Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Fighters Besiege Karachi Airport; Lashkar-e-Taiba Blamed for Attack on Abdullah

Topline

  • The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a major attack on the Karachi International Airport on Sunday, in which a team of ten fighters battled with security personnel through Monday morning. At least nineteen people, and all attackers, were killed. A government-backed tribal jirga in North Waziristan has agreed to oust foreign fighters from the area within fifteen days, but the group does not appear to have the support of commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur. The Afghan government has blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba and “foreign intelligence agencies” for last Friday’s attack on Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul; Abdullah and his rival Ashraf Ghani continued to campaign and rack up endorsements as they approach the second round vote this coming Saturday. MQM leader Altaf Hussain was released on bail on Saturday after further questioning by British police. The Protection of Pakistan Ordinance lapsed on Saturday; negotiations continue in the senate for an amended bill’s passage. The Pakistani defense ministry has suggested it would seek stiffer punishment for GEO. At least 30 people were killed in an attack on Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran. At least 91 people were killed in flash flooding in Baghlan, Afghanistan. Military health officials in Germany say that Bowe Bergdahl is physically fit enough to return home, but that they are continuing a psychological evaluation; Bergdahl has reportedly said that he was tortured and caged for portions of his nearly five years in Taliban captivity.


Pakistan — Security

  • Karachi Airport Attacked: A group of ten heavily armed gunmen stormed the Karachi International Airport on Sunday evening, killing at least nineteen people, eleven of them airport security guards and four civilian employees of Pakistan International Airlines. Police and army personnel responded to the attack, which continued until midday Monday before the last attacker was killed. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, saying that it was “just the beginning” of revenge attacks for the Pakistani military’s operations in the FATA and death of Hakimullah Mehsud, and dismissing past government peace efforts as a “tool of war”. At least three planes were damaged in the attack, which hit near the cargo terminal and VIP lounge; a Taliban spokesman claimed that they had intended to hijack aircraft, although a Pakistani military spokesman denied this. The head of the Sindh Rangers claimed that some of the attackers were Uzbek nationals. All passengers were evacuated, and all flights diverted from the airport and operations suspended until Monday afternoon, when the airport began to reopen. Airports in Islamabad and Lahore are now on high alert as well. Prime Minister Sharif will chair a meeting of senior security officials this week. [AJE] [BBC] [Guardian] [Reuters] [ET]
  • North Waziristan Jirga Held: A tribal jirga of the North Waziristan Utmanzai Wazir and Dawar tribes on Friday agreed to oust foreign fighters from the region within 15 days; participating tribal leaders met with Peshawar Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani and Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan. Jirga participants say they will call for military intervention in the event that they are unable to successfully push out foreign fighters. Local militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur has warned residents to leave the area by June 10 after he revoked a peace agreement with the Pakistani military, and appears to be opposed to the current jirga initiatve; Dawn reports local residents have gone into hiding or fled from Miram Shah and Mir Ali. [ET]
  • Security Legislation: The Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, which was previously extended for 120 days on February, expired on Saturday, with negotiations still ongoing in the senate for an amended version of the legislation. A separate bill, which passed both houses of parliament on Friday, restricts security forces’ powers to shoot on sight, requiring approval from a civil service or judicial official
  • Suicide Bombings Strike Shia Pilgrims: At least 30 people were killed when two suicide bombers and two gunmen attacked a group of buses in the town of Taftan, Balochistan, that were carrying pilgrims returning from Iran to Pakistan, many of them from FATA and Khyber Paktunkhwa. The group Jaishul Islam claimed responsibility for the incident. [Dawn]


Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Altaf Hussain Released on Bail: MQM leader Altaf Hussain was released from hospitalization on Friday into London police custody for nine hours of further questioning, as part of investigations into money laundering charges and the 2010 death of former MQM leader Imran Farooq. On Saturday, Hussain was released on bail, prompting celebrations from supporters in Karachi; Hussain addressed the crowds by phone, Hussain said that he would “continue to fight for the truth until my last breath” and that he has “complete trust in the British judicial system.” MQM party officials say that no travel restrictions have been placed on Hussain but that he does not intend to immediately return to Pakistan; investigations are continuing and he must report again to police in July. [NYT] [AJE] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Defense Ministry Seeks Stronger Penalty Against GEO: Following Friday’s ruling by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to suspend GEO TV’s operating license for 15 days and impose a Rs 10 million fine over its allegations of ISI involvement in the April assassination attempt against Hamid Mir, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said that the ministry was “absolutely not satisfied” and suggested that the government might appeal for a stricter penalty. GEO and its parent corporation have announced that they intend to sue the ministry and the ISI over defamation; the channel’s transmissions had already been blocked in large areas of the country prior to PEMRA’s ruling. [NYT] [Guardian] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • PTI Protests: Imran Khan headlined the latest in a series of PTI rallies focused on allegations of rigging in last May’s general elections, speaking at Sialkot on Saturday; the party plans another rally in Bahwalpur on June 22. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]


Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Debates: In senate debate on Friday, members of the opposition parties criticized the government’s budget for the forthcoming fiscal year, suggesting its figures were exaggerated and its priorities focused on big business; at a press conference on Sunday, Imran Khan accused the government of prioritizing Punjab and Lahore over the other provinces. A number of special taxes introduced in the new budget, which has not yet been passed by the national assembly, were introduced by statutory ordinance effective June 4, in an effort to boost tax revenues before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. [ET] [ET] [ET]


Pakistan — Remainders

  • Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat Leaders Targeted in Quetta Attacks [Dawn]
  • Two Security Personnel Killed in Bajaur Bombing [ET] [Dawn]
  • NATO Fuel Tanker Attacked in Jaffarabad [Dawn] [AFP]
  • Ten Killed in Continuing Dera Bugti Operations [Dawn]
  • Talks with Qatar Over LNG Import Suspended as Government Seeks Other Bids [ET]
  • Four New Polio Cases Reported in FATA [ET]
  • Baloch Hunger Striker Ends 46-Day Fast [ET]
  • FIA Reports Rs 3.8 Billion in Misappropriations in Benazir Income Support Program [Dawn]
  • Facebook Access Temporarily Blocked to Leftist Rock Band Laal [AFP] [Dawn]
  • Musharraf Trial Costs Exceed Rs 57 Million [ET]


Afghanistan — Security

  • Pakistan Blamed for Abdullah Attack: In a statement issued Sunday, Afghanistan’s national security council blamed “foreign intelligence services” working through the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for Friday’s assassination attempt against presidential front-runner Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul. No public claim of responsibility has been issued, and the statement did not detail evidence that led to the conclusion. The death toll in that attack had risen to twelve by Sunday. Senior Afghan security officials visited several key provinces to assess security preparations ahead of next Saturday’s run-off vote; in a press conference on Saturday, Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said that “threats will be higher” in the second round but said that measures would be take to protect participants. Meanwhile, in Kunar, provincial officials alleged that 32 Pakistani rockets crossed the border into Afghanistan on Saturday; no casualties were reported. [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Bergdahl Backlash: In interviews with military medical officials in Germany, where he remains hospitalized, Bowe Bergdahl has reported being repeatedly tortured and imprisoned in a metal cage for portions of his nearly five years in Taliban captivity, the NYT reports. He is said to be physically healthy enough to travel, but is still undergoing psychological evaluation. Another NYT reports provides background history on Bergdahl’s unit, with some sources suggesting that Bergdahl was a “misfit soldier in something of a misfit platoon”. Reuters poll found that 44% of those polled disagreed that the prisoner exchange was “the right thing to do,” 26% of them strongly. The FBI is investigating death threats against Bergdahl’s family in Idaho. Meanwhile, the five Taliban detainees who were freed in exchange for Bergdahl’s release have publicly vowed to abide by restrictions that they remain in Qatar for the next year; the NYT reports that the former Taliban office, opened and then officially closed after objections from the Afghan government last year, was vacated two months ago, and most Taliban contacts who remained in the country have shut off phone contacts. An unidentified Taliban source tells NBC that one of those freed, Noorullah Noori, had professed a desire to return to the fight in Afghanistan. Speaking on the Sunday talk shows, Sec. Kerry defended Bergdahl’s release and said that the five Taliban ex-prisoners would “pick a fight with us in the future or now or at any time at enormous risk.” [WAPO] [WAPO] [WSJ] [Reuters] [AP] [AP] [AP] [BBC] [NYT] [WSJ] [WSJ]


Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Election Campaign: Abdullah Abdullah continued his election campaign despite last Friday’s attack in Kabul, speaking with supporters in Kapisa on Saturday; the WSJ offers a lengthy profile of both Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani as they enter the final week of campaigning before Saturday’s vote. On Sunday, Qayyum Karzai announced his endorsement of Ashraf Ghani; one of Karzai’s vice presidential running mates, Wahidullah Shahrani, endorsed Abdullah on Friday, as did a number of small political party leaders. Ahmad Wali Massoud, a brother to the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, endorsed Abdullah on Monday; his brother Ahmad Zia Massoud has backed Ghani. Also on Monday, former presidential candidate Hedayat Amin Arsala endorsed Ghani; Arsala had won 0.2% of the votes in the first round. Abdul Rashid Dostum campaigned for Ghani in Baghlan on Saturday, arguing that Uzbek residents who failed to vote for his running mate were “traitors”. Explicit appeals to ethnicity have been rare thus far in the campaign, and Ghani told reporters afterwards that Dostum’s comments had been misinterpreted. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]


Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Flash Floods in Baghlan: At least 91 people have reportedly been killed in flash flooding in Baghlan province’s Guzargh-e-Noor district that began on Friday; as many as two hundred are believed missing. [TOLO] [AP] [AJE] [BBC]


Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Taliban Deny Reports of Commanders’ Execution in Nuristan [Khaama Press]
  • Suicide Bombers Target APPF Base in Nangarhar [TOLO]
  • Chamber of Commerce Calls for Action on Money Laundering Law [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Deals and Insults in Afghanistan’s Second Round Campaign – “Negotiations have gone through ebb and flow, with the candidates sometimes pursuing those with possible vote banks and prestige, and in other cases sitting back waiting to be courted themselves.” [Afghan Analysts Network]
  • Commentary: Bowe Bergdahl and the Impossible Choices Families of Hostages Face – “The focus of our anger should be the kidnappers. They are the problem, not hostages, their families, or a government that meets a demand.” [David Rohde, The Atlantic]
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