The South Asia Channel

Afghan Taliban willing to meet U.N. officials to discuss civilian casualties

Positive steps?

Jan Kubis, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, told a press conference on Tuesday that the Taliban had given a "signal of willingness" to meet to discuss civilian casualties and how to reduce them (NYT). Kubis noted that according to U.N. data, Afghanistan saw a 24 percent increase in civilian casualties during the first half of this year, three-fourths of which were caused by anti-government forces. Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai met with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar to discuss the Taliban reconciliation process (Pajhwok). Al Thani promised to help pave the way for talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, despite the Taliban's refusal to negotiate with the Karzai administration.

Following a day of multiple attacks on government facilities across Afghanistan, several coalition and Afghan military officials say they expect the surge in attacks to continue as the country prepares for next April's presidential election as well as the withdrawal of foreign troops over the next two and a half years (Post). While it is difficult to know the exact number of Taliban and other militant fighters operating in the country, many observers believe the group lacks the manpower or capability to be a strategic threat. Instead, according to several Afghan officials who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, the weakness and corruption of the central Afghan government is the biggest security threat to the country's future. 

Two young boys, aged 10 and 16, were found beheaded by the Afghan Taliban in Kandahar on Monday, according to government officials (BBCPajhwok).  The boys had last been seen on Sunday scavenging for food near the local police headquarters.  While the Taliban is known to target those it suspects of working with the police, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, the group's spokesman, denied their involvement and denounced the incident.  

A Kyrgyz citizen captured in central Logar province with nine other foreigners about two months ago was released on Tuesday in a gesture of goodwill by the Taliban (Pajhwok).  The men, including several Turkish engineers who have already been freed, were kidnapped in April when their helicopter made an emergency landing.  Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, announced the release but made no mention of the Afghan and Russian citizens who were also taken hostage at the time. 

Airspace violation

Two high-speed Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistani airspace Tuesday morning but the reason for the incursion is unknown (DawnET).  The planes were reportedly five to seven miles inside Pakistan and stayed there for about two minutes, according to the Pakistan Air Force.  A Pakistani air traffic controller contacted the planes as soon as the planes crossed the border but the Indian jets did not respond.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party seem poised for their first parliamentary clash after the PTI submitted a resolution calling upon the government to use military force to halt U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal region (Dawn). Minister of State Khurram Dastagir Khan called the PTI's move "premature." While he did not discount the use of military force, he said it was an option that should be used "only after exhausting all diplomatic means."

A Shia Muslim doctor was seriously injured in Peshawar when terrorists in police uniforms tried to kidnap him late Tuesday night (Dawn).  His brother, another doctor, was also injured and one of his bodyguards was shot and killed.

In response to a statement by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, the Afghan Taliban denied allegations that it was involved in preparations for an assault on TTP bases in Pakistan's tribal regions on Monday (ET).  Ehsan claimed that hundreds of heavily armed militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Ansarul Islam, and Al-badr Mujahideen were using the name "Afghan Taliban" while planning attacks against the TTP.  Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denounced the claims as false, saying the group is involved in major operations in Afghanistan and does not allow its fighters to interfere beyond the country's border. Abdullah Ghaznavi, a LeT spokesman, joined in the war of words to note that LeT was focused on Indian-controlled Kashmir, not the tribal regions.

No electricity, no vaccines 

Tired of a lack of government services, elders in Pakistan's tribal regions have said that government polio eradication teams will not be able to vaccinate the area's children until they have electricity, mosquito nets, bug spray, and an ambulance (RFEFL). One elder was even quoted saying, "Our children die of scorching heat and mosquito bites; what difference does it make if they die of polio?" 

-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall  

STR/AFP/Getty Images