Event Notices: "The Way Forward in Afghanistan," joint event with the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, TODAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF); "Jihad Joe," a book discussion with J.M. Berger, FRIDAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
Pakistan's Ministry of Defense released new figures to the country's lawmakers on Wednesday that said 67 civilians were among 2,227 people killed in 317 U.S. drone strikes since 2008, and that no civilian had died in a drone strike since 2011 (AFP, AJAM, AP, BBC, NYT). Accounting for just three percent of the estimated casualties, the ministry's figures are far lower than earlier estimates from independent groups - the New America Foundation, for example, puts the total number of civilians killed since 2004 between 258 and 307. Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, said that the new figures were "strikingly at odds" with those he had received from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, which had reported at least 400 civilian deaths since 2004, and that he would be writing to the government seeking clarification.
Interestingly, reports of the revised figures came as media outlets also reported the first U.S. drone strike to occur in Pakistan in more than a month. According to several reports, three suspected militants were killed early Thursday morning near the town of Miran Shah in a suspected U.S. drone strike on an alleged militant compound in North Waziristan (ET, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Pakistani intelligence officials, however, told the Associated Press that there were no casualties from the strike - another indicator of how contentious and confusing the statistics about the program are (AP).
Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Office, condemned the attack in Miran Shah, and reiterated the government's stance that such strikes violate Pakistan's national sovereignty (Dawn). Chaudhry's statement came as Pervaiz Rashid, Pakistan's Information Minister, rejected claims from U.S. Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) that Pakistan could stop the drone strikes if it really wanted to (ET). Grayson had told the BBC that the strikes could not occur without the approval of the Pakistani government, and that Pakistan's army could easily control the extremists operating within the country's borders. Rashid said Grayson was "obviously not aware what Pakistan's military is facing," and recommended he get a briefing on Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts from the U.S. military.
At least 10 people were killed and more than two dozen were injured on Wednesday in bomb attacks that rocked Balochistan and South Waziristan (AFP, VOA). In Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, at least five people were killed and more than two dozen were wounded when a powerful bicycle bomb exploded in a crowded car repair market, while five soldiers were killed and one was wounded in South Waziristan when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for either attack.
Promise to visit
The tripartite meetings between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Hamid Karzai continued in London on Wednesday with Sharif calling for more effective border management between the two countries (Pajhwok). Speaking at a meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Sharif said such a system would help the neighbors deal with terrorist infiltration from both sides of the border (ET). According to the Associated Press of Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz, Sharif's advisor on foreign affairs, also told the media in London that border management was crucial for monitoring the influx of refugees and preventing terrorists from finding a safe haven in either country (APP).
Karzai's office released a statement on Wednesday that said that Sharif had agreed to make his first visit to Kabul soon, but there was no immediate confirmation from the Pakistani side (Gulf Times). The two leaders also did not set a firm date for the Afghan High Peace Council to visit Pakistan to meet with former Taliban senior commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, whose exact location has been a point of contention between the two countries (BBC, RFE/RL). Pakistan's willingness to allow the council access to Baradar is seen as a hopeful sign for furthering Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, since he could be quite influential in that process.
A German court began hearing arguments on Wednesday in a civil case brought by relatives of some of the 91 Afghans killed in a NATO airstrike four years ago (AP, RFE/RL). The strike, which occurred in Kunduz province on September 4, 2009, was ordered by a German colonel in an attempt to destroy two stolen fuel tankers he believed would be used by militants. However, most of the casualties were actually civilians. Germany has already paid $5,000 in compensation to each victim's family, but some are seeking additional recompense. Philipp Prietze, a spokesman for the Bonn regional court, said the court reviewed a video recorded by two U.S. fighter jets involved in the air strike.
Mohammad Janis Shinwari, a former Afghan interpreter for the U.S. military, finally arrived in Washington on Tuesday night, two years after he applied for a U.S. visa and about a month after he received that visa and then had it revoked while officials vetted a tip that he could be a risk (AJAM). While few former interpreters have had an experience as fraught as Shinwari's, his case has "drawn attention to the resettlement program for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters, which advocates say has been plagued by bureaucratic snags, arbitrary rejections and security reviews that have sometimes dragged on for years" (Post). Several U.S. lawmakers are now calling on the State Department and the Intelligence Community to streamline the application and review processes, and clear out the backlog of pending cases.
While the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan is affecting all aspects of the economy, in Kabul's pet market, shop owners selling exotic or fighting birds, including canaries, parrots, and peacocks, in particular are complaining about the plummeting sales (BBC). The booming business the sellers in the Kocha-e Kah Foroshi market enjoyed from selling the birds to foreign soldiers will end as Afghan security forces take full control of more areas. The World Bank expects economic growth in Afghanistan to decrease by more than 10 percent this year as a result of the troop withdrawal and the loss of security spending from the United States and the United Kingdom (Reuters).
-- Emily Schneider and Bailey Cahall
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images