At least seven people were killed and 16 were injured in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on Monday when a bomb planted on a railroad track exploded and derailed a train (BBC, Dawn, ET, Reuters, VOA). Asad Gilani, the provincial Home Secretary, told reporters that militants had targeted the Jaffar Express, which was carrying hundreds of passengers from Rawalpindi to Quetta after the Eid al-Adha holiday, but there were no immediate claims of responsibility. Traffic along that route has been suspended and an investigation is underway.
Pakistani authorities accused Indian troops in the Sialkot section of Kashmir of "unprovoked firing" that allegedly injured eight civilians (ET). It was the latest report of the ongoing ceasefire violations between the two countries along the disputed area’s Line of Control. A Pakistani military official said a civilian was killed and two others were injured in the same region on Saturday, while there were also reports that a Pakistani paramilitary soldier was killed by Indian shells on Friday (AFP).
Sharif comes to Washington
The United States quietly announced on Saturday that it plans to release more than $1.6 million in aid to Pakistan as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif headed to Washington for a four-day visit (AJAM, NYT, Reuters, RFE/RL). The military and economic aid was suspended more than two years ago when relations between the two countries deteriorated after the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden and a deadly U.S. airstrike that killed several Pakistani soldiers. While relations have improved enough for the resumption of aid, "the silence reflects the lingering mutual suspicions between the two" (AP). U.S. officials told the Associated Press that Congress has cleared most of the money, and that it should start going to Pakistan early next year.
Sharif met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, several days ahead of his first official meeting with President Obama (BBC, ET, RFE/RL, VOA). While neither Kerry nor Sharif commented on the content of their discussions, Kerry told reporters that: "We’re very anxious to have a series of high level, important discussions over the course of the next few days" (Dawn). The 2014 withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas are expected to top the agendas of those discussions. This is Sharif’s first visit to the United States since he was elected in May for a record third time.
Special forces defection
Monsif Khan, an Afghan commander in Kunar province, recently defected to a militant group, taking weapons and ammunition with him, Afghan officials reported on Sunday (Reuters). Khan, the first special forces commander to switch sides, was part of a 20-man special forces unit stationed in Asadabad, the provincial capital, and escaped with "30 guns, night-vision goggles, binoculars, and a Humvee" (RFE/RL). According to Shuja ul-Mulkh Jalala, the provincial governor, Khan defected to Hezb-e-Islami, an anti-government movement fighting with the Afghan Taliban. A manhunt for Khan is underway.
An Afghan driver for a non-governmental organization was killed in Kabul on Monday when a bomb stuck to his car exploded (Pajhwok). Najib Dunish, a deputy Interior Ministry spokesman, told reporters that police are unsure if the bomb was planted by insurgents or criminals who had differences with the driver (AP). An investigation into the incident is underway.
Monday’s bombing followed one in Kabul on Friday that targeted an international convoy as it left the heavily-fortified Green Village, a residential complex that houses U.S. military contractors, European diplomats, and U.N. employees (BBC, NYT, Reuters). According to Sediq Sediqqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, a militant detonated a car bomb as two vehicles were leaving the facility, killing a family of a six in a passing vehicle. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force reported that no troops were killed or injured in the blast, which was later claimed by the Taliban.
In preparation for the withdrawal of most of its combat troops from Afghanistan, the United States finalized a deal with Romania on Friday to use one of its air bases along the Black Seas as a transit point for those troops (AFP, RFE/RL). The agreement allows the U.S. to shift its flight operations from the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, which was charging steep rental fees and has ruled out extending the U.S. contract for using the base past July 2014. Five U.S. military personnel are currently stationed at Romania’s Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, though that number would likely increase as troops and equipment from Afghanistan begin to move through the area.
Afghan officials announced on Saturday that the Loya Jirga to discuss the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Washington and Kabul will begin on November 19 and could last up to a week (Post, RFE/RL). Organizers said that nearly 3,000 tribal elders and other officials will participate in the assembly, and deliberate on the 32-page draft agreement. The BSA will determine the size and scope of any U.S. presence that remains in the country once the majority of NATO combat troops are withdrawn at the end of next year.
As the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan continues to accelerate, nearly 12 million to 14 million pounds of equipment is being sold on the Afghan market as part of the world’s largest garage sale (Post). Shipping the equipment from more than 12 years of war home is cost-prohibitive for the United States, so armored trucks, televisions, and even ice cream scoops are now up for grabs. But as the Washington Post notes, there’s a catch: most of this equipment is reaching the market in scrap form. To ensure that parts from air-conditioning units, treadmills, and other household items aren’t used to make roadside bombs, most of the U.S. equipment is being broken down first. In addition to producing more scrap metal than Afghanistan has ever seen, this policy is also causing frustration among Afghans who feel they are being deprived of buying or selling the high-value goods.
– Bailey Cahall