News Summary - September 16, 2010

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In today’s news: The campaign period has ended for Afghanistan elections and preparations are underway for the vote on Saturday. The UN has evacuated about a third of its permanent international workforce and much of its staff will be on lockdown for the election day, The Guardian reports. A large protest in Kabul against cancelled Quran-burnings turned violent with over 35 police officers and a dozen civilians reportedly wounded. The WSJ reports on the latest incarnation of local defense militias. Pres. Karzai visited Pakistan where he met with Pres. Zardari and pledged cooperation between the two countries.

Afghanistan — Elections

  • Election Preparations: The campaign period ended at midnight last night and final preparations are underway for the vote on Saturday; the Christian Science Monitor reports on the challenges of campaigning. The head of the IEC, in an interview with TOLO, called on the Taliban to help in the process, "if they are Afghans and think like Afghans”, adding that “the Afghans doing things at the order of foreigners and those who are paid to hurt their people will not be forgiven”. The Guardian reports that the UN has evacuated 300 people, about a third of its permanent international workforce, and that much of the remainder will be on security lockdown through the election; the UN has recorded more than 240 security incidents in the last two months. RC-South Commander Maj. Gen. Nick Carter predicts a surge in violence around election day. The AP and Al Jazeera pick up reports of fake voter cards being printed in Pakistan. Reuters quotes a State Dept official who says that “we hope for the best [in the election] but I don't think we can project much beyond that". [CSM] [TOLO] [Guardian] [Guardian] [AP] [AJE] [Reuters]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Quran Protests: A large protest — estimates range from several hundred to over a thousand — in eastern Kabul turned violent as police and protesters clashed; at least 35 police and a dozen protesters were wounded; there are unconfirmed reports of at least one fatality. The Kabul police chief accused the Taliban of infiltrating the protest; Reuters reports that Taliban flags were flown by some of the demonstrators. A Taliban spokesman said they supported the action but did not organize it; other reports suggest parliamentary candidates may have organized some of the protests. [Reuters] [AP] [NYT] [WAPO] [BBC] [LAT] [TOLO]
  • Kandahar Operations: A force of about 4,800 U.S. and Afghan soldiers involved in clearing operations in the Zhari district west of Kandahar report “suprisingly little resistance” from Taliban fighters. [McClatchy] [AP]
  • Militia Training: The WSJ reports on the latest incarnation of locally based defense forces in Afghanistan, now to operate under the name Local Police Initiative, for which the Pentagon has sought from Congress the diversion of $35 million from the training budget for regular Afghan security forces. It appears, but is not clear from the report, that this represents a new name for the Local Defense Initiative, previously the Community Defense Initiative, inaugurated on a trial basis by some special forces teams in southern Afghanistan over the past year. The military is awaiting a finalization of regulations from the Ministry of Interior this month; it is intended to reach as many as 10,000 men and will absorb another pilot force of about 1,200 in Wardak that operated as the “Afghan Public Protection Program”, or AP3, since 2009. The new program’s members will receive AK-47s and between 5 days and three weeks of training and salaries about 60% of the regular ANP. [WSJ]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karzai Visits Pakistan: Pres. Karzai visited Pres. Zardari and other senior Pakistan officials on a state visit yesterday; Pakistani officials say the two agreed to put an end to the “games that have been played, games that have not been ours” and that both agreed that “full peace can only be achieved when both countries actively cooperate.” Zardari told reporters afterwards that “we need more security cooperation between our intelligence and their intelligence, which Pakistan is willing to offer”. The NYT reports that Chief of Army Staff Gen. Kayani did not, however meet with the Karzai delegation or was he expected to Thursday, contrary to initial reports on Karzai’s agenda from the Associatied Press of Pakistan. At a press conference Karzai said Afghanistan would never allow Indian consulates on its territory to foment unrest in Balochistan, as has been alleged by Pakistan, and said that negotiation offers with the Taliban were only for those “who are not part of Al Qaeda and are ready to obey the Afghan constitution.” The Asia Times claims that backchannel Ramadan talks in the UAE with Taliban representatives showed more willingness to accept a broad-based political set-up, although notes continuing antipathy to former Northern Alliance figures in the current government. [NYT] [WSJ] [AP] [APP] [Dawn] [ATOL]

Afghanistan — Remainder

  • 13 Wounded in Blast At Helmand Concert [TOLO] [Dawn]
  • Ministry of Information Says It Will Monitor Afghan Media and Punish ‘Violations’ [TOLO]
  • What’s Inside a Taliban Gun Locker? [NYT]
  • Study Finds Growing EU Skepticism of Afghan War [Der Spiegel]
  • Report: Navigating Negotiations in Afghanistan - “Negotiations could lead to a power-sharing agreement, but implementation would be highly challenging, especially due to multifarious factional and other power struggles.” [Matthew Waldman, USIP]
  • Commentary: What Can We Do About Corruption in Afghanistan? - “Crack down on Karzai too hard, and he'll scream, storm off, and issue threats under fear that his sovereignty is being threatened. But go too easy on Karzai, let him solve the problem in his own way at his own pace, and his regime will look even more unaccountable and illegitimate.” [Fred Kaplan, Slate]