Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's special advisor for national security and foreign affairs, traveled to Afghanistan on Sunday in a one-day visit aimed at mending relations between the two countries (AP, ET, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Aziz, who said the main purpose of his visit was to extend a formal invitation to visit Pakistan from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also announced Pakistan's support for the long-stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Specifically, he pledged to support the reconciliation efforts by using "some influence and contacts" it has with the Taliban (NYT, Reuters, VOA). The visit was the first high-level contact between the two countries since Pakistan's parliamentary elections in May.
Karzai responded to Aziz's visit on Monday, saying that the invitation to visit Pakistan had been accepted "in principle," but that a high-ranking delegation could only visit once a "serious and effective struggle against terrorism and the peace process are on the top of the agenda" (Dawn).
Two days after signing a law governing Afghanistan's election commissions, President Karzai signed a second law outlining how next year's presidential vote will be held on Saturday (NYT). Following the announcement, Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, said on Sunday that up to 120,000 Afghans, including 30,000 women, have been issued voter registration cards (Pajhwok). Noor added that militants could be getting voting cards as, "We are not against anyone. We issue cards regardless of [the] holder's ethnicity, political affiliations, caste, and belief." Should the election proceed as planned and a new president replace Karzai, it would be the first peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan.
Challenges to that peaceful transfer were evident this weekend when unidentified gunmen shot and killed six people in Khost on Sunday morning, including the brother of the district's chief (Pajhwok). An Afghan official said Khalil Azim and his five bodyguards were attacked as they walked through a garden next to his house. And on Saturday, six policemen and two insurgents were killed during clashes in Paktika province (Pajhwok). Two civilians were also killed when the police called in NATO air support.
At least 15 militants and four soldiers were killed in Pakistan's tribal regions over the weekend as government forces moved to clear the militants from their hideouts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (AFP). It is unclear how the fighting began on Friday but Pakistani troops have been targeting members of the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Islam militia in Khyber. Elsewhere in Karachi, at least two people were killed and six others were injured when a bomb exploded outside of the Awami National Party's (ANP's) office on Saturday (ET). An ANP spokesman claimed members of the Pakistani Taliban were behind the attack but so far, no one has claimed responsibility for the incident.
In an interview with Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, Masood Khan, the Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations, said the country needs to convince the United States to cease armed drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal regions and revisit its military doctrine justifying their use (Dawn). Khan stated that Pakistan's legal arguments against the strikes are sound, and that "more intense, results-based engagement" is what is needed between the two countries. Khan's statements coincided with reports that the foreign ministry has asked Prime Minister Sharif to drop plans to request drone technology from Washington, and followed a new survey that shows overwhelming global opposition to the weapons platform (ET).
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Islamic clerics and tribal elders issued a ban on Saturday barring women from shopping without a male relative (BBC). The announcement was made over a loudspeaker at a local mosque and is designed to keep men from being distracted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. According to Maulana Mirzaqeem, one of the clerics involved, women "who will visit markets without male relatives will be handed over to police. They spread vulgarity and spoil's men's fasting."
A New York Times report on Sunday highlighted the continued impact the CIA's fake vaccination campaign (used during its hunt to find Osama bin Laden) is having on Pakistan's war against polio (NYT). Pakistan is one of three countries in the world that has never been able to halt the spread of the disease and vaccination workers are facing increased attacks from militants, and a skeptical public that believes the longest, most expensive disease eradication effort in history is merely a Western plot. One man, who suffers from polio himself and saw his youngest son diagnosed with the disease earlier this year, told the Times: "Americans pay for the polio campaign, and that's good. But you abused a humanitarian mission for a military purpose." Bonus read: "Pakistan's health workers under attack," David Sterman (AfPak).
Members of Afghanistan's National Army are using religious arguments to counter the claims from some religious elders that it is an Afghan's duty to attack soldiers and police officers as infidels (NYT). Col. Hayatullah Aqtash, an army officer in Kunar province, is trying to combat the belief that the army is a secular, corrupt Western puppet by emphasizing his soldiers' faith in Islam and pointing out the absence of American troops on the battlefield. While it is unclear how successful this counter-messaging will be, the soldiers are trying to emphasize the fact that their share a language, culture, custom, and religion with the villagers they are trying to protect.
In Pakistan, the Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO) is appealing to its customers' religious consciences, especially during Ramadan, in a bid to get them to stop stealing electricity (AFP). PESCO has placed front page advertisements in three major newspapers reminding readers to "do your fasting, pay zakat (charitable donations) and serve your parents, but do these things by the light of legal electricity." Stealing electricity is commonplace in Pakistan, where irregular service can leave people across the country without power for up to 20 hours.
-- Bailey Cahall
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images