News Summary, Oct 23

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Update: Militants storm a UN office in or near Herat; a NYT photographer is seriously wounded in Kandahar; Pakistan's prime minister confirms he's not in the loop on talks with the Taliban.

Afghanistan – Election

  • Election implications Shuvaloy Majumdar, who has led democracy initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan for the International Republican Institute, looks at the implications of the Wolesi Jirga elections and the likely composition of the new lower house. "Parliamentary elections saw the investment of millions of dollars by Kabul Bank and Azizi Bank behind candidates -- an interest that will certainly be felt once parliament convenes early in 2011, an interest muddied by Kabul Bank's reports of rife corruption, and an interest intimately associated with Karzai. A handful of progressives who have served the last parliament are likely to be edged out, and notorious warlord Abdul Rasul Sayaff seems set to replace Yunus Qanooni as the next Speaker. Sayaff is believed to have been one of the original al-Qaeda facilitators in Afghanistan, and his eventual arri val in the Speaker's chair will have long-seated consequences on present efforts toward reconciliation with the Taliban." [Calgary Herald]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Talks: Pakistan  Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani confirmed Friday he had not received any communication from the United States or Afghanistan regarding on-going reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and said if Islamabad is left out of the process, it would not succeed. "The whole world has acknowledged that Pakistan is part of solution and any step towards dialogue sans Pakistan, would not succeeded," Gilani told the Diplomatic Correspondents Association (DCAP). His remarks are at odds with those of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the United States was consulting very closely with Pakistan on the future road map of Afghanistan. "Both the United States and Pakistan have very important national security interests with respect to Afghanistan. We are working together, and we are consulting very closely on any road map forward," Clinton said at the end of the three days of extensive discussions between the leaders of the two countries. The AP quoted an Afghan parliamentarian as saying that the government has been in direct contact with Jalaludin Haqqani, the leader of the Pakistan–based Haqqani network. Anand Gopal, who has covered Afghanistan for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor writes that it is the U.S. and not the Taliban who are under pressure by acknowledging that attempts at contacts are ongoing. "Nor are the contacts a sign that actual negotiations are near; rather, their recognition merely signals Western fears that mission failure is afoot." [Business Recorder] [Pajhwok] [AP] [AAN]
  • Development Firms Shutting Down Over Contractor Decree: AP confirms that Development Alternatives Inc., a Bethesda, Maryland based organization that runs U.S.-funded projects in Afghanistan, is planning a December shutdown of its Local Governance and Community Development Project, which employs more than 800 Afghans in more than 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces if President Hamid Karzai does not modify his ban on private security companies. [AP] [TOLO]
  • Attacks: A district governor was killed by a roadside bomb in Nangarhar. New York Times photographer Joao Silva was seriously wounded in southern Afghanistan when he stepped on a mine while accompanying American soldiers on a patrol in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province. Silva and a New York Times reporter were embedded with a unit of the 101st Airborne Division. American soldiers have been clearing Taliban insurgents from Arghandab and the surrounding area for the past several weeks, as part of a larger effort to secure the approaches to Kandahar. General David Petraeus said the operation in the Zhari and Panjwai districts, which began a month ago and involves thousands of US, Afghan, and Canadian troops, is proceeding "more rapidly than was anticipated." The Taliban website doubted the accounts and said that its own attacks in Kandahar "clearly show that the lies of Ahmad Wali and his masters, of ridding the city from Mujahideen are false and shows that Mujahideen can strike at any time in any part of the city they choose."  The United Nations office in the western Afghan city of Herat came under attack on Saturday. A reporter for The Associated Press at the scene said a suicide attacker driving an explosives-packed car blew up the entrance to the office. Afghan police officials at the scene said militants wearing uniforms then entered the building, which has been surrounded by Afghan and NATO troops. a UN official said no UN casualties from the attack. [AP] [NYT] [PakTrib] [WaPo] [Nation] [AFP] [AP] [TOLO] [National]
    More local war reports: 9 militants die in Kandahar offensive, Foreign troops 'kill two students' in Wardak, ISAF kills Haqqani leader in Paktika
  • Drugs Russia is complaining that the United States has not acted on information the top Russian anti-drug official provided about many narcotics laboratories in Afghanistan. At a meeting in Washington, attended by chief of Russia’s anti-drug agency Viktor Ivanov, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to curbing drug trafficking. But Russia reiterated its concern over continuing drug flows from Afghanistan. Official reports say Russia has about 5 million drug addicts. Every year, up to 30,000 Russians die of drug addiction. [AP] [BSR] Gas Russia is in talks with Turkmenistan over plans for a cross-border gas pipeline that will run through Taliban-controlled areas in a bid to weaken Europe's future gas project, AFP quotes Kommersant business daily as reporting. [AFP]