According to this BBC News article, nine or more Iranian engineers working on a road project were kidnapped, and suspicion exists that the Taliban is behind the act. There isn’t any more to the story right now. Whoever did the kidnapping will make contact soon to negotiate a release. The interesting thing will be how the Iranian government reacts. How Iran reacts has the potential to be good or bad from the American perspective.
The northern Aghan city of Kunduz was rocked by a suicide bombing that killed 36 people today. The Taliban bomber targeted a crowd outside a military recruiting center. Among the dead were five children, mostly shoeshine boys. This latest bombing follows other attacks on and killings of government officials in Kunduz in recent weeks; NATO forces have concentrated on southern provinces of late, leaving northern cities like Kunduz relatively open to Taliban attacks. A Taliban source for The New York Times revealed that the group’s tactics have recently shifted from organized ambushes to suicide bombing. The source predicted further attacks after the Afghan New Year beginning in March.
This New York Times article details work by the Taliban to create government in the midst of the American military, the military’s effort to understand the inner workings of the Taliban, and the fighting between the two sides. The article focuses on one remote district, where the Taliban is actually collecting taxes and administering a small level of governance. The military continues to find evidence of the Taliban’s activities, for example an underground station used to treat fighters wounded in battle. But it is not amounting to a victory, as the article notes that only three people in one area defied the Taliban’s order to abstain from voting. Fortunately casualty numbers are low for the American side. The article also addresses the matters of spies and of guns provided by the Pentagon to Afghan police ending up in the hands of the Taliban.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has ruled that Afghanistan’s newly elected parliament delay meeting until he is satisfied that all accusations of voter fraud have been addressed. But according to critics, as presented in this New York Times article, he is only focusing on those elections that his allies lost and is using a court without proper jurisdiction. So the members plan to meet despite Karzai’s decree. If security forces keep them out of the Parliament building, they will meet in a hotel, or a mosque, or maybe just in the street. President Karzai saw his Pashtun groups lose representation in the previous election, to a level below that of their share of the overall population, so he has reason to want to investigate the election results. The West is struggling on this issue, hoping to support the side that is more right in their arguments and more likely to actually win the argument, but not yet knowing which side that is.
BBC News is reporting on a statement made by Afghan Minister of Education Farooq Wardak, that the Taliban have agreed to end their opposition to the education of females. It is reported that agreements have been made at the local level across the country to allow girls and female teachers to return to schools. Female members of Parliament are skeptical of the announcement. It can only be hoped that this skepticism will be proven false and that Afghanistan is taking a step in the right direction.
This New York Times article offers details on a suicide bomb attack, delivered by a van packed with explosives, whose explosion was reported to be audible as far as eight miles away. Currently six Americans are reported dead, but other troops with injuries are not expected to be life threatening. The article also reports:
American fatalities in Afghanistan have risen steadily for five years, with 479 American soldiers killed so far in 2010, according to icasualties.org, an independent Web site that compiles battlefield data. That is more than three times the 155 American casualties in 2008.
So it looks like the member of the Taliban NATO and Afghan officials were talking to in secret peace negotiations a month ago isn’t the man they thought he was. It turns out it was merely an imposter, a man posing as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, a very very senior militant in the Taliban’s ranks. Looks like we’re back to square one. Oh yeah, but the guy was still paid a bunch of money for his fine efforts. Fool me once, shame on…er…us?
Last week we posted a link to a NYT article with some promising public opinion data from Afghans on the state of affairs within their country. Unfortunately, there’s some depressing results emerging too. As David Ignatius profiles, research from the International Council on Security and Development states:
The numbers show that Afghans remain wary, even as U.S. troops pound the Taliban: 50 percent of those polled in October think recent military operations are bad for the Afghan people; 58 percent think it’s wrong to work with foreign forces; 55 percent oppose military operations against the Taliban in their area; 72 percent say that foreigners disrespect their religion.
The New York Times has this piece on this year’s poll of Afghan public opinion taken by the Asia Foundation in Kabul. The trends revealed that more Afghans believe that their country is moving in the right direction, and more are aware of rebuilding projects in their areas. Some other results:
The survey also found overwhelming Afghan support for the Karzai government’s efforts at reconciliation with the Taliban and other armed opposition groups. Eighty-three percent favor the government’s attempts to put an end to the fighting through negotiation, up from 71 percent last year. This strong desire for peace talks is perhaps a reflection of an old Afghan proverb: “Blood cannot be cleaned by blood.”
Finally, 81 percent of the Afghans surveyed say they continue to agree with the democratic principle of equal rights for all groups to political participation and representation, including gender equality and equal educational opportunities for women.