Daily brief: U.S. denies “backchannel” to Pakistan

Secrets and denial Former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen denied claims Tuesday from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz that the latter delivered a letter from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in May to Mullen, purportedly asking for help removing Pakistan’s army and intelligence chiefs in return for cooperation against militant ...

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Secrets and denial

Former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen denied claims Tuesday from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz that the latter delivered a letter from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in May to Mullen, purportedly asking for help removing Pakistan's army and intelligence chiefs in return for cooperation against militant groups (FP, ET, Dawn). And State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday that the United States believes Pakistan has taken "appropriate steps" to secure their nuclear weapons, despite recent media reports suggesting that the weapons could easily be stolen during transport (Dawn). 

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives Thursday, telling reporters afterwards that they planned to start a "new chapter" in relations between the countries (AP, AFP). Separately at the summit, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that Pakistan, "will not backtrack" on its cabinet's approval of granting Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India (Dawn). And Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Thursday that Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunmen from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was a terrorist and a "non-state actor" who should be hanged for his crimes (Dawn). Bonus read: Mohsin Khan, "India-Pakistan trade: The MFN breakthrough" (FP).

Secrets and denial

Former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen denied claims Tuesday from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz that the latter delivered a letter from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in May to Mullen, purportedly asking for help removing Pakistan’s army and intelligence chiefs in return for cooperation against militant groups (FP, ET, Dawn). And State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday that the United States believes Pakistan has taken "appropriate steps" to secure their nuclear weapons, despite recent media reports suggesting that the weapons could easily be stolen during transport (Dawn). 

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives Thursday, telling reporters afterwards that they planned to start a "new chapter" in relations between the countries (AP, AFP). Separately at the summit, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that Pakistan, "will not backtrack" on its cabinet’s approval of granting Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India (Dawn). And Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Thursday that Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunmen from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was a terrorist and a "non-state actor" who should be hanged for his crimes (Dawn). Bonus read: Mohsin Khan, "India-Pakistan trade: The MFN breakthrough" (FP).

Four stories finish off the Pakistan news: Tight security prevailed during the Eid al-Adha holiday in Peshawar, while in Balochistan some saw the holiday as an occasion to protest the disappearances of Baloch nationalists, believed by many to be the work of Pakistan’s security services (Dawn, ET). Militants from the group Lashkar-i-Islam killed four "peace committee" members in a shootout in Khyber Thursday (ET). And the government in Sindh province announced Thursday that it was returning to its 1979 local governance system (ET).

Continuing bloodshed

At least one Afghan police officer has been killed in an ongoing battle with Taliban militants who attacked a government building Thursday in the eastern province of Paktia (AP). Authorities say multiple suicide bombers carrying heavy and light weapons struck the building during a meeting between the Chamkani district governor and local elders to discuss a grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, planned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and scheduled to begin November 16 in Kabul.

A military court is expected to announce its verdict Thursday in the case of U.S. Army Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, accused of leading a group of soldiers who killed three Afghans for sport, and keeping "tokens" of the victims, including severed fingers (CNN, AFP). In closing arguments Wednesday, Gibbs’ defense attorney said his client was guilty of failing to "look at the enemy as human" but not guilty of murder, while a prosecutor said that in Afghanistan Gibbs, "had his own mission: murder and depravity" (Reuters, CNN).

The AFP reports on an increase in mining in Afghanistan, where the government reportedly plans to sell concessions on five mines per year until foreign forces depart in 2014 (AFP). And in an interview with the AP, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Antonio Guterres said that his organization will "intensify" its work with local Afghan partners to stress that UNHCR is purely humanitarian, after three of its workers were killed in a suicide bombing last week in Kandahar (AP).

Finally today, Germany authorities have charged a German-Afghan man whose interrogations resulted in terrorism warnings in Europe last year, Ahmad Wali Siddiqui, with being a member of al-Qaeda (AP). And the European Union has blocked a documentary made by the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights on Gulnaz, an Afghan woman who was raped and impregnanted, and then charged with adultery by Afghan authorities (Times). According to the Times of London, the EU is concerned about Gulnaz’s safety in the event of the film’s release, as well as the EU’s relationship with Afghanistan’s judiciary.

Meditations for peace

The Journal takes a look Thursday at former male supermodel Cameron Alborzian’s plan to bring peace to Afghanistan by teaching Taliban, Afghans and American soldiers to meditate and do yoga together (WSJ). Alborzian’s concept has garnered sympathy from some senior military leaders, and he has started teaching nonreligious yoga poses to guards at some Afghan detention centers — and, he says, he has also secretly taught poses to a former Taliban commander.

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