Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM and PML-N Incumbents Win Most Local Election Seats; Taliban Release Akhtar Mansour Audio

Topline

  • The final phase of local elections in Sindh and Punjab was held on Saturday; unofficial results suggest that the MQM secured a majority of seats in Karachi, securing its hold over the city, and that the PML-N won at least a plurality of seats across twelve Punjab districts. A large number of independent candidates also won election in Punjab. The day of the election, the Federal Investigation Agency filed a criminal case in connection to the 2010 murder of Imran Farooq, naming MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain as one of the suspects alongside three men previously arrested by Pakistani authorities, who were interrogated earlier this summer by British investigators conducting their own parallel inquiry. The policing mandate for the paramilitary Sindh Rangers expired without extension on Sunday; Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif are in Karachi today for meetings with the Sindh provincial government to push for the mandate’s extension. The Taliban released audio on Saturday of a man identified as Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who denied recent reports that he had been injured or killed in fighting between Taliban commanders at a meeting outside of Quetta last week. Pres. Ghani will attend the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad opening tomorrow, as will Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, officials confirmed separately on Monday. Despite the participation, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan and several top Afghan officials voiced suspicions of Pakistani support for the Taliban insurgency, and Pakistani efforts to broker negotiations with the Taliban. The Indian and Pakistani national security advisors and foreign secretaries held a surprise meeting in Bangkok on Sunday, at which they “agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement”. Pakistani authorities are investigating the background of San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik, who is originally from the Multan area but who appears to have lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia, and who was largely alienated from the rest of her extended family. Pakistani national security advisor Nasir Janjua, who previously served as Quetta Corps Commander, is reportedly pushing for an extension of Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch’s tenure as chief minister through the remainder of his term, rather than ceding the position to the PML-N as originally agreed to by the parties in their coalition government agreement.

Pakistan — Security

  • Indian and Pakistani National Security Advisors Meet: The Indian and Pakistani national security advisors and foreign secretaries held a meeting in Bangkok on Sunday, which was not announced in advance by either side. The meeting comes after a brief exchange between Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif in Paris earlier this month, and ahead of Pakistan’s hosting of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference in Islamabad on Tuesday, which India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is now expected to attend. Previously national security advisor-level talks originally scheduled for August had been cancelled. A joint statement following the Bangkok meeting said that discussions had covered “peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the Line of Control” and that the participants “agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement.” Separately, NDTV reported that an Indian soldier was arrested in Indian Kashmir on Saturday on charges of espionage for Pakistan. On Friday, Pakistan’s defense secretary told the a hearing of the senate defense committee that India had violated border ceasefire agreements as many as 247 times since Prime Minister Modi was elected in May 2014, killing 39 Pakistani civilians and wounding another 150. [Dawn] [AP] [ET]
  • Authorities Investigating Pakistani-Origin San Bernardino Shooter: Pakistani officials are investigating the background of San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik, whose extended family is from Multan but who lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia. Her father is reported to be a cousin to Malik Ahmad Ali Aulakh, a former provincial minister in Punjab, but the NYT suggests that he was alienated from much of the family. Malik attended Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan to study pharmacy starting in 2007, where she is also reported to have attended a local branch of the Al Huda Institute, a network of conservative women-only seminary. The prime minister’s office denied reports that U.S. officials had spoken with Prime Minister Sharif regarding links between Malik and Islamabad Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz. Reuters reports that Pakistani security officials are clamping down on reporting about Malik’s background; Interior Ministry officials denied this was the case, and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan pledged support to U.S. investigaitons, while also stating that “the wrongdoing of an individual Muslim or Pakistani does not mean the entire country or religion is at fault.” [Reuters] [AFP]
  • Supreme Court Suspends Death Sentences: The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal challenging the conviction of two men under the military courts system, who were sentenced to death in April and proceeded to appeal the case up through the Peshawar High Court. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Third Phase of Local Elections Held in Sindh and Punjab: Polling was held for the third and final phase of local government elections in Sindh and Punjab on Saturday, covering six Karachi districts and 12 districts in Punjab, including Rawalpindi and Multan. The deployment of security personnel for the polls was heavy, particularly in Karachi; the MQM alleged that at least 50 of its polling volunteers injured in clashes at various polling stations in Karachi, and some clashes between rival PTI and PML-N activists were reported in the Narowal district. In Rawalpindi, the nephew of a former PML-Q provincial law minister, who was supporting a cousin campaigning as an independent, was killed in a clash with PML-N supporters; the father of PML-N candidate Asad Mahmood was arrested in connection with the incident on Sunday. Despite the incidents of violence and other reports of irregularities or interference, Chief Election Commission Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan concluded in a press conference following the close of polls that the exercise had been “better than any previous elections”. Roughly 7 million voters were registered to participate in the Karachi, the country’s most populous city, and 2.3 million in the Rawalpindi district. Dawn reports unofficial turnout figures of under 40% in Karachi, but no overall turnout figures have been reported. Unofficial results on Sunday suggest that the MQM secured a majority of union committee chairmen seats, guaranteeing the party control to elect the mayor of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation; of the 209 union committees, Dawn reports the MQM to have won at least 135 and the Express Tribune quotes party leaders who claim to have won 142 seats. The MQM celebrated with rallies across the city on Sunday. The Karachi chapter leaders of the PPP, PTI, and Jamaat-e-Islami all lost their elections to MQM rivals; on Monday, PTI Sindh organizer Arif Alvi and Karachi president Ali Zaidi announced their resignations from their party offices following the losses, although those resignations have yet to be accepted. In Punjab, the PML-N is also reported to have compounded its gains following the earlier phases of local elections, although the PTI’s Punjab organizer Chaudhry Sarwar touted what he said was an increase in PTI votes in most districts. Dawn reports unofficial results suggesting the PML-N may have won 1,042 out of 2,507 seats across the province, independent candidates 1,033 seats, and the PTI 250; the Express Tribune reports some district-by-district results. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Case Registered Against Altaf Hussain Over Imran Farooq Murder: On Saturday, the Federal Investigation Agency registered a formal case against MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain on charges of “conspiracy, assistance, abettment and ultimately assassination/murder” of former MQM leader Imran Farooq in London in 2010. Pakistan has arrested at least three suspects in connection to the incident, and provided UK investigators access to them in July 2015 as part of a parallel Scotland Yard investigation into Farooq’s murder, which has not formally charged Hussain; speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had signaled the government’s intention to file its own case into the Farooq murder, after British authorities apparently declined to seek the suspects’ extradition. The MQM denounced the FIA case, saying it was an “attempt to malign the MQM”, coming the same day as local government elections were held in Karachi, the party’s traditional stronghold. The Express Tribune reports that Hussain was added to the charge-sheet “at the eleventh hour”, without elaborating. Chaudhry Nisar appointed a new joint investigation team to investigate the case on Sunday; the three suspects, Moazzam Ali Khan, Khalid Shamim, and Mohsin Ali, were transferred to FIA custody on Monday. Separately, an MQM activist died in police custody on Friday, after he had been transferred to a local hospital for treatment; no post-mortem autopsy was conducted. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Operations: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif arrived in Karachi on Monday to meet with top Sindh provincial officials for meetings focused on the renewal of the policing powers mandate for the paramilitary Sindh Rangers, which officially expired on Sunday. In a statement, the prime minister avowed that “there will be no compromise on the law and order situation of Karachi” and that paramilitary operations would continue. PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar asserted that the authority to renew that mandate lay with the provincial government, which has clashed with the federal government over corruption investigations against top PPP officials. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Coalition Politics: The Express Tribune reports that national security advisor Lt. Gen. Nasir Janjua, who previously served as Quetta Corps Commander, met with Prime Minister Sharif on Saturday and urged him to retain Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch in his position through the end of his term. The PML-N, Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party, and Baloch’s National Party agreed at the time of their coalition agreement in 2013 that Baloch would serve half of the term and be succeeded by PML-N provincial leader Sardar Sanaullah Khan Zehri.  [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • More Transparency Needed on CPEC, State Bank Says: In remarks on Friday, the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s central bank, said that the government needs to be more transparent about the terms of the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, estimates of the total cost for which range has high as $46 billion; governor Ashraf Mahmood Wathra noted that it was so far unclear “how much is debt, how much is equity and how much is in kind.” The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly passed a resolution on Friday demanding that the government follow its pledge to focus the route through Pakistan’s western provinces. On Sunday, BNP-Mengal leader Akhtar Mengal announced plans to hold a multi-party conference in Islamabad to discuss complaints regarding the CPEC project, protesting what he said was the marginalization of representatives from Gwadar. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Three Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Militant Suspects Killed in Quetta [Dawn] [ET]
  • Wana Jirga Warns “Non-Local Militant Groups” to Leave Area [Dawn]
  • Former Chief Justice Dogar Challenges Reinvestigation in Musharraf Treason Case [Dawn]
  • NAB Accepts Former KPK Chief Minister’s Assistant’s Plea Bargain [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Pledges Local Elections [ET]
  • Interior Minister Meets German Ambassador Over Deportations [Dawn]
  • Parliamentary Committee Protests Sidelining in Judicial Appointments [ET]
  • Senate Committee Urges FATA Judicial Reforms [Dawn]
  • Privatization Commission Ready to Push for Sale of Pakistan Steel Mills [ET]
  • $3B Invested in Renewable Energy Over Past Year, AEDB Reports [APP]
  • OGRA Approves Gas Tariff Hike to Account for Losses [Dawn]
  • ADB Criticizes Punjab Civil Service Reform Loan Performance [ET]
  • Government Plans to Introduce New National Water Policy [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Release Mansour Audio Message: On Saturday, the Taliban released what they said was an audio message from movement leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in which he denied reports that he had been injured or killed in a clash amongst Taliban commanders at a Pakistani village outside Quetta last week. Mansour dismissed the reports as propaganda issued on the part of the Afghan government, and insisted that “we don’t have disagreements which would lead us to kill each other. We have some disagreements on policy. I assure people not to be worried about the rumors.” Two anonymous Taliban officials tell the NYT the voice is genuine, although it has not otherwise been verified; the account does mention incidents that took place in Wardak on Friday, confirming that it is current. Sultan Faizi, a spokesman for Vice President Dostum who earlier suggested that Mansour had been killed, said that the government would “do our assessment” on whether the recording was genuine. At least three anonymous Taliban commanders tell the AFP that they still have doubts that the audio message is genuine, citing the movement’s failure to acknowledge Mullah Omar’s death for several years. [AP] [TOLO] [Reuters] [Reuters]
  • Attacks and Operations: As many as 15 civilians and seven police officers were wounded in a suicide car bombing attack near the district government center in Nangarhar’s Surkh Rud district on Monday. Nangarhar officials report killing 22 Daesh-affiliated militants in ongoing operations in the Achin district. NDS officials announced on Monday that they had arrested two Taliban officials involved in funding and supplying operations in Takhar province. [AP] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Pakistan: Speaking at a press conference on Sunday following a two-day visit to Kabul, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson highlighted U.S. support for Pres. Ghani’s “outreach to Pakistan for improvement of relations” and said the U.S. was “also in support of peace and reconciliation within Afghanistan”. On Saturday, Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of top civilian and military advisors to prepare for the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference of Afghanistan’s regional neighbors, which will open in Islamabad on Tuesday. Chief Executive Abdullah confirmed on Monday at a Council of Ministers meeting that Pres. Ghani would attend the conference, and Indian foreign ministry officials confirmed on that foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will lead an Indian delegation. In a Saturday interview with The Hindu, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Amar Sinha, suggested that “India should intervene” in negotiations with the Taliban, as “Pakistan seems to be negotiating with only one faction of Taliban [as well as] giving leadership space to the Haqqani network, which is on the verge of getting international recognition as the de facto Taliban, due to Pakistan’s initiative”. Speaking before the senate on Sunday, Afghan army chief of staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim accused “the enemies of the Afghan people, the spy agency in the region”, of seeking to take over Afghan territory so as to “create a parallel government, talk from a powerful stance and implement their nefarious ends on the Afghan nation,” an effort he said Afghan security forces had effectively repelled over the past year. Speaking at a graduation ceremony for Afghan policewomen on Sunday, Interior Minister Noor-ul Uloomi also charged that “terror groups are still having sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan and are receiving financial support from the sources which were previously funding them.” In a TOLO interview, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Zalmay Khalilzad also laid blame on the Pakistani security services for supporting Afghan insurgent groups. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Dawn]
  • Refugee Exodus: Afghan migrants held a protest in Stockholm on Friday follow remarks by Pres. Ghani in a Deustche Welle interview on Thursday, in which he urged Afghan elites to remain in the country rather than living abroad to “become dishwashers”. A spokesman for Ghani pushed back against criticism, saying that Ghani had also “urged the European countries to deal with the Afghan asylum seekers in accordance with the relevant laws of their countries.” Reuters reports that the exodus is contributing to a brain drain of educated urban youth, forcing remaining firms to struggle to retain talented employees. [TOLO] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Salma Dam Project: Work has been completed on the Indian-sponsored Salma Dam project in Herat and the dam is approximately 40% full, Minister for Water and Energy Ali Ahmad Osmani told reporters on Thursday. Local security officials allege interference by “neighboring countries” seek to disrupt security in the area, citing the discovery of explosive and communications materials as well as the uniforms of two Iranian Revolutionary Guards in an arrest last month.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Russia ‘Carefully’ Considering Afghan Request for Arms [Reuters]
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Official Details Communications Malfunctions that Contributed to Errant Kunduz Strike [Defense One]
  • Ghani Pledges Inquiry Into Attack Near Wardak Mosque [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Civil Society Groups Criticize Government Investigation into Kabul Protests [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Man on the Operating Table – “Baynazar Mohammad Nazar was a husband and a father of four — and a patient killed during the attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz. This is his story.” [Andrew Quilty, Foreign Policy]
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