Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Supreme Court Approves Local Elections Delay; Afghan Opium Cultivation Rises

Topline

  • The Supreme Court of Pakistan has accepted the Election Commission’s petition to delay local government elections in Punjab and Sindh, which will now be held in mid- to late January. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s annual opium survey has reported large increases in cultivation and the spread of cultivation to new areas and areas previously determined to be poppy-free. The Afghan investigation into the abduction and murder of 17 civilians in Wardak province earlier this year has been dropped after the U.S. refused investigators access to its personnel, Reuters reports. Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers met in New Delhi for talks primarily focused on recent Kashmir tensions. A Hezb-e-Islami spokesman denied that the insurgent group would participate in the upcoming jirga on the U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement. Pakistan will likely require an additional $2 billion in loans after upward revisions of its current account deficit for the year.

Pakistan — Security

  • Militant Attacks: Faisalabad security officials tell Dawn that five Pakistani Taliban militants detained earlier this month have confessed to working to conduct kidnapping and ransom operations against Shia and Ahmadi community members to help fund militant operations. Other intelligence sources report that the TTP is planning an attack against former Pres. Musharraf following his release on bail in the 2007 Lal Masjid raid case. Karachi Rangers killed three alleged TTP militants allegedly planning sectarian attacks for Muharram in a raid on Wednesday; in a separate raid, police are said to have arrested the TTP’s chief for Karachi, identified as Shahabuddin Shahab. [BBC]
  • Taliban Talks: In an Express Tribune interview, JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlullah said that the appointment of Mullah Fazlullah as head of the TTP “has reversed the process” for peace talks, and said that his party would convene a tribal jirga to “discuss the new situation and chalk out a future course of action”. [ET]
  • Detainee Rotations: Anonymous government security officials tell the Express Tribune that they are plan to shift 48 high-profile TTP-affiliated detainees from the Peshawar central jail to facilities in Haripur, Kohat, Timergara, and Mardan in order to reduce the risk of an attack on jailbreak attempt at the Peshawar site.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Supreme Court Approves Local Elections Delay: The Supreme Court registrar rejected a petition by the Election Commission seeking a delay for local government elections in Punjab and Sindh on Tuesday; Dawn reports that the ECP has decided to file the appeal again. Balochistan’s Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch said that his government was prepared to hold local elections on December 7 as scheduled; Khyber Paktunkhwa’s government has still yet to set any date for its polls despite multiple court orders to do so. On Tuesday the National Assembly passed another unanimous resolution calling for polls to be delayed until preparations could be completed to ensure that they were free, fair and transparent. On Wednesday, the Chief Justice Chaudhry approved the ECP’s newest petition for a delay in polls; the new schedule now calls for elections in Balochistan on December 7, Sindh on January 18, Punjab on January 30, and Khyber Paktunkhwa during a still-to-be-determined date in February 2014. [ET]
  • India-Pakistan Foreign Ministers Meet: Foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz and Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid met in New Delhi on Tuesday to discuss bilateral relations, with a particular focus on recent clashes along the Line of Control in Kashmir and prosecutions of Lashkar-e-Taiba suspects in the 2008 Mumbai attack. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Additional Loans Likely: Pakistani finance officials tell the Express Tribune that they have been forced to revise previous IMF projections for the country’s current account deficit for the fiscal year, from 0.6% of GDP to 1.5% of GDP. The IMF has reportedly eased its requirements for Pakistan to build up foreign currency reserves as part of its $6.7 billion loan package, but the government is expected to face approximately an $2 billion financing shortfall by the end of the fiscal year next summer, which government officials say they will offset with additional loans and a bond sale.
  • Energy Infrastructure: US and Pakistani officials began meetings in Washington on Tuesday of the strategic dialogue working group on energy issues. On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee is expected to approve a partnership with the Asian Development Bank to help advise on the development and financing of the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which U.S. officials have promoted as an alternative to the Iran gas pipeline.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Silent, Fearful Support for US Drones in FATA [AFP]
  • Security Forces Kill One, Arrest Seven in Balochistan [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Attacks on Security Forces in Bannu, Jamrud and Peshawar [Dawn]
  • Private Bill Calling for Extension of Judges’ Tenure Blocked [Dawn]
  • Sindh Seeks Mobile Phone Service Block for Muharram [ET]
  • Three-Member Federal Commission Formed to Appoint Public Sector Organization Heads [ET]
  • Seven Consulting Bids Received for 3G Spectrum Auction [ET]
  • Banking Analysts Predict State Bank Rate Cut [ET]
  • Polio Cases Surpass 2012 Levels [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Afghan Investigation into Nerkh Murders Halted: Afghan intelligence officials have reportedly dropped investigations into the detention and deaths of a group of 17 civilians in Wardak province’s Nerkh district between October 2012 and February 2013, after U.S. military officials denied them access to U.S. Special Forces and Afghan translators based nearby, who Afghan officials have linked to the murders. U.S. military officials have previously denied that any American personnel were involved in the deaths.
  • Jirga Preparations: Hezb-e-Islami leaders issued a statement on Tuesday denying reports yesterday that its representatives would attend an upcoming loya jirga called to review the prospective U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement, which organizers have now set for November 21. Representatives of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan have threatened to boycott the jirga proceedings unless they are offered guarantees that they will be allowed to vote in the upcoming Afghan presidential elections; Independent Election Commission officials have estimated the cost of an absentee voting mechanism at approximately 50 million.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Opium Cultivation Spreads: The annual UN Office of Drugs and Crime report on Afghan opium production, released Wednesday, reported a harvest of 5,500 metric tons this year, a 49% jump over the last year if fully realized. Cultivation has also spread to new parts of the country and there are signs that previous reductions, particularly in Helmand, have been reversed. [NYT] [Guardian] [UNODC Report (pdf)]
  • Contracting Concerns: The NYT notes a recent SIGAR warning letter to Sec. Hagel reporting that the Zurmat Group, an Afghan company that was banned by US CENTCOM from doing contract work in September 2012 over allegations that it had assisted the Haqqani network in acquiring bomb-making precursors, had been hired to conduct monitoring on another contractor’s construction of a courthouse at Bagram prison in November 2012. Separately, the WSJ reports on the release of two Filippino employees of a US Army Corps of Engineers contractor, who were released on Saturday after 13 months of detention by the Afghan government, after subcontractors for their firm, ACI-SCC, brought criminal charges alleging they had gone unpaid for more than six months.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Three Boys Killed in Farah Roadside Bomb [AP]
  • Interview: Candidate Zalmai Rassoul Seeks Back of Women, Youth [WSJ]
  • Interview: Candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Prisoner Releases, Peace Talks, and Foreign Policy [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan After 2014: What Roles for China and India? – “Afghanistan is clearly one of many concerns on the table between the two great powers, but understanding what China and India plan to do post-2014 is key to knowing to what degree Afghanistan will be able to call upon regional support in the absence of western focus.” [Vinod Anand and Wang Shida, RUSI]
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