The South Asia Channel

Taliban talks show signs of life but remain uncertain

Fits and starts

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Taliban during a stop in Qatar on Saturday that they must negotiate in good faith if they want peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments to proceed; likely a reference to the spat over the official Taliban flag and "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" plaque posted outside their new office in Qatar last week (AP). On Friday, Taliban envoys were reportedly considering calling off the talks because of the angry U.S. and Afghan reactions to the flag and signage, which the Taliban removed from sight on Thursday under pressure from the Qatari government (NYT). On Saturday, the United States reportedly offered to resume the negotiations, but Taliban representatives in Qatar said they were still waiting for senior leaders based in Quetta, Pakistan to decide whether or not to move forward (Post).

The Afghan government appeared to have been somewhat appeased by the Taliban's capitulations; the Afghan Foreign Ministry released a statement on Saturday urging Pakistan to show that it is serious about supporting the peace talks by releasing dozens of senior Taliban militants being held in that country (Reuters). Pakistan had no formal response to the Afghan request, but some Pakistani officials were reported to have said that former Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar played a key role in jump-starting the negotiations from behind bars in Pakistan (ET).

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai reaffirmed Afghanistan's support for the precarious talks on Sunday, but again demanded an explanation as to how the Taliban leaders were allowed to raise their flag and post a sign that had not been approved (AP, Pajhwok). U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins is expected to travel to Kabul on Monday to attempt to smooth things over with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and reassure him that the United States did not know the Taliban would make such a bold move during the opening of their office (WSJ, Pajhwok). Taliban officials have said that the parties had an agreement on the raising of the flag and sign, while U.S. and Qatari officials say the agreed upon office title was "the political bureau of the Afghan Taliban in Doha."

Meanwhile, insurgent attacks continue in Afghanistan. Around noon on Friday, Taliban fighters attacked multiple checkpoints in the northern province of Kunduz, sparking a firefight that left two policemen and at least 18 militants dead (AP, RFERL, Pajhwok). An Australian special forces soldier was killed while two of his comrades were wounded in a gun battle with insurgents in the southern province of Uruzgan on Saturday (AP). And a roadside bomb killed seven policemen in Uruzgan on Sunday (Pajhwok). 

Targeted attack

Militants disguised as paramilitary police shot and killed 10 tourists and their Pakistani guide at around 1AM on Sunday morning, before they began a mountain-climbing expedition on Pakistan's second-highest peak, Nanga Parbat, in the remote province of Gilgit-Baltistan (NYT, Guardian, AP, LAT, Dawn, The News, Tel). Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of a Taliban affiliate group called Jundul Hafsa, and said it was a response to the U.S. drone strike that killed the Taliban's deputy leader Waliur Rehman on May 29. The ten foreigners were identified as three Ukrainians, two Slovakians, two Chinese, one Lithuanian, one Nepalese, and one dual American-Chinese citizen (AFP).

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Monday that he thinks former military ruler Pervez Musharraf should be tried for treason for "twice" violating the constitution: once in 1999 when he overthrew Sharif's elected government, and again in 2007 when he suspended the constitution and fired the country's top judges (BBC, CNN, Dawn, Reuters, AP, ET). Pakistan's Attorney General Munir A. Malik echoed Sharif's sentiments about possible treason charges in a statement on Monday before the Supreme Court, which gave the government three days to officially initiate legal proceedings against Musharraf (The News).

The chief of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, said Sunday that Pakistan is facing a food "emergency" due to years of conflict and natural disasters, but is receiving little aid as donors focus on emerging and ongoing conflicts in other parts of the world (Reuters). About half of Pakistan's population still does not have secure access to food, and fifteen percent of Pakistani children are malnourished, according to the U.N. WFP.

A most important job

He's a prominent journalist and media personality, and recently served as the caretaker chief minister of Pakistan's largest province, but Najam Sethi probably never guessed he would be named the interim chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (ET/AFP). Sethi admits that he hasn't played cricket since he was schoolboy, but he is determined to serve in this position as seriously as his others, telling members of the press on Sunday, "Cricket is a very dear sport to Pakistanis and it is my passion. We won't fail our people."

-- Jennifer Rowland

JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images

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