The Rack: Mohsin Hamid, "Pakistan: Why Drones Don’t Help" (NYRB).
On the offensive
Three U.S. soldiers were killed in the Zhare district of Kandahar on Tuesday when a roadside bomb ripped through their convoy (NYT, RFE/RL). Considered one of the most violent districts in Afghanistan, Zhare has seen an increased Taliban presence as the American force there has been cut over the past year. The attack was the second successful assault on coalition forces in as many days. As the United States and its NATO allies hand over responsibility for security operations to the Afghans, the U.S. and Afghan Special Forces contingents are taking on increasing amounts of combat (NYT). U.S. Special Operations forces are expected to make up almost one-third of the American troop presence in Afghanistan by next February, while the specially trained Afghan commandos will be heavily relied upon to fill the gap left by outgoing NATO troops.
Violence continued on Wednesday in Nangarhar province with back-to-back explosions that killed one police officer and wounded 10 civilians (Dawn, Pajhwok). The first bomb went off close to the Sherzai Stadium, and near the provincial governor’s compound, in Jalalabad and the second was detonated shortly after police reached the scene. As with the other attacks this week, there has been no immediate claim of responsibility.
The four remaining Turkish engineers held hostage by the Afghan Taliban were released on Tuesday in a "goodwill gesture toward Turkey" and as an "Islamic and humanitarian gesture of respect" (Pajhwok, Reuters, RFE/RL). Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said he hoped the release of the eight Turkish captives would help bring the two Islamic nations even closer. Still no word was given about the fates of the Afghan interpreter or the two pilots who were also captured when their helicopter made an emergency landing in April.
In addition to freeing the eight Turkish hostages, the Afghan Taliban released a statement earlier this week asking members "not to create any kind of trouble" for health workers participating in the country’s polio eradication program (CBC). Though they said they would not tolerate foreigners participating in the eradication program, the group recognized the science behind the vaccine and the need for preventative medicine (Tel, CBC). Since the Taliban has previously blocked eradication program, Afghan observers say it is clear the move is as much for political reasons as it is for humanitarian ones.
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s president-elect, visited opposition leader Imran Khan in the hospital on Tuesday, saying they had "made peace" and would "work together to get the country out of a quagmire of problems" (NYT). While Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party gained control of the regional government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, most independent candidates appeared to be aligning with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), strengthening his party’s position in both the National and Punjab Assemblies (Dawn, ET).
The PTI claims it has identified "significant rigging instances" in as many as 20 Punjabi constituencies and will be lodging complaints with the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Supreme Court (Dawn). Some have suggested this is a case of the party’s followers being "sore losers," but others are taking the allegations seriously (ET). On Wednesday, seven men allegedly involved in rigging polling stations in the Darakhshan section of Karachi were arrested and the election in that area, which was postponed on Saturday due to widespread complaints of irregularities, has been rescheduled for May 19 (Dawn).
Speaking at the New America Foundation on Tuesday, Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, stated that U.S. claims it is in a global armed conflict with al-Qaeda and can kill its members wherever it finds them are not widely accepted among its European allies (NAF, WT). Making his first public comments in Washington since launching an investigation into the U.S. drone program in January, Emmerson called for more transparency from the Obama administration, not only to ease public concerns about the targeted killing campaign but also to combat exaggerated claims against it.
Courage under fire
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museums on Monday honored Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban last year for supporting women’s education, and awarded her the annual Reflection of Hope Award (OKC). Accepted by her father, Ziauddin, the award is given in honor of the 168 people who died in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
– Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall