First official visit
Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Islamabad on Monday for his first visit with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since Sharif’s election in May, and his first to Pakistan since 2011 (Dawn, Pajhwok, RFE/RL, VOA). The two-day visit is expected to focus on securing Pakistan’s help in ending the war in Afghanistan by facilitating direct talks between Kabul and Afghan Taliban insurgents. Part of that facilitation will be releasing Afghan prisoners, including Taliban fighters, currently held in Pakistan, something Afghan officials say Karzai will discuss with Sharif. Speaking ahead of the talks, Karzai said he was "hopeful, but not sure" since previous visits to Pakistan have not succeeded in improving Afghan security (BBC, Pajhwok).
Early reports suggest that the visit between the two leaders is going well as representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan have already signed two agreements that boost bilateral cooperation in communications, economics, security, and trade (ET, Pajhwok, Reuters). At a joint news conference, Sharif announced that: "I reaffirmed Pakistan’s strong and sincere support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. We fully agreed that this process has to be inclusive, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led." In his remarks, however, Sharif did not address facilitating talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban, and closed his statement by discussing the economic agreement the two parties had signed.
During a news conference on Saturday, Karzai told reporters that he is in no rush to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, which will determine the size and scope of a U.S. presence in the country once the NATO combat mission ends in December 2014 (Reuters, RFE/RL). Speaking outside the presidential palace, Karzai said: "Although the Americans asked for October, we are not in a hurry and if the document is agreed upon during this government, good. And if not, the next president can discuss whether to or not to accept it." Karzai was referring to recent statements by U.S. military leaders who said they believed the pact would be signed later this fall.
A six-member military jury sentenced Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to life in prison without parole on Friday for murdering 16 Afghan villagers inside their homes last March (NYT). It took the jurors 90 minutes to deliberate between life in prison with no possibility of parole or life in prison with eligibility for parole in about 20 years; Bales’s guilty plea in June removed the death penalty from the table. Bales will be dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army for his actions. Many of the nine Afghans affected by the attack who had been flown to Seattle to testify at the hearing told reporters that they had wanted Bales to be executed and that the sentence did little to ease their anger and loss. Haji Mohammed Wazir, who lost 11 family members in the rampage, said: "We came all the way to the U.S. to get justice. We didn’t get that" (AP, RFE/RL). President Karzai reacted to the sentencing by saying he wanted the United States to ease the victims’ suffering by helping them achieve a better economic livelihood and continuing its efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan (VOA).
One woman died and at least seven other villagers were injured in the Nakyal Sector of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on Sunday when Indian forces fired across the Line of Control, according to Masood-ur-Rehman, the Deputy Commissioner of the Kotli district (AFP, Dawn). The woman was the fifth Pakistani citizen reportedly killed in the ongoing skirmishes between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune, the shelling continued Monday morning but no casualties have been reported (ET).
Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Saturday that the militant group will not negotiate with the Pakistani government, backtracking on a statement he made just the day before (RFE/RL). Shahid also condemned Asmatullah Muawiya, a commander for the Punjab Taliban, for praising Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for offering to hold peace negotiations with the country’s militant groups (AP). Muawiya released his complimentary statement last Thursday, and while Shahid said Muawiya’s views were his own, he added that they closely aligned with the group’s leadership. It is unclear what precipitated the shift.
At least 11 people were killed in Punjab province on Friday as members of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) party, a radical Sunni Muslim group, and Majlis-e Wahdat-e Muslimeen (MWM), a Shi’ite political group, clashed in the town of Bhakkar (RFE/RL). According to local police officers, shots were exchanged when the ASWJ accused the MWM of gunning down one of its members. Sarfaraz Falki, a district police chief, imposed a curfew in the area on Saturday and temporarily banned rallies and political meetings as security forces worked to pacify the town (RFE/RL).
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– Bailey Cahall