The South Asia Channel

Afghanistan pushes Pakistan for more Taliban releases

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Pretty please

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool traveled to Pakistan on Friday for a one-day visit during which he pressured Pakistan to release more Taliban detainees in an effort to encourage the group to enter peace negotiations with the government in Kabul (AP, The News, DT). The Afghan government has said repeatedly that it sees Pakistan's cooperation as the key to finding a political solution to the conflict with the Taliban, whose leadership is largely based in Pakistan or in the custody of Pakistani authorities.

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday 62-33 in favor of a quicker withdrawal from Afghanistan than the Obama administration currently plans to carry out, channeling the sentiments of a war-weary public (AP). Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated in a press briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday that the United States would continue to launch counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014 (AP). Panetta also told the press that al-Qaeda is estimated to have just 100 fighters in Afghanistan, but it still poses a challenge to establishing security there.

An official with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) told reporters on Friday that that coalition and Afghan soldiers in Kandahar had arrested Haji Mohammed Qasim, who is accused by the United Nations and the U.S. Treasury Department of funneling money to the Taliban through his money exchange businesses (Tel). The UN and Treasury both added Qasim to their lists of sanctioned individuals last week.

Tough changes

The International Monetary Fund's Board said on Thursday that Pakistan must eliminate some subsidies and broaden the tax base in order to address its massive budget deficit (Reuters). Longer-term efforts to reform tax policy and increase compliance with tax laws will also be needed to address the growing fiscal deficit, which is expected to reach 6.5% of the country's GDP by June 2013, according to the IMF board.

According to independent researchers in Pakistan, more Shi'a Muslims have been killed in sectarian attacks in Pakistan this year than in any other year, with an estimated 456 deaths across the country (McClatchy). Many analysts attribute the rise to the unchecked terrorism of the Taliban, and their coordination with other militant groups in Pakistan such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Unlikely ally

Karachi-based imam Abdul Khaliq Faridi is one of 2,500 religious figures who have been recruited by Pakistani authorities to spread awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, which afflicts some 100,000 people in Pakistan (AFP). Like most clerics in Pakistan, Faridi used to think contracting AIDS was a mortal sin, but he has since changed his mind to support the effort to stop the spread of the disease.

 

-- Jennifer Rowland

AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

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