The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Afghan election officials resign

Lonely president Reactions to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent anti-Western comments are still developing: the U.S. hinted yesterday that the Afghan leader’s planned May 12 visit to Washington could be in jeopardy, and former deputy U.N. envoy to Kabul Peter Galbraith suggested Karzai has a drug problem (FT, MSNBC, AFP, FT, LAT, Wash Post). Karzai’s ...

Golnar MOTEVALLI/AFP/Getty Images
Golnar MOTEVALLI/AFP/Getty Images

Lonely president

Reactions to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent anti-Western comments are still developing: the U.S. hinted yesterday that the Afghan leader’s planned May 12 visit to Washington could be in jeopardy, and former deputy U.N. envoy to Kabul Peter Galbraith suggested Karzai has a drug problem (FT, MSNBC, AFP, FT, LAT, Wash Post). Karzai’s spokesman said he was shocked to see such reports, and they don’t "make sense" (AP). A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban rejected Karzai’s reported threat to join the insurgent movement if the U.S. doesn’t stop pressuring him to reform, scoffing, "If he really wants to join the Taliban, first he should face justice…for bringing foreign troops to Afghanistan…for all the crime which has happened during his rule in Afghanistan, and for the corruption and for what is going on now. Then we’ll decide whether we will join with him or not" (Times, Quqnoos).

The head and deputy head of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, the electoral body that oversaw last year’s fraud-riddled presidential contest, are stepping down, a move that could help assuage Western concerns about this September’s parliamentary elections (BBC, AJE, Reuters). The IEC was heavily criticized for failing to deal with the widespread fraud in last August’s election. Galbraith’s replacement, Martin Kobler of Germany, and the European Union’s new representative to Afghanistan, the Lithuanian diplomat Vygaudas Uackas, have both just arrived in Kabul (Pajhwok).

The BBC is reporting that a Taliban commander who was imprisoned for kidnapping three U.N. workers in Kabul in 2004 was released late last year after being sentenced to 16 years, on a pardon from Karzai (BBC). And the AP has the strange news that the only prisoner to die in the CIA’s secret network of black jails once rescued Karzai from rocket fire and took him to a safe house in Kabul and a hospital in Peshawar in 1994 (AP).

Canadian military polling data from the spring of 2009 found that 25 percent of those surveyed in Kandahar, the southern Afghan province widely telegraphed to be the site of the next major coalition military offensive, had a favorable view of the Taliban, and the majority preferred economic over military assistance (CP). McClatchy writes that despite reports of progress for women in Afghanistan, the reality is grim (McClatchy). And Obama administration special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke is reportedly receiving treatment for clogged heart valves (Bloomberg, Reuters).

Refreshing the constitution

Pakistan’s parliament yesterday began debating the package of 102 constitutional reforms known collectively as the 18th Amendment designed to bolster the Pakistani Constitution and strip the office of the president of several controversial powers, including the ability to dissolve parliament and appoint the head of the Pakistani military, and give more legislative power to the provinces (NYT, AFP, Dawn). Reuters has the rundown of the proposed changes, which are expected to pass easily this month (Reuters).

Pakistani intelligence agencies have warned of possible Pakistani Taliban attacks in the southern port city of Karachi, and possibly Islamabad, Lahore, or Rawalpindi, this week (Daily Times). And Indian officials said yesterday that the bodies of the nine gunmen in the deadly November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai were buried quietly in January, after remaining unburied for more than a year because Indian Muslims objected to giving them space in their graveyards and no one came forward to claim their bodies (BBC, CNN).

The Obama administration has taken the unusual step of authorizing the CIA to capture or kill the New Mexico-born Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, for his alleged involvement in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Reuters, NYT, Wash Post, LAT). Awlaki, currently in hiding in Yemen and the first U.S. citizen known to be on the CIA’s capture-or-kill list since 2001, has been linked to Maj. Nidal Hasan’s shooting at Ft. Hood and the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempted to bring down an airliner on Christmas day last year.

Days of our wives

In the ongoing saga surrounding the marriage between an Indian tennis star and a Pakistani cricketer, the cricketer Shoaib Malik has reportedly divorced his first wife, who claimed they were married over the phone in 2002 (BBC, AP). By divorcing her, Malik conceded that they had in fact been married, something he had previously denied; his wedding with the tennis star Sania Mirza is still on for April 15.

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