Afghanistan Theater

Karzai punts on US 'security agreement'

After four days of deliberations in Kabul, a Loya Jirga of some 2,500 elders and tribal leaders on Nov. 24 announced its endorsement of the Bliateral Security Agreement that will enable thousands of US troops to remain in Afghanistan after the supposed "withdrawal" of NATO forces next year. A similar deal between the US and Iraq collapsed in 2011 over the issue of whether Pentagon troops would have to answer to local courts. A draft text released by Kabul last week appeared to show that Afghan President Karzai had yielded to a US demand for exemption of its troops from Afghan jurisdiction. Nonetheless, Karzai now says he will reject the Loya Jirga's recommendation that he sign the agreement, citing continued civilian casualties at the hands of US forces.

Musharraf granted bail in Red Mosque killings case

Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was granted bail Nov. 4 in a criminal case concerning the death of radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi during an operation ordered by Musharraf on Islamabad's Red Mosque, which left more than 100 dead. Musharraf was arrested on these charges on Oct. 10. His bail is set to be paid in two bonds of $1,000 each. Prosecutors claim Musharraf caused the deaths by recklessly deploying security forces, while Musharraf's lawyers argue that his involvement was limited. Even after posting bail, Musharraf will be unable to leave the country under the orders from the Pakistani government. Musharraf's house arrest began in April after he was charged with involvement in the murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and others. 

Women's freedom icon rocks Kabul peace concert

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)

Pakistan Taliban leader killed in drone strike?

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)

US must investigate Pakistan drone strikes: Amnesty

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: still a hero!

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?

Pakistan stock market soars on terror wave

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) 

Bagram: US still holding detainees without charge

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.