Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Security Policy Conference Delayed; Taliban Divided Over Talks

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

Topline

  • The all parties conference on Pakistani security policy has been delayed; Prime Minister Sharif received security briefings from the ISI and Interior Ministry last week. Pres. Zardari’s personal security aide was killed in a bombing in Karachi on Wednesday; Zardari was not present during the attack. Afghan Taliban field commanders express confusion as to the organization’s true intentions in seeking to establish a “political bureau” in Doha. The Pakistani Taliban have reportedly sent fighters and pledged support against the Assad regime in Syria. The second suicide bombing in less than a week struck the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing. The gunman in last week’s insider attack at a Kandahar base, which killed one NATO soldier, has escaped custody with the help of a hospital guard. Presidential elections in Pakistan to elect a successor to Pres. Zardari when his term ends in September will be scheduled within the next month. Malala Yousafza marked her 16th birthday last week with an address to the UN renewing her call for support for global women’s education. In Supreme Court hearings on missing persons, representatives for Pakistani military intelligence say the security services are not subject ot the civilian legal system, which Pakistan’s attorney general refutes. The MQM remains on edge as its leader Altaf Hussain has come under investigation by British police; a BBC investigative report into the group has prompted protest and the threat of possible defamation charges against the broadcaster.

Pakistan — Security

  • Security Policy Conference Delayed: The PML-N government delayed an all-parties conference originally scheduled for July 12, citing the absence of PTI chairman Imran Khan, who was in England last week for family and medical visits. The PTI accused the government of failing to prepare for the conference and said it was not to blame for the delay. On Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif visited ISI headquarters for a five-hour security briefing, which Gen. Kayani also attended. Military sources say that “it is up to the government” to decide on negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, but “as of now our operation against militants is still ongoing”. On Friday, Sharif visited the Interior Ministry to meet with minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who he has tasked with finalizing the government’s counterterrorism policy; Sharif is further reported to have tasked the Interior Ministry with coordinating between civilian and military intelligence services. After the all-parties conference, the government reportedly plans to establish a working group on talks with the Pakistani Taliban, and to reach out to militants willing to ‘reintegrate’, a plan that the military is said to be cautious towards. Other reports indicate that the government also plans to appeal to Saudi Arabia and Iran to cut off financing flows to terror groups in Pakistan. [Dawn]
  • Zardari Security Aide Killed: Bilal Sheikh, Pres. Zardari’s security chief and a longtime aide, was killed in an apparent suicide bombing in Karachi on Wednesday; two other guards were killed and twelve people wounded in the attack. Pres. Zardari was not present at the time of the attack, which took place as Sheikh stopped at a roadside fruit stand. No claim of responsibility for the attack was reported; Sheikh had survived two previous assassination attempts. [NYT] [BBC] [Reuters] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Pakistani Taliban Pledge Syria Support: A Pakistani Taliban spokesman told BBC Urdu that the organization had established a dozen-man information and media support cell in Syria, “with the help of Arab fighters who had fought in Afghanistan”; another Pakistani Taliban source claimed to Reuters that the group had established camps in Syria and sent “hundreds” of men to fight against Pres. Bashar al-Assad, although the extent of that claim is unconfirmed. The AP notes the involvement of the Sunni sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as well. [Guardian]
  • Military Seeks Exemption from Missing Persons Investigations: During a Supreme Court hearing on Friday, lawyers representating the Military Intelligence service argued that under the Army Act of 1952, members of the armed forces could not be investigated within the civilian legal system in connection to missing person cases. Attorney General Muneer Malik countered that “in his independent opinion,” such investigations could be carried out against army officers that “misused [their] authority with mala fide intent”. [ET]
  • Predator Strikes: Two people were killed in a drone strike on Saturday that took place near Mir Ali, North Waziristan; it was the second strike reported thus far in July. No information on the identities of the targets was immediately available; Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement Monday condemning the strike. [Dawn] [ET] [AP]
  • Taliban Spokesman’s Removal: As noted last week, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan was removed from his position for “creating mistrust” with the Afghan Taliban; Ehsan challenged the decision in a Taliban court, however, which reportedly issued a stay order suspending his removal for at least 45 days while it hears his appeal.
  • Abbottabad Report Leak: On Saturday Information Minister Pervez Rashid denied that the prime minister’s office was the source of the leaked copy of the commission report investigating Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and the U.S. raid that killed him. The Express Tribune reports that the copy that was leaked to Al Jazeera is in fact one of three preliminary drafts created by three of the four commissioners, and is said to be that of former diplomat Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, who is said to have favored a more “aggressive” report. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Presidential Elections: The government has reportedly asked the Election Commission to establish a schedule to hold presidential elections, which must occur by August 8 at latest; Pres. Zardari’s term in office will expire on September 9. The ECP commissioner from Punjab, Riaz Kayani, tells Dawn that an announcement will be made by July 20 at latest. The provincial assemblies and national parliament for the electoral college to elect the president, and the PML-N will be able to elect a candidate of its choice. Some PPP officials have suggested that Pres. Zardari will return to active politics as head of the PPP after stepping down, although other sources speculate he will leave the country.
  • MQM Under Investigation: An investigative report by the BBC program ‘Newsnight’ into the MQM and its leader Altaf Hussain, now living in London, has drawn strong protest from the party. London police recently conducted raids on Hussain’s residences, as part of the investigation of the 2010 murder of former MQM member Imran Farooq; Hussain is also said to be under investigation for money laundering and for whether his speeches to supporters in Pakistan might be “inciting violence” in violation of British law. Former PPP Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza, a longtime MQM rival, is reported to have traveled to the UK to testify against the party against the request of Pres. Zardari; a spokesman for Mirza denied that account, however. Pakistani security forces have reportedly been placed on alert against the possibility of unrest in Karachi in the event of an arrest being made against Hussain. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Malala Yousafzai Addresses UN on Education: Teenage education activist and Taliban assassination attempt survivor Malala Yousfazai marked her 16th birthday with an address at the UN on Friday, during which she repeated her call for worldwide support for girls’ education. “The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions,” she said, “but nothing changed in my life, except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.” Presidents Zardari and Karzai issued statements praising Yousafzai. The NYT notes that more than 800 schools in Pakistan have been attacked since 2009, and threats against government-run girls’ schools continue. Total Pakistani federal and provincial spending on education budgeted for the current fiscal year amounts to about 1.9% of GDP, an increase but still far short of the 4% of GDP equivalent pledged by several parties during the election campaign. [WSJ] [BBC] [Guardian] [AP] [ET]
  • Energy Crisis: PPP and PML-N leaders traded accusations over the weekend over continued power shortages and unscheduled loadshedding despite the infusion of Rs 300 billion in payments to power producers in an effort to resolve circular debts within the electricity system. PTI leaders in Khyber Paktunkhwa have threatened protests beginning Monday against the federal government over continued loadshedding into Ramadan. Pakistan State Oil officials announced Wednesday that it had cleared all banking overdrafts and posted a net cash surplus of Rs 2.1 billion.
  • Pakistan-China Cooperation: Chinese officials say they are beginning to conduct research and preliminary planning for a rail link connecting Kashgar and the Gwadar port in southern Pakistan, although such efforts remain in the early stages and no timetable or financing plan has yet been announced. In a general interview with Pakistani journalists on Friday, US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson downplayed any concerns over Pakistan-China cooperation, saying that “we do not see any competition as long as everyone is given a level playing field”. Separately, four oil tankers for a Chinese mining firm were destroyed in Balochistan on Sunday, the second such attack in a week.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Nominations for Parliamentary Committee Chairs Delayed [ET]
  • Petitioner Who Withdrew to Return to Testify in Case Against Musharraf [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Lyari Residents Flee After Recent Gang Violence [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Eight Killed in Separate Balochistan and Khyber Paktunkhwa Attacks [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Reiterates Order to Bar Use of Women as Payment in Traditional Dispute Resolution [Dawn] [ET]
  • Prime Minister Sharif Ready to Accept Punjab Governor’s Resignation [ET]
  • New Polio Cases Reported in North Waziristan and Khyber [ET] [Dawn]
  • PTI Still Divided Over Dual Political Offices in Khyber Paktunkhwa [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Opposition Nominee for National Accountability Bureau Chairman Withdrawn [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Following Court Order, Sindh Government Overturns 59 Irregular Police Promotions, But Leaves 12 Intact [Dawn] [ET]
  • Two PML-N Punjab Assembly Members Suspended on Fake Degree Charges [ET]
  • Government Provides PIA With Rs 7 Billion Bailout [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan Seeks UK Assistance on Revamping Tax Machinery [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Trade Deficit Widened to $20.5 B in Previous Fiscal Year [ET]
  • Report: European Union Election Observation Mission Final Report – “Despite escalating militant attacks, and procedural shortcomings, the electoral process progressed with high levels of competition, a marked increase in voter participation, and overall acceptance of the outcome.” [EU Observation Mission (pdf)]
  • Commentary: End of the Military Strongman? – “The success of Pakistan’s democratic elections in May and the outcome of the recent protests in Egypt point to a shift in both countries’ military participation in politics – while they will support or depose governments, they no longer seem interested in ruling the countries themselves.” [Kathryn Alexeeff, AfPak Channel]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Border Crossing Attacked: A teenage suicide bomber detonated at the Spin Boldak-Chaman gate on Thursday, the second such attack in less than a week. The attack took place on the Pakistani side of the border; the Express Tribune suggests that the attacker was crossing from Afghanistan. As many as seven people were reported killed, including one Afghan and three Pakistani border guards.
  • Suspect in Insider Attack Escapes: The Afghan soldier — identified as Lamber Khan — who had been detained after opening fire at a Kandahar airbase last week, killing one NATO soldier and wounding several more, has escaped from the Afghan Army hospital base where he was being held. A hospital guard, who has not been identified, is reported to have assisted in the escape. Afghan investigators say that Khan told them he had carried out the attack after continued raids on his village in Nangarhar province; the Taliban had claimed to have recruited him.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Divided on Talks: Taliban commanders interviewed by the WSJ are “befuddled” by the mixed messages coming from the central leadership as it has sought to establish a “political bureau” in Qatar while also encouraging ongoing attacks during Ramadan; some commanders question whether the initiative was in fact sanctioned by Mullah Omar. The establishment of the office is said to have sharpened disputes between two of the movement’s rival leaders, military commander Abdul Qayum Zakir and his rival Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, a proponent of negotiations.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Army Struggles with Lack of Reach [WAPO]
  • As Uncertainty Reigns Back Home, Many Afghan Envoys Decline to Return [NYT]
  • UK Soldier and Veteran Suicides Exceeded Afghan War Casualties in 2012 [BBC]
  • Isolated Wakhan Corridor Residents Consider Mass Exodus [WAPO]
  • Afghan Judges Free Three Jailed for Torture of Child Bride Sahar Gul [Guardian]
  • Commentary: Election Antics in Kabul – “With peace talks suspended indefinitely, the bilateral security dialogue held hostage by the talks, Washington bent on a quick exit, and the Obama administration showing frustration with Afghan leadership, the electoral process is more important than ever before.” [Omar Samad, AfPak Channel]

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