Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Karzai Dismisses U.S. ‘Brinkmanship’; Rupee Depreciation Boosts Pakistan’s External Debt Burden

Topline

  • Pres. Karzai remains publicly steadfast in his opposition to signing the bilateral security agreement without additional U.S. commitments on military operations within Afghanistan and securing a negotiations process with the Taliban, and in interviews with Indian journalists downplayed the odds of a total U.S. withdrawal. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has agreed to hear a PTI petition on alleged vote rigging in the May 2013 elections. The JUI-F leads in Balochistan local election results. Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan led protests in several cities after Bangladesh executed Abdul Qauder Molla, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, on charges of war crimes committed during the 1971 independence war. Australia has withdrawn its last combat troops from Afghanistan, leaving a force of around 400 to conduct training and support from Kabul and Kandahar. Pakistan’s foreign debts have increased by Rs 403 billion due to the depreciation of the currency since June; Finance Minister Dar has vowed to bring down the exchange rate. Prime Minister Sharif has agreed to move forward with plans for a national census, the first since 1998; it still requires provincial approval, however. Approximately 48% of Afghanistan’s national development budget has been spent this fiscal year, Ministry of Finance officials report.

Pakistan — Security

  • NATO Supply Protests: Meetings between Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Sharif focused on the PTI’s efforts to shut down NATO supply lines through Peshawar and the risk of U.S. aid cutoffs, the Express Tribune reports; unidentified sources say that the leaders agreed to seek “an early resumption” of the supplies. PTI officials vowed to continue their protests in Peshawar on Sunday.
  • Security Policy: Speaking before the National Assembly on Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that a new draft national security policy was almost complete, which reportedly proposes a mix of efforts to “dismantle, contain, prevent, educate, and reintegrate” militant actors.
  • Shia Cleric Killed: Allama Nasir Abbas, a Shia cleric and leader of the Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen and Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqh Jafaria, was killed in a driveby shooting in Lahore on Sunday; no claim of responsibility has been reported, but his death follows an attack on the Sunni Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’s Punjab chapter president on December 6. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Local Elections: Balochistan Election Commissioner Syed Sultan Bayazeed announced on Saturday that preliminary results for Balochistan’s local government elections, held on December 7, had shown the JUI-F winning the greatest number of seats, at 964, followed by the Paktun Milli Awami Party with 765, the National Party with 562, and the PML-N with 472. Around 2,400 candidates were elected unopposed. Separately in Punjab, PML-N party leaders have reportedly decided not to award party tickets to candidates for directly elected union councils, and to instead endorse candidates for the election of mayors or chairmen, who are elected indirectly by union councilors afterwards. Reversing previous calls for delay, Sindh Minister for Local Government Sharjeel Memon said that Sindh would hold its local elections on January 18, as earlier scheduled. [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Election Disputes: At a press conference on Saturday, Imran Khan demanded that judicial officials administer the Punjab local elections, and said that he would continue to press for voter verification and recounts of the results of the May general elections in Supreme Court petitions and street protests, warning that “the honeymoon is over” for the PML-N. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the PTI’s petition on Monday. The day prior, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that administrative control over the National Database Registration Authorty and the Federal Investigation Agency would be transferred to the Election Commission to conduct investigations into allegations of vote rigging over the next three months. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Bangladesh Executes Jamaat Leader: Bangladesh executed Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Qauder Molla on Friday on war crimes charges in connection to his role in the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, sparking protests by Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami wing in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and other major cities, with supporters saying he had been killed for his “loyalty to Pakistan”. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan echoed those sentiments in a statement Friday, saying that “every Pakistani is saddened and grieved on his death“. Pakistan’s foreign ministry took a more muted stance, issuing a statement that “we have noted the concerns raised by the international community and human rights organisations on the way the recent trials have been conducted which have added to the current instability in Bangladesh“ but that “it is not Pakistan’s policy to interfere in the affairs of any country”. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Rupee Depreciation: Testifying before the National Assembly on Friday, Finance Minister Dar acknowledged that the depreciation in value of the Pakistani rupee since June has resulted in an increase in Pakistan’s foreign debts by Rs 403 billion. Total public debts stand at Rs 15 trillion as of the end of September. Speaking before the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association on Saturday, Dar said that the government was aiming to bring down the price of the dollar, without elaborating how; the State Bank of Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have declined to $2.9 billion for the week ending December 6, a twelve-year low, although Dar claimed that $500 million had been received since. [ET] [ET]
  • Iranian Officials Confirm Pipeline Funding Cancellation: Iran’s deputy oil minister, Ali Majedi, confirmed on Saturday that Iran had withdrawn its offer to provide $500 million in financing for the construction of Pakistan’s portion of the gas pipeline linking the two countries. Majedi also warned that Iran would seek compensation if Pakistan failed to complete the pipeline by the end of 2014, as called for in the original contract; Pakistani officials have indicated that they were seeking to renegotiate that provision.
  • Population Census: Prime Minister Sharif has agreed to propose the implementation of a national population census at the next meeting of the federal-provincial Council on Common Interests, following requests from the Election Commission. Pakistan’s last complete national census was conducted in 1998; a date for the CCI meeting has not been set, despite it not having met in over four months. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Civil Service Struggles to Fill Positions Amid Declining Passing Rates and Provincial Disparities [ET]
  • FIA Considering Closure of Asghar Khan Probe [ET]
  • Families of Missing Baloch Persons Resume Protest March on Islamabad [Dawn] [AFP]
  • Bomb Disposal Personnel Killed in Peshawar Blast [Dawn] [ET]
  • Indian and Pakistani Punjab Chief Ministers Pledge Cooperation [Dawn]
  • Imran Khan Vows to Lead Anti-Polio Campaign Next Week [ET]
  • Altaf Hussain Acknowledges UK Police Investigations [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Pakistani Taliban Commander Arrested in Karachi [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Hearings Against Ashraf in Rental Power Case Delayed Until January 3 [Dawn]
  • Government Divided Over Planned Gas Price Hike [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Likely to Miss Cotton Target [ET]
  • Government Removes Media Regulatory Chief; Islamabad High Court Stays Order [ET] [ET]
  • Commentary: Pakistan’s Chief Justice Leaves a Mixed Legacy – “The end results of Justice Chaudhry’s crusades have been limited, and his forceful personality also became a liability.” [Declan Walsh, NYT]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Karzai Maintains Stance on Bilateral Security Deal: In interviews with Indian journalists on Saturday during his visit to New Delhi, Pres. Karzai said that he was trying to achieve a “win-win situation” in his negotiations over the bilateral security agreement with the United States, but said that a halt to U.S. airstrikes and raids on Afghan homes and assistance in brokering peace talks with the Taliban were “an absolute prerequisite” for his signature on the deal. Karzai downplayed the risk that U.S. forces would withdraw without the deal, saying that discussions of the “zero option” were “a brinkmanship that they play with us”. Karzai’s efforts to secure additional Indian military assistance appear to have been rebuffed, with no major new pledges reported; on Sunday, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said that a ‘Friendship and Cooperation Pact’ with Iran would be completed soon. The Post interviews Afghans who express increasing anxiety over the country’s economic and security future; Senate chairman Fazil Haidi Muslimyar reversed previous opposition to the security agreement in remarks on Sunday, calling on Karzai to “respect the decision of the Loya Jirga”. [TOLO]
  • Australian Forces Withdraw: Australian officials announced the closure its main military base in Uruzgan province and the withdrawal the last of its combat forces from Afghanistan on Monday; around 400 soldiers will remain to offer training and assistance in Kabul and Kandahar. [AJE] [BBC]
  • Drone Attack Near Pakistani Border: Pakistani news sources report that a Predator drone struck a boat on the Kabul River traveling near the border between Nangahar and Khyber; five militant suspects are said to have been killed, although no additional details about the target have yet been reported.
  • Other Attacks: A suicide bomber wearing a military uniform targeted the National Directorate of Security headquarters at the Torkham border crossing on Sunday, wounding three officers. Two civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in Nuristan on Saturday, and roadside bombings in Nangahar and Kunar on Sunday killed four police officers, including the district police chief, and four civilians, respectively. On Monday, four boys were killed in a roadside bombing in Uruzgan. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Speaking to the Express Tribune, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan had been urging the Afghan Taliban to conduct talks with the Afghan government’s High Peace Council, but that Pakistan lacked direct control over the group and “the Afghan Taliban have a principled stance that they do not recognise the government in Kabul and the constitution”. Separately, the LA Times reports that local-level ceasefires between Taliban commanders and Afghan army and police commanders have accelerated as the Afghan national security forces have taken over combat responsibility from the United States.
  • TV Commentator Detained: The WSJ reports that the Afghan Attorney General’s office has arrested Gen. Abdul Wahid Taqat, a former intelligence official and prominent television commentator on Zhwandoon TV, for public comments in which he linked Afghan and Pashtun identity, concluding that “Pashtuns are the real rulers of Afghanistan.” Pres. Karzai warned journalists earlier this month against “deliberately disrupting national unity”, and Gen. Taqat appears to have been arrested shortly thereafter, despite issuing a statement of apology.
  • Reserved Seat for Hindus Rejected: On Saturday, the Wolsei Jirga rejected a legislative ordinance issued by Pres. Karzai calling for the creation of one seat in parliament reserved specifically for Afghan Hindus.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Execution: Ministry of Finance officials report that 48% of the national development budget has been spent, an increase from around 40% last year. The Afghan fiscal year ends December 21, and total spending is expected to rise to around 50% of appropriations by the end of the year.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kandahar Governor Wesa Defies Taliban, Death Threats [AP]
  • Poppy Farming Doubles in Nangahar [TOLO]
  • US Attorney Works to Change the Afghan Legal System [NPR]
  • A Karzai Impersonator Finds Fame and Misfortune [NYT]
  • Commentary: The Incident at Coordinate 42S VF 8934 5219: German Court Rejects Claim from Kunduz Airstrike Victims – “Ignorance of and the increasing distance to the people ISAF was supposed to assist by providing security to have caused many a mistake in the course of the twelve years of the NATO-led intervention in Afghanistan. However, in the laws of armed conflict, making a mistake is not a legal defence.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
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