The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: 100,000 protest Pakistani government in Lahore

Crowds in the streets Pakistani cricket star-turned-opposition politician Imran Khan drew as many as 100,000 people to a rally in Lahore Sunday, where Khan lambasted the country’s leading political figures as well as the United States (NYT, Post, AP, AFP, ET, Tel, Dawn, DT). Khan called the demonstration part of a "tsunami," and said that, ...

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Crowds in the streets

Pakistani cricket star-turned-opposition politician Imran Khan drew as many as 100,000 people to a rally in Lahore Sunday, where Khan lambasted the country’s leading political figures as well as the United States (NYT, Post, AP, AFP, ET, Tel, Dawn, DT). Khan called the demonstration part of a "tsunami," and said that, "My message to America is that we will have friendship with you, but we will not accept any slavery." The turnout surprised many politicians and analysts who had previously regarded Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party holds no seats in the country’s parliament, as a marginal figure (ET, Dawn, ET, Dawn, ET). The rally comes after a much smaller protest Friday, when 2,000 people came out in Islamabad at Khan’s urging to protest American drone strikes in Pakistan (AFP, ET). And the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a member of the country’s ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), organized a pro-government rally in Karachi Sunday (Dawn, DT).

A suspected drone attack on Sunday reportedly killed as many as six militants, after several missiles were fired on a car in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan (Dawn, ET, AJE, AFP, CNN). Pakistani officials reported Friday that up to 13 militants, possibly including Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Taj Gul Mehsud, were killed last week in a drone strike on a compound in Mir Ali (Reuters). The rash of strikes recently prompted criticism  this weekend from Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani as well as Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (Dawn, ET).

A PPP minister in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Amjad Khan Afridi, survived an attack by militants on his vehicle Monday, while in Karachi an activist for a party linked to the banned Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan (SSP) was killed by unidentified gunmen (Dawn, AFP, Dawn). Elsewhere in the province, a suicide bomber killed two policemen Sunday in Nowshera (BBC). Pakistani law enforcement on Sunday arrested a former commando with the country’s elite Special Services Group (SSG) on charges that he planned an attack against Pakistan’s parliament (ET). Dawn reports that police in Karachi are hesitant to file charges against a "hit man" blamed for nearly 250 killings in the city (Dawn). And for the fourth time since September, an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi has delayed the indictment of seven men accused of involvement in the 2007 killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Dawn).

Five stories round out the weekend: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced Friday that Pakistan had not asked for a new loan package after its current arrangement expired last month (The News). Pakistani officials denied reports from a German newspaper that Pakistan "spied" on a group of German police officers deployed in Afghanistan (Dawn). A woman in Balochistan threatened to set herself on fire in front of the province’s parliament if her brother, who she said was taken away by Pakistani security services in September, was not released (ET). New information indicates that polio remains resilient in Pakistan despite drives to eradicate the disease (Dawn). And Balochistan has reportedly seen a major increase in cattle smuggling to neighboring Afghanistan and Iran (ET).

Grim milestone

A Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul attacked an armored bus carrying American, international, and Afghan soldiers and contractors Saturday, killing at least 17 people including 13 Americans, the highest American casualties in an attack in Kabul since the war in Afghanistan began (NYT, BBC, WSJ, Tel, AJE, LAT, Globe and Mail, Guardian, Reuters). Officials indicated this weekend that the bombing may be linked to the insurgent Haqqani Network, which has stepped up the pace and proficiency of attacks on foreigners and prominent targets in Kabul (NYT, Reuters, AP, WSJ, Post). The Times reports that the Obama administration is now relying on Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to bring the Haqqanis to the negotiating table in Afghanistan, even while the former has increased its efforts to fight the group (NYT). And Afghan President Hamid Karzai angered many American officials on Sunday when he condemned the Kabul attack, but made no mention of American casualties (NYT).

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a suicide bombing and ensuing gun battle in Kandahar Monday killed four people and heavily damaged the United Nations High Commission on Refugees office in the city (AP, Guardian, AFP). Three Australian soldiers were killed Saturday when an Afghan National Army trainee opened fire on them before being shot dead (NYT, BBC, AP). And a female suicide bomber was shot and killed before she could detonate her explosives in the province of Kunar Saturday, while on Friday fighting broke out in Nangarhar province — though reports differ as to whether the violence was an attack on a convoy of NATO and Afghan forces or a land dispute between the Shinwari tribe and the Afghan government that quickly escalated (NYT).

The violence comes as the Pentagon announced Friday that violence dropped in Afghanistan this summer, while warning of the continued risk posed by insurgent safe havens in Pakistan and the "limitations" of the Afghan government (AP, WSJ, Reuters, The News). McClatchy notes the persistent threat of roadside attacks on U.S. and international forces in the country (McClatchy). Meanwhile, British forces have begun an offensive into a lingering Taliban stronghold in the province of Helmand (Tel). The Post reveals that American forces plan to begin withdrawing from Kandahar City in order to redeploy to surrounding rural areas (Post). And Reuters and the Tribune take a pessimistic look at the international conference on Afghanistan scheduled to open Wednesday in Istanbul (Reuters, ET). 

Finishing off the news, Joshua Partlow and Julie Tate report that top American officials were repeatedly warned of "systematic torture" in prisons run by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) (Post). Court martial proceedings began Friday for U.S. Army Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, who is accused of leading a "kill team" that intentionally targeted Afghan civilians (Reuters, CNN, BBC). And the United Nations announced Saturday that nearly 60 percent fewer Afghan refugees returned from Pakistan this year as compared to last year (AP).

Let’s go bowling

An Afghan woman who fled the country in 1992, Meena Rahmani, has spent $1 million to open a 12-lane bowling alley and restaurant in Kabul, called The Strikers (AP). The alley had to be built using all imported materials and using foreign engineers, because, as Rahmani explained to the AP, "Since there had never been bowling in Afghanistan, no one here knew how to set it up."

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Andrew Lebovich is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a doctoral candidate in African history at Columbia University. He is currently based in Senegal and has conducted field research in Niger and Mali.
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