Daily brief: hundreds attend slain Pakistani minister’s funeral
Solemn memorial Hundreds of mourners gathered today near Faisalabad for the funeral of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani minority affairs minister who was shot and killed on Wednesday because of his support for amending the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, and Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani praised Bhatti, the federal cabinet’s only Christian member, as "very ...
Hundreds of mourners gathered today near Faisalabad for the funeral of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani minority affairs minister who was shot and killed on Wednesday because of his support for amending the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, and Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani praised Bhatti, the federal cabinet’s only Christian member, as "very rare" and a "great leader" (AP, AFP, Dawn, The News, Reuters, ET, The News). In the weeks before his assassination, which was claimed by supporters of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and al-Qaeda, American officials reportedly tried to secure an armored car for Bhatti, who had also requested increased security (NYT). The American request became "mired in bureaucratic detail and was hindered by strained relations between Pakistan and the United States" over the Raymond Davis case, according to an American official.
Pakistani interior minister Sen. Rehman Malik said he would resign from his post if a security lapse led to Bhatti’s death, and Pakistani police have reportedly released 30 of the 60 people who were arrested in connection with the shooting for lack of evidence (ET, DT, Geo). Dawn reports that the interior ministry is responsible for the security of VIPs, but that police did not follow standard operating procedures for Bhatti (Dawn). Bonus reads: Madiha Sattar on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws (FP), Huma Imtiaz on the cost of cowardice (FP), and Wajahat Ali on political parties’ reactions (FP).
At yesterday’s hearing, the Lahore High Court ruled that the murder trial for Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot and killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him in late January, would go ahead over the objections of the U.S., which claims he has diplomatic immunity (AFP, CNN, AP, AJE). U.S. officials are reportedly discussing punitive measures for Pakistan if Davis is not released, such as slowing disbursements of aid and the issuing of visas for Pakistanis, or the more distant possibility of expelling some Pakistani diplomats from the U.S. (Reuters). And though the families of the men killed in Lahore have rejected the idea, some Pakistani officials are suggesting the issue could be resolved through the payment of ‘blood money’ (Post).
As many as 10 people were killed after a bomb exploded at a mosque inside a shrine in the northwest town of Nowshera shortly after Friday prayers (AFP, ET, AP). And under pressure from coalition partners and opposition parties, the Pakistani government has announced that unpopular recent increases in the cost of fuel will be cut in half (ET, The News). Transportation workers have continued to strike in Karachi, however (The News).
U.S. president Barack Obama expressed "deep regret" to Afghan president Hamid Karzai over the deaths of nine Afghan children in a recent NATO airstrike in Kunar, after the monthly meeting of his Afghanistan-Pakistan team (AFP, AP, Times, FP). Karzai and Obama reportedly "agreed that such incidents undermine our shared efforts in fighting terrorism."
American military officials in Afghanistan believe the Taliban will strike more "soft targets" during an expected spring resurgence, though are optimistic that coalition forces are "better positioned than they were last year to fend off the insurgency" (Post). Many in Afghanistan are skeptical because "the level of violence in the country, which usually dips during the winter, remains higher than in previous years. Rampant government corruption persists, undermining public support. The Taliban leadership remains protected in Pakistan. And Afghans have grown increasingly frustrated with the presence of foreign troops." Insurgents in Helmand’s Sangin district are reportedly laying the groundwork for a spring offensive, and six people, including two international troops, were wounded yesterday in a bombing targeting a convoy of foreign soldiers in Kandahar city (AP, Pajhwok).
More than 50 countries are participating in a meeting of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan, hosted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (Reuters, Pajhwok). The conference agreed to put more effort into finding a political solution to the Afghan war. And Afghan security forces have again accused Pakistani troops of shelling Afghan territory in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, claiming a dozen incursions in a month (Pajhwok).
From troops to troops
Girl Scout Troop 728, of Prescott, AZ, donated 300 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies to troops in Afghanistan last year, and hopes to send more this year (Daily Courier). One of the troop leaders observed, "I used to not send the chocolate cookies (because they melt), but I ran into a soldier who said, ‘We’ll just crunch them up and eat them,’ so now I do."
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