Wonk Watch: "Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment," Peter Bergen, Bruce Hoffman, Michael Hurley, and Errol Southers (BPC).
Pakistani peace talks
Pakistan’s political and military leadership gathered in Islamabad on Monday to discuss the country’s national security strategy and endorsed conducting negotiations with the different militant groups operating in Pakistan (Bloomberg, Dawn, ET, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). The closed-door All Party Conference was attended by representatives from all of the major political parties; Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief; and Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Releasing a joint statement after the meeting, the participants announced that they had given Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif permission to "initiate dialogue with all stakeholders" and authorized it to "take all necessary steps, including development of an appropriate mechanism and identification of interlocutors." But while it is clear there is a political consensus for talks, the success of the resolution is unclear as little information was given on how such talks would work in practice and "what issues the government might be willing to negotiate" (ET, NYT).
For its part, the Pakistani Taliban replied positively but cautiously to the conference resolution (ET). Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman, said: "We welcome the unanimous resolution passed by the APC and will be positive in our response." The group’s Political Commission member and former spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, agreed that the "unanimous stance of all the stakeholders in today’s APC Statement is a positive sign," but called on the government to offer a "road-map for the talks."
Three members of an anti-Taliban militia were beheaded and three were abducted by militants on Monday in the Bara section of the Khyber tribal region (AP). According to Iqbal Khan, a local government administrator, dozens of militants took part in the Bara attack, but further details were not available. There have been no claims of responsibility and government authorities are investigating which militant group was involved.
At least seven people died and 17 others were wounded in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province on Tuesday when the bus they were traveling in hit a roadside bomb (AP, Pajhwok). According to Sahib Khan, the Maqur district chief, the Kabul-bound bus struck the bomb after taking a detour to avoid one that was being defused by NATO troops. The violence continued in Logar province when a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden vehicle into a military installation, killing four Afghan National Army troops, and in Helmand province where a motorcycle bomb was detonated near a passing police vehicle, wounding five children in the area (Pajhwok, Pajhwok). Of the three attacks, the Afghan Taliban only claimed responsibility for the one in Logar; the perpetrators of the other two remain unknown.
Afghan police officers arrested two militants on Monday in connection with last week’s murder of Sushmita Banerjee, an Indian writer whose memoir about her escape from the Taliban in 1995 was made into a Bollywood movie (NYT, Pajhwok). Banerjee was abducted from her home in Paktika province on Thursday and her body was found in a local madrasa on Friday. Dawlat Khan Zadran, the provincial police chief, told reporters that the two suspects – Mohammad Yaqub and Mohammad Asif – confessed to being a part of the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network and said that they had killed Banerjee for installing Internet connections in her house, though there were other reports that the men had been ordered to kill Banerjee because the movie was "an insult to the Taliban" (RFE/RL).
In a ceremony at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Monday, the United States returned an ancient Roman wine pitcher and five gold artifacts to the country’s diplomatic representatives, the fourth such handover of stolen goods since 2005 (Pajhwok). The items were seized at the Newark International Airport in March 2011 by officers with the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement agency after they discovered the items were "going to be delivered to a New York business suspected of dealing in looted cultural property" (RFE/RL).
Wither on the vine?
As Afghanistan’s security forces prepare for the withdrawal of coalition troops at the end of next year, the country’s farmers are also preparing for the transition of agricultural programs from U.S. to Afghan hands. The Washington Post‘s Pamela Constable looks at the efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development to help small Afghan farmers turn local crops – wheat, grapes, and nuts – into high-value exports (Post). While the grape program has been relatively successful, there are concerns that future participants will not be as willing to take the requisite financial risks for the promise of long-term gain. That said, trellised grapes net farmers nearly three times more than opium poppies, making growing the fruit much more lucrative than the drug trade.
– Bailey Cahall