Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Tuesday that it had disqualified 16 presidential candidates from next April's election due to improper documents and other violations, including dual nationalities and lacking a university degree (AP, NYT, Pajhwok, Post, RFE/RL, VOA). While most of the contenders who were disqualified were relatively unknown national figures, Anwarul Haw Ahadi, a former commerce and finance minister, also had his application to run denied. Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the head of the IEC, said the disqualified candidates have 20 days to raise any objections with the commission, at least 10 of which said they plan to do so (Pajhwok). The disqualifications leave 10 candidates in the running to replace current Afghan President Hamid Karzai, including Qayim Karzai, his brother, and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and 2009 presidential candidate.
The country's National Directorate of Security (NDS) also revealed on Tuesday that it had fired 65 intelligence officers after discovering they were addicted to heroin (Reuters). According to Rahmatullah Nabil, the acting head of the intelligence agency, the men were discovered through a program to remove drug users from the NDS's ranks and "our efforts will continue." The program, which began in Kabul, will soon be expanded to all 34 Afghan provinces. Nabil did not provide further information about when the firings actually occurred.
News of the firings came as a senior American military officer told the New York Times on Tuesday that insurgent groups operating inside Afghanistan are expected to wage an unusually aggressive campaign this winter (NYT). While the Afghan Taliban has typically used the cold-weather months to rest, retrain, and further their agenda politically, it appears that they are going to continue fighting this year due to the upcoming presidential elections next April and the continuing coalition withdrawal. Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels, the anonymous officer said they expect "attempts at high-profile attacks, attempts at targeted killings of political officials, election officials and candidates," instead of traditional battlefield engagements.
The United States passed a grim milestone on Tuesday when reports emerged that at least 2,150 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001 (AP). Of those deaths, at least 1,781 were the result of hostile action. An additional 19,416 U.S. service members have been wounded while fighting in the country.
India accused Pakistan of violating their 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Kashmir border again this week, saying that one guard was killed and six others were injured Tuesday night in a cross-border firing incident, one India is calling the most egregious violation in a decade (AP, BBC). India said the firings continued into Wednesday and at least 50 Indian border posts were targeted. According to Rajesh Kumar, a local Indian police officer, at least 100 civilians were evacuated from the villages of Arnia and Ramgarch near the Indian frontier (ET). Pakistan has not commented on the incident, though military officials stated that "unprovoked firing" by Indian forces killed a Pakistani solder and a civilian and wounded 10 other civilians earlier in the week (Guardian).
The incident comes at a particularly sensitive time for Pakistan, as Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif is in Washington for his first official visit since being elected in May. Earlier on Tuesday, Sharif vowed to go the "extra mile" in making peace with India, saying that he believes the two countries can resolve their issues, including Kashmir, through dialogue (AP). Past dialogues have not made much headway, however, and it seems that the pledge Sharif and Manmohan Sindh, his Indian counterpart, made in September to maintain peace along the border has made little difference on the ground so far.
Nearing the end of his visit to Washington, Sharif will be meeting with President Obama later on Wednesday and the two men are expected to discuss a number of sensitive subjects, including the U.S. drone program in Pakistan and Pakistan's alleged support of the Taliban (VOA). The meeting will take place one day after human rights group Amnesty International released a report highlighting civilian casualties of drone strikes in Pakistan. While White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the U.S. program, saying that "U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful and they are effective," Pakistan has consistently said they violate the country's sovereignty (BBC, Post).
Sharif addressed incidents of violence, like border clashes with India and U.S. drone strikes, at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, saying that: "If we sit down together, if we seriously address these issues, I don't think we will face any problem." (Dawn)
3-D in Hyderabad
Cine Moosh, the first 3-D cinema opened in Hyderabad on Eid al-Adha and has been attracting an elite crowd ever since. With the steep price of Rs600 (approximately $6) per ticket, not everyone can afford to enjoy the new attraction. Kaiful Wara, a student at the city's Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, visited the cinema Tuesday evening and while she enjoyed the experience, she "[felt] a little uncomfortable with the ticket price...since it is the only cinema here, they are charging as high as Rs600 per person" (Dawn). Cine Moosh can seat 144 people and plans to show both 2-D and 3-D movies. It is currently screening the 2-D movie Waar, directed by Bilal Lashari, which is setting box office records across Pakistan (ET).
-- Bailey Cahall and Emily Schneider
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images