Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Afghan Civilian Deaths Rose 24% in First Half of 2013; Pakistan Development Budget Approved

Topline

  • UN Special Representative in Afghanistan Jan Kubis announced that civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose 24% during the first half of the year, and that the Taliban have agreed to meet with UN diplomats to discuss means of reducing casualties. Kandahar police have accused local Taliban fighters of beheading two boys, which the Taliban denies. Pakistan’s National Economic Council meets ahead of the release of the forthcoming federal budget tomorrow, and approves a Rs 1.55 trillion development budget. Pres. Zardari addressed a joint session of parliament on Monday and Nawaz Sharif presided over the first federal cabinet meeting. The PTI has introduced a measure in the National Assembly condemning drone strikes. The Afghan lower hosue of parliament has re-approved a draft structure law for the Independent Election Commission, after Pres. Karzai earlier rejected a similar draft in late April.

Pakistan — Security

  • PTI Protests Drone Strikes: The PTI has filed a resolution in the National Assembly calling on the government to take “immediate steps” to halt the use of drone strikes in Pakistan, taking steps up to and including military force if necessary. PML-N minister Khurram Dastagir Khan tells Dawn that the motion is “premature”, saying that “the use of military force could be an option, but only after exhausting all diplomatic means” and noting that drone strikes were only a “small part” of the overall U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Zardari Addresses Parliament: Pres. Zardari addressed a joint session of parliament on Monday, saying that there was “no place for dictators in today’s Pakistan” and calling for punishment for those who subverted the constitution in the past. Zardari touted the record of the outgoing PPP government; he also addressed domestic militancy, saying that “we are ready to make peace with those willing to give up violence. But we should also be ready to use force against those who challenge the writ of the state.” Separately, Prime Minister Sharif presided over the first cabinet session on Monday, during which he reportedly warned ministers over the “need to deliver” on campaign promises to resolve the country’s economic challenges. [ET]
  • Provincial Governments: A 21-member Punjab cabinet was sworn in on Monday, most of whom are new ministers; Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will retain personal control over eight ministries. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Sharif nominated and Pres. Zardari approved the appointment of Mohammad Khan Achakzai as Balochistan governor; he is the brother to Mehmood Khan Achakzai, the head of the Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party, a PML-N coalition partner in the province. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, the PTI-led government is reportedly considering a proposal to merge the Social Welfare and Women’s Development ministry with the Zakat and Ushr Ministry as it continues negotiations with Jamaat-e-Islami over a power-sharing formula; PTI spokesmen deny the accounts. Other PTI sources tell Dawn that Imran Khan’s absence as he recoveries from injuries sustained in a fall in May have prevented resolution of the issue.
  • Khan Vows Protests: Speaking at a press conference on Monday, PTI leader Imran Khan – who has yet to take the oath of office to assume his new seat in parliament – said that the party would “take to the streets after Eid if poll rigging is not investigated in a transparent manner”. Khan criticized the role of the judiciary and Election Commission, suggesting that “the ‘umpires’ did not remain neutral and impartial in the electoral match.”
  • Musharraf Legal Troubles: On Tuesday, former Pres. Musharraf was granted bail in the Islamabad High Court case related to his 2007 order to detain former high court judges. His bail application in a parallel trial related to the 2006 death of Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti has been denied, however. He remains under house arrest.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Planning: Monday’s meeting of the federal-provincial National Economic Council approved a Rs 1.155 trillion allocation for Public Sector Development Program projects, Rs 615 billion of which represents provincial projects and the remainder federal. It represents a 32% overall increase compared to the current fiscal year’s allocations; energy sector projects represented the largest single focus for investment. The prime minister’s special discretionary development fund has been eliminated. Separately, in Monday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sharif called on ministry officials to cut their expenses by at least 30%. The full fiscal year budget will be presented before parliament tomorrow; Dawn reports that the government is considering a range of options to boost tax revenues, including increased federal exise duties and an increase in the sales tax from 16 to 17%. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Iran Gas Pipeline: Iranian officials have reportedly “expressed concern” over delays in the start of construction on Pakistan’s portion of the Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline in recent official correspondence. A planned visit by a Pakistani delegation to Iran on June 3 to finalize the awarding of the construction contract to Iran’s Tadbir Energy was delayed by the new government transition.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Indian Fighter Planes Briefly Cross Into Pakistani Airspace [ET]
  • Chief Justice Takes Note of ‘Blasemphous Material’ on Internet [ET]
  • National Accountability Bureau Interviews Former PM Ashraf Over OGRA Appointment [Dawn] [ET]
  • Petitioner Charges Military Intelligence Services Over Four Years’ Detention Without Charge [Dawn]
  • New Division Separates Control of Aviation Sector from Ministry of Defense [ET]
  • Supreme Court Express Outrage Over Energy Shortages [Dawn] [ET]
  • New Attorney General Vows to Uphold Citizens’ Rights [Dawn]
  • Commentary: What Does Electoral Violence Signify? – “Instead of accepting violence as a sign of democratic progress, we should learn from countries that have successfully navigated democratization without a call to arms.” [Stephanie Burchard and Dorina Bekoe, AfPak Channel]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: At a UNAMA press conference on Tuesday, Special Representative Jan Kubis said that the Taliban had agreed to meet with UN officials to discuss ways to reduce civilian casualties in the Afghan conflict. Kubis said the “modalities” of those discussions were still in negotiation. Kubis previewed UN data, to be released next month, that indicates that civilian deaths rose 24% during the first half of the year, to 2,499 deaths, with three-quarters of all deaths caused by anti-government forces.
  • Taliban Accused of Beheading Children: Kandahar provincial police officials accused Taliban fighters of beheading two boys, aged 10 and 16, on Sunday, after they allegedly were observed spending time as scavengers near a police checkpoint in the Zhari district. Their bodies were recovered Sunday. The Taliban’s spokesman denied the account as “government propaganda” and condemned the boys’ murders. [BBC] [Guardian] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Wolesi Jirga Re-approve IEC Structure Law: The lower house of the Afghan parliament approved a new structure law for the Independent Election Commission on Monday, after Pres. Karzai had returned an earlier draft of the law in late April. The parliament again endorsed the continuation of the Electoral Complaints Commission as a tribunal for adjudicating election disputes and the creation of a special committee to nominate commission members, over Karzai’s objections. The measure was passed by the majority of members present, albeit with low turnout; it must now again be approved by the upper senate house. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Taliban Spring Offensive Expected to Continue, Despite Limited Tactical Successes [WAPO]
  • Karzai Accuses U.S. of ‘Imposing Radicalism’ on Afghanistan During 1980s Anti-Soviet Jihad [Daily Beast]
  • Afghan Taliban Deny Reports of Plans to Attack Pakistani Taliban Bases [ET]
  • 406 Cases of ‘Honor Killing’ or Rape Registered in Past Two Years, AIHRC Reports [TOLO]
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