Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Debates Anti-Terrorism Law Changes; Afghan Civilian Casualties Hit Record High

Topline

  • The political committee reviewing national terrorism policy met for the first time on Friday, and is reportedly focusing on issues in Pakistan’s judicial system related to the prosecution of terrorists. A proposal has been floated to establish a system of military courts, although reports on Monday suggest that this has been rejected. Military airstrikes continue in Khyber and North Waziristan; ground operations on Saturday reportedly killed the brother of Umar Mansoor, the TTP commander charged with planning last week’s attack on the Peshawar Army Public School. A Predator drone strike in North Waziristan killed six militant suspects on Saturday. The Afghan army chief of staff denied that TTP commander Maualana Fazlullah was present in Afghanistan; Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz suggested that Afghanistan and Pakistan had agreed to “coordinated action” against militant targets. Six prisoners linked to past terror attacks have been hanged since Friday and as many as 500 more on death row are slated for execution in the coming weeks; human rights organizations have called on Pakistan to halt the return to the use of the death penalty. UN officials report that civilian casualties in Afghanistan from January – November 2014 have risen by 19% over the same period last year, surpassing a previous peak in 2011; the Afghan Taliban rejected the conclusion that their attacks were responsible for roughly three-quarters of civilian deaths. The Pentagon transferred four Afghan detainees at Guantanamo to Afghan custody on Friday, most of whom had been held for ten years; they are not expected to face further detention. The PTI and government both claimed progress in talks on Friday to resolve the PTI’s election rigging complaints. The Afghan parliament has set a one-week deadline for the national unity government to make cabinet nominations; new reports suggest that a slate of nine key ministers may be nominated within the next 48 hours. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government has ordered the expulsion of Afghan refugees from the province within a month’s time. Protests continue in Islamabad against Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz. Pakistan State Oil defaulted on Rs 45 billion in dues to international and domestic fuel suppliers on Saturday; it is owed Rs 221 billion from its own customers in the domestic power sector.

Pakistan — Security

  • Peshawar Attack Aftermath: Mourning and condemnation of last week’s attack at the Peshawar Army Public School continues; Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s spokesman has joined other militant groups in condemning the incident and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s targeting of children. The new “Anti-Terrorism National Action Plan Committee,” chaired by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, met for the first time behind closed doors on Friday. The committee has reportedly decided to task a “working group of military and civilian experts” to provide recommendations. Its membership has yet to be announced, although names floated include former FIA Directors General Tariq Khosa and Wasim Ahmad, Motorways Inspector General Zulfikar Cheema, and Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former negotiator for the government in earlier abortive efforts to open talks with the TTP. The committee is reportedly focused on the current low rate of convictions for terrorist acts within the judicial system, despite past amendments seeking to strengthen anti-terror prosecutions; a committee source indicated that both the government and the military are supportive of empowering the military to hold trials for civilians accused of terrorism, a measure supported by Defense Minister Khawaja Asif in a Dawn interview on Friday. An Express Tribune report on Monday indicates that that proposal has been dropped due military concerns about managing an additional legal system, however. Prime Minister Sharif met with legal advisors on Monday to review existing anti-terrorism laws and to consider amendments. A separate report indicates that Prime Minister Sharif has tasked senior PML-N leaders with reviewing development budget spending, to identify funds that can be reappropriated for security spending. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [WSJ] [Guardian] [AFP]
  • Security Operations: The Express Tribune reports that a Friday meeting between Prime Minister Sharif, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, and ISI Director General Rizwan Akhtar agreed to intensify ground and air operations in North Waziristan and Khyber, and to show “zero tolerance for all forms of terrorism and extremism.” Chief of Army Staff Sharif visited Khyber afterwards, where he reviewed operations. Airstrikes continued in Khyber on Saturday for the third consecutive day, which military officials report killed 24; ground clashes near the town of Darra Adam Khel in Frontier Region Peshawar killed five militants, including a commander identified as Mustafa, brother to the commander who organized the Peshawar school attack, Umar Mansoor. Reuters profiles Mansoor; Dawn identifies his title as the TTP commander for Peshawar operations. Meanwhile, more than 300 people have been arrested in Islamabad and 70 in Peshawar. The federal government has warned provincial authorities to tighten security at prison facilities; several universities have also closed temporarily through the winter holidays due to security concerns. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The National]
  • Drone Strikes: At least six militant suspects were killed in a Predator drone strike on a compound in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan on Saturday; security sources say at least two were Uzbeks and one an Arab national. A TTP commander, identified as Mohammad Mustafa, was also reportedly killed. [NYT]
  • Executions Resume: Pakistan resumed executions after a six-year moratorium on Friday; Dr Usman and Arshad Mehmood — who were convicted in connection to a 2009 attack on army general headquarters and a 2003 assassination attempt against former Pres. Musharraf, respectively — were hung in Faisalabad on Friday evening. Four more prisoners — including one with dual Russian-Pakistani nationality — who had been convicted alongside Mehmood were hung on Saturday. Several more execution orders are now pending, including two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi members convicted for the assassination of a Shia doctor in 2004; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan suggested at a press conference on Sunday that as many as 500 death row prisoners would be hanged within the next 2-3 weeks. The UN and Human Rights Watch, among others, have called on Pakistan to reverse course and halt the use of the death penalty. [Dawn] [Reuters] [AJE] [BBC] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Lakhvi Bail Order: Prosecutors say they have yet to receive copies of the Islamabad anti-terrorism court’s bail order for Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi and have been unable to proceed to challenge his release, but that they would do so once received. Lakhvi remains under detention through a public order law. Separately, a joint NYT, ProPublica, and PBS investigation finds that Indian, UK, and US intelligence agencies had all picked up electronic signals information about aspects of the 2008 Mumbai attack plot prior to its execution, but that “things were never put together”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government and PTI Hold Talks: Government and PTI representatives held talks on the latters’ election-rigging complaints on Friday; both sides claimed progress in resolving the stand-off at a joint press conference afterwards, with Finance Minister Dar suggesting that the issue could be resolved “in the coming week.” The Nation reports that the two sides are still “poles apart” in their proposed scope of inquiry for the prospective judicial commission, however. The Express Tribune notes mixed feelings amongst PTI supporters over the abrupt end to its protest movement in the wake of last week’s attacks in Peshawar. Imran Khan visited the Peshawar school to pay his condolences on Monday; in a statement on Sunday following a meeting of the party’s core committee, the PTI “condemned the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and all other terror groups that have unleashed their brutality on the people of Pakistan”. The party has not decided whether its ministers will return to sit in parliament or not. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Lal Masjid Protests Continue: Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, accused Maulana Amin Shaheedi, a leader of the Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen, and former PPP senator Raza Abidi of organizing protests against him last week. At prayer services on Friday, Aziz — backed by Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat members — reiterated support for the Taliban and warned of protests around the country if he was arrested. Protests against the mosque led by civil society activists continued on Friday and Saturday; police had filed charges against the demonstrators on Friday, and filed another charge report against Aziz at protestors’ insistence on Saturday. Activists now say they will press for Aziz’s arrest. MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain also voiced support for Aziz’s arrest and the closure of Lal Masjid. In an apparent bid to defuse pressure, Lal Masjid members staged a rally condemning the Peshawar attacks on Saturday, and Aziz also made statements condemning the attacks. Protests and counterprotests resumed on Sunday; the lead activist organizing rallies against Aziz reports receiving threats from the TTP Jamaat-ul Ahrar faction. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters on Sunday that state-provided security for Aziz had recently been withdrawn. [NYT] [Guardian] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Pakistan State Oil defaulted on Rs 45 billion payments owed to international and domestic fuel suppliers on Saturday; the company is owed Rs 221 billion from other parts of the energy sector. Separately, a K-Electric transmission line failure cut power to Karachi and parts of Sindh and Balochistan for more than 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday; Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa face gas shortages after a Sui North Gas Ltd pipeline breakdown. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Chinese President to Visit in February [ET]
  • Former Prime Minister Appeals Inclusion in Musharraf Treason Trial [Dawn] [ET]
  • Accountability Court Rejects Zardari Acquittal Petition in Two Cases [Dawn]
  • Frontier Works Organization Attacked New Gwadar [Dawn]
  • Karachi Court Issues Arrest Warrants Against TTP Leaders for June Airport Attack [Dawn] [ET]
  • Bodies Recovered in Ziarat [Dawn]
  • Three New Polio Cases Recorded in Sindh, Balochistan [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • IMF Mission Chief to Pakistan to Rotate [ET]
  • Foreign Exchange Reserves Pass $15 Billion [Dawn]
  • Parliament to Consider MQM Bill on Dual Nationality [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pakistan’s 9/11? – “If Pakistan wants to save its children from death and destruction, its leaders will first have to agree that the primary threat to the state is militancy, in any version.” [Ayesha Siddiqa, NYT]
  • Commentary: Not On Their Watch – “What the people don’t know, the political and military leadership does: better — politically and militarily better — to deal with the bad than to have to deal with the worse.” [Cyril Almeida, Dawn]
  • Commentary: The Peshawar Massacre United Pakistan – But Cracks Are Already Showing – “Just a few days into our collective mourning, our shared revulsion is already fraying at the seams.” [Ali Dayan Hasan, Guardian]

Afghanistan — Security

  • 2014 Civilian Casualties Highest Recorded: UN officials reported Friday that 3,188 Afghan civilians had been killed and 6,429 injured from the beginning of 2014 through November 30, a 19% increase over the same period last year. The toll has already surpassed the previous peak, in 2011, when 3,133 civilians were killed. The UN estimated that roughly three-quarters of civilian deaths were caused by Taliban insurgents; the Taliban denounced the report as “biased and unfounded” in a statement on Sunday. [TOLO] [AJE] [UNAMA Press Conference]
  • Tensions with Pakistan: Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz told reporters on Saturday that Afghanistan had agreed to “coordinated action” against terrorists in the wake of last week’s Peshawar school attack, and that both sides “agreed not to allow their respective soils be used against each other”.  He added that Pakistan did not intend to conduct unilateral raids into Afghanistan in pursuit of TTP commanders. In a RFE/RL interview on Friday, Afghan army chief of staff General Mohammad Karimi said that discussions with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif last Wednesday in Kabul included talk of “showing a joint resolve and joint military operations against terrorists” but denied that TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah was present in Afghanistan or was receiving state protection. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government called for the Pakistani government to take action against “terrorists hiding in Pakistan” on Friday, and has decided to expel all Afghan refugees living in the province within a month. Separately, Kandahar police chief General Abdul Raziq announced on Sunday that he had ordered his forces to retaliate against militants attacking from Pakistan, accusing Pakistani security forces of ignoring militant firing near their positions. [TOLO] [ET] [Khaama Press]
  • Four Afghans Released from Gitmo: The Pentagon announced on Saturday that it had transferred four Afghan nationals previously held at Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan, in response to a request from Pres. Ghani. The four men — Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir — are described as “low level risk, if that” and are not expected to face further detention in Afghanistan; all had been held for more than a decade, and had previously been cleared for release. Eight Afghan nationals remain amongst the 132 detainees still held at Guantanamo; Pres. Obama reiterated his intent to close the facility on Friday. [WAPO] [AJE] [BBC]
  • Attacks: Seven Afghan Local Police members were killed and five others injured in a Taliban attack on their checkpoint in Jowzjan’s Quash Tapa district on Saturday evening. Separately on Saturday, seven civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in Kunar’s Nari district. Fighting continues in Kunar’s Dangam district. [TOLO] [Guardian] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Formation: On Saturday, the Wolesi Jirga set a one-week “final” deadline for the national unity government to finalize its cabinet nominations; the lower house did not specify what actions would be taken if this deadline was not met. Khaama Press reported on Saturday that Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah are prepared to announce nominees for nine key ministries within the next 48 hours; Muhammad Mohaqiq, Abdullah’s second deputy, told Balkh residents on Sunday that an announcement would be made “today or tomorrow”, with the remainder announced within a week to ten days. Both TOLO and Khaama Press report the following cabinet appointees: Sher Mohammad Karimi as defense minister; Fazl Ahmad Manawi as interior minister; Rahmatullah Nabil as head of the National Directorate of Security; Salahuddin Rabbani as foreign minister; Jilani Popal as finance minister; Faizullah Zaki as minister of information and culture; Sardar Mohammad Rahimi as minister of commerce and industries; and Sadat Naderi as minister of labors and social affairs. A Ghani spokesman speaking to TOLO disputed the list’s accuracy. Separately, on Monday, Ghani appointed Abdul Karim Mateen as the new governor for Paktika province. [AP]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Customs and Taxation: A TOLO investigation finds that different customs offices around the country frequently apply different rates of taxation to the same goods, in some cases varying by more than 50%; a customs employee further claims than as much as 70% of customs collections are not transferred to the treasury.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • IEC Chief Hits Back at Electoral Reform Proposals [TOLO]
  • Army to Forward Bergdahl Investigation Results for Administrative Punishment Decision [WSJ]
  • Heroin Addiction Grows in Kabul [NYT]
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