Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Afghanistan Votes in Presidential Elections; Pakistan to Release More TTP Prisoners

Topline

  • Afghan voters went to the polls on Saturday, with initial reports suggesting that turnout was high and violence, while present across the country, was limited. In some major cities, polling stations ran out of ballots, but reports from some rural districts indicate that the threat of Taliban retribution depressed turnout. The IEC says it will announce preliminary results by April 24 and final results by May 14, meaning a runoff election would take place by May 28 in the event that no candidate secures a 50% majority share of the vote. More than 1,200 complaints had been received as of Sunday. Pakistan’s interior ministry said Saturday that the government was planning more Pakistani Taliban prisoner releases, and TTP intermediaries say that a second round of direct talks between the TTP and government could take place this week, ahead of the expiration of an extended ceasefire agreement on Thursday. Another bomb attack was made on the home of the Express Tribune’s Peshawar bureau chief. Imran Khan met with dissident PTI lawmakers in the Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly, promising to address their grievances.


Pakistan — Security

  • Taliban Talks: Speaking to the press on Saturday after presiding over another meeting of the government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan intermediary negotiators, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan indicated that the government was preparing to release more prisoners as a confidence-building measure in ongoing peace talks. Maulana Yousaf Shah, a deputy to Maulana Sami-ul Haq and coordinator for the TTP committee, said that none of the prisoners freed by the government last week had been on the TTP’s list of detainees to be freed. Anonymous government officials tell the Express Tribune that a special panel may be established to review detainee releases. TTP intermediaries suggest that a second round of direct talks with the TTP’s leadership could take place within two to three days. Separately, on Saturday the TTP launched its own official website, under the banner of ‘Umar Media’; it has been taken down within the past 24 hours. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • TTP Infighting: At least four TTP militants were killed in an attack on their vehicle in the Shaktoi area of South Waziristan; there are no details on their identities or attackers, although Dawn reports that the attack may have been a clash between the rival Waliur Rehman and Khan Said / Sajna groups within the movement.
  • Express News Bureau Chief Attacked: For the second time in as many weeks, the home of Express News Peshawar bureau chief Jamshed Baghwan came under attack on Sunday morning, when unidentified individuals threw a hand grenade at the main gate. No injuries were reported.
  • Iranian Border Guards Freed: On Friday, the Sunni militant group Jaishul Adl freed four surviving Iranian border guards who had been kidnapped near the Balochistan border in February; a fifth was executed in captivity last month. Pakistani officials continue to deny that the guards were being held on Pakistani territory. Separately, Iran’s parliament approved a security cooperation agreement with Pakistan on Sunday; Iran and Pakistan will also hold joint naval exercises over the next four days. [Reuters] [BBC]


Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PTI Divisions: A group of dissident PTI lawmakers in the Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly met with party chief Imran Khan on Friday, during which Khan reportedly agreed to address their grievances and approved an investigation into charges of corruption on the part of party leadership in the province. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • PPP Marks Bhutto Death Anniversary: PPP patron-in-chief Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari marked the 35th death anniversary of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with a speech to supporters in Garhi Khud Bakhsh, during which he sharply criticized the government’s attempt to negotiate peace with the Pakistani Taliban.


Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: The federal government plans to restrict power subsidies to low-income consumers only in its next budget and phase out other forms of subsidies in an effort to reduce circular debts within the energy sector, the Express Tribune reports. In a bid to boost generation, the government is seeking to revive the use of rental power plants on lease from Turkey, the use of which was suspended by a Supreme Court order that found the original agreement to have been improperly awarded; the Turkish company, Karkey Karadenzin Electricity Production Corporation, is currently seeking damages from the Pakistani government for breach of contract. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]


Pakistan — Remainders

  • Musharraf Exemption from Ghazi, Bugti Murder Cases Denied [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Special Service Group Commandos, Vows to ‘Preserve its Dignity and Institutional Pride’ [Dawn]
  • Chief Election Commissioner Nomination Stuck in Senate [The Nation] [ET]
  • Leadership Change Suggests Waning Urban Intellectual Support Base for Jamaat-e-Islami [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Bar Association to Protest Appointment of Civil Servant as Supreme Court Registrar [ET]
  • Christian Couple Receives Death Sentence on Blasphemy Charge [ET]
  • Punjab Police Place Onus on Religious Minorities to Provide for Routine Security [ET]
  • Federal Government Has Only Released 25% of Alloted Balochistan Funds [ET]
  • BNP-Mengal Chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal Criticizes Government Inaction in Balochistan [Dawn]
  • Four Injured in Jaffarabad Grenade Attack [Dawn]
  • IDP Repatriation Begins in Kurram Agency [Dawn]
  • Re-Polling to Be Held in Shikapur After Election Tribunal Overturns Results [Dawn]
  • Rs 5 Billion Cut Proposed for Higher Education Commission Budget [Dawn]
  • No Payment from Etisalat Despite Property Transfers [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Not This Way – “If it’s a principle at stake, that overthrowing the Constitution is unacceptable, then it’s 1999 that Musharraf should be on trial for.” [Cyril Almeida, Dawn]


Afghanistan — Elections


Afghanistan —Remainders

  • Afghan Journalist Escapes Attempted Abduction in Kabul [Khaama Press]
  • Four Policemen Killed in Herat Bombing [Khaama Press]
  • Journalists Pay Tribute to AP Colleagues Shot in Afghanistan on Election Eve [WAPO] [AP]
  • NDS Reports Afghan and Pakistani Taliban Forces Clash in Paktika [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Under Fire: The Status of the 2014 Election Observation – “Combined with the low numbers of international observers, the inability of the largest Afghan observer organisation to monitor 30 per cent of the polling stations is concerning.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
  • Commentary: The Polling Centers That Were Taken Off the List – “The location and spread of the polling sites, the number of ballots that they are provided with, and the likelihood that sites could be hijacked are a all crucial indicators of which way this election may go in the different localities.” [Martine van Bijlert, AAN]
  • Commentary: The Taliban Get a Vote Too – “For the Taliban, the best way to be successful in disrupting the elections is carrying out a few high profile attacks, which will be widely reported in the media.” [Antonio Giustozzi, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: Commentary: The Campaigns for Kabul – “[Karzai’s] departure, combined with that of international combat forces at the end of the year, means that the stakes of the upcoming transfer of power are extraordinarily high.” [Matthieu Aikins, NYT]
  • Commentary: Why Pakistan is Ignoring the Afghan Election – “When the politicians have a moment to breathe, it’s back to the favorite national pastime of criticizing America. There seems to be little interest or time for Afghanistan.” [Faiysal Alikhan, South Asia Channel]
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