Editor's note: The New America Foundation is pleased to announce the participants in the South Asia 2020 Conference, to be held in Dubai from January 18-20, 2013 (NAF).
Let's talk it out
Afghan officials are meeting on Thursday and Friday with Taliban leaders and representatives of the militant Hezb-e-Islami group in a secretive meeting on the outskirts of Paris to discuss Afghanistan's future (AP). French officials familiar with the meeting says it's aim is to foster a discussion, and it is not expected to result in a possible peace or reconciliation agreement.
British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed Wednesday that the United Kingdom would bring 3,800 troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, and said senior British officers on the ground believe Afghan forces will be able to hold Helmand, where most British troops are concentrated (Guardian, BBC, AP, Tel, Reuters). After Cameron's announcement, though, Defense Minister Philip Hammond conceded that NATO's withdrawal will have "messy compromises" and that "some parts of Afghanistan will not be under central government control."
The U.S. Army said Wednesday that it will seek the death penalty in the court martial of Sgt. Robert Bales, who is accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime rampage in March (AP, NYT, LAT, WSJ, Reuters). Bales' lawyer has condemned the decision, saying "The Army is not taking responsibility for Sgt. Bales and other soldiers that the Army knowingly sends into combat situations with diagnosed PTSD, concussive head injuries and other injuries."
Pakistani officials reported the ninth death in four days after a string of militant attacks on health workers targeted polio vaccinators during an anti-polio drive (AP). Officials said 20-year-old HIlal Khan died Thursday from a gunshot wound to the head sustained on Wednesday in the northwestern city of Peshawar. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called the killing of polio workers "cruel, senseless, and inexcusable" (AP). The UN vaccination drive remains suspended in two of Pakistan's four provinces.
Senior senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Carl Levin (D-MI), and John McCain (R-AZ) wrote a harsh letter to the CEO of Sony Picture Michael Lynton on Wednesday decrying the portrayal of torture in the newly released movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty (Post). The senators wrote, "The movie clearly implies that the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama Bin Laden...this is incorrect."
Under the radar
Ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali does not travel with an entourage, even though he has the right to request upon arrival in a different city the ‘VIP protocol,' which includes "four police vans, an ambulance, a pilot, and a squad jeep" (ET). But Jamali says, "I prefer travelling alone without disrupting peace of the city," and he is dismayed by the closing of roads and displays of pomp that accompany every Pakistani high official's visit to a different city.
-- Jennifer Rowland