Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Processing of Special Visas for Afghan Partners Resumes; Judge to Lead Broadsheet Inquiry

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Topline

  • The U.S. embassy in Kabul is beginning a “phased resumption” of in-person interviews for special visas for Afghans who worked for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which were largely paused following the coronavirus outbreak, stalling an already backlogged application process.
  • The PTI government has appointed former Supreme Court judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh to lead an inquiry commission into the details of the National Accountability Bureau’s agreement with the asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC. The PML-N and PPP objected to Sheikh’s appointment.
  • In an Al Jazeera interview, Foreign Minister Qureshi called on the new Biden administration to “persevere with what was initiated and not reverse things” in Afghanistan, and also said that Pakistan’s ties with China were “not zero-sum” for the U.S.
  • Foreign Minister Qureshi told reporters on Thursday that China had agreed to ship half a million doses of its Sinopharm vaccine to Pakistan for free by the end of the month. As of Friday, Pakistan reports 528,891 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.561 million tests, with at least 11,204 associated deaths.
  • As of Friday, Afghanistan reports 54,559 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 236,300 tests, with at least 2,373 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Intel Meeting: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited ISI headquarters on Thursday, where he received a “comprehensive briefing on the regional and national security situation”, the military’s public relations arm announced; no details were disclosed. [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Attacks: Four members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps were killed and five injured when their vehicle struck a landmine in the Sibi district in Balochistan on Wednesday, Dawn reports.
  • Bajaur Operation: Two Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leaders were reportedly killed and a weapons cache seized in a military operation in the Bajaur district over Wednesday night.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • US Relations: In an Al Jazeera interview on Thursday, Foreign Minister Qureshi called on the new Biden administration to “persevere with what was initiated and not reverse things” in Afghanistan. Qureshi also said that Pakistan’s ties with China were not a “zero-sum game” for the U.S., calling on the U.S. to “come, compete and invest” and saying that Pakistan “can be a bridge-builder”. [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Information Minister Faraz announced on Thursday that former Supreme Court judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh would lead the inquiry commission into the details of the National Accountability Bureau’s agreement with the asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC. The PML-N and PPP objected to Sheikh’s appointment, noting that he had served as a deputy prosecutor general with the NAB during the period in which the original agreement with Broadsheet was signed. PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz also accused the PTI government of delaying investigations into its overseas fundraising practices. On Friday, the Supreme Court denied a bail petition by PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reiterated calls for PM Khan’s resignation on Thursday. The JUI-F staged a protest rally against Israel in Karachi on Thursday, accusing the PTI government of considering the normalization of relations with it and also accusing PM Khan of “selling out” the people of Kashmir. The Election Commission is considering plans to hold local government elections in Punjab in September. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: Foreign Minister Qureshi told reporters on Thursday that China had agreed to ship half a million doses of its Sinopharm vaccine to Pakistan for free by the end of the month, and would send at least 1.1. million doses in total by the end of February. The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan is evaluating at least two other Chinese vaccines and one from Russia. As of Friday, Pakistan reports 528,891 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.561 million tests, with at least 11,204 associated deaths. [Reuters]
  • Energy Price Hike: On Thursday, Federal Minister for Energy Omar Ayub Khan announced a Rs 1.95 per unit increase in electricity tariff rates, blaming previous governments for the need to increase prices. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Arguments Continue in Pearl Murder Case [ET]
  • State Bank Leaves Interest Rates Unchanged [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Seeks to Block US-Based Ahmadi Website [AP]
  • Opposition Walks Out of Senate Hearing on CPEC Authority [Dawn]
  • Government to Create New Seminary Examination Boards [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Three people were killed, including two ANA soldiers, in two separate attacks in Kabul on Thursday evening. Six police officers were killed in an attack on their checkpost in the Khashrod district in Nimroz over Thursday night, and two security personnel killed in an attack on the outskirts of the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Kumri.[Ariana News] [Khaama Press]
  • NATO Force Levels: In remarks on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that the alliance would review its mission in Afghanistna at a meeting in February and “whatever path we choose, it is important that we do so together, in a coordinated and deliberate way.”

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • US to Resume Visa Processing: The U.S. embassy in Kabul is beginning a “phased resumption” of in-person interviews for special visas for Afghans who worked for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports; approximately 19,000 visas were stuck in processing as of September 2019, and 7,000 allocated visas went unused in 2020, compared to 5,000 the year prior. The average wait time to complete the process is three years.
  • Peace Talks: Negotiations between Afghan government and Taliban representatives in Qatar over the past nine days have made “no significant progress”, TOLO reports, with government representatives accusing the Taliban of “not being prepared” to participate in the talks. In a statement on Thursday, the Taliban warned against any executions of Taliban prisoners, as VP Saleh has called for. On Thursday, the Afghan foreign ministry announced plans to convene a “summit of the world’s Islamic dignitaries” to seek a settlement to the conflict, following a meeting in Saudi Arabia between Foreign Minister Atmar and Muslim World League leader Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Issa. [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ministry of Finance Yet to Implement Presidential Order to Fire Customs Staff Accused of Corruption [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Visits Herat [Khabarnama] [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Tests Medium-Range Missile; Ghani Visits Herat

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Topline

  • Speaking during a visit to South Waziristan on Wednesday, PM Khan called for open hearings in the Election Commission’s investigation into foreign fundraising cases against the major political parties; the ECP said in a statement on Thursday that it would not broadcast its proceedings.
  • On Wednesday, the Pakistani military announced that it had successfully test-fired the nuclear-capable mid-range Shaheen-III ballistic missile.
  • Pres. Ghani visited Herat on Thursday, accompanied by VP Saleh and National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib.
  • Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission held a meeting with political party and civil society representatives on Wednesday to discuss draft election law amendments.
  • Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Pakistani health officials said they were working to procure one million doses of coronavirus vaccine by March. As of Thursday, Pakistan reports 527,146 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.525 million tests, with at least 11,157 associated deaths.
  • As of Thursday, Afghanistan reports 54,483 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 230,202 tests, with at least 2,370 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Missile Test: On Wednesday, the Pakistani military announced that it had successfully test-fired the nuclear-capable mid-range Shaheen-III ballistic missile, which has a range of approximately 2,750 kilometers. [AP] [ET]
  • Balochistan Attack: As many as 11 paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers were wounded in a roadside bombing in the Sibi district in Balochistan on Wednesday; no claim of responsibility was reported for the attack.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Overseas Fundraising Allegations: Speaking during a visit to South Waziristan on Wednesday, PM Khan called for open hearings in the Election Commission’s investigation into foreign fundraising cases against the major political parties, rejecting charges by the opposition of illegal fundraising by the PTI. The ECP said in a statement on Thursday that it would not broadcast its proceedings. Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja met with a delegation of Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition representatives on Wednesday, following the PDM’s protest outside the ECP the day prior, and pledged that the case against the PTI “would be decided on merit”. Akbar Babar, the original petitioner in the case against the PTI, protested on Wednesday that the ECP had failed to verify documents submitted by the PTI; an ECP spokesman accused Babar of disrupting the proceedings and trying to “bring it under duress”. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • US Relations: Former Pakistani diplomats and officials interviewed by the Express Tribune express optimism for a revival of bilateral relations under the new Biden administration. PM Khan congratulated Pres. Biden on his inauguration in a message on Wednesday.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Dawn has additional reporting on the dismissal by the National Accountability Bureau of two twenty-year old inquiries against PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Parvez Elahi. On Wednesday, a cabinet committee approved a £385,000 payment to a British law firm for its work in cases against MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain. At a press conference on Wednesday, PPP leaders denounced a new NAB case against Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: PPP candidates have withdrawn their candidacies in the NA-75 Sialkot and PP-51 Wazirabad by-elections, supporting the PML-N instead. Federal education minister Shafqat Mehmood announced a new set of civil service promotion rules on Wednesday. National assembly speaker Asad Qaiser endorsed the use of an open ballot in senate elections during a Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, health advisor Faisal Sultan said that the government was working to procure one million doses of coronavirus vaccine by March, and was in “advanced talks” with the companies SinoPharm and CanSino for that purpose. As of Thursday, Pakistan reports 527,146 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.525 million tests, with at least 11,157 associated deaths. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Army Chief Visits Sialkot Garrison [ET]
  • Chief of Air Staff Meets with Qatari Military Officials [The Nation]
  • Frontier Corps Soldier Sentenced to Death in Killing of Karachi University Student [Dawn]
  • $662 Million Current Account Deficit Reported in December [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reforms: The Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission held a meeting with political party and civil society representatives on Wednesday to discuss draft election law amendments that would include new restrictions on candidate registrations, and the use of an “electronic voting system”, among other proposed changes. [Khabarnama]
  • Ghani Visits Herat: Pres. Ghani visited Herat on Thursday, accompanied by VP Saleh and National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib; on arrival, he renamed the Herat airport in honor of an 11th Century Sufi poet, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari. [Khabarnama]
  • Appointments: TOLO notes ongoing vacancies in the Supreme Court, the governor of the Central Bank, and the head of the Afghan Red Crescent Society; four cabinet ministers and the Central Bank governor were previously rejected by parliament but have continued in “acting” capacities.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Thursday, Afghanistan reports 54,483 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 230,202 tests, with at least 2,370 associated deaths. India’s ministry of external affairs announced Wednesday that it would begin distributing coronavirus vaccines to neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, but did not provide a timeline.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani and Trudeau Speak by Phone [Khaama Press]
  • MPs Threaten to Bypass Government in Setting Budget [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Conflicts to Watch in 2021: Increasing Violence in Afghanistan – “The Biden administration will probably prefer to further wind down American involvement in the war in Afghanistan, but will have difficult calculations to make.” [Laurel Miller, CFR]
  • Commentary: Joe Biden Will Have to Address the War in Afghanistan – Again – “The problem of the Afghan war hasn’t gotten any easier since Biden left it four years ago, even if the American investment in it has continued to decline. Now, as then, there are no good or easy options—only less bad ones.” [Steve Coll, New Yorker]
  • Commentary: Palantir’s Gods-Eye View of Afghanistan – “Activity-based intelligence began in the war theater with the presumption You are what you do, but it is now being pushed into a new realm… one that asserts: Because we know what you did, we think we know what you are going to do next.” [Annie Jacobsen, Wired]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Biden Nominees Testify at Confirmation Hearings; PDM Rallies Outside ECP in Islamabad

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Topline

  • Biden administration nominees were questioned on Afghanistan and Pakistan-related issues, among other topics, in confirmation hearings on Tuesday, with defense secretary nominee Lloyd Austin describing Pakistan as an “essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan”, and secretary of state nominee Tony Blinken saying that the administration would “thoroughly assess” the details of the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed by the Trump administration last February.
  • PDM opposition leaders rallied outside the Election Commission building in Islamabad on Tuesday; PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz accused Imran Khan and the PTI of receiving donations from sources in India and Israel.
  • Taliban negotiators in Doha are reportedly insisting on a commitment to a “total Islamic system” and have rejected the current government structure, and also demanding further prisoner releases. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Wednesday that the Afghan government would not release any more Taliban prisoners.
  • Approximately 18,000 contractors remain in Afghanistan even as American servicemembers have been reduced to approximately 2,500 troops; around a third are U.S. citizens, and the remainder either local Afghan hires or third-country nationals.
  • The PTI government announced plans to form a new inquiry committee to investigate the details of the agreement between the NAB and the asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC.
  • On Wednesday, the NAB dropped all cases against PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.
  • As of Wednesday, Pakistan reports 524,783 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.481 million tests, with at least 11,103 associated deaths.
  • As of Wednesday, Afghanistan reports 54,403 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with at least 2,363 associated deaths; testing data was not reported in the press, and the Ministry of Public Health’s case tracking dashboard is broken.

Pakistan — Security

  • North Waziristan Attacks: RFE/RL reviews recent attacks targeting community leaders and activists in North Waziristan, reporting at least 50 such attacks last year, and interviews residents who express fears that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is regrouping in the area.
  • Missing Persons: At a hearing on enforced disappearances and abduction cases on Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court stressed that the federal government and prime minister held “the ultimate responsibility of law and order” in Islamabad. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Biden Administration Strategy: In responses submitted for his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, defense secretary nominee Lloyd Austin, who previously served as head of Central Command, described Pakistan as an “essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan”, and said that “continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues.” [Dawn] [SASC Hearing]
  • Opposition Politics: Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition leaders rallied outside the Election Commission building in Islamabad on Tuesday, although the absence of PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reportedly depressed PPP turnout at the gathering; Bilawal spoke separately at a PPP rally in Umerkot. PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz accused Imran Khan and the PTI of receiving donations from sources in India and Israel, and opposition leaders demanded that the ECP to complete its investigations into overseas fundraising by the PTI. Government officials dismissed the protest. In a statement on Tuesday, the ECP defended its work in the long-delayed fundraising case against the PTI, insisting that “considerable progress had been made”. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday authorized the formation of a new inquiry committee, to be led by a former high court judge not yet named, to investigate the details of the agreement between the National Accountability Bureau and the asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC, Information Minister Shibli Faraz announced. The Public Accounts Committee has sought a separate report on the agreement by the auditor general of Pakistan. On Wednesday, the NAB dropped all cases against PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • New Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Appointed: Retired Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar has been appointed as Pakistan’s new ambassador to Saudi Arabia, replacing Amb. Raja Ali Ejaz. Akbar previously served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factory and commander of the Rawalpindi X Corps; he retired from the military in December. [AJE]
  • Other Political Activity: PM Khan visited Wana, South Waziristan on Wednesday, where he touted the activation of new cellular service networks and government financial assistance programs. Khan has reportedly increased outreach to the PTI’s coalition partners in the upper house of parliament as the party prepares for senate elections. The PPP candidate won the PS-52 Umerkot II by-election, with turnout reported to be as high as 60 percent. Twenty-seven candidates have registered to contest the PB-20 Pishin III by-election in Balochistan in February. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Lawyer for Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh Argues to Uphold Acquittal [ET]
  • New Balochistan Provincial Police Chief Appointed [The Nation]
  • Mortar Attack in Bajaur Destroys Two Shops [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Declines to Mediate K-Electric Claims Disputes [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Seeks Additional LNG Tenders [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Force Levels: Stars and Stripes notes a US CENTCOM report that reports approximately 18,000 contractors remain in Afghanistan even as American servicemembers have been reduced to approximately 2,500 troops. The contractor population has declined by around 20% since October 2020; around a third are U.S. citizens, and the remainder either local Afghan hires or third-country nationals. Only 1,575 are armed personnel.
  • Attacks and Operations: National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib visited Paktia on Wednesday to review security in eastern Afghanistan. At least three Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack on their vehicle in Herat city on Wednesday. Six policemen were wounded in a roadside bombing in the Anjel district in Herat over Tuesday night. Taliban fighters attacked checkposts in the Pahstun Kot district in Faryab over Tuesday night, killing four security personnel. [Khabarnama] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Biden Administration Strategy: Speaking at confirmation hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, secretary of state nominee Tony Blinken said that the Biden administration would “thoroughly assess” the details of the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed by the Trump administration last February, saying that “we want to end this so-called forever war. We want to bring our forces home. We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place”. [Ariana News] [SFRC Hearing]
  • Peace Talks: Ariana News reports that Taliban negotiators in Doha are insisting on a commitment to a “total Islamic system” and have rejected the current government structure, and are also demanding further prisoner releases. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Wednesday that the Afghan government would not release any more Taliban prisoners, blaming previous prisoner releases last year for increases in violence. Foreign Minister Atmar traveled to Jeddah on Wednesday, where he met with the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to discuss the peace process. [Khabarnama] [Khabarnama] [Khabarnama]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Wednesday, Afghanistan reports 54,403 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with at least 2,363 associated deaths; testing data was not reported in the press, and the Ministry of Public Health’s case tracking dashboard is broken.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Albanian Soldier Dies in Afghanistan [AP]
  • Justice Minister Manawai Pushes for Salary Equalization [Khabarnama]
  • IWA Criticizes Draft Budget [Khabarnama]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PDM Holds Islamabad Protest; Taliban Call on Biden to Complete Troop Withdrawal

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Topline

  • Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition demonstrations are ongoing in Islamabad outside the Election Commission building as of this writing, protesting delays in investigations into overseas fundraising by the PTI. The ECP’s next hearing on the fundraising case against the PTI is scheduled for Wednesday.
  • In a statement on Monday, the Taliban called on the incoming Biden administration to complete the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, saying that “steps must now be taken to end the war, not to prolong it”. Talks between Taliban and government negotiators in Qatar remain stalled.
  • In a statement on Tuesday, VP Saleh said that he and Pres. Ghani had met with IEC officials to discuss plans for provincial council, district council, municipal, and Ghazni provincial elections to be held later this summer, and that he had been tasked with analyzing proposals for the creation of geographic constituencies for provincial council seats.
  • On Monday, the ECP announced the suspension of membership of 154 lawmakers in the senate and national and provincial assemblies for failing to file asset statements, including at least four federal ministers.
  • As of Tuesday, Pakistan reports 523,011 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.442 million tests, with at least 11,055 associated deaths. On Monday, Pakistan’s drug regulator gave approval for the use of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccination in Pakistan.
  • As of Tuesday, Afghanistan reports 54,278 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 230,202 tests, with at least 2,354 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: Speaking following a meeting of Pakistan Democratic Movement party leaders on Monday, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman confirmed that the party would go ahead with protests in Islamabad on Tuesday outside the Election Commission offices, accusing it of failing to pursue a six-year pending investigation into overseas fundraising by the PTI. Fazl also accused PM Khan of having “used funds collected in the name of charity for personal business and spreading chaos, illegally and through secret accounts”. PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari did not attend the meeting on Monday, traveling to Sukkur instead. The PDM demonstrations are ongoing in Islamabad and Rawalpindi today as of this writing; the opposition does not plan to hold an extended sit-in, and Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said that the government would “give a free hand” to allow the protest to take place. The ECP’s next hearing on the fundraising case against  the PTI is scheduled for Wednesday. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: In a court filing on Tuesday, the National Accountability Bureau said that it had seized all of Nawaz Sharif’s property in Pakistan as part of an investigation into alleged illegal land sales with Jang Group CEO Mir Shakilur Rehman. Government and opposition senators agreed to convene a special session to discuss allegations related to the UK-based asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC. NAB has summoned senate deputy chairman Saleem Mandviwala for a hearing on Feb 4; Mandviwala said that he would “hold the trial of every NAB officer by name in the media”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: On Monday, the ECP announced the suspension of membership of 154 lawmakers in the senate and national and provincial assemblies for failing to file asset statements, including at least four federal ministers. PM Khan has appointed Haleem Adil as the PTI opposition leader in the Sindh assembly. On Monday, the government fired the head of the Utility Stores Corporation, Zulqarnain Ali Khan; he tells the Express Tribune that he has resigned instead. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: On Monday, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan gave approval for the use of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccination in Pakistan, after previously approving the AtraZeneca vaccine. The Sindh provincial government reportedly plans to allocate Rs 1.5 billion for the purchase of vaccines this year. As of Tuesday, Pakistan reports 523,011 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.442 million tests, with at least 11,055 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Foreign Investment Falls 30% in First Half of FY2021 [Dawn]
  • Cabinet Committee on Energy Forms Body to Examine Gas Supply Chain [Dawn]
  • Russian-American Climber Dies in Karakoram Range [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Ariana News reports that Taliban negotiators in Qatar have sought additional time before sharing an agenda for talks with Afghan government negotiators; working groups for the two sides met last on Sunday, with government negotiators reportedly demanding a discussion on a ceasefire at the top of the agenda. In a statement on Monday, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem called on the incoming Biden administration to complete the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, saying that “steps must now be taken to end the war, not to prolong it, and the [February US-Taliban] agreement was made for the purpose”.
  • Elections: In a statement on Tuesday, VP Saleh said that he and Pres. Ghani had met with Independent Election Commission officials to discuss plans for provincial council, district council, municipal, and Ghazni provincial elections to be held later this summer, and that he had been tasked with analyzing proposals within the next month for the creation of geographic constituencies for provincial council seats. [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Save the Children Calls for $1.3 Billion in New Aid for Afghan Relief Efforts [AP]
  • MPs Seek Meeting with Ghani to Discuss Budget [TOLO] [Khabarnama]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PPP Leader to Skip Islamabad Protest; US Troops Reach 2,500 Level

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Topline

  • Pakistan Democratic Movement leaders will meet on Monday to discuss future protest plans. In remarks on Saturday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that his party would “only use democratic ways to remove Imran Khan from power”. Bilawal reportedly plans to skip a PDM protest outside the ECP headquarters in Islamabad scheduled for Tuesday. The ECP will hold further hearings this week on long-delayed investigations into overseas fundraising by the PTI, PPP, and PML-N.
  • On Friday, acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Chris Miller announced that the U.S. had drawn its forces down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, meeting an order from Pres. Trump in mid-November and bringing troops to their lowest level since 2001. A Pentagon spokesman said that Pres. Trump had signed a waiver against a Congressional reporting requirement in the new NDAA that would have frozen further withdrawals.
  • Amb. Khalilzad and Gen. Miller held talks with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Qatar on Saturday; the Taliban said that they had highlighted concerns over prisoner releases and the removal of Taliban leaders from international sanctions lists. Representatives from the Taliban and Afghan government met again in Qatar on Sunday evening. In a BBC interview on Friday, VP Saleh said that the Trump administration had made too many concessions to the Taliban; in a statement on Monday, Saleh called for the execution of Taliban prisoners.
  • Two female judges working for the Supreme Court of Afghanistan were killed in a shooting in Kabul on Sunday morning; a spokesman for the Taliban denied responsibility.
  • The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan has authorized the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, which will be provided by the international Covax alliance of donors. As of Monday, Pakistan reports 521,211 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.405 million tests, with at least 10,997 associated deaths.
  • As of Monday, Afghanistan reports 54,141 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 228,105 tests, with at least 2,346 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: In a statement on Monday, PM Khan seized on reports in the Indian press that Indian television anchor Arnab Goswami had receive advance notice from the Modi government of its plans to retaliate for the 2019 Pulwama attack with airstrikes in Balakot, Pakistan, as evidence of an “unholy nexus between the Modi govt and Indian media that led to a dangerous military adventurism to win an election in utter disregard for the consequences of destabilising the entire region”. In separate remarks on Sunday, Foreign Minister Qureshi accused India of “playing the role of a spoiler” in the Afghan peace process. [ET]
  • Waziristan Attacks: A Pakistani soldier was killed in an attack on a security checkpost in North Waziristan on Friday. Separately, a doctor was killed in a separate shooting in North Waziristan, also on Friday. On Monday, the Pakistani military announced that two TTP fighters had been killed in a raid in South Waziristan. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: Pakistan Democratic Movement leaders will meet on Monday to discuss future protest plans. In remarks on Saturday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that “we need to go through the parliament for every move”, and that his party would “only use democratic ways to remove Imran Khan from power”. Bilawal reportedly plans to skip a PDM protest outside the Election Commission headquarters in Islamabad scheduled for Tuesday, and will travel to Umerkot instead. The PPP is reportedly undecided on an electoral alliance with the PML-N in two by-elections in Punjab scheduled to take place next month; the deadline for candidate registration is this week. In remarks on Friday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid confirmed that the ministry would not renew Nawaz Sharif’s passport; he also said that he had been tasked with forming a government committee to hold talks with the opposition, but offered no concessions. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: In a video message on Saturday, Nawaz Sharif accused the PTI of illegal overseas fundraising, and criticized the slow-moving ECP inquiry into those activities. The ECP has scheduled hearings on Monday for parallel fundraising cases against the PML-N and PPP, and will hold hearings on the charges against the PTI on Tuesday, the same day as a planned PDM protest outside ECP headquarters. At a press conference on Sunday, Information Minister Shibli Faraz disputed the charges against PTI. On Monday, advisor to the prime minister Shahzad Akbar announced the disclosure of the terms of the government’s settlement agreement with Broadsheet LLC, blaming Nawaz Sharif for the previously unpaid dues. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports that the PTI government was “surprised” by a statement of support for the use of secret balloting in senate elections in a court filing by the ECP. Planning Minister Umar and Sindh Governor Imran Ismail met with a delegation of MQM leaders in Karachi on Saturday, announcing afterwards that a new cabinet committee would be formed consider plans to hold another census in the near future. The Pak Sarzameen Party held a protest in Karachi on Sunday, warning of further demonstrations if the government did not reverse its finalization of the 2017 census. Planning Minister Umar also met with Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to discuss city development projects. PM Khan is reportedly planning to replace the PTI members of the national assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. By-elections for the PS-52 Umerkot constituency are being held on Monday. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: On Saturday, health advisor Faisal Sultan announced that the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan had authorized the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, which will be provided by the international Covax alliance of donors; DRAP is currently reviewing authorization for another vaccine from China’s SinoPharm. Following remarks on Saturday from Sindh Health Minister Azra Pechuho calling on the federal government to allow provincial governments to directly import COVID vaccines, Planning Minister Umar said that “the Sindh government, private sector organisation or hospital can place the order for importing the vaccine, provided that they are approved by DRAP”. As of Monday, Pakistan reports 521,211 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.405 million tests, with at least 10,997 associated deaths. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Asset Seizures: The Express Tribune reports that the foreign ministry has warned state-owned entities to keep foreign account holdings at a minimum as Pakistan faces the enforcement of an arbitration order for the cancelled Reko Diq mining contract.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Naeem Bokhari Removed as PTV Chairman [Dawn]
  • On Third Anniversary of Death, Naqeebullah Mehsud’s Family Says Losing Hope for Justice [Dawn]
  • Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Gunman Sentenced to Death for 2014 Shrine Attack [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Navy Ship to Provide Relief Assistance to Sudan, Niger, and Djibouti [The Nation]
  • Former Pres. Musharraf’s Mother Passes Away [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Islands Development Ordinance Expires [Dawn]
  • Petroleum Prices Hiked [ET] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Reaches 2500 Troops in Afghanistan: On Friday, acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Chris Miller announced that the U.S. had drawn its forces down to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, meeting an order from Pres. Trump in mid-November and bringing troops to their lowest level since 2001. Miller said that “while the [DOD] continues with planning capable of further reducing U.S. troop levels to zero by May of 2021, any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based”. A Pentagon spokesman said that Pres. Trump had signed a waiver against a Congressional reporting requirement in the new National Defense Authorization Act that would have frozen withdrawals at the time of passage until additional reports were submitted to Congress. Afghan defense officials downplayed the significance of the withdrawal; in a statement on Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “NATO’s position has not changed and our presence is conditions based”. [WAPO] [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Kabul Attacks: Two female judges working for the Supreme Court of Afghanistan were killed in a shooting in Kabul on Sunday morning; their identities were not immediately disclosed. Two other people were also wounded in the attack. A spokesman for the Taliban denied responsibility for the attack; Pres. Ghani and other officials denounced the incident. Two Afghan National Police officers were killed in a magnetic bomb attack on Saturday. Two more bombings were reported in Kabul on Monday, although there appear to have been no casualties; the NYT interviews Kabul residents who describe “omnipresent fear” as a result of the ongoing targeted attacks in the capital. [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama] [Khabarnama] [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Thirteen Afghan Local Police militiamen were killed in an insider attack in Herat’s Ghorian district over Friday night; the Taliban claimed to have sponsored the attack. Military officials in Kunduz reported that the Taliban had dropped mortar rounds on a military base in the province using drones; no casualties were reported. Taliban fighters carried out a complex attack on an NDS base in Kandahar’s Daman district on Saturday; provincial police officials said two security personnel were wounded. A police officer was killed in a roadside bombing in the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Kumri on Saturday, and eight security personnel were reportedly killed in an attack on their checkpost outside the capital over Sunday night. Taliban fighters reportedly destroyed ten fuel tankers in Baghlan on Friday evening. Four militiamen were killed in an attack on their checkpost in Badakhshan’s Yawan district over Sunday night. [Ariana News] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: On Saturday, a spokesman for the Taliban announced that Amb. Khalilzad and Gen. Miller had met with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Qatar; the Taliban said that they had highlighted concerns over prisoner releases and the removal of Taliban leaders from international sanctions lists. Representatives from the Taliban and Afghan government met again in Qatar on Sunday evening to discuss the agenda for talks. Abdullah Abdullah, in his role as chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, held teleconference talks with a group of international diplomats on Sunday. Abdullah met with former Pres. Karzai on Monday. In a BBC interview on Friday, Amrullah Saleh said that the Trump administration had made too many concessions to the Taliban and warned that “trusting the Taliban without putting in a verification mechanism is going to be a fatal mistake”. In a statement on Monday, Saleh called for the execution of Taliban prisoners. Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday to discuss the peace process, reiterating calls for a Taliban ceasefire. [Ariana News] [Ariana News] [Khaama Press]
  • Power-Sharing Agreements: A spokesman for Abdul Rashid Dostum called for the implementation of the power-sharing agreement between Pres. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, saying that the government had not yet met commitments to integrate militiamen under Dostum’s command into the regular security services or increase the number of Dostum’s personal guards.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • She Killed an American in 2012; Why Was She Freed in the Taliban Deal? [NYT]
  • Finance Ministry Human Resource Director Arrested on Corruption Charges [Ariana News]
  • Government Bans Sue of Drones Near Presidential Palace [TOLO]
  • Kunduz Imam Orders Attack on Local Radio Station [Ariana News]
  • Commentary: Living With the Taliban: Local Experiences in Nad Ali, Helmand – “The Taleban pursue taxation with zeal, particularly on the lucrative poppy crop, but also in other areas of life; they moved quickly to tax people in the areas newly captured in October. There was no evidence of any of taxes being spent on public goods in the district.” [Fairuz Khan Alikhel, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PDM Prepares for Islamabad Protests; Ghor Councilor Killed in NDS Arrest Attempt

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Topline

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition announced plans for more protest rallies in Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Jan 19 before converging to protest outside the Election Commission offices. The PTI government said it would not seek to block the rallies from taking place.
  • On Thursday, the NDS intelligence agency announced that Hazatullah Bek, a member of the Ghor provincial council, was killed during an operation to arrest him. The NDS accused Bek of involvement in the assassination of a local journalist in early January and the deputy provincial council head in mid-December.
  • Three Pakistani soldiers were killed during any army raid in North Waziristan on Thursday, and another soldier was killed in an exchange of fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir.
  • As of Friday, Pakistan reports 514,338 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.284 million tests, with at least 10,863 associated deaths.
  • As of Friday, Afghanistan reports 53,938 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 223,381 tests, with at least 2,336 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • North Waziristan Attack: Three soldiers were killed during any army raid in North Waziristan on Thursday, the Pakistani military announced; two unidentified terrorist suspects were reported to have been killed in the operation. [AP] [ET]
  • Tensions with India: A Pakistani soldier was killed in an exchange of fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir on Thursday, the Pakistani military reported. Separately, the Islamabad High Court held hearings on Thursday, directing the federal government to contact the Indian government to determine whether it will appoint a lawyer on behalf of accused Indian spy Kulbhushan Jhadav.
  • Pearl Murder Case: The AP interviews a lawyer for Daniel Pearl’s family, who says that he faces an “uphill battle” to overturn the acquittal of Ahmed Omar Saeed and the commutation of sentences for three other men, saying that he was asking judges to “restore the balance between the accused and the victim.”

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: The Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition will hold rallies in Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Jan 19 before converging to protest outside the Election Commission offices, PML-N spokeswoman Marriyum Aurangzeb announced on Thursday. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid announced on Thursday that the government would allow a permit for the protests. The PML-N issued a new report alleging rigging in the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly elections last fall. [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: In a Dawn interview, Information Minister Shibli Faraz defended the PTI’s fundraising practices, which are currently under scrutiny by the ECP, insisting that the party had been fully transparent, in contrast with its rivals. [The Nation]
  • Regional Diplomacy: Pres. Alvi and PM Khan met with Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov on Thursday following an earlier trilateral summit with the Turkish foreign minister; both pledged support for Azerbaijan’s efforts for “the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh” during its war with Armenia last summer. Pakistan’s Chief of Air Staff Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan is currently on a visit to Turkey. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The Supreme Court continued hearings on Thursday the government’s appeal to alter the procedure for senate voting. PM Khan visited Lahore on Friday, where he will inaugurate a new road project. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Friday, Pakistan reports 514,338 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.284 million tests, with at least 10,863 associated deaths. On Friday, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood announced a revised schedule for the reopening of schools, pushing back the start of grade 1-8 classes to Feb 1.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Interior Ministry Cracks Down on ‘Fuel Smuggling’, Sealing Petrol Stations [ET] [Dawn]
  • PIA Plan Barred from Departing Malaysia in Lease Dispute [Reuters]
  • Sindhi Nationalist ‘RAW-Trained Militant’ Arrested in Karachi [Dawn]
  • NEPRA Forms Committee to Investigate Power Outage [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Prepares for Broadband Spectrum Auction [Dawn]
  • Expressions of Interest for Pakistan Steel Mills Sought by March [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Ghor Councilor Killed in NDS Operation: On Thursday, the NDS intelligence agency announced that Hazatullah Bek, a member of the Ghor provincial council, was killed during an operation to arrest him. The NDS charged Bek with involvement in the assassination of a local journalist in early January and the deputy provincial council head in mid-December. [AP] [Ariana News] [Khaama Press]
  • US Force Drawdown: TOLO interviews residents in Nangarhar’s Achin district who express concern over the withdrawal of U.S. forces last summer from a combat outpost in the district; the outpost is now used by Afghan army forces.
  • Attacks and Operations: A civilian was killed and seven soldiers wounded in a car bombing in Ghazni on Friday. Officials in Kunduz report that as many as a dozen security personnel and a civilian were killed in an attack in the Imam Sahib district over Thursday night. Kandahar police officials claim to have killed at least 36 Taliban fighters in clashes on the outskirts of the provincial capital.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Opposition: In an Ariana News interview, former ambassador Omar Zakhilwal criticizes the Ghani administration, accusing the president of violating the constitution.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Attorney General’s Office Denies Having Case Against Former Qaisar District Police Chief [TOLO]
  • Acting Education Minister Continues to Make Staff Changes [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Doha Talks Stall, Awaiting Biden Administration; PTI Submits Long-Delayed Fundraising Report

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Topline

  • Diplomatic and Taliban sources tell Reuters that neither side is likely to make further commitments or concessions in talks in Qatar until the intentions of the incoming Biden administration are clearer.
  • On Wednesday, the PTI submitted a report on its funding to an Election Commission committee investigating a long-delayed case on overseas fundraising; Dawn reports that the party has laid blame for any improper fundraising on party agents in the United States.
  • JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman led an opposition rally in Loralai, Balochistan on Wednesday, reiterating calls for the ouster of PM Khan and the PTI government.
  • Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval traveled to Kabul on Wednesday and met with Pres. Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, Foreign Minister Atmar, and former Pres. Karzai, among other Afghan leaders.
  • Foreign Policy reported a previously undisclosed December 2 attack that targeted the CIA-backed paramilitary Khost Protection Force base at Camp Chapman in Khost city. At least 13 people, including four KPF members, were reportedly killed.
  • As of Thursday, Pakistan reports 511,921 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.243 million tests, with at least 10,818 associated deaths.
  • As of Thursday, Afghanistan reports 5,831 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 221,663 tests, with at least 2,324 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Hazara Attack Aftermath: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited Quetta on Wednesday, where he met with the families of victims of the attack earlier this month on a group of Hazara coal miners, and vowed to bring those responsible to justice. On Wednesday, Nadeem Afzal Chan, a spokesman for PM Khan, resigned from his position, after he made comments implicitly criticizing Khan’s initial decision to delay meeting with community leaders. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman led an opposition rally in Loralai, Balochistan on Wednesday, reiterating calls for the ouster of PM Khan and the PTI government. Fazl insisted that the opposition would “submit our resignations at the right time” and that “our war is not against the army” but rather “for a parliament which is elected by the people in a free, fair and impartial election”. PM Khan and Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid met on Wednesday, with Khan reportedly ordering the ministry to block the attendance of seminary students at opposition rallies in Islamabad planned for next month. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The owner of the asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC called on the PTI government to disclose the terms of the UK arbitration court order between the firm and the Pakistani government, rebutting criticism from accountability advisor Shahzad Akbar. PML-N leader Uzma Bukhari accused Akbar of himself seeking a bribe from Broadsheet; Akbar filed defamation charges against her on Thursday. On Wednesday, the PTI submitted a report on its funding to an Election Commission committee investigating a long-delayed case on overseas fundraising; Dawn reports that the party has laid blame for any improper fundraising on agents in the United States. Speaking on Wednesday, science minister Fawad Chaudhry called for an investigation into the decision to allow Nawaz Sharif to travel abroad. The National Accountability Bureau has filed charges  against senate deputy chairman Saleem Mandviwala, accusing him of selling government-owned land to the Omni Group. The Islamabad High Court is hearing challenges against the appointment of Pakistan Television chairman Naeem Bokhari, and barred him from holding that role while the cases are heard. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Regional Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Qureshi hosted a trilateral meeting on Wednesday with his Turkish and Azerbaijani counterparts, which discussed areas of potential political and economic cooperation, and expressed concerns over shared threats, including “foreign-sponsored acts of terrorism”, cyber-attacks, “hybrid forms of warfare”, and “escalating trends of Islamaphobia”. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The Supreme Court continued hearings on Wednesday on the government’s proposal to shift to the use of open ballot voting in senate elections. The Express Tribune notes that the PML-Q may become an important swing bloc for determining control of the senate following the next elections. [The Nation]


Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Retired Army Major Seeks Release of Son from Military Custody [Dawn]
  • 12 Policemen Dismissed After Karak Shrine Attack [The Nation]
  • Navy Promotes Three Commodores to Rear Admiral Rank [The Nation]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Foreign Policy reports on a previously undisclosed December 2 attack that targeted the CIA-backed paramilitary Khost Protection Force base at Camp Chapman in Khost city. The attack was not claimed at the time; at least four KPF members, three Afghan security personnel, and six civilians were reportedly killed in a suicide Humvee bombing in the base’s employee parking lot. Faryab military officials say they killed eight Taliban fighters and destroyed a would-be car bomb in an operation in the Qaisar district. Five Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack on their checkpost in the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Kumri over Wednesday night. The ministry of defense announced on Thursday that they had rescued 13 prisoners from a Taliban prison in the Washir district in Helmand. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Reuters follows other reports that peace talks in Qatar, officially resumed last week, are effectively on hold; diplomatic and Taliban sources say that neither side is likely to make further commitments or concessions until the intentions of the incoming Biden administration are clearer. The Washington Post also notes the delays, and the recently renewed debate over the possible formation of an interim government, which Pres. Ghani opposes. In a remarks on Wednesday, VP Sarwar Danish insisted that the constitution was not an obstacle to the peace process and that it should not be amended. Enayatullah Babar Farahmand, deputy head of the High Council for National Reconciliation and one of Abdullah Abdullah’s former running mates, called for amendments to the system, however. [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Regional Diplomacy: Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval traveled to Kabul on Wednesday and met with Pres. Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, Foreign Minister Atmar, and former Pres. Karzai, among other Afghan leaders. [Khabarnama]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ministry of Finance Returns Amended Budget Draft to Parliament [TOLO]
  • Afghanistan and Turkmenistan Inaugurate New Rail Link [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Commentary: The Way Forward in Afghanistan – “If the new US administration were to announce a pause of all US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan until it determines whether the Taliban has lived up to its commitments, that would give it space to avoid losing before it even decides on its game plan.” [James Cunningham, Hugo Llorens, Ronald Neumann, Richard Olson, and Earl Anthony Wayne, Atlantic Council]
  • Commentary: What Future for Afghan Peace Talks Under a Biden Administration? – “As the Afghan government and Taliban await clearer policy signals from the incoming U.S. administration, their primary goal should be to keep the vital negotiations going.” [ICG]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: US Embassy Denies Advocacy for Interim Govt; New Bribery Allegations Against Nawaz Sharif

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Topline

  • Following a report on Tuesday that Amb. Khalilzad had held discussions with Afghan political leaders during his most recent visit to Kabul over the possibility of the formation of an interim government, U.S. charges d’affaires Ross Wilson issued a statement on Wednesday saying that “we have not advocated, and the US is not advocating, an interim government”. Key leaders on both sides of the intra-Afgha negotiations remain absent from current ongoing talks in Qatar.
  • On Tuesday, Information Minister Shibli Faraz announced the formation of a ministerial committee to investigate new allegations by the owner of the UK asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC, Kaveh Moussavi, that Nawaz Sharif had sought to bribe the firm to drop its investigations for the National Accountability Bureau against him.
  • On Wednesday, the NDS intelligence agency announced that it had arrested several Islamic State militants in Nangarhar’s Kama district over Tuesday night, accusing them of plotting to carry out an assassination attempt against Amb. Wilson.
  • Pakistan will host a trilateral meeting with the foreign ministers of Turkey and Azerbaijan on Wednesday.
  • As of Wednesday, Pakistan reports 508,824 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.202 million tests, with at least 10,772 associated deaths.
  • As of Wednesday, Afghanistan reports 53,774 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 219,861 tests, with at least 2,314 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Hazara Attack Aftermath: Bolan district commissioner Abid Saleem Qureshi met with mine owners, union representatives, and intelligence and law enforcement officials on Tuesday to discuss additional security arrangements around the Mach coal field, including the deployment of additional police and paramilitary Levies forces.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations: On Tuesday, Information Minister Shibli Faraz announced that the weekly cabinet meeting had formed a ministerial committee to investigate new allegations by the owner of the UK asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC, Kaveh Moussavi, that Nawaz Sharif had sought to bribe the firm to drop its investigations for the National Accountability Bureau against him. In a statement on Wednesday, PM Khan described the Broadsheet case as the “tip of the iceberg” and further evidence that “corruption is the biggest threat to Pakistan’s progress”. The Express Tribune reports that cabinet ministers also criticized the Auditor General of Pakistan for “harassing government officials”, and quotes PM Khan accusing auditors of accepting bribes. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Opposition Politics: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal defended the party’s decision to contest upcoming senate elections as a means of denying the PTI government a two-thirds majority in the upper house. JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman led a rally in Loralai on Wednesday, where he confirmed that the JUI-F would stage a protest outside the Election Commission on Jan 19. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Legal Proceedings: The Supreme Court continued hearings on Wednesday on the government’s petition to switch the mechanism for voting in senate elections to an open ballot. Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan has withdrawn a list of 16 proposed nominees for lower court appointments. [ET]
  • Regional Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday evening and met with Foreign Minister Qureshi on Wednesday, ahead of a trilateral meeting that will also be attended by Azerbaijan’s foreign minister. [ET]
  • Other Political Activities: PM Khan has reportedly rejected special assistant for power Tabish Gohar’s resignation, made last week. Pak Sarzameen Party chief Mustafa Kamal said his party would stage a protest rally in Karachi on Jan 17 against the PTI government’s finalization of the 2017 census results. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PTA Reviewing New WhatsApp Privacy Policy [ET]
  • Arrests Made Following Attack on Polio Vaccination Team in Karak [The Nation]
  • Uzair Baloch Acquitted in Murder Case [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • NDS Announces Disruption of Plot Against US Ambassador: On Wednesday, the NDS intelligence agency announced that it had arrested several Islamic State militants in Nangarhar’s Kama district over Tuesday night, accusing them of plotting to carry out an assassination attempt against U.S. charges d’affaires for Afghanistan Ross Wilson. The U.S. embassy has not commented on the report.
  • Attacks and Operations: A government fact-finding team arrived in Nimroz on Wednesday to investigate reported civilian casualties in an Afghan Air Force airstrike last week. Three Islamic State militants were killed in an operation in Jalalabad on Tuesday evening, provincial offficials report. A provincial appellate court employee was killed in a shooting in Jalalabad on Wednesday morning. A Kabul activist, Ahmad Saeedi, survived a shooting in Kabul on Tuesday evening; his bodyguard was wounded. Provincial officials in Helmand announced that they had cleared roads in the Nawa district of Taliban fighters and reopened them to traffic. The NYT interviews Afghans who have begun carrying pocket notes identifying themselves in the case of an attack.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Ariana News reports that Mullah Baradar and Abdul Hakim Haqqani have not returned to Qatar from Pakistan since talks resumed this past weekend, although working committee-level talks are still ongoing. TOLO reports that Nadery Nadery, Fawzi Koofi, and other Afghan government negotiators are also absent. Former vice president Karim Khalili met with Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa in Islamabad on Tuesday, both of whom reiterated support for the Afghan peace process. [Ariana News] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]
  • Interim Government Debate: Following a TOLO report on Tuesday that Amb. Khalilzad had held discussions with Afghan political leaders during his most recent visit to Kabul over the possibility of the formation of an interim government, U.S. charges d’affaires Ross Wilson issued a statement on Wednesday saying that “we have not advocated, and the US is not advocating, an interim government. The outcomes of Afghanistan peace negotiations are up to Afghans and we believe those outcomes should reflect the wishes and aspirations of the Afghan people”. [TOLO] [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Wednesday, Afghanistan reports 53,774 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 219,861 tests, with at least 2,314 associated deaths.
  • Emergency Spending: The Wolesi Jirga finance and budget committee has reported that the Afghan government spent Afs 5 billion (approximately $64.8 million) more than the allocated budget for the ‘Code 91’ emergency fund over the past three years.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • UN and Partner Agencies Seek $1.3 Billion for Humanitarian Aid [Ariana News]
  • UK House of Lords Committee Recommends Continuation of British Troop Deployment [Ariana News]
  • Parliament Objections to Formation of New Presidential Policy Office [TOLO]
  • Germany Deports 26 Failed Asylum Seekers to Afghanistan [AJE]
  • Commentary: US Policy Toward Afghanistan: Consider the Trade-Offs – “Treating Afghanistan decisionmaking in isolation artificially inflates its significance and heightens the risk of policy choices being influenced by the tyranny of sunk costs.” [Vanda Felbab-Brown, Brookings]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Accuses India of Sponsoring ISKP; DOD Continues Drawdown Despite NDAA Restrictions

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Topline

  • PM Khan, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid met in Islamabad on Monday to discuss responses to the Islamic State attack on a group of Hazara coal miners earlier this month. Pakistan’s chief military spokesman repeated allegations made earlier by PM Khan that India was supporting the regional Islamic State affiliate.
  • The U.S. military has continued the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan despite restrictions in the new National Defense Authorization Act, which freezes drawdowns until the administration and DOD provide additional reporting to Congress. An anonymous DOD official reports that approximately 3,000 troops are currently in country; Pres. Trump previously ordered a drawdown to 2,500 troops by Jan 15.
  • Hezb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami party leader Karim Khalili traveled to Islamabad on Monday for a three-day visit, meeting initially with Foreign Minister Qureshi.
  • Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have continued meetings in Qatar this week but remain deadlocked over the timing of a ceasefire agreement, TOLO reports.
  • A police officer providing security for a polio vaccination team was killed in the Karak district on Tuesday.
  • At least 20.6 million people have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to new Pakistan Bureau of Statistics estimates. As of Tuesday, Pakistan reports 506,701 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.162 million tests, with at least 10,717 associated deaths.
  • As of Tuesday, Afghanistan reports 53,690 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 210,910 tests, with at least 2,308 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Hazara Attacks Aftermath: PM Khan, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid met in Islamabad on Monday to discuss responses to the Islamic State attack on a group of Hazara coal miners earlier this month, vowing action. Speaking separately on Monday, Balochistan Home Minister Mir Ziaullah Langove said that the provincial government had launched a province-wide operation targeting “terrorists and their facilitators”.
  • Polio Vaccination Team Attacked: A police officer providing security for a polio vaccination team was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in the Karak district on Tuesday. [AP]
  • Tensions with India: Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman repeated allegations made earlier by PM Khan that India was supporting the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP); in a statement on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Qureshi also accused India of “playing the role of a spoiler” in the Afghan peace process. A Pakistani boy was wounded in an exchange of fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir on Monday.
  • Missing Persons: At a hearing on Monday, the Islamabad High Court criticized the government’s lack of a response to orders relating to the location of Abdullah Omar, who was abducted in June 2015, and gave police officials a “last chance” to recover him.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: Opposition leaders held another protest rally in Mardan on Monday, reiterating calls for the PTI government to resign; PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman, and PkMAP leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai spoke at the rally, but PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz did not attend. Speaking separately to reporters on Monday, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal expressed skepticism about a strategy of removing PM Khan through an “in-house change” negotiation with PTI lawmakers. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Law Minister Farogh Naseem defended the government’s use of executive ordinances during senate debate on Monday. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: At least 20.6 million people lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to new Pakistan Bureau of Statistics estimates, with 49% of the rural population and 57% of the total population experiencing at least some decline in income. As of Tuesday, Pakistan reports 506,701 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.162 million tests, with at least 10,717 associated deaths. [Dawn]
  • Digital Payments Program: On Monday, PM Khan inaugurated a new digital payments program, which he touted as a means of shifting away from a cash economy and bringing more of the economy into the tax net. The State Bank of Pakistan, which is supporting the program with assistance from the Gates Foundation, World Bank, Britain, and the UK, says the system will be fully active by early 2022. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Lawyers for Omar Sheikh Allege Evidence Planted for His Conviction in Pearl Murder [Dawn]
  • Military Says Afghan Border Fence Nearly Complete [AP]
  • Five Indicted in Chinese Consulate Attack Case [The Nation]
  • Two “Islamic State-Inspired” Gunmen Sentenced in 2013 Killing of Navy Officer [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Troop Withdrawals Continuing Despite NDAA Restrictions: Reuters reports that the U.S. military has not halted the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan despite restrictions in the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law late last month, that freeze drawdowns until the administration and DOD provide reporting to Congress on the estimated impact of the move. An anonymous DOD official says that approximately 3,000 troops are currently in country; Pres. Trump previously ordered a drawdown to 2,500 troops by Jan 15.
  • Civilian Casualties: Pres. Ghani issued a statement of condolence on Monday over the death of civilians in an Afghan Air Force airstrike in Nimroz over the weekend; he blamed the Taliban for “using people’s houses and public places as shields”. The ministry of defense claims to have killed 14 Taliban fighters in the strike. [Khabarnama]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Two female soldiers were killed by unidentified gunmen in an attack on their vehicle in Mazar-e-Sharif on Tuesday. A Kabul Bank employee was killed in a shooting in Ghazni city on Tuesday morning. Afghan forces in Baghlan repelled an attack on a highway checkpost on Monday. [TOLO] [Khabarnama] [Khabarnama]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Khalili Visits Pakistan: Former vice president and Hezb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami party leader Karim Khalili traveled to Islamabad on Monday for a three-day visit, meeting initially with Foreign Minister Qureshi, who reiterated Pakistan’s support for the Afghan peace process. [AP] [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Peace Talks: TOLO reports that Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have held several meetings since talks resumed over the weekend but “neither side has shown flexibility” on the issue of a ceasefire.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Foreign Minister Atmar Meets Visiting Uzbekistan State Security Service Official [Khabarnama]
  • Commentary: How Biden Can Bring U.S. Troops Home from Afghanistan – “Washington could seek to adjust the agreement by negotiating a one-time, six-month recalibration of the deadline for troop withdrawal together with recalculated target dates for its other obligations, including the Taliban’s counter-terrorism commitments, keyed to the actual rather than putative start of the negotiations.” [Barnett Rubin, Responsible Statecraft]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Imran Meets with Hazara Families After Protests End; Negotiators Meet Again in Qatar

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Topline

  • Hazara community leaders ended their protests in Quetta and in other cities around the country, and held funeral services on Saturday for 11 coal miners who were killed the week prior. PM Khan, who had delayed earlier travel to Quetta, met with the community leaders and family representatives later on Saturday.
  • During remarks on Sunday, PM Khan accused India of sponsoring Islamic State attacks in Pakistan, including the attack on the Hazara miners. Khan also reiterated that Pakistan would not hold any talks with India until it reversed changes to the status of Indian Kashmir.
  • Taliban and Afghan government representatives met in Qatar again on Saturday; in Kabul, the High Council for National Reconciliation met again on Saturday and afterwards announced that it had approved another set of guidelines for the negotiators. TOLO reports that some negotiators on both sides are currently absent from Doha.
  • PML-N leaders confirmed Saturday that the party will participate in upcoming senate elections and by-elections for empty assembly seats. Pakistan Democratic Movement leaders are gathering in Malakand on Monday for another protest rally against the government.
  • As many as 18 civilians were reportedly killed in an Afghan Air Force airstrike in the Khashrod district in Nimroz over Saturday night. Afghan military officials said they were investigating the incident; the NYT notes efforts by the Afghan government to restrict or control information related to civilian casualties.
  • The Afghan ministry of defense announced the appointment of new commanders for three Army corps, including Gen. Haibatullah Alizai as commander of the Special Operations Corps.
  • A fault at the Guddu power plant triggered nationwide blackouts across much of Pakistan beginning Saturday evening; power was mostly restored by Sunday evening.
  • As of Monday, Pakistan reports 504,293 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.122 million tests, with at least 10,676 associated deaths.
  • As of Monday, Afghanistan reports 53,584 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 216,550 tests, with at least 2,301 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Hazara Protests End: Following negotiations with Balochistan provincial officials on Friday evening, Hazara community leaders ended their protests in Quetta and in other cities around the country, and held funeral services on Saturday for 11 coal miners who were killed in an attack the week prior. PM Khan, who had delayed earlier travel to Quetta and said that he would not be “blackmailed” by protestors’ demands that he do so before ending their sit-in, met with the community leaders and family representatives later on Saturday; in remarks during the visit, he promised to create a new special security force to provide protection to the Hazara community. Opposition leaders criticized Khan’s refusal to travel to Quetta earlier. The Afghan foreign ministry is reportedly seeking consular access to a surviving miner reported to be in police custody; at least seven of the victims are reported to have been Afghan nationals. The Afghan National Security Council called for an investigation into the attack on Saturday. [Reuters] [AP] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Tensions with India: During remarks on Sunday, PM Khan accused India of sponsoring Islamic State attacks in Pakistan, including the recent attack on the Hazara community outside Quetta. Khan also reiterated that Pakistan would not hold any talks with India until it reversed changes to the status of Indian Kashmir. Two civilians were injured in cross-border firing at the Line of Control in Kashmir on Sunday. In a statement on Sunday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry blamed India for delays in the case against Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Zaki-ur Rehman Lakvhi, rebuffing a U.S. State Department statement on Saturday calling for Lakhvi to be prosecuted for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Turbat Attack: Five people were injured in a grenade attack in Turbat, Balochistan on Sunday; no claim of responsibility was reported. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, PML-N leaders announced that the party would participate in upcoming senate elections and by-elections for empty assembly seats; former minister Khurram Dastagir said that the party would make a decision on any resignation from the assemblies after the senate elections in March. The PPP had previously announced it would participate in both senate elections and by-elections. Pakistan Democratic Movement leaders are gathering in Malakand on Monday for another protest rally against the government. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, the Pakistani military’s chief spokesman downplayed comments by JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman last week warning that the opposition would march on Rawalpindi, where the army is headquartered, saying that “if they want to come, we will offer them refreshments”. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Elections: The Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial governments have endorsed a switch to an open ballot for senate elections in their responses to the Supreme Court hearing on the issue sought by the PTI government; JUI-F lawyers petitioned the court to reject the change. Hearings are scheduled to resume on Monday. The Election Commission has reportedly decided to seek the deployment of army personnel outside polling stations in upcoming by-elections in eight vacant national and provincial assembly constituencies. [ET]
  • US Relations: Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Ashad Majeed Khan, has reportedly been recalled to Pakistan for consultations on Pakistan’s plans for outreach to the incoming Biden administration.
  • Legal Proceedings: Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan took the oath of office as the new Peshawar High Court chief justice on Saturday. National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser has petitioned the Election Commission seeking the disqualification from office of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement leader Ali Wazir. In an interview, the CEO of the asset recovery firm Broadsheet LLC accused Nawaz Sharif and his family of attempting to bribe the firm to halt its investigations for the National Accountability Bureau into the family’s assets. [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: In a statement on Friday, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain called on the PTI government to “develop a one-year short term plan for elimination of poverty in the country” and “brush aside differences and work for mitigating the problems of the people”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Power Outage: A fault at the Guddu power plant triggered nationwide blackouts across much of Pakistan beginning Saturday evening as it cascaded through the National Transmission and Dispatch Company system; power is reported to have been restored in most cities and town as of Sunday evening. On Sunday, Information Minister Shibli Faraz blamed previous governments for neglecting the power distribution system and only focusing on increasing generation capacity. [AFP] [AP] [ET] [The Nation]
  • COVID Crisis: As of Monday, Pakistan reports 504,293 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 7.122 million tests, with at least 10,676 associated deaths. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • IMF Talks: In a Reuters interview, State Bank of Pakistan governor Reza Baqir said that “we hope to have good news for the market and the world that we are putting the [IMF] programme back on track”, insisting that the only disagreement between the government and the Fund was the timing for the implementation of tax and other reform measures.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Rs 40.5 Million in Assets Belonging to Mullah Mansour Recovered by Karachi Court [Dawn]
  • US Commission on Religious Freedom Calls for Release of Woman Jailed on Blasphemy Charge [AP]
  • PM Khan Orders Crackdown on Sugar Hoarding [ET]
  • Pakistan Launches New Polio Vaccination Campaign [AP]
  • Tax Receipts Total Rs 2.205 Tillion for First Six Months of Fiscal Year [Dawn]
  • Remittances Surpass $2 Billion for Seventh Consecutive Month [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: As many as 18 civilians were reportedly killed in an Afghan Air Force airstrike in the Khashrod district in Nimroz over Saturday night, provincial council sources report; demonstrations were held in the provincial capital Zaranj on Sunday to protest the incident. Afghan military officials said they were investigating the incident, and that they had targeted Taliban fighters in the area. The NYT notes efforts by the Afghan government to restrict or control information related to civilian casualties, ordering provincial and district officials and spokesmen not to speak to the press. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani denied that any crackdown on information had been made. [Reuters]
  • Command Reshuffle: On Friday, the ministry of defense announced the appointment of new commanders for three Army corps, including Gen. Haibatullah Alizai as commander of the Special Operations Corps, and new commanders for the 209th and 201st corps, which cover Balkh and central-eastern Afghanistan, respectively.
  • Attacks and Operations: Three people, including a spokesman for the Public Protection Force, were killed in a magnetic bomb attack in Kabul on Sunday morning; no claim of responsibility was reported. On Saturday, the ministry of interior announced the arrest of three people in connection to the assassination of Yousuf Rashid, the CEO of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan. Military officials in Farah claim to have killed 29 Taliban fighters in air strikes in the province, and denied reports that nine soldiers had been killed in an attack on a checkpost in the province. An Afghan National Army company commander and four soldiers were reportedly killed in an attack on their checkpost in the Darqad district in Takhar on Friday evening. A local civil society activist was wounded in a roadside bombing in the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri on Friday evening; on Sunday, military officials said they had cleared Taliban checkpoints from the Baghlan-Balkh highway. During a Wolesi Jirga session on Saturday, lawmakers criticized the government’s management of security in Kabul and around the country. The state ministry for disaster management reported that approximately 18,000 families had been displaced across six provinces in the past month. [TOLO] [Ariana News] [Ariana News] [Ariana News] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama] [Khabarnama]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Taliban and Afghan government representatives met in Qatar again on Saturday; in Kabul, the High Council for National Reconciliation met again on Saturday and afterwards announced that it had approved another set of guidelines for the negotiators. TOLO reports some negotiators on the Afghan government team and Taliban negotiator Abdul Hakim Haqqani are not currently present in Doha; a Taliban spokesman denied that Haqqani was absent. Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told the AP on Friday that there was “no specific time as to when the issue of a cease-fire will be decided”. In a CNN interview on Friday, Pres. Ghani professed that his “basic goal is to be able to hand power, through the will of the people, to my elected successor” and said that “we’re not a type of society that the Taliban-type approach of the past can be imposed on us.” [Ariana News] [Khaama Press]
  • Regional Diplomacy: Former vice president Karim Khalili will visit Pakistan from Jan 11-13, the Pakistani foreign ministry announced on Sunday. The foreign minister of Turkmenistan, Rasit Meredow, arrived in Kabul on Friday for meetings with Foreign Minister Atmar, Pres. Ghani, and other officials. Abdullah Abdullah met with Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan on Saturday. [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama]
  • National IDs: Speaking during a senate briefing on Sunday, the head of the National Statistics and Information Authority said that the NSIA planned to distribute more than five million electronic ID cards before the end of April; 1.7 million have reportedly been issued to date. [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Madrassa Registration: TOLO reports that the ministry of interior is planning to impose additional controls over approximately 5,000 already registered seminary schools around the country, including biometric registration of students and staff.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Lawmakers Reiterate Objections to Continuation of ‘Acting’ Ministers [Ariana News]
  • Ministry of Finance Yet to Resubmit Budget Draft to Parliament [TOLO]
  • Uzbekistan Increases Power Export to Afghanistan [TOLO] [Khabarnama]
  • Daikundi Security Official Detained on Charges of Selling Weapons to Taliban [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Were These the Fingerprints of a Terrorist? – “The information that Mr. Lorance’s defense team presented to President Trump was based on the wrong men. Two Afghan civilians were dead. In the name of justice, the defense team had presented these men as being wanted terrorist bomb makers who’d killed Americans.” [Annie Jacobsen, NYT]
  • Commentary: What if the Afghan Peace Process Fails? – “The talks have confirmed the wide gap between the opposing sides in their visions of a future Afghan state and society.” [Marvin Weinbaum and Shanthie Mariet D’Souza, The Diplomat]