Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Hakimullah Mehsud Killed in Drone Strike; Afghan Taliban Political Leaders Reportedly Endorse Talks

Topline

  • Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a Predator drone strike on Friday, sparking a public backlash from many conservative Pakistani political leaders and government officials who accused the U.S. of sabotaging nascent efforts to negotiate peace talks. Initial reports that the TTP had chosen a successor to Mehsud were later contradicted by militant spokesmen who said that a separate interim leader had been chosen while they continue to debate the issue. The Daily Beast reports that the Afghan Taliban’s senior leadership shura met in Islamabad last month and endorsed efforts to find a “political solution” to the Afghan conflict, although some senior military commanders were absent from the meeting. The Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission began hearings on appeals and challenges on Sunday. The Election Commission of Pakistan is seeking a four-month delay on holding local elections in Punjab, citing a lack of advance preparations. Former Pres. Musharraf was granted bail in the last major case against him on Monday, but his lawyers say he will not try to leave the country.

Pakistan — Security

  • Pakistani Taliban Confirm Hakimullah Mehsud Drone Strike Death: Multiple sources have confirmed that a Predator drone strike in the Danday Darpa Khel region of North Waziristan on Friday killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan; although there have been multiple previous reports of Mehsud’s death over the past several years since he succeed Baitullah Mehsud as commander of the overall militant network, TTP officials confirmed Hakimullah’s death shortly afterwards on Friday. As many as five other people were reportedly killed along with him, including Abdullah Behar Mehsud, identified as a deputy who had recently succeeded Latif Mehsud, a commander detained in Afghanistan by U.S. special forces last month. Mehsud was buried in a ceremony on Saturday; security forces have been placed on alert in Khyber Paktunkhwa and Balochistan in anticipation of revenge attacks by the TTP. [Reuters] [Guardian] [AJE] [NYT]
  • Divisions Over Mehsud Successor: The Pakistani Taliban’s central leadership shura met on Friday to choose a successor to Hakimullah, but signs of factionalization within the movement are evident. Initial reports on Saturday indicated that the shura had chosen Khain Said Mehsud, alias ‘Sajna’, to replace Mehsud as leader of the TTP. Wali-ur Rehman, a TTP commander for South Waziristan and deputy and sometimes rival to Mehsud, was previously killed in a May drone strike; Khan Said Mehsud had succeeded him. Pakistani security sources tell the WSJ that the decision was not unanimous, and that significant factions with the movement sought to nominate former Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, now based in Afghanistan, or Orakzai commander Hafiz Saeed, as overall leader. The News also reports that Hakimullah loyalists are pushing the candidacy of Sheharyar Mehsud, aka Shahbaz, a former close associate who is said to lack support from most other commanders. Commander Azam Tariq told the AFP on Saturday that no agreement had been reached on Sajna’s appointment, and on Sunday the TTP’s main spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, said that Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, the head of the group’s supreme shura, had been chosen as “temporary head” of the group until a permanent replacement could be agreed upon. [NYT] [BBC]
  • Political Leaders Accuse US of Sabotaging Peace: Pakistan’s foreign ministry formally condemned Friday’s strike on Mehsud as “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, and summoned U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson to lodge a formal protest. U.S. officials have been noncommittal on the strike. At a press conference on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the strike was an “attack on the peace process”, and said that it had come a day prior to a plan to hold direct government-TTP talks. Nisar said that a cabinet meeting to review “all aspects of Pakistan-US relations” would be held after Prime Minister Sharif returns from travel to London, but it was postponed at the last minute on Sunday and Sharif will now meet separately with Gen. Kayani and the foreign ministry on Monday. Anonymous government officials tell the Express Tribune that “we will register our protest through appropriate channels but the government is not contemplating any radical steps”. Sharif attended military exercises on Monday and said afterwards that peace could not be achived by “unleashing senseless force”. PTI opposition leader Imran Khan accused the U.S. of sabotaging peace initiatives, and said that the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government would introduce a resolution to block NATO supplies to Afghanistan in retaliation. Jamaat-e-Islami and the JUI-F have endorsed the PTI effort, as have several religious leaders; Jamaat leaders declared Hakimullah a “martyr”. The PPP’s central leadership condemned the drone strike in a statement Sunday and emphasized its support for all-parties conference resolutions calling for dialogue, but also “condemned militancy and extremism in all its forms and manifestations.” The Afghan Taliban issued a statement on Saturday, saying that it “condemns this barbaric and unlawful attack by America” and “consider[s] the martyrdom of Mullah Hakimullah to be a great loss.” Pres. Karzai told a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation that the strike “took place at an unsuitable time” and that he hoped peace efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan would not be harmed. [NYT] [BBC] [WAPO]
  • NATO Supply Line Attacks: Two NATO containers bound for Afghanistan were attacked and destroyed in the Mastung district of Balochistan on Saturday; there were no casualties, and no claim of responsibility was reported.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Local Elections: On Monday, Election Commission officials appealed to the Supreme Court for a four-month delay in holding local government elections in Punjab, citing the ongoing process of constituency delimitation and the legal challenges that have been brought against new provincial local government laws. ECP officials announced on Saturday that deputy district commissioners and assistant commissioners will serve as returning officers for local elections in Balochistan, now scheduled to take place December 7. Nominations must be filed by November 8, and the final list of candidates, after appeals, will be announced November 19. [ET] [ET]
  • Musharraf Granted Bail: An Islamabad district court granted former Pres. Musharraf bail in the Lal Masjid case on Monday, the last major case on which he is being held under house arrest; he remains on the government’s exit control list, however, and his lawyer denied suggestions that he would leave the country. Federal Investigation Agency officials tell the Express Tribune that they have made no significant progress in investigations on possible treason charges against Musharraf for his 2007 emergency rule ordinance but suggest that investigations could accelerate next month. [Reuters]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • World Bank Loans Delayed: The World Bank’s board of directors has thus far declined to approve two prospective $500 million development policy loans, despite Pakistan’s entry into a new program with the IMF in September. Stricter Bank conditionality on energy and tax sector reforms is cited as a rationale for the delay in approving the new loans, which Pakistani finance officials had counted on in their budgeting for the year.
  • Iran Gas Pipeline: Iran deputy oil minister Ali Majedi told the Fars news service on Monday that Iran could not provide Pakistan with $2 billion in financing to complete its portion of the gas pipeline linking the two countries, saying that each side “must bring its own share”.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Gul Bahadur Group Advises North Waziristan Residents to Leave Area [Dawn]
  • Sectarian Attack Kills Six Hazara in Mach District [ET]
  • Senators Call for ISI Oversight [Dawn]
  • Bombing at Unregistered Madrassah in Quetta [Dawn] [ET]
  • Lyari Residents Flee as Gang War Intensifies [ET]
  • Senate Panel to Review Role of Inter-Provincial Council on Common Interests Forum [ET]
  • Supreme Court Orders Further Investigations of 19,000 Shipping Containers Reported Missing [Dawn]
  • Former Musharraf Aide Saif Ali Khan Joins MQM [ET]
  • Polio Count Rises to 56 as Eradication Programs Struggle [ET] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Bilateral Security Agreement Negotiations: The lower house of parliament held debate on the upcoming loya jirga to review the proposed US-Afghan bilateral security agreement over the weekend, with some parliamentarians suggesting a jirga was not necessary and others endorsing it. In AP interviews, U.S. military commanders offered a positive assessment of the Afghan security forces’ ability to rebuff the Taliban’s offensive this year, but conclude that “our progress is not yet sustainable” and reiterate the need for the security agreement to be concluded in order for U.S. and allied forces to remain in country after 2014. [TOLO]
  • Election Security: Six Independent Election Commission officials working as part of a mobile voter registration team were injured in a roadside bombing in Ghor province on Sunday; there was no claim of responsibility.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Senior Leadership Reportedly Met to Endorse Peace Talks: The Daily Beast, citing Taliban and Afghan presidential sources, reports that the Taliban’s senior Quetta shura leadership council met in Islamabad in mid-October to debate the currently stalled negotiations initiative with the U.S. and the Afghan government. Many senior Taliban commanders are reported to have attended, with the notable exception of military commander Abdul Qayum Zakir, a rival of Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor for senior leadership within the organization; Mansoor was reported to have attended. The Taliban sources report that consensus was reached amongst the group to pursue “a political solution”, in part due to Pakistani encouragement and recognition that after twelve years of war, “the speeding up of attacks would not make much difference on the ground”. The sources also suggest that internal clashes with Mullah Najibullah, a hardline commander based in eastern Afghanistan who is opposed to any talks, prompted the decision to relocate the discussion to Islamabad. [AP]
  • Election Preparations: The Electoral Complaints Commission began hearings on Sunday on challenges brought by candidates for the presidential and provincial council elections who were previously disqualified by the Independent Election Commission. IEC officials tell TOLO that they are making plans to allow for absentee voting by Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan, but that such preparations are still in the works. [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Poppy Cultivation and Opiate Addiction Still Flourishes Despite Billions Spent on Counternarcotics Efforts [WAPO] [NYT]
  • Wedding Bomb Wounds Nine; NATO Soldier, Two Police Officers Killed in Separate Attacks [AFP] [AP]
  • India a Hub for Patients from Afghanistan [NYT]
  • Kabul Airport to Receive Assistance to Reactivate Landing System [TOLO]
  • Commentary: How Formerly Poppy-Free Ghor is at Risk of Becoming an important Player in Afghanistan’s Opium Business – “With insecurity in the province on the rise, obstructing income sources and basic services, many of Ghor’s farmers migrated to neighbouring provinces like Helmand, helping in the local drug production and trade and eventually ‘importing’ this knowledge back home.” [Obaid Ali and Christine Roehrs, AAN]

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