Speculation continues as Karzai denies backing presidential candidates
Bonus reads: "The merits of the case," Farahnaz Ispahani (Afpak); "Conspiracy nation," Fatima Mustafa and Sairah Yusuf (AfPak). "Independent ballot" After months of speculation and recent news articles claiming Afghan President Hamid Karzai was backing former jihadi leader Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, he told a delegation of the Afghanistan Women’s Network on Wednesday that he ...
After months of speculation and recent news articles claiming Afghan President Hamid Karzai was backing former jihadi leader Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, he told a delegation of the Afghanistan Women’s Network on Wednesday that he is not backing any particular candidate in next year’s presidential election (Pajhwok). According to a statement released by the presidential palace, Karzai said: "I don’t support any particular runner. It is the right of the people to choose their next president through and independent ballot." That ballot may be a little smaller in April though, as Ahmad Zia Massoud, an Afghan politician with the National United Front, announced on Wednesday that a major coalition of political parties will be formed in a few days and will present a consensus nominee for consideration (Pajhwok). Formal nominations for next year’s election are set to begin in less than a month.
At least one person died and 15 others were wounded in Farah province on Thursday morning when a bomb targeting Gen. Abdul Samad, the provincial spy chief, exploded near the office of the National Directorate of Security [NDS] (Pajhwok). A witness said the blast occurred when an explosives-laden rickshaw was detonated as Samad’s car drove by, though an official said Samad survived the attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, disputed that statement, saying that Samad and several over NDS officials were killed in the attack.
Afghanistan’s population rose by 500,000 people over the past year, raising the national total to 27 million, according to a Central Statistics Organization (CSO) report that was released on Tuesday (Pajhwok). In its annual report, the CSO did a further demographic breakdown, showing the population split among males and females is almost equal – 13.8 million and 13.2 million, respectively. It also showed that the number of female students enrolled in school went up by 4.12 percent, increasing the total to 3.4 million.
A Japanese-funded peace park and community center for women opened in Bamyan province on Thursday, continuing efforts by local organizations to revitalize the area (Pajhwok). The project took a year to complete and was overseen by Arzo, a non-governmental organization focused education, healthcare, and creating "better livelhoods" in Bamyan. According to Marzia Arzo, the head of the organization, the 20-acre park is open to everyone and the women’s center includes a carpet-weaving hall, a kindergarten, and a bathroom, providing local women with a meeting place and facilities they do not have at home. Bonus read: "Bamyan after the Buddhas," Whitney Grespin (AfPak).
Voting in Pakistan’s by-elections began early Thursday morning with more than 500 candidates in the running for 15 National Assembly and 26 provincial seats (Dawn, ET). Given the small number of seats up for consideration, it is unlikely the results will change the make-up of Pakistan’s central government, but they could serve as a litmus test for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party and the new Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party. While the voting appears to be proceeding as planned, there have been reports that female voters in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province are being barred from polling stations, either because a ban imposed on their participation or an agreement between the political parties that they should not be allowed to vote due to existing social and cultural norms (Dawn).
Muhammad Ibrahim, the administrator of the Ganj madrassa that was economically sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday, disputed the agency’s claims that the religious school has ties to militant activities and groups like al-Qaeda (ET). Speaking to Pakistan’s Express Tribune on Wednesday, Ibrahim said that the allegations were "baseless" and that "the U.S. authorities should visit the seminary and see for themselves that it has nothing to do with militancy." He also requested that the U.S. agency share "any proof in this regard" with the madrassa and the media, "otherwise the claim will be considered fabricated and without any foundation."
Ghulam Jan, believed to be a key commander with the Pakistani Taliban, was killed in South Waziristan late Wednesday night when the vehicle he has traveling in hit a roadside bomb (Dawn, Pajhwok). According to Shahid Ali Khan, a local police officer, four of Jan’s associates, including his uncle, were also killed in the blast. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Bring in the clowns
Eleven years ago, David Mason, a Danish dance instructor, founded Afghanistan’s Mobile Mini Circus for Children to teach "cooperation and creativity to children scarred by years of war" (Reuters). Today, it is so popular that it is one of the few programs expanding in a country where international aid is dropping as coalition forces prepare to withdraw at the end of next year. The circus runs training centers in seven different Afghan provinces, has about 300 regular students, and manages an operating budget of nearly $500,000. The circus has toured in 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, reaching nearly 3 million people. According to Murtaza Nowrozi, an 18-year-old juggler, the circus provides a good alternative to a life on the streets.
— Bailey Cahall
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