The South Asia Channel

Taliban offers rare praise for India

On Sunday, the Afghan Taliban released a statement praising India for avoiding an entanglement in the affairs of Afghanistan (Dawn, ET). Speaking to Reuters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid added that India is "aware of the Afghan aspirations, creeds and love for freedom. It is totally illogical they should plunge their nation into a calamity just ...

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (R) talks with Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony during a meeting at the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi on June 6, 2012. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will encourage India to play a "more active role" in Afghanistan during a visit to New Delhi, US officials said June 5. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Jim Watson (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/GettyImages)

On Sunday, the Afghan Taliban released a statement praising India for avoiding an entanglement in the affairs of Afghanistan (Dawn, ET). Speaking to Reuters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid added that India is "aware of the Afghan aspirations, creeds and love for freedom. It is totally illogical they should plunge their nation into a calamity just for the American pleasure (Reuters)." While India is one of the largest donors to Afghanistan, it has generally refrained from any direct efforts to bolster Afghan security forces.

The Taliban praise comes after U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited India last month in an effort to encourage a more active Indian presence in Afghanistan, especially after the departure of NATO troops in 2014. Panetta subsequently had a number of tough words for Pakistan, urging the country to end their support for militant safe havens. However, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, the trilateral forum of the U.S., India, and Afghanistan is not intended as a snub to Pakistan: "On the contrary, it’s to talk about the situation inside Afghanistan (Dawn)."

Meanwhile, since 2008, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has declined by 40 percent (USA Today). U.N. and military officials attributed the decrease to a number of factors including NATO’s efforts to secure key towns, increased eradication efforts by the Afghan government, and programs which encourage Afghan farmers to switch their crops to wheat and other legal yields. According to Regional Command Southwest, the troop formation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, cultivation in Helmand province dropped from 256,000 acres in 2008 to 143,000 today. The command said that a further 6 to 7 percent decline in poppy cultivation is expected this year as compared to last.

On Friday two NATO troops were killed in the south and east of Afghanistan according to U.S. officials (Fox, VOA). The casualties brought the NATO death toll in Afghanistan to 195 for 2012. Also on Friday, a two-day operation in Paktika province killed 34 insurgents including two Taliban commanders according to Afghan officials.

Taliban leader threatens polio immunization efforts

On Saturday, Hafiz Gul Bahadur — a senior Taliban commander in Northwest Pakistan — warned all polio vaccination teams operating in the area he controls to cease their immunization efforts until all U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are halted (BG, VOA, ET, CBS). The warning, part of a pamphlet released by the Higher Council of Mujahideen, justified the edict saying that while "polio infects one child in a million…hundreds of Waziri women, children and elders have been killed in these [drone] strikes." Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is endemic. A top health official in the region said that a new round of planned immunizations — targeting 162,000 children — which were slated to begin on June 20 were being delayed indefinitely.  

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) unveiled a new plan that will seek to repatriate 150,000 Afghan refugees in 2012 (ET). Currently there are more than 1.7 million documented Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, with an additional estimate of at least one million undocumented. Four Voluntary Repatriation Centers (VRCs) have already been established this year to aid the program of voluntary repatriation efforts. The plan calls on increased efforts from both host countries (which includes Iran as well as Pakistan) and the international community. For its part, Pakistan has also suffered from displacement issues, as a UNICEF press release from Friday indicated that more than 240,000 people have registered as displaced from Khyber Agency since the beginning of 2012 (UNICEF).

The European Union upgraded its trade relations with Pakistan over the weekend to give the country preferential access to European markets (ET, Dawn). The change in Pakistan’s trading agreements mean that the country will, among other things, be eligible for zero-duty on its exports starting in 2014.

Elsewhere on Saturday, at least 34 people were killed in twin bombings in the Khyber tribal region (NYT, Reuters). While no militants claimed credit for the attacks, local officials expressed confidence that Lashkar-i-Islam was involved.

A mother’s quest for the Presidency

Twice elected to the Afghan parliament, Fawzia Koofi is continuing her effort to run for the Afghan Presidency when the term of current President Hamid Karzai expires in 2014 (CNN). An outspoken women’s rights advocate who has previously been a target for assassination by the Taliban, Koofi says that she is inspired by her daughters to continue a political journey dedicated to a different future for the country. "Our daughters are like the hope, the future of Afghanistan," she said, ""I think women have to stand up, they have to raise their voice, demonstrate that they have equal abilities in this country like many other people have."

–Tom Kutsch

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