President Barack Obama quietly flew into Afghanistan last week on a significant mission ---- to join Afghan President Hamid Karzai in signing the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries. The text still needs to be ratified by the US Congress and the Afghan Parliament, but at face value, it is quite an achievement for Afghanistan.
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President Ahmadinejad with Afghan President Karzai (left) and Tajik President Rahmon (right)
2050 GMT: Nuclear Watch. If true, this Associated Press report does not bode well for the resumption of talks on 13 April over Iran's uranium enrichment:
[Diplomats say] sensibilities generated by failed previous rounds and disputes on what should be discussed are keeping them from finding a venue.
They say the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China oppose Iran's choice of Istanbul because the last round of talks there 14 months ago ended in failure.
They say Iran, in turn, rejects Vienna because it is home to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is trying to probe allegations Tehran secretly worked on nuclear weapons.
The diplomats said Monday other venues are still being discussed and the start of the talks is not in jeopardy.
(For what's it worth, I think this is posturing and the talks will go ahead in Istanbul --- if not, this would be a slap in the face by the US and allies to Turkey, as it tries to elevate its broker's role in international affairs.)
At least eight people were reportedly killed and almost two dozen injured today in protests in Afghanistan over the alleged burning of the Qur'an at the American airbase, Camp Bagram.
Protests were held in the cities of Jalalabad and the capital Kabul, as well as Parwan Province, where Bagram is located. Police clashed with protesters who threw rocks and burnt tires, blocking the highways in several parts of the country.
Afghan news agency Pajhwok reported that police opened fire in Parwan's Shinwari district whne protesters tried to storm government buildings, resulting in at least six deaths. One protester each was killed in Logar Province and in Jalalabad, in Nengrahar Province.
UPDATE 1300 GMT: At least 54 people were killed and 150 injured in the Kabul explosion, according to the Ministry of Health. Four people died and 21 were injured in the Mazar-e Sharif bomb.
UPDATE 1000 GMT: A senior police officer has said more than 40 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in the Kabul bombing.
UPDATE 0830 GMT: A bomb has exploded at a Shi'a mosque in central Kabul as worshippers commemorated the religious occasion of Ashura. Journalist Jerome Starkey reported, "Dozens dead. Bodies all over the street." An AFP photographer also counted more than 30 dead.
Another attack has been reported in Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Ten years after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan --- and ten years after the first Bonn Conference on the country's future --- Afghan leaders and foreign representatives have again convened in Germany. I spoke with BBC West Midlands last night about the conference, the prospects for progress, the absence of the Taliban from the discussion, and the possible motives for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's subsequent visit to London.
The item starts just before the 1:10.00 mark.
The last time I met with Burhanuddin Rabbani, he had just taken up his post as head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council. He was looking unusually fit and energized and was in a jocular mood, his dark eyes laughing as he regaled his visitors with witty appraisals of Afghanistan's nascent peace process. President Hamid Karzai had taken his time in announcing the names of the High Peace Council members, officially announcing them in October 2010, and less than a month later Rabbani was already complaining that the Karzai administration had been dragging its feet on establishing an office for the council.
Video of the building from where the Taliban launched rocket attacks
Later Report: The Latest on the Taliban Attacks in Kabul
Taliban gunmen armed with suicide vests and heavy weaponry have launched co-ordinated attacks in Kabul, targeting NATO's headquarters, the US embassy, and the Afghan intelligence agency.
Heavy gunfire continued to be heard on Tuesday as Afghan forces battled to clear a building in the city's diplomatic quarter which had been taken over by heavily armed fighters. Rockets have reportedly been fired at the US and other embassies in the area.
At least four policemen and two civilians have been killed and 22 others injured, according to AFP.
Police have surrounded the occupied building, calling in air support to end a siege carried out by gunmen resisting inside the building.
Sediq Seddiqi, spokesman to the Afghan Ministry of Interior, said three of the Taliban fighters in the building had been killed and two were continuing to resist.
NATO has confirmed that they are providing Afghan forces ground and air support in the operation.
>While the current situation in Afghanistan is not good, there is much that can be done to correct it. However, if Washington and the regime in Kabul do not address the serious problems built up rather than resolved over the last decade, President Obama’s “light in the distance” may fade into night forever.
I met Waheed almost a decade ago in Peshawar in Pakistan at a modest function that the Sanayee Development Foundation was holding for its employees. Waheed worked for SDF; I was a new teacher for their affiliate English institute, Kabul English Language Center.
Back then, we --- young, partially-educated Afghans --- were a much different group. Our country had been given a second chance months earlier with the fall of the Taliban. So we were all looking very much forward to going back home and contributing not just to rebuilding our country, but rebuilding our lives.
UPDATE 1000 GMT: The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the killing of the Mayor of Kandahar by a suicide bomber.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi had ordered the destruction of homes that city officials claimed had been illegally constructed. He added that the mayor was killed to avenge the deaths of two children who allegedly were killed during the demolition. br>
The French agency AFP reports:
The mayor of Kandahar, the biggest city in southern Afghanistan and the birthplace of the Taliban movement, was killed in a suicide attack on Wednesday, police said.
Kabul, a place I once called home, has become a city of security barriers and fantasy palaces.
I can’t find my old house, my old street or the bakery where I used to watch the early-morning ritual of men slapping dough into hot ovens beneath the floor. They’ve all vanished behind a high-security superstructure of barricades and barbed wire, a foreign architecture of war. Elsewhere in the Afghan capital, a parallel construction boom is underway. The slapdash sprawl of nouveau riche development has sprouted modern apartment buildings, glass-plated shopping centers, wedding halls with fairy lights, and gaudy mansions with gold swan faucets and Greco-Roman balustrades, commissioned by wealthy men with many bodyguards and no taxable income.
Both of these facades are conspiring to cover up the past, paving over the rubble and the lessons of war, distancing ordinary people from the local elites and the bunkered foreigners alike. Most tragically, they are erasing the hope and the promise of change that burst forth in Afghanistan’s post-Taliban liberation nearly a decade ago.