Daily brief: Karzai backs down in Afghan parliament dispute

Behind closed doors Afghan president Hamid Karzai, under pressure from international diplomats and Afghan politicians, appeared to back down from his one-month delay of the inauguration of Afghanistan’s parliament over the weekend after the legislature said it would convene itself late last week, which caused concern about a potential constitutional crisis (AP, NYT, Post, WSJ, ...

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

Behind closed doors

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, under pressure from international diplomats and Afghan politicians, appeared to back down from his one-month delay of the inauguration of Afghanistan's parliament over the weekend after the legislature said it would convene itself late last week, which caused concern about a potential constitutional crisis (AP, NYT, Post, WSJ, Pajhwok, AFP, FT, AJE, AP). Karzai, who is said to have stormed out of a meeting with MPs on Saturday, reportedly agreed to open parliament this Wednesday, if his worries about electoral fraud investigations are addressed; the terms of still-tentative deal are unclear, however. Afghanistan's Supreme Court will reportedly rule today whether the opening can go ahead (Reuters).

Afghan officials have compiled a list of 16 security companies, including some American and British firms, that have allegedly committed "major offenses" in Afghanistan, such as tax evasion (Post, NYT). The renewed focus on the alleged violations by private security firms raises concerns that the companies' departure from Afghanistan may be hurried up.

Behind closed doors

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, under pressure from international diplomats and Afghan politicians, appeared to back down from his one-month delay of the inauguration of Afghanistan’s parliament over the weekend after the legislature said it would convene itself late last week, which caused concern about a potential constitutional crisis (AP, NYT, Post, WSJ, Pajhwok, AFP, FT, AJE, AP). Karzai, who is said to have stormed out of a meeting with MPs on Saturday, reportedly agreed to open parliament this Wednesday, if his worries about electoral fraud investigations are addressed; the terms of still-tentative deal are unclear, however. Afghanistan’s Supreme Court will reportedly rule today whether the opening can go ahead (Reuters).

Afghan officials have compiled a list of 16 security companies, including some American and British firms, that have allegedly committed "major offenses" in Afghanistan, such as tax evasion (Post, NYT). The renewed focus on the alleged violations by private security firms raises concerns that the companies’ departure from Afghanistan may be hurried up.

Iranian officials have reportedly lifted a ban on fuel trucks headed for Afghanistan, after a nearly two-month blockade that caused fuel prices in some areas of Afghanistan to spike as much as 70 percent (AP, Pajhwok). Some 200 trucks crossed the border and Afghan officials say no more are stuck in Iran.

Taliban justice

The Sunday Times has a must-read interview with a Taliban judge in Ghazni province, in which Bayatullah Qasim describes Taliban punishments for alleged offenses: stealing property worth more than $200 results in the loss of a hand; blasphemy yields hanging; the rape of a virgin results in 120 lashes with a whip filled with coins; and others (Times). Qasim estimated that his workers have chopped off 40 hands and arms in the year and a half since he became a district judge.

And the LA Times has a detailed story about the Marines’ Three-Five (3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment) deployed in Sangin district of Helmand province, where 24 Marines have been killed and more than 140 wounded in four months (LAT). The battalion has been in more than 400 firefights and found 434 buried roadside bombs.

In court, protests, and Col. Imam

Mumtaz Qadri, the self-professed killer of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, appeared in a high-security court in Rawalpindi earlier today for a preliminary trial hearing, and reportedly said in his confession that he acted alone in the assassination (AFP). Qadri is due back in court on February 1 for an indictment. Since Taseer’s assassination, which Qadri said was in reaction to Taseer’s support for modifying Pakistan’s stringent blasphemy laws, Pakistani MP Sherry Rehman, who also supports modifying the laws, is under "self-imposed house arrest" in Karachi after receiving a flood of death threats (Guardian).

A trio of suspected U.S. drone strikes was reported in North Waziristan over the weekend, as more than 10,000 protesters in the northwest Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Mir Ali demonstrated against the use of drones (AFP, CNN, AFP, Geo, AP, AFP, AJE). At least a dozen alleged militants were reportedly killed in the strikes.

The body of Sultan Amir Tarar, a former Pakistani intelligence official also known as Col. Imam who was instrumental in funneling Pakistani support to Afghans fighting the Soviets in the 1980s and became Pakistan’s point man with the Taliban, was found over the weekend in North Waziristan (AP, Guardian, Daily Times, ET, Pajhwok, Dawn). Col. Imam was kidnapped in March of 2010 along with a British journalist by the Asian Tigers, a group thought to be affiliated with the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal regions; Taliban leader Mullah Omar, a former student of Col. Imam, reportedly intervened to keep him alive for several months.

Opaque operations

Mark Mazzetti has this weekend’s must-read describing the "legally murky clandestine operations" run by former CIA case officer Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, whose company the Eclipse Group sends out dispatches from Afghanistan and Pakistan that are "an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports" (NYT). Clarridge, "an unflinching cheerleader for American intervention overseas," produced around 500 intelligence dispatches before his Pentagon contract was terminated in 2010, and has since taken his outfit private.

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to pay an official visit to the U.S. next month, after his unofficial trip earlier this month for a memorial service for the late Obama administration envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Amb. Richard Holbrooke (Dawn). Zardari is spearheading an effort to immunize 32 million Pakistani children against polio, after an "alarming surge in cases last year" (Guardian). Bonus read: Pakistan’s mounting public health crisis (FP).

Terrifyingly good

Pakistan’s Express Tribune reviews the Hot Spot, a horror-movie-themed ice cream parlor in Karachi, describing a shrine to Freddy Krueger, Friday the Thirteenth, and other B-movie monsters (ET). In addition to the sundaes, the reviewer recommends a roulade topped with cream sauce. 

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