Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PTI Protests in Lahore; Spate of Attacks Continue in Afghanistan

Topline

  • Imran Khan signaled on Saturday and Sunday that the PTI would be willing to call off future “shutdown” protests if the government met its demands for the creation of a judicial commission to investigate election rigging; PTI and government officials met on Sunday to exchange proposals. The PTI moved ahead with its protest plans in Lahore on Monday, which are ongoing as of this writing; PML-N leaders directed their supporters not to confront opposition activists. Attacks continued in Kabul and around Afghanistan over the weekend, targeting police, army, ISAF forces, the Supreme Court’s chief secretary, and civilians. A Taliban statement warned that the group would continue attacks and would also target the media and those who “try and mislead the youth under the name of civil society”. Pres. Ghani vowed a response in an emotional speech on Sunday, but has not offered specifics; he reportedly plans to institute a coordinating body that will oversee the Afghan police, military, and intelligence services. The formation of an Afghan cabinet remains at least two to three weeks away, according to government officials. Pakistan sold its final share of Allied Bank Limited on Friday, garnering Rs 14. 4 billion; government officials reiterated their commitment to further privatization efforts.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Operations: Airstrikes targeting an arms depot in Khyber’s Tirah Valley on Monday killed at least one militant and injured four. Army corps commanders met on Friday to reviewing ongoing military operations in the FATA, military spokesmen announced. Most displaced North Waziristan residents interviewed by Dawn say they are reluctant to return due to concerns about insecurity and damage to their homes and local infrastructure.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PTI Signals Willingness to Halt Protests: Imran Khan traveled to Lahore on Saturday, where he told supporters that “if Nawaz Sharif is sincere about negotiations, we may reach a conclusion within 48 hours.” On Sunday, Imran Khan said that the PTI “will withdraw the call for countrywide shutdown if the judicial commission is set up” to investigate charges of election rigging. The Express Tribune cites government sources who say the government is prepared to write to the Supreme Court chief justice and establish such a commission within the next week. PTI and government representatives exchanged proposals for the creation of the commission in a meeting on Sunday; both sides have agreed not to publicly disclose details. [Dawn] [ET] [APP] [ET]
  • Lahore Protest Rally Moves Ahead: As reported Friday, PTI activists carried out protest rallies throughout parts of Karachi, although Imran Khan’s speech to the crowds was brief, and focused primarily on promises to carry on to Lahore next. Dawn notes that the PTI’s Karachi rally coincides with leadership turmoil within the MQM. Speaking Sunday, Khan pledged to move forward with plans for Monday’s rally in Lahore. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif directed party leaders not to confront PTI protestors in Lahore; the Express Tribune reports that the party instead plans to film areas of the city not taking part in the PTI’s boycott. PTI activists began blocking roadways Monday morning, and protests are ongoing as of this writing. Prime Minister Sharif spent the day inaugurating a section of the Islamabad-Lahore motorway, vowing to continue development work. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [AJE]
  • Faisalabad Protest Investigations: PTI leaders continue to call for the arrest of former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah in connection to the death of a party activist in last week’s Faisalabad protests. A provincial government-appointed investigation committee has reportedly put the blame for the shooting on PML-N party workers and local police and city administration, who are accused of “criminal negligence” for failing to stop the clashes; the actual shooter was said to be “hit-men from an outlawed militant outfit”. Dawn reports that the gunman has been arrested and that the government has appointed a new committee to continue investigations. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Election Complaints: On Monday, national assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq challenged an election tribunal decision to recount the results of his constituency in the Lahore High Court. An investigation by the National Database and Registration Authority into results in the NA-125 constituency, held by minister for railroads Khawaja Saad Rafique, estimated that more than 20% of votes were subject to disqualification for lack of thumbprint or ID verification, on the basis of a sample of 1,254 votes examined. Separately, the Election Commission is reportedly unable to obtain or locate forms documenting polling station-level vote totals from at least 50 national assembly constituencies. Jamaat-e-Islami met with the new Chief Election Commissioner on Friday and shared a package of electoral reform proposals. The PTI has challenged the appointment of a new chief election commissioner for Gilgit-Baltistan in the Supreme Court, accusing him of being an active member of the PML-N. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM Leadership Shakeup: On Friday, MQM leader Altaf Hussain approved a new nine-member Coordination Committee, following orders last week to sack previous members of the party’s leadership bodies in Karachi and London. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: The national electricity grid, with the exception of Karachi and Hyderabad, collapsed in a cascading blackout for a six-hour period on Friday; officials laid blame on management at a power plant in Guddu, and suspended three managers there. Also on Friday, the Asian Development Bank signed an agreement to provide a $248 million loan to support upgrades to the power transmission system. On Sunday, a gas pipeline connecting Sindh’s Zamzama field to Punjab was bombed, temporarily cutting off gas supply to the province. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Privatization: The cabinet committee on privatization approved the sale of a final 11.5% stake in Allied Bank Limited on Friday, at a strike price of Rs 110 per share, for Rs 14.4 billion in total. 47% of shares were sold to local institutions, 13% to foreign institutions, and the remaining 40% to individual investors. Privatization Minister Mohammad Zubair told reporters afterwards that the government was committed to continuing privatization efforts, with the next major divestments expected next spring.
  • Polio Crisis: Four new polio cases were reported on Saturday from Khyber, South Waziristan, and Swat, bringing the national total so far this year to 280. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Lal Masjid Seminary Leader Claims Police ‘Harassment’ After Students Voice Support for ISIS [Dawn] [ET]
  • Police Commandos Kill Four Militants Near Muzaffaragah [AFP]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Home Ministry Fears Operation Targeting Shakil Afridi [ET]
  • Government Seeks Larger Bench to Hear Petitions on Musharraf Treason Case [ET]
  • Khuzdar Police Officer Killed [Dawn]
  • 23 Islamabad Mosques Sanctioned for Sectarian Messaging [Dawn]
  • Federal Board of Revenue Seeks Additional Powers to Target Smuggling [ET]
  • Two More Die from Tharparkar Famine [Dawn]
  • Debt Structure Shifting to Longer-Term Borrowing, Despite Falling Interest Rates [ET]
  • Commentary: Will It Ever End? – “If you’re the PML-N and you believe Imran’s goal is to be PM and that the powers-that-be’s goal is to knock you out, would you believe Imran will back down for good even if the super commission clears May 2013?” [Cyril Almeida, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks Continue: A high pace of attacks continued in Kabul and throughout the country over the weekend. The Taliban claimed responsibility for Thursday’s suicide bombing attack at a theater performance at Kabul’s Istiqlal High school, warning in a statement that the media and those who “try and mislead the youth under the name of civil society” would be targeted by the insurgency. The Afghan intelligence service blamed the Haqqani network for the attack; Afghan social media activists claim that the bomber had previously been pardoned by former Pres. Karzai, although his identity has not been confirmed. A convoy of NATO soldiers was hit by a roadside bombing in Parwan province on Friday evening, which the Guardian reports killed two U.S. soldiers. ISAF has not officially confirmed their nationalities. On Saturday morning, Atiqullah Raoufi, the chief secretary of the Afghan Supreme Court, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen as he was leaving his house in Kabul; the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, although Kabul police suggest that it was a “political murder”. In Helmand, twelve members of a de-mining team were killed in an attack on their camp in the Shorabak district on Saturday; the UK Independent reports “vast swathes” of the province are now effectively under Taliban control, and that the Taliban now control access to the Kajaki power plant and are collecting monthly electricity bills. A suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying Afghan Ministry of Defense employees in Kabul later on Saturday, killing at least six personnel and injuring fourteen; a similar attack targeting a military bus took place last week. On Sunday, at least six students were injured in a bombing at a high school in Nangarhar’s Behsood district; another suicide bombing in Nangarhar’s Chapahar district Sunday evening wounded four police officers. Kunar provincial police officials reported Sunday that the Dangam district is facing a “coordinated attack” by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan forces and that fighting at checkpoints has been ongoing for the past four days. [Reuters] [Reuters] [BBC] [WAPO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Ghani Vows Response: In a televised speech marking International Human Rights Day, Pres. Ghani denounced the recent spate of Taliban attacks, calling on religious leaders and human rights activists to work with the government to condemn such activities as “un-Islamic and inhuman”. In at times emotional speech — during which he at one point shouted that attacks were “enough and it’s no longer acceptable” — Ghani indicated that he was preparing to institute a new coordinating body to oversee the police, military, and intelligence agencies, but did not otherwise offer specifics. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Formation: During meetings with a range of political leaders at the presidential palace on Friday, Pres. Ghani pledged that a cabinet would be formed within the next three weeks. Speaking on Saturday, Ahmad Zia Massoud, Ghani’s special representative for reform and good governance, suggested that negotiations would conclude “within one or two weeks”. On Saturday, the lower house of parliament unanimously approved a resolution indicating that they would reject the nomination of any ministers holding dual nationality.
  • Taliban Talks: An anonymous Western diplomatic source tells the Express Tribune that the Afghan government has requested it play a “more visible” role in persuading the Afghan Taliban to enter into peace negotiations.

Afghanistan — Remainder

  • Parliament Finalizing Electoral Reform Proposals [TOLO]
  • Central Asian Cooperation Conference Held in Kabul [TOLO]
  • Iran Extends Afghan Refugee Visas for Six Months [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Empty Streets of Mohammad Agha: Logar’s Struggle Against the Taliban – “It is a key strategic area for the Taleban – not only because of the proximity to the capital but also because from there, local fighters can join insurgent fronts in the neighbouring provinces of Nangrahar in the east; Paktia, Paktika and Khost in the south; and Wardak and Ghazni in the west.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]
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