Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
The Afghan government has banned news media organizations from publishing or reporting on suicide bombings and other violence all day tomorrow during the presidential election (New York Times). It is unclear how the government intends to enforce this ban, which was called a "request" in English and "strictly forbidden" in Dari (The Guardian).
Potential Taliban shows of force and low voter turnout, especially in largely Pashtun areas where incumbent president Hamid Karzai is popular, are cause for concern about the legitimacy of the election results. NATO is predicting a high turnout among Afghanistan's some 17 million registered voters, and has about 300,000 soldiers on guard to help secure the election (CNN).
Cops and militants, not robbers
In the third major attack in five days on the heavily fortified capital of Kabul, Taliban militants stormed a bank in Kabul this morning, Afghanistan's independence day, resisting for several hours before they were killed by Afghan police (Pajhwok and Wall Street Journal). The insurgents claimed they sent twenty suicide bombers into Kabul looking for targets, and several election workers have been killed in the last day as part of the Taliban's stated campaign to disrupt voting tomorrow (New York Times and VOA).
In spite of militant attacks, all of the nearly three thousand polling centers in Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman and Nuristan are set to open tomorrow (Pajhwok). There are separate polling centers for men and women, but there may be a shortage of female election workers in some areas (Financial Times). The polls open at 7AM local time tomorrow (AP).
Karzai is currently favored lead to contest for Afghanistan's votes on Thursday, but many Afghans are critical of his poor record on security and the economy (Washington Post). There are only four main candidates in the race, although over forty are running. An economist at Kabul University divided the presidential hopefuls into three categories: "the top 10 who are making a real bid for power; an additional 15 who are angling for a post or a payoff, and the remaining 16 who just want to be someone" (New York Times).
The weather and the wars
Obama administration officials are putting the heat on Pakistan to go after the Taliban aggressively and take advantage of "recent and rare" military successes, including the apparent death of TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud (New York Times). Special envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke is currently in Pakistan, but was not allowed to visit the Swat Valley, site of this spring's battles between the Pakistani military and the Taliban, to assess the gains independently. The army told Holbrooke that "adverse weather" forced them to cancel the trips.
The Taliban spokesman who was captured yesterday in the tribal agency Mohmand, Maulvi Omar, said to his captors that Baitullah Mehsud is in fact dead (Bloomberg). Taliban commander Maulvi Faqeer Mohammed from Bajaur told reporters that he is the acting chief of the TTP, but denied Mehsud has been killed, while offering no explanation for Mehsud's current incapacitation (Dawn).
Another Taliban commander, Qari Saifullah, was arrested Monday after reportedly going to a hospital to be treated for injuries he sustained from a drone strike (BBC and Daily Times). Both are being questioned about their roles in terrorist attacks.
In eunuch news
Pakistan's Supreme Court this week directed the government to make it easier and safer for transvestites to live in Pakistan by providing free health facilities to them and coordinating representatives for the 'eunuchs,' who are often reduced to begging and dancing for a living (Dawn).
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