- By Andrew LebovichAndrew Lebovich is a Sahel consultant and researcher with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, based in Dakar, Senegal.
The Obama administration yesterday submitted its twice-annual report on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan to Congress, grimly stating that there is "no clear path toward defeating the insurgency in Pakistan, despite the unprecedented and sustained deployment of over 147,000 [Pakistani] forces" (McClatchy, Post, Reuters, FT, BBC). The report expressed concern about Pakistan’s failure to sustain counterinsurgency operations against militants in the country’s northwest, noting that Pakistani forces have had to conduct three major operations in Mohmand agency in the last two years, though the unclassified report made no explicit calls for further operations, especially in troubled North Waziristan (WSJ, AFP). The report also called Pakistan’s worsening economic situation "the greatest threat to Pakistan’s stability over the medium term" (NYT).
Militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur announced that he would investigate two separate suicide attacks last week against JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rehman (Dawn). An explosion killed five in Khyber agency as Khyber-based militant commander Mangal Bagh has reportedly requested help from the Pakistani Taliban in a clash with a rival tribe, the Zakhakhel, whom the Afghan Taliban reportedly threatened to assist yesterday (ET). An unidentified explosive killed four children in the village of Kohat this morning, and gunmen in Baluchistan set fire to two NATO fuel tankers (ET, AP, Dawn, AFP).
Showing the flag
British Prime Minister David Cameron concluded his one-day visit to Pakistan yesterday, promising $1.1 billion in aid for Pakistan’s crippled education system while also calling on Pakistan’s wealthy to pay more in taxes and the government to improve its capacity and reduce waste (WSJ, Guardian, Independent, Daily Times). Pakistan is now the single largest recipient of British foreign aid.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency yesterday ordered a review of the country’s nuclear power plants in Karachi and Chachma in light of the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima plant (ET).
Approximately 1,000 Afghans yesterday gathered at Kabul University to protest the Mar. 20 burning of a Quran by a Florida pastor, calling for his punishment as well as asking U.S. troops to stop killing civilians during raids on insurgents (Pajhwok, Reuters). A Taliban spokesman celebrated the nationwide protests against the Quran burning, now in their sixth day (AFP). And Afghan authorities have arrested two former insurgents allegedly involved in last week’s attack on the U.N. compound in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif (AP).
The New York Times reports on the tenuous security and political situation in Kandahar, where improved security masks Afghan anger at U.S. forces and a durable Taliban presence (NYT). In a press conference yesterday the secretary of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, confirmed that the Afghan government is in direct talks about reconciliation initiatives with the Taliban (NYT). In today’s must-read, the Wall Street Journal reports that al-Qaeda is moving back into eastern Afghanistan after U.S. troops have mostly departed the area, and fighters are believed to be setting up training camps and safe houses in parts of Kunar, Nuristan, and Nangarhar provinces (WSJ).
Some private security companies in Afghanistan working for foreign diplomatic and assistance missions have reportedly threatened to leave the country if the Afghan government forces them to pay back taxes, from which they are supposed to be exempt (WSJ). Afghan officials say that British troops in Kabul reportedly killed two Afghan women this morning in a car accident, and killed a man after a group of local residents tried to prevent them from leaving the area (Reuters).
Two more stories round out the news today: the AFP reports on the U.S. military’s Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan (AFP); and the Associated Press reports on the estimated dozen non-Afghan detainees held near Bagram Air Field who have been cleared for release, but continue to be held at the prison (AP). Some have been held for years without being charged with a crime.
The Australian military has awarded its highest honor for animal bravery, the Purple Cross, to a bomb sniffing labrador who was missing for over a year after her unit was ambushed in Uruzgan province before being found by a U.S. soldier in 2009 (BBC). The dog, Sarbi, is only the second to receive the award.