Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: IEC Rejects Changes to Electoral Law; Karachi Police Arrest Al Qaeda and Taliban Financier

Topline

  • Pres. Ghani has directed the Supreme Court and other institutions to work with the special commission on electoral reform to create a new committee to appoint members to the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission; at a press conference on Wednesday, IEC officials warned against changes to the electoral law and insisted that parliamentary elections should be held under existing law at a date of the IEC’s choosing. Baghlan provincial council members accuse the acting governor and Minister for Borders and Tribal Affairs Gulab Mangal, among others, of ceding control of the Dand-e-Ghori area near the provincial council to the Taliban. Karachi police arrested a former Air Force pilot they identified as a key financier of the May attack on the Ismaili community in Safoora, as well as Al Qaeda’s Indian subcontinent branch and the Afghan Taliban. Chief of Army Staff Sharif visited South Waziristan on Wednesday to inaugurate several development projects, pledging that “the army will not go back till the job is fully done”. Former Pres. Zardari dismissed Prime Minister Sharif’s announcement of a package of assistance for farmers as a “gimmick”; a spokesman for the Election Commission said that the funds would not violate the electoral code of conduct’s restrictions on development spending in advance of local elections in Punjab and Sindh. Several MQM legislators held a press conference on Wednesday refuting rumors that they were considering splitting from the party, reaffirming their support for Altaf Hussain’s leadership instead. The head of Pakistan’s Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority told reporters on Wednesday that the regulator was near a determination on pricing for liquefied natural gas. Afghan and Pakistani commerce officials report that implementation of the transit trade agreements announced during Pres. Ghani’s visit to Pakistan last fall has stalled, and that Afghan trucks are being barred from transiting through to cross the Indian border as agreed at the time.

Pakistan — Security

  • Counterterrorism Arrests: Syed Sheeba Ahmed, a former Pakistan Air Force pilot, businessman, and preacher, was arrested in Karachi on Wednesday on charges of donating funds to the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda’s Indian subcontinent branch, police officials report; he was also identified as the “key financier” of the attack on the Ismaili community in Safoora in May. [Reuters]
  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Sharif visited South Waziristan on Wednesday, where he inaugurated a cadet college, electric grid station, and road linking Dera Ismail Khan and Tank. Sharif was quoted as saying that “these development projects will improve quality of life of the common people, create job opportunities and usher this area into economic prosperity, which is our main objective,” and vowed that “having paid the price for [our] operational successes, terrorists will never be allowed to return, and the army will not go back till the job is fully done.”
  • Tensions with India: Pakistan issued a formal diplomatic protest over “unprovoked” Indian cross-border firing along the Line of Control on Wednesday, following the death of a Pakistani soldier in an exchange on Tuesday. Speaking at an Islamabad conference on Thursday, former defense secretary Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi claimed that Pakistan possessed a nuclear “second strike” capability against India, without offering details.
  • Balochistan Operations: Speaking at a book launch event touting anti-corruption efforts in Quetta on Wednesday, Southern Command head Lt. Gen. Mohammad Naseer Khan touted changes in the “atmosphere” of the province, suggesting that “the era of torching the national flag in the province is over. Now people are hoisting the flag without any fear across the province.” Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani reported on Wednesday that more than 8,000 suspected militants had been arrested since the introduction of the National Action Plan against terrorism at the start of the year, and that 204 terrorists had been killed in security operations. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Election Administration: In a notification on Wednesday, the Election Commission barred all sitting assembly members from taking part in campaigns for the special elections to fill vacant seats in NA-122 Lahore and NA-154 Lodhran, polling for which is scheduled to take place October 11.
  • MQM Under Pressure: A group of senior MQM party leaders, including legislators Syed Faisal Ali Subzwari, Haider Abbas Rizvi, and Saman Jaffery, held a press conference on Wednesday denying reports that they were preparing to split with the party, reaffirming their allegiance to Altaf Hussain’s leadership. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court sought a response from the prime minister and the National Assembly speaker on a petition seeking the acceptance of the MQM’s resignation from parliament; Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani told the upper house that he would explain his decision not to accept the resignations to date “in a couple of days”. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: In a statement on Wednesday, former Pres. Zardari dismissed Prime Minister Sharif’s recently announced package of assistance for farmers as a “political gimmick”; despite Zardari’s allegations that the aid was being introduced solely to influence the upcoming local government elections, a spokesman for the Election Commission said that it was not a violation of the electoral code of conduct barring new development spending, as the aid applied throughout the country rather than just Punjab and Sindh. Meanwhile, a group of PML-N officials held a press conference on Wednesday to further refute Imran Khan’s recent call for the paramilitary Rangers to lead corruption investigations in Punjab. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: The chairman of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority told reporters on Wednesday that OGRA had “almost completed work on determining the price” of liquefied natural gas, suggesting that a determination would be made within the next month. The Express Tribune reports that rather than releasing funds collected under the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess to the national gas utilities, the government has directed them to borrow from commercial banks, and that the cess funds will be held for construction of the Iran-Pakistan and TAPI gas pipelines. Speaking at the International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna on Thursday, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission chairman Muhammad Naeem said that Pakistan envisages boosting its nuclear power generation capacity to 40,000 megawatts by 2050 under current plans. Officials at WAPDA report that hydroelectric power generation on Tuesday hit a record peak of 6,884 megawatts, with dams at Tarbela and Mangla operating above their normal capacity. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Five Arrested in Raids on Seminaries in Dadu [Dawn]
  • 65,000 Names Removed from No-Fly List [ET]
  • Opposition Seeks Briefing by Prime Minister Ahead of U.S. Trip [Dawn]
  • Service Providers Object to New 8% Turnover Tax [ET]
  • Sindh Tells Supreme Court 5,222-Acre Land Lease to UAE Citizen Cancelled [Dawn] [ET]
  • Commentary: A Strategy for a Legacy – ” Where previous Army chiefs, those who became coup-makers, relied on the 111 Brigade as their maneuvering force, this strategy has seen a bunch of highly efficient officers in ISPR, led by Maj. Gen. Bajwa, providing both the maneuvering force as well as supporting fire.” [Ejaz Haider, Newsweek Pakistan]
  • Commentary: Crisis Mode in South Asia – “Dealing with all issues simultaneously is the only formula that has worked to date, and it continues to offer the best hope for forward movement in the India-Pakistan relationship.” [Moeed Yusuf, South Asia Channel]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: In Baghlan, several provincial council members accuse Minister of Borders and Tribal Affairs Gulab Mangal, the acting provincial governor, and the provincial police and intelligence chiefs of signing an agreement with the Taliban to surrender the Dand-e-Ghori area near the provincial capital; officials deny that account and suggest that the Taliban agreed not to carry out attacks in the area instead. Elsewhere, Pajwok interviews some of the at least 600 families from Nangarhar’s Achin district who have been displaced by fighters who have reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reform: At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Pres. Ghani directed the Supreme Court and other agencies to provide representatives to the special commission on electoral reform and start work soon on the creation of a new selection committee to name new appointees to head the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission. At a press conference on Wednesday, IEC officials warned that changes to the election law “will be disastrous to the people,” and called for the next parliamentary elections to be held under existing law at a date of the IEC’s choosing. A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah rejected that formula. [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok]
  • Refugee Flight: Afghans constitute 13% of all refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe, Human Rights Watch reported this week, the second-largest group after Syrians; TOLO interviews Afghans queuing at embassies in Kabul seeking asylum or visas abroad.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Transit Trade Stalls: A spokesman for the Afghan Commerce Ministry tells Reuters that agreements reached during Pres. Ghani’s visit to Pakistan last fall to reduce tariffs and customs-checking time and boost cross-border trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been shelved, and that Pakistan has continued to bar Afghan trucks from transiting through the country to cross the Indian border.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • AISA Calls for Support for Small and Medium Enterprises [TOLO]
  • Ghor Court Chief Arrest on Bribe Charge [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Meets with Nuristan Representatives [Khaama Press]
  • 80% of Nuristan Girls Not Attending School [TOLO]
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