Daily brief: bombing kills at least 30 as U.S. envoy visits Pakistan

Fire and shadows A bomb blast near a mosque and a cattle and hashish market in the Tirah Valley in Pakistan’s northwest tribal agency of Khyber has killed more than 30 in what might be a turf feud between the rival Islamist groups Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam (AP, AFP, BBC, Geo, AFP/Dawn, CNN). There have been ...

RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images

Fire and shadows

A bomb blast near a mosque and a cattle and hashish market in the Tirah Valley in Pakistan's northwest tribal agency of Khyber has killed more than 30 in what might be a turf feud between the rival Islamist groups Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam (AP, AFP, BBC, Geo, AFP/Dawn, CNN). There have been reports that a Lashkar commander was killed in the blast, which was apparently also near a base for the militant faction, but no group has claimed responsibility yet.

Several more commanders for the Afghan Taliban have been rounded up by Pakistani authorities, two of them "shadow governors" for the Afghan provinces of Baghlan and Kunduz, both of whom reported to the recently captured second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Baradar and who played key roles in the Taliban's expansion into northern Afghanistan (AP, Reuters, Newsweek). The arrests and the bombing occur as U.S. Special Representative Amb. Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan discussing humanitarian aid and security concerns with Pakistani leaders (Reuters, Dawn, AP).

Fire and shadows

A bomb blast near a mosque and a cattle and hashish market in the Tirah Valley in Pakistan’s northwest tribal agency of Khyber has killed more than 30 in what might be a turf feud between the rival Islamist groups Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam (AP, AFP, BBC, Geo, AFP/Dawn, CNN). There have been reports that a Lashkar commander was killed in the blast, which was apparently also near a base for the militant faction, but no group has claimed responsibility yet.

Several more commanders for the Afghan Taliban have been rounded up by Pakistani authorities, two of them "shadow governors" for the Afghan provinces of Baghlan and Kunduz, both of whom reported to the recently captured second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Baradar and who played key roles in the Taliban’s expansion into northern Afghanistan (AP, Reuters, Newsweek). The arrests and the bombing occur as U.S. Special Representative Amb. Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan discussing humanitarian aid and security concerns with Pakistani leaders (Reuters, Dawn, AP).

In addition, Karachi police arrested Abu Waqas, an insurgent commander who allegedly operated in Bajaur and according to officials trained nearly 300 teenage girls in suicide attacks, and authorities brought a Swat Taliban leader with a reward of 10 million Rs on his head into custody yesterday (The News, Daily Mail, Daily Times, Daily Times). Nine militants allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, including one rumored to have shot down suspected U.S. drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas and to have close ties to Osama bin Laden, were also arrested in Karachi recently (Dawn, AP, Pajhwok). A suspected U.S. drone strike in a village near Miram Shah in North Waziristan has just killed three alleged militants (Reuters, Geo, AP). It is the fourth one this week.

U-turn

Pakistan’s embattled President Asif Ali Zardari has backed down from a potential judiciary crisis sparked by his appointment of two judges whose nominations were opposed by the powerful and popular chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudry, and withdrawn the candidates (NYT, AFP, Dawn, Reuters, Wash Post). Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the controversy was resolved over tea, and the Pakistani government has now nominated candidates approved by Chaudry.

The battle for Marjah

Even as Afghan forces raised the country’s flag over an abandoned shop in the main bazaar yesterday in the southern Afghan town of Marjah, site of a six-day-old coalition offensive, strong resistance from Taliban snipers, rocket propelled grenades, and ubiquitous roadside bombs suggests that the insurgents have not yet been cowed (NYT, AP, Times, AJE, Independent, Wash Post). However, NATO intelligence reportedly believes the Taliban is running out of ammunition and has called for reinforcements, and some 40 militants have been killed since the operation began on Saturday (BBC, AP). Five NATO service members and one Afghan soldier have died in Operation Moshtarak.

Matthew Rosenberg in Kabul and Michael Phillips in Marjah have today’s must-read describing the coalition’s plans to set up central government authorities in Marjah, and in a few days sub-district governor Haji Zahir will be put into place with four U.S. "mentors" (WSJ). The United Nations said yesterday that it will not participate in NATO’s plans for reconstructing Marjah, sharply criticizing the "militarization of humanitarian aid" (CP, NYT).

More than 1,600 Afghan families have fled Marjah since Saturday, raising concerns about how Afghan authorities can handle the thousands of refugees flooding into Helmand’s provincial capital Lashkar Gah (Reuters, Pajhwok). Foreign Policy is featuring a must-see collection of images from the battle, and Pakistan has reportedly beefed up security along its Baluchistan border with southern Afghanistan to try and halt possible spillover as Taliban fighters flee the operations in Marjah (FP, Dawn).

Defection

An entire 25-man unit of Afghan police seems to have surrendered to or joined the Taliban in Afghanistan’s central Wardak province, which borders Kabul, possibly over some kind of pay dispute (NYT). A Taliban spokesman said in an interview, "They are safe now and will not be harmed and will be treated well under our code of conduct."

And Jonathan Landay reports on an investigation into a battle in early September in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar that left five U.S. and eight Afghan troops dead after coalition forces were ambushed by suspected Taliban fighters (McClatchy). The investigation found that a number of oversights, most involving the officers assigned to the U.S. outpost that had tactical control of the operation, contributed to the deaths, and several have been officially reprimanded.

One day you’re in, the next day you’re out

Lahore’s first-ever fashion week kicked off Tuesday with collections by more than 32 designers, leading names in the industry as well as new faces (ANI). Leading Pakistani daily Dawn is featuring a photo essay of the fashion fusion (Dawn).

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