Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Military Strikes in Waziristan; Bilateral Security Deadlock Continues Over Airstrike Allegations

Note: The news returns to regular brief daily morning updates beginning tomorrow, January 27. A summary of the past twelve day’s events follows below. Apologies again for the interruption in service and resulting length of this summary.

Topline

  • Bilateral security agreement negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan remain deadlocked, as Pres. Karzai has accused the U.S. of killing civilians in an airstrike in Parwan and demanded the establishment of peace talks with the Taliban as a precondition. Attacks targeted Pakistani military personnel in Bannu and Rawalpindi, prompting military strikes in North Waziristan and Khyber and reports that the Pakistani government is preparing to launch a fuller military operation against the Pakistani Taliban. A Taliban attack on the Taverna restaurant in Kabul killed 21 people, including several foreign nationals. The U.S. military is reportedly recommending either 10,000 troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014, or a full withdrawal, arguing that a smaller force would be unable to effectively operate. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz arrived in Washington for strategic dialogue talks on Jan 27. The Afghan government is moving ahead with the release of Afghan detainees held at Bagram that U.S. military officials have warned are at danger of resuming hostilities upon release. Former Pres. Musharraf’s lawyers are seeking his transfer to medical care in the United States, as he continues to boycott treason trial proceedings. Attacks continue on polio vaccination campaign workers in Pakistan. The omnibus spending bill for FY2014 cut civilian assistance for Afghanistan by approximately half. The JUI-F formally joined the federal governing coalition in Pakistan, gaining three ministries. India and Pakistan held trade talks, with Pakistan reportedly reopening proposals to grant India Most-Favoured Nation trading status.

Pakistan — Security

  • Attacks on Security Services: On Jan 19, twenty-six security personnel were killed and at least two dozen injured in a suicide bombing attack on a checkpost in the Bannu district in Khyber Paktunkhwa, which took place as a Frontier Corps convoy was preparing to depart an army compound. Prime Minister Sharif cancelled a planned trip to Davos following the incident. On Jan 20, a suicide bomber detonated at a market in the city of Rawalpindi, near the army’s general headquarters; at least thirteen people were killed. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for both attacks. [NYT] [WSJ] [AJE] [Guardian] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Waziristan Operations: Following the Bannu and Rawalpindi attacks, Pakistani military jets and helicopter gunships carried out strikes on suspected TTP sites in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency beginning on Jan 21, which they claim killed over 50 militant targets. Military sources suggest those killed were overwhelmingly foreign nationals; Asmat Shaheen Bittani, briefly interim commander for the TTP following Hakimullah Mehsud’s death, and Wali Mohammad, identified as the group’s chief suicide bomber trainer, were reportedly among those killed. No independent confirmation of those figures was available; Taliban and local sources estimated the toll at around two dozen. As of January 25 local officials and residents reported that 6,000 families, or as many as 70,000 people, had fled their homes in North Waziristan as a result of the military operations, although officials suggested some had subsequently returned.  [NYT] [AJE] [AP] [Dawn]
  • Security Policy Debate: On Jan 21, the federal cabinet reviewed a draft national security policy developed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, but did not endorse it. Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior military and civilian leaders on Jan 23 and reportedly determined to launch a full military operation against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan as well as banned militant organizations operating in other parts of the country; military sources say ground operations in Waziristan would begin in March. Opposition leader Imran Khan demanded that his party be consulted on any pending operation, accusing it of failing to initiate peace talks. Maulana Fazlur Rehman also called for a ceasefire in Waziristan and for talks to be held; Maulana Sami ul Haq said that he would no longer act as a broker with the Taliban after the recent strikes in Waziristan, although government officials deny he had ever been tasked as such. In a statement on Jan 26, the Pakistani Taliban suggested they were open to “meaningful, durable and serious dialogue”. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • TV Crew Attacked: Three members of an Express News television crew were killed by a team of Pakistani Taliban gunmen in Karachi on Jan 17, the third such attack on the channel in the past five months. Pakistani Taliban spokesmen accused the group of “spreading propaganda” against the TTP, warning that it would continue attacks against members of the press who “oppose Islam and Muslims”. Journalists held protests outside of parliament on Jan 21; Prime Minister Sharif has directed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Information Minister Pervez Rashid to review security threats against the media. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Shia Pilgrims Attacked: Twenty-nine Shia Hazara pilgrims returning from Iran were killed when their bus was bombed in Balochistan’s Mastung district on Jan 21; more than thirty were injured. The Sunni sectarian terror group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack. Shia groups carried out protests around the country after the incident, and mourners refused to bury those killed until Jan 23, when Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with them and pledged government action against those responsible. At least 25 suspects were arrested in military operations in Mastung on Jan 24; bus service to Iran has been temporarily suspended. [BBC] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Missing Persons: In Supreme Court hearings on Jan 21, judges warned that they would initiate contempt of court hearings against the government if it failed to comply with court orders regarding the production of 35 detainees held by the security services. The defense ministry has challenged the original December 10 court order. On Jan 22, the National Assembly committee on the interior approved draft Protection of Pakistan Ordinance legislation, over opposition protests; on Jan 23, the government issued another executive amendment to the existing ordinance which allows for the detention of terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge or the disclosure of their whereabouts; the Supreme Court has ordered a review of the statute. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Karachi Violence: Multiple shootings took place in Karachi over the past week and a half. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports 3,251 deaths in the city in 2013, a record high. On Jan 16, Prime Minister Sharif reiterated his support for ongoing paramilitary operations in the city to crack down on criminal and militant violence. The Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mattaz held a strike across the province on Jan 24 to protest statements by MQM leader Altaf Hussain, which was followed by twenty-three small-scale bombings around the province. [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other KP Attacks: Ten people were killed and more than 60 injured in a bombing at a religious center in Peshawar on Jan 16; three additional bombs were discovered and defused. The Pakistani Taliban denied responsibility. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [AFP] [Dawn]
  • Other Balochistan Attacks: Two NATO supply containers were attacked on Jan 18 and Jan 22. Gas pipelines in the Dera Bugti area were bombed on Jan 20 and Jan 26. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Deputy National Assembly Secretary Kidnapped in Multan [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistani Counter-Terror Funds Spent on Luxury Gifts, Audit Finds [AFP]
  • Bar Associations Challenge Supreme Court Ruling on 2007 Emergency Rule [ET]
  • Panel Reviews Judicial Appointments Changes [ET] [APP]
  • Permanent Military Base Established in Swat [AFP] [APP] [ET]
  • Displaced Dera Bugti Residents Protest [Dawn] [ET]
  • Two Pakistan Air Force Pilots Killed in Islamabad-Area Crash [APP]
  • Police Protecting Spanish Cyclist in Balochistan Killed [AP] [Guardian] [BBC] [Reuters] [Dawn]
  • Former Prime Minister Ashraf Indicted in Rental Power Case; Ashraf and Gilani Summoned in OGRA Appointment Investigations [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • British Pakistani Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy [BBC] [Guardian] [AJE] [Dawn]
  • IMF Review Team Cancels Trip, Citing Security Concerns [The Nation] [ET]
  • Supreme Court Refuses to Stay Order Reopening CNG Supplies [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Pakistan Plans 3G Spectrum Auction in March [Dawn] [ET]
  • Electricity Price Hikes Approved [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Administrative Division of Kohistan District Approved [ET]
  • Over 4,000 Reserves Posts for Balochistan Natives Vacant [ET]
  • Report: Reorienting U.S. Pakistan Strategy – “A U.S. strategy for Asia that does not contemplate Pakistan’s role is incomplete, and a U.S. strategy for Pakistan that primarily considers its role in the context of Afghanistan is shortsighted.” [Daniel Markey, CFR]
  • Report: Pakistan Millenium Development Goals Report 2013 – “The aim of the report is to assess progress towards achievement of the MDGs, galvanise efforts for a final push on these, document successes and challenges towards achieving the MDGs, and help frame the post-2015 development agenda for Pakistan.” [UNDP]
  • Report: Balochistan Local Government Elections Assessment – “While the desire to hold local elections after a four-year interruption of such elections was positive, the team concluded that the often preventable shortcomings show the need for election reform for the effective long-term functioning of this third tier of democratic government.” [Democracy Reporting International (pdf)]
  • Commentary: Karachi Crusader – “In the 1990s, Jameel Yusuf, a Karachi businessman, began a voluntary organisation to assist the Karachi police and went on to become an expert in eliminating kidnapping syndicates.” [HM Naqvi, Caravan]
  • Commentary: I Am Hazara – “Close to 1,000 Hazaras have been killed in targeted attacks and shootings in the capital of Pakistan’s largest province. The indifference towards the atrocities has forced this shrinking community to take escape routes and gamble between life at the promised land and death at the ocean.” [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Allegations of Civilian Deaths in Parwan Strike Challenged: Pres. Karzai condemned a coalition airstrike on Jan 15 that his office initially said killed two Afghan civilians in Parwan province; an Afghan government delegation on Jan 19 concluded that a dozen civilians were killed and that Afghan security services were not involved in the incident, an account which U.S. officials and the governor of Parwan province have disputed. A NYT investigation subsequently concluded that the government delegation falsified casualty accounts and borrowed details from the Taliban’s condemnation of the incident, a move Afghan officials say was made to justify a continued delay in signing the U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement. Following a meeting on Jan 19, Karzai’s office called for “an immediate end to all operations and air strikes by foreign forces.” The government held a press conference featuring villagers from the site of the strike on Jan 26, during which they repeatedly insisted that a photo, previously dated to 2009, showed victims of the incident. [WAPO] [AP] [TOLO]
  • Bilateral Security Agreement Deadlock: Speaking on Jan 25, Pres. Karzai emphasized that “starting peace talks” with the Taliban was a precondition for the signature of the bilateral security agreement with the United States. Karzai accused the U.S. of acting as a “rival, not a friend” and said that he did not wish the security agreement to become “a second Durand” agreement. Afghan security officials, including the Interior Minister, have suggested that an agreement is still possible; opposition candidates and some senators have also called for its completion. The Afghan government is cracking down on TV advertisements supporting the agreement, some of which have reportedly been funded by ISAF or USAID. [WSJ] [WSJ] [Reuters] [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press]
  • Force Level Debate: Pentagon officials have reportedly recommended retaining 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of the international combat mission at the end of this year, or none at all; the larger proposed force would drawn down to “nearly zero” by early 2017, a more rapid withdrawal than had been previously discussed. Vice President Biden is reportedly arguing internally for a force of around 2-3,000 troops. State and CIA officials are said to be supporting the Pentagon plan; the NYT notes concerns in the intelligence community that a force drawdown in Afghanistan will constrain their ability to conduct drone operations in the region. [WSJ] [TOLO]
  • Kabul Restaurant Attack Targets Foreigners: The Taliban carried out a complex attack on the Taverna Restaurant in Kabul on Jan 17, beginning with a suicide bombing and continuing with gunfire. 21 people were killed, including 13 foreign nationals, before police killed the final attacker. Wabel Abdallah, the IMF’s country director for Afghanistan, and Vadim Nazarov, a top UN political officer, were among those killed, as was the restaurant’s owner, Kamal Hamade. The Taliban claimed responsibility, although in the days afterwards Afghan government security officials implicated Pakistani intelligence in plotting the bombing. The attack, which the Taliban justified as a response to civilian casualties in the Jan 15 Parwan airstrike, was a rare attack on a softer target within the capital, prompting movement restrictions by many NGO and diplomatic organizations. [NYT] [NYT] [WSJ] [WAPO] [WAPO] [BBC] [Guardian] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Detainee Releases: The Afghan government announced on Jan 27 that it was preparing to release within two weeks 37 out of 88 detainees cleared for release over U.S. objections earlier this month. The U.S. military condemned the move and reiterated its position that those being freed had carried out attacks on U.S. and Afghan security personnel in the past. [BBC] [Guardian]
  • Ismail Khan Targeted: Former minister of water and power and vice presidential candidate Ismail Khan escaped injury in a suicide bombing assassination attempt after leading Friday prayers in Herat on Jan 24; no claim of responsibility was reported. [Khaama Press]
  • De-Miners Kidnapped: More than sixty Afghans working to remove Soviet-era anti-tank mines with the UK mine-clearing group Halo Trust were kidnapped on Jan 21 in Herat’s Pashtun Zarghun district. All were subsequently freed hours afterwards, apparently as a result of a police operation; no casualties were reported. [WAPO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks: An American soldier and at least two civilians were killed in a suicide car bombing attack on Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar on Jan 20. A Taliban suicide bomber targeted a Ministry of Defense bus in Kabul on Jan 26, killing three Afghan National Army personnel and a journalist bystander. [WSJ] [AJE] [BBC]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Election Preparations: Afghanistan’s Attorney General announced on Jan 15 that it was dropping investigations into the past alleged criminal activities of presidential candidates referred to it by the Electoral Complaints Commission, concluding that there was insufficient evidence against the unspecified individuals. On Jan 27, the ECC announced that it had disqualified 25 provincial council candidates. The campaign period will officially begin in early February; Independent Election Commission officials say they are prepared to monitor campaign media and expenditures to ensure they comply with restrictions. IEC officials reported on Jan 19 that approximately 20% of ballot materials had yet to be distributed from Kabul to the provinces. Pres. Karzai presided over a meeting of Afghan police officials in Kabul over that weekend, where officials pledged to guarantee security at the polls; Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai stressed that the government forces “are committed not to interfere in the elections and won’t work against any candidate and will not allow any one to meddle in the process”. On Jan 23 the IEC announced plans to open 323 additional polling centers in all provinces in an effort to compensate for centers that had been closed due to security. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Aid Cut: The omnibus spending bill signed into law by Pres. Obama for Fiscal Year 2014 on Jan 17 provides $1.12 billion in overall civilian assistance for Afghanistan, a roughly 50% cut from the previous year; the exact totals are subject to some change if unspent FY2013 funds or other money is reprogrammed. The spending bill specifically bars the disbursal of funds “for the direct personal benefit of the President of Afghanistan”. War operations appropriations were kept largely unchanged from the previous year at approximately $85 billion. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Taliban Take Girls Back to School [WSJ]
  • With Afghan Drawdown Ongoing, U.S. Sets Up Counternarcotics Center in Bahrain [WAPO]
  • American POW Bergdahl Appears in New Video [NYT] [AP]
  • Former NYT Interpreter Killed in Helmand [NYT] [Guardian]
  • Police Killed in Herat Insider Attack [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Civilians Killed in Nangarhar Bombings [TOLO]
  • World Food Program Warns Half of Afghan Children Suffer Malnutrition [Guardian]
  • Afghanistan Preparing to Join WTO [TOLO]
  • Export Revenue Grows to Approximately $400M in First Nine Months [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Another Red Line Crossed – “Beyond the additional strain the attack puts on negotiations around the BSA, the incident also raises questions on how civilian aid, particularly through NGOs, can be provided – and elections monitored later this year – if soft targets are no longer off limits.” [Kate Clark, AAN]
  • Commentary: The Future of Peace Talks: What Would Make a Breakthrough Possible? – “During 2013, ambivalence in positions and the tendency for all parties to want to hold talks on their own terms (the Taleban, the Afghan government and the United States) drove any possibility of peace talks into a dead end.” [Borhan Osman, AAN]
  • Commentary: Reading Hamid Karzai – “Is it possible that rather than trying to call Washington’s bluff in a high stakes game, he is prepared for and even eager to have no American military presence in Afghanistan?” [Marvin Weinbaum, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: Karzai’s Calculated Delay Requires Intelligence U.S. Action – “Since finalizing the [bilateral security agreement] soon seems unlikely, we should move now for passage of a short, perhaps four month, extension of the U.N. Security Council mandate and related NATO agreements, while saying that we would stay for the same period under the existing SOFA.” [Ronald Neumann, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan’s Presidential Elections Go Awry – “If Afghanistan is truly to seize the election opportunity to start addressing its deeply-rooted governance deficiencies, the new leader will have to be determined, powerful and adroit enough to take on the powerbrokers, even as he owes them electoral debts, and start delivering more efficient and accountable governance to the Afghan people.” [Vanda Felbab-Brown, Brookings]

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