Daily Brief: Hakimullah Mehsud the new head of Pakistani Taliban
The Afghan election roundup Incumbent Afghan president Hamid Karzai has won 72 percent of the vote from last Thursday’s presidential election, compared to 23 percent for his nearest competitor, Abdullah Abdullah, according to an early report obtained from a team of campaign observers (Telegraph, originally from Pajhwok). Though there are still two million votes to ...
The Afghan election roundup
Incumbent Afghan president Hamid Karzai has won 72 percent of the vote from last Thursday’s presidential election, compared to 23 percent for his nearest competitor, Abdullah Abdullah, according to an early report obtained from a team of campaign observers (Telegraph, originally from Pajhwok). Though there are still two million votes to be counted, they are in areas where Karzai is expected to have a strong showing, and the scale of this ‘victory’ will spark accusations of vote rigging and corruption.
And as such, Abdullah has alleged massive fraud and irregularities in last Thursday’s election, and the Electoral Complaints Commission says that these and other reports of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, and other forms of corruption may push back the date when the official results will be announced (Pajhwok and VOA). Some observers think he is positioning himself to accept defeat and a role in the opposition (AFP). “It may depend what he gets in exchange,” one Western diplomat told the AFP.
The provisional vote count is expected to be publicized tomorrow at the earliest, and it could be weeks before the final result comes out — and if none of the candidates wins an outright majority, the runoff between the top two won’t be until October (Wall Street Journal).
A sea of troubles
The perceived legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the election is a big concern for the U.S. and other Western countries, whose populations are getting sick of what has been a long and expensive conflict and wondering if they should continue supporting a weak central government after seven years of fairly ineffective rule by Karzai (Washington Post). Though the international community has splashed $32 billion of foreign aid on Afghanistan in the eight years since the fall of the Taliban, some two-thirds of the country is still considered too dangerous for aid agencies to reach (Economist).
To threaten and command
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen said Sunday that conditions in Afghanistan are “serious” and “deteriorating,” as vote monitors reported Saturday that the Taliban made good on their threats to cut off the fingers of voters, marked by supposedly indelible ink (AP and CNN).
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan told special envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke over the weekend that troop levels are not sufficient, especially in the south, but stopped short of requesting more soldiers for now, though top U.S. commander in the country Gen. Stanley McChrystal is working on a major strategy review that could include such a request (New York Times and AFP).
The U.S. Marines offensive in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan is also suffering in part because of lack of Afghan government support, which makes it difficult to define the mission and carry out operations (New York Times). Corruption in local administration and police forces in addition to widespread Taliban influence and opium traffickers also plague the population, which is ambivalent toward the presence of foreign troops in their midst.
Dexter Filkins, who has been reporting on Afghanistan and Pakistan since the Taliban were in power in the late 1990s, has a must-read feature piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine on women, girls, education and security in Afghanistan (New York Times).
A new target set
The fiery, ruthless young Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud has been reportedly selected by a shura as the new chief of the Pakistani Taliban, despite claims that he had been killed a few weeks ago in a shootout with a rival (Reuters). The announcement came from Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, who named himself the interim head of the TTP just last week, suggesting internal confusion and competition (BBC and New York Times).
Along those lines, several of Baitullah Mehsud’s close allies were reportedly killed yesterday, accused by other Taliban militants of giving up the slain TTP leader’s location to intelligence services before his death in an August 5 drone strike (Wall Street Journal). Faqir has been tapped to be Hakimullah’s deputy, and the company line is still that Baitullah is seriously ill (CNN and AFP).
Some analysts believe Faqir’s announcement of Hakimullah’s ascension is manipulative and that followers of Wali ur-Rehman, another Taliban commander and potential Baitullah successor, will not accept Hakimullah as their leader, adding to the chatter about a potential war of the roses (AP). Rehman told the AP that the Pakistani Taliban is committed to fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban, and called Barack Obama their “number one enemy.”
It’s not all bad news
Pakistani police have arrested thirteen men on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks, with one group planning to target Karachi and the other key installations in major cities in Punjab (AFP). Some of the suspects are reportedly members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group affiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the head of the Pakistani Taliban in Punjab was arrested yesterday as well (CNN).
Poultry in Panjshir
A U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative in the Panjshir Valley, designed to help Afghan women earn money by raising and selling chickens, has been called a success and now includes some 1,200 families in its chicken-related outreach efforts (Frontier Post).
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A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
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