The South Asia Channel

Panetta arrives in tense Afghanistan for visit

Event notice: Please join the New America Foundation's National Security Studies program TODAY at 12:15 PM for a discussion on the relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran (NAF).

Tense visit: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan Wednesday for a long-scheduled, two-day visit to U.S. troops and Afghan officials (CNNNYTAFPAP, ReutersPostLATAJE). Panetta pledged that Sunday's "deeply troubling" massacre of 16 Afghan civilians would not alter the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, and were not representative of the relationship between U.S. troops and the Afghan people. However, a Pentagon official confirmed that Marines were requested to leave their weapons outside of a tent in which Panetta gave a speech because officials wanted Afghan soldiers to be unarmed, and wanted U.S. troops "to look just like our Afghan partners" (LAT). During Panetta's visit, a motorcycle bomb was detonated in Kandahar City, killing one Afghan intelligence officer, while a roadside bomb in neighboring Helmand Province killed eight civilians (ReutersAPNYT).

President Barack Obama promised on Tuesday a full investigation into the murders, "as if this was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered," in his first public remarks on the incident (NYT). The Associated Press takes a look at the military justice system process through which the sergeant accused of murdering the civilians will go, though the U.S. military has not yet decided whether to hold the trial in Afghanistan or move it back to the United States (APAP). And an Afghan official has said he saw footage of the soldier surrendering upon his return to his base, in which he approaches the gates, removes a traditional Afghan scarf covering a weapon, and lays the gun on the ground before finally raising his hands in the air (AP). The AP's Deb Reichmann has another description of the massacre from witnesses (AP).

In another potential blow to the U.S. withdrawal strategy in Afghanistan, a Kyrgyz defense official told Secretary Panetta on Tuesday that Kyrgyzstan wants the United States to use its military base there for purely civilian commercial purposes after its lease runs out just over two years from now (NYT).

Money woes

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has reportedly backed out of a deal to finance a portion of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline for unknown reasons, though a Pakistani Finance Ministry spokesman said "the geopolitical situation" was the reason previously given by the country's petroleum ministry (APReutersDawnET). Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar insisted Wednesday that the project will still move ahead as there are "a multiplicity of funding sources" available (ETDawn).

Two U.S. drone strikes in North and South Waziristan killed at least 15 suspected militants on Tuesday, including two of Taliban leader Maulvi Nazir's top commanders (APDawnReutersBBCET). And Pakistani officials said Wednesday that a remote-controlled bomb had killed six members of an anti-Taliban militia travelling in Bajaur (APAFP/ET).

A United Nations spokeswoman said Tuesday that two Pakistani peacekeepers for the U.N. were sentenced in Haiti to one year in prison with hard labor after they were found guilty of sexual abuse and exploitation (AP). Meanwhile, activists submitted a petition on Tuesday to the United Nations Human Rights Council requesting that Pakistan pardon Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, who was found guilty in November 2010 of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad, and sentenced to death (CNN).

Party on

The number of political parties in Pakistan rose to 182 on Tuesday, meaning the country now has one party for every one million citizens (ET). With so many groups competing for the best party symbols, some of them are forced to get creative; new symbols adopted by various parties include a television, a flower pot, and a bull cart.

 

-- Jennifer Rowland

SCOTT OLSON/AFP/Getty Images

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