Daily brief: Karzai opens Afghan parliament

Strained relations In a victory for Afghanistan’s lawmakers, Afghan president Hamid Karzai begrudgingly opened the country’s parliament earlier today, rather than in a month as he declared last week, with calls for unity and a dig at the West as he said that "foreign interference" was a "serious problem" in the election process (AP, Reuters, ...

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

Strained relations

In a victory for Afghanistan's lawmakers, Afghan president Hamid Karzai begrudgingly opened the country's parliament earlier today, rather than in a month as he declared last week, with calls for unity and a dig at the West as he said that "foreign interference" was a "serious problem" in the election process (AP, Reuters, Post, ABC). Yesterday, Karzai's office released a statement quoting the president: "Some foreign hands questioned our decisions and started instigation to create crises in our country... [They] kept provoking candidates (winning MPs) that they should inaugurate the parliament without the president's participation and that we will support you" (AFP, WSJ). Losing candidates continued to press Karzai and vowed to boycott the government in some areas (NYT, Pajhwok). For the first time since the September 2010 parliamentary elections, Afghanistan has three working branches of government, and Karzai, no longer ruling by decree, has a check on his power; it's unclear whether the special tribunal Karzai appointed to deal with complaints about the election will have the ability to change the results.

The number of American troops killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan in 2010 was about as many as the three previous years combined, according to military statistics, even though IEDs actually killed slightly fewer international troops in 2010 than 2009 -- casualty rates are up among U.S. troops as they take over responsibility for European soldiers, whose casualty rates have dropped (Post). In Sangin district of Helmand province, for which American Marines assumed responsibility from the British around three months ago, 27 Marines have been killed and more than 100 injured (Times).

Strained relations

In a victory for Afghanistan’s lawmakers, Afghan president Hamid Karzai begrudgingly opened the country’s parliament earlier today, rather than in a month as he declared last week, with calls for unity and a dig at the West as he said that "foreign interference" was a "serious problem" in the election process (AP, Reuters, Post, ABC). Yesterday, Karzai’s office released a statement quoting the president: "Some foreign hands questioned our decisions and started instigation to create crises in our country… [They] kept provoking candidates (winning MPs) that they should inaugurate the parliament without the president’s participation and that we will support you" (AFP, WSJ). Losing candidates continued to press Karzai and vowed to boycott the government in some areas (NYT, Pajhwok). For the first time since the September 2010 parliamentary elections, Afghanistan has three working branches of government, and Karzai, no longer ruling by decree, has a check on his power; it’s unclear whether the special tribunal Karzai appointed to deal with complaints about the election will have the ability to change the results.

The number of American troops killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan in 2010 was about as many as the three previous years combined, according to military statistics, even though IEDs actually killed slightly fewer international troops in 2010 than 2009 — casualty rates are up among U.S. troops as they take over responsibility for European soldiers, whose casualty rates have dropped (Post). In Sangin district of Helmand province, for which American Marines assumed responsibility from the British around three months ago, 27 Marines have been killed and more than 100 injured (Times).

The Pentagon’s Civilian Casualties Working Group, tasked with "refining training and setting common procedures to reduce civilian harm" to Afghans, is reportedly almost done with its review and will brief military leaders in the spring (WSJ). And Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, offered an upbeat "state of the war" assessment to troops, though the Post notes that his optimism is "not widely shared among Afghans, or even other NATO diplomats or U.S. military officials" (NYT, Post, AFP).

Twin suicide attacks in Pakistan

Shortly after a suicide attack by a teenage boy yesterday in Lahore targeted a procession of Shia Muslims observing the end of the holy month of Muharram, killing up to 13, a second bomber on a motorcycle struck a police van protecting Shia marchers in Karachi, killing up to four (NYT, AP, ET, Geo, AFP, Reuters, AJE, CNN, Daily Times, ABC). A branch of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Fidayeen-e-Islam run by Qari Hussain Mehsud, claimed responsibility for the Lahore attack, which wounded nearly 80, and a militant spokesman said it was in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes and Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas. In the tribal agency of Mohmand, 18 militants were reportedly killed by gunship helicopters and fighter jets yesterday (ET).

Flood watch: The U.N. said yesterday that 166,000 people are still displaced from the floods in Pakistan last summer, down from 3.3 million in the fall (AFP). Around 20 million Pakistanis were affected by the flooding. Bonus read: what Pakistan did right (FP).

Flashpoint

Thousands of Indian police prevented both Hindu nationalists from the BJP and Kashmiri separatists from the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front from raising their flags in Lal Chowk, a square in the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, Srinagar, to mark Republic Day in India; no one has been allowed in the square (AP, AFP, Hindu, HT, NDTV, ToI, PTI). The three BJP leaders who were detained yesterday en route to Lal Chowk were released today, and three separatist leaders were arrested as they tried to lead a march there. In a "goodwill gesture" Omar Abdullah, the area’s chief minister, invited the BJP members to attend Republic Day functions in either Jammu or Srinagar, an invitation they rejected (ToI, NDTV). Republic Day marks the date in 1950 when India’s democratic constitution took effect, and is usually tense in the valley.

The Oscar goes to…

"Restrepo," a documentary film by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington that follows a deployment of 15 American soldiers at a remote outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, was nominated yesterday morning for an Oscar in the documentary feature category (Variety, Restrepo, Oscar). Junger responded, "The realities of war completely crush the reality of Oscar nominations. We’re going back there as soon as we can to continue covering the war."

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