The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Gas station bomb outside Peshawar kills at least 7

Few fireworks in Afghan debate Sunday’s presidential debate between incumbent Afghan president Hamid Karzai and two of his opponents, technocrat Ashraf Ghani and populist Ramzan Bashardost, was cordial despite sharp disagreements over the economy, government corruption, deals with warlords, foreign troops in Afghanistan, and potential reconciliation with Taliban militants (RFE/RL). Abdullah Abdullah, second in the ...

Few fireworks in Afghan debate

Sunday’s presidential debate between incumbent Afghan president Hamid Karzai and two of his opponents, technocrat Ashraf Ghani and populist Ramzan Bashardost, was cordial despite sharp disagreements over the economy, government corruption, deals with warlords, foreign troops in Afghanistan, and potential reconciliation with Taliban militants (RFE/RL). Abdullah Abdullah, second in the polls to Karzai, refused to participate in the debate, saying he wasn’t adequately consulted.

Bashardost came across as the "most colorful candidate," and Karzai vigorously defended his record as president, claiming that Western troops incited Taliban violence over the years (Washington Post). All three said they want to put Afghan security forces in a leadership role, but didn’t specify any time frames for U.S. forces to leave.

And showing how politics affects the U.S. side of the Afghan conflict, the former top commander in Kabul, Gen. David D. McKiernan, was reportedly fired for being "too conventional" in his approach to the war (Washington Post).

The blast of war

A suicide attack on ISAF headquarters in Kabul on Saturday left at least seven dead and 71 injured (Quqnoos). The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bomb, and security is a growing concern ahead of the August 20 presidential election (CNN).

The insurgents have threatened to disrupt polling stations on election day, promising "new tactics" to undermine the vote (AP), and the Afghan government estimates about 14% of polling stations are considered too dangerous for people to vote (Wall Street Journal).  

If the Taliban succeeds in suppressing turnout, especially in the south where the Pashtun incumbent president Karzai gets much of his support, it could cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of the election (Washington Post and New York Times). Residents of Helmand, a restive province in southern Afghanistan, say they feel caught between the U.S. and the Taliban, fearing both and demonstrating the "long nature of counterinsurgency" (Washington Post).

More than just singing for her supper

Hamid Karzai’s government has passed a law allowing Shia men to deny their wives food if they refuse to have sex with their husbands (The Guardian). Critics accuse Karzai of selling out Afghan women for the sake of conservative Shia support in this Thursday’s presidential election (BBC and Times of London).

Pellmell havoc and confusion

Backers of Baitullah Mehsud allegedly ambushed fighters of another Taliban faction, Maulavi Nazir’s group, over the weekend, killing seventeen and continuing rumors that al Qaeda and the Taliban have fallen into disarray following the purported death of the TTP leader in a U.S. drone strike on August 5 (Los Angeles Times and Reuters).

A TTP spokesman denied that supporters of Baitullah were responsible for the attack, though, and some local sources suggested it could have been Uzbek militants (Dawn). Other sources say Maulavi Nazir himself was killed in the fighting (Daily Times).

Analysts say that Baitullah’s death presents an opportunity for Pakistan to root out more militants in the tribal areas, and to that end, Pakistan has been shifting its forces "in historic proportions" from the Indian border to the Afghan frontier (Reuters).

A dish not served cold

A timed remote bomb in Charsadda, about twelve miles from Peshawar in northwest Pakistan, killed at least seven people at a gas station early this morning (AP). The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, which may be in revenge for Baitullah Mehsud’s death (Geo TV and Dawn). The bomb was given to the driver of a taxi disguised as a box of medicine (Reuters).

From the other side, the bodies of 18 Taliban were found in the Swat Valley yesterday, and Pakistani police said they may have been killed in retaliation for the Taliban’s harsh rule (AP). Some of the bodies were recognized as militants loyal to the local Taliban commander, Maulana Fazlullah (AP).

The head of Pakistan’s largest extremist organization, Maulana Ali Sher Hyderi of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) group, was shot dead by armed militants in Sindh (BBC). As news of his killing spread, riots burst out across the country, especially in Karachi. The SSP is said to have close ties with the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which in turn is linked with the TTP and al Qaeda.

Fighting the FM Mullahs

The United States has established a new unit in the State Department devoted to fighting the militant propaganda broadcast by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York Times). Part of the initiative is extending cell phone service in Afghanistan, which in 2001 had no coverage but now has nearly ten million subscribers.

Afghanistan’s "The Daily Show"

Afghanistan’s version of Jon Stewart’s satirical news program "The Daily Show", "Danger Bell," is going where traditional media cannot: mocking everything from the presidential candidates to napping government officials to Kabul’s problem with stray dogs (Christian Science Monitor). Television, which reaches about half the population of Afghanistan, is an important outreach tool in the country where illiteracy rates have climbed to 70 percent.

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