Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: US Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz; Campaigning Ramps Up in Lahore


  • An errant U.S. airstrike hit the main Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz city on Saturday, killing at least 22 people and wounding dozens more; MSF officials denounced the incident as a “war crime” and said that a U.S. military-led internal investigation would be insufficient, and shut down their operations in the city on Sunday. U.S. officials and the acting governor of Kunduz suggest that the strike was carried out against Taliban fighters who had taken up position near the hospital and were firing on Afghan forces, a charge hospital officials deny. As of Monday, government forces are reported to have largely consolidated control over central Kunduz, but house-to-house search operations are reportedly continuing in outlying areas. The Taliban have staged multiple attacks in other northern districts, trading control with government security forces in Badakhshan and Sar-e-Pul, and attacking the Faryab provincial capital of Maimana. Campaigning is ramping up in Lahore, ahead of the special election to fill the NA-122 seat. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, officials have negotiated an agreement on salaries for some local government councilors, but final agreement on the balance of power between local officials and the provincial assembly members appears to be unresolved. The Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of two MQM gunmen who they linked to the assassinations of two MQM provincial assembly members in 2010 and 2013; MQM party leaders dispute the account, noting previous police statements that linked those attacks to sectarian and militant groups. The NYT has a detailed profile on Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s rise to power. The Pakistani Taliban released video showing the apparent hanging of a Pakistani military intelligence officer, the time and location of which are unclear. The Pakistani federal government reportedly plans to offer to transfer the assets and liabilities of Pakistan Steel Mills to the Sindh government, whose leaders have previously opposed its privatization. Afghanistan’s Central Statistics Organization reports that unemployment in Afghanistan has risen to 40%, up 15% from last year.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute in London on Friday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif reiterated that “Kashmir is an unfinished agenda” and that “the world community must come forward to help resolve the longstanding issue if it wants genuine peace in the region.” Gen. Sharif also voiced support for reconciliation in Afghanistan but that “anti-Pakistan propaganda must come to an end”, adding that “let us all beware of detractors and spoilers.” Speaking to reporters in London on Saturday while en route home to Pakistan, Prime Minister Sharif said that Pakistan had ” put forward concrete proposals for enduring peace in the region with sincere intent” and put the onus on India to “think on these proposals”. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [AFP] [AP] [APP]
  • FATA Attacks and Operations: Reuters reports that the Pakistani Taliban released new video on Sunday purporting to show the hanging of a Pakistani military intelligence officer in retaliation for the ongoing execution of death row prisoners; the timing of the apparent killing has not been determined, and Pakistani military officials have not commented on the incident. Two security personnel were killed and one injured in a roadside bombing in the Mohmand Agency on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, a local tribal leader was killed and his son critically injured in a roadside bombing in the Bannu district town of Bakakhel. No claim of responsibility has been reported in either incident. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Attacks and Operations: Frontier Corps personnel announced the seizure of a cache of arms and ammunition in the Zhob district on Friday; no arrests were made at the time. Elsewhere, two bodies were found in the Kech district on Friday, after the men had been reported kidnapped two days prior. On Saturday, unidentified gunmen attacked the vehicle of the Kalat assistant commissioner, killing one paramilitary Levies soldier and wounding two others; search operations for the assailants are said to be underway. Separately, Lt. Gen. Aamir Riaz assumed command of the Southern Corps at a ceremony in Quetta on Saturday. Speaking at a ceremony on Sunday, Chief Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch urged Baloch militant groups to rejoin the political process. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections and Other Political Activity: Election Commission secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad warned on Saturday that any violations of the electoral code of conduct would be treated as contempt of court. On Sunday, Prime Minister Sharif and his family met with senior PML-N party officials to review the campaign for the NA-122 Lahore seat; Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is reported to be unhappy that provincial assembly members are not campaigning for Sardar Ayaz Sadiq. Federal Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique campaigned with Sadiq on Sunday. Imran Khan addressed a rally of supporters on Sunday in Lahore, again alleging that the ruling PML-N and the Election Commission were preparing to rig the results of the poll. On Monday, the Jamaat-e-Islami announced that it would support PTI candidates in the Lahore elections. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, government and PTI party officials met on Saturday to negotiate the rules of business for local government bodies. Minister for Local Government and Rural Development Inayatullah Khan tells the Express Tribune that “informal approval” has been given for the provision of salaries for nazim and naib nazim council heads, and that civil service commissioners will play a “guiding” role in the distribution of development funds in their districts. Final agreement on tensions between the authorities of district councilors and provincial assembly members appears to be unresolved. The Express Tribune reports that two PTI ministers have refused to vacate their seats to allow for the entry of Qaumi Watan Party officials into the governing coalition in Khyber Paktunkhwa. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM Under Pressure: On Saturday, the Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of two men linked to the murders of two MQM provincial assembly leaders in 2010 and 2013; both suspects were also identified as members of the party, and linked to other cases of targeted killing, extortion, and “attacks on a number of party camps during elections to get public sympathy.” MQM officials disputed the Rangers’ claims, noting previous police announcements that six suspects linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had been arrested in connection to the 2013 murder of Sajid Qureshi, and the 2010 arrests of two gunmen in the case of Raza Haider’s assassination. On Friday, Karachi police filed treason charges against another MQM leader, Wasim Akhtar, a day after similar charges were brought against Muhammad Anwar. Meanwhile, party leader Altaf Hussain submitted an affidavit to the Lahore High Court on Friday expressing “regret if anyone’s sentiments are hurt” by his public speeches, and challenging the court’s ban on the broadcast of his remarks. A parallel appeal has been filed with the Supreme Court. A Quetta anti-terrorism court has also issued an arrest warrant against Hussain for “provoking hate and violence against the state and national institutions” in his speeches. Hussain appeared before UK police on Monday to seek the renewal of his bail in a money laundering case. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Musharraf Speaks Out: Former Pres. Musharraf addressed a conference at the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations on Friday, where he praised Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif and voiced support for the notion that military intervention into the country’s politics was sometimes necessary “when the chips are down”. In a separate statement issued Friday, Musharraf disputed the testimony of lobbyist and former Benazir Bhutto associate Mark Siegel, denying that he had ever contacted or threatened Bhutto prior to her arrival in Pakistan. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Crisis: A new polio case was reported in the Peshawar Frontier Region on Saturday, bringing the total cases nationwide so far this year to 36. In Balochistan, polio vaccination workers report that they have not been paid since the conclusion of a vaccination campaign in September. [Dawn]
  • PSM Privatization: On Friday, cabinet committee on privatization reportedly decided to offer to transfer the assets and liabilities of Pakistan Steel Mills to the Sindh provincial government, whose leaders have opposed privatization of the ailing mills. Provincial finance minister Murad Ali Shah said he had received no information about the possible transfer, although Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said that the government was “eager to consider the federal government’s offer”. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Deputy Special Representative Voices Support for Pakistani Counterterrorism Efforts [Dawn]
  • ASWJ Rawalpindi President Jailed for Six Months Over Hate Speech [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan and China Conclude Joint Air Exercises [Dawn]
  • Three Karachi Hospitals Raided, Militant Suspects Arrested [Dawn]
  • Farmers Union Threatens Protests Over Cancelled Aid Package [ET]
  • Five Senate Bills Lapse Due to National Assembly Delay [Dawn]
  • PTI Dissident Akbar Babar Alleges Party Received Funding from Foreign Nationals [Dawn]
  • Chinese Firm Selected for LNG Power Project [Dawn]
  • Zaid Hamid Returns from Saudi Detention [Dawn] [ET]
  • PPP Calls for Formation of ‘Constitutional Court’ [Dawn]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Orders New Survey to ‘Regularize’ Malir District Villages [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Airstrike Hits Kunduz Hospital: Multiple U.S. airstrikes at around 2:00 AM Saturday morning struck the main Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres-run hospital in Kunduz city. As of Sunday, the reported death toll was 23 people, including staff and patients, with dozens more wounded. U.S. military officials acknowledged the strike and said they were investigating, and Pres. Obama issued a statement expressing condolences for the victims. The UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, condemned the incident; the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described it as “tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal”. Pres. Ghani expressed his “sorrow” over the incident, but held back from high-profile condemnations; the acting governor of Kunduz, Hamdullah Daneshi, told the Post that the compound was being used as a “Taliban base” in ongoing fighting within the city. The WSJ reports that the airstrike was called in to support Afghan forces who had come under fire from one of the outlying buildings; Gen. John Campbell, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, also indicated that the strike “was conducted against insurgents who were directly firing upon U.S. service members advising and assisting Afghan Security Forces.” MSF officials disputed those accounts, and said that U.S. military officials had been informed of the hospital’s coordinates, and that the hospital building was “repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched”. Speaking to reporters while traveling on Sunday, Sec. Carter said that the situation was “confused and complicated”, but promised a full investigation. In a separate statement on Sunday, Doctors Without Borders general director Christopher Stokes said that an internal U.S. military investigation would be “wholly insufficient” and demanded a “full and transparent investigation”, “under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed”. Also on Sunday, the group announced that it was closing down the hospital, and that all patients had been transferred to other health facilities; officials said they had no information as to whether or not the facility would be reopened. [WSJ] [AP] [AFP] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Government Seeks to Consolidate Kunduz Control: In remarks on Friday, Afghan National Army deputy chief of staff Gen. Murad Ali Murad claimed to have the situation in Kunduz “under control,” but said that displaced families were not being permitted to return “until we are not [sic] fully sure about the situation”. Murad also suggested that the Taliban had planned to “bring Akhtar Mansour to the province to hold a press conference there and also show their existence in Afghanistan and that it is through support of Pakistan”. House-to-house search operations for Taliban fighters are continuing; as of Sunday, provincial officials claim that more than 400 Taliban have been killed. Some accounts describe the majority of the remaining fighters as being foreigners, although this has not been verified. Some accounts suggest that commercial activities are slowly resuming, but food, water, and medical shortages are still being reported. Reuters interviews police and army personnel, who blame each other for the fall of the city, and attribute the collapse of the city’s security to failures to reinforce positions and maintain supply lines. Late Sunday, the Taliban claimed to have retaken control of the northern edge of the city, but Reuters, the AP, and TOLO report calm and a return to daily life within the city center on Monday. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Other Districts Under Attack: The Taliban continue to stage attacks on surrounding district centers in northern Afghanistan; on Friday, they seized control of the Baharak district in Badakhshan province, a day after taking control of portions of the Warduj district. The U.S. military carried out airstrikes in both districts on Friday. Afghan security officials disputed reports that the Taliban had taken control, and announced on Saturday that they had retaken control of Baharak, and that the Taliban shadow governor for Badakhshan had been killed in the fighting; the Taliban disputed that claim. On Saturday evening, the Taliban reportedly retook control of the Kohistanat district in Sar-e-Pul, where Afghan security personnel and insurgents have traded control in recent weeks, after surrounding a force of around 200 security personnel. New clashes were also reported on Saturday in Nangarhar’s Achin district with Daesh-affiliated fighters; security officials claim to have killed 20 militants. On Sunday evening, Taliban fighters attacked the Faryab provincial capital of Maimana; details are limited but at least seven civilians are reported to have been killed before the Taliban withdrew. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Mansour Profiled: The NYT has a detailed profile of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s rise to power; he is reported to maintain a sizable personal income through narcotics trafficking networks, and to travel regularly to Dubai with the permission of Pakistani intelligence agencies, who are reported to have earlier brought pressure on Mansour’s assets in order to force him to accept Pakistani-brokered negotiations with Afghan government representatives in Murree in July. NDS sources indicate that Mansour paid off his main rival, Abdul Qayyum Zakir, and promised to given him leadership of the Taliban military commission and not to take part in peace talks, in order to forestall challenges to his leadership, although those accounts could not be confirmed in interviews with Taliban representatives.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Officials React to Security Threats: Ghani spoke by videoconference with military commanders stationed in the northern provinces on Saturday; a presidential palace statement issued the same day accused the Taliban of “causing fear and intimidation” in Kunduz, carrying out extrajudicial killings, and torturing and harassing residents, and announced the creation of a civilian commission tasked to “assess the losses sustained as a result of the Taliban presence in Kunduz City and the crimes that they have committed in this period, determine the scale of the losses, identify those responsible and surrender them to Law”. Security officials briefed the upper house of parliament on Sunday; Interior Minister Noor ul Haq Uloomi suggested that “this is not a ground battle, rather it is an intelligence war”; deputy defense minister Khalid Sarwary attributed the security deterioration to a lack of airpower and artillery. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq professed readiness to join operations in Kunduz if directed to by the government; he also suggested that Pakistan was seeking to temporarily shift the Taliban’s leadership shura to Helmand. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Unemployment Rises: The Central Statistics Organization reported on Friday that the official unemployment rate in Afghanistan has risen to 40%, a 15% increase compared to the same period last year.
  • Tax Revenues: A new 10% levy on mobile phone subscriptions has produced Afs 82.9 million in revenues since it was applied on September 23, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology officials reported on Sunday. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Billions From U.S. Fail to Sustain Foreign Forces [NYT]
  • NDS Claims to Disrupt Two Haqqani Suicide Attacks in Kabul [Khaama Press]
  • Pentagon Identifies Airmen Killed in Jalalabad Crash [AP]

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