Talks about talks
Outgoing U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates confirmed for the first time this weekend that the United States was engaged, along with several other countries, in "outreach" talks with the Taliban, but said that any real negotiations about reconciliation would not come until at least the winter (NYT, BBC, Times, Reuters, AFP, Guardian, Bloomberg, WSJ, DT). Gates said that negotiations had begun only a few weeks ago.
The talks were first revealed officially in a live speech Saturday from Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who sharply criticized the motivations of foreign forces in Afghanistan, and said that ongoing military operations were causing environmental damage in the country (NYT, Post, LAT, Tel, McClatchy, Globe and Mail, Independent). In a surprisingly emotional response, departing U.S. ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry called the increasing criticism of international forces "hurtful and inappropriate," and said, "When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost – in terms of life and treasure – hear themselves compared with occupiers…my people, in turn, are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here" (State, NYT, Post, WSJ, Reuters, Tel, AFP). And the Times reports on the slow pace of efforts to reintegrate some of Afghanistan’s nearly 40,000 Taliban fighters (NYT).
Up to four Taliban suicide bombers wearing Afghan army uniforms staged a coordinated gun-and-bomb attack on a police station in a Kabul market Saturday, shattering the relative calm that had prevailed in the city and killing at least nine (NYT, CNN, Reuters, AFP, Globe and Mail, McClatchy, AP). The attack comes as U.S. and Afghan forces killed an Afghan soldier believed to have shot dead his Australian "mentor" three weeks ago (Pajhwok, AP). And in the northern city of Kunduz on Sunday, a suicide bomber targeting a German military convoy killed three civilians (CNN, AFP, Globe and Mail, DW, BBC).
In other news, concern continues to grow about the behavior of U.S.-trained local militias in Afghanistan’s south (Tel, AFP). The governor and local intelligence chief in Badakshan province survived assassination attempts this weekend, while the secretary of the provincial council in Logar province was kidnapped, and militants destroyed two cell phone towers in the provinces of Ghazni and Paktia (Pajhwok, Pajhwok, Pajhwok). And due to summer vacations, Afghan lawmakers will reportedly be unable to deal with a cash crisis brought on by the Kabul Bank scandal for another month (Reuters).
CNN reported Saturday that Pakistani officials knew of "increased U.S. intelligence activity" in the country several weeks before the May 2 raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, though officials claim they did not know where the activity was focused (CNN, ET). Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is reportedly trying to bolster his position within the military in the wake of the raid, as Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani took to the airwaves this weekend to defend Pakistan’s questioning of alleged CIA informants as well as others who may have known about bin Laden’s presence in the country (AP, Dawn, ET, DT, ABC). Interior Minister Rehman Malik this weekend said that the CIA is not operating in Pakistan (ET).
The AP reported this weekend that two additional bombmaking sites were evacuated in Pakistan’s tribal areas after the United States provided Pakistani authorities with intelligence on their locations (AP, NYT). And Gen. Kayani reportedly told a visiting European delegation that, "Pakistan wants a stable Afghanistan but not at the cost of Pakistan" (ET).
The Pakistani government on Sunday formally requested that the country’s Supreme Court appoint a justice to head the commission tasked with investigating the raid that killed bin Laden (Dawn, DT). The court’s chief justice is also scheduled to appoint a commission to investigate the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad today, while the Tribune reports that the commission report on the attack last month on Pakistan’s Mehran naval base was an "eyewash" that "states the obvious" (ET, Dawn, ET).
In other al-Qaeda news, the AP reports on how a cash-strapped al-Qaeda Central in Pakistan saw kidnapping as an effective fundraising technique, while the Telegraph notes that documents seized in bin Laden’s compound depict a fractured al-Qaeda leadership, with bin Laden behaving as a "ranting chief executive" (AP, Dawn, Tel). On Friday, a U.S. federal court in New York formally dismissed the charges filed more than a decade ago against bin Laden (NYT). And the Somali militant group al-Shabaab expressed support for al-Qaeda’s new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a statement Saturday, and re-affirmed, "we are part of al-Qaeda" (CNN).
Out of area
Suspected U.S. drone strikes targeted Kurram agency for the first time this morning, hitting a vehicle and a compound and killing at least 12 people in a vehicle and compound, including some suspected Haqqani Network fighters, an attack that prompted protests from armed tribesmen in neighboring North Waziristan (AP, AFP, ET, AJE, CNN, Reuters, Tel). In Mohmand agency, up to 50 militants on Sunday attacked an army outpost, killing at least four soldiers and triggering a furious counterattack that saw Pakistani jets attacking militant bases, reportedly killing at least 25 fighters (ET, AFP, DT, Reuters). Elsewhere in the agency dozens of militants attacked the homes of two anti-Taliban tribal elders, killing at least six (AFP, AP, BBC). Militants also attacked a checkpoint in South Waziristan this weekend, killing one soldier (ET). And police in Lower Dir this morning arrested a young girl wearing a suicide vest, who says she was kidnapped by militants and given sedatives before being left by her abductors near a security post (ET, Reuters).
The trial of seven men accused of playing a role in the death of an unarmed teenager in Karachi begins today, as the Daily Times looks at the often excessive force used by Pakistan’s paramilitary units (ET, DT). Targeted killings continue to roil the city, as at least 11 were killed this weekend in the ongoing violence, and Karachi police are reportedly confused as to which militant groups they are allowed to target (DT, Dawn, ET, ET). Saba Imtiaz looks at the perilous state of Karachi’s minority Ahmedi community (ET). And the AP talks about the work for tolerance being conducted by the daughter of the slain governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, while the Tribune investigates how spurious blasphemy allegations are being used to seize property (AP, ET).
Guardian journalist Waqar Kiani was reportedly dragged from his car and beaten by men in police uniforms Saturday, who Kiani says told him, "We’re going to make an example of you" just days after he wrote a story of abuses committed by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies (Guardian, Dawn, ET, DT). In Baluchistan four people were killed, including two children, when a remote-detonated bomb exploded next to a vehicle carrying Pakistani security forces this weekend (CNN, AFP). And unidentified gunmen in the province destroyed a NATO fuel truck, after killing its driver (AFP).
Rounding out the news this week, a U.N. report has found that Pakistan hosts the largest number of refugees of any country in the world, 1.9 million people (AFP). And a Pakistani commission tasked with dispensing millions on flood relief was instead found to have spent nearly all of it on advertising (ET).
Less than a week before talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan are set to begin, an Indian and a Pakistani warship brushed against each other in the Gulf of Aden, triggering protests and accusations of dangerous behavior from both countries (AP, DT, AFP, Dawn, ET, AP).
Pakistan’s military is funding a T.V. show to boost awareness of its fight against the Taliban, "Beyond the Call of Duty," that uses real soldiers and weapons instead of actors and props to keep costs down (WSJ). The show has proved popular, especially in rural parts of the country.