Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Protestors Enter Red Zone as Army Calls for Dialogue; NYT Kabul Bureau Chief Expelled

Topline

  • Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have led their supporters into the Islamabad ‘red zone’, reiterating demands that Prime Minister Sharif resign. The Pakistani army has taken charge of security in the area, and has called for “meaningful dialogue” to resolve the standoff. Qadri supporters attempted to surround parliament on Wednesday, where Prime Minister Sharif attended a session of the national assembly, but were unable to block legislators from leaving. On Wednesday, PTI Vice President Shah Mehmood Qureshi suggested that the party would be willing to negotiate with the government. The Afghan attorney general’s office questioned NYT Kabul bureau chief Matthew Rosenberg over a story yesterday that suggested members of the government were considering imposing an interim government as the election dispute drags on; on Wednesday, Rosenberg was reportedly ordered to leave the country. More than half of all ballot boxes have now been audited by observers at the Afghan Independent Election Commission, but a fight between Abdullah agents and IEC staff on Tuesday led to the injury of at least four people.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Imran and Qadri Lead March Into ‘Red Zone’: Beginning Tuesday night, supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek converged into a crowd — estimated at around 30-50,000 people — that marched on the Islamabad “red zone”, which houses the parliament and the city’s diplomatic quarter. In speeches rallying supporters, both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri reiterated demands for Prime Minister Sharif to resign within the day, which PML-N officials continue to rule out; Dawn reports unconfirmed rumors that the party might accept a Sharif resignation in order to maintain its hold on government, however. Despite an authorization to use nonlethal force against protestors, police do not appear to have directly confronted the largely peaceful crowds. On Tuesday evening, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that the Pakistani Army had been called on to take over security in the red zone area, and 111 Brigade soldiers have reportedly been deployed to that effect. An army statement given Tuesday evening warned protestors not to attempt to breach government buildings, saying that “buildings in the red zone are symbols of the state, and being protected by the army, therefore, the sanctity of these national symbols must be respected.” On Wednesday, Prime Minister Sharif attended a session of parliament, which Qadri supporters attempted to blockade, but failed to prevent parliamentarians from exiting through a back entrance. The Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Association endorsed the call for a caretaker government and new elections on Tuesday. [AJE] [Guardian] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Court and Army Intervene: Tuesday evening’s statement by the army’s chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, said that the current situation “requires patience, wisdom and sagacity from all stakeholders to resolve prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest”. Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif are reported to have met earlier in the day. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court summoned both Imran Khan and Qadri to appear at hearings the following day regarding a petition challenging their protests brought by the Lahore High Court Bar Association, one of several that have been filed in the high courts. Efforts by opposition party leaders to open negotiations between the PTI and the government have been unsuccessful, but on Wednesday PTI Vice President Shah Mehmood Qureshi suggested that the party was willing to hold talks “to come out of this deadlock.” Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique tells the Express Tribune that the government is “ready to talk with both the PTI and PAT but their unconstitutional demands cannot be accepted”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Crisis: A case of polio was confirmed in Karachi on Tuesday, the eleventh in Sindh so far this year. Punjab health officials have approved the establishment of a emergency operations center for polio eradication efforts in the province.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Protests Outside Pakistan’s Delhi Embassy as Ambassador Meets Hurriyat Leaders Again [ET] [Dawn]
  • Sri Lankan President Cancels Pakistan Visit Amid Political Turmoil [Dawn]
  • Critics Side with Government as IMF Talks Deadlock [ET]
  • Commentary: The Trouble Convicting LeJ’s Malik Ishaq – “For nearly two decades, Malik Ishaq, the leader of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi sectarian group, has shuffled between jail stays and probation.” [Benazir Shah, South Asia Channel]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Detainee Releases: In a TOLO news article, anonymous senior Afghan security officials criticize Pres. Karzai’s policy of releasing Taliban detainees, saying that the release of roughly 3,000 prisoners in the past three years has “energized the ranks of insurgent groups”. A Karzai spokesman insists that there is no evidence that freed detainees have rejoined fighting.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • NYT Bureau Chief Questioned, Ousted Over Report: The Afghan attorney general’s office questioned NYT reporter Matthew Rosenberg, the Kabul bureau chief, over a Tuesday story was published which suggested that some members of the Karzai administration were considering establishing a new interim government as the election dispute process continues on. A travel ban was ordered for Rosenberg, who declined to identify his sources for the article under questioning; the State Department said that it “reject any attempts by any party to take power in Afghanistan by extra-constitutional means” and also said it was “deeply disturbed by the actions of the Afghan attorney general”. On Wednesday, the attorney general’s office issued a statement that Rosenberg would be given 24 hours to leave the country for not cooperating with the investigation, but Rosenberg indicated he had not yet been contact directly. [WSJ] [WAPO]
  • Election Audit: Election officials report that more than a thousand boxes were audited on Monday, the highest daily count so far, meaning that more than half of all ballot boxes have now been audited or recounted. Around 600 boxes have been entered into the Independent Election Commission’s database for eventual review. An Abdullah spokesman, Fazel Rhaman Horia, reiterates warnings to the Post that “if the outcome [of the audit] is not legitimate and does not represent the voters, we will guard the people’s vote and we will not let any illegitimate president enter the palace or any illegitimate ministers enter the ministries.” Four people were injured in a brawl between Abdullah agents and IEC staff on Tuesday, which involved scissors and knives; the impetus for the fight is unclear. Another Abdullah spokesman, Syed Fazel Aqa Hussain Sancharaki, acknowledges continued deadlock between the rival campaigns over the role of the chief executive officer, despite agreement on other points. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Obama Holds to Afghanistan Withdrawal Deadline [NYT]
  • Report of ‘Foreign Citizen’ Stabbed Near Kabul Airport Road [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Solving Audit Problems By Creating New Ones – “The audit has finally started speeding up, but only after a new, ‘special’ audit of the most problematic ballot boxes was set up, which has so far been excruciatingly slow.” [Martine van Bijlert, AAN]
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