Daily brief: Pakistani government wins back majority
U-turns Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in an apparent attempt to keep his government from collapsing has agreed to reverse an unpopular 9 percent increase in fuel prices that took effect a week ago, which was one of the MQM’s stated reasons for recently withdrawing from the PPP-led coalition, a move that lost the PPP ...
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in an apparent attempt to keep his government from collapsing has agreed to reverse an unpopular 9 percent increase in fuel prices that took effect a week ago, which was one of the MQM’s stated reasons for recently withdrawing from the PPP-led coalition, a move that lost the PPP coalition its parliamentary majority (AP, Reuters, NYT, Post, ET, Daily Times, The News, FT, Independent). The MQM has just announced that it will rejoin the government, following talks between party leaders and prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, giving the government its majority back in parliament (AP, AFP, Geo, Dawn/AFP, ET, Reuters). The MQM will not, however, immediately rejoin the federal cabinet, indicating that it is interested in holding out for more concessions.
The Wall Street Journal explains that the fuel price rollback, which "could derail an International Monetary Fund-sanctioned economic overhaul" in Pakistan, will "further widen an already significant budget deficit, making it more difficult for the government to stem inflation, while furthering economic strife" (WSJ). The IMF and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have criticized the reversal (Reuters, Bloomberg, AFP).
A suspected U.S. drone strike has reportedly killed a handful of alleged militants in Datta Khel, North Waziristan, the fourth such strike this year (AP, AFP, Geo/AFP, ET, BBC, CNN). There were 118 drone strikes reported last year (NAF). In the southern port city of Karachi, at least three people were shot and killed (Dawn).
Declan Walsh reports that human rights workers are concerned for the safety of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death, after the death of her "most prominent defender," Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer (Guardian). Two police officials have been suspended in connection with the recent assassination (ET).
Attack at a bath house
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a bath house where men were preparing for Friday prayers in Spin Boldak, around 70 miles east of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan (AP, Pajhwok, NYT). Haji Ramzan Aka, a senior border police commander, was the reported target of the attack, and was killed along with 16 others. Afghan and coalition officials are reportedly considering raising the goal size of Afghanistan’s security forces by roughly 30 percent, up to 400,000 (WSJ). As of October, there were 145,000 Afghan troops and 116,000 police.
The price of fuel has spiked up by 27 percent in Kabul after two weeks of Iran blocking thousands of fuel trucks on Afghanistan’s western border, causing hundreds of Afghans to protest outside the Iranian embassy in the Afghan capital (AP, Pajhwok). Afghanistan relies entirely on imported fuel.
The Times of London interviewed one of the Taliban commanders who recently agreed to a ceasefire after pressure from tribal elders in an area of Sangin district in Helmand, and he claimed he was motivated by "compassion" and "saw that fighting wouldn’t fix Afghanistan" (Times). An elder of the Alikozais who also agreed to the peace deal is in critical condition after being attacked en route to a mosque on Tuesday morning (WSJ).
McClatchy reports on a 13 page strategy document outlining a new U.S. government approach to combating in corruption in Afghanistan, which will focus more on addressing corruption at a local level than targeting senior officials in the Karzai government, noting that "limited judicial capacity and political interference" make successful prosecution unlikely (McClatchy).
A layered relationship
Pakistan has banned the export by land of onions to India because of an increase in domestic onion prices following a poor harvest, a move protested by Indian officials (AFP, ToI, Indian Express, The News). Exports by air and sea are still good to go.
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