Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Hagel Presses to Reopen Peshawar Supply Lines; NDI Delegation Predicts Afghan Presidential Runoff

Topline

  • During meetings yesterday, visiting Sec. Hagel warned of possible military aid cut-offs for Pakistan if the blockade on NATO supplies through Peshawar continues. An NDI delegation on the Afghan elections reports widespread consensus that there will be a runoff in Afghanistan’s presidential elections next spring. In a Le Monde interview, Pres. Karzai has reportedly described U.S. pressure to sign the bilateral security agreement as “threats” reminiscent of “a colonial power”. Outgoing Chief Justice Chaudhry rules that the extrajudicial detention of 35 prisoners was illegal and calls for legislation on forced disappearances. A final schedule for local elections in Punjab on January 30 has been issued; Sindh officials are seeking a delay until March.

Pakistan  — Security

  • Hagel Presses on Supply Lines: During meetings with Prime Minister Sharif on Monday, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel reportedly warned that continued efforts by the PTI to block the passage of NATO supplies through Pakistan had the potential to prompt restrictions on the disbursal of Coalition Support Fund assistance. Anonymous U.S. defense officials stress that the remarks were not intended to serve as a threat but rather to convey the “political reality” of Congressional attitudes towards aid to Pakistan. The emphasis on the funds comes amid dwindling Pakistani foreign exchange reserves and a meeting last week between Finance Minister Dar and U.S. Ambassador Olson that sought to expedite their disbursal. Anonymous U.S. officials indicate that Sharif “offered assurances that his government would take action” to guarantee the passage of US and NATO supplies, without elaborating on how. Publicly, Sharif reiterated Pakistani objections to the continued use of Predator drone strikes, while the U.S. side reportedly expressed longstanding concerns over freedom of operations for the Haqqani network. [Guardian] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Missing Persons Case: Pressing the attorney general and defense officials in hearings on Monday, Chief Justice Chaudhry demanded explanations and legal justifications for the army’s detention of several missing persons. Chaudhry warned that “no one is above the law”, saying that “my 60 hours before retirement are equal to 60 years in terms of making sure the case proceeds in the right direction” and that “”no one should be under the illusion that the case will end as soon as I retire, my brother judges will not spare you”. Chaudhry’s term in office ends Thursday. On Tuesday, Chaudhry issued a final verdict in the case of 35 missing persons, concluding that their removal from Malakand jail into army custody was illegal and ordering legislation to be enacted to prevent forced disappearances. In a separate case, Supreme Court Judge Gulzar Ahmed ruled that prisoners being held under the Frontier Crimes Regulation in FATA should be provided adequate medical care and be granted access to their family. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Punjab Local Elections Scheduled: On Monday the Election Commission of Pakistan issued a formal schedule for local polls in Punjab, set for January 30. Nominations will be open from December 20-27, with reviews, appeals, and withdrawals running from December 30 through January 12, and a final candidate list published thereafter. The schedule was issued after the passage of nineteen amendments to the Punjab Local Government Act of 2013, to bring it in line with Lahore High Court orders and ECP recommendations, most notably by allowing for candidates to contest under a party affiliation. Speaking to supporters in Lahore on Monday, PTI leader Imran Khan suggested that the party would seek to block or boycott local polls unless they received “a guarantee for transparent elections”. Following a cabinet meeting, Sindh officials announced that it would not be possible to complete preparations for local elections there by January 18, as previously scheduled, and reiterated their preference to push the vote back until March.
  • Election Challenges: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a PTI petition seeking the verification of voter thumbprints in the NA-110, NA-122, NA-125, and NA-154 constituencies, all of which were won by PML-N candidates. PTI lawyer Hamid Khan said that the effort “will open Pandora’s Box and the nation will know how the PTI’s mandate was stolen”. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Gas Projects: Following meetings between the Pakistani and Iranian oil ministers on Monday in Tehran, Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs stated that the two sides had agreed to “fast track” the completion of the stalled Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline; further meetings are planned, but no details on financing or a timeline were announced. Facing a 1.3 billion cubic feet gap between supply and demand, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines indefinitely suspended gas supplies to the industrial and Compressed Natural Gas sectors, effective Tuesday. Separately, the Supreme Court has issued an verdict declaring a 9% General Sales Tax on CNG to be unlawful, that petroleum product subsidies should not be removed, and that the government must take action to curtail load shedding. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • COAS Sharif Visits Positions at Kashmir Line of Control [Dawn]
  • PML-N and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Compete for Quetta Mayor [ET]
  • PPP Stages Parliamentary Walkout to Oppose PIA Privatization [ET] [Dawn]
  • Fifteen Illegal Occupants Arrested in Punjab University Hostel Crackdown [Dawn]
  • Asian Development Bank Approves $900M Loan for Jamshoro Power Plant Coal Conversion [ET]
  • Report: Exposing the Karachi-Afghanistan Link – “Karachi, with its large businesses, moneyed residents and huge Pashtun population, has been fertile ground not only for the Pakistani Taliban, but also the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.” [Zia Ur Rehman, NOREF]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Bilateral Security Negotiations: In an interview with Le Monde noted by the AP, Pres. Karzai has reportedly described the United States as “acting like a colonial power” in attempting to force the Afghan government to sign a bilateral security agreement, saying that “the threats they are making, ‘We won’t pay salaries, we’ll drive you into a civil war.’ These are threats.”

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Election Preparations: The leaders of a National Democratic Institute delegation tell the Guardian that “virtually everybody” that their group met with were predicting a run-off vote in the upcoming presidential elections, which would occur if the winner fails to clear 50% of the vote. A second round of voting would take place two weeks after the April 4, 2014 elections. The group expressed “guarded optimism” regarding the election’s integrity, but expressed concern over a lack of transparency in the process to date and suggested that “a number of people who should have been eligible candidates were excluded from the process and some who were ineligible were in fact included”. On Monday, Independent Election Commission officials announced plans to use two types of tamper-proof dyes for use in marking voter’s fingers in the balloting process. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Commentary: A ‘Jihad on the Media’? Afghan Journalists Face the Storm in Insecure Legal Waters – “Pressure is coming from two fronts: politicians and officials who claim that any critical reporting on them (or people of their “class”) is “defamation” and a “disruption of the social order”, and from Islamic scholars and MPs who are repeatedly using heated rhetoric in describing what kind of content is fit for the Afghan public to consume.” [Wazhma Samandary, AAN]
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