Daily Brief: Karzai hits the campaign trail

Incumbent and heavily favored President Hamid Karzai, venturing outside the capital of Kabul for the second time in his re-election campaign, traveled this weekend to the remote valley of Dar-e-Kayan in the central highlands of Afghanistan (New York Times). Karzai is seeking the support of influential religious and tribal leaders who will then tell their ...

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582693_090804_karzai2.jpg
To go with AFGHANISTAN-VOTE-POLITICS-KARZAI, FOCUS by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson Afghan President Hamid Karzai, one of 41 presidential candidates, waves to the crowd at his first campaign rally outside the capital in Kayan valley in central Afghanistan on August 1, 2009 which was also attended by the area's spiritual leader Sayed Mansoor Naderi. The incumbent has come under fire for largely eschewing traditional campaigning, but in a country of fierce local allegiances and ethic divisions, analysts say canny dealmaking with local leaders may bring Karzai a victory in the August 20 election. AFP PHOTO/SHAH Marai (Photo credit should read SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

Incumbent and heavily favored President Hamid Karzai, venturing outside the capital of Kabul for the second time in his re-election campaign, traveled this weekend to the remote valley of Dar-e-Kayan in the central highlands of Afghanistan (New York Times). Karzai is seeking the support of influential religious and tribal leaders who will then tell their constituents to vote for him on August 20.

This weekend was one of the deadliest for Western troops in Afghanistan, with nine foreign soldiers killed by insurgents in Kandahar and Wardak (Wall Street Journal and New York Times). And this morning a remote control bomb that killed 12 and wounded 20, targeting police in the western province of Herat, "heightened concerns that the country's Taliban-led insurgency is spiking" ahead of the elections (Agence France Press and Dawn).

This gory beginning for August follows the most lethal month for American and NATO troops, as 75 soldiers were killed in July, presaging the rest of the intense summer fighting season. But efforts to improve Afghan security forces are underway (Washington Post).

Incumbent and heavily favored President Hamid Karzai, venturing outside the capital of Kabul for the second time in his re-election campaign, traveled this weekend to the remote valley of Dar-e-Kayan in the central highlands of Afghanistan (New York Times). Karzai is seeking the support of influential religious and tribal leaders who will then tell their constituents to vote for him on August 20.

This weekend was one of the deadliest for Western troops in Afghanistan, with nine foreign soldiers killed by insurgents in Kandahar and Wardak (Wall Street Journal and New York Times). And this morning a remote control bomb that killed 12 and wounded 20, targeting police in the western province of Herat, “heightened concerns that the country’s Taliban-led insurgency is spiking” ahead of the elections (Agence France Press and Dawn).

This gory beginning for August follows the most lethal month for American and NATO troops, as 75 soldiers were killed in July, presaging the rest of the intense summer fighting season. But efforts to improve Afghan security forces are underway (Washington Post).

Troop casualties have become a hot political issue in the UK, with a “withering” House of Commons report released on Sunday finding that British soldiers were sent into Helmand province in southern Afghanistan on an “ill-defined mission undermined by ‘unrealistic’ planning and lack of manpower” (The Guardian). The full report, which recommends that the UK “re-focus its wide-ranging objectives in Afghanistan,” can be read at the House of Commons website (House of Commons).

In the country that supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, replacing the cash crop has been no easy task (Los Angeles Times). Afghanistan’s poor opium farmers are suffering as they try mostly unsuccessfully to farm mustard, wheat, melons, and barley in lieu of the tougher poppy seed. “What should I do? Kill my children so that I don’t have to feed them?” agonized one villager.

Life (in prison) or death

Over the weekend Pakistani authorities charged TNSM leader and radical cleric Sufi Mohammed with treason, claiming that a speech he gave in April condemning democracy and elections as un-Islamic was tantamount to “threatening the sovereignty of Pakistan” (AP and The Nation). Sufi Mohammed may have to be tried in Peshawar because there are no functioning courts in Swat, highlighting just how fragile recent security gains are.

Also declared unconstitutional this weekend was former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf‘s 2007 declaration of emergency rule (Washington Post).

The silver lining?

Some of the refugees displaced by this spring’s fighting between Taliban militants and the Pakistani military have returned to the troubled Swat Valley and some schools are reopening (Reuters), but hundreds of Swat’s students stayed away from the reopening of some 200 schools damaged by the Taliban (Associated Press and Dawn).

And tensions simmer barely below the surface in Mingora, the largest city in Swat, with several reports of bodies shot through the head being dumped in the last two weeks, signaling that the conflict is not yet over (New York Times).

Rioting in Pakistan over the alleged desecration of a copy of the Quran left at least seven Christians dead in the Punjabi city of Gorja (Associated Press). Few believed the account that Christians at a wedding party last week burned a Quran, but more than 100 Christian houses were burned by a mob 20,000 strong (New York Times and Daily Times). Christian schools in Karachi are closed in mourning (BBC).

Fuzzy math

CBS News reports that the Defense Intelligence Agency’s latest assessment has found that 18% of former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of engaging in “terrorist activities,” up from 14% in April (CBS News). But the DIA has not released this report publicly, and has been criticized in the past for faulty methodology in calculating true recidivism rates from the military prison in Cuba (CNN).

Field hockey diplomacy

Pakistani field hockey legend Hassan Sardar has called for India and Pakistan to reestablish “bilateral hockey ties” in regular matches of the popular South Asian sport, which were suspended after last year’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai (Times of India). “I’m sure that if we join hands the sport can regain its former glory in our part of the world,” Sardar commented.

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

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