The South Asia Channel

Bombings and rebuke mar Hagel's Afghanistan visit

Event Notice: "Talking to Terrorists," TUESDAY, March 12, 2013; 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).

Dismal visit

In Kabul on Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated his vest outside the Afghan Ministry of Defense just hours after U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in the country, killing at least 10 people (NYT, NYT, AP, AJE). Shortly after that attack, another suicide bomber detonated his vest just before he reached a joint Afghan-American checkpoint in the eastern province of Khost, killing eight children and one policeman. Both attacks appeared to have been timed to coincide with Hagel's visit, his first as Secretary of Defense.

Further darkening Hagel's visit to Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai asserted during an early-morning news conference that the United States is effectively colluding with the Taliban in order to perpetuate the conflict and justify the continued presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan (NYT, WSJ, BBC, Post, Guardian, Reuters, AP, VOA). Karzai also accused the United States of sending mixed messages by calling the Taliban the enemy, while at the same time holding negotiations with the insurgent group "every day." And he called dismal predictions about the country's future "negative propaganda" created by and dispersed through Western media outlets.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, responded forcefully: "We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the last 12 years, to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage." Secretary Hagel, on the other hand, met Karzai for dinner on Sunday night, and attempted to reassure the Afghan president that the United States is not secretly conducting unilateral talks with the Taliban (CNN).

A 29-year-old Afghan engineering student says he was abducted from outside his classroom in Kandahar on Saturday morning by a CIA-backed militia, who then took him to a secret location where they beat him and demanded information about Taliban commanders (NYT). President Karzai mentioned the incident in his Sunday morning rebuke of the United States, and Afghan officials have confirmed many of the details, though U.S. officials have yet to respond.

On Friday, three men dressed in Afghan National Army uniforms stormed the gate of Forward Operating Base Tagab in the northern province of Kapisa, killing an American civilian contractor and wounding four coalition troops, in what appeared to be an insider attack (NYT). And on Monday, an Afghan police officer opened fire inside a police station in Wardak Province while U.S. forces were visiting, killing two American troops and three of his fellow Afghan policemen (AP, BBC).

Lastly, Gen. Dunford called off a ceremony to transfer Bagram Prison to Afghan control at the last minute late on Friday night, after President Hamid Karzai rejected several key provisions of the transition agreement earlier that day (NYT). American and Afghan officials have disagreed repeatedly about U.S. demands for veto power over the release of certain prisoners deemed to be "Enduring Security Threats," even if those individuals cannot be tried for a specific offense. The United States also wants continued access to prison cells at Bagram, to ensure that detainees are not being abused.

Pakistan's minorities suffer again

Several thousand Pakistani Muslims attacked a Christian neighborhood in Lahore on Saturday, setting fire to over 150 houses and two churches, a day after police arrested a Christian sanitation worker accused of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad (NYT, AFP, ET, Dawn). Some members of the mob were armed with sticks and guns, and several policemen were injured when they tried to intervene. Police in Lahore on Sunday arrested some 150 suspected participants in the attack, while protesters of the violence blocked a main highway and were dispersed with tear gas (AP, Dawn, AJE, VOA, BBC). An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) sent 21 of the suspects to jail on Monday, as Christians across the nation closed schools in protest of the rampage (ET, ET).

Two suspected militants were killed Sunday morning in a CIA drone strike in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani officials and Taliban leaders (NYT, VOA, ET, The News). It could be the first drone strike in Pakistan in two months, though Pakistani and American officials disagree over whether two reported strikes in early February were the work of U.S. drones. On Saturday, a bomb inside a Sunni mosque in Peshawar killed at least four people and wounded almost 30 others, including the mosque's chief imam (AP, AJE).

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was in India on Saturday visiting the shrine of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, in the first visit to India by a senior Pakistani official since recent cross-border skirmishes on the Line of Control that divides the disputed region of Kashmir (AP, WSJ). Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid hosted Ashraf for lunch, and later told officials that no substantial discussions took place at the meeting. Finally, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was in the Iranian border city of Chah Bahar on Monday for a ceremony celebrating the breaking of ground on the Pakistan portion of the long-delayed Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline (Dawn, BBC).

-- Jennifer Rowland

Jason Reed-Pool/Getty Images

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