Daily brief: three drones in two days hit North Waziristan

Reconciliation, poppy, and military ops in Afghanistan The Telegraph has more details about the alleged talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and the captured second-in-command Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar, writing that the meeting occurred in Spin Boldak in Kandahar province with at least one of Karzai’s brothers (Tel). Yesterday in a video conference, ...

MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images

Reconciliation, poppy, and military ops in Afghanistan

The Telegraph has more details about the alleged talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and the captured second-in-command Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar, writing that the meeting occurred in Spin Boldak in Kandahar province with at least one of Karzai's brothers (Tel). Yesterday in a video conference, Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama, who has not yet visited Afghanistan since his election, discussed reconciliation with militants in the country (Reuters).

Two burqa-clad would-be suicide bombers were shot dead by the security guards of a charity they were attempting to attack in the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, earlier this morning (AFP, AJE, BBC, CNN, AP, Pajhwok). Helmand is at the heart of Afghanistan's lucrative poppy belt, troubling the recent coalition offensive in Marjah, which came at an inopportune time for Afghan poppy farmers (McClatchy). The newly appointed district chief of Marjah, Haji Zahir, commented about farmers' objections to eradication, "The opium issue takes time. It's like if you swat a bee, 1,000 bees will come and sting you." And in Ghazni province, a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the assassination of a senior provincial official (Pajhwok, Reuters).

Reconciliation, poppy, and military ops in Afghanistan

The Telegraph has more details about the alleged talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and the captured second-in-command Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar, writing that the meeting occurred in Spin Boldak in Kandahar province with at least one of Karzai’s brothers (Tel). Yesterday in a video conference, Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama, who has not yet visited Afghanistan since his election, discussed reconciliation with militants in the country (Reuters).

Two burqa-clad would-be suicide bombers were shot dead by the security guards of a charity they were attempting to attack in the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, earlier this morning (AFP, AJE, BBC, CNN, AP, Pajhwok). Helmand is at the heart of Afghanistan’s lucrative poppy belt, troubling the recent coalition offensive in Marjah, which came at an inopportune time for Afghan poppy farmers (McClatchy). The newly appointed district chief of Marjah, Haji Zahir, commented about farmers’ objections to eradication, "The opium issue takes time. It’s like if you swat a bee, 1,000 bees will come and sting you." And in Ghazni province, a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the assassination of a senior provincial official (Pajhwok, Reuters).

A planned major reorganization of international forces in Afghanistan will bring the majority of coalition troops under the direct authority of top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal (AP). Under the new command structure, which will not require the deployment of any new troops and is designed to "streamline" operations, only a detainee unit and some Special Operations forces will be outside Gen. McChrystal’s direct control. Walter Pincus looks at the role contractors are playing in training Afghan forces, finding that roughly the same number of contractors and military personnel are doing the job (Wash Post).

Yesterday, the Afghan government confirmed for the first time that it had enacted a law giving blanket pardons for war crimes carried out before 2001, to the dismay of human rights groups (Reuters).

Three drones in two days

Local Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s strongholds continue to be hammered by suspected U.S. drone strikes, as two targeted villages near Miram Shah in North Waziristan, a tribal agency in northwest Pakistan, earlier today, killing between six and nine alleged fighters (BBC, AJE, Geo, Reuters, Geo, AFP, AP). There have been three drone strikes in North Waziristan in the last two days, and 24 reported this year (NAF).

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reinforced other Pakistani officials’ statements that there will be no immediate offensives in North Waziristan in an interview with the FT, saying the military needs to focus on "holding" territory first (FT). The transcript is available here (FT). And in the northernmost tribal agency Bajaur, nearly 40 Taliban fighters surrendered to Pakistani authorities including a commander, while in Kurram a local anti-Taliban lashkar gunned down ten members of Mullah Toofan’s group, the leader who has been rumored to be the new head of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Daily Times, Daily Times, FP).

Iran and Pakistan have penned a deal for the construction of a much-delayed natural gas pipeline between Iran’s South Pars gas field and Pakistan’s Baluchistan and Sindh provinces (WSJ, The News, Daily Times). The U.S. opposed the deal on the grounds that it undermined Washington’s sanctions against Iran, but the agreement states that construction should get underway this year and the pipeline should be operational by 2014.

(Not) guilty

After pleading not guilty in January, the Chicago man accused of casing Mumbai before the deadly terrorist attacks of 2008 and of plotting to strike a Danish newspaper is planning to change some of his pleas to guilty following "discussions with the government," according to his lawyer (AP, BBC, Reuters, WSJ). It is unclear which alleged plot David Coleman Headley is planning to change his pleas in, or for which of the several charges against him; a change-of-plea hearing is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

And more than three months after their arrests in Sargodha, Pakistani courts have charged five young American Muslim men from northern Virginia of plotting terrorism in the country (AFP, Reuters). The five flatly denied all the charges, and are due back in court on March 31.

The Karachi water mafia

The LA Times continues its interesting offbeat coverage of the region by profiling the ‘water mafia’ in Karachi, Pakistan, where as much as 41 percent of the city’s water is siphoned off and re-sold to residents by a network of water tankers and corrupt politicians (LAT). Armed guards stop outsiders from interrupting the process.

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