The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Taliban reach deal on Qatar office - spokesman

The Rack: Madiha R. Tahir, "I'll Be Your Mirror: What Pakistan Sees in Imran Khan" (Caravan).

Let's make a deal 


Talibanspokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Tuesday that the group had reached a "preliminary agreement" to set up an office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, and had asked for the return of Taliban prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay (Reuters, AP).The agreement follows a renewed push for negotiations with the group and the perceived necessity of a Taliban "address" for negotiations after nearly a year of talks between the United States and its Afghan adversary (Daily Beast, ABC, APPost, Reuters, Tolo).

AfghanPresident Hamid Karzai announced December 27 that he was no longer opposed to the establishment of the office, after the country's High Peace Council issued a set of 11 requirements for negotiations with the militant group to adhere to before talks could take place (Reuters, NYT, BBC, Tel, AP).The Post had reported the week before that talks between the United States and the Taliban over a possible transfer of the detainees to Qatar broke down due to opposition from Karzai (Post). And Al Jazeera looks at the role former Taliban figures are playing in the country's peace process (AJE).

Latelast month, Karzai pushed for NATO to disband a controversial but little-known irregular police force set up in Afghanistan's north, knownas the Critical Infrastructure Protection Program (WSJ, NYT, Reuters, AFP).The move came after Karzai issued a sharp critique of NATO night raids, which he said were obstructing negotiations for a long-term partnership between the United States and Afghanistan, a critique that may have prompted the withdrawal of American advisers from an Afghan government public relations center (Bloomberg, AFP, NYT).The Afghan government also moved to seize millions of dollars worth ofweapons and armored vehicles owned by private military contractors late last month, as Karzai appointed three new officials to Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) (Post, Reuters)

Inan interview with the Times on December 20, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, suggested that American military forces could remain in Afghanistan following a 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of international troops (NYT). The AP reports on how American forces, anticipating drawdowns, are increasing training of Afghan Special Forces units (AP).Military sources indicated last month that the United States met its self-imposed deadline to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan before the end of 2011 (AP, AFP).NATO is trying to figure out how to move nearly $30 billion worth of military equipment out of Afghanistan as troops withdraw (AP).And a forthcoming book on former Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus by Paula Broadwell reportedly writes that Petraeus was urged tostep down after President Barack Obama announced the drawdown in Afghanistan, but that Petraeus declined, saying such a decision would be a "selfish, grandstanding move with huge political ramifications" (AP).

Deadly attacks

Asuicide bomb attack on the funeral of an Afghan government official inthe northern city of Taloqan killed at least 22 people on December 25,including parliamentarian and former Northern Alliance commander Mutalib Beg (BBC, NYT, CNN, AJE, Reuters, LAT, AFP, WSJ, AP). Ten members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) were killed on December 29 by a roadside bomb in Helmand province (AP, Post, BBC, WSJ, AFP).Also on December 29, a man wearing an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed two members of the French Foreign Legion before being shot dead (NYT, LAT, AP, CNN).

A suicide bomber on a motorbike killed five people in Kandahar Tuesday, including four children (AJE, AP, AFP).A roadside bomb in the Uruzgan province city of Tarin Kot killed four civilians on December 31, while Afghan security forces shot dead a suicide bomber in the same city (AFP).And Dion Nissenbaum reports on the growing number of Afghans downloading pro-Taliban songs as cell phone ringtones in order to avoid running into trouble with militants while traveling outside of Kabul (WSJ).

Twowomen have been arrested in Afghanistan for the imprisonment and brutal torture of a 15-year-old girl, the women's daughter- and sister-in-law, who the women allegedly wanted to force into prostitution (AP).The girl, who had tried to go to Afghan authorities but was returned to her tormenters, was freed last month by Afghan police (Guardian, AP, Tel). She will be sent to India for treatment, as authorities continue to search for her husband (BBC).

Fivestories round out the Afghanistan news: The Times' Alissa J. Rubin reports on the persistence of poppy growth in southern Afghanistan (NYT).The Afghan government announced last month that it had signed a deal with the Chinese national oil company to exploit a series of oil fields in the Amu Darya river basin (Reuters, AFP). Afghanistan's electric company is threatening to shut down power to Kabul's central prison if it doesn't pay its bills (BBC). Reuters interviewed Afghan Central Bank Governor Noorullah Delawari, as police in California said that they'd found the body of the man who killed former Afghan Central Bank head Najibullah Sadat Sahou in September (Reuters, Reuters).The Times' Rod Nordland tells the story of Sayyid Abdullah Hashemi andhis difficulties as an advocate for Afghanistan's orphans (NYT). And Afghanistan's first major railroad line ran for the first time last month (AP).

Conflict in the courts

Athree-member Pakistani Supreme Court panel began its investigation intothe "Memogate" scandal on Monday, after formally deciding to open the investigation last month despite protests from Pakistan's civilian government (NYT, ET, Dawn, ET, AFP, NYT, AP, BBC, CNN, Tel, LAT, AJE, AP,). The decision to begin the investigation prompted the lawyer for embattled former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani,Asma Jehangir, to cease representing Haqqani on Sunday, saying she had "no confidence" in the proceedings after claiming the court was biased towards the Pakistani military (Dawn, AJE, DT, DT).

Thecountry's civilian government and military continued their war of wordslast month over the scandal, as Pakistan's defense ministry admitted ina filing that it had "no operational control" over the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) (ET, The News, Dawn, ET, Dawn, DT, Dawn, DT, ET, The News, Dawn, DT, ET, Dawn, ToI).Haqqani continued last month to deny allegations made by Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz that the former was behind the memo in question, as his replacement Sherry Rehman gets ready to take up her post next week (Post, WSJ, ET, Dawn, DT, Dawn).

PrimeMinister Yousaf Raza Gilani lashed out at the military December 22, warning that it was plotting against the government, a statement that forced the army to quickly deny and work to quash rumors of a coup (NYT, WSJ, CNN, BBC, WSJ, NYT, CNN, ET, Reuters, Dawn, Reuters, CSM).The jostling provoked further concern about Pakistan's stability, as the government of President Asif Ali Zardari seeks to be the first civilian government to finish its term of office in Pakistani history (NYT, McClatchy, BBC, McClatchy, The Economist, WSJ).Zardari told a crowd of approximately 70,000 that he would not resign on December 27, the fourth anniversary of the assassination of his wife,former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in Rawalpindi (Guardian, Tel, Reuters, ET, DT, ET, Dawn).And the Telegraph reports on the increasingly prominent political role played by Zardari and Bhutto's son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, despite beingtoo young, at 23, to serve in the country's parliament (Tel).

Zardari'sspeech followed a massive December 25 rally in Karachi by Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf party (PTI) in Lahore, which reportedly drew upwards of 100,000 people (BBC, LAT, Reuters, ET, CNN, Tel, Dawn, AFP).Jason Burke has a must-read profile of Khan following his rapid political surge, as the PTI continues to pick up new members, including former Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) head Javed Hashmi (Guardian, Globe and Mail, Reuters, ET, The News, ET, ET).And the Tribune looks at criticisms that the PTI is too close to Pakistan's military establishment, as PTI member and former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi left open the possibility Sunday of an alliance with former military dictator Pervez Musharraf (ET, ET).

Inother Pakistan news, a sharp increase in gas and natural gas prices hassparked major protests in Pakistan, and prompted a walkout of PML-N andMuttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) parliamentarians from Pakistan's National Assembly Monday (AP, Dawn, ET, Dawn, ET).

Unholy alliances?

Apamphlet is said to be circulating in North Waziristan announcing the creation of a "leadership council" of Pakistani and Afghan militants ledby Taliban leader Mullah Omar, after the AP and others reported on two meetings in November and December in which al-Qaeda figure Abu Yahya al-Libi purportedly urged those gathered, including insurgent leader Sirajuddin Haqqani and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) head Hakimullah Mehsud, to put aside their differences and focus on fighting U.S. troopsin Afghanistan (AP, Reuters, CNN, Tel, Dawn, The News).The pamphlet also discouraged kidnappings and suicide attacks targetingcivilians in Pakistan, though TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has vowed the group's fight against Pakistan's government would continue (The News, Bloomberg).

TheTribune, meanwhile, reports that secret talks between Pakistan's government and TTP elements have reached a "decisive phase" (ET).The Guardian's Jason Burke reported last month that al-Qaeda's leadership has been nearly eliminated in Pakistan, as he and CNN's Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank reported the possible movement of at least one key al-Qaeda figure from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to Libya (Guardian, CNN). And Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau interview a young al-Qaeda member who described the toll that drone strikes and other efforts have taken on the group (Daily Beast).

InQuetta, the Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility for a bombingDecember 30 that killed at least 16 people outside the home of former provincial minister Shafiq Mengal (CNN, Dawn, DT, NYT, AP, ET).The day before, unknown gunmen shot and killed Dr. Syed Baqir Shah, a police doctor who in May said that Pakistani security forces killed fiveunarmed foreigners outside of Quetta, in contradiction to police reports (BBC, DT, Dawn). And a dozen people were injured by a grenade attack on a shop in Quetta this weekend (ET).

Asuicide bomber killed at least six paramilitary Tochi Scouts in Bannu December 24, the day after militants attacked a Frontier Corps fort in Tank district, killing one person and kidnapping 15 others (NYT, AP, ET, AP).At least four people were killed in a bomb blast in Khyber Tuesday, while a bomb in a market in Bajaur on January 1 killed an anti-Taliban militiaman (Dawn, AFP, AP, AFP).A bomb killed two Pakistani soldiers in North Waziristan this weekend, while another explosion in Peshawar killed one person on Tuesday (AFP, ET).And a leader of the Islamist Jamiat-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) party, Azeem Khan, was killed Monday by unknown gunmen in Lakki Marwat (Dawn).Meanwhile, Shaheryar Mirza notes the rise in kidnappings in Karachi by jihadist groups, as police in that city still struggle to control so-called "targeted killings" (ET, ET).

Finally, the AP reports on a grassroots U.S. effort to counter violent extremism in Pakistan (AP). And the AFP looks at how violence is impacting Pakistan's song writers (AFP).

Mea minima culpa

TheU.S. Central Command on December 23 released its report into a friendly-fire incident in Mohmand that killed nearly 30 Pakistani soldiers in November, blaming major communications delays by American officers for the continued attacks on the Pakistani positions but still asserting that American forces were responding to Pakistani fire (NYT, NYT, AP).Pakistan's army almost immediately rejected the report's findings, asserting that their forces did not fire first and rejecting offers of compensation (CNN, LAT, AP, Dawn, ET).The strike worsened already tense U.S.-Pakistan relations, though reports indicate that Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha may have met with American officials late last month in a bid to patch up relations (NYT, AP, CNN, Bloomberg).

The CIA has reportedly put drone strikes on hold in Pakistan so as not to further aggravate tensions between the two countries; the last strike was in mid-November (CNN, LAT, AP). Greg Miller has a key piece on the construction of a global "drone apparatus" under U.S. President Barack Obama (Post).ABC News' Nick Schifrin investigates the death of Pakistani teenager Tariq Khan in a drone strike, amid a dispute over whether Khan was a militant or an innocent civilian (ABC).And the L.A. Times notes the actions of the Khorasan Mujahedin, a militant group reportedly targeting suspected informants for the strikes, but also killing innocents in Pakistan's tribal regions (LAT).

The regional equation

Pakistanand India on Saturday exchanged lists of nuclear sites in their respective countries, as part of a 1988 agreement to avoid armed conflicts (CNN, AFP, DT, Tel, McClatchy).The annual exchange comes days after India rejected a Pakistani proposal to remove heavy artillery and mortars from the Line of Control (LoC) separating the two countries' forces (ET, WSJ).And India will reportedly share its "charge sheet" against David Coleman Headley, who has confessed to helping scout and plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks, with Pakistan (ToI, The Hindu).

Andon the other side of Pakistan, Iran has shut its border with the country after an incident in which Pakistan seized and continues to holdthree Iranian border personnel who Pakistan says crossed into its territory and killed a Pakistani man this weekend (The News, AP, AFP, CNN). 

Everything but the oink

The Post's Nicholas Brulliard last month dug into Islamabad's winter menace, when wild pigs swarm the capital city (Post).He writes that authorities in the city have "all but given up trying tocontain the intruders" after efforts to stem the pig population failed.

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