The South Asia Channel

At least 17 militants killed in attack on former Pakistani Taliban commander

At least 17 militants killed in attack on former Pakistani Taliban commander

Militant attack

At least 17 militants were killed and 22 were wounded in the Spin Tal region of North Waziristan on Thursday when members of the Pakistani Taliban attacked the home of Mullah Nabi Hanafi, a rival militant commander (AP, BBC, Dawn, ET, Pajhwok, RFE/RL, VOA).  According to Pakistani security officials, the assault began when a suicide bomber drove a car bomb into Hanafi’s compound and Taliban gunmen opened fire.  Hanafi, who had been a Taliban commander but broke away in 2009 to create an anti-Taliban militia, was among the wounded.

Pakistan’s government released a statement Thursday saying that it has scrapped its plans to reinstate the country’s death penalty (Reuters).  A 2008 moratorium on capital punishment imposed by the previous administration expired at the end of June and the new government had been prepared to execute two jailed militants in August, but reversed course when the Taliban threatened to increase its attacks as a result.  Nearly 8,000 people currently sit on death row in Pakistan’s overcrowded and violent jails.

In Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2013 report, Pakistan was listed among the bottom ten countries, falling two spots from last year’s ranking (RFE/RL).  Released Thursday, the annual report measures the level of Internet and digital media freedom in 60 countries, 34 of which saw their rankings decrease.  According to Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of the Digital Right Foundation – which assisted Freedom House – "Pakistan remains one of the worst countries when it comes to online freedom of speech, user rights, and citizens’ privacy." He added that this is primarily due to state surveillance measures and criminal investigations that are threatening Pakistani civil society’s use of the web (ET).

On the rise 

Georgette Gagnon, the human rights director for the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, told a news conference in Jalalabad on Thursday that Afghan civilian casualties have increased by 16 percent during the first eight months of 2013 (Pajhwok).  While civilian casualties have increased across the country, Gagnon noted that there has been a 54 percent increase in Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar, and Nuristan provinces – indicating an even graver situation in the eastern part of the country.  Though militant groups are responsible for most of the civilian casualties, Gagnon also highlighted a new trend of violence between Afghan security forces and anti-government groups. 

The report from the United Nations was followed on Thursday by one from the Associated Press that said roadside bombs are the No. 1 killer in Afghanistan (AP).  As the country prepares for the withdrawal of international combat forces at the end of next year, militants are turning to these planted explosives in their quest to recapture territory.  According to Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, the commander of Afghanistan’s 203rd Thunder Corps, the country’s security forces are neutralizing about 90 percent of the bombs they find, and while the number of bombs is also decreasing, they’re becoming more deadly. 

As if proving the Associated Press’s story, reports emerged that four Afghan National Army soldiers were killed and at least two were wounded in the Nawa district of Helmand province on Wednesday when the vehicle they were traveling in hit a roadside bomb (RFE/RL).  While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, security officials said the troops had "recently launched a major military operation against militants" in the area, an operation that is still underway.

With the deadline to submit nomination papers for next April’s presidential election quickly approaching, the field of Afghan presidential candidates continued to expand on Thursday when Fazal Karim Najmi filled his paperwork with the Independent Election Commission [IEC] (Pajhwok).  Najmi has previously served as the director of the Famine Early Warning System, a program affiliated with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and as an advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture.  He is the eighth person to file nomination papers with the commission.

The voter registration process has also gained momentum, with the IEC reporting on Thursday that mobile teams have started to visit rural areas in Kandahar province (Pajhwok).  Protected by Afghan National and Local Police officers, the mobile teams are reaching out to citizens who can’t travel to the district registration centers. According to Najibullah Haqparast, the provincial IEC chief, 80,000 people – including 20,000 women – in the province have received voter registration cards so far.

Arrested developments

To say that former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s return to the country has not gone has planned is an understatement.  The former leader is currently facing three different sets of murder charges and has been under house arrest for months.  But while there are 300 policemen, paramilitary soldiers, snipers, and anti-terrorist officers guarding the former strongman at his house in Islamabad’s Chak Shahzad suburb, Musharraf is spending his detention relaxing, working out each day, eating meals cooked by his personal chef, and writing his memoirs (AFP).  According to Raza Bokhari, Musharraf’s official spokesman, the former president is in good spirits and the book will pick up where his 2006 memoir, In the Line of Fire, left off. 

— Bailey Cahall