The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Biden visits Afghanistan, Pakistan

On bookshelves today: Peter Bergen’s new book, The Longest War: Inside the Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda, has been given a starred review by Kirkus, which describes it as "a revelatory, pull-no-punches history of the War on Terror….One of the deepest and most disturbing investigations of one of the defining issues of our era" ...

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

On bookshelves today: Peter Bergen’s new book, The Longest War: Inside the Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda, has been given a starred review by Kirkus, which describes it as "a revelatory, pull-no-punches history of the War on Terror….One of the deepest and most disturbing investigations of one of the defining issues of our era" (Amazon).

Biden in Afghanistan and Pakistan

American vice president Joe Biden is currently in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to hold talks related to the U.S.’s expected withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan this summer, and to assess the readiness of Afghan security forces to assume responsibility, before heading to Pakistan this evening with messages of support (AFP, WSJ, Post, AP, ET, Pajhwok). Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Biden met for nearly two hours today, and Biden said that the U.S. will not leave Afghanistan completely in 2014 if Afghans still want the U.S. there (AFP, AP). Biden has generally been in favor of a less troop-intensive approach and a quicker handover to Afghans, and commented, "It’s not our intention to govern or to nation-build — as President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people." Biden was greeted by Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, who told the AP that southern Afghanistan is improving, citing a recent deal between leaders of the Alikozai tribe in Sangin district of Helmand province to try to stop insurgent attacks in the area in exchange for development support from the coalition (AP).

Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction who has been criticized by lawmakers who claimed incompetence and mismanagement and called for his removal, has resigned effective February 4, shortly after firing his top two deputies in an effort to give SIGAR "new blood" (AP, Post, WSJ, CNN, Pajhwok). A successor to head SIGAR, which is charged with investigating fraud and corruption in Afghanistan contracting, has not yet been named.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports on some behind-the-scenes intrigue related to the selection of a new governor of Punjab following the assassination of Salmaan Taseer last week by one of his bodyguards, who yesterday pleaded guilty in a court in Rawalpindi (ET, Post). Carlotta Gall puzzles over the reaction of many of Pakistan’s young lawyers, "once seen as a force for democracy," who have offered their support for Qadri, writing that this is "perhaps just the most glaring expression of what has become a deep generational divide tearing at the fabric of Pakistani society, and of the broad influence of religious conservatism — and even militancy — that now exists among the educated middle class" (NYT). Taseer was apparently killed because of his support for reforming Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. A man and his son have reportedly been sentenced to life in prison for removing a poster that was said to contain Koranic verses from their grocery store in the central Pakistani town of Muzaffargarh last April (AFP).

Sources also tell the Express Tribune that any major military operations in North Waziristan have been delayed again by the onset of winter in the tribal areas (ET). In Bannu, southwest of Peshawar, Pakistani police opened fire on a crowd of some 500 protesters demonstrating against power cuts, killing one and wounding more than a dozen (AFP). 

Making beautiful music

Winter music classes at Kabul’s National Music Institute are currently underway, offering lessons to more than 150 students (Tolo). The institute is also planning to invite more than 20 national and international artists to Kabul to help educate the students.

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