Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Obama Orders Planning for Troop Withdrawal; Pakistan Prepares for Waziristan Offensive

Topline

  • Pres. Obama has formally directed the Pentagon to begin planning for the option of a total drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan after the end of the year, but has held open the possibility of retaining a small force in the event that Pres. Karzai’s successor opts to sign the bilateral security agreement. Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan briefed parliament on the government’s new security policy; military sources indicate that a large-scale offensive against the Pakistani Taliban will take place in March. Qayyum Karzai and Ashraf Ghani reportedly held talks on a possible campaign merger, with Pres. Karzai again said to be acting as a broker. There are now 49 remaining foreign detainees being held by the U.S. at Bagram prison, the Post reports. A suicide bombing in an Uruzgan hotel killed ten people and wounded as many as 40 on Tuesday. The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has set the auction of 3G and 4G wireless licenses for April 7.

Pakistan — Security

  • Interior Minister Discuss Security Policy: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan spoke to members of parliament on Wednesday about the government’s new national security plan, which was approved by the cabinet on Tuesday, and its intention to carry out military action against terrorist groups. Details of the policy have yet to be released publicly to the press. Pakistani military officials tell the Post that an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan “could come any day”; another source tells the AP that the operation would also target the Haqqani network and other local militant groups. The Express Tribune reports that continuing airstrikes are expected through March, to be followed by ground operations if the TTP fails to accept an unconditional ceasefire. TTP intermediary Maulana Sami-ul Haq spoke with Taliban representatives on Wednesday; on Tuesday, the TTP’s lead spokesman rejected government calls for a ceasefire. Meanwhile, MQM leader Altaf Hussain said that the military should assume power in the event that the civilian government failed to cooperate in attacks on the Taliban. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • No Syria Shift: Speaking to parliament on Tuesday, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz denied that Pakistan had made any shift in policy to support Saudi Arabian efforts to aid Syrian rebels in the ouster of President Assad, saying that ““Pakistan stands by its stance of quick solution to conflict in Syria and restoration of peace and stability.” [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • 3G Auction: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority released its policy document for the upcoming auction of licensing blocks for 3G and 4G wireless spectrum on Tuesday, indicating that a $295 million 3G license would be sold without the need for bidding assuming there was not excess demand; the government is seeking to auction three 3G license and two 4G licenses. The auction date has been set for April 7.
  • Development Budget Cuts: In preliminary budget drafts for the 2014-15 fiscal year, beginning in July, the Finance Ministry has reportedly proposed a Rs 506 billion budget for the Public Sector Development Program, 6% less than the current year’s budget. The government has to date only spent 22% of its total annual budget, however.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Hizb-ul Mujahadeen Disassociates Itself from Former Member Mast Gul [Dawn]
  • Kidnapped Polio Worker and Guards Freed in Awaran [Dawn]
  • One Person Wounded in Rawalpindi Bombing [Dawn]
  • Former Prime Minister Ashraf Exempted from Appearing in Court for Rental Power Hearings [Dawn]
  • Finance Ministry Pushes for Completion of Torkham-Jalalabad Highway [ET]
  • Sindh Vaccination Campaign Falls Short [ET]
  • Sindh Assembly Calls for Multiple National Languages [ET]
  • Commentary: Hiding Behind the Army – “It is apparent that a frightened administration is reluctant to take ownership of the campaign, leaving it to the discretion of the military command.” [Zahid Hussain, Dawn]
  • Commentary: Bartering Sovereignty for Money – “We are now pro-intervention in Syria because we cannot pay our bills, and if we cannot pay our bills, then somebody won’t get re-elected.” [Mosharraf Zaidi, The News]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Obama Orders Planning for Force Withdrawal: Pres. Obama held a conference call with Pres. Karzai on Tuesday, ahead of a conference of NATO defense ministers in Brussels later this week, in which he conveyed his order to the Pentagon to begin formal planning for the option of a complete withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year. According to a White House readout of the call, Obama indicated that, given a “willing and committed partner,” a small post-2014 force “focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda” was still possible, but that “the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.” An anonymous Pakistani senior official in Washington warns that total U.S. withdrawal “means a civil war in Afghanistan”, with “drastic effects” for Pakistan. [WSJ] [WAPO] [BBC] [Guardian] [AP] [White House Statement]
  • Bagram Detainees: The foreign detainee population at Bagram prison, which remains under American custody despite the transfer of Afghan detainees to the Afghan government’s control, has declined to 49, the Post reports, but officials are still struggling to determine whether any can be prosecuted or transferred to other facilities. About 35 are Pakistani nationals, and are expected to be repatriated.
  • Uruzgan Bombing: As many as ten people were killed and forty injured, all civilians, in a suicide bomb inside a hotel in the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tirin Kot; no claim of responsibility has been reported and police suggest that the bombing may have been a case of premature detonation. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Coalition Talks: Following inconclusive meetings over the weekend about a possible merger between the campaigns of Zalmay Rassoul and Qayyum Karzai, Karzai is now reportedly in talks with Ashraf Ghani. Ghani’s campaign confirmed the talks and also suggested that Pres. Karzai had taken part in discussions.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Nine Army Officers Dismissed for Failing to Prevent Kunar Attack [BBC] [TOLO]
  • Council of Ministers Bans Import of Low-Quality Oil [TOLO]
  • Herat Doctors Strike Over Alleged Assault by Mayor [RFE/RL]

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