500 Afghan troops and US Marines on Wednesday morning launched an assault on the long-time Taliban stronghold of Dahaneh in the southern Helmand province. They faced heavy resistance, though mostly from light arms, and appear to have taken the city center. They discovered some 60 lbs. of heroin, a chief means whereby the Taliban fund their resistance to the Karzai government.
In the north of the country on Wednesday morning, guerrillas stormed a checkpoint in the district of Archi, Kunduz Province, and killed the district police chief, wounding 3 of his bodyguards.
A US-sponsored opinion poll has found that incumbent Hamid Karzai may be forced into a run-off election. About 36 percent of respondents say they will vote for Karzai, while 20 percent favor his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai, a Pashtun from a small tribe related to that of the now-defunct Durrani monarchy, draws his support from the south, while Abdullah is popular in the Dari Persian-speaking north. Although Abdullah is from a mixed Pashtun and Tajik background, in Afghanistan he is largely identified as a Tajik (i.e. a Sunni Persian speaker rather than a Pashtun).
Shabakah-’i Ittila`-Rasani-yi Afghanistan reports in Dari Persian that on Tuesday, Hamid Karzai held a huge rally in the eastern Pashtun city of Jalalabad, in which thousands of Pashtuns chanted slogans pledging to defend him. The paper writes that the rally was more like a demonstration than just a political gathering, and that some observers worried that such heated crowds could contribute to deteriorating security in the country.
Fazl al-Hadi [Faisal Ahmad] Shinwari, the head of the All-Afghanistan Clergy Council, said earlier this week according to this Persian article that members of the Hizb-i Islami [of Gulbadin Hikmatyar] and persons such as Jalal al-Din Haqqani should be invited to take part in the elections. (Both of these are in rebellion against Karzai’s government and are often called ‘Taliban’ in the press). Shinwari, the former head of Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, is a very conservative figure who is nearly as puritanical as the Taliban, and he helped conduct talks with insurgents in Riyadh last year.
The Pakistani commentator Manzur Ejaz argues that India, by giving Afghanistan $1.6 bn. in development aid, building its parliament edifice, putting in television studios in Jalalabad, and so forth, is gaining more influence in that country than Pakistan and perhaps even than the United States. Of the candidates, Abdullah Abdullah is closer to New Delhi, while Karzai, despite his quarrels with Islamabad, is closer to Pakistan
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