Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Forms Action Plan in Wake of Peshawar Attack; Afghan Government Still Stalled

Note: The news returns to regular service from today; the next update will occur Monday, January 12 with coverage of the weekend’s events and weekday updates continuing as usual afterwards. The following overview attempts to summarize major news in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the period from December 23 through January 9, which includes both my time away from regular newsreader access and events during the period needed to compile and summarize events. My apologies again for the extended gap in coverage during this time and the resulting length of this brief. Thank you for reading.

Topline

  • In the wake of the attack on the Peshawar Army Public School, Pakistani political and military leaders formulated a 20-point National Action Plan, the most prominent measure of which involved the creation of special military courts to try terror suspects. After limited opposition, the 21st Amendment to the Pakistani Constitution was passed on Jan 7, legalizing the new courts. Drone strikes and Pakistani military airstrikes continue against militant targets in North Waziristan and other areas of the FATA; Pakistani military officials claimed to have killed one of the facilitators of the school attack on Dec 26. The U.S. and NATO formally concluded combat operations in Afghanistan at a ceremony on Dec 28, transitioning to a training and support mission at the start of the new year; in a 60 Minutes interview on Jan 4, Pres. Ghani suggested that the U.S. may need to “reconsider” its 2016 deadline for the withdrawal of all military personnel, something Pentagon spokesmen say is not currently under review. The Afghan unity government marked its first 100 days in office on Jan 6, with no announcements yet made as to the formation of a cabinet of ministers despite multiple expired deadlines from the government and from parliament. Pres. Ghani continues to sack and replace provincial-level officials, including the governor of Herat and Kunduz, citing poor performance. Three further rounds of talks between the PTI and the PML-N government failed to resolve their standoff, leaving Imran Khan to threaten a resumption of the party’s protests later this month if demands for an independent judicial commission are not met. Border clashes between India and Pakistan escalated beginning Dec 31, with near-daily exchanges of fire since; at least ten people, including four soldiers, have been killed across the two sides. On Jan 2, Indian defense officials said that a Pakistani-origin fishing boat had exploded after being intercepted by the Indian coast guard, and suggested a terrorist connection; Pakistani officials have disputed the accounts. On Jan 7, the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned an Islamabad High Court order freeing Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi from detention under a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance; he has been detained on a succession of charges since being freed on bail by an anti-terrorism court in late December. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq also remains under detention under new charges despite earlier court orders for his freedom. Sec. Kerry is due to visit Pakistan for bilateral strategic dialogue talks next week. Recent reports indicate that an Afghan Taliban delegation visited Beijing in November to present their position on potential negotiations with the Afghan government. Pres. Ghani has demanded control within six months over the Law and Order Trust Fund of Afghanistan, currently administered by the UN, which pools donor support for Afghan policy salaries. Executions and appeals continue to be carried out as Pakistan resumes the regular use of the death penalty. Despite cuts to petroleum pricing, the Pakistani government increased the General Sales Tax rate on petroleum products, in part due to overall tax revenue shortfalls during the first six months of the fiscal year. Pakistan ended 2014 with 296 polio cases; the first new case of the new year was recorded in Balochistan. The Afghan parliament rejected a draft budget on Dec 24; the 2015 fiscal year began three days prior.

Pakistan — Security

  • New National Action Plan, Military Courts Enacted in Wake of Peshawar Attack: Senior military and civilian leaders met on Dec 23 to review security policies in the wake of the Peshawar school attack. The school itself is now due to reopen Jan 12. At a meeting at the prime minister’s house on Dec 24, major political party leaders voiced support for the creation of special military courts to try terrorist suspects, an earlier sticking point apparently overcome after assurances from Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif that only “jet black terrorists” would be tried within such courts. Prime Minister Sharif addressed the nation on Dec 25, outlining a 20-point National Action Plan that included the creation of a 5,000-person dedicated counterterrorism force, madrassa registration and curriculum reform, restrictions on terrorist messaging, counterterrorist financing measures, and the aforementioned military courts, among other measures. In a separate meeting on Dec 25, Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk and the other high court chief justices directed existing Anti-Terrorism Courts to hold proceedings daily and to give first priority to militancy-related terrorism cases; Dawn notes that only around 20% of the Islamabad and Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorism Courts’ cases deal with actual terrorism incidents. An inter-ministerial committee tasked with implementing the Action Plan was finalized on Dec 27; joint civilian and military ‘Provincial Apex Committees’ were established on Jan 4 to oversee the Action Plan’s implementation. As of Dec 31, both the PTI and PPP were reportedly again opposed to a constitutional amendment to establish the new military court system, arguing instead for the use of existing laws; three new special courts were established through provisions in the Protection of Pakistan Act on Jan 1. Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry told reporters the same day that a military courts amendment would be unconstitutional. On Jan 1, Prime Minister Sharif appeared before the Senate to press for the amendment, arguing that “if we do not take corrective measures today, then we may not be able to defeat terrorists tomorrow”. A statement from an Army Corps Commanders meeting held the same day also emphasized “hope that the much wanted and precious wider political consensus achieved against terrorism is not lost to smaller issues”; a statement the following day by Chief of Army Staff Sharif said that special courts were not the desire of the army but the “need of extraordinary times”. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also discounted military pressure in a press conference on Jan 3. Another conference of senior political party leaders held at the prime minister’s residence on Jan 2 ultimately ended with an endorsement by all attendees of the constitutional amendment. The amendment was introduced on Jan 3 and passed with 247 votes in the National Assembly and 78 votes in the Senate on Jan 7. The 21st Amendment to the Pakistani constitution was signed into law by President Hussain the same day; at least one petition before the Supreme Court challenging the amendment has already been filed. Government officials say roughly 3,400 suspected terrorists are likely to be referred to the new courts once they are established, beginning Jan 21; Dawn notes the Army has (three months prior) established a new “Lawfare Directorate”, headed by Major General Mohammad Irshad. The PTI maintained its boycott of parliamentary proceedings during the vote and the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami abstained from supporting the measure. Maulana Fazlur Rehman lambasted the amendment afterwards as a “collective suicide attack against democracy”, and has announced plans to hold a conference of religious parties on Jan 22; the head of the Council on Islamic Ideology, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, told reporters on Jan 7 that the government must consult with the CII on the courts. JI and a coalition of madrassa leaders objected to government interference and “villifaction” of their schools at a Jan 4 press conference. Despite endorsement by former Pres. Zardari, the PPP is reported to have been highly divided over support for the measure. [NYT] [WSJ] [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [AJE] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Drone Strikes: Two separate Predator drone strikes on Dec 26 in North Waziristan killed as many as nine militant suspects, reportedly targeting a compound belonging to ‘Punjabi Taliban’ commander Asmatullah Muawiyah and a group of Uzbek militants. Muawiyah, who in September announced that his group would cease attacks in Pakistan, has not been confirmed to have been present at the time of the strike. On Jan 4, another drone strike targeted a compounding reportedly linked to the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, killing at least six. Dawn and other local press reports that the compound belonged to an Uzbek commander affiliated with Gul Bahadur, who has previously been reported to have clashed with Uzbek militants operating in the area over the past five years. [Reuters] [Dawn] [AJE]
  • Other Attacks and Military Operations: On Jan 4, a bomb at a volleyball match in Orakzai Agency killed five people and injured ten, reportedly targeting Shias. On Dec 26, the Khyber Agency political agent, Shahab Ali Shah, reported that a militant commander operating under the nom de guerre ‘Saddam’, who he identified as a facilitator of the mid-December Peshawar school massacre, had been killed in security operations in the Jamrud area. Military officials report that 39 militants were killed in airstrikes in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan on Dec 27, another 23 killed on Dec 31, and another 12 killed on Jan 7. Ground operations also took place in the Orakzai Agencies on the 27th, following attacks on army checkposts; the military claims to have killed 16 militants in the battle. Strikes in Khyber’s Tirah valley area on Jan 3 reportedly killed 31 militants; no independent confirmation is available for any of these reports. FATA officials estimate that at least Rs 1 billion worth of public infrastructure has been destroyed in North Waziristan by government or militant forces; on Jan 4, military officials announced that displaced Waziristan residents would begin phased resettlement beginning next month. [WAPO] [AJE] [Dawn] [ET] [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [AFP] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Indian Border Clashes: An exchange of cross-border fire between Indian and Pakistani forces took place near Sialkot on Dec 24. Another exchange took place on Dec 31; Indian accounts claim that one of their border guards was killed and that four Pakistani Rangers were subsequently killed in retaliatory firing. Pakistani accounts instead claim that two Pakistani Rangers were killed while attending a flag meeting to which they had been invited by their counterparts across the border. The Pakistani foreign ministry has demanded an investigation; India’s foreign ministry rejected their account. Continued firing on Jan 3 killed a Pakistani teenage girl and an Indian woman; on Jan 5, four Pakistani civilians and one Indian soldier were killed. Firing continued on Jan 6 and 7, although without reported casualties. At least 6,000 civilians are reported to have fled the area on the Indian side of the border as of Jan 6. Separately, on Jan 2 Indian officials announced that the coast guard had intercepted a Pakistan-based fishing boat on Dec 31, and that the vessel fled before setting itself on fire, resulting in an explosion and the boat’s sinking. Indian defense officials say the boat was carrying “suspected terrorists”. Photos of the ship burning show no signs of explosion, however, and Pakistani officials say they have no information regarding the incident or the boat’s origins. [Dawn] [ET] [AP] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [NYT] [Reuters] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Lashkar-e-Taiba Operative’s Detention Extended: On Dec 29, the Islamabad High Court approved a challenge brought by Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi of his detention under a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance, despite previously being granted bail by an anti-terrorism court. Prior to being released, on Dec 30 Lakvhi was remanded to police custody by a separate lower court for two further days, in connection with new charges related to the alleged kidnapping of an Afghan man in Islamabad in 2008. Lakhvi’s lawyers argued that the charge was false and was filed due to pressure from India for his continued detention; his detention was further extended by the lower court until Jan 15. Federal prosecutors have challenged Lakvhi’s bail before the Islamabad High Court and the Supreme Court. On Jan 7, the Supreme Court overturned the IHC’s suspension of Lakhvi’s MPO detention. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [NYT] [NYT] [AFP] [AJE] [AJE] [Dawn]
  • Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Leader Detained: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq, who was set to be freed after his detention under a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance was due to expire Dec 25, was detained through Jan 7 in connection to a new murder case. Separately, the head of the Rawalpindi chapter of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the political wing of the LeJ, was detained by paramilitary Rangers on charges of possessing illegal firearms; he was released on bail by a civil court judge on Jan 1, prompting Prime Minister Sharif to order the suspension of Senior Superintendent of Islamabad Police Asmatullah Junejo for “showing leniency” in the case. [ET] [ET]
  • Executions Carried Out: Executions continue since the end of a moratorium on capital punishment removed in the wake of the Peshawar school attack. In a Dec 28 statement, the government defended the recourse to capital punishment, rebuffing an earlier call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to reconsider its use. A former army technician convicted of involvement in a 2003 assassination attempt against former Pres. Musharraf was hung on Dec 31; on Jan 7, two former Sipah-e-Sahaba members charged with killing three men and two police officers were executed in Multan. On Jan 8, Ikruamul Haq, a co-founder of the sectarian terror group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was spared the death sentence after plaintiffs in his original case apparently forgave him, withdrawing the capital sentence. Dozens of legal challenges are now pending before the lower courts, provincial high courts and Supreme Court regarding prisoner executions. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government-PTI Talks Remain Deadlocked: After several days of a delay, a third and fourth meeting between PTI and government representatives took place on Dec 26 and Dec 27 to debate the terms of reference of an investigation into the PTI’s allegations of election rigging. Both meetings ended inconclusively, with no agreement reached. PTI senior leadership met on Dec 29, stating afterwards that the party had “shown as much flexibility as it could”. Negotiators from the two sides met again on Dec 31, again without resolution. After a brief departure to London, Khan returned to Pakistan on Jan 7, and told a press conference that he would have “no option but to resume my protest” if the government failed to meet the PTI’s demands, warning that “if the government believes that it can use the Peshawar school tragedy to evade our demand for the judicial commission, they are mistaken.” Khan announced plans to rally in Islamabad on Jan 18, and said the government had until that time to formulate a judicial commission investigation. He has also maintained that the party’s members will not return to parliament as long as the commission remains unresolved. Meanwhile, an inspection of results from the NA-122 constituency, which Khan lost to National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq, was completed on Jan 3; a final report has not yet been released. An Express Tribune report suggests that irregularities were found with at least 30,000 ballots, greater than Sadiq’s margin of victory; Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid has claimed that the investigation found that Sadiq’s margin of victory against Khan had in fact increased. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • US Relations: Ambassador Olson met with Prime Minister Sharif on Jan 5, ahead of an expected visit by Sec. Kerry to Pakistan to head the U.S. delegation taking part in strategic dialogue talks, which are reportedly scheduled to begin Jan 13. The U.S. State Department has not confirmed Kerry’s schedule, but Dawn reports that he will arrive Jan 12.
  • Afghan Relations: PM Sharif and Pres. Ghani spoke by phone on Dec 31 to discuss bilateral cooperation; a delegation of Afghan parliamentarians visited Islamabad the same day, with both sides professing solidarity in the wake of the Peshawar school attack. Pakistani and Afghan military officials met in Nangarhar on Dec 29 — following meetings between the two countries’ chiefs of army staff on Dec 23 — and have reportedly agreed to reactivate two border coordination centers; Pakistan had suspended participation in 2011 in the wake of the Salala incident, in which a joint US-Afghan force errantly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Meanwhile, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government has continued moves to expel unregistered Afghan refugees “as soon as possible”; the federal ministry for states and frontier regions has pledged to repatriate all Afghan refugees by the end of 2015 but says that they will not be expelled involuntarily. The construction of a 1,100 kilometer trench along the Afghan-Balochistan border continues as well, at an estimated cost of Rs 14 billion. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Lal Masjid Showdown: Civil society activists continue to seek the arrest of Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz; on Dec 26, a civil court issued an arrest warrant against him but police have yet to take action to detain him, apparently out of fear of a violent backlash. Aziz’s spokesman has indicated he will not surrender to police or seek bail on the charge. Islamabad police are reportedly planning on filing new charges against the Lal Masjid’s Jamia Hafsa student organization, charging it with “waging war” against Pakistan after the group released a video calling on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to come to Pakistan and avenge the 2007 raid on the mosque.  [Guardian] [AJE] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Musharraf Treason Trial: On Dec 24, the Islamabad High Court halted proceedings in the treason trial of former Pres. Musharraf, pending the resolution of appeals filed by three accused co-conspirators against their inclusion in the case, as ordered by the special treason court on Nov 21. An Express Tribune report on Jan 4 suggests that the federal government is preparing to allow the treason case against Musharraf lapse as “part of overall scheme of the federal government to improve the relations with the military establishment.” A separate report suggests that Musharraf aims to form a new “United Muslim League”, drawing support from other parties. [Dawn] [ET]
  • PPP Marks Bhutto, Taseer Death Anniversaries: The PPP marked the seventh anniversary of the death of party leader Benazir Bhutto on Dec 27; Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari did not attend, which party officials attributed to security threats. There are reports of internal divisions between Bilalwal and his father, former Pres. Zardari, and between the party longtime party figure Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who was reportedly considering forming a breakaway faction, and who met recently with former Pres. Musharraf and leaders of the PML-F. PPP officials, including Fahim, have denied these accounts. A cabinet reshuffle in Sindh is reportedly planned in order to assuage Fahim. On Jan 5, a vigil was held in Lahore for former Punjab governor Salman Taseer; it was attacked by unidentified men armed with knives and clubs; at least 40 suspects, whose affiliation if any has not been disclosed, have been arrested. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • IMF Talks: Following the release of the combined fourth and fifth tranches of the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility loan program in late December, the IMF has reportedly set five new benchmarks for the next quarterly review, which include increased autonomy for the State Bank of Pakistan and legislation to remove the Federal Board of Revenue’s power to issue tax exemptions. The Fund predicts slowing inflation to below 8% in the current fiscal year and a growth rate of 5% in the medium term; the Fund projects growth for the current year at 4.3%, lower than the government’s 5.1% target. Inflation indicators hit an 11-year low in December, rising only 4.3% year-on-year. [ET] [ET] [IMF Fourth and Fifth Quarterly Review Report]
  • Energy Pricing: The Federal Board of Revenue missed its midyear tax collection target by Rs 90 billion, the Express Tribune reported Jan 1, a gap which may widen once withheld refunds are paid. On Dec 30, the government increased the General Sales Tax on petroleum products by 5%, to 22%, effective at the start of the new year, in an effort to offset declining revenues and generate an estimated Rs 48 billion. The move drew heavy opposition in the parliament. Shortly afterwards, on Dec 31, Prime Minister Sharif announced a reduction in petroleum prices. The government is reportedly considering tariff rate increases for electricity and natural gas, which has also drawn opposition. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Energy Supply: Falling temperatures have exacerbated supply and demand gaps in the natural gas sector, with supply suspended to industrial consumers as of Dec 26. International banks blocked letters of credit totaling Rs 93 billion to Pakistan State Oil on Dec 27, following repeated defaults on its payments due to circular debts within the energy sector. PSO has warned that it would be forced to “freeze business ties with the power sector” once current supplies are exhausted, unless its dues are met. Separately, the government plans to establish new LNG-fired power plants in Punjab and to auction 10 currently unutilized gas field blocks for on-site private power generation. Meanwhile, Iran has proposed that Pakistan engage an unspecified third party to handle payments for the prospective natural gas pipeline linking the two countries, in an attempt to circumvent the threat of U.S. sanctions. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • U.S. Assistance: Following a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Olson and Finance Minister Dar on Dec 30, Pakistani officials said that Olson had informed Dar that Congress had approved the release of $532 million in Kerry-Lugar-Berman assistance to Pakistan. At a briefing on Jan 6, a State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said that “Congress has not been notified of a request, Congress has not approved a request”, and that new KLB funds had not been approved since 2013, but said that other provisions were being used to provide aid. FY2013 funds were only released from Congressional hold in September 2014. On Jan 8, Psaki clarified that a national interest waiver would be exercised to bypass Congressional certification requirements on the release of FY2014 funds, as has been done in past cases, but only after they are notified later this year. [ET]
  • Polio Crisis: Pakistan’s first polio case of 2015 was recorded in Balochistan’s Chaghi district on Jan 1. 296 cases were recorded in total in 2014, 22 from Balochistan. A vaccination drive in Quetta began Jan 5. Sindh inaugurated an emergency operations center focused on the polio crisis on Jan 2, the first province to do so. A national-level center has also been established, although Dawn notes that it does not follow international Independent Monitoring Board recommendations that the task be overseen by the National Disaster Management Authority. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Lyari Gang Leader Uzair Baloch Arrested in Dubai [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Supreme Court Seeks Reply on Trials of Army Officers Under Civil Courts [Dawn]
  • 1,265 Missing Persons Cases Still Pending as of End-2014, Report Finds [ET] [ET]
  • New Law Under Works to Regulate NGO Finances [ET]
  • ARY CEO and Anchor Indicted on Contempt of Court Charges [Dawn]
  • Ahmadi Man Killed in Gujranwala [Reuters] [ET]
  • PM Sharif Visits Bahrain [Dawn] [ET]
  • Three Iranian Border Guards Killed, Seven Injured in Border Clash [ET] [Dawn]
  • Attacks and Operations Continue in Balochistan [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Balochistan Completes Third Phase of Local Elections; Supreme Court Sets New Deadline [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senator Mushahidullah Khan Added to Federal Cabinet [ET] [Dawn]
  • Splits in PTI Rawalpindi Chapter [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • China and Pakistan Fail to Reach Agreement on Free Trade Agreement Tariffs [ET]
  • Mohammad Noor Meskanzai Appointed Balochistan High Court Chief Justice [Dawn]
  • Right to Information Draft Legislation Finalized [ET]
  • National Assembly Committee Rejects Provision for Dual National MPs [Dawn]
  • Religious Education Boards Agree to Consider Contemporary Education Curricula [Dawn]
  • Literacy Levels and Enrollment Fall Among Schoolchildren [ET] [Dawn]
  • Telecom Industry Sells 5 Million 3G Connections in Five Months [ET]
  • EOBI Pension Fund Faces Deficits After Higher Payouts Ordered [ET]
  • Commentary: ‘I Shall Rise and Shine’ – “The national fury over the Peshawar school attack will abate, and the terrorists may or may not be forever vanquished. But for the families coping with the greatest trauma—surviving a child’s sudden, violent death—Peshawar will always remain a hole in their heart.” [Newsweek Pakistan]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US and NATO Formally End Combat Operations: At a ceremony on Dec 28, U.S. and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan, transitioning to “Operation Resolute Support,” in which roughly 12-14,000 coalition forces, most of them American, will focus on training assistance for the Afghan National Security Forces as well as limited counter-terrorism and support operations. Pres. Obama welcomed “the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform,” saying that “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion”. The Taliban claimed the ceremony marked ISAF’s defeat in a statement on Dec 29. Afghan security officials have expressed concerns about the need for continued international air support and intelligence gathering; national security advisor Hanif Atmar, speaking at the Dec 28 ceremony, noted that “we will still need your partnership and support”. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed future NATO support in a separate message. On Jan 1, the official beginning of Operation Resolute Support, Pres. Ghani noted the successful “transfer of power and transfer of security responsibilities” this year, praising the ANSF. In a 60 Minutes interview broadcast Jan 4, Ghani said that “deadlines should not be dogmas” and that the U.S. may need to “re-examine” its timeline for fully withdrawing forces from Afghanistan by 2016. A Pentagon spokesman said that “the drawdown plan remains in effect and there have been no changes to the drawdown timeline.” [WAPO] [AP] [Guardian] [Reuters] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Reuters] [TOLO] [NYT]
  • Taliban Divisions: A NYT analysis suggests that the Taliban leadership in exile faces increasing challenges in policing and exerting command and control over its field operatives, in part due to the targeting of midlevel cadres by coalition military activities; the piece notes widespread diversity in the governing styles of Taliban commanders, with some seeking to garner local support for their activities and others ruling by force. Another piece notes the continued public absence of titular leader Mullah Omar.
  • Civilian Casualties: At least 17 people, including women and children, were killed and dozens more were wounded when mortar rockets struck a wedding ceremony in Helmand’s Sangin district on Dec 31. Initial reports put the death toll as high as 26 people, and the exact total is disputed. Subsequent investigations suggested that the mortars were fired by Afghan National Army units at three separate outposts; some reports suggest that the Taliban had initiated the firing, although others dispute this. Investigations are ongoing; on Jan 2, provincial officials said that at least two ANA soldiers would face court martial over the incident. [WSJ] [AFP] [AP]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Operations continued in the Kunar district of Dangam; as of Jan 5, four weeks into the fighting, ANSF officials claimed to have control of 80% of the district. ANSF officials credited ISAF air support for helping to push back insurgent forces. At least 500 families have reportedly been displaced by the fighting. On Jan 7, a Jalalabad appellate court judge and his two daughters were killed by a bomb planted on his car; no claim of responsibility was reported. On the same day, Taliban fighters attacked a Khost city police training academy, wounding at least five. On Jan 5, a Taliban suicide car bomber targeting an EU police training mission convoy in Kabul killed at least one civilian bystander and wounded five. The same day, a roadside bombing targeting the deputy provincial police chief in Zabul killed two civilians and injured nine; he was unhurt. The head of the Ghazni Criminal Investigation Department was also killed in a roadside bombing the same day. On Jan 4, a grenade was thrown at the Pakistani consulate in Herat; there were no casualties and no claim of responsibility. On Jan 2, four people were killed in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, when a bomb planted on the vehicle of an Azizi Bank branch manager exploded; no claim of responsibility has been reported. On Dec 31, an attack on a bazaar in Nangarhar’s Bati Kot district killed as many as 11; the Taliban did not claim responsibility. On the same day, five police were reportedly killed in an insider attack in Uruzgan’s Dehrawad district. On Dec 30, a Taliban suicide car bomber targeted an ANA base in Wardak; no casualties were reported. On Dec 28, three Wardak Ulema Council members were injured in a bomb blast in Kabul; the Taliban claimed responsibility. On Dec 27, five people were killed when a roadside bombing in Kandahar’s Dund districted targeted a vehicle of NDS officers. [NYT] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Formation Stalls: On Jan 6, the national unity government marked its first 100 days in office; as yet, no agreement has been reached on appointing a full cabinet of ministers, resulting in widespread paralysis within the government and growing worry amongst analysts, officials, and citizens. Two week-long deadlines set by the lower house of parliament have expired as of Jan 6; parliamentarians have threatened legal actions but have yet to do so. Ghani’s legal advisor dismissed MPs’ threats in remarks to TOLO on Jan 8. TOLO reports that Pres. Ghani has yet to approve staffing or operational budgets for either Chief Executive Abdullah’s office — reportedly consisting of as many as 500 positions — or Ahmad Zia Massoud’s office of reform and good governance. Among other positions, the two leaders are said to be particularly divided on the choice for the interior ministry. Khaama Press quotes a Ghani spokesman who suggests that four of the ministers will be women. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Reuters]
  • Local Government Appointments: On Dec 24, Pres. Ghani dismissed the governor of Herat, Syed Fazullah Wahidi, following complaints of deteriorating security from the business community; Aseeludin Jami is now acting governor. Ghani made a visit to the province on Dec 27, during which he reportedly fired fifteen district police chiefs, eight district governors, and several other senior officials. Ghani has also recently fired all senior officials in Kunduz, appointing Mohammad Omer Safi as acting governor and taking an active role in selecting new provincial security officials. On Jan 7, Ghani removed the Ghor provincial police chief, naming Sayed Ahmad Salangi as his replacement. A Jan 8 TOLO report suggests that some Herat police chiefs remain on duty despite Ghani’s order.
  • Taliban Talks: A Jan 2 report in The News indicates that a Taliban delegation visited China in November 2013 “to share the Islamic Emirate’s stance with China.” No other specific details were reported. The WSJ picked up the story on Jan 6, confirming and adding details to the account. An anonymous Afghan official suggests that the Chinese “could provide a venue for talks”; the Taliban delegation is reported to have laid out a negotiating agenda that would include amendments to the Afghan constitution, a share of control over government ministries, and removal of Taliban figures from international sanctions lists. On Jan 9, the BBC reported that Pres. Ghani had offered cabinet positions to former Taliban leaders Mullah Zaeef and Wakil Muttawakil and to Ghairat Baheer, a close relative of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, but that the offer had been turned down; a presidential spokesman denied that account.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Ghani Seeks Control of LOTFA: On Dec 24, the NYT reported that Pres. Ghani had set a six-month deadline for the transfer of control over the administration of the Law and Order Trust Fund of Afghanistan — which pays Afghan national police salaries — from the United Nations Development Program to the Afghan Interior Ministry.
  • Draft Budget Rejected: On Dec 24, the Wolesi Jirga voted to reject a draft Afs 458.8 billion budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which officially began December 21. Chief Executive Abdullah said Dec 27 that the Council of Ministers’ previous approval had been made hastily, and that “it needs to be reviewed”. A revised budget that restores funding to more than 443 projects supported by parliamentarians was reportedly ready to be voted on Jan 7, although no vote has yet been reported. [TOLO]
  • Trade With Pakistan: Afghan and Pakistani officials met in Islamabad for two days on Jan 1-2 to renew agreements for increased bilateral trade, which totaled roughly $2 billion in 2014. Most Afghan business officials interviewed in the Afghan press expressed skepticism as to Pakistan’s commitments. On Jan 3, representatives from the two countries were joined by Tajikistan officials for the first meeting of a prospective trilateral trade agreement, a final draft of which is to be completed by March.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Poll: Support for Afghan War Rises as Combat Operations End [WAPO]
  • Draft Iran Strategic Partnership Agreement to Be Signed [TOLO]
  • Balkh Governor Reportedly Tracked on ISAF Targeting List [Der Spiegel] [Khaama Press]
  • Dostum Visits North, Seeks To Bring Insurgents Into Peace Process or Face Crackdown [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Supreme Court Ruling Extends Tenure of Senate Chairman Fazel Haidi Muslimyar [TOLO]
  • Karzai Says He Meets with Ghani ‘Almost Daily’ [Reuters]
  • Bribery Frees Afghan Drug Kingpin [NYT]
  • Helmand Polio Drive Halted After Taliban Threats [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Jamaat-e-Islami Leader’s Praise for Taliban Draws Afghan Condemnation [TOLO]
  • Former High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption Chief Azizullah Ludin Dies [Khaama Press]
  • Report: Rhetoric, Ideology and Organizational Structure of the Taliban Movement – “The Taliban movement commands the loyalty of thousands of Afghans and applies resources and men to the pursuit of political objectives, guided by doctrine and inspired by rhetoric.” [Michael Semple, USIP]
  • Report: Violence, the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s 2014 Elections – “The Taliban may be moving closer to Afghan mainstream politics, even though it is still based on strongmen, manipulation, and patronage networks rather than on liberal and democratic principles.” [Antonio Giustozzi and Silab Mangal, USIP]
  • Commentary: After the Rollercoaster Comes What? Afghanistan in 2015 – “There is a residue from the latest turmoil – from the elections, the upsurge of attacks, the change in government – that has resulted in a combination of both determination and fragility, confidence and concern, hope and fear.” [Martine van Bijlert, AAN]

 

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