The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Karzai meets envoys of Taliban-linked insurgency

Special invitation: Join the New America Foundation tomorrow at 11am for a discussion about counterinsurgency in Afghanistan from a British perspective, featuring lead British spokesman on Afghan operations, Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger (NAF). Pakistan’s power plays Pakistan’s Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited CENTCOM in Tampa this weekend and heads to Washington this week ...

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Special invitation: Join the New America Foundation tomorrow at 11am for a discussion about counterinsurgency in Afghanistan from a British perspective, featuring lead British spokesman on Afghan operations, Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger (NAF).

Pakistan’s power plays

Pakistan’s Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited CENTCOM in Tampa this weekend and heads to Washington this week for meetings with U.S. officials, causing some analysts to worry that Pakistan’s military is gathering more power over its civilian government (NYT). Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that Pakistan is preparing to unveil a set of "sweeping" reforms designed to remove powers from the presidency that had once been seized by military dictators (Tel). Under the new system, the prime minister, not the president, would be the most powerful figure in the government.

On Saturday, a rare meeting of more than 700 tribal leaders met in Peshawar and demanded that the Pakistani Army do more to fight the Taliban in the troubled northwest (WSJ, AP). One tribal elder called for the Army to conduct a "genuine military operation like the Sri Lankans did against the Tamil Tigers."

Pakistani security forces claimed to have killed as many as 25 militants in air strikes and gun battles in the tribal agencies of Orakzai and Kurram over the weekend (The News, Daily Times, Geo, AFP). And in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, nearly 20 people including several police officers and a college president have been killed in roadside bombings and targeted assassinations in the last several days (Dawn, Dawn, AJE).

Praising Panetta

A pair of articles in the Post and the Journal this weekend looked at CIA director Leon Panetta’s record so far, with the Journal assessing that Panetta’s experience as a politician and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton has helped him improve relationships, especially with "mercurial Pakistan" (WSJ). The Post, describing Panetta as "an earthy former congressman with exquisitely honed Washington smarts," disclosed that Panetta authorizes every drone strike in northwest Pakistan, a program which has been dramatically ramped up under the Obama administration (Post).

A drone strike reportedly killed between 4 and 13 suspected militants in a village some 50 miles west of the main town of North Waziristan on Sunday (CNN, AP, Dawn, Reuters, AFP). Several miles east of Miram Shah, in Mir Ali, the bodies of four Pakistani tribesmen accused by the Taliban of spying for the U.S. were found on Sunday morning, after the men were kidnapped some 10 days ago (AP, Geo).

Face-to-face with insurgent commanders in Afghanistan

A five-member delegation from the Afghan insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami, the organization led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is currently in Kabul pitching their plan for peace in Afghanistan to various members of the Afghan government, including President Hamid Karzai (AP, BBC, Pajhwok, Reuters, AFP). The 15-point-plan is said to include a provision calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces beginning in July of 2010, a full year before the Obama administration’s stated deadline, and this marks the first time Karzai has met personally with representatives from the insurgent group.

Ten Afghan civilians were killed yesterday when a suicide attacker missed his intended target of an Afghan National Army vehicle and instead hit a picnic on a bridge in Gereshk, a district in the southern province of Helmand (BBC, CNN, AP, AFP, NYT). About 45 miles south of Gereshk, U.S. and NATO forces in Marjah are, writes Rod Nordland, in the "unusual position of arguing against opium eradication, pitting them against some Afghan officials who are pushing to destroy the harvest" (NYT). Though there is a constitutional ban on cultivation, opium is the main livelihood for up to 70 percent of Marjah’s farmers, and 22 percent of Helmand’s arable land is devoted to poppy farming. U.S. Marines are offering cash to farmers to destroy their own poppy crops and grow legal alternatives (Reuters).

The London Times reports that Iranian "officials" paid Taliban commanders and insurgents to attend three-month training courses an hour’s drive from Zahidan, a city in southeastern Iran, where they were taught techniques for attacking convoys, storming checkpoints, and placing the roadside bombs that have been so deadly in Afghanistan (Times). Militants in Afghanistan are building bigger, more powerful IEDs, some at least twice as large as those seen in Iraq, and a military official said insurgents now "routinely" bury additional bombs designed to harm medical personnel or bomb technicians who respond to an initial blast (WSJ).

A new Guantanamo?

The Obama administration is reportedly considering whether to expand the prison at Bagram north of Kabul, Afghanistan to detain international terrorism suspects, which would lead to another prison with the same purpose as Guantanamo (LAT, Times). However, top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal has already expressed his opposition to that idea, concerned about its effects on stabilizing Afghanistan. Alissa Rubin considers another aspect of detention policy in Afghanistan, describing the process by which detainees deemed not to be threats are turned over to their tribal elders, who vouch for their good behavior (NYT).

Newsweek is running a story on what it dubs the "fiasco" of Afghanistan’s police force, writing that although the U.S. has spent more than $6 billion training the ANP since 2002, fewer than 12 percent of the country’s police units can function independently (Newsweek).

Let’s not go fly a kite

In Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan recently struck again by terrorist attacks, authorities have cracked down on the centuries-old kite-flying festival called Basant out of safety concerns related to the razor-sharp kite strings (Wash Post). However, critics of the ban say it’s a way for the city’s powerful religious leaders to eliminate the parties, drinking, and dancing that went along with the kite-flying celebrations.

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