Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Holds Conference on Counterterrorism Policy; More Afghan Taliban Prisoners Freed

Topline

  • The all-parties conference on Pakistani security and counterterrorism policy opened on Monday. Pres. Zardari concluded his term in office on Sunday, and will be succeeded by Mamnoon Hussain today. Afghan officials accuse the US of killing as many as sixteen civilians in a drone strike on a vehicle traveling in Kunar. The Afghan Taliban bombed NDS offices in Wardak’s Maidan Shahr, killing at least four. Last Thursday’s drone strike in North Waziristan reportedly killed Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a key Haqqani network commander. At the Afghan government’s request, Pakistan has freed seven mid-level Afghan Taliban detainees; anonymous Pakistani sources suggest that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar could be transferred to Saudi Arabia or Turkey to lead new peace talks with the Afghan and U.S. governments. Indian Prime Minister Singh has yet to directly confirm plans to meet with Prime Minister Sharif at the UN General Assembly later this month. Hafiz Saeed held a mass rally in Lahore on Friday. Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee has approved a bailout of Pakistan Steel Mills and has ruled out its privatization. Nominations for the Afghan Electoral Complaints Committee remain under debate but will be finalized by the end of this week, officials say.

Pakistan — Security

  • All Parties Conference Reviews Security Policy: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior military and civilian officials on Saturday, ahead of Monday’s all-parties conference on national counterterrorism policy. Sharif opened the conference on Monday with calls not to “politicize” the terror threat facing Pakistan and called for “national consensus”; thus far there is little reporting of the details of the conference discussions. Separately, the Sindh government plans to open five new special anti-terrorism courts in order to allow for more effective prosecution of terror and criminal suspects in Karachi. The Sindh Assembly has agreed to move ahead on an MQM-sponsored petition to hold a special debate session on Monday on the security situation in Karachi. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Kayani Visits Balochistan: Gen. Kayani visited the Sui Military College on Friday to mark National Defense Day, where he was joined by Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch. Kayani called on dissident nationalist groups to take part in reconciliation talks, saying that “if Baloch tribes establish peace among themselves‚ the resources of Balochistan can be utilised in the best public interest”. He also insisted that “there is not a single Army personnel involved in any operation in Balochistan” and touted efforts to enroll Baloch students in military-run colleges. At a meeting on Sunday, Chief Minister Baloch vowed to “consult all political forces for developing a conducive atmosphere before initiating dialogue in the larger interest and prosperity of Balochistan.” [Dawn] [ET]
  • Afridi Custody Disputes: The Khyber Paktunkhwa government has repeated a request to the federal government to take custody of Dr. Shakil Afridi, currently held in Peshawar prison as he faces a re-trial after an appeals court threw out an earlier 33-year sentence on technical grounds.
  • Peshawar Attacks: Eight people were killed in an exchange of gunfire in Peshawar’s Matni area on Friday; there are few other details. Also on Friday, seven people, including five police officers, were injured in a bombing at a police station.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Zardari Completes Term: Pres. Zardari exited under honor guard as his term in office formally concluded on Sunday; he is the first democratically elected president in Pakistan’s history to serve his full term in office and transfer it to an elected successor. Mamnoon Hussain will be sworn into office on Monday. PPP sources say Zardari will resume his position as chairman of the party, which he officially ceded under pressure from the courts earlier this year. In a farewell interview with GEO, Zardari said that he would not attempt to become prime minister in the future, and would instead focus on running the party and reviving its position in Punjab. [Dawn] [AP]
  • India Tensions: Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Singh was vague on whether he would meet with PM Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month, saying that “if the terror acts do not stop, if those who voice terrorist thoughts move about freely, if there is no significant progress in bringing the culprits of the Mumbai massacre to book – that I have to factor in before arriving at a final decision”. On Friday, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed held a mass rally in Lahore, drawing around 10,000 people with vows to undergo “every sacrifice for the liberation of Kashmir”. Dawn reports that Finance Minister Dar has pledged to the IMF that Pakistan will proceed with most-favored nation trading status negotiations with India, although he has publicly stated that such efforts are not under “immediate consideration”.
  • Opposition Politics: PTI leaders in Lahore have agreed to file legal challenges to block the new Punjab local government law; Election Commission sources say local elections are unlikely to be held this year except for in cantonment areas. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, three PTI legislators submitted a resolution in the assembly seeking the creation of a separate province in the former Hazara division. JUI-F leaders say they will not join the Balochistan provincial government. The PPP and PML-F are both seeking to recruit Ghous Ali Shah, the former leader of the PML-N’s Sindh chapter, after he quit the party earlier this month; PML-N officials say his resignation has not yet been accepted. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • State-Owned Enterprises: On Saturday, the cabinet Economic Coordination Committee chaired by Finance Minister Dar approved a three-month, Rs2.9 billion bailout for Pakistan Steel Mills. The committee also decided that the mills would remain a public entity and would not be privatized; the government will instead seek to sell a minority stake to an as-yet-undetermined “strategic partner” to help overhaul management. Separately, Minister of Plannin Ahsan Iqbal approved a Rs 25.7 billion bailout package for Pakistan Railways, to be used to purchase 50 new locomotives and rehabilitate 30 existing ones.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Punjabi Militant Groups Plan for Next Afghan War [AP]
  • Former PM Gilani Seeks Assistance from Sami-ul Haq to Negotiate Son’s Release [Dawn] [ET]
  • Hangman Lacks Work, and Pakistan Looks to Provide [NYT]
  • Judicial Commission Deliberates Judges’ Pensions, Appointment Procedures [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Islamabad Police Seize Weapons Cache [Dawn]
  • Attacks in North Waziristan, Kohat, and Khyber Kill Nine [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Denies Involvement in Missing Container Case [ET]
  • Despite Promises, Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Reluctant to Follow Through on Free Education Legislation [Dawn]
  • Poverty Calculation Methodology Under Scrutiny [ET]
  • Petition Challenges Senator Aitzaz Ahsan’s Islamic Credentials [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Looking for Uncle Ali – “Ali Asghar’s family still haven’t got a body. They have been waiting for his return for eleven years now.” [Mohammad Hanif, Tanqeed]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: Afghan officials say as many as sixteen civilians were killed in the Watapur district of Kunar province on Sunday in a NATO drone strike, after their vehicle was targeted when it picked up a group of Taliban insurgents. Pres. Karzai condemned the incident; ISAF said that it was investigating and could not confirm any civilian deaths. [TOLO] [AP]
  • Taliban Attack Intel Base: A team of Taliban attackers in suicide vests struck the National Directorate of Security offices in the Wardak provincial capital of Maidan Shahr on Sunday. At least four Afghan soldiers guarding the facility were killed; TOLO reports as many as 120 civilians were wounded in the incident, which began with a car bombing, although the WSJ puts the number of injured at only 17. Separately, the WSJ reports on Taliban expansion into northeastern Badakshan province, where about half of the districts are now inaccessible to government and aid workers. [AP] [BBC] [TOLO]
  • Key Haqqani Commander Killed: Local sources report that last Thursday’s drone strike in North Waziristan killed Mullan Sangeen Zadran, a leading Haqqani network commander and the Taliban’s shadow governor for Paktika province. Taliban sources insisted he was alive, but other accounts suggest that funeral services were held for him on Friday. Pakistani security officials tell the Express Tribune that three Al Qaeda suspects were also among those killed in the strike.
  • Parliamentarian Freed: Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, an Afghan parliamentarian who was kidnapped while traveling through Ghazni last month, has been freed in exchange for the release of several Taliban detainees; Taliban sources insisted that the detainees had been women and children held in connection to Taliban family members. [BBC]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Prisoners Release: On Saturday, the Pakistani ministry of foreign affairs announced that it had, at the request of Pres. Karzai, freed seven Afghan Taliban detainees. They were identified as Mansoor Dadullah, Said Wali, Abdul Manan, Karim Agha, Sher Afzal, Gul Muhammad and Muhammad Zai. Afghan officials welcomed the move but said they would continue to press for the release of Taliban deputy commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The Express Tribune reports that Pakistan is considering transferring Baradar to either Saudi Arabia or Turkey, where he would be expected to lead talks with both the U.S. and the Afghan government. [NYT] [TOLO] [ET]
  • Election Preparations: Delays over nominations for the Electoral Complaints Committee continue; the special committee tasked with forwarding candidates to Pres. Karzai for approval now says it will finalize its recommendations by the end of this week. Senate chairman Fazel Hadi Muslimyar told reporters that 37 candidates have been shortlisted and 15 will be nominated for consideration. Filing papers for presidential candidates may be available as early as Monday, although registration does not begin until September 16; IEC officials say more than one million new voters have been registered since May, although only 260,000 of them are female. On Sunday, Wolesi Jirga deputy speaker Mirawis Yasini announced a new electoral coalition, the Afghanistan Eastern People Alliance; its full membership is unclear. [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Protestor Killed in Demonstration Outside Iranian Herat Consulate [AP] [TOLO]
  • Karzai Spokesman Rejects ‘Civil War’ Remarks by Amb. Dobbins [Office of the President]
  • USAID Program Helps Grape Farmers Bear Profitable Fruit, But Troubles Loom [WAPO]
  • Lower House of Parliament Resumes Session [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Energy and Water Signs Contract with Indian Firm for Balkh Tranmission Lines [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Public Health Refutes SIGAR Report [TOLO]
  • Criminal Charges Dropped Against Marine Commander in Corpse Urination Case, But Careeer in Limbo [Marine Times]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan’s Million Dollar Minister – “Rather than using the money to protect and promote the country’s proud cultural identity, [Minister  of Culture Makhdoom] Raheen seems to have embezzled all or most of [UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet] Singh’s donation, according to three former, senior Ministry of Culture officials who worked for Raheen.” [Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai, Daily Beast]
  • Commentary: The Rise and Fall of an Afghan Strongman – “In Ghor, where the shadows of strongmen loom large, every institution – even schools – have become party to the power struggles between rival factions.” [Ali Latifi and Obaid Ali, AJE]
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