"Punjabi Taliban" responsible for attacks in major Pakistan cities: Interior minister. Rehman Malik blamed what he calls the "Punjabi Taliban" for a series of attacks in Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and other areas in Pakistan's largest province. But Malik has reportedly ruled out military action against what he calls the militants, saying he would coordinate a response with the Punjab provincial government, which at present denies the existence of insurgents in its borders. Many Pakistan officials remain protective of extremist groups, as for decades they have been a key element in its anti-India strategy. [BBC, NYT]
Peace conference split over deal with Taliban. Some of the 1,500 delegates at the peace jirga organized by Afghan President Hamid Karzai refuse to support any concessions to groups that "have killed innocent people," while others say Kabul should make a range of offers to senior Taliban commanders. Some say Afghanistan should implement Shariah law, while others suggest the UN should remove Taliban commanders from its terrorist blacklist, which bars travel and freezes overseas assets. Delegates say it is doubtful they will reach a consensus before the conference closes tomorrow. [AP]
Washington defends drone attacks. U.S. officials took issue with a UN report released yesterday, which said the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan undermines international law. One official who refused to be named said the attacks are entirely legal, since they have Pakistan's support and are "far cleaner in terms of innocent lives or property damage than the conventional battlefield actions of any military." [Newsweek]
Insurgents flee North Waziristan, fearing strike by Pakistan military. The Haqqani network, one of the three largest extremist groups in the Pakistan border province, is making a "strategic retreat" to eastern and southern Afghanistan to avoid "direct confrontation" with the Pakistani army. However, Pakistani officials have repeatedly denied they have plans to strike at militants North Waziristan. [Express Tribune]
Insurgent leader offers controversial peace deal. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hizb-i-Islami, one of Afghanistan's largest militant factions, says his group will disarm if foreign troops withdraw this year and early elections are held, after which lawmakers would be permitted to amend the Afghan constitution. The American and Afghan governments, wary of Hizb-i-Islami's long history of attacks on Afghan civilians and links to Al Qaeda, are unlikely to accept the offer. They also believe Hekmatyar's group enjoys too little support among Afghans to justify making so many concessions. [Christian Science Monitor]
Afghan corruption chief "dead meat" if he takes on high-level corruption. Afghanistan's High Office of Oversight is incapable of fulfilling its mandate to combat Afghanistan's endemic corruption, according to a series of reports from the U.S. government and the RAND Corporation. As of late 2009, the office was only 30 percent staffed, and many of those staff lacked basic skills, such as how to use a computer. The office's leader, Mohammad Yusin Osman, has no power to take on the high-level officials who nurture Afghan corruption, such as Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. According to Cheryl Benard, a RAND researcher whose husband is former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, Osman would be "dead meat" if he tried to do so. She added that many Afghans reluctantly support the Taliban because "at least [the Taliban] are principled, they are not corrupt. You can get fast justice."