The Afghan government and the Taliban have reportedly begun secret, high-level talks over ending the Afghan war. According to the Washington Post, Taliban representatives have recently met with officials from the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At least one session was reportedly held in Dubai. There are differing accounts of the scope of the talks, but sources say the Taliban negotiators are for the first time speaking on behalf of the Pakistan-based Taliban group Quetta Shura and its leader Mohammad Omar. Another Pakistani-based faction, the Haqqani group, is said to be excluded from the talks.
The Karzai government, meanwhile, says it’s begun closing down the operations of private military firms in Afghanistan. Karzai has ordered the companies to disband by the end of the year. On Tuesday, an Interior Ministry official said the Afghan government is now enforcing the decree.
Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada: “Based on the President’s decree concerning the closing of private security companies, all measures were taken by the Interior Ministry and other respected security organizations. And now we’ve physically started the disarmament of private security companies all over the country.”
The Afghan government says it’s taken action against eight companies, including Blackwater.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, militants have again set fire to a convoy of tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan. Up to eight tankers were set ablaze in the attack near the southwest Pakistani city of Quetta. It was at least the fourth such incident since Friday. Last week the Pakistani government blocked a NATO supply route after a cross-border helicopter attack mistakenly killed three Pakistani troops.
The man convicted for trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square has been sentenced to life in prison. Faisal Shahzad was sentenced in a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday after pleading guilty in June. Shahzad is a Pakistani-born US citizen and former financial analyst who lived with his wife and two young children in Connecticut. He has said he received explosives training from the Pakistani Taliban.
The first civilian trial of a former Guantánamo Bay prisoner is set to begin today in New York. Ahmed Ghailani has pleaded not guilty on charges surrounding the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa that killed 224 people. Ghailani has previously admitted to supplying the attackers but said he was unaware they intended to bomb the embassies. Ghailani’s attorneys say he was tortured at secret CIA prisons before his transfer to Guantánamo in 2006.
The United Nations says millions of people will be denied life-saving treatment after donors failed to meet the minimal fundraising level sought by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the fund has raised over $11.5 billion, short of its austerity level fundraising target of $13 billion.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Today we raised more than $11.5 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This is more than we did the last time at the last replenishment conference, and it is enough to give millions of people living in fear a new lease on life.”
The fund needed $13 billion to keep up with its current treatment of three million people with AIDS. It had sought $20 billion to increase that to five million. The Obama administration pledged $4 billion to the fund, $2 billion short of the amount sought by AIDS activists and some members of Congress. In a statement, the group Health GAP said it was profoundly disappointed in the US pledge, adding, “President Obama has found billions to bail out Wall Street and to continue wars. We urge him to find a way to do the same to save lives around the world.”
Hungary has declared a state of emergency in three counties after toxic sludge from an alumina plant flooded several towns. Over 35 million cubic feet of sludge leaked from the plant’s reservoir, engulfing homes and roads. At least four people have been killed, and 120 have been wounded. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he’s ordered a probe into the disaster.
Viktor Orbán: “We do not know of any sign which indicates that this disaster would have natural causes. And if a disaster has no natural causes, then it can be considered a disaster caused by people. Everyone in this country wants to know who is accountable for this tragedy and the property damage.”
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN peacekeeping force says it’s arrested a rebel leader on suspicion of leading the raids that led to mass rapes in eastern Congo earlier this year. Over 500 women, girls and babies were raped when Rwandan and Congolese rebels stormed villages in July and August. It took three weeks for the UN to respond, even though the villages were just miles from a UN base. The suspect has been identified as Lieutenant Colonel Mayele of the Mai-Mai militia.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for a federal investigation into the improper approval of thousands of foreclosures by some of the nation’s largest banks. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial have suspended foreclosures in twenty-three states after admitting to approving foreclosure affidavits and other documents without proper vetting. It’s unknown how many homeowners lost their homes due to foreclosure fraud. Texas, meanwhile, has become the latest state to issue an industry-wide freeze on all foreclosures. The Texas Attorney General’s office has also demanded lenders identify employees who wrongly approved foreclosures.
Antiwar activists targeted in last month’s FBI raids in Minneapolis and Chicago have announced they won’t testify before a grand jury. On Tuesday, demonstrators gathered outside a federal building in Chicago where the grand jury is convening. Stephanie Weiner, whose home was targeted in the raid, said the activists would defy their subpoenas to appear.
Stephanie Weiner: “We believe we have been targeted because of what we believe, what we say, who we know. The grand jury process is an intent to violate the inalienable rights under the Constitution and international law to freedom of political speech, association and the right to advocate for change. Those with grand jury dates for October 5th and those whose subpoenas are pending have declared that we intend to exercise our right not to participate in this fishing expedition.”
And Republican Senator Jim DeMint is under criticism for defending his 2004 comments that sexually active single women and gays and lesbians should be barred from teaching. Speaking at a church rally last week, DeMint said, “[When I said those things] no one came to my defense. But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down. They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”