Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PPP Launches Protest Rally in Lahore; UAE Officials Criticize Raziq After Kandahar Attack

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Topline

  • PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari launched a series of protest rallies in Punjab with an appearance in Lahore on Thursday, saying that it was time to “run the Sharifs out”. Hearings continue on the Panama Papers and the Sharif family’s disputed assets. The Afghan National Directorate of Security intelligence agency said Wednesday that it was undertaking a joint investigation with NATO and UAE officials into last week’s attack at the Kandahar governor’s compound; UAE officials are reported to have criticized Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq’s handling of security for their ambassador and diplomats. Family members of five missing Pakistani activists issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing a “malicious campaign” charging several of those activists with blasphemy. The Sindh chief minister has approved the extension of policing powers for the Sindh Rangers for another 90-day period. Police in Gilgit-Baltistan announced the arrest of twelve men accused of receiving funds from India’s RAW intelligence agency and plotting attacks on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pres. Obama made a farewell call to Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah on Wednesday, encouraging them to continue efforts for national unity.

Pakistan — Security

  • Missing Activists: Family members of some of the five men who have disappeared and are believed to be in extrajudicial detention issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing what they described as a “malicious campaign” online and in complaints to police suggesting that the activists had committed blasphemy. Separately, the wife of an MQM-London activist reported that he was abducted in Hyderabad. [ET]
  • Sindh Rangers Policing Powers Extended: On Wednesday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah issued an order extending the policing authorities of the Sindh Rangers for another 90 days, forwarding it on to the federal government for approval; the Rangers’ policing mandate had officially expired on Monday. [Dawn]
  • Arrests in Gilgit-Baltistan: On Wednesday, police in GIlgit-Baltistan’s Ghizer district announced the arrest of twelve members of the “Balawaristan National Front”, who they accused of accepting funds from India’s RAW intelligence agency and planning attacks on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects in the area. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PPP Protest: PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari launched a series of protests from Lahore to Sheikhupura on Thursday, appearing at a rally in Lahore and saying that the PML-N government had failed to deliver for the poor and that it was time to “run the Sharifs out”. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Panama Papers Hearings: Supreme Court hearings on Wednesday focused on the sources of the Sharif family’s wealth and its transfer amongst family members, which Judge Azmat Saeed Sheiih suggested the prime minister’s lawyers had failed to explain. Hearings on Thursday focused again on Maryam Nawaz’s disputed status as a dependent of her father. Opposition member party members sought a motion in the national assembly to criticize the prime minister’s remarks last May explaining the sources of his wealth, saying they had been a “clear case of contempt of the House”. The APP cites an unnamed BBC source who claims that report last week on the Sharif family’s assets is under investigation by management, and that the reporter in question is accused of recycling information already in the public domain. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations: On Wednesday, the senate voted to disapprove a presidential ordinance issued earlier this month that had barred individuals who reached plea agreements with the National Accountability Bureau from continuing to hold public office.
  • Other Political Activity: The Sindh cabinet is expected to introduce new measures that would allow for the dismissal through a no-confidence vote of a local mayor on charges of terrorism or inciting violence; union council and town committee chairmen will not be subjected to the measure. Karachi mayor Waseem Akhtar said that he would challenge the change in court. Separately, MQM-London officials have cancelled a planned Jan 21 rally and address from Altaf Hussain. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Project: Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue on New Delhi, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar noted concerns that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor “passes through a territory that we see as our territory”, and that “there needs to be some reflection and I am sorry to say that we have not seen signs of that”. China’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that the project “targets no third country and it will not affect China’s position on Kashmir”. Separately, the Sindh provincial government is seeking to recruit nearly a thousand additional former servicemembers to provide security for CPEC projects in the province.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Foreign Affairs Committee Calls for Improvements in Cyber Security [Dawn]
  • Committee to Protect Journalists Calls for Release of Two Sindhi Reporters [AP]
  • Leading Parliamentarians Allege Fake Bank Accounts Opened in Their Names [Dawn]
  • Kurram Agency Tribes Reluctant to Cede Weapons [RFE/RL]
  • Balochistan Liberation Army Arms Cache Seized in Pishin [Dawn]
  • World Bank Agrees to $720M Loan and Grant for Tarbela Dam Extension Project [Dawn]
  • Cabinet Approves Further Increase in PIA Guarantee Limit [ET] [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Discusses E-Commerce with Alibaba Chief in Davos, Calls for Investment [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Government and CNG Station Owners In Dispute Over Infrastructure Cess Collection [ET]
  • Commentary: Pakistan Looks Toward a Year of Stability But Little Rights Progress – “Pakistan seems on track in 2017 for another year of just getting by. The country seems likely as in the recent past to avoid fully confronting its most challenging problems yet managing to do enough to avoid their becoming seriously worse.” [Marvin Weinbaum, RFE/RL]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kandahar Attack Investigation: The NDS announced Wednesday that it was conducting a joint investigation with NATO and UAE officials into last week’s attack at the Kandahar guesthouse; the NDS said that their initial investigations had concluded the attack was plotted in Quetta. TOLO quotes an Arab diplomatic source who said UAE officials “conveyed their serious objections at the failure of the Kandahar security officials including [provincial police chief General Abdul] Raziq, to ensure security for the UAE ambassador and diplomats.” Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met with the UAE’s ambassador to Pakistan on Wednesday, offering his condolences.
  • Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpost in Kandahar’s Maiwand district on Wednesday night, killing at least two officers and wounding three; some sources suggest as many as six were killed. A spokesman for the Sar-e-Pul governor reported that a leading Taliban bomb-maker in the province inadvertently killed himself and four sons on Wednesday. Military officials in Kapisa claim to have killed five Taliban fighters in operations in the Tagab district. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • US Policy: The Post overviews the security and political challenges in Afghanistan awaiting the incoming Trump administration, which has given little indication of its priorities in the country or the broader region. On Wednesday, outgoing Pres. Obama spoke by phone with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, encouraging both to “continue their shared efforts to enhance national unity and support a lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.” [TOLO] [Dawn]
  • Taliban Talks: In a VOA interview, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz accused the Afghan government of pursuing a “fragmented” approach on reconciliation with the Taliban, saying that “I think they will come under greater pressure and so, if serious negotiations begin in 2017, that will be our best hope for peace in Afghanistan”.
  • Parliament Recess: The Wolesi Jirga held its last session of the current solar year before breaking for winter recess on Wednesday.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • CEO Abdullah Calls for Supreme Court Ruling on Disqualified Ministers [Ariana News]
  • Election Observer Blames Government for Slow Election Commission Progress [TOLO]
  • Report: Six Month Report on Violence Against Journalists, July-December 2016 – “In spite of the fact that the threats are posed by a variety of groups including government officials, a shift in the conduct of Taliban vis-à-vis journalists and media is the main driver of the increase in the level of threats and deadly violence against journalists.” [Afghan Journalists Safety Committee]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Leader Killed in Punjab; Former DIA Official Tapped for Trump NSC Post

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Topline

  • Punjab police officials say they killed Asif Chotoo, who they identified as the leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi following the death of Malik Ishaq in an encounter with police 18 months prior. No agreement was reached on the renewal of military courts legislation during a meeting of parliamentary opposition leaders on Tuesday. Politico reports that the Trump administration may name former DIA official Derek Harvey for an Afghanistan-Pakistan position at the National Security Council; the appointment has not been confirmed, and few positions below the cabinet level have been announced. Lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif continue to defend his remarks before parliament about his overseas business assets; hearings on Wednesday questioned gifts from the prime minister’s son to him, and daughter Maryam Nawaz’s status as a dependent. Speaking at a conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, Prime Minister Modi insisted that Pakistan “must walk away from terror” if it wanted dialogue with India. Afghanistan’s ministry of public health announced embezzlement charges against a former director tasked with drug demand reduction. Officials in Kunduz report a drop in customs revenue over the past year, which they attribute to security concerns and Russian restrictions on Tajikistan’s trade with Afghanistan.

Pakistan — Security

  • Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Leader Killed: In a statement on Wednesday, the Punjab police Counter-Terrorism Department said that police in Sheikhpura had killed Asif Chotoo, aka Rizwan, who it identified as the new leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi following the death of Malik Ishaq in an encounter with police 18 months prior; three other militants were also killed. [ET]
  • Military Courts: No agreement was reached on Tuesday during a meeting between opposition party leaders and the National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq that was held to discuss the renewal of special military courts for terrorism suspects; PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that they had asked for a full closed-door briefing of parliament. Another meeting is planned for Jan 31. Speaking in Davos on Tuesday, former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif defended the use of the courts, which he said “were the need of the hour”.
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Policing Powers: The Express Tribune reports that Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly members have reached an agreement on the modification of some powers for the appointment and dismissal of police officers, restoring the ability of the chief minister to punish police officers for abuses of authority instead of giving that power to the provincial chief of police, and allowing for direct recruitment up to the deputy superintendent of police level.
  • MQM Worker Dies in Jail: An MQM party activist who was arrested last January died in the Karachi Central Jail on Tuesday; prison officials say he suffered a heart attack, but a leader of the MQM’s London-based faction alleged that he had been poisoned after resisting pressure to defect to the Pak Sarzameen Party. Meanwhile, MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar protested an increase in arrests of MQM activists over the past week, saying at least 14 party workers had been detained without charge.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: During hearings before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif shifted his argument to defend the prime minister’s remarks before parliament as protected speech under Article 66 of the constitution, saying he was not seeking immunity under Article 248; Judge Sheikh Azmat Saeed suggested that the prime minister did not have “absolute” immunity, saying that “committing a crime but still claiming parliamentary privilege is not covered in the immunity available to government functionaries in the performance of their duties”. Hearings on Wednesday focused on gifts from the prime minister’s son Hussain Nawaz to his father, and the prime minister’s claiming of daughter Maryam Nawaz as a dependent. On Tuesday, the senate passed legislation, already passed by the national assembly, that would allow for the seizure of properties held by proxies as a means of tax evasion. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Tensions with India: Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi on Tuesday, Prime Minister Modi insisted that Pakistan must “walk away from terror” if it wanted a dialogue with India, saying that “those in our neighbours who support violence, hatred and export terror stand isolated and ignored”. Special assistant to the prime minister Tariq Fatemi told the APP that Prime Minister Sharif would raise the Kashmir issue during his meetings on the sidelines of the Davos summit this week. Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif told a senate panel on Tuesday that “India is engaging in posturing [but] we do not see any imminent threat of repudiation” of the Indus Waters Treaty.
  • Corruption Investigations: A parliamentary committee reviewing anti-corruption legislation governing the National Accountability Bureau and proposals for “across-the-board” accountability measures failed to reach an initial agreement on including judges and military officials in the purview of the NAB. The committee will meet again on Jan 24 to review existing anti-corruption laws at the federal and provincial level.
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports that several top PPP leaders have advised former Pres. Zardari not to contest by-elections as a means of joining parliament, allowing his son to increase his profile as a leader of the party. Thus far, the NA-204 and NA-213 seats, held by PPP assembly members, have not been vacated in order to allow for Zardari or Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s election. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Touts Economic Growth, Former Army Chief Counterterrorism Achievements at Davos [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • No Release of Shakil Afridi, Law Minister Says [ET]
  • 2009 Chinese Loan of $500M to Be Repaid By End-January [ET]
  • Chinese Team Plans to Survey Karachi Circular Railway Route [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Appointments: Politico reports that retired colonel Derek Harvey, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official and the first director of CENTCOM’s Afghanistan-Pakistan Center under former Gen. David Petraeus, is a “leading candidate” for a job managing Afghanistan and Pakistan issues at in the incoming Trump administration’s National Security Council. Few appointments below the cabinet level have been announced.
  • Detentions: RFE/RL interviews Taliban fighters imprisoned in Pul-i-Charki prison, many of whom express a continued commitment to the insurgency.
  • Attacks and Operations: NDS officials announced the arrest of 31 Haqqani network operatives in two separate military operations in Khost province on Wednesday; no further details were provided. Nangarhar security officials say that six Islamic State-affiliated fighters were killed after they attacked checkposts in the Haska Mina district on Tuesday night. The NATO Resolute Support command dismissed a Taliban claim on Tuesday that they had shot down a surveillance drone in Nangarhar, saying the crash had been due to engine failure. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MOPH Official Accused of Embezzlement: On Tuesday, the Ministry of Public Health announced charges of embezzlement worth hundreds of thousands of dollars against Ahmad Fawad Osmani, the former head of the ministry’s Drug Demand Reduction department.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Customs Revenue Decline: Kunduz officials tell Ariana News that customs revenues at the Sher Khan border crossing dropped from Afs 1 billion to Afs 380 million last year, citing security threats and Russian restrictions on trade into Tajikistan.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Center for Strategic and Regional Studies Poll Finds Rising Skepticism Towards Government [TOLO]
  • Snowfall Cuts Access to Badakhshan Districts and Capital [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Public Works Signs $1 Billion Faryab Road Contract [Ariana News]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Lawyers Defend PM’s Remarks Before Parliament; CENTCOM Chief Talks Afghan Security with COAS

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Topline

  • During Supreme Court hearings on Tuesday, lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif defended his statements before parliament explaining his overseas assets, saying that those remarks were constitutionally protected. U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Monday to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan. A spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service said that last week’s attack on the Kandahar governor’s compound “was likely planned in Quetta” but offered no further details. The policing mandate for the Sindh Rangers expired without renewal on Monday; the PPP and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan continue to spar over the latter’s meetings with Sunni sectarian groups. Investigations are still ongoing as to the whereabouts of at least four missing activists who have disappeared since the start of the year. The Afghan IEC will announce a date for parliamentary elections next month, a commissioner tells Ariana News. The Wolesi Jirga voted to approve the Afghan government’s revised draft budget for the new fiscal year on Monday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Missing Activists: Islamabad police filed a First Information Report on the reported kidnapping of Samar Abbas, one of several activists to have gone missing since the start of the year; speaking before the senate on Monday, Minister of State for Interior Baleeghur Rehman said that investigations were still ongoing as to the whereabouts of at least four missing activists. [ET]
  • Military Courts: National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq will meet with parliament party leaders on Tuesday, where he is expected offer an additional security briefing as part of the government’s efforts to secure cooperation for the renewal of military courts legislation. [ET]
  • FATA Repatriation: 374 people, the first batch of North Waziristan residents displaced from the area two years ago by military operations and who had resettled in Afghanistan, crossed back over the Ghulam Khan border crossing on Monday. Daily returns are scheduled to continue through Jan 26, amounting to roughly 2,000 families, with all returnees initially settled at an IDP camp in Bannu. [Dawn]
  • Tensions with India: Speaking in the senate on Monday, defense minister Khawaja Asif warned that Pakistan would respond to future Indian “surgical strikes” with “full force”. Speaking at a separate panel on Tuesday, Asif said that Pakistan “would not accept any external pressure” on the Indus Water Treaty, insisting that “each and every clause of the IWT should be followed by both the signatories in its letter and spirit”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: Maryam Nawaz Sharif filed a response with the Supreme Court on Tuesday, submitting tax details and stating that she had not been a dependent of her father since her marriage in 1992.  Meanwhile, lawyers for the prime minister defended his remarks before parliament but also argued that they were protected under Article 248 of the constitutions, and that he could not be prosecuted or disqualified for them. [ET]
  • Rangers Powers Expire in Karachi: On Monday, the most recent 90-day extension of policing powers for the paramilitary Sindh Rangers expired, without any official announcement; Dawn quotes anonymous sources who say that the PPP government is withholding an extension until it gets “some assurances” regarding recent Rangers arrests of businessmen linked to former Pres. Zardari. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: An interior ministry spokesman rebuffed continued PPP criticism of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s contacts with leaders of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, accusing former Pres. Zardari and other PPP officials of doing the same. On Monday, lawyers for Imran Khan proffered an “unconditional apology” to the Election Commission, seeking to walk back Khan’s allegations that the institution was biased. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Project: During a parliamentary committee hearing on Monday, opposition party members criticized the government for the slow pace of development projects along the project’s “western route”, complaining that no industrial zones are currently being planned for near-term development. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal claimed to have reached “total consensus” amongst the provinces, highlighting energy priorities and the construction of an $8 billion railway line linking Karachi with the Torkham border crossing.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Arrives in Switzerland for Davos Summit [APP]
  • Balochistan Provincial Government Purchase Russian Helicopter [Dawn]
  • Two Police Officers Killed in Quetta [Dawn]
  • 30% of Sindh Population Lacks CNICs [ET]
  • Senate Seeks National Commission on Human Rights Investigation into Bhutto Murder Case Delays [Dawn]
  • FDI Rises to $1.08 Billion During July-December Period [Dawn]
  • Second LNG Regasification Facility to Arrive in June [ET]
  • Government Pakistan Steel Mills Lease Plan [Dawn]
  • PIA Removes Acting Chief Operating Officer [ET]
  • Commentary: The Myth of Two Extremes – “Instead of provoking unequivocal condemnation, the abduction of several activists has spawned mass indifference, or much worse, victim-blaming.” [Umair Javed, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kandahar Attack Investigation: A spokesman for the NDS said on Monday that last week’s attack at the Kandahar governor’s compound “was likely planned in Quetta”, but provided no more details on an ongoing investigation.
  • Attacks and Operations: Nangarhar local officials say they are working to recover 14 Ministry of Education staffers kidnapped by the Islamic State in the Kot district on Sunday. Daesh fighters destroyed another 20 homes in the district on Sunday night, but local officials say there were no casualties. NDS officials announced the discovery of a Taliban bomb-making factory in Balkh province on Tuesday. [RFE/RL]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Pakistan: U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel visited Pakistan’s military headquarters on Monday for meetings with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa that focused on security in Afghanistan; Bajwa is reported to have insisted that “there are no safe havens inside Pakistan to be used against Afghanistan” and to have warned against “rhetoric implicating Pakistan”. [TOLO] [ET]
  • Electoral Reforms: Independent Election Commission member Rafiullah Bidar tells Ariana News that the IEC will announce a parliamentary election date next month, and will also make a decision regarded voter registration cards.
  • Refugee Repatriation: Speaking at a conference on Tuesday, Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Syed Hussain Alimi Balkhi said that more than one million Afghans had returned to the country in 2016, most from Pakistan, and that they had repatriated around $7 billion in the process.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Draft Budget Approved: After previously rejecting the government’s draft budget for the fiscal year, the Wolesi Jirga voted to approve the revised budget on Monday.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Turkish Officials Say Nightclub Attacker ‘Training in Afghanistan’ [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • National Procurement Center Approves 13 Contracts Worth Afs 13 Billion [Pajhwok]
  • Deh Sabz Brickmakers Avoiding Taxes [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: UAE Official Blames Afghan Security for Kandahar Attack; Ghani and Gen. Bajwa Speak by Phone

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Topline

  • A UAE delegation arrived in Kandahar on Saturday to hold investigations into the attack there last week; bodies of four of the five UAE diplomats were repatriated on Sunday, and Hashim Karzai, a cousin to the former president succumbed to injuries on Monday. Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, the Head of General Security for the Emirate, said on Twitter that Afghan security forces were “directly responsible” for the blast. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa spoke by phone with Pres. Ghani on Sunday, putting the onus on Afghan forces to curtail cross-border terrorist movement; Ghani’s office said that he had noted the continued lack of action by Pakistan against groups that carried out attacks in Afghanistan. In his confirmation testimony last week, Defense Secretary nominee Gen. James Mattis said that he would “review all options” on assistance to Pakistan, noting that “conditioning our security assistance has a mixed history”. Pakistani officials are reportedly preparing a “detailed presentation” for the new Trump administration, and suggest Chief of Army Staff Bajwa may visit Washington once the new administration is in place. An Afghan High Peace Council advisor, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, was dismissed from his position after coming under fire for recent remarks in which he had described the Taliban as “angels of peace”. The hunting party of an unnamed Qatari prince was attacked by local villagers in the Musakhel district on Sunday; three security personnel were wounded. A local journalist was killed in a driveby shooting in the Kalat district in Balochistan on Thursday evening. A Spanish Red Cross staffer was freed in Kunduz after being kidnapped last month. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan defended his contacts with sectarian groups like Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, rebuffing criticism from the PPP; separately, on Monday the Islamabad High Court struck down the addition of a caretaker at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid to the Fourth Schedule list of terrorism suspects. Disputes over revenue sharing may forestall any agreement on FATA reforms, the Express Tribune reports, with provincial governments objecting to a dedicated fund for the agencies. Only around 72,000 of 550,000 registered internally displaced persons have been resettled, the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation warned on Sunday. Former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif will speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, as will Prime Minister Sharif and Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The PPP is reportedly scaling back protest plans against the government, but still plans to hold a rally in Lahore this week; former Pres. Zardari and Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will both visit the U.S. later in January. A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said the government was “still waiting” for a ruling from the Supreme Court on the dismissal by parliament of seven cabinet ministers in November, who continue to work in “acting” capacity. China transferred control over two ships to the Pakistan Navy at a ceremony on Saturday, for use in securing Gwadar port.

Pakistan — Security

  • US Relations: Speaking during defense secretary confirmation hearings last week, Gen. James Mattis said that he would “review all options” on Pakistani assistance, noting that “conditioning our security assistance has a mixed history”. Separately, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington told journalists on Friday that “cooperation between Pakistan and the US in the fight against terrorism will be further strengthened by revisiting the sale of F-16s and [Coalition Support Fund] issues”, and expressed hope that the new administration would mediate the conflict between India and Pakistan. The Express Tribune reports that Pakistani officials are “preparing a detailed presentation” for the new administration, and that Chief of Army Staff Bajwa will likely visit Washington “once the Trump administration settles down”. [Mattis Advanced Policy Questions (pdf)] [ET]
  • Qatari Prince Attacked: Dawn reports that a convoy carrying an unnamed Qatari prince was attacked in the Musakhel district of Balochistan on Sunday evening; he was unhurt, but three security personnel were wounded. The local district commissioner said that local villagers were responsible for the attack; the AP’s reporting ascribes the attack to a local landowner who objected to the hunting of houbara bustards, while Reuters reports that villagers were blocked from meeting with the visiting royal to appeal for donations to build a mosque, and subsequently turned violent.
  • Journalist Killed: Mohammad Jan Shahbaz Samalani, a journalist for the Quetta paper Qudrat and teacher at a government school in the Kalat district, was killed in a driveby shooting in Kalat on Thursday, police confirmed on Friday. The Committee to Protect Journalists called for an investigation on Saturday. [AFP]
  • Missing Activists: On Saturday, activist Jibran Nasir filed a Supreme Court petition seeking an investigation into the disappearance of four Pakistani activists since the start of the month, charging that they were the victims of “state enforced disappearances”.
  • CPEC Security: China transferred control over two ships to the Pakistani Navy at a ceremony in Gwadar on Saturday, to provide coastal security for the port facility; two more are planned for transfer in the future. China’s ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa to discuss CPEC security issues on Friday. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: A BBC Urdu service report on Saturday confirmed that the Sharif family’s London apartment had been purchased in the 1990s through an offshore business holding company run by Hussain Nawaz, the prime minister’s son, and reports that there has been no change of ownership since. His brother Hassan Nawaz served as a trustee, and sister Maryam Nawaz as a beneficiary; the PTI has alleged that Prime Minister Sharif was the true owner and beneficiary. On Sunday, Imran Khan led a rally in Dera Ghazi Khan, insisting that the prime minister step down; the PTI has planned rallies in Kasur on Jan 22 and Sahiwal on Jan 29. At Supreme Court hearings on Monday, lawyers for the prime minister argued that he had not lied during remarks before parliament last fall. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Interior Minister Defends Contacts with Sectarian Groups: In a press conference on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan continued to defend his meetings with leaders of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, saying that his PPP predecessors had done the same and insisting that sectarian groups should be distinguished from terrorist organizations. The PPP responded with a statement denouncing Nisar as a “spokesman for terrorist outfits”. Separately, on Monday the Islamabad High Court ordered the removal of Lal Masjid caretaker Manzoor Hussain from the ‘Fourth Schedule’ of terrorist suspects, ruling that the police had failed to provide sufficient proof. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Civil-Military Tensions: The Express Tribune reports that the prime minister’s office is “in a state of panic” after remarks last week by Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, apparently in reference to a low-profile inquiry into the leak last fall of comment suggesting a disconnect between military and civilian leaders over the targeting of militant groups. PML-N officials have reportedly been warned against authorized public commentary; security officials are said to be insistent that “someone has to pay the price” for the leak. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Saturday that the leak inquiry would be completed “within a few days”.
  • FATA Reforms: Dawn quotes anonymous senior officials who say that disputes over how to finance infrastructure development plans in the FATA and whether to set aside a dedicated 2% of the federally collected divisible pool of taxes for the agencies may forestall agreement on the FATA reform program. That program would see the area merged with Khyber Paktunkhwa, but continue to receive dedicated funds, coming out of the collective provincial share; the federal government would also continue to fund an Annual Development Programme in the FATA.
  • Tensions with India: In comments on Friday, Indian army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat warned that India would continue the use of “surgical strikes” across the border into Pakistan if “that offer of peace and tranquility is not reciprocated”. In a report to the Supreme Court on Saturday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that 135 Pakistani fishermen were currently being held by India for violating its territorial waters. In an interview on Sunday, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan would not accept “India’s hegemony” and would not hold talks “if there is no discussion on Kashmir”. [Dawn]
  • Former Army Chief to Address Davos: Former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif will speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, addressing at least three different panels. Prime Minister Sharif is also attending the forum and departed on Monday; Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy will co-chair the forum. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Monday, the Election Commission dismissed a disqualification petition against Imran Khan, citing petitioner Hashim Ali Bhutta’s failure to appear to make his case. The PPP is scaling back plans for a series of opposition rallies this month; chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will lead a protest between Lahore and Faisalabad on Jan 19. Former Pres. Zardari departed the country on Sunday for travel to Dubai, after which he will reportedly travel to the U.S. to attend the presidential inauguration this week and a farewell dinner with Pres. Obama. In Peshawar, dissident PTI activists called for intra-party elections to local leadership positions. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Karachi Port: A new deep-water container terminal under construction at Karachi Port will begin operations by mid-April, officials say, allowing for vessels roughly twice the size of the current maximum to dock and unload containers.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Dozens Arrested in Peshawar Raids [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Prosecution Data Shows Afghan Refugees Rarely Involved in Crimes [Dawn]
  • Charges Filed Against 61 in Dulmial Ahmadi Riots [Dawn]
  • Police Say No Leads on Large Azizabad Arms Cache [Dawn]
  • MQM-London Leader Arrested [ET] [Dawn]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Says Province Will Continue to Seek Ban on 94 Seminaries [Dawn]
  • Dutch Ambassador Warns of Loss of GSP-Plus Status if Executions Continue [ET]
  • Prime Minister Extends Fertilizer Subsidies [Dawn]
  • Cold Weather Drives Up Gas Shortages in Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa [Dawn] [ET]
  • Petrol Prices Hiked [Dawn] [ET]
  • NTDC Secures Financing for Thar-Matiari Power Transmission Line [ET]
  • Commentary: Survival in the Jungle – “Pakistan’s allegiance to rule of law and our right to liberty are contingent upon the whims of powerful individuals and institutions who claim exclusive right to determine the state’s narrative.” [Babar Sattar, The News]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kandahar Attack Aftermath: The bodies of four of the five UAE diplomats killed in last week’s bombing of the governor’s compound in Kandahar were repatriated on Sunday; on Saturday, a UAE delegation arrived in the province to conduct an investigation into the incident, in which the Taliban has denied involvement. On Sunday, the UAE ambassador to Bahrain pledged that the UAE would continue its assistance program in Afghanistan despite the attack. However, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the Head of General Security for the Emirate, said on Twitter that Afghan security forces were “directly responsible” for the blast, and called for aid to be delivered only through the auspices of the UN. On Monday, Hashim Karzai, a nephew to the wife of the former president who was among those injured in the attack, succumbed to his injuries after being hospitalized in India. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Red Cross Staffer Freed: On Sunday, the Red Cross Afghanistan delegation announced that a Spanish staffer kidnapped in Kunduz last month had been freed and reunited with his team in the province; no further details were released. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: At least seven civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in the Pachiragam district in Nangarhar on Sunday, the Ministry of Interior announced. On Friday, Islamic State-affiliated fighters reportedly destroyed at least 65 homes in the Kot district of Nangarhar province; a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense vowed to reestablish control in the area. On Sunday, officials reported that at least 13 seminary teachers had been kidnapped by the Islamic State in the Haska Mina district. Helmand provincial officials reported that at least 15 Taliban fighters were killed in U.S. airstrikes in the Musa Qala district on Sunday, reportedly including top financial officials and recruiters, and the head of a Taliban military unit in Kandahar. On Monday, Abdul Safa Sanayee, a government official working on private sector development, was killed in the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri; the Taliban claimed responsibility. [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Pakistan: Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa spoke by phone with Pres. Ghani on Sunday; Pakistan’s military press arm said that Bajwa “pressed upon Afghanistan to cooperate in stopping the to and fro movement of terrorists from across the border” and “reiterated Pakistan’s cooperation with [the] Afghan govt and people to eliminate the scourge of terrorism” in the region. In a statement on Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry insisted that it was “not appropriate to blame others for the adversities due to the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan”. On Monday, Pres. Ghani’s office said that he had told Bajwa that he wanted “serious talks” about future relations between the two countries, and had noted that those responsible for recent attacks in Afghanistan “lived, were recruited and operated freely in Pakistan and no action was taken against them”. [ET] [ET]
  • High Peace Council Advisor Fired: Abdul Hakim Mujahid, an advisor to the Afghan High Peace Council whose recent remarks praising the Taliban as “angels of peace” had drawn public criticism, including from the office of the president, was removed from his position on Sunday, a spokesman for the Chief Executive’s office said. During debate on Sunday, some Meshrano Jirga senators called for the dissolution of the High Peace Council, saying it had failed to make any significant breakthrough. High Peace Council advisor Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar laid blame on Pakistan for the failure of outreach efforts, and a spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said that the Taliban had “rejected the call for peace and they must be eliminated”. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • IDP Resettlement: On Sunday, the Ministry for Refugees and Repatriation warned that only 72,000 out of roughly 550,000 registered internally displaced persons had been resettled in their home regions; in total, more than 1.3 million are believed to have been displaced inside the country.
  • Cabinet Dispute: Government officials have refused to provide journalists with a copy of the letter sent to the Supreme Court seeking a ruling on parliament’s dismissal in November of seven cabinet members, who continue to serve in an acting capacity; a spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said Saturday that the government was “still waiting” for a Supreme Court ruling.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • In Jawzjan, Bereaved Women Join Fight Against Islamic State [Reuters]
  • American University of Afghanistan Plans to Reopen in March [TOLO]
  • Russia Calls on Taliban to Hold Talks [Khaama Press]
  • Election Observers Complain of Slow Commission Progress [TOLO]
  • Interior Minister Meets with Graduating ANP Cadets [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Russia Returns to Afghanistan – “Russian concerns clearly go beyond Islamic State and the drug trade. It sees the residual U.S. presence in Afghanistan as a latent threat.” [Arif Rafiq, The National Interest]
  • Commentary: Waiting for Release: Will Afghans Cleared to Leave Guantanamo Get Out Before Trump Gets In? – “Among those waiting to see if their cases go through in time are three Afghans, money changer Wali Mohammed, chokidar Abdul Zahir and seller of plastic flowers Bostan Karim.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PPP to Oppose Military Courts Extension; Funerals and Protests Held After Kandahar Attack

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Topline

  • Former Pres. Zardari has directed PPP leaders to oppose an extension of the military courts system, the Express Tribune reports. Khyber Paktunkhwa officials are reportedly considering legislation to reduce the independence of the provincial police chief. Funeral services were held for several victims of Tuesday’s attack on the Kandahar governor’s compound; former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh held protests outside the Pakistani embassy in Kabul on Friday, blaming it for the attack. Lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif acknowledged “inadvertent omissions” in his remarks to parliament regarding his overseas business holdings, but argued he could not be disqualified for the Supreme Court for those statements, and insisted he had no involvement in his son’s overseas business activities. Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor denounced remarks by an advisor to the Afghan High Peace Council, who had praised the Taliban as “angels for peace” and criticized the late Jamiat-e-Islami leader Burhanuddin Rabbani. The Pakistani senate committee on human rights is considering reforms to the blasphemy laws. The Afghan Ministry of Interior claimed to have destroyed two Taliban “IED factories” in operations in Nimroz, and to have killed “at least twenty foreign insurgents”.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts: The Express Tribune reports that former Pres. Zardari has directed PPP leaders to “strongly oppose any move” to extend the tenure of the military courts system; Zardari met with PPP national assembly opposition leader Khurshid Shah, asking him to consult with other opposition parties to form an united front on the issue. On Thursday, the Peshawar High Court halted the execution of another man sentenced to death by the courts in order to hear his appeal. [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Police Reforms: The Express Tribune reports that Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak and the PTI leadership in the province is considering legislation to reduce the independence of the provincial police chief after objections from lawmakers who sought to reassert control over police postings.
  • Indian Soldier’s Release Under Consideration: Indian state minister for defense Subhash Bhamre told reporters on Thursday that Pakistan was preparing to release Chandu Chavan, an Indian soldier detained last year after crossing the border into Pakistan; Pakistani sources tell Dawn that he remains under investigation, however.
  • Missing Activists: On Thursday, senate chairman Raza Rabbani directed that the interior ministry present a report to the senate by Friday on the whereabouts of at least five missing activists who have disappeared over the past week.
  • PK-661 Crash Report: Civil Aviation Authority officials testified before the senate on Thursday that the black box flight recorder recovered after the crash of PIA flight PK-661 in early December showed no signs of engine failure until immediately prior to the crash, and suggested that “no effort was made to land the aircraft before the crash”. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: Speaking before the court on Thursday, lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif defended his remarks regarding his family’s business holdings before the national assembly, acknowledging that Sharif had made “inadvertent omissions” but saying he had not lied and was not under sworn oath at the time. They also insisted that the prime minister was not responsible for and had no connection to his son’s overseas business. In arguments on Friday, lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan argued that the court could not disqualify the prime minister. Speaking at inauguration ceremonies for a new health program in Narowal on Thursday, Sharif dismissed politicians who “tell lies on a daily basis” and emphasized that “this nation is progressing… don’t hinder the way of this development”. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Blasphemy Law Review: Reuters reports the senate committee on human rights is preparing a review of the country’s blasphemy laws, and is considering requiring an investigation of complaints before registering a case, and reducing the mandatory penalty from death to life imprisonment. The head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, Tahir Ashrafi, warned against changing the current law.
  • Musharraf Considering Another Return: Lawyers for former Pres. Musharraf requested that an anti-terrorism court hearing charges against his involvement in the detention of judges in 2007 guarantee his security as a condition of his appearing before the court at the next hearing, scheduled for Feb 9.  The court, which has previously issued warrants for Musharraf’s arrest, ordered that security arrangements be made. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Federal Government Rejects Sindh Proposal for Action Against ‘Suspected’ Seminaries [Dawn]
  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Jhelum Garrison [ET] [Dawn]
  • Rangers Chief Briefs Interior Minister on Karachi Operation [ET]
  • Sindh Governor Buried in Karachi [Dawn] [ET]
  • Former Khyber Paktunkhwa Assembly Speaker and PPP Leader Abdul Akbar Khan Dies [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Stays Execution of Schizophrenic Man [AFP] [AJE]
  • Finance Minister Meets with Google Director [APP]
  • PTI Criticizes Rising Debt Burden [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Other Attacks and Operations: Ministry of Interior officials said on Thursday that they had destroyed two Taliban IED factories in operations in Nimroz province’s Khashrud district, and that operations had also destroyed a compound used by the Taliban shadow governor and killed “at least twenty foreign insurgents”. TOLO notes that the Taliban remain active in the Baghlan district where several Hazara coal miners were killed last week; the Taliban denied responsibility for that attack.
  • NATO Assistance: Speaking during a meeting with New Zealand’s prime minister in Brussels on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that “the aim of our presence in Afghanistan is to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists”, and thanked New Zealand for its support for the mission there.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Funeral Services for Victims of Kandahar Attack: Funeral services were held in Kabul on Thursday for senator Seraj Khan Safari, member of parliament Baz Mohammad Jawzjani, and diplomat Yama Quraishi, all killed in Tuesday’s attack at the governor’s compound in Kandahar. Chief Executive Abdullah and the speakers of the upper and lower houses of parliament attended the services. Former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh led a protest rally outside the Pakistani embassy in Kabul on Friday, accusing it of involvement in Tuesday’s attacks in Kabul, Helmand, and Kandahar; the Pakistani foreign ministry complained that the protests blocked diplomatic staff members’ ability to enter the building, and suggested that Saleh’s “strong links to India” were the source of the protest.
  • Noor Criticizes High Peace Council Advisor: On Friday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor criticized remarks last week by Abdul Hakim Mujahid, an advisor to the Afghan Peace Council, who had denounced the late Jamiat-e-Islami leader Burhanuddin Rabbani and praised the Taliban as “angels of peace”. Noor said that “enemies inside the system… should be put behind the bars for insulting the national martyrs and killing the innocent Afghan people on daily basis”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • TOLO Awarded AFP Prize for Reporting After January Attack [TOLO]
  • Afghan Trade Delegation Raises Objections to ‘Sub-standard’ Pakistani Goods [ET]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Release AUA Hostage Video; Investigation Concludes 33 Civilians Killed in Nov Kunduz Clash

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Topline

  • The Taliban released a hostage video of two professors, one American and one Australian, kidnapped from the American University in Afghanistan last August. A U.S. military investigation concluded that 33 Afghan civilians were killed during a joint operation in Kunduz last November, blaming the Taliban for using those civilians as shields. Afghan officials continue to investigate Tuesday’s attack on the governor’s compound in Kandahar. Khaama Press reports three Iranian nationals have been arrested in Herat on charges of plotting assassinations of unspecified targets. Hearings continued on Thursday on Prime Minister Sharif’s overseas business and real estate assets, with judges saying that the burden of proof was on the prime minister’s lawyers to prove he had no association with the businesses. Senior officials in China’s Xinjiang province called for tightened border security with Pakistan and Afghanistan after a recent attack in the town of Hotan. The PML-N government will hold another briefing session with opposition parliamentary leaders on Jan 17 to discuss the extension of the military courts system. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and Punjab finance minister Aisha Ghaus Pasha met on Wednesday, opposing the creation of a special fund from the divisible pool of federally-collected taxes to support additional security requirements for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and other projects.

Pakistan — Security

  • China-Pakistan Border Security: In remarks to China Daily news on Wednesday, senior Xinjiang provincial officials called for tightened security at the province’s borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, following a recent attack and followup raid in the town of Hotan. [TOI]
  • Military Courts: The government will hold another briefing session for parliamentary opposition leaders on Jan 17 to discuss reasons for extending the now-expired mandate for the military court system; a spokesman for the PPP said the party was “in principal” opposed to an extension, but would wait for a fuller briefing.
  • Missing Activists: The family of missing social worker and Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan president Samar Abbas say they will file a police case in Islamabad regarding his disappearance over the weekend; Karachi police declined their attempts to do so and referred them to the capital. [Reuters]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: During Supreme Court hearings on the Panama Papers on Thursday, lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif and his family argued that the prime minister had nothing to do with London apartments and the family’s Dubai factory; judges pressed the counsel, saying the burden of proof was on him to prove there was no association. Former Pres. Zardari will reportedly meet with Prime Minister Sharif to discuss the issue in the near future. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Governor’s Death: Funeral services for the late Sindh governor Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui will be held on Friday; Sindh Assembly speaker Agha Siraj Durrani will serve as acting governor until a replacement is named.
  • Corruption Investigations: Former Balochistan finance secretary Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani submitted a plea bargain application before an accountability court in Quetta on Wednesday, after earlier securing approval for the agreement from the National Accountability Bureau. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Sindh Chief Minister Opposes CPEC Fund from NFC: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah met with Punjab Finance Minister Aisha Ghaus Pasha on Wednesday, and issued a statement afterwards objecting to the federal government’s proposed creation of a special “national security fund” to pay for the security of projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor out of the federally-collected divisible pool of taxes. Shah said that the proposal was “unconstitutional”, calling on all the provincial governments to oppose it, and noted that Sindh had already raised a security force of its own. Pasha is quoted as having endorsed Shah’s position. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Holds Talks on Oman Trade [Dawn] [APP]
  • Japanese Citizen Reportedly Commits Suicide in Multan [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister’s Health Program Launched in Narowal [Dawn]
  • Seven Workers Die in Lahore Orange Line Fire [Dawn] [ET]
  • Labor Unions Demand Safety Facilities at Gadani Shipyard [Dawn]
  • Sindh Assembly Members Call for Exchange with Afghan Lawmakers [ET]
  • Commentary: Redefining Pakistan – “Pakistani politics—defined through the decades by military dominance and two corrupt parties alternately holding power—requires a transformation.” [Madiha Afzal, Brookings]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Release Hostage Video: On Wednesday, the Taliban released video dated from Jan 1 of two hostages kidnapped from the American University in Afghanistan in early August 2016, in which they appealed for their release in an exchange of prisoners. Timothy Weeks, and Australian, and Kevin King, an American, were both teachers at the university; acting university president David Sedney issued a statement calling for their immediate release. The two men are believed to be held by the Haqqani network; U.S. special operations forces had attempted a rescue mission in September, but were not able to locate the men. [AP] [TOLO]
  • Review Concludes 33 Civilians Killed in Kunduz Operation: A U.S. military investigation into a joint operation carried out in early November 2016 in the Kunduz village of Boz Qandahari concluded that 33 civilians were killed and another 27, which they attributed to the Taliban’s decision to “hide amongst civilians”; two U.S. soldiers and three Afghan commandos were also killed in the battle, and another four soldiers and 11 commandos wounded. Kunduz officials tell the AP they believe more than 50 people were killed, and dispute higher coalition estimates of Taliban death tolls. [WAPO] [TOLO] [Resolute Support Statement]
  • Tuesday Attacks Aftermath: Afghan officials are investigating Tuesday’s attack at the Kandahar governor’s compound; the WSJ notes that wounded UAE ambassador Jumaa al Kaabi had previously expressed concerns over local officials’ provision of public information about the timing of his visit. Kaabi has returned to the UAE for medical treatment, and governor Humayoun Azizi will reportedly receive treatment in Germany. National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar, who is leading the investigation, told a press conference on Wednesday that the attack was “perpetrated by the foreign enemies of Afghanistan against foreign guests who had come to the province to help the people”. Following the attacks in Kandahar, Kabul, and Helmand, members of parliament criticized the government’s inability to guarantee security during a session on Wednesday. In a statement on Wednesday, Pakistan’s chief of army staff condemned the attacks, echoing an earlier foreign ministry statement. The NYT profiles Abdul Ali Shamsi, the Kandahar deputy governor who was among those killed in the attack there. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
  • Iranians Arrested: Khaama Press reported on Wednesday that three Iranian nationals were arrested in Herat on charges of planning assassinations of unspecified targets; they have not been named, and details, including the timing of the arrests, are otherwise limited.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Refugee Repatriation: UN officials report that more than 9,400 undocumented Afghans returned home from Iran and Pakistan during the first week of the year, many of them young men deported from Iran. Returnee numbers are expected to rise during the coming months as weather improves, with another half a million refugees projected to return from Pakistan by the end of the year.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Four Taliban Killed in Kapisa Operations [TOLO]
  • Report: High-Risk List January 2017 – “While all eight risk areas outlined in this report threaten reconstruction, the questionable capabilities of the Afghan security forces and pervasive corruption are the most critical.” [SIGAR (pdf)]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Double Bombing Strikes Near Afghan Parliament; UAE Ambassador Wounded in Separate Attack

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Topline

  • A double bombing struck outside the Kabul parliament building on Tuesday, killing at least 38 people and wounding a hundred or more; the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which they said had targeted a bus carrying intelligence agency staff. Also on Tuesday, a bombing at a guesthouse at the Kandahar governor’s compound wounded the governor and the visiting UAE ambassador to Afghanistan; at least five Emirati diplomats were killed, as well as the deputy governor and an Afghan member of parliament. The Taliban denied responsibility for that attack; at a press conference on Wednesday, Kandahar provincial police chief Abdul Raziq blamed the ISI and the Haqqani network, and said that explosives had been planted inside couches in the building during recent renovations. The NYT reports that an earlier attack on a building in Lashkar Gah on Tuesday targeted the home of a former Taliban commander who had switched sides to join a new government-backed militia aimed at carrying out insurgent activities in Taliban-held territory in Helmand; Pres. Ghani’s special envoy for Helmand security Abdul Jabar Qahraman confirmed that he was backing the formation of such a force but denied that those targeted were members. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired a corps commanders meet on Tuesday, his first since taking command; the military’s public relations armed noted the commanders’ support for the now-expired military court system. PPP and PTI officials were hesitant to endorse an extension of the courts. Another left-wing activist is reported to have disappeared in the last week; in a senate session on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan pledged that the government was seeking the recovery of four others reported to have gone missing. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told the senate on Wednesday that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif had not sought permission from the Ministry of Defense for appointment as head of a new Saudi military alliance, and would be obligated to do so. The PTI’s lead lawyer concluded arguments in the Panama Papers case on Wednesday; the Express Tribune reports the PTI may switch counsels again.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts: On Tuesday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired his first ever meeting of army corps commanders; the military’s spokesman said that the commanders “appreciated [the] performance of military courts during the prescribed duration which resulted in reduction of terrorism”. With discussions underway about a possible renewal of their mandate, PPP senator Saeed Ghani tells Reuters that “we are against any extension for military courts”; PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah was vaguer in his comments to the Express Tribune, and a PTI spokesman said that the party had “not taken a final decision”. The PML-N lacks the two-thirds majority in the national assembly necessary for another constitutional amendment. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Missing Activists: Dawn reports that Karachi activist Samar Abbas, president of the Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan, has been missing since Saturday, the fifth such left-wing activist to disappear in the past week. During a senate briefing on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan vowed that their recovery was a “priority of the government”, adding that “this government is not in the business of disappearing people and we will not tolerate such disappearances while we are in power”. Opposition members staged a walkout during parts of Nisar’s remarks after he suggested that sectarian groups like Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat should not be equated to terrorist organizations. [ET]
  • No Permission Sought for Sharif Appointment: In a response to questions from Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif stated on Wednesday that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif had not in fact sought permission from the government to take a position heading a Saudi-led military coalition, and that he would have to do so, saying “the rules laid down by the Ministry of Defence for post-retirement assignments of army officers will be applicable equally to Raheel Sharif”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: PTI lawyer Naeem Bokhari concluded his arguments before the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers hearings on Wednesday, seeking to make the case that Maryam Nawaz was a dependent of her father and was hiding assets for him through the purchase of London real estate; PTI sources report that the party is unhappy with Bokhari’s representation and may seek a replacement for him as lead counsel. At a press conference on Tuesday, Imran Khan called for the Supreme Court to enforce Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution and expel parliamentarians who did not meet those articles’ vaguely-defined moral standards of behavior. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Governor Dies: Dawn reports that Sindh governor Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui succumbed to illness on Wednesday; he had been hospitalized since shortly after his appointment in November 2016.
  • FATA Reforms: Secretary for the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions Muhammad Shehzad Arbab told an audience at the University of Peshawar on Wednesday that FATA’s merger into Khyber Paktunkhwa province would gain it an additional Rs 90 billion in budget allocations for the next ten years, and a dedicated 3% share of revenues from the National Finance Commission.
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports that the PPP is planning to sold a series of public gatherings around Punjab beginning this month; party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is currently conducting interviews for prospective PPP officeholders in Punjab. MQM leaders accused Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah of not devolving authority to the Karachi mayor’s office, saying they planned to file a court case over the issue, and warning of future protests.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Balochistan Government Plans Legislation for Protections for Gwadar Residents [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • World Bank Dam Arbitration Decision Expected by End of Month [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa in Talks for World Bank Loans on Three Hydropower Projects [ET]
  • PTI Calls for Retraction of New NAB Plea Bargain Ordinance [Dawn]
  • Sindh Police Chief Plans Station House Officer Reshuffle [Dawn]
  • Pakistan ‘Will Be Recognized’ as a ‘Minority-Friendly’ Country, Prime Minister Vows [APP]
  • Remittances Drop 2.27% During First Six Months of Fiscal Year to $9.46 Billion [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Double Bombing Strikes Near Parliament: At least 38 people were killed and nearly a hundred people were wounded in a double bombing attack in Kabul near the parliament building on Tuesday. Reports indicate that a suicide bomber initially detonated his explosives, and a suicide car bomber targeted first responders afterwards. Many of the victims were parliament building staff, and four police officers were among those killed; at least one member of parliament is reported to have been wounded. The Taliban issued a claim of responsibility, claiming to have targeted a bus carrying NDS intelligence agency workers; the Guardian cites unidentified “Western security reports” that appear to confirm a bus carrying intelligence personnel was providing security at the parliament building. [RFE/RL] [AP] [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • UAE Ambassador Wounded in Attack on Kandahar Governor: Also on Tuesday, a bombing at a guesthouse in the provincial governor’s compound in Kandahar wounded both Governor Humayun Azizi and the UAE ambassador to Afghanistan, Jumaa al Kaabi, who was visiting to discuss Emirati health assistance projects in the province. Details are sketchy and initial casualty reports range from 7-13, with some suggesting the toll may be much higher. The UAE confirmed on Tuesday night that Kaabi had been wounded and that five of its diplomats had been killed in a “heinous” attack. Kandahar deputy governor Abdul Ali Shamsi; Yama Quraishi, an Afghan diplomat to the United States; and Baz Mohammad Jawzjani, a member of parliament, were among those killed. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, and no claim of responsibility has been reported; National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar visited the city on Wednesday to lead an investigation. Kandahar provincial police chief Abdul Raziq, who was present but unharmed in the attack, held a press conference on Wednesday saying that the Haqqani network and ISI had carried out the attack, and saying that insurgents had hidden explosives in couches inside the guesthouse during recent renovations. [Reuters] [AFP] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: In addition to Tuesday’s other major attacks, the NYT adds additional details to previously-noted reports of an attack on a guesthouse in Lashkar Gah on Tuesday; the NYT reports that the building was the home of Hajji Khudaidad, a former Taliban commander reported to have defected to join the government and form a counter-insurgent force to fight in Taliban-controlled areas. Both Khudaidad and Taliban splinter faction commander Mullah Ibrahim were reportedly among those wounded. Abdul Jabar Qahraman, Pres. Ghani’s special envoy for Helmand security, confirmed that he was behind the organization of the new militia force, but denied that those targeted on Tuesday were part of it. On Wednesday, a roadside bombing was reported near a hotel in Jalalabad, targeting a passing police vehicle; no casualties were reported.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Calls for Enforcement of Kabul-Tehran Water Treaty [TOLO]
  • New Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Controls Slow Trade to a Crawl [AFP]
  • Afghan Lawmakers Investigate Illegal Logging in Kunar [RFE/RL]
  • Ahmad Zia Massoud Accuses Government of Nepotistic Cabinet Appointments [TOLO]
  • Labor Union Criticizes Ministry for Lack of Job Creation [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Scattered Political Power and Deteriorating Security Test Herat’s Dynamism – “While Ismail Khan, the self-styled ‘amir of the west’, is still the preeminent figure, political power is no longer concentrated only in his hands, and the new actors are behaving differently from the old-timers.” [S. Reza Kazemi, AAN]
  • Commentary: The Crimes of Seal Team Six – “Hidden behind the heroic narratives is a darker, more troubling story of ‘revenge ops,’ unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities — a pattern of criminal violence that emerged soon after the Afghan war began and was tolerated and covered up by the command’s leadership.” [Matthew Cole, The Intercept]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Tests Submarine-Launched Cruise Missile; ‘Safe Zone’ for Taliban Proposed

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Topline

  • Pakistan tested its first submarine-launched cruise missile on Monday, in what the Pakistani described as proof of “second strike capability”. A meeting of top PML-N and military officials on Monday agreed to revive the military court system, but several opposition parties hesitated to embrace a renewal of the courts during a meeting on Tuesday. Hearings continue into the Panama Papers. The AFP cites Kandahar provincial police chief Abdul Raziq and an anonymous Afghan government source, who say the government is supporting a “safe zone” for Taliban commanders and fighters seeking to relocate from Pakistan, so as to “relieve the pressure” on them to continue the insurgency. NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson visited North Waziristan for meetings with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Monday. A suicide bombing in Lashkar Gah killed at least seven people on Tuesday; the target was reported to be a meeting between intelligence officials and Taliban insurgents seeking to reconcile with the government. The Pakistani government is considering reclassifying loans under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project as foreign direct investment. The Afghan finance ministry reports that it collected approximately $2.5 billion in revenues in the last fiscal year, around $500 million above target. Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center sentenced a former interior ministry general to 14 years in prison for accepting bribes for fuel procurement contracts; speaking separately, Pres. Ghani vowed to crack down on corruption in the military services, saying as many as 700 procurement staff in the ministry of defense had been fired in the past six months.

Pakistan — Security

  • Submarine Cruise Missile Test: On Monday, Pakistan conducted its first ever test of a nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile, with a range of around 450 km. The Pakistani military released a statement saying the test proved Pakistan’s “second strike capability” and was a “manifestation of the strategy of measured response to nuclear strategies and postures being adopted in Pakistan’s neighborhood”. [Reuters] [ET]
  • Military Courts: A meeting of top military and PML-N officials agreed to revive the military court system “for a period all political parties can agree to”, Dawn reports. Law Minister Zahid Hamid met with parliamentary party leaders on Tuesday to discuss the issue; the PPP and JUI-F both reportedly opposed an immediate extension; the PTI and JI both suggested that the government should focus on the criminal justice system first, with PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying that the government was “using the military as a crutch”. Separately on Monday, the senate unanimously passed an amendment to the National Counter Terrorism Authority law, requiring NACTA’s executive committee to meet at least once a quarter. [Dawn] [ET] [Reuters]
  • Activist Disappearances: Senators and national assembly members expressed concern during parliamentary debate on Monday over the disappearance of at least four activists over the past week, demanding a briefing from the interior minister. Demonstrations are planned in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore.
  • Gen. Sharif’s Saudi Military Appointment Questioned: During senate proceedings on Monday, Chairman Raza Rabbani pressed Defense Minister Khawaja Asif to confirm whether or not the government had approved former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif’s reported acceptance of a position to a lead a Saudi Islamic military alliance; Dawn reports the government will respond by Wednesday. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: During Monday’s hearings on the Panama Papers, presiding judge Asif Saeed Khosa suggested that the key question involved was whether Prime Minister Sharif had been honest in his statements regarding his overseas business holdings and whether those statements contradicted each other. At Tuesday’s hearings, discussions center on the origins of Sharif’s son Hassan Nawaz’s business assets. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: PPP party leaders tell the Express Tribune that former Pres. Zardari did not consult them on his decision to enter parliamentary polls through by-elections from a safe PPP seat. Two former PPP ministers, Syed Faisal Saleh Hayyat and Khalid Ahmed Khan Kharral, announced plans to rejoin the party after meeting with Zardari on Monday.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Chinese Investments: The Express Tribune that the government is considering reclassifying Chinese loans under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor program as foreign direct investment; in the last financial year, China made only $594 million in direct investments, but pledged $9.4 billion in loans and disbursed $1.1 billion of those loans. The use of Chinese-manufactured goods has also raised the import bill in Pakistan’s current account balance.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Announces Rs 180 Billion Package to Boost Textile Exports [APP] [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Hears Challenge to Interior Ministry Control of NADRA [Dawn]
  • Gilgit Baltistan Opposed to Indian Proposals for New Route Crossings [ET]
  • 11 More Families Report Abductions in Turkey [Dawn]
  • Government Seeks to Upgrade Gas Pipeline Transmission Network [APP]
  • Census to Count Transgender People for First Time [Reuters]

Afghanistan — Security

  • ‘Safe Zone’ for Taliban Proposed: The AFP reports that Kandahar provincial police chief Abdul Raziq told a gathering of tribal elders and religious scholars last month that he was encouraging the Taliban to return to Afghanistan, saying “we should make a safe zone for them and their families” and that “we can no longer rely on foreign governments and embassies to end the war. The Taliban belong to this country, they are sons of this soil.” Raziq did not respond to an interview request, but another government source confirms that the government is seeking to “separate a territory for them to come with their families” so that “they will be relieved from the pressure of Pakistan”.
  • Border Security with Pakistan: NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa in Miram Shah, North Waziristan on Monday, where he was briefed on ongoing military operations in the FATA. The military quoted Bajwa as saying that “there is a need for a bilateral security mechanism for the Pakistan-Afghanistan border” and praising the Resolute Support mission.
  • Attacks and Operations: At least seven people were killed and six wounded when a suicide bomber detonated near a guesthouse used by the provincial intelligence chief in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, on Tuesday. TOLO reports that a meeting between intelligence officials and insurgent leaders seeking to reconcile with the government was underway at the time of the attack. Separately, the Ministry of Defense claimed to have killed 19 Taliban fighters in operations in the Gereshk and Garmser districts on Tuesday. Taliban fighters attacked multiple checkposts in Zabul’s Arghandab district on Sunday evening, killing at least four security personnel. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations: On Monday, the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center sentenced former Ministry of Interior deputy chief of policy General Wase Rauofi for accepting bribes in connection to a fuel supply contract; he received a 14-year prison sentence, but continues to maintain his innocence. At a separate ceremony at the Ministry of Defense on Monday, Pres. Ghani vowed to end corruption in the military services, saying that as many as 700 staff from the ministry’s Procurement Authority had been removed in the past six months. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Revenues: Afghan finance ministry officials tell Reuters and the WSJ that they collected roughly $2.5 billion in revenues during the previous fiscal year, $500 million above target and a 35% increase from the previous year. Customs duties provide nearly half of total tax revenue, and Finance Minister Eklil Hakimi reports that nearly a quarter of the country’s customs officers have been fired. Despite the increase in revenue, the World Bank estimates Afghanistan’s gross fiscal debt at around 18% of GDP, up from the previous year. Both the WSJ and Reuters note complaints from businesses about the increased tax collections; the main business receipts tax rate was double to 4% at the end of 2015.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Justice Minister Says Elections a Requirement Before Holding Loya Jirga [TOLO]
  • Afghan-Pakistan Trade Drops to $1.5 Billion [TOLO]
  • Japanese Foreign Minister Meets Ghani [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Military Court System Expires; Hazara Miners Attacked in Baghlan

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Topline

  • The two-year sunset period for Pakistan’s military court system expired on Saturday, without extension; of 274 closed-door hearings, 161 resulted in death penalties and the remainder in prison terms. Parliamentary leaders will meet in the national assembly this week to discuss future legislation on the courts. Gunmen attacked a group of Hazara coal miners returning from a mine in Baghlan to homes in Daikundi province on Saturday; between seven and thirteen are reported to have been killed in what survivors suggest was a sectarian-motivated attack. U.S. and NATO military officials confirmed the deployment of around 300 U.S. Marines to replace an army unit training and advising Afghan forces in Helmand, to take place in the spring. NATO also announced the deployment of around 200 NATO troops, mostly Italian, to Farah province. At least four Pakistani left-wing activists have gone missing in the past week, and are believed to have been abducted. Pakistan’s defense minister said that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif has been appointed to head a Saudi Islamic military alliance formed in 2015; Saudi officials have not confirmed that account. On Monday, PTI lawyers made final arguments before the Supreme Court on the Panama Papers and their motions for Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification. Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch claimed on Friday that an agreement had been reached regarding the merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa, but JUI-F FATA leaders held a rally on Sunday warning of protests if FATA was not given separate provincial status. A spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami said that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar would return to Afghanistan following the release of HIG prisoners and facilitation of the return of HIG-affiliated refugees from Pakistan, and suggested that international approval of his de-listing from a UN sanctions blacklist was not necessary for him to travel to Afghanistan. Pres. Mamnoon Hussain issued an executive ordinance on Saturday barring any future recipient of a plea bargain with the National Accountability Bureau from serving in government office. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Works signed an agreement for the construction of an Asian Development Bank-financed, Chinese-built road project linking Bamiyan and Baghlan provinces.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts Legislation Expires Without Renewal: In a statement on Sunday, the military’s spokesman confirmed the expiration of the special military court system established under the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to try terrorist suspects, whose two-year sunset period expired the day prior. All trials were held behind closed doors; of 274 cases referred to the courts, 161 individuals were given death penalties, and 113 sentenced to prison terms. Only twelve executions have been carried out to date. Dawn notes that at least five cases involved individuals previously reported to have gone “missing”, and cites an anonymous source who says that at least 150 of those sentenced by the courts were previously detained by the military. The Express Tribune reports that a National Action Plan review committee meeting of civilian and military officials, the first since Chief of Army Staff Bajwa took office, will be held “in the coming days”. In a separate report, an anonymous senior military source says that General Bajwa would continue the “overarching” security objectives set by his predecessor, and accepted domestic counterterrorism initiatives as “the new normal”. In the national assembly, parliamentary leaders have been called for a meeting on Jan 11 to discuss future legislation on military courts.
  • Activists Disappear: Salman Haider, an activist and professor at Fatima Jinnah Women University in Islamabad, has gone missing since Friday evening, his family members report. Three other activists, all active on left-wing social media, have been reported missing in the past week, the AFP reports; no claim of responsibility has been reported, and a security source denied involvement. Several PPP national assembly members highlighted concern over Haider’s disappearance in a motion on Monday. [Dawn] [AP]
  • Former Army Chief to Head Saudi Alliance: Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told a GEO News interview on Friday that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif had been appointed as the head of a Saudi-led “Islamic military alliance” first announced in December 2015; Pakistan did not formally join the alliance at the time. Sharif, the Pakistani military, and the Saudi government have not commented on the report, and there are few details about the nature of Sharif’s role. Asif suggested that Sharif “must have” received clearance to take the position, but provided no details. Shia political groups in Pakistan criticized the move, which was endorsed by Sunni sectarian groups such as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. [Guardian] [Reuters]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: Speaking during Panama Papers hearings on Friday, presiding judge  Asif Saeed Khosa suggested that the burden of proof was on the Sharif family to establish the legality of the money trail used to purchase its overseas real estate assets. Judges Ejaz Afzal Khan and Sheikh Azmat Saeed Sheikh dissented from that view, however, saying that the court was “not a trial court”, and that the onus lay on the PTI to prove their allegations. Imran Khan led a PTI rally in Bahawalpur on Sunday, reiterating corruption charges against the PML-N leadership. The PTI’s lawyer Naeem Bukhari made his final arguments before the court on Monday; in comments, the judges suggested that he had failed to substantiate charges against the prime minister’s family, and rebuffed the introduction of a previous corruption case that had been closed by the National Accountability Bureau and the Lahore High Court, saying the issue should be raised with the NAB instead. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • FATA Reforms: Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch told Dawn on Friday that the JUI-F and Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party had dropped previous objections to the merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa province; he did not provide further details on how their concerns might have been addressed. But JUI-F leaders in the FATA held a rally on Sunday, rejecting the proposed merger and warning of a protest movement if FATA was not granted separate provincial status. [ET] [ET]
  • Tensions with India: Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday and presented a dossier containing charges of Indian interference within Pakistan. Guterres reiterated an offer made by his predecessor Ban Ki Moon to serve as an “honest broker” in the India-Pakistan dispute. In a separate meeting with a delegation of British and European parliament members, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan described India as “the biggest hurdle in the way of regional peace”. Three civilians were killed in an attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir on Monday. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Plea Bargain Restrictions: On Saturday, President Mamnoon Hussain issued an executive ordinance that would disbar public office holders who secure plea agreements with the National Accountability Bureau from holding that office for life; the ordinance will only affect future agreements going forward. Finance Minister Dar and Law Minister Zahid Hamid told a press conference on Saturday that they would seek to convert the ordinance into legislation, with debate beginning in the senate on Monday. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Operation: Former Malir district Senior Superintendent of Police Rao Anwar was reinstated to his position on the order of Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Friday; he had been suspended following a raid on MQM leader Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hasan’s in September 2016. Separately, an accountability court reissued an arrest warrant for former provincial information minister Sharjeel Memon. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports some PML-N leaders are continuing to seek to recruit former PTI leader Javed Hashmi to rejoin the PML-N; Prime Minister Sharif is said to be hesitant for Hashmi to do so, due to concern over a backlash from the security services. Relations between the Jamaat-e-Islami and the PTI have been strained by the former’s position that accountability should be broadly pursued, rather than focusing on the prime minister and his family. Retired Lt. Colonel Sardar Muhammad Ayub Khan, an assembly member from Toba Tek Singh, was appointed to the Punjab provincial cabinet on Saturday and given the counter-terrorism portfolio. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and former Pres. Zardari were re-elected unopposed to their party leadership positions in intra-party polls on Sunday. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Revenues: The Express Tribune notes that the Federal Board of Revenue’s audit wing is understaffed as it prepares to undertake an audit of more than 93,000 cases from the 2015 fiscal year; thousands of cases are also tied up in the court system. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Suspects Arrested, Six Killed in Connection to Lahore Park Bombing [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Sindh Governor Refuses to Ratify Forced Conversion Legislation [ET]
  • 15 Suspects Arrested in Karachi Linked to AQIS [Dawn]
  • Government Planning Uniform Prayer Timings for All Sects [ET]
  • Deobandi Scholars Complain Visas Denied for Tableeghi Jamaat Conference [ET]
  • At Least Five Killed in Another Gadani Shipyard Fire [Dawn] [ET]
  • OGRA Licenses Private Sector Gas Distribution Through Sui Southern Pipeline [Dawn]
  • Rs 17.6 Billion Dispersed Under Prime Minister’s Youth Loan Program [APP]
  • Pakistan’s Once-Booming Textile Industry Struggles to Bounce Back [AFP]
  • Prime Minister Orders Investigation Into Tarbela Extension Project Delays [ET]
  • Rs 20 Billion in Tax Exemptions Approved for Lahore Orange Line Metro Project [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Assistance: A coalition military spokesman confirmed that U.S. Marines would return to Helmand as advisors in the spring, with approximately 300 being deployed to replace an outgoing army unit. Commander Brig. Gen. Roger Turner told reporters on Saturday that although the focus was training and support, “we’re viewing this as a high-risk mission… we’re not in any way viewing this as a noncombat mission or anything to take lightly.” The Taliban issued a statement dismissing the move, saying it was “solely to lend morale to the defeated troops of the stooge Kabul administration in hopes they hold out until spring”. On Sunday, the NATO coalition also announced the deployment of a unit of around 200 soldiers, mostly Italians, to Farah province. The WSJ reports that the number of weapons dropped by the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan in 2016 rose by about 40% to 1,337, and that more than 600 aerial sorties were conducted. Separately, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon visited Kabul on Saturday for meetings with Pres. Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, and other officials, stressing in public remarks that “our commitment to Afghanistan does not end” with the transition in administrations, and that “our purpose and intention here is enduring; it is sustainable and it is long term”. [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Hazara Miners Killed: A group of Hazara miners working at a coal mine in the Tala Wa Barfak district in Baghlan province, who had been returning by bus to homes in Daikundi province, were attacked by gunmen on Friday, with the reported death toll varying between 7-13 people. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, and blamed local militia groups. A survivor tells the WSJ that two gunmen targeted the group, denouncing them as “infidels”. Second deputy to the chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq blamed the Islamic State for the attack, which he linked to global “takfiri” activities. [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Rival Taliban factions reportedly clashed in Farah province on Sunday, leaving ten dead. The Ministry of Interior claimed to have killed two Haqqani network commanders in operations in Nangarhar’s Lalpur district on Sunday. A roadside bombing in the Arghandab district in Zabul province killed one police officer and wounded two others. [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hezb-e-Islami Talks: A spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami tells TOLO that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar will return to Afghanistan once the Afghan government releases HIG prisoners and “prepares the situation for Hizb-e-Islami refugees to return to Afghanistan”, saying that Hekmatyar “does not need the permission of foreign countries to come to Afghanistan”.
  • Tensions with Pakistan: In anonymous comments to the Express Tribune, a senior Pakistani official blames the outgoing Obama administration for “play[ing] the role of a major spoiler in Afghanistan”, citing the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour and the breakdown of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group process.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Road Construction Agreement: The Ministry of Public Works signed an agreement on Sunday for the construction of an $204 million road link between Bamiyan and Baghlan, to be financed by the Asian Development Bank and built by a Chinese company. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • 200,000 IDPs and Refugee Returnees in Need of Urgent Aid [TOLO]
  • Japan Pledges Chabahar Investment [Khaama Press]
  • 250 Female Police Officers Complete Turkish Training [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Offers Apartments to Families of 14 Slain Soldiers [Khaama Press]
  • Ariana Airlines Posts First Annual Profit [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Judges Consider Review of Sharif Family Statements; Marines to Return to Helmand as Advisors

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Topline

  • During Supreme Court hearings on the Panama Papers on Thursday, the judges suggested they might call back Sharif family members to cross-examine them on previous statements regarding their overseas real estate holdings. In a statement on Thursday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa rejected remarks by India’s army chief suggesting that India might conduct additional “surgical strikes” into Pakistan in the future. A World Bank delegation met with Indian officials on Thursday to discuss the resolution of two disputed Indus river dam projects. A Marine unit will replace army advisors in Helmand in April, 2nd Marine Regiment commanders confirmed on Thursday. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah attended ceremonies on Thursday commemorating the 13th anniversary of Afghanistan’s constitution. At a meeting on Thursday, Khyber Paktunkhwa officials decided to de-register families displaced by conflict in the FATA who were unwilling to return to their homes, stripping them of benefits.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Repatriation: A meeting on Thursday chaired by Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra to review repatriation efforts for families displaced by conflict in the FATA decided to de-register families who were “living intentionally” as IDPs and who did not wish to return to their homes. The move would cut benefits for those families; many IDPs protest the continued lack of infrastructure, security, and employment in their former homes.
  • Counterterrorism Response: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif chaired a meeting of the Punjab Apex Committee on Thursday to review counterterrorism measures in the province; the meeting resolved to crack down further on hate speech publications. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Quetta Attack: At least five members of the Hazara minority community were wounded in an attack on their taxi in Quetta on Friday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: During Supreme Court hearings on Thursday, judges suggested they might call back members of the Sharif family to cross-examine them on previous statements regarding the ownership of London real estate holdings and other business assets, but stopped short of taking that step for now. PTI lawyers continued to argue that Maryam Nawaz was a dependent of her father at the time she was listed as owner of those properties. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Imran Khan said that a letter from Qatari prince Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani that the prime minister’s lawyers have cited as an explanation for the origin of those properties was false, and warned the prince against appearing before the court on the issue if he “doesn’t want to go to prison”. [ET]
  • Tensions with India: In a statement on Thursday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa rejected recent remarks by Indian army chief Bipin Rawat in which Rawat had suggested India might conduct more “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control in the future, saying that “Pakistan’s armed forces are fully geared to respond to any aggression by India”. A Gallup Pakistan survey released Thursday found 68% of those surveyed support negotiations between Pakistan and India. A World Bank delegation met with Indian officials on Thursday to discuss disputes with Pakistan over two Indus river dam projects, which Indian officials have proposed should be resolved through a neutral technical expert, rather than a full court of arbitration as sought by Pakistan. [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The PPP announced Thursday that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would contest a by-election under the arrow symbol of the PPP-Parliamentarians, the party officially headed by his father, former Pres. Zardari. An Election Commission audit of ten National Assembly members’ asset declarations found “inconsistencies” in all cases, and gave them two weeks to submit revised responses. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Revenue: Speaking at a ceremony on Thursday at the Federal Board of Revenue, Finance Minister Dar suggested that “some way out can be provided to those who want to come into the tax net”; the Express Tribune reports that the government is considering another tax amnesty program for overseas assets. Dar however also said that “tax evaders can not run anywhere and ultimately they must have to pay their taxes honestly otherwise they would have to face legal process”; at the ceremony, the FBR identified more than 93,000 cases for a tax audit from the 2015 fiscal year.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pro-Blasphemy Law Protests Deface Karachi Murals [Dawn]
  • Rallies in Azad Jammu and Kashmir on ‘Self-Determination Day’ [ET]
  • Pakistan’s Regional Languages Face Extinction [ET]
  • Karachi Circular Railway Transit Project to Be Included in CPEC [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Confronting Pakistan’s Support for Terrorism: Don’t Designate, Calibrate – “There are numerous reasons why the United States has never formally designated Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, including doubt that such recognition would force a change in Pakistan’s strategic calculus, as well as the worry that it would remove any already limited U.S. influence.” [Stephen Tankel, Washington Quarterly (pdf)]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Marines to Return to Helmand as Advisors: An element the 2nd Marine Regiment will return to Helmand as advisors to the Afghan National Army and police, the unit’s commander confirmed in an interview with Military.com, replacing U.S. Army trainers; the size of the deployment, reportedly taking place in April, was not disclosed.
  • Attacks and Operations: Officials in Kapisa say operations are ongoing in the Tagab district against Taliban fighters; a suicide attack on a local militia force killed at least one man and wounded two others there on Thursday. In TOLO interviews, Jawzjan residents report a rise in kidnappings in Sheberghan over the past six months.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Constitution Anniversary: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah attended a ceremony on Thursday commemorating the 13th anniversary of Afghanistan’s constitution. Ghani defended the government’s tenure, and said that “it is important that institutions in Afghanistan including the judicial and executive institutions and all other civilian institutions should not be subjected to politics and deals”. In his remarks, Abdullah called for amendments to the constitution under the terms of the national unity government agreement. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Despite Ban, Invasive Virginity Tests Remain Prevalent in Afghanistan [NYT]
  • Harakat-e-Inqilab-e-Islami Afghanistan Party Convenes Clerical Gathering to Denounce Insurgency [TOLO]
  • Vice President Danish Affirms Support for Press Freedom [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Assadullah Sarwari Freed from Prison: What Chances of War Crimes Trials in Afghanistan – “The lack of transparency and the irregular and illegal aspects of his detention and prosecution (including 13 years of pre-trial detention and a continued three and a half years of detention after his sentence had been fulfilled) point to fundamental problems with the Afghan state’s capacity to deal with complex war crimes.” [Ehsan Qaane and Sari Kouvo, AAN]