The South Asia Channel

U.S. soldier massacres 16 Afghan civilians

Massacre in Kandahar: A United States Army Sergeant on Sunday walked a mile from his base to go on a shooting rampage in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province, murdering 16 Afghan civilians, nine of whom were children (NYT, Reuters, CNN, Post, WSJ, BBC, LAT, AP). President Hamid Karzai called the attack an "inhuman and intentional act," as U.S. officials scrambled to ...

JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images
JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images

Massacre in Kandahar: A United States Army Sergeant on Sunday walked a mile from his base to go on a shooting rampage in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province, murdering 16 Afghan civilians, nine of whom were children (NYTReutersCNNPost, WSJBBCLATAP). President Hamid Karzai called the attack an "inhuman and intentional act," as U.S. officials scrambled to find out how the incident happened. The sergeant is reportedly a father of two on his fourth tour of duty, after three in Iraq, and came from Washington state’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which was also the home base of three soldiers convicted in 2010 of the sport killings of three Afghan civilians (NYT, AP). Coming just weeks after the accidental burning of Qurans by NATO troops sparked deadly protests across the country, the murders not only complicate the U.S. withdrawal strategy as allies and Afghans alike lose confidence in the NATO mission, but may also fuel the Taliban’s campaign against NATO soldiers there (APNYTCNNPostPolitico, Bloomberg).

A delegation of Afghan government officials visited the U.S. military facility at Guantánamo Bay last Monday, where the top five Taliban leaders held there told the officials that they would agree to being moved to Qatar, though the United States has yet to make a decision on the transfer (APAJEBBCReutersAFPReuters). Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool will reportedly travel to Qatar sometime in the next ten days to speak to government officials there about reconciliation with the Taliban (Reuters). German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for a surprise visit to German troops in Mazar-i-Sharif, where she told reporters that Germany is not sure it will be able to pull out all of its troops by the 2014 NATO withdrawal deadline (APAFPReuters).   

Afghanistan has opened its first major railroad, and has several others in the works via partnerships with China, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Turkmenistan, part of a plan to encourage trade with neighboring countries (AP). Railways were banned by an Afghan king over one hundred years ago for fear of being overrun by the competing British and Russian empires. The AP’s Deb Reichmann reported Saturday on the many families of Afghans buried in a massive avalanche in the remote village of Daspai, where the United Nations said 145 are missing and "presumed dead" (APAFP). And another avalanche buried two more remote villages in eastern Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province on Monday, trapping as many as 45 people in the snow (BBCAP).

Rising anti-Americanism and deteriorating security in Afghanistan, along with President Karzai’s mandate to ban private security firms by March, have left private aid organizations questioning whether they should stay in the country (NYT). If the groups decide to leave, Afghanistan could lose development projects worth billions of dollars.

Deadly blast

A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest in the middle of a funeral procession on Sunday in the outskirts of Peshawar, killing at least 15 and injuring dozens more (ET, DawnTelAFPReutersCNNAP). The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the blast, stating that the target had been the anti-Taliban Deputy Speaker of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Khushdil Khan – who was unhurt. Police in Peshawar said Monday that they had foiled another attack on Friday when they received a tip about a suspicious car and found it loaded with explosives (ET). 

At least two people were killed and 17 injured when a bomb exploded next to a bus on Monday in Pakistan’s Kurram Agency, where the military has been carrying out intensive operations against militants since the beginning of the year (Reuters). The Taliban claimed responsibility for killing the leader of a pro-government militia leader on Friday, and a security official was killed Monday by a homemade explosive device placed at a check post in Mohmand Agency (ETETDawn). In Balochistan, meanwhile, six pro-government tribesmen were ambushed and killed by suspected insurgents on Saturday (ET).

Around 60 militants were killed Saturday in two separate operations in Khyber and Orakzai Agencies. A day before that, U.S. drone strikes targeting a militant hideout and a vehicle killed 14 militants in Pakistan’s South Waziristan (CNNAFPBBCAP). On Monday, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik invited militant groups to hold peace talks with the government, saying groups will be delisted from the government’s list of banned organizations if they "closed down their militant wings" (ETAFP). And the AP’s Kathy Gannon reported Saturday on the growing feeling within the Pakistani military that its sacrifices and hard work go unappreciated by the West, where authorities often call on Pakistan to "do more" in the fight against militants (AP).

New boss

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Friday appointed a new head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Lt. Gen. Zaheer-ul-Islam, who replaces the three-and-a-half-year veteran ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha (ReutersNYT,DawnETCNNAJEPostTelLATThe News). Gen. Islam’s appointment maintains some continuity at the ISI, as he previously headed the directorate’s domestic operations, and may improve the intelligence agency’s ties with its U.S. counterpart, which had seen its relationship with Gen. Pasha deteriorate recently.

Meanwhile, former ISI chief Asad Durrani admitted to Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday that he had distributed millions of dollars to opposition politicians on the orders of then-chief of the Army Mirza Aslam Beg, in an effort to defeat the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the elections of 1990 (GuardianETMcClatchyDawnDTThe NewsAP). And Prime Minister Gilani said Sunday that the parliament is responsible for his decision not to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to reinstate a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, because the legislators approved a constitution that gives the president immunity (DawnETDT).

Girl power

Pakistani native Shad Begum was one of ten women activists to receive the 2012 International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. government last Thursday (Dawn). Begum has provided political training, microcredit financing, education, and health services to women in the conservative Lower Dir District through an organization she founded called the Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation. 

 Jennifer Rowland

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