News Summary, Oct 22

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Update: Some media quote officials on both sides openly questioning whether there are any peace talks going on. Closer inspection of the preliminary Wolesi Jirga results reveals the biggest vote winner, by more than 10,000 ballots, was Tarakhel Muhammadi, a Kuchi.

DI is grateful to Colin Cookman of the Center for American Progress for contributing significantly to our summaries. Colin was a senior member of our Kabul-based media team during the election. To receive the Center for American Progress' full daily summary of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and related news, please subscribe here.

Afghanistan – Election

  • Election winners Pajhwok takes a closer look at the preliminary Wolesi Jirga results and finds some surprises: A nomadic Kuchi, Mullah Tarakhel Muhammadi, won the highest number of votes--26, 476--whereas Muhammad Mohaqiq, who garnered the most votes in the 2005 election with 52,686, only secured 16,166 ballots this time. Muhammad Yunus Qanuni, the current speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, won 9,000 votes, compared to the 30,000 he had five years ago. Overall, 72 MPs were re-elected to parliament, with 177 new faces. [Pajhwok] (Tarakhel, a member of the outgoing Wolesi Jirga and head of its commission of Kuchis, was the focus of a NYT article last year alleging widespread fraud during the presidential elections. Local media also accused his bodyguards of shooting two residents in August. Tarakhel denied he was responsible for the shootings. [IEC] [MOPH] [NYT] [IEC])
  • Ghor On Thursday, supporters of an unsuccessful runner in western Ghor province took out a protest rally and blocked the Ghor-Herat highway for hours. [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Taliban Talks: An ISI official tells the WSJ that neither the U.S. nor Kabul has reached out to Pakistan about who is participating in recent contacts with the Taliban and that doing so is a “mistake”. The High Peace Council’s spokesman called on Saudi Arabia to help broker talks yesterday, saying that the body was working to develop an “honorable” way for Taliban militants to return to mainstream society, which “involves position, house, salary and self-respect. They want concessions and we will give them.” The Taliban issued a statement on Thursday describing the reported talks as "mind-boggling lies" and "organized enemy propaganda". Mid-level Taliban commanders tell Reuters that they do not believe senior leadership is engaged in talks and maintain that “as long as foreign forces are in Afghanistan, there will be no talks. Our morale is high.” Several analysts echo the skepticism, with one U.S. official describing the reports to McClatchy as “a psychological operation… to sow distrust within the insurgency”. The Daily Telegraph echoes previous reports that Mullah Baradar has been released from Pakistani custody and is working to build support in the Taliban organization for talks, but the ISI official disputes that in the WSJ interview. [WSJ] [Reuters] [Reuters] [TOLO] [McClatchy] [Telegraph] [GlobalPost]
  • Development Firms Shutting Down Over Contractor Decree: The Post reports that DAI and IRD, two of the largest USAID development contractors at work in Afghanistan, are preparing to cancel programs and withdraw from the country after Pres. Karzai held firm on his order to disband private security firms in Afghanistan by year’s end, with the exception of those providing security for foreign diplomatic missions. "If we don't have private security, we cannot operate in Afghanistan,” one executive says; approximately $1.5 billion in reconstruction work is potentially affected. [WAPO] [WSJ] [Reuters] [AP] [Guardian]
  • Attacks: The district governor of Dur Baba, Nangahar province, was killed in a roadside IED blast on Friday, police report. Attacks on a NATO supply convoy in Zabul destroyed 13 trucks and killed three guards; police indicated that they suspect some level of cooperation from some of the convoy guards. A bomb blast in Herat killed four policemen Thursday and wounded another three. [Pajhwok] [AFP] [Pajhwok] [AP] [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Is the Taliban Targeting the Northern Distribution Network? [EurasiaNet]
  • Studio Kabul [NYT]
  • Report: The Ex-Taliban on the High Peace Council: A Renewed Role for the Khuddam ul-Furqan? [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
  • Commentary: Talks with the Taliban Ongoing, But Are Being Overstated – “The case is being intentionally overstated, by suggesting more fire than the smoke warrants and by feeding the press information about events that are likely to have taken place in the past.” [Martine van Bijlert, Newsweek]
  • Commentary: Could Airstrikes Save Lives in Afghanistan? – “If we really want to reduce civilian deaths, as well as the deaths of the troops we send in harm's way, then as the Obama administration reevaluates its Afghan policy, we ought to reconsider the wisdom of leashing the weapon the insurgents fear the most: airpower.” [Charles Dunlap, WAPO]