Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM Splits from London Leadership; U.S. Soldier Killed in Helmand

Note: The news will be on vacation hiatus for the next week, and will return with full coverage of the intervening period and new updates from Wednesday, August 31st, or otherwise as soon as possible after that point. Apologies for the interruption in service, and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • Following Tuesday’s press conference by MQM leader Farooq Sattar in which Sattar stated that “from now onwards, decisions will be made in Pakistan”, party leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain announced that he was handing over decision-making powers to the party’s Coordination Committee and would “focus on improving my health”. Multiple treason cases have been filed against Hussain and other party leaders, and more than a dozen party members remain under arrest in connection to Monday’s attack on an ARY News office in Karachi. Meanwhile, elections are underway in Sindh today for council chairmanships and the mayor of Karachi, a position the MQM’s candidate Waseem Akhtar is expected to win despite his imprisonment on separate terrorism charges. A U.S. soldier was killed in a roadside bombing outside the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Tuesday; one other American and six Afghans were wounded in the bombing, which marks the second American casualty in Afghanistan since January of this year. The Taliban continue to encroach on Lashkar Gah and Kunduz city, although Afghan military officials claim to be pushing both offensives back. Abdullah Abdullah welcomed a cabinet review and approval of a new electoral reform law, which has gone to Pres. Ghani for review and approval; details are limited, but the reforms reportedly include a shift away from multi-member provincial constituencies in favor of single-member constituencies for parliamentary elections. The PTI has stated it will go ahead with an Imran Khan-headlined rally in Jhelum ahead of by-elections taking place there next Wednesday, despite an Election Commission warning that doing so violates the electoral code of conduct. The Chaman border crossing remains closed for the fifth day.

Pakistan – Security

  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited the Kurram Agency and Hangu district on Tuesday, reviewing security measures along the border with Afghanistan; he vowed that the army would “continue its fight against terrorism without any discrimination”. [Dawn]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM in Turmoil: In a statement on Wednesday, MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain announced that he was handing over “powers of reorganization, policy making, and decision making” to the party’s Coordination Committee, saying he would “focus on improving my health in line with the Coordination Committee’s suggestions”. Sindh assembly opposition leader and MQM leader Khwaja Izahrul Hassan tells Dawn that MQM leader Farooq Sattar did not consult with Hussain or other MQM leaders in London prior to Sattar’s Tuesday press conference, in which he had announced that “from now onwards, decisions will be made in Pakistan”. Sattar stopped short of directly criticizing Hussain, but criticized his remarks on Pakistan and the attack on an ARY News office in Karachi. At least three party leaders and 11 activists remain under arrest in connection to that attack. TV host and MQM leader Amir Liaquat Hussain, who appeared alongside Sattar at the press conference, later announced his resignation from the MQM; Sattar told journalists on Wednesday that despite his resignation Liaquat “is still apart of us and will always be”. The MQM’s political rivals continue to heavily criticize the party in the wake of Monday’s attack on the ARY offices and Hussain’s critical remarks on Pakistan; former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal said that the “MQM is about to fall now and whoever tries to save it will be buried under the rubble.” In separate remarks, PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah and PTI leader Imran Khan demurred on the suggestion that the party should be banned outright, however. Multiple treason and terrorism cases have been filed against Hussain and over a dozen MQM party leaders, and access to the party’s website has been blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. UK police confirmed on Tuesday that they had received complaints and were investigating Hussain’s comments. Separately on Tuesday, the Rangers released a report detailing their arrest of 654 accused “target killers” affiliated with the MQM since September 2013, which they linked to nearly 6,000 murders. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Sindh Elections Underway: Indirect elections are being held on Wednesday in Sindh for district council chairmanships and the mayor and deputy mayor of Karachi; despite the turmoil in the MQM and the fact that he remains imprisoned on separate charges, the MQM’s nominee Waseem Akhtar is expected to be elected to the position of Karachi mayor, on the strength of the party’s strength in the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation council. Akhtar’s lawyer tells the Express Tribune that “will open an office in jail and via video link he will conduct council sessions”. [ET]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: On Tuesday, the Election Commission cited its code of conduct and barred Imran Khan from participating in a rally in the NA-63 Jhelum constituency, ahead of by-elections scheduled to take place there on August 31; a PTI spokesman said that the rally would proceed regardless. On Tuesday, the Lahore High Court ordered the Election Commission to issue a new schedule for indirect elections for reserved local government body seats, upholding a PML-Q challenge that new nominations had not been taken after the government changed the electoral law in January. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Prime Minister Reviews FATA Reform Proposals [Dawn] [ET]
  • Former AXACT CEO Acquitted in Money Laundering Case [ET]
  • Islamabad High Court Seeks Response on Missing Persons Issue [ET]
  • ‘Move On Pakistan’ Leader Granted Bail [ET]
  • ADB Approves $810M Loan for Power Transmission Upgrades [ET]
  • Power License Approved for New Coal Plant in Karachi [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • US Soldier Killed in Helmand: In a statement on Tuesday, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan confirmed the death of an American soldier in a roadside bombing in Helmand near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah; one other American and six Afghan soldiers were wounded in the blast. A U.S. military spokesman said that the soldier was not a member of the approximately 100 U.S. soldiers whose deployment to Helmand in an advisory capacity was announced on Monday; identification details have not been released pending notification of family members. The death is the first U.S. casualty in Afghanistan since January. [WAPO] [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, deputy chief of army staff Gen. Murad Ali Murad claimed to have inflicted a “heavy defeat” on Taliban forces around Kunduz, citing apparent phone intercepts of conversations by the Taliban’s top commander in the area. Separately, deputy presidential advisor for tribal affairs Dawoud Gulzar, who heading a team tasked with investigating the fall of the Dahna-e-Ghori district in Baghlan to Taliban control, told reporters on Tuesday that the Taliban had infiltrated the area without apparent resistance from local security forces. The Ministry of Interior reported on Tuesday that they had killed a Taliban commander, identified as the “shadow governor” for Ghor province, in an airstrike in Faryab’s Pashtunkot district on Monday evening. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reform: TOLO quotes Chief Executive Abdullah praising “significant progress” on electoral reforms following the cabinet’s review and approval of a new draft electoral law on Monday evening, which will now go to the president for final review; details are limited but are reported to include a shift from multi-member to single-member constituencies for parliamentary elections.
  • Chaman Border Crossing with Pakistan Remains Closed: A second round of talks between Pakistani and Afghan border security officials at the Chaman border crossing on Tuesday failed to reach an agreement on the reopening of the border. Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, condemned the burning of Pakistani flags by Afghan demonstrators last week, saying “whoever burnt the flag was certainly representing neither the government nor the people of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Attorney General Opens New Anti-Corruption Justice Center [TOLO]
  • Acting Government Officials Remain in Place Despite Pledges to Bring in Full Appointees [TOLO]
  • New Housing Project Inaugurated in Kabul [Khaama Press]
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