Daily brief: Gates on unannounced Afghan trip
The Rack: "Things fall apart," Economist and Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau, "How the Taliban lost its swagger," Newsweek Pakistan. Amid tensions U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates landed in Kabul earlier today on an unannounced two-day visit to meet with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus, and other leaders ...
U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates landed in Kabul earlier today on an unannounced two-day visit to meet with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus, and other leaders (NYT, AP, Reuters, WSJ). Gates said that both the Afghan and U.S. governments believe the U.S. military should be involved in Afghanistan after 2014.
Gates’s visit comes as Karzai rejected Petraeus’s rare personal apology over the deaths of nine Afghan civilians in a NATO airstrike in Kunar last week, calling it "not enough" and asserting that civilian casualties are "the main cause of a worsening relationship between Afghanistan and the U.S." (WSJ, NYT, AFP, CNN, Reuters, AJE, Pajhwok, McClatchy). Some 500 protesters in Kabul demonstrated against civilian casualties on Sunday, burning an effigy of U.S. president Barack Obama and chanting "Death to America."
Rajiv Chandrasekaran has today’s must-read describing a shift in USAID priorities for Afghan women’s rights: "instead of setting ambitious goals [in contracts] to improve the status of Afghan women, the agency is tilting toward more attainable measures" (Post). A senior U.S. official commented, "Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities. There’s no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down."
Destruction and reconstruction
Two Afghan policemen were killed in a pair of Taliban-claimed bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad earlier today, and 12 civilians were killed in another roadside bombing in Paktika over the weekend (AP, Pajhwok, CNN, AP). The LA Times describes the rebuilding of Tarok Kalache, a village in Kandahar province that was destroyed last fall during clashes between the U.S. and Taliban fighters in the area (LAT).
The Post reports on radicalization and support for the Taliban inside Afghanistan’s largest prison, Pul-i-Charki, which holds some 5,000 detainees on the outskirts of Kabul, while the Journal contrasts the old Bagram Air Field prison with a new one nearby called the Detention Center in Parwan (Post, WSJ). The AP reports on the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among combat veterans, interviewing U.S. Marines in Helmand’s bloody Sangin district, and the Post describes an increase in the number and rate of a "signature wound" — "two legs blown off at the knee or higher, accompanied by damage to the genitals and pelvic injuries requiring at least a temporary colostomy" (AP, Post).
Pakistani officials have issued an apology for 6 or 16 — sources vary — cross-border rocket attacks in the last several weeks into the Afghan province of Nangarhar, which had caused hundreds of families to be displaced (Pajhwok, Tolo). The NYT picks up on a YouTube video showing Pashtun boys in Afghanistan or Pakistan acting out the last minutes in the life of a suicide bomber (NYT).
The new Obama administration envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, is in Pakistan to meet with Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, president Asif Ali Zardari, and other leaders (AP, Dawn). Gilani reportedly requested that U.S. aid to Pakistan be disbursed quickly, which Grossman said it would be, and urged Gilani to release Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot and killed two Pakistani men he said were attempted to rob him in Lahore in late January. Islamist politicians have reportedly been visiting the families of the men who were killed and encouraging them to reject any offers of "blood money" to resolve the issue (CP). The families said American officials have not visited them.
The government of Punjab has reportedly rejected a request from the U.S. for security reasons to move Davis to the Governor House in Lahore, with Pakistani officials said to be concerned about his potential escape (ET). Dawn details relations between Pakistan’s intelligence service the ISI and the CIA, reporting that in light of the Davis case, the ISI has demanded more transparency from the agency and is resentful that the CIA has apparently developed its own network of informants inside Pakistan (Dawn). A court in Peshawar has granted bail of Rs. 2 million ($23,500) to Aaron Mark DeHaven, a U.S. contractor who overstayed his visa (ET, AP).
Politics in Pakistan
Gilani was reportedly the only senior Pakistani official to attend the funeral on Friday of Shahbaz Bhatti, the minority affairs minister who was assassinated last week by militants affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban in Punjab (NYT). Diplomats say they are concerned that Bhatti was killed "on information provided by his government security detail."
Pakistani federal law minister Babar Awan was indicted in a court in Rawalpindi over the weekend for an alleged robbery and attempted kidnapping in 1998, and pleaded not guilty (The News). Zardari called the case "unfortunate" and "politically motivated" (Dawn, ET). Also in Rawalpindi, an anti-terrorism court gave authorities two more weeks to arrest former Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf on charges related to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 (AFP). Musharraf, who has been living in exile in London for several years, does not plan to return to Pakistan for any hearings, according to a spokesman.
Pakistan’s ministry of health has started a 3-day polio eradication campaign backed by the World Health Organization targeting some 33 million children across the country (ET, Dawn). Bonus read: Pakistan’s lingering polio problem (FP).
Sk8ing in Kabul
The AFP checks in on Skateistan, an indoor skate park in Kabul set up by a skateboarding enthusiast from Australia in 2007, which now hosts some 330 young Afghan boarders (AFP). Funding for the $275,000 project came from Denmark, Norway, and Germany, and Skateistan is expanding to Mazar-i-Sharif and Pakistan.
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