Aryana Sayeed, a popular singer and TV personality known as the "Adele of Afghanistan," was among the performers at a Kabul "Peace Concert," organized by a network of youth groups and held at the city's Babur Garden venue Oct. 19. In August, she performed at a similar concert held in front of the ruins of the Bamiyan Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Sayeed remains unbowed in the face of hate mail and death threats over her refusal to wear the hijab in her performances and TV appearances, becoming an icon of women's freedom in Afghanistan. In a typical statement, parliament member Abdul Satar Khawasi said her show "brings shame to our community and ruins our Islamic and Afghan dignity and culture." Satar has called for a jihad against the reality-style talent showcase program, dubbed "The Voice," in which Sayeed is a judge. In response to the threats, Sayeed said: ""I'm here to make a difference for women. I want women to have rights, to talk freely, to walk freely... I'm not saying that they have to take their clothes off, or even remove their head scarfs. Freedom is being able to live as a human being.'' In one of her music videos, Sayeed sings "Because I am a woman, I am a slave''—against a background of images of women in burqas. (Dawn, Pakistan, Oct. 21; The Nation, Pakistan, Oct. 20; TeleCinco, Spain, Oct. 14; NBC, Oct. 12; DPA, Aug. 17; AFP, Aug. 16; Khaama Press, Afghanistan, July 22)
A US drone strike on a vehicle in Danday Darpa Khel village near Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal agency, is reported to have killed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Hakimullah Mehsud Nov. 1. At least six others were also killed in the attack, including two militant commanders, identified as Tariq Mehsud and Abdullah. Locals are still trying to retrieve the dead and injured from the wreckage, and it is not yet confirmed that Hakimullah Mehsud was in the vehicle. Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called the attack an attempt to sabotage the government's plan to hold talks with the TTP. It was the second drone attack since Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif's visit to the US last week, when he demanded President Barack Obama to stop the attacks. (The News, Pakistan, Nov. 1; Reuters, Oct. 24)
Amnesty International (AI) on Oct. 22 urged the US to conduct a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into allegations that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone strikes have resulted in recent civilian casualties in Pakistan. AI reviewed (PDF) more than 50 reported US drone strikes in Pakistan from January 2012 to August 2013, many of which resulted in multiple civilian deaths. AI asserts that, because the US government refuses to provide "accurate information" with respect to specific drone strikes, and its drone program in general, certain CIA operatives may be guilty of arbitrary and extrajudicial executions in violation of international law. According to AI, the US is obligated by international law to fully investigate each strike and ensure that guilty parties are brought to justice.
Malala Yousafzai is still taking abuse even amid the adulation accompanying her American tour last week. Upon her shooting one year ago, her Taliban would-be assassins claimed she had praised Obama and expressed support for "Western culture." This was quickly exposed as nonsense, as it became clear that Malala was a sympathizer of a Marxist tendency that was fighting for secularism in the mullah-dominated Swat Valley! However, some voices on the "left" continued to diss her in self-righteous terms, even engaging in lugubrious conspiracy-mongering that the whole affair had been set up as a propaganda job. So what are we to make now that Malala has spoken before the United Nations, appeared on Jon Stewart, and met with Obama in the White House? Are the cynics vindicated? Has Malala now, finally, been co-opted?
Over the past year of growing violence and chaos in Pakistan, the Karachi Stock Exchange has surged more than 44%, placing it among the world's top-performing stock markets according to Bloomberg. (NYT, Oct. 3) On Sept. 29, a bomb placed in a Peshawar marketplace killed more than 40 and injured over 100. (BBC News, Oct. 1) On Oct. 3, Taliban militiants attacked the headquarters of local chieftain Nabi Hanafi Karwan in Spin Thall, Bulandkhel district, Orakzai agency, Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A car bomb and suicide attacker overwhelmed the guards, and gunmen followed, killing 17. Nabi Hanfi has been leading an anti-Taliban militia. (The News, Pakistan, Oct. 4; AP, Oct. 3)
The nonprofit human rights law firm Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) released a report on Sept. 5 detailing the conditions at Bagram Prison in Afghanistan, a facility that continues to detain non-Afghan prisoners of the US despite not being under US control since March. According to the JPP, many of these detainees are being held indefinitely without charges, trial or access to a lawyer. Many prisoners have testified to being captured and held in the prison without ever being told about the basis for their detainment.
Persistent claims that Afghanistan's Taliban are backed by ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, will certainly be enflamed by the Aug. 3 attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad. Nine were killed and some 25 wounded in the coordinated suicide blast and armed assault. No Indian officials were killed, though the blast badly damaged a mosque and dozens of homes and small shops nearby. (Reuters, Aug. 3) A story in India Today on the same day as the attacks claimed that Delhi had warned its ambassador in Kabul, Amar Sinha, of a Pakistan-based plot to assassinate him in a suicide attack, and recommended he beef up security measures. Sepcial commandos from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), already guarding the embassy in Kabul, were to be deployed to the consulates in Kandahar, Heart, Mazar and Jalalabad. Apparently, just too late...
A UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) mid-year report (PDF) released on July 31 indicated a 23% rise in the number of Afghan civilian casualties over the first six months of 2013 as compared to the same period last year. The report noted that many civilian deaths have been caused by the increased use of improvised explosive devices. Women and children are also increasingly the victims in the country's war, with a 30% increase in the number of children killed. Additionally, almost 75% of civilian deaths during this time period were caused by "Anti-Government Elements" such as Taliban fighters, who were increasingly targeting civilians that they viewed as cooperating with the government. The report calls on the Afghanistan government to "continue to disband and disarm all armed groups and to take measures to ensure accountability for human rights abuses carried out by these groups."