The Rack: “Future tense – Can Afghanistan’s press survive without the West’s support?,” Sabra Ayres (CJR).
As the U.S.-Afghan relationship continues to deteriorate, President Obama is seriously considering a “zero option,” speeding up the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and bringing home all U.S. troops by the end of 2014, according to the New York Times (NYT, Pajhwok). American and European officials familiar with the situation say that a recent video teleconference between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai ended badly, and that a military exit once seen as a worst-case scenario is being considered a possible alternative. There are currently 63,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a number that is scheduled to go down to 34,000 by next February. The option now under consideration would withdraw the bulk of U.S. soldiers – if not all – by next summer, after the annual fighting season winds down.
With the start of Ramadan, a number of world leaders have called for peace and reflection in Afghanistan during the religious observation, while the Taliban has said it will continue tactical attacks. President Hamid Karzai called on the Taliban “to begin a journey of peace and compassion,” asking them to return home and live peacefully (Pajhwok). President Barack Obama called the religious observation a time for thoughtful reflection and an opportunity to “celebrate the principles that bind people of different faiths – a commitment to peace, justice, equality, and compassion towards our fellow human beings” (Pajhwok). And Jan Kubis, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, asked all parties involved in the conflict “to respect the sanctity of this month and allow Afghan families to worship and celebrate in peace” (Pajhwok).
Less than one month after opening their office in Doha, Qatar, the Afghan Taliban have shuttered their doors – at least temporarily – to protest the removal of a plaque reading “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” that they had affixed to the building (AP). A diplomat in the region and a Taliban official familiar with the talks told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the Taliban have not left their homes in Doha or used the office for political meetings since the Qatar government removed the plaque and the movement’s white flag at the request of the Afghan government.
Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit released the full 336-page Abbottabad Commission report on Monday, six months after it was completed and subsequently suppressed by the Pakistani government (AJE, CNN, NYT, Reuters). The four-member commission interviewed 201 people, including top Pakistani intelligence officials, in an effort to understand how the U.S. was able to launch the raid deep in Pakistani territory that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. The report cites “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels” of state institutions, particularly within the Inter-Services Intelligence, which failed to follow up on bin Laden leads after 2002 (AP, BBC, Dawn, Post). The report also said that it is unnecessary to specifically name the political and military leaders involved as “it is obvious who they are,” and suggested they apologize to the country for their “collective failure[s]” (ET).
At least eight people were killed and nine were injured in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province on Monday when a suicide bomber drove his motorcycle into the vehicle of Malik Habibullah Khan, a pro-government tribal elder (NYT). Khan, the intended victim, was not in the vehicle at the time, but his brother and a guard were among those killed. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Elsewhere in the province, two bomb disposal officers were killed when the roadside bomb they were attempting to defuse exploded (Dawn).
After demanding the presence of former president Pervez Musharraf at a hearing in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case on Tuesday, the Anti Terrorism Court was outraged when he didn’t appear (ET). Musharraf’s lawyers said he could not be present due to security concerns, causing the court’s judge to criticize Pakistani police officers for failing to provide the necessary security. Judge Chaudhry Habib-ur-Rehman said Musharraf has to be present for the case to proceed, and that the next hearing would occur at the Rawalpindi Central jail should he again not appear in court.
Silk Road Festival
This past weekend, at the 5th Annual Silk Road Festival, Afghans gathered to celebrate the heritage and relative security of the country’s isolated highlands (Guardian). Key activities of the festival included buzkashi – a game similar to polo that uses a dead goat instead of a ball – jousting, horse racing, and a tug of war. There was also a poetry contest. See photos of the event here.
– Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall