Note: The news returns to regular daily updates from today, with a full summary of major news during the October 22 – November 8 period following bellow. Apologies for the interruption in service, and resulting length of this brief. Thanks for reading – and for those readers eligible to participate in today’s U.S. presidential elections, please remember to exercise your right to do so and vote!
- Imran Khan cut short the PTI’s “shutdown” sit-in in Islamabad after the Supreme Court took up petitions seeking Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification from office in connection to the Panama Papers leaks, claiming that the court’s beginning of hearings regarding the creation of an inquiry commission amounted to victory for his accountability movement. Those hearings are ongoing; other accounts suggest that PTI factionalism and the government’s arrest of activists and blocking of roads into the city led the PTI to call off the protest for lack of supporters.
- At least two U.S. Special Operations soldiers, between three or four Afghan commandos, and as many as 36 Afghan civilians are reported to have been killed in a firefight and airstrike during a clash outside Kunduz city on the night of Nov 2-3. U.S. officials acknowledged the possibility of civilian casualties and say they are investigating; Afghan security officials blamed the Taliban for using their family members as “human shields”.
- An attack on a Quetta police training college on Oct 24 left at least 61 people dead and more than a hundred injured; officials blamed the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, although the Islamic State also claimed responsibility; a spokesman for the LeJ faction suggested the groups coordinated in the attack.
- A Taliban delegation visited Pakistan to discuss recent talks between the group’s Qatar office and the Afghan government, as well as to protest the arrest of a number of senior Taliban officials by Pakistan; the AP reported that Pakistan had warned the Taliban that they would be expelled from the country if Pakistan was not consulted on any future talks. Former Qatar office chief Tayyab Agha released a letter and gave an interview to the NYT in which he called on the group to reduce violence, split off from Pakistan, and for Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada to drop the title of “Amir ul Momineen”.
- India and Pakistan continued regular exchanges of fire across the Line of Control in Kashmir, leaving at least 15 people dead and 36 injured. India and Pakistan both expelled a number of diplomats accused of spying.
- Vice President Dostum accused Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah of nepotism and ethnic chauvinism in a press conference on Oct 24, and denounced the leadership of Afghanistan’s security agencies. A spokesman for Abdullah also raised concerns about unresolved disputes over the implementation of the national unity government agreement.
- The U.S. has conducted more than 700 airstrikes in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to 500 in all of 2015. Pentagon officials believe that a strike in Kunar province killed Farooq Al-Qahtani, believed to be one of the seniormost remaining Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.
- Taliban fighters cut off the highway connecting Kabul to the Maidan Wardak provincial capital. In Uruzgan, the provincial governor accused multiple army and police units of surrendering their posts to the Taliban. A group of as many as 26 Kuchi nomads were killed after being kidnapped near the Ghor provincial capital; local officials attributed the attack to an Islamic State-affiliated group.
- On Nov 6 Karachi police arrested several Sunni and Shia political and religious leaders, including a former PPP senator, in a crackdown following a recent spate of sectarian killings.
- As many as 1.5 million Afghan refugees are projected to return to the country by the end of the year, including roughly 600,000 from Pakistan. UN officials say they have received less than a third of the $150 million in funding needed to support the repatriation process.
- IMF Director Christine Lagarde visited Pakistan, praising its completion of a three-year Extended Fund Facility loan agreement. The Federal Board of Revenue missed tax collection targets for the first quarter of the fiscal year, and the government also missed its fiscal deficit target despite cutbacks in development spending.
Pakistan – Security
- Over Sixty Killed in Attack on Quetta Police College: A team of three gunmen wearing suicide vests attacked the New Sariab Police Training College outside Quetta on the night of Oct 24, killing at least 61 people and wounding at least 117; most of the victims were police cadets. The head of the Balochistan Frontier Corps identified the attackers as members of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami splinter faction; the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency issued a separate claim of responsibility. A faction identifying itself as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Karachi also claimed responsibility, although the main TTP’s spokesman said he had no information about the attack. A spokesman for the LeJ Al-Alami told the WSJ that “the people were from Daesh, but we used them” in carrying out the attack, indicating that the two groups had collaborated in the attack. Prime Minister Sharif, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, and other top military and civilian security officials traveled to Quetta on Oct 25 to assess the attack and offer condolences to the families of the victims. Imran Khan blamed the federal government for failing to prevent the attack, and India for sponsoring it. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters that the attack had been “planned outside of the country”. On Oct 26, the Balochistan provincial apex committee appointed a commission to investigate the attack. On Nov 6, Dawn reported that an unidentified man, described as a “mastermind” of the attack, had been detained during search operations near the Quetta airport, but security sources provided no further information. The Frontier Corps also reportedly arrested four Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operatives in the Mastung and Mach districts. [NYT] [NYT] [WSJ] [Guardian] [AJE] [AFP] [AP] [AP] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- Firing Continues Across Line of Control: Frequent incidents of cross-border exchanges of fire between Indian and Pakistani border security forces continued throughout the past two weeks, with both sides blaming the other for the incidents. Pakistani official statements indicate at least 15 people were killed and 36 injured during the period from Oct 22 through Nov 8. Indian officials reported the death of seven civilians on Nov 1, the biggest single casualty incident reported during this period. On Oct 22, Pakistan’s military spokesmen denied reports that Indian forces had killed as many as seven Pakistani soldiers in firing earlier that day, but a police constable was among those killed in an exchange on Nov 7. UN military observers visited the Line of Control near Kotli on Nov 2, and Pakistan made formal diplomatic protests on Oct 25, Nov 1, and Nov 8. During meetings with visiting UK National Security Advisor Mark Lyall Grant, Prime Minister Sharif and other officials appealed for international diplomatic pressure on India over its crackdown in Kashmir. [NYT] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- Sunni and Shia Leaders Arrested in Karachi: On Nov 6, the Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of Taj Hanafi, the secretary general of the Sunni sectarian group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and Mirza Yusuf Hussain, the chief of the All Pakistan Shia Action Committee. Hanafi had registered to contest the NA-298 by-elections scheduled to take place Nov 24. Former PPP senator Faisal Rizvi Abidi was also arrested on Nov 4; the ASWJ accused him of “receiving directives from Iran for a massive bloodshed in Karachi”. Police officials tell Dawn that Abidi was arrested in connection to the murder a day prior to two Tableeghi Jamaat activists. Shia groups protested against Hussain’s arrest on Nov 7, calling for his release; on Nov 7, he was remanded to prison on charges of incitement to violence in May. The arrests follow the murder of two Shia community members, and the shooting deaths of at least six ASWJ members on Nov 4. An ASWJ rally in Islamabad originally planned for Oct 28 did not take place after city officials reversed earlier permissions. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- Balochistan Conflict: Speaking on Oct 21, Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri said that he was open to talks with Baloch separatist leaders who “recognize Pakistan and its constitution” but that “the continuing RAW-funded bloodshed in the province is not tolerable”. In a ceremony on Oct 23, a group of Baloch Republican Army fighters laid down arms, accusing leader Brahamdagh Bugti of “misleading them”. Two Pakistani Coast Guard personnel were killed in an attack on Oct 23 in a drive-by shooting at a marketplace in the Gwadar district; no claim of responsibility was reported. On Oct 24, two Pakistan Customs officials were killed in a shooting in the Mastung district. On Nov 4, Frontier Corps officials said that they had discovered and defused a bomb on the Rawalpindi-Quetta train line. Lawyers boycotted court proceedings in Quetta on Oct 24 to protest delays in investigating the attack on the Quetta Civil Hospital in August; earlier, the head of the judicial commission investigating that attack accused health department officials of failing to provide records for the inquiry. [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
- Counterterrorism Response: On Oct 22, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with representatives of the Difa-i-Pakistan Council, led by Maualan Sami-ul-Haq and including Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat chief Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi and Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan leader Anas Noorani. Chaudhry Nisar was quoted saying that individuals on the ‘Fourth Schedule’ of terrorism suspects could not be denied their rights to national ID cards. On Oct 24, Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali told the Express Tribune that the government was planning to introduce a new barcode system over the next three years that would help track travel, banking accounts, and licenses. On Oct 25, the Sindh provincial government ordered the registration of all immigrants in Karachi, and a meeting of the Sindh provincial apex committee on Nov 3 ordered the monitoring of seminary students who had traveled abroad to Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria. On Nov 5, the National Counter Terrorism Authority formally sought bans on the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Jhangiv Al Alami splinter factions. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
- FATA Operations: An Army major was killed and six soldiers were wounded in a bombing during a search operation in the Wana marketplace in South Waziristan on Nov 1; on Nov 2, security forces conducted further search operations in the area, seizing weapons, and on Nov 4 they destroyed a market building under collective punishment laws. On Nov 7, a soldier was killed and two were injured in a landmine blast in the Tirah Valley area of the Khyber Agency. [Dawn]
- Military Courts: On Nov 7, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif approved death sentences for nine men convicted by military courts, all described as members of either the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or Lashkar-e-Islam. [ET]
Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy
- PTI Cuts Short Protest as Supreme Court Takes Up Panama Papers Inquiry: Speaking on Oct 23, Imran Khan said that Prime Minister Sharif would be to blame if a “third force” intervened in response to his protests, and accused him of “defaming the army” and “seeking support from the Indo-Israeli lobby to safeguard himself and his corruption.” PML-N leaders accused Imran of seeking to “spread anarchy and terror” in the capital, and former PTI leader Javed Hashmi said that the PTI “takes dictation from foreign powers” and that its sole goal was the “ouster of the prime minister through constitutional means”. The PML-Q agreed to join the PTI’s protest after a meeting on Oct 23, and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek signed on the following day. Tahir ul Qadri himself did not take part in the rally, however. A spokesman for the Lal Masjid also indicate that it was considering support for the protest, and the Sunni Ittehad Council announced it would take part. The PTI launched an online fundraiser for the protest on Oct 22, seeking to raise Rs 500 million to support the effort. On Oct 24, PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan said that his party would join the PTI protests if the government arrested activists, but Sindh PPP president Nisar Ahmed Khuhro said on Oct 26 that the party would not support any unconstitutional actions. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, PML-N legislators prepared a no-confidence challenge against Chief Minister and PTI leader Pervaiz Khattak. Heavy security was deployed in Islamabad, with city police officials seeking to requisition an additional 15-25,000 law enforcement officers, including from the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial police, and confiscating as many as 4,000 shipping containers to block roads. Roads from Khyber Paktunkhwa to Islamabad were blocked beginning on Oct 30, with police firing tear gas to block a group led by Khattak; police withdrew overnight, allowing the PTI activists to dismantle roadblocks. Entry into the city from the southern Grand Trunk Road was also blocked. As many as 1,800 PTI activists were reportedly arrested over the night of Oct 31; those arrested included three PTI provincial assembly members and one PML-Q provincial assembly member. PTI leaders Arif Alvi, Imran Ismail, and Andleeb Abbas were briefly detained by police on Nov 1. Two PTI activists were reported to have been killed in a clash with police, but leaders later revised this, dropping that claim. The Islamabad High Court ordered the PTI to restrict its rallies to a designated area in a ruling on Nov 1. The Supreme Court began hearings on Nov 1 into five separate petitions seeking the disqualification of Prime Minister Sharif from office in connection to the Panama Papers leaks, directing the government and opposition to present their proposed terms of reference for an investigation commission by the next hearings, which were scheduled for Nov 3. Following the court hearing, Imran Khan reversed course, announcing that he was shifting the PTI’s planned demonstration the following day to a “thanksgiving rally”, claiming that he had successfully held Sharif accountable and describing the court’s action as a “landmark decision”. The PAT and PML-Q said they were not consulted on the move; PTI Punjab opposition leader Mahmoodur Rehman said later that “the small parties cannot dictate us”. The government withdrew roadblocks in response to Imran’s shift, allowing the rally to go ahead; although most PTI activists were subsequently released, at least 150 were reportedly still being held by Lahore police as of Nov 3. PTI sources attribute the decision to the party’s inability to muster sufficient supporters from Punjab to carry through on Imran’s pledge to shut down the city. Khan defended the decision ahead of Supreme Court hearings on Nov 3. At those hearings, the bench gave provisional approval for the creation of an inquiry commission, to be headed by a single judge, but did not finalize terms of reference. Officials from the Federal Board of Revenue, Federal Investigation Agency, and National Accountability Bureau testified on limited investigations to date; lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif submitted a statement that he did not hold overseas properties, but his children did not file responses as initially directed by the court. They gave responses at hearings on Nov 7, maintaining that their father had no connection to their business activities overseas; the next hearings have been set for Nov 15. The government is sticking to its position that investigations into the Panama Papers should be “generic”, rather than targeting the prime minister and his family specifically, as sought by the PTI. Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali indicated during hearings on Nov 7 that the prime minister would be a “test case” for an inquiry commission but “this does not mean that others will get off scot-free; rather, each case will be taken one-by-one on its turn”. Speaking on Nov 4, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that his party would seek to block any judicial commission that did not accept the joint opposition terms of reference; PPP senate opposition leader Aitzaz Ahsan argued on Nov 7 that the Supreme Court should forgo a commission and decide the issue directly itself. The Election Commission suspended hearings on parallel petitions seeking Sharif’s disqualification, deferring to the Supreme Court; it has scheduled hearings of petitions seeking Imran and PTI leader Jahangir Tareen’s disqualification for Nov 16. [NYT] [NYT] [WSJ] [Reuters] [Reuters] [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
- India and Pakistan Expel Diplomats Accused of Spying: On Oct 27, Indian officials expelled a Pakistani diplomat working in the New Delhi embassy visa section, Mahmood Akhtar, on spying charges; he alleges that he was tortured. Pakistan subsequently withdrew six diplomats from New Delhi on Nov 2. On Nov 3, Pakistan’s foreign ministry accused eight Indian diplomats of operating undercover on behalf of India’s RAW and Intelligence Bureau intelligence agencies, charging them with “coordinating terrorist and subversive activities in Pakistan under the garb of diplomatic assignments” and supporting attacks by the TTP and Baloch separatist groups. India’s commercial counselor, Rajesh Kumar Agnihotir, was named as the RAW station chief. India’s foreign ministry protested the move, saying it was “a crude attempt to target these officials for no fault of their own”; three of the named Indian diplomats departed for India on Nov 8. On Nov 4, the Express Tribune reported that the two countries might recall their respective high commissioners or otherwise “scale down” their diplomatic missions in the wake of the exchange. Prior to the most recent flare-up Pakistan diplomatic officials had said they would attend a regional ‘Heart of Asia’ conference on Afghanistan, to be held in Amritsar during the first week of December. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
- Investigation into Article on Civil-Military Tensions: On Oct 31, Prime Minister Sharif appointed Maryam Aurganzeb as Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, following the resignation on Oct 29 of Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid in connection to a mid-October Dawn article that reported disputes between civilian and military leaders over a crackdown on militant groups targeting Pakistan’s neighbors. A statement from the prime minister’s office in connection to Rashid’s resignation said that “evidence available so far points to a lapse on part of the information minister, who has been directed to step down from the office to enable holding of an independent and detailed inquiry.” The government reportedly appointed retired judge Amir Raza Khan to head an inquiry commission into the leak on Nov 7. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
- Karachi Leaders Receive Bail: On Nov 2, a bench of the Sindh High Court approved bail applications for several top Karachi leaders, including PPP aide Asim Hussain, Pakistan Sarzameen Party leader Anis Qaimkhani, and MQM leader Rauf Siddiqui, in a case in which Hussain is accused of sheltering MQM militants at his hospital. Qaimkhani and Siddiqui have been held for the past three and a half months, and Hussain since August 2015. Indictments were issued in an anti-terrorism court on Nov 5, paving the way for a trial to begin; all defendants pled not guilty. Karachi mayor Waseem Akthar was granted bail in a separate case on Nov 5, and may be freed after another anti-terrorism court hearing on Nov 16; his bail applications are still pending in two of the 39 cases against him. Separately, three leaders of the MQM affiliated with the party’s London-based faction were arrested on Oct 23, prior to their holding of a press conference outside the Karachi Press Club. Three party offices were also demolished in Hyderabad; on Oct 31, the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation’s staff union switched its loyalty to back the PPP. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- Elections and Other Political Activity: On Nov 4, the Supreme Court rejected a federal government review petition of its August ruling holding that the prime minister can only make financial decisions or issue ordinances following consultation with the full federal cabinet. Speaking to supporters on Oct 24, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq threatened to quit the PTI-led coalition government in Khyber Paktunkwha if the government did not appoint theology teachers in government schools and embrace Urdu as an official language. Following the completion of notional intra-party elections, the Election Commission cleared the PML-N and PML-Q to contest future general elections. As of Nov 6, political party representatives have made no formal responses to the draft Election Commission code of conduct for the next general elections, although PML-N and PTI representatives are both reported to object to the ban on the use of vehicles to bring voters to polling stations and on public rallies. Officials in Azad Jammu and Kashmir say that local elections will be held “between December and May 2017”. An ECP delegation headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Muhammad Raza will visit and observe U.S. elections this week. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
Pakistan – Economics and Development
- IMF Director Visits Pakistan: IMF managing director Christine Lagarde visited Pakistan on Oct 24, meeting with Prime Minister Sharif and Finance Minister Dar and praising the completion of a three-year Extended Fund Facility Agreement and the achievement of a “better and solid economic position”. Speaking at a public panel the following day, Lagarde highlighted continuing concerns over the need to expand the tax net, and increase women’s participation in the economy. Responding to an audience question, she also said that “corruption harms the economy and hampers foreign direct investment. Whether real or perceived, it has to be attacked and addressed.” Asian Development Bank president Takehiko Nakao also visited Pakistan on Oct 25. On Oct 31, Standard and Poor’s upgraded its rating of Pakistan’s long-term credit rating from B-Negative to B-rated. The fiscal deficit for the first quarter of the fiscal year hit 1.35% of GDP, despite cutbacks on development spending, exceeding targets by 0.4% of GDP; the Federal Board of Revenue missed its quarterly collection targets by Rs 82 billion. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
- CPEC Projects: Despite some opposition from other parties and criticism by federal Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Khyber Paktunkhwa Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser filed a Peshawar High Court petition on Nov 7 seeking to “clarify the status” of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor route through the country’s western provinces. At a meeting of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council on the same day, however, Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government representatives withdrew objections to a revised western route for the CPEC project and a Rs 12 billion land acquisition plan. The Express Tribune reports that China has offered to finance up to 85% of the costs of constructing Pakistan’s portion of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, on the condition that a Chinese firm carry out the work. Talks were reportedly due to be held by the end of October on the pricing for liquefied natural gas to be imported through a Chinese-built port facility at Gwadar, although no outcome has been reported. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
- Privatization Plans: China’s Baosteel Group has reportedly expressed interest in acquiring a stake in Pakistan Steel Mills, Dawn reports. The Shanghai Electric Power Company has reportedly reached an agreement for the purchase of Dubai’s Abraaj Group’s stake in the K-Electric power company, at a price of $1.77 billion; on Nov 4, Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali suggested that the government would “renegotiate the terms and conditions” of the handover “in the greater interest of consumers and Karachi”. Pakistan International Airlines’ losses during the current PML-N government’s tenure now amount to Rs 103 billion; the Privatization Commission is considering plans to split the company, with the government assuming all outstanding liabilities.
- Polio Crisis: On Oct 23, the Ministry of National Health Services announced that recorded polio cases had declined by 62% from the previous year, and that the number of children missed by vaccination campaigns was reduced from 1.5% to 1%. A police officer was killed and a bomb disposal technician injured when two bombs exploded, apparently targeting a vaccination team in Peshawar, on Oct 25; on Oct 26, a vaccinator was killed by gunmen in the Khyber Agency. On Nov 1, officials said that the gunman in the latter attack, identified as a TTP militant, had been killed. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- Regional Trade: Trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan has dropped from $2.5 billion in 2010 to $1.8 billion, former Afghan deputy trade minister Muzamil Shinwari told the Express Tribune in an interview. An Iranian delegation has proposed that negotiations begin on a free trade agreement within the next month, Ministry of Commerce officials told the Express Tribune on Nov 6.
Pakistan – Remainders
- At Least 26 Killed in Gadani Shipyard Explosion [AFP] [AP] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
- National Accountability Bureau Barred from Making Plea Deals [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
- President Hussain Visits Qatar, Seeks Increase in Pakistani Worker Visa Quota [APP]
- Supreme Court Judge Resigns Over Alleged Illegal Appointments [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
- Rashid Rizvi Elected Supreme Court Bar Association President [ET]
- Suspect in Perween Rehman Murder Indicted; Arrests in Amjad Sabri Murder [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
- New Banners in Rawalpindi Call on Army Chief to Seek Parliamentary Election [Dawn] [ET]
- National Geographic’s ‘Afghan Girl’ Arrested, Faces Deportation [Reuters] [AP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
- National Finance Commission Award Remains Under Negotiation [ET]
- Pakistan Ratifies Paris Climate Agreement, Seeks $46B to Cut Emissions [ET]
- Khyber Paktunkhwa Faces Financial Crunch [ET]
- Defense Ministry Seeks to Block New Pakistan State Oil Storage Facility Construction [ET]
- No Petroleum or Gas Price Hikes in November [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
- Karachi Metropolitan Corporation Seals Sui Southern Gas Building Over Municipal Dues [ET]
- Renault to Manufacture Cars in Pakistan [Dawn] [ET]
- Rs 175 Billion Textile Industry Bailout Planned [ET]
Afghanistan – Security
- Kunduz Clash Leaves Afghans and US Special Forces Dead: A clash between US Special Forces, Afghan forces, and the Taliban in the Kunduz village of Bouz Kandahari over the night of Nov 2-3 left at least two U.S. soldiers, three Afghan commandos, and as many as thirty Afghans dead, provincial security officials reported. Two American soldiers were also wounded in the incident, and as many as 46 Afghans. Kunduz provincial governor Asadullah Omarkhel said that those killed were civilians, many women and children, who were killed in an errant airstrike that was apparently called in after the joint operation came under Taliban fire; Omarkhel and a spokesman for the ministry of defense initially said that the airstrike had been carried out by the Afghan Air Force rather than U.S. forces. The U.S. casualties appear to have taken place during an exchange of fire with insurgents, prior to the airstrikes being called in for support; the target of the operation is reported to have been a senior Taliban commander. Family members of the victims demonstrated in Kunduz city following the incident; funeral services were held on Nov 4. NATO military officials said they were investigating the incident, and on Nov 5 acknowledged that a U.S. airstrike had “likely resulted in civilian casualties”; Gen. Nicholson issued a statement of regret. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said on Nov 6 that it was also investigating the incident. NYT reports apparently confirmed the continued presence of Taliban fighters in the area, although locals insisted no Taliban were present. A statement from Pres. Ghani expressed shock at the casualties; both he and Chief Executive Abdullah laid blame on the Taliban for using human shields. Former Pres. Karzai denounced the casualties in comments to the Post. [Guardian] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]
- Al Qaeda Leaders Killed: On Oct 26, Pentagon officials said that strikes in Kunar province on Oct 23 had killed Farouq Al-Qahtani and Bilal al-Utabi, the former identified as an Al Qaeda operative in charge of the group’s activities in northeastern Afghanistan, and potentially the seniormost Al Qaeda operative remaining in the country. [Reuters] [TOLO]
- U.S. Airstrikes Increase: Reuters and the LAT note that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan has carried out roughly 700 airstrikes in Afghanistan as of Oct 26, compared to around 500 in total in 2015, under newly broadened authorities approved by Pres. Obama that have allowed more proactive targeting of Islamic State and Taliban targets.
- Journalist Killed: Nematullah Zaheer, a television journalist working for Ariana News, was killed in a roadside bombing in Helmand’s provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Nov 4, making him the eleventh journalist to be killed in Afghanistan so far this year. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah condemned his death. [AP] [TOLO]
- Aid Worker Kidnapped: An Australian-Afghan woman working for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief was reportedly kidnapped in Kabul on the night of Nov 5; Australian officials confirmed the kidnapping but provided no details. Kabul police chief Abdual Rahman Rahimi said the following day that officials had made “a lot of progress” on the case and vowed to recover her from her kidnappers. [Reuters] [TOLO]
- Central Theater Attacks and Operations: On Oct 26, Taliban fighters are reported to have cut the highway linking Kabul and the Wardak provincial capital of Maidan Shahr. A group of Afghan National Army soldiers reportedly surrendered their base in Uruzgan’s Chora district to the Taliban on Oct 29, the third post in the province to surrender to the Taliban in the past week. The provincial governor reported at least 20 posts abandoned in the month of September. A spokesman for the ministry of defense denied that any troops had surrendered their post willingly; on Nov 1, the ministry announced new operations in the province. On Oct 26, a group of at least 26 Afghan civilians, reported to be members of the Kuchi nomadic community, were killed after being taken captive the day prior near the Ghor provincial capital of Ferozkoh. A spokesman for the provincial governor blamed a local Taliban group who he said had aligned itself with the Islamic State; the Taliban denied responsibility. Pres. Ghani visited Ghor on Nov 4 to assess the security situation. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [AP] [Khaama Press]
- Eastern Theater Attacks and Operations: A suicide bomber struck a tribal gathering in the Pachir Aw Agam district of Nangarhar province on Oct 22, killing at least four civilians; the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. A drone strike in Pachir Aw Agam on Oct 25 reported killed ten Daesh-affiliated fighters; an Oct 31, the Interior Ministry said operations in the district had freed at least 19 people held captive by the Islamic State. Interior Ministry officials say they arrested an ISIS commander in the Deh Bala district of Nangarhar on Nov 1. On Oct 25, Taliban fighters reportedly attacked a checkpost at the Torkham border crossing, killing eight border police. On Nov 5, the district governor of the Bati Kot district in Nangarhar was injured when a bomb was planted on his vehicle. Officials in Kunar province say they repelled a Taliban attack in the Dangam district on Nov 2; the same day in Paktika, the Ministry of Interior claimed to have killed a Taliban deputy shadow governor for the province and a Haqqani network commander. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
- Northern Theater Attacks and Operations: On Oct 23, Afghan security forces claim to have disrupted a planned Taliban attack on Vice President Dostum while he was visiting Faryab province. Military operations were carried out in the Khawaja Sabzposh district of Faryab province on Nov 1, reportedly killing as many as 21 insurgents. Twelve people were killed in a rocket attack on a wedding ceremony in the district on Nov 3; other accounts describe the casualties as coming from a roadside bombing. On Nov 1, seven civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in Parwan province’s Sayedkhil district. A bombing in the Kolkadash district of Jawzjan province on Oct 22 killed three civilians. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy
- Taliban Hold Talks with Pakistan; Tayyab Agha Speaks Out: A delegation from the Taliban’s Qatar office visited Pakistan over the weekend of Oct 22, reportedly to brief Pakistani officials on the outcome of talks with Afghan government and U.S. representatives held earlier in the month in Qatar; a spokesman for the Taliban confirmed the meetings but said they were centered on protesting the arrest by Pakistan of several senior Taliban leaders, not peace talks. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz told reporters he was “not aware” of any talks, but earlier told an Afghan track II dialogue delegation that Pakistan had “no favorites” in Afghanistan. Chief Executive Abdullah dismissed the significance of the visit as “not news”, telling a reporter that “most of the Taliban’s leaders are based in Pakistan”. The AP, citing Taliban sources, reported that Pakistan had given the Taliban delegation an ultimatum that all Taliban leaders would be expelled from the country if they consulted with Islamabad on any talks initiatives. In a letter first reported by RFE/RL, former Qatar office chief Tayyab Agha had written a letter to Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada, calling on the group to reduce violence, shut out foreign fighters, and cut ties to Pakistan; he also calls on Akhunzada to drop the title of Amir-ul-Momineen. Agha subsequently gave his first interview to the NYT, saying that it would not be necessary for U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan as a precondition for peace talks. [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
- Dostum Renews Complaints of Marginalization: In remarks at a press conference on Oct 24, Vice President Dostum again accused Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah of marginalizing him within the government, accusing them of favoring their respective ethnic groups, suggesting that he would “gather my people” in the future. Dostum also criticized Afghan security forces leaders as incompetent and as having been appointed through nepotism rather than fighting effectiveness, and denounced Ghani’s national security advisor and chief of intelligence service. A spokesman for the presidency criticized Dostum’s remarks and indirectly suggested that he might face investigation for past war crimes allegations. On Nov 6, a spokesman for Pres. Ghani suggested that the dispute had been resolved, but a spokesman for Dostum said that the two had only spoken by phone and that Dostum’s complaints still stand. Separately, a spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said on Nov 6 that “a number of issues still need to be discussed” regarding his disputes with the president over the implementation of the national unity government agreement. Foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani told a gathering on Nov 4 that “the current political system is deadlocked”. Separately, on Nov 2, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor denied reports in the local press that he had agreed to be removed from office by Pres. Ghani. [Reuters] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
- Refugee Repatriation: Afghan officials project that they will accept the repatriation of as many as 1.5 million Afghan returnees by the end of the year, making the country itself the largest recipient of Afghan migrants, driven in part by the rejection of asylum claims in Europe and in larger part by Pakistan’s move to expel registered and unregistered refugees who have lived there in some cases for decades. Roughly half a million refugees have returned from Pakistan so far this year, a number that is expected to rise by another 100,000 before the end of November. Internally, more than 600,000 people have been displaced within Afghanistan. UN officials say they have received only $48 million out of the $150 million they have sought to facilitate the repatriation. [WAPO] [ET] [TOLO] [TOLO]
- Electoral Reforms: On Nov 2, a spokesman for the election selection committee said that the group would submit a list of nominees for new appointees to the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission to the president for consideration within a week. A spokesman for the president suggested earlier that security considerations would determine the timeline for parliamentary and district council elections, but that the government hopes to hold those elections within the coming year. [TOLO] [TOLO]
- Minister of Information Resigns: On Nov 7, Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Bari Jahani announced his resignation, citing health reasons. [TOLO]
Afghanistan – Economics and Development
- Opium Production Increases: The UN’s annual opium survey, released Oct 23, found that cultivation has risen to the third-highest level in the past twenty years, with the area of land under cultivation rising 10% over the past year to around 497,000 acres, and yields estimated to have increased by as much as 43% percent, to around 4,800 metric tons. [TOLO] [TOLO] [UNODC Report]
- Budget Execution: In senate hearings on Oct 23, Finance Minister Eklil Hakimi reported that only 35% of the government’s development budget had been spent, with two months remaining in the fiscal year.
Afghanistan – Remainders
- UN Estimates Up to 45,000 Opposition Fighters in Afghanistan [AP]
- Ghani Meets with Security Officials, Raises Concern Over Logistics [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
- Abdullah Attends Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
- One Wounded in Kabul Bombing [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
- Taliban Release Rare Drone Footage of Attack on Helmand Base [Reuters] [NYT]
- China to Deliver Military Transport Planes [Khaama Press]
- Women in Afghan Army Overcome Opposition and Threats [Reuters]
- Attorney General Pledges to Begin Hearings at New Anti-Corruption Center Soon [TOLO] [TOLO]
- Afghanistan and Uzbekistan Agree Expand Trade [TOLO]
- Herat Governor Calls for More Devolution of Authority to Provinces [TOLO]
- Two New Polio Cases Reported in Paktika [TOLO]
- Only 15% of Government Employees Are Women, Survey Indicates [TOLO]
- $76M ADB-EU Water Management Grant Accord Signed [TOLO]
- Report: Quarterly SIGAR Report to Congress [SIGAR (pdf)]
- Report: Kafka in Cuba: The Afghan Experience in Guantanamo: “Arbitrary detentions helped re-kindle a war which Afghans thought was finally over and one which they, and the US, are still now embroiled in.” [Kate Clark, AAN]
- Report: Time to Move On: Developing an Informed Development Response to Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan – “After almost 15 years since the fall of the Taliban, the policy discussion on counternarcotics remains uncertain of which way to proceed. In large part, this is because policy discussion is shaped by a superficial or misguided understanding of opium poppy and its role in rural livelihoods.” [AREU]