The South Asia Channel

U.S.-Afghan talks on deal hit roadblocks

U.S.-Afghan talks on deal hit roadblocks

Event notice: Please join the New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program TODAY, March 5 at 2 p.m. for a conversation with Nasim Zehra, a veteran Pakistani journalist and anchor for Dunya TV (NAF).

Trouble ahead: It is looking increasingly unlikely that the United States and Afghanistan will manage to sign a strategic partnership agreement before the NATO conference on Afghanistan to be held in Chicago in May, as President Hamid Karzai remains firm on his two demands that the United States end night raids and hand over prison facilities to the Afghans immediately (NYTGuardianAP). U.S. officials have agreed to move up the prison transfers to six months from now, and Karzai will meet with Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Monday to discuss the agreement, but the atmosphere surrounding the issue is not one of hope.

A U.S. military investigation into the burning of Qurans by NATO troops last month found that the incident was a mistake on the part of five U.S. soldiers who might face a disciplinary review for their actions (APNYTCNNGuardianLATPostAFP). Afghan investigators, however, contend that the holy texts were burned intentionally, and the country’s top religious council on Friday called for public trials of those responsible (DT, CNN). Afghan army chief Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi said in an interview Sunday that such acts of "negligence" on the part of NATO forces embolden and strengthen the Taliban, and must be avoided in the future (Reuters).

The AP’s Robert Burns on Friday examined the blow to the relationship between U.S. and Afghan forces caused by the killing of six U.S. servicemen by rogue Afghan security officers since the beginning of February (AP). And Reuters reports on the possibility that the Quran burning incident will cause the rate of suicide bombings in Afghanistan to increase (Reuters). 

Pentagon officials are reportedly thinking about placing U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan under CIA control following the 2014 NATO withdrawal deadline, in order to say that all troops had been withdrawn from the country, as the elite officers would technically become spies (AP). The idea has not yet been presented to the White House or to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Pentagon spokesman George Little categorically denied that any such considerations were taking place.

Close call

A suicide bomber attacked the convoy of senior Pakistani politician and former Minister of the Interior Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao in Charsadda District on Saturday, killing a policeman and injuring six others, but leaving the politician unscathed (ETAJEDawn, AFPDTThe News). Another suicide attack, this time targeting policemen, wounded five officers late Sunday in central Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (ET, AFP).

Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, has reportedly demoted his deputy Maulvi Faqir Mohammad at a meeting of Taliban leaders on Sunday, in what may be a sign of growing rifts within the militant group’s leadership (BBCThe News). Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Sunday that self-exiled Baloch leader Brahamdagh Bugti had been running training camps in Afghanistan for several thousand men, who planned to carry out attacks on government paramilitary troop in Balochistan (ETET, Dawn). Malik said Afghan president Hamid Karzai helped dismantle the camps and pledged to prevent insurgents from infiltrating Pakistan.

The Pakistan military said Monday that it had successfully test-fired a short-range ballistic missiles capable of being armed with nuclear warheads (AFP). And Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir retired on Saturday, and was replaced by former ambassador to Belgium Jalil Abbas Jilani (ET).

Power trip

After the ruling Pakistan People’s Party made substantial gains in Friday’s Senate elections, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Saturday flippantly dismissed his rivals’ hopes that the embattled rulers might have to call early elections or even install an interim government (DawnETAP). Senate elections in Balochistan are being contested after one Member of Parliament, Abdul Qadir Gilani, revealed that the government had promised him funds if he agreed to vote for the PPP candidates (ETDawn).

The Posts’s Richard Leiby reported Friday on the Pakistani government’s proposal last month to ban television shows considered to be "against the national interest," including those that criticize "the organs of the state" or weaken Pakistan’s "solidarity as an independent and sovereign country" (Post). The rules are purportedly in response to the public’s complaints about shows that invade privacy and embarrass individuals, but many worry they will be used to limit coverage of the unrest and calls for secession in Balochistan.

A coalition of 200 American nongovernmental aid organizations has written a letter to CIA director David Petraeus, blaming the U.S. scheme to use a polio vaccine to get access to Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout last year for Pakistan’s worsening polio crisis (McClatchyGuardian). Leading Pakistani health professionals warned at an international convention in Karachi over the weekend that a "brain drain" of Pakistan’s most talented doctors is severely weakening Pakistani health care, and that the government’s devolution of health care to the provinces was its "biggest mistake" (DT, Dawn).

Censored content

A fifteen year-old Pakistani boy has helped the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) with its ongoing campaign to block adult websites in the country (ET). With the help of some friends whose names he did not want to reveal, Ghazi Muhammad Abdullah compiled and sent to the PTA a list of 780,000 pornographic websites that he thinks should be blocked.

 Jennifer Rowland