- The PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek launched parallel protest convoys traveling from Lahore to Islamabad on August 14, leading to mid-size rallies and sit-ins at separate areas of the capital. Irman Khan’s convoy came under brief attack by pro-government groups in the town of Gujranwala while en route. In two addresses to crowds in Islamabad, Khan said that his supporters would not disperse until the government meets his demands for Prime Minister Sharif’s resignation, and called for “civil disobedience” measures, such as not paying taxes or electricity bills. The government is reportedly preparing to establish two separate commissions to negotiate with Khan and Tahirul Qadri. A group of as many as a dozen militants, most of whom the Pakistani military describes as being ethnic Uzbeks, attacked two separate airbases near Quetta on August 14; all were killed. The Afghan presidential runoff audit began a review of 6,000 ballot boxes selected for special scrutiny by the two campaigns on August 16; it is unclear whether the process will meet an end-of-the-month deadline for completion, however. The joint commission to negotiate the formation of a national unity government has held daily talks, with spokesmen on both sides suggesting that progress was being made on resolving key points of disagreement. The Afghan government is facing a $500-600 million revenue shortfall and is seeking additional external donor assistance to pay its salary bill in the next month, Finance Ministry officials tell Reuters. Five Afghan Red Cross staff were kidnapped in Herat on August 14; on August 16, the Afghan National Directorate of Security announced that it had freed three Indian engineers captured in Logar earlier last week.
Pakistan — Security
- Quetta Airport Attack: A group of as many as a dozen militants attacked two Pakistan Air Force bases in Quetta on August 14, leaving at least thirteen Pakistani soldiers wounded before the attackers were repelled. Ghalib Mehsud, identified as a spokesman for the Fidayeen Islam, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s suicide bomber training wing, claimed responsibility for the attack, and warned that further attackers were planned in revenge against the Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan. At least three militants, described as being ethnic Uzbeks, were reportedly captured. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited the Samungli and Khalid airbases on August 16, praising the security services’ response. [Dawn] [ET] [AJE]
- Taliban Leadership Divisions: The Nation, citing anonymous militant sources, claims that there is “severe indiscipline” with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and that as many as 70% of the group’s fighters are prepared to defect from the leadership of Maulana Fazlullah. The report identifies the Ahrar-ul-Hind, Jamaat-ul-Ihraar, Khan Sajna Said group, and Mohmand Taliban faction as the principal splinter groups within the organization. Separately, the Express Tribune reports that North Waziristan commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur has been removed from the leadership of his organization and replaced by Maulvi Halim Khan, who is described as being close to the government.
- Waziristan Operations: Finance Ministry officials report that an additional Rs 15 billion has been appropriated to finance Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, of which Rs 8 billion is due to be released at the start of this week and the remainder by the end of the month. [Dawn]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Government Withdraws Blocks on Protest Marches: Speaking at independence day ceremonies in Ziarat on August 14, Prime Minister Sharif called for an end to “negative, combative politics”. Speaking to reporters the same day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek would be allowed to conduct their protest marches, provided that they did so peacefully and did not attempt to breach the “red zone” around Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave. Despite this, more than 2,500 PTI and PAT activists were reportedly still being detained by police around Punjab as of August 17. Nisar has warned that suicide bombers had entered the city and were seeking to target the opposition rallies; the government has provided eight teams of Elite Force commandos as additional security for Imran Khan. Several flights into Islamabad and Rawalpindi were cancelled or delayed due to road closures. With tensions high, the Supreme Court issued an order on August 15 warning “all state authorities and functionaries” to act “only with the accordance with the constitution and the law”, noting the court’s July 2009 order overturning the provisional constitutional order imposed by former Pres. Musharraf during his emergency rule period in November 2007. The Supreme Court declined to take up a government petition blocking protesters from moving near the “red zone” during hearings on Monday. [Dawn]
- PTI Launches ‘Azadi’ March: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf protest convoy departed Lahore on Thursday afternoon, eventually arriving in Islamabad late Friday evening to camp out near the edge of the city. Pro-government crowds clashed with the PTI on Friday as the convoy passed through Gujranwala, with shots reportedly fired and at least one PTI activist suffering a head wound from thrown rocks. PTI leaders vowed not leave the capital until their demands were met, and warned the government against any action to disperse or arrest them. Heavy rains in Islamabad on Friday and Saturday are reported to have depressed turnout; police on Saturday told the AP that there were around 25,000 people present at the PTI rally and 35,000 at Tahirul Qadri’s separate venue nearby. After drawing criticism for not camping out overnight with his supporters, Khan rallied crowds with a late Saturday night speech, saying that “we will not move from here until we give this country genuine freedom” and reiterating demands that Nawaz Sharif resign. Speaking again on Sunday, Khan called for “civil disobedience,” saying that supporters should “not pay taxes or utility bills till the time Nawaz Sharif resigns”. He also claimed that he would “not be able hold the people back” if the government failed to meet his demands within two days. On Monday, Khyber Paktunkhwa Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani said that the province would no longer pay federal taxes, electricity, and gas bills. [ET] [NYT] [WSJ] [AJE] [Guardian] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
- Qadri Leads Parallel Rally: Pakistan Awami Tehreek Tahirul Qadri led off his own march from Lahore to Islamabad in parallel to the PTI, after the government withdrew barriers from around Qadri’s residence in Lahore. Several PAT officials complain of a lack of coordination or support from the PTI, which departed ahead of Qadri rather than marching together, and say their party activists are still being arrested by government. Qadri addressed supporters on Saturday, also demanding the resignation and arrest of Prime Minister Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and calling for the creation of a new technocratic government. Separately, a Lahore lower court has reportedly ordered a police investigation against the Sharif brothers and other senior police officials in connection to the death of 14 PAT activists in clashes with police in Lahore in mid-June. The judicial commission inquiry into that incident has not been released. On Monday, the Lahore High Court suspended a government tax notice to Qadri’s Minhajul Quran organization, which had sought Rs 770 million in unpaid taxes. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
- Negotiations to Defuse Standoff: Following meetings of the senior leadership PML-N sources on Saturday told Dawn that Prime Minister Sharif “has decided to watch the sit-ins till Monday morning before taking a decision on forming a government committee to hold talks with them”. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told reporters on Sunday that the government would establish two separate negotiating committees to meet with the PTI and PAT. Speaking to PML-N legislators after Saturday’s meeting, Shahbaz Sharif reiterated that his brother would not resign, saying that “the collusion of Imran and Qadri is a conspiracy against the democratic system which will never succeed”. The Supreme Court has yet to respond to the government’s proposal to create a commission to investigate election rigging. Anonymous PTI sources suggest that they would be willing to forgo Nawaz’s resignation in exchange for other concessions; the same report suggests that an agreement by the government to allow former Pres. Musharraf to leave the country and avoid a treason trial would reduce military support for the opposition protests. Another Dawn account reports division within the PTI over whether or not to push forward with legislator resignations from the assemblies and other pressure tactics; Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak has refused to dissolve the provincial government there. Sirajul Haq, the Jamaat-e-Islami leader who has served as an intermediary between the government and the PTI and PAT, endorsed the latter’s electoral reform demands on Saturday, calling for continued dialogue. [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Peshawar Fortunes Fall Amidst U.S. Afghan Exit [WSJ]
- Tehreek-e-Taliban Affiliate Linked to Murder of Orangi Pilot Project Director [ET]
- Supreme Court Rejects Election Commission Proposal for Judicial Officers to Serve as Election Staff in Karachi and Nawabshah By-Elections [Dawn]
- Punjab, Sindh, and WAPDA Accused of Misreporting River Flow Data [Dawn]
- Government Expedites Process for Removing Auditor General [Dawn] [Dawn]
- Transmission Line Linking Kashmir and Punjab Approved [ET]
- Commentary: A Household Quarrel – “The difference between the [PTI and PML-N]— despite their best efforts at distinguishing themselves from the other — boils down to a choice between two groups of urban Punjabi politicians, led by two personalities, each struggling for control of an oversized province.” [Umair Javed, Dawn]
- Commentary: Why Street Protests Work in Pakistan – “Nawaz Sharif’s main failing — the one that makes him most vulnerable to street protest today — is his lack of investment in the institutionalization of democratic politics.” [Daniel Markey, South Asia Channel]
- Commentary: Pakistan’s March Madness: The Opposition Attempts to Topple the Government – “At this point the government’s best hope for surviving the marches with its political clout intact is for the marches to continue peacefully and hopefully wilt in Islamabad’s summer heat.” [Reza Jan, AEI]
Afghanistan — Security
- Border Tensions with Pakistan: Afghanistan’s National Security Council reviewed the alleged efforts of Pakistani intelligence services to arm militia forces along the Durand Line border on Sunday, directing Afghan security services to counter such efforts. Kunar provincial authorities continue to report daily cross-border artillery fire by Pakistani military forces, but no casualties in the past three days. Separately, in a Friday TOLO interview India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Amar Sinha, accused Pakistan of supporting terrorism in Afghanistan, a charge that Pakistan’s embassy subsequently rejected as “baseless and unfounded”.
- Kidnappings: The International Committee of the Red Cross reported on Saturday that five Afghan staff were kidnapped by a local armed group on August 14 while traveling Herat province; the ICRC said efforts were underway “at multiple levels” to secure their release. Separately, the Afghan National Directorate of Security announced Saturday that it had freed three Indian engineers who had been kidnapped on August 13 while traveling to Kabul from Logar, allegedly kidnapped by Taliban seeking to transport them to Quetta. [Indian Express]
- Helmand Talks: General Asadullah Shirzad, the commander of Afghan special forces in Helmand, told reporters on August 14 that he had started peace talks with the Taliban commanders behind a recent ongoing offensive against the Afghan security forces in the province. Shirzad offered no details on the negotiations, which the Taliban’s spokesman denied had taken place.
- Spin Boldak Police Chief Killed: An argument between Spin Boldak district police chief Shayesta Khan and police commander Mohammad Reza led to a shooting incident, leaving Khan and Reza’s brother, also a policeman, dead. A provincial government spokesman indicated that the fight was not politically motivated; Reza is reported to have fled.
- Friendly Fire: At least three Afghan Local Policemen were killed in an errant NATO airstrike on their checkpost in Parwan on August 15, government officials report; ISAF said that it was investigating the incident.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Election Audit and Unity Government Talks Continue: In a Radio Azadi interview, Ashraf Ghani dismissed earlier comments by Balkh governor Mohammad Atta Noor suggesting that he and other Abdullah supporters would not accept the results of the ongoing presidential runoff audit, saying that he had received assurances from Abdullah and that “the people of Afghanistan do not want an uprising.” The joint committee between the two campaigns on the formation of a national unity government has been holding daily talks, and representatives from both campaigns were publicly optimistic about their ability to reach a deal in statements on Friday. An Abdullah spokesman said Saturday that agreement had been reached to hold a constitutional Loya Jirga within the next two years and introduce amendments to shift Afghanistan to a parliamentary system, but that debates were continuing on appointment procedures for the new ‘chief executive’ position and other senior government appointees. On August 16, the Independent Election Commission began reviewing 6,000 ballot boxes selected by the two campaigns for special scrutiny and full recount, in an effort to identify and process the most contentious ballots and speed up the audit process. The following day, Ghani campaign officials complained that the process had in fact slowed; both Ghani and Pres. Karzai have, in the past week, called for the completion of the audit process and inauguration of the next president before the end of the month. As of Sunday, slightly over 10,000 ballot boxes, or around 45% of the total, had been audited. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Revenue Crisis: Anonymous Afghan finance ministry officials tell Reuters that the government is seeking additional donor aid to help pay salaries for the next month, and is facing a $500-600 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year. Finance ministry spokesmen attribute the shortfall to the ongoing election deadlock, and publicly maintain that salaries are not at risk, but acknowledge major development project spending has been stalled for lack of funds.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Bergdahl Investigation in ‘Final Stage’ [WAPO]
- Marine Sniper Found Guilty in Taliban Desecration Video Found Dead [WAPO] [NYT]
- Taliban Hang Five Accused of Kidnappings in Kajaki, Helmand [Reuters]
- Kabul Café a Front Line in Generational Conflict Over Cultural Mores in Afghanistan [WAPO]
- Commentary: Footsloggers, Turncoats and Enforcers: The Fight Along the Eastern Border – “An act of violence once seen as playing a decisive role in ending a dispute has nowadays become a tool in the hands of rival armed groups for terrorising each other’s supporters, contributing significantly to the continuation of the crisis.” [Fabrizio Foschini, AAN]