From Kabul to Langley
The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 94-0 to confirm top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan David Petraeus to be the next director of the CIA (Post, AP, WSJ, AFP, CNN, LAT, BBC). Petraeus, who replaces incoming defense secretary Leon Panetta at the helm of the intelligence agency, will be partly responsible for managing the covert actions against terrorist groups that are at the center of the Obama administration’s new counterterrorism strategy. The Senate on Thursday also confirmed Petraeus’ former civilian counterpart in Iraq, Amb. Ryan C. Crocker, to replace Amb. Karl Eikenberry as the U.S. representative in Kabul (CNN).
U.S. and some Pakistani government officials told Reuters Thursday that there were no plans to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan, used as a staging point for drone strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas, while McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay reports that Pakistan continues to quietly cooperate on the secret drone program (Reuters, McClatchy). Pakistan’s information minister Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters today that no demand had been made for U.S. personnel to leave the base (ET/Reuters). Meanwhile, the Tribune reports that U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue talks are "indefinitely" delayed as a result of the public tension between the two countries (Tribune).
An investigative tribunal has reportedly found that a senior Frontier Corps (FC) officer, a former Quetta police chief, and several FC members and police officers were responsible for the shooting deaths of five unarmed foreigners at a checkpoint near Quetta in May, and recommended legal action be taken against the men (Dawn, DT, ET). The brother of slain former minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti told Dawn Thursday that the investigation into his brother’s killing was "on the right track" and that the latter’s killers are in Dubai (Dawn). And a jeep exploded in Peshawar Thursday, killing two, though police said the cause of the blast was a faulty fuel canister (ET, Dawn).
Three stories round out the news: The Karachi Anti-Terrorism Court today reserved the right to transfer the murder case of Sarfaraz Shah, who was allegedly killed by a group of paramilitary Rangers, to a civilian court (ET). Saba Imtiaz chronicles the lingering scars of an anti-blasphemy riot two months ago against Christians in Gujranwala (ET). And Pakistani tax authorities announced Thursday that they had surpassed their goals for tax collection, reviving the chance that Pakistan could receive $11.3 billion in assistance from the IMF (ET). Pakistan’s tax collection rate is still the second-lowest in the region, after Bangladesh.
Joshua Partlow examines in detail the alleged use of "fake names, forged documents, fictitious companies and secret records" by the former chairman and chief executive officer of the Kabul Bank to cover up nearly $900 million in loans given to senior Afghan officials and bank shareholders (Post, WSJ, AFP). Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmoud Karzai reportedly received $22 million in loans from the bank.
Afghanistan’s government announced Thursday that Afghan forces would take over security in seven parts of the country July 14, earlier in the month than had been previously expected, as a U.N. report found that violence since March had increased sharply (McClatchy, Reuters, AP, LAT). And in Afghanistan’s restive east, the region’s police border commander resigned over the NATO and Afghan government’s failure to stop rocket attacks from Pakistan, a charge made repeatedly by other Afghan officials (BBC, ET, NPR).
A Taliban commander said Thursday that two French hostages freed this week after a year and a half in captivity were released after an "enormous amount" of money and Taliban prisoners were exchanged (Dawn, Guardian, BBC, Tel). And the family of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl on Thursday marked the two year anniversary of their son’s capture by the Taliban (Reuters, AP).
Finally, up to 20 civilians were killed Thursday when a passenger bus struck an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Afghanistan’s southeastern province of Nimroz, while a family and their driver were killed by a roadside bomb explosion in Helmand’s Marja district (AFP, Reuters, BBC, NYT).
"Give Peas a Chance"
The British animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has written a letter to Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari asking that they be allowed to paint murals and slogans on the side of Osama bin Laden’s former compound in Abbottabad promoting world peace and veganism (Haaretz). The slogans would reportedly include "Give Peas a Chance – Go Vegan" and "nonviolence begins on your plate."