Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Local Elections Held in Punjab and Sindh; Dissident Taliban Faction Names Leaders

Topline

  • Local government elections were held in twelve districts in Punjab and eight districts in Sindh on Saturday; preliminary results suggest that the incumbent PML-N and PPP consolidated their control over their respective provinces. The worst electoral violence was reported between rival PPP and PML-F groups in Khairpur; a PTI activist was also killed in Faisalabad. A dissident Taliban faction has named Mullah Mohammad Rasool as their new leader, challenging Mullah Akhtar Mansoor; commander Mansoor Dadullah, whose forces clashed with Mansoor’s earlier this fall, has been named the dissident group’s deputy. In NYT interviews, Afghan security forces personnel complain of logistics shortages and a lack of support as they come under continued Taliban offensives in Helmand and Uruzgan. A bomb targeting a Quetta-Rawalpindi train line detonated in Balochistan’s Mastung district on Sunday, killing three passengers and wounding ten. Pakistani officials met to review plans for the safety of Chinese engineers working on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects, pledging heavy security. Members of the new Jihadi Council of Afghan veteran political leaders have made a new push for the government to a call a Loya Jirga, a call echoed by both houses of parliament. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani indicated that Afghanistan would accept refugees repatriated from Germany; at least a third of the roughly 58,000 Afghans living there may face expulsion. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government began distributing relief payments on Friday to victims of last week’s earthquake; the federal government is due to begin payments today. Pakistan’s Privatization Commission began accepting expressions of interest for the privatization of the Faisalabad Electric Supply and Distribution Company on Monday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Balochistan Conflict: A bomb planted near train tracks in the Mastung district in Balochistan killed three passengers and wounded at least ten others aboard the passing Quetta-Rawalpindi Jaffar Express line on Sunday. The damaged track line is reported to have been repaired and returned to service shortly afterwards; no claim of responsibility has been reported. Separately on Sunday, the Frontier Corps reported that its forces killed six militant suspects and seized a weapons cache in the Kalat district. The deputy director general of China’s Ministry of Public Security met with civilian and military Balochistan security officials in Gwadar on Friday to discuss security in the port city; the group reportedly decided that Gwadar will be a “weapon-free city”. The Express Tribune reports that a “four-layer security plan” has been approved for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and Chinese engineers taking part in infrastructure construction projects, including the deployment of 5,700 Frontier Corps personnel, 3,000 police constables, and 1,000 paramilitary Levies personnel in Balochistan. Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting to review security for the corridor project on Monday and reiterated the government’s commitment to protecting Chinese workers in Pakistan. [AP] [ET] [ET]
  • Sectarian Violence: The Express Tribune, citing an anonymous, unidentified security official, reports that Malik Ishaq, the former Lashkar-e-Jhangvi commander who was killed in July by Punjab police, was in contact with representatives from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and was to become the Daesh commander for Pakistan. No other sources corroborate the report.
  • FATA Attacks and Operations: A roadside bombing in the Tirah Valley in the Khyber Agency on Friday killed one soldier and wounded three others; no claim of responsibility has been reported. On Monday, cross-border mortar fire was reported from Paktika into the Kurram Agency; no casualites were reported. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Local Elections Held in Punjab and Sindh: On Saturday, polling was held for the first phase of local government elections in 12 districts in Punjab and eight districts in Sindh, the first such polls in either province since 2005. More than 50,000 candidates contested constituencies across the multiple tiers of local government; Dawn notes that the powers of the local councils will be fairly limited. Roughly 25 million voters were eligible to take participate in the elections, around 20 million of which were in Punjab, where the contests included the major cities of Lahore and Faisalabad. Prime Minister Sharif and PPP chairman Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari were among those casting their votes in the polls. On Friday, the Lahore High Court accepted petitions challenging restrictions imposed by the Election Commission on the broadcast of preliminary election results. Although details of the voting outcome are still limited at this point, the incumbent PML-N in Punjab and PPP in Sindh are reported to lead in the number of constituencies won in their respective provinces. Independent candidates are reported to have won a plurality of contests in Faisalabad, and an independent candidate affiliated with Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah won against PML-N Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali’s elder brother, Amir Sher Ali.  Dawn reports that PML-N candidates PTI leaders professed optimism that the party had “put up a great fight” against “state-backed candidates”, but on Sunday, the PTI’s Lahore organizer, Shafqat Mehmood, announced his resignation over what he described as poor performance by the party in the city’s polls. Former Pres. Zardari issued a statement on Sunday touting the party’s performance in Sindh. The worst violence was reported in Khairpur, where PPP and PML-F activists clashed, leaving at least 12 dead and 15 wounded; the Express Tribune reports that activists were attempting to enter a women’s polling station, but does not specify which party was at fault or who opened fire first. A PTI activist was killed in Faisalabad when a rally was fired upon; police filed a case for the incident on Sunday, including Abid Sher Ali among the accused. PTI activists demonstrated in Faisalabad on Sunday, calling for a military court to investigate the killing. Other sporadic violence was reported during and after the election; in Kasur, a PTI candidate who had won a union council vice chairman election in Phoolnagar died of injuries received from an attack by PML-N rivals, and in Lahore, three PML-N activists were injured by rival PTI activists on Sunday. Punjab officials have decided to impose a ban on victory rallies by candidates in a bid to contain tensions. Opposition parties in northern Sindh, including the MQM and PML-F, accused the PPP of rigging the results of the elections. The Free and Fair Election Network, a domestic observer group, issued a statement on Sunday noting irregularities in the voting process, including restrictions on observers at some polling stations. [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM to Return to Parliament: MQM senators are due to return to parliament on Monday and withdraw their resignations, following the formation of a Grievances Redressal Committee with the government in mid-October; national assembly legislators will rejoin the assembly at the next session on November 6. On Friday, Farogh Nasim, a lawyer, senator, and MQM representative on the committee, resigned from the committee, citing competing professional obligations, with the approval of leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain; no replacement has yet announced been. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Earthquake Relief: At a press conference on Friday, the head of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, Asghar Nawaz, pledged that Rs 200,000 compensation payments for victims of last week’s earthquake would begin to be distributed on Monday, with officials shifting their focus from rescue to relief operations. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government began payments on Friday. As of Friday, the death toll in Pakistan was reported to reported to be 272 people, with over 35,000 homes damaged; on Saturday, the Jamaat-e-Islami held a press conference in Peshawar, charging that current estimates underplayed the extent of the damage and calling for an increase in relief funds. Meanwhile, Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial officials tell Dawn that the provincial health department plans to upgrade and expand trauma services in Peshawar and other parts of the province; a separate report, however, indicates that the UK charity Merlin is halting its work on rural health facilities in five Khyber Paktunkhwa districts after the provincial government failed to pay its share of a health project co-funded with the World Bank. Meanwhile, the Express Tribune notes that the quake has disrupted polio vaccination planning. [ET]
  • Privatization: Privatization Commission chairman Mohammad Zubair told the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry on Saturday that the initial expressions of interest for the privatization of the Faisalabad Electric Supply and Distribution Company would begin to be accepted starting Monday.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • President Hussain Meets New National Security Advisor [Dawn]
  • Army Chief Oversees Joint Saudi Exercises [Dawn]
  • Rangers Crackdown to Target Contract Killers, Attacks on Law Enforcement [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Government Strategic Media Cell Expands Operations [Dawn]
  • PPP to Propose Amendments to National Accountability Ordinance [ET]
  • National Accountability Bureau Reports Recovering Rs 4.5 Billion in 2014 [Dawn]
  • JUI-F Not to Participate in Balochistan Coalition Government [Dawn]
  • Ex-PIA Engineer Charged with Financing Safoora Goth Attack [Dawn]
  • Chief Justice Says that 90% of Complaints Against Judiciary Now ‘Outdated’ [Dawn]
  • Sindh High Court Seeks Response on Challenge to Civil Service Amendments [Dawn]
  • Petroleum Price Hiked for November [ET]
  • Report: Audit of USAID/Pakistan’s Political Party Development Program – “USAID’s Office of Inspector General (OIG)/Pakistan conducted this audit to determine whether the program enhanced the responsiveness of political parties to local concerns, as planned. The audit found that although the program took steps to do so, program activities largely stalled, and it was doubtful the program would achieve its objectives based on its progress at the midpoint.” [USAID Office of the Inspector General (pdf)]
  • Commentary: Local Government System: Frustrated But Not Foiled – “The ‘new’ party positions arising out of these elections will not only have a big impact on the present political discourse, they will cast a long shadow over the next general elections, scheduled for 2018.” [Tahir Mehdi, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Divisions: A faction of dissident Afghan Taliban commanders has named Mullah Mohammad Rasool, a former Taliban governor, as the head of a new “High Council of the Afghanistan Islamic Emirate”, challenging the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour over the insurgent movement. The Express Tribune reports that Mansoor Dadullah, another Mansour rival, has been named the group’s deputy, and that Sher Muhammad Mansoor has been named second deputy. Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir is reported to have boycotted the dissident group, however. [Reuters]
  • Attacks and Operations: The NYT reports that a multi-front Taliban offensive threatening the provincial capitals in Helmand and Uruzgan has strained the ability of the Afghan national security forces to respond; soldiers report demoralization, shortages of ammunition, and a lack of heavy weapons with which to confront the insurgency, as well as a lack of medevac, air, and logistics support. Afghan defense officials deny any logistics shortages, and the Gereshk district governor in Helmand tells TOLO that operations over the past two weeks have pushed back insurgents from the area. The Achin district governor in Nangarhar province reported Friday that a rocket struck a mosque during Friday evening prayers, killing six and wounding four others; he attributed the attack to militants affiliated with the Islamic State, and suggested that the rocket had missed a nearby security checkpost. No claim of responsibility was reported. A drone strike in the Ghazi Abad district in Kunar on Friday reportedly killed Bilal al-Taiba, identified as an Al Qaeda commander. Paktia police officials report that Taliban fighters have blocked road access to six eastern districts. In Parwan, a local militia group has reportedly blocked the Kabul-Bamiyan highway, protesting the appointment of a local police commander. On Saturday, Afghan forces rebuffed a Taliban attack on the Barg-e-Matal district in Nuristan province. On Sunday, Badakhshan provincial police officials announced an operation targeting Taliban fighters in the Raghistan district. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Under Criticism: Interior Minister Noor ul Haq Uloomi testified before the Wolesi Jirga on Monday and survived a no confidence vote in his leadership. On Saturday, members of the recently-formed “Jihadi Council” of veteran political figures from the anti-Soviet Mujahadeen era called on the national unity government to hold a Loya Jirga to amend the constitution, urging the formal approval of a new prime minister position. The upper and lower houses of parliament made similar calls for the Loya Jirga to be on Saturday; some members of parliament also argued that a review of the U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement was necessary. Speaking to TOLO earlier on Friday, Vice President Dostum suggested that the Jihadi Council must cooperate with the government to achieve its goals; Sayed Aqa Fazel Sancharaki, an aide to Chief Executive Abdullah, voiced support for the council’s activities in comments to TOLO.
  • Refugee Repatriation: A deputy spokesman for Pres. Ghani confirms to the AP that Afghanistan would accept Afghan refugees repatriated by Germany; Der Spiegel reports that at least a third of the 58,000 Afghan nationals living in Germany could face expulsion. Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Hossain Alemi Balkhi criticized Germany’s move to send back asylum seekers, and suggested that the government was “not ready to accept the deportees outside of an agreed framework” with the EU; his advisor said Monday that reintegration plans would be extended to deportees, however. On Sunday, Pres. Ghani announced plans to boost employment, and indicated that ministry programs would be delivered through the National Solidarity Program’s network of community development councils.
  • Taliban Talks: Presidential aide Ahmad Zia Massoud argued on Saturday that the Taliban “are wilder than they were in the past” and suggested that since Pakistan was unwilling to accept a peaceful Afghanistan, “this is a war that cannot be ended through peace mechanisms, therefore, we must be ready for a long war”. [ET]
  • Electoral Reform: In comments to Pajhwok on Friday, presidential spokesman Sayed Zafar Hashemi reiterated that the delay in the formation of a new selection committee to appoint replacements for the Independent Election Commission was a result of delays by civil society and media groups in nominating members to the committee.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Tajikistan Fears Instability as Afghan Conflict Rages On [BBC]
  • Asian Development Bank and Donors Announce $858 Million Infrastructure Grant [Khaama Press]
  • USAID Extends Agriculture Support [TOLO]
  • Report: SIGAR Quarterly Report to Congress, October 2015 – ” This report summarizes SIGAR’s oversight work and updates developments in the three major sectors of Afghanistan’s reconstruction effort from July 1 to September 30, 2015. It also includes a transcript of SIGAR’s interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.” [SIGAR (pdf)]
  • Commentary: ISIL Won’t Get Very Far in Afghanistan – For Now – “While Afghanistan remains in a state of civil conflict, almost all of its territory is controlled by either the government or the Taliban, both hostile to ISIL.” [Barnett Rubin, Al Jazeera]
  • Commentary: A 36-Year Wait for Justice? Dutch Arrest Suspected Afghan War Criminal – “Sadeq Alamyar has been accused of involvement in one of the worst atrocities of the Afghan war: the killing of hundreds of men and boys in the village of Kerala in Kunar province by an elite unit, on the night of 19-20 April 1979.” [Kate Clark, AAN]
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