The Times reports that American analysts searching through a cell phone that belonged to Osama bin Laden’s courier have found contact information for members of the militant group Harakat ul-Mujahideen, whose operatives have allegedly been in contact with members of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) (NYT, CBS/AP, AFP, Tel, Reuters). While U.S. officials said the cell phone evidence was not a "smoking gun" linking bin Laden to Pakistani intelligence, Harakat is considered very close to both al-Qaeda and the ISI, and according to the Times has particularly strong ties to Abbottabad, where bin Laden was killed in early May (NYT). A former militant commander also told the Times that he met with bin Laden in 2003 when the latter arrived unexpectedly at a meeting in the Shawal area of North Waziristan.
The Navy SEALs who raided bin Laden’s compound also reportedly found an undated letter in which bin Laden bemoaned al-Qaeda’s tarnished image, and contemplated a name change for the group (AP, Tel). In a confirmation hearing yesterday for top NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus to take over the CIA, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told Petraeus that he was the only person named for targeting in documents seized from the Abbottabad complex (WSJ). And Pakistani authorities confirmed today that they have given permission for bin Laden’s youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, to return to her native Yemen (AP).
The Post today looks at deepening anti-Americanism in Pakistan after the raid that killed bin Laden, while Reuters writes that despite widespread speculation, Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is unlikely to leave his post soon (Post, Reuters). Kayani said Thursday that Pakistan’s army would withdraw from the country’s tribal areas as soon as tribal militia could provide security, as the U.S. continues to worry about terrorism emanating from the same area (Dawn, AP, CSM, ET).
Rounding out the Pakistan news today: The seven men accused of playing a role in killing Karachi teenager Safaraz Shah were given a lawyer today, as their trial proceeds (ET). Police found and defused a bomb placed in the prayer area of a Karachi hospital (Dawn, ET). And a Baluch political leader was killed in his home province, while a former senior aide to military dictator Pervez Musharraf was found dead in Islamabad, in what police suspect was a suicide (ET, DT, ET).
In Congressional testimony Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen expressed support for President Barack Obama’s timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but said it was "more aggressive" and riskier than what he had originally recommended, a sentiment echoed by Gen. Petraeus in his confirmation hearing (BBC, Tel, Post, NYT, CNN, WSJ, ABC). Petraeus faced a number of questions about Afghanistan, and said that if confirmed his leadership of the CIA would be independent of the military and his role in the Afghan war effort (CNN, Bloomberg, LAT, Post).
President Obama on Thursday told soldiers at Ft. Drum, NY, that the U.S. had "turned a corner" in Afghanistan, and was not withdrawing "precipitously" from the country (AP, NYT). He also said that there were indications that the Taliban are seeking a political settlement in Afghanistan, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her own congressional testimony Thursday defended such talks as "not pleasant" but necessary, adding that the talks have been "very preliminary" (AFP, Post, Reuters, Tel, CBS). Clinton also supported a Pakistani role in an Afghan peace process, but threatened that aid to the country could be cut off unless unspecified "steps" are taken (Dawn, Reuters, AP, DT).
The AP has a must-read story suggesting that Afghan president Hamid Karzai has surrounded himself with a small group of religiously conservative, anti-U.S. and pro-Iran advisers linked to a wing of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami (AP). Karzai welcomed Obama’s withdrawal timetable, but some Afghans are concerned about what will happen when U.S. forces leave (NYT, WSJ, Post, LAT). And a special tribunal set up by Karzai to evaluate claims of election fraud has ordered that 62 candidates disqualified after last year’s parliamentary elections be reinstated into parliament, a move that could provoke a constitutional crisis (NYT). Bonus read: Scott Worden, "Afghanistan’s ongoing election drama" (FP).
Also today, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry asked Pakistan to put an end to cross-border attacks by militant groups (AFP). And finally, a U.N. report found that a plant disease had sharply cut the production of Afghan opium, though production of the drug expanded in other countries (BBC, AFP, Reuters, AP).
Though other sports like cricket are dominant in Afghanistan, a small but growing group of men have taken to playing rugby (AP). The men hope to eventually join the International Rugby Board, which is investing money to spread the sport across Asia.