The South Asia Channel

U.S. still committed to Taliban peace talks - Clinton

Pursuing peace: Following a meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the United States' commitment to peace talks with the Taliban, despite the latter's withdrawal from negotiations last week (APCNNAFP). Sec. Clinton also cited "good progress" on the strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan that has been hamstrung by disagreements over prison transfers and night raids carried out by U.S. forces (Reuters). On Thursday, President Karzai told a graduating class of Afghanistan's military academy that his government is "taking a magnifying glass" to the potential strategic partnership agreement with the United States (AP).

Al-Jazeera's Qais Azimy and Mujib Mashal had a must-read on Wednesday revealing the tension between an increasingly conservative group of advisors to President Hamid Karzai, and his diplomats charged with negotiating a long-term military agreement with the United States (AJE). At a recent meeting with Western officials, Karzai's chief of staff Karim Khurram and deputy foreign minister Jawid Ludin, almost came to blows over accusations that the other is undermining the peace process in Afghanistan on behalf of foreign powers. The Associated Press reports on the "Hollywood-like" mock-ups of dangerous or culturally sensitive situations designed to prepare the military advising teams on whom the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan depends (AP).

Meanwhile, women members of Afghanistan's government-appointed High Peace Council tasked with working toward reconciliation with the Taliban say they are "not included in major discussions," and have set up a committee within the HPC to ensure that their voices are heard (Reuters). Sec. Clinton said Wednesday that "the United States cannot and will not" let a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan compromise gains made on women's rights, though critics worry that a peace deal with the Taliban would do just that (BloombergAFP). Bonus read: Rachel Reid, "President Karzai and the 'secondary' sex" (FP).  

Afghan officials denied Wednesday that Mohammed Merah, the French citizen suspected of killing seven people in France over the past week was one of about 350 prisoners who escaped from an Afghan jail in 2008, but confirmed that one of the escapees was an Afghan citizen by the same name (NYT). Merah told French police who surrounded his apartment on Wednesday that he had trained with al-Qaeda in Pakistan's North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan (CNN). And al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri pointed to the video of U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses as proof of America's "godless civilization," which Afghans must fight to expel from their country (Reuters).

Threat assessment

Pakistan is one of 12 countries that purchase oil from Iran and could face U.S. sanctions because of it, a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday (Reuters). The Pakistani government has reportedly decided to hire legal experts to assess the impact of U.S. sanctions that could be implemented if Pakistan moves ahead with a gas pipeline deal with Iran (ET). Meanwhile, a state-owned Indian energy company has reportedly offered to export natural gas to Pakistan, though the deal must first be approved by India's Ministry of External Affairs (Dawn). India will also seek to transport iron ore from Afghanistan through neighboring Pakistan, in the hopes that the economic benefit of the deal will outweigh the two countries' political conflicts (Reuters). India is expected to sign an $11 billion deal with Afghanistan to develop the Hajigak mines in the mountainous central Afghan province of Bamiyan, and build a massive steel plant within the next two months, in the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan's raw material sector yet.

A bomb exploded in a vehicle in Bijbehara, a city about 30 miles south of the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, killing the driver and wounding at least 20 others (AP). Police said it was likely the bomb was being transported by militants and was detonated accidentally. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in its annual report released Thursday that almost 1,000 women were murdered in Pakistan last year in the name of their families' "honor" (AFP).

Details of a purported interview with former Pakistani spy chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha written by the private intelligence company Stratfor and published by WikiLeaks claim that Pasha was worried about a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, contrary to the beliefs of many skeptics who think Pakistani interests include a Taliban-controlled government in neighboring Afghanistan (TelET). ?The contempt of court case against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was adjourned Thursday until March 26, after another curious twist in which Gilani's lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan accused the Supreme Court bench of being unfit to hear the case because the "harsh language" it used in a January 10 order to the prime minister revealed the justices had already decided to punish him (DawnDTET).?

Finally, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Pakistan's parliamentary review of bilateral ties with the United States is "quite significant," and that the U.S. is committed to a "constructive and mutually beneficial relationship" with Pakistan (ETDTDawnAFP).

Girl scouts beyond cookies

Young women in Kabul help run a restaurant that caters to the country's expatriate population, serving up fare that usually cannot be found in Afghanistan (Reuters). What really makes this place unique, though, is that these young women are teenaged Afghan Girl Scouts who come from homes broken by death or drug abuse to be trained as professional chefs by the volunteers who resurrected the Girl Scout program in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban.

-- Jennifer Rowland

Mark Wilson/Getty Images