U.S. shutters Lahore consulate due to “specific threats” to facility

Bonus read: "Weaving Afghanistan’s story," Candace Rondeaux (AfPak). Closed for business The unprecedented closure of U.S. embassies and consulates across the world spread to Pakistan on Friday when the United States ordered the evacuation of all non-essential staff from its consulate in Lahore because of what it calls "specific threats" to that facility (AFP, BBC, ...

Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Bonus read: "Weaving Afghanistan's story," Candace Rondeaux (AfPak).

Closed for business

Bonus read: "Weaving Afghanistan’s story," Candace Rondeaux (AfPak).

Closed for business

The unprecedented closure of U.S. embassies and consulates across the world spread to Pakistan on Friday when the United States ordered the evacuation of all non-essential staff from its consulate in Lahore because of what it calls "specific threats" to that facility (AFP, BBC, NYT, Reuters, VOA).  The State Department also issued a new travel alert urging all U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to the country.  Meghan Gregonis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, said the threat to the consulate was not linked to the al-Qaeda communications that shuttered U.S. diplomatic facilities across the Middle East and North Africa last week.  Pakistani officials, who said the intelligence did not come from them, are scheduled to meet with U.S. embassy representatives on Friday to discuss the matter further.

At least 10 people were killed and 20 others were wounded in Quetta on Friday when unidentified gunmen opened fire outside a mosque after morning prayers (AP, BBC, Dawn, VOA).  The attack occurred when Ali Madad Jatak, a former provincial minister for the Pakistan Peoples Party and the intended target, left the mosque with several supporters. Jatak escaped unharmed.  Pakistani officials arrested eight suspected militants after the attack, but no one has claimed responsibility for it (ET).  The shootings came one day after a Taliban suicide bomber attacked the funeral of a Quetta police officer, killing 30 and wounding dozens more (NYT). 

In Islamabad, a suicide bomber was gunned down inside a mosque on Friday after his explosive vest failed to detonate (ET).  Though local authorities secured the scene at the Jamia Masjid, residents gathered outside of the mosque to protest against the police force’s inability to prevent the bomber from entering the place of worship and for failing to respond to emergency calls in a timely manner. 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan discussed the security situation in Pakistan on Thursday, placing special emphasis on the terrorist attacks in Quetta that have plagued the city this week (Dawn, ET).  Sharif urged officials to present him with a final draft of a new counterterrorism strategy by Tuesday, August 13, saying, "The government cannot leave the country to be a playing-field of terrorists.  We will be handling them with an iron fist." 

In a separate meeting with senior security officials and representatives from the Foreign Office, Sharif said it was imperative for both India and Pakistan to restore the ceasefire along the Line of Control in Kashmir after a week of skirmishes killed Indian and Pakistani troops on both sides of the line (Dawn, ET).  He emphasized that both countries "have a responsibility to make sure the situation does not worsen further," and that he looks forward to meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the United Nations next month to discuss ways to build and strength trust between the nuclear-armed neighbors. 

Final chapter 

In his first visit to California’s Camp Pendleton on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama praised the "9/11 generation" for their successes and honored their sacrifices in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other trouble spots around the world (LAT, Pajhwok).  As for Afghanistan in particular, Obama remarked that "more Afghans are reclaiming their communities – their markets, their schools, their towns – and they have a chance to forge their own future" because of the efforts of U.S. and coalition troops.  While he told those present that the war in Afghanistan was entering its final chapter, he also noted that withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan would not signal the end of terrorist threats to the United States.

The New York Times featured a profile of John F. Sopko on Friday, the 61-year-old Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction who believes "embarrassing people works" (NYT).  According to the report, Sopko and his team "spend their days cataloging the waste, mismanagement and fraud that have plagued American reconstruction projects in Afghanistan," and they aggressively report their findings.  While many U.S. government officials say that his assessments are not often wrong, they feel the reviews lack depth, nuance, and solutions.  While Sopko’s bluntness has appealed to Congressmen, journalists, and the American public, the officials he needs to convince to make changes have begun tuning him out.

Syed Ikram, the secretary of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga (lower house), told Pajhwok reporters in an exclusive interview on Friday that "the country’s enemies" are spreading rumors about a possible delay or change in next year’s election schedule to mislead the population and create uncertainty in Afghanistan’s future (Pajhwok).   He confirmed that the elections will be held next year, but admitted that there may be a delay if there are technical problems.  Ikram noted that the voter registration process was progressing slowly and could be a potential cause of a delay as it is crucial for all Afghans to have a chance to vote.

Gen. Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense, released a statement Friday saying that nearly 200 insurgents and a dozen Afghan troops have been killed during an 18-day offensive in the Azra district of Logar province (Pajhwok).  The operation began when residents of Azra and the Hesarak district in Nangarhar province, which share a border, complained that all roads leading into the two towns had been closed by insurgents.  Azimi said the operation was over and that Afghan security forces are currently searching for fugitive insurgent elements.  The Afghan Taliban have not commented on the operation. 

Constraint to color

For Muslims around the world, the holy month of Ramadan is a test of will and faith; worshippers fast from dawn to dusk, and refrain from smoking, swearing, and engaging in sexual relations.  Once the month is over, the festival of Eid ul-Fitr is a celebration of color and merriment, a recognition of the blessings in one’s life.  Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper has compiled an exquisite gallery showing the Eid celebrations that mark this transition (Dawn).  Eid Mubarak!

— Bailey Cahall 

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