The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Taliban begin fighting season in Afghanistan

Daily brief: Taliban begin fighting season in Afghanistan

U.S. President Barack Obama announced last night that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been killed in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan by U.S. forces. For a full roundup of news related to his death, see a special brief by Katherine Tiedemann (AfPak).

A bloody new start

The Department of Defense on Friday issued an optimistic report on the state of the war in Afghanistan, citing "tangible progress" against the Taliban and improvements in local security in the country’s south, and saying that the momentum of the Taliban had been largely blunted (WSJ, Post). The report was issued just a day before the Taliban announced the start of their spring offensive, which began Sunday and promised stepped up attacks against U.S. military and Afghan government targets, while promising to take care to protect civilians (NYT, AFP, AP, Reuters, LAT). Yesterday, a suicide bombing reportedly perpetrated by a 12-year old boy in Paktia province which killed four, including both civilians and the head of the Shkin district council, Shir Nawaz Khan (NYT, AFP, Tolo, Tel, Reuters). At least 11 people have been killed so far in the fresh wave of attacks, which included a shooting and bomb placed on a bicycle in Ghazni province, a shooting targeting an Afghan soldier in Kandahar, and an attack on NATO troops in Logar province that reportedly killed three children (Daily Times, AFP, CNN, Tel, AJE, Reuters, LAT). Five children were also injured by a mortar round in Kunar province, though the origin of the shell is unknown (Pajhwok).

Afghanistan’s justice ministry announced Sunday that Afghan authorities had arrested 15 people in relation to last week’s massive prison break at Kandahar’s Sarposa prison, including the head of the prison, an assistant and several security guards who were on duty at the time of the breakout (AFP). The country’s justice minister, Habibullah Ghalib, also said that the nearly 500 escaped Taliban prisoners fled the prison through its main gate, rather than through a tunnel as has been reported (Tolo).

Four stories round out the Afghanistan news: Jane Perlez looks at the construction of the Gardez-Khost road, which is expected to ultimately cost the United States $176 million, or around $2.8 million per mile, and part of which is already in disarray (NYT).The Canadian Press examines the efforts of the Canadian military to build a 15-km gravel road through Panjwai district in Kandahar, one of the most turbulent parts of Afghanistan (Canadian Press). The Afghan Parliament on Saturday approved the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which will begin construction in 2012 and is likely to finish in 2014 (ET). And the U.S. Air Force said this weekend that the sophisticated surveillance drone named "Gorgon Stare" has been deployed over Afghanistan (Post).

The beat goes on

German security forces arrested three men in the cities of Düsseldorf and Bochum on Friday, two of Moroccan and one of Iranian descent in relation to an alleged al-Qaeda-linked terrorist plot to engage in a large-scale bomb attack in Düsseldorf (WSJ, CNN, Deutsche Welle, FT, NYT). The plot, which police say was in its final stages of planning, reportedly involved at least one man recruited by al-Qaeda and trained in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, and involved some direction from a "high-level" al-Qaeda operative (NYT, Deutsche Welle).

And Saba Imtiaz traces the history of Karachi as an operating base and transportation hub for al-Qaeda central before and after 9/11 (ET).

Talks about talks

Denying reports last week that Pakistan had encouraged Afghanistan to move away from its alliance with the United States, Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani announced Saturday that the three countries would hold trilateral talks this month to work on ending the war in Afghanistan (Dawn). U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Marc Grossman will reportedly meet tomorrow in Islamabad with Pakistani foreign secretary Salman Bashir.

The Times reports that the United States, limited by the lack of capacity in Pakistan’s civilian government and wary of corruption, has disbursed less than $200 million of the $1.5 billion per year Kerry-Lugar aid bill, focusing on projects in out-of-the-way places that have still yet to be completed in full (NYT). The AFP reports on Pakistan’s fiscal woes, fed in large part by the fact that only 1.9 million Pakistanis, out of a population of nearly 180 million, paid taxes last year (AFP). And Pam Constable notes the growth in Islamic banking in Pakistan (Post).

Gimme fuel, gimme fire

Unidentified attackers near Attock, about 40 miles from Islamabad, killed four Pakistani police in an attack on a police post before attacking a NATO fuel convoy, destroying up to 14 vehicles (Geo, ET, Daily Times, AFP).

Two people have been killed by a landmine in Kurram agency, as the Express Tribune reports that the insurgent Haqqani Network has warned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakimullah Mehsud not to disrupt a fragile truce in Kurram brokered in part with Haqqani help (ET, ET). Up to 13 cars were burned in Karachi this weekend as supporters of the Muttahida Qaudi Movement (MQM) mourned a senior member of the party, Liaquat Qureshi, who was assassinated Friday (Dawn, Daily Times). And Pakistani police broke up a crowd that was marching to attack a church in the eastern city of Gujranwala on Saturday, after two Qurans were burnt in the city (AP).

Musical journey

Pakistani musical prodigy Usman Riaz is the subject of a new short film showcasing his talent and particular style of guitar playing, playing it as a part-string, part-percussion instrument (Newsline). Riaz, 20, deferred his admission to Boston’s Berklee School of Music to explore Pakistan’s music and culture scene.

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