Open for business
The Taliban officially opened their office in Doha, Qatar around 6:30 pm Tuesday during a ceremony that included Taliban representatives, Afghan foreign ministry officials, and Qatari officials (NYT, Pajhwok). In a statement, the group said they had opened the office to meet with other Afghans, contact the United Nations and other international agencies, and improve their relations with the international community. The announcement also said the Taliban would welcome every political and peaceful solution that could bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, but made no direct reference to peace talks.
U.S. officials hailed the move as a positive first step and confirmed that Ambassador James Dobbins, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, headed to Qatar Tuesday to begin direct talks with the Taliban as soon as possible (Pajhwok, Pajhwok). Dobbins and his team will first stop in Turkey and then head to Qatar before moving on to Afghanistan and Pakistan. While no official date has been set for the Doha meeting, U.S. senior officials expect it will occur later this week (AFP, Guardian, VOA).
Once the U.S. announced its intention to meet with the Taliban officials in Qatar first, however, President Hamid Karzai protested Wednesday by suspending the countries’ fourth-round talks on the Bilateral Security Agreement (AFP, BBC, Pajhwok). Afghan officials said the U.S. precondition that the Taliban renounce violence did not go far enough and should have included a commitment to talk directly with the Karzai government – something the Taliban has been unwilling to do – and an acknowledgement of the Afghan constitution. Karzai also objected to the Taliban calling the office the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" and flying the Taliban flag, believing it gives the insurgent group too much legitimacy (NYT). He has pushed to have the talks moved to Afghanistan, something the U.S. has supported (Pajhwok).
Four coalition service members were killed Tuesday night in an insurgent attack, though neither the exact location of the attack or the victims’ identities were revealed in the NATO statement (NYT, Pajhwok). However, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid released a statement saying the group had fired two rockets at Bagram Airfield in Parwan province, killing four U.S. soldiers and wounding six others, overshadowing the positive steps taken earlier in the day (AFP). To date, 91 coalition soldiers, including 68 Americans, have been killed across the country.
After a Guardian report on the U.S. government’s PRISM and Boundless Informant programs revealed that nearly 13.5 billion pieces of Pakistani "intelligence" had been collected in March, the Pakistani Foreign Office in Islamabad and the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C. have asked the U.S. government for an official explanation, though few expect one to be forthcoming (Dawn, Dawn). The "intelligence," collected by Boundless Informant in particular, includes online information, telephone metadata, and the locations, dates, times, and durations of phone calls. It is still unclear, however, whose information was collected or how it was used.
At least 34 people have died after a suicide bomber attacked a funeral ceremony for a local businessman Tuesday in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, according to Pakistani officials (NYT, Post). The funeral for Haji Abdullah, the owner of a local petrol station who was killed by unknown gunmen on Monday, was attended by dozens of local leaders and provincial figures, including some aligned with the anti-Taliban Awani National Party, and at least two legislators are among the dead (Dawn). Sixty other funeral attendees were injured when the bomb was detonated shortly after the last rites were performed. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party continued its push against the U.S. drone campaign on Wednesday when party chairman Imran Khan took the oath of office and urged Pakistan’s government and military leaders to create a strategy that halts U.S. strikes in the country’s tribal regions (ET). Khan’s speech comes one day after Dr. Shireen Mazari, another PTI leader, asked the National Assembly to consider what they would do if the drone campaign didn’t end. The PTI leads the ruling coalition in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which has borne the brunt of the strikes.
Top Gun, Part 2
Colonel Latifa Nibizada, the first female pilot in the Afghan air force, chronicles her journey in a BBC profile out today (BBC). In it, Col. Nibizada talks about how she joined the Afghan military in 1989, with the support of her father, and raised her daughter on the helicopters she flew as there was no one to take care of her at home, and there was no kindergarten in the military. Col. Nibizada, whose daughter is interested in space, hopes her daughter follows in her footsteps but goes one step farther to become an astronaut.
– Bailey Cahall