Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Supreme Court Orders Investigation Against Sharifs; Scores Killed in Balkh Army Base Attack

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Note: The news returns to its regular daily update schedule from today; coverage of the April 20-24 period follows below. Apologies for the interruption in service and resulting length of this brief, and thanks for reading.

Topline

  • Pakistan’s Supreme Court issued a 3-2 ruling in the Panama Papers case, stopping short of disqualifying Prime Minister Sharif and his family from office but ordering the formation of a Joint Investigation Committee to determine whether charges should be brought against him. Although both sides claimed victory in the verdict, opposition parties have begun mobilizing to demand Sharif’s resignation; both the PTI and PPP have suggested that the JIT cannot be independent as long as Sharif continues to serve in office. Although some smaller opposition parties have begun forming alliances over the issue, the PTI and PPP remain at odds, with Imran Khan suggesting he would “come after” former Pres. Zardari over corruption next.
  • A team of Taliban gunmen attacked the headquarters of the 209th Afghan National Army corps in Balkh on Friday, killing scores of soldiers; at least 140 are believed to have been killed, and some sources suggest the toll could exceed 200, the deadliest single incident for the ANA since the war began in 2001. On Monday, the Afghan defense minister and chief of army staff resigned, and Pres. Ghani replaced at least four corps commanders, including the former commander of the 209th.
  • Defense Secretary Mattis arrived in Kabul on Monday for talks with Ghani and other U.S. and Afghan officials.
  • Policing powers were extended for the Punjab and Sindh Rangers; Sindh officials did not restrict the force’s ability to conduct operations independent of the police, as reportedly had been under consideration.
  • Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar reportedly returned to Afghanistan on Monday, meeting with party leaders in either Jalalabad or Laghman, depending on the local press account.
  • Former Pres. Karzai continues to criticize the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in the wake of the MOAB strike in Achin district; he met with China’s ambassador to Afghanistan on Monday, and Russia’s ambassador last week.
  • Newsweek, citing “several authoritative sources”, claims that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is living under ISI protection in Karachi, and was previously the target of a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan in January 2016.
  • Former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif departed for Saudi Arabia on Friday after receiving formal permission to assume command of the Saudi-led military alliance; Pakistani officials are continuing meetings with Iranian officials and are reportedly seeking to convince it to join the coalition.

Pakistan — Security

  • Rangers Authorities Extended: On Wednesday, the ministry of interior officially extended policing powers for the Punjab Rangers for a sixty-day period; speaking at a press conference on the same day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan criticized the Sindh government for delaying the extension of the Sindh Rangers’ policing powers, suggesting that the federal government would “consider it options” if the provincial government did not make the extension request. A Sindh provincial cabinet meeting approved the extension of the Rangers’ authorities on Saturday, without placing restrictions on their ability to conduct operations without the participation of the provincial police as some PPP officials had reportedly been considering. On Friday, lawyers for the Rangers told a court hearing that they had not arrested an associate of former Pres. Zardari, who disappeared earlier this month. [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Zawahiri Reportedly in Pakistan: Newsweek, citing “several authoritative sources”, reports that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is living under the protection of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service and living in Karachi, and was previously the target of a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan’s Shawal Valley region in January 2016.
  • Raheel to Assume Command of Saudi Alliance: On Friday, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told an interviewer that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif had been given formal permission by the government and the army to assume command of the Saudi military alliance, and had departed for Riyadh. Asif pledged to brief parliament on the issue after the alliance meets in May. Prime Minister Sharif met with the new Pakistani ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Khan Hasham. Earlier in the week, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa to discuss the “evolving regional security matrix and other issues of mutual interest”; National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq is on a five-day visit to Tehran, meeting with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Sunday. The Express Tribune reports that Prime Minister Sharif has tasked attorney general Ashtar Ausaf with seeking to negotiate with Saudi Arabia and Iran for the latter’s participation in the alliance. [AP] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • US Extradition: In Islamabad High Court hearings on Saturday, the interior ministry argued that Talha Haroon, a U.S. citizen of Pakistan origin whose extradition is being sought by U.S. officials in connection to plots to attack New York City targets on behalf of the Islamic State, could not claim rights as a Pakistani citizen to forestall his extradition.
  • Taliban-Affiliated Clerics Killed: The Express Tribune reports that at least three clerics, two Afghan nationals and one Pakistani, have been killed in Peshawar since mid-month, and that police believe they are being targeted by members of the Islamic State for their linkages with the Taliban and Haqqani network.
  • Blasphemy Killings: On Sunday, Mardan police announced the arrest of Bilal Baksh, a security officer at Abdul Wali Khan University who has been identified in previous accounts as the main instigator behind the lynching earlier this month of student Mashal Khan. At least 35 people have been arrested in connection to the incident, with three having made confessional statements. Separately, three women were arrested in Sialkot on Wednesday for the murder of Fazal Abbas Shah, who they accused of committing blasphemy in 2004. On Friday, a man survived a mob beating in Chitral after being accused of blasphemy; police say they believe he is mentally disabled, and a court hearing the case has ordered a mental evaluation. Heavy security patrols were put in place following the incident. [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Supreme Court Issues Panama Papers Verdict: In a ruling on Thursday, the five-member Supreme Court bench issued a verdict in the Panama Papers case brought by several opposition parties against Prime Minister Sharif and his family. The 3-2 ruling stopped short of disqualifying Sharif, but ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team to investigate whether the prime minister and his family had accumulated wealth beyond their known sources of income. Judge Efzal Khan, the author of the main judgment, said that the court could not dispense with due process, saying that both sides had failed to authenticate their documents during court hearings. Judge Asif Saeed Khosa, who led the bench, was in the minority, and in his dissent called for Sharif’s immediate disqualification based on Article 62 of the Constitution; the Express Tribune notes that Khosa had, in previous rulings, described the article’s requirement that legislators be ‘Sadiq’ (truthful) and ‘Ameen’ (trustworthy) as “obscure and impracticable”. Dawn notes that Khosa is the second senior-most judge on the Supreme Court and is due to assume the position of Chief Justice in January 2019; he will be followed by Judge Gulzar Ahmed, who joined him in the dissenting opinion calling for the prime minister’s disqualification. The JIT will be led by a senior Federal Investigation Agency officer, and the court ordered its formation within a week, with a report due within 60 days; an army corps commanders meeting on Monday resolved that the military would “play its due role in a legal and transparent manner” in supporting the investigation. [NYT] [AP] [Guardian] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Supreme Court Ruling (pdf)]
  • Government and Opposition Both Claim Victory in Verdict: The PML-N and opposition parties both claimed victory following Thursday’s verdict, with PML-N officials insisting they welcomed an investigation. During a meeting of cabinet advisors and party leaders on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif reportedly directed PML-N leaders not to question the court’s verdict, and agreed on plans to hold public rallies in support of the government around the country. The PTI, PPP, and Jamaat-e-Islami, among other opposition parties, all called on Sharif to step down immediately following the court’s ruling, which the PML-N has rejected; opposition parties staged a walkout in parliament on Friday, demanding Sharif’s resignation. The Lahore High Court Bar Association has also called for Sharif to step down; other bar associations have yet to establish a position on the issue. On Friday, Imran Khan announced that the PTI would hold a rally in Islamabad this coming Friday to demand Sharif’s resignation, saying that a JIT investigation could not be conducted while he retained the office of prime minister. The PTI is reportedly debating filing a petition for the court to review its verdict, and on Monday filed a petition seeking the removal of National Accountability Bureau chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry for failing to investigate corruption charges against the Sharifs. Former Pres. Zardari also called on Sharif to step down, and questioned the independence of a JIT; the PPP has announced its own plans for nationwide protests against the government, and against ongoing power outages. PPP protests were held in several Sindh districts on Sunday; the PML-N held a rally in Karachi in support of the prime minister. Both the PTI and PPP are reportedly planning the formation of a “grand alliance” of opposition parties to pressure the government, but in remarks at a rally in the Dadu district on Saturday Imran suggested that he was “coming after” former Pres. Zardari next, accusing him of “unparalleled” corruption. A spokesman for the PTI said that the party “welcome[s] the PPP’s move to put pressure on the premier to resign but it is not possible for the PTI to go along with it in any anti-corruption drive”. On Sunday, the PML-Q, Sunni Ittehad Council, Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen and Pakistan Awami Tehreek parties announced the formation of an opposition alliance; Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haq also met with the PML-Q leadership to discuss the issue. [Reuters] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Wednesday, the Election Commission disqualified Abdul Munim, a PTI lawmaker elected to the PK-88 Shangla provincial assembly constituency an advisor to the chief minister on tourism, after a petition was brought by another legislator accusing him of continuing to draw a salary from a government school during the 2013 campaign period. On Sunday, the MQM-Pakistan staged a rally in Karachi to protest against the provincial government; the MQM-Haqiqi and Pakistan Sarzameen Party, rivals of the MQM, both voiced support for the demonstration. During an interview on Sunday, former Pres. Musharraf suggested that he would again seek to “relaunch my political career” and contest parliamentary elections in 2018. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: The Express Tribune reports that Water and Power Ministry officials are accusing the Finance Ministry of blocking the full disbursal of subsidies for the power sector; the Finance Ministry has instead reportedly proposed increasing electricity tariff rates to offset electricity distribution company losses. On Wednesday, Water and Power Minister Khwaja Asif vowed to reduce electricity outages within the coming week. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Four Soldiers Transferred to Court Martial On Charges of Murdering Police Constable [Dawn]
  • Baloch Militants Surrender; Four Frontier Corps Killed in Kech [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • One Killed, Two Injured in Bajaur Roadside Bombing [ET]
  • Sheikhupura Police Kill Eight TTP Suspects [Dawn]
  • Government Proposes Formation of ‘Evening Courts’ in Islamabad [Dawn]
  • Former Prime Minister’s Son Among Nine Indicted in Ephedrine Smuggling Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Punjab Government Plans to Disburse 100,000 Cars to Unemployed Youth [Dawn]
  • Finance Minister Discusses Peshawar-Kabul Highway Project with World Bank [Dawn] [ET]
  • ‘Super Tax’ for Security Expenditures to Continue for Another Year [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Plans to Extend Taxes, Labor Laws to Provincially Administered Tribal Areas [ET] [ET]
  • Current Account Deficit Widens in July-March Period [Dawn]
  • Commentary: The World Must Secure Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons – “Having served in senior roles in Afghanistan’s intelligence services, I have good reason to be skeptical about Pakistan’s ability to keep its nuclear weapons safe from extremists.” [Rahmatullah Nabil, NYT]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Scores Killed in Attack on Balkh Army Base: A group of at least ten Taliban fighters wearing army uniforms infiltrated the main base of the Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps outside Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, bypassing as many as seven checkpoints before opening fire on soldiers emerging from midday prayers. Most of the soldiers were unarmed at the time; fighting continued for at least five hours, with at least two of the attackers detonating suicide vests. At least 140 Afghan soldiers and officers are reported to have been killed in the attack, with some sources suggesting the death toll may exceed 200. It is the deadliest single attack on the Afghan army since the beginning of the war; a small contingent of American and German military advisors were present on the base at the time of the attack but were not harmed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had been aided by four infiltrators serving as soldiers inside the base, and that the attack was carried out in retribution for the deaths of senior Taliban leaders in northern Afghanistan. Anonymous U.S. military sources tell the AP they believe the Haqqani network was responsible for the attack, and that planning for it likely took 4-6 months. Pres. Ghani visited Balkh on Saturday, meeting with provincial security officials and condemning the attackers as “infidels”. Chief Executive Abdullah also condemned the attack, and Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor vowed that Afghan security forces would take revenge for the attack. Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Staff Bajwa issued separate statements on Saturday condemning the incident and pledging to defeat a “common enemy”. Ghani ordered a national day of mourning on Sunday. [NYT] [WSJ] [WAPO] [Reuters] [Reuters] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Defense Officials Resign: Members of parliament and former security officials have criticized the government for the security lapse, and top defense officials, including 209th Corps commander Maj. Gen. Mohmand Katawazai, have been summoned to appear before parliament on Wednesday. TOLO notes Katawazai previously received permission from Pres. Ghani to continue service past the mandatory age of retirement. On Monday, Ghani announced that Defense Minister Gen. Abdullah Habibi and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim had resigned, and that the commanders of four army corps, including Maj. Gen. Katawazi, had been replaced. [NYT] [TOLO] [Reuters] [Guardian]
  • Mattis Visits: U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis arrived in Kabul on Monday at the tail end of a six-country tour; he is expected to meet with U.S. and Afghan officials. U.S. National Security Advisor McMaster also spoke by phone with his counterpart Hanif Atmar on Monday, condemning the attack in Balkh and pledging that the U.S. would continue to support Afghanistan. [WAPO]
  • MOAB Strike Aftermath: Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, a spokesman for the U.S. military said that U.S. special forces had withdrawn from the site of a U.S. bomb strike earlier this month but were continuing combat operations in the broader area, reiterating that the U.S. had “high confidence” no civilian deaths had been caused by the strike. Afghan Ministry of Defense officials said Thursday that they were still assessing the impact of the blast, and were in the process of clearing the area of Islamic State mines. Nangarhar provincial officials claimed that 28 Islamic State fighters had been killed in airstrikes in the Achin and Haska Mina districts on Friday, and another eight killed by air and artillery strikes in Achin on Saturday; on Monday, the ministry of defense put total Daesh casualty numbers in the two districts over the preceding 48 hours at 70. [Khaama Press]
  • German Officials Warn of Taliban Migrants: Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is investigating at least 70 Afghan men suspected of being former Taliban fighters who had sought asylum in Germany, Der Spiegel reported on Saturday; “thousands” of migrants are reported to have acknowledged previous affiliations with the insurgency.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: A suicide car bomber struck an American military base in Khost on Monday; a U.S. military spokesman said that there were “a number” of Afghan casualties but details remain sketchy. On Saturday, the Pentagon announced that Qari Tayib, identified as the Taliban shadow governor for Takhar province, had been killed in an airstrike in Kunduz on April 17; officials said that Tayib had been involved in the deaths of U.S. servicemembers and had been a “target of interest” since 2011. Eight other Taliban fighters were reportedly also killed in the strike. On Sunday, the Afghan Defense Ministry claimed that five Al Qaeda members and five Taliban fighters were killed in airstrikes in Zabul’s Shahjoi district. On Thursday, Afghan Air Force planes reportedly killed four Taliban fighters in airstrikes on the outskirts of the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tirin Kot. [Guardian] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hekmatyar Reportedly Returns: Qariburrahman Saeed, a Hezb-e-Islami spokesman, told TOLO on Friday that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar would return to Afghanistan “in the next few days”, suggesting that HIG prisoners were set to be freed over the weekend. Pajhwok reports that Hekmatyar arrived in Jalalabad on Monday and met with senior party leadership there; Ariana News reports the meeting took place in Laghman province.
  • Karzai Criticism Continues: Former Pres. Karzai continued to criticize the Achin bombing, saying Thursday that Pres. Trump had committed “an immense atrocity against the Afghan people” by approving the strike, and telling VOA on Wednesday that the Islamic State was a “tool” of the United States and that he “do[es] not differentiate at all between Daesh and America.” At a press conference on Sunday, former Pres. Karzai said that he could “no longer call the Taliban brothers” after the attack in Balkh, which he said “served the interests of outsiders”. Karzai met with China’s ambassador to Afghanistan on Monday, afterwards blaming “the presence of the US and their false actions” for an increasing in deaths in Afghanistan; he met with Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan last week.
  • Former Education Minister Gets New Appointment: On Wednesday, Pres. Ghani appointed former education minister Farooq Wardak to become minister of state for parliamentary affairs; Ghani also appointed Ghulam Nabi Farahi, who previously held the parliamentary affairs portfolio, as minister of state for tourism, a new ministry. [Khaama Press]
  • Refugee Repatriation: Norwegian Refugee Council officials tell the AFP that an average of a thousand people a day returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan during the first two weeks of April, following the reopening of the formal repatriation process; more than half a million registered and unregistered refugees are believed to have returned to Afghanistan during 2016. [Dawn]
  • Electoral Reforms: The committee tasked with assessing proposals for the introduction of electronic voting systems concluded on Thursday that doing so would not be practical; a spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said that the government “is still committed to conduct the elections with an e-voting system to prevent fraud in the elections and ensure transparency”, however. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ahmad Zia Massoud Calls for Early Elections After Dismissal [TOLO]
  • Russian Ambassador Says ‘Not Interested in Challenging US’ in Afghanistan [TOLO]
  • Students and Families Protest Transfer of Turkish School Network to Government Control [TOLO]
  • Interior Minister Pledges Action Against Police Corruption [TOLO]
  • Japan Pledges $3.6 Million in Aid [TOLO]
  • Ghani Inaugurates Kamal Khan Dam Project [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Old, Ill, and Ordered Deported from Denmark to Afghanistan [NYT]
  • Commentary: Torture as Prevalent as Ever: New UN Report Finds No End to Impunity for Afghan Torturers – “UNAMA’s latest report on the treatment of conflict-related detainees shows that the government has not yet taken the difficult, but necessary steps to reduce the use of torture.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Panama Papers Ruling Expected Tomorrow; Foreign Fighters Among Those Killed in Achin Strike

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Note: The news will be on temporary hiatus due to travel; daily updates will resume Monday, April 24 with a full summary of events during the interim period. Apologies for the interruption in service, and thanks for reading.

Topline

  • The Pakistani Supreme Court bench hearing the Panama Papers case will issue its verdict tomorrow, the court registrar announced on Tuesday.
  • Pakistan will deploy around 5,000 to the Saudi border with Yemen, the WSJ reports. The military component of the Saudi regional alliance, to be led by former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, will reportedly become operational by the end of the year.
  • The Punjab government has sought the extension of the deployment of the Punjab Rangers; PPP leaders in Sindh are reportedly delaying the renewal of policing powers for the Sindh Rangers as they push the federal government to release three associates of former Pres. Zardari believed to be under extrajudicial detention.
  • Afghan security sources claim that those killed in last week’s U.S. airstrike on ISIS targets in the Achin district include Tajik, Indian, and Pakistani nationals.
  • The Supreme Court of Pakistan held hearings on the lynching of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan on Wednesday. The senate committee on interior has proposed the transfer of the case to the military courts system.
  • A spokesman for the Junbesh-e-Milli party criticized Pres. Ghani’s dismissal of Ahmad Zia Massoud as advisor for reform and good governance.

Pakistan – Security

  • Rangers Deployment: The Punjab government has formally requested an extension of the deployment of paramilitary Rangers in the province, The Nation reports. The Express Tribune reports that the PPP is withholding an extension of policing powers for the Sindh Rangers as it seeks the release of several associates of former Pres. Zardari.
  • Saudi Coalition: The WSJ reports that Pakistan will provide around 5,000 soldiers to Saudi Arabia for border security with Yemen, in addition to its participation in the Saudi military coalition to be led by former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif. The military component of the alliance is reportedly slated to become operational by the end of the year, and the coalition leadership will rotate among members. An advisor to the Saudi minister of defense says that “all countries will put effort into combating terrorism in the member countries”, but that the alliance also “could move against rebel groups and militias that pose a threat to member countries”.
  • Mardan Lynching: The Supreme Court held hearings on the lynching of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan on Wednesday, criticizing Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak’s move to appoint a judicial commission in parallel to a police investigation team and halting that commission. The senate committee on interior called for the transfer of the case to a military court. Ziaullah Hamdard, a professor at the university, resigned on Tuesday, lamenting his failure to protect Khan during the attack. At least seven university employees have been suspended, and 27 people arrested in connection to the incident. [AFP] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Military Courts: On Wednesday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa signed execution orders for 30 “hardcore terrorists” convicted under the military courts system. [Dawn] [ET] [AP]
  • Ahmadi Professor Killed: Tahira Abdullah, a retired microbiology professor at Punjab University and member of the Ahmadi minority community, was found dead from stabbing wounds at her home on Tuesday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [AP] [Dawn]
  • Visa Restrictions: At a meeting on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reviewed visa entries to Pakistan and ordered tighter enforcement and the prosecution of individuals who travel to Pakistan without a valid visa, and penalties for airlines that fail to provide details on passengers. [The Nation] [ET]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Supreme Court to Issue Panama Papers Verdict: Supreme Court registrar officials announced Tuesday that the five-judge bench hearing arguments on the Panama Papers and the disqualification of Prime Minister Sharif from office will issue a verdict on April 20. Each judge has written an individual judgement in the case. PML-N sources tell Dawn they are debating the option of an early election in response to the court’s ruling; on Wednesday, Imran Khan directed senior party leadership to remain in Islamabad for the next three days to respond to the court verdict. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: PTI and PML-N activists clashed in Chakwal during a by-election for a Punjab Assembly seat on Tuesday; at least one person was injured. The PML-N candidate is reported to be leading in the vote count. Dr. Hassan Zafar Arif, an MQM leader arrested last October in connection with speeches by MQM leader Altaf Hussain, was released on Tuesday following a bail order approved earlier this month. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Prime Minister Sharif led a special meeting of the cabinet committee on energy on Tuesday, ordering action to resolve rising outages and “expressing dissatisfaction over the negligence of departments concerned”; the supply-demand gap is reportedly to be between 9000-10,000 megawatts. On Wednesday, Sharif inaugurated a new 1,180 megawatt LNG power plant in Sheikhpura, vowing to complete work on the project within 18 months. PPP leaders have announced plans to hold nationwide protests over power outages beginning April 22. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Tax Revenues: The Federal Board of Revenue has reportedly proposed withdrawing tax breaks for the banking sector, with the goal of raising an additional Rs 40 billion during the next fiscal year.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Two Female Polio Vaccinators Attacked in Lahore [ET]
  • National Assembly Approves Compulsory Quranic Education [Dawn]
  • Thar Officials Halt Data-Sharing on Child Deaths [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa School Enrollment Drive Suffers as Teachers Protest [ET]
  • IMF Projects Stable Growth in 2017-18 [Dawn]

Afghanistan – Security

  • MOAB Strike Aftermath: TOLO quotes anonymous Afghan security sources who claim that at least 13 Islamic State commanders, thirteen Indian nationals, twelve Tajikistanis, and “dozens” of Pakistani nationals were killed in last week’s U.S. airstrike in the Achin district. A separate report indicates that an ISIS radio broadcast has been continuing in Nangarhar, despite the strike.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: On Wednesday, Nangarhar provincial officials reported that five Pakistani militants affiliated with the Islamic State had been killed in an airstrike in Nazian district. The Taliban shadow governor for Baghlan province was reportedly killed along with four other “senior commanders” in an operation by Ministry of Interior commandos in the Dand-e-Ghori district on Tuesday evening. Zabul provincial officials claim that three Al Qaeda members were killed in an airstrike in the Tarang district on Wednesday. On Tuesday evening, the district police chief was killed in an attack on a police checkpost in Zabul’s Shinkay district. Nuristan provincial officials report that a local Taliban commander was killed and two fighters injured in an operation in the Wanat Waigal district on Tuesday. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [AP]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Massoud Dismissal: A spokesman for Vice President Dostum’s Junbesh-e-Milli party tells TOLO that Ahmad Zia Massoud’s dismissal from his position as advisor to the president on reform and good governance “will not help to improve stability in Afghanistan and instead it will lead to the emergence of new conflicts in the country”. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani has not provided details on the rationale for Massoud’s removal, but said that “every appointment or dismissal is aimed to improve the effectiveness of work in government institutions”. [Ariana News]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • World Bank MIGA Begins Insuring Afghan Companies [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan is at Risk of Becoming the New Vietnam – “Unless the United States and Afghan governments can provide extensive post-strike analysis that justifies the bombing in the minds of Afghans, civil unrest becomes likely.” [Chris Kolenda, The Hill]
  • Commentary: How Predatory Crime and Corruption in Afghanistan Underpin the Taliban Insurgency – “Extensive predatory criminality, corruption, and power abuse—not effectively countered by the Afghan government—have facilitated the Taliban’s entrenchment.” [Vanda Felbab-Brown, Brookings]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Former TTP Spokesman Surrenders to Military; US Forces Assess Achin Strike

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Topline

  • Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman reported that Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and member of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, had surrendered to Pakistani security services; no further details were released.
  • The WSJ and Guardian report from the Achin district, where U.S. forces are leading operations to assess the wake of a major bomb strike by U.S. forces last week.
  • During a meeting with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster on Tuesday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa was quoting saying that Pakistan “is victim of state sponsored terrorism” and “strongly rejects allegations of employing proxies from its soil”.
  • A student arrested in connection to the murder of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan has alleged that university officials pressured him to accuse Khan of blasphemy. The national assembly passed a resolution on Tuesday condemning his death.
  • An Afghan weapons depot reportedly caught fire and exploded in Spin Boldak on Monday evening; at least ten people were injured.
  • The Sindh Rangers said Monday that they had ceased policing operations in Karachi and were providing “backup support” to the police; the Sindh home ministry said separately that it had not withdrawn the Rangers’ authorities.
  • Pres. Ghani fired former advisor Ahmad Zia Massoud on Monday evening, following several months in which he had criticized the national unity government; Massoud protested his firing, warning of “political instability” as a result.

Pakistan – Security

  • TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar Leader Reportedly Surrenders: Speaking at a press conference on Monday, chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor announced that Sajjid Mohmand, aka Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and leader of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, had “turned himself in to Pakistani security agencies”. No further details were provided; the Express Tribune reports that Ehsan had been replaced as TTP JuA spokesman last year. Ghafoor also broadcast a confessional video from Noreen Leghari, a medical student from Hyderabad who was arrested over the weekend and charged with participating in a plot to attack a Lahore church on Easter. [NYT] [AP] [The Nation] [The Nation] [RFE/RL] [Dawn]
  • Mardan Lynching: A student arrested in connection the lynching of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan alleged on Monday that university officials had pressured him to testify that Khan had committed blasphemy prior to his death. Lawmakers in the senate called for a review of the blasphemy law in a session on Monday, and the national assembly passed a unanimous resolution on Tuesday condemning Khan’s murder. PTI leader Imran Khan visited with Khan’s family on Tuesday, and earlier told reporters that “we will make sure no one misuses the blasphemy law again”. The Express Tribune notes a video showing Arif Mardan, a PTI local councilor implicated in the attack, urging participants not to identify the gunman who killed Mashal. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Sindh Rangers Extension: In a statement on Monday, the Sindh home ministry said that it was “legally and factually incorrect” to suggest that the Sindh government had “withdrawn duties and functions of Rangers in the province”. In a separate statement, the Rangers said that they had ceased policing operations and were only providing “backup support” to the provincial police. [ET]
  • Tensions with India: Dawn reports the names of three Indian nationals who were linked to travel by a former Pakistani military officer who disappeared in Nepal earlier this month.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • McMaster Visit: During his trip to Islamabad, U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster met with Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, among other officials. The U.S. embassy said in a statement afterwards that McMaster had “stressed the need to confront terrorism in all its forms”; in a statement on Tuesday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa was quoted telling McMaster that “Pakistan itself is victim of state sponsored terrorism, it strongly rejects allegations of employing proxies from its soil”.  Acting Special Representative Laurel Miller also met separately with Finance Minister Dar to discuss security and economic cooperation.
  • Civil-Military Tensions: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan pushed back at comments by military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor on Monday regarding an investigation into linked accounts of disagreements between civilian and military leaders in Dawn last fall; Chaudhry Nisar attributed the delay in an investigation into the leak to a lack of consensus amongst inquiry commission members, but suggested last weekend that the report would be finalized soon. Commission sources tell The Nation that the report is yet to be finalized, however.
  • Afghan Border Restrictions: On Monday, Torkham border crossing officials offered a waiver on requirements that travelers hold passports to cross the border; those restrictions are set to be re-imposed midweek.
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: Election Commission officials are working on a pilot project for managing polling-station level vote data records, the APP reports; a meeting of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms on Monday failed to reach an agreement on campaign spending limits. The PPP staged another walkout in parliament to protest the disappearance of several associates of former Pres. Zardari. In an interview on Monday, Imran Khan said that Chief of Army Staff Bajwa had assured him that the army “supports democracy” during their meeting at the beginning of the month. Engineer Amir Muqam, an advisor to Prime Minister Sharif, was appointed PML-N Khyber Paktunkhwa chapter general secretary on Monday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Rising temperatures and an accompanying increase in electricity demand brought the supply-demand shortfall to around 6,000 megawatts on Monday, increasing outages especially in the south, Dawn reports. [The Nation]
  • CPEC Project: Speaking to reporters on Monday, Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak said that he had “no reservations” on current plans for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. State Bank of Pakistan officials reported that foreign direct investment totaled $1.6 billion during the July-March period, up 12% year-on-year, with China investing $595 million, of which $263 million was invested in March alone.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • PPP Sources Deny Cooperation with Uzair Baloch [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Dismisses Appeal of Two Men Convicted in 2010 Attack on Ahmadi Mosque [ET]
  • Attorney General Opposes Open Hearing on Islamabad High Court Judge Charged with Misconduct [ET]
  • Four Year Old Boy Killed in Quetta Grenade Attack [Dawn]
  • IED Seized in Turbat [ET]
  • World Bank Projects 5.2% GDP Growth [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • MOAB Aftermath: The WSJ and Guardian report from the Asad Khel area in Achin district, site of a major U.S. bombing targeting Islamic State fighters last week; the U.S. is still assessing the impact of the strike, which Afghan officials say killed nearly a hundred fighters. TOLO reports that its reporters were barred from the area and that only U.S. forces have access; ISIS fighters are reported to still be active in the area. In an AP interview, former Pres. Karzai reiterated his criticisms of the bombing.
  • Ordnance Depot Explosion: An Afghan military ordnance depot at the Spin Boldak border crossing caught fire and exploded on Monday night; at least ten people were reportedly injured. Details are limited, and no claim of responsibility has been reported as of this writing.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Sar-e-Pul officials reported that Taliban fighters attacked the Sayad district on Monday, saying that eight insurgents had been killed. The Ministry of Interior reported the arrest on Tuesday of Mawlavi Abdul Hai Haqyar, identified as the head of the Taliban military commission in Baghlan. Ministry of Interior officials also announced the seizure of roughly 2,000 kilograms of explosive materials in search operations in Kabul on Monday. Kunduz police officials say that a Taliban shadow governor for Takhar province was killed in an airstrike in the Dasht-e-Archi district on Monday. Officials in Ghor announced the arrest of two militants in the Feroz Koh district accused of recruiting for the Islamic State.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • McMaster Visit: A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that during talks between National Security Advisor McMaster and Pres. Ghani, “the main point on which the two sides agreed was on the resolve of Afghanistan and the United States in their war against terrorism, and detailed discussions were held in this respect”. The Military Times cites Afghan embassy and Pentagon sources who say they received limited advanced notice of McMaster’s trip to the region; White House sources insist that “DOD has been involved since the beginning” and is “fully aware”. On Tuesday, McMaster arrived in India for meetings with Prime Minister Modi, with whom he discussed security concerns in Afghanistan.
  • Ghani Fires Masood: On Monday evening, Pres. Ghani reportedly fired Ahmad Zia Massoud, who had been appointed as a special advisor on reform and good governance following the formation of the national unity government; a rationale was not given, although Massoud had become increasingly critical of the government over the past year. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Massoud warned of “political instability” as a result of his firing, protesting “unilateral decisions” by the president.  Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor issued a separate statement calling on Chief Executive Abdullah to “clarify his stance” on Massoud’s status. [Khaama Press]
  • Election Planning:  On Monday, the Independent Election Commission said that it had rejected a proposal for electronic voting systems, calling for further revisions.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Former Wardak Police Chief Referred for Prosecution [TOLO]
  • Parliament Complains of Budget Shifts for Ministry of Urban Development and Housing [TOLO]
  • Ring Road Construction Work Begins in Laghman [Khaama Press]
  • In Afghanistan, ‘I Feel Like a Divorced Woman is Up for Grabs’ [NYT]
  • 335 Acres of Land Cleared of Opium Poppy in Nangarhar [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Arrests Made After Lynching of Mardan Student; McMaster Visits Kabul for Strategy Talks

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Topline

  • Investigations have been initiated and as many as 22 people have reportedly been arrested in connection to the lynching of an Abdul Wali Khan University student lynched on allegations of blasphemy last week.
  • National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster visited Kabul for meetings with Afghan officials and U.S. military commanders; in interviews afterwards, he praised the Afghan government as a “reliable partner” and said that Taliban fighters who refuse to reconcile “must be defeated”. McMaster arrived in Pakistan on Monday for talks with leaders there.
  • Reports remain sketchy on the aftermath of the U.S. military’s bomb strike on Islamic State fighters in the Achin district; local officials suggest that nearly a hundred fighters have been killed, and maintain that there were no civilian casualties. Former Pres. Karzai denounced the strike and Pres. Ghani’s acquiescence to it, saying that he would work to “oust the U.S.” from Afghanistan in response.
  • The PPP provincial government in Sindh is reportedly considering restricting the authorities of the Sindh Rangers, limiting them to assisting the police; the Rangers’ authorities formally expired Friday and have not been renewed as of this writing.
  • Russia hosted a meeting on the conflict in Afghanistan in Moscow on Friday, issuing a statement afterwards offering to broker talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The U.S. did not participate.
  • The Pakistani military announced that it had disrupted a “major terrorist attack” being planned in Lahore targeting Easter celebrations; four soldiers were reportedly wounded, and one woman arrested.
  • India’s Coast Guard has cancelled talks with Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency; on Friday, police in Azad Jammu and Kashmir announced the arrest of three men accused of working with Indian intelligence agencies.

Pakistan – Security

  • Mardan Blasphemy Lynching: On Saturday, Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak ordered an investigation into the murder of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan last week by his fellow students. University sources accuse the police of failing to intervene to stop the mob that killed him; police say he was dead by the time their forces arrived. As many as 22 people are in custody as of Sunday, including at least three university employees; of the more than twenty suspects accused, one is reported to be a local councilor affiliated with the PTI. On Friday, the university opened a posthumous blasphemy investigation against Khan and two other students, one of whom survived the mob attack; the university provost later described the action as a “clerical error”. The Express Tribune reports that Khan had previously noted a fake Facebook profile set up in his name, as part of an apparent effort to harass him; the imam in Swabi where his funeral was held reportedly refused to read last rites, and Reuters reports that two clerics in Swabi are under investigation for attempting to disrupt funeral proceedings. In a statement on Saturday, Prime Minister Sharif said he was “shocked and saddened”, saying that “the nation should stand united to condemn this crime and to promote tolerance and rule of law in the society”. Former Pres. Zardari and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also denounced the murder. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar has sought an official report on the incident. Dawn interviews Khan’s father; he tells the Express Tribune that he wants his son’s killers tried in a military court. At a press conference on Monday, Khyber Paktunkhwa police chief Salahuddin Khan said that there was “no evidence to suggest” that Khan had committed blasphemy. [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Sindh Rangers Extension: Special policing powers for the Sindh Rangers formally expired on Friday, and as of this writing have not yet been extended; the Rangers announced the seizure of an MQM weapons cache in a raid on Friday, but afterwards halted operations. PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari discussed the issue with party leaders on Saturday; Dawn reports that the Sindh government is considering restricting the authorities of the Rangers and limiting them to only “providing assistance” to the police. In a separate interview on Sunday, former Pres. Zardari defended the provincial government’s removal of Sindh police chief A.D. Khawaja. [ET]
  • Military Says Easter Attack Disrupted: In a statement on Saturday, the Pakistani military announced that four soldiers had been wounded in an overnight raid in Lahore, which they said disrupted a “major terrorist attack” planned for Easter. One militant was killed and one woman arrested, but no further details have been disclosed. On Friday, the interior ministry declared Easter Monday an “optional holiday” for the Christian community. [ET] [The Nation] [AP]
  • Tensions with India: Four civilians were wounded in cross-Line of Control firing in the Kotli district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Monday, police officials reported. On Friday, Azad Jammu and Kashmir police announced the arrest of three men they accused of working with Indian intelligence, accusing them of acting as smugglers and linking them to a bombing outside a police station in September 2016. On Friday, India’s Coast Guard cancelled talks with the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency that were scheduled to be held on Sunday in New Delhi. India will reportedly invite Pakistan to attend a SAARC meeting on disaster management in May, however. In an interview on Saturday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said that India “stands totally exposed on the issue of terror financing and perpetrating subversive acts in Pakistan” after the conviction of accused spy Kulbushan Jadhav. Speaking at a conference in Karachi on Friday, National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua said that India “must first step forward and resolve Kashmir issue” if it wishes to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • CNIC Re-Verification: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan denied that the government was discriminating against the Pashtun community in its review of Computerized National ID Cards, saying around half of the over 350,000 CNICs blocked thus far had been held by “confirmed aliens” and would be cancelled; the remainder will be given a 60 day period to prove their Pakistani nationality. On Saturday, officials at the Torkham border crossing instituted requirements that any Pakistani national returning from Afghanistan produce a valid passport, rather than other documents. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Iran Rejects Link to Uzair Baloch: In a statement on Friday, the Iranian embassy in Pakistan denounced a “vilification campaign” against it, denying reports “about linking the activities of some miscreants with some Iranian organisations”; press reports have linked former Lyari gang leader’s shift to military custody to charges of espionage on behalf of Iranian intelligence services. [The Nation]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • McMaster Discussions: U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster spoke by phone with Finance Minister Dar on Friday, ahead of a visit by Dar to Washington for World Bank and IMF conferences later this month and McMaster’s own trip to the region this weekend. The Nation quotes McMaster saying that “President Trump looks forward to working with Pakistan to pursue the common objectives of peace and security and economic well being of the people”. McMaster arrived in Islamabad on Monday, and met with Prime Minister Sharif and foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz, among others. [ET] [ET]
  • Census Process: Dawn reports that the PML-N and PPP are holding an “informal dialogue” about the implications of constituency delimitation following the current census that could shift the balance of parliamentary seats away from rural constituencies to urban centers; one source claims that the government has agreed not to reduce the number of rural seats, even if the rural population is found to have declined.
  • Sindh Political Dynamics: Prime Minister Sharif visited Jacobabad on Friday, announcing Rs 1 billion in development spending projects and hitting out at the PPP provincial government in Sindh for failing to provide services to the area. Speaking on Friday, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah reiterated warnings that he would cut off natural gas supplies to the other provinces if Sindh’s energy needs were not met. PPP Sindh chapter president Nisar Khuhro led a demonstration in Badin on Saturday to protest water and power shortages. Imdad Chandio, a former PML-N vice president, quit the party to join the PPP on Friday, accusing the prime minister of neglecting the needs of Sindh. A Karachi anti-terrorism court cleared PPP leader Asim Hussain to leave the country for medical treatment abroad in a ruling on Saturday; a Sindh High Court order on the issue is still pending. MQM-Pakistan candidates won several union committee chairmanship by-elections in voting held on Thursday. Pakistan Sarzameen Party members are continuing protests outside the Karachi Press Club, demanding that the provincial government cede more authority to municipal authorities. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Budget Planning: In an interview on Sunday, Finance Minister Dar said that the government plans to introduce its budget for the next fiscal year on May 26. He also suggested that circular debt figures were being exaggerated, and defended the government’s management of the energy sector. [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Military Reports Weapons Cache Seizure in Orakzai [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Three Killed in Balochistan Tribal Clash [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Committee Debates Bringing Military and Judiciary Under Accountability Law [Dawn]
  • Lahore Court Refuses Bail for Two Ahmadi Men Imprisoned Since 2012 [ET]
  • Chief Justice Orders Inquiry After Further Child Deaths in Tharparkar [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Parliamentary Committee on National Security Formed [Dawn]
  • Senate Chairman Persuaded to Call Off Protest [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • PM Removes Petroleum Secretary [Dawn]
  • Qatari Defense Minister Visits [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Amends Contract Competition Requirements [Dawn]
  • Textile Lobby Calls for Removal of FBR Chief [ET]
  • Prime Minister Holds Book Launch for Urdu Translation of Xi Jiping Papers [APP] [ET]
  • Pakistan and Iran Central Banks Sign Agreement to Facilitate Trade [The Nation] [Dawn]

Afghanistan – Security

  • MOAB Aftermath: Achin district governor Ismail Shinwari told reporters on Saturday that at least 92 Islamic State fighters had been found dead in the tunnel complex struck by a U.S. GBU-43 “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” bomb on Thursday, insisting that there were no civilian casualties from the bombing; the U.S. military said that it was still conducting its assessment of the strike. Nangarhar provincial government sources say at least four ISIS commanders were killed. The Islamic State’s Amaq news channel claimed on Friday that none of its fighters had been harmed. The Guardian puts the location of the strike near the village of Moman in the Asadkhel area of the district, and interviews residents who describe feeling the impact of the blast a mile and a half away. The NYT and Washington Post look at the Trump administration’s broader use of military force, and the comparatively freer hand given to military commanders to carry out strikes such as this one. On Friday, the US Central Command distanced itself from comments made by an anonymous spokesman to The Hill, who had suggested the strike was intended to show that the Trump administration “means business”. In interviews and remarks on Saturday, former Pres. Karzai denounced Pres. Ghani and his government for its statements indicating support for the bombing, describing Ghani as a “traitor” and “accomplice” and saying that he would work towards “ousting the U.S.” from Afghanistan in response to the strike. Karzai also met with Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan on Saturday. Other Afghan leaders, including Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor and the Nangarhar provincial leadership, have been supportive of the strike; on Sunday, Chief Executive Abdullah fired an advisor, Daud Abbas, for unspecified “irresponsible remarks” regarding the incident. [AP] [Reuters] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • McMaster Visits: U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster arrived in Kabul on Saturday for meetings with Afghan officials and U.S. military commanders. McMaster praised the Afghan government as a “reliable partner” and said that “our enemy sensed that and they have redoubled their efforts and it’s time for us, alongside our Afghan partners, to respond”. In an interview on Sunday following the conclusion of talks, McMaster said that Taliban fighters who refused to take part in the political process “must be defeated”, but provided no details about any plans to increase U.S. troops in the country. McMaster also suggested that “we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after [militant] groups less selectively than they have in the past… the best way to pursue their interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through the use of diplomacy, and not through the use of proxies that engage in violence.” Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar said Monday that McMaster had “reaffirmed his country’s full support” for the Afghan national security forces’ four-year security plan. [WSJ] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: The district governor, police chief, and district intelligence chief of Nangarhar’s Bati Kot district were wounded along with a fourth unidentified official in a roadside bombing on Saturday. No claim of responsibility has been reported. A roadside bombing in Helmand’s Nawa district killed at least 11 civilians on Friday. A group of as many as 200 Taliban fighters attacked the Deh Yak district in Ghazni over Friday night; security officials say they repelled the attacking, killing at least 20 fighters and suffering three soldiers killed. Kabul police seized ten rockets on the outskirts of the capital on Sunday. Two people were wounded when a magnetic bomb planted on a vehicle went off on Monday. [Ariana News] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [AP]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Russia Hosts Conference on Afghanistan: In a statement on Friday following meeting in Moscow of diplomats from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Russia’s foreign ministry offered to host peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, saying that “there was no military solution to the Afghan crisis [and] the only way to resolve it was by ensuring a national reconciliation”. The U.S. did not participate; a spokesman for the State Department said that the meeting “seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region”. A spokesman for Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said after the meeting that a follow-on session would be held in Kabul in the near future, saying that the gathering had “asked the Taliban to cut their ties with other terrorist groups, lay down their weapons and come to the negotiation table with the Afghan government”.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Kunduz Governor Defends Payments to Taliban Family Survivors, Citing Presidential Direction [TOLO]
  • Afghan Women Embrace a New Empowerment: Divorce [AFP]
  • Commentary: ‘Mother of All Bombs’ Dropped on Islamic State Khorasan Province: Assessing the Impact – “Claims have been difficult to verify, due to a serious – and long-standing – shortage of information coming from areas under the control of ISKP generally, and Mamand Valley, its tightly-kept stronghold, in particular.” [Borhan Osman, Kate Clark, and Martine van Bijlert, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Indian and Pakistani Officials Meet on Yadav; US Bombs ISIS Position in Achin

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Topline

  • Pakistan’s foreign secretary met with India’s ambassador to Pakistan, Gautam Bambawale, on Friday; Bambawale told reporters afterwards that India had reiterated requests for consular access to accused spy Kulbushan Yadav. At a corps commanders meeting on Thursday, the Pakistani military leadership avowed that there would be “no compromise on anti-state acts”.
  • The U.S. military dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb at Islamic State targets in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Thursday. Officials described the target as a network of tunnels used by the Islamic State affiliate; Afghan officials say as many as 36 were killed, and that there were no civilian casualties.
  • A university student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan was killed by a mob of fellow students after being accused of blasphemy on Thursday.
  • Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association filed a petition on Friday challenging the renewal of special military courts for terrorism suspects.
  • Several top PPP officials, including former Pres. Zardari, have been implicated by former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch in his leaked confessional statement. The PPP continued to protest the apparent disappearance of several former aides to Zardari, staging a parliamentary walk-out on Thursday.

Pakistan – Security

  • Tensions Over Accused Indian Spy: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa presided over a meeting of army corps commanders in Rawalpindi on Thursday, reviewing internal security concerns and the case of accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav; in a statement afterwards, the military said that the leadership had avowed that there would be “no compromise on anti-state acts”. Indian ambassador to Pakistan Gautam Bambawale met with Pakistani foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua on Friday to discuss Yadav’s situation; Bambawale told reporters afterwards that India had reiterated a request for consular access to Yadav. Speaking at a separate press conference on Friday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz reiterated the list of charges against Yadav, saying that he had received legal representation in his defense and had been tried “under the law of the land in a fully transparent manner” based on “credible, specific evidence proving his involvement in espionage and terrorist activities in Pakistan.” The Indian Express reports that the Indian government plans to informally curtail visa access for Pakistani nationals in response to the execution order against Yadav. Despite tensions in the bilateral relations, State Bank of Pakistan data indicates that Pakistani exports to India grew to $286 million during the July 2016 – February 2017 period, up 14% year-on-year. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Peshawar Student Killed Over Blasphemy Allegation: On Thursday, Mashal Khan, a student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, was killed by a vigilante mob of fellow students over allegations of making blasphemous comments online. Mardan district police officials shut down the campus in the wake of the attack and initially arrested as many as 45 people; as of Friday, charges had been filed against at least 20 suspects, eight of whom were said to be in custody. Another student was beaten but survived the attack; Dawn reports both were accused being members of the Ahmadi minority faith. Funeral services were held on Friday. [AP] [Dawn]
  • Military Courts: The Supreme Court Bar Association filed a petition on Friday challenging the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution’s renewal of special military courts for terrorism suspects, arguing that it violated the basic structure of the constitution as well as fundamental rights.
  • Counterterrorism Crackdown: In a statement on Thursday, the Punjab Rangers warned against the use of private security guards, saying that “only security personnel of registered government institutions will be deployed”. On Friday, the Pakistani military announced that three Rangers soldiers were killed in an operation in Dera Ghazi Khan, which they said also killed ten TTP militants; the Rangers earlier claimed to have arrested three TTP suspects and killed five Baloch Liberation Army militants in separate raids in DG Khan earlier this week. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Uzair Baloch in Custody: Dawn notes that leaked confessional testimony from former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch implicates a number of senior PPP leaders and police officers in Karachi as well, including former Pres. Zardari and his family members. In a TV interview on Thursday, PPP senator Saeed Ghani refuted those allegations. PPP parliamentarians boycotted the national assembly session again on Thursday again, protesting the disappearance of several aides to Zardari. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Census Count: The Peshawar High Court heard arguments on Thursday regarding the inclusion of minority languages on the census forms, directing statistics bureau officials to explain the criteria for inclusion at hearings resuming next week. [ET]
  • Campus Politics: Despite an official ban on public activities on campus, members of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba held a rally at Punjab University on Thursday to protest the situation in Syria. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Former Pres. Zardari met with JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman on Thursday to discuss prospects for political cooperation, The Nation reports. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Finance Minister Dar said that the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms would complete its work before the introduction of the next fiscal year budget. PML-N and PPP legislators on the committee rejected two PTI reform proposals for the appointment of military returning officers and the appointment of a caretaker government through a parliamentary committee rather than by the prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Senate Chairman Protests Low Attendance, Threatening Resignation [Dawn] [ET]
  • Interior Ministry Reiterates Visa Requirements for Official Travelers [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Pakistani Human Smuggler Files Guilty Plea in US Federal Court [WAPO]
  • Rangers Seize Arms Cache Linked to MQM [ET]
  • Doctor Killed in Karachi [Dawn]
  • Government Proposes Expanding Audit Authorities [ET]
  • PEMRA Fines Channels for ‘Defamatory’ Content on Sindh Police Chief [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Only 58% of Khyber Paktunkhwa Annual Development Plan Spent Thus Far [ET]
  • Drop in Remittances Linked to Global Oil Price Drops [The Nation]

Afghanistan – Security

  • U.S. Military Bombs ISIS Target in Achin District: On Thursday, the Department of Defense announced that U.S. forces in Afghanistan had dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) at an Islamic State target in the Achin district in Nangarhar province on Thursday evening local time. It is the first use of the ordnance in combat; the target was reported to be a network of tunnels in the area, which has been the site of ongoing joint operations by U.S. and Afghan forces against the local ISIS affiliate for much of the past year. White House officials declined to provide information on whether Pres. Trump was personally involved in the decision to carry out the strike, referring reporters to the Pentagon; Trump later described the action as a “very, very successful mission”, saying that “what I do is I authorize my military”. An anonymous CENTCOM spokesman told The Hill that “in this administration, the military is given empowerment to do what we need to do… if we’re going to be engaged in a war we’re going to be engaged in a conflict to win, period.” The Daily Beast reports that custody of the bomb was transferred to U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson under the Obama administration in January. A U.S. military spokesman said that the decision to use the weapon was unrelated to the death of an American special forces soldier in Achin last week. Citing the use of bunkers, tunnels, and IEDs by ISIS, Nicholson said that the MOAB was “the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive”, adding that “US forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike”. A spokesman for the Afghan government said that Pres. Ghani was “in the loop” about the decision to use the bomb, although defense ministry spokesmen earlier suggested they were unaware of the strike prior to media reports. On Friday, Afghan security officials reported that as many as 36 Islamic State fighters were killed in the strike, saying that there were no civilian casualties, an assessment reiterated by Gen. Nicholson at a press conference on Friday. The NYT quotes local officials in Achin who say that joint US and Afghan forces are advancing on the area of the strike and that smaller bombings had continued on Friday, and that the sole civilian family living in the area had been evacuated prior to the strike. In separate statements, former Pres. Karzai and Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal criticized the use of the bomb. [LAT] [Reuters] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • U.S. Strategy: Afghan security officials are “hoping for clarity” on the Trump administration’s plans for Afghanistan during U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s upcoming trip to the region , Reuters reports.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Three people were killed in a roadside bombing in Paktia province on Thursday. TOLO interviews families of the victims of Wednesday’s suicide bombing attack in Kabul, who blamed the Taliban and ISI for the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Ministry of Commerce Seeks Meeting on Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Moving Out of Shamshatu: Hezb-e-Islami’s Refugee Followers Between Hope of Return and Doubts About the Peace Deal – “The deal paved the way for the return of those living in the camp and included promises of land and government posts. However, many residents fear the deal will not be fully implemented and are not yet ready to leave permanently.” [Fazal Muzhary, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif and Bajwa Discuss Internal Security; ISIS Claims Kabul Bombing

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Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif met with Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif on Wednesday to discuss security issues, and the two leaders reportedly agreed to take “indiscriminate action” against “politically connected criminals” in Sindh and Punjab. Elsewhere, interior ministry officials denied involvement in the disappearance of three associates of former Pres. Zardari.
  • A suicide bomber detonated near the presidential compound and defense ministry building in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least five people, including two guards; the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • Pres. Trump confirmed that National Security Advisor McMaster will visit the region to review the U.S. mission in Afghanistan; Pakistani news sources suggest he will visit Pakistan as well as making stops in Afghanistan and India.
  • Nepalese police officials say they have no leads on the disappearance of a retired Pakistani military officer who disappeared there last week; Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Thursday that it was “unreasonable” to link his case to that of accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav.
  •  Afghan interior ministry officials said they had no evidence to support claims by the Uruzgan provincial police chief that Russian military officers had visited the province and given support and training to Taliban commanders. The Post notes growing concerns among U.S. officials over increased Russian and Iranian intervention in the Afghan conflict, and cites a number of other allegations of Russian support to the Taliban by local Afghan security officials.

Pakistan – Security

  • Prime Minister and Army Chief Meet: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met on Wednesday to discuss security issues, including counterterrorism operations and border security. The Express Tribune reports that the two leaders agreed to take “indiscriminate action” against “politically connected criminals” in Sindh and Punjab, following the transfer to military custody of former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch and the disappearance of several associates of former Pres. Zardari. Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman told a senate session on Wednesday that the government had nothing to do with the latter’s disappearance, which PPP legislators protested during national assembly debate. Copies of a confessional statement attributed to Baloch in which he admitted to providing information to Iranian intelligence services and collaborating with local politicians on land deals were leaked to the Pakistani press on Wednesday. The prime minister also met earlier with Chief of Naval Staff Adm. Muhammad Zakaullah. [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Tensions with India Over Spy Sentencing: In an interview with India Today on Wednesday, Pakistani ambassador to India Abdul Basit defended the death sentence issued for accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav earlier this week, saying that “we have sufficient evidence” of his involvement in sabotage and terrorism “and have shared it with the Indian government”. Basit also said that Yadav had visited Pakistan multiple times since 2003 using a fake Indian passport. Nepalese police officials say they have no leads on the whereabouts of missing Pakistani retired Lt. Colonel Habib Zahir, whose disappearance has been linked to the Yadav case; speaking at a Thursday press briefing, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said that it was “unreasonable” to connected the two cases. Separately, secretary-level talks in Washington in two disputed Indian hydropower projects previously scheduled for this week have reportedly been delayed until the end of April. [Dawn] [APP] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Shakil Afridi Trial: On Wednesday, the FATA tribunal hearing a petition from Dr. Shakil Afridi challenging his conviction on charges of associations with militant groups adjourned until May 24, at which point final arguments are scheduled to be held.
  • Gwadar Bombing: A bomb planted in a motorcycle near the Gwadar airport on Wednesday wounded at least three people; no claim of responsibility was reported. Elsewhere, Balochistan Frontier Corps officials announced the seizure of an arms cache in the Turbat district; no arrests were reported. [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections and Other Political Activities: The Express Tribune reports that the PML-N has decide to scale back high-profile initiatives in the run-up to the Panama Papers verdict, out of a desire to avoid “panic mode” and counter internal party concerns over the outcome of the court decision. The Nation reports that the initial two choices of PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for the party’s Lahore chapter president have declined the position. Amjadullah Khan, a member of the MQM’s London faction, announced he was quitting the party at a press conference on Wednesday; he was previously arrested in October. The ANP has established a hunger strike camp outside the parliament building to protest the blocking of Computerized National ID Cards, which they allege are targeting Pashtuns. [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • CPEC Project: Speaking at a conference on Wednesday, Sindh governor Muhammad Zubair said that Chinese firms had approved additional financing for CPEC projects, taking the total investment volume to as high as $62 billion. Bloomberg reports that Chinese direct investment in Pakistan has overtaken the U.S. over the past three and a half years, with total U.S. FDI from July 2013 – January 2017 reported at $505 million and total Chinese FDI during the same period at $1.82 billion. [ET] [ET]
  • Gas Connection Ban Lifted: On Wednesday, the federal cabinet formally approved the withdrawal of a moratorium on new gas connections for domestic and commercial customers, among other agenda items. On Thursday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah threatened to cut off gas supply from the province to the rest of the country if supplies to the province were not improved. [APP]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Prime Minister and Interior Minister Discuss Blasphemy Crackdown [The Nation]
  • Missing MQM Activists Accused of Hiding in India [The Nation]
  • PTI Reiterates Opposition to Saudi Military Alliance [Dawn]
  • Judge Sheikh Najmul Hassan Nominated as New Chief Justice of Federal Shariat Court [ET]
  • Army Seizes South Waziristan Arms Cache [The Nation]
  • Former Cop Petitions Sindh High Court Against Rao Anwar [Dawn]
  • Federal Cabinet Approves New Hajj Policy [Dawn] [ET]
  • Cabinet Approves 15 Development Projects, Including Karachi Mass Transit Project [Dawn]
  • PTV Chairman Relinquishes Managing Director Position [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Kabul Bombing: A suicide bomber struck a police post near the Afghan presidential palace and ministry of defense on Wednesday, killing at least five people; TOLO reports two of those killed were presidential guards. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest by the group to strike in the capital since the attack on a Kabul military hospital last month. [Reuters] [AP]
  • U.S. Strategy Review: Speaking at a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, Pres. Trump confirmed earlier reports that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster would be visiting Afghanistan to “find out how we can make progress alongside our Afghan partners”; he did not specify the timing, which the Indian press previously indicated would come this weekend. McMaster will meet with U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson, who has requested additional forces for the U.S. advisory mission there. Dawn reports that McMaster will also visit Pakistan as part of the trip. The White House is conducting a broader Afghanistan strategy review, as is the Pentagon, although officials have not indicated a timeline for completion. In a USA Today interview, Afghan ambassador to the U.S. Hamdullah Mohib suggested that Afghan security forces “will be able to have what they need to carry on the fight on their own for the most part” by 2020.
  • Russian Intervention Concerns: The Post overviews growing U.S. concern and reports from Afghan officials that Russia and Iran are increasing their intervention in the Afghan conflict; a Taliban spokesman denied that the group had received any direct support from Russia, saying “our contacts with Russia are for political and diplomatic purposes only”. On Wednesday, Ministry of Interior officials said they had no evidence to confirm claims by Uruzgan police chief Ghulam Farooq Sangari that Russian military officers had met with Taliban representatives in the province.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and other Afghan National Army officials visited Herat on Wednesday to review security and oversee operations in the country’s western zone. Ministry of Interior officials say they are investigating the deaths of two Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center employees earlier this week, suggesting that “those who are involved in insecurity in the region are behind the case”. NDS officials in Kunduz say announced the arrest of the brother of the late Taliban commander Mullah Salam on Thursday. Nangahar provincial officials report that they arrested three Pakistani nationals during ongoing operations in the eastern part of the province. NDS officials announced the arrest of a Taliban commander in Jawzjan on Wednesday. At least 11 Taliban fighters were reportedly killed in operations in the Khas district in Uruzgan on Wednesday.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reforms: IEC officials tell TOLO that they are working to finalize a new legal framework for the assessment of polling centers, the process of which is contingent on the approval of an elections budget. Pajhwok reports that the Electoral Complaints Commission officials nominated three candidates for the president to consider as a nominee for ECC secretary.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Without a Motorcycle in Kandahar, ‘You Are Like a Prisoner’ [NYT]
  • Afghan Ambassador Meets Pakistani National Assembly Speaker [The Nation]
  • Afghan Ulema Criticize JUI-F Leader Fazlur Rehman [Khaama Press]
  • Kunduz-Khulm Highway Inaugurated [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Accused Indian Spy May Appeal, Defense Minister Says; McMaster to Visit India and Afghanistan

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Topline

  • Speaking on Tuesday, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif defended the sentencing of accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav, saying he had “received due process” and retained the right to appeal. Indian Express reports suggest that Yadav’s arrest was linked to the disappearance of a retired Pakistani officer in Nepal last week, and cite Indian intelligence officials who claim that while Yadav previously offered his services as a freelance intelligence officer, he was rejected.
  • National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster will visit India and Afghanistan this week for talks on regional security concerns and bilateral defense ties, Indian press sources indicate.
  • Pakistan’s military announced Tuesday that it had taken custody of former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch, charging him with espionage in connection to Iranian intelligence agencies.
  • Afghan National Security Hanif Atmar announced a number of new appointments to the Afghan National Security Council on Wednesday.
  • The PTI introduced a resolution on Wednesday opposing Pakistan’s participation in a Saudi military alliance, saying that “it is not in Pakistan’s national interest to get involved in others’ wars”; Defense Minister Khawaja insisted Tuesday that the alliance was not sectarian in nature.
  • Kunduz residents called for the removal of Governor Assadullah Omarkhail after he acknowledged providing financial support to the families of Taliban fighters who had been killed in a joint U.S.-Afghan operation in Buz Kandahari earlier this year.
  • Abdul Ghaffar Dawi, the owner of Dawi Oil company, will face trial on corruption charges, a spokesman for the Afghan Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday.
  • The PTI released a ten-point electoral reforms program on Tuesday.
  • In response to questions on Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said that the Secretary of Defense had not made a determination on certifying Pakistani cooperation against the Haqqani network, which would free the release of the remaining $350 million in un-disbursed Coalition Support Funds for FY2016.

Pakistan – Security

  • Accused Indian Spy Sentenced: Speaking in the senate on Tuesday, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif insisted that accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav had “received due process”, claiming that the court martial trial against him had been conducted over the past three and a half months, and saying that Yadav retained the right to appeal his death sentence within the next 60 days. The Indian Express reports that Yadav had approached India’s Research and Intelligence Wing offering to serve as a “freelance intelligence operative” but RAW sources maintain that he was rejected. A separate report appears to confirm a connection to the disappearance in Nepal last week of retired Pakistani army Lt. Colonel Muhammad Habib Zahir, who security sources claim had been involved in the capture of Yadav last year. Elsewhere, in a meeting with Canada’s ambassador to Pakistan on Tuesday, National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua was quoted saying that India and Pakistan “need to engage with each other and resolve disputes”. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Lyari Gang Leader in Military Custody: On Tuesday evening, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor announced that the military had taken former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch into custody, on charges of espionage and alleged cooperation with Iranian intelligence services. Baloch was officially arrested by the Sindh Rangers last year, after earlier being detained in the UAE, and faces a range of multiple charges related to his time as a leader of the People’s Amn Committee; he was acquitted in one murder case last week. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Military Courts: Two accused TTP members previously convicted in the military courts system were executed at the Sahiwal jail on Tuesday. Al Jazeera reports on Pakistan’s more than 6,000 death row prisoners, the largest such population in the world; Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty worldwide noted that Pakistan executed 87 people in 2016, the fifth most prolific in the world. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Saudi Military Coalition: In his remarks in the senate on Tuesday, Defense Minister Khawaja said that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif had not formally applied for permission from the government to take up command of the Saudi military coalition, and insisted that “Pakistan does not wish to be a part of any sectarian alliance” and that the alliance was “solely against terrorism”. On Wednesday, the PTI introduced a National Assembly resolution opposing Pakistan’s participation in the alliance, arguing that “it is not in Pakistan’s national interest to get involved in others’ wars”. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Counterterrorism Crackdown: Sindh Rangers officials announced the arrest on Wednesday of five militant suspects, some linked to the TTP or Al Qaeda; a spokesman for the Rangers also claimed that the group had received support from Indian and Afghan intelligence services. A van driver detained in connection to the attack on an army census team in Lahore has been cleared of involvement, The Nation reports. Multan police Counter-Terrorism Department officials reportedly arrested seven suspected TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar members on Monday.
  • Expat Expulsions: In response to questions in the senate on Wednesday, Minister of State for Interior and Narcotics Control Balighur Rehman said that Pakistani law enforcement agencies had arrested 52,144 foreigners in the country – primarily Afghans – since 2012, of which 40,149 had been deported.
  • US Ambassador Meets COAS: U.S. Ambassador David Hale met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa in Rawalpindi on Tuesday to discuss regional and internal security issues, the Pakistani military announced; no details of the discussions were released. [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections and Other Political Activity: On Tuesday, the PTI released a ten-point electoral reform proposal, including changing the composition of the committee to choose Election Commission members and caretaker government officials to include all opposition parties in proportion to their representation in parliament. The proposals also include mandatory polling recounts at the request of runner-up candidates, reducing the powers of the ECP to disqualify candidates, and eliminating current reporting requirements for party donations above Rs 100,000, among other points. Elsewhere, Jamaat-e-Islami Khyber Paktunkhwa leaders called for the inclusion of Pakistani expatriates in the census count; in Karachi, the JI held another sit-in protesting K-Electric. PML-N lawmakers called for the resignation of Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly speaker Asad Qaiser on Tuesday, citing corruption investigations against him. The ANP has called for a hunger strike to protest the blocking of what they maintain are valid Computerized National ID Cards held by members of the Pashtun community. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • New Ambassador to India: The Times of India reports that Sohail Mahmood, currently Pakistan’s ambassador to Turkey, is likely to be appointed to succeed Abdul Basit as ambassador to India within the next month.

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Coalition Support Funds: A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense said Tuesday that it had authorized the disbursement of $550 million in Coalition Support Funds to Pakistan for the 2016 fiscal year, but had not made a certification on Pakistani action against the Haqqani network, which is required for the remaining $350 million in CSF appropriations.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Interior Minister Meets OIC Secretary General on Blasphemy Concerns [The Nation]
  • NAB Cancels Plea Bargain Agreement with Former Balochistan Finance Secretary [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • PPP Leader Asim Hussain Seeks Permission to Travel Abroad [Dawn]
  • Trade Deficit Hits New Record [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Turns Down Plea to Resume Operations at Sharif Sugar Mills [Dawn] [ET]
  • Finance Minister Reviews Tax Collection Performance [The Nation]
  • Jameel Ahmad Appointed State Bank of Pakistan Deputy Governor [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • National Security Council Appointments: On Wednesday, National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar announced the appointment of several new officials on the National Security Council staff, incuding new planning, audit, and management deputies.
  • Attacks and Operations: Around 200 U.S. soldiers will deploy to Helmand to train and advise Afghan forces there, the Ministry of Defense said Tuesday. TOLO reports that three Afghan army bases in the Dehraud, Charchino, and Tirin Kot districts in Uruzgan are under Taliban siege and that troops there have been cut off “for months”. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense insisted that routes to those areas had been reopened. Ghulam Nasir Khaze, the governor of Ghor, alleged that the NDS had released Mawlawi Saadyar, a purportedly Islamic State-affiliated commander who was detained in the provincial capital earlier this year.  The head of the provincial council, Fazlulhaq Ehsan, confirmed the release and said it had been made as part of a peace agreement with Saadyar’s men. In Nangarhar, provincial officials claimed Wednesday that as many as 49 Islamic State fighters have been killed in operations in the Achin district over the past 24 hours. An army battalion chief and another soldier were killed in an attack in the Arghandab district in Zabul on Wednesday. An Afghan Air Force strike in the Alisheng district in Laghman on Wednesday reportedly killed seven Taliban fighters. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • McMaster to Visit Region: The Hindustan Times reports that U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster will visit Afghanistan and India over the coming weekend to discuss security concerns in Afghanistan, as well as bilateral relations with India and concerns over what Indian sources describe as a “newly formed Russia-China-Pakistan-Iran axis to promote the Taliban”. Separately, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry said that the Afghan government’s participation in a Moscow conference on Afghanistan on April 14 is intended to send a “clear message” to the Taliban that “they cannot achieve their goals through war”. The government has reportedly yet to finalize a decision on what level of delegation to send; the U.S. is not participating in the conference.
  • Kunduz Governor Criticized: A number of members of parliament called for the dismissal of Kunduz governor Assadullah Omarkhail after he acknowledged providing financial support to the families of Taliban fighters who had been killed in a joint U.S.-Afghan operation in Buz Kandahari earlier this year; the Independent Directorate of Local Governance said it was investigating the issue.
  • Corruption Investigations: A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office said Tuesday that Abdul Ghaffar Dawi, the owner of Dawi Oil company, would face trial over allegations of embezzlement, non-payment of fuel contracts, and refusal to pay taxes, among other charges. Dawi also has outstanding unpaid loans from the Kabul Bank crisis.
  • Tensions with Pakistan: Speaking in Peshawar on Tuesday after visiting a UN repatriation center in Chamkani, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal reiterated Afghanistan’s opposition to Pakistani plans to build fencing along the border.
  • MPs Suspended: On Wednesday, the Wolesi Jirga announced that it had suspended four parliamentarians – Ahmad Behzad, Parwin Durani, Fareshta Anwari, and Bashir Ahmad Tahyanj – for failing to meet attendance requirements.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Afghan MP Reports Threats After Endorsing Durand Line Border [ET]
  • Ministry of Interior Announces Destruction of Nangarhar Heroin Factories [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Indian Officials Protest Death Sentence for Accused Spy; Ghani Faces Press Criticism

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Topline

  • Following yesterday’s announcement by Pakistani military officials that accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav had been sentence to death, Indian foreign ministry officials said that the sentence, if carried out, would amount to “premeditated murder”. Some sources note that the sentence follows the disappearance of a retired Pakistani army officer in Nepal last week, although it is unconfirmed if the incidents are related.
  • PPP leaders continue to protest the disappearance of several party activists and associates of former Pres. Zardari, accusing Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of instigating their extrajudicial detention.
  • Pres. Ghani faced criticism from Afghan press groups on Monday after cutting off questions from a TOLO reporter at a press conference on Sunday following his return from travel in Southeast Asia.
  • The Guardian reports that Taliban commanders have dropped access restrictions on polio vaccinators in Kunduz, after a new case was reported there last week.
  • Sindh provincial home ministry officials formally requested the extension of policing powers for the Sindh Rangers, which are set to expire April 15.
  • Pakistan’s remittances rose month-on-month in March, State Bank of Pakistan data indicates, but remains down year-on-year for the first three quarters of the year.

Pakistan – Security

  • Accused Indian Spy Sentenced: Following statements yesterday by Pakistani military spokesmen that accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav had been sentenced to death in a military court martial, India’s foreign ministry conveyed a formal protest to the Pakistani embassy that Yadav’s execution, if carried out, would be viewed as “premeditated murder”, describing his previously undisclosed trial as “farcical”. On Tuesday, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Indian parliament that India would “go out of its way” to rescue Yadav, describing him as a “son of India” and saying there was “no evidence of wrongdoing” on his part. Swaraj cautioned Pakistan to “consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter.” Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said that the sentence was a “warning to the enemies of Pakistan”; the PTI voiced support for the action, as did the JI and former Pres. Musharraf, while PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari professed an opposition to the use of the death penalty. Prime Minister Sharif has not commented directly on the issue; appearing at a graduation ceremony for Pakistan Air Force cadets on Tuesday, he said that “Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and has always maintained the policy of having amicable relations with other countries particularly its neighbours”. The Indian Express and India Today note that the announcement followed the disappearance last week of a former Pakistani army officer, Lt. Col. Mohammad Habib, while traveling in Nepal, although it is unclear if he is in Indian custody, as some sources suggest, or if the incidents are linked. India has reportedly halted the release of around a dozen Pakistani fishermen scheduled to be freed on Wednesday. [NYT] [WAPO] [AP] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Rangers Policing Powers: On Monday, Sindh home ministry officials issued a formal request to the Chief Minister’s office seeking an extension of policing powers for the Sindh Rangers, whose authorities are currently set to expire April 15. Separately, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah appointed Ziaul Hasan Lanjar as provincial law minister on Monday.
  • Iran Deports Pakistani Nationals: On Monday, Iranian security forces transferred custody of 102 Pakistani nationals to the Balochistan Levies, after they were earlier detained and charged with overstaying visas.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • PPP Protest Party Members’ Disappearance: PPP leaders continue to demand the release of several associates of former Pres. Zardari and party activists, who disappeared over the weekend and are believed to be in extrajudicial custody. PPP Balochistan chapter president Mir Madad Ali Jattak threatened to block highways in the province if the party workers were not released, blaming Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for their disappearance. The wife of Nawab Ali Leghari, one of the men, has petitioned the Islamabad High Court, charging Chaudhry Nisar with holding him “in illegal confinement”. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also accused the PML-N government of disrupting a public gathering planned in Sialkot. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Panama Papers Hearings: Speaking at an unrelated hearing on Tuesday, Judge Ejaz Afzal Khan, a member of the Supreme Court bench hearing petitions on the Panama Papers, said that “our pronouncement on the Panama issue will be a law which will be endured for centuries”, without elaborating further.
  • Census Count: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited the army’s Census Support Center at the headquarters of the Army Air Defense Command in Rawalpindi on Monday to review progress on the census, which he pledged “would be completed at all costs”. [Dawn]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Remittance Figures: State Bank of Pakistan data released Monday showed that overseas remittances rose month-on-month to $1.69 billion in March, but that the overall total for the first nine months of the fiscal year remains around 2.3% lower than the previous year, at roughly $14.06 billion.
  • Energy Crisis: At a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Energy on Monday, Prime Minister Sharif approved the removal of a moratorium on new gas connections for domestic, commercial, and industrial consumers. Sharif also tasked the secretaries of finance, water and power, and petroleum and natural resources with resolving circular debts in the power sector “on a war footing”. [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Punjab Police Chief Retires [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Reviews Energy Outages [The Nation]
  • ECP Resumes Participation in Electoral Reform Committee [Dawn]
  • PTI Demands Removal of PTV Chairman [ET]
  • PTI Rallies in Karachi in Support of Pakistan Steel Mills [The Nation]
  • Commentary: Are India-Pakistan Relations Doomed? – “Having emerged stronger at home with some help from this hardline policy towards Pakistan, it may be time for Modi to hit the pause button, especially when his policy may be having a blowback externally.” [Touqir Hussain, The Diplomat]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Achin district governor Esmail Shinwari tells TOLO that as many as 250 Islamic State fighters have been killed in special operations in the district over the past ten days, claiming that Afghan security forces have suffered no casualties. Sar-e-Pul officials say they have killed at least 25 insurgents in operations over the past week. In Kabul, an officer working for the Afghan director of VIP security was killed in a shooting on Monday, hours after an earlier attack that killed two staff of the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center; no claims have been reported for either of the attacks. Two policemen were killed and a third wounded in a Taliban attack on a checkpost in Zabul’s Shar-e-Shafa district on Monday. Four children were killed and six wounded by an unexploded ordinance round in Kunduz on Tuesday. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • De-mining Cutbacks: Minister for Rehabilitation and Rural Development Wais Barmak said Monday that at least 5,000 employees of the government’s de-mining program have lost their jobs for lack of funding, appealing to donors to boost their commitments to the effort.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Press Backlash: Afghan press organizations criticized Pres. Ghani on Monday after he cut off questions from a TOLO reporter at a press conference the day prior discussing his recent trip to Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore. A separate TOLO report notes silence from Ghani about the status of the investigation against Vice President Dostum and the appointment of cabinet ministers, among other issues. [Ariana News]
  • Corruption Sentencing: A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said Monday that “preliminary steps have been taken” for the arrest of Herat provincial council chief Kamran Alizai, who was sentenced to a 2.5 year prison term by the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center last month on charges of misuse of authority.

Afghanistan – Economics and Development

  • Polio Vaccinations: The Guardian reports that Taliban commanders have dropped access restrictions on polio vaccination campaigns in Kunduz, after a third case was reported there last week.
  • Water Rights: Minister of Water and Energy Ali Ahmad Osmani said Monday that the government was moving to renegotiate the Hirmand Water Treaty with Iran, in order to retain a greater share of the Helmand river through the construction of the Kamal Khan Dam.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Government Approves 11 New Procurement Contracts [Khaama Press]
  • Kabul Facing Water Shortage in Future [TOLO]
  • Report: The Future of the National Unity Government – “International assistance, fiscal and military, is important for forestalling insurgent advances, but the country’s stability ultimately depends on Ghani and Abdullah resolving their differences and working together to meet the many security, economic and humanitarian challenges that confront the country and threaten their government roles and political survival.” [ICG]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Death Sentence Issued for Accused Indian Spy; US Soldier Killed in Operations Against ISIS

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Note: The news resumes regular daily updates from today, although ongoing travel may result in some intermittent delays in normal delivery times. Coverage of events from April 6-10 follows. Apologies for the interruption in service and resulting length of this brief, and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • Pakistan’s military announced Monday that accused Indian spy Kulbushan Yadav, who was arrested in Balochistan last March, has been sentenced to death by a military court martial. Indian officials have yet to comment.
  • A U.S. special operations soldier was killed during operations in Nangarhar against the Islamic State, the Pentagon announced Saturday. Earlier last week, U.S. and NATO military officials said that they had reduced the amount of territory held by the Islamic State in Afghanistan by two thirds, and had killed around half of the group’s fighters, with between 600-800 estimated to remain.
  • In a statement on Monday, the Russian embassy in Afghanistan protested “groundless” and “irresponsible” reports that Russia was providing support to the Taliban in Afghanistan; NDS and U.S. sources tell the LAT that they believe Russia is providing tactical advice and some small arms to the group, particularly in the north.
  • Lahore police say they killed ten TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militants linked to last week’s attack on an army census team, including one suspect already in custody.
  • At least three associates of former Pres. Zardari have reportedly gone missing in the past week; PPP officials accused Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of instigating their abduction, and threatened protests if they were not released or charged.
  • The NYT notes the continuing frustrations of U.S. and NATO military officials over the progress of training and developing the Afghan national security forces, who continue to show weak leadership and high levels of corruption within the ranks.
  • Citing a failure to hold mandatory intra-party leadership elections, the Election Commission has barred the PTI from competing in by-elections in Chakwal; the Lahore High Court suspended that order Friday and agreed to hear a PTI challenge. Former Sindh chief minister and PML-N leader Liaquat Jatoi joined the PTI.
  • The PTI is reportedly preparing a national assembly resolution objecting to Pakistan’s participation in the Saudi military alliance; at a press conference on Friday, Imran Khan insisted that Pakistan “must never become involved in wars of other countries”.
  • Imam-e-Kaaba Sheikh Saleh bin Muhammad Ibrahim visited Pakistan, attending a centenary conference of the JUI-F in Nowshera.
  • The IMF and ADB issued cautionary reports regarding the need for the Pakistani government to continue reform programs initiated under the now-concluded IMF loan agreement; Finance Minister Dar acknowledged a drop in foreign exchange reserves and wider-than-planned fiscal deficit, which he attributed to lower taxes from oil products.

Pakistan – Security

  • Death Sentence for Accused Indian Spy: On Monday, Pakistan’s military public relations wing announced that Kulbushan Yadhav, an accused Indian spy arrested last March in Balochistan and charged with conducting sabotage activities against Pakistan, had been sentenced to death in a military court. The Pakistani military said that he had confessed to the charges against him during his trial. The Indian government has not commented as of this writing. Separately, Pakistani military officials reported Saturday that two civilians had been injured in cross-Line of Control firing by Indian forces. [Reuters] [AP] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Counterterrorism Crackdown: Lahore police are still investigating the attack on an army census security team last week; Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar spoke by phone with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Thursday to discuss civil-military coordination on counterterrorism in the wake of the attack. Lahore police reportedly killed ten TTP Jamat-ul-Ahrar militants during an encounter on Saturday, including Anwar-ul-Haq, identified as a facilitator of the attack on the census team who was already in custody. Anonymous security sources tell the Express Tribune that as many as 24 members of an Islamic State-affiliated cell had been arrested in Peshawar; the group was linked to a number of attacks on security personnel in the area. No further details were disclosed. On Friday, Sindh police offered a Rs 5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of facilitators of the Sehwan shrine suicide attack in February. At a meeting on Wednesday, Punjab government officials debated proposals to assume administrative control over all shrines in the province. On Saturday, police in Chaman seized a vehicle carrying explosives and arrested three people, who were reported to have crossed over from Afghanistan. On Sunday, Sukkur police killed Kamran Jamshed Bhatti, a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant who was linked to a number of high-profile Karachi attacks. [ET] [ET] [AP]
  • PPP Aides ‘Go Missing’: Over the weekend, Ghulam Qadir Marri, a close associate of former Pres. Zardari, went missing while traveling in Naudero; his disappearance follows that of Nawab Ali Leghari, a former Sindh government advisor, and Ashfaq Leghari, a former leader of the Sindh People’s Students Federation. PPP spokesman Moula Bux Chandio accused Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of instigating their abduction, and PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah threatened sit-ins if they were not released or presented before the courts. [Dawn]
  • Saudi Military Alliance: Speaking to reporters in London on Wednesday, Pakistani military chief spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif’s appointment to head a Saudi military alliance was “a decision of the state of Pakistan”. Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad on Friday, PTI leader Imran Khan insisted that “Pakistan must never become involved in wars of other countries”; the PTI reportedly plans to seek a national assembly resolution against Pakistan’s participation in the Saudi alliance. On Sunday, Prime Minister Sharif reportedly directed PML-N legislators to refrain from “controversial statements” regarding General Sharif’s participation in the alliance, following comments by Sindh governor Muhammad Zubair suggesting he should not be made “larger than life”. [Dawn]
  • Sindh Police Chief Transfer: On Thursday, the Sindh High Court extended a suspension on the Sindh provincial government’s order relieving police chief A.D. Khawaja of his duties while the court hears a challenge to that action. The Sindh provincial cabinet upheld Khawaja’s removal in a meeting earlier on Wednesday. Khwaja met with Maj. Gen. Muhammad Saeed, the head of the Sindh Rangers, on Thursday; in remarks to reporters on Friday, Khawaja said that he “had no grudges” against the provincial government and would continue his duties until the court issued a ruling. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Ahmadi Doctor Killed: Ashfaq Ahmed, a retired professor of veterinary medicine and member of the Ahmadi minority community, was killed by unidentified gunmen in a driveby shooting in Lahore on Friday. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections and Electoral Reform: Speaking before a national assembly committee on Wednesday, Election Commission additional secretary Zafar Iqbal warned that it would not be possible to demarcate updated constituencies in time for the next general elections if the census was not completed by September. On Friday, Finance Minister Dar said that the government would introduce legislation on electoral reforms within the coming week, after the ECP appealed for a finalization of those reforms. Separately, the ECP disqualified the PTI from contesting by-elections in Chakwal, citing its failure to hold intra-party elections. However, the Lahore High Court suspended that order on Friday while agreeing to hear a PTI challenge against its disqualification. ECP officials denied that they were targeting the PTI through the action. On Wednesday, the Election Commission suspended by-elections in Sanghar previously scheduled for April 20, after the suspension of the deputy commissioner by the provincial government. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Imam-i-Kaaba Visits: Imam-e-Kaaba Sheikh Saleh bin Muhammad Ibrahim visited Pakistan over the weekend, attending a JUI-F centenary conference in Nowshera and meeting with Prime Minister Sharif in Islamabad. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Party Asset Report: On Thursday, the ECP released a report on the declared assets of Pakistan’s political parties based on 2015 filings, with the PTI reporting the largest expenditures of any party and the PPP-Parliamentarians headed by former Pres. Zardari the largest assets after expenditures. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Former Sindh chief minister and PML-N leader Liauat Ali Jatoi joined the PTI on Thursday, following a meeting with Imran Khan. Former Pres. Zardari visited Balochistan on Friday, denouncing separatist groups there and pledging to revitalize the province’s agriculture under a PPP government. On Wednesday, the MQM-Pakistan released a “white paper” criticizing the PPP tenure in Sindh, accusing it of unequal distribution of resources, corruption, and mismanagement; the PPP hit back on Friday, accusing the MQM of “reviving the politics of hatred on linguistic grounds” aimed at “reviving the legacy of their leader” Altaf Hussain. MQM-Pakistan provincial assembly member Irtiza Khalil Farooqui quit the party to join the Pak Sarzameen Party on Friday; The Nation reports some MQM activists are turning to join the PPP instead. At a press conference on Sunday, PSP leader Mustafa Kamal vowed to protest against the PPP government in Sindh, accusing it of ignoring the needs of Karachi. [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Economic Indicators: In a statement on Wednesday following the conclusion of talks between Pakistan and the IMF, IMF officials urged the continuation of reforms agreed to under the loan agreement that concluded last fall. Finance Minister Dar acknowledged that the government had revised its estimates of the fiscal deficit for the current year, up to 4.1% of GDP against earlier targets of 3.8% of GDP; he attributed this to lower revenues from oil taxes. Dar also acknowledged Pakistan’s widening current account deficit. Separately on Thursday, the Asian Development Bank also noted concerns over the high import bill for equipment used in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, and the need for higher foreign exchange earnings and export growth.
  • CPEC Project: During a visit to Islamabad on Wednesday, UK Minister of State for International Trade Greg Hands expressed Britain’s potential interest as a partner with Pakistan and China on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, comments welcomed by the planning ministry. Separately, the Khyber Paktunkhwa Home Department approved a Rs 1.2 billion budget for a special security force deputed from the police services to protect CPEC investments. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Energy Crisis: In an interview on Thursday, Water and Power Minister Khwaja Asif pledged that the government would meet its goal of adding 8,000 megawatts of power to the national grid by 2018. Jamaat-e-Islami’s Karachi chapter held renewed protests against K-Electric on Friday, accusing it of “anti-consumer policies”.  [ET] [ET] [ET] [Business Recorder]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Karachi University Professor Granted Bail in Weapons Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Uzair Baloch Acquitted in Attempted Murder Case [ET]
  • South Waziristan IDPs to Be Repatriated By End-April [ET]
  • PTA Points to Lack of Manpower for Monitoring Online Content [Dawn]
  • PTI Seeks Update from FIA on Asghar Khan Case [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Army Training Aircraft Crashes Near Peshawar; Pilot Unhurt [Dawn] [ET]
  • Petroleum Ministry Officials Under Investigation on Embezzlement Charges [Dawn]
  • Sharif Sugar Mills Owe Farmers Rs 400 Million in Dues [Dawn]
  • Axact Executive Pleads Guilty in Diploma Mill Scam [ET] [The Nation] [US Department of Justice]
  • Islamabad High Court Dismisses Musharraf Petition Challenging Property Confiscation [Dawn]
  • PTV Chairman Appoints Himself Managing Director [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Boosts Education Spending to Rs 139 Billion [The Nation]
  • PIA Chief Granted 15-Day Leave But Barred from Leaving Country [Dawn]

Afghanistan – Security

  • ISIS in Afghanistan: On Thursday, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan said that the U.S. had reduced the amount of territory held by the Islamic State in Afghanistan by two thirds, and had killed around half of the group’s fighters, with between 600-800 estimated to remain. Military data indicates that 79 U.S. airstrikes killed an estimated 200 ISIS fighters in the month of March alone. On Friday, Nangarhar provincial officials reported that at least 15 ISIS fighters were killed in operations in the Achin district, and on Saturday provincial police said that 24 had been killed in operations in Achin and Haska Mina. On Saturday, the U.S. military announced that an American special operations soldier was killed during operations in Nangarhar against the Islamic State; few details were released. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • ANSF Training: The NYT notes frustrations on the part of US and NATO officials supporting Afghan security forces in Helmand and elsewhere, where attempts over the past year to introduce reforms, bring in new commanders, and eliminate ghost soldiers from payrolls have seen limited success.
  • Kabul Hospital Attack: A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said Thursday that at least 11 of 24 suspects arrested in connection to last month’s attack at the Kabul military hospital were hospital employees; he suggested that the government would release the names of the suspects “within the next few days”. The NATO Resolute Support mission has pledged $2.7 million for the repair of the hospital.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: On Thursday, the Ministry of Defense reported that as many as 25 militant suspects were killed in an airstrike on the outskirts of the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tirin Kot. The NDS announced the arrest on Thursday of a Taliban shadow district governor in the Hazrat Sultan district in Samangan province. The NDS also reported the seizure of explosive materials linked to the Haqqani network in Kabul. A U.S. drone strike in the Dasht-e-Archi district in Kunduz on Saturday reportedly killed a dozen Taliban fighters, including the Taliban shadow deputy provincial governor, identified as Mullah Assadullah Mazlumyar. Ghazni provincial police officials report that two Haqqani network commanders were killed in an airstrike in the Gero district on Sunday. Also on Sunday, Ministry of Defense officials said that three unidentified Al Qaeda operatives were killed in an airstrike in the Jani Khel district in Paktika. On Monday, two employees of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center were killed in a shooting in Kabul; TOLO has unconfirmed reports that the shooter was a woman. [AP] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Russia: In a statement on Monday, the Russian embassy in Afghanistan said that allegations of its support for the Taliban were “groundless” and “irresponsible”, adding that “at the present difficult stage of finding ways to establish a peace process such actions of black PR people are counterproductive.” But NDS sources tell the LAT they believe Russia is providing the Taliban with “strategic advice, money and arms, including old anti-aircraft rockets”, particularly in the Kunduz area; U.S. military officials have also publicly identified Russian intervention in the conflict as a source of tension. In a joint press conference with Russian Pres. Putin on Wednesday, Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev said that he was “convinced that there is no military solution to the Afghan problem. The only way is through peaceful political talks under the aegis of the United Nations,” adding that “Uzbekistan supports Russia’s efforts to find ways of resolving the Afghan conflict” and will attend the meeting in Moscow scheduled for April 14. [Ariana News] [Khaama Press]
  • Tensions with Pakistan: On Friday, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said that it had made complaints to the UN Security Council regarding Pakistani construction activities along the border, saying that doing so without Afghanistan’s consent would be a violation of international law. In a tv interview on Thursday, Pakistani defense minister Khawaja Asif attributed tensions with Afghanistan to “Indian influence” in Afghanistan. An Afghan media delegation met with the Pakistani military’s chief spokesman in Rawalpindi on Friday, where they were told that Chief of Army Staff Bajwa had professed a view that “terrorists are our common enemy”. In a parliament briefing on Wednesday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan was “committed to continued efforts for facilitating an Afghan-owned Afghan-led peace process”. [Ariana News] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Regional Diplomacy: Pres. Ghani completed visits to Indonesia and Singapore on Friday. On Wednesday, German Chancellor Merkel spoke by phone with Pres. Trump, discussing cooperation in Afghanistan and Ukraine; no details of the conversation were released [Khaama Press] [AP] [TOLO]
  • Electoral Reforms: IEC officials estimate that they will need approximately $120 million in funding to hold parliamentary and district council elections; a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance said the government was in negotiations with donors over the financing. On Wednesday, Chief Executive Abdullah’s office said that elections would be held before the end of the solar year, which ends next March. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Ariana News]

Afghanistan – Economics and Development

  • Mineral Investments: The AP reports that the Afghan government is seeking greater support from the Trump administration for investments in mining, particularly in the lithium sector.
  • Iran Afghanistan’s Largest Trading Partner: The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries reported Sunday that trade between Afghanistan and Iran totaled roughly $1.8 billion in 2016, eclipsing Pakistan as Afghanistan’s largest trade partner. [TOLO]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Afghan Government Disappoints Many, But Some Cling to Hope [WAPO]
  • AIHRC Raises Concerns Over Child Soldiers in Kandahar [TOLO]
  • Afghan Martial Arts Bout Reveals a Nation Divided [AFP]
  • Ministry of Public Health Says About 50% of Medicine in Afghanistan Smuggled Illegally [TOLO]
  • Interior Ministry Reports 239 Corruption Cases in 2016 [TOLO]
  • $2 Million in Counterfeit Currency Seized in 2016 [Khaama Press]
  • Saving an Afghan Symbol, with Afghans Only [NYT]
  • Commentary: ‘Atta for President’ Again? The Struggle for the Afghan Presidency and Jamiat’s Leadership – “Atta’s push for Jamiat’s leadership appears to be a first step towards a higher goal: the presidency, an ambition that he has long harboured.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Attacks Army Census Team in Lahore; Ghani Travels to Indonesia

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Note: The news will be on temporary hiatus due to travel interruptions; a full summary of the intervening period will return on Monday, April 10. Apologies for the interruption in service, and thanks for reading.

Topline

  • The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for a suicide attack which targeted an army van in Lahore on Wednesday morning; four soldiers and two civilian census workers were killed in the attack.
  • The PPP commemorated the death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on Tuesday, with former Pres. Zardari telling supporters that the party was ready for general elections, which he predicted they would sweep.
  • Pres. Ghani concluded his visit to Australia and traveled on to Indonesia on Wednesday, where he will meet with the president and business and religious leaders.
  • Afghan and Pakistani commanders conducted their first direct hotline talks on border issues since the line was established last year; a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry reiterated protests over Pakistani construction along the border and cross-border firing.
  • Pakistani interior secretary Arif Ahmed Khan was removed from his position and replaced by Tariq Mehmood Khan in a transfer on Tuesday.
  • Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Aizaz Chaudhry welcomed remarks earlier this week by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, in which she suggested that the US might be more “proactive” about resolving disputes between India and Pakistan; a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry said that its position on talks with Pakistan hadn’t changed.

Pakistan — Security

  • Suicide Bombing in Lahore Targets Army Census Team: Four army soldiers and two census workers were killed in a suicide attack in Lahore on Wednesday morning targeting an army vehicle; at least 19 people were wounded in the blast. A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility; Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah alleged that the attack had been planned in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. In a statement, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa paid tribute to the victims of the attack and vowed that “the census will be completed at any cost”, and Chief Census Commissioner Asif Bajwa said that the census would continue on schedule despite the attack. [AP] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Interior Secretary Removed: Federal Interior Secretary Arif Ahmed Khan was removed from his position and replaced by Additional Interior Secretary Tariq Mehmood Khan on Tuesday, a spokesman for the ministry announced; The Nation attributes the transfer to a dispute with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan over the issuance of visas to a military delegation from Malaysia.
  • JuA Fighters Surrender: A spokesman for the Pakistani military reported Tuesday that eight TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar fighters surrendered to the army in the Mohmand Agency; no details were provided. [The Nation]
  • Laborers Killed in Balochistan: Four Sindhi laborers working on a highway construction project in the Kharan district in Balochistan were killed in a shooting incident on Wednesday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • UK Relations: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa addressed the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London on Tuesday as part of his continuing trip to the UK, and attended a reception at the Pakistani embassy. Speaking separately in Islamabad with a visiting delegation of UK parliamentarians, National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua noted concerns that the UK was providing “safe abode” to MQM leader Altaf Hussain and Baloch separatist groups. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • India-Pakistan Tensions: Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Aizaz Chaudhry welcomed remarks by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at a press conference on Monday, in which she suggested that the US would work to “de-escalate” tensions between India and Pakistan. A spokesman for the Indian foreign ministry said that “the government’s position for bilateral redressal of all India-Pakistan issues in an environment free of terror and violence hasn’t changed”, and a State Department official tells Dawn that “we have and continue to encourage India and Pakistan to work together to resolve any differences”. [Reuters]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: The PPP commemorated the 38th death anniversary of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on Tuesday; speaking to supporters, former Pres. Zardari predicted that the party “will sweep” the next general elections, and form the next government. Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari argued that “the government is only worried about the Panama case, while Pakistan still stands where it did three years ago”, saying the PML-N had failed to deliver on its development promises. Separately, the Election Commission gave Imran Khan an April 24 deadline to respond to a contempt notice sent over his accusations that the commission was politically bias. The JUI-F will host a centennial anniversary of the party in Nowshera from April 7-9, with Imam-e-Kaabah Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais and U.S. Ambassador Hale among those invited to attend. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Administration Appointments: The Post reports that Heritage Foundation senior fellow Lisa Curtis has been offered the position of director of South and Central Asia at the National Security Council, replacing Brig. Gen. Robin Fontes, who was previously named to the position by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
  • Blasphemy Controversy: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with a delegation from the JUI-S on Tuesday, reaffirming the state’s commitment to barring “blasphemous” content on social media.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Hearings Delayed Again in Hafiz Saeed House Arrest Challenge [ET]
  • Former Army Officer Killed in Karachi [Dawn] [ET]
  • NAB Hires Rawalpindi Director in Possible Violation of Supreme Court Ruling [Dawn]
  • Sindh High Court Grants Bail to Former National Bank of Pakistan President [ET]
  • Punjab Government Releases Rs 90M for ‘Women on Wheels’ Initiative [ET]
  • Supreme Court Questions Lahore High Court Ruling on Orange Line Metro [ET] [Dawn]
  • K-Electric Refutes Overbilling Allegations [The Nation] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Continues to Indonesia: Following the conclusion of talks in Australia, Pres. Ghani arrived in Indonesia on Wednesday, where he will meet with President Joko Widodo, as well as business and religious leaders. TOLO notes the absence of foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani from the trip. [Khaama Press]
  • Election Preparations: Independent Election Commission officials say they will consult with local, regional, and international experts on the feasibility of introducing an electronic voting system. [Ariana News] [Guardian]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Average of 140 Civilians Affected by Mines or Unexploded Ordinance Monthly [TOLO]