Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: New Pakistani Parliament Takes Oath; More Bodies Found in Wardak

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  • Pakistan’s new parliament was sworn in on Saturday, and Nawaz Sharif is expected to be confirmed as prime minister on Wednesday. Pres. Zardari tells reporters that he will not seek re-election when his term in office expires in September. More bodies are found near a former U.S. Special Forces base in Wardak’s Nerkh district as investigations continue into abuse, abduction, and murder charges against a former base translator. The Afghan Taliban deny involvement in last week’s suicide attack on the Red Cross in Jalalabad. After extended debate within the party and with coalition partners, the PML-N has agreed to support the National Party’s Abdul Malik Baloch as Balochistan Chief Minister. A Taliban delegation has reportedly traveled to Iran to hold talks with Iranian intelligence officials. Pakistan tax officials are now doubtful they will manage to collect more than Rs 2 trillion before the end of the fiscal year.

Pakistan — Security

  • Predator Strikes: The PML-N issued a statement on Friday on behalf of Nawaz Sharif repeating criticism of U.S. Predator drone operations in Pakistan, saying such actions were “a violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and in violation of international law. Sharif met with U.S. embassy charges d’affaires Richard Hoagland on Friday and voiced “dismay and disappointment” at last week’s drone strike in Miram Shah, which killed Pakistani Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur Rehman. A loosely-sourced Express Tribune account suggests that a supporter of TTP commander Hakimullah Mehsud provided the tip that led to Rehman’s death. Newly elected Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak of the PTI claimed Friday that “the US would not have dared to carry out drone attacks” if the PTI had been leading the central government, and called on the PML-N to “give a clear policy on drones”. PTI leader Shafqat Mehmood told reporters on Sunday that the party will “protest and raise the drone issue in the assemblies and make the federal government realize that drone attacks are unacceptable to the people” but will not take extrajudicial measures to halt the attacks. On Saturday, Utmanzai and Ahmadzai Wazir tribal leaders met in North Waziristan and issued a joint statement calling for strikes to be curtailed. [BBC] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Kayani Calls Striking the ‘Right Balance’: Speaking to a Quetta military college on Friday, Gen. Kayani emphasized that “the country needs to keep a balance between defense and development in order to ensure prosperity in the country”. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • New Parliament Takes Oath: 301 members of Pakistan’s 342-seat National Assembly were sworn in to office on Saturday; the PML-N, which now holds an absolute majority of seats, will formally nominate Nawaz Sharif as prime minister on June 4, and his election will be confirmed on June 5. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq was elected speaker of the assembly on Monday. The MQM is likely to play kingmaker in the choice of parliamentary opposition leader, as its support appears to be necessary for the PPP to beat out the PTI for that position. Several key parliamentarians were absent from Saturday’s inaugural session, including Imran Khan; party sources tell the Express Tribune that Khan is making a “slow recovery” from a fall during a campaign rally in May and is now likely to travel to London for further medical checkups. Under the Pakistani system, candidates are allowed to contest multiple constituencies but must choose one to serve from in the event of multiple wins; Dawn overviews the decisions made by candidates who won in multiple locations thus far. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Zardari Not to Seek Reelection: Pres. Zardari will not seek re-election when his five-year term expires in office in September, he told reporters on Saturday. PML-N gains in the national and provincial assemblies, which form the electoral college for the presidency, had made it unlikely that he could secure a return. Zardari said that he would lead the PPP “if the party wants me to lead it”, and that it would “play the role of a constructive opposition” for the PML-N. [AP] [Dawn]
  • Provincial Governments: New Punjab assembly members were sworn in on Saturday; Dawn notes that 245 members of the 371-seat house are first-tem winners. Rana Muhammad Iqbal was elected on Monday as speaker of the assembly; Shahbaz Sharif has been nominated as chief minister. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, the PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami are reportedly still in dispute over the choice of provincial ministries to be awarded to the JI; the PTI also has yet to reach agreement internally on its choices for its own ministry nominees. New Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak vowed on Friday that “the era of corruption is over,” saying that “we have a month or two to prove (ourselves), and we will prove.” In Balochistan, new members were sworn in on Saturday; after extended deadlock, Nawaz Sharif announced on Sunday that the PML-N would support Abdul Malik Baloch of the National Party as provincial chief minister, overriding the efforts of the local PML-N chapter, which won a plurality in the assembly, to claim the chief minister’s seat. Sharif said that a governor for the province would be appointed from the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party; Governor Zulfiqar Magsi reportedly submitted his resignation on Sunday. The Balochistan National Party-Mengal has announced a boycott of both the national and provincial assembly, citing rigging against its candidates, but voiced support for Baloch as chief minister. In Sindh, Pres. Zardari has directed Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah to continue outreach efforts to the MQM despite the party’s decision to sit in opposition. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • PPP Wins Tharparkar Re-Polling: PPP candidates were victorious after re-polling in the NA-229 and NA-230 seats in Tharparkar, Sindh on Saturday; Shah Mehmood Qureshi of the PTI lost the latter seat by around 1,200 votes. The PPP also won all four Sindh provincial assembly seats where re-polling had been carried out. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Fiscal Crisis: The AP overviews Pakistan’s dwindling foreign currency reserves, deficits, and debt obligations, and the resulting dilemma facing the new government as it considers the need to approach the IMF for a new bailout. Tax collection in May fell 4.3% year-on-year, and Federal Board of Revenue officials are now doubtful that total revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30 will manage to exceed Rs 2 trillion. Despite regular slippages on fiscal targets for the past several years, draft budget documents may be revised to project a deficit of 5.6% of GDP for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the Express Tribune reports, which would in part be based on the assumption of a leap in tax collection to Rs 2.6 trillion. Dawn notes the financial crunch will limit development spending, although it is unclear whether the PML-N will attempt to limit parliamentarian’s discretionary development accounts. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Energy Crisis: The PML-N is reportedly considering divesting government stakes in state-owned energy companies to around 51%, in an effort to raise capital to clear circular debt within the energy sector. The move would also reduce the government role in appointing company management, although it would stop short of full privatization measures argued for in the party’s election manifesto. The Express Tribune looks at energy theft and transmission losses plaguing the energy sector, noting that more than half of outstanding dues are owed by government entitites. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • U.S. and Pakistani Negotiators Discuss Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty [Dawn]
  • Delays Continue in Musharraf Case as Incoming PML-N Debate Response [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • National Accountability Bureau Summons Two Former PMs [Dawn]
  • Dozens Killed in Kurram Agency Clashes; Army Claims Control of Khyber’s Maidan Area; Two Soldiers Wounded in Miram Shah Bombing [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • NATO Containers Destroyed While Returning Through Balochistan [Dawn]
  • MQM Holds Protest Against Activists’ Killings [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Jamaat-e-Islami Rejects Party Chief’s Resignation Offer [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Khoso Orders Reversal of Closure of Polio Coordination Cell [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Reference Charges Auditor General with Corruption [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Fails to Implement Taxes on Services [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pakistan Has a Bright Energy Future – “Pakistan’s greatest energy wealth comes from the sun, much of it absorbed by agricultural crops on some of the most fertile soil in the world.” [James Trevelyan, The News]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Wardak Abuses: The NYT reports that the remains of four more Afghans have been recovered near a former U.S. Special Forces base in Wardak’s Nerkh district, where Afghan investigators say a man named Zakaria Kandahari is suspected in the death of 17 people initially believed to have been taken into American custody. 14 of those people have since been found dead. U.S. officials say Zakaria was a low-level interpreter, that they were unaware of his alleged activities, and that they had no role in his flight from custody; he remains at large.
  • Taliban Deny Responsibility for Jalalabad Attack: A spokesman for the Taliban central leadership issued a statement on Friday denying any connection to last week’s suicide attack on the Red Cross offices there, and stating that it “does not support such attacks”. [NYT] [Reuters]
  • Security Transition: Pres. Obama met with NATO Secretary General Rasmussen in Washington on Friday; the two leaders agreed that the biannual NATO summit in 2014 will focus on Afghanistan; a venue and exact date has yet to be decided. On Sunday, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said that its forces would assume responsibility for all combat operations in the country within the next 20 days as part of the fifth and final tranche of security transfers.
  • Civilian Casualties: At least ten Afghan schoolchildren and one police officer were killed when a suicide bomber struck a joint U.S. and Afghan Local Police patrol in a marketplace in Paktia province on Monday; two U.S. soldiers were also reportedly killed. Also on Monday, seven civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in Laghman province. A roadside bombing in Ghor on Friday kill two civilians and wounded eleven; four civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in southern Uruzgan province on Saturday.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Delegation Travels to Iran: Iran’s Fars news agency reported on Saturday that a delegation of Taliban officials had traveled to Iran from Qatar to meet with Iranian intelligence officials. TOLO reports that the delegation was headed by Syed Tayyab Agha; officials say that the visit was meant to “reduce the tension that Iran ever had” with the Taliban. The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was still working with Iranian diplomats to substantiate the reports. [AP] [ET]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kandahar Massacre Survivors Demand Death for Gunman Robert Bales [Guardian]
  • More Than Six Million Afghan Children Go Without Education [TOLO]
  • Concerns Over Continued Low Female Voter Registration [TOLO]
  • Abdullah Abdullah Endorses Ethnicity on National ID Cards [TOLO]
  • Report: Toward a Successful Outcome in Afghanistan – “The United States can still achieve its strategic objectives in Afghanistan if it maintains and  adequately resources its current policy course – and if Afghan partners in particular do their part,  including by successfully navigating the shoals of their presidential election and transition in 2014.” [John Allen, Michele Flournoy, and Michael O’Hanlon, CNAS (pdf)] [WAPO] [AP] [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Karzai’s India Gamble – “NATO and the United States are willing to equip Afghan forces for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, but Karzai wants more — particularly for defending Afghan borders.” [Mujib Mashal, Foreign Policy]
  • Commentary: Hizb-e-Islami: A Party With Many Faces – “Understanding the real and perceived links between the legitimate political party and the Pakistani-based militant group is especially important given the role that the former may play in the upcoming elections and future reconciliation talks, and our diminishing capacity to target, either militarily or diplomatically, the latter.” [Casey Garret Johnson, AfPak Channel]
  • Commentary: How Big is the Insurgents’ 2013 Spring Offensive? – “The spring offensive has proven to be intense, but many of its features resemble earlier years’ fighting.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

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