Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Drone Strikes Target Haqqanis in Kurram; Taliban Attack in Gardez Kills Paktia Police Chief

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Topline

  • As many as three drone strikes reportedly hit the Kurram Agency in Pakistan on Monday and Tuesday, targeting Haqqani network-affiliated groups; at least 26 people are reported to have been killed on Monday, although the details of Tuesday’s strikes are unclear.
  • A double car bombing and gun attack in the Paktia capital of Gardez on Tuesday morning has killed more than thirty people and injured scores more; the provincial police chief was among those killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • Representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States met in Oman to revive the Quadrilateral Coordination Group format, but issued no joint statement afterwards, and details of the discussions are limited at this point.
  • Imran Khan will “voluntarily” appear before the Election Commission on Oct 26 to address contempt of court and overseas fundraising violation charges against him, the PTI announced Monday.
  • Finance Minister Dar held a press conference on Monday, touting Pakistan’s economic performance and insisting that the government would not seek a new IMF agreement; he brushed off questions about whether he would resign as he also faces corruption charges.
  • India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited Kabul on Monday for talks with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.
  • Senior MQM-London leader Nadeem Nusrat was reportedly to have split with party leader Altaf Hussain; he denied the report but said he had traveled to the United States for cancer treatment and was halting political activity until that was completed.

Pakistan — Security

  • Drones Target Haqqanis in Kurram: Three drone strikes hit the Kurram Agency on Monday and Tuesday, all reportedly targeting Haqqani network-affiliated militants. Initial reporting on Monday’s strike identified the target as Abu Bakar, and said that five people had been killed. Two more strikes were reported on Tuesday, and the reported death toll from Monday’s strike rose to 26; no further details on the Tuesday strikes have been reported. Anonymous Pakistani security officials denied that the strike took place inside Pakistan, insisting that it had hit across the border in Afghanistan’s Paktia province. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told a GEO News interview on Monday that “at a time when a [peace] process is restarting, I think that US should refrain from attacking anywhere — be it Pakistan or Afghanistan.” [AP] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations: Imran Khan will “voluntarily” appear before the Election Commission on Oct 26 to address contempt of court and overseas fundraising charges, the party announced; the ECP issued arrest warrants against Imran last week, which the PTI plans to challenge in the Islamabad High Court. Hearings in the ECP case on the PTI’s funding have been adjourned until Nov 26 as the ECP reviews party financial statements. At separate Supreme Court disqualification hearings on Tuesday, court judges questioned the authenticity of financial documents submitted by Imran and PTI leader Jahangir Tareen. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • MQM Divisions: Dawn reported Monday that MQM-London senior leader Nadeem Nusrat had split with Altaf Hussain over “financial matters” and moved to the United States; in a statement, he said that he was undergoing cancer treatment and would resume political activities after his treatment. The MQM-Pakistan is meanwhile planning to seek the de-seating of nine provincial and national assembly members who have quit the party to join the Pak Sarzameen Party instead.
  • FATA Reforms: The national assembly law committee approved draft legislation on Monday that would extend the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, reversing previous legislation that had put the FATA under Islamabad High Court jurisdiction. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Monday, the ECP suspended 261 lawmakers in the national and provincial assemblies for failing to submit asset statements as required by law; Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law Mohammad Safdar and a number of other senior lawmakers are among those affected. Maryam Nawaz visited the NA-120 constituency to meet with local PML-N leaders on Monday. Speaking to PPP supporters in Lahore on Monday, former Pres. Zardari said that the PML-N was “trying to establish backdoor contacts with us but I’ve refused to communicate with the intermediaries”, saying he was “not ready” to talk to Nawaz Sharif, who he accused of “deceiving” the PPP leadershipe. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Dar Press Conference: On Monday, Finance Minister Dar held his first press conference since being indicted on corruption charges, at which he brushed aside questions about his resignation and insisted that the economy was on the right track. Dar said that Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were “fairly satisfactory” and that the government would not seek a new IMF agreement, but provided few details on the government’s future economic plans. In a separate interview on Monday, PM Abbasi said that Chief of Army Staff Bajwa had “every right to express his opinion” on the country’s economic situation, downplaying a public spat between Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and the military’s chief spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor. [ET] [The Nation] [APP] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Saudi Arabia [The Nation]
  • LHC Takes Up Contempt Petition Over Turkish Couple’s Deportation [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Tells Supreme Court it Never Promised Quetta Blast Victim Heirs Govt Jobs [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Two Tribal Journalists Freed After a Day of Captivity [Dawn]
  • PM Orders Expediting of Major Dam Projects [The Nation]
  • Oil Tanker Owners Threaten Strike [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Paktia Police Chief, Dozens Others Killed: At least 32 people, including Paktia police chief Toryalai Abdyani, were killed and scores wounded in a complex attack involving gunmen and at least two suicide car bombs that targeted a police training center in the provincial capital of Gardez on Tuesday morning. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. [NYT] [Reuters] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters took control of the Shibkoh district center in Farah province in an overnight battle on Monday. A magnetic bomb planted on a vehicle in Kabul killed the driver on Tuesday; no claim of responsibility or details on the driver’s identity have been reported. The NDS announced the arrest of two men plotting a suicide car bombing attack in Kabul on Tuesday. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Quadrilateral Talks: Representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States met in Oman on Monday to review the Quadrilateral Coordination Group process; no official statement was issued follow the meeting, and anonymous sources speaking to Dawn describe it as a “symbolic gathering”. A spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry said prior to the talks that “we expect that specific goals should be set for the fulfillment of the promises made in the past meetings”. Separately, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal said that Afghanistan had proposed to “exchange several Tehreek-e-Taliban militants for Afghan Taliban”. [ET] [ET]
  • Indian NSA Visits: Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited Afghanistan on Monday and met with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, among other officials; details of his conversations are limited but he reportedly “agreed to further strengthen strategic dialogue and consultations for achieving shared objectives”.
  • Rabbani Death Anniversary Commemorated: Acting foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani visited Badakhshan on Monday for ceremonies commemorating the sixth death anniversary of his father Burhanuddin Rabbani; Salahuddin told supporters that “if the current government cannot respond to the people’s legitimate demands, the people have a right to want changes based on the constitution to reform the system. In Jamiat-e-Islami party of Afghanistan, we pursue reforms in government’s political structure more seriously even than before”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Red Crescent Calls on Daesh to Respect Group’s Neutrality [Pajhwok]
  • Leaked Documents Show Senior Govt Officials and MPs Owe Billions of Afghanis in Unpaid Electricity Dues [Ariana News]
  • Bowe Bergdahl Submits Guilty Plea in Connection to Disappearance [WAPO] [AP] [CNN]
  • High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption Calls for New Anti-Corruption Body [TOLO]
  • Abdullah Raises Concerns Over Food Insecurity [TOLO]
  • Report: I Won’t Be a Doctor, and One Day You’ll Be Sick: Girls’ Access to Education in Afghanistan – “Sixteen years after the US-led military intervention that ousted the Taliban government, an estimated two-thirds of Afghan girls do not go to school.” [HRW]
  • Commentary: Jihad Commuters: How the Taliban Cross the Durand Line – “The multiplicity of routes along the long, porous Durand Line and the rugged terrain it runs through have long made it, in practice, impossible to completely ‘seal’.” [Borhan Osman and Fazal Muzhary, AAN]
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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Canadian-American Couple Returns Home from Captivity; QCG Meets in Oman Today

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Topline

  • The Canadian-American couple rescued from captivity last week arrived in Toronto on Friday evening; in a statement, Joshua Boyle accused the Haqqani network of having “authorized the murder of my infant daughter” and of raping his wife. The Taliban disputed that account in a statement on Sunday. ABC News reported that SEAL Team Six had been planning a hostage rescue mission inside Pakistan, which was aborted when Pakistani forces rescued the family. On Sunday, the Pakistani military reported that four soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in the Kurram Agency during search operations for the family’s captors.
  • Members of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group are scheduled to meet in Oman today in an effort to revive the forum and restart talks on an Afghan peace process. The UK’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan visited Kabul on Saturday for meetings with Pres. Ghani and other officials.
  • Kabul police halted a truck carrying as much as three tons of explosives in at a checkpoint on Saturday evening; security officials blamed the Haqqani network for organizing the attack, although the intended target is unclear.
  • The Punjab government has reportedly withdrawn a house arrest order against Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed under the Anti-Terrorism Act, but is continuing to seek his detention through a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance.
  • Pakistani officials report at least two children were killed and five people injured in cross-border firing by Indian forces in Kashmir on Friday and Saturday.
  • Taliban fighters have reportedly retaken control of the village of Mirza Olang in the Sayyad district, the site of a massacre of Shia villagers in August.
  • A Hezb-e-Islami prisoner died of injuries suffered after being stabbed by another inmate at Pul-e-Charki prison; the party accused prison officials of facilitating the attack.
  • A Turkish teacher and his family arrested by plainclothes security personnel in Pakistan last month has been deported to Turkey, fellow schoolteachers report; a Lahore High Court on their case had been scheduled to take place Monday.
  • Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif issued a statement on Saturday opposing changes to Pakistan’s accountability law that would broaden the investigative powers of the National Accountability Bureau to include military and judicial officials; the PTI had also reportedly objected to those provisions in committee negotiations.
  • Pakistan will reportedly issue a new $1 billion Sukuk bond in late November or early December in order to boost its declining foreign exchange reserves.

Pakistan — Security

  • Canadian-American Couple Return: The Canadian-American couple freed in Pakistan on Thursday after five years in captivity arrived in Toronto on Friday evening local time. In Pakistan on Saturday, the military held a press conference where it broadcast a video statement from Joshua Boyle prior to his departure from the country, in which he praised the Pakistani security services for their role in the family’s rescue. ABC reported Friday that an “elaborately staged” operation by SEAL Team Six had been planned to target a site inside Pakistan where the family was believed to have been held, but that that plan was cancelled when they were freed by Pakistani forces. No other reports have corroborated this detail. On Sunday, the Pakistani military reported that four Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in the Kurram Agency while conducting search operations for the hostage-takers; the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. In a brief statement upon their return to Canada on Friday, Boyle said he and his wife Caitlan Coleman had traveled to Afghanistan to help “ordinary villagers who live deep inside Taliban controlled Afghanistan, where no NGO, no aid worker and no government has ever successfully been able to bring the necessary help”. Boyle said that his wife had been raped during their captivity by the Haqqani network, who he also said had “authoriz[ed] the murder of my infant daughter”, and called on the Taliban to “provide my family the justice that we are owed”. The couple returned with three surviving children born in captivity. In a statement on Sunday, the Taliban said that one of Boyle’s children had died from illness while in captivity, but rejected “these fake and fabricated allegations of this Canadian family, now in the hands of the enemy”. The NYT profiles Boyle; the Post quotes former intelligence officials who express skepticism about his motives for travel to Afghanistan, noting his former marriage to the elder sister of former Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr. [WSJ] [Reuters] [Reuters] [ET]
  • Hafiz Saeed Detention: A spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa said Saturday that the government had withdrawn an extension request for leader Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is set to expire at the end of this month; Dawn reports that Saeed and four associates will face continued house arrest under a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance. The JuD has filed a legal challenge with the Lahore High Court against the MPO order.
  • Indian Border Clashes: On Saturday, the Pakistani military reported that two children were killed and three wounded in cross-border fire from Indian forces in the Kotli and Poonch districts along the Line of Control in Kashmir; another man and a woman were separately reported to have been injured in firing on Friday. Pakistan formally protested the clashes on Sunday.
  • Turkish Teacher Deported: Former PakTurk school officials report that Mesut Kacmaz, the former principal of the school network, was deported back to Turkey along with his family after being detained by plainclothes security services in late September; a Lahore High Court hearing on their disappearance had been scheduled for Monday, and the court had ordered a freeze on their deportation. [AFP] [Dawn]
  • UK Army Chief Visits: Gen. Sir Nicholas Patrick Carter, chief of general staff for the UK Army, arrived in Pakistan for a two-day visit; he met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Friday and visited Peshawar and the Khyber Agency on Saturday. [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Civil-Military Tensions: In a statement on Friday, Interior and Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal criticized remarks by Inter-Services Public Relations director general Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor in an earlier interview in which Gafoor had suggested that “if the economy is not bad, it is not doing so well either.” Ghafoor’s remarks followed remarks by Chief of Army Staff Bajwa to a Karachi business audience, in which he noted concerns over economic indicators and the need to expand Pakistan’s tax net. Iqbal responded that “Pakistan’s economy is stable … irresponsible statements will bring disrepute to the country”; opposition politicians lambasted his statement. At Saturday’s press conference, Ghafoor said that he was “disappointed” by Iqbal’s response, saying “there is no threat to democracy from the Pakistan Army; there could be a threat to democracy if its requirements are not being met”. Separately on Saturday, PM Abbasi visited Karachi to inaugurate a cargo terminal, where he told the audience that “the country could never prosper without democracy”. Iqbal told a New York audience on Sunday that he was “proud of the Pakistan Army” and “there is no rift between national institutions and thus no threat to democracy in the country”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Regional Relations: Speaking at a Friday press briefing, the Pakistani foreign ministry’s spokesman said that he could not confirm the timing of upcoming visits by Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis, but “it was agreed that both sides will remain engaged at all levels”. In remarks at the Pakistani embassy in Washington on Friday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that “both sides are now taking steps to mend this relationship… we will have frank and detailed discussions on all key issues”. The Nation notes a meeting on Saturday between Chief of Army Staff Bajwa and the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, but provides no details.
  • Corruption Investigations: Dawn reports on draft legislation in the national assembly that would form a new National Accountability Commission with broader investigatory powers, headed by serving or retired Supreme Court judges. Dawn reports that the PTI now objects to proposals for the oversight powers of the body to be expanded to include members of the judiciary or armed services; PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been replaced by Shireen Mazari as the party’s representative on the parliamentary committee debating the issue. In a statement on Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif also said that “instead of expanding jurisdiction of the [National Accountability Bureau], reforms should be introduced to improve performance of the NAB and eliminate corruption from the country”. On Monday, hearings continued in the corruption cases against Finance Minister Dar, and Imran Khan submitted additional documents to the Supreme Court on his overseas assets. PML-N sources tell The Nation that Nawaz Sharif will return to Pakistan in time for the next accountability court hearing on Oct 19. [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Nawaz Distances from Safdar’s Remarks on Ahmadis: In a statement on Sunday, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said that “all minorities living in Pakistan enjoy complete fundamental rights” and “any negative expression in this regard has nothing to do with the ideology and policy of the PML-N”. Nawaz’s remarks follow, but did not directly refer to, earlier statements by his son-in-law Mohammad Safdar denouncing members of the Ahmadi minority community and calling for restrictions on their service in government or the military. Speaking separately at a gathering on Sunday, Safdar praised Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer. On Friday, the Lahore High Court Bar Association cancelled the membership of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah after he had made earlier remarks suggesting that “ulema consider Ahmadis as Muslims. They offer all prayers and give Azan, but the conflict is Khatm-e-Nabuwwat [the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood”.
  • Other Political Activity: PPP sources tell the Express Tribune that the party plans to “swing into election mode” with a rally in Larkana on the tenth death anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, and is aiming to form a “national electoral alliance” against the PTI. The party also plans to hold a fiftieth anniversary “golden jubilee” celebration on Nov 30. Former Pres. Zardari reportedly intervened on Saturday to block an increase for Sindh provincial assembly members salaries, citing the “country’s present economic situation”. Imran Khan led a rally in Peshawar on Friday, ahead of the NA-4 by-elections scheduled to take place Oct 26. He also spoke at a party conference in Islamabad on Sunday, warning of a “final round of street agitation” if the PML-N continues to “conspire to obstruct justice and malign state institutions”. In an Express Tribune interview, MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar acknowledged that he was “struggling” to enforce party discipline since the faction split from the MQM under Altaf Hussain. A six-member committee has been formed to negotiate the revival of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal coalition of religious parties, with both the JUI-F and JI participating. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Government Plans New Sukuk Bond: In an interview with The Nation, Finance Minister Dar indicated that the government plans to issue a new Sukuk bond in late November or early December, with the goal of generating at least $1 billion to build up the country’s declining foreign exchange reserves.
  • Energy Crisis: Pakistan State Oil’s unpaid receivables have reached a record high of Rs 302.5 billion, Dawn reports, nearly 90% of which is owed by the power sector. [Dawn]
  • Russian Gas Agreement Signed: Russian deputy minister for energy Yury Sentyurin visited Pakistan on Friday; he met with PM Abbasi and signed an agreement on gas supply, the details of which were not immediately reported. [ET]
  • Revenue-Sharing Disputes: Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah accused the government of violating the constitution by failing to complete negotiations over a new National Finance Commission revenue-sharing formula between the provinces and the federal government; the new award had been due in 2015.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Claim Responsibility for Murder of Journalist in Swabi [AP] [Dawn]
  • Chief Justice Forms Special Bench to Hear Petition Against IHC Judge Accused of Misconduct [ET]
  • Iran and Pakistan Sign MOU for Improved Border Management [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Leader Rauf Siddiqui Summoned in Baldia Factory Fire Case [Dawn]
  • Rangers Seize Weapons in Karachi Raids [ET] [The Nation]
  • Sindh Plans to Cancel Registration of 4,500 ‘Dummy’ NGOs [ET]
  • PIA Posts Net Loss of Rs 45 Billion for 2016 [Dawn]
  • Finance Ministry Disputes World Bank Report on External Repayment Obligations [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Government May Offer Bailout Package for Stock Market After Continued Losses [ET] [Dawn]
  • Lawyers Strike Paralyzes Gilgit-Baltistan Courts [The Nation]
  • Court Seizes Musharraf Bail Bonds [Dawn]
  • More Than 3,000 Federal Government Posts Reserved for Balochistan Vacant [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • TAPI Project: A spokesman for the Afghan ministry of mines and petroleum said Sunday that construction of the Turkmenistan link of the TAPI pipeline project is expected to be finished by January; ground and air surveys have yet to be completed in Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan Joins AIIB: In a statement on Sunday, the Afghan ministry of finance announced that Afghanistan had received permanent membership in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghazni MPs Demand Action on Hostages [Pajhwok]
  • MPs Accuse Presidential Palace of Corruption [TOLO]
  • Abdullah Inaugurates Development Projects in Laghman [TOLO]
  • Journalists Call on Govt to Investigate Violence Against Media [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Finance to Give Tax Breaks to Industrial Sector Investors [TOLO]
  • 900 Tons of Fruit Air Freighted to India Through New Air Corridor [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Canadian-American Couple Freed After 5 Years Captivity; UN Release Civilian Casualty Update

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Topline

  • Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle, a Canadian-American couple who were kidnapped while traveling in Afghanistan in 2012, were freed in Pakistan on Thursday along with their three children. Both Pres. Trump and the Pakistani military hailed the rescue as a case of intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Paksitan. The exact circumstance of the release are unclear, but the family appears to have been tracked in a car and intercepted near the town of Kohat by Pakistani security services; accounts conflict as to whether any of the captors were killed or captured in the confrontation.
  • The couple’s release coincides with a visit by U.S. National Security Council advisor Lisa Curtis and Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Alice Wells to Pakistan; they met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa and Pakistani foreign military officials, ahead of expected visits by Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis later this month.
  • The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released new quarterly figures on civilian casualties in Afghanistan through September of this year, finding a slight increase in the number of civilian deaths and decline in the number of wounded. The number of casualties attributed to U.S. and Afghan air force airstrikes increased significantly, with at least 205 killed and 261 wounded.
  • Court proceedings in the corruption cases against Maryam Nawaz, her husband Mohammad Safdar, and other Sharif family members were delayed on Friday as PML-N-affiliated lawyers clashed with courthouse security personnel. Nawaz Sharif did not return from London to attend the proceedings as previously reported.
  • In remarks on Thursday, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar criticized the formation of the national unity government, and said that foreigners “should not be allowed to decide regarding the election outcomes”.
  • PM Abbasi distanced himself and the PML-N from remarks by Mohammad Safdar denouncing the Ahmadi minority community; in a separate interview, the military’s chief spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor insisted that the army was a “national army” and not restricted to the majority faith. A PML-N investigation into later-reversed changes in the oath for candidates affirming the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood was completed on Friday, but the findings have not been disclosed as of this writing.
  • In a vote on Wednesday, members of a Wolesi Jirga vote to scrap a tax of mobile phones implemented by the Afghan government in 2015, noting that half of the surcharge revenue was collected by mobile phone companies and not the government; the Ministry of Finance warned that the move would “seriously damage” government finances.

Pakistan — Security

  • Canadian-American Couple Released: On Thursday, officials in the U.S., Canada, and Pakistan confirmed the release of Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle, a Canadian-American couple who were kidnapped while traveling in Afghanistan in 2012 and have been held by the Haqqani network in the years since, along with their three children born in captivity. In a statement, Pres. Trump said that “the Pakistani government’s cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America’s wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region.” The Pakistani military’s statement said the operation “underscores the importance of timely intelligence sharing and Pakistan’s continued commitment” to counterterrorism efforts. Boyle’s parents tell the Toronto Star that he told them the family was being transported in the trunk of a car and that a firefight broke out before the Pakistani military freed them; in a subsequent interview with the Star, he said that some of his captors had escaped. The Pakistani army statement said the “coordinated operation” took place after U.S. intelligence tracked the family’s passage through the Kurram Agency; Dawn puts the location of the rescue as the Nawe Kali area near the town of Kohat, and reports heavy surveillance drone presence in the area prior to the incident. The Dawn report also says that one of the family’s captors was injured and two others fled the scene; on Friday, the AFP quoted Pakistan military spokesmen who suggested that all the captors had fled after their car went offroad to avoid a vehicle stop. Taliban sources tell Reuters that the family “spent most of their captivity at Haqqani strongholds inside Pakistan, and not in Afghanistan”. Anonymous Pakistani security officials deny to the Guardian that any ransom was paid; the Haqqani network had previously threatened to kill the captives if the execution sentence against Anas Haqqani, a brother to the group’s senior leadership held by the Afghan government, was carried out. The family departed Pakistan on a flight to the UK on Friday; Boyle, who was previously married to an elder sister of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, had objected to transiting through the U.S. airbase at Bagram. [CNN] [WSJ] [Reuters] [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Quetta Shooting: A policeman was killed and three other people injured, including a child, in a driveby shooting in Quetta on Friday. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]
  • Journalist Killed in Swat: Haroon Khan, a freelance TV journalist working in Swat, was killed in an attack on his home on Thursday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • US-Pakistan Talks: Thursday’s announcement of the Boyle-Coleman couple’s release coincided with a visit by Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells and National Security Council director Lisa Curtis to Pakistan, ahead of a planned visit by Sec. Tillerson to Pakistan later this month. The group met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa and foreign ministry officials; the foreign ministry described the talks as “very constructive”. [The Nation] [ET]
  • Brawl at Courthouse Delays Indictment Hearings: Hearings were delayed on Friday in the corruption case against Maryam Nawaz, her husband Mohammad Safdar, and other members of the Sharif family, after lawyers affiliated with the PML-N clashed with security personnel at the court. Imran Khan denounced the incident as an attack on the judiciary; the interior ministry has opened an investigation into the incident. National Accountability Bureau officials say their prosecutors were “deliberately attacked” during the brawl. The next hearings in the case have been set for Oct 19. Contrary to earlier reports former prime minister Nawaz Sharif did not return to Pakistan on Friday to attend the hearings and remains in London. On Friday, lawyers for Nawaz filed a Supreme Court petition challenging the corruption cases against him. [ET] [Dawn]
  • PM, Army Criticize Safdar Remarks on Ahmadis: Speaking in parliament on Thursday, PM Abbasi distanced himself and the PML-N from remarks by Mohammad Safdar earlier this week denouncing the Ahmadi minority community and calling for a bar on their service in government and the military, saying that “no one in the party would agree with him”. At a separate interview on Thursday, the army’s chief spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said that “the Pakistan Army is a national army… It’s not true that army can be joined only by Muslims because we are a Muslim country.” A PML-N committee tasked with investigating changes in the oath for candidates affirming the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood presented a final report to Nawaz Sharif on Friday; party leaders have not disclosed any of their findings. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: In a press conference on Thursday, former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan denied that there was any “forward bloc” within the PML-N to split the party. On Thursday, the PPP introduced legislation in the senate to reinstate requirements that party officeholders be eligible for public office. Former prime minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali announced on Friday that he was quitting the PML-N. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Several Arrested in Lahore after Barelvi Leaders Challenge Ahle Hadith Leaders to Debate [ET]
  • Extradition Hearings Delayed for Pakistani-American Suspect [Reuters]
  • CPEC Shifting Gears to Industrial Parks [Dawn]
  • Iran Deports 73 Pakistani Nationals [The Nation]
  • Pakistan Briefs Security Council Members on Indian Ceasefire Violations [ET]
  • Judicial Commission Advises Against Tenure Extensions for Seven Judges [ET]
  • Pressure on External, Fiscal Accounts to Persist, State Bank Projects [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released new quarterly figures on civilian casualties in Afghanistan covering the January – September period; 2,640 civilians were killed and 5,379 injured, a slight increase in the number of deaths and decrease in the number of injuries compared to the same period last year. Casualties from Afghan and U.S. airstrikes jumped more than 50%, with at least 205 killed and 261 wounded. On Friday, residents in Kunar’s Sawkai district disputed reports by provincial police officials that a U.S. drone strike had killed 18 Islamic State-affiliated fighters, saying all of those killed had been civilians. [AFP] [UNAMA Report] [AAN]
  • Attacks and Operations: Nangarhar police officials say that ground and air operations in the Haska Mina district killed at least six ISIS fighters on Friday. Afghan Air Force planes targeted Taliban hideouts in airstrikes in the Sayad district in Sar-e-Pul on Thursday, which military officials claim killed five Taliban fighters. [TOLO] [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hekmatyar Criticizes NUG Formation: In remarks on Thursday, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar criticized the formation of the national unity government, saying that “the results of the upcoming elections should not be suspended at any cost” and that foreigners “should not be allowed to decide regarding the election outcomes”.
  • Election Planning: On Thursday, Abdul Aziz Aryaee, the head of the Electoral Complaints Commission, warned against unspecified interference in the body’s operations, saying “those who were involved in electoral fraud in the past are still present” in the commission and threatening his resignation.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • MPs Vote Against Telecom Tax: In a vote on Wednesday, members of the Wolesi Jirga telecommunications committee voted to cancel the tax on mobile phones imposed by the government in 2015; a parliamentary investigation found that only Afs 7.9 billion was collected by the government, against Afs 14 billion taken in by private companies through the surcharge. On Thursday, the Ministry of Finance said that the move would “seriously damage” government finances and called for an alternate source of income to be found.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • ‘The Taliban Can’t Win’, Says Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan [NPR]
  • National Security Advisor Calls on Security Forces to Fight Corruption [TOLO]
  • Bowe Bergdahl to Plead Guilty in Desertion Case [WAPO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz Sharif May Return Friday for Court Hearings; SCO Contact Group Meets on Afghanistan

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Topline

  • PML-N sources say Nawaz Sharif will likely return to Pakistan from London in time to attend Friday court hearings. The Islamabad High Court dismissed a petition by Mohammad Safdar seeking to delay his indictment in a corruption case. Meanwhile, objections from the PTI and MQM appear to have scuttled consensus on a new draft “across-the-board” accountability law.
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization contact group on Afghanistan met in Moscow on Wednesday; Afghanistan’s delegation sought permanent co-chairmanship of the group, and Pakistan’s foreign secretary called for “serious efforts for negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban”.
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan issued arrest warrants against Imran Khan after he again missed hearings on contempt of court and party finance-related charges.
  • At a press conference on Thursday, former Pres. Karzai reiterated demands for a Loya Jirga to review the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, which he said “doesn’t carry any message of peace”.
  • Speaking before the senate committee on human rights on Wednesday, Judge Javed Iqbal said that the onus was on parliament to change the criminal code and allow for prosecutions for extrajudicial detentions and disappearances; he also disputed figures proposed by Baloch activists on the number of missing persons.
  • Pres. Ghani met with cabinet nominees on Wednesday, warning them of dismissal if any were implicated in bribes to parliamentarians considering their nominations.
  • In remarks in Karachi on Wednesday, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa express concerns over Pakistan’s economic performance, saying that “our tax to GDP ratio is abysmally low and this needs to change if we are to break the begging bowl”.

Pakistan — Security

  • Missing Persons Investigation: Speaking before the senate committee on human rights on Wednesday, Judge Javed Iqbal, the new chief of the National Accountability Bureau and head of an inquiry commission on “missing persons” and disappearances, said that the onus was on parliament to change Pakistan’s criminal code for allow for the prosecution of extrajudicial detentions. Iqbal disputed figures proposed by Baloch activists that put the number of missing persons at 25,000 or more. Separately, three Karachi police officers were arrested for illegal detentions on Wednesday. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Blasphemy Punishments: A court in Sheikhupura issued a death sentence against three members of the Ahmadi minority community on Thursday on blasphemy charges. [The Nation]
  • Karachi Operation: On Wednesday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah formally approved the extension of policing powers for the paramilitary Sindh Rangers for another 90-day period. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Sindh Drops Regulation of Sermons: An anonymous Sindh provincial home ministry official tells the Express Tribune that proposals to regulate Friday sermons “fizzled out” following Gen. Raheel Sharif’s retirement as Chief of Army Staff.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations: Nawaz Sharif will likely return to Pakistan today and appear before an accountability court on Friday, PML-N sources reported Thursday. The Islamabad High Court rejected a plea by Mohammad Safdar, Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law, seeking to delay his indictment in a corruption case. Notices were delivered by the National Accountability Bureau to the Sharif home on Wednesday warning Hussain and Hassan Nawaz that they would be declared “proclaimed offenders” if they did not appear before the courts within thirty days. Dawn reports that the PTI and MQM blocked committee consensus on Wednesday on a draft “across-the-board” accountability law under consideration in parliament; the PTI has objected to provisions related to statutes of limitation and settlement provisions, as well as putting the onus of proof on the prosecution rather than the defense. Also on Wednesday, the senate passed a resolution opposing changes in the electoral law allowing an individual disqualified from political office to hold a party office. Hearings continued on Thursday in the corruption case against Finance Minister Dar. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • ECP Issues Arrest Warrant for Imran Khan: On Thursday, the Election Commission issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against PTI leader Imran Khan, citing his repeated failure to appear before the ECP on contempt of court and disqualification charges related to party fundraising. Lawyers for Imran said they would challenge the order. In separate Supreme Court hearings, PML-N lawyers petitioned the court not to consider “unverified” documents submitted by Imran’s lawyers documenting his purchase of his Bani Gala residence through his offshore holding company. [AP] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Interior Minister in DC: Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told an audience at John Hopkins SAIS on Wednesday that “blaming Pakistan for the security failures in Afghanistan is unhelpful as well as offensive to the people of Pakistan”. Iqbal also urged the U.S. not to “look at CPEC from the Indian perspective, but as a source for peace, stability and prosperity in the region.” [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that “we should fight our case in the courts with full force without any confrontation with courts. This is not right for Nawaz Sharif, the party, institutions or the country.” He also criticized remarks by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif suggesting that Pakistan would conduct “joint operations” with the United States on counter-terrorism. The Rah-e-Haq party, formed by a former provincial leader of the sectarian Sipah-e-Sahaba, endorsed the PML-N’s candidate in the NA-4 Peshawar by-election on Wednesday. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Army Chief Express Concern Over Economic Indicators: In remarks in Karachi on Wednesday at a seminar on the relationship between Pakistan’s economy and security, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa noted concerns over Pakistan’s debt and current account balance, and said that “our tax to GDP ratio is abysmally low and this needs to change if we are to break the begging bowl”. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reported Wednesday that Pakistan’s trade deficit widened to $9.1 billion during the first quarter of the fiscal year, up 30% year on year. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • A Turkish Family Has Disappeared in Pakistan, and Suspicion Turns to Intelligence Agencies [WAPO]
  • Line of Control Firing Victims to Get Military Burial, Martyr’s Package [ET]
  • Gazain Marri Denies Returning to Pakistan Under a Deal [Dawn]
  • JUI-F Leader Fazlur Rehman Reiterates Demand for FATA Referendum [Dawn]
  • Judge Tassaduq Hussain Jillani Appointed as Representative in Kulbhushan Jadhav Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Non-Bailable Arrest Warrant Issued for Mufti Abdul Qavi in Qandeel Baloch Murder Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senate Body Rejects Increase in Minimum Marriage Age to 18 as ‘Un-Islamic’ [Dawn]
  • Sindh High Court Orders NAB to Complete Inquiry Against Mustafa Kamal [ET]
  • Orange Line Metro Train Scheduled for Completion by Dec 31 [ET] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: At least five Taliban fighters were killed and three Afghan security personnel wounded in a Taliban attack on police checkposts in the Faizabad district in Jawzjan province on Wednesday. Nangarhar provincial officials report that four Islamic State and two Taliban fighters were killed in separate airstrikes in the Haska Mina and Bati Kot districts on Wednesday. The ministry of defense claimed to have killed as many as 23 Taliban fighters during operations in the Nad-e-Ali district and around the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Wednesday.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • SCO Meets on Afghanistan: At a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday, Afghanistan sought permanent co-chairmanship of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s contact group on Afghanistan; the next meeting of the group is scheduled to take place in China in early 2018. In her remarks to the group, Pakistan’s foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua called for “serious efforts for negotiated settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban for achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan”.
  • Karzai Reiterates Call for Loya Jirga: Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on Thursday, former Pres. Karzai called for the formation of a constitutional Loya Jirga to discuss the new U.S. strategy towards Afghanistan, which he said “doesn’t carry any message of peace”. Karzai also said that “India should not ally itself with America’s objectives in Afghanistan because the objectives are not good for this region”; he also reiterated that Afghanistan would “never accept” the Durand Line as the border with Pakistan. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Peace Talks: Pres. Ghani met with leaders of the High Peace Council on Thursday, and was quoted telling them that “he is prepared to lay down his life if peace and reconciliation can be achieved through sacrifices”.
  • Cabinet Nominations: Pres. Ghani met with cabinet ministers on Wednesday, warning them that their nominations would be withdrawn if evidence was found of bribes to members of parliament for their confirmation votes. [Ariana News] [Pajhwok]
  • Election Preparations: Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Independent Election Commission chairman Najibullah Ahmadzai insisted that the IEC was committed to holding parliamentary elections in next July; other commission members added that the IEC was “committed to making decisions collectively”. [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Hekmatyar Accuses Supporters of Federalism of ‘Sparking Ethnic Violence’ [Khaama Press]
  • More Than 20 Afghans Deported from Austria and Sweden [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Mohammad Safdar Denounces Ahmadi Minority Community; Taliban Won’t Participate in QCG Talks

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Topline

  • During national assembly debate on Tuesday, Mohammad Safdar, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law, denounced members of the Ahmadi minority community and called for them to be barred from serving in the armed services or other government institutions.
  • Taliban sources say they have not been invited to and will not participate in Quadrilateral Coordination Group talks scheduled to take place in Oman on Oct 16. Meanwhile, Russia and Afghanistan are co-chairing a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Afghanistan today.
  • Pakistani officials are reportedly preparing a “contingency plan” in the event of U.S. sanctions, which includes efforts to expand economic and defense ties with Russia and China.
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan denied the party registration application of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa-affiliated Milli Muslim League on Wednesday, which the interior ministry had advised against.
  • Unidentified gunmen wounded a spokesman for Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor in a driveby shooting on Wednesday.
  • Afghanistan’s commerce ministry postponed a planned meeting with Pakistan on the two countries’ transit trade agreement, as Afghan officials are reportedly seeking to guarantee access for the export and import of goods from India through Pakistan.
  • Retired judge Javed Iqbal official took charge as chairman of the National Accountability Bureau on Wednesday.
  • Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced that the sole bidder for a tender for electronic equipment for the parliamentary elections had not met the bid requirements, referring the issue back to the national procurement commission.

Pakistan — Security

  • Karachi Operations: During court hearings on Tuesday, three MQM members associated with the party’s London faction confessed to the murder of a union council chairman, saying they had done so under the direction of US-based party leader Kahkashan Khan. Separately, two MQM activist who had been arrested on July held a press conference, announcing their separation from the party. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • US Relations: The Express Tribune reports that the Pakistani government is preparing a “contingency plan” in the event that the United States imposes sanctions upon it, including expanded economic and defense ties with Russia and China. Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis are due to visit Pakistan later this month, during which Pakistani officials reportedly plan to ask the United States to “1) to establish relations on the basis of sovereign equality; 2) to stop blame-game against Pakistan; 3) to call off attempts to make CPEC controversial; 4) to review its decision of giving India a greater role in Afghanistan; and 5) to rethink its entire Afghan strategy.”
  • Nawaz’s Son-in-Law Pushes for Restrictions on Ahmadis: During national assembly debate on Tuesday, Muhammad Safdar, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law, called for a ban on service by members of the Ahmadi minority in the armed services or other government institutions, describing them as “a threat to this country, its Constitution and ideology”. Safdar’s remarks comes as he faces indictment in corruption cases, and the government faces criticism for amendments to the electoral law, later reversed, that modified an oath taken by candidates affirming the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood, contrary to the tenets of the Ahmadi faith. Without referring to Safdar directly, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari denounced “he bigotry, hatred and extremism on display” in the national assembly. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • ECP Denies MML Registration: On Wednesday, the Election Commission denied a registration application for the Milli Muslim League, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s political party; the interior ministry had argued against registration.
  • Corruption Investigations: Retired judge Javed Iqbal took charge of the National Accountability Bureau as chairman on Wednesday, replacing Qamar Zaman Chaudhry. Iqbal previously led the inquiry commission into the U.S. raid in Abbottabad, and had been head an inquiry into the status of missing persons, which he indicated to reporters he intended to complete despite the new job. Meanwhile, Supreme Court hearings continued on Tuesday in a disqualification petition against PTI leader Jahangir Tareen, with questions focusing on his failure to disclose income from leased landholdings. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports that a Tuesday cabinet meeting focused on continued concerns from lawmakers over reports that the Intelligence Bureau had developed a list of lawmakers with links to militant groups, which both the IB and the prime minister have now repeatedly denied. The cabinet has also proposed revisiting the federal jobs quota. Separately on Tuesday, PM Abbasi approved the transfer and appointment of 24 senior civil servants. Maryam Nawaz announced Tuesday that her mother Kulsoom Nawaz was beginning her first round of chemotherapy. The PPP has filed another petition challenging the Electoral Reforms Act 2017, seeking restrictions on the PML-N from governing as long as Nawaz Sharif remains party president. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Dubai Real Estate Investigations: During finance committee hearings in the national assembly on Tuesday, officials from the State Bank of Pakistan, Federal Board of Revenue, and Securities and Exchange Commission said Pakistani nationals had invested $8 billion in Dubai real estate during the last four years, but that they lacked details on the investors. The committee has formed a sub-committee to investigate the issue further.
  • Energy Regulations: The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority approved a tariff increase for K-Electric on Tuesday, effective through 2023; the distribution company had sought a larger tariff increase, and warned in a statement afterwards that the move could imperil its acquisition by Shanghai Electric and the development of a new gas power plant. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Gazeen Marri Arrested Again on Terrorism Charges [Dawn]
  • London Mayor to Visit Pakistan and India to Discuss Trade Ties [Dawn]
  • Woman Repatriated to India After Crossing Kashmir Border [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh High Court Seeks Interior Ministry Response in Turkish Teachers’ Case [ET]
  • 527 Prisoners on Death Row in Sindh [ET]
  • Sindh Approves Rs 6.47 Billion in Development Projects [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Balkh Spokesman Targeted: Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, was injured in a driveby shooting in Balkh on Wednesday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [TOLO]
  • Red Cross Operations: In a Pajhwok interview, police officials in Kunduz disputed the withdrawal of the Red Cross from the province due to insecurity, claiming that the organization had been seeking to “downsize” and faced no threats in the province.
  • Attacks and Operations: The ministry of defense claimed to have killed 23 Taliban during operations in the Shahjoi and Mizan districts in Zabul on Tuesday. Airstrikes in the Bati Kot and Deh Bala districts in Nangarhar reportedly killed several Taliban and ISIS fighter on Tuesdays. Officials in Badakhshan report that a U.S. drone strike in the Raghistan district over Tuesday night killed at least eight Taliban fighters. Army officials in Laghman report that thirteen Talban fighters were killed in a premature explosion as they were planting a roadside bombg in the Alingar district. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Multilateral Talks: Taliban sources tell Voice of America that they have not been invited and will not participate in Quadrilateral Coordination Group talks scheduled to take place in Oman on Oct 16. Meanwhile, Russia and Afghanistan will hold a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Wednesday, to be attended by Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister. [Reuters] [Ariana News]
  • Relations with Pakistan: The Afghan commerce ministry postponed a planned meeting with Pakistani officials of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority; Afghanistan is seeking access to Indian markets to be able to return Indian goods to Afghanistan through the transit agreement. [ET]
  • Election Preparations: On Tuesday, the Independent Election Commission announced that the sole bidder for the provision of electronic equipment to the IEC for upcoming parliamentary elections, the UAE-based firm Prologix, had failed to qualify. The contract has been referred back to the national procurement commission.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Hekmatyar Says ‘Certain Circles’ Supporting Ethnic Violence [Khaama Press]
  • Russian Delegation to Visit Kabul for Trade Talks [Ariana News]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Quadrilateral Coordination Group to Meet in Oman; New NBA Chairman Takes Office

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Topline

  • Afghanistan’s foreign ministry confirmed Monday that the members of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group would meet in Oman on Oct 16 to revive the forum; the foreign ministry said that talks would focus on “counterterrorism, and Pakistan’s honesty in fulfilling its promises”.
  • Retired judge Javed Iqbal is scheduled to take charge today as the new chairman of the National Accountability Bureau; the PTI leadership met on Monday and issued a statement saying that his performance in office would “determine whether his appoint is justified or not”.
  • The US carried out at least 751 airstrikes in Afghanistan during September, a seven-year peak.
  • TOLO appears to confirm that Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada visited Musa Qala in Helmand in late September for meetings with insurgent commanders.
  • In an interview on Monday, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif claimed that Pakistan had invited U.S. and Afghan authorities to visit Pakistan with evidence of Haqqani network’s safe havens in the country” and promised to “destroy them once and for all”.
  • Demonstrations were held in Islamabad seeking the merger of FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa province and implementation of the government’s reform plans; protests dissipated after a delegation of FATA parliamentarians met with PM Abbasi.
  • Three Frontier Corps soldiers were killed and seven injured in an attack in North Waziristan on Monday.

Pakistan — Security

  • US Relations: In an interview on Monday, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that Pakistan had offered U.S. and Afghan authorities “to visit Pakistan with evidence of Haqqani network’s safe havens in the country” and promised to “destroy them once and for all”. Asif also warned that “if the Trump administration exerts more pressure on us, friendly countries, especially China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, will stand by our side.”
  • North Waziristan Attack: Three Frontier Corps soldiers were killed and seven others injured when their vehicle was attacked in the Razmak area of North Waziristan on Monday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [Dawn]
  • Border Fencing: Reuters interviews Frontier Corps officials in Chaman, who are building a new fence that will divide several villages the straddle the border line.
  • Bail Plea for Pakistani-American: The Islamabad High Court has set bail plea hearings for Friday for Talha Haroon, a Pakistani-American who was arrested in Pakistan in November 2016 and is facing extradition to the United States on charges that he conspired with a group planning attacks in New York City on behalf of the Islamic State.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations: Speaking to reporters on Monday, PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah praised the choice of retired judge Javed Iqbal as the new chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, saying that he “enjoys an excellent reputation … nobody dare dictate him”. The leadership of the PTI, which did not participate in consultations with other opposition parties over the appointment, met on Monday and issued a statement afterwards saying that Iqbal’s performance in office “will determine whether his appointment is justified or not.” The Jamaat-e-Islami endorsed Iqbal’s appointment. Meanwhile, the NAB is reportedly forming a team to travel to London and Dubai next week to conduct further investigations into the Sharif family’s offshore assets. [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]
  • FATA Reforms: Demonstrations were held in Islamabad on Monday in support of the merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa; leaders from several parties, including the PTI, ANP, and PTI, attended the rallies. PM Abbasi met with a delegation of FATA parliamentarians and pledged to implement FATA reforms on Monday evening; demonstrators dissipated afterwards. [AFP] [The Nation]
  • Intelligence Bureau Dispute: In remarks in the national assembly on Monday, PM Abbasi said that reports that the Intelligence Bureau had developed a list of parliamentarians with links to militant groups were based on a “fake document propagated with an intent to malign individuals” and said that “investigations are underway to identify the culprit who propagated the fake news item”. Separately, the Islamabad High Court has ordered a report from the interior secretary into a petition brought by an IB official who has accused the bureau’s senior leadership of links with regional terrorist organizations. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • MML Pushes Back Over Legal Notice: Lawyers for the Jamaat-ud-Dawa-linked Milli Muslim League filed a counter-suit against Election Commission officials in Peshawar after their nominally independent candidate Haji Liaqat Ali Khan was served with an ECP notice over his alleged violation of the electoral code of conduct; the MML’s suit demands an apology from ECP officials over the description of the MML as a “proscribed organization”.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Deficit Indicators: The Ministry of Finance announced Monday that federal deficit spending in the first quarter of the fiscal year totaled Rs 324 billion or 0.9% of GDP, a 26% drop over the same period last year.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Balochistan High Court Orders Gazeen Marri’s Release [Dawn]
  • Army Chief Attends Air Force Graduation Ceremony [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Pakistan Reaffirms Bar on Consular Access for Accused Spy Kulbhushan Jhadav [The Nation]
  • PTI Lawyers Seek Dissident MP Ayesha Gulalai’s De-Seating [Dawn]
  • Abbasi Ousts Aide in Dispute Over Funds for LNG [Dawn]
  • Supreme Judicial Council Reserves Ruling on Reference Against LHC Judge [Dawn]
  • Punjab Backs Khyber Paktunkhwa Protest Over Deduction in Power Bills [ET]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Voices Concerns Over Supreme Court-Appointed Water Commission [Dawn]
  • PIA Incurs Losses of More Than Rs 146 Billion in Last Four Years [Dawn]
  • ANP Accuses Center of ‘Ignoring Balochistan’ [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Airpower: The U.S. carried out 751 airstrikes in Afghanistan in September, a seven-year peak for any one single month; US Central Command attributed to the shift in strategy to “more proactively target extremist groups that threaten the stability and security of the Afghan people” and to the deployment of six more F-16 jets at Bagram airbase.
  • Reports of Taliban Leader’s Visit: TOLO reports a confirmation by Taliban sources that insurgent leader Haibatullah Akhunzada visited Helmand’s Musa Qala district late last month to meet with top commanders; Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq previously reported the meeting, which he claimed was aimed at “changing their war tactics because of intensified airstrikes against them” and discussing a ceasefire with the Islamic State.
  • Violence Against Journalists: The press watchdog group NAI reported Monday that 620 cases of violence against journalists had been record so far during the three years of the national unity government’s tenure, compared to 610 cases recorded under the 13-year Karzai administration.
  • NATO Assistance: Speaking at a conference in Romania on Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that “if NATO leaves too soon, we risk Afghanistan returning to a state of chaos”, saying that “the cost of walking away would be much higher” than the alliance’s continued commitment. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: Heavy fighting is reportedly underway in the Pashtonkot district in Faryab province after Taliban fighters attacked a checkpost there beginning Monday night; a spokesman for the Afghan National Army denied that the Taliban had seized control of the position. On Monday, the NDS announced the seizure of Taliban bomb-making materials during a raid in Kabul, killing two Taliban fighters in the process. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Quadrilateral Talks Resume: Representatives of the United States, Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan will meet in Oman as part of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group formula on Oct 16, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry announced on Monday; a spokesman for the foreign ministry said the talks would focus on “counterterrorism, and Pakistan’s honesty in fulfilling its promises”. Representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council met separately on Monday; secretary Mohammad Akram Khpalwak said that “the government and people of Afghanistan are ready to begin peace talks without preconditions”. [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Abdullah Reiterates Support for ‘Transparent, On-Time Elections’ [TOLO]
  • No Progress Yet by Parliament Corruption Task Team [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Afs 3.7 Billion in Projects [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Working in a ‘Grey Zone’: ICRC Forced to Scale Back its Work in Afghanistan – “The fact that the ICRC, with its reputation for neutrality and service built up over decades, has had to accept that it can no longer work safely in parts of Afghanistan is deeply worrying.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: US Transfers Black Hawks, Loosens Airstrike ROE; Maryam Nawaz Returns for Court Hearings

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Topline

  • In testimony last week, Sec. Mattis signaled that U.S. forces will begin to target Taliban fighters in airstrikes regardless of whether they are engaged in combat with Afghan or U.S. forces; the official changes to the rules of engagement are report to have not yet been enacted, however. At a ceremony on Saturday in Kandahar, Resolute Support commander Gen. Nicholson transferred two Black Hawk helicopters to the Afghan Air Force, part of what he said was a “tidal wave of air power on the horizon”.
  • Maryam Nawaz and her husband Mohammad Safdar returned to Pakistan on Sunday; the rest of the Sharif family remains in London. Safdar was arrested upon arrival, but both were granted bail by an accountability court at hearings on Monday; he has been barred from leaving the country. Indictment hearings have been scheduled for Oct 13. Finance Minister Dar is expected to skip World Bank and IMF meetings this week as he faces his own corruption case. On Sunday, the government nominated retired judge Javed Iqbal as the new National Accountability Bureau chairman.
  • Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis are due to visit Pakistan later this month; Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal will visit Washington this week. Pakistan and China protested comments by Mattis at hearings last week in which he noted that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor “goes through disputed territory”.
  • The Red Cross announced on Monday that it was scaling back operations in Kunduz, Faryab, and Balkh, following multiple attacks and kidnappings targeting aid workers over the past several months. Separately, an Indian engineer was freed after being kidnapped in Wardak two months ago.
  • Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan indicated that Pres. Ghani would visit Pakistan at an unspecified date in the “near future”. Afghanistan is reportedly seeking the release of five senior Taliban leaders from Pakistani custody as a means of kick-starting a peace process with the Taliban.
  • Unnamed sources tell Khaama Press that Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada has directed the Taliban to end the group’s conflict with the Islamic State; Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq claims that Haibatullah met with Taliban commanders in Helmand’s Musa Qala district late last month.
  • Former ISI chief Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar resigned early from service, effective Monday; he had been shifted to head the National Defense University, and will reportedly join former chief of army staff Raheel Sharif in the Saudi-backed Islamic Military Alliance.
  • Nawaz Sharif has ordered an investigation on Saturday into changes in the electoral law, subsequently reversed, that modified the requirement that candidates make an oath affirming the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood. PM Abbasi and Intelligence Bureau chief Aftab Sultan met with a group parliamentarians on Friday, seeking to mollify them after earlier reports that the IB was investigating them for links with militant organizations.
  • In interviews with Russia Today and the BBC Pashto, former Pres. Karzai criticized the new U.S. strategy and called for a Loya Jirga to be held to review the strategy.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Leadership Changes: Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa took command of the Southern Command at a ceremony in Quetta on Friday, replacing Lt. Gen. Aamer Riaz, who is due to assume the posting of Lahore Corps Commander. On Saturday, Adm. Zafar Mahmood Abbasi took command as Chief of Naval Staff at a ceremony in Islamabad. Former ISI chief Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar submitted a resignation letter and will retire early from service, effective Monday; he had been shifted to the position of president of the National Defense University shortly after Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa took command last year. The Express Tribune reports that Akhtar may join former chief of army staff Raheel Sharif serving in the Saudi-backed Islamic Military Alliance. [The Nation]
  • Balochistan Security: The death toll from Friday’s bombing at a shrine in the Jhal Magsi district in Balochistan has risen to 21; police say they are investigating the claim of responsibility by the Islamic State. On Saturday, the Pakistani military announced the seizure of a weapons cache during search operations across the province. On Monday, five people were killed in a shooting in Quetta, including three members of the Hazara community.
  • Karachi Operations: Karachi police killed four militants reportedly affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent in a raid on Saturday. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with US: Sec. Tillerson will visit Pakistan later this month, and his trip will be followed by a visit by Sec. Mattis, the AFP reports; anonymous sources say that they will reiterate that “Pakistani state support for jihadist groups has to end”. Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal will visit Washington this week, following Foreign Minister Asif’s trip last week. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Zubair Mahmood Hayat has also reportedly been invited to attend a conference in Washington later this month. On Saturday, Dawn noted remarks by Mattis at Senate Armed Services Committee hearings last week, at which he suggested that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and China’s larger One Belt, One Road project “goes through disputed territory”; the Chinese and Pakistani foreign ministries objected to those remarks. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Maryam Nawaz and Husband Return to Pakistan: Maryam Nawaz and her husband Mohammad Safdar departed on Saturday to return to Pakistan in advance of court hearings on Monday on corruption charges against the Sharif family. Her brothers and father remain in London. Speaking to reporters prior to her departure, Maryam said that “the world has come to know that what’s happening is not accountability, but revenge” and that “we will present ourselves in court hearing and use the justice system.” Safdar was arrested upon arrival in Pakistan; Maryam was allowed to return home. On Monday, both appeared before the court and were granted bail; Safdar has been barred from leaving the country. Indictment hearings have been set for Oct 13. Meanwhile, the Express Tribune reports that a meeting of PML-N leaders agreed that Shehbaz Sharif will succeed Nawaz as the PML-N candidate for prime minister in the event that he and Maryam are both convicted in the courts, but that “if Maryam is acquitted, she can be next in the political line after Nawaz”. Separately, Finance Minister Dar will skip World Bank and IMF meetings scheduled to take place this week in order to attend court hearings in his own corruption case. The PTI is planning to file a disqualification petition against Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, charging him with failing to disclose a UAE work permit on his candidacy forms; a similar petition has also been filed against Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • NAB Chairman Nominated: On Sunday, the government announced the appointment of retired judge Javed Iqbal as the next chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, effective Oct 10. Iqbal previously led the 2011 inquiry into the United States raid in Abbottabad. [The Nation]
  • Investigation into Oath Change: On Saturday, Nawaz Sharif ordered the formation of a committee to investigate changes made in the recently-passed electoral law that modified the oath candidates must take affirming the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood. Also on Saturday, Law Minister Zahid Hamid met with Shehbaz Sharif, who had called for the resignation of those responsible for the change. [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Intelligence Bureau Under Scrutiny: Intelligence Bureau chief Aftab Sultan met with PM Abbasi and a group of parliamentarians on Friday who were allegedly being investigated by the IB over links with militant groups; the IB and prime minister’s office have the denied the existence of such a list. [The Nation]
  • FATA Reforms: Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Imran Khan accused the government of stalling reform plans for the FATA, saying that Khyber Paktunkhwa was ready to integrate the areas into the province and that the process should begin next year. Imran also suggested that the provincial government was preparing to request the transfer of authority from military to civilian leaders in parts of the province “where peace has returned”. Dawn notes that the FATA has seen the greatest increase in its registered voters since 2013, up to 2.14 million. [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Judicial Appointments: A parliamentary committee has finalized draft legislation that would shift the power to appoint high court judges to the parliament instead of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; timing for the bill’s introduction in the national assembly is unclear, however.
  • Other Political Activity: PM Abbasi visited Naushahro Feroze in Sindh on Saturday, announcing Rs 2.5 billion in development projects and inaugurated a new natural gas field. In his remarks Abbasi accused the PPP of neglecting the province’s development and of abandoning the “Charter of Democracy” reached between Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto, and added that “political decisions are not taken in courts, or on streets.” PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi met with Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haq on Friday to seek support for a change in opposition leader in the national assembly. The Election Commission has warned Haji Liaqat Ali Khan, the Milli Muslim League candidate in the NA-4 by-elections nominally running as an independent, that he is violating the election code of conduct for supporting another party. Imran Khan led a PTI rally in Buner on Sunday, accusing Nawaz Sharif of “destroy[ing] the country to save himself”. The PTI is seeking the disqualification by the ECP of Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly member Ziaullah Afridi after he split with the party and joined the PPP. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • IMF Assistance: In an interview on Sunday, PM Abbasi said that Pakistan was not reliant on the United States for its military requirements, saying that “if one source dries up, we have no option but to go to another source”; he also said that Pakistan would not seek a new IMF program or devalue its currency. The Express Tribune reports that Finance Minister Dar opposed devaluation proposals earlier this month and that the government is instead seeking to curtail imports with higher tariffs.
  • PIA May Cut US Flights: Pakistan International Airlines may suspend flights to the United States due to low traffic and persistent operational losses; a spokesman for the airline admitted that the routes were “not economically viable”. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Former ISI and RAW Chiefs Call for Dialogue at LSE Event [Dawn]
  • Security Measures at Karachi Prison Still Unsatisfactory, Judge’s Visit Reveals [Dawn]
  • Special Branch Seeks Addition of 22 Terror Suspects to ‘Fourth Schedule’ [Dawn]
  • Karachi Shia Leaders Protest Disappearances [Dawn]
  • Attorney General Reviews International Court of Justice Filings in Jadhav Case [Dawn]
  • PTI Leader Killed in Lakki Marwat [ET]
  • Army Breaks Ground for Mohmand Cadet College [ET]
  • Provinces Seek Real Time Access to Oil, Gas, and Power Data [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Govt Transfers 8,500 Acres of Land to Army [The Nation]
  • Punjab Chief Minister Inaugurates Orange Line Metro Project [Dawn] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Judge Challenges Rejected Promotion [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Airpower: The NYT notes that in testimony last week, Sec. Mattis provided additional details on changes to the rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, including allowing U.S. aircraft to seek out and target Taliban fighters without a requirement that the insurgent targets be actively engaged with U.S. or Afghan forces; those changes, however, are reported to have not yet been promulgated. On Saturday, Pres. Ghani and Resolute Support commander Gen. John Nicholson attended a ceremony in Kandahar where the U.S. delivered two new Black Hawk helicopters to the Afghan Air Force; Nicholson said the delivery signaled that “a tidal wave of air power is on the horizon”. In his remarks, Ghani called on the Taliban to “use this last opportunity to join the peace process.” The U.S. currently plans to deliver 159 Black Hawks to the AAF by 2024; Afghan-piloted combat operations in the new craft are slated to begin next year. A Taliban statement countered that “US commander & Ashraf Ghani must remember that our fight is not based on technology but is an ideologically motivated fight”, and in a separate statement on Saturday coinciding with the sixteenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, said that “the nation has neither became tired and nor will be tired of the war”.  [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Red Cross Scales Back Operations: On Monday, the Red Cross announced that it was closing two offices in Faryab and Kunduz provinces and reducing its presence in Balkh, saying that “exposure to risk has become our greatest challenge and concern” and “we have no choice but to drastically reduce our presence in Afghanistan”. The move follows an attack on an aid convoy in February that killed six staff and a shooting a Balkh clinic last month that killed a physiotherapist; four Red Cross staff have also been abducted this year. [AP] [Pajhwok] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Taliban-ISIS Ceasefire Report: Khaama Press, citing an anonymous “source in the south”, reports that Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada has directed Taliban fighters not to attack the rival Islamic State, saying that “conflict between the groups should end”. In a separate interview on Sunday, Kandahar provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq claimed that Haibatullah had met with Taliban commanders in Helmand’s Musa Qala district in late September to discuss the Taliban war effort.
  • Indian Engineer Freed: An Indian engineer kidnapped in Wardak province two months ago was freed in an Afghan police operation on Saturday, provincial police officials reported. No further details of the operation were disclosed.
  • Attacks and Operations: Afghan army officials in Sar-e-Pul reported that seven Taliban fighters were killed and another eleven wounded in an Afghan Air Force airstrike on a training compound in the Kohistanat district on Saturday. Taliban fighters attacked a checkpost in Baghlan province’s Dand-e-Ghori district on Saturday, seizing weapons and killed two police officers. The ministry of interior reported that border police had repelled a Taliban attack in Paktika’s Giyan district on Sunday night. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Talks with Pakistan: Pres. Ghani will visit Pakistan “in the near future”, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal told reporters on Saturday; no date for his visit has been set, and the Afghan government has not confirmed Ghani’s acceptance of an invitation from Chief of Army Staff Bajwa when he visited Kabul earlier this month. The Express Tribune reports that the Afghan government is seeking the transfer of five Taliban senior leaders from Pakistani custody as a step towards restarting peace talks. [Dawn] [ET] [WAPO] [Khaama Press]
  • Karzai Criticizes US Strategy: In separate Russia Today and BBC Pashto interviews on Sunday, former Pres. Karzai criticized the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, indirectly accusing it of deliberately encouraging the spread of the Islamic State, and prolonging the conflict by failing to carry out military operations inside Pakistan. Karzai also called for a Loya Jirga to be held to “review” the new U.S. strategy.
  • Moscow Talks: Russia will host a meeting of the International Contact Group in Moscow on Oct 11 to discuss the Afghan peace process, after an initial meeting in Jeddah hosted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
  • Election Planning: Independent Election Commission officials said Sunday that they were finalizing a review of a contract bid by the UAE-based company Prologix to provide electronic equipment for parliamentary elections; the observe group FEFA has charged that Prologix does not meet the criteria for the tender. On Sunday, a council of opposition coalitions called for the firing of IEC commissioners and a halt to election procurement until unspecified “fundamental reforms” were made.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • MPs Slam Government Over Poor War Management [TOLO]
  • Hekmatyar Says ‘Certain Circles’ in Security Forces Have ‘No Capability or Will’ to End War [Khaama Press]
  • Bowe Bergdahl Expected to Plead Guilty to Desertion [WAPO]
  • Contract Signed for Baghlan-Bamiyan Road, Salang Highway Repair [Khaama Press]
  • Turkmen Delegation Visits Kabul to Discuss Power Projects [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Expelling the Taliban from Qatar Would Be a Grave Mistake – “Asserting and carrying out a genuine U.S. commitment to seeking a political settlement will not assure that the endeavor succeeds, but reaching that end state will not happen without making settlement not just a far-off goal, but the object of an active, prioritized, and well-resourced diplomatic initiative.” [Laurel Miller, Richard Olson, Dan Feldman, James Dobbins, and Jarrett Blanc, Foreign Policy]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Military Press Conference Downplays Rangers Dispute; Puerto Rico Aid Delays US Troop Deployments

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Topline

  • The Pakistani army’s chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, held a press conference on Thursday at which he insisted that the military was “doing our duty as stated in the Constitution” and said that “martial law should not even be talked about”. Ghafoor downplayed the dispute over the takeover of security by the Punjab Rangers at a court hearing for Nawaz Sharif earlier this week. In an interview on Thursday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal indicated he had not ordered the Rangers’ withdrawal from security posts outside parliament earlier this week. The PML-N is reported divided over relations with the military, and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has reportedly threatened to resign if the party continues a confrontational course.
  • The redeployment of U.S. aircraft and ships to aid in the Puerto Rico hurricane relief effort has “slightly delayed” the deployment of some additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said Thursday, but emphasized that that delay was temporary; no exact numbers have been disclosed. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson told reporters that the U.S. was seeking the commitment of around a thousand additional NATO soldiers to accompany the increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
  • In his press conference, Ghafoor insisted that “there are no organised bases of any terrorist organisation in the country anymore”, remarks which were echoed by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif in interviews with journalists and at a public event at the US Institute of Peace in Washington on Thursday.
  • The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a shrine in Balochistan’s Jhal Magsi district on Thursday; at least twenty people were killed and thirty or more wounded.
  • The PTI announced three nominees for the chairmanship of the National Accountability Bureau on Thursday, but continues to refuse to negotiate with the PPP and PML-N over the replacement of outgoing chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, who is due to retire Oct 10. An aide to Nawaz Sharif indicates he is unlikely to return from London in time for his scheduled indictment next week.
  • Speaking at the closing of the Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul on Thursday, Chief Executive Abdullah emphasized that he and Pres. Ghani were “fully committed to organize credible and viable parliamentary and Presidential elections by the end of our mandate”; UNAMA signed a “Project Document” with the IEC and ECC on Thursday, setting a legal and financial framework for assistance with the elections.

Pakistan — Security

  • Bombing at Jhal Magsi Shrine: At least twenty people were killed and thirty or more injured in a suicide bombing attack at the Dargah Pir Rakhel Shah shrine in Balochistan’s Jhal Magsi district on Thursday. At least one police officer and three children were among the dead. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack; the shrine had previously been targeted in a bombing in 2005. [AP] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Karachi Operations: Karachi police announced that they had killed a Lashkar e Jhangvi-affiliated terrorist suspect in a raid on Wednesday evening. Police linked him to a number of previous attacks, including the 2015 assassination of Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Civil-Military Tensions: The military’s chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, held a press conference on Thursday at which he insisted that “martial law should not even be talked about” and that “we are busy in doing our duty as stated in the Constitution”. Ghafoor also downplayed the dispute over the deployment of Punjab Rangers outside the Islamabad accountability court where Nawaz Sharif appeared earlier this week, suggesting that a “soldier who is deployed is doing his duty, and if he is told not to allow irrelevant people… it is possible [to consider] someone who does not have [credentials] as an irrelevant person”. The Frontier Constabulary has been deployed outside parliament to replace the Rangers after they withdrew earlier this week; Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that that withdrawal had been done “unilaterally” and not under his orders. PML-N sources tell Dawn the party remains divided over relations with the security establishment, and report that Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has threatened to resign if the party persists in confrontation.
  • Asif Visits Washington: Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that the United States’ “hollow allegations” of Pakistani support for militant groups were “unacceptable”, and insisted that Pakistan was “wholeheartedly, single mindedly, we are targeting these terrorists”. In his press conference, Maj. Gen. Ghafoor also insisted that “’having links’, and ‘supporting’ [armed groups] are two different things” and that “there are no organised bases of any terrorist organisation in the country anymore”. In separate remarks at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Asif added that “the truth is Pakistan is not just fighting but also winning against terrorism”. He also reiterated his remarks in New York last week that domestic militant groups were “a liability” for Pakistan, but said “this cannot be wrapped up overnight.” [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Militant Mainstreaming: Responding to questions at Thursday’s press conference regarding the participation of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, through its Milli Muslim League party wing, in elections, Maj. Gen. Ghafoor said that “every Pakistani has the right to participate in the polling process.” Ghafoor also said that “the government has started some discussion over it, that, how do we mainstream them, so that they could do constructive contribution,” but did not provide details; the Interior Ministry had reportedly opposed the MML’s registration.
  • NAB Nominees: Reversing earlier statements, on Thursday the PTI announced three separate nominees of its own for the chairmanship of the National Accountability Bureau, which will become vacant with the retirement of Qamar Zaman Chaudhry on Oct 10; the party has not consulted with the PPP over the issue and has accused the PML-N and PPP of collaborating over Chaudhry’s replacement. PM Abbasi and PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah met again on Friday to discuss the appointment. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations: PML-N senator Mushahidullah Khan tells the Express Tribune that Nawaz Sharif is unlikely to return from London for his scheduled indictment on Oct 9, citing his wife’s health needs. On Thursday, the Islamabad High Court ordered that lawyers, journalists, and the public be allowed to observe corruption trials against the Sharifs. During Supreme Court hearings on Thursday, judges noted discrepancies between Election Commission and tax return filings by PTI leader Jahangir Tareen; lawyers for Tareen said the nomination papers were “incomplete”. [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The Supreme Court received five more petitions challenging the Elections Act 2017 on Thursday. During parliamentary debate on Thursday, former prime minister and PML-N legislator Zafarullah Khan Jamali criticized the government’s tenure and “the confrontation with state institutions”; Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada also protested the alleged creation by the Intelligence Bureau of a list of legislators linked to militant organizations, demanding an investigation by the prime minister. Legislators from both the government and opposition also called for investigations into the drafting of the elections act and the apparent removal of a requirement that candidates make an “oath” affirming the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Interior Minister Denounces ‘Social Media Fatwas’ [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Senate Committee on Human Rights Seeks to Investigate Turkish Family’s Disappearance [The Nation]
  • FATA Legislators Hold Sit-On Over Reform Delays [Dawn]
  • LHC Suspends Police Officers’ Convictions in Bhutto Murder Case [Dawn]
  • Economic Coordination Committee Considering Diesel Price Deregulation [Dawn]
  • Foreign Exchange Reserves Drop Under $14B [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Troop Deployments: The re-direction of U.S. military aircraft and ships to aid in Puerto Rico hurricane relief efforts has resulted in a “slight delay” in the deployment of additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan, Pentagon Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters on Thursday; he said that “there will be minimal delay to the strategy,” however. No specific figures have been disclosed. Separately, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson told reporters on Thursday that they were seeking a “benchmark” commitment of around 1,000 additional soldiers from NATO allies to complement the additional U.S. forces, and said that specific requests would be made “in the next two weeks or so”. The Telegraph reports that the U.S. is seeking more British troops, and that previous pledges by the UK to bring their forces up to 600 were being seen by the Pentagon as “not enough”.
  • Attacks and Operations: Afghan army officials in Kunduz claim to have killed as many as 88 Taliban fighters during operations in the Imam Sahib district over the past week. In Nangarhar, ANA officials report that eight Taliban and ISIS fighters laid down arms and joined a peace process on Wednesday.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Election Planning: Speaking at the closing ceremony of the Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul on Thursday, Chief Executive Abdullah said that he and Pres. Ghani were “fully committed to organize credible and viable parliamentary and Presidential elections by the end of our mandate”, in addition to meeting other reform commitments. Also on Thursday, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan announced that it had signed a “Project Document” with the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission to support Afghanistan’s upcoming elections, which would set out a legal and financial framework for donors to contribute to the effort. [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Abdullah Orders Corruption in Police to be Stamped Out [TOLO]
  • Training of Afghan Pilots for UH-60 Black Hawks Gaining Momentum [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Tillerson and Asif Meet in Washington; Ghani Chairs Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul

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Topline

  • Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif met with Sec. Tillerson in Washington on Wednesday; a statement by Pakistan’s foreign ministry afterwards said that the new U.S. strategy towards the region was based on inadequate recognition of Pakistan’s sterling contribution in the fight against terrorism”, and that Asif had “emphasized that Pakistan sought a broad based relationship with United States”.
  • Pres. Ghani chaired a senior officials meeting in Kabul on Thursday, touting his government’s achievements and pledging continued reforms. Ghani also called on Pakistan to “intensify the state-to-state dialogue with us to secure regional peace and security”.
  • In a separate BBC interview, Ghani predicted that NATO troops would be able to withdraw from Afghanistan “within four years”. Former Pres. Karzai and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar separately criticized the strategy in remarks to reporters in London and a meeting with U.S. Special Charges D’Affaires Hugo Llorens, respectively.
  • In an interview on Wednesday, PM Abbasi indicated that “action will be taken according to the law against anyone found guilty” in connection to the takeover of security by the Punjab Rangers at the beginning of the week during Nawaz Sharif’s court appearance. The Rangers are meanwhile reported to have withdrawn from security posts outside parliament.
  • The national assembly voted to amend the new Electoral Reform Act 2017 on Thursday, reintroducing a requirement that candidates affirm an “oath” on the finality of the prophethood.
  • On Wednesday the Milli Muslim League, the new Jamaat ud Dawa political party, opened offices in Peshawar and endorsed a candidate for the upcoming NA-4 by-elections.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Asif Meets Tillerson: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif met with Sec. Tillerson in Washington on Wednesday; a statement by the Pakistani foreign ministry afterwards said that he had “emphasized that Pakistan sought a broad based relationship with United States”. Asif was quoted saying that the recently announced U.S. strategy towards the region “was “based on inadequate recognition of Pakistan’s sterling contribution in the fight against terrorism”, and “conveyed Pakistan’s concerns with regard to ungoverned spaces within Afghanistan”, emphasizing “the need for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political approach to achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan”. Asif invited Tillerson to visit Pakistan at an unspecified future date; speaking briefly to reporters after the meeting, Tillerson affirmed that he did believe the U.S. had a “reliable partner” in Pakistan. At Thursday’s weekly foreign ministry press briefing, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said that the United States “cannot put the blame of its failure on Pakistan. Our land has no havens for the terrorists whereas India keeps using terrorist groups in Afghanistan.” [ET] [The Nation]
  • Civil-Military Tensions: In an interview on Wednesday, PM Abbasi said that “action will be taken according to the law against anyone found guilty” in connection to the takeover of security by the paramilitary Punjab Rangers at the Islamabad accountability court where Nawaz Sharif appeared at the start of the week, saying that it was still unclear “who gave the orders” for them to do so and to bar press and other officials, including Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, from accompanying Nawaz inside the court. Abbasi said he had not discussed the issue with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, saying that it was “not relevant” to him and “comes under the purview of the interior minister”. A separate report indicates that the Rangers have withdrawn from security positions outside parliament; a spokesman for the interior ministry said that the withdrawal was a “routine matter and has nothing to do with Monday’s events outside the accountability court”. The Financial Times overviews the Panama Papers saga and its implications for Pakistani democracy. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Election Law Opposed: The Lahore High Court adjourned hearings on a PAT petition challenging the new Electoral Reform Act 2017 on Thursday; the Supreme Court is hearing several parallel challenges. Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed filed another Supreme Court challenge on Wednesday. On Thursday, the national assembly passed an amendment to the act, restoring the “oath” on the finality of the prophethood that candidates must affirm. In remarks at a PML-N general council meeting on Wednesday, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for the ouster of those responsible for what the government has described as a “clerical error”.
  • MML Opens Peshawar Office: The Milli Muslim League, the Jamaat ud Dawa’s new political party, inaugurated a new office in Peshawar on Wednesday, and announced its support for Alhaq Liaqat Ali Khan, who is officially running as an independent in the NA-4 by-election scheduled to take place on Oct 26. MML party president Saifullah Khalid, Hafeez Saeed’s son-in-law, attended the gathering.
  • Corruption Investigations: The Supreme Court of Pakistan held further hearings on Wednesday on a disqualification petition against PTI general secretary Jahangir Tareen. Lawyers for Finance Minister Dar challenged the initial witnesses called against him in a separate corruption case underway in an Islamabad accountability court. PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi tells the Express Tribune that the party will not propose any nominees for a new National Accountability Bureau chairman, rejecting all of the nominees proposed by the PML-N and PPP.
  • Other Political Activity: Nawaz Sharif addressed a PML-N youth convention in Lahore on Wednesday, touting the party’s hold on his former NA-120 seat in the recent by-elections. Nawaz departed for London on Thursday; Hamza Shahbaz, his nephew, returned to Pakistan on Wednesday, after a month and a half out of the country. Law Minister Zahid Hamid chaired a meeting on Wednesday of a committee considering a draft National Accountability Law that would apply to members of the judiciary and armed services as well as politicians; a draft of the law was shared with parties, including the opposition, for review. PM Abbasi met with PML-N leaders from Sindh on Wednesday, who reportedly expressed concerns over the pace of development spending and leadership of Sindh governor Mohammad Zubair. [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Provincial Revenue-Sharing Disputes: Dawn reports that the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Paktunkhwa had challenged the deduction of funds directly from the federal divisible pool for use in the costs of the national census, which was overruled by Finance Minister Dar at a meeting of the Council on Common Interests. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Officials Deny Reports of Islamic State Recruitment in Karachi Jail [Dawn]
  • Rangers Accuse US-Based MQM Leader of Financing Targeted Killing [Dawn]
  • ‘Missing’ Karachi University Professor Returns Home [Dawn]
  • Six ‘Terrorist Hideouts’ Destroyed in Balochistan Operations [ET]
  • Punjab Police Kill Two Terrorist Suspects [ET]
  • German Ambassador Meets National Security Advisor [The Nation]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Rights Activist Wins Anna Politkovskaya Award [Dawn]
  • Punjab Gets Approval for Imported LNG Power Plant [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Uruzgan provincial officials reported Thursday that as many as 24 Afghan security personnel had been killed in fighting over the past week in the Chora district.
  • Police Reforms: Speaking at a conference on Wednesday, acting interior minister Wais Barmak said that the ministry would take legal action against “those who are habitually corrupt” and work to improve public trust in the police.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senior Officials Meeting: In a statement coinciding with the start of the Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul on Wednesday, a spokesman for the ministry of finance said that that the Afghan government had “fully honored its commitments” to the international donor community. Pres. Ghani overviewed his government’s achievements in remarks at the meeting on Thursday, praising the Afghan security forces and emphasizing his efforts to build regional connectivity and take action against corruption. He also called on Pakistan to “intensify the state-to-state dialogue with us to secure regional peace and security” and said that “the successful peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami should demonstrate to Taliban groups that we have the capacity and the political will to enter and successfully conclude an intra-Afghan dialogue.” First Lady Rula Ghani also emphasized the need for additional work to improve women’s conditions in Afghanistan. Separately, Pres. Ghani met with the visiting governor general of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove.
  • Reactions to US Strategy: In a separate BBC interview, Pres. Ghani said that Afghanistan faced immense challenges, but predicted that NATO troops would be able to withdraw “within four years”. Speaking to reporters in the UK, former Pres. Karzai objected to U.S. calls for more engagement by India in Afghanistan, saying that “India should maintain its own and independent approach towards Afghanistan” and that the U.S. strategy would prolong the war. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar met with U.S. Special Charges d’Affaires Hugo Llorens on Thursday, who he reportedly told that additional U.S. forces would “in no way will help to resolve the issues”.
  • Taliban Office: An anonymous Afghan government official tells Ariana News that the Taliban office in Qatar “is ineffective to the pave the way for peace talks and its negative role is more prominent,” saying that “it has concentrated more on spreading terror activities”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • 90,000 Tons of Fuel Imported ‘Illegally’ Into Afghanistan [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Afs 300 Million in New Projects [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan War: Some Glaring Misperceptions – “Whatever the original aim, Americans are there now not so much for geopolitics but for reasons of national security to which terrorism remains a big threat.” [Touqir Hussain, Express Tribune]
  • Report: Forced Back to Danger: Asylum-Seekers Returned from Europe to Afghanistan – “No part of the country can be considered safe. European countries and the European Union have remained wilfully blind to these dangers, and are putting tremendous pressure on Afghanistan to accept large numbers of returns. Amnesty International is calling for a moratorium on all returns to Afghanistan, until they can take place in safety and dignity.” [Amnesty International]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Mattis and Dunford Face Skeptical Senators on Afghan Strategy; Asif to Meet Tillerson Today

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Topline

  • Testifying before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on Tuesday, Sec. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford refused to provide details on the exact number of U.S. forces deploying to Afghanistan, but said that they would be involved in “combat duty” while deployed alongside Afghan forces and estimated that the additional deployments would increase the annual cost of the war to around $12.5 billion.
  • Mattis also said that the U.S. “need[s] to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis,” but that “if our best efforts fail, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary”. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif is due to meet with Sec. Tillerson in Washington on Wednesday, and with National Security Advisor McMaster on Thursday.
  • Pakistani military corps commanders met on Tuesday for a seven-hour meeting; details of their discussions, which comes at a point of heightened civil-military tensions, have not been disclosed.
  • Law minister Zahid Hamid defended the new Election Act 2017 at a press conference on Tuesday, saying that provisions allowing disqualified candidates for office to still hold party offices had been agreed to by other opposition parties as far back as 2014.
  • PM Abbasi and PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah held talks on Tuesday over nominees for the new National Accountability Bureau chief; the PTI has announced its opposition to all six candidates.
  • The Afghan government is hosting a meeting of donor nations and senior officials in Kabul on Wednesday.
  • At least two Pakistani civilians were killed in cross-border firing in Kashmir on Wednesday; the Pakistani military claims to have killed three Indian soldiers in retaliatory fire.

Pakistan — Security

  • Corps Commanders Meet: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired a seven-hour long meeting of army corps commanders in Rawalpindi on Tuesday; no public readout of the meeting was issued by the military’s public relations wing. In a GEO TV interview on Tuesday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that he would seek an explanation from the head of the paramilitary Punjab Rangers over their takeover of the accountability court premises on Monday for Nawaz Sharif’s corruption case, barring Iqbal and other officials from participating in the hearing. Iqbal insisted that “we do not want any confrontation between institutions. Civil-military relation in Pakistan is at most critical fault line. Our enemy wants instability.” Separately, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority fined GEO for “airing comments against the armed forces” during talk show broadcasts in January. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • New Navy Chief: Vice Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi was promoted to the rank of admiral and appointed chief of staff for the Pakistan Navy; he will succeed Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah in that position on Oct 7. Adm. Abbasi previously served as vice chief of naval staff. [Dawn]
  • Kashmir Clashes: Pakistani military officials reported that two civilians were killed in heavy shelling across the Line of Control on Wednesday, and claimed that three Indian soldiers were killed and five injured in retaliatory fire by Pakistani forces. [AP]
  • Soldier Killed in Khyber: A Pakistani soldier was killed in an attack on his checkpost in the Khyber Agency’s Rajgal valley on Tuesday, the military announced; although funeral services were held and the identity of the soldier released, no details of the incident were disclosed. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Military Courts: The military announced Wednesday that it had executed three men convicted under the military courts system at an unspecified jail facility in Khyber Paktunkhwa; death warrants for the three men had been signed last year. [AP]
  • Activists Protest Turkish Teacher’s Abduction: At a press conference on Tuesday, lawyer Asma Jahangir and other human rights activists called for the release of PakTurk Schools principal Mesut Kacmez, who was detained by plainclothes security officials on September 27. The Sindh High Court has ordered a freeze on any deportation of the teachers while hearing a petition brought by the teachers’ group.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • FM Asif Visits Washington: Foreign Minister Asif will meet with Sec. Tillerson on Wednesday and with National Security Advisor McMaster on Thursday, Dawn reports.
  • Election Bill Opposed: Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Law Minister Zahid Hamid dismissed opposition to the new Election Act 2017, saying that changes to the requirements that party leaders be eligible for office had been supported by other parties, including the PPP, as far back as November 2014. Opponents of the bill pointed to the omission of a requirement that lawmakers take an “oath” affirming the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood, as opposed to just making a “declaration”, which PML-N leaders said was a “clerical mistake” and would be amended. Multiple petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court challenging the new law. [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Sharif Corruption Investigations: A meeting of senior PML-N leadership following Nawaz Sharif’s formal re-election as party president on Tuesday agreed to reach out to the PPP and other opposition parties to shore up support for the government; the Express Tribune reports that Nawaz agreed to remain in the country and contest all corruption cases against him, although The Nation reports that he will depart for London again on Thursday. Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry filed a petition with the Supreme Court accusing Nawaz of contempt of court on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the accountability court hearing charges against Finance Minister Dar began initial hearings in the case on Wednesday. [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah said that he and PM Abbasi had discussed six possible candidates to lead the National Accountability Bureau, and said they were aiming to reach agreement on a nominee by Oct 8. The PTI announced its opposition to all six candidates. The Express Tribune meanwhile reports that the MQM-Pakistan does not in fact intend to back the PTI to replace Shah as opposition leader, but is instead seeking concessions from the PPP. Former PTI Punjab president Farooq Amjad Meer announced he was quitting the party on Tuesday. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Blames US for Failures to Curb Money Laundering [ET]
  • Karachi University Professor Detained Since Mid-September [Dawn] [ET]
  • Anti-Taliban Activist Vows Not to Give Up Despite Attacks [Reuters]
  • Abbottabad Police Arrest Suspect in 2010 Attack on World Vision Aid Workers [ET]
  • Sindh Minister Threatens Protest if Census Data Not Released [The Nation]
  • Pakistan’s Reliance on Indirect Taxes Continues Unabated [ET]
  • NEPRA Finds No Significant Performance Improvements by Electricity Distributors [ET]
  • Power Division Asked to Finalize 600MW Plant Deal with Russia [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Sec. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford said that additional U.S. forces deployed to Afghanistan would “accompany tactical units to advise and bring NATO fire support to bear when needed”, saying that “this is combat duty, but the Afghan forces will remain in the lead for the fighting”. Mattis refused to provide specific numbers of the deployment of additional forces, suggesting that it would “involve telling the enemy something that will help them.” Several senators expressed skepticism over the strategy; Chairman John McCain told reporters that he had been holding back approvals of Pentagon nominations in order to force the administration to provide more details on its strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and warned that “we will not accept a lack of information, a lack of strategy, a lack of coordination with this committee”. Neither official provided advance written testimony, which McCain said was “bizarre”. Dunford estimated that the cost of the war would increase to around $12.5 billion annually with the deployment of additional forces. Mattis and Dunford also appeared before the House Armed Services Committee; in response to questions there on strategy towards Pakistan, Mattis said  that the U.S. “need[s] to try one more time to make this strategy work with them, by, with and through the Pakistanis,” but that “if our best efforts fail, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary”, including the possibility of a revocation of Pakistan’s major non-NATO ally status. Mattis said that “we have seen the government of Pakistan come down on terrorism, while ISI appears to run its own foreign policy”, and Dunford said that “it’s clear to me that the ISI has connections with terrorist groups”. Elsewhere, former Pres. Karzai criticized the U.S. strategy in remarks at the Royal United Services Institute in London, saying that the U.S. “will not succeed in turning Afghanistan into a second Syria or Iraq”. [Bloomberg] [SASC Hearing Video] [HASC Hearing Video]
  • Attacks and Operations: The Parwan provincial police chief announced Wednesday that Afghan security forces had retaken full control of the Fandoqestan valley in the Seyagerd district. Nangarhar provincial officials report that 11 Islamic State fighters were killed in U.S. airstrikes in the Achin district on Tuesday. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Speaking at Tuesday’s hearings, Sec. Mattis also indicated that he was discussing the question of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar with Sec. Tillerson and that the U.S. was “looking to make certain we have the right [Taliban representatives], so it’s just not an office in existence”. The Express Tribune reports that the Afghan government has agreed to restart a reconciliation process through the Quadrilateral Coordination Group process.
  • Kabul Meetings: Afghan government leaders and senior officials from supporting donor countries will meet in Kabul starting Wednesday to discuss assistance and reform pledges. Earlier, Pres. Ghani met with senior political and mujahedeen leaders in Kabul on Tuesday to discuss the recent visit of the Pakistani army chief to Kabul and the new U.S. strategy. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Trade with India: A spokesman for the Afghan ministry of commerce said Wednesday that India is “thinking about” the creation of a “free trade zone” for Afghan exports.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Army Plane Crash Lands in Daikundi [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Communications and IT to Establish Telecom Tax Collection System [TOLO]
  • Ghani Acknowledges Weakness of Afghan Healthcare System [TOLO]