The South Asia Channel
Daily brief: NATO backs Afghan exit timeline
Summit politics As expected, at the NATO summit in Lisbon this weekend coalition members agreed to begin transitioning control of some areas of Afghanistan to Afghan security forces this spring, with an eye to completing the process by the end of 2014, though some foreign troops will remain at least in support roles beyond that ...
As expected, at the NATO summit in Lisbon this weekend coalition members agreed to begin transitioning control of some areas of Afghanistan to Afghan security forces this spring, with an eye to completing the process by the end of 2014, though some foreign troops will remain at least in support roles beyond that date (Post, AJE, LAT, Pajhwok, NYT, Independent, Tolo). A Taliban spokesman vowed to force NATO troops out of Afghanistan before then, and Pakistan offered cautious support for the timeline (AP, Reuters). Chairman of the joint chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen called 2014 a "reasonable goal" on Sunday and said he does not expect any major strategy changes from the December military review of the Afghan war (CNN).
U.S. President Barack Obama made "unusually blunt" remarks in Lisbon about Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who recently publicly criticized some alliance operations in Afghanistan, calling partnership a "two-way street," and asserting, "If we’re ponying up billions of dollars to ensure that President Karzai can continue to build and develop his country, then he’s got to also pay attention to our concerns as well" (WSJ, Post, NYT).
Mark Sedwill, NATO’s top civilian representative to Afghanistan, provoked harsh reactions from children’s advocates by commenting, "The children are probably safer here [in Kabul] than they would be in London, New York or Glasgow or many other cities" (BBC, AFP, CNN, NYT). Sedwill later clarified his statement, saying it "wasn’t very well put."
The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission disqualified 21 candidates in Afghanistan’s September 18 parliamentary contest, 19 of whom had been declared preliminary winners and seven of whom were incumbents, for a variety of concerns about fraud (AP, AJE, BBC, NYT, Tolo, Pajhwok, Guardian). The disqualified candidates include 13 Karzai supporters, one of whom is the president’s cousin Hashmat, and will reportedly not be able to appeal. Some 500 failed candidates protested in Kabul earlier today and called for a new round of voting (Pajhwok). An Afghan election official said final results will be announced in two or three days (Tolo).
Bombs on bikes, refugee camps, and reconciliation
Two Taliban suicide bombers on bicycles detonated their explosives several hundred yards apart in the Alisheng district of Laghman province on Saturday, killing four and wounding 31 (AJE). In a refugee camp called Charahi Qambar on the outskirts of Kabul, Helmand natives express frustration with the presence of American soldiers (Post). A 22 year old opium farmer from Musa Qala commented, "If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us and put us in jail saying we were Taliban. If we shaved, the Taliban gave us a hard time. What are we supposed to do, shave half of our beard?"
The Sunday Times spoke with a local Taliban commander in Wardak who claims to be laying down his arms in order to marry a woman whose father will not allow her to wed a militant out of concern that she will be widowed (Times). On Sunday, a group of 13 men turned in their weapons to the Afghan government in the northern province of Baghlan (Pajhwok).
A whistleblower for the Louis Berger Group, which is among USAID’s largest contractors in Afghanistan, told McClatchy that he was "ordered to facilitate bribes, keep information from government auditors and inflate overhead rates" (McClatchy). The company agreed on November 5 to pay $69.3 million in penalties and accept a "deferred prosecution," meaning that charges will be dropped if it complies with its agreement with the government.
Drones in Quetta?
U.S. officials are reportedly seeking to expand the "flight boxes" over which unmanned aircraft can fly in Pakistan, focusing on the Baluchistan city of Quetta, where the Taliban’s leadership is said to be based (Post, AP). Pakistan has rejected the request (LAT). A local Taliban commander was reportedly killed along with eight others on Sunday near Mir Ali, North Waziristan in a suspected U.S. drone strike (AP, Geo, AP, ET).
The Post visited South Waziristan with the Pakistani Army and found that a year after the military’s major offensive there, troops face "an indigenous enemy that blends in easily, a vacuum in local governance, a skeptical population and, military officials contend, a desolate border that insurgents easily cross" (Post). Pakistani paramilitary forces reportedly killed 15 alleged militants in different areas of Orakzai over the weekend, and in Khyber, insurgents bombed a girls’ school in Landi Kotal (Daily Times, Geo).
German authorities are reportedly searching for two would-be suicide bombers who are said to have arrived from Waziristan about six weeks ago and may be planning an attack on on the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building in Berlin (WSJ, Spiegel, NYT). A second group of militants from Waziristan is believed to be traveling to Germany via the UAE in the next few weeks. German police say there are "no concrete details" about a "specific time and place" of an attack, though authorities have closed access to parts of the Reichstag (Post, CNN, AFP).
Sleepless in Kabul
Kabul’s mental health hospital estimates than 30 percent of its patients are seeking treatment for insomnia, which can be a symptom of trauma, medical conditions, or a harsh living environment (Pajhwok). A neurologist in Kabul recommended light exercise before bed and warned against drinking coffee or tea, smoking, or relying too heavily on sleeping pills.