Panetta arrives in Afghanistan, challenges Pakistan

Fresh off a two-day trip in India to encourage an increased Indian role in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived unannounced in Afghanistan on Thursday for meetings with military leaders amidst swelling violence (Reuters, CNN, BBC). In remarks to reporters standing alongside Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Panetta emphasized the increasingly strained ...

AFP/Getty images
AFP/Getty images
AFP/Getty images

Fresh off a two-day trip in India to encourage an increased Indian role in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived unannounced in Afghanistan on Thursday for meetings with military leaders amidst swelling violence (Reuters, CNN, BBC). In remarks to reporters standing alongside Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Panetta emphasized the increasingly strained U.S. relationship with Pakistan. In unusually blunt language he noted that "it is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan", singling out attacks by the Haqqani network in particular. He added that "we are reaching the limits of our patience here and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action."

The visit comes after the deadliest day for civilians in Afghanistan this year as twin suicide attacks killed 23 people in Kandahar on Wednesday, while according to Afghan officials at least 18 civilians were killed as a result of a NATO strike targeting Taliban leaders (NYT, CBS). NATO officials have yet to confirm that any civilian deaths took place, but have opened a joint investigation into the matter with the Afghan government. In response to the NATO strike, Afghan President Hamid Karzai cut short his trip to China where he was attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit and released a statement saying "NATO cannot justify any airstrike which causes harms to the lives and property of civilians."

Beijing security summit redux

Fresh off a two-day trip in India to encourage an increased Indian role in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived unannounced in Afghanistan on Thursday for meetings with military leaders amidst swelling violence (Reuters, CNN, BBC). In remarks to reporters standing alongside Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Panetta emphasized the increasingly strained U.S. relationship with Pakistan. In unusually blunt language he noted that "it is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan", singling out attacks by the Haqqani network in particular. He added that "we are reaching the limits of our patience here and for that reason it is extremely important that Pakistan take action."

The visit comes after the deadliest day for civilians in Afghanistan this year as twin suicide attacks killed 23 people in Kandahar on Wednesday, while according to Afghan officials at least 18 civilians were killed as a result of a NATO strike targeting Taliban leaders (NYT, CBS). NATO officials have yet to confirm that any civilian deaths took place, but have opened a joint investigation into the matter with the Afghan government. In response to the NATO strike, Afghan President Hamid Karzai cut short his trip to China where he was attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit and released a statement saying "NATO cannot justify any airstrike which causes harms to the lives and property of civilians."

Beijing security summit redux

On Thursday, the concluding day of the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Beijing, the six full members of the group — China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan — granted Afghanistan observer status in the group as it moved toward an increase in regional support to the war torn country (NPR). Also at the summit, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari affirmed that regional peace is impossible without peace in Afghanistan, and that the SCO needs to play a role in expanding the opportunities for political and economic solutions there (Dawn). Meanwhile on the sidelines of the meetings, China and Pakistan separately signed three memorandums of understanding for economic development projects in Pakistan, in a sign of increasing economic relations between the two countries (ET).

Violence around Pakistan

A blast outside a madrassa in Quetta, Pakistan killed at least 14 and wounded 35 on Thursday (ET). Police said the explosives were left on a motorbike outside the madrassa as students packed inside for a tightly secured event. Elsewhere in Pakistan, 9 militants including a local Taliban commander were allegedly killed by members of the Kukikhel tribe in Tirah in the FATA, though the details were not confirmed by outside sources (Dawn).

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered government officials to fly to the remote mountain village of Gizar Alitray, where four women were alleged to have been killed for clapping and singing while men danced at a wedding. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had no knowledge of proof for the killings, but said that it was nonetheless incumbent on the Supreme Court to figure out what happened (Reuters). However, two Pakistani social workers who separately traveled to the village claimed to have met two of the girls allegedly killed (ET).

Not so quiet on the cricket front

On Thursday Pakistan plays Sri Lanka and will try to keep up their impressive form against their rivals, who they’ve beaten in 5 of the last 6 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) played. In other cricketing news, officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) will arrive in the UAE Thursday to discuss with the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) the possibility of the country hosting a series of matches between Pakistan and Australia in August (The National).

–Tom Kutsch

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