Daily brief: Pakistani assassin says he acted alone
Roiling reactions The assassin of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was shot to death last week in Islamabad because of his support for reforms to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, Mumtaz Qadri, formally confessed to the murder in court today and asserted that he was not influenced by any Islamic or militant organizations (AFP, ...
The assassin of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was shot to death last week in Islamabad because of his support for reforms to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, Mumtaz Qadri, formally confessed to the murder in court today and asserted that he was not influenced by any Islamic or militant organizations (AFP, AP, ET). Authorities are searching for a Rawalpindi cleric who is believed to have inspired Qadri, who is due back in Rawalpindi’s anti-terrorism court on January 24 (ET). Sardar Latif Khosa, a former attorney general who is an ally of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, is said to be at the top of the list to assume the governorship of Punjab (ET, Dawn).
Yesterday in the southern port city of Karachi, up to 50,000 people rallied against any changes to the blasphemy laws and in support of Qadri, with speakers from the Islamist political party JUI-F and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the front organization for Lashkar-e-Taiba, among other groups also opposed to changing the blasphemy laws (AP, ET, Daily Times, Tel, AJE, WSJ). The NYT highlights three levels at which many Pakistanis’ reactions to Taseer’s assassination pose a threat to the Obama administration’s assumptions underlying its support for Pakistan: "One is that Pakistan is moving toward the West, even if sporadically. Another is that the United States can gradually deal more with Pakistan’s elected government, and less with its military. The third, and most critical, is that Pakistan’s expanding nuclear arsenal is truly safe from betrayal by insiders" (NYT).
Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, bowed to demands by the PML-N, the main opposition party that is led by Nawaz Sharif, in order to shore up the shaky PPP-led coalition; the 11 demands include government investigations into corruption, the establishment of an independent election body, and the introduction of a mechanism to control electricity and gas prices (AFP, Daily Times, Dawn, ET, The News). The PML-N has given the government 45 days to implement the demands, though Sharif reportedly told Gilani that the deadline would not be an issue if the PML-N "saw progress."
On a visit to Pakistan this week, American vice president Joe Biden will reportedly deliver a message to Pakistani leaders of increased U.S. military, intelligence, and economic support, as the Obama administration "attempt[s] to call the bluff of Pakistani officials who have long complained that the United States has failed to understand their security priorities or provide adequate support" (Post). Analysts are concerned that the Punjab government’s release of Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who was in custody in connection with the October 2007 attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto, is an indication of Pakistan’s "reluctance or inability to crack down" on militant groups (AP).
The acting Obama administration envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Frank Ruggiero, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the first time since assuming the position last month following the death of Amb. Richard Holbrooke (AFP). Later this week, leaders from South Asia are expected to visit DC for a memorial ceremony for Amb. Holbrooke and a series of meetings.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who heads the Afghan government’s High Peace Council, denied a report from the Pakistani government that the two countries had agreed to hold a peace jirga, though said the recent talks had been held in a "sincere atmosphere" (AFP). Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna said over the weekend that reconciliation talks between the Taliban and Kabul must be led by Afghanistan, remarks that appear to be targeted at Pakistan (AP, Tolo).
From the ground
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing apparently targeting border police commander Abdul Razaq in Spin Boldak, Kandahar, several days after Razaq’s deputy was also targeted in the same town (AP). Two officers and one civilian were reportedly killed. NATO is investigating reports that a coalition air raid may have killed and injured Afghan police who reportedly initially appeared to be setting up an ambush in Daykundi (Reuters, AP). And residents of Khost complain that corrupt local officials have allegedly been selling relief aid intended to help poor and flood-hit families on the market (Pajhwok).
The NYT adds to reporting about Iran’s blockade of fuel into Afghanistan, noting that the price of fuel has risen by more than 50 percent in some areas of Afghanistan as the slowdown enters its second month (NYT). Some 40 percent of Afghanistan’s fuel comes through Iran, most of it from Turkmenistan and Iraq.
Two more stories finish up the weekend’s news in Afghanistan: the Pentagon is reportedly looking for ways to keep the level of combat troops constant even as they "make plans to cut the overall number of American personnel to meet the White House’s mandate to start shipping out forces by summer" (WSJ); and among those wounded in action in Afghanistan last year, a smaller percentage died, dropping from 14.3 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2009 to less than 7.9 percent in 2010 (NYT).
The prettiest girls in the world
According to a new poll by Gallup’s Pakistan affiliate, 32 percent of Pakistanis surveyed consider women of the subcontinent to be the prettiest in the world, followed by women from the Middle East with 24 percent (ET). Eleven percent found American women to be the most beautiful.
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