Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: POW Bergdahl Freed in Prisoner Exchange; Bajaur Attacks Spill Across Border

Topline

  • U.S. prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl was released in exchange for five former Taliban commanders held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay on Saturday, ending nearly five years in captivity; the Obama administration negotiated the swap without prior notification to Congress or the Afghan government, drawing criticism. An attack on a Pakistani army post in Bajaur on Saturday prompted retaliatory strikes that spilled across the border into Afghanistan, prompting protests from the Afghan government, which says at least four civilians were killed in Kunar. North Waziristan commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur has announced the revocation of his peace agreement with the Pakistani military, warning residents to leave the area and cut contacts with the government by June 10; the announcement leaves open the possibility for renewed talks, however.  The Afghan Independent Election Commission released its updated list of polling centers for the run-off election vote on June 14. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek and PML-Q have agreed to form an alliance against the current government; Tahirul Qadri says he will return to Pakistan this month. Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar will unveil the draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year in a speech to parliament on Tuesday.


Pakistan — Security

  • Gul Bahadur Group Revokes Peace Accord: Pamplets distributed throughout North Waziristan on Friday announced that local commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur has revoked his peace agreement with the Pakistani military, accusing it of violating the accord in its recent campaign of airstrikes. The pamphlet advises residents to cross over into Afghanistan, setting a June 10 deadline by which to move to safety, and warning that militants will take action against government supporters after that point. The message suggested that the group would be “open, if anyone who can bring tidings of peace and reconciliation in this limited time.” The Nation quotes anonymous associates of Gul Bahadur, who claim that “our actual aim is to force TTP affiliated Taliban to leave the area and not the local tribesmen.” Separately, a spokesman for the Shehryar Mehsud-led faction of the TTP in South Waziristan claims that his group is open to negotiations with the government, and suggested that their rival Khan Said Sajna had few followers. Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior civilian and military security officials on Friday to review the situation in FATA and Balochistan. [ET]
  • Clashes in Bajaur Spill Across Border: A group of as many 200 Pakistani Taliban militants struck a Pakistani army border post in the Bajaur Agency on Saturday, killing one soldier; the military claims to have killed as many as sixteen of the attackers, and carried out retaliatory strikes in the area with helicopter gunships. Pakistan formally protested the incident with Afghanistan’s charges d’affaires in Islamabad, saying that “Pakistan’s concerns about miscreants and terrorists attacking from the other side of the border have been repeatedly shared with Afghan authorities.” Afghan officials, in turn, accused the Pakistani military of crossing the border into Kunar province’s Dangam district and killing at least four civilians and wounding ten others with rocket and helicopter fire, which Pakistani officials denied. On Sunday, Afghanistan’s National Security Council accused Pakistan of seeking to disrupt the upcoming second round of presidential elections with the attacks. Speaking before the Afghan parliament on Saturday, Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi said that he had placed border forces ‘on alert’ in the area; the Afghan National Security Council criticized the United States for not taking a stronger stand on the issue, and suspended a planned visit by Afghan army officers to Pakistan in protest. [AP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [TOLO] [TOLO]


Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: The leadership of the PML-Q met with Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahirul Qadri met in London on Saturday and agreed to a ten-point “reform agenda” and alliance against the PML-N. Qadri has said he will return to Pakistan in June “to bring about a ‘mass revolution’ in the country to get rid of the incumbent government and election systems”. Contrary to earlier reports, PTI leader Imran Khan, who was also in London at the time, did not meet with the other two parties, who attracted limited support in last May’s elections despite high-profile rallies against the election administration by Qadri earlier in the spring. The PTI continues to call for members of the Election Commission of Pakistan to step down, and is reportedly considering introducing legislation in parliament proposing unspecified electoral reforms; the PPP has yet to endorse the effort. Separately, the Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-F are reportedly considering their own alliance, although JI officials say discussions remain in the “preliminary stage”.
  • PPP Protests: Former Pres. Zardari issued a statement on Saturday professing shock that the government was “chasing opponents and thereby undermining the unity of political forces” by allowing corruption cases against former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani and former commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim to proceed. [ET] [ET]


Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Planning: Pres. Hussain opened the new parliamentary year with an address to a joint session on Monday; opposition members boycotted. Finance Minister Dar will formally present the draft budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year in parliament on Tuesday, which is expected to contain Rs 535 billion in new taxes aimed at meeting a Rs 2.8 trillion revenue target. The plan, in line with the IMF reform package, sets a 4.8% of GDP fiscal deficit target. Roughly a third of the budget will be consumed by debt servicing, with defense spending at around Rs 700 billion, and Rs 229 billion in budgeted power subsidies. The Express Tribune reports that taxes may be increased in precursor stages of the textile sector, which is expected to draw opposition form the industry. Meanwhile, a recent report by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute noted that only 10,629 companies paid taxes in 2013, out of nearly 62,000 companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. A tax on bonus shares received by investors is also under consideration. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Energy Infrastructure: Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated the Nandipur Power Project on Saturday in Gujranwala on Saturday, which is designed to generate between 425-535 megawatts of power depending while using either fuel oil or natural gas. The project had stalled under the previous government, with Chinese construction firm Dang Fing Electric Corporation backing out in 2012 and suing for losses, before renegotiating a new agreement for the plant’s completion last summer. Sharif took the opportunity to shoot back at his political rivals in the PTI, saying they “should not create stumbling blocks in the progress of Pakistan and should instead join hands with us for development”. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Polio Crisis: World Health Organization guidelines recommending Pakistani nationals traveling internationally must hold proof of polio vaccination were due to take effect on June 1. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]


Pakistan — Remainders

  • Interior Minister Pledges Support for UK Investigations of Imran Farooq Murder [Dawn] [ET]
  • Ulema Council Condemns ‘Honor Killing’ as Family Now Accuses Husband of Lahore Woman’s Murder [AJE] [Guardian] [Reuters] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Security Officials in Karachi Face Transfers in Clashes with Political Leadership Over Operations [Dawn]
  • MWM Stages Protests Over Sectarian Killings in Karachi [Dawn]
  • PML-N Lawmaker Kidnapped In Punjab [Dawn] [ET]
  • JUI-F Parliamentary Assembly Candidate Acquitted in PTI Member’s Murder [ET]
  • Tirah IDP’s Repatriation Deadline Extended [Dawn]
  • Sharif Rejects Recommended Petroleum Price Increase [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • PIA Seeks Bailout in Next Budget [ET]
  • Lahore Electric Supply Company Chief Arrested on Corruption Charges [Dawn]


Afghanistan — Security

  • POW Bergdahl Freed in Prisoner Exchange: After nearly five years in captivity and extensive behind the scenes negotiations, Bowe Bergdahl, the sole known American prisoner of war in the Afghan conflict, was freed on Saturday in exchange for the release of five former Taliban commanders who had been held at the Guantanamo prison facility. A number of Republican Congress members criticized the release, which was made without advance notification to Congress or the Afghan government; previous efforts to negotiate for his release had fallen apart in the pace in the face of objections. Administration officials defended the move and said they had received assurances from Qatari mediators that the Taliban prisoners would not be allowed to return to active combat. Reuters reports that the turnaround in fortunes came after a reversal of position by Taliban hardliners, although the time frame for the decision to reenage in negotiations is as yet unclear. Bergdahl was at a military medical facility in Germany on Sunday, and was expected to be reunited with his parents upon return to the United States, who appeared alongside Pres. Obama in a brief statement at the White House on Saturday evening. [NYT] [NYT] [WAPO] [WAPO] [Reuters] [AP] [BBC] [Guardian] [AJE] [TOLO]
  • Taliban Prisoner Releases: The five Taliban detainees freed were identified as former chief of army staff Mohammed Fazl, former governor Noorullah Noori, former deputy intelligence chief Abdul Haq Wasiq, former interior minister Khairullah Khairkhwa, and former Al Qaeda and Haqqani network liason Muhammad Nabi Omari. They were transferred to custody in Qatar on Saturday; under the terms of their release agreement they are expected to stay there for at least a year. A statement issued under Mullah Omar’s name on Sunday welcomed their release as a “big victory,” thanking Qatari officials for their efforts. Anonymous Pakistani security officials tell the Express Tribune that they “were not part of the final deal but we played our part” in facilitating talks. [NYT]
  • Afghan Government Reactions: The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Sunday saying that the negotiations for Bergdahl’s release “contradicted a prior understanding” with the government, and that the Taliban detainees transferred to Qatar should be granted “unconditional freedom”. The Afghan High Peace Council, however, welcomed the prisoner releases, and some anonymous Western diplomats have expressed optimism that the deal could catalyze broader negotiations. In his remarks on Saturday, Pres. Obama said that “it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground”. Administration officials say that their recent negotiations with the Taliban had been limited to this issue, however. [WAPO] [WSJ]
  • Hagel Visits Afghanistan: Sec. Hagel visited Afghanistan on Sunday, where he met with the U.S. Special Forces team that picked up Bergdahl at a site in Khost in an exchange with Taliban officials. En route, Hagel told reporters that Bergdahl’s health and safety had been in jeapordy, justifying quick action to secure his release; he did not elaborate. Bergdahl’s parents indicated that their son was having trouble speaking English; he is expected to undergo debriefings and extensive counseling. Although he is believed to have walked off his post in 2009, leading to his capture, military officials have suggested they are unlikely to press for disciplinary action. [AP] [AFP] [BBC]
  • Attacks: A suicide bomber attacked an Afghan military base under construction in Nangarhar on Monday, killing three Turkish engineers and wounding two people. The Taliban have yet to claim responsibility. A group of gunmen with suicide vests attacked the district governor’s compound in Helmand’s Gereshk district on Monday; at least two policemen were killed in the battle. [Reuters] [BBC] [TOLO] [TOLO]


Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy


Afghanistan — Remainders

  • 2016 Withdrawal Leaves Bagram Detainees in Limbo [Guardian]
  • Vote on Money Laundering Bill Expected Wednesday [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Roadside Bombing Kills Dozen Civilians in Ghazni [AJE] [TOLO]
  • Head of Security for Education Minister Killed After Kidnapping [Khaama Press]
  • Australia Resettles 500 Afghan Interpreters and Families [AJE]
  • Kabul’s Bush Bazaar Dwindles as US Troops Withdraw [Guardian]
  • Report: Bureaucratic Policies and Patronage Politics: Prospects and Challenges of Private Higher Education in Afghanistan – “The expansion of the higher-education sector has occurred faster than the development of the governance and institutional framework required.” [Niamatullah Ibrahimi, AAN]
  • Report: Sharia and Women’s Rights in Afghanistan – “Greater assessment of how Islamic legal literacy, scholarship, and dialogue might help protect women’s rights in the coming difficult period is crucial to increasing the acceptance of these rights and therefore their sustainability.” [Anastasiya Hozyainova, USIP]
  • Commentary: The Wrong Afghan Friends – “By backing [militia networks], the United States is fostering an environment of lawlessness and impunity, exacerbating Afghanistan’s longstanding problems, and creating fertile ground for the Taliban insurgency to survive.” [Anand Gopal, NYT]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan Election Results – “While we don’t see such brashly fraudulent results among the final count, savvier approaches to ballot box stuffing seem to have been accepted.” [Ian Schuler, DevelopmentSeed]
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