The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Pakistani PM scrambles to keep government from collapse

Daily brief: Pakistani PM scrambles to keep government from collapse

Special AfPak Channel Feature: The Hidden War — Stories You Missed in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010 (FP).  As 2010 came to an end, the AfPak Channel asked its contributors to list the "Stories You Missed" in this troubled region — and to explain why these will be the ones making headlines in 2011.

Off balance

The second largest party in the ruling coalition in Pakistan, the MQM, quit the government over the weekend to sit with the opposition alongside its arch-rival the PML-N, leaving the PPP government short of a majority in the National Assembly, with MQM leaders stating concerns about recent increases in the cost of fuel, inflation, and corruption (ET, Geo, Daily Times, Dawn, Guardian, Post, FT, WSJ, AJE, WSJ, NYT, CNN). Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who could face a no-confidence vote, insisted that his government is not going to fall, and today is trying to drum up support from the opposition; the MQM "may seek to extract concessions from the government in exchange for renewed support" (NYT, AP, ET, Reuters). The move comes several days after two MQM ministers resigned from the federal cabinet, abandoning crisis talks with the PPP (AFP, AFP, Post, ET, The News, AFP, Reuters). The MQM is the dominant political force in the southern port city of Karachi. The AP has a cheat sheet to Pakistan’s political parties and the balance of power in parliament (AP).

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari signed the 19th Amendment, which sets out a new system of appointment for superior court judges and aims to eliminate a potential source of conflict between the judiciary and the executive, into law on January 1 (ET, Dawn). Zardari called the legislation a "New Year’s gift of democracy."

Bombings, attacks, strikes, and drones

On Christmas day, a female suicide bomber attacked a crowd of hundreds of people from the Salarzai tribe who were waiting to receive food aid from the U.N.’s World Food Program in the northwest Pakistan tribal agency of Bajaur, killing at least 46 and wounding more than 100 (CNN, AP, Guardian, LAT, Reuters, BBC). The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed the attack, which led the WFP to close its offices in Bajaur pending new security arrangements and investigations; WFP officials said the Bajaur operations, which feed 300,000 people, will resume soon (AP, NYT). The day before, some 150 militants simultaneously attacked five security checkpoints in Mohmand agency, killing 11 paramilitary soldiers (CNN, AFP, Reuters, BBC, NYT). Two dozen militants died in subsequent clashes.

A few days before Christmas, Pakistani military intelligence sources reported that Nasiruddin Haqqani, son of insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, was arrested while driving from Peshawar to North Waziristan (CNN). On December 27, the TTP kidnapped 23 tribesmen who met with Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in South Waziristan earlier in the month (AP). On December 29, militants attacked several NATO supply trucks in Khyber headed to Afghanistan, killing one driver and wounding two more (AFP). Islamists called for strikes across Pakistan to protest potential changes to the country’s controversial blasphemy laws on December 31 (Reuters, AJE). And three Pakistani police officials were injured in Lower Dir when militants detonated a remote-controlled roadside bomb on January 2 (Dawn).

And drone strikes continued to target North Waziristan, bringing the total number of strikes reported in 2010 to 118, more than twice as many as 2009 in an escalated air campaign (NAF, AFP). For the third New Year’s Day in a row, drone strikes were reported in Waziristan (NAF). The Post reports that as drone strikes have increased, so have assassinations targeting alleged American spies; one intelligence official reportedly said that 70 informants for the Pakistani intelligence service the ISI have been killed in North Waziristan since 2004 (Post). And the AP considers the downsides of anti-Taliban lashkars in Pakistan (AP).

The Pakistani military beat

The Post describes in a must-read how "countless U.S. officials" have tried to convince Gen. Kayani to undertake a major military offensive in North Waziristan, without success, with the general citing "a combination of too few available troops and too little public support" as an explanation (Post). One U.S. official said Gen. Kayani is "one of the most anti-India chiefs Pakistan has ever had."

Pakistani officials said there is no chance that ISI chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha will obey a summons requesting his appearance in a federal court in Brooklyn related to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by relatives of victims of the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, who claim the ISI "provided critical planning, material support, control and coordination of the attack" (NYT, AFP, AP, BBC). Indian police were carrying out a manhunt before Christmas for four alleged members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group responsible for Mumbai, in the Indian financial capital following an increased terror alert for the holiday week (BBC, Post, WSJ, NYT).

The State Department is reportedly concerned about alleged human rights abuses of Taliban prisoners by the Pakistani Army, with "some American officials think[ing] that the Pakistanis have used the pretext of war to imprison members of the Baluch nationalist opposition that has fought for generations to separate from Pakistan" (NYT). The State Department report also described "concerns that the Pakistani military had killed unarmed members of the Taliban, rather than put them on trial."

Regional relations

Afghanistan’s 70-member High Peace Council, designated by the Karzai government to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, will send representatives to Islamabad tomorrow to hold talks with Pakistani officials (AP, Tolo). The AP reports that the HPC has "made little headway" since it was formed in October 2010.

A trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, allowing India-bound Afghan cargo trucks to pass through Pakistan in sealed containers, among other provisions, went into effect on January 1 (ET). Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are planning to hold joint military exercises in April south of Istanbul as part of trust-building efforts (AP).

The Haqqani network has reportedly been blunted by a sixfold increase in Special Operations raids against insurgents in the past year, a third of which targeted the group, and an increase in ground troops and Afghan security forces in eastern Afghanistan and around Kabul (NYT). On the Pakistani side of the border, nearly 90 percent of 2010’s drone strikes occurred in North Waziristan, a stronghold of the network (NAF). However, the Obama administration is not "trumpeting this assessment;" the Haqqanis remain the "most formidable enemy" of troops in Afghanistan (NYT). The Haqqanis are said to have worked with Afghanistan’s two other main insurgent groups — the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s fighters — in recent attacks (NYT).

I quit!

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s chief spokesman, Waheed Omar, has quit, citing personal reasons (AFP, Pajhwok). Omar said he will continue in his position until a replacement can be found. Last week, Karzai appointed his close ally Mohammed Yasin Osmani to head Afghanistan’s new anti-corruption agency, causing Western officials to express concern that Karzai is promoting officials who have resisted past efforts to combat corruption (WSJ).

Janet Napolitano, the U.S. homeland security secretary, said on a two day visit to Afghanistan to inspect border crossings and meet with Afghan officials that DHS is planning to triple the number of agents in Afghanistan in an effort to train border and customs workers and fight the smuggling of cash out of the country (NYT, Post).

The Journal reports on two U.N. maps that show a "marked deterioration" in Afghanistan this year, dated March and October of 2010 (WSJ). Coalition forces reportedly killed Mullah Bahador, the Taliban’s acting shadow governor in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, during an overnight raid late last week, and several other insurgent leaders were arrested in Khost (NYT, AP, AP). A combat outpost in Kunar came under fire twice in 24 hours by insurgents last week, and fighting continues in Nangarhar (AP, LAT). A car bomb near a Kabul Bank branch in Kandahar city left three dead on December 27 (AJE).

NATO and Afghan officials have offered conflicting accounts of a pre-dawn Christmas day raid in Kabul that left two Afghan security guards dead, and an Afghan general was detained in connection with the incident, which was reportedly based on "faulty intelligence about two vehicles thought to be packed with explosives and believed to be part of a plot to attack the U.S. Embassy in Kabul" (Post, WSJ, LAT, AFP).

2010 in review

More than 700 international troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2010, 498 of them Americans (LAT, Pajhwok). Nearly 1,300 Afghan policemen were killed last year, a decrease of seven percent over 2009, and civilian casualties went up 20 percent in the first ten months of 2010 over the same period in 2009 (Reuters, Tolo, Pajhwok, Post). On Christmas, top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus visited troops in Kabul, Kunduz, Farah, and Helmand, where the Journal reports that British troops are gaining confidence in Afghan security forces, often seen as feckless (AP, WSJ). Pajhwok reports that Taliban fighters, Afghan officials, and international forces have agreed on a cease-fire in Sangin district in Helmand (Pajhwok). And Afghan ethnic minorities express frustration with their under-representation at the officer ranks, which are dominated by Pashtuns and Tajiks, in Afghanistan’s security forces (AFP).

The Post has three reports on the Afghan war: one profiling the U.S. military hospital in Kandahar, which treats soldiers, civilians, and insurgents alike (Post); a second noting that the U.S. Army’s official history of the battle of Wanat — a July 2008 clash in Kunar that sparked four investigations — "largely absolves top commanders of the deaths of nine U.S. soldiers and instead blames the confusing and unpredictable nature of war" (Post); and a third looking at the U.S. presence in the Pech Valley, where the focus is on fighting such that "Afghan officials can figure out a way to coexist with a committed and ideological resistance" (Post).

In stitches

Mussarat Ahmed Zeb, a princess in the former royal family of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, is "working on the revival of the Swat stitch" in an effort to revive the valley’s vibrant embroidery (NPR). She has taught hundreds of women unique sewing patterns and says, "All I need is a market in America."

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