At least 25 are dead in an apparent suicide bombing at the Bari Imam Sufi shrine at Nurpur village outside Pakistan's capital Islamabad this morning. Thousands of devotees were attending the last day of a five-day festival at the time of the explosion. Worshippers had been waiting for a prominent Shi'ite leader to address the gathering when the bomb went off. The shrine is located about one kilometer from the official residence of Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Allegations in the May 9 Newsweek that U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had abused a Koran, and even flushed one down a toilet, led to riots that left several dead in Afghanistan May 11. By the next day, protests had spread from Jalalabad (where they began) to Kabul, where a CARE office was ransacked, and several other cities across the country. Large, angry protests were also held in Pakistan, Indonesia, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere around the Islamic world. (Reuters, May 13)
Last week, Doonesbury's GI Ray Hightower blogged home bitterly from Baghdad that "Iraq is the new Afghanistan"—meaning the American public has largely forgotten that there is a war going on. Today's news indicates Afghanistan may actually be becoming the new Iraq. A top news story today is a violent anti-US protest in Jalalabad, sparked by a report in Newsweek that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay placed Korans on toilets to rattle suspects, and in at least one case "flushed a holy book down the toilet." Shouting "Death to America," protesters stoned a passing US convoy, attacked the Pakistani consulate and smashed shop windows. Four were killed and over 70 wounded when police fired on the crowd. (AP, May 11)
With Afghan opium cultivation up 64% in 2004 over the previous year, far exceeding even the gravest predictions, the Pentagon is broadening the scope of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to allow direct involvement in drug enforcement. Writes the NY Times March 25:
In a gunbattle in a village near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan's Paktika province, US troops apparently killed Raz Mohammed, described by a US commander as a "high-level Taliban."
Up to 50 worshippers are dead and twice as many wounded in a bomb blast at a shrine to the 19th century Sufi saint Pir Rakhel Shah at Gandhawa in Pakistan's conflicted province of Baluchistan March 19. The bomb went off as pilgrims at the shirne had lined up for a meal and were being served food. Although the shrine is at a Shi'ite mosque, it is revered by Sunnis as well, complicating a potential sectarian motive.
Condoleezza Rice's March 18 visit to Afghanistan ironically coincided with evident setbacks for the country's nascent democracy. President Hamid Karzai announced that parliamentary elections scheduled for May have been pushed back until September due to ongoing logistical chaos. The day before Rice's arrival a bomb blast in Kandahar (blamed on Taliban insurgents) killed five and injured over 30, all civilians. Children in a passing taxi were among the casualties. Another bomb in Kandahar that day shattered the windshield of a passing UN vehicle.
Two US soldiers have now been charged in the deaths of two Afghan prisoners who died in US custody in December 2002, after they were apparently chained to the ceiling before being savagely beaten at the Bagram Control Point, just north of Kabul. (NYT, March 12)
As previously noted here, a CIA contract agent charged in a similar case plans to cite Bush in his defense.