Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: U.S. Attempts to Mollify Karzai Over Taliban Office; Pakistan and IMF Open Talks

Note: There will be no news update tomorrow, June 21st; full coverage of the three-day weekend’s news will resume on Monday, June 24. Apologies for the interruption in service, thanks for reading, and enjoy the solstice.

Topline

  • Sec. Kerry conducts telephone diplomacy with Pres. Karzai after the suspension of bilateral security talks yesterday; the Taliban have reported removed signage from their new Doha office designating themselves as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” although an Afghan High Peace Council member tells the BBC that this is “not enough”. Kerry will reportedly travel to Qatar on Saturday for a conference on Syria and may meet with Taliban representatives. Pakistani security sources credit themselves for the breakthrough in talks, and suggest that Pres. Karzai is isolating himself. Pakistan and the IMF open talks over a prospective new loan agreement. Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan says that the government will conduct a “national consultation” on security policy after the passage of the budget next week.

Pakistan — Security

  • Security Policy Review: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the National Assembly on Wednesday that Prime Minister Sharif would hold a “national consultation” on security issues after the passage of the budget next week. Sharif met with Gen. Kayani on Wednesday; on Thursday, Kayani visited Wana and vowed that the military would remain in Waziristan “until complete peace is restored”. Dawn reports that Chaudhry Nisar plans to revamp the role of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority in an effort to coordinate between military and civilian intelligence agencies. Shaukat Yousafzai, the PTI’s Deputy Parliamentary Leader in Khyber-Paktunkhwa told reporters on Wednesday that the PTI would convene an all-parties conference in Peshawar to form a strategy for negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, adding that it was the obligation of the PML-N government to “take practical steps to stop the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty” by the American drone program. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Balochistan Cabinet Negotiations: Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch has appointed three ministers, one each from the PML-N, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, and National Party, to his cabinet; at least a dozen ministries remain undecided. [ET]
  • Gilani Under Scrutiny: Former Prime Minister Gilani has ignored a “third and final” notice from the National Accountability Bureau seeking his testimony in regards to the appointment of former Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority chairman Tauqeer Sadiq, whose appointment was voided by the Supreme Court in November 2011, after which Sadiq left the country for the UAE. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • IMF Talks: The IMF and Pakistan opened talks on Wednesday over a $3-5 billion loan agreement; initial accounts from The Nation suggest that the PML-N government’s efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit by 2.5% of GDP have won IMF approval, although the Express Tribune suggests IMF officials were more cautious. Pakistan, which faces declining foreign reserves, must repay around $3 billion in outstanding IMF loans before the end of 2013. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was absent from National Assembly budget debates on Wednesday, drawing protests from the opposition.
  • Supreme Court Criticizes GST Hike: Chief Justice Chaudhry held hearings on Wednesday over the Federal Board of Revenue’s increase of the General Sales Tax to 17%, immediately following the PML-N government’s preview of the budget last week. The Attorney General of Pakistan defended the move, which he said was legal under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act of 1931, and further argued that basic food and healthcare items would not be covered by the tax increase. Chaudhry expressed skepticism for that argument, saying that 1931 Act contradicted citizens’ “fundamental rights” and that taxes could not be raised without the approval of parliament. Hearings continue Thursday. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Provincial Budgets: Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch is expected to unveil a Rs 180 billion provincial budget today. Khyber Paktunkhwa Finance Minister Sirajul Haq insisted that the PTI government plans to devolve discretionary development funds from provincial assembly members’ control to local government bodies, which the government has committed to holding elections for. In Sindh, the MQM has accused the PPP of neglecting Karachi in its draft budget, and accused it of “deliberately ignoring” revenues from agricultural income. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Pushes for Devolution of Electricity Issues to Provinces [ET] [Dawn]
  • Six Soldiers Killed in Peshawar-Area Attack [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM to Hold Referendum on Joining PPP Coalition in Sindh [Dawn]
  • New Government Prepares First Delegation to China [ET]
  • PTI Lawmakers Retain Party Leadership Positions Despite Assuming Government Offices [ET]
  • More London Raids in Connection to MQM Member’s 2010 Death [ET]
  • Clerks Association Continues Protests Over Salary Increases [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Sharif Visits Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Project, Pushes for Completion by 2015 [ET] [APP]
  • NEPRA Increases Power Tariff for Distribution Companies [Dawn]
  • Higher Education Commission Submits Additional Records on Former MP’s Educational Degrees [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Equipment Withdrawal: The U.S. military has determined that more than $7 billion worth of military equipment in Afghanistan – about 20% of the current total —will be too costly to repatriate during the upcoming draw down of forces, the Post reports, and it now plans to destroy more than 170 million pounds of equipment, including around 2,000 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. The U.S. Army deputy chief of staff for logistics, Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, says that “the Afghan economy and military can’t absorb some of the things the Iraqis did” after the U.S. withdrawal there, and “we don’t want to give [the Afghans] a lot of equipment that they can’t handle and could compound their challenges.”

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • US Attempts to Mollify Karzai After Taliban Office Opens: As noted yesterday, Pres. Karzai suspended bilateral security agreement talks with the U.S. and withdrew plans for an Afghan High Peace Council delegation to meet with Taliban representatives after they opened an office in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday. Secretary Kerry spoke with Karzai over the phone on Wednesday, after which State Department officials indicated that the Taliban had agreed to remove the use of the Taliban flag and the name “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which Karzai administration officials specifically objected to, and which U.S. officials stressed they “do not recognize”. Qatar officials also said that “the office that was opened in Doha yesterday is the political office of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and is not the political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Further talks in Kabul are planned for Thursday to discuss the possible resumption of the dialogue tracks, although U.S. Special Representative Dobbins has put off initial plans to travel there today. Sec. Kerry will travel to Doha on Saturday for a conference on Syria, however, and the AP indicates he will meet with Taliban representatives during that trip. Taliban sources also tell the AP that they are ready to free Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, in exchange for the release of Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. Muhammad Ismael Qasemyar, a member of the High Peace Council, tells the BBC that the removal of the Taliban symbols “is not enough” and that “it is a kind of Taliban establishment which we don’t want.” Some members of the Afghan parliament have also signaled opposition to the Taliban office, telling the press on Wednesday that the Taliban “never want peace” and that “Taliban Leader Mullah Omar along with Pakistani Taliban leaders and Generals of Pakistan’s intelligence agency has decided to send a group of 20 suicide bombers and target Afghan National Assembly”. The Express Tribune has a lengthy account of the Pakistani diplomatic and military establishment’s view of the peace talks and their role facilitating the process; they interpret that the United States has accepted the need to “accept the Taliban as a legitimate power in Afghanistan, talk to them, accommodate their main demands,” even if it means “abandoning assets like Karzai”. The Taliban have yet to explicitly endorse discussions with the Afghan government; speaking to the Express Tribune on Wednesday, Muhammad Naeem, the Taliban envoy who presided over the opening ceremony for the office on Tuesday, suggested that the Taliban delegation would be willing to meet with High Peace Council representatives, saying that “our Qatar office is the second home for Afghans and we will listen to every Afghan”. Separately, Motasim Agha Jan, a former senior Taliban official who has publicly endorsed peace talks and who now resides in Turkey, tells TOLO that the Taliban “does not have enmity with the army and police forces or with Afghans because we are all brothers, Muslims and from the same country”. [Reuters] [Guardian] [Guardian] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Low Female Turnout as Voter Registration Continues [TOLO]
  • Population Registration Law Moves Forward, But Still Faces Opposition [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Taliban’s Qatar Office is a Positive Step, But Not a Prologue to Peace – “It remains to be seen whether the Taliban just use their office to project the image of a government in waiting or whether in the dialogue they pursue a compromise with non-Taliban Afghans.” [Michael Semple, Guardian]
  • Commentary: The Political Games in the Taliban Negotiations – “Ultimately, a negotiated deal will only truly enhance Afghanistan’s stability and the security of the Afghan people if the negotiations are designed in a way that equally entangles the Taliban and the Afghan government and powerbrokers in a far greater rule of law and much lesser impunity than has been the case over the past decade.” [Vanda Felbab-Brown, Brookings]
  • Commentary: The Opening of the Taliban Office in Qatar: a Propaganda Coup and an Angry Government – “Seeing how credible the political office is may be judged by what, if any, effect it has on the insurgency, in particular attacks on civilians – that is, if the whole artifice of the ‘Afghan-led’ peace process manages to survive and turn into something more durable and meaningful.” [Kate Clark, AAN]
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