Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pressure Building for Waziristan Operation as Drone Strikes Resume; Afghan Runoff Campaign Period Ends

Note: Technical difficulties appear to have been resolved and the news resumes regular daily service from today. Apologies for yesterday’s interruption and the resulting length of this brief. Thanks for reading.

Topline

  • The campaign period for Afghanistan’s run-off presidential election formally concluded on Wednesday, ahead of Saturday’s vote. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan claimed responsibility for last Sunday’s attack on the Karachi airport, with TTP spokesmen suggesting that the attack was a “joint operation”. Prime Minister Sharif met with senior military officials on Tuesday and is reported to have authorized military action “to preempt further attacks”, although military sources suggest they are seeking further public endorsement of a full operation against the TTP by political leaders. Two reported Predator drone strikes hit North Waziristan, the first since December; the targets reportedly included Uzbek, Haqqani network, and Taliban fighters, and Reuters cites a Pakistani defense source who claims that the strike was carried out with the “express approval” of the government and army. In an apparent reversal of his earlier threats to revoke his peace agreement with the government, North Waziristan commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur has joined in calls for foreign fighters to leave the area. The Sindh High Court has overturned the travel ban on former Pres. Musharraf, allowing him to leave the country, although the order will not be enacted until the end of a 15-day appeal period. Sec. Hagel and other administration officials conducted Congressional briefings on Tuesday and Wednesday in a continued defense of their negotiation of a prisoner exchange for the release of Bowe Bergdahl.


Pakistan — Security

  • IMU Claims Karachi Airport Attack: The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a TTP-allied militant organization whose leadership has reportedly been based in Waziristan for much of the past decade, issued a claim of responsibility on Wednesday for Sunday’s attack on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport. The English-language statement, which was accompanied by photos of men that the IMU said were its fighters who carried out the attack, said that the attack was carried out in revenge for Pakistani military operations in Waziristan in late May. A spokesman for the TTP, which had previously claimed responsibility, described the attack as a “joint operation” with the IMU in followup remarks to reporters. The death toll from the incident has risen to 38, including the ten attackers. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah blamed lax airport security for the incident; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said responsibility lay with the provincial government. [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Civil-Military Leadership Meets to Consider Response: Prime Minister Sharif met with senior military and civilian security officials on Tuesday in the wake of the attack on the Karachi airport; although no details were shared in public statements afterwards, sources tell Dawn that the military “ramped up pressure for a sterner response” against the TTP. The Express Tribune reports that although no overall decision was taken, pending broader consultations with political leaders, the army was given permission to use “whatever means at their disposal to preempt further attacks”. Chief of Army Stafff Raheel Sharif chaired a formation commanders’ meeting in Rawalpindi on Wednesday, which reportedly resolved to “intensify air strikes on militant hideouts” and “coordinate closely with intelligence and law enforcement agencies”; other sources say that “concrete action” would require public political backing, however.
  • First Predator Strikes Reported Since December: Two Predator drone strikes roughly six hours apart struck near Miram Shah, North Waziristan on Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning, killing at least sixteen militant suspects. They are the first such strikes reported since December 2013, and follow the recent collapse of peace talks and renewal of hostilities by the TTP. The NYT reports that IMU and Haqqani network fighters were among those killed; an unidentified U.S. source tells the WSJ that the initial strike was carried out “for the purposes of protecting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.” Dawn reports that a number of Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban commanders were killed in Thursday’s attack, and that it targeted a suicide car bombing team. The Pakistani foreign ministry’s spokeswoman initially said Thursday that “Pakistan’s position on drone attacks is clear”, and subsequently issued a statement condemning the strike. Reuters, citing Pakistani government officials, reports that the strikes were carried out “with the express approval of the Pakistan government and army”, saying that “it is now policy that the Americans will not use drones without permission from the security establishment here. There will be complete coordination and Pakistan will be in the loop.”  [WAPO] [AJE]
  • Gul Bahadur Echoes Call for Foreign Militants’ Expulsion: Local commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur is reported to have led a shura meeting on Tuesday in which he asked “foreign militants and supporters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan” to leave the “either live peacefully or leave North Waziristan”. Gul Bahadur had previously threatened to revoke his peace agreement with the Pakistani government after army operations in late May; his apparent reversal follows a military-backed tribal jirga on Saturday, which set a fifteen-day deadline for the expulsion of “foreign militants” from the area. Separately, on Wednesday two paramilitary Levies personnel were killed in a checkpost attack in Malakand, and several members of a pro-government militia were killed in Swat; no claims of responsibility were reported.


Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Musharraf Travel Ban Lifted: After several weeks of hearing a petition brought by former Pres. Musharraf, the Sindh High Court has ruled that his name should be removed from the Exit Control List and that he can be allowed to leave the country on health grounds, even as treason trial proceedings continue against him. A fifteen-day appeal period remains during which the case could be raised to the Supreme Court. [WAPO] [AFP] [BBC] [Dawn]
  • Indo-Pakistani Relations: In a letter to Indian Prime Minister Modi sent last week, and published in the Indian press on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sharif expressed a desire to work together “on all unsettled matters for the benefit of both nations”. [Dawn]
  • Sharif Calls for Committee on Electoral Reforms: In an apparent effort to counteract PTI criticisms, Prime Minister Sharif wrote to the National Assembly and Senate speakers on Tuesday, recommending the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee “to prepare comprehensive recommendations in respect of electoral reforms required to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country”. [ET] [ET]


Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: The nationwide power shortfall topped 3,600 megawatts on Tuesday, causing twelve-hour loadshedding outages in several parts of the country, including major cities. The Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet has reportedly agreed to an increase in power tariffs to offset losses incurred through power theft and transmission losses, which will be passed on to consumers.
  • Budget Debate: Opposition parties in the senate continue to criticize the government’s draft budget for the forthcoming fiscal year during hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Polio Crisis: Two new polio cases reported in North Waziristan have brought the national total up to 77 so far this year, officials confirmed on Tuesday.


Pakistan — Remainders

  • Baloch Nationalist Leader Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri Dies [BBC] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan Negotiating Purchase of Russian MI-35 Helicopters [Dawn]
  • Sindh High Court Orders Judicial Commission to Review Legality of Karachi Operation [Dawn]
  • World Bank Approves $700M Dasu Hydropower Loan [Dawn] [ET]
  • Proposed Altered Route for Gwadar-Kashgar Link Draws Provincial Objections [ET]
  • Government Considering Creation of New ‘Executive’ Civil Service Cadre [Dawn] [ET]
  • Judicial Commission Meets Thursday to Consider Sindh High Court Appointments [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Planning Commission Directors Arrested on Land Scam Accusation [Dawn]
  • Increase in Import Duties Could Slow 3G Rollout [ET]
  • Pakistan Risks Losses of Millions in Exports if Labor Standards Not Improved [ET]
  • Remittances Total $14.3B During First Eleven Months of Fiscal Year [ET]


Afghanistan — Security

  • Congress Seeks More Detail on Bergdahl Release: Sec. Hagel and senior military officials briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday in a closed-door hearing and the House Armed Services Committee in a combative public hearing on Wednesday on the decision-making behind the exchange of five former Taliban officials held at Guantanamo for prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl. Although SASC Chairman Levin and Senate Majority Whip Durbin publicly defended the move after the briefing, a number of other Congress members, particularly from the Republican caucus, continue to assail the transfer and the administration’s failure to provide advance notice of the exchange. Foreign Policy reports that ISAF Commander Gen. Dunford and CENTCOM head Gen. Lloyd Austin did not receive details on the exchange “until just before or after it had been finalized,” although other senior military officials were reportedly involved. The NYT reports that Bergdahl was given an administrative discharge from Coast Guard service after four weeks of basic training in 2006, before later enlisting in the army in 2008; the exact cause of the discharge was “uncharacterized”. The Post, which originally reported the discharge, also excerpts part of Bergdahl’s private journals and correspondence prior to his capture in June 2009.


Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Run-Off Campaigning Period Ends: The official campaign period for the run-off election closed on Wednesday evening. The Afghan Air Force has assisted in the distribution of ballot materials by helicopter to some remote polling stations; on Wednesday, the Independent Election Commission announced that 23,000 polling stations would be open in total, compared to 19,000 in the first round, with the biggest increases in Kabul, Baghlan, Kunduz, and Khost, and major decreases in Nangarhar and Ghazni. Poll center results sheets will be shared with the candidates. Both candidates spoke to supporters in Kabul at the conclusion of campaigning; Ashraf Ghani called on the army to remain impartial in the vote, and stressed that his campaign “chose the people’s vote over deals behind closed doors”. Abdullah, speaking separately, said that “the people of Afghanistan have rejected the negative propaganda spread against us”, and made references to recent ethnic appeals by Ghani’s vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum. Prior to their final rallies, Abdullah visited Ghor on Tuesday and Ghani traveled to Daikundi. Members of former presidential candidate Qutbuddin Helal endorsed Abdullah on Wednesday. Both the NYT and the Post profile Ghani. [TOLO]


Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Banking Blacklist: With the lack of quorum in parliament on Monday further delaying approval of a long-stalled anti-money laundering law, the WSJ notes that Afghanistan risks blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force, the international body which formally meets June 23 to consider the case.


Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kandahar University Faculty Kidnapped [TOLO]
  • De-Mining Team Killed in Logar [Khaama Press]
  • Hamid Gul Suggests Abdullah is ‘Best Hope’ for Afghanistan [AFP]
  • Classification Officials Back Classification of Photos Showing Marines Posing with Taliban Bodies [NYT]
  • Commentary: Unconditional Withdrawal From Afghanistan – “In order to maximize the chance of a successful transition in Afghanistan, the administration needs to recognize how important the signals it sends are.” [Scott Smith, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan’s Election Isn’t Over – “Just as they worked together to ensure a relatively credible vote in April, the international community and Afghan stakeholders must and should remain vigilant and exercise all available means to make sure the runoff is free, fair, and peaceful.” [Patrick Quirk, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: Female Election Mobilization in the Pashtun Southeast – “Women turnout in Pashtun-inhabited areas is usually below average, which is increasingly being perceived as a disadvantage by candidates relying on these areas for votes.” [Thomas Ruttig and Pakteen Ibrahimi, AAN]
  • Commentary: Security Forces Spread Thin: An Update from Contested Faryab – “One reason for the Taleban’s success in Faryab is that, in some districts, many Afghan Local Police members have been sent to other, ‘more insecure’, districts – apparently because security forces are spread too thin to cover the whole province appropriately.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]
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