Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PML-N Government Endorses Musharraf Treason Charges; Taliban Talks Remain Stalled

Note: The news returns to its regular daily update schedule from today. Apologies for the interruption in service on Friday and resulting length of this summary. Thanks for reading.

Topline

  • The PML-N government has endorsed joining the treason case against former Pres. Musharraf for his suspension of the constitution. Ten foreign tourists and one Pakistani guide were killed in an attack in Gilgit-Baltistan on Sunday; the Pakistani Taliban and Sunni sectarian group Jundullah claimed responsibility. Talks with the Afghan Taliban in Qatar remain stalled over disputes over their use of symbols presenting themselves as representatives of the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’. An MQM lawmaker and his son were killed in a drive-by shooting in Karachi on Friday; the Pakistani Taliban also claimed responsibility. At least 14 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a Shia seminary in Peshawar on Friday. The upper house of the Afghan parliament has approved a draft structure law for the Independent Elections Commission. The Pakistani Supreme Court struck down the preemptive application of an increase in the General Sales Tax; parliamentary debate over the next fiscal year’s budget wrapped up over the weekend. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted to end the U.S. lease on Manas Airbase, a major hub for Afghan operations, in July 2014.

Pakistan — Security

  • Eleven Killed in Attack on Gilgit Tourists: Ten foreign tourists and at least one Pakistani guide were killed in an attack on Sunday at a mountaineering base camp in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, near Nanga Parbat peak, the world’s ninth-highest. Although Gilgit-Baltistan has experienced escalating sectarian violence in recent years, it had been viewed as comparatively peaceful; this is the first reported attack on foreign nationals in the area. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said was in revenge for the death of the group’s deputy commander, Wali-ur Rehman, last month, saying that “through this killing we gave a message to international community to ask U.S. to stop drone strikes”. The Sunni sectarian group Jundullah also initially claimed responsibility for the attack. The identities of those killed have yet to be confirmed but initial reports indicated that three were Ukrainian nationals, two Chinese, one Chinese-American, two Slovakian, one Lithuanian, and one Nepalese; one Chinese tourist survived the attack, which was carried out by gunmen in paramilitary uniforms who fled afterwards. Prime Minister Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan condemned the attack, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said was “attempting to disrupt the growing relations of Pakistan with China and other friendly countries.’’ The police chief and chief secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan were suspended after the attack, although Chief Minister Mehdi Shah defended their performance. On Monday, Pakistan suspended all expeditions at the site. [NYT] [WSJ] [BBC] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • MQM Lawmaker Killed: Mohammad Sajid Qureshi, a recently-elected MQM provincial legislator, and his adult son were killed in a drive-by shooting in Karachi after leaving Friday prayers; a bystander was also killed. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The MQM announced a three-day mourning period, and postponed a planned referendum on whether or not the party should join the PPP-led provincial governing coalition. The Express Tribune notes that at least 377 people have been killed over the last 42 days in Karachi, with few arrests in connection to the attacks. The Sindh government has ordered an investigation of Qureshi’s death and said it would hold an all-parties conference in the first week of July; Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told parliament on Saturday that the central government would “thoroughly investigate” targeted killings in Karachi. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: A suicide bomber attacked a Peshawar-area Shia religious school on Friday, killing at least fourteen people and injuring more than twice as many. At least four of the dead were children. No immediate claim of responsibility was reported; the Shia Ulema Council said it would hold protests against the provincial government over the lack of security. Gen. Kayani visited Khyber Agency on Thursday, after a visit earlier in the day to Wana, South Waziristan; Pakistani military spokesmen announced that militants in the Bagh-Maidan area of the Tirah Valley in Khyber had been “wiped out”. Separate attacks on pro-government militia members killed at least three people on Friday and Saturday. A bombing killed one security officer in Bannu on Sunday. [NYT] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Endorse Musharraf Treason Charges: Speaking to parliament on Monday, PM Sharif said that former Pres. Musharraf should be tried for suspending the constitution in 2007; Attorney General Munir Malik filed a response with the Supreme Court indicating the government’s intention to join as a party to the treason charges previously filed against him there. On Sunday, Sharif issued a notice removing Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s portfolio and giving him responsibility for the Ministry of Science and Technology instead. Hamid previously served as Law Minister for former Pres. Musharraf before rejoining the PML-N in 2008, and had faced petitions in the Supreme Court seeking the suspension of his law ministry appointment. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Elections: The Election Commission announced on Saturday that it would hold special elections for seats vacated by candidates who won in more than one constituency on August 22; 16 national assembly seats and 25 provincial assembly seats will be contested, and nominations must by filed by June 28. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Supreme Court Voids Preemptive GST Increase; Budget Debate Continues: In a ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court struck down a 1% increase in the General Sales Tax that was retroactively applied earlier this month immediately following Finance Minister Dar’s presentation of the budget for the forthcoming fiscal year; the court also ordered the withdrawal of increased taxes on petroleum products. The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority subsequently ordered price reductions following the court order. Despite the court’s order and protests from the opposition benches, Dar said that the government would move ahead with the tax increase after the budget passes and takes effect at the end of the month. In senate debate on Friday – whose recommendations are not binding on the lower house — some PPP finance committee members argued that the budget’s projections of revenue from Coalition Support Funds, 3G spectrum auctions, and other sources were unrealistic, and that deficits should be contained through cuts to the development budget instead. In final debate on Saturday, Dar said that the government was withdrawing a proposed increase in tax rates for individuals with an annual income of up to Rs 2.5 million, as well as reducing rental property tax rates and resuming exemptions for teachers and professors. To offset this, mobile phone services withholding tax will be increased from 10% to 15%. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [APP] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PTI Lawmaker Calls for Freeing of Salman Taseer’s Assassin [Dawn] [ET]
  • Kerry Urges ‘New Era’ for India and Pakistan Cooperation [WSJ]
  • Nawaz Planning China Trip in Early July [ET] [ET]
  • No Ministries for Independents who Flocked to PML-N After Elections [Dawn]
  • Interior Minister Withdraws Arms Licenses, Orders Scaled-Back VIP Protocols [Dawn] [ET]
  • New Government Seeks Review of Predecessors’ Appointments [Dawn] [ET]
  • Press Organizations Appeal for NYT Report Walsh’s Return to Pakistan [Dawn] [CPJ]
  • Balochistan Chief Minister Unveils Provincial Budget [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Punjab Executed 68% of Development Budget During Previous Five Years [ET]
  • State Bank Cuts Interest Rates to 9% [ET] [Dawn]
  • U.S. Plans Fund to Support Small and Medium Business Loans [ET]
  • Report: Pakistan District Education Rankings 2013 – “District administrations are where the execution of policy takes place, both in terms of broad prioritization and specific public – sector investments through the development budget.” [Alif Ailaan (pdf)]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kyrgyzstan Votes to Close US Airbase: The Kyrgyzstan parliament has voted 91-5 to end the US military’s lease on Manas airbase when it expires in July 2014; the US averted a previous closure proposal in 2009 after annual leasing payments were increased from $17 million to $60 million.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Talks Efforts Stall: Following protests from the Afghan government last week, Taliban officials in Qatar initially lowered their flag and removed a sign designating the new office there as representing “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. On Friday sources told the NYT that they would not remove the symbols entirely and suggested that they might cancel discussions with the U.S. and the Afghan government entirely, while keeping the office open. Sec. Kerry visited Qatar for talks on Syria on Saturday, and said that “if there’s not a decision made to move forward by the Taliban in short order, then we may have to consider whether or not the office has to be closed“. Special Representative James Dobbins also arrived in Doha, although no direct talks between the Taliban and the U.S. are reported to have been held over the weekend. A Taliban spokesman in Doha said that “the opening of the political office is the first ray in the direction of peace in Afghanistan” and suggested that the group was willing to hold talks on a ceasefire and the status of foreign troops in Afghanistan, but that “the process is being weakened at the beginning and not being given a chance”. By Sunday, Afghan government officials confirmed the “complete removal” of the flag by the Qatari government, however. Government officials say that they will not allow “the cover of a political process to be used to undermine our authority, our sovereignty”; members of the senate and lower house of parliament and the opposition have harshly criticized any talks with the insurgency. Separately, the NYT profiles senior Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo whose release had been proposed in exchange for U.S. prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl. [WSJ] [WAPO] [AJE] [AJE] [TOLO] [TOLO] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Tensions with Pakistan: At the UN Security Council on Thursday, representatives from Afghanistan and Pakistan accused each other of hosting militant sanctuaries on their respective sides of the border; Afghanistan’s ambassador said that “some elements [in Pakistan] continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.” Pakistani foreign ministry officials, who had earlier taken credit for facilitating Taliban talks in Qatar, distanced themselves from the conflict over the status of the new office in remarks on Thursday. The Afghan foreign ministry issued a statement Saturday saying that if Pakistan wanted to support the peace process, “then the most useful and urgent step would be to release those Afghan Taliban leaders who have been arrested by Pakistani authorities”. Other Pakistani sources tell the Express Tribune that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has been in Pakistani custody since 2010, “has been allowed to talk to all stakeholders” and “played a major part in persuading the Taliban leadership” to accept talks with U.S. and Afghan officials. They add that Baradar “decided against returning to Afghanistan himself since he felt he could play a better role in the peace process while staying in Pakistan.” Separately on Wednesday, a junior Afghan diplomat was injured in a shooting in an apparent  robbery attempt in Islamabad. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Upper House Approves IEC Structure Law: On Sunday, the Mehshrano Jirga upper senate house of parliament approved a draft law covering the structure and authorities of the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission. The draft, which was passed by the lower house on June 10, calls for the creation of a special committee to make recommendations on commission appointments, and also gives the IEC powers to review election complaints; Pres. Karzai had previously objected to both provisions. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kerry, on New Dehli Visit, Urges ‘Central Role’ for India in Support of 2014 Elections [AFP]
  • ANP Takes Responsibility for Training Center [TOLO]
  • July 2 Turkmenistan Forum to Sign Agreements on TAPI Pipeline Financing [ET]
  • Ministry of Mines Hosts Investors’ Delegation Visit to Mazar-e-Sharif [TOLO]
  • Report: Talking to the Taliban – Hope Over History? – “As one last attempt is made to negotiate with the Taliban, history suggests that a viable or sustainable peace settlement will be extremely difficult to achieve.” [ICSR]
  • Report: Problems of Nonpayment of Afghan Subcontractors by Prime Contractors – “SIGAR has received testimonial and documentary evidence from credible sources alleging death threats, work stoppages, and strikes in connection with allegations of nonpayment of subcontractors, as well as allegations of questionable intervention by the Afghan Attorney General’s Office.” [SIGAR (pdf)]
  • Commentary: Taliban to the Table – “The path to a settlement will be appallingly difficult, given the presence of hard-line elements on all sides and the bitter hatreds generated by more than 30 years of civil war.” [Anatol Lieven, NYT]
  • Commentary: Peace Talks Only Benefit Taliban – “The Taliban’s approach to circumvent the Afghan government and negotiate directly with the United States also indicates that Karzai’s government — despite being lauded as the main driving force behind the process — remains the weakest player in the peace talks.” [Javid Ahmad, AfPak Channel]
  • Commentary: Why is China Talking to the Taliban? – “Over the last year, China has been expanding its direct contacts with the Taliban and sounding them out on security issues that range from separatist groups in the Chinese region of Xinjiang to the protection of Chinese resource investments.” [Andrew Small, Foreign Policy]
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