The South Asia Channel

Series of sectarian attacks rock Pakistan

Event Notice: The New America Foundation is pleased to announce that it is now accepting applications for Indian and Pakistani participants in our "South Asia 2020" conference to be held in Dubai from Friday, January 18 to Sunday, January 20, 2013, hosted by Steve Coll and Peter Bergen. The conference will bring together a total ...

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

Event Notice: The New America Foundation is pleased to announce that it is now accepting applications for Indian and Pakistani participants in our "South Asia 2020" conference to be held in Dubai from Friday, January 18 to Sunday, January 20, 2013, hosted by Steve Coll and Peter Bergen.

The conference will bring together a total of 30 "new voices" from Pakistan and India to discuss issues of common interest such as trade, business, IT, water, energy, microfinance, climate change, public health and media.

The intent of the conference is to encourage the collaboration of a new generation of experts from both nations in order to develop greater regional integration in South Asia

TO APPLY: Please send your resume and letter of intent to nssp@newamerica.net no later than Friday, November 30, 2012.

Deadliest days

A suicide bomber attacked a Shi’a Muslim religious procession around midnight on Wednesday in the Pakistani military hub of Rawalpindi, killing 23 people and injuring over 60 others (AP, BBC, CNN, NYT, Guardian). The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack, as well as two earlier bombs detonated outside a Shi’a mosque in the port city of Karachi, which killed one person and wounded at least 15 others.

Then, early on Saturday, a roadside bomb in the northwestern Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan ripped through another Shi’a Muslim religious procession early on Saturday, killing at least seven – including four children – and wounding at least 30 others (NYT, AP, Reuters, BBC, Guardian, CNN). Participants of the processions were observing Ashura, an annual ten-day mourning period during which Shi’a Muslims remember the killing of Imam Hussein in the 7th century. The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, and promised that more would come (AJE).

On Sunday, a second blast shook Khyber Pakhtunknwa Province’s Dera Ismail Khan, when a bomb hidden in a bicycle repair shop killed five people and injured over 70 others (CNN, BBC, AP, Reuters, LAT). Pakistani authorities have deployed thousands of additional police officers, and suspended mobile phone services during the weekend in major cities across the country in an effort to reduce the likelihood of attacks on the Ashura processions (Reuters, BBC).

Policy scramble

The November 6 U.S. presidential election reportedly spurred the White House to quickly codify its drone attack policies, so that if candidate Mitt Romney had won he would find strict rules and procedures for carrying out the strikes, the vast majority of which occur in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal agency (NYT).

Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi cancelled his scheduled visit to Pakistan on Friday, likely to deal with unrest in his own country a day after he seized wide powers placing himself above the Egyptian judiciary (Reuters). And Iranian authorities are pushing forward with the financing of the Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline — to which the United States is opposed – with a $500 million loan to Pakistan (ET). But Iran first wants a pledge from the Pakistani government that it will not back out of the agreement.

And Indian authorities said Monday that Pakistani troops had violated a bilateral ceasefire by firing some 6,000 rounds on ten Indian border posts along the Line of Control (ET).

Violence unending

A suicide bomber on Friday detonated a massive truck bomb in the center of Maidan Shahr, the capital of Wardak Province, killing two women and a police officer and wounding more than 90 others (NYT, Reuters, LAT, AP). The bomb completely destroyed the local government records office, the local office of the Afghan intelligence agency, a midwifery center, and a women’s hostel; it left a crater at least 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

Sectarian conflict struck Kabul University on Saturday, when Sunni Muslim students tried to prevent their Shi’a Muslim peers from observing the Ashura holiday, sparking a confrontation that ended in the death of at least one student and the wounding of eight others (NYT, LAT). Afghanistan’s Shi’a Muslim minority has experienced growing religious freedom since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but Afghan Shi’as fear a return to persecution and isolation with the withdrawal of most foreign troops over the next two years (Post).

The United States is getting closer to deciding on the number of forces that will stay in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014, with the White House reportedly pushing for around 10,000 U.S. soldiers, supported by several thousand international troops (WSJ, NYT). That number may sound large, but it is significantly smaller than the 30,000 troops many defense analysts have estimated the U.S. military would want to keep stationed in Afghanistan.

Azam Ahmed for the New York Times reported Sunday on the particular dangers facing private security guards in Afghanistan, who are usually hired to protect high-profile targets such as Western diplomats and Afghan officials (NYT). Three Afghan guards who worked for a foreign security contractor were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul’s diplomatic neighborhood last Wednesday.

A new look

Kabul’s generally traffic-clogged, badly drained streets have for the past two months been getting a much-needed overhaul, financed in large part by the government of Japan (Post). Residents of the Afghan capital complain that the project is producing disruptive air and noise pollution, but once it is done the city expects to have 60 miles of newly paved road and a modern drainage system.

— Jennifer Rowland

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