The South Asia Channel

Absolute ban on NATO airstrikes

On Tuesday Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an end to all coalition airstrikes in his country — even when coalition troops are under attack — calling them an "illegitimate use of force" (NYT, LAT, WSJ, AP). The pointed words from Karzai came at a press conference in Kabul several days after NATO commander Gen. ...

AFP/Getty images
AFP/Getty images

On Tuesday Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an end to all coalition airstrikes in his country — even when coalition troops are under attack — calling them an "illegitimate use of force" (NYT, LAT, WSJ, AP). The pointed words from Karzai came at a press conference in Kabul several days after NATO commander Gen. John R. Allen had announced changes to coalition guidelines in order to assure Afghan leaders that no airstrikes would target civilian dwellings going forward. The proximate cause of the NATO policy change was last week’s killing of 18 people including civilians in Afghanistan’s Logar province after NATO airstrikes targeted a house containing Taliban militants after they had started firing on coalition forces. While Allen’s announced changes carried the caveat that airstrikes would still be permitted as an absolute last resort under the new rules, Karzai was unambiguous Tuesday that all strikes were in fact no longer permitted. "Airstrikes are not used in civilian areas," he said, "if they don’t want to do it in their own country, why do they do it in Afghanistan?"

A small group of U.S. army soldiers returned to Afghanistan’s Nuristan province this week in the Hindu Kush region, an area some have called the ‘lost province’ after the U.S. pulled out following an October 2009 raid by over 300 insurgents that killed 8 U.S. soldiers (Reuters). The province, which U.S. troops have also labeled the ‘dark side of the moon’, is seen by military planners as a likely location for a possible upcoming Taliban offensive. Around 2,500 Taliban are thought to be in the province and operate freely as they stage many of their attacks deeper in the country. The U.S. forces returning to Nuristan were hoping to bolster a meager Afghan security post with weapons and supplies.

Representatives from 29 countries are to meet for an international conference in Kabul on Thursday to hold talks about the country’s future. At the conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to press Pakistan over the issue of militant safe havens and emphasize that only a regional approach can find a solution to the problem of the militancy plaguing his country (ET).

NATO head optimistic on supply routes

Speaking in Canberra, Australia on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he was hopeful that a transit agreement with Pakistan would still be concluded "in a not too distant future" (ET, VOA). Rasmussen was in the country for talks with Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith and to sign a NATO-Australia political agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Australia remains the largest non-NATO contributor of troops to Afghanistan. Despite securing transit agreements last week with several Central Asian countries for supply routes to Afghanistan, the preferred Pakistan route, which has been closed since November, remains closed and U.S. negotiators have had no success thus far in convincing the Pakistanis to change their minds. While some U.S. officials have suggested that Pakistan is unwilling to consider reopening the routes unless the U.S. greatly increases the tariffs it pays, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar rejected that notion when speaking with reporters in Islamabad on Tuesday: "Pakistan is not in any sort of price-gouging debate right now. So these impressions are indeed incorrect, wrong and must be dispersed as soon as possible (Dawn)."

On Tuesday, a new video surfaced online of al-Qaeda commander Abu Yahya al-Libi, the organization’s number two who U.S. officials declared dead after a drone strike last week in Pakistan (ABC). In the video al-Libi is seen discussing the ongoing situation in Syria, among other things, but it was not immediately clear when the tape had been made. It is not unusual for groups like al-Qaeda to release tapes of leaders after a person’s death.  

A legend’s passing

Pakistan’s legendary classical singer Mehdi Hassan passed away at a hospital in Karachi on Wednesday. The maestro of the ghazal tradition, an "undisputed king" in the form, was not only popular throughout South Asia but has a large following throughout the world. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Hassan "an icon who mesmerised music lovers" around the world (Dawn, ET).

— Tom Kutsch

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