The South Asia Channel
Daily brief: Pakistan mosque attack kills 50
A dark day At least 50 people were killed and 100 injured in a suicide attack during Friday prayers at a Sunni mosque in the northwestern Pakistani area of Darra Adam Khel, and the death toll is likely to rise due to a roof collapse (AP, AFP, BBC, ET, Geo). There have been no claims ...
A dark day
At least 50 people were killed and 100 injured in a suicide attack during Friday prayers at a Sunni mosque in the northwestern Pakistani area of Darra Adam Khel, and the death toll is likely to rise due to a roof collapse (AP, AFP, BBC, ET, Geo). There have been no claims of responsibility yet, but the target may have been an anti-Taliban tribal elder who was staying at a guest room adjacent to the mosque; it’s unclear whether he was among the victims.
An airplane chartered to the Pakistan branch of an Italy-based oil and gas company crashed near the Karachi airport earlier today after the pilot warned of engine trouble, killing all 21 people in board (AP, ET). Pakistani gunship helicopters reportedly killed a handful of alleged militants in ongoing fighting in Orakzai agency yesterday (Daily Times).
Tom Wright and Owais Tohid have today’s must read in the Journal analyzing how the ongoing U.S. drone strikes campaign has pushed some militants from North Waziristan into more northern tribal agencies like Orakzai and Kurram (WSJ). Bonus click: Google map of clickable drone strikes from 2004 to the present (NAF).
Pakistani officials are said to be anxious about U.S. President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to India but not Pakistan, and the Post writes that among their chief concerns are the administration’s "apparent unwillingness to get involved in the long-standing dispute over Kashmir; the blossoming U.S.-India civil nuclear partnership; and the symbolism of Obama starting his visit at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, site of the 2008 siege that killed 173 people and has been blamed on Pakistani militants" (Post). Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reportedly asked Obama several times to visit Pakistan on this trip, but he declined and said he’ll visit in 2011. And the Treasury Department has announced a freeze on American assets held by Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is blamed for the Mumbai attacks, and Jaish-e-Muhammad, another Pakistani militant group (AFP).
Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri has surfaced with a new audio tape calling for revenge for the sentencing of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani scientist who was convicted in September of attempted murder of U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan (CNN, AFP). Bonus read: the real injustice in Pakistan isn’t the conviction of Aafia Siddiqui (FP).
Osama bin Laden and other Pakistan-based al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be providing "strategic and philosophical guidance" to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has at times sought bin Laden’s approval of leadership decisions, though "direct command and control for terror operations is believed to rest chiefly with the local affiliate" (WSJ). Yemen estimates that AQAP has around 400 members in the country. Bonus read: ignoring Yemen at our peril (FP).
Bombs, letters, and protests
A 16 year old suicide bomber reportedly killed at least 10 people and wounded 30, including a provincial council chief, in an attack in the main market of the Khwaja Sabzposh district in the western Afghan province of Faryab earlier today (Reuters, Pajhwok, AP). Scribbled handwritten notes purportedly from Taliban leader Mullah Omar have appeared in mosques all over Afghanistan’s Pashtun areas threatening death to those who take up the Karzai government’s offer of peace negotiations (AP). The Taliban also again denied reporting that representatives of the group have been involved in talks.
Afghan authorities are investigating electoral officials, whom prosecutors allege have not adequately explained why they tossed more than a million ballots from the September parliamentary contests (AP). In the southeastern province of Khost, unsuccessful candidates and their supporters staged a protest yesterday against the Independent Election Commission, complaining of fraud (Pajhwok).
The LA Times reports that four Afghan police officers were killed, apparently while trying to escape Taliban custody, and may have been part of a group of 16 who disappeared during a Taliban attack on the Khogyani district of Ghazni province earlier this week (LAT). Reports have been mixed as to whether the Afghan policemen defected or were kidnapped.
Three more stories round out the news today: the Post considers how Afghanistan’s regional neighbors are responding to Obama administration discussions about negotiations and potential troop withdrawals (Post); the contracting company Louis Berger has agreed to pay as much as $65 million in a settlement over allegations that it overbilled the U.S. government in Afghanistan and in exchange, the Justice Department will drop its investigation (McClatchy); and Nawa district in Helmand is being touted as a "showcase of the counterinsurgency strategy" in Afghanistan (Times).
The eye of the Afghan tiger
Afghanistan’s national boxing team is headed to China to participate in the Asian Cups in the next several days (Tolo). Though the team’s coach said they lack proper practicing space, the three Afghan boxers have been training for months.