A rare outburst
Although Pakistani intelligence officials initially said the approximately 40 people who were killed yesterday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan were militants discussing plans to send fighters across the border into Afghanistan, the powerful chief of Pakistan’s army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued a rare and strong condemnation, writing in a statement that the strike "carelessly and callously targeted" a jirga of "peaceful citizens" (AP, NYT, WSJ, ET, LAT, Reuters, AP, Tel, Dawn, FT, BBC, McClatchy, Daily Times, Geo). Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also condemned the strike, which local tribesmen and an anonymous North Waziristan official said hit the jirga that had reportedly been convened to discuss a dispute over the ownership of a chromite mine in the area. U.S. officials dismissed these claims, commenting that those killed were "not the local men’s glee club," "not a charity car wash," and were not "gathering for a bake sale, they were terrorists" (WSJ, AP, NYT). Tribal elders have declared a three-day mourning period and demanded ‘blood money’ for the families of those killed, and Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir demanded an apology from U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter (The News, Dawn). Yesterday’s drone strike was the 21st reported this year (NAF).
As expected, protests against the release earlier this week of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who shot and killed two Pakistanis in late January, are taking place in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, and other cities across Pakistan (ET, AP, Dawn, ET). The United States has closed its embassy and consulates for the day, and it is unclear when they will reopen for business (Tel). The chief justice of the Lahore High Court has refused to hear a petition challenging Davis’s release, which argues that the families of the men killed accepted the ‘blood money’ under pressure from the Pakistani government (Dawn, The News, ET). The case has been forwarded to the chief justice of Pakistan. The Express Tribune reports that the release was practiced a day earlier, and Reuters assesses that the CIA may face a reduced role in Pakistan after the Davis incident, as Pakistan’s intelligence service the ISI claims major gains from the deal that resulted in his release (ET, Reuters). Bonus read: advantage: ISI (FP).
And in northwest Pakistan, five alleged militants were killed in clashes with Pakistani security forces in the Swat Valley, and four security officials were injured in a remote controlled bombing in the Bara area of Khyber (ET, Dawn).
Staying in Afghanistan
The House of Representatives rejected a resolution proposed by Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) calling for the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, and the LA Times notes that "more lawmakers were inclined to support the pullout than they were a year ago, when a similar proposal was rejected 356 to 65. Last year, 60 Democrats and five Republicans backed the pullout; this year, 85 Democrats and eight Republicans voted for the withdrawal" (Reuters, LAT).
Two more stories round out the week’s news: the AP looks at U.S. Marines’ use of destruction as a tactic to clear the Sangin district of Helmand province (AP); and the NYT adds to reporting about USAID ending its contract with the accounting firm Deloitte, because the company failed to report signs of trouble at the Kabul Bank, as staff members worked at the Central Bank (NYT). The Times writes, "Although a huge fraud was under way that diverted $850 million to insiders, numerous red flags were overlooked by the Deloitte team."
Afghanistan’s hidden treasures
The U.S. is donating some $5 million to the Kabul Museum for a new building to house the ‘Hidden Treasures of Afghanistan’ exhibit that is currently on a world tour (Pajhwok). Afghanistan’s Ministry of Culture and Information has also pledged $2 million for the effort.