The South Asia Channel

Sectarian violence in Parachinar leaves at least 57 dead, more than 150 wounded

Bonus read: "An Afghan Media Mogul, Pushing Boundaries," Graham Bowley (NYT).

Ramadan violence

At least 57 people were killed and more than 150 were injured on Friday night when a pair of bombs tore through a crowded bazaar in the town of Parachinar in the Kurram tribal area (AP, BBC, Dawn, NYT).  According to Riaz Mehsud and Fazal Naeem Khan, a local government official and police spokesman, respectively, one explosion was caused by a suicide bomber, while the other came from a bomb that had been planted on a motorcycle.  Parachinar is home to a large number of Shiite Muslims, a minority sect in Pakistan, and the explosions came as people were shopping for the iftar meal to break their fast.  A militant group associated with the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a statement released on Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai denounced the deadly assault that targeted fasting Muslims as "an anti-Islam act that could not be justified in any way" (Pajhwok).  Meanwhile, in Parachinar on Sunday, residents held a demonstration protesting the Friday attacks but another person was killed and two were injured in Parachinar when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb (Dawn). An article in the New York Times suggests this violence is caused, in part, by militants moving from the tribal belt to Pakistan's larger cities, particularly Peshawar, where they have increased sectarian attacks, attacks on police, extortion demands, and kidnappings (NYT). 

At least six militants were killed and four were wounded on Sunday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in the Shawal area of North Waziristan (ET, Guardian, Post).  According to multiple reports, the men were killed as they crossed over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on foot, though others suggested a compound in the area had been the target (Dawn, Pajhwok).  An unidentified militant commander told the New York Times that the group had been returning to Pakistan after a week of fighting against coalition forces in Afghanistan's Paktika province (NYT).  Intelligence officials suggested that a senior commander in Gul Bahadur's faction of the Pakistani Taliban had been killed, but no name was released.  Pakistan's Foreign Ministry quickly condemned the strike and reiterated its stance that the CIA drone program has "a negative impact on the mutual desire of both countries to forge a cordial and cooperative relationship and to ensure peace and stability in the region" (Dawn, MoFA). 

Muhammad Hashim, an Afghan official working in the passport section of the Afghan Consulate in Quetta, was reported missing on Saturday (Dawn).  Hashim's son, Siddiqullah, told police he had lost contact with his father on July 25, while Ghullam Muhammad Bahadur, the Afghan Consul General, said the consulate had not spoken to Hashim since July 23.  While it is unclear what has happened to Hashim, kidnappings for ransom have increased in Quetta with around 78 local gangs involved in the practice.

Hints of progress

Janan Mosazai, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry, told reporters on Sunday that President Hamid Karzai had accepted the invitation to visit Pakistan and would soon make his first trip to the country in more than a year (AP, Pajhwok).  While Mosazai said the agenda for the trip is still being worked out, the focus will likely be on mending relations between the two neighbors and soliciting Pakistan's help in ending the Afghan war, particularly in encouraging the Afghan Taliban to participate in peace talks.  He also told reporters that Karzai had met with the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, on Saturday to discuss the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) but further details were not given.  Though Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he'd like to see the BSA signed by October, Mosazai said "a timeframe for signing the pact is not imperative.  The deal's contents, quality and guarantees are important for us."

Mosazai's statements came as a new Washington Post/ABC poll showed that the Afghan war is now more unpopular with Americans than the Iraq war ever was (Post).  According to the poll, released on Saturday, the number of Americans who say the war has been worth fighting has dropped to 28 percent, while 67 percent say it has not been worth it.  The drop crosses all political lines, though it is more pronounced among Republicans who just three years ago supported the war by 69 percent.  Now 51 percent say they oppose the war.

Col. Hikmat Shahi, chief of the Afghan Interior Ministry's gender department, told reporters on Sunday that the number of women in the Afghan National Police (ANP) had reached 2,000 (Pajhwok).  Shahi said the ministry wanted that number to reach 5,000 by the end of 2014, and that women who are at least 18 years old, have at least nine years of education, are in good shape, and lack a criminal record are eligible to join.  Most of the 2,000 women are serving in Kabul, though there are also female ANP officers in Afghanistan's 33 provinces.  According to Shahi, these women play a positive role in their respective communities because "Islam allows them to serve other females."

World Hepatitis Day

Over 200 men, women, and children in Pakistan's Sindh province attempted to set a Guinness World Record on Sunday for having the most people perform the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" action in 24 hours (ET).  The attempt, which was in celebration of World Hepatitis Day 2013, was a response to the World Hepatitis Alliance's message that turning a blind eye to a problem like hepatitis does not mean it will simply go away.  The group gathered on the roof of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation for their attempt, but there has been no word from Guinness about its success.

-- Bailey Cahall 

STR/AFP/Getty Images

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