- Pres. Obama is expected to announce today that he is modifying the plans for a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, keeping the current force level of around 9,800 troops into next year, and eventually drawing down to around 5,500 by the end of 2016 or early 2017, as he is leaving office. The NYT echoes earlier reports that the National Security Council is conducting preliminary talks with Pakistani officials about a possible agreement through which Pakistan might eventually gain access to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, in exchange for restrictions on the production or deployment of smaller “tactical” nuclear devices. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a press conference on Wednesday that Prime Minister Sharif had recorded a statement in the case investigating the distribution of funding by the military intelligence services to opposition parties during the 1990 general elections; Nisar also rejected PTI allegations that voters had been transferred out of the NA-122 constituency boundaries prior to Sunday’s by-election in Lahore. Doctors Without Borders reiterated a call for an independent investigation into the airstrike on its Kunduz hospital facility in a statement on Wednesday. The annual UN survey of Afghan opium production reports a decline in the poppy acreage under cultivation and opium yield compared to last year, the first drop reported in six years, but the decline is primarily attributed to weather conditions and changes in survey methodologies. Prime Minister Sharif removed the managing director of the stalled Nandipur Power Project at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and ordered ministers to refocus on fulfilling their obligations and to halt public criticism of each other.
Pakistan — Security
- US in Talks on Nuclear Restrictions: The NYT, echoing earlier reports in a David Ignatius column in the Washington Post, reports that Obama administration National Security Council officials are exploring negotiations with Pakistani officials ahead of Prime Minister Sharif’s visit that might relax controls on Pakistan’s access to the international Nuclear Suppliers Group in exchange for restrictions against the production of new smaller “tactical” nuclear devices that officials are concerned would pose increased proliferation risks.
- Six Killed in Rawalpindi Raid: A Punjab Elite Force sub-inspector was killed along with one militant suspect and four family members in a raid on a house in Rawalpindi on Thursday; the suspect, identified as Mustafa alias Imran, was linked to the assassination of Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanazada in August. Four suspects were arrested, and four other policemen wounded.
- FATA Attacks and Operations: Malik Gulzada Khan, an ANP leader in the Bajaur Agency, survived a roadside bombing attack on Thursday; no claim of responsibility has been reported.
- Executions: Six more death row convicts, including a man convicted of killing former Punjab Chief Minister Ghulam Haider Wyne in 1993, were executed at Punjab jails on Thursday. On Wednesday, Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak inaugurated a new high-security prison in Mardan, wth the capacity to hold 2,000 prisoners. [ET]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Interior Minister Press Conference: Speaking to the press at a wide-ranging press conference on Wednesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that Prime Minister Sharif had recorded a statement with the Federal Investigation Agency in connection to the Asghar Khan case, which charged the PML-N and other opposition parties of receiving funds from the military to challenge the PPP during the 1990 general elections. Nisar attributed the continued delays in the case, which was resurrected by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in 2013, to the refusal of military witnesses to cooperate with the investigation. Nisar also suggested that Prime Minister Sharif is planning to raise the “blatant interference” of Indian intelligence within Pakistan during his meetings with Pres. Obama next week.
- Elections: In his remarks, Chaudhry Nisar also rejected PTI allegations that the National Database and Registration Authority had shifted PTI supporters outside of the NA-122 constituency boundaries prior to the Lahore by-elections on Sunday, saying the charges were “baseless” and that NADRA had no authority to change voter registration. Speaking on Wednesday, Imran Khan said that the PTI was investigating the issue, and accused the PML-N of “pre-poll intimidatory tactics and rigging.” Elsewhere, both PTI and PML-N officials are reaching out to Chaudhry Riazul Haq Juj, who won election as an independent in a parallel by-election for the NA-144 Okara seat. Meanwhile, the PPP has formed a committee to review its losses in the by-elections, with the goal of announcing a new electoral strategy by November 30. The first phase of local elections in Punjab is due to take place on October 31 in twelve districts; roughly 40,000 candidates have registered. [APP] [Dawn] [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Energy Crisis: Prime Minister Sharif oversaw a meeting of the cabinet committee on energy on Wednesday, at which he ordered the transfer of the managing director of the 425-megawatt Nandipur Power Project, who had been selected by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to lead the project; the Ministry of Water and Power has now been ordered to make the stalled plant operational within 15 days weeks. The prime minister is reported to have ordered the ministers to halt their public spats and to increase their public media appearances and defenses of the government’s policies. On Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated a new 102 MW hydropower project in the Kotli district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Aasia Bibi Isolated in Prison Over Security Fears [Dawn]
- Interior Minister Pledges Security for China Pakistan Economic Corridor [Dawn]
- The Lonely Vigil of Pakistan’s ‘Invisible Man’ [AJE]
- MQM Appoints Nadeem Nusrat as Coordination Committee Convener [ET]
- Privatization Commission Says Waiting on Sindh Response Regarding Pakistan Steel Mills Transfer [Dawn] [ET]
- Sindh to Spend Rs 102 Million on Muharram Security [Dawn]
- ANP Accuses Government of Ignoring Provinces Other Than Punjab [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Troop Withdrawal to Be Halted: Pres. Obama is expected to announce Thursday that he will revise the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, keeping roughly 9,800 U.S. troops in country through the bulk of 2016, but drawing down to around 5,500 by the end of that year or early 2017, as he leaves office. The remaining forces will continue training and advising support for the Afghan National Security Forces and a counterterrorism mission targeting Al Qaeda and affiliates of the Islamic State; details are limited as to the precise rules of engagement envisioned for the force, although one official source says that “our mission won’t change”. U.S. bases at Bagram, Jalalabad, and Kandahar will remain active under the revised plan; the estimated operational cost of the larger deployment is expected to run roughly $14.6 billion annually. Debate over a change to the drawdown plan has been ongoing for months, particularly after the Afghan government led by Pres. Ashraf Ghani sought an extended commitment of support; speaking at a conference on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that “the narrative that we’re leaving Afghanistan is self-defeating. We’re not. We can’t, and to do so would not be to take advantage of the success had to date”, and affirmed that the Pentagon’s 2017 budget would include continued funding for the ANSF. [Guardian]
- Kunduz Investigations: In a statement on Wednesday, the international president of Doctors Without Borders reiterated that the group had “received apologies and condolences,” for the bombing of the group’s Kunduz hospital, “but this is not enough,” and called on the U.S. and Afghan government to commit to cooperating with an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Committee. White House spokesmen say that “the administration has confidence that the investigation that is currently under way by the Department of Defense will provide the full accounting of the situation that the president has asked for”. [NYT] [Khaama Press] [AJE]
- Other Attacks and Operations: Following attacks around Ghazni earlier this week, Zabul provincial officials report that the Taliban are massing forces and mining roads near the provincial capital of Qalat, raising fears of a major offensive. On Thursday, security officials reported that they had reopened the Kabul-Kandahar highway in Zabul. On Wednesday, Taliban fighters reportedly overran several border police checkposts in Helmand’s Nawzad district, killing 19 officers. The Taliban claim to have taken control of the Bala Bulak district in Farah province, but the local district governor tells Pajhwok that fighting is ongoing and claims that the withdrawal from a police post was a “tactical move”. Khaama Press reports that dozens of Afghan National Civil Order Police were surrounded by Taliban fighters in the district on Wednesday. A spokesman for the Takhar provincial governor claims that the Taliban shadow district governor for the Dasht-e-Qala district was killed in a military operation in the nearby Khoja Gar district on Wednesday. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Opium Cultivation Declines: The annual UN survey of opium production in Afghanistan reported a decline in the area under cultivation for the first time in six years, decreasing 19% in 2015 compared to the previous year; opium production in tonnage and yields per hectare also declined by 48% and 36%, respectively. Officials attributed the drop primarily to weather conditions and to revisions in the survey methodology. Helmand remains the country’s largest opium-producing province; notable falls in production were reported in Nangarhar, Nimroz, and Kandahar, while gains were reported in Badghis and Uruzgan. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
Afghanistan — Remainders
- UN Warns of Humanitarian Funding Shortfall for Afghanistan [TOLO]
- Army Captain to Receive Medal of Honor for Tackling Afghan Suicide Bomber in 2012 [WAPO]
- Ghani Vows to Boost Agricultural Sector [TOLO]
- Report: Afghanistan and US Security – “There must be clarity that adequate levels of international military, financial, and political support continue, so that the new government and Afghanistan’s leaders have the time and space to build on progress made, to solidify their position in Afghanistan and the region, and to move ahead with efforts to implement reform, provide security, and search for peace.” [Atlantic Council (pdf)]