The South Asia Channel
Daily brief: Taliban captures halted U.N. talks
Taliban talks torpedoed In his first interview since leaving his post as top U.N. representative in Afghanistan last month, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide told the BBC that the recent arrests of high-ranking Taliban leaders in Pakistan abruptly halted "a channel of secret communications" between the U.N. and the insurgency in Afghanistan (BBC). Eide disclosed that ...
Taliban talks torpedoed
In his first interview since leaving his post as top U.N. representative in Afghanistan last month, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide told the BBC that the recent arrests of high-ranking Taliban leaders in Pakistan abruptly halted "a channel of secret communications" between the U.N. and the insurgency in Afghanistan (BBC). Eide disclosed that the "talks about talks" were ongoing for about a year, with an "increase in intensity of contacts," and included face-to-face meetings with leaders of the militant movement in Dubai and elsewhere (AP). Regarding Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s involvement, Eide commented, "I find it unthinkable that such contact would take place without his knowledge and also without his acceptance."
Three thousand of the additional troops the Obama administration has ordered deployed to Afghanistan will be deployed in the northern province of Kunduz, where the Taliban may be trying to stage a resurgence, under pressure in the south and hoping to force coalition forces to spread out (Wash Post, AFP). A senior German general said the offensive in the north would be "similar" to current operations in Helmand.
Michael Furlong, the Pentagon official who allegedly ran an unauthorized spy operation using contractors to gather intelligence that was later used to target militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, now claims his program was requested by the former top general in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, and approved by CENTCOM (San Antonio Express News, Wash Post, AP). Furlong has reportedly been locked out of his office at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where he said he is a ‘principal strategist’ for Stratcom.
David Coleman Headley, the U.S. citizen accused of scouting targets in Mumbai before the deadly 2008 terrorist attacks in the Indian city and of plotting to kill a Danish cartoonist, yesterday pleaded guilty in Chicago to 12 conspiracy charges as part of a plea agreement in exchange for prosecutors avoiding to seek the death penalty in his case (LAT, WSJ, Wash Post, AFP, AJE, BBC, Reuters, CNN, Sun Times). Headley acknowledged spending time in training camps run by the Pakistani military group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and he could end up in prison for life. The Indian paper The Hindu reports that Indian authorities want access to Headley’s wife for questioning, though he will not be extradited (Hindu, Wash Post). For an analysis of the LeT, check out a recently released paper by scholar Stephen Tankel (NAF).
In Philadelphia, the woman who called herself "JihadJane" online pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of conspiring with terrorists in a plot to kill a Swedish artist (AP, LAT, WSJ, ABC, NYT, Inquirer). Colleen LaRose is due back in court on May 3 and if convicted, could face a fine of $1 million and life in prison.
The LA Times reports that U.S. intelligence officials now believe al-Qaeda and its affiliates have adapted their tactics in order to allow them to be more flexible and hit targets of opportunity, as opposed to "sophisticated plots involving synchronized strikes on multiple targets" (LAT). Officials are concerned that while these smaller plots are less likely to cause mass casualties, they’re more difficult to prevent.
Pakistan jirga ahead
Some 3,000 tribal elders representing the 20 largest tribes in Pakistan’s northwest are holding a jirga tomorrow in Peshawar to discuss strategies for ceasing support for militants (Bloomberg). And yesterday, Pakistani authorities in Karachi nabbed a close aide to the former Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, a commander named Ismail Mehsud, and two other TTP militants also affiliated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Dawn, Daily Times).
Pakistan’s Supreme Court is set to rule on a case against the government alleging that the state used the pretext of the "war on terror" to secretly arrest and detain up to 1,600 people between 2001 and 2008, though the families of the missing say the figure is more like 8,000 (AJE, Daily Times). The country’s attorney general recommended that the court set up a ‘judicial council’ to examine the matter more closely.
Two more stories round out the day: a highly regarded former World Bank executive has been appointed as Pakistan’s finance minister after Shaukat Tarin, a vocal critic of government corruption, resigned three weeks ago (WSJ); and when Pakistani military and civilian leaders come calling on Washington next week, they will be asking for a civil nuclear deal much like the one the U.S. offered India several years ago (McClatchy).
Pigeoning in Karachi
The Daily Times entertainingly profiles the pigeon-feeding industry in Karachi, where pigeon feed vendors can make up to Rs 1,200 (Daily Times). Some of the pigeon feed vendors objected to the idea that stray cats and dogs might be similarly fed, asserting, "Dogs are unclean creatures… a cat can never be loyal, but our pigeons pray for us."