Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Dozens Killed in Wagah Border Bombing; Ghani Preparing to Withdraw Night Raid Restrictions

Topline

  • More than 50 people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated within crowds of attendees of the evening flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah border crossing on the Pakistani side of the border with India. The TTP splinter group Jamaat-ul Ahrar claimed responsibility, as did the Peshawar-based group Jundullah. Ashraf Ghani has taken steps to improve cooperation with international military forces in Afghanistan after relations worsened under his predecessor, and is reportedly preparing to lift restrictions on the use of special operations “night raids”. Afghan Local Police units in Ghazni, Logar, and Wardak complain that they have gone unpaid for more than three months. More than 171,000 people have been displaced from the Khyber Agency since mid-October by military operations. A Mehsud tribal jirga has begun talks with the Khan Said Sajna faction of the TTP. Security has been tightened around Pakistan in anticipation of today’s Ashura ceremonies. The PML-N government imposed a major petroleum price cut on Friday. In an AFP interview, Afghan first lady Rula Ghani endorsed the French ban on the full niqab veil; the Afghan presidential palace said that her remarks had been “misinterpreted”.

Pakistan — Security

  • Suicide Bomber Attacks Wagah Border Crossing: At least 48 people were killed and more than a hundred wounded in a suicide bombing attack on the Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan on Sunday; three of those killed were members of the Punjab Rangers. The death toll rose to 57 as of Monday as some of those injured in the blast succumbed to their wounds. The attack took place on the Pakistani side of the border, following the conclusion of the daily flag-lowering ceremony and closing of the border gates. Roughly 2,000 people were estimated to be in attendance; the bomber detonated before reaching the main parade grounds. A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan splinter group Jamaat-ul Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, vowing continued attacks; the Peshawar-based terrorist group Jundullah also claimed responsibility. Subsequent search operations in the surrounding area reportedly discovered a cache of suicide vests and explosives. Trade was suspended across the border on Monday and the flag-lowering ceremony was cancelled for the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Pakistani political leaders condemned the incident, as did Indian Prime Minister Modi. [NYT] [AJE] [Reuters] [BBC] [Guardian] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • FATA Attacks and Operations: The head of the FATA Disaster Management Authority reported Friday that more than 171,000 people have fled from the Khyber Agency to Peshawar and Kohat since the start of a fresh military offensive in the Tirah Valley region in mid-October. The military carried out airstrikes in the area on Saturday, killing thirteen militants in attack on bases belonging to the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam; airstrikes continued on Sunday. An attack on a checkpost in the Orakzai Agency on Saturday morning killed eight security personnel and as many as twenty militants; officials report that the fighters came from the Tirah area. The offices of the Orakzai political administrator were attacked by rocket on Sunday, killing two officials. [ET]
  • Mehsud Jirga: A tribal jirga of Mehsud leaders met with the breakaway Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction led by Khan Saeed Sajna on Sunday in an effort to push the group to enter peace talks with the Pakistani government. Dawn sources attribute the initiative to the Peshawar Corps Commander. Seven Mehsud tribesmen were freed by the South Waziristan political administration on Friday; officials deny any connection with the talks.
  • Muharram Security: Army units have begun deploying around Karachi in anticipation of increased sectarian tensions between Shia and Sunni communities during the month of Muharram. Security measures have been tightened in most major cities, and cell phone service suspended ahead of Ashura ceremonies, which begin Monday. A Shia community center in Karachi was attacked by a grenade on Friday, leaving two police guards wounded; another attack, on a market stall on Sunday, wounded as many as twenty people. Karachi police announce Sunday that they had seized a cache of suicide bombing materials and arrested four militant suspects. Iran has closed its border crossing with Pakistan at Taftan for a five-day period. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Political Deadlock: Speaking to supporters on Friday, Imran Khan said that the PTI does not recognize national assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, and maintained that he did not have the authority to delay PTI legislators’ intention to resign. Federal information minister Pervaiz Rashid told reporters on Saturday that the government was still open to negotiations with the PTI to end the months-long standoff; PTI legislator Arif Alvi laid the onus on the government to restart talks. Punjab governor Chaudhry Sarwar said Saturday that negotiations with Tahirul Qadri had “eventually resulted in peaceful diffusion of protesters from Islamabad and we expect same from the PTI sit-in”, although Qadri has publicly denied that any agreement was reached with the government. The PTI is now touting a November 30 rally in Islamabad; it is unclear whether Qadri will return to Pakistan to participate. In testimony before the Supreme Court on Friday, attorney general Salman Aslam Butt asked the court to throw out the PTI’s petition seeking Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification from office, arguing that parliamentary proceedings were privileged speech and could not be challenged in court, citing Articles 66 and 69 of the constitution. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Oil Price Cut: On Friday, a major cut in petroleum product prices ordered by Prime Minister Sharif — the largest single reduction ordered by the government in ten years, Dawn notes —took effect. Imran Khan claimed credit for forcing the government to cut prices, and said that they should be cut further as international oil prices have fallen in recent months. The petrol price cuts have not translated into cheaper transportation fares in Islamabad and Rawalpindi; some gas stations around Punjab were closed by owners on Saturday to protest the reduced prices. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Energy Crisis: On Friday, Prime Minister Sharif directed a special committee to examine alleged overbilling by power distribution companies, giving the group until November 6 to report on new findings. A previously-commissioned audit report had attributed the increase in billing to government-ordered tariff increases and increased consumption. Details from a briefing on the power sector in September, obtained by the Express Tribune, indicate that the average bill collection rate by distribution companies fell to 80% in the 2013-14 fiscal year, down from 90%. On Saturday, the government approved a Rs 1.5 per unit surcharge on electricity consumers.
  • Polio Crisis: Four new polio cases were recorded on Friday, three from South Waziristan and one from Balochistan, bringing the national total to 235 cases so far this year. Although the overwhelming majority of cases have been recorded in FATA and Khyber Paktunkhwa, official data indicates that roughly 2% of the former cases and as much as 20% of the latter have been linked to a polio strain originating in Karachi.
  • Tax Revenues: Tax revenue collection for the first four months of the fiscal year totaled Rs 723 billion, against a target of Rs 765 billion during the same period, Federal Board of Revenue figures indicate.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Balochistan Law Enforcement Agencies Report 50% Decline in Insurgent Attacks [ET]
  • Frontier Constabulary Seeks Equipment Boost [ET]
  • Lahore High Court to Hear Army Officers’ Request for Civil Judicial Hearings [Dawn]
  • India Arrests Hurriyat Conference Leaders Ahead of Kashmir Polls [ET]
  • Islamic State Fears Grow in Pakistan and Afghanistan [AFP]
  • PPP Refutes Rumors of Sindh Chief Minister’s Replacement [Dawn] [ET]
  • Consultations Continue on Chief Election Commissioner [Dawn]
  • Army Expands Drought Relief Efforts as Tharparkar Death Toll Reaches 116 [ET] [ET]
  • Appointments to World Bank and Asian Development Bank Made in Violation of Procedures [ET]
  • Government Issues Federal Recruitment Policy [Dawn] [ET]
  • Asia Bibi’s Family Says She is ‘Losing Hope’ on Death Row [AFP]
  • Tension Over Khyber Paktunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan District Boundaries Eases [Dawn]
  • Sindh Grants 10 Acres of Karachi Land to Intelligence Agency [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Ghani Removes Operational Restrictions: The WSJ reports that Pres. Ghani is making efforts to improve relations with U.S. and NATO military forces in the country, holding regular meetings with ISAF commander Gen. John Campbell and inviting Campbell to attend National Security Council meetings. Ghani is reportedly preparing to remove restrictions on the use of night raids and heavy weapons in residential areas. A Ghani advisor says that he “completely understands that our security and our security forces depend on the help international community…even if he doesn’t want to depend on them forever”.
  • ALP Militias: Khaama Press reports that Afghan Local Police units in Logar, Maidan Wardak, and Ghazni have not been paid for the past three months, leading commanders to threaten that they will begin selling ammunition or join the Taliban if they continue to go unpaid.
  • Attacks: On Friday, rocket attacks on the Bagram detention facility injured 26 prisoners; the Taliban subsequently issued a statement expressing regret for harming the detainees. A Taliban suicide bomber attacked a joint Afghan army and Afghan Local Policy security post in the Logar provincial district of Azra on Saturday, killing at least nine security personnel and wounding as many as twenty people, including civilians. Separate attacks in Laghman province on Sunday killed three civilians and injured ten. Also on Sunday, Abdul Qadeem Patyal, the acting deputy Kandahar provincial governor, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in an attack at Kandahar University; Pres. Ghani has ordered an investigation. Separately, a judge in the Ghor capital of Firoz Koh was killed by unknown gunmen on Sunday evening. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [AP]
  • Detainee Transfer: Pakistani security forces transferred custody of 29 Afghan nationals who had been captured during the course of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan to their counterparts across the border on Friday in a “goodwill gesture”. Details on their identities have not been released, although a military statement describes them as illegal immigrants rather than militant suspects.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Returns from China Visit: Pres. Ghani returned from his four-day state visit to China on Friday, giving a press conference the following day in which he pledged to crack down on corruption and take steps to ensure peace and security. Ghani indicated that he had received assurances of “very specific aid for specific security issues” from China, but did not elaborate. Ghani also said that he would travel to Pakistan, potentially as soon as next week, in order to discuss the Afghan peace process. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • First Lady Backs French Bank on Niqab: In an AFP interview on Saturday, first lady Rula Ghani said that she was in “full agreement” with the French government on a ban on the wearing of the full niqab or burqa veil, which she described as “a bit like blinders”; she argued that wearing a headscarf or other coverings “has a religious motivation, but it’s also something we can live with, it’s not at all offensive, it shouldn’t bother people.” Ghani said that she hoped that by the end of her husband’s term, “men in Afghanistan will be more inclined to recognise whatever role their wives take … in one word, more respect”. A statement from the Afghan presidential palace on Sunday said that Ghani’s comments had been “misinterpreted” and that “she supports from the rights of the Afghan women considering the constitution of the country.” [TOLO]
  • Election Disputes: In senate proceedings on Sunday, a number of senators called for investigations by the attorney general’s office against Electoral Complaints Commission chairman Abdul Sattar Sadat, who did not attend the session. Separately, TOLO reports that several senior former Independent Election Commission officials continue to use official vehicles even after their removal from office.
  • Opinion Polling: A TOLO News poll conducted by ATR Consulting in late October found that 84% of Afghans were very or moderately satisfied with Pres. Ghani’s performance so far, based on a sample of 2745 people.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Taliban Release Russian Pilot Held Captive For a Year [Khaama Press]
  • Wolesi Jirga Speaker Accused of Misuse of Authority [Khaama Press]
  • Parliament Approves Draft Law to Ban Recruitment of Child Soldiers [Khaama Press]
  • 200 Female Police Officers Sent to Turkey for Training Course [Khaama Press]
  • Delays Expected in Kabul Bank Case [TOLO]
  • Iran-Afghan Trade Reaches $4 Billion [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: A New Afghan Shia Leader: Return to Quietism Versus Political Islam? – “Ayatollah Mohammad Eshaq Fayaz is being supported by Afghan Shia – among them rather influential figures such as Second Vice President Sarwar Danish – who are longing for a different kind of religious leadership: more modern and more detached from Iran and its political influence.” [Qayoom Suroush, AAN]
  • Commentary: Why Afghanistan Courts China – “China is perhaps the only power with the incentives, resources and national will to make Afghanistan’s ambitious vision a reality.” [Zalmay Khalizad, NYT]
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