Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Opposition Leaders Protest Against PML-N in Lahore; Taliban Delegation Visits Islamabad

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Topline

  • Tahir-ul Qadri, Imran Khan, former Pres. Zardari, and other Pakistani opposition leaders held a rally in Lahore calling for the ouster of the PML-N government; attendance was light, however, and no immediate next steps have been announced following the rally’s end. On Thursday, the national assembly censured Imran for remarks he made criticizing parliament in his speech.
  • The Taliban delegation traveling to Islamabad this week is reportedly operating with the approval of the movement’s central leadership, Reuters reports; Dawn reports that the Taliban delegation “refused to negotiate with the Afghan government”, but the Reuters piece reports that the group met with representatives of Pir Syed Hamid Gilani, the son of the former High Peace Council chair, and that the Haqqani network freed 14 Afghan soldiers in Paktia province as a “goodwill gesture”.
  • U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass told a press conference on Thursday that the stand-off over Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor’s replacement “needs to be resolved peacefully”; he also endorsed Pres. Ghani’s authority to replace provincial officials.
  • At least three women and an Indian soldier have been killed by cross-border firing between Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir.
  • A mother-daughter polio vaccination team and two police officers were killed in separate shootings in Quetta on Thursday; no claims of responsibility have been reported.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Kashmir Border Clashes: Pakistan and India accused each other of violating the ceasefire across the Line of Control in Kashmir on Thursday; two women on the Pakistani side and a soldier and a woman on the Indian side were reported to have been killed. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Quetta Attacks: A mother-and-daughter polio vaccination team was killed by unidentified gunmen in Quetta on Thursday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. Separately, two police officers were killed in a driveby shooting Quetta. [Reuters] [AP]
  • Tensions with US: Testifying before the senate foreign relations committee on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said that U.S. military officials had indicated that they would continue military training programs under the International Military Education and Training funding line, despite the suspension of other forms of military assistance to Pakistan. Separately, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Zubair Hayat attended a NATO conference on Afghanistan in Brussels on Wednesday.
  • Supreme Court Intervenes in Sindh Police Chief Dispute: On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a petition from the Sindh provincial government challenging an order it issued last fall overturning restrictions on police chief A.D. Khawaja’s authority to transfer officers; the court in the meantime has ordered that Khawaja remain in his position, despite previous agreements with the federal government for a replacement to be appointed. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Protests in Lahore: Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir-ul Qadri led a combined opposition protest in Lahore on Wednesday, calling for the removal from office of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the PML-N government over the 2014 Model Town incident, in which at least 14 PAT activists were killed in a clash with Punjab police. Imran Khan and former Pres. Zardari spoke separately to the crowds; estimates of the total attendance ranged from 10-12,000 participants, with PAT party members the largest group in attendance, and PML-N leaders were dismissive of the gathering. Security was heavy and no major incidents of violence were reported; in Islamabad, city officials have placed a ban on public demonstrations for the next two months. Qadri said that the opposition would meet again in the coming days to plan follow-on actions, but did not offer specifics. Sheikh Ahmed Rashid announced his intention to resign as a national assembly member and called on Imran Khan to do the same; on Thursday, the national assembly passed a resolution condemning Rashid and Imran for “disrespecting parliament”. Separately on Thursday, Imran held a press conference reiterating corruption allegations against Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The National Accountability Bureau has summoned Shehbaz Sharif to appear before investigators on Jan 22 as part of an investigation into his alleged misuse of authority over a land development project. [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: On Wednesday, the Election Commission announced preliminary seat shares for each district in the four provinces as part of the delimitation process for new constituency boundaries. PM Abbasi met with PML-N lawmakers from the tribal and frontier regions on Wednesday to discuss the “phase-wise” implementation of planned FATA reforms. On Thursday, top PML-N leaders will meet to discuss the collapse of the Sanaullah Zehri government in Balochistan. [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Foreign Asset Amnesty: On Wednesday, PM Abbasi announced the government’s intentions to offer a tax amnesty for Pakistanis holding overseas assets, as well as lowering tax rates and bringing more people into the tax net. [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Council of Islamic Ideology Members Complain of Their Names Being Included Without Consent in Recent Fatwa [ET]
  • TTP Claim Responsibility for Attack on Karachi Police Officer Rao Anwar [ET]
  • Rao Anwar Under Scrutiny for Death of Waziristan Man [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • One Killed, Six Injured in Karachi Grenade Attack [ET]
  • Daughter Says MQM Leader Hasan Zafar Arif Died of Heart Attack [Dawn] [ET]
  • Saudi and Pakistani Ministers Hold Talks [The Nation] [ET]
  • Senate Chairman Rabbani Attends Conference in Iran [Dawn]
  • Chief Justice Orders Investigation Into Dual National Civil Servants and Judges [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Pakistan Business Council Calls for Release of Detailed CPEC Long-Term Plan [Dawn]
  • Despite Shortage, Cabinet Approves 235 New Gas Supply Schemes [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Taliban sources tell Reuters that the delegation of Taliban officials who reportedly visited Islamabad this week was traveling with the authorization of the movement’s leadership; that trip followed a reported meeting in Turkey over the weekend, which both the Taliban and Afghan government denied participating in. Unnamed sources tell Dawn that the Taliban “want to negotiate with the US through the Qatar Office, but refused to negotiate with the Afghan government.” The Reuters piece however reports that the Islamabad delegation met with representatives of Pir Syed Hamid Gilani, the son of the former High Peace Council chair, and that the Haqqani network freed 14 Afghan soldiers in Paktia province as a “goodwill gesture”.  Speaking on Wednesday, Pres. Ghani said that “regional talks, Islamic talks, and international peace talks” would be held after a meeting of the “Kabul Process” countries next month. Speaking before the Pakistani senate foreign relations committee on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that he was unaware of the talks. [Pajhwok] [ET]
  • Atta Firing Dispute: Speaking to supporters in Mazar-e-Sharif on Thursday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor warned that he would set a deadline if an agreement was not reached with the government over his conditions for his removal from office, and threatened to “launch a countrywide rebellion” if talks remained deadlocked. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, U.S. Amb. John Bass said that “resolution of this dispute over the transfer of authority involved needs to be resolved peacefully” but also supported the president’s authority to replace provincial officials. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • US Ambassador Haley Says Trump Policy in Afghanistan is Working [AP] [AFP]
  • NUG Agreement Oversight Commission Head Calls for Constitutional Reforms [TOLO]
  • Germany Indicts Suspected Taliban Member [AP]
  • Ministry of Mines Officials Finalize Roadmap Plan [TOLO]
  • Commentary: New Controversies Surrounding the Appointment of a New Electoral Commissioner – “The choice, ultimately, is between speeding up the procedures to hold parliamentary elections as soon as possible or to renew the composition of the two commissions, which will certainly cause further controversy and delay.” [Ali Yawar Adili, AAN]
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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Opposition Protests Begin in Lahore; Pence Speaks with Ghani on Atta Standoff

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Topline

  • Combined opposition protests led by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek are underway in Lahore today after the Lahore High Court issued a ruling allowing the demonstration to be held but ordering it to conclude at midnight.
  • Vice Pres. Pence spoke by phone with Pres. Ghani on Tuesday, urging a “peacefully negotiated transition of leadership” for Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor. Engineer Mohammad Dawood, Atta’s appointed replacement, visited Mazar-e-Sharif on Tuesday evening, reportedly to attend his father’s funeral.
  • In a statement on Tuesday following the conclusion of a two-day visit to Islamabad, acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells “urged the government of Pakistan to address the continuing presence of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups within its territory”.
  • VOA reports that a Taliban delegation from the group’s Qatar office has visited Islamabad for talks; in remarks on Wednesday, Pres. Ghani called on the Taliban “not to surrender their fate into the hands of the neighbors”.
  • Anonymous State and Frontier Regions Ministry officials tell Dawn that the Pakistani government will not offer further extension to the legal status of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan past the end of this month.
  • Foreign direct investment in Pakistan fell 2.8% to $1.38 billion during the first six months of the fiscal year, with China now accounting for around 70% of all investments.
  • Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament voted on Wednesday to approve a budget for the new fiscal year, which started at the beginning of the month.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Talks: In a statement on Tuesday following the conclusion of a two-day visit by acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said that Wells had “urged the government of Pakistan to address the continuing presence of the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups within its territory”; in a roundtable with local press, Wells reiterated that “all terrorist forces must be fought against”. [ET]
  • Drone Strike: At least one man was killed in a US drone strike in the Kurram Agency near the Afghan border on Wednesday; details are limited. [ET]
  • Karachi Police Officer Attacked: Senior Superintendent of Police Rao Anwar survived an attack on his convoy on Tuesday evening in Karachi, which included a suicide bomber and multiple gunmen; the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack on Wednesday. [AP]
  • Balochistan Conflict: Two police constables and a civilian bystander were wounded in a bombing in the Chaman district on Wednesday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. On Tuesday, Frontier Corps officials reported the seizure of an arms cache in Hub; no arrests were reported.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Lahore Protests: Combined opposition protests led by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek have begun in Lahore on Wednesday as of this writing; earlier in the day, the Lahore High Court issued a ruling allowing the PAT to continue with the protest but ordering it to conclude at midnight. Paramilitary Rangers have deployed to provide additional security at the gathering. Former Pres. Zardari met with Tahir-ul Qadri on Tuesday evening, denouncing Nawaz Sharif as an “enemy of Pakistan”; a spokesman for the PTI reiterated that Imran Khan would not share a stage with Zardari during the protest. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Afghan Refugee Repatriation: An anonymous States and Frontier Region ministry official tells Dawn that there will be no further extension for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan after their legal status expires at the end of this month and “they will have to go back to their country”.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Tuesday, PML-N lawyers filed a Supreme Court petition seeking to overturn the court’s earlier ruling rejecting a disqualification petition against Imran Khan. The Election Commission has adjourned hearings in a case challenging the PTI’s overseas fundraising after denying a request from petitioners to submit additional evidence in the case. Three senior PTI leaders were granted bail in cases connected to the party’s 2014 Islamabad sit-ins on Wednesday. The Islamabad High Court upheld former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s declaration as a “proclaimed offender” over his failure to appear before National Accountability Bureau courts in connection to corruption charges. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Foreign Investment: Foreign direct investment in Pakistan fell 2.8% to $1.38 billion during the first half of the fiscal year, State Bank of Pakistan figures indicate, although Chinese investments rose to $969 million and now comprise around two-thirds of all investment. Separately, Dawn reports that Planning Commission deputy chairman Sartaj Aziz formally requested that China “encourage” imports of Pakistani products during a meeting with China’s ambassador to Pakistan on Tuesday. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Thousands of UK Nationals Purchased Fake Degrees from Axact Diploma Mill [BBC]
  • Pakistan Embassy in Bangkok Accused of Issuing Passports to Foreign Nationals [ET]
  • Army Chief Visits Sri Lanka [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Police Arrest Suspect in Kasur Rape Case [Reuters]
  • Supreme Court Orders Judicial Commission into Parween Rehman Murder Case [Dawn]
  • Chinese Ambassador Meets Chief Justice [ET]
  • Gazzain Marri Announces Intentions to ‘Join Mainstream Politics’ [Dawn]
  • Sindh to Devolve Property Tax Collection to Local Governments [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Assistance: The Washington Post notes that U.S. and Afghan forces carried out 455 airstrikes in December, up from 65 during the same period last year, and a record high for the winter months. Separately, NATO defense chiefs met in Brussels beginning on Tuesday for talks that include a review of the assistance mission in Afghanistan. [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters attacked a security checkpost in the Gero district in Ghazni province on Wednesday; security officials say seven Taliban were killed. A U.S. drone strike in Nangarhar’s Khogyani district on Wednesday killed at least three unidentified militants, Afghan military officials report. [Khaama Press] [Ariana News]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Atta Firing Dispute: Vice Pres. Pence spoke by phone with Pres. Ghani to offer “his support for the Afghan government to engage with Balkh Governor Atta [Mohammad Noor] and conduct a peacefully negotiated transition of leadership”, his office said in a statement on Tuesday. The Washington Post suggests that the Afghan government had anticipated “tacit U.S. approval for a military intervention” to remove Atta and that Pence’s call was meant to dissuade that action. On Tuesday evening, Engineer Mohammad Dawood, Atta’s replacement who has been blocked from taking office, made his first trip to Mazar-e-Sharif since his appointment; he is reportedly visiting for his father’s funeral. A group of tribal elders and civil society activists have also traveled to Balkh in an effort to negotiate a resolution to the standoff. In remarks to supporters on Tuesday evening, Atta reiterated warnings that the government was seeking to oust Vice Pres. Dostum and Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Taliban Talks: VOA reports that three representatives of the Taliban’s Qatar office have visited Pakistan for talks, in a delegation headed by Shahabuddin Dilawar; no details of their discussions have been reported. Speaking at a conference in Kabul on Tuesday, High Peace Council secretary Mohammad Akram Khapalwak said that there had been no direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and accused Pakistan of interfering to block peace efforts. In remarks on Wednesday, Pres. Ghani called on the Taliban “not to surrender their fate into the hands of the neighbors” and warned Pakistan that “supporting the illegal armed groups is like growing snakes up in [one’s] own sleeves”. In a statement on Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry offered to host Afghan peace talks, saying that “we strongly recommend that negotiations start as soon as possible… to put an end to the civil war”.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Approved: In a vote on Wednesday, the Wolesi Jirga approved the budget for the new fiscal year that began at the start of January, after previously voting last month to reject a draft budget; reporting is unclear on what, if any, changes have been made in the interim.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Taliban Fighters Using High-Tech Gear to Kill Afghan Forces [NYT]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Opposition Parties to Rally in Lahore Tomorrow; Standoff Continues Over Atta Removal

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Topline

  • The NYT and WSJ interview Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor and overview the ongoing standoff over efforts to remove him; the NYT reports that Atta’s blocking of NATO fuel shipments to Balkh contributed to the decision for his ouster, and that Atta recently met with Blackwater founder Erik Prince to discuss his proposal for a private security mission in Afghanistan.
  • Preparations are underway for a Pakistan Awami Tehreek-sponsored protest rally in Lahore tomorrow, which both Imran Khan and former Pres. Zardari will attend; PTI spokesman indicated on Monday that the two would not share a stage together.
  • Speaking to reporters on Monday, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said that he was “not giving up on” efforts to build a “more effective relationship with Pakistan”.
  • The new Marine commander in Helmand told a Task and Purpose interviewer on Monday that Marine advisors do have the authority to deploy alongside Afghan forces engaged in combat, although “whether or not we exercise that authority is going to depend on how we assess the situation at the time”.
  • The Pakistani government is reportedly reviving plans to privatize Pakistan International Airlines, with cabinet approval for a new privatization plan potentially coming as soon as next week, according to minister Daniyal Aziz.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Tensions: Speaking to reporters on Monday, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said that the U.S. remained “committed to a more effective relationship with Pakistan” and the he was “not giving up on that”. Following meetings in Islamabad with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells also met with Advisor to the Prime Minister on Finance Miftah Ismail. Speaking in the national assembly on Monday, Defense Minister Kurram Dastigir Khan called for “ruthlessly candid dialogue” between the U.S. and Pakistan. [Reuters]
  • Fatwa Against Terrorism: On Tuesday, Pres. Mamnoon Hussain presided over a ceremony highlighting a new fatwa by a group of more than 1,800 religious scholars that condemns terrorism and forbids the practice of suicide bombings. [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Attacks: At least five Frontier Corps soldiers were killed when a convoy was ambushed in the Kech district on Monday evening; six more were wounded. No claim of responsibility has been reported. On Tuesday, a police constable was killed near his home in Quetta. Police arrested a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi suspect in Quetta earlier on Monday. [Dawn] [The Nation] [AP]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Protests: Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahirul Qadri announced on Tuesday that both Imran Khan and former Pres. Zardari would both address a planned rally in Lahore scheduled to begin tomorrow; a PTI spokesman had earlier said that Imran had refused to share a stage with Zardari. Zardari will reportedly meet with Qadri later today. Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif and PM Abbasi met on Monday to discuss the government’s planned response; Dawn reports that the event will be a single-day rally rather than a prolonged sit-in. On Tuesday, the Lahore High Court agreed to hear a petition challenging the protest. Separately, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah faction led by Ashraf Asif Jalali announced plans for a protest outside the Punjab assembly building on Jan 27. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Tuesday, Nawaz Sharif and family members attended another hearing of the accountability court hearing corruption charges against them. A team of National Accountability Bureau investigators arrived in London on Tuesday to conduct further investigations into Sharif family holdings. Separately, PML-N lawyers filed a petition appealing the Supreme Court’s earlier verdict clearing Imran Khan in a disqualification petition against him. [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: Speaking to JUI-F party leaders in Peshawar on Monday, Maulana Fazlur Rehman denounced political reforms in FATA as “part of the US agenda”, accusing the federal government of “giving no weight to the wishes of the tribal people”.
  • Other Political Activity: Referring to the election of Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo, Nawaz Sharif told reporters on Tuesday that “dethroning a chief minister of a majority party in an engineered manner to bring forth a person whose guarantee money was nearly confiscated is a joke with the nation and democracy”. Nawaz met with National Party and Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party leaders in Islamabad on Tuesday. PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi told a press conference on Monday that his party would “never seek dissolution of assemblies or indulge in any undemocratic act”. Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and former information minister Pervaiz Rashid traded accusations on Monday and Tuesday. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Privatization: Privatization Minister Daniyal Aziz told Reuters on Monday that the government was reviving plans to privatize Pakistan International Airlines, with cabinet approval for the plan potentially coming as soon as next week.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Summons Investigators in Kasur Child Rape Case [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Considering Meeting of Indian and Pakistani DGMOs [Dawn]
  • TTP Claims Responsibility for Bhutto Murder in New Publication [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Amends Code of Civil Procedure Law [Dawn]
  • 19 Wounded in Clash Between Rival Tribes in Khyber Agency [The Nation]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Helmand Operations: In an interview with Task and Purpose, Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson, the new commander of the Marine unit based in Helmand, said that his task force “has the authority” to accompany Afghan forces into battle as combat advisors, although “whether or not we exercise that authority is going to depend on how we assess the situation at the time”. Speaking at a change of command ceremony in Helmand on Monday, US and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson warned that “the enemy is not safe anywhere in Helmand. We will come after them in everywhere in Helmand to help the people of Helmand expand their security and try to return their lives normal.” [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: A rocket struck in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood on Monday evening; no casualties were reported. Kabul police located and defused three IEDs in Kabul on Monday. Several mortar shells hit a marketplace in the Khawaja Sabz Push district in Faryab province on Tuesday morning, killing at least five people and wounding dozens more; there was no reported claim of responsibility. The Afghan military officials in Nangarhar reported that as many as 23 ISIS fighters were killed in U.S. drone strikes in the Achin and Shirzad districts on Tuesday; another drone strike in the Deh Bala district on Sunday evening reportedly killed at least ten ISIS fighters. Also on Tuesday, airstrikes in the Jurm district in Badakhshan reportedly killed at least 15 militants, who military officials identified as being Tajik nationals. Fighting was reported in the Chahar Bolak district in Balkh on Tuesday, leaving at least seven militants dead. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Atta Firing Dispute: The NYT and WSJ overview the ongoing standoff between Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor and Pres. Ghani over the latter’s attempt to remove Atta from office; both pieces also interview Atta. The NYT reports that one factor in the removal may have been the blockage of NATO fuel supplies by forces loyal to Atta; the piece also reports that Atta met with Blackwater founder Erik Prince in Dubai last month to discuss his proposals for a private security force in Afghanistan.
  • Lawmakers Reject Decree on Public Gatherings: In a vote on Monday, Wolesi Jirga members overturned a presidential decree that placed restrictions on public gatherings and protests, especially near government buildings and on public roads. [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Commentary: Russia is Looking to Engage the Taliban; Here’s Why – “Russia is seeking to build an international consensus around its approach — and bolster its status as a counterweight to U.S. hegemony.” [Samuel Ramani, Monkey Cage]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Soldiers Killed in Cross-Line of Control Exchange; Talks Deadlocked Over Atta Removal

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Note: Today is the ten-year anniversary of these daily news updates. Thanks for reading.

 

Topline

  • Four Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire across the Line of Control in Kashmir on Monday; Pakistani officials claim to have killed three Indian soldiers in response, but Indian officials deny that they suffered any casualties. The incident follows remarks by India’s army chief on Friday in which he suggested that Indian military forces “will have to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff” in the event that “a task is given to us” to conduct cross-border military operations.
  • Talks over the removal of Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor remain deadlocked; Atta is reported to have issued a list of demands in the negotiations, which include the provision that he will remain in office until all reform commitments are met. The Independent Directorate of Local Governance warned that Atta’s signature was no longer valid as governor; on Sunday, he responded that he would seize revenue from Hairatan port if he was otherwise unable to secure funds from the central government.
  • New Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo was sworn in on Saturday after a vote earlier in the day to replace former chief minister Sanaullah Zehri. The JUI-F and PkMAP are now seeking support for the opposition leader position; relations between both those parties and the PML-N, with whom they are partners at the national level, are now reportedly strained after the passage on Friday of legislation extending the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court to the FATA.
  • Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells visited Islaabad on Monday, where she held talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua on regional security cooperation.
  • Reports emerged on Sunday that a group of purported Afghan government and Taliban representatives held talks in Turkey, but spokesmen for both the government and the Taliban denied that any of the attendees represented them.
  • A UN Security Council delegation visited Kabul on Sunday for talks with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.
  • Pentagon officials now say that the clash between U.S. soldiers and Afghan militiamen in Nangarhar’s Achin last week was the result of an ambush by “an insurgent group posing as a local militia”. An Afghan defense ministry delegation is investigating the incident.
  • MQM leader Hassan Zafar Arif, a leader in the party’s London-based faction, was found dead in a car in Karachi on Sunday; party leaders allege that he was tortured prior to his death.
  • The Afghan government has appointed Syed Hafizullah Hashemi as a new member of the Independent Election Commission, replacing former chairman Najibullah Ahmadzai.
  • The National Accountability Bureau filed a new petition on Monday with the Supreme Court, seeking a review of a previous verdict rejecting the reopening of the Hudaibya Paper Mills case against Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif.
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan has revoked the registration of 284 politicial parties who failed to meet new registration requirements, including the PML-F, MQM-Pakistan, JUI-S, and others.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: On Monday, four Pakistani soldiers were killed in a cross-border clash with Indian forces in Kashmir; the Pakistani military claimed to have killed three Indian soldiers in retaliatory fire, but Indian officials said they had suffered no casualties. The Pakistani army’s statement said that their soldiers had been doing maintenance work on a communication line; India accused Pakistani forces of firing first. Pakistan’s military and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif warned against remarks by Indian army chief Bipin Rawat on Friday, in which he said that “we will have to call [Pakistan’s] nuclear bluff” in a scenario where “a task is given to us” to conduct cross-border military operations. Separately, The Hindu reports that the Indian and Pakistani national security advisors held a previously unreported meeting in Russia last May just after India petitioned the International Court of Justice over access to accused spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, and are in “regular” phone contact. [AP] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Tensions with US: The Pakistani military’s readout of Friday’s call between Chief of Army Staff Bajwa and CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel said that Votel had “assured Pakistan that no unilateral action on its territory is being planned” and had conveyed a message that the US “values Pakistan’s role towards war on terror and expected that ongoing turbulence remains a temporary phase”. CENTCOM officials confirmed that the call took place but declined to provide details of the discussion. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells visited Islamabad on Monday, where she met with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua for talks on regional security. In a press conference on Saturday, Imran Khan said that he would meet with Pres. Trump if elected as prime minister, though doing so would be a “bitter pill”. [AP] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • MQM Leader Found Dead: Hassan Zafar Arif, a senior leader of the MQM’s London-based faction, was found dead in a car in Karachi on Sunday; police said the body showed no signs of torture, an account that was disputed by MQM leaders. [The Nation]
  • TTP Spokesman Surrenders: Asad Mansoor, a former commander of the Hakimullah Mehsud faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and spokesman for the group, surrendered to security officials in Dera Ismail Khan last month, the Express Tribune reported Monday.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Balochistan CM Sworn In: PML-Q lawmaker Abdul Quddus Bizenjo was sworn in as the new chief minister of Balochistan on Saturday after a vote earlier in the day confirmed his election to replace Sanaullah Zehri. The Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party fielded a candidate against Bizenjo, who secured thirteen votes; at least one PkMAP legislator is facing disciplinary action for not supporting the party’s candidate. The Express Tribune reports that the national PML-N leadership debated but failed to reach an agreement on an alternative candidate. Bizenjo has named an initial cabinet of 14 members; on Sunday, he met with leaders of the BNP-Mengal. The JUI-F is reportedly negotiating with the National Party for its support in order to secure the position of opposition leader, which the PkMAP is also seeking. In remarks on Sunday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal reiterated concerns that the maneuvering in Balochistan could delay senate elections. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman criticized the passage of a bill on Friday in the national assembly that extended the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court to the FATA, an item that had not been included on the assembly’s schedule. The Nation reports that the JUI-F may quit the governing coalition at the center over the FATA reforms issue, as well as the change in governments in Balochistan. The PTI also criticized the legislation in a statement on Saturday, saying it was “insufficient”. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Judicial Reforms: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar chaired a meeting of the National Judicial Policymaking Committee in Karachi on Saturday, where he called for the introduction of reforms to reduce case backlogs and increase the speed of trials. On Sunday, Chief Justice Nisar heard petitions related to water supply in Karachi and milk product packaging. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Kasur Rape Case: Punjab police released footage on Saturday of a “person of interest” in the Kasur district child rape and murder case, which prompted violent protests and nationwide condemnation last week. The Express Tribune reports that investigators have linked the unidentified murder suspect to at least eight other cases in the area. Several other cases of child sexual abuse have been reported around the country in the aftermath of last week’s incident in Kasur. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Monday, the National Accountability Bureau petitioned the Supreme Court to review its order rejecting the reopening of the Hudaibya Paper Mills money laundering case against Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Friday, the Election Commission formally de-registered 284 political parties, including the PML-F, MQM-Pakistan, JUI-S, Sunni Tehreek, and others, for failing to comply with new registration requirements that include at least two thousand member signatures and a Rs 200,000 registration fee. Former Pres. Zardari announced on Friday that he will contest the NA-231 Nawabshah constituency in the next general elections. Nawaz Sharif will headline a rally in Haripur scheduled for Jan 20; PM Abbasi met with him and Shehbaz Sharif in Lahore on Monday. PTI leader Jahangir Tareen met with Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi on Friday to voice support for the latter’s planned protests against the Punjab government. A PTI leadership meeting on Saturday also affirmed the party’s intentions to participate in Pakistan Awami Tehreek-led protests scheduled for Jan 17; PPP sources say they will participate in those protests, but “we are not in favour of toppling the PML-N government”. MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar has reportedly nearly finalized negotiations with dissident party lawmakers who had threatened to resign over an abortive alliance with the Pak Sarzameen Party. The PTI has postponed intra-party elections in its overseas chapters after one contender challenged the party’s U.S. voter list. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Chinese Investment: Nawaz Sharif met with China’s ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing on Saturday for discussions on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Sindh provincial government is seeking access to federal information on Chinese nationals who visit the province. [ET]
  • Development Spending: The Planning Commission reported Friday that the federal government had disbursed Rs 344 Billion of the Public Sector Development program during the first half of the fiscal year, or around 34.4% of the total appropriations, less than the 40% spending target for this point; the National Highway Authority saw the greatest expenditures. [The Nation] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • TNSM Chief Maulana Sufi Mohammad Released After Bail Order [Dawn]
  • Islamabad High Court Rules Against Transfer of Case Against Former CIA Chief [Dawn]
  • Four Militants Killed in Karachi Police Encounter [Dawn] [ET]
  • TTP Claims Responsibility for Attack on Karachi Police Officer [Dawn]
  • PM Abbasi Seeks Law Ministry’s Input on Appointment of NAB Prosecutor General [ET]
  • Eight Afghan Refugees Among 16 Suspects Held in Balochistan Raids [ET]
  • World Bank Freezes $250M Policy Loan [ET]
  • Gates Pledges Additional Aid for Polio Vaccination Efforts [ET] [Dawn]
  • Senate Panel Incensed Over Non-Acquisition of Land for Western CPEC Route [The Nation]
  • Another Chinese National Arrested for ATM Skimming in Karachi [ET]
  • CCI to Decide Formula for LPG Royalty Payments [ET]
  • Tharparkar District Leaders Complain of Exclusion from Coal Jobs [Dawn]
  • Commentary: The CIA’s Maddening Relationship with Pakistan – “For the past fifteen years, Pakistan’s intelligence service has simultaneously been one of the C.I.A.’s best—and worst—partners in fighting terrorism.” [Nicholas Schmidle, New Yorker]
  • Commentary: Talking Tabdeeli But Not Taxes – “With elections imminent, the concerned, enlightened citizen should worry about such things as the sustainability of government spending, and must answer the question: which party is best at collecting taxes? Or better yet, which party is the worst?” [Assad Ahmad, The Friday Times]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Achin Attack Aftermath: Stars and Stripes quotes a Pentagon spokesman who said Friday that last week’s reported clash between U.S. forces and an Afghan militia in Nangarhar’s Achin district was “an ambush” carried out by “an insurgent group posing as local militia”. The Taliban had earlier claimed to have infiltrated the group and to have carried out the attack. Local security officials reported that at least 13 Afghan Local Police members were killed in a U.S. airstrike called in response to the attack; an Afghan ministry of defense delegation traveled to Nangarhar on Saturday to investigate the incident.
  • ISIS in Afghanistan: In a VOA interview, a spokesman for the Afghan ministry of defense reiterated previous claims that several attacks in Kabul and other major cities claimed by the Islamic State were in fact carried out by the Haqqani network. U.S. airstrikes across several Nangarhar districts on Sunday reportedly killed at least 17 ISIS fighters. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Afghan military officials announced the start of new operations in Baghlan province’s Dand-e-Shahabuddin district on Sunday. The Afghan Air Force carried out airstrikes the Qaisar district of Faryab province on Sunday, which military officials said killed at least two Taliban fighters. A Taliban ambush outside the Farah provincial capital on Sunday killed at least seven Afghan police officers. On Friday, Kabul police officials announced the rescue of a local trader who had been held captive for ransom by a long gang. [Reuters] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Atta Firing Dispute: Speaking to supporters on Saturday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor said that talks with the government over his removal remained deadlocked, and suggested that he would call on his supporters to make “civil moves” if negotiations failed. Ariana News reports a list of Atta’s demands in the negotiations, which include the provision that he will remain in office until they are met. Meshrano Jirga speaker Mohammad Alam Ezedyar tells TOLO that Interior Minister Wais Barmak made another trip to Mazar-e-Sharif on Sunday evening for talks with Atta. A spokesman for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance warned that Atta’s signature as governor was not valid; on Sunday, Atta responded that he would seize revenues from Hairatan port if the government blocked the release of funds. Balkh provincial council members attribute a rise in crime in Mazar-e-Sharif to the standoff over Atta’s status; provincial police chief Gen. Sayed Kamal Sadat tells TOLO he has given police commanders a one-month deadline to improve security. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Taliban Talks: Representatives of the Afghan government, including members of the Hezb-e-Islami and Hezb-e-Wahdat parties, held “unofficial talks” in Turkey on Sunday with Taliban representatives; the NYT identifies two of the latter participants as Mullah Rauf Akhund and Rahmatullah Wardak. A spokesman for the High Peace Council said that the talks were “not an HPC initiative”, and a spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that there were no officials representing the government. The Taliban’s spokesman also said that none of the participants at the meeting were representing the insurgency. In a TOLO interview, Mullah Rauf claimed to “represent the overall Taliban (members) of the Islamic Emirate except some individuals who are not willing to opt for intra-Afghan peace talks”.
  • UNSC Delegation Visits: A delegation of UN Security Council member representatives visited Kabul on Sunday, where they held talks with national unity government leaders; US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley was among those traveling. In a statement on Monday, Pres. Ghani’s office said that he “had a productive discussion about reforms, security, peace, reconciliation, regional cooperation, transnational terrorism and counter narcotics” but that he had noted “there has been no sign of cooperation from Pakistan’s side” in response to Afghan efforts to improve relations. Separately on Monday, the UN issued a $430 million appeal for humanitarian support operations in 2018. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Ariana News] [Khaama Press]
  • New IEC Member Appointed: On Saturday, Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah approved the appointment of Syed Hafizullah Hashemi as a new Indepent Election Commission member, filling the vacancy following the removal of chairman Najibullah Ahmadzai last fall. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Ariana News]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Interior Minister Vows to Pursue Anti-Corruption Efforts; Senior Official Arrested [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • First Consignment of Indian Wheat Arrives in Kabul [Khaama Press]
  • He Studied Accounting; Now He Hunts the Taliban [NYT]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Bajwa and Votel Talk on Security Cooperation; US and Afghan Militia Forces Clash in Achin

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Topline

  • Chief of Army Staff Bajwa and CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel spoke by phone on Thursday regarding the suspension of U.S. military assistance to Pakistan and future security cooperation. The Express Tribune reports that a U.S. delegation visited Pakistan this week and that Pakistan is likely to send a return delegation; details of that exchange are limited. Reuters reports that Pres. Trump’s New Years Day tweet denouncing Pakistani cooperation overturned a review process that was not due to conclude until later this spring, forcing a quick rush to suspend aid.
  • U.S. special forces reportedly clashed with an Afghan militia unit affiliated with Haji Zahir Qadir in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Thursday, reportedly calling in an airstrike that some accounts suggest killed as many as 15 people. Details are limited, but the Taliban claimed that two of its members had infilitrated the militia and precipitated the clash with an insider attack. A spokesman for the U.S. military confirmed that one soldier was wounded but did not provide other details.
  • The U.S. will deploy around a thousand additional combat advisor to Afghanistan in the early months of this year, as well as deploying additional drones and other air assets.
  • PML-Q lawmaker Abdul Qadoos Bizenjo was put forward on Thursday as the new chief minister candidate of the dissident PML-N faction in Balochistan and the PML-Q opposition.
  • Top opposition leaders will join Tahirul Qadri for a protest aimed at ousting Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, which will start next week in Lahore.
  • Protests continued in Kasur on Thursday after a child rape case sparked national outrage. The head of the investigation team was replaced on Friday at the demand of the victim’s father. Funeral services were held on Thursday, organized by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah.
  • National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster briefed the UN Security Council on Afghanistan on Thursday; Russia’s ambassador praised suggestions for greater U.S.-Russia cooperation on Afghanistan. Council members are reportedly considering making a visit to Afghanistan, the group’s first in seven years.
  • Pakistan’s national assembly passed legislation on Friday that would extend the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court to the FATA, one part of the government’s FATA reforms plan.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Aid Suspension: Reuters reports that Pres. Trump’s New Year’s Day tweet denouncing Pakistan for “lies and deceit” prompted a scramble by U.S. officials who were still in the middle of a review of Pakistani compliance with U.S. security demands, which had not been expected to conclude until later this spring. The Express Tribune reports that a delegation of unidentified Trump administration officials visited Pakistan this week and that Pakistan is likely to send a return delegation; a spokesman for the Pakistani foreign ministry declined to comment on those reports but said that “the two sides continue to communicate with each other on various issues of mutual interest at different levels”. In a statement on Thursday, the Pakistani military said that Chief of Army Staff Bajwa had spoken by phone with CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel and had conveyed that the “entire Pakistani nation felt betrayed over U.S. recent statements despite decades of cooperation… we won’t ask for restoration of financial assistance but honourable recognition of our contributions”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Reuters]
  • Kashmir Border Clashes: Pakistan’s foreign ministry formally protested the death of an elderly civilian woman in what it said was unprovoked cross-border firing by Indian military forces across the Line of Control in Kashmir on Thursday. [AP] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • New Balochistan Chief Minister: A group of dissident PML-N lawmakers and the PML-Q opposition agreed to nominate former deputy speaker Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo of the PML-Q as the new Balochistan chief minister, they announced on Thursday; he confirmed his candidacy and said he would reach out to the PML-N’s other two major coalition partners, the National Party and Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party. Bizenjo is expected to secure the position, although the Express Tribune reports that a rival PML-N faction may put up an alternative candidate. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Opposition Protests: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Tahir-ul Qadri reiterated his intentions to lead a mass protest campaign seeking the removal of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah beginning in Lahore on Jan 17. Imran Khan also announced he would join the protest; a meeting of opposition parties agreed that other senior party leaders would also attend. A parallel protest planned by Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi scheduled for Jan 13 has been postponed.
  • FATA Reforms: On Friday, the National Assembly passed legislation that would extend the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court to the FATA, over the opposition of JUI-F lawmakers.
  • Kasur Protests: Demonstrations were held across several cities in Punjab on Thursday after clashes between police and protestors in Kasur on Wednesday following reports of a new child rape and murder case. Paramilitary Rangers have been deployed to impose order in Kasur; the city was effectively shut down on Thursday. Funeral services were held for the victim on Thursday, organized by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah head Khadim Hussain Rizvi. Opposition political leaders continue to denounce the Punjab government’s handling of the incident. No arrests have been made in the case, and several other cases have been reported around the country in wake of this one. The head of the Joint Investigation Team tasked with investigating the case was replaced on Friday, at the demand of the victim’s father. [Guardian] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, former Pres. Zardari warned that early elections could be possible, blaming the PML-N government for failing to manage the situation, but said that “I don’t think any extra-constitutional step can be taken”. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari appointed several party officeholders for the PPP’s Khyber Paktunkhwa and Azad Jammu and Kashmir chapters on Thursday. PPP senator Farhatullah Babar told a conference on Thursday that there was a “systematic encroachment” by the “unelected establishment” against the government. PTI leader Jahangir Tareen has appealed his disqualification by the Supreme Court last month. [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Police Clueless Over Kidnapping Bid on Journalist in Islamabad [ET] [The Nation]
  • Chief Justice Sets Jan 19 Deadline for Judicial Appointments [Dawn]
  • PM and Army Chief Visit Special Service Group Headquarters [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Larkana Police Chief Claims TTP Faction Has Allied with Baloch and Sindhi Separatists [Dawn]
  • Afghan Ambassador Meets Imran Khan [ET]
  • China’s Modern Silk Road Hits Political and Financial Hurdles [AP]
  • In Policy Reversal, FBR Reduces Real Estate Valuations in Big Cities [ET]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Approves Four Public-Private Partnership Projects [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US and Afghan Militia Forces Clash: Afghan officials in Nangarhar report that U.S. special forces bombed an Afghan militia force in the Achin district affiliated with Haji Zahir Qadir after the two groups clashed on Thursday; Afghan sources suggest that at least two American soldiers were killed in the battle, but a spokesman for the U.S. military said that one American servicemember had been wounded. He provided no further comments on the reported clash. The Achin district governor tells the NYT that as many as 15 militiamen were killed in the incident. In comments to the AP, the Taliban claimed to have infiltrated the militia unit and to have carried out an initial attack. [Khaama Press]
  • US to Increase Combat Advisors: The WSJ reports that the U.S. is planning to deploy an additional thousand new combat advisors to Afghanistan, backed by armed and unarmed drones for air support and surveillance. The deployment will include more mobility assets such as helicopters, and an Army Security Force Assistance Brigade, whose deployment was announced Thursday.
  •  Other Attacks and Operations: At least three policemen were killed in a Taliban attack on a highway security checkpost in the Bala Balok district in Farah province on Friday. Afghan military officials report that more airstrikes were carried out in the Suki district in Kunar province on Thursday, but no details on casualties were reported. A child was killed in a roadside bombing in the Khogyani district in Nangarhar on Wednesday. [Pajhwok]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • UN Security Council Considers Visit: U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster briefed representatives of the UN Security Council on Tuesday; details of the briefing were not reported, but Russia’s ambassador to the UN said that he “fully agreed” with suggestions for greater U.S.-Russia cooperation on Afghanistan. Members of the Security Council are reportedly considering a visit to Afghanistan to meet with government officials, in what would be the council’s first visit to the area in seven years.
  • Atta Firing Dispute: Speaking to supporters on Thursday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor vowed to “jail those who have committed national treasons” once he has been elected president in next year’s elections; he also said that he would “never attempt to enter into political enmity with anyone”. [TOLO]
  • IEC Vacancy: The selection committee tasked with choose nominees for the vacant Independent Election Commission chairmanship has finalized and presented three-person shortlist for consideration by Pres. Ghani; TOLO reports that the nominees are Sayed Hafizullah Hashemi, the secretary general of the Meshrano General, Awal-ul-Rahman Rodwal, the head of the IEC’s Kabul office, and Abdul Qader Zazai Watamdost, a member of parliament.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • UN Contacted Taliban Over Polio Vaccination Campaign in Kandahar [TOLO]
  • EU Ambassador Reiterates Support for Afghan Peace Process [TOLO]
  • MAIL Plans to Establish Five Wheat Storage Facilities [TOLO]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Child Rape Case in Kasur Sparks Violent Protests; Ghani Orders 75 HIG Prisoners Freed

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Topline

  • At least two people were killed in clashes with police in the Kasur district on Wednesday after protests formed following the report of a child rape case, one of a series of such cases reported in the area over the past two years; opposition political leaders, the judiciary, and the military have all denounced the incident. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has fired the district police chief and ordered an investigation into the case.
  • Pres. Ghani ordered the pardoning and release of 75 Hezb-e-Islami prisoners from Pul-e-Charki prison on Thursday as part of the peace agreement signed with HiG in 2016; a spokesman for the party said that more than two thousand party members remain in prison, however.
  • Anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources tell The Nation that they will not seek a reversal of the suspension of U.S. assistance but “back-channel efforts are on to defuse Pak-US tension”.
  • U.S. military commanders are investigating a video compilation posted to YouTube that appears to show U.S. special forces servicemembers firing on a civilian truck in Afghanistan, among other combat scenes.
  • The federal cabinet approved the appointment of a new Sindh provincial police chief, removing A.D. Khawaja, with whom the PPP government has battled for the past two years.
  • Former Balkh provincial council chairman Asif Mohmand, who was detained and beaten in an incident in Mazar-e-Sharif last summer, was sentenced to five years in prison on forgery charges on Wednesday.
  • A session has been called on Jan 13 to choose a new chief minister for Balochistan; in an interview on Wednesday, PM Abbasi denied that the national PML-N leadership had sought Sanaullah Zehri’s resignation, and alleged that pressure on the part of the intelligence services had been a factor in the no-confidence motion.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Pakistan Won’t Seek Reversal of Aid Suspension: Anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources tell The Nation that Pakistan will not seek a reversal of the suspension of U.S. security assistance, but that “back-channel efforts are on to defuse Pak-US tension”. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif held a briefing session for foreign diplomats in Islamabad on Wednesday to “inform the diplomatic corps about the massive counter-terrorism efforts that Pakistan [has] undertaken in the last 16 years”. On Wednesday, federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Hasi Bizenjo said that NATO representatives had recently proposed shipping supplies for forces in Afghanistan through the Gwadar port, a proposal he suggested was under consideration. [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • New Sindh Police Chief: A federal cabinet meeting on Wednesday approved the appointment of Sardar Abdul Majeed Dasti as the new Sindh provincial police chief, replacing A.D. Khawaja, whose tenure the PPP government had repeatedly sought to cut short over the past two years. [ET] [The Nation]
  • NGO Crackdown: On Wednesday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal issued an order that would allow international NGOs previously barred from operating in Pakistan to continue their operations while their appeals are pending, which amounts to a 90 day period after their registration is initially rejected. Further details on the appeals process were not reported, and it is unclear how many organizations may have appealed; a group of Western diplomats met with Iqbal on Wednesday to discuss the crackdown on NGOs. [The Nation]
  • Journalist Attacked: In an interview with the Guardian, reporter Taha Siddiqui recounts details of his attempted abduction in Islamabad in an incident on Wednesday; he told a press conference that “the idea is to silence me” but “I’m staying put”. The AP reports that the Indian television news agency for which he writes, World Is One, was blocked in Pakistan as of Wednesday. [NYT]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Child Rape Case Sparks Protests: At least two people were killed after police clashed with rioters in Kasur on Wednesday after reports of a new child rape case, the twelfth case in the area over the past year. The Punjab government announced that six security personnel have been arrested in connection to the shootings; protests continued on Thursday. The case has drawn high-profile national attention, including from opposition party leaders, the military, and the judiciary. In 2015, a group of men were arrested in the district and charged with abusing hundreds of children and filming the incidents, and there were 129 cases of child assault reported in Kasur in 2017. Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif met with the victim’s parents on Thursday and has ordered an investigation into the incident, and has also fired the district police chief. Imran Khan also plans to meet with the family on Thursday. [NYT] [WAPO] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Balochistan Government Formation: A session has been called for Jan 13 to elect a new chief minister in Balochistan after Sanaullah Zehri’s resignation; opposition party leaders said they would not seek to join a new coalition government and would accept the PML-N’s candidate. In an interview on Wednesday, PM Abbasi denied earlier reports that the PML-N national leadership had been pushing for Zehri’s resignation, and said that provincial assembly members had reported pressure from the intelligence agencies, without providing further details. [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The National Accountability Bureau filed a Islamabad High Court petition on Wednesday challenging an accountability court’s earlier ruling to exclude charges of evidence tampering in the corruption charges against Maryam Nawaz and her husband Mohammad Safdar. The Lahore High Court is hearing a petition seeking restrictions on the broadcast of remarks by Nawaz Sharif criticizing the judiciary over his disqualification. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: PPP leader Khurshid Shah told reporters on Wednesday that the party was backing the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s protests against the governments over the 2014 Model Town incident, but would not support the early dismissal of the government. Dawn looks at the results from Tuesday’s Chakwal by-election. [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Economic Indicators: Pakistani exports rose in December 2017 to $1.97 billion, a 15% year-on-year increase, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reported on Wednesday; imports grew 10.1% year-on-year, to $4.91 billion, and the trade deficit for the first half of the fiscal year has reached $17.97 billion. Remittances totaled $1.7 billion in December, a 8.72% year-on-year increase; overall remittances for the first half of the fiscal year are up 2.5%. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Soldier Killed in North Waziristan Landmine Blast [Dawn] [ET]
  • Jamaat-ud-Dawa Disputes BBC Report [Dawn]
  • UK Ambassador to Afghanistan Visits [ET]
  • Two Chinese Nationals Arrested for ATM Skimming [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Shooting Video Under Investigation: Politico reports that U.S. military officials are investigating a video compilation released on YouTube that appears to show U.S. servicemembers opening fire on a civilian truck in Afghanistan, among other scenes of combat.
  • Navy Seeks Contractors for Drone Missions: The U.S. Navy will hire contractor General Atomics to operate unarmed MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drones in support of Marine forces in Afghanistan for the 2018 Fiscal Year.
  • Attacks and Operations: Nangarhar provincial officials report that at least 23 Taliban fighters were killed in operations in the Khogyani district on Wednesday evening, including several senior commanders. A Taliban spokesman tells TOLO that the insurgents have collected Afs 3 million in taxes from Ghazni province in the last year, and businessmen interview confirm that they have been forced to pay the insurgency. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hezb-e-Islami Prisoners Released: Pres. Ghani pardoned and freed a group of 75 Hezb-e-Islami prisoners held at Pul-e-Charki prision on Thursday, as part of the peace agreement signed with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in 2016; a spokesman for the party said that more than two thousand party members remain in prison, however. [Khaama Press]
  • Balkh Provincial Council Chief Sentenced: Asif Mohmand, the former head of the Balkh provincial council who was arrested and subsequently released in August last year, after allegedly being beaten by forces loyal to governor Atta Mohammad Noor, was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of forgery by the Anti-Corruption and Justice Center on Wednesday.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • MPs Criticize Ghani Over Nepotism Hiring Remarks [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Parliament Probes Fuel Smuggling [TOLO]
  • Civil Service Commission Proposes Policy on Equal Opportunity for Women [TOLO]
  • Central Bank Vows to Stabilize Afghani Against Foreign Currencies [TOLO]
  • Afghanistan Receives 25 Buses from Uzbekistan [TOLO] [Pajhwok]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Defense Minister Says Military Cooperation with US Suspended; Noor Warns Against Ouster by Force

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Topline

  • In remarks on Tuesday, Pakistani Defense Minister Kurram Dastgir Khan said that Pakistan had “suspended military and intelligence cooperation” with the United States, although an embassy spokesman said that the U.S. had “not received any formal communication regarding a suspension”. U.S. Amb. Hale held talks with Pakistan’s minister of state for finance on Tuesday on Pakistan-US economic cooperation.
  • In a statement to supporters on Tuesday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor insisted that he had the support of as much as 80 percent of the Afghan security forces, warning the government that he would “respond to force with force”; his remarks followed earlier reports that the government was considering a “military option” for his removal. Atta nonetheless said that talks between the Jamiat-e-Islami and the government over his resignation were still ongoing.
  • The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Quetta on Tuesday evening that killed at least seven people, most of them police officers.
  • Manuevering is underway to choose a successor to Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri after his resignation on Tuesday; former home minister Sarfaraz Bugti appears to be a leading candidate, and reportedly has the backing of the National Party, but he told reporters on Tuesday that new future coalition would exclude the Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party, which the national PML-N leadership is reportedly opposed to doing.
  • The PML-N won the Punjab provincial assembly by-election in Chakwal on Tuesday over the PTI; the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah’s candidate came in third.
  • Ratings agency Moody’s warned on Tuesday that further devaluation of the Pakistani rupee would increase Pakistan’s debt burden, of which around a third is denominated in dollars.
  • The chairman of the Afghan electric utility DABS reported an improved financial position in remarks to reporters on Monday, saying that the utility was now taking in Afs 100 million monthly and had recovered Afs 2.5 billion out of Afs 10.6 billion in outstanding dues.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Defense Minister Says US Cooperation ‘Suspended’: Speaking at a conference in Islamabad on Tuesday, Defense Minister Kurram Dastgir Khan said that Pakistan had “suspended military and intelligence cooperation” with the U.S. after it announced a suspension of security assistance to Pakistan last week; he also said that the closure of U.S. supply routes is “leverage we want to use at the appropriate time”. In a WSJ interview, Dastgir warned that “punishing Pakistan pushes it towards America’s major adversaries” and that “by choosing castigation over cooperation, the U.S. has emasculated the war on terror in this region.” A spokesman for the U.S. embassy said that “we have not received any formal communication regarding a suspension”. U.S. Ambassador David Hale held talks with Minister of State for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal on Tuesday on “Pakistan-US economic cooperation”, which the Express Tribune suggests also touched on now-frozen Coalition Support Fund payments. [ET] [AFP]
  • Quetta Bombing: A suicide bombing targeting a police vehicle in Quetta on Tuesday evening killed at least seven people, most of the them police officers, and injured dozens more; the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP] [The Nation]
  • Journalist Attacked: Taha Siddiqui, a Pakistani journalist who has previously reported threats from the Federal Investigation Agency and security services, escaped a kidnapping attempt in Islamabad on Wednesday; he has filed a case in the incident and has appealed for police protection.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Balochistan Government Shakeup: Following Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri’s resignation ahead of a no-confidence vote on Tuesday, Balochistan assembly opposition leader Maulana Wasey told reporters on Wednesday that his group would not be part of a future government but would support a new chief minister nominated by dissident PML-N lawmakers. The national PML-N leadership has reportedly yet to finalize a decision on which candidate to back. Top contenders for the position reportedly include former home minister Sarfaraz Bugti and lawmakers Jan Mohammad Jamali and Sardar Saleh Bhootani, among others, as well as former Chief Minister Abdul Malik of the National Party. Dawn reports that the National Party has backed Bugti, who told reporters on Tuesday that the Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party would not be part of the governing coalition going forward, a position the national PML-N leadership is reportedly opposed to. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Speaking to a group of PML-N lawyers on Tuesday, Nawaz Sharif insisted that he had “no conflict or tussle with the Supreme Court” but criticized specific judges who had ruled for his disqualification, and for previous rulings upholding periods of military rules. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear PTI petitions against overseas fundraising by the PML-N and PPP, and on Tuesday heard initial arguments over the extension of absentee voting for expatriate Pakistani nationals. On Tuesday, the National Accountability Bureau’s Khyber Paktunkhwa chapter ordered new investigations against Mohammad Safdar, Nawaz’s son-in-law. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]
  • KPK Places Seminaries Under Education Department: Dawn reports that the Khyber Paktunkhwa government, which was earlier reported to have approved monthly stipends for prayer leaders, has placed religious seminaries under the supervision of the provincial education department, shifting that responsibility from the industries department.
  • Other Political Activity: Unofficial results indicate the PML-N won Tuesday’s by-election for the PP-20 provincial assembly seat in Chakwal by a comfortable margin of around 30,000 votes over the PTI’s runner-up. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah’s candidate came in third place, with around 16,500 votes. Former MQM leader Saleem Shahzad met with Imran Khan and announced that he would join the PTI on Tuesday. Chaudhry Mehmood Bashir Virk was sworn in as federal law minister on Tuesday. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Debt Burden: In a note on Tuesday, the credit ratings agency Moody’s warned that further depreciation of the Pakistani rupee would increase Pakistan’s debt burden, as around one third of the government’s debt is denominated in dollars, and that Pakistan’s current account deficit was likely to put pressure on the rupee for further devaluation. [Dawn]
  • Economic Appointments: On Tuesday, Arif Ahmad Khan was appointed as the new federal finance secretary and the prime minister’s assistant on revenue Haroon Akhtar Khan was elevated to ministerial status.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sindh Chief Minister Extends Rangers Policing Powers [ET] [ET]
  • PM Abbasi Meets Chinese Ambassador [ET]
  • National Security Advisor Attends Tehran Security Conference [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senators Object to Pardon for Rangers in 2011 Shooting Incident [Dawn]
  • Kidnapping Case Registered for Missing Chinese Engineer [Dawn]
  • Committee to Seek Switch of Official Correspondence to Urdu [Dawn]
  • Chief Justice Suggests Need for Uniform National Education System [Dawn]
  • Commentary: How Not to Engage with Pakistan – “While perhaps it is emotionally satisfying to penalize a country that has supported American enemies in Afghanistan for the past 16 years, the administration’s approach is unlikely to work. Pakistan has greater leverage over us than many imagine.” [Richard Olson, NYT]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Atta Firing Dispute: In a statement to supporters in Mazar-e-Sharif on Tuesday after earlier reports that the national government was potentially considering a “military option” to oust him from his position as governor, Atta Mohammad Noor claimed to have the support of 70 to 80 percent of military forces, and warned that he would “respond to force with force”. Atta denied that talks with the government over his resignation had become deadlocked and said that negotiations were continuing. In separate remarks at a police graduation ceremony in Kabul on Tuesday, Pres. Ghani did not directly reference Atta, whose removal he has not commented publicly on, but said that “it is my commitment that [the] Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) would become the only source to use military power. No individual must have the authority or ability to use military power against the people of Afghanistan”. [Khaama Press]
  • Election Preparations: Members of the selection committee tasked with nominating a replacement for the Independent Election Commission’s chairman tell TOLO they will nominate six candidates for the government to consider by the end of this week.
  • ID Card Delays: In remarks on Tuesday, Vice Pres. Sarwar Danish accused “ethnic extremists” of “taking hostage” efforts to introduce an electronic national ID card, whose introduction both Atta and Chief Executive Abdullah have called for delaying.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • DABS Reports Improved Finances: The chairman of electricity utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat told reporters on Monday that the utility was now taking in roughly Afs 100 million monthly in revenue and has collected Afs 2.5 billion out of Afs 10.6 billion in unpaid bills over the past ten months, although he noted that some high-profile politicians, including Vice Pres. Dostum had still not paid their dues.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Cutting Into Afghan Patronage: A Struggle to Make Government Younger [NYT]
  • Ghani Emphasizes Need to Eradicate Polio [TOLO]
  • Six Security Personnel to Face Prosecution Over Jalalabad Market Incident [Khaama Press]
  • Report: The National Unity Government and the Re-Shaping of Political Coalitions in Afghanistan – “Whatever coalition or coalition of coalitions would end up running the country, it would be a heterogeneous coalition of multiple groups, often unsteady in their own leadership.” [Antonio Giustozzi and Ali Mohammad Ali, CRPA]
  • Report: DOD Task Force for Business and Stability Operations: $675 Million in Spending Led to Mixed Results, Waste, and Unsustained Projects – “TFBSO’s poor planning, contracting, and oversight practices contributed to incomplete projects, unsatisfactory work, and delays, which resulted in waste.” [SIGAR (pdf)]
  • Commentary: The Politics of Washington Have Wrecked Afghanistan’s Future – “The bitter truth about Afghanistan is this: the relative stability Afghanistan experienced in the initial years post–9/11 will likely prove to be an exception, not the rule, in the country’s post–1973 history.” [Arif Rafiq, The National Interest]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Balochistan Chief Minister Resigns; ‘Military Option’ Under Consideration for Atta’s Removal

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Topline

  • Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri resigned on Tuesday ahead of a no-confidence motion he appeared to be set to lose. Some reports suggest that the senior PML-N leadership not not seriously intervene to save Zehri’s government.
  • TOLO, without providing further details, cites unnamed sources who claim that the presidential palace is “considering military options” for the removal of Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor.
  • Speaking to reporters on Monday, a Pentagon spokesman said that U.S. expectations for Pakistan are “straightforward” and said that the U.S. had “conveyed to Pakistan specific and concrete steps that it could take” to reverse the suspension of U.S. security aid.
  • A spokesman for Afghanistan’s defense ministry suggested Monday that the Haqqani network was responsible for most major attacks in Afghanistan’s major cities, suggesting that the group was “carrying out the attacks under the name of Daesh … for the purpose of provoking Iran and Russia to support Taliban”.
  • On Monday, the Peshawar High Court order the release on bail of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the founder of the Swat-based Tehreek-e-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi and father-in-law of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander Mullah Fazlullah. Sufi Mohammad has faced sedition and conspiracy charges, and has been detained without trial since 2009.
  • Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahri-ul Qadri announced nationwide protests against the PML-N government beginning Jan 17, after a deadline for the resignation or removal of Shehbaz Sharif and Rana Sanaullah passed on Sunday.
  • After Mahaz-e-Milli party leader Hamid Gailani suggested this weekend that the majority of the Taliban’s leadership was in fact based in Afghanistan rather than Pakistan, former NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil accused Gailani of facilitating meetings in Kabul to seek the release of Anas Haqqani.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Security Aid Suspension: Speaking to reporters on Monday, a Pentagon spokesman said that “our expectations [for Pakistan] are straightforward” and that “Taliban and Haqqani leadership and attack planners should no longer be able to find safe haven or conduct operations from Pakistani soil”; he added that “the United States has conveyed to Pakistan specific and concrete steps that it could take” to reverse the suspension of U.S. security assistance. In an interview on Sunday, CIA Director Pompeo said that “if they fix this problem, we’re happy to continue to engage with them and be their partner. But if they don’t, we’re going to protect America”. Speaking at a conference on Tuesday, Pakistani Defense Minister Kurram Dastgir Khan insisted that “Pakistan does not want a price for its cooperation but wants it sacrifices to be acknowledged” and “we won’t allow [the] Afghan war be fought on Pakistani soil”. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Maulana Sufi Mohammad Granted Bail: On Monday, the Peshawar High Court granted bail to Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the founder of the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), in connection to conspiracy and sedition charges; he has been imprisoned without trial and the organization banned since 2009, after battles with the Pakistani military in Swat, and his lawyers argued that Sufi Muhammad, believed to now be in his early 90s, should be released on health grounds. His son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah, now commands the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. [Dawn] [The Nation] [AFP] [AP]
  • Fundraising Restrictions: Dawn reports that the Sindh police Counterterrorism Department has drafted a proposed law that would ban the collection of donations by banned organizations.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Balochistan Chief Minister Resigns: Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri resigned on Tuesday before a no-confidence motion could be voted on, after PM Abbasi visited Quetta but failed to make contact with opposition lawmakers and PML-N dissident seeking Zehri’s ouster. The Express Tribune reports that Abbasi advised Zehri to resign; another report suggests that Nawaz Sharif agreed not to intervene to save Zehri’s government at the request of dissident PML-N lawmakers. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Qadri Announces Protest Movement: Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir-ul Qadri announced nationwide protests starting Jan 17 against the PML-N government, after his deadline for the resignation or removal of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah went unmet. Qadri claimed the support of all other major opposition parties; a steering committee meeting is planned on Jan 11. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Afghan Refugee Repatriation: The Express Tribune reports that participants at a cabinet meeting on Jan 3 opposed any extension for registered Afghan refugees to remain in Pakistan past June 2018; officials reportedly plan to seek funds from international donors for increased relocation payments for Afghan refugees, and increased restrictions on Afghans living outside designated refugee camps. At a press conference on Monday, leaders for Afghan refugee groups protested the government’s decision to only extend the current deadline for repatriation through the end of January. [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz attended court hearings on Tuesday in the corruption cases against them, where witnesses testified regarding various family assets. Hearings have been adjourned until Jan 16. [ET] [ET]
  • New Law Minister Named: The Nation reports that PM Abbasi has nominated Chaudhry Muhammad Bashir Virk as the new federal law minister; he is currently the head of the national assembly committee on law and justice. Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf told the Supreme Court on Monday that a new prosecutor general for the National Accountability Bureau would then be named withing a week.
  • Other Political Activity: Nawaz Sharif visited Chakwal on Monday, officially to offer condolences to Chaudhry Sultan Haider Ali on the death of his father, former Punjab Assembly member Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan, in October; Haider Ali is contesting for his father’s seat in a special election taking place Tuesday, prompting the PTI to file a complaint with the ECP that Sharif’s visit and speech at a public gathering violated the election code of conduct. On Monday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa cabinet approved new monthly stipends for prayer leaders in the province. Kulsoom Nawaz underwent a fifth round of chemotherapy treatments on Monday. On Tuesday, Imran Khan denounced what he described as a “vicious, gutter media campaign” regarding his reported third marriage. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Hazara Community Seeks Judicial Commission on Quetta Attacks [Dawn] [ET]
  • Three Terrorism Suspects Arrested in Balochistan [ET]
  • Sindh Civil Society Groups Challenge New Police Chief Appointment [Dawn]
  • MQM-Pakistan Leader Shahid Pasha Freed After 24-Day Disappearance [ET]
  • Islamabad Anti-Terrorism Court Hears Online ‘Blasphemy’ Complaint [ET] [Dawn]
  • Finance Ministry Seeking to Negotiate Trade Agreement with Saudi Arabia [Dawn]
  • PM Abbasi Inaugurates Sialkot Airport [Dawn] [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Defense Ministry Doubts ISIS Attack Claims: A spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry said Monday that most major attacks in Afghanistan’s cities were being carried out by the Haqqani network, despite claims of responsibility by the Islamic State, and suggested that “for the purpose of provoking Iran and Russia to support Taliban, they (Haqqani Network) are carrying out the attacks under the name of Daesh”.
  • Cross-Border Tensions with Pakistan: Kunar provincial officials reported Monday that one woman was killed and eight other civilians wounded in cross-border artillery firing from Pakistan into the Sarkano district.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: The head of Afghanistan’s Special Operations Corps reported on Monday that forces under his command had carried out more than 2,000 operations over the past ten months, which he claimed had killed more than 6,000 insurgents. Taliban fighters attacked the Kohistan district center in Faryab province on Monday, killing at least one soldier and a civilian. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Atta Firing Dispute: TOLO, citing unspecified sources, reports that the presidential palace is “considering military options” to remove Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor after continued deadlock in talks to negotiate his removal; the report offers no further details on what that might entail. Atta denied that he discussed his resignation with Interior Minister Wais Barmak when they met in Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday. [Ariana News]
  • Gailani Under Fire Over Remarks on Taliban: Mahaz-e-Milli party leader Hamid Gailani continues to face criticism after he claimed that the majority of the Taliban’s leadership was based in Afghanistan and professed a readiness to hold talks with them; the National Directorate of Security and Chief Executive Abdullah rejected that assessment in statements on Monday, and former NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil accused Gailani of facilitating meetings for the Haqqani network in an effort to secure the release of Anas Haqqani. Gailani denied those accusations at a press conference on Tuesday. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Vice President Danish Marks Anniversary of Constitution [TOLO]
  • Ghani Attends Police Graduation, Says Hiring Should Be Free of Nepotism [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Afghani Falls Further Against Dollar Due to Political Tension [TOLO]
  • Abdullah Calls for ‘More Discussions’ on Plan for National ID Card [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Afs 2.3 Billion in New Contracts [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Commentary: How the Heroin Trade Explains the US-UK Failure in Afghanistan – “Throughout its three decades in Afghanistan, Washington’s military operations have succeeded only when they fit reasonably comfortably into central Asia’s illicit traffic in opium – and suffered when they failed to complement it.” [Alfred McCoy, Guardian]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pentagon and Pakistan Considering Impact of Supply Line Cuts; Talks Continue Over Atta Removal

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Topline

  • Speaking to reporters on Friday, Sec. Mattis said that he was “not concerned” about possible Pakistani retaliation against U.S. supply routes to Afghanistan after the U.S. suspended security assistance to Pakistan last week; Pakistani sources say they are in fact considering taking that step. Anonymous Pentagon officials tell Reuters that the impacts of a cut-off are still only being examined “at a very broad level”. In a statement on Friday, the Pakistani military’s spokesman said that “suspension of US assistance will impact bilateral security cooperation and regional peace efforts but will not deter our resolve to fight terrorism”.
  • More talks were held between representatives of the Jamiat-e-Islami and the presidential palace on Saturday over the removal of Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, but no resolution was reached. Interior Minister Wais Barmak met with Atta on Monday, who also gave an interview to Reuters. Speaking to supporters on Sunday, Atta called for direct elections of mayors and governors, and for new Independent Election Commission members to be chosen by “civil society activists, the Supreme Court, the international community and the people’s representatives”.
  • Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri continues to battle a no-confidence motion against his government, a vote on which is scheduled for tomorrow. PM Abbasi visited Quetta on Monday but failed to secure meetings with opposition leaders and dissident PML-N lawmakers; the opposition and Zehri both claim to have enough votes to prevail on the motion.
  • A leader of the Iranian-backed Fatemiyoun Brigade of Afghans fighting in Syria told an interview that as many as 2,000 Afghans had died and more than 8,000 had been wounded fighting in Syria.
  • The deputy governor of Kunar province, Qazi Mohammad Nabi Ahmadi, was freed after being abducted in Peshawar last fall, although the circumstances of his release are unclear; his brother reportedly remains missing.
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak attended a Difa-e-Pakistan Council rally in Peshawar on Sunday, where the JUI-S praised the PTI’s leadership in the province and leaders from Jamaat-ud-Dawa also spoke. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah met with a gathering of shrine caretakers and religious leaders in Lahore on Monday, after the expiration of deadlines set separately by Tahirul Qadri and Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi for their resignations. After initial denials, the PTI acknowledged Sunday that Imran Khan had proposed marriage to Bushra Maneka, identified as his “spiritual advisor”; initial reports said that they had been married on Jan 1.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Security Aid Suspension: In remarks to reporters on Friday, Sec. Mattis said that the U.S. and Pakistani militaries were still in regular contact following last week’s announcement that the U.S. was suspending security assistance; he said he was “not concerned” about the possibility that Pakistan would take actions to cut off U.S. supplies to Afghanistan in response.  Anonymous U.S. officials tell Reuters that “we are looking at ways to deal with” a potential cut-off “and to mitigate the risks to the relationship”, but indicated that alternative route plans were still only being examined “at a very broad level”. The Nation quotes anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources who say that blocking the supply lines “is on the table and is being discussed by the diplomats, the civilian leaders and the military. We will reach a decision soon.” In a statement on Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that it was “determined to continue to do all it takes to secure the lives of our citizens and broader stability in the region”; Pakistan’s chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said in an interview that “suspension of US assistance will impact bilateral security cooperation and regional peace efforts but will not deter our resolve to fight terrorism”. In a Guardian interview on Friday, PM Abbasi dismissed the aid involved as “insignificant”, and said that “if somebody says we are harboring terrorists, there is no greater fallacy”. In a WSJ interview, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that “we do not have any alliance” with the United States; in earlier interviews, Asif described the U.S. as a “friend who always betrays”. Speaking at a rally in Chakwal on Saturday, opposition leader Imran Khan charged that “Pakistan would never have to face embarrassment had the [PML-N] rulers not sought aid from the US”; at a press conference earlier on Friday, Imran accused Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif of “selling the country to the Americans”. [WAPO] [AFP] [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Afghan Official Freed: Qazi Mohammad Nabi Ahmadi, the deputy governor Kunar province and Hezb-e-Islami leader who was kidnapped in Peshawar in October, was reportedly freed over the weekend and returned to Kunar; his brother apparently remains in captivity. Details of his release and his captors’ identities were not disclosed. [AP]
  • Karachi University Students Freed: Two Karachi University students who were detained last week by security personnel were released on Saturday, family members report.
  • Border Tensions with Afghanistan: Officials in the Mohmand Agency reported Friday that a cross-border missile from Afghanistan struck the Alingar Safi area, the second such incident in as many days; a security officer was subsequently wounded when his vehicle struck an IED while en route to investigate the strike. No other casualties were reported.
  • Balochistan Conflict: A police officer was killed in a shooting at a checkpost in Quetta on Saturday; no claim of responsibility was reported. The Balochistan Frontier Corps announced the seizure of a weapons cache during a raid in the Mastung district on Saturday; no arrests were reported. On Monday, Quetta police killed two unidentified terrorist suspects.
  • Sindh Police Appointments: On Saturday, the Sindh provincial government has proposed the appointment of Sardar Abdul Majeed Dasti as the new provincial police chief in the latest attempt to remove police chief A.D. Khawaja, Dawn reports.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Fiscal Crisis: The Express Tribune notes that the government’s budget deficit for the first five months of the fiscal year reached Rs 826 billion, more than half the total annual target of Rs 1.48 trillion. Domestic and foreign debt servicing amounted to Rs 625 billion during the same period. Advisor to the prime minister on economic affairs Miftah Ismail insisted that the government would not seek a new IMF agreement. Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Shahid Mahmood is due to retire from his position this week, but will reportedly be retained as an advisor to Ismail; he is subsequently due to be appointed to join the Asian Development Bank. [ET] [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Indian News Website Retracts Story Confirming Jadhav “Recruited by RAW as a Spy” [Dawn] [ET]
  • Supreme Court Seeks Report from ISI on Social Media ‘Hate Speech’ Monitoring [ET]
  • Rangers Receive Presidential Pardon for 2011 Karachi Shooting [ET] [Dawn]
  • National Security Advisor Janjua Meets Iranian Counterpart [The Nation]
  • Former NAB Special Prosecutor Sentenced for Misuse of Authority [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Frees 147 Indian Fishermen [Dawn] [ET]
  • Supreme Court Rejects PCO Judges’ Petition for Review of 2009 Order for Their Removal [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Rauf Siddiqui Made Part of Baldia Factory Fire Investigation; Farooq Sattar Exempted from Appearing for Hate Speech Case [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Cabinet Approves Rs 175B Finance for Third LNG Pipeline [ET]
  • Punjab University Vice Chancellor Resigns Over Seminary Land Transfer Order [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Atta Firing Dispute: A third round of talks was held between representatives of Jamiat-e-Islami and the presidential palace on Saturday over the disputed removal of Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, with no breakthrough reported. Interior Minister Wais Barmak met with Atta on Monday, for conversations which Atta said were focused on security in northern Afghanistan. In a Reuters interview, Atta said that his resignation letter had been conditional on reforms taken by the government; he also reiterated denunciations of Chief Executive Abdullah, and said that “this is about the 2019 presidential election … they have no grassroots support among the people and they are afraid of public figures who do.” Speaking at a gathering in Mazar-e-Sharif on Sunday, Atta called for direct elections of mayors and governors, and for new Independent Election Commission members to be chosen by “civil society activists, the Supreme Court, the international community and the people’s representatives”. Earlier on Saturday, Atta accused the central government of corruption and embezzlement of public revenues. Separately, a ministry of interior spokesman said Friday that the ministry would “take actions” against Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq after his remarks last week insisting that he also could not be removed by the central government. Deputy National Security Advisor Din Mohammad Jurat and Nangarhar governor Gulab Mangal led a gathering in Nangarhar on Friday voicing support for the government and criticized those “who have taken hostage the nation”. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Ariana News]
  • Election Preparations: Speaking to reporters on Saturday, a spokesman for the selection committee tasked with nominating new candidates for the IEC chairmanship said that they were reviewing 57 applications and would refer three to Pres. Ghani for consideration; no timeline for the decision was given.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Pension Obligations Growing: Reuters reports on the Afghan government’s growing pension obligations, which are projected to account for as much as a third of the budget within the next fifteen years; benefits are paid directly from the treasury, and no investment fund has been established to meet the obligations, which are rarely paid on time.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Inaugurates Kabul Steel Factory [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • MPs Seek Increase in Benefits [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • NDS Disputes Remarks by Hamid Gailani Regarding Location of Taliban Leadership [TOLO]
  • ICOIC Calls for Including Constitution in School Curriculum [TOLO]
  • IMF Helping Afghan Central Bank to Improve Financial Systems [TOLO]
  • Report: Progress of U.S. and Coalition Efforts to Train, Advise, and Assist the Afghan Air Force – “TAAC‑Air did not fully integrate its planning with NAC-A’s defined end state or Resolute Support campaign plans. Continued train, advise, and assist efforts without a plan integrated with Resolute Support campaign plans could result in the inefficient and ineffective use of U.S. and Coalition advisor train, advise, and assist efforts.” [DOD]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: US Suspends Security Aid to Pakistan; Kabul Bombing Kills 20

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Topline

  • On Thursday, the State Department announced that the U.S. was suspending all security assistance to Pakistan, including Coalition Support Fund payments, although officials said that this could be reversed if Pakistan opted to meet U.S. security demands regarding militant safe havens and also suggested that some assistance could be considered on a “case by case basis”. Earlier in the day, Pakistan was also listed on a “Special Watch List” for “severe violations of religious freedom” under the International Religious Freedom Act.
  • Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry responded on Friday that the “impact of the US’s decision on pursuit of common objectives would emerge more clearly in due course” but “it needs to be appreciated that Pakistan has fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources”. Pakistani officials are reportedly considering the closure of supply lines for US forces in Afghanistan.
  • A suicide bombing in Kabul on Thursday evening targeting a crowd of protestors has killed at least twenty people and wounded dozens more; the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after police raided shops in the areas linked to the sale of alcohol and other banned substances.
  • Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri met with coalition partners on Thursday and claims to retain the support of a majority of Balochistan provincial assembly members after a non-confidence motion was initiated earlier this week; the assembly will meet on Jan 9. PM Abbasi met with JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman on Thursday to seek a reversal of his party members’ support for the no-confidence move.
  • Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor told supporters on Thursday that another round of talks between Jamiat-e-Islami and presidential palace officials would take place on Saturday, and laid out some of his demands as a condition for stepping down.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Suspends Security Aid: On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced that the United States was suspending all security assistance to Pakistan, including Foreign Military Financing and Coalition Support Fund accounts and the transfer of military equipment, citing Pakistan’s failure to take action against the Haqqani network and other militant groups carrying out attacks in Afghanistan. Officials described the move as a temporary freeze, not a reallocation of money, and said it could be reversed if Pakistan changed its behavior, and that it did not affect non-military assistance. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also suggested that some assistance might be considered on a “case by case basis”. The administration did not offer a total value for the aid affected, but the freeze covers at least $255 million in FMF, whose suspension was announced earlier this week, and as much as $900 million in CSF appropriated for the 2017 fiscal year, none of which has been disbursed. Earlier on Thursday, the State Department also listed Pakistan on a “Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom” under the International Religious Freedom Act on 1998. In a response on Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that the “impact of the US’s decision on pursuit of common objectives would emerge more clearly in due course” but “it needs to be appreciated that Pakistan has fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources”. The Express Tribune reports that Pakistani officials are considering the closure of supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told an interview on Thursday that the U.S. “has always betrayed us in hard times” and “instability in the region suits both the US and India”; Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif told reporters that “waving goodbye to such an aid will save us from being shamed.” Defense Minister Kurram Dastgir spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart on Thursday to discuss defense cooperation. [State Department Background Briefing] [NYT] [NYT] [WAPO] [WSJ] [CNN] [Reuters] [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Karachi University Student Abducted: Two more students at Karachi University are reported to have been detained by Pakistani security services on Thursday, following an abduction of another student in November. [ET]
  • Counterterrorism Operations: On Friday, Karachi police and the Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of 16 Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan suspects during a joint operation in Karachi. The Pakistani military announced that it had killed two TTP suspects linked to a November attack in Dera Ismail Khan that killed a Pakistani army major. A roadside bomb in the Mohmand Agency injured at least one Frontier Corps soldier on Friday. [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Balochistan Government Under Pressure: A Balochistan provincial assembly session has been called for Jan 9 in response to a no-confidence motion by at least 14 assembly members against Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri; Zehir met with the head of the National Party on Thursday and expressed confidence that he retained support of a majority of the 65-member assembly. PM Abbasi met with JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman on Thursday evening to seek a reversal of his legislators’ support for the no-confidence move. Minister for Labor Rahat Jamali and advisor to the chief minister Maji Abro resigned their positions on Friday; Abro had only just been appointed to replace Mir Amanullah Notezai, who resigned earlier this week. [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Friday, the Supreme Court registrar refused to hear a new petition from Nawaz Sharif seeking the consolidation of three corruption cases against him into a single reference. Also on Friday, a Supreme Court bench issued its judgement regarding the dismissal of a National Accountability Bureau petition seeking the reopening of the Hudaibya Mills money laundering case against Sharif, concluding that he had been “denied due process”. The Nation notes that despite continued complaints by Nawaz Sharif over his legal battles, the party has yet to mobilize for a national protest movement. [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The “steering committee” of opposition party leaders formed following a Pakistan Awami Tehreek convention last week failed to meet on schedule on Thursday, The Nation notes; the opposition had announced a Jan 9 deadline for the resignation or removal of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif. A group of religious shrine caretakers associated with Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi announced plans to hold a protest rally and sit-in on Jan 9 against the government over its changes to the oath taken by candidates affirming the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood. Speaking on Friday, former Pres. Zardari called on Nawaz Sharif to “expose the secrets but first tell us how you were made”, referring to the military’s backing for the formation of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad in the 1990s. The PTI has called for the deployment of the army to provide security for the special election for the NA-154 Lodhran seat vacated by PTI leader Jahangir Tareen after his disqualification. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear petitions regarding voting by Pakistani expatriates, set for Jan 10. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Saudi Aid: Anonymous PML-N sources tell Dawn that the Sharif brothers’ visit to Saudi Arabia last week was aimed in part at securing additional financial assistance in the form of deferred oil payments, details of which have yet to be announced.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Islamabad High Court Hearings Missing Persons Case [ET] [The Nation]
  • Former Air Marshal Asghar Khan Passes Away [Dawn] [ET] [AP]
  • 15 Arrested in Balochistan Raids [ET]
  • Civil Society Barred from Holding Vigil for Salman Taseer [Dawn]
  • Sindh Orders Regularization of 21,000 Teachers [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Bans Unlicensed Mining in Khyber Paktunkhwa [ET]
  • NAB to Investigate Alleged Embezzlement of FATA Polio Vaccination Funds [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pakistan Has All the Leverage Over Trump – “Without an alternative port, the United States will have no choice but to continue working with Pakistan if it wants to remain engaged in Afghanistan, as Trump intends to do.” [Christine Fair, Foreign Policy]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Bombing: At least 20 people were killed and dozens more wounded when a suicide bomber struck a group of protestors in Kabul who were demonstrating on Thursday evening; the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News agency. The original protest had been sparked by police raids against local shops implicated in the sale of alcohol, and several of the casualties appear to have been security personnel. [Reuters] [AFP] [AP] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Residents of Faryab reported Friday that as many as ten civilians were killed and four wounded in an airstrike in the Darzab district that had targeted the home of an Islamic State commander, as they were seeking to negotiate the release of an imam captured by ISIS. Nangarhar provincial officials report that at least six ISIS fighters were killed in airstrikes in the Haska Mina district on Thursday.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Noor Firing Dispute: Representatives from Jamiat-e-Islami and presidential palace officials continued talks over the removal from office of Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor for the second day on Thursday; Noor told supporters that another round of talks would be held on Saturday and that he was “confident that the Jamiat-e-Islami leadership will not compromise on your rights and will not bow to its rival”. Noor said that his demands included “the implementation of the political agreement on the formation of national unity government; changing the system to a parliamentary system; the rolling out of identity cards in terms of the law which was approved by the national assembly and signed by president; and promoting social and political justice and other issues which have been referred to them”.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Inaugurates Power Transmission Project [TOLO]
  • IEC Selection Committee Reviewing Candidates [TOLO]