Fingers pointed at Pakistan
According to a report released over the weekend by the London School of Economics based on interviews with Taliban field commanders this spring, Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, funds, protects, and trains Taliban fighters and has an official presence on the Taliban’s leadership shura (The News, AJE, Times, LAT, NYT, Guardian, Reuters). The report, available here, also concludes that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited some 50 "high-ranking Talibs" in prison earlier this year and reportedly told them they had been arrested because he was under a lot of pressure from the Americans, and assured them of Pakistan’s "support" after their release. Pakistani officials were quick to dismiss the report as "rubbish," "one-sided," "baseless," and "speculative" (CNN, AP, BBC, AFP). Bonus read: an AfPak Channel take on the LSE report (FP).
On Saturday, suspected insurgents attacked a NATO convoy in the Bolan area of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province (Daily Times). Unrest continues in Karachi, as four more were killed over the weekend and Pakistani authorities arrested 53 people across the city yesterday (ET). On Friday, Pakistani police said they arrested two would-be militants from North Waziristan in Karachi who were planning to carry out attacks in the Pakistani port city (AFP).
Across the tribal areas, alleged militants attacked a Pakistani security checkpost in Mohmand agency, and blew up a primary school (Dawn). Fighter jets killed 10 Taliban fighters in Orakzai, where many militants are believed to have sought refuge after last fall’s Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan (Daily Times). Next on the Pakistani military’s agenda appears to be North Waziristan, though security officials and analysts assess the military is "buying time" before making moves (ET).
In a daze
The New York Times’ big story this morning is that the U.S. has discovered nearly a trillion dollars of untapped mineral deposits of gold, lithium, iron, cooper, cobalt, and niobium in Afghanistan, which could "fundamentally alter the Afghan economy" from its current reliance on opium (NYT). Although there are "a lot of ifs," according to Gen. David Petraeus, "there is stunning potential here."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal visited Kandahar this weekend in the Afghan leader’s "most demonstrative effort to date to sell the people of Kandahar" on the expected operations across the province, speaking to a group of some 400 elders in the provincial capital and asking for support (NYT, Pajhwok, Reuters, AP, AJE). On Friday, nine civilians were killed in Kandahar when their minibus drove over a roadside bomb (AFP).
Dexter Filkins reported over the weekend that Karzai has apparently lost faith that the U.S. and NATO can defeat the Taliban militarily, interviewing the newly-resigned former chief of Afghan intelligence, Amrullah Saleh, who claimed Karzai did not believe the Taliban were responsible for a rocket attack on the recent jirga in Kabul (NYT). Saleh concluded that the jirga was a "victory for the Taliban," and is worried Karzai may release hardened militants from prison. U.S. officials continue to back Karzai, however, with Obama administration adviser David Axelrod commenting on yesterday’s Meet the Press, "Mr. Saleh was fired by President Karzai, so you know, that may help color some of his interpretations" (WSJ).
After a particularly unconvincing March 8 intelligence briefing at NATO headquarters in Kabul that U.S. officers had hoped would persuade Karzai to remove his influential half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai from power in Kandahar, Gen. McChrystal directed his subordinates to "stop saying bad stuff about AWK" and work with him instead (Wash Post). AWK, who reportedly reads all his press clippings, allegedly met now-captured Taliban no. 2 Mullah Baradar twice in January in the border town of Spin Boldak (NYT). The U.S. military’s intelligence network, initially designed for tracking insurgents, is now focusing more on identifying Afghanistan’s pervasive corruption (NYT).
Poison in the air
Two more cases of schoolgirls reportedly falling ill after smelling gas occurred in Afghanistan this weekend, one in Ghazni where 50 girls were taken to the hospital and another in Balkh where 60 appear to have been poisoned (Reuters, Pajhwok, CNN). As with previous attacks, there have been no reported deaths and no claims of responsibility.
Top U.N. official in Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura said on Saturday that the U.N. is reviewing its 137-name blacklist for names of official Taliban figures with the aim of presenting recommendations for updating the list by the end of June (Reuters). Richard Barrett, a senior U.N. official who heads a team tracking militants in Afghanistan, warned that "putting more troops in" Kandahar could "[make] things worse," assessing that Karzai has been "notably lukewarm" about the proposed operations there (FT).
Three more stories round out the weekend: C. J. Chivers and Tyler Hicks pair up again to report on and photograph the expanding role of U.S. medics in the Afghan war, where in each month in 2010, more U.S. troops have been killed than in any of the same months in previous years (NYT). Afghan officials in southwestern Nimroz province warn of a "rising tide of violence and intimidation" there (AP). And the Post describes how the U.S.’s new approach to reintegrating alleged detained fighters is playing out in Afghanistan (Wash Post).
A drunken brawl
The chief minister of Baluchistan has sacked a member of his cabinet after the cabinet minister was reportedly arrested along with two friends for drunkenly fighting at a theater in Lahore (ET, Daily Times). Jaffar George denied the allegations, saying he and his friends had "demanded tickets for the front row, but the theater manager misbehaved with me."