Rare attack in Islamabad
But on Monday, just days after these announcements by the Taliban and Pakistani government, at least 11 people were killed and dozens wounded in a rare suicide attack in the heart of Islamabad (NYT, Post, RFE/RL, ET, DAWN, Reuters). Witnesses of the attack described armed men running into the capital's court complex, hurling grenades and indiscriminately firing on lawyers, judges, and court personnel. Some of the men detonated suicide bombs once inside the court complex. It's unclear how many attackers were involved in the incident and no group has claimed responsibility yet. Although the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) was quick to distance itself from the attack, it caused many to wonder just how much control the TTP has over its various fractions and how the government could negotiate a peace deal with the multi-faceted group. Jamiat Uleme-e-Islam-Samiul Haq said the government and the TTP should not blame each other for any attack and should look for "the third enemy" (ET). It's unclear how this attack will affect the cease-fire agreement and hopes of renewing peace talks between the government and the Taliban.
The Pakistani government's airstrike campaign against militant's in Pakistan's northwestern tribal regions was suspended on Sunday in response to a Taliban cease-fire, setting the stage for the possibility of reviving the peace talks that were formally ended February 17. (NYT, ET, DAWN). Pakistani interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, announced the suspension of the airstrikes Sunday evening, just hours after military gunships targeted militants in the northwestern Khyber area and killed five militants in retaliation for an attack on health workers administering polio vaccines (RFE/RL, DAWN, Reuters,). At least 13 people, including one child, were killed in that attack hours before the Taliban cease-fire announcement was made on Saturday (NYT, DAWN, Reuters). But after that attack, Shahidullah Shahid, the TTP spokesperson, announced the Taliban's month-long ceasefire and urged the government to resume peace talks.
Record Flag Waving
The Guinness World Record for the most people waving flags was broken on Saturday at the Punjab Youth Festival as a total of 56,263 enthusiasts waved Pakistani flags (ET). The Pakistani youth have established 29 world records during the ongoing Punjab Youth Festival where more than 60,000 students of different educational institutions gathered. The previous record, held by Argentina, was set when 49,850 people waved flags.
Karzai explains it all
In his first interview with U.S. newspaper in two years, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the Washington Post that the 12-year war was "for the U.S. security and for the Western interest" saying that "Afghans died in a war that's not ours" (Post). Karzai emotionally described meeting a young girl who had been badly injured by a U.S. airstrike as he explained why he has been such a harsh critic of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. He cited the high Afghan casualty rate and what he views as an insufficient U.S. focus on Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan as reasons for his discontent, claiming his public criticism of the war was the only way to make the U.S. government respond to his concerns.
Karzai's antagonistic approach to diplomacy with the U.S. has forced President Obama to accept having the winner of Afghanistan's April presidential elections sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (WSJ). Karzai reiterated in the interview that he would not manipulate the April 5 presidential election in spite of many candidates pleading for his public backing of their candidacy (RFE/RL). He said some in Afghan political circles have asked him to remain in office, but he dismissed the idea and told the Post, "I've done enough; it's time for me to move on."
Taliban insurgents have escaped from the heavily guarded Sarposa Prison in Kandahar, Afghan officials confirmed on Sunday (Post, Guardian, Telegraph). The prison break, the fourth one in a decade, was smaller than previous ones that involved hundreds of prisoners, but was particularly embarrassing to Afghan officials because of the way it occurred. Someone altered an official document that allowed at least 10 prisoners, most of whom were believed to be prominent insurgents, to walk out the front gate unchallenged. The official letter, sent from the National Directorate of Security, listed 18 prisoners schedule for release but was altered to read 28 prisoners and include the names of 10 insurgents. "This is humiliating," said Hajji Agha Lalai, a Kandahar Provincial Council member, admitting that it was unclear if anyone inside the prison helped the inmates. The Taliban wasted no time congratulating themselves on a job well done, saying in an email to reporters that "through cleverly managed tactics we have freed 23 of our brave mujahedeen from the Kandahar prison."
Car bomb explodes prematurely
At least fourteen people, including women and children, were killed on Sunday when explosives packed inside a car detonated in the provincial capital of central Logar province (Pajhwok). Militants had parked the car in a house and it exploded prematurely, around 8:00 a.m., including the seven Pakistani militants and their three local comrades responsible for packing the explosives.
Rolls Royce under investigation in defense ministry scandal
The Central Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations that Rolls Royce paid bribes to supply Hawk trainer jet engines to an aircraft manufacturer owned by the Indian government (Reuters, Telegraph, NDTV, Economic Times, Times of India). Defense minister A. K. Antony ordered the investigation after an anonymous letter alleged that bribes were paid to staff at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to help Rolls-Royce win deals between 2007 and 2011. India struck a $1.2 billion deal to buy 66 Hawks in 2003, of which 42 were to be built at HAL's facility in Bangalore, as well as another $779 million deal for 57 more Hawk trainers in July 2010.
A spokesman said Rolls-Royce was unaware of the allegations but would co-operate with authorities in any investigation. The company is already under scrutiny for allegedly bribing officials in Indonesia and China. India has blacklisted several major global armament companies in the last few years for corruption, complicating efforts to modernize its armed forces.
Cabinet kills anti-corruption ordinances, clears OBC status for Jats
The Indian cabinet on Sunday rejected ordinances for several anti-corruption measures backed by Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the Congress party (Mint). The cabinet decided that "full deliberations" were required in the Parliament in keeping with the "highest traditions of democratic principles," Manish Tewari, the minister of information and broadcasting, told reporters. The Congress party had given its assent to use ordinances to directly pass several measures, including the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Rights of Persons with Disability Bill, but sources said President Pranab Mukherjee opposed the tactic (Times of India).
However, the cabinet cleared "Other Backward Caste" (OBC) status for Jats, a minority community in nine northern states, including Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Punjab (Economic Times, Times of India). OBC status gives access to quotas in central government jobs to the Jats, an influential community and significant voting group. The measure is seen as an effort by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government to reach out to a community that has been alienated since the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013. The Jat quota may spark resentment among other OBC castes forced to share benefits.
Third-quarter GDP sinks to 4.7 percent
India's economy grew 4.7 percent last quarter, data released on Friday showed, the seventh consecutive quarter of below-5 percent growth (WSJ). Sluggish growth in the September-December quarter makes it likely that India's economy will fall short of the 4.9 percent government target for the full fiscal year, which ends in March (WSJ). GPD growth came in at 4.8 percent and 4.4 percent in the first two quarters of the fiscal year, meaning the economy would have to grow 5.7 percent in the current quarter to hit the full-year target.
India's GDP figures halved to a decade-low of 4.5 percent in last fiscal year from about 9 percent two years before that, as inflation and waning investor confidence dragged on growth.
Village exhumes "mutiny rebel" remains
Archaeologists and volunteer excavators are flocking to a village in the northern state of Punjab to examine human remains that some claim belong to soldiers who revolted against the British in 1857 (BBC, NDTV). A Sikh temple said locals in the village of Ajnala had exhumed the remains of 282 soldiers executed by the British from an old well. Archaeologists confirmed that 40 to 50 human skulls had been found in the excavated well, along with skeletons, coins and medals that seem to date back to the Victorian period, though they cautioned that it was too early to draw a conclusion. The mutiny, in which Hindu and Muslim soldiers rebelled against the British East India Company in 1857, is often described in India as the first war of independence.
Edited by Peter Bergen
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