The South Asia Channel

Afghan political parties form single alliance to contest 2014 elections

Editor's note: The AfPak Channel will be celebrating Labor Day on Monday and will resume its regular briefs on Tuesday, September 3rd.  In the meantime, you can check out our updated "Ultimate AfPak Reading List" here

"Grand coalition"

A dozen of Afghanistan's most powerful men gathered with 2,000 supporters on Thursday to announce that they had formed a "grand coalition" to contest the country's 2014 presidential election with a to-be-announced single candidate (Pajhwok, Post).  Several prominent Afghan leaders, including current President Hamid Karzai's brother, were missing from the stage however, and according to Pam Constable with the Washington Post, "The applause was tepid, and the rush to lunch was swift."  The reaction to the announcement, which took weeks of private negotiations among Afghanistan's many political players, shows that the race for next April's elections remains wide-open.  The deadline for declaring candidates in October 6, and campaigning will formally begin in December.

At least 20 people were killed and around 30 were wounded in Kunduz province on Friday morning when a suicide bomber attacked a group of mourners at a mosque in the Dashi Archi district (AP, BBC, NYT, Pajhwok, Reuters, VOA).  The attacker pretended to be among the people receiving guests as residents paid their respects to the family of a local tribal elder who had died the day before. Sayed Sadruddin, the Kunduz district chief and apparent target, was among those killed.  No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, though suspicion has fallen on the Afghan Taliban after several days of multiple attacks across Afghanistan. 

Reports emerged on Friday that a Taliban ambush of an Afghan police convoy along the Herat-Kandahar highway in Farah province a day earlier grew so intense that the police called in international air support (NYT).  According to Najeeb Afghan, the governor's spokesman, the police were escorting government officials when the attack occurred and they called for backup when they ran out of ammunition during to the ensuing firefight.  NATO's International Security Assistance confirmed that they responded to the call with airstrikes and evacuated the wounded. 

Around 32 militants were killed in Helmand province on Friday in additional NATO airstrikes, according to Afghan officials (Pajhwok). Omar Zwak, the governor's spokesman, confirmed the airstrikes -- which may have occurred near a NATO-led military base -- but provided no further details.  NATO has not yet commented on the incident. 

Overturned

Sahibzada Muhammad Anis, a Pakistani judge, overturned the conviction of Dr. Shakil Afridi on Friday, ruling that the tribal judge who had convicted Dr. Afridi had exceeded his authority when he sentenced him to 33 years in prison in May 2012 (BBC, NYT, Reuters).  Samiullah Afridi, the doctor's lawyer, told reporters that his client would be retried in Khyber, Dr. Afridi's home district; he was previously tried and is currently being held in Peshawar.  While Dr. Afridi was convicted on charges of aiding a banned Islamist group, many see the case as a proxy for Pakistani accusations that he helped the CIA search for Osama bin Laden by running a fake hepatitis vaccination program. 

The polio virus was detected in 16 children in North Waziristan on Wednesday, prompting Pakistani health officials -- who are waiting for samples from 42 other children -- to warn of the potential for a serious outbreak (ET). Militants in the tribal region banned the presence of vaccination programs in June 2012, shortly after Dr. Afridi's conviction, alleging that the campaigns were covers for Western espionage.  Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where the highly infectious and crippling disease remains endemic; Afghanistan is another.  Bonus read: "Pakistan's health workers under attack," David Sterman (AfPak). 

Five suspected militants were killed by Indian police forces and paramilitary troops in northern Kashmir on Friday when they were intercepted in the Najwan forests (AFP, BBC).  According to Shahid Meraj, the police superintendent, the troops came across the militants around 20 miles north of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.  Meraj also alleged that the men had traveled from the Pakistan-administered section of Kashmir a year earlier and were members of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group.  Pakistani officials have not yet responded to those accusations.

One child was killed and another was injured in Quetta on Friday when a toy-like bomb they were playing with exploded (Dawn, ET).  According to initial reports, the children found the device near a shop in the Akhtarabad section of the Balochistan capital.  There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the incident, but Baloch separatists have been carrying out bombings in the area since 2004 in their push for autonomy.

Courtroom-on-a-bus

In an effort to help clear Pakistan's clogged courtrooms, Pakistani officials have created a mobile court that will mediate small civil cases, minor criminal cases, and juvenile cases across the country (Reuters).  There are about 1.4 million cases pending in Pakistan and frustration over decades-long cases as led some litigants to turn to tribal jirgas instead.  While these councils offer instant decisions, sentences can include being buried alive, gang-raped, or stoned to death.  Court officials are hoping their mobile justice system, which launched on Tuesday, can offer an alternative.  The mobile court heard 29 cases in Peshawar during its first day in action and the government hopes to launch 11 more buses by the end of the year.

-- Bailey Cahall 

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

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