Kabul, Afghanistan – Members of Afghanistan’s warring sides gathered near Paris on Thursday to begin informal talks about the country’s future as U.S. and NATO forces pull out.
It was the first time that senior figures in the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami insurgent groups were to meet with Afghan government officials and members of the former Northern Alliance, which fought the Taliban for years.
Organizers of the two-day gathering, which is being hosted by a French think tank, hope it will generate helpful discussions but have said there will not be negotiations for a peace deal.
International efforts to bring the Taliban and other opponents of the Afghan government to the bargaining table are intensifying amid fears that the country could slide into civil war after the departure of most foreign troops by the end of 2014. U.S. and Afghan officials have been negotiating conditions for the presence of American forces to train, advise and assist after combat troops withdraw.
Polio vaccine dispensed under police guard
Lahore, Pakistan – Under police guard, thousands of health workers pressed on with a polio immunization program Thursday after nine were killed elsewhere in Pakistan by suspected militants who oppose the vaccination campaign.
Immunizations were halted in some parts of Pakistan and the U.N. suspended its field participation everywhere until better security was arranged for its workers. The violence risks reversing recent progress fighting polio in Pakistan, one of three countries in the world where the disease is endemic.
The Taliban have denied responsibility for the shootings. Militants have accused health workers of acting as spies for the U.S., alleging the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.
There were a few attacks on polio workers in July, but the current level of violence is unprecedented. A polio worker died Thursday after being shot in the head in the northwestern city of Peshawar a day earlier, said health official Janbaz Afridi.
His death raised to nine the number of Pakistanis working on the campaign who have been killed this week. Six of the workers gunned down were women, three of whom were teenagers. Two other workers were critically wounded. All the attacks occurred in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the southern city of Karachi.
Despite the threat, local officials in the eastern city of Lahore continued the vaccination drive Thursday under police escort.