Is Karzai in trouble?

Is Karzai in trouble?

Afghanistan should, perhaps, be called the “graveyard of expectations.” Every time the shrewd analyst thinks he knows what is going to happen, the picture shifts. The country’s presidential election, scheduled for August 20, is no exception.

Just a few weeks ago, pundits were nodding sagely at the political astuteness of the incumbent, Hamid Karzai. He has spent the past year assiduously courting and bullying the tribal leaders and strongmen who control the country, promising them jobs, perquisites, forgiveness of past sins, even the odd province or two. The process might have been a bit unsavory, but international election experts were saying they expected a “fair enough” referendum on Karzai’s tenure — in which, both inside Afghanistan and abroad, the president’s re-election was thought to be a sure thing.

Now, with just two weeks to go before the ballot, what had been a yawn of a race is suddenly a pulse-pumping sprint for the finish, with no clear winner in sight. What rocked Karzai’s formerly sturdy campaign boat? To understand the exciting and confusing contest, the careful observer should pay attention to a trio of contenders and at least two governments — and be prepared for the unexpected. [continued…]

Deadly contractor incident sours Afghans

Mirza Mohammed Dost stood at the foot of his son’s grave, near a headstone that read, “Raheb Dost, martyred by Americans.”

His son was no insurgent, Dost said. He was walking home from prayers on the night of May 5 when he was shot and killed on a busy Kabul street by U.S. security contractors.

“The Americans must answer for my son’s death,” Dost said as a large crowd of young men murmured in approval.

The shooting deaths of Raheb Dost, 24, and another Afghan civilian by four gunmen with the company once known as Blackwater have turned an entire neighborhood against the U.S. presence here. [continued…]

Taliban, foes clash in Pakistan

Taliban fighters attacked rival militants backed by the government in Pakistan’s tribal areas, sparking clashes that intelligence officials and tribal elders said left dozens dead.

There were few details of Wednesday’s fighting, on the edge of the isolated South Waziristan tribal area, a key Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold.

Two intelligence officials in the area said it began when the region’s dominant Taliban faction — whose leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was believed to have been killed last week in a U.S. missile strike — attacked a tribal faction backed by the government. The two sides battled in and around the village of Sura Ghar with assault weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, the officials said. One official said Pakistani forces tried to help the government-backed militants repel the Taliban, but gave no details. [continued…]

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