Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Commanders Pledge Allegiance to ISIS; Agreement Signed on CASA-1000 Transit Fees

Note: The news returns to its regular daily update schedule from today. Apologies for the interruption in service yesterday, and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • On Tuesday, six Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commanders, including the group’s spokesman, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; the statement did not clarify whether they were breaking with the TTP, which a number of other commanders have recently done. India and Pakistan continued cross-border artillery fire over the weekend, although only one civilian injury was reported on the Pakistani side; military officials spoke by hotline for the first time on Tuesday. Two Predator strikes were reported on Saturday, one of which killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi, a leader of the new Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent affiliate. A spate of attacks took place around Afghanistan, including three bombings in Kabul. Paktia residents accuse NATO of killing eight civilians in an airstrike near Gardez, which ISAF officials refute. Seven people were killed at a stampede at the PTI’s rally in Multan on Friday; party organizers and the local district administration traded blame on responsibility afterwards. The IMF will combine its fourth and fifth quarterly performance review for Pakistan’s loan agreement, potentially allowing for the disbursal of $1.1 billion in December if the government is able to meet stalled reform benchmarks by then. The Supreme Court of Pakistan gave the government permission to move ahead with the sale of a 10% stake in the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd, but has barred it from completing a transfer of ownership until the Khyber Paktunkhwa government’s challenges are resolved. Pakistan and Afghanistan have signed an agreement on transit fees for the proposed CASA-1000 electricity transmission project linking Pakistan and Central Asia. The Afghan attorney general’s office reports that it has re-arrested seven people in connection with the Kabul Bank case; two senior officials are reported to have fled the country.

Pakistan — Security

  • TTP Commanders Pledge Allegiance to ISIS: Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman for the rump Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan led by Maulana Fazlullah, announced on Tuesday that he and five commanders in Orakzai, Kurram, Khyber, Peshawar, and Hangu had issued pledges of allegiance to the self-appointed “caliph” of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi. Shahid gave no indication of the extent of the group’s operational linkages with ISIS, and did not elaborate on how this would affect ties with Fazlullah, who has seen multiple defections over the past year, or with the Afghan Taliban, to whom the TTP have also previously pledged support. He did say the statement was not being made on behalf of the TTP. Two Taliban sources tell the Express Tribune that Fazlullah recently met with Waziristan commander Khan Said Sajna in an effort to win back his support.
  • Border Clashes with India: One person was reportedly injured near Rawalkot in fresh shelling along the Line of Control with India on Saturday. Property damage was reported in further exchanges of fire on Sunday, but there were no casualties. On Sunday, Pakistan formally appealed to the UN Secretary General to intervene on the issue, laying blame on India for escalating the recent flare-up in tensions. The Pakistani and Indian Directors General of Military Operations spoke by hotline on Tuesday for the first time. Speaking at a rally of supporters on Thursday, Prime Minister Modi said that the recent exchanges had resulted in “the enemy [realizing] that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” Jamaat-ud-Dawa led a rally in Karachi against India on Friday; the group’s Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation charitable affiliate and a coalition of other organizations plans to hold protests in Muzaffarabad on Wednesday, accusing the Indian government of failing to provide for the needs of flood survivors. [NYT] [Reuters] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Predator Strikes: Two separate Predator strikes were reported in the Khyber and North Waziristan agencies on Saturday, killing four militant suspects in each case. The Khyber strike killed Sheikh Imran Ali Siddiqi, who the new Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent affiliate identified as a member of its central council. Afghan Taliban fighters were also reportedly among those killed; the second strike is reported to have targeted a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander. The Pakistani military conducted its own airstrikes in Khyber and North Waziristan on Sunday, killing as many as twenty-one militant suspects. [Dawn] [Reuters]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Seven Killed at PTI Multan Rally: At least seven people were killed and more than a hundred injured in a stampede within the crowds at the PTI’s Friday rally in Multan. PTI officials accuse the local district administration of closing half the gates to the Qasim Bagh stadium, and of cuts to the power and lights after the conclusion of Imran Khan’s speech. The Punjab government appointed a three-person committee to investigate the incident on Saturday; Imran Khan rejected the move and called for an independent judicial commission. The committee’s preliminary report laid blame on PTI organizers for mismanaging the event.
  • Other Protest Updates: Meanwhile, Tahirul Qadri headlined a rally in Faisalabad on Sunday, his first departure from the Islamabad sit-ins since they began in mid-August; he suggested that further rallies would be held around the country. Despite tensions with local party activists, the PTI leadership remains publicly committed to an indefinite sit-in in Islamabad. On Monday, the Islamabad Electric Supply Company cut power to Imran Khan’s residence, citing non-payment of bills after Khan’s threats to carry out civil disobedience in September. Also on Monday, Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk recused himself from the PTI’s petition seeking thumbprint verification of votes cast in four disputed constituencies; a new bench will be formed in November. [BBC] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Monday, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif reshuffled his cabinet, granting the Punjab interior ministry portfolio to provincial environment minister Shuja Khanzada, and switched the law ministry portfolio to minister for excise and taxation Shujaur Rehman. Former Pres. Zardari held multiple meetings with PPP activists in Lahore over the weekend, arguing for the need to “strengthen democracy” and downplaying the odds of new elections in the near term. The party plans for Bilalwal Bhutto to headline a large rally in Karachi on October 18. Rival PPP factions reported engaged in verbal clashes at a meeting on Monday. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Elections: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court warned the government that it must nominate a Chief Election Commissioner within two weeks, or the court would otherwise withdraw Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali from the role of acting chief. Anonymous Election Commission of Pakistan officials tell the Express Tribune that they will petition the Supreme Court to further delay local government elections, potentially until May 2015. On Monday, the ECP rejected a Punjab government request to postpone the NA-149 special election for former PTI president Javed Hashmi’s seat, which he is now contesting as an independent; the government had expressed concerns over security. [ET] [ET]
  • Court Proceedings: Nobel for Malala: There is extensive additional coverage following Friday’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize to teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai, noting the continued threats against her from Taliban militants in her home country and the challenge of achieving her goals of education access for Pakistani youth. Yousafzai and her fellow Nobel recipient Kailash Satyarthi issued a joint invitation to the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to attend their award ceremony in Olso in December. [WAPO] [Reuters] [Guardian] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Loan Inflows Slow: Pakistan received a total of $551.4 million in foreign economic assistance during the first two months of the fiscal year, Finance Ministry figures indicate, or 7.5% of the total $7.4 billion that has been budgeted for the year. The IMF projects Pakistan will require $10.8 billion in order to build up its foreign exchange reserves; Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were $1.5 billion shy of the IMF’s target for the end of the first quarter in October. Speaking at a press conference on Friday in Washington, Finance Minister Dar said that economic reforms remain on track. In talks with IMF officials, Dar agreed that the fourth and fifth quarterly review of Pakistan’s reform benchmark performance would be combined and reviewed by the IMF executive board in early December, allowing for the potential disbursal of $1.1 billion then. Staff-level talks will be held in Dubai in late October. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Supreme Court Oks OGDCL Sale: During hearings on Friday, the Supreme Court overturned a Peshawar High Court stay order on the share of a 10% government stake in the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd, which has been issued after a challenge by the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government. The court has allowed the government to accept bids but has barred the completion of the sale until a final verdict has been issued; further hearings were held on Monday, which focused on jurisdictional questions. [ET]
  • Polio Crisis: Five new polio cases over the weekend brought the total so far this year to 207 nationwide, the majority from the FATA. A vaccination drive was launched in Quetta on Monday, targeting 850,000 children. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Flood Relief: Prime Minister Sharif visited Jhang on Saturday and pledged that a second tranche of Rs 25,000 for each family affected by this season’s flooding would be distributed on October 20. Muzaffargarh residents complain to Dawn of slow relief. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Karachi Rangers Foil Jailbreak [Dawn] [ET]
  • Balochistan Senators Challenge Route of Pakistan-China Economic Corridor [Dawn]
  • UK to Deport Hazara Activist Despite Death Threats at Home [Guardian]
  • 66% of Balochistan Children Not Attending School [ET]
  • Human Rights Commission Estimates 300,000 Balochistan Minorities Have Fled [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Leaders Report Extortion Threats form Taliban [Dawn]
  • Factional Divides Within PML-N Khyber Paktunkhwa Chapter [Dawn]
  • Judicial Commission Proposes LHC Judges’ Extension [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Seeks Details on Sharif Travel Expenses [Dawn] [ET]
  • Negotiated Settlement Expected on Reko Diq Dispute [Dawn]
  • PIA Pilots Union Reaches Agreement Over Salary Payments [ET] [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: Residents of a village on the outskirts of Gardez in Paktia province protested at the governor’s office on Monday, accusing NATO forces of killing seven civilians in an airstrike, including a twelve-year-old boy. NATO officials issued a statement saying that a “precision strike resulted in the death of eight armed enemy combatants” and that “no civilian casualties or damage to structures occurred during this operation”. Pres. Ghani issued a statement on Monday, asking for a “full investigation of this unfortunate incident”. [Reuters]
  • Attacks: A spate of attacks took place around the country over the past four days. On Sunday, defense ministry officials claimed to have regained control of Helmand’s Sangin district after months of fighting with Taliban insurgents; an Afghan army soldier and policeman were killed in a suicide attack on the Helmand provincial police headquarters in Lashkar Gah on Saturday morning. Suicide bombers attacked the Balkh police headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif and an ANA convoy in Wardak’s Syedabad district on Sunday. There were two bombings in Kabul on Monday: a suicide car bomber attacked the Green Village residential compound on Jalalabad Road, killing one civilian and wounding three foreign nationals, whose identities have not been released; and a improvised explosive device detonating in a bazaar in the Qarabagh district, which wounded at least 22 people. The Taliban claimed the first attack but there was no claim of responsibility for the latter attack. On Tuesday, a roadside bombing in Kabul’s Kote Sangi area killed two civilians and wounded three; the Taliban claim that the attack killed an intelligence officer. Also on Monday, the Taliban ambushed a police and military convoy in Sar-e-Pul’s Laghman valley region, killing as many as 22 Afghan security forces personnel, injuring eight, and kidnapping seven. Another suicide bomber attacked an ANA convoy in Nangarhar’s Ghanikhil district on Monday, killing one civilian bystander and wounding eight. In Kunduz city, the advisor to the provincial revenue office was injured when a bomb was planted on his vehicle; there was no claim of responsiblity. [BBC] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [AJE] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • ISIS in Afghanistan: The WSJ notes an uptick of reports from Afghan security officials about the spread of pamphlets in Dari and Pashto promoting the Islamic State; Western officials express skepticism that the group has achieved a meaningful presence in Afghanistan to date. The Taliban, which have positioned themselves as a nationalist movement over the past eight years of insurgency and whose leader Mullah Omar maintains a rival claim to the position of “Amir ul Momineen” (Commander of the Faithful) have not commented publicly on the issue.
  • German Hostage Freed: Germany’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday indicating that Bernd Muhlenbeck, an aid worker for the Welthungerhilfehas NGO who had been kidnapped in Multan, Pakistan in January 2012, had been freed in Afghanistan. It offered no additional details of his release. [Reuters] [Khaama Press]
  • Border Tensions with Pakistan: The ministry of interior reports more than a hundred rockets were fired across the border by Pakistani military forces into Kunar beginning late Friday evening through Sunday; no casualties were reported. At a session on Sunday, Afghan senators demanded that the U.S. step in to protect Afghanistan from the shelling. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Agreement Signed on Electricity Transit: The finance ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a World Bank and US-brokered agreement on transit fees for the proposed Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project, also known as CASA-1000. The project calls for the transmission of 1,300 megawatts of electricity between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, at an agreed transit fee of 1.25 cents per kilowatt; Afghan officials project $45 million in annual transit revenues as a result. The cost of the project’s construction is estimated at $1 billion, to be paid for by USAID, the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank; Afghanistan will repay $300 million of the cost over 15 years. [APP] [ET]
  • Kabul Bank Investigations: The ministry of finance delivered documents on options for the privatization of New Kabul Bank on Friday, meeting a ten-day presidential deadline; the attorney general’s office reports that it has re-arrested 7 people in connection to the bank scam. Two senior officials, including the head of the New Kabul Bank, have fled the country after the reopening of the case. [TOLO]
  • Tax Collections: Ministry of finance officials report that tax collections from large and mid-level taxpayers collectively fell Afs 11 billion short of their projections for the past three months; deputy finance minister Mohammad Mustafa Mansoor warned of fines for those engaged in tax evasion.
  • Aid Pledges and Cuts: On Friday, the European Commission announced €1.4 billion in development spending focused on programs related to rural development, health, and democracy-building, through 2020. In a Reuters interview, the Afghan director of the UN World Food Program reports that a $30 million funding shortfall will cut back on assistance deliveries, affecting an estimated one million recipients out of 3.7 million fed by the program.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Abdullah Chairs First Council of Ministers Meeting [TOLO]
  • Provincial Council Candidates Denounce Election Commission Over Results Delays [TOLO]
  • First Lady Rula Ghani Aims to Elevate Afghanistan’s Women [LAT]
  • Army Reviewing Initial Report on Bergdahl Disappearance [Army Times]
  • 12 Cases of Polio Reported in Khost Among Pakistani Refugees [TOLO]
  • Greg Mortenson Returns to Afghanistan, Trying to Move Past His ‘Three Cups of Tea’ Disgrace [WAPO]
  • Commentary: The Small Steps to Save Our Gains in Afghanistan – “These are small steps: taking a flexible approach to pulling out forces, engaging our allies to secure additional troops, allowing the air support that will be in country anyway to aid the Afghan forces, giving the necessary help in intelligence, as well as maintaining our assistance for two or three years.” [Vanda Felbab-Brown, Ronald Neumann and David Sedney, WAPO]
  • Commentary: The Start Into the Better Governance Marathon: Ghani’s First Days – “The new president’s post-inauguration schedule and actions, so far, suggest a commitment to his reformist election agenda. The question is now whether he will be able to build a team that shares his commitment, particularly in the context of a complicated unity government agreement, and how he will fare when he starts running into the first sustained signs of resistance.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
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