Taliban target secular candidates in Pakistan’s northwest

Event notice: William Dalrymple presents "Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan," THURSDAY, April 25, 2013, Women’s National Democratic Club. Playing politics The Pakistani Taliban continue to target secular politicians in the country’s northwest, launching a bomb attack on Sunday that killed Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Mukarram Shah as he drove through Swat, ...

A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images

Event notice: William Dalrymple presents "Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan," THURSDAY, April 25, 2013, Women's National Democratic Club.

Playing politics

The Pakistani Taliban continue to target secular politicians in the country's northwest, launching a bomb attack on Sunday that killed Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Mukarram Shah as he drove through Swat, while a separate attack wounded ANP candidate Masoom Shah as he drove through Peshawar from a campaign rally (AP, BBC, ET/AFP). The provincial president of the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afrasyab Khattak, accused the government and the election commission of failing to take attacks on secular candidates seriously; negligence he said amounted to the deliberate sabotage of his party's success in the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, at least eight people were killed on Saturday when a bomb exploded on board a bus in Peshawar (BBC, AP).

Event notice: William Dalrymple presents "Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan," THURSDAY, April 25, 2013, Women’s National Democratic Club.

Playing politics

The Pakistani Taliban continue to target secular politicians in the country’s northwest, launching a bomb attack on Sunday that killed Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Mukarram Shah as he drove through Swat, while a separate attack wounded ANP candidate Masoom Shah as he drove through Peshawar from a campaign rally (AP, BBC, ET/AFP). The provincial president of the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afrasyab Khattak, accused the government and the election commission of failing to take attacks on secular candidates seriously; negligence he said amounted to the deliberate sabotage of his party’s success in the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, at least eight people were killed on Saturday when a bomb exploded on board a bus in Peshawar (BBC, AP).

A letter sent to President Barack Obama last week and signed by the nation’s leading human rights organizations calls for the administration to "publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful Congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking, and response to civilian harm" (NYT). The letter represents the most serious challenge to date of the legality of CIA drone strikes, saying reports of the criteria used to select drone targets raise "serious questions about whether the U.S. is operating in accordance with international law."

At least four suspected militants were killed in North Waziristan on Sunday in the first U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in more than three weeks (ET, AFP, The News, AP, CNN). Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the strike as a violation of international laws and of Pakistani sovereignty (Dawn).

Military guards at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility clashed with detainees when they raided a communal living area early on Saturday morning to move prisoners into solitary confinement in order "to ensure the health and safety" of the detainees, at least a quarter of whom are on hunger strike (NYT, Post). The prisoners in the communal area began covering cameras, windows, and glass partitions several months ago, restricting the guards’ ability to watch them. "Detainees may continue to hunger strike," said prison spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, but prison doctors will now be able to more closely monitor their conditions.

Share the blame

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday that both the United States and the Taliban are to blame for a NATO airstrike that killed 17 civilians during a fierce gunfight in Kunar Province on April 6 (AP, LAT). Members of the Afghan intelligence service called in the airstrike after they came under attack by militants while attempting to detain two insurgent commanders in the Shigal district of Kunar. Earlier this year, Karzai banned the Afghan Army from requesting U.S. airstrikes after several civilians were killed in a strike. Bonus read: Najib Sharifi and Ahmad Shafi, "Karzai’s anti-U.S. rhetoric: An Afghan perspective" (AfPak).

President Karzai on Sunday also continued his complaints about Pakistan, ordering his security forces to immediately dissemble a new Pakistani border gate that he said was erected without coordination with Afghanistan (WSJ). Pakistani officials maintain that the new border gate is located fully inside of Mohmand Agency, which borders the Afghan province of Nangarhar, but Afghanistan has long disputed the Durand line drawn by the British in the 1893 to divide Afghanistan from the Raj.

Opium production in Afghanistan grew in 2012 for the third year in a row, according to a United Nations report released on Monday, and Afghanistan accounted for 75 percent of the world’s heroin supply, increasing concerns among international law enforcement officials that opium cultivation could be the country’s main economic driver after the NATO combat mission ends in December 2014 (NYT).

Afghans who have worked for the U.S. military wait anxiously for responses to their applications for American visas as NATO accelerates its transition out of Afghanistan, with interpreters bearing the brunt of Taliban attacks on Afghans who have supported Western forces (NYT). But a very small proportion of the applications have been accepted so far, due in large part to issues with the program itself. Only 7,500 visas are available to Afghans, compared to 25,000 for Iraqis who were involved in the U.S. war effort there. And for Afghans, only spouses and dependent children are allowed to join the applicant, excluding parents, siblings, and non-dependent children.

Cash rules everything

A new book by Vali Nasr provides piercing insight into the fraught U.S.-Pakistan relationship, often through chilling anecdotes. One can’t help but find some humor in all of it, though, as Omar Waraich did in an article for TIME on Sunday: President Asif Ali Zardari once told Ambassador Richard Holbrooke that, "Pakistan is like AIG. Too big to fail." Recalling that the government had given AIG $100 billion to bail it out, Zardari suggested, "You should give Pakistan the same." (TIME)

Jennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.

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