Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Approves Withdrawal of Tax Exemptions; CNN Poll Finds Record Opposition to Afghan War

Note: The news will be on hiatus for the new year tomorrow, and will resume daily updates on Thursday, January 2. Have a safe and happy new year, and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • A new CNN poll finds 82% of Americans polled are opposed to the Afghan war, and only 25% support retaining forces in Afghanistan after 2014. Around 650 detainees have been cleared for release by the Afghan government from Bagram prison for lack of evidence with which to prosecute; an anonymous U.S. official says they have objected to releases in 88 cases. Sindh provincial officials suggest that they will appeal the Sindh High Court ruling overturning local government constituency delimitations, and that elections are likely to be delayed. Prime Minister Sharif has approved a phased withdrawal of around Rs 470 billion in tax exemptions, beginning next July. Responsibility for managing the Afghan security transition has been transferred to the national security advisor. Prime Minister Sharif has sought assistance from JUI-S leader Samiul Haq to initiate talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistan — Security

  • Counterterrorism Policy: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior military and civilian security officials on Monday, where he called for an acceleration of the development of new counterterrorism laws and vowed that “those who attack innocent citizens and armed forces personnel will not be spared”. On Tuesday, Sharif met with JUI-S and Difa-e-Pakistan Council leader Sami-ul Haq, where he reportedly appealed for assistance in starting dialogue efforts with the Pakistani Taliban; the government had previously considering using Haq as an intermediary but had dropped that plan over objections from JUI rival Fazlur Rehman. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Local Elections: Provincial officials have indicated that they will appeal the Sindh High Court’s Monday ruling striking down new constituency delimitations and other amendments to the Sindh Local Government Act of 2013. Sindh Local Bodies Minister Sharjeel Memon told reporters on Monday that a new schedule for the January 18 elections would be necessary given the nominations papers filed under the new constituency boundaries thus far. The MQM objected to the creation of two new constituencies in Karachi during the delimitation process; former Pres. Zardari has reportedly directed Sindh PPP officials to “allay [MQM] concerns”.
  • Musharraf Hearings: Lawyers for former Pres. Musharraf continue to file a flurry of legal appeals challenging the special court hearing treason charges against him, which is set to open hearings tomorrow. The Islamabad High Court will hear separate arguments from Musharraf’s lawyers arguing that he possesses presidential immunity on January 3. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Exemptions: Following meetings between Nawaz Sharif and top finance ministry and Federal Board of Revenue officials on Monday, the prime minister “decided in principle” to withdraw around Rs 470 billion in special tax exemptions in a phased process beginning at the start of the next financial year in July 2014. Several large exemptions, including sales taxes on crude oil imports and income taxes on pensioners, will not be withdrawn in the initial phases.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • New Ambassador to US Jilani Assumes Charge [GEO]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Sets Conditions for PESCO Takeover [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Makes $109M IMF Repayment [ET]
  • PTI Demands Supreme Court Action Against Bilalwal House Barricades [ET]
  • South Waziristan Development Funds Go to Waste [Dawn]
  • First Female Judge Appointed to Shariat Court [AFP]
  • Karachi Pediatrician Receives $1M Caplow Prize [NYT]
  • Commentary: Lashkar-e-Taiba: Pakistan’s Domesticated Terrorists – “Since 2001, LeT has steadily sought to rebrand itself away from a group that largely provides jihad to a large scale social service provider in addition to jihad.” [Christine Fair, Lawfare]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Detainee Releases: The presidentially-appointed Investigating Fates of Prisoners Committee has reported that 650 detainees held at Bagram prison have been released or cleared for release due to lack of evidence since the facility was transferred to Afghan control, and suggests that another 760 inmates are being vetted for possible release. The timeframe for the releases is unclear based on the IFPC officials’ comments and TOLO’s reporting; an additional 536 inmates have also reportedly been released on the basis of presidential pardons. An anonymous U.S. officials tells Pajhwok that the U.S. has “strongly disagreed” with the release of 88 detainees, who have yet to be freed, and that of the 650 cleared for release, 40% had been involved in attacks on Afghan security forces or civilians and 30% in attacks on coalition forces.
  • Security Transition: In a meeting of the National Security Council on Sunday, Pres. Karzai transferred responsibility for managing the security transition process between international and Afghan military forces to the National Security Advisor, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.
  • Two Killed in Samangan Rally: A rally outside the Samangan provincial governor’s office held by around 300 supporters of Asif Azimi, a former senator who was disqualified from contesting provincial council elections, turned violent on Tuesday when shots were fired, killing two and wounding eight. Initial accounts are unclear on the source of the firing.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Public Support for Afghan War Falls: A CNN poll released Monday found record high opposition to the Afghan war among the American public, with 82% opposed to the war and only 17% supportive. 46% of those polled were opposed to the war in 2008. Only a quarter of those polled supported maintaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014. [WAPO]
  • Election Preparations: A spokesman for the Electoral Complaints Commission said Monday that seven criminal complaints had been processed against current presidential candidates and would be forwarded to the Attorney General. ECC officials said that further disqualifications were possible but only that “names of the candidates will be eliminated from the list if found guilty by the courts.” [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghanistan Rejects Grim US Intelligence Forecast [WAPO]
  • Afghan Journalists Face Violence in 2013 [TOLO]
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