Daily brief: Pakistan minority affairs minister assassinated

Under fire, again Gunmen shot and killed Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister, minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, this morning, reportedly in response to his vocal opposition to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, two months after the assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer (NYT, Guardian, Dawn, Post, Tel, ET, The News, LAT). The shooters stopped Bhatti’s car ...

FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images

Under fire, again

Gunmen shot and killed Pakistan's only Christian cabinet minister, minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, this morning, reportedly in response to his vocal opposition to Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, two months after the assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer (NYT, Guardian, Dawn, Post, Tel, ET, The News, LAT). The shooters stopped Bhatti's car as it was leaving his parents' house in Islamabad, opening fire and attempting to pull Bhatti out before leaving the scene. They left leaflets signed by al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, and a deputy spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed credit for the attack, adding, "We will continue to target all those who speak against the law which punishes those who insult the Prophet. Their fate will be the same" (BBC, AP). Police officials insisted Bhatti had been provided with proper security detail, which was reportedly not with him at the time of the attack (The News, Dawn).

In a video made four months ago and meant to be shown in case of his death, Bhatti said that threats of violence would not keep him from defending "oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christians and other minorities" in Pakistan, and that he would die to defend their rights (BBC, AJE, AP, Guardian). Christian leaders, human rights activists, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, and other Pakistani and world leaders condemned the attack, and the government has reportedly ordered an investigation (Dawn, Post). Pakistan's Express Tribune has a timeline of Pakistani politicians under attack (ET).

Under fire, again

Gunmen shot and killed Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister, minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, this morning, reportedly in response to his vocal opposition to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, two months after the assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer (NYT, Guardian, Dawn, Post, Tel, ET, The News, LAT). The shooters stopped Bhatti’s car as it was leaving his parents’ house in Islamabad, opening fire and attempting to pull Bhatti out before leaving the scene. They left leaflets signed by al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, and a deputy spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed credit for the attack, adding, "We will continue to target all those who speak against the law which punishes those who insult the Prophet. Their fate will be the same" (BBC, AP). Police officials insisted Bhatti had been provided with proper security detail, which was reportedly not with him at the time of the attack (The News, Dawn).

In a video made four months ago and meant to be shown in case of his death, Bhatti said that threats of violence would not keep him from defending "oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christians and other minorities" in Pakistan, and that he would die to defend their rights (BBC, AJE, AP, Guardian). Christian leaders, human rights activists, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, and other Pakistani and world leaders condemned the attack, and the government has reportedly ordered an investigation (Dawn, Post). Pakistan’s Express Tribune has a timeline of Pakistani politicians under attack (ET).

On the tracks

A bomber believed to be targeting railroad tracks in a Karachi neighborhood died yesterday after his explosives detonated prematurely, leading initially to speculation that he intended to be a suicide bomber (Daily Times, Dawn, ET, Geo, The News). Taliban fighters in North Waziristan killed four tribal elders yesterday, accusing the men of "spying for America" (Daily Times). And a coordinator for Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission in Balochistan was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the city of Khuzdar this morning (Daily Times).

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday told Congress not to cut aid to Pakistan as a result of the country’s refusal to release CIA contractor Raymond Davis, saying the United States is "focused on addressing Pakistan’s political and economic challenges as well as our shared threats" (Dawn). The Lahore High Court will hear a petition to allow media reports about Davis’s work into the record as the court decides on his claim of diplomatic immunity (Dawn). And the Pakistani government announced a 15 percent "flood tax" on income along with other measures designed to contain Pakistan’s growing budget deficit (Dawn).

Chilly reception

A report to be released today by the British parliament’s powerful Foreign Affairs Committee questions the prospects for military success in Afghanistan, and calls on the United States to push efforts for direct talks and political reconciliation with the Taliban (Guardian, Reuters, BBC, WSJ). The report’s release comes during a visit to London by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who asked for continued British cooperation in a press conference yesterday with Prime Minister David Cameron, where Cameron expressed optimism about ongoing military operations (Tolo News, Tel, Tel).

A year after U.S. Marines began major operations in the rural town of Marjah in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, the U.S. military is placing some of its hopes for a transition to Afghan governance in local watch groups known as Interim Security for Critical Infrastructure, or ISCIs (McClatchy, Washington Post). In Helmand’s Sangin district, continued violence has led military officials to conclude that a much-touted truce signed two months ago with the district’s dominant Alikozai tribe may be falling apart (AP). Afghan officials yesterday found four of eight policemen who’d gone missing from their post stabbed dead in a field near Helmand’s capital of Lashkar Gah (AP). And CENTCOM chief Gen. James Mattis testified yesterday that U.S. troops would aggressively target and disrupt Taliban units attempting to return to Kandahar for an expected spring offensive (Reuters).

NATO has apologized for the deaths of nine civilians in operations in the Pech area of Kunar province earlier this week (Reuters, AP, AFP, Pajhwok). Several hundred Afghans in Kunar protested against the airstrike, and Karzai condemned the deaths (AP, AFP). And villagers in Ghazni province yesterday burned winter clothing and other aid from international troops yesterday, reportedly on orders from Taliban fighters (Pajhwok).

The varmint hunter

The WSJ today reports on a key component of combat operations at Bagram Airfield, U.S. Department of Agriculture employee George Graves, who hunts and traps birds and other animals that could get get sucked into jet engine intakes (WSJ). Graves, who sends his victims to the Smithsonian for study, told the Journal, "Not only is it contributing to airfield safety…but it’s also contributing to science world-wide. It’s kind of a win-win situation. Except for the animals, of course."

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