Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Accuse US of Backtracking on Troop Withdrawal Talks; BNP-M Meets with Opposition

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Topline

  • In a statement on Tuesday, the Taliban accused the U.S. of “backing away” from initial discussions on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and “unilaterally adding new subjects” in talks, an apparent reference to demands for the Taliban to engage directly with Afghan government representatives. Taliban sources say that Pakistan has carried out raids on leaders’ homes in Pakistan as part of an effort to pressure them to agree to talks. U.S. Special Envoy Khalilzad visited Kabul on Tuesday to brief Pres. Ghani and other Afghan leaders on his talks.
  • BNP-Mengal leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal told reporters on Wednesday that his party would not quit the PTI-led ruling coalition “as long as [our] demands were accepted”; the BNP-M participated in a meeting of opposition party leaders on Tuesday. PML-Q leader Chaudhry Moonis Elahi rebuked remarks by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry suggesting that the PTI could easily split the PPP, PML-N, or PML-Q through the formation of “forward blocs”.
  • The NYT notes efforts since taking office by new Afghan Interior Minister Amrullah Saleh to crack down on a “pyramid of crime” through broader arrests in Kabul.
  • On Wednesday, the Lahore High Court approved a petition from Hamza Shehbaz seeking permission to travel abroad for a ten-day period to visit his wife in the UK.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Hangu Raid: Police officials in Khyber Paktunkhwa reported that four terrorist suspects linked to an attack in November near a Shia mosque in Orakzai were killed in a raid in the Hangu district on Wednesday. [The Nation]
  • Border Tensions with India: Pakistani Rangers accused the Indian Border Security Force of cross-border shelling near Sialkot on Tuesday; no casualties were reported.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: The PTI parliamentary delegation met on Wednesday to discuss Tuesday’s meeting on the formation of a new opposition alliance. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, BNP-Mengal leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal said that his party would not seek to topple the PTI ruling coalition “as long as their demands were accepted”; the BNP-M was in attendance at a meeting of opposition leaders on Tuesday. On Tuesday, PML-Q leader and governing coalition partner Chaudhry Moonis Elahi rebuked comments by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry in which Fawad suggested that the PTI could easily organize “forward blocs” within the PPP, PML-N, or PML-Q. During his visit to Karachi on Tuesday, Fawad accused the PPP of “occupying Sindh”, repeated demands for Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, and met with MQM-Pakistan leaders. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Speaking at an event at the Supreme Court Bar Association in Islamabad on Wednesday, outgoing Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar praised the country’s judicial system. Also on Wednesday, the chief justice dismissed a petition from the Sindh government regarding the implementation of the 18th Amendment. The Lahore High Court granted approval on Wednesday to a petition from Hamza Shehbaz to travel abroad for a one-time ten-day trip to visit his wife in the UK. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: A conference of political leaders in Khyber announced plans on Tuesday to challenge the Election Commission’s delimitation of constituency boundaries for the former FATA districts’ provincial assembly seats. More than 350 lawmakers have yet to submit asset statements to the ECP, risking suspension of their membership. On Tuesday, PM Khan appointed Nadeem Afzal Gondal, a former PPP leader who joined the PTI last year, as a spokesman and as special assistant for parliamentary coordination. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Projects: Dawn reports that the December meeting of the CPEC Joint Coordination Committee agreed to conduct at least five “in depth sector studies” on future investment cooperation, and that Pakistan had committed to resolve Chinese complaints over the timing of payments on electricity tariffs, among other measures. The Express Tribune reports that Qatar has expressed interest in CPEC-related investments in Gwadar, alongside Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • Energy Distribution: Speaking before the senate on Tuesday, power minister Omar Ayub Khan said that the government was considering plans to split up several electricity distribution companies, including those for Peshawar, Lahore, and Multan.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sindh Rangers Deny Reports of Raid on Activist’s Home [ET]
  • ECC Approves Import and Export Policy Changes [ET]
  • Unregistered Cellphones Allowed to Function for 10 More Days [Dawn]
  • Government Considering Phase-Out of ‘Super Tax’ on Banks [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Interior Ministry Crime Crackdown: The NYT reports on efforts launched by new Interior Minister Amrullah Saleh to crack down on criminal activity in Kabul since taking office, part of what officials say is an effort to topple a “pyramid of crime”.
  • Attacks and Operations: U.S. and Afghan airstrikes and special forces raids across several districts in eastern Afghanistan killed at least seven ISIS fighters and eight Taliban militants, officials report. Kabul residents demonstrated and called for the expulsion of foreign NGOs from the ‘Green Village’ compound after Monday’s suicide car bombing in the area. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Tuesday, the Taliban threatened to “stall all talks and negotiations until America ends her unlawful pressures and maneuvering and steps forward toward true peace”, accusing the U.S. of “backing away” from previous discussions on the withdrawal of U.S. forces and “unilaterally adding new subjects”. U.S. Special Envoy Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Tuesday, where he briefed Pres. Ghani and other Afghan officials on his recent round of talks in the region. Khalilzad had been expected to visit Pakistan first; Dawn reports that U.S. National Security Council deputy assistant Lisa Curtis did visit Pakistan, although no details of her trip were disclosed. Taliban sources tell Reuters that Pakistani authorities have released former minister Hafiz Mohibullah after detaining him earlier, but have conducted raids on several Taliban leaders’ homes, as part of an effort to pressure them to enter talks with the Afghan government. [AP] [ET] [The Nation] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]
  • Prisoner Exchange Agreement: Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Shukrullah Atif Mashal told reporters on Tuesday that Afghanistan and Pakistan had reached an agreement on prisoner transfers for those who had completed their sentence or otherwise been granted bail. [ET] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Opposition Leaders Discuss ‘Joint Strategy’ Against PTI; IEC Announces Kabul Election Results

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Topline

  • Pakistani opposition leaders met on Tuesday to discuss a “joint strategy” against the PTI government; the BNP-Mengal, a PTI coalition partner, also said on Monday that it would “review its alliance” after the loss of its candidate in the Balochistan senate by-elections.
  • After months of delay, the Independent Election Commission completed the announcement of preliminary results for parliamentary elections held in October, reporting results for the Kabul and Kuchi constituencies. A timeline for the finalization of results has not been announced. Meanwhile, former foreign minister Zalmay Rasool registered as a presidential candidate, and former national security advisor Hanif Atmar is expected to do so on Wednesday.
  • Four people were killed and more than a hundred wounded in a Taliban suicide car bombing attack in Kabul on Monday.
  • Meanwhile, information minister Fawad Chaudhry visited Sindh on Tuesday, where he said he would seek to organize a “grand alliance” to oust the PPP provincial government.
  • Special Envoy Khalilzad will arrive in Pakistan on Tuesday to continue talks on the Afghan peace process.
  • Punjab police counterterrorism officials announced Tuesday that two militant suspects linked to the Islamic State had been killed in a raid in Faisalabad; both men were linked to the kidnappings of Ali Haider Gilani in 2013 and Warren Weinstein in 2011.
  • A Joint Investigation Team report to the Supreme Court on Tuesday held Nawaz Sharif responsible for the illegal transfer of land allotted to the Pakpattan shrine during his tenure as chief minister in 1986.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • ISIS Suspects Killed: On Tuesday, Punjab counterterrorism police officials announced that two suspected members of the Islamic State were killed in a raid in Faisalabad; both men were linked to the 2013 abduction of Ali Haider Gilani and the 2011 abduction by Al Qaeda of American aid worker Warren Weinstein, although details of their connections to those cases were not disclosed. [AP]
  • Military Courts: Deputy senate chairman Saleem Mandviwala of the PPP told reporters on Monday that “the situation has completely changed over [the] past two years” and “we don’t need military courts”. Speaking separately to reporters, PML-N opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif said that “if the current government contacts us over the extension of military courts, we will think about it”.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: Top opposition party leaders, including former Pres. Zardari, Shehbaz Sharif, and Fazlur Rehman, met on Tuesday to discuss a “joint strategy” against the government. Earlier on Monday, the Balochistan National Party-Mengal said that it would “review its alliance” with the PTI following the loss of its candidate in Balochistan senate by-elections. Opposition members staged walkouts from parliament on Monday and Tuesday; in a tweet, PM Khan accused the opposition of using “pressure tactics” to “evade accountability for corruption”. Meanwhile, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that he would visit Sindh to form a “grand alliance” against the PPP government there; he arrived on Tuesday and reiterated demands for Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah’s resignation. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: In a report to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the Joint Investigation Team investigating charges that Nawaz Sharif had illegally allocated land reserved for the Pakpattan shrine during his tenure as Punjab chief minister in 1986 concluded that Nawaz had taken that action, in violation of a high court order. On Monday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar called for police reforms and criticized the central and provincial governments for a failure to enact water conservation policies. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Saudi Relations: Saudi governor Prince Fahad bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz met with PM Khan, Pres. Alvi and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa during a visit to Pakistan on Monday. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Imports: Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told reporters on Monday that Pakistan was seeking a reduction in the price for the import of liquefied natural gas from Qatar but said it would “abide by all the other clauses in the contract”. PM Khan is scheduled to visit Doha on Jan 22 to discuss the issue. [ET]
  • Balochistan Development: Opposition lawmakers in the Balochistan assembly accused the federal government of “not taking elected representatives into confidence” on plans for the development of Balochistan, threatening to hold protests during the visit of Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman to Gwadar next month. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Indian and Pakistani Diplomatic Staff Claim Harassment [Dawn]
  • Sindh Assembly Demands Announcement of National Finance Commission Award [Dawn] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Fails to Recover Rs 65 Billion from Center [ET]
  • Pakistani Military Arrests Alleged Suicide Bomber at Chaman Border [The Nation]
  • Chief Justice Criticizes Government Dam Construction Planning [Dawn]
  • Government May Lift Restriction on Late Tax Return Filers [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Bombing: At least four people were killed and more than a hundred wounded in a suicide car bombing in Kabul on Monday. The bombing took place at a roundabout near the ‘Green Village’ compound, home to several international organizations, and the customs office; the intended target was unclear. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack; National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib vowed that the government “would not remain silent against the attack”. [AP] [Reuters] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Territorial Army to Begin Deployment: Afghan military officials in western Afghanistan tell TOLO that approximately 300 soldiers for the paramilitary ‘territorial army’ have completed a three-month training program and will begin to deploy in Herat and Ghor provinces shortly.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: One person was killed by a magnetic bomb planted on their vehicle in Kabul on Tuesday; the victim has not been identified and no claim of responsibility was reported. [Pajhwok] [Khabarnama]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Parliamentary Elections: After several months of delay, the Independent Election Commission announced preliminary parliamentary election results for Kabul and the nationwide Kuchi constituency on Tuesday, completing the announcement of all results. A timeline for the complete finalization of results after accounting for the complaints process has not been announced, although a spokesman for the IEC said that final results for Bamiyan, Daikundi, Jawzjan, Samangan, Urozgan, Nimroz, Zabul, Laghman and Parwan provinces would be announced “soon”. [TOLO] [Khaama Presss]
  • Presidential Elections: Former national security advisor Hanif Atmar is expected to formally register as a presidential candidate on Wednesday. On Tuesday, former foreign minister and presidential candidate Zalmay Rasoul filed his candidacy. A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said Monday that Abdullah had not yet taken a “final decision” on participating in the elections.
  • Peace Talks: Special Envoy Khalilzad is expected to visit Pakistan on Tuesday to continue talks on the Afghan peace process. RFE/RL reports that former Taliban religious affairs minister Hafiz Mohibullah was detained by Pakistani authorities in Peshawar, which Taliban sources suggest may have been intended to force them to agree to a meeting with Khalilzad. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai said that the constitution of Afghanistan was a “red line” for the government in any peace talks. [Dawn]
  • New Afghan Ambassador: Amb. Roya Rahmani, the new Afghan ambassador to the United States, formally presented her credentials in a meeting with Pres. Trump on Monday.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Uzbekistan to Host RECCA Summit [Khabarnama]
  • Former IT Minister’s Case Transferred to Supreme Court [TOLO]
  • India and Afghanistan Sign MOUs for 26 Projects [Khaama Press]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Contracts Totaling Afs 1.23 Billion [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: The Afghan Territorial Force: Learning from the Lessons of the Past? – “Haste to get ‘boots on the ground’ over the summer has already led to an expansion of the Territorial Force before pilots were evaluated.”

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Saudis and UAE Oppose Qatar-Based Taliban Talks; PTI Continues Talks with PPP Rivals in Sindh

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Topline

  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE have reportedly refused to continue participation in Afghan peace talks if they are held in Qatar, as demanded by the Taliban. Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib visited Saudi Arabia on Monday, and also held talks with his UAE counterpart. US Secretary of State Pompeo held talks in Qatar on Sunday.
  • US Special Envoy Khalilzad met with Indian officials on Friday to discuss the Afghan peace process; on Monday, he traveled to Beijing. Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani also traveled to an Uzbekistan-hosted conference on India and Central Asia, where he promoted Afghanistan as a regional transit hub.
  • PTI leaders are reportedly renewing discussions with their coalition partners in Sindh as part of a potential effort to oust the PPP government there. PPP senate deputy chairman Saleem Mandviwala suggested on Friday that the opposition was considering a no-confidence move to remove senate chairman Sadiq Sajrani.
  • On Monday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court quashed an appeal by the NAB against the suspension of one jail sentence against Nawaz Sharif and his family; Nawaz remains in jail as a result of a verdict in another case, and the NAB continues to prepare additional cases against the Sharif family.
  • Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission has still yet to release preliminary parliamentary election results for Kabul province, drawing criticism from observer groups and top politicians, including Chief Executive Abdullah and Second Vice Pres. Danish. The IEC called for the prosecution of one observer group in response to its criticisms.
  • Defense minister Pervaiz Khattak and foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi have been tasked with negotiating with opposition legislators for the passage of an amendment to renew Pakistan’s military court system.
  • The Saudi energy minister visited Gwadar on Sunday to discuss a prospective investment in an oil refinery project; no final agreement was announced during his meetings, but Pakistani petroleum minister Ghulam Sawar said a deal would be signed within the next month.
  • Finance Minister Umar told a Karachi business audience on Saturday that the government “has decided not to enter an IMF program for now” and was instead “exploring alternative options”. The government is preparing to introduce a mid-year budget amendment, which Umar said would not include new taxes and would focus in improving the ease of doing business.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts: PM Khan has tasked Foreign Minister Qureshi and Defense Minister Khattak with negotiating with opposition parties to secure passage of an amendment extending the tenure of the military courts system, which expired on Jan 6. PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal tells The Nation that his party had not yet been contacted and that it would “not blindly support” an extension.
  • Chinese Consulate Attack: On Saturday, a Karachi anti-terrorism court approved a five-day physical remand for the additional questioning of five men arrested in connection to the November attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi. Karachi police had announced their arrest at a press conference on Friday, linking them to the Baloch Liberation Army.
  • FATF Meeting: Anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources tell Dawn that Pakistani officials rebuffed demands by Indian officials at the Financial Action Task Force meeting in Australia last week to publicize actions it had taken to curtail fundraising by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Pakistan has agreed to respond to 28 questions submitted by the Indian delegation at the next review meeting in Paris on Feb 17-18. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: Speaking to reporters on Saturday, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman expressed confidence that he would forge an opposition alliance between the PML-N and PPP. On Friday, senate deputy chairman Saleem Mandviwala of the PPP confirmed that opposition parties were considering a no-confidence motion to remove senate chairman Sadiq Sajrani. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry will reportedly visit Sindh on Jan 15-16 to renew attempts to form a coalition to oust the PPP government, with PM Khan expected to visit the following week; sources tell The Nation that the visit is “mainly aimed at appeasing the coalition partners and have no hostile motive” against the PPP, however. Leaders of the Grand Democratic Alliance opposition coalition in Sindh met on Sunday. MQM-Pakistan leader Kanwar Naveed Jamil denounced the PPP government in Sindh at a press conference on Saturday, and said that his party would continue to support the national PTI government. Speaking at a rally on Saturday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari dismissed any threat from the PTI to the PPP’s government. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met with representatives of the Karachi business community on Friday. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the National Accountability Bureau seeking to overturn the suspension of Nawaz Sharif and his family members’ jail sentences in the Avenfield properties case; he remains jailed under other case verdicts. On Friday, NAB officials in Lahore submitted a report on investigations against Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz in connection to a construction project at the family’s Ramzan Sugar Mills; the NAB is also reportedly investigating a new case involving alleged illegal money transfers. NAB investigators questioned former finance minister Miftah Ismail on Saturday as part of an investigation into LNG import agreements. Former PML-N legislator Hanif Abbasi re-petitioned the Lahore High Court on Saturday, seeking to suspend his life sentence. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Outgoing Chief Justice: Speaking at a dinner with the Lahore High Court Bar Association on Friday, outgoing Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar defended his tenure, saying that “judicial activism was never meant to interfere in the jurisdiction of other institutions or to humiliate anyone”. Speaking to journalists on Sunday, the chief justice said he planned to open a free legal clinic after his retirement on Jan 17. In an order on Saturday, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah criticized a previous ruling by the chief justice removing Justice Qazi Faez Isa from a bench last March. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Parliamentary Committees: On Friday, National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser officially constituted a parliamentary committee to consider nominees to appoint a new chief election commissioner and other members of the Election Commission. Deadlock continues over the formation of other committees in parliament,  with the PML-N and PPP reportedly planning to boycott an assembly session on Monday. In an interview on Sunday, law minister Farogh Naseem suggested that the government would legislate through executive ordinance in the absence of cooperation from the opposition. [ET]
  • Diplomat Detained: Pakistan’s foreign ministry formally protested the detention for several hours on Sunday of a Pakistani diplomatic official in New Delhi; details are limited, but Indian sources report that the man was accused of harassing a woman at a marketplace. [ET]
  • US Relations: On Saturday, Pakistan’s embassy in Washington announced that new ambassador Asad Majeed Khan had formally presented his credentials in a meeting with Pres. Trump. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: On Friday, Maryam Nawaz accused prison officials of blocking doctors from assessing Nawaz Sharif’s health condition; he met with his doctors on Saturday, who advised further tests for chest pains. Speaking on Saturday, Foreign Minister Qureshi pledged that a separate South Punjab province would be formed this year. A by-election for a vacant senate seat from Balochistan will be held on Monday; Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal denied reports that the Balochistan Awami Party was split over its choice of nominee for the seat, Manzoor Khan Kakar. The PTI government in Punjab has reportedly reversed course and now plans to disburse development funds through provincial assembly members, allocating Rs 100 million to each member. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Saudi Investment: Saudi energy minister Khalid Abdul Aziz Al Falih visited Gwadar on Saturday to discuss a prospective Saudi investment in a new oil refinery at the port; Pakistani petroleum minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told reporters that an agreement would be signed next month “that would induct Saudi Arabia as the third partner in CPEC”. Sarwar met earlier with Balochistan provincial government officials on Friday, pledging to share resources and decision-making on the province’s natural resource development. [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Financial Crisis: Speaking to representatives from the Karachi Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, Finance Minister Umar said that the government “has decided not to enter an IMF program for now” and was instead “exploring alternative options”. The government plans to introduce a new budget amendment on Jan 23, which he said would focus on “ensuring ease of doing business and incentivizing savings”, and would not include any new taxes. PML-N and PPP opposition leaders separately criticized the PTI’s handling of the economy. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Tax Revenues: Pres. Alvi has formally constituted the National Finance Commission to renegotiate federal-provincial revenue sharing. The Federal Board of Revenue collected Rs 1.788 trillion during the July-December 2018 period, Rs 172 billion below mid-year targets.
  • Dam Construction: The inauguration ceremony for the Mohmand Dam project was delayed for a second time on Sunday, with no new date set or explanation for the delay. On Friday, Pakistani officials said India had granted permission for a delegation to visit and inspect two dam sites on the Chenab river under the terms of the Indus Water Treaty. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Army Public School Commission Interviews Former Peshawar Corps Commander [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Preparing for Hearing on Khulbushan Jadhav Case [ET]
  • UN General Assembly President to Visit [Dawn]
  • Chief Justice Suspends Execution of Mentally Ill Man [AP] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Information Minister Says Media ‘Must Revamp Advertising Models’ [Dawn]
  • Government and Madaris Deadlocked Over Reform Proposals [The Nation]
  • Supreme Court Orders Compensation for Aasia Bibi Protest Victims Within 30 Days [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Minister Says Gilgit-Baltistan Constitutional Package ‘In Final Stage’ [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Seeks Funding Increase for Local Government Bodies [ET]
  • Government Plans to Drop Rahim Yar Khan Power Plant from CPEC [Dawn]
  • Government Considering New Gas Storage Facilities to Reduce Shortages [ET] [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have refused to continue participation in Afghan peace talks if the meeting is held in Qatar, as has been insisted by the Taliban. Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib visited Saudi Arabia on Monday, and met with his UAE counterpart while traveling through Abu Dhabi. On Sunday, US Secretary of State Pompeo visited Qatar, where he affirmed that the US and Qatar “are working together to address a number of regional security challenges including in Afghanistan and in Iraq”. TOLO also reports that former Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar traveled to Qatar on Sunday, although it is unclear on whether he will join the Taliban office in Doha. The Express Tribune reports that in talks hosted by the UAE last month, the U.S. had sought to guarantee a continued small military presence in Afghanistan in exchange for ongoing assistance to the Afghan state under a peace agreement.
  • Additional Regional Diplomacy: US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells and Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver met with their Indian counterparts on Friday to discuss “our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region and a stable and prosperous Afghanistan”; those officials and US Special Envoy Khalilzad also met separately with Indian External Affairs Minister Susham Swaraj to discuss the Afghan peace process. India’s foreign ministry said afterwards that the reconciliation process “must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”. On Monday, Khalilzad traveled to Beijing, and he is expected to visit Pakistan on Tuesday. High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai returned from a visit to Pakistan on Friday; a spokesman for the HPC said that they were “cautiously optimistic” and that an agreement had been reached to hold a meeting of Afghan and Pakistani religious scholars ‘in the near future” to discuss the peace process. Separately on Friday, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met with Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Shukrullah Atif Mashal. Also on Sunday, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani attended the India-Central Asia Dialogue in Uzbekistan, where he promoted Afghanistan as a “hub for energy supplies including from Central Asia to the energy markets of South Asia.” [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Ariana News] [Ariana News]
  • Parliamentary Elections: A spokesman for the Independent Election Commission apologized on Saturday for continued delays in the announcement of preliminary parliamentary election results for Kabul province, suggesting that such an announcement could be made that weekend; it was not. Electoral Complaints Commission officials say they have completed an assessment of complaints for 12 provinces, and will convey their findings to the IEC for another ten provinces by the end of the coming week. Election observers and politicians accuse IEC officials of altering election results in exchange for bribes; former IEC secretariat chief Daud Ali Najafi in turn accuses the government of interfering in the results. In remarks on Sunday, Second VP Sarwar Danish criticized the election commissions’ management of the process to date; Chief Executive Abdullah echoed those criticisms at a meeting on Monday. On Saturday, the IEC called for the election observer group the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) to be prosecuted over its criticism of the IEC. Several candidates held demonstrations in Herat on Sunday to protest their electoral losses. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • New Governor Appointed: On Monday, the Independent Directorate for Local Governance announced the appointment of Mujibur Rehman Samkani as the new governor for Paktika province.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • ‘The Taliban Made Me Fight’: What to Do with Child Recruits After They Serve Time? [NYT]
  • Seven on Ministry of Interior ‘Wanted List’ Surrender [Khabarnama] [TOLO]
  • Lapis Lazuli Corridor Nations to Meet to Review Transit Problems [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Mines Claims to Have Halted Illegal Extraction at 584 Mine Sites [Khaama Press]
  • Former Afghan Interpreter Threatened with Deportation [WAPO]
  • Kabul Governor Says 2,000 Hectares of Stolen Land Recovered [TOLO]
  • Commentary: New Afghan Defense Minister Should Face Investigation, Sanctions – “The Afghan government has proved unwilling to criminally investigate Khalid, but Afghanistan’s donors can act.” [Brad Adams, HRW]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Finance Minister Says Pakistan and IMF Still in Talks; Daudzai Meets JI Leader

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Topline

  • Although Finance Minister Asad Umar told reporters on Thursday that Pakistan was still negotiating a potential bailout loan package with the IMF, the Express Tribune reports that PM Khan has ordered the finance ministry to develop a five-year budget plan with looser targets than those previously sought by the IMF. Pakistan’s trade deficit contracted in December thanks to declining imports, but State Bank of Pakistan data indicates remittances also fell.
  • At a press conference on Friday, Karachi police officials announced that their investigations into the attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in November 2018 had been completed, and blamed India’s RAW intelligence agency for sponsoring the attack.
  • High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai met with Jamaat-e-Islami leader Siraj-ul Haq in Pakistan on Thursday.
  • Russia’s foreign ministry accused the United States of intervening to delay Afghanistan’s presidential elections “to get ready for the voting in accordance with its scenario”.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Karachi Consulate Attack: At a press conference on Friday, Karachi police chief Amir Ahmed Shaikh said that police had completed an investigation into the November attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi, and accused India’s RAW intelligence agency for sponsoring the attack, which was carried out by the Baloch Liberation Army. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Balochistan Operations: On Friday, the Pakistani military said that Frontier Corps soldiers had killed two militant suspects during search operations across several districts in Balochistan. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: PPP leaders denounced the PTI cabinet’s decision on Thursday not to remove top leaders from the Exit Control List, against the recommendations of the interior ministry and a Supreme Court order. Maryam Nawaz met with her father in jail on Thursday. An accountability court declared several suspects in the Ashiayana housing project case to be “proclaimed offenders” for failing to respond to court summons, including former army chief Ashfaq Kayani’s brother Kamran Kayani. Opposition leaders reiterated calls for investigations into PM Khan’s sister’s overseas assets. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The mayors of Quetta and Khuzdar and the chairman of several district councils announced plans for protests on Saturday, accusing the provincial bureaucracy of blocking the powers of local governments. The formation of parliamentary committees in the national assembly remains deadlocked. [The Nation] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Financial Crisis: Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Finance Minister Umar said that the government was “still negotiating” a bailout loan agreement with the IMF, but ruled out any possibility that Pakistan would default on its debts. The Express Tribune reports that PM Khan has ordered the finance ministry to revise its budget planning for the next five years to set more relaxed budget targets than those sought by the IMF. The State Bank of Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves fell to $7.05 billion for the week of Jan 4. New Pakistan Bureau of Statistics data indicates that Pakistan’s trade deficit contracted in December 2018, dropping 15% month-on-month and 18.6% year-on-year, although export growth remains slow and the drop appears to be primarily driven by a decline in imports. The State Bank of Pakistan meanwhile reported that remittances to Pakistan fell to $1.69 billion in December. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Energy Crisis: On Thursday, the government appointed new acting directors to head the Sui Northern and Sui Southern gas companies, following the removal of their predecessors at a cabinet meeting earlier in the day. [ET]
  • Polio Crisis: Two new polio cases were recorded in Bajaur in December, bringing the nationwide number of reported cases in 2018 to ten. [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Decides not to Close Asghar Khan Case [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Pakistani Military Inducts Air Defense System [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh High Court Seeks Reply in Missing Person Case [ET]
  • Drug Regulatory Authority Approves Price Hikes [Dawn]
  • Committee Formed to Reduce Costs of Nai Gaj Dam [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Supreme Court Commission on Water and Sanitation Submits Report [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: The NYT notes increasingly heavy fighting in parts of northern and western Afghanistan in recent weeks, but says that the attacks “has failed to shift the battle lines”. On Friday, the Afghan defense ministry said that a senior Taliban intelligence commander for Faryab province was killed in an Afghan Air Force airstrike; Afghan army special forces carried out operations in the province earlier in the week. Nine Afghan Local Police militiamen were reportedly killed in an attack in Baghlan on Thursday. [WAPO] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai met with Jamaat-e-Islami leader Siraj-ul Haq in Pakistan on Thursday, who pledged support for the Afghan peace process. In a Dawn interview, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Pakistan wants the Taliban and Afghan government to hold direct talks, saying that “it is for Afghans to sort out their problems and as long as they do not sit down and talk to each other, outsiders can do little to help them”.  [Ariana News]
  • Presidential Elections: The Russian foreign ministry accused the United States of intervening to delay Afghanistan’s presidential elections “to get ready for the voting in accordance with its scenario”. Syed Noorullah Jalil registered as a candidate for president on Thursday; Pajhwok conducts an extended interview with Jalil.
  • Other Regional Diplomacy: A spokesman for Pres. Ghani rebuffed remarks by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in which Zarif said that it would be “impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban”; a spokesman for the foreign ministry also said that “such statements create division” between Afghanistan and Iran. Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib met with China’s foreign minister in Beijing on Thursday; details of their discussions were minimal. [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghanistan to Send First Batch of Workers to UAE Under Ministry of Labor Agreement [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PTI Stalls Removal of PPP Leaders from Exit List; Afghan Air Force Still Reliant on US Aid

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Topline

  • Following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, the PTI government rejected proposals from the interior ministry for the removal of 20 people from the Exit Control List, and said that it would wait for a written Supreme Court order before removing PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah from the list.
  • The NYT notes slow progress in building up the Afghan Air Force, which still operates at a much lower capacity than the international coalition air force, and which was the source of more than 50% of civilian casualties from airstrikes in the first half of 2018 despite the lower rate of operations.
  • In interviews on Wednesday, High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai said that there was “much evidence that Pakistan is playing a positive role in Afghan peace talks” and expressed optimism over the prospect for peace talks this year.
  • Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib visited Beijing on Thursday for talks with Chinese officials.
  • Pakistani diplomatic sources say that FATF officials have “expressed a degree of satisfaction” in their review of Pakistan’s implementation of its action plan for countering terrorism financing and money laundering.
  • In a meeting with the Lahore Chamber of Commerce, China’s ambassador to Pakistan noted concerns over “poor trade policies, high taxes, no tax incentives and lack of business-friendly environment”, and said that Pakistan’s regulatory policies “lack consistency”; he also expressed concern over the failure to implement proposals for the creation of Special Economic Zones.
  • National Party leader Hasil Bizenjo met with PPP leaders on Wednesday to discuss a potential opposition alliance with the PML-N.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • FATF Meetings: Anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources tell Dawn that Financial Action Task Force reviewers “expressed a degree of satisfaction” over Pakistani efforts to curtail terrorism financing and money laundering; the review meetings on Pakistan’s implementation of its action plan are expected to conclude on Thursday. Follow-on meetings are planned for February and May.
  • Military Courts Extension: A cabinet meeting on Thursday is expected to review draft legislation to renew and extend the tenure of Pakistan’s military courts system.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PPP Legal Battles: On Thursday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that Thursday’s cabinet meeting had rejected interior ministry recommendations to remove 20 people from the Exit Control List implicated in the money laundering cases against PPP leaders, and that the government would wait for a written Supreme Court order before removing PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah from the list. On Thursday, PTI legislator Khurrum Sher Zaman withdrew his petition with the Election Commission accusing former Pres. Zardari of failing to disclose assets in his 2018 candidacy filings, saying he would pursue the issue in the Supreme Court instead. On Thursday, the National Accountability Bureau indicted former federal communications minister Arbab Alamgir and his wife Asma Alamgir on charges of holding assets beyond their known means. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Nawaz Appeals: The Islamabad High Court has set Jan 21 as the date to hear Nawaz Sharif’s appeal for the suspension of his sentencing in the Al Azizia corruption case. The Supreme Court will hold hearings on Jan 14 on the National Accountability Bureau’s plea challenging the suspension of Nawaz’s sentence in the Avenfield properties case.
  • Other Corruption Investigations and Legal Battles: The State Bank of Pakistan has reportedly identified 18 bank accounts linked the PTI that party lawyers failed to disclose to the ECP as part of investigations into the party’s funding sources. On Wednesday, Pres. Alvi formally accepted former science minister Azam Swati’s resignation from his position. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: National Party leader Hasil Bizenjo met with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and former Pres. Zardari on Wednesday to discuss a potential alliance between the PPP and the PML-N; the PPP leaders declined to comment afterwards. The Nation notes that despite reaching an agreement on the formation of the Public Accounts Committee, several other parliamentary committees have yet to be formed. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Foreign Investment: PM Khan chaired a meeting on Wednesday focused on reviewing Pakistan’s investment framework; Finance Minister Umar said afterwards that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia could sign as much as $10 billion worth of MOUs on future investment projects during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan next month. In a meeting with Lahore Chamber of Commerce members on Wednesday, China’s ambassador to Pakistan attributed low rates of Chinese investment in Pakistan to “poor trade policies, high taxes, no tax incentives and lack of business-friendly environment”, and said that its regulatory policies “lack consistency”; he also expressed concern over the failure to implement proposals for the creation of Special Economic Zones. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • National Education Planning: Sindh provincial representatives boycotted a meeting of the new National Curriculum Council on Wednesday, charging the federal government with violating the constitution by taking on a subject that had been devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Asghar Khan Heirs Oppose Proposal for Closure of 2012 Case [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Supreme Court Rejects Rao Anwar Petition for Removal from Exit Control List [Dawn]
  • Foreign Minister Chairs Meeting of Advisory Council [ET]
  • Chief Justice Suggests Revoking Independent Power Producers Agreements [The Nation]
  • Senior Punjab Police Officers Ordered to Wear Bulletproof Vests [ET]
  • Supreme Court Orders Oversight Panel on Dam Construction [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Airpower Assistance: The NYT reports that despite $8 billion in assistance over several years for the Afghan Air Force, the mission remains a “frustrating work in progress, with no end in sight”. US coalition planes carried out approximately five times as many airstrikes last year as the AAF itself, which remains dependent on foreign advisors and maintenance, as well as external funding. Despite the lower rate of operations, UN investigators estimate that the AAF was also responsible for more than half of all civilian casualties from airstrikes during the first half of 2018.
  • Attacks and Operations: More than thirty Afghan security personnel were killed in separate attacks across the country on Thursday, including attacks in Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, and Badghis in western Afghanistan. Military officials in Nangarhar report that US airstrikes killed 10 ISIS fighters and three Taliban fighters in the Tarin Kot district on Thursday, and three ISIS fighters in the Khogyani district on Wednesday. [Reuters] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Pres. Ghani reiterated the importance of “peace and stability in Afghanistan”. In an AP interview, High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai expressed optimism over prospects for peace talks in 2019, and said that he expected Pakistan to use its influence to “encourage” the Taliban to hold talks with the government. In a BBC interview, Daudzai said that there was “much evidence that Pakistan is playing a positive role in Afghan peace talks” and that “the civil and military leadership here is on one page with regard to its Afghan policy”.
  • National Security Advisor Visits China: National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib arrived in Beijing on Thursday for talks with Chinese officials on “bilateral security cooperation, [the] Afghan-led peace process, and strategic cooperation between China and Afghanistan”. [AP]
  • Presidential Elections: Speaking on Wednesday, Chief Executive Abdullah denied that presidential elections had been postponed until July “because of political reservations”, insisting that the delay was needed to accommodate logistical preparations. Abdullah also rejected proposals for the creation of an interim government.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Karzai Expresses Doubts Over US Withdrawal [TOLO]
  • Balkh-Istanbul ‘Air Corridor’ Inaugurated [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
  • Ministry of Interior Announces Arrests in Crackdown [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: US Military Seeks to Reduce Trump Drawdown Plans; Khalilzad Resumes Tour of the Region

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Topline

  • The Washington Post reports that U.S. military officials are seeking to reduce the planned drawdown in U.S. forces sought by Pres. Trump to between 3,000-4,000 troops out of the approximately 14,000 current serving in Afghanistan.
  • U.S. Special Envoy Khalilzad departed on Tuesday for another tour of the region, with visits planned to India, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In a statement on Tuesday in response to Taliban accounts suggesting that a planned meeting with U.S. officials in Qatar had been called off due to disputes over the inclusion of Afghan government representatives, U.S. Amb. Bass said those reports were “inaccurate” and that the Taliban “should talk to fellow Afghans as much as they talk to media.”
  • A Pakistani woman was reportedly killed in a cross-border exchange of fire at the Line of Control in Kashmir on Wednesday.
  • Tribal elders from Khyber demanded the allocation of additional provincial assembly seats to the district at a press conference on Tuesday, threatening to launch protests for the formation of a separate province if those demands were not met.
  • At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, PM Khan ordered the firing of the managing directors of the Sui Northern and Sui Southern gas companies in response to recent shortages.

 

Pakistan — Security

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Supreme Court will hear a National Accountability Bureau appeal against the suspension of the jail sentence for Nawaz Sharif and his other family members convicted in the Avenfield properties case on Jan 14. On Wednesday, the Islamabad High Court ordered the scheduling of an appeal by Nawaz against his conviction in the Al Azizia case within ten days. Former finance minister Miftah Ismail has been summoned by the NAB for questioning as part of an investigation into a liqueified natural gas sales agreement. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: In a press conference on Tuesday, a group of tribal elders from Khyber called for an increase in the number of Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly seats allocated to the district, threatening to launch a campaign for a separate FATA province if their demands were not met. [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: In an interview with the Express Tribune, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said that the party would launch a membership drive beginning in March, and that Maryam Nawaz “would eventually head the party once she is done with the legal battles”. Maryam met with her father in jail on Tuesday; he is reportedly suffering from the flu and fever. The MQM-Pakistan threatened legal action against former party leader Farooq Sattar should he make use of party symbols in the formation of his new faction. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, PM Khan ordered the firing of the managing directors of the Sui Southern and Sui Northern gas companies, following an investigation into recent gas outages. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told reporters afterwards that the government would announce a new power policy by the end of the month. On Tuesday, the government issued a notice to ban the import of additional furnace oil.
  • CPEC Projects: The Express Tribune reports that movement on the inclusion of several mass transit projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor framework has been stalled by Pakistani officials’ failure to complete feasibility studies and prepare other requirements during the last meeting of the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee in Beijing in December.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistani Envoy Lauds Chinese Show Tour in Xinjiang [The Nation]
  • Gates Foundation and WHO Officials Hold Talks with PM Khan on Polio Vaccination Campaign [ET] [Dawn]
  • Islamabad Police Seek Inclusion of ‘Land Grabbers’ on Fourth Schedule [Dawn]
  • Former Police Officer Killed in Okara [ET]
  • Karachi Police Arrest Alleged MQM Gunman [The Nation]
  • Balochistan Reviews Development Programs [ET]
  • Mobile Phone Deadline Extended Until Jan 15 [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Force Withdrawals: The Washington Post reports that the U.S. military is drafting plans for a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in response to orders from Pres. Trump, but that the drawdown “will be far fewer” than the 7,000 troops of approximately 14,000 currently serving in Afghanistan previously reported. Some sources suggest that somewhere between 3,000-4,000 troops might be withdrawn, reversing an increase ordered in August 2017 after the administration’s initial strategy reviews. Officials “cautioned that a final decision had not been reached and that the president could order a full pullout at any moment”, however.
  • Attacks and Operations: At least six Afghan security personnel were killed in an attack in the Charbolak district in Balkh province on Tuesday evening, a local militia commander tells TOLO, and seven local police members are reported to have been taken hostage. A radio journalist, Javid Noori, was killed last week after being stopped and detained by the Taliban while traveling in Farah province. The NDS announced the arrest on Wednesday of 11 Taliban fighters in an operation in Kandahar. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Bass said that Taliban statements that they had cancelled a planned meeting with U.S. officials in Qatar over disputes over the inclusion of Afghan government representatives in the talks were “inaccurate” and said that the “Taliban should talk to fellow Afghans as much as they talk to media.” Taliban sources suggest additional disagreements over the scope of a potential prisoner exchange. In remarks on Wednesday, Chief Executive Abdullah said that “any peace deal in which the rights of our citizens, that have been gained with a lot of sacrifices, are not respected” is “a dream and will never happen”. U.S. Special Envoy Khalilzad departed on Tuesday for another tour of the region, with stops planned in Pakistan, China, India, and Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Afghan High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad; Daudzai also met with JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman. In a separate statement on Tuesday, the meeting of Pakistani army corps commanders endorsed “all initiatives towards regional peace”. In remarks on Wednesday, Indian Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat said that “there should be talks with Taliban as long as they do not come out with any preconditions, and so long as they are looking at lasting peace in Afghanistan”. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who visited India on Wednesday, said that “it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban” but that “we also believe that the Taliban should not have a dominant role in Afghanistan”. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]
  • Presidential Elections: In a leaked audio recording released on Tuesday, former vice president Yunus Qanooni discussed divisions within the Jamiat-e-Islami over an endorsement of a presidential candidate, and said that former national security advisor Hanif Atmar, whos candidacy Qanooni has reportedly endorsed, had agreed with the party’s calls for the formation of a “semi-presidential” system. [Ariana News] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghanistan and Iran ‘Close to Finalizing’ Cooperation Agreement [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Interior Releases List of Individuals ‘Under Pursuit’ by Kabul Police [Khaama Press]
  • MOU Signed on Reforming Education Ministry Appointments Process [TOLO]
  • Third Phase of Herat Rail Line to Be Inaugurated [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: US-Taliban Talks in Qatar Cancelled; New Pakistani Ambassador Seeks Trump-Imran Meeting

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Topline

  • Taliban sources told Reuters that they would meet U.S. representatives in Qatar on Wednesday this week, without Afghan government participation, but on Tuesday said that those talks had been called off due to an “agenda disagreement”.
  • Pres. Trump spoke by phone with PM Modi on Monday in a discussion that included a commitment to greater cooperation on Afghanistan. Afghan High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday for four days of meetings with Pakistani officials.
  • PPP leaders welcomed Monday’s Supreme Court order removing party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari from investigations into money laundering charges against his father, former Pres. Zardari.
  • Pakistan’s new ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed Khan, arrived to take office on Monday; he is reportedly seeking to negotiate a meeting between Pres. Trump and PM Khan.
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman may visit Pakistan in February to finalize an agreement on Saudi investment in an oil refinery in Gwadar.
  • More than 770,000 Afghans returned from Iran to Afghanista in 2018, driven primarily by the weakening Iranian economy, the International Organization for Migration estimates.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • New Ambassador to US: Pakistan’s new ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, arrived in Washington on Monday to assume his new position. Dawn reports that Majeed will focus on efforts to arrange a meeting between Pres. Trump and PM Khan.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: PPP leaders welcomed the Supreme Court’s order on Monday to removal party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah from the investigation into money laundering charges against former Pres. Zardari and some of his associates; PTI government spokesmen warned the PPP against celebrations. Lawyers for Nawaz Sharif petitioned the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday to schedule a hearing on his appeal of his sentence in the Al Azizia corruption case. The Supreme Court ordered the Federal Board of Revenue and police to continue investigations against former PTI minister Azam Swati, who resigned last month. In a briefing for the court on Tuesday, National Accountability Bureau officials said they were waiting for a response from the UK to an extradition request against former finance minister Ishaq Dar. [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Chinese Partnership: In an interview during his trip to Turkey last week, PM Khan deflected questions over the status of the Uighurs in China, saying that he “do[es] not know the exact situation of this,” since he and his government had been busy “because of the intensity of issues” since taking office.
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haq said that his party would not participate in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition of religious parties; the JI is also preparing to elect a new leader to replace Siraj, who retires in March. Speaking to reporters on Monday, former MQM leader Farooq Sattar confirmed his intention to launch a new faction of the party. [Dawn] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Saudi Investments: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is expected to visit Pakistan in early February, during which officials will seek to sign a memorandum of understanding for a Saudi Aramco oil refinery project in Gwadar; Board of Investment chairman Haroon Sharif projected at least $15 billion in Saudi investments over the next three years. [Dawn] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Reserves Verdict on Gilgit-Baltistan Status [The Nation] [ET]
  • Government Plans Average 5.8% Growth Target Over Next Five Years [Dawn] [ET]
  • Lawyer Killed in Peshawar [The Nation]
  • PTI Senator Concerned Over New Media Policy [ET]
  • Sindh Cabinet Cancels Allotment of 70,000 Acres of Forest Land [Dawn]
  • Qureshi Meets WHO Director to Discuss Polio Eradication [The Nation]
  • Chief Justice Orders Returned Non-Performing Loans to Go Towards Dam Construction [The Nation]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Anonymous Taliban sources told Reuters that U.S. and Taliban representatives would meet in Qatar beginning Wednesday, without Afghan government participation in the talks; on Tuesday, however, a Taliban source said that “both sides have agreed to not meet in Qatar” due to an “agenda disagreement” and that the talks had been cancelled. A U.S. embassy delegation visited Herat on Tuesday to meet with the provincial governor and local civil society representatives, including discussions on peace talks.
  • Regional Diplomacy: Pres. Trump and PM Modi spoke by phone on Monday in a discussion that included an agreement to “increase cooperation in Afghanistan”; no details were reported. The call follows remarks by Trump last week diminishing the significance of Indian economic contribution and urging it to take on a greater role in Afghanistan. High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday for a four-day visit and talks with Pakistani leaders; Pakistani diplomatic sources tell The Nation that the Afghan government “have been asking us to convince the Taliban for direct talks with them”. Deputy Afghan Foreign Minister Edris Zamani met with UN Special Envoy Tadamichi Yamamoto on Monday to discuss preparations for a ‘Kabul Process’ summit planned for February. [Khaama Press] [ET] [TOLO]
  • Presidential Elections: Former vice president Yunus Qanooni confirmed on Monday that he would back former national security advisor Hanif Atmar’s candidacy for presidency, but acknowledged splits within the Jamiat-e-Islami party over a choice of candidate; Qanooni has reportedly been chosen as a vice presidential running mate for Atmar, who has not officially filed his candidacy.
  • Parliamentary Elections: A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said Monday that more than 230 people had been referred for investigation on charges of parliamentary election-related crimes, and at least 80 cases had been filed. [TOLO]
  • Migration Returnees: More than 770,000 Afghans living in Iran returned to Afghanistan in 2018, according to International Organization for Migration estimates, driven by a contracting Iranian economy as U.S. sanctions fueled inflation.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Independent Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution Criticizes Government [TOLO]
  • Parliament Calls for Confirmation Hearings for ‘Acting’ Ministers [Ariana News]
  • Nangarhar Journalist Detained After Criticizing Provincial Attorney General [Pajhwok]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Zardari Holds Talks with JUI-F Leader; Taliban Seek to Avoid Pressure to Meet Afghan Govt

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Topline

  • Former Pres. Zardari held talks with JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman on Sunday, but PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari downplayed reports that the PPP was considering rejoining calls for a “grand alliance” against the PTI government. On Monday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ordered the removal of Bilawal and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah from money laundering investigations against Zardari and other associates; investigators have sought a freeze on Zardari’s assets.
  • Taliban sources tell Reuters they are seeking to change the venue for the next round of talks with U.S. representatives from Saudi Arabia to Qatar in order to deflect Saudi pressure for their representatives to meet directly with an Afghan government delegation; no date for the talks have been set. During a visit by PM Khan to Turkey on Friday, Turkish Pres. Erdogan said that Turkey would host trilateral talks with Afghanistan and Pakistan in March.
  • Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Pakistan on Sunday; an official readout welcomed the UAE’s previously-announced commitment to deposit $3 billion with the State Bank of Pakistan to shore up Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves. An additional $3.2 billion in deferred oil payments and a $1 billion investment in oil storage and refinery projects in Gwadar were also reportedly under discussion, but do not appear to have been finalized during the visit.
  • Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib met with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Friday, who “reaffirmed India’s continued support and cooperation with Afghanistan, specifically in the fight against terrorism, regional cooperation, and economic cooperation”.
  • At least a dozen people were wounded in two separate bombing attacks in the Pishin and Panjgur districts in Balochistan on Sunday, which the provincial home minister blamed on “hostile spy agencies”.
  • A deputy spokesman for the Independent Election Commission said Saturday that the IEC was planning to “audit” and “possibly recount” results from approximately 300 polling stations in Kabul province, the last province to be announced and the largest contributor of representatives to the parliament.
  • Pakistan’s military court system officially expired on Sunday; the PTI government is reportedly planning to introduce an amendment to renew the courts’ operations, but lacks the strength in parliament to do so without cooperation from the opposition.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Balochistan Bombings: At least a dozen people were wounded in two separate bombing attacks in the Pishin and Panjgur districts in Balochistan on Sunday, the first targeting the deputy tehsildar and the second a Frontier Corps vehicle. No immediate claim of responsibility was reported; provincial home minister Mir Zia Langove blamed “hostile spy agencies” for the attacks. Earlier on Friday, three children were killed playing with an unexploded grendade in the Washuk district. [The Nation]
  • Peshawar Attack: At least six people were wounded in a car bombing near a Jamaat-ud Dawa mosque in Peshawar on Saturday; no claim of responsibility was reported. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Military Courts: The official tenure for Pakistan’s military court system expired on Sunday; the PTI government is reportedly planning to introduce an amendment for their further extension, but lacks the strength in parliament to pass the measure without opposition support. [The Nation]
  • Financial Action Task Force Review: A Pakistani finance ministry delegation traveled to Australia for a meeting with Financial Action Task Force officials on Saturday, at which they will “review the progress made in achieving the targets set under an action plan to stop money laundering and terrorism financing”.
  • Border Tensions with India: Pakistan’s foreign ministry formally protested a cross-border exchange of fire with Indian forces at the Line of Control on Monday, in which one civilian was reportedly killed.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PPP Leaders Under Pressure: Former Pres. Zardari met with JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman on Saturday to discuss opposition cooperation against the PTI government, during which Fazl renewed proposals for a “grand alliance” with the PML-N and PPP. Speaking to reporters in Lahore on Sunday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari downplayed the prospects for such an agreement, however, saying that “we are focusing on issues-based politics and trying to find common ground”. Earlier on Saturday, Bilawal and other PPP leaders commemorated the birth anniversary of party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and denounced the “unmitigated witch-hunt of opposition members … carried out in the name of accountability”. On Saturday, investigators probing allegations of money laundering against Zardari and other associates petitioned the Supreme Court to freeze Zardari’s assets and those of the Omni Group. Lawyers for Zardari disputed the charges against him in a separate filing on Saturday. On Monday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ordered that Bilawal and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah be removed from the Exit Control List and dropped from the money laundering case, and ordered the National Accountability Bureau to conclude its investigation within two months. Separately on Monday, the banking court hearing the case extended Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur’s bail until Jan 23. On Saturday, the Islamabad Capital Development Authority demolished the home of PPP general secretary Nayyar Bukhari, accusing him on building on land owned by Quaid-e-Azam University; Bilawal and other PPP leaders denounced the action. Pres. Alvi visited Karachi on Sunday, but denied any intention to impose governor’s rule in Sindh. [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • PM Visits Turkey: Speaking at a joint press conference with PM Khan in Anakara on Friday, Turkish Pres. Erdogan welcomed the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s order to designate a school network linked with exiled Turkish opposition figure Fethullah Gulen as a terrorist organization. Speaking separately on Friday after returning from Turkey, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Erdogan had agreed to lead a Turkish investment delegation to Pakistan at an unspecified future date. [ET] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Speaking on Saturday, federal information minister Fawad Chaudhry reiterated the PTI government’s commitment to “not compromise on accountability”. After previous rejections on technical grounds, the Islamabad High Court agreed to hear Nawaz Sharif’s petition for the suspension of his jail sentence in the Al-Azizia corruption case while his appeal is pending, but postponed a decision on the petition until a date for Nawaz’s appeal is set. National Accountability Bureau officials told an anti-corruption court on Friday that they were preparing new charges against Shehbaz Sharif over infrastructure projects aimed at benefiting his son’s sugar mills in Chiniot. On Saturday, the judge approved a NAB petition to question Shehbaz in jail; he skipped the hearings on Friday, and is undergoing a medical checkup on Monday. On Friday, NAB prosecutors dropped investigations begun in 2000 against PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: MQM leader Syed Aminul Haq tells The Nation that the party does not intend to quit the PTI-led national coalition. A spokesman for the Balochistan Awami Party rejected “all rumors regarding rifts among the party and [its] coalition partners”. PML-N senate opposition leader Zafar-ul Haq denied that a meeting on Saturday with Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani was intended to signal PML-N support for the latter’s continuation in office. ANP party activists protested the Election Commission’s delimitation of Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly boundaries for the former FATA, objecting to the consolidation of all former Frontier Regions as a single constituency. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • UAE Crown Prince Visits: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Pakistan on Sunday to finalize the details of a previously-announced $6.2 billion package of cash deposits and oil supplies on deferred payment; official readouts of the visit welcomed a $3 billion deposit with the State Bank of Pakistan, but did not make a formal announcement on the further $3.2 billion in deferred oil payments, the details of which appear to still be under discussion. The Express Tribune reports that an agreement on a $1 billion investment by the emirate in oil storage and pipelines from Gwadar port is also near finalization. [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET]
  • Financial Crisis: The government borrowed Rs 1.43 trillion from the State Bank of Pakistan during the July – December 2018 period, a SBP report on Friday indicated, a fivefold increase over the same period the previous year. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Energy Crisis: The ministry of energy has banned the import of additional furnace oil and ordered refineries to upgrade their existing facilities in order to reduce the glut of furnace oil stocks in the country, the Express Tribune reports. Several major power distribution companies faced unscheduled outages beginning Saturday due to natural gas shortages. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Fiscal Federalism: Dawn reports that the federal, Punjab, and Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial governments, all headed by the PTI, have agreed to collectively cede three percent of their share of the divisible pool of federally-collected taxes to support development spending in the former FATA districts, in lieu of a formally negotiated agreement under the National Finance Commission, where other provinces have opposed reducing their shares for FATA.

 

  • Pakistan — Remainders
    Minister Apologies to Chief Justice for Rescheduling Mohmand Dam Inauguration [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Exiled Baloch Leader Alleges Indian Support for Chinese Consulate Attack [The Nation]
  • Pakistan-China ‘Warrior VI’ Joint Exercise Concludes [The Nation]
  • Khyber Checkpost Attacked [The Nation]
  • Army Inducts A-100 Artillery Rocket [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • One Killed, Three Injured in Battle for Control of Karachi Mosque [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • NAB Chief Meets Chief Justice Over Islamabad Hospital Land Inquiry [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Interior Ministry Seeks Haqqani Extradition [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Federal Government Opposes Healthcare Devolution Sought by Sindh [ET] [Dawn]
  • Government to Sell Unutilized State Land to Meet Budget Deficit [Dawn]
  • ADB and Balochistan Provincial Govt Sign $107 Million Agreement [ET]
  • Commentary: Yet Another Extension? – “Parliament must discharge its duty to protect fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan and ensure that military courts are not given another extension.” [Reema Omar, Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Indian Assistance: Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib met with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Friday, who “reaffirmed India’s continued support and cooperation with Afghanistan, specifically in the fight against terrorism, regional cooperation, and economic cooperation”. In an interview on Indian TV on, Mohib downplayed the significance of a potential drawdown in U.S. forces, saying that “we’re prepared for whatever is to come and I have full confidence in [Afghan security forces’] capacity”. Mohib also said that “if the Taliban are Afghans and would like to play a role in Afghanistan, I would once again use this opportunity to call on them to have talks with Afghans. There will be no peace without Afghans-intra-Afghan dialogue”. He also confirmed that India would deliver four additional Mi-25 helicopter gunships to the Afghan Air Force by March. [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: At least seven Afghan border police officers were killed in an attack on their checkpost in the Spin Boldak district in Kandahar on Friday; other sources suggest as many as eighteen may have been killed. Provincial officials say sixteen Taliban fighters were also killed in the fighting. Afghan military officials in Faryab report that they killed a Taliban shadow district governor in an airstrike in the Pashtunkot district on Saturday, and provincial officials claimed that 51 Taliban fighters had been killed in operations around the province on Sunday. Three security personnel were wounded in a magnetic bomb planted on their vehicle in Kabul on Sunday. A US airstrike in the Shahwali Kot district in Helmand on Sunday reportedly killed 16 Taliban fighters. Afghan military officials in Kunar claim that two ISIS fighters and one Taliban member were killed in clashes in the Pech Dara district on Sunday. On Monday, at least 21 Afghan police officers and militiamen were killed in attacks on their checkposts in Badghis province. Six civilians, including two children, were killed when unexploded ordnance detonated at a market in the Janikhel district in Paktika on Monday. Fighting in Baghlan cut power lines linking Uzbekistan and Kabul on Monday, impacting electricity supplies in several adjoining provinces. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Taliban sources tell Reuters that they are seeking a change of venue for the next round of talks with U.S. representatives, which were to be held this month in Saudi Arabia, and are instead seeking to meet in Qatar, in order to deflect a push by the Saudi government for the Taliban delegation to hold direct talks with Afghan government representatives. Earlier on Friday, a spokesman for the Afghan High Peace Council said that they would only send a delegation to Saudi Arabia if they were guaranteed face-to-face talks with Taliban representatives. No date has been set for the talks, although some reports in the Afghan press last week indicated it had been postponed from Jan 5 to Jan 15. During PM Khan’s visit to Turkey on Friday, Pres. Erdogan announced that Turkey would host a trilateral meeting on the peace process with Afghan and Pakistani officials in March. Anonymous Pakistani foreign ministry officials tell The Nation they are seeking to arrange a meeting between PM Khan and Pres. Trump “aimed at resolving the Afghanistan issue and enhancing the trust level”. On Saturday, Pres. Ghani met with the visiting Iranian deputy minister of foreign affairs, Abbas Araghchi, to discuss talks hosted between Iran and Taliban representatives in Tehran last week. HPC secretariat head Umer Daudzai will visit Pakistan on Tuesday for talks. On Sunday, the HPC announced the appointment of Farhadullah Farhad as first deputy head for the HPC secretrariat. [AP] [Khabarnama] [Ariana News]
  • Parliamentary Elections: A deputy spokesman for the Independent Election Commission said Saturday that the IEC was planning to “audit” and “possibly recount” results from approximately 300 polling stations from Kabul province, whose parliamentary election results have not been announced despite previous statements from the IEC suggestion that the tabulation process for the province had been completed. Opposition political party representatives accused the IEC of fraud and tampering in the counting process. Provincial Electoral Complaints Commission officials in Herat said on Sunday that three senior IEC officials in the province had been referred to the attorney general’s office on fraud charges. [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Presidential Elections: Former national security advisor Hanif Atmar, who has not yet formally filed his candidacy for president, has reportedly chosen Yunus Qanooni and Mohammad Mohaqiq as his vice presidential running mates. A leader of Vice Pres. Dostum’s Junbesh-e-Milli party tells Ariana News that both foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are planning to run, and have sought to have Dostum on their tickets. A spokesman for the IEC pledged that “systematic reforms will be implemented both in the technical level and in the secretariat level” ahead of the presidential elections, without providing details. [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • After Trump’s Broadside on Inspectors General Scrutinizing Afghanistan, Silence from Those Under Fire [WAPO]
  • At Least 30 Killed in Badakhshan Mine Collapse [NYT] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Iran and Afghanistan Discuss Water Dispute [Khabarnama]
  • Kabul Police Make Arrests After Criminal List Published [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama]
  • Ghani Inaugurates Kakar History Foundation [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama]
  • Minister of Public Works Says 25% of Highways Need Reconstruction [TOLO]
  • Herat Officials Plan Petroleum Refinery [Khaama Press]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Afghan Officials Criticize Trump Remarks; PM Khan Visits Turkey

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Topline

  • Afghan officials criticized remarks by Pres. Trump on Thursday suggesting that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was justified on counterterrorism grounds; a statement by the presidential palace said that it had sought clarification on the “difference between official statements and official policy”. In a Fox News interview on Thursday, VP Pence said that Trump was “in the process of evaluating” the potential withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
  • PM Khan arrived in Turkey on Thursday, meeting with Turkish business leaders and visiting the shrine of Rumi; on Friday, he met with Pres. Erdogan.
  • The Punjab government has formed a new Joint Investigation Team headed by former Sindh police chief A.D. Khawaja to reinvestigate the 2014 Model Town clash.
  • The Afghan Independent Election Commission released preliminary parliamentary election results for Baghlan province on Thursday, as well as the uncontested nationwide Sikh and Hindu constituency. Results for Kabul and the Kuchi community have still not been announced.
  • TOLO reports that US-Taliban talks in Jeddah have been postponed from Jan 5 to Jan 15.
  • Dawn reports that the Pakistani government has imposed a ban on bank transactions by approximately 20,000 seminaries around the country.
  • The PPP petitioned the National Accountability Bureau on Friday to investigate the government’s award of the contract for the Mohmand Dam project to commerce advisor Abdul Razzaq Daud’s company.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Counter Terrorism Financing: Dawn reports that the government has imposed a ban on bank transactions on the part of approximately 20,000 seminaries as part of an unannounced crackdown begun six months previously.
  • North Waziristan Operations: On Friday, the Pakistani military announced that it had killed an unidentified terrorist suspect during a raid in North Waziristan.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PM Visits Turkey: PM Khan met with Pres. Erdogan in Anakara on Friday; earlier on Thursday, he met with Turkish business leaders, urging them to invest in Pakistan and to boost bilateral trade, and also visited the shrine of the Sufi saint Rumi. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Thursday, the Punjab government formed a new Joint Investigation Team to investigate the 2014 Model Town clash between Punjab police and Pakistan Awami Tehreek activists, to be headed by former Sindh police chief Allah Dino Khawaja. Maryam Nawaz and other family members met with Nawaz Sharif in jail on Thursday. Lawyers for Nawaz petitioned for his release on bail while the Islamabad High Court hears his appeal of his sentence; on Friday, the IHC agreed to hear a National Accountability Bureau petition challenging his acquittal in one case and seeking a longer sentence. On Thursday, an accountability court issued an arrest warrant for Kamran Kayani, the former chief of army staff’s brother, as part of the Ashiyana housing project scandal, in which Shehbaz Sharif is also facing charges. On Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition against former presidents Zardari and Musharraf over their negotiation of the 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi criticized the PTI government’s economic management. A meeting of ANP leaders on Thursday accused the PTI of pursuing “selective persecution of political rivals”. Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Mehmood Khan visited Bajuar on Thursday, pledging development support for the former FATA. [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Dam Construction: PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar reiterated calls for an investigation into the award of the contract for the construction of the Mohamand Dam to a company linked to government commerce advisor Abdul Razzaq Daud; on Friday, the PPP petitioned the National Accountability Bureau to investigate the contract. Senators also questioned the project during a senate planning committee meeting on Thursday. [ET]
  • Supreme Court Bars Railways Land Sale: In a ruling on Friday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar barred any land sale by Pakistan Railways or any lease of railways land for more than a five year period. [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Journalist Receives Complaint Over Tweet Questioning Abidi and Dawar Murders [Dawn]
  • Farooq Sattar Gives Statement in Abidi Murder Case [ET] [The Nation]
  • Spokesman Farrukh Saleem Disowned After Criticizing Government Rupee Depreciation [The Nation]
  • Government Approves $986 Million Polio Vaccination Program [Dawn] [ET]
  • Army Chief Visits Mari Petroleum [The Nation]
  • Foreign Exchange Reserves Drop to $7.3 Billion [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: Afghan officials criticized remarks by Pres. Trump at a cabinet meeting on Thursday equating U.S. counterterrorism rationales for intervening in Afghanistan with Russian motivations for invading Afghanistan in 1979. In a statement on Thursday, the presidential palace said that it was seeking “clarification regarding some statements”, saying there was a “difference between official statements and official policy”; it also noted that “after the invasion by the Soviet Union, all presidents of America not only denounced this invasion but remained supporters of this holy jihad of the Afghans.” In a Fox News interview on Thursday, VP Pence said that Pres. Trump was “in the process of evaluating” whether to remove troops from Afghanistan. In an MSNBC interview on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump that “it’s right to get our troops out of Afghanistan”, saying that the alternative of “staying forever” was not feasible. US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley visited Kabul on Thursday, where he met with Pres. Ghani to discuss “the Afghan peace process and other regional security issues”; details were limited. [WAPO] [LAT] [AP] [Pajhwok] [Reuters]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections: On Thursday, the Independent Election Commission announced preliminary parliamentary election results for Baghlan province and the nationwide Sikh and Hindu constituency, for which there was only one candidate. Results for Kabul, which IEC officials had said were finalized more than two weeks ago, and for the Kuchi nomad constituency, have yet to be announced. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Peace Talks: TOLO reports that a planned meeting between the US and Taliban representatives in Jeddah has been postponed from January 5 to January 15.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Three Dead, 40 Wounded in Kabul Gas Station Fire [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Ariana Airlines Acquires New Boeing 500-737 [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Final Showdown Nearing? US Talks with Afghan Taliban – “A realistic peace process must advance an internal political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban and a political settlement among Afghanistan and its neighbours.” [Christopher Kolenda, Global Village Space]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Trump Says Afghan Neighbors ‘Should Be Fighting There’; Saeed Khosa Named as Chief Justice

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Topline

  • In a televised cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Pres. Trump suggested that Russia, India, and Pakistan “should be fighting” in Afghanistan, in contrast to the United States, which he said was “subsidizing [other countries’] militaries by billions and billions” despite being “six thousand miles away”. Trump also endorsed the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan “because terrorists were going into Russia”, but noted that “they went bankrupt” as a result.
  • On Wednesday, Pres. Alvi confirmed the appointment of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa to succeed Supreme Court Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar following the latter’s retirement on January 18.
  • Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib departed for a trip to India on Thursday to meet with his counterpart Ajit Doval and other officials.
  • The Afghan Independent Election Commission re-launched presidential candidate registration on Thursday, after earlier rescheduling the elections for July 20.
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan has drafted sixteen new constituencies for the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly following the incorporation of the former FATA districts with the province; the constituencies will be finalized by early march.
  • Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency announced Thursday that it was halting the issuance of visas on arrival for Afghan nationals.
  • China has agreed to lend Pakistan an additional $2 billion to shore up its foreign exchange reserves, the Financial Times reports.
  • The Afghan ministry of mines announced on Thursday that it was taking over operations of the Ghori cement plant in Baghlan, accusing the owners of failing to meet investment commitments.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts: In response to questions from the national assembly committee on law and justice, law ministry officials confirmed on Wednesday that a notification for the extension of the military courts system had been drafted and sent to the federal cabinet for approval; extension would require a constitutional amendment.
  • Border Tensions with India: On Wednesday, the Pakistani military announced that it had shot down the second Indian quadcopter drone in as many days along the Line of Control in Kashmir. [AP]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Next Chief Justice Appointed: On Wednesday, Pres. Alvi approved Justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s appointment to become the next Supreme Court chief justice, following Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar’s scheduled retirement on January 18. Khosa will reach the age of retirement in December 2019. On Thursday, Chief Justice Nisar held hearings on Pakistan’s population growth, which he has embraced as a populist cause alongside dam construction. [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]
  • PPP Under Pressure: Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that the government was reviewing the placement of suspects in a money laundering case against PPP leaders on the Exit Control List. PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kair warned on Wednesday that the PPP has “the ability and required number to oust the PTI government but are observing restraint only to fully expose its incompetence before the masses”. PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reiterated warnings against efforts to oust the PPP government in Sindh in remarks on Wednesday. [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • FATA Reforms: On Wednesday, the Election Commission announced district boundaries for sixteen new Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly constituencies to be elected from the former FATA districts; an appeals process is open through March 1. On Wednesday, Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Mehmood Khan announced plans to hold a provincial cabinet meeting in the Khyber district. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Pakistan Abolishes Visa On Arrival for Afghans: On Thursday, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency announced that it was halting the issuance of visas on arrival for Afghan nationals.
  • PM Visits Turkey: PM Khan departed for a two-day trip to Turkey on Thursday, his first visit to the country since taking office. [ET] [AP]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The National Accountability Bureau has opened new investigations against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other officials in connection to the negotiation of liquefied natural gas imports. The FIA has seized at least 29 properties owned by the MQM’s charitable wing, the Khidmat-i-Khalq Foundation, as part of a money laundering and extortion investigation. A Karachi police counter-terrorism inspector has been arrested on charges of robbery. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: PML-N opposition leader and Public Accounts Committee chairman Shehbaz Sharif has formed eight sub-committees for the PAC. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Shehbaz indicated he would seek changes to the National Accountability Bureau’s powers to detain a suspect for up to 90 days. Shehbaz excused himself from chairing a meeting on Thursday, citing back pain. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Foreign Assistance: Pakistani finance ministry sources tell the Financial Times that China has agreed to lend at least $2 billion to help shore up Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves. Chinese officials have not announced the agreement and details are limited, but a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said that “the Chinese side has offered and will continue to offer its best through assistance, trade, investment and all-around practical cooperation to support and boost Pakistan’s economic and social development.” Meanwhile, the third $1 billion tranche of Saudi aid is expected to be delivered to Pakistan this month.
  • Dam Construction: The groundbreaking for the Mohmand Dam project has been rescheduled for Jan 13, as government officials sought to defend the issuance of a single bid contract to a consortium led by a company owned by commerce advisor Abdul Razak Dawood; Water Minister Faisal Vawda denied that Dawood had at all influence the contracting, in which the only other bid was disqualified on technical grounds. On Thursday, Vawda vowed to “foil every conspiracy” against the project and rejected calls from the opposition for the cancellation of the contract. [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Defense Secretary Ordered to Respond to Case on Whereabouts of Uzair Baloch [Dawn] [ET]
  • Police Reopen Missing Chinese Engineer Case [Dawn]
  • Over 350 Militants from Naseerabad Lay Down Arms [ET]
  • Supreme Court Bans Role of Patwaris in Urban Land Transactions [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Chief Justice Reiterates Order for Clearance of Aabpara Road [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Petition Seeking Expanded LHC Bench; Peshawar High Court Seeks More Judges After FATA Merger [The Nation] [ET]
  • Supreme Judicial Council Seeks Tax Records of LHC Judge Named in Panama Papers [ET]
  • Inflation Slows in December [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Trump Says Russia, Pakistan, and India ‘Should Be Fighting’ in Afghanistan: Speaking during a cabinet meeting attended by reporters on Wednesday, Pres. Trump said that he was “not happy with what” former Secretary of Defense Mattis “has done in Afghanistan”, suggesting that he had “essentially fired him”. Trump also said that the U.S. was “subsidizing [other countries’] militaries by billions and billions”, and said that Pakistan, Russia, and India “should be fighting” in Afghanistan, contrasting their investments with those of the United States, which he noted is “six thousand miles away”. He also suggested that “the reason Russia was in Afghanistan” after its 1979 invasion “was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight and literally they went bankrupt.” Trump indicated he would be “meeting the folks from the new leadership in Pakistan” in the “not-too-distant future”, noting his cut-off of assistance earlier this year. [TOLO] [Dawn] [Cabinet Meeting Video]
  • Conviction in Journalist’s Killing: A special tribunal sentenced three men in connection to the murder of Ahmad Shah, a BBC journalist in Khost province, last year. The Taliban had denied involvement in his death.
  • Attacks and Operations: At least ten Afghan security personnel were reportedly killed in clashes in Pul-e-Khumri city in Baghlan province beginning Wednesday night. Military officials in Faryab report 11 Taliban fighters were killed in air and ground operations in the Qaisar and Garziwan districts. Officials in Sar-e-Pul expressed concern that Taliban fighters are encroaching on oil reservoirs on the outskirts of the provincial capital; an interior ministry spokesman said that sufficient forces were present to repel Taliban attacks. [Khabarnama] [Ariana News]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • National Security Advisor Visits India: National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib met with Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid on Wednesday to discuss “the developing scenarios including possible ceasefire with the Taliban militants”. On Thursday, Mohib departed for a trip to India to meet his counterpart Ajit Doval to discuss bilateral security cooperation. [Khabarnama]
  • Presidential Elections: On Thursday, the Independent Election Commission re-launched candidate registration for the presidential elections, after rescheduling the elections for July last week; that IEC had previously opened registration on Dec 22, but did not register any candidates. Registration will conclude on Jan 20. Parliamentarian Abdul Latif Pedram and former presidential candidate Mohammad Hakim Torsan were reported to be among the first registrants.
  • Peace Talks: Pajhwok profiles members of the Taliban delegation that held negotiations with U.S. representatives in the UAE last month.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Ghori Cement Takeover: On Wednesday, the ministry of mines and petroleum announced that it had taken over operations of the Ghori Cement plant from the Afghan Investment Company consortium, saying it had violated commitments to expand investment in the plant.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Exports Reach $1 Billion During First Nine Months of 2018 [TOLO]
  • Government Signs Contracts for New Radar System [TOLO] [Khabarnama]
  • Ministry Develops Policy to Ensure Mining Safety [TOLO]