Pakistan Security Brief
Zardari returns to Pakistan; Supreme Court hears memogate case; PM rejects coup talk; Haqqani faces Abbottabad Commission; PTI gains new supporters; Musharraf announces early return; U.S.-Pakistan tensions cool after border attack; U.S. offers to fund TAPI pipeline; Islamist groups hold large rally in Lahore; TTP said to be on the ropes; UK under pressure on drone strikes; three soldiers killed by IED; PML-N legislator killed in Balochistan; Iran reopens border crossing; Sindh government wants to grant weapons licenses; demand for police protection of schools in Peshawar
Internal Politics and Memogate
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari made a surprise return to Pakistan on Sunday night putting an end to speculation over whether he was fleeing a “soft coup” by the military against the government. According to the New York Times, Zardari cut short his recovery from a “strokelike” medical condition in order to bring to an end a growing standoff between the military and the civilian government and the “concerns [of] his supporters that the military has been moving to strengthen its role in the country’s governance.” Zardari’s return came as the Supreme Court began hearings into the “memogate” scandal that stands to hurt Zardari politically and that has once again frayed relations between the government and the military. The petition to review the case was brought to the court by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sought to dismiss talk of coup or a rift between the government and the army by meeting with Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Friday and citing a phone conversation held between the army chief and the President. Mansoor Ijaz, one of the key players in the memogate scandal, rebuked claims by retired U.S. Gen. James Jones that he did not believe the letter Ijaz handed him had been written by former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani. Ambassador Haqqani, meanwhile, faces questioning by the Abbottabad commission investigating the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden over allegations that he issued hundreds of Pakistani visas to U.S. intelligence officials in the months prior to the raid. Haqqani denies the claims. Haqqani’s lawyer in the memogate case, prominent Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jahangir, stated publicly that Director General for Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha should have resigned after the raid.
The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) party is expected to get a huge boost to its ranks on Monday when over thirty prominent opposition politicians, some of whom are sitting legislators and former members of cabinet, are expected to quit their parties and join PTI. The defections will likely increase the momentum the PTI has been gaining and give additional seats in the National Assembly. Former President Pervez Musharraf, meanwhile, announced on Sunday that he would be returning to Pakistan in January 2012, rather than in March as he had earlier declared.
U.S. Pakistan Relations
In a slight cooling of tensions, NATO sources said on Monday that Pakistan had sent Pakistani liaison officers back the “border control centres” where Pakistani and NATO forces cooperate and share information on joint operations between the two militaries on the border area. The liaison officer were initially pulled from their posts in protest against the U.S. raid in late November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Other Pakistani measures taken in response to the strike, such as the blockade of NATO ground supplies to Pakistan, have not eased.
The U.S. government has offered to help finance the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline running through Pakistan as an “implicit gesture to lure Pakistan away from the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline deal,” a project the Pakistan and Iran are currently pursuing. Further discussions on the topic to be held on the sidelines of the Bonn conference on Afghanistan did not take place due to Pakistan’s boycott of the conference.
Islamist Groups Rally
Extremist groups held a large rally in Lahore on Sunday where Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the front group from terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), made the first overt references to jihad against India since JuD was declared a terrorist organization by the UN in 2009. Saeed called for the jihad against India in Kashmir to continue and told supporters to “prepare for war” against the U.S. and NATO. The rally brought together leaders and supporters of a number of Wahhabi and Deobandi political and extremist groups, including other known terrorist organizations such as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.
According to a report in the Express Tribune, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main anti-state umbrella group in Pakistan, has entered its “twilight,” period, “with its ‘chain of command’ crumbling, funds dwindling and infighting intensifying” within the group. The report quotes TTP members saying that the group’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, is perpetually in hiding, fearing to meet even some of his most trusted lieutenants out of fear of being targeted by U.S. drones or Pakistani intelligence agencies. They say the leader of the fast-fracturing group fears no longer meets some of his members from the Punjabi faction of the TTP, fearing they may be spying against him for the state. The group is reportedly fracturing at least in part because of disagreements on whether or not to negotiate with the government, an option Hakimullah has rejected but that has been entertained by certain factions within the TTP.
The British government is coming under increased pressure to respond to queries about the level of assistance it provides to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. The lawyers representing a man whose son was killed in a strike in Pakistan have written to the British Foreign Secretary demanding the UK clarify its policies and declare the extent of their cooperation in the drone program. The Foreign Office has not yet responded to the query.
Three Pakistani soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on a routine patrol in the Oath area of central Kurram agency. Meanwhile, the military claims to have killed up to eight militants in a different part of the agency as part of an ongoing military operation in the vicinity.
Iran has finally agreed to Pakistani requests to reopen a border crossing on the Balochistan border. The border point had been closed to traffic for three months following a sectarian attack on Shia pilgrims in Mastung, Balochistan.
The Sindh government has requested the federal government to allow it to grant licenses to private security companies in the province permitting their guards to carry automatic weaponry. The request was prompted by a rise in the number of bank robberies across the city of Karachi.
The deputy speaker of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly has directed the police to provide protection in the form of additional police officers in his constituency in suburban Peshawar, especially girls schools. Both the police and local anti-Taliban lashkars claimed, however, that they did not have the manpower to plug the security gaps in most places.
“Pakistan Supreme Court Probes Memo Scandal,” AP, December 18, 2011. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/12/18/world/asia/AP-AS-Pakistan.html?ref=world
Khawar Ghumman, “President upbeat after talks with Kayani,” Dawn, December 18, 2011. Available at http://www.dawn.com/2011/12/18/gilani-upbeat-after-talks-with-kayani.html
“Memogate: Ijaq rubbishes James Jones’ claim,” Express Tribune, December 18, 2011. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/308301/memogate-ijaz-rubbishes-james-jones-claim/
Faisal Shakeel, “Memogate case: Citizen’s letter prompts notices to president, ISI chief,” Express Tribune, December 18, 2011. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/308030/memogate-new-notices-issued-to-president-prime-minister-dg-isi/
Abdul Manan,” Musharraf announces January 2012 return,” Express Tribune, December 18, 2011. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/308408/musharraf-announces-january-2012-return/