Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Direct Talks Resume in Islamabad; Audit Process Nears Completion in Kabul

Topline

  • Deadlock persists between the government and protestors in Islamabad, despite the resumption of direct talks mediated by the Jamaat-e-Islami on Wednesday. In Kabul, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani met on Wednesday at the presidential palace and are reported to have agreed to form a four-member joint committee to finalize an agreement on the formation of a national unity government; the IEC says it will finish the audit of all ballot boxes from the run-off election today, and has entered audit data for around 85% of all ballot boxes. A double truck bombing in Ghazni has killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 130. The NATO conference in Wales opened today, with Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi leading the Afghan delegation. The MQM delayed a planned address by Altaf Hussain to supporters on Wednesday. Heavy rains have hit Punjab, killing as many as 31 people and prompting flood warnings.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Talks Resume, But Little Progress: On Wednesday, a Jamaat-e-Islami-organized “jirga” met separately with the government and PTI representatives, and then brought them together for direct talks for the first time in four days. Jamaat-e-Islami leaders said they proposed a “formula to end the crisis,” but did not offer details, and the demand for Prime Minister Sharif’s resignation appears to remain the key point of contention. As noted yesterday, PTI ministers attended Wednesday’s session of parliament, led by party Vice President Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose speech sought to defend the PTI from allegations that its actions were “part of a grand plan that will undermine democracy”, saying instead that the protests were meant to “save parliament”. Qureshi did not directly address the question of his party’s resignation from assembly seats. Parliamentary debate continued on Thursday with more criticism of the PTI, and will resume Friday. Meanwhile, Imran Khan is reported to have met with the PTI Rawalpindi chapter leaders, expressing unhappiness with attendance at the rallies, which some recent media reports has been waning and is now primarily comprised of PAT activists. In speeches to supporters on Wednesday, Tahirul Qadri denied that any of his activists had been responsible for the past week’s attacks on parliament or the Pakistan Television, insisting that government provocateurs had carried out the attacks, which he had earlier praised. More petitions and police reports have been filed against Qadri and Khan, who now face at least 13 pending cases against them. [WSJ] [Guardian] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Delays Conference: MQM leader Altaf Hussain postponed a planned speech for Wednesday due to unspecified “extremely unavoidable circumstances”. Hussain is said to be unhappy over he “extremely irresponsible and opportunistic attitude of senior office-bearers of the party”; he has threatened his own resignation, and has demanded resignations from the national and provincial assemblies from all MQM legislators.
  • No Delay on Chinese Visit: In a statement on Wednesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry indicated that despite the ongoing protests — which have forced the cancellation of multiple overseas trips by Prime Minister Sharif, and a visit by Sri Lanka’s president in August — the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Pakistan later this month “is very much on”. No exact date has yet been announced for the visit, although Dawn reports it will take place September 14-16.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Heavy Rains Hit Punjab: As many as 31 people have been killed in rain-related incidents across Punjab since Wednesday evening; Pakistan’s Meteorological Department has issued a warning that increased monsoon rain activity has put the province’s rivers at “very high” or “exceptionally high” risk of flooding. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has ordered compensation for those affected. Eight people, including three soldiers, were killed in mudslides in Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Financing Problems and Disputes Over Power Transmission Lines Reported at Neelum-Jhelum Hyrdopower Project [Dawn] [ET]
  • Jamaat-e-Islami Blasts PTI for ‘Removing Islamic Content’ from Syllabus [Dawn]
  • Rawalpindi Police Plan Biometric System for Attendance Tracking [ET]
  • Textile Mills Association Protests Delayed Tax Refunds [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attack on Ghazni Government Compound: Two large truck bombs struck a government compound in Ghazni city housing police and intelligence service offices on Thursday morning, killing at least 18 people, including eight police offcers and nine National Directorate of Services intelligence officers, and wounding as many as 130 people. The casualty toll is expected to rise further. As many as nineteen attackers were reported to have taken part in the attack, at least thirteen of which were said to have been killed by Afghan security forces; the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. [TOLO] [AP]
  • Islamic State Connections: Dawn reports that pamphlets in support of the Islamic State have been distributed in Pashto and Dari in some parts of Khyber Paktunkhwa and the tribal areas, particularly Afghan refugee camps. The literature is said to have been spread by an unidentified “Afghan national”. On Wednesday, Ayman Al-Zawahiri announced the formation of an Indian branch of Al Qaeda, and also renewed a pledge of loyalty to Mullah Omar of the Afghan Taliban, avoiding any mention of the Islamic State’s Abu Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s claim to caliph-hood.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Election Deadlock: Reuters reports that the Abdullah camp is now engaged in “last-ditch” talks with the Ghani campaign, after Sec. Kerry’s earlier call urging them to delay a deadline for backing out of the national unity government negotiations process. Both Abdullah and Ghani met again with Pres. Karzai on Wednesday. Spokesmen for each campaign indicated that a new four-person joint committee would begin work on Thursday “to finalize the text for the establishment of the national unity government”, with both sides expressing optimism that a deal might be near. Meanwhile, the Independent Election Commission said that it was nearing the completion of the audit of all ballot boxes in the second round run-off, and would likely finish that phase of the process today; as of Wednesday, audit results for around 85% of all ballot boxes had been entered into the IEC’s data system for eventual review and adjudication.
  • NATO Summit Opens: Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi is leading the Afghan delegation to the NATO summit in Wales, which opened today; TOLO reports that Mohammadi will seek additional financial support from the alliance for Afghanistan’s military, as well as the provisioning of more helicopters and armored vehicles. A member of the delegation, flag-bearer Enayatullah Barek, has claimed asylum upon arrival in London.
  • Hezb-e-Islami Role: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is reported to have dispatched his sons Jamaluddin and Habib-ur-Rehman to hold talks with Ashraf Ghani, offering support and seeking an “active role” in politics in the future.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kunduz Forces Target Taliban Led by Former Detainee [Reuters]
  • Kabul Police Arrest Six Men Accused in Gang Rape [WSJ]
  • More Than 80 Illegal Militia Groups Reported in Faryab [TOLO]
  • Complaints Continue Over Gas Prices [TOLO]
  • Report: Women, Peace and Security in Afghanistan: Looking Back to Move Forward – “The paper outlines the major challenges to women’s involvement in and attainment of peace and security, the areas where there is room for positive capacity-building and provides actionable recommendations for key stakeholders.” [Equality for Peace and Democracy (pdf)]
  • Commentary: Audit Enters Its Final Precarious Phase – “While the two teams are trying to revive the political negotiations, the electoral audit is both nearing its end –with around 95 per cent of the ballot boxes reviewed– and moving into its most critical phase: deciding on the findings and arriving at a new result.” [Martine van Bijlert, AAN]
  • Commentary: Does Afghanistan’s New Mining Law Benefit its Mafias? – “Experts say the law lacks safeguards against corruption and is likely to facilitate the creeping control of the sector by armed groups, oligarchs, and monopolies that could threaten the state.” [Lynne O’Donnell, South Asia Channel]
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