests candidates' religious credentials and "moral character" (Guardian).
On Monday, Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered Musharraf to appear before the judges on Tuesday to answer questions about allegations that he committed multiple treasonous crimes while in power, including carrying out a coup, suspending the constitution, and firing senior judges (AP, AFP/ET, Dawn).
Answer me this
The road to becoming a candidate for a parliamentary seat in Pakistan is paved with potholes in the form of spelling bees, religious tests and trivia questions (AP). In order to ensure that candidates satisfy Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, Pakistani judges quiz candidates on their piety and patriotism. It is unclear, though, why any of them were asked who first walked on the moon or how to spell "graduation."
-- Jennifer Rowland
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