Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: More Attacks Hit Quetta; U.S. Transferring Russian Prisoner From Bagram to Stand Trial

Topline

  • Two bombings in Quetta followed yesterday’s attack on a bus carrying Hazara residents, targeting a Frontier Corps paramilitary convoy and a JUI-F rally led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. At least five people were killed; Rehman was unhurt. U.S. officials are reportedly preparing to transfer a Russian national held at Bagram to the U.S. for trial; thirteen foreign nationals are reported to remain at the prison facility. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri continue to lead rallies around Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan traded mortar fire in the Balochistan border on Friday. Pres. Ghani has reportedly named Judge Abdul Rashid Rashid as the new acting Chief Justice of Afghanistan. In a command transfer ceremony in Kandahar on Thursday, the head of Regional Command-South turned over control to the new Tactical Advise and Assist Command-South.

Pakistan — Security

  • Fazlur Rehman Targeted in Quetta Attack: At least two people were killed and dozens injured in a suicide attack on a JUI-F rally in Quetta on Thursday; Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the party’s leader, narrowly escaped injury. The militant group Jundullah (the Peshawar-based, not Iran-based organization by that name) reportedly claim responsibility for the attack; police officials report that they have arrested multiple suspects on Friday. A separate suicide attack earlier in the day targeted a paramilitary Frontier Corps convoy, killing at least three civilian bystanders; both attacks following an attack on a bus carrying Hazara residents, which killed eight. The Hazara community is conducting a protest strike today to mourn those killed. [ET] [Dawn] [BBC]
  • Iran Border Clashes: Iranian border forces and the Balochistan Frontier Corps exchanged mortar fire near the town of Mashkail on Friday; no casualties were reported. [Dawn]
  • Suspect Acquitted in Pearl Murder Case: On Friday, a Hyderabad anti-terrorism court acquitted Qari Hashim for lack of evidence in connection to the murder of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Hashim had been arrested in 2005; the lead suspect in the murder, Omar Shaikh, received the death penalty in 2002.
  • Afridi Appeal Adjourned: The FATA Tribunal hearing Dr Shakil Afridi’s appeal of his 33-year conviction on charges of aiding banned militant organizations adjourned for the sixth time on Thursday without taking action. Officials report that the tribunal has yet to receive case records from the Khyber Agency political administration, which convicted Afridi, whose sentenced was upheld by the Frontier Crimes Regulation commissioner and then appealed. Afridi’s family say they have not been allowed to contact him for two years.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Protest Stand-Off: PML-N insiders express concern to Dawn that, despite the government’s apparent success so far in waiting out the PTI and PAT protest movements, “nobody at the top is ready for introspection” and party leadership remains overly concentrated in the Sharif brothers and close associates. Tahirul Qadri visited Abbottabad on Thursday, touting his “journey of revolution” around the country; Imran Khan will lead a rally in Gujrat today. In Supreme Court hearings on a PTI petition seeking Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification, Judge Jawwad Khawaja indicated that the court would set down an interpretation of Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, which require candidates for office to be “sadiq” (honest” and ameen “righteous”, without defining those terms. The government argues that Article 66 of the constitution, which sets parliamentary proceedings outside court jurisdictions, should take precedent in the case. [Dawn] [APP]
  • PML-N Wins Special Election: Hassan Riaz, a PML-N candidate for the PP-162 Sheikhpura special elections on Thursday, won the seat with roughly 39,000 votes, against roughly 22,000 votes for the PPP runner-up. The PTI did not contest the seat.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Crisis: Speaking on Friday in commemoration of World Polio Day, Prime Minister Sharif said that combating the disease was of “utmost priority” to his government, and pledged continued vaccination efforts. At least 220 children have been diagnosed with polio so far this year in Pakistan, breaking a 14-year record. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Bilalwal Bhutto Downplays Need for MQM Coalition [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Sharif to Review Cabinet Ministry Performance [Dawn] [ET]
  • Ex-Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah to Head Governance Reform Committee [ET]
  • Federal Government Breaches Quarterly Expenditure Limits [ET]
  • Punjab Lawmakers Seek Salary Increase [Dawn]
  • Foreign Ministry Rebuffs DC Embassy Request to Hire Lobbyists [Dawn]
  • State Bank of Pakistan Offers Concessional Loans for Flood-Affected Farmers [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Reiterates Orders to Regularize Service of Women’s Health Workers [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Russian Bagram Detainee to Be Transferred to U.S.: U.S. officials report that Irek Hamidullan, a Russian national who defected to join the anti-Soviet jihad and who has been held at the Bagram detention facility since 2009 after taking part in insurgent attacks, will be flown the U.S. and prosecuted in federal court. He is the first foreign national to be transferred from Bagram. As of last month, there are reported to be thirteen foreign nationals remaining at the prison facility. [NYT] [AP]
  • Kandahar Transfer: On Thursday, the head of Regional Command-South, Maj. Gen. Michael Bills, formally transferred command to Brig. Gen. Douglas Gabram, who will head the new, smaller “Tactical Advise and Assist” command. The U.S. military at the same time assumed command of Kandahar airfield, from NATO.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Chief Justice Named: On Friday, Pres. Ghani reportedly appointed Judge Abdul Rashid Rashid to serve as acting Supreme Court Chief Justice; Rashid previous headed the court’s bureau on military and internal and external security. A formal announcement of Rashid’s appointment has not yet been issued. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Nawzad District ‘On Verge of Collapse’ [TOLO]
  • New Political Will Pushes Attorney General Into Action [TOLO]
  • Five Killed in Attack on Nangahar Police [AP]
  • Commentary: Did Politics Compromise Afghanistan’s Constitution? – “The country acquiesced to the formation of a government with no basis in the constitution, formed by two candidates who had no legal right to do so, and without the consent of the people who will be governed under their newly invented regime.” [Ghizaal Haress, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: The New Gangs of Herat: How Young Afghans Turn Away from Their Community – “Starting with petty anti-social behaviour such as teasing local boys and girls at or around the school and elsewhere in the community and publicly smoking cigarettes, some of these gangs have moved into organised anti-social activities.” [S Reza Kazemi, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Attack on Quetta Hazaras Kills Eight; Taliban Presence Spreading in Kunduz

Topline

  • At least eight people were killed in an attack on a bus carrying Hazara merchants in Quetta on Thursday. India and Pakistan continue to exchange artillery fire near Sialkot. Taliban forces are spreading in Kunduz and other northern provinces, the NYT reports, setting up parallel governance systems and threatening major cities. The PTI is scrambling to populate the Islamabad sit-in site after Tahirul Qadri called off the PAT’s participation there yesterday. Pres. Obama spoke with Pres. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah by videoconference on Wednesday, extending an invitation to the White House. Pres. Ghani has accepted the resignation of Supreme Court chief justice Abdul Salam Azimi.

Pakistan — Security

  • Indian Border Tensions: Exchanges of fire between India and Pakistan continued near Sialkot on Thursday; no casualties were reported. Pakistan’s foreign ministry accused Indian forces of constructing bunkers within five hundred meters of the border line, in violation of a 2010 agreement between the two countries. PM Modi visited Siachen and Kashmir on Thursday to meet with Indian soldiers. Pakistani parliamentarians criticized recent statements by Indian defense officials during their session on Thursday, and the government’s response; a resolution was passed condemning India’s “unprovoked and indiscriminate” ceasefire violations. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Quetta Attacks: At least eight people were killed and two wounded on Thursday in an attack on a bus carrying Hazara vegetable merchants on the outskirts of Quetta; the local Hazara community has called for a strike on Friday. No claim of responsibility has been reported, although most press accounts note previous claims by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi for similar attacks in the past. A separate bombing attack targeted a Frontier Corps vehicle, killing two people and injuring as many as a dozen. [WSJ] [Reuters]
  • FATA Attacks and Operations: Rocket attacks on a camp for security forces near Data Khel, North Waziristan killed two personnel and wounded three on Wednesday. In Khyber, two Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in clashes with local militants. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Islamabad Protests: Speaking to supporters at the Islamabad sit-ins on Wednesday, Imran Khan thanked Tahirul Qadri and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, reiterating that his protests would continue despite Qadri’s departure for other cities. PAT activists have reportedly constituted the majority of the sit-in presence since it began, and the PTI is now scrambling to populate the Islamabad site with local supporters. Prime Minister Sharif attended Wednesday’s parliament session, and met separately with party leaders, who are reported to have advised him not to accept the PTI’s still-pending resignations from the assembly. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • PPP Opposition: Reuters interviews Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari, who describes plans to “expand our vote bank, make gains, gain more seats” and pledged to take actions to alleviate poverty. He, like Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, indicates that he plans to organize a series of rallies around the country to challenge the government’s performance. Separately, two former aides to the late Benazir Bhutto, former senator Safdar Ali Abbasi and Naheed Khan, have announced the formation of a “PPP Workers” splinter party. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • US Aid Oversight: In a long investigative report, the Post reports that the USAID Inspector General’s office removed some critical findings from a number of audit reports issued since 2011, under the tenure of acting inspector general Michael Carroll, who withdrew his 16-month- pending nomination on Wednesday. Some of those reports include a $44 million program intended to reduce waste and fraud in aid given to Pakistan, the funds for which a 2012 draft report found were largely spent on contractor benefits, salaries, and travel. Those findings were removed from a final report.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • No Celebrations of Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel for Fear of Taliban Attacks [Dawn]
  • Council of Islamic Ideology Condemns Sectarian Divisions Ahead of Muharram [ET] [ET]
  • Former Chief Justice Jillani Received ‘Prohibited Bore’ Weapons License [Dawn]
  • National Accountability Bureau Investigating 2010 Land Transfer Linked to PPP Leaders [ET]
  • Dim Hopes of Meeting $4B Privatization Revenue Targets [ET]
  • Water and Power Ministry Says Delay of Nandipur Power Project Cost Rs 113 Billion [Dawn]
  • Polio Worker Beaten in Lahore [ET]
  • Government Borrowing from Central Bank Falls [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Offensives in Northern Afghanistan: The NYT, reporting from Kunduz, notes spreading Taliban presence in parts of northern Afghanistan, an area that has not previously represented a major front in the conflict. The Taliban’s shadow governor in Kunduz is Mullah Abdul Salam, who was freed in a prisoner release by Pakistan last year; his forces are reported to have set up parallel courts, allowed schools to remain open, and to have allowed some international aid projects to continue. The Afghan security forces response has been fragmented, with many local police militias operating independently and regular forces relying on artillery to target areas of Taliban control.
  • Arrests for Spreading of Islamic State Propaganda: The Ministry of Interior said Wednesday that it had arrested a “group of individuals” caught on CCTV camera writing slogans in support of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on the walls of Kabul University.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Foreign Relations: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah spoke by videoconference with Pres. Obama on Wednesday, who invited them to visit the White House at an unspecified future date. Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval also met with the two Afghan leaders on Wednesday, reiterating “India’s commitment to assist Afghanistan build a strong, democratic and prosperous country.” Interior Minister Umer Daudzai, speaking at a conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, described India as an “all-weather friend” and reiterated accusations that Pakistan was sheltering Taliban militants. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Supreme Court Chief Justice Resigns: On Thursday, Pres. Ghani accepted the resignation of acting Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi, and awarded him the Ghazni Amanullah Khan medal for “his active role in maintaining and implementation of justice and law in the country”. Azimi had held the chief justice’s position since August 2006; no successor has been named.
  • Blasphemy Case: Afghan officials say investigations are ongoing but deny reports that arrests have been made in connection to blasphemy charges brought against the Afghanistan Express newspaper for an English-language opinion piece on “The Islam of the Taliban and ISIS,” published October 15. A former staffer with the paper tells the Post that several people have been detained.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Former British Army Chief Acknowledges Errors in Afghanistan Operations [BBC]
  • Parliamentarians Demand Electoral Reforms [TOLO]
  • Bond Set for Afghan Soldiers Who Fled to Canada [AP]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan’s Demographic Drought – “One of the most important lessons to be learned from the recent electoral crisis is to deal with the lack of demographic data in the country.” [Ali Karimi, South Asia Channel]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Qadri Announces End of Islamabad Sit-In; Afghan Security Forces Casualties Up 23%

Topline

  • Tahirul Qadri has announced the conclusion of his party’s sit-ins in Islamabad, but says that the “journey of revolution” will continue with protests scheduled for cities around the country through the end of the year. Imran Khan has vowed to continue the Islamabad protests until Prime Minister Sharif resigns. Afghan security personnel casualties over the past six-month period have risen 23% over the same period in 2013; roughly 4,380 soldiers and police officers have been killed since the start of January, making 2014 the deadliest year so far for Afghan personnel. India and Pakistan exchanged artillery fire again on Wednesday; India’s defense minister warned Pakistan that it would “feel the pain of this adventurism” if clashes persist. The NYT reports on Pres. Ghani’s new management style during his first few weeks in office. Prime Minister Sharif has halted a proposed electricity tariff increase after facing political backlash from the PTI.

Pakistan — Security

  • Indian Border Clashes: Indian and Pakistani border forces traded artillery fire near Sialkot on Wednesday; no casualties were reported. On Tuesday, India’s defense minister Arun Jaitley warned that “our conventional strength is far more than theirs. So if [Pakistan] persist[s] with this, they’ll feel the pain of this adventurism”, adding that the onus was on Pakistan to “create an atmosphere for talks”. [ET]
  • U.S. Sanctions Sajna: On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department formally designated Khan Said Sajna, who leads a breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in South Waziristan, a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist”, barring U.S. citizens from engaging in transactions with him.
  • Polio Team Attacked: Three people were injured in an bombing attack on a polio vaccination team in Bajaur on Wednesday, following threats issued the previous day of “severe consequences” for those taking part in the vaccination campaign. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Qadri Ends Islamabad Sit-In: On Tuesday evening, Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahirul Qadri announced that his two-month sit-in in Islamabad “has achieved its purpose” and would be closed down. Participation has waned in recent days as Qadri began conducting rallies outside of the capital; he said that the “journey of revolution” would continue, announcing plans for protests in Abbottabad, Bhakkar, Sargodha, Sialkot, and Karachi through the end of the year. Prime Minister Sharif has ordered PML-N officials not to comment on Qadri’s move. Qadri told reporters that his move was not made in consultation with the PTI, but that “they knew that our plan to wind up the sit-in was in the making.” Imran Khan reiterated his commitment to continue the PTI’s Islamabad sit-in, telling supporters on Tuesday that “I will not leave this container until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigns and an independent investigation into rigging in the 2013 elections is held.” Meanwhile, the Qaumi Watan Party announced that it was withdrawing its no-confidence motion against the PTI provincial government in Khyber Paktunkhwa; opposition sources say that Prime Minister Sharif rejected a proposal by JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman in meetings on Tuesday to oust the PTI government. [AJE]
  • MQM Split: Anonymous PPP leaders report that former Pres. Zardari has directed party officials to reach out to the MQM in an effort to bring the party back into the Sindh provincial government coalition; the party’s application to join the opposition benches has yet to be approved by the Sindh assembly speaker. Party leader Altaf Hussain has rejected the appeal, saying that the MQM “will not be a part of the Sindh government at any cost.” On Wednesday, the MQM announced its intention to quit the PPP-led coalition in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile in London, UK police freed Iftikhar Hussain, a relative of Altaf Hussain who had been detained in June in connection to the 2010 murder of former MQM leader Imran Farooq; he was released for lack of evidence. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Electricity Tariff Hike Halted: Faced with political blowback from the PTI and other opposition groups, on Wednesday Prime Minister Sharif ordered the government to maintain electricity prices at their current levels rather than impose a hike in tariffs recommended by the NEPRA regulatory authority.
  • Energy Infrastructure: Indian officials have reportedly urged the U.S. not to support the construction of Pakistan’s Diamer Bhasha Dam, which was endorsed at a donors’ conference in Washington last week, which India says is being built on disputed territory. The Asian Development Bank is reportedly preparing to offer a $2.1 billion loan for the energy sector over the next three years. Pakistan and Russia held talks on Tuesday and agreed to take steps towards greater energy cooperation, but offered no specific details of an agreement.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan and Iran Agree to Border Cooperation [Dawn]
  • Airstrikes in North Waziristan Kill Thirty [Dawn] [ET]
  • Chinese Delegation to Consider $3.5 Billion in Rail Infrastructure Investments [ET]
  • PPP and ANP Conduct Senate Walkout to Protest Party Worker’s Death [ET]
  • Report: Twenty-Five Million Broken Promises: The Crisis of Pakistan’s Out-of-School Children – “Pakistan faces an education crisis of unprecedented proportions, with nearly half of all children of school-going age out of school.” [Alif Ailaan]

Afghanistan — Security

  • ANSF Casualties: The WSJ reports that 950 soldiers and around 2,200 police and local militia members have been killed in the six months since the start of the Afghan calendar year on March 21, a 23% increase over the same period the year prior. The release of casualty figures by the Afghan defense ministry represents a reversal from last year, when the ministry refused to release the data out of concern for unit morale. In total, roughly 4,380 soldiers and police have been killed since January 1, 2014, making it the deadliest year for Afghan security forces since 2001.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • First 100 Days: The NYT reports on Pres. Ghani’s first weeks in office, in which he has made a break from his predecessor’s practices, starting meetings promptly on time, cutting back on large dinners, conducting surprise inspections, and consolidating offices and firing presidential staff. An anonymous former Afghan official cautions that Ghani is “focusing 95 percent of his time on institutions and 5 percent of his time on politics… there needs to be more of a balance.” Despite the critique, Ghani has also been active at reaching out to armed services commanders, and conducts regular videoconferences with provincial officials. The Interior Ministry issued a statement denying any strains between Ghani and Interior Minister Umar Daudzai, as was reported in the NYT piece. Separately, the Attorney General’s office held a press conference on Tuesday, referring corruption cases against five former ministers connected to the Kabul Bank scandal to the Supreme Court of Afghanistan. [TOLO]
  • Regional Relations: Interior Minister Daudzai visited a New Delhi security conference on Wednesday, where he indicated that Afghanistan would renew requests made during the previous administration for arms and military hardware. Pres. Ghani will make his first official foreign trip next week, visiting Beijing for meetings with his counterpart Xi Jinping.
  • Blasphemy Charge: On Tuesday, the Council of Ministers, chaired by Abdullah Abdullah, directed the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Information and Culture to initiate blasphemy charges against the staff of the Afghanistan Express newspaper, following the publication of an article allegedly “desecrating the religion of Islam”. The paper issued a statement of apology for the article, which has been removed from the site.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Three Injured in Attack on Helmand Border Police Chief [Khaama Press]
  • IED in Kabul; No Casualties [Khaama Press]
  • Counternarcotics Minister Calls for ‘Political Will’ to Curb Drug Trade [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM Challenges PPP Opposition Leader’s Position; Afghan Parliament to Vote on BSA Next Week

Topline

  • The MQM has challenged National Assembly opposition leader Khurshid Shah’s position following the party’s break with the PPP in the Sindh Assembly. Tahirul Qadri met with partners in Lahore on Monday and agreed that the PAT would not hold public demonstrations during Muharram. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan disowned their former spokesman after he split with the group and pledged support to ISIS. Afghanistan’s parliament will vote on the U.S. Bilateral Security Agreement next week. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction released a critical report on U.S. counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan over the past decade; opium cultivation reached record highs in 2013. Four ANA soldiers were killed in a bus stop bombing in Kabul on Tuesday. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has issued an interim order allowing the government to proceed with the privatization of a 10% stake of the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Operations: Local militants have reportedly warned Bara residents in Khyber not to flee the area ahead of military operations, and have destroyed the homes of at least thirty fighters who have surrendered to authorities. A Lashkar-e-Islam commander and 80 fighters reportedly surrendered on Monday. On Tuesday, a civilian was killed and two injured in cross-border mortar fire into Bajaur; three Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers in Bajaur were injured in firing from Afghanistan’s Kunar province on Monday.
  • Former TTP Spokesman Dismissed: Following the announcement by former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Shahidullah Shahid (a nom de guerre) that he and five other commanders had split from the group and endorsed the leadership of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the TTP announced on Tuesday that Shahid — whose real name is Abu Omar Sheikh Maqbool — would no longer be allowed to speak on the group’s behalf. Another, unidentified militant has been appointed to take over the spokesman position; the TTP reiterated a pledge of allegiance to Mullah Omar in their statement. [BBC]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Split: Following the MQM’s resignation from the Sindh provincial government coalition in the wake of critical comments by PPP leader Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari, leaders from the PPP and MQM continued to trade accusations during assembly proceedings on Monday. In the national assembly, the party filed a motion challenging PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah’s position; should the PTI join the MQM in opposition, the two would have 57 seats against the PPP’s 46, allowing for a selection of opposition leader. Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani offered to serve as a “neutral mediator” between the MQM and PPP on Tuesday. [ET]
  • Protests Continue: Speaking to supporters in Islamabad on Monday, Imran Khan suggested that he would call off the sit-ins if Prime Minister Sharif were willing to declare his “real assets” to the public. Imran also criticized rising electricity prices, and claimed that the party would hold protests in all district headquarters around the country on Wednesday in opposition to recent reports of a tariff increase. Tahirul Qadri met with the PML-Q and other PAT allies in Lahore on Monday, agreeing that the party would not hold any “public meetings and processions” during the month of Muharram. On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected a PTI plea for Judge Jawwad Khawaja to recuse himself form a case brought by the party seeking Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification from office. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • ARY News Suspended: On Monday, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority imposed a 15-day suspension and Rs 10 million fine on ARY News for alleged defamatory remarks against the judiciary by anchor Mubasher Lucman, a vocal opponent of the Sharif government. The Lahore High Court is also hearing a case against Lucman and ARY producers, who have not appeared at proceedings; arrest warrants were issued Friday. [BBC] [ET]
  • Elections: The Supreme Court gave Punjab and Sindh until the end of the month to finalize legislation regarding the process for delimiting local government constituencies; the Sindh Assembly passed legislation in that regard on Monday in the absence of the MQM. The Election Commission has said that it needs five months to make preparations for biometric polling in Khyber Paktunkhwa; Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak insisted that the government was ready for polling. Separately, the national assembly committee on electoral reforms has amassed a total of 1,283 recommendations from a variety of electoral organizations, and is now in the process of vetting them. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Supreme Court Oks OGDCL Privatization: In an interim order on Monday, the Supreme Court approved the government’s plan to privatize a 10% stake of the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd, but barred it from using funds garnered from the sale until a final verdict was announced on the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government’s challenge. Hearings will resume November 10. [Dawn]
  • Electricity Tariff Increase: Water and Power Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif defended the government’s planned electricity tariff increase in senate testimony on Monday, suggesting that the government had reduced other surcharges for a “net zero” impact on consumers. [APP] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sartaj Aziz Downplays Rift with Iran [Dawn]
  • Islamabad High Court Reiterates Order to Police to File Charges Against Former CIA Station Chief [ET]
  • Suspects Identified in Edhi Robbery [NYT] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Current Account Deficit During First Quarter Widens to $1.33 Billion [ET]
  • Chinese Solar MOU Cancelled [ET]
  • No Settlement on Reko Diq Dispute, Balochistan Chief Minister Says [Dawn]
  • New Gwadar Airport Construction Re-Approved at Rs 26.6 Billion Cost [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Bombing: Four Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in a bus stop bombing in Kabul on Tuesday; twelve other people, including six civilians, were injured. Officials indicate the bomb was triggered remotely; the Taliban claimed responsibility.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Parliament to Vote on Bilateral Security Agreement: The Wolesi Jirga will review and vote on the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement and Afghan-NATO Status of Forces Agreement beginning next week; transcripts of the two agreements are currently under review by parliamentary committees. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Opium Cultivation: The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction released a report on Tuesday criticizing U.S. efforts to contain opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, which have cost $7.6 billion over the past decade but which have made no effective dent in supply; cultivation reached a record high in 2013, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime surveys. [LAT] [SIGAR Report (pdf)]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Attorney General’s Office Seeks to Detain Kabul Bank Accused [TOLO]
  • Cabinet Appointments Still Under Review [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Interior Seeks to Recruit Additional 10,000 Female ANP Officers By Next Year [Khaama Press]
  • Afghani Decreases Against the Dollar as Central Bank Market Supply Dries Up [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Is the Afghan Unity Government a Roadmap for Negotiations with the Taliban? – “Negotiating a constitutional amendment to establish a mixed system risks combining the institutions of president and prime minister in such a way as to leave no authoritative mechanism to resolve conflicts between them.” [Barnett Rubin, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: A Fighting Season to Remember in Afghanistan – “While the ANSF appears capable of beating back most, though not all, Taliban offensives, there are cracks in the facade that bear watching.” [Jason Lyall, Monkey Cage]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Clashes on Indian and Iran Borders with Pakistan; Afghan and Pakistani Leaders Hold Talks

Topline

  • Pakistan exchanged border fire with India on Sunday and clashed with Iran over the weekend; one Pakistani Frontier Corps officer was killed in Balochistan on Friday, prompting an exchange of protests between Iran and Pakistan. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz visited Kabul for talks with Pres. Ghani and other senior Afghan leaders over the weekend; Ghani accepted an invitation to visit Islamabad at a later date. Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari led a large rally in Karachi on Saturday, marking the anniversary of his mother’s return to the country in 2007. Criticism of party leader Altaf Hussain during Bhutto’s speech prompted the MQM to quit its provincial government coalition with the PPP the following day. There are reports of renewed negotiations between the government and the PAT, but Tahirul Qadri denied that he was holding talks; he traveled to Lahore to lead a rally there on Sunday. Turkish Pres. Erdogan visited Kabul and signed a strategic partnership agreement. The Afghan parliament is taking up the U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement for review this week. Despite concerns of political backlash the government has reportedly decided to impose a surcharge on electricity tariffs in an effort to show signs of progress ahead of IMF talks scheduled for the end of the month. Foreign investment in Pakistan fell 26.5% during the first quarter of the fiscal year. Qamaruddin Shinwari has been appointed Attorney General of Afghanistan.

Pakistan — Security

  • India Border Clashes: Indian and Pakistani border forces exchanged fire on Sunday at the border near Sialkot; one Pakistani civilian was reportedly injured. Speaking at a military parade on Satuday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif reiterated that “any aggression against Pakistan will get a befitting response” and that “lasting peace in the region will only come about with the fair and just resolution of the Kashmir issue”. Foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz spoke with UN Secretary Gen. Ban Ki-Moon on Sunday, calling for UN meditation and arguing that UN monitors along the Line of Control should take a more active role and “should not be inhibited by non-cooperation of one side”. [APP]
  • Iranian Border Clashes: Iran said that two of its border guards had been killed by militants infiltrating from the Pakistani side on Thursday, warning that it would conduct hot pursuit operations against militants based across the Balochistan border. Pakistan’s foreign ministry responded that “it is not helpful to externalise problems” and said that Iran should share evidence of the whereabouts of such groups. Later on Friday, Pakistani Frontier Corps spokes officials reported that Iranian border forces had attacked a Frontier Corps convoy, killing one officer and injuring three others; the Iranian force is also alleged to have raided a village in the Nokundi area, reportedly targeting the house of a relative of an Iranian Basij commander. Cross-border artillery fire from Iran was reported on Saturday; a formal protest was delivered to Iran’s ambassador late Friday evening. Iran in turned summoned Pakistan’s ambassador, demanding “serious steps to prevent any recurrence” of militant attacks into Iran. [NYT] [Dawn]
  • FATA Operations: Military officials said Sunday that they had killed thirty-seven militants in Khyber’s Tirah Valley over the past three days of “Operation Khyber One”, and claim that fifty militants have surrendered to security forces. No independent confirmation of the account is currently possible. Pamphlets distributed in the area on Sunday gave militants three days to surrender their arms or face a full-scale offensive; a tribal jirga’s request to open negotiations with militants was rejected by the Khyber political agent. Senior officials at the Pakistani embassy told members of the Pakistani community on Sunday that the Shawal Valley region of North Waziristan would be the next major target for ground operations. Elsewhere, two Frontier Corps personnel were killed in a roadside bombing in Bajaur on Saturday. [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Edhi Foundation Robbed: A group of eight robbers attacked the head office of the Edhi Foundation, a leading philanthropic organization that provides ambulance and health services in Karachi. Abdul Sattar Edhi, the organization’s founder, was briefly detained but unhurt; Rs 20 million in gold and foreign currency was reported stolen. [Dawn] [BBC]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Bilalwal Leads Karachi Rally: Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former Pres. Zardari and the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, spoke before a large rally of PPP supporters — crowds were estimated at around 150,000 people — in Karachi on Saturday, the anniversary of his mother’s return to Pakistan from exile in 2007. In a wide-ranging speech, Bhutto criticized the PPP’s opponents, including the protest movements in Islamabad, the PML-N government, and the MQM, and highlighted the sacrifices of his mother and grandfather, calling for the adoption of “Bhuttoism and [the] practice [of] good governance in order to strengthen democracy and save the country.” Meanwhile, tensions are reported between the PPP and the People’s Amn Committee in Lyari; a PPP office was attacked in Baldia Town on Friday, and PAC leader Uzair Baloch reportedly called on supporters not to attend the Saturday rally. Dawn also notes tensions within the party in Punjab. [NYT] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • MQM Quits Sindh Government: Rebuffing Bilalwal’s criticism, on Saturday the MQM accused the PPP of “destroying Karachi” over the course of its tenure, stating that leader Altaf Hussain “truly represents the voice of the poor people of Sindh”. On Sunday, the MQM announced that it would quit the Sindh provincial government coalition, which it joined six months prior, saying that “every MQM worker is furious over the remarks made by Bilawal… There will be no compromise on our leader Altaf Hussain.” The MQM staged a walkout from the Sindh Assembly on Monday as they submitted their request to join the opposition bench. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Islamabad Standoff: The Express Tribune reported Saturday that the government plans to renew negotiation efforts with the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, but not the PTI; speaking at a rally in Lahore on Sunday, Tahirul Qadri denied that he was holding talks, saying he would not accept anything short of vengeance for those killed in clashes between PAT activists and Lahore police in June. Attendance at the Islamabad protest rally was waned considerably; many PAT activists are reported to have returned home from the sit-in over the past week as Qadri has begun traveling protests. On Friday, Imran Khan headlined a PTI rally in Sargodha, touting the electoral loss of former PTI president Javed Hashmi in Multan to PTI-backed candidate Amir Dogar. Speaking to PML-N supporters on Saturday, Prime Minister Sharif again ruled out resignation. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Blasphemy Charge Against ASWJ Leader: Islamabad police have registered blasphemy charges against the leadership of the Sunni sectarian party Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, including its leader Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, charging them with “spreading sectarian hatred” during speeches on Friday. The party’s Punjab information minister obliquely warned of a backlash ahead of Muharram if the case continues.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Dawn reports that the government has agreed to impose a small surcharge on electricity tariffs, beginning at the end of the month but retroactively effective October 16, in an effort to show signs of progress in its quarterly review talks with the IMF, scheduled for October 29. The Express Tribune meanwhile reports that the cabinet has rejected a Chinese request to establish a special reserve fund to pay Chinese power sector investors within 30 days of purchase, which had been requested to avoid circular debt problems.
  • Polio Crisis: Another new polio case was reported in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Saturday, and two in FATA on Friday, bringing the national total to 210 so far this year. The International Monitoring Board on polio is expected to release a report at the end of the month which officials expect may lead to further travel restrictions on Pakistani nationals. In Karachi, more than half of the local neighborhood union councils have suspended a polio vaccination drive that was scheduled to begin Monday, citing a lack of security. [Dawn]
  • Foreign Investment Falls: Foreign direct investment fell 26.5% during the first quarter of the fiscal year compared to the same period a year prior, accord to State Bank of Pakistan data released Friday, as Pakistan received just $169 million in investments. Foreign portfolio investment rose from $38 million to $178 million. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Ulema Council Condemns IS Militants [AFP]
  • Eight Laborers Found Dead in Balochistan’s Lasbela District [Dawn] [AFP]
  • Family of Blasphemy Convict Appeals to UK PM Cameron for Aid [AFP]
  • Cabinet Expansion Considered [ET]
  • Government to Spend Rs220 Million from Development Budget on Offices and Vehicles [ET]
  • New PIA Chairman Appointed [Dawn]
  • Water and Power Secretary Sethi Replaced [Dawn]
  • PTI Files Charges Alleging Overbilling by Electricity Distributors [Dawn]
  • Major Reshuffles Reported at National Accountability Bureau [ET] [Dawn]
  • Tax Reform Commission Will Only Consider Unanimously-Backed Proposals [ET]
  • PEMRA Bans ARY News Program Anchored by Mubashir Lucman [APP] [Dawn]
  • PM Sharif to Attend Beijing APEC Summit in November [Dawn] [ET]
  • 24 Lawmakers Reinstated After Asset Declarations [ET]
  • Pakistani Christians Struggle to Attain Cemetary Space [WAPO]
  • Commentary: Is Pakistan in ISIS’ Crosshairs? – “Despite recent media reports, there is no solid evidence that ISIS has made significant inroads into Pakistan.” [Christine Fair, Boston Review]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Haqqani Arrests: Two senior Haqqani network commanders were detained by the National Directorate of Security last week, which anonymous U.S. sources subsequently told the NYT had in fact been conducted in an unspecified Gulf country, before being transferred to Afghanistan. The WSJ, citing an unidentified Taliban source, reported Sunday that Anas Haqqani and Hafiz Rashid were detained in Bahrain by U.S. forces, transferred to Qatar and then the UAE before being transferred to Afghanistan. That source’s account, whose report of U.S. involvement has not been confirmed, suggested that the pair had traveled to Qatar to meet with Mohammad Nabi Umari, one of five Taliban detainees at Guantanmo who had been freed in exchange for the release of Bowe Bergdahl earlier this year and placed in Qatari custody. Umari is brother to Rashid, and the Taliban source accused the U.S. of violating the terms of the exchange agreement, which he said had allowed meetings between the former detainees and their family members.
  • Taliban Talks: In a statement to the Express Tribune, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected negotiations with the Afghan government, saying that “Ghani is even weaker than Karzai and dialogue with his administration would be a waste of time… our longstanding stance about talks had been that we wanted dialogue with those who have power and are effective.”
  • Attacks and Operations: On Friday, local Helmand officials announced that they would initiate a “substantial military action in efforts to provide a stable life for the people of Sangin”. An Afghan army and police convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber in the Gereshk district of Helmand on Saturday, killing as many as seven security personnel and one civilian. Elsewhere, National Directorate of Security officials reported that Abu Bara Al Kuwaiti, identified as a senior Al Qaeda member, was killed in an operation in Nangarhar on Saturday; no further details were released. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Pakistani Foreign Advisor Visits Kabul: Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz visited Kabul on Sunday for talks with Pres. Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, among other senior Afghan leaders. Following their meeting, Ghani said that a “new chapter has been opened” in the bilateral relationship, and that “we should stop trading accusations and bring about an atmosphere of trust”; he accepted an offer to visit Islamabad to meet with Prime Minister Sharif at an unspecified later date. Tensions continue along the border in Kunar, where provincial police officials report a woman was killed in cross-border artillery fire from Pakistan on Sunday. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Turkish President Visits: Turkish President Erdogan visited Kabul on Saturday, holding talks with senior Afghan officials; during his visit Turkey and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement  focusing on economic development, and establishing an annual meeting between the two presidents. Pres. Ghani said that talks focused on “Turkey’s constructive role in promoting peace in the region and especially we welcome Pakistan’s role in that”, and on the need to “define a new concept of the Islamic World” given security concerns in Iraq and Syria.
  • US Bilateral Security Agreement Under Parliamentary Review: On Saturday, the Wolesi Jirga committee on global affairs received the texts of the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement and the NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement, which will be reviewed by parliament and ratified. Speaking at a trilateral Pakistan-Afghanistan-China dialogue in Islamabad on Sunday, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Janan Mosazai said that the agreements “do not pose any threat or danger to our neighbours… Afghanistan will never allow our soil to be used against peace, security and stability of our neighbours.” [Khaama Press] [Dawn]
  • Appointments: Khaama Press reports that Qamaruddin Shinwari, a leading Ghani supporter, has been appointed Attorney General of Afghanistan, replacing Mohammad Ishaq Aloko.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Kabul Bank Privatization: Afghanistan’s ministry of finance has delivered documents to the presidency and recommended the privatization of New Kabul Bank, the portion of the bank rescued by government intervention in the wake of the scandal in 2010. Finance ministry officials report that the bank has lost $50 million since the government purchased it, and owes $60 million in other debts.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Pres. Ghani Criticizes Kabul Administration, Calls for Elected Mayor Within Two Years [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Provincial Council Results Still to Be Announced [TOLO]
  • India Plans to Begin Work on Iranian Charbahar Port [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Taliban’s Transformation from Ideology to Franchise – “After 13 years of conflict in Afghanistan, money has replaced ideology and vengeance as a reason for Taliban ties.” [James Weir and Hekmatullah Azamy, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: A New Start for Afghanistan: Five Massive Challenges that Will Decide its Future – “The formation of a unity government is only the first step in a broader political process—one that requires the Afghans to deliver on reforms, and the United States to sustain its engagement.” [Zalmay Khalilzad, The National Interest]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Hashmi Loses Re-Election in Multan; Gulf Role Reported in Haqqani Arrests

Topline

  • Former PTI president Javed Hashmi conceded defeat in special elections held on Thursday for his former NA-149 seat in Multan; Prime Minister Sharif has convened a meeting of senior political aides on Friday in the wake of Hashmi’s loss to a PTI-backed opponent. US sources tell the NYT that yesterday’s announced arrests of two senior Haqqani network commanders were in fact carried out by an undisclosed Gulf state, who subsequently transferred them to Afghan custody. The Pakistani military began “Operation Khyber 1” in the Bara area on Friday, where strikes against Lashkar-e-Islam militants have been ongoing for several months. Ashraf Ghani told military commanders on Wednesday that he intends to take an active role in senior officer promotions. The Lahore High Court has dismissed an appeal by Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2010; her lawyers will appeal to the Supreme Court. The Election Commission of Pakistan says it will not be able to organize local government elections in Khyber Paktunkhwa before March 2015. The Sindh High Court has ordered a halt to work on two new nuclear reactors in Karachi, pending hearings on a challenge against the plants’ environmental safety.

Pakistan — Security

  • Khyber Operations: On Friday, Pakistani military forces formally began “Operation Khyber 1” in the Bara area of the Khyber Agency, imposing a curfew and blocking access routes. The district has been the base of the Lashkar-e-Islam militant group, and the target of frequent military airstrikes over the preceding weeks in parallel to Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. Military officials suggest eleven militants were killed in strikes on Friday; strikes in the nearby Tirah Valley on Thursday killed as many as 21.
  • Indian Border Tensions: Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told the National Assembly committee on foreign affairs on Thursday that “peace with India is a priority item on Pakistan’s foreign policy agenda”; foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz told the committee that the recent ceasefire violations and exchanges of artillery fire were “part of [India’s] total strategy [to] integrate Kashmir and neutralize Pakistan”, saying that Pakistan would be “firm but not aggressive” in its response. In a TV interview on Thursday, former Pres. Musharraf said that “India should not be under the illusion that Pakistan will not hit back,” suggesting that “we just need to incite” Kashmiri opposition groups in order to respond to Indian actions.
  • Ahmadi Man Killed: Unidentified gunmen killed Latif Aalam Butt, a retired air force official who owned a stationary store in Attock, on Thursday; Butt was a member of the Ahamdi minority community. No claim of responsibility has been reported.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hashmi Concedes Defeat in By-Election: Former PTI president Javed Hashmi conceded defeat in Thursday’s special election for the NA-149 Multan constituency, which he had resigned after quitting the party, then re-contested as an independent candidate with backing from the PML-N. Amir Dogar, a former PPP member who contested as an independent backed by the PTI, won with roughly 52,000 votes to Hashmi’s roughly 38,000. Official results will be announced Friday. Prime Minister Sharif convened a meeting of top political aides on Friday in the wake of Hashmi’s loss, which is ongoing as of this writing. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Local Elections: At a meeting of the Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday, officials determined that it would not be possible for them to organize local government elections in Khyber Paktunkhwa before March 2015, citing delays in ballot paper printing and the provincial government’s demand for electronic voting machines. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Lahore High Court Upholds Blasphemy Death Sentence: On Thursday, the Lahore High Court dismissed an appeal by Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who was sentenced to death in November 2010 on blasphemy charges; her lawyers indicated she would appeal with the Supreme Court, which analysts tell the NYT could involve a wait of as long as three years for a ruling. Bibi’s case was championed by former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was killed by his bodyguard in 2011.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Nuclear Plant Construction Halted: On Thursday, a two-judge bench of the Sindh High Court issued an order temporarily halting the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission from proceeding with plans to construct two new nuclear power reactors for the KANUPP plant in Karachi, acting on petitions challenging the plants’ safety and environmental impact, which opponents say were conducted without required public consultation.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Iran Warns of Need for Pakistan to Secure Border [ET]
  • TTP Splinter Group Jamaat-ul Ahrar Calls on Military Officers to Join Taliban [Dawn]
  • South Waziristan Political Agent Accused of Misusing Development Funds [Dawn]
  • PPP Office Attacked in Karachi [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Approves Rs 10 Billion for Provincial Oil and Gas Development Company [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Haqqani Commanders’ Arrest: As reported yesterday, Afghan officials have announced the arrest of two senior Haqqani network commanders, including Anas Haqqani, a son of the group’s founder and a leading financier. An anonymous US official tells the NYT that Haqqani and commander Hafiz Rashid had actually been arrested in an unspecified Persian Gulf country and transferred to Afghan custody in order to hide that country’s identity, suggesting that the arrest represented a “good-will gesture” towards the new Ghani government. [AJE] [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Military Command: In meetings with senior military officials on Wednesday, Pres. Ghani praised the Afghan armed forces but also warned that action would be taken against those implicated in corruption. Noting a preponderance of general-rank officers in the security forces — Ministry of Defense spokesmen were unable to offer figures on exactly how many there are, but the Ministry of Interior said it has at least 182 — TOLO quotes Ghani saying that “after this, military officers will be selected on the basis of ability, and those who want to be promoted, I will conduct a half a hour interview with him”. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kabul Bank Investigations: Deputy finance minister Mustafa Mastoor refutes charges raised by TOLO that the Finance Ministry had approved the release on bail of Musa Khan Ghazi, the CEO of the government-owned New Kabul Bank and Mohebullah Safi, the CEO of Milli Bank, both of whom are now reported to have fled the country. Mastoor suggested that the ministry had never received documents indicating they faced criminal charges, and questioned why they were now being re-investigated in connection to Pres. Ghani’s recent order.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Insecurity Blocks Polio Vaccination Efforts in Rural Kandahar Districts [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan Needs an Economic Czar – “Afghanistan needs an economic czar held by a visionary economic giant just like Deng Xiaopeng of China, Manmohan Singh of India, or Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, who made brave decisions and came up with a vision to build an indigenous and self-reliant economy for their nations.” [Tamim Asey, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: A Double-Edged Sword: Social Media and the Afghan Election – “Ultimately, social media proved to be a melting pot of some of the best and worst Afghanistan has to offer.” [Sam Schneider, South Asia Channel]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Haqqani Commanders Arrested; Supreme Court Hears Sharif Disqualification Arguments

Topline

  • Afghan intelligence officials report the arrest of two senior Haqqani network commanders, including Anas Haqqani, a younger brother to Sirajuddin and a leading financier. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has resumed hearing a PTI petition seeking Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification from office; Sharif and Imran Khan continue to trade criticism against each other. Special elections are being held today for the NA-149 constituency in Multan, in which former PTI president Javed Hashmi is seeking to regain his seat as an independent after his resignation from the party. Abdullah Abdullah met with senior Afghan security officials on Wednesday, urging a clearer definition of the Taliban as an enemy; Pres. Ghani chaired a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, dissolving a monitoring office in the attorney general’s office. The Peshawar High Court has blocked the imposition of a special federal tax intended to fund gas infrastructure development.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Operations: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior military and civilian advisors on Thursday to review internal security operations and the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. Sharif visited the Pakistan Air Force headquarters in Islamabad earlier in the day, where he was briefed on air operations. Pakistani military spokesmen report that 21 militant suspects were killed in airstrikes in the Khyber Agency on Thursday, a day after a suicide bomber struck a gathering of pro-government militia forces. In Kohat, displaced residents from Kurram, Orakzai, and South Waziristan accused the government of failing to provide for displaced FATA residents, threatening to carry out their own Islamabad sit-in.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Protests Continue: Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif continue to trade criticism, with Khan criticizing the government for not paying its energy bills but cutting off his power for the same. Sharif visited residents affected by floods in Bahawalpur on Wednesday and said that Khan should make improved governance in Khyber Paktunkhwa his first priority. The Supreme Court held hearings on Wednesday on a PTI petition seeking Sharif’s disqualification on grounds that he had lied to parliament; in hearings on Thursday, the court noted that the constitution did not define “Sadiq” (honest) and “Ameen” (righteous), two qualities which parliamentary candidates are required to hold according to Article 260 of the constitution. Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court suspended police investigation reports filed against Islamabad police officials who had been accused of violence during clashes with PTI and PAT activists on August 30, in which three people were killed. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Multan By-Election: Polling opened on Thursday for a special election for the NA-149 constituency in Multan; Javed Hashmi, the former PTI president, had resigned his party affiliation and is now re-contesting the seat as an independent. Polling proceeded despite reports of last-minute pamphlet distributions made by a PML-N supporter of Hashmi, in violation of rules barring campaigning in the final 48 hours. Petitions have been filed seeking Hashmi’s disqualification. Hashmi’s main rival is Malik Aamir Dogar, an independent candidate who has been backed by the PTI. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Parliamentarians Suspended Over Asset Declarations: 212 federal and provincial lawmakers were suspended on Wednesday by the Election Commission for failing to submit asset statements by a September 30 deadline; past suspensions have been quickly overturned after legislators have belatedly submitted forms. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Peshawar High Court Blocks Gas Cess: On Wednesday, the Peshawar High Court blocked the imposition of a special federal tax on industry and the compressed natural gas sector, which had been established to fund gas infrastructure development. The cess was first imposed in 2011, but was declared unconstitutional by the court in 2013, a ruling that was upheld by the Supreme Court in August 2014; a presidential ordinance re-imposed the tax in September. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Cabinet Reshuffle Rumored [Dawn]
  • Pakistani Ambassador to UN Calls for Immediate Halt to India Border Clashes [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Remittances Rise Nearly 20% During First Quarter, to $4.69 Billion [ET]
  • Parliament Approves Local Government Bill for Islamabad Capital Territory [ET]
  • Islamia College University Professor Describes His Time in Taliban Captivity [ET]
  • MQM Activist Killed in Hyderabad [Dawn]
  • Suspect Arrested in Connection to 2013 Attack on Sindh High Court Judge [Dawn]
  • PML-N Parliamentarian Disqualified on Charges of Fake Educational Degree [ET]
  • Cabinet Approves Fines for Oil Dealer Overcharging [ET]
  • Commentary: PTI Clutching at Straws – “By now everyone can see that the PTI has a lot of stamina to bellow its message night after night — but there is no real message as such.” [Khurram Husain, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Haqqani Commanders Captured: On Wednesday, the National Directorate of Security announced that it had captured two senior Haqqani network commanders in Khost, including Anas Haqqani, brother to chief Sirajuddin Haqqani and a leading fundraiser for the group. Afghan officials described him as the group’s second-in-command. Hafiz Rashid, a senior military commander for the southeastern region, was also arrested. No details have yet been released on how the arrests were carried out. [AFP] [BBC] [Khaama Press]
  • Insider Attack: An Afghan soldier opened fire on ISAF personnel on Thursday morning, Afghan defense ministry officials reported; no details were released on the location of the shooting, which did not result in casualties. The gunman was arrested.
  • Other Attacks: A car bomb killed eight members of the CIA-backed paramilitary Khost Protection Force on Wednesday, officials report; they had reportedly been engaged in a search operation at a compound believed to be used by suicide bombers. On Thursday, a senior Taliban commander was reportedly killed in a Predator drone strike in Herat’s Oba district. A major bridge on the Kabul-Kandahar highway was destroyed in a bombing in the Zabul capital of Qalat on Wednesday. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Executive Actions: Abdullah Abdullah met with senior Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and National Directorate of Security officials on Wednesday, during which he said the government needed to more clearly define “friend” and “foe”, referencing former Pres. Karzai’s tradition of referring to the Taliban as “brothers”. Acting interior minister Omar Daudzai renewed requests for heavy weapons for Afghan security forces. At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday evening, Pres. Ghani dissolved the Attorney General’s deputy assistant for monitoring affairs, a role which he said belonged to the presidency. The meeting also focused on plans to improve security and speed visas access for investors. On Thursday, Nazifullah Salarzai, a former UNAMA spokesman, was appointed chief spokesman for the president; Habibullah Ahmadzai was appointed special security advisor, and Khalil Zemar advisor on detainee and prisoner affairs.
  • Indian Relations: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with Indian Prime Minister Modi on Wednesday and accepted an invitation to visit India at an unspecified future date.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Dues: Officials with the Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat power supply company reiterated warnings that they will begin to cut off power to customers who have defaulted on bill payments, which they report total Afs 1.1 billion. [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kandahar Girls’ School Faces Closure as International Funds Dry Up [Guardian]
  • Three Kunar Timber Smugglers Arrested for Forging Presidential Signature [TOLO]
  • Report: Afghanistan’s Political Transition – “Given the international role in developing the agreements that have created this new partnership, and the absence of mechanisms to resolve internal differences, the international community should serve as a guarantor of Kabul’s new political order and, if necessary, mediate any serious disputes that arise.” [International Crisis Group]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Islamabad Protests Waning; Ghani Pledges Support for Schooling

Topline

  • The Islamabad city administration has begun removing shipping container blockades around the central ‘Red Zone’ as attendance at the PTI and PAT sit-ins has reportedly waned considerably. Imran Khan plans to hold a rally in Sargodha on Friday, while Tahirul Qadri will visit Lahore on Sunday. Pres. Ghani pledged support for education in Afghanistan, offering land grants to government teachers. Pakistani military officials accuse India of continued cross-border artillery fire; at least four civilians were wounded and one killed on Tuesday. Pres. Hussain has issued an ordinance empowering the Election Commission of Pakistan to delimit constituencies for local government elections; the PML-N and PPP are pushing to further delay an appointment for the Chief Election Commissioner as the parliamentary committee on electoral reform continues its deliberations. Three cases of polio were reported in Kandahar, the first in twenty months. The Supreme Court of Afghanistan has dismissed an Uruzgan provincial judge after he criticized the court for corruption. Unpaid dues in the Pakistani power sector rose to Rs 556 billion as of the end of August.

Pakistan — Security

  • Border Clashes with India: Pakistani military officials accuse India of continued firing along the Line of Control near the towns of Bagh and Rawalakot on Wednesday; no casualties were reported. Four children were reportedly wounded and one person killed in firing on Tuesday evening. A delegation of UN Military Observers Group officials visited some of the affected villages; Pakistan’s foreign ministry also held a briefing on the issue for the international diplomatic community in Islamabad. The National Assembly committee on the interior passed a resolution “condemning Indian aggression” on Tuesday.
  • Airspace Violation: Pakistani officials report that two NATO helicopters entered Pakistani airspace for a ten-minute period near the Torkham border crossing region on Wednesday; Pakistan has yet to issue an official statement.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Protests Continue: Speaking to sit-in supporters on Tuesday, Imran Khan criticized government power tariff hikes and called for investigations into the death of PTI leader Zehra Rehman. Khan also pledged that Khyber Paktunkhwa would hold local elections by November 15. Another rally is planned in Sargodha this Friday. On Wednesday, the Islamabad administration began the removal of shipping containers that had been used to block demonstrators’ access to the central ‘Red Zone’, which the PTI and PAT had subsequently bypassed. Dawn reports that sit-in participation has dwindled after Tahirul Qadri’s trip to Faisalabad last weekend, with only around 200 PAT activists present near parliament. Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haq suggested that “the clouds of martial law have veered away, but democracy in the country is still on the deathbed” and called for the resumption of dialogue between the government and opposition. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Elections: On Tuesday, Pres. Hussain formally empowered the Election Commission to redraw constituencies for local government elections, bypassing the need for new legislation that has stalled in Punjab and Sindh, where previous delimitation efforts had been challenged by opposition parties. The move follows the Supreme Court’s order on Tuesday giving the government a two-week deadline to finalize an appointment for the Chief Election Commissioner; Prime Minister Sharif and PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah spoke by phone on the appointment question on Wednesday. Both sides are reportedly seeking to stall an appointment to allow further deliberations by the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms.  [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • OGDCL Case: During hearings on Tuesday, the Supreme Court determined that it would hold jurisdiction over the dispute between the federal government and Khyber Paktunkhwa over the privatization of Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd shares, summoning case records from the Peshawar High Court and setting further hearings for October 20.
  • Energy Crisis: The Pakistan Electric Power Company reported that unpaid bills to the power sector rose Rs 44 billion during the first two months of the fiscal year, bringing total arrears to Rs 556 billion as of the end of August. Rs 384.6 billion of that amount is owed by private consumers, and the remainder by public entities; the Sindh provincial government is the largest single defaulter.
  • Trade Deficit Widens: Pakistan’s exports fell 10.1% during the first three months of the fiscal year, to $6 billion, while imports jumped 12% to $12.5 billion, producing a 45% increase in the overall trade deficit.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Polio Vaccine Refusal Rate Rises to 14% Overall, 97% in Insecure Areas [Dawn]
  • Punjab Governor Seeks More Input on Government Affairs [Dawn] [ET]
  • Five Killed in Khyber Bombing [Dawn] [Reuters]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Governor Pledges to Support IDPs’ Return [Dawn]
  • Harkatul Mujahadeen Leader Vows to Challenge US Sanctions [Dawn]
  • Security Crackdown in Balochistan Prisons [Dawn]
  • Musharraf Lawyer Pushes for Acquittal, Investigations Against Advisors [Dawn] [ET]
  • 253 Parliamentarians Yet to Submit Asset Declarations [ET]
  • Commentary: How Pakistan Fails its Children – “Pakistani leaders are all too happy to celebrate young Ms. Yousafzai’s accomplishment, and they all recognize that the country faces an education crisis, but they don’t plan on doing anything about it.” [Mosharraf Zaidi, NYT]
  • Commentary: Actually, All Pakistanis Don’t Hate Malala – “Much of the praise for Malala doesn’t fit into the West’s neat dichotomy of pro-Western, pro-Malala Pakistanis versus anti-American, conspiratorial Pakistanis.” [Zaid Jilani, Foreign Policy]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks: Taliban fighters attacked a police post in Logar’s Baraki Barak district on Tuesday, killing six officers. Separately on Tuesday, unidentified gunmen assassinated the district governor of Helmand’s Nad-e-Ali district, Mohammad Anwar Khan, along with a bodyguard and a policeman. Six other officers were wounded. [TOLO] [AJE]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Court Proceedings: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed Uruzgan provincial judge Habib Salah, after remarks in which he had accused the higher court of nepotism and corruption. Salah was fired on grounds of possessing fake credentials and misusing government assets. Separately, the presidential palace has ordered a review of roughly 400 convicts who have received death penalty sentences.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Ghani Pledges Support for Schools: Pres. Ghani visited Amani High School in Kabul to mark National Teacher’s Day on Wednesday, where he pledged support for universal access to education and pledged to grant land to all teachers in the country within the next six months. Earlier on Tuesday, Abdullah Abdullah chaired a meeting of the council of ministers focused on economic issues; among other decisions, Abdullah sought updated unemployment figures from the Central Statistics Organization. [Khaama Press]
  • Polio Cases: Three cases of polio were reported in Kandahar on Wednesday, the first cases registered in the province in the past twenty months. The cases follow reports of polio in Khost among Pakistani refugees displaced by fighting in North Waziristan.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Wounded AP Reporter Vows to Return to Afghanistan [AP]
  • Jolting Some, Afghan Leader Brings Wife into the Picture [NYT]
  • Criticism for IEC Self-Assessment [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Will AfPak Democracy Survive? – “The United States — and other relevant actors — should put their time and energy into reforms that protect minority rights and restructure legislatures to construct a more durable, secure status quo, rather than fanning the flames of ethnic discontent by fetishizing elections.” [Jordan Olmstead, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: Bagram Closing: Lawyers Worried About ‘Ghost Detainees’ – “Until there is full disclosure of who is there, suspicions will persist of US intentions and of the possibility of ‘ghost detainees’ being transferred elsewhere when Bagram closes.” [Kate Clark, AAN]
  • Commentary: My Terrifying Night with Afghanistan’s Only Female Warlord – “Everybody in Kabul knew about Commander Pigeon, but no one agreed on a narrative.” [Jen Percy, New Republic]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Commanders Pledge Allegiance to ISIS; Agreement Signed on CASA-1000 Transit Fees

Note: The news returns to its regular daily update schedule from today. Apologies for the interruption in service yesterday, and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • On Tuesday, six Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commanders, including the group’s spokesman, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; the statement did not clarify whether they were breaking with the TTP, which a number of other commanders have recently done. India and Pakistan continued cross-border artillery fire over the weekend, although only one civilian injury was reported on the Pakistani side; military officials spoke by hotline for the first time on Tuesday. Two Predator strikes were reported on Saturday, one of which killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi, a leader of the new Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent affiliate. A spate of attacks took place around Afghanistan, including three bombings in Kabul. Paktia residents accuse NATO of killing eight civilians in an airstrike near Gardez, which ISAF officials refute. Seven people were killed at a stampede at the PTI’s rally in Multan on Friday; party organizers and the local district administration traded blame on responsibility afterwards. The IMF will combine its fourth and fifth quarterly performance review for Pakistan’s loan agreement, potentially allowing for the disbursal of $1.1 billion in December if the government is able to meet stalled reform benchmarks by then. The Supreme Court of Pakistan gave the government permission to move ahead with the sale of a 10% stake in the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd, but has barred it from completing a transfer of ownership until the Khyber Paktunkhwa government’s challenges are resolved. Pakistan and Afghanistan have signed an agreement on transit fees for the proposed CASA-1000 electricity transmission project linking Pakistan and Central Asia. The Afghan attorney general’s office reports that it has re-arrested seven people in connection with the Kabul Bank case; two senior officials are reported to have fled the country.

Pakistan — Security

  • TTP Commanders Pledge Allegiance to ISIS: Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman for the rump Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan led by Maulana Fazlullah, announced on Tuesday that he and five commanders in Orakzai, Kurram, Khyber, Peshawar, and Hangu had issued pledges of allegiance to the self-appointed “caliph” of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi. Shahid gave no indication of the extent of the group’s operational linkages with ISIS, and did not elaborate on how this would affect ties with Fazlullah, who has seen multiple defections over the past year, or with the Afghan Taliban, to whom the TTP have also previously pledged support. He did say the statement was not being made on behalf of the TTP. Two Taliban sources tell the Express Tribune that Fazlullah recently met with Waziristan commander Khan Said Sajna in an effort to win back his support.
  • Border Clashes with India: One person was reportedly injured near Rawalkot in fresh shelling along the Line of Control with India on Saturday. Property damage was reported in further exchanges of fire on Sunday, but there were no casualties. On Sunday, Pakistan formally appealed to the UN Secretary General to intervene on the issue, laying blame on India for escalating the recent flare-up in tensions. The Pakistani and Indian Directors General of Military Operations spoke by hotline on Tuesday for the first time. Speaking at a rally of supporters on Thursday, Prime Minister Modi said that the recent exchanges had resulted in “the enemy [realizing] that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” Jamaat-ud-Dawa led a rally in Karachi against India on Friday; the group’s Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation charitable affiliate and a coalition of other organizations plans to hold protests in Muzaffarabad on Wednesday, accusing the Indian government of failing to provide for the needs of flood survivors. [NYT] [Reuters] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Predator Strikes: Two separate Predator strikes were reported in the Khyber and North Waziristan agencies on Saturday, killing four militant suspects in each case. The Khyber strike killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi, who the new Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent affiliate identified as a member of its central council. Afghan Taliban fighters were also reportedly among those killed; the second strike is reported to have targeted a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander. The Pakistani military conducted its own airstrikes in Khyber and North Waziristan on Sunday, killing as many as twenty-one militant suspects. [Dawn] [Reuters]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Seven Killed at PTI Multan Rally: At least seven people were killed and more than a hundred injured in a stampede within the crowds at the PTI’s Friday rally in Multan. PTI officials accuse the local district administration of closing half the gates to the Qasim Bagh stadium, and of cuts to the power and lights after the conclusion of Imran Khan’s speech. The Punjab government appointed a three-person committee to investigate the incident on Saturday; Imran Khan rejected the move and called for an independent judicial commission. The committee’s preliminary report laid blame on PTI organizers for mismanaging the event.
  • Other Protest Updates: Meanwhile, Tahirul Qadri headlined a rally in Faisalabad on Sunday, his first departure from the Islamabad sit-ins since they began in mid-August; he suggested that further rallies would be held around the country. Despite tensions with local party activists, the PTI leadership remains publicly committed to an indefinite sit-in in Islamabad. On Monday, the Islamabad Electric Supply Company cut power to Imran Khan’s residence, citing non-payment of bills after Khan’s threats to carry out civil disobedience in September. Also on Monday, Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk recused himself from the PTI’s petition seeking thumbprint verification of votes cast in four disputed constituencies; a new bench will be formed in November. [BBC] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Monday, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif reshuffled his cabinet, granting the Punjab interior ministry portfolio to provincial environment minister Shuja Khanzada, and switched the law ministry portfolio to minister for excise and taxation Shujaur Rehman. Former Pres. Zardari held multiple meetings with PPP activists in Lahore over the weekend, arguing for the need to “strengthen democracy” and downplaying the odds of new elections in the near term. The party plans for Bilalwal Bhutto to headline a large rally in Karachi on October 18. Rival PPP factions reported engaged in verbal clashes at a meeting on Monday. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Elections: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court warned the government that it must nominate a Chief Election Commissioner within two weeks, or the court would otherwise withdraw Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali from the role of acting chief. Anonymous Election Commission of Pakistan officials tell the Express Tribune that they will petition the Supreme Court to further delay local government elections, potentially until May 2015. On Monday, the ECP rejected a Punjab government request to postpone the NA-149 special election for former PTI president Javed Hashmi’s seat, which he is now contesting as an independent; the government had expressed concerns over security. [ET] [ET]
  • Court Proceedings: Nobel for Malala: There is extensive additional coverage following Friday’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai, noting the continued threats against her from Taliban militants in her home country and the challenge of achieving her goals of education access for Pakistani youth. Yousafzai and her fellow Nobel recipient Kailash Satyarthi issued a joint invitation to the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to attend their award ceremony in Olso in December. [WAPO] [Reuters] [Guardian] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Loan Inflows Slow: Pakistan received a total of $551.4 million in foreign economic assistance during the first two months of the fiscal year, Finance Ministry figures indicate, or 7.5% of the total $7.4 billion that has been budgeted for the year. The IMF projects Pakistan will require $10.8 billion in order to build up its foreign exchange reserves; Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were $1.5 billion shy of the IMF’s target for the end of the first quarter in October. Speaking at a press conference on Friday in Washington, Finance Minister Dar said that economic reforms remain on track. In talks with IMF officials, Dar agreed that the fourth and fifth quarterly review of Pakistan’s reform benchmark performance would be combined and reviewed by the IMF executive board in early December, allowing for the potential disbursal of $1.1 billion then. Staff-level talks will be held in Dubai in late October. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Supreme Court Oks OGDCL Sale: During hearings on Friday, the Supreme Court overturned a Peshawar High Court stay order on the share of a 10% government stake in the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd, which has been issued after a challenge by the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government. The court has allowed the government to accept bids but has barred the completion of the sale until a final verdict has been issued; further hearings were held on Monday, which focused on jurisdictional questions. [ET]
  • Polio Crisis: Five new polio cases over the weekend brought the total so far this year to 207 nationwide, the majority from the FATA. A vaccination drive was launched in Quetta on Monday, targeting 850,000 children. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Flood Relief: Prime Minister Sharif visited Jhang on Saturday and pledged that a second tranche of Rs 25,000 for each family affected by this season’s flooding would be distributed on October 20. Muzaffargarh residents complain to Dawn of slow relief. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Karachi Rangers Foil Jailbreak [Dawn] [ET]
  • Balochistan Senators Challenge Route of Pakistan-China Economic Corridor [Dawn]
  • UK to Deport Hazara Activist Despite Death Threats at Home [Guardian]
  • 66% of Balochistan Children Not Attending School [ET]
  • Human Rights Commission Estimates 300,000 Balochistan Minorities Have Fled [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Leaders Report Extortion Threats form Taliban [Dawn]
  • Factional Divides Within PML-N Khyber Paktunkhwa Chapter [Dawn]
  • Judicial Commission Proposes LHC Judges’ Extension [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Seeks Details on Sharif Travel Expenses [Dawn] [ET]
  • Negotiated Settlement Expected on Reko Diq Dispute [Dawn]
  • PIA Pilots Union Reaches Agreement Over Salary Payments [ET] [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: Residents of a village on the outskirts of Gardez in Paktia province protested at the governor’s office on Monday, accusing NATO forces of killing seven civilians in an airstrike, including a twelve-year-old boy. NATO officials issued a statement saying that a “precision strike resulted in the death of eight armed enemy combatants” and that “no civilian casualties or damage to structures occurred during this operation”. Pres. Ghani issued a statement on Monday, asking for a “full investigation of this unfortunate incident”. [Reuters]
  • Attacks: A spate of attacks took place around the country over the past four days. On Sunday, defense ministry officials claimed to have regained control of Helmand’s Sangin district after months of fighting with Taliban insurgents; an Afghan army soldier and policeman were killed in a suicide attack on the Helmand provincial police headquarters in Lashkar Gah on Saturday morning. Suicide bombers attacked the Balkh police headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif and an ANA convoy in Wardak’s Syedabad district on Sunday. There were two bombings in Kabul on Monday: a suicide car bomber attacked the Green Village residential compound on Jalalabad Road, killing one civilian and wounding three foreign nationals, whose identities have not been released; and a improvised explosive device detonating in a bazaar in the Qarabagh district, which wounded at least 22 people. The Taliban claimed the first attack but there was no claim of responsibility for the latter attack. On Tuesday, a roadside bombing in Kabul’s Kote Sangi area killed two civilians and wounded three; the Taliban claim that the attack killed an intelligence officer. Also on Monday, the Taliban ambushed a police and military convoy in Sar-e-Pul’s Laghman valley region, killing as many as 22 Afghan security forces personnel, injuring eight, and kidnapping seven. Another suicide bomber attacked an ANA convoy in Nangarhar’s Ghanikhil district on Monday, killing one civilian bystander and wounding eight. In Kunduz city, the advisor to the provincial revenue office was injured when a bomb was planted on his vehicle; there was no claim of responsiblity. [BBC] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [AJE] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • ISIS in Afghanistan: The WSJ notes an uptick of reports from Afghan security officials about the spread of pamphlets in Dari and Pashto promoting the Islamic State; Western officials express skepticism that the group has achieved a meaningful presence in Afghanistan to date. The Taliban, which have positioned themselves as a nationalist movement over the past eight years of insurgency and whose leader Mullah Omar maintains a rival claim to the position of “Amir ul Momineen” (Commander of the Faithful) have not commented publicly on the issue.
  • German Hostage Freed: Germany’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday indicating that Bernd Muhlenbeck, an aid worker for the Welthungerhilfehas NGO who had been kidnapped in Multan, Pakistan in January 2012, had been freed in Afghanistan. It offered no additional details of his release. [Reuters] [Khaama Press]
  • Border Tensions with Pakistan: The ministry of interior reports more than a hundred rockets were fired across the border by Pakistani military forces into Kunar beginning late Friday evening through Sunday; no casualties were reported. At a session on Sunday, Afghan senators demanded that the U.S. step in to protect Afghanistan from the shelling. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Agreement Signed on Electricity Transit: The finance ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a World Bank and US-brokered agreement on transit fees for the proposed Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project, also known as CASA-1000. The project calls for the transmission of 1,300 megawatts of electricity between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, at an agreed transit fee of 1.25 cents per kilowatt; Afghan officials project $45 million in annual transit revenues as a result. The cost of the project’s construction is estimated at $1 billion, to be paid for by USAID, the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank; Afghanistan will repay $300 million of the cost over 15 years. [APP] [ET]
  • Kabul Bank Investigations: The ministry of finance delivered documents on options for the privatization of New Kabul Bank on Friday, meeting a ten-day presidential deadline; the attorney general’s office reports that it has re-arrested 7 people in connection to the bank scam. Two senior officials, including the head of the New Kabul Bank, have fled the country after the reopening of the case. [TOLO]
  • Tax Collections: Ministry of finance officials report that tax collections from large and mid-level taxpayers collectively fell Afs 11 billion short of their projections for the past three months; deputy finance minister Mohammad Mustafa Mansoor warned of fines for those engaged in tax evasion.
  • Aid Pledges and Cuts: On Friday, the European Commission announced €1.4 billion in development spending focused on programs related to rural development, health, and democracy-building, through 2020. In a Reuters interview, the Afghan director of the UN World Food Program reports that a $30 million funding shortfall will cut back on assistance deliveries, affecting an estimated one million recipients out of 3.7 million fed by the program.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Abdullah Chairs First Council of Ministers Meeting [TOLO]
  • Provincial Council Candidates Denounce Election Commission Over Results Delays [TOLO]
  • First Lady Rula Ghani Aims to Elevate Afghanistan’s Women [LAT]
  • Army Reviewing Initial Report on Bergdahl Disappearance [Army Times]
  • 12 Cases of Polio Reported in Khost Among Pakistani Refugees [TOLO]
  • Greg Mortenson Returns to Afghanistan, Trying to Move Past His ‘Three Cups of Tea’ Disgrace [WAPO]
  • Commentary: The Small Steps to Save Our Gains in Afghanistan – “These are small steps: taking a flexible approach to pulling out forces, engaging our allies to secure additional troops, allowing the air support that will be in country anyway to aid the Afghan forces, giving the necessary help in intelligence, as well as maintaining our assistance for two or three years.” [Vanda Felbab-Brown, Ronald Neumann and David Sedney, WAPO]
  • Commentary: The Start Into the Better Governance Marathon: Ghani’s First Days – “The new president’s post-inauguration schedule and actions, so far, suggest a commitment to his reformist election agenda. The question is now whether he will be able to build a team that shares his commitment, particularly in the context of a complicated unity government agreement, and how he will fare when he starts running into the first sustained signs of resistance.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Malala Wins Nobel Peace Prize; US Airstrikes Spiked in August in Afghanistan

Note: There will be no news update Monday, October 13th; a full summary of the intervening period will return Tuesday, October 14th. Apologies for the interruption in service, and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • Teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing it along with Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. Cross-border artillery exchanges between India and Pakistan are reported to have halted for the first time in a week on Friday; five more people were killed on Thursday. Prime Minister Sharif called for a defusal of the tensions after a National Security Committee meeting on Friday. U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan spiked to 436 in the month of August, compared to a twelve-month average of 149 per month. 16 cargo planes initially delivered for the Afghan Air Force are being scrapped, after the program was suspended in 2012 for lack of aircraft maintenance. Ashraf Ghani will appoint his cabinet within the first 45 days of taking office, his legal advisor tells TOLO.

Pakistan — Security

  • Border Clashes with India: At least five more civilians — two Indian and three Pakistani — were reportedly killed overnight on Thursday in cross-border artillery exchanges between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control. Pakistani Major Gen. Khan Tahir Javed Khan, who commands the Punjab Rangers, said that his Indian counterparts have rebuffed attempts to open a line of communication. Firing paused for the first time in a week on Friday. At a Thursday press conference Indian defense minister Arun Jaitley said that Pakistan had “clearly been the aggressor” in the attacks, which Pakistani forces accuse India of precipitating; Jaitley warned that “the costs of this adventurism will be unaffordable”. Pakistan defense minister Khawaja Asif countered that Pakistan was capable of responding “befittingly” to the clashes, saying that “India must demonstrate caution and behave with responsibility” to avoid an escalation. A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urged both sides to re-open dialogue on Thursday. At a National Security Committee meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif condemned the shelling, stating that “both countries are aware of each other’s capabilities. War is not an option,” and “it is shared responsibility of the leadership of both countries to immediately defuse the situation.” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said afterwards that Pakistan would not accept “India’s domineering of the region”. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif distributed compensation for affected families in Sialkot on Thursday. The PPP has called for parliamentary debate on the issue; a number of religious organizations, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, have announced plans to hold protests on Friday. [WAPO] [AJE] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Militant Attacks on Iran: The Jaish ul-Adl Sunni militant group, alleged to be based in Pakistani Balochistan, carried out a suicide car bombing on an Iranian military base on Thursday; Iranian officials called on Pakistan to “control its borders”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Government Appeals OGDCL Sale Challenge: The federal government has challenged the Peshawar High Court’s hold order on its sale of shares of the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd, planned for this month, which was issued after the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government sought to block the sale. A Supreme Court bench will hear the appeal today.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • As Supreme Court Judicial Activism Wanes, Islamabad High Court Proves Thorn in Government’s Side [Dawn]
  • Provincial Governments Unlikely to Meet November 15 Deadline [ET]
  • Family Seeks Arrest of Abdul Qadir Gillani After Lahore Man’s Killing [Dawn] [ET]
  • No New Trial for Aafia Siddiqui [AP]
  • Election Commission Bars Involvement by Ministers in NA-149 By-Elections [ET] [Dawn]
  • Development Spending Slows During First Quarter of the Fiscal Year [ET]
  • Federal and Punjab Officials Clash Over Nandipur Power Plant [ET]
  • Pakistan Seeks Enhanced Trade with Turkey [ET]
  • Commentary: Flooding Priorities – “Flood forecasting in an era of climate change is a crucial priority for us now.” [Khurram Hussain, Dawn]
  • Commentary: Searching for a Response: India’s Muddled Strategy on Pakistan – “What is certain however is that it would be extremely costly for Modi to tolerate large-scale acts of terrorism.” [Nishank Motwani, South Asia Channel]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Airstrikes Spike: Military figures indicate that U.S. aircraft dropped 436 bombs and other missiles in Afghanistan in August, the highest on record since 2012 and much higher than the average of 149 weapons per month over the past twelve months. ISAF commander Gen. John Capmbell attributed the spike in sorties to “Taliban trying to make a statement as they close out the fighting season.”
  • Air Force Planes Scrapped: The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction has noted that 16 cargo planes that had been delivered to the Afghan Air Force are now being scrapped and recycled for a sum total of $32,000; the U.S. Air Force spent $596 million to procure and maintain the planes, but discontinued the program in December 2012 after reports that they had not been maintained to flying condition.
  • Pakistani Engineers Freed: Two Pakistani engineers who had been kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Jawzjan last month have been freed, the provincial police chief reported Thursday. Ransom was reportedly paid, although the engineers’ company denies it. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Cabinet Appointments: Abdul Ali Mohammadi, Pres. Ghani’s legal advisor, tells TOLO that Ghani intends to make his full cabinet appointments within his first 45 days in office, and also cautions that current acting ministers “are not given the same authority as permanent appointments”.
  • Provincial Council Results: Electoral Complaints Commission spokesman Nader Mohseni accused “local Independent Election Commission employees” of being responsible for “coordinated fraud” in the April provincial council elections. ECC chairman Abdul Sattar Saadat laid blame on the delay in the release of results on Nuristan IEC officials.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • NDS Seeks to Curtail Taliban Financing [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan’s New First Lady – “While Afghans hope that positivity will prevail, it is time for the concepts of women and leadership, and the underlying assumptions of female empowerment polices of the past 12 years to receive a reflective and de-personalized critical revisiting.” [Aariya Nijat, South Asia Channel]