Daily brief: Zardari faces calls to quit as Pakistan’s Supreme Court strikes down amnesty

Null and void In the latest blow to the already rocky rule of the unpopular Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s Supreme Court yesterday struck down a controversial amnesty bill from 2007 called the National Reconciliation Ordinance that had protected Zardari and thousands of politicians, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, from ...

575412_091217_94510230a2.jpg
575412_091217_94510230a2.jpg

Null and void

In the latest blow to the already rocky rule of the unpopular Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday struck down a controversial amnesty bill from 2007 called the National Reconciliation Ordinance that had protected Zardari and thousands of politicians, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, from corruption charges, which must now be revisited by the Pakistani government (WSJ, Dawn, NYT, Wash Post, AP, Reuters, AJE, CNN, BBC, Times of London). As the president, Zardari is immune from prosecution, but the Supreme Court also ordered the restoration of a money laundering case in Swiss courts, and his opponents may now try to challenge his eligibility for the presidency.

Null and void

In the latest blow to the already rocky rule of the unpopular Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s Supreme Court yesterday struck down a controversial amnesty bill from 2007 called the National Reconciliation Ordinance that had protected Zardari and thousands of politicians, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, from corruption charges, which must now be revisited by the Pakistani government (WSJ, Dawn, NYT, Wash Post, AP, Reuters, AJE, CNN, BBC, Times of London). As the president, Zardari is immune from prosecution, but the Supreme Court also ordered the restoration of a money laundering case in Swiss courts, and his opponents may now try to challenge his eligibility for the presidency.

Zardari’s supporters claimed the charges were politically motivated, while critics immediately demanded his resignation, a move which would certainly worry the United States, which views the Pakistani president as a “reliable partner” in the battle against militancy (LAT, The News, AP, AFP, McClatchy, Geo, BBC, Reuters). Zardari has already given up key presidential powers, including authority over the country’s nuclear arsenal, and later this month he reportedly plans to relinquish the power to dissolve parliament, dismiss the prime minister, and appoint military chiefs.

The court’s decision, while expected, came as the United States’ top military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, visited the Swat Valley, the site of a Pakistani military offensive against the Taliban earlier this year, and met twice with Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and once with Zardari, along with other officials (Geo, The News, Daily Times, AP). And two suspected militants were killed late last night by an alleged U.S. drone strike near Datta Khel in North Waziristan, while a suicide bomber in the bordering tribal district of Bannu attacked the home of a local political leader, killing only himself (BBC, CNN, Geo, AP, Pajhwok, AFP).

Visa lockdown

Elements of the Pakistani government and intelligence services are expressing their irritation with rumored U.S. expansion in the country — military operations and the growth of the U.S. embassy from 500 to 800 staff members over the next several months, an increase U.S. officials say is needed to handle the influx of $1.5 billion of aid annually — by declining to issue or extend visas for diplomats, military officers, and others, and frequent searches of diplomatic vehicles in major cities (NYT, AP). All in all, 135 visas extensions have been denied, leaving some sections of the embassy operating at 60 percent capacity and, for example, causing the suspension of the payments of nearly $1 billion per year in U.S. reimbursements to Pakistan for counterterrorism operations because the last U.S. accountant’s visa was not extended and he left the country this week.

Cyber war

Even as the United States increases the number of drones flying over Afghanistan and their video surveillance capabilities, militants in Iraq were able to use $26 over the counter software to intercept drone video feed, potentially providing them with information they could use to avoid or monitor military operations (Reuters, AP, WSJ). The Wall Street Journal has today’s must-read, describing how senior military and intelligence officials are working to encrypt video feeds from the unmanned drones, which have become the weapon of choice in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And as the Taliban advance in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, a growing number of Afghan refugees are flowing into the poorest Central Asian country, Tajikistan, and facing a cool reception (FT). A suicide attacker in the central Afghan province of Uruzgan detonated his explosives earlier this morning at a gathering of tribal elders, though no one was killed, while the Afghan Taliban’s media arm announced yesterday that they will soon release a video of U.S. soldier allegedly in their custody (AP, AP).

Internal politics

The former number two United Nations official in Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, reportedly plotted to remove Afghan President Hamid Karzai from office and replace him with a more Western-friendly figure like former finance minister Ashraf Ghani as allegations grew over the widespread fraud in Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential election (NYT). Galbraith said he discussed but never actively promoted the idea of persuading Karzai to step down, but his former boss — U.N. chief in Afghanistan Kai Eide, with whom Galbraith clashed publicly before he left office in September — claimed Galbraith had a plan to speak with Vice President Joe Biden, sound him out, and if he agreed, approach U.S. President Barack Obama; Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly became “incensed” upon hearing of the plan.

On the U.S. front, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters yesterday that Obama will have to “make his case” for the Afghan war to his divided and skeptical Democratic allies in Congress, saying she would not pressure Democrats to vote for an expected supplemental war funding bill (AFP, Wash Post, Reuters). Meanwhile, a U.S. government watchdog yesterday released a report criticizing Afghanistan’s main anti-corruption office, saying it is understaffed and its leaders have conflicts of interest because they are advisers to Karzai (AP, SIGAR report-pdf).

More meat

The government of Malaysia has told Pakistan it will start to import meat from Pakistan, along with rice and possibly palm oil, fruits, and vegetables (The News). Pakistan is working on improving and modernizing its farming practices.

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FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images

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