The annual report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), released June 26, says that Afghanistan remains the world's top opium cultivator, accounting for 75% of global illicit production in 2012. The report noted that plant diseases in Afghanistan—rather than eradication efforts—reduced global opium production by 30% compared to 2011. However, the poppy-cultivation area in the country jumped by 14%. Most of the country's opium is produced in the southern Helmand province—which also happens to be the heartland of the Taliban insurgency. Use in the country is also on the rise, with over 1 million addicts. "Afghanistan itself has become a consumption country and has one of the highest levels of addiction, globally speaking," said UNODC representative Jean-Luc Lemahieu. (VOA, June 27; RFE/RL, June 26; UNODC, June 22)
So, it's come to this. After more than 12 years of the United States being at war in Afghanistan, the Taliban have opened a "political office" in Qatar preparatory to negotiations with the Kabul government's High Peace Council and the US—the culimination of a series of preliminary meetings in various countries leading toward direct peace talks. The principal prerequisite that the US set for the talks is that the Taliban commit to not using Afghanistan as a staging ground for terror attacks abroad. (Khaama Press, BBC News, June 18) Through their website Voice of Jiihad, the Taliban oblige: "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has both military as well as political objectives which are confined to Afghanistan. The Islamic Emirate does not wish to harm other countries from its soil and neither will it allow others use Afghan soil to pose a threat to the security of other nations!"
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales pleaded guilty to the premeditated murder of 16 Afghan civilians on June 5 in order to comply with a plea deal and avoid the death penalty. Bales admitted to leaving his post last March in the Kandahar province in order seek out and murder civilians. Bales read the individual charges against him detailing each specific instance in detail. The murders represent the worst case of murder of civilians on the part of military personnel since the Vietnam War. Once the plea deal is accepted by the court martial judge, Bales will be given life in prison without the possibility of parole.
London-based Public Interest Lawyers on May 29 accused the UK military of holding at least eight men without charge at the UK temporary holding facility in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. Their clients have allegedly been held for over eight months without charge and without access to lawyers in what could be a breach of international law. Applications for habeas corpus were issued on behalf of two of the men in April, and the military has ordered a hearing in July. UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond insisted that the holdings are in compliance with international law and that there are regular inspections by the International Committee of the Red Cross. He explained that standard military procedures, which required the detainees to be released to Afghan forces after 96 hours, were changed in November due to suspicions about the use of torture on prisoners by the Afghan forces. According to the Ministry of Defence, the detainees are being held in Camp Bastion until a safe path through the Afghan system could be assured.
Chaudhry Zulfikar, chief prosecutor in the criminal case against Pakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf, was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting on May 3. Zulfikar had been due to appear at the High Court in Rawalpindi for a hearing in Musharraf's case on charges of involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Zulfikar was leading the investigation into the allegations that Musharraf failed to provide adequate security to Bhutto when she returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile in December of 2007. She was killed at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi later that month.
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is expected to increase for a third straight year, expanding even to new areas of the country, a UN report warned April 15. The Afghanistan Opium Risk Assessment 2013 found that the country is moving towards record levels of opium production this year despite eradication efforts by the international community and Afghan government. "The assessment suggests that poppy cultivation is not only expected to expand in areas where it already existed in 2012... but also in new areas or in areas where poppy cultivation was stopped," the survey found. The study by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says insecurity and lack of agricultural assistance are fueling opium cultivation. "Villages with a low level of security and those which had not received agricultural assistance in the previous year were significantly more likely to grow poppy in 2013," the report said.
Pakistan on April 15 strongly condemned a US drone attack in North Waziristan tribal region that killed four people a day earlier, urging Washington to "stop such attacks based on mutual respect and established international norms." The US craft fired missiles on a house in Datta Khel town, bordering Afghanistan, officials said. "Such unilateral attacks are in contravention of international law and counterproductive to the stability of this country," the foreign ministry said. "The government of Pakistan has maintained its position that drone strikes are violative of its territorial integrity and sovereignty."
A Pakistan court on April 5 extended by six days the bail granted to former president Pervez Musharraf, who faces charges of detaining judges during his time in office. The Islamabad High Court also ordered Musharraf to post bond for Rs 500,000, or just over $5,000, and to appear for his next hearing scheduled for April 18. Musharraf has also been named as a suspect in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and may face charges in connection with the murder of Baluch tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2007.