Daily brief: Zardari to meet Obama in DC
Presidential meetings The presidents of the U.S. and Pakistan, Barack Obama and Asif Ali Zardari, are scheduled to meet today in Washington as Zardari is in town to attend a memorial service for the late Obama administration envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Amb. Richard Holbrooke, and economic reforms in Pakistan are reportedly at the top ...
The presidents of the U.S. and Pakistan, Barack Obama and Asif Ali Zardari, are scheduled to meet today in Washington as Zardari is in town to attend a memorial service for the late Obama administration envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Amb. Richard Holbrooke, and economic reforms in Pakistan are reportedly at the top of the agenda (Dawn, CNN, McClatchy, CBS, CNN). Afghanistan’s security and Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan are also likely to be discussed. Bonus read: Peter Bergen remembers Amb. Holbrooke (FP).
At least 19 people have died in targeted killings in the last two days in Pakistan’s commercial capital, the southern port city of Karachi, including a reporter for Pakistan’s Geo News (Geo, The News, Dawn). The surge in killings follows an attack on an official with the Awami National Party earlier this week (ET, BBC). The ANP, which has its base in Karachi’s Pashtun population, often clashes with the MQM, the city’s dominant party. Also in Karachi, hundreds of demonstrators protested against the Pope’s recent call for Pakistan to modify the country’s blasphemy laws (AP).
Yesterday, mortars allegedly fired from Afghanistan killed eight people in a village inside Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal agency (AP, AFP). Coalition officials are investigating the claims. In Hangu, a female police officer was killed along with five relatives after receiving death threats from the Taliban (AFP).
India’s home secretary G. K. Pillai said earlier today that India would reduce its security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir by 25 percent over 12 months from populated areas if violence is reduced, and complimented the work of three government appointed interlocutors, whose final report and recommendations due are in April, tasked with investigating conditions in the valley and potential political solutions (AFP, Hindu, ToI, Reuters, AP). Indian army chief V. K. Singh said, however, that the army does not feel the need to "cut down" their forces in the area, but "If they want to cut down paramilitary and police forces, I won’t say anything" (PTI). The number of security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir is between 300,000 and 500,000 (BBC).
The U.S. is contesting an Afghan government panel’s findings that coalition operations in some areas of the southern province of Kandahar caused more than $100 million in damage in the last several months, and foreign troops have paid out $1.4 million in compensation over the last two months (NYT, Reuters). The top foreign civilian official in southern Afghanistan, Henry Ensher, said yesterday that while progress has been made in some areas, the winter will be crucial to efforts to improve governance (Reuters). And a former senior diplomat, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, has accused the British military of "sending troops to fight and die in Afghanistan four years ago simply to stop the Government from reducing its size as operations in Iraq dried up" (Times, Guardian). Then-head of the British Army, Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, strongly denies the allegations.
Protests outside Iran’s embassy in Kabul continued yesterday in protest of Iran’s ongoing blockade of fuel through its border with Afghanistan, and Afghan and Iranian officials are trading barbs in the press (Pajhwok, Tolo). Business leaders in Kandahar have threatened to cut trade relations with Iran if the six-week slowdown is not lifted (Pajhwok). Afghanistan’s education minister Farooq Wardak said that the Taliban is ready to cease its opposition to education, including girls’ schools, in Afghanistan, though the group has not made any public comments on the issue (Guardian, BBC, Tel).
Pamela Constable has today’s must-read reporting that Afghan officials are concerned that the anti-drug campaign in Afghanistan, which produces at last 85 percent of the world’s opium, is flagging as prices are back up and the West is more focused on military operations to defeat the Taliban (Post). A doctor at a center for addicts in Kabul says there are close to a million drug users in Afghanistan, which has a population of some 30 million people.
Kabul’s first snow fell yesterday, relieving Afghan farmers who were concerned about drought (Pajhwok). Snow is also falling in Herat, Badghis, Balkh, Kunduz, Ghazni, and other provinces.
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