Daily brief: bicycle bomb kills up to 17 in Afghan market

Bicycle bomb in Helmand As many as 17 Afghan civilians were killed earlier today when a remote-controlled bicycle bomb detonated in a crowded market outside Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, as farmers were receiving seeds to plant in lieu of the lucrative and pervasive poppy crops in Helmand (AFP, Pajhwok, ...

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

Bicycle bomb in Helmand

As many as 17 Afghan civilians were killed earlier today when a remote-controlled bicycle bomb detonated in a crowded market outside Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, as farmers were receiving seeds to plant in lieu of the lucrative and pervasive poppy crops in Helmand (AFP, Pajhwok, AP, BBC).

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's controversial half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is in the news today as U.S. officials are worried about his connections to the narcotics trade and the insurgency and eager for him to be removed from his position as the head of Kandahar's provincial council (NYT, Reuters, McClatchy). The Post reports that a senior U.S. military official met with Wali Karzai two weeks ago and threatened to put him on a list that would allow the Kandahari leader to be captured or killed if he is caught meeting with any insurgents (Wash Post).

Bicycle bomb in Helmand

As many as 17 Afghan civilians were killed earlier today when a remote-controlled bicycle bomb detonated in a crowded market outside Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, as farmers were receiving seeds to plant in lieu of the lucrative and pervasive poppy crops in Helmand (AFP, Pajhwok, AP, BBC).

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s controversial half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is in the news today as U.S. officials are worried about his connections to the narcotics trade and the insurgency and eager for him to be removed from his position as the head of Kandahar’s provincial council (NYT, Reuters, McClatchy). The Post reports that a senior U.S. military official met with Wali Karzai two weeks ago and threatened to put him on a list that would allow the Kandahari leader to be captured or killed if he is caught meeting with any insurgents (Wash Post).

Yesterday, Hamid Karzai met with five representatives of Afghanistan’s second-largest insurgent group, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami, for the second time over a two-hour working lunch in Kabul (AP, Reuters, LAT). The delegation will now return to Gulbuddin to present their findings, and Karzai’s chief spokesman cautioned against the chances of reaching a quick resolution, though was hopeful for the prospects of ongoing talks.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday reiterated his stance that Canadian troops will pull out of Afghanistan next year in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (LAT, Globe and Mail, AFP). French President Nicolas Sarkozy was more supportive in a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Also yesterday, the United Nations released a report finding that two in three Afghans live just above or below the poverty line (Reuters, UN-.doc).

Security and politics in Pakistan

A suspected U.S. drone strike killed a handful of alleged militants in the village of Tapi in North Waziristan yesterday (CNN, AFP, AP, Reuters, The News). Nearly 40 Taliban fighters were killed in the ongoing operations in Orakzai agency, as fighter jets bombed strongholds of Taliban commander Mullah Toofan (The News, Daily Times). In Khyber, Pakistani troops fended off an attack by some 100 militants on a military checkpoint (AP, CNN).

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly requested that the report of a nine-month U.N. inquiry into the 2007 assassination of his wife, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, be delayed, and the report is now scheduled to be released on April 15 (Tel, The News, CNN, BBC, AFP). The reason for Zardari’s request is unclear, but some analysts suggest the move "represents a political retreat" for the embattled leader (FP).

In the ongoing saga surrounding a now-nullified controversial 2007 amnesty bill for some Pakistani politicians, the government of Pakistan, under pressure from the country’s Supreme Court, has taken the unusual step of asking Switzerland to re-open a Swiss money laundering case against Zardari (AP, Dawn, Reuters, LAT, AFP, BBC). Switzerland, however, denies having received the request, according to Reuters (Reuters, Dawn). Zardari is immune from prosecution while in office, but some experts believe the Swiss cases could signal a coming challenge to that immunity (Reuters). The Supreme Court has given the head of the National Accountability Bureau, the country’s anti-corruption body, 24 hours to re-open corruption cases in Pakistan, or face imprisonment (BBC, AP, NYT). 

And finally, the Journal reports more on the conflict over the waters of the Indus River between India and Pakistan (WSJ). Pakistanis complain that India is hogging the water upstream at the expense of Pakistani farmers further down. India will be pulling its medical aid and teaching missions from Kabul after the deadly February bombing of a guest house in the Afghan capital frequently used by Indians (WSJ). The programs should be up and running again by the summer.

Trials beginning and ending

The trial for five young American Muslims from the Washington, DC area who are accused of plotting attacks in Pakistan has begun in Sargodha, a city in northwest Pakistan (ABC, CNN, Dawn). If convicted, the five could face up to life in prison; the trial resumes on April 17.

The trial of the sole surviving gunman in the deadly 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, a Pakistani named Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, concluded today after a year of hearings (AFP, AP, BBC, The Hindu). The special court that heard the case is expected to dispense a verdict on May 3.

Springtime in Afghanistan

More than 30,000 tree saplings are being planted in Ghazni city in central Afghanistan as part of a plantation drive (Pajhwok). The saplings will be given to shops across markets in the city, where storekeepers will look after them.

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