Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: ISIS Attacks Sufi Shrine, Killing Dozens; Pakistan Seals Afghan Border, Demands Crackdown

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Topline

  • A suicide bomber attacked a Sufi shrine in the town of Sehwan in Sindh on Thursday evening, killing at least 88 people and wounding hundreds more. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack; it had also claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shrine in Balochistan in November 2016. The Pakistani military has sealed border crossings with Afghanistan and on Friday presented a list of 76 “most wanted terrorists” to Afghan embassy representatives, demanding action; foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz also spoke by phone with Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar, demanding a crackdown on the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. Pres. Ghani issued a statement on Friday condemning the bombing, but also saying that “other countries must also prove their honesty in the fight against terrorism”.
  • Pakistani parliamentary leaders agreed on Thursday for Law Minister Zahid Hamid to begin drafting new legislation extending the military courts system, potentially for a new three-year period.
  • TOLO reports that two Taliban representatives seeking to attend the funeral of a UAE ambassador who succumbed to injuries from the attack at the Kandahar governor’s compound last month were barred from entering the country.
  • A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Friday that the Independent Election Commission would announced a schedule for parliamentary elections by March; there is still no agreement on an appointment to lead the IEC secretariat, however.
  • A survey by the Afghan Central Statistics Organization found that 84% of Afghan women are illiterate, and also reported a child mortality rate of 22 in a thousand births.

Pakistan — Security

  • Sehwan Shrine Bombing Kills Dozens: A suicide bomber struck at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in the town of Sehwan in Sindh’s Jamshoro district on Thursday evening, interrupting a Sufi ritual following evening prayers; as of Friday, the death toll was reported to be at least 88 people killed, with hundreds more wounded. It is the deadliest attack in Pakistan since the Army Public School attack of December 2014. The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency claimed responsibility for the attack, describing the victims as a “Shia gathering”; the group also claimed responsibility for an attack on a Sufi shrine in Balochistan in November. Pakistan’s chief military spokesman initially issued a statement saying that “recent terrorist acts are being executed on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan”, and quoted Chief of Army Staff Bajwa as vowing that “each drop of the nation’s blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone”. Anonymous government sources tell the AFP that federal and provincial law enforcement agencies have launched a nationwide crackdown in response, with the Sindh Rangers and Peshawar police claiming to have killed 25 terrorist suspects overnight; their affiliations were not disclosed. Al Jazeera puts the total at as many as 39 suspects killed. Prime Minister Sharif, who also condemned the attack, visited Sehwan on Friday along with General Bajwa and other top civilian and military aides. Despite the attack, the shrine’s custodian announced that it would proceed with ceremonies on Friday. [WSJ] [WAPO] [Reuters] [AJE] [AP] [ET] [ET]
  • Pressure on Afghanistan Following Attack: Pakistan indefinitely shut the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan in the immediate wake of the attack, and closed the Chaman crossing on Friday. The AP reports that the Pakistani military fired a “blistering round of artillery shells” into Nangarhar’s Lalpur district on Friday; in Kunar province, provincial police report that two civilians were killed in cross-border shelling in the Sarkano district over Thursday night. Elsewhere, two Frontier Corps soldiers were wounded in a militant attack on their checkpost in the Khyber Agency. On Friday, the Pakistani military announced that it had delivered a list of 76 “most wanted terrorists” believed to be sheltering in Afghanistan to Afghan embassy representatives, demanding “immediate action” against them. Foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz also spoke by phone with Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar on Friday, in which he specifically pressed for action against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, which claimed responsibility for the bombing in Lahore at the start of the week. In a statement on Friday, Pres. Ghani condemned the attack, adding that “the Afghan government has always proved its honesty and commitment to ensure peace and stability and to fight terrorism” and that “other countries must also prove their honesty in [the] fight against terrorism”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Khaama Press]
  • Military Courts: Parliamentary party leaders met on Thursday to again discuss the renewal of military courts legislation, and agreed that Law Minister Zahid Hamid would take the lead in drafting a new amendment; PML-N sources suggest the courts could be given a three-year mandate.
  • Balochistan Bombing: Three army soldiers, including a captain, were killed in a roadside bombing in Balochistan’s Awaran district on Thursday; two others were injured. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: On Thursday, the senate committee on law approved a government-backed draft bill modifying the powers of inquiry commissions, a version of which was previously passed in the national assembly. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Imran Khan suggested that a decision in the Panama Papers case could be announced within the coming week.
  • New Ambassador to US: Speaking at a conference on Thursday, ambassador to the U.S.-designate Aizaz Chaudhry warned that Pakistan would “not be pressurised by this so-called ‘Do more’ ideology being pushed on us,” adding that “we will not tolerate that the Taliban operate from here to carry out terror attacks across the border. The unrest in Afghanistan will not be allowed to infiltrate into Pakistan”.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PTI Finalizing Electoral Reform Recommendations [ET]
  • MQM-Pakistan to Rally in Hyderabad [ET]
  • Wounded Shia Cleric Airlifted for Further Medical Treatment [ET]
  • Islamabad High Court to Hear Government Challenge to Axact Acquittals [ET]
  • State Bank of Pakistan Encourages Banks to Float Dollar-Denominated Bonds [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Envoys Reportedly Barred from UAE: TOLO, citing unspecified media sources, reports that the UAE has barred entry into the country by Mullah Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai and Mawlawi Madani, two Taliban representatives who had sought to attend funeral services for UAE diplomat Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi, who died of wounds from an attack at the Kandahar governor’s compound last month.
  • Electoral Reforms: A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Friday that a timetable for parliamentary elections should be announced by the Independent Election Commission by “early March”. The government has also asked the IEC secretariat to provide more nominees for the position of secretariat chief, after the three previous candidates were rejected.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Female Illiteracy: 84% of Afghan women are illiterate, according to a survey by the Central Statistics Organization, and only two percent of women have access to higher education. The survey also found an infant mortality rate of 22 out of every thousand newborns, and 61% report some form of domestic violence.
  • TAPI Project: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with Turkmenistan Pres. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov on Thursday, discussing the TAPI gas pipeline project; no details were reported.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • International Chamber of Commerce Office Inaugurated in Kabul [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan Exodus: Asylum Seekers in Europe – A Case Study of Germany – “To decrease numbers of asylum seekers in general, the German government did not only take steps to keep refugees away from its own borders – for example by initiating the EU-Turkey deal – it also adopted various measures to make asylum in Germany less attractive.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Punjab Police Target Jamaat-ul-Ahrar in Multan; Moscow Hosts Six-Party Talks Without US

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Topline

  • Punjab police report that they killed six TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar suspects in a raid in Multan on Thursday. The Punjab government has tasked a Joint Investigation Team with investigating Monday’s attack in Lahore; a meeting of civilian and military leaders on Wednesday reaffirmed security plans for the Pakistan Super League cricket finals scheduled to take place on Wednesday.
  • Representatives from Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, India, and Iran met in Moscow to discuss prospects for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The U.S. was not invited, and attendees appear to have been lower-level diplomats.
  • Pres. Ghani will depart for the Munich Security Conference on Thursday, where he is expected to also meet with U.S. and UK officials, potentially including Vice President Pence.
  • Pakistan has appointed outgoing foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry as the next ambassador to Washington, replacing Jalil Abbas Jilani.
  • Supreme Court judges hearing the Panama Papers case continue to press lawyers for the Sharif family to provide documentation proving the ownership of the family’s London flats.
  • Imran Khan endorsed the merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa at a press conference on Wednesday, arguing that the FATA’s development was necessary to “root out militancy”. JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman, however, suggested that any reforms would take place over the next five years, and reiterated demands for a public referendum on a merger.

Pakistan — Security

  • Raids Target Jamaat-ul-Ahrar After Lahore Attack: A victim of Monday’s suicide bombing outside the Punjab Assembly building in Lahore succumbed to injuries on Wednesday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 14. The Punjab government formed a Joint Investigation Team to investigate the attack. Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior military and civilian officials in Islamabad on Wednesday, which resolved that “terrorism emanating within the country or executed and harboured from outside the country will be eliminated and those posing threat to peace and security of the country will be liquidated by the might of the state”. The meeting also reaffirmed security plans for the Pakistan Super League cricket finals in Lahore, scheduled to take place March 7, which some foreign players are now expressing concern over attending. On Thursday, the Punjab police Counter-Terrorism Department announced that it had killed six suspected Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar members in a raid in Multan. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • JUD Seek Release of Hafiz Saeed: On Wednesday, Jamaat-ud-Dawa lawyers filed a petition with the Interior Ministry for the removal of travel restrictions on Hafiz Saeed, claiming that the organization “is not involved in any terrorist activity in the country.” [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Aizaz Chaudhry Appointed US Ambassador: On Wednesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry formally appointed outgoing foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry as the next ambassador to the United States, replacing Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani.
  • Panama Papers Hearings: At Thursday’s hearings on the Panama Papers, Supreme Court judges hearing the case pressed again for documents proving Hussain Nawaz’s ownership of four London flats linked to the Sharif family. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Imran Khan again argued that the prime minister and his family had failed to establish a money trail for the purchase of the residences. [ET] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: Speaking on Wednesday, Imran Khan endorsed the proposed merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa province, saying that “the only solution to rooting out militancy from the region is development in Fata and it is possible once the tribal areas are merged with the province”. Separately, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman said that “the process of reforms will continue in Fata for the next five years and only after that a decision would be taken regarding the region’s future with the consent of the people”. [Dawn]
  • Electoral Reforms: During committee debate on electoral reforms on Wednesday, lawmakers from the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami opposed proposals to set a 10% threshold requirement on the participation of women in elections, with JI leaders arguing that “one should not be forced to take part in polls, especially women”.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sixteen New JF-17 Thunder Jets Inducted Into Pakistan Air Force [ET]
  • Musharraf Acknowledges Saudi Support For Life in Exile, Backs Freedom for Hafiz Saeed [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Reviews Land Compensation for Karachi Circular Railway Route [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Education Department Removes 95 Junior Officers from Senior Posts [Dawn]
  • Chinese Trade Delegation Visits Islamabad and Lahore [ET]
  • Petrol Prices Raised [ET]
  • Commentary: The Unanticipated Perils of Merger of FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa – “The scheme of integration would not be implemented without creating utter chaos, confusion that would not only impede progress and development but would generate a climate of hostility that would lead to long-term insecurity and lawlessness.” [Rustam Shah Mohmand, ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Nangarhar police officials announced the arrest on Thursday of a dozen Islamic State-linked suspects in Jalalabad, including an unidentified “senior leader”. At least two children were killed and two others injured in a mortar attack in the Laghman provincial capital of Mehtar Lam on Wednesday; in a separate attack in the Alishing district, one soldier and two civilians were killed. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Moscow Talks: Representatives from Pakistan, India, China, Iran, and Afghanistan met in Moscow on Wednesday to discuss options for resuming direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban; although the U.S. was not invited to attend the conference, Russian special envoy Zamir Kabulov told the Russian press that the United States’ participation in the process “was discussed”. A full list of attendees has not been released, but Afghanistan sent the director general of policy and strategy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ashraf Haidari. [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Ghani to Visit Germany: Pres. Ghani will travel to Germany on Thursday evening to attend the Munich Security Conference, where he is also expected to hold talks with US and UK officials and potentially meet with Vice President Pence, who is leading a U.S. delegation.
  • Jihadi Veterans Meet: Leaders of the Council of Protection and Stability for Afghanistan and New National Front of Afghanistan met on Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan; at the meeting, Chief Executive Abdullah called for parliamentary elections and a Constitutional Loya Jirga to be held, while jihadi veteran Abdul Rasool Sayyaf called on the government to “bring reforms in almost all sectors”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Investigations Continue into Lahore Attack; Former UAE Ambassador Succumbs to Injuries

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Topline

  • Investigations continue into Monday’s bombing in Lahore, with both Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chairing separate security review meetings on Tuesday. Pres. Ghani and Prime Minister Sharif spoke by phone on Tuesday, and on Wednesday a formal message was delivered to the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, noting Pakistani concerns that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar was operating from Afghan territory.
  • Five people were killed in a suicide bombing attack in the Mohmand Agency on Wednesday, which was also claimed by the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.
  • Another suicide bombing in Peshawar on Wednesday targeted a car carrying four judges, who were wounded and whose driver was killed; the main Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility.
  • The UAE ambassador to Afghanistan who was wounded in a bombing at the Kandahar governor’s compound last month has succumbed to his injuries, the UAE foreign ministry announced on Wednesday.
  • Supreme Court hearings resumed on the Panama Papers on Wednesday, with lawyers for the prime minister’s sons arguing that the hearings should not be considered a trial.
  • A spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami denied reports that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had been hospitalized and said that would return to Kabul in the near future.

Pakistan — Security

  • Lahore Attack Aftermath: Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters on Tuesday that at least two men were involved in carrying out the attack outside the Punjab Assembly building in Lahore on Monday; the initial police report on the incident says that as many as three handlers may have been involved in carrying out the attack. Police corrected a reported increase in the death toll, saying that only 13 had been killed as initially reported; funeral services were held for some of the victims on Tuesday. Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting on Tuesday of senior civilian aides, including Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to review security in Lahore; Sharif vowed that “our enemies will be defeated by our national resolve”. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired a separate security review at the Lahore Corps Headquarters, and pledged to provide security for the upcoming Pakistan Super League cricket final in the city. Punjab police are conducting “combing operations” throughout the province in the wake of the attack, “particularly where the Afghan/Pathan community is residing”, according to one directive reported by Dawn. Imran Khan called for the deployment of paramilitary Rangers in Punjab on Tuesday, something Law Minister Sanaullah said was unnecessary. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Mohmand Bombing: Three paramilitary Khasadars and two civilians were killed and three other people wounded when two suicide bombers attacked local political administration offices in the Mohmand Agency’s Gailani tehsil on Wednesday; one of the bombers was killed before detonating his explosives. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP]
  • Peshawar Judges Targeted: Later on Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked a car carrying four lower court judges in Peshawar, killing the driver and wounding all four. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack. [Dawn]
  • Shia Cleric Shot: Allami Tasawwar al Jawadi, the secretary general of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir chapter of the Majlis Wehdatul Muslimeen, was shot and injured along with his wife in a driveby shooting in Muzaffarabad on Wednesday. The gunmen were not identified and no claim of responsibility has been reported. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings Resume: Hearings resumed at the Supreme Court on Wednesday in the Panama Papers case; lawyers for the prime minister’s sons, Hassan and Hussain Nawaz, resumed their arguments, saying that they could not produce a record of all the family’s business dealings for the past 40-45 years and arguing that “this is neither a trial, nor the defendant a witness.” A spokesman for the PTI said the party would introduce additional documents seeking to establish Maryam Nawaz’s ownership of several overseas holding firms. Separately on Tuesday, the Lahore High Court reiterated a Supreme Court order that operations at three Sharif family sugar mills be suspended while it hears a challenge brought by PTI leader Jahangir Tareen. [ET]
  • Refugee Repatriation: In a statement on Tuesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry disputed the findings of a recent Human Rights Watch report on coerced Afghan refugee repatriation from Pakistan, saying that “exaggerated contentions and baseless allegations of coercion are particularly disappointing and irresponsible, being counter-productive to the objective of harmony and goodwill between the refugees and the host communities as well as the shared goal of dignified voluntary returns”. [ET]
  • PTI Funding Challenge: The Islamabad High Court has begun hearings on a PTI petition challenging the authority of the Electoral Commission to audit the details of its funding, with lawyers for the PTI arguing that the ECP lacks the jurisdiction to investigate allegations of improper foreign funding. [Dawn]
  • NSC Director Named: Brigadier General Robin Fontes, previously the U.S. defense attache to India, has been appointed director for India, Pakistan, and Central Asian affairs at the White House National Security Council.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • New FBR Chairman Appointed: On Tuesday, the government appointed Muhammad Irshad as head of the Federal Board of Revenue and the secretary of the Revenue Division, reversing the earlier appointment of a Pakistan Administrative Services officer, Tariq Bajwa, to head that division, which had been opposed by members of the FBR.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Formal Protest to India After Soldier Deaths at Line of Control [Dawn]
  • Army Official Pledges to Restore Operations of Girls Schools in North Waziristan [Dawn]
  • Maarif Foundation to Take Over Operations of PakTurk Schools Network [Dawn]
  • Government to Appeal Supreme Court Order on Use of Private Counsel [Dawn]
  • Gwadar-Nawabshah LNG Pipeline Project Remains Stalled [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Seeks Inclusion of 17 Energy Projects Under CPEC [APP]
  • Former Khyber Paktunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan Abbasi Appointed Aviation Advisor [ET]
  • Pakistan Stock Exchange Suspends Chief Regulatory Officer [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • UAE Ambassador Injured in Kandahar Attack Dies from Wounds: On Wednesday, the UAE foreign ministry announced that Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi, the UAE’s ambassador to Afghanistan who was wounded in a bombing at the Kandahar governor’s compound last month, had succumbed to his injuries. [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: Nangarhar provincial officials report that ground and air operations in the Kot and Deh Bala districts in Nangarhar killed at least 16 Islamic State-affiliated fighters on Tuesday; on Wednesday, the Ministry of Interior claimed that at least 22 fighters had been killed in the Haska Mina and Kot districts over the previous 24 hours. Taliban fighters attacked and took control of a village in the Shirin Tagab district in Faryab on Wednesday, killing five local police members. Provincial police in Jawzjan report that as many as 52 farmers in three villages in the Darz Ab district have been kidnapped by local Taliban forces. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Fire at Balkh Prison: Khaama Press reports that a fire swept through the second floor of the central Balkh prison in Mazar-e-Sharif on Wednesday; the fire is now reportedly under control and no injuries have been reported.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani and Nawaz Speak: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with Prime Minister Sharif on Tuesday, offering condolences for the bombing in Lahore. On Wednesday, Pakistan presented a formal notice to the Afghan deputy head of mission in Islamabad detailing the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s use of territory in Afghanistan to plan attacks in Pakistan.
  • NATO Support: Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday ahead of a conference of defense ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the alliance’s support for the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. Separately, European Union officials are expected to sign an agreement this week to formalize development assistance through 2024. [TOLO]
  • Hezb-e-Islami Agreement: A spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami denied reports that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had been hospitalized in Istanbul, and reiterated his intentions to return to Kabul in the near term.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Sayyaf Calls for ‘War on Corruption’ [Pajhwok]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Three Contracts Worth Afs 1.5 Billion [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Afghan Asylum Seekers in Europe: The North-South Divide – “As a result of tighter border controls and stricter migrations policies, many refugees are now stuck between the almost hermetically closed outer borders of the EU as well as between individual EU countries.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Bomber Strikes Outside Lahore Assembly Building; Ghani Commemorates Soviet Withdrawal

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Topline

  • A suicide bomber detonated in a crowded protest outside the Punjab Assembly in Lahore on Monday, killing fifteen people and injuring more than 80. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack. In Quetta, two members of the bomb disposal squad were killed attempting to defuse an explosive planted at Sariab bridge; the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami faction claimed responsibility for that attack. Three Pakistani soldiers were reportedly killed in an exchange of fire with Indian forces along the Line of Control on Monday evening. Pres. Ghani commemorating the anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, touting the peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin and praising Afghanistan’s security forces; speakers Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi and Mohammad Sarwar Danish warned Russia against “meddling in Afghanistan’s affairs”. A Turkish press source reported rumors that Gulbuddin Hekmtyar had been hospitalized in Istanbul. Pakistan’s foreign ministry has appointed Tehmina Janjua, currently permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, as the next foreign secretary.

Pakistan — Security

  • Bombing Strikes Outside Punjab Assembly: A suicide bomber detonated outside the Punjab Assembly building in Lahore on Monday evening, killing thirteen people and wounding more than 80; by Tuesday, the death toll had risen to 15. At least six of the dead were police officers, including two senior officers; officials say the death toll would have been higher had two news vans not blocked some of the impact of the blast. Crowds had been demonstrating outside the assembly as part a protest by a group of chemists and pharmaceutical manufacturers; in the aftermath of the attack, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said that “open spaces are always an easy target for terrorists, hence we discourage gatherings in public spaces, but people don’t listen”. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, which also carried out last spring’s attack on the Gulshan-i-Iqbal park in Lahore, claimed responsibility and warned of future attacks. Prime Minister Sharif cut short a visit to Karachi to return to Lahore on Tuesday and issued a statement vowing to continue fighting terrorism “until we liberate our people of this cancer and avenge those who have laid down their lives for us.” Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced a day of mourning on Tuesday. Speaking on Tuesday, Imran Khan said that “the war against terrorism can’t be won until the police force is strengthened and depoliticized” and that “Army and Rangers cannot do everything [to overcome terrorism] on their own.” [NYT] [WAPO] [Guardian] [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Bomb Disposal Team Killed in Quetta: Two members of the Quetta Bomb Disposal Squad were killed while attempting to disarm an explosive device planted at the Sariab Bridge on Monday evening; around a dozen other people were wounded in the blast. Reuters reports that the sectarian splinter group Lashkar al Jhangvi Al Alami claimed responsibility for the bomb. [Dawn]
  • Soldiers Killed at Line of Control: Three Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire with Indian forces at the Line of Control in the Bhimber district on Monday evening, Pakistan’s military announced; in the statement, the military claimed to have also inflicted retaliatory casualties on the Indian side.
  • Government Plans to Lift Arms License Ban: Dawn reports that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan approved on Monday a plan to withdraw a three-year old ban on the issuance of new arms licenses, accompanied by a new centralized record system maintained by the National Database and Registration Authority. A timeline for the withdrawal of the ban was not announced.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • New Foreign Secretary Named: On Monday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry announced that Tehmina Janjua, currently Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, has been appointed to replace Aizaz Chaudhry as Pakistan’s next foreign secretary. She is the first woman to hold the position, and will take office at the beginning of March. [ET]
  • Senate Committee Adopts Right to Information Legislation: On Tuesday, a senate committee approved draft “Right to Information” legislation, replacing the existing Freedom of Information Ordinance of 2002. The bill also includes whistleblower protections, including for employees of security institutions, and mandates that records older than 20 years pass into the public domain. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Bank Borrowing: A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet on Monday approved plans to borrow Rs 30 billion from domestic banks in order to pay down some of the circular debt in the power sector, in particular dues to Pakistan State Oil.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PEMRA Suspends Another BOL TV Talk Show [Dawn] [ET]
  • Former Aide to Balochistan Chief Minister Arrested on Corruption Charges [ET]
  • Okara Farms Dispute ‘Nearing Amicable Solution’ [Dawn]
  • Pak Sarzameen Party Launches New Flag [ET]
  • MQM-Pakistan Provincial Assembly Member Indicted on Weapons Charges [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Soviet Withdrawal Anniversary: On Tuesday, Pres. Ghani addressed a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, touting the peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami as a way for “unhappy Mujahideen brothers to return to their country.” Ghani also praised Afghan security forces as “today’s Mujahideen”, and said that “the current Jihad is for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country.” In their remarks, Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish and Wolesi Jirga speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi warned that “Russia should not repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union in terms of meddling in Afghanistan’s affairs”.
  • Hekmatyar Rumored to be Hospitalized: On Monday, the Turkish newspaper Aydinlik, citing an anonymous Turkish intelligence source, claimed that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had been hospitalized in Istanbul; no further details were reported.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • An Afghan Mother’s Heartache: Three Sons Dead in a Day [NYT]
  • Mob Kills Eloped Lovers After Storming Afghan Police Station [NYT]
  • Female ANA Officers Call for More Women Recruits [TOLO]
  • DAB to Launch New Policy on Old Currency Notes [Ariana News]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nicholson Says ‘Thousands’ More US Troops Needed; Dostum Seizes Kabul Checkposts

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Note: The news returns to its regular daily update schedule from today; a summary of coverage since Friday follows below. Apologies again for last week’s interruptions in service, and thanks for reading.

Topline

  • Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson criticized the previous administration’s drawdowns in forces in Afghanistan, saying there was a “shortfall of a few thousand” U.S. troops in the country, which he suggested could be used to “do more advising below the corps level”. Secretary of Defense Mattis is visiting Europe this week, and spoke by phone with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Thursday. In his remarks, Nicholson called for a “holistic review” of U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Presidents Ghani and Trump spoke by phone on Thursday evening, with the Afghan presidency and ministry of defense welcoming the prospect of additional U.S. forces.
  • Vice President Dostum has blocked the arrest of nine of his bodyguards charged with abusing former Jawzjan governor Ahmad Eschi and has seized control of two checkposts in Kabul, the WSJ reports.
  • The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for an attack on a Samaa TV news van in Karachi on Sunday that left one cameraman dead.
  • The family of activist Samar Abbas, the last of five high-profile activists detained extrajudicially last month, have petitioned the Islamabad High Court for his release.
  • U.S. airstrikes in the Sangin district in Helmand may have killed more than twenty Afghan civilians, reports suggest; on Saturday, the Taliban attacked a Kabul Bank branch in Lashkar Gah, killing at least six, including several soldiers.
  • Chief of Army Staff Bajwa announced a series of promotions on Thursday and Friday, including naming new Rawalpindi, Multan, and Karachi Corps Commanders.
  • The U.S. embassy has declined to issue a visa for Pakistani senate deputy chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F, prompting Senate chairman Raza Rabbani to halt official interactions with the U.S. Congress and the JUI-F to demand action from the PML-N government in response.
  • The prime minister’s office said Thursday that the cabinet would consider proposals on FATA reforms at its next meeting; during a visit to South Waziristan on Sunday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa voiced support for “mainstreaming of FATA by the government as per the aspirations of the local tribes”, and on Monday JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman reiterated calls for a public referendum on FATA’s proposed merger with Khyber Paktunkhwa.
  • Pres. Ghani is visiting the UAE, where he met with families of the victims of last month’s attack and the Kandahar governor’s compound.
  • Pakistan reportedly plans to borrow $600 million from China as its foreign exchange reserves have shrunk since the conclusion of an IMF loan program last fall.
  • National unity government leaders, UN officials, and foreign diplomats met with Independent Election Commission officials on Friday to discuss plans for stalled parliamentary elections; the IEC said that it would announce an electoral schedule after the government made a decision on whether to switch constituency boundaries to single-member districts, and that elections would take place in the “spring of the next solar year or in fall”.

Pakistan — Security

  • Attack on Journalists: Gunmen opened fire on a Samaa TV news van in Karachi’s Nazimabad neighborhood on Sunday, killing a cameraman; the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, saying that “the media is not impartial and we’ve issued several warnings to them.”
  • Extrajudicial Detentions: The family of Samar Abbas, the last of five activists detained earlier this year to remain in custody, petitioned the Islamabad High Court for his release on Saturday. Separately, family members of two of the three men arrested in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and linked to a 2009 sectarian attack in Muzaffarabad disputed those charges and the account of their arrest, saying they had been held since April of last year.
  • FATA Attacks: A roadside bombing at a checkpost in South Waziristan on Sunday killed three Frontier Corps soldiers; the TTP claimed responsibility. TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militants attacked a Pakistani army checkpost in the Mohmand Agency on Friday evening; the group acknowledged the death of two of its fighters. A student was killed and three injured in a roadside bombing in the Bajaur Agency on Friday. [AFP]
  • U.S. Defense Cooperation: U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis spoke by phone with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Thursday, their first reported interaction since Mattis assumed office. The Pakistani military’s readout of the call said that “both reaffirmed their commitment towards the common goal of peace and stability in the region and discussed measures towards that end”, but provided few details. The Pentagon readout noted that Mattis had “expressed appreciation for the Pakistan military’s recent support for efforts to defeat ISIS-Khorasan Province”. [Dawn]
  • Military Promotions: On Thursday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa promoted 37 brigadiers to major general rank; on Friday, Bajwa appointed Lt. Gen. Nadeem Raza to head the Rawalpindi X Corps and Lt. Gen. Sarfraz Satta as commander of the Multan II Corps. Raza’s predecessor Lt. Gen. Zafar Iqbal was named Director General of the Joint Staff at the Joint Staff Headquarters. Lt. Gen. Shahid Baig Mirza was earlier named corps commander for Karachi, and Sindh Rangers director Bilal Akbar was promoted to lieutenant general rank. [Dawn]
  • Naval Exercises: Pakistan hosted the “Aman-17” joint naval exercise beginning Friday, with 37 countries taking part, including the United States, China, the UK, and Russia; Prime Minister Sharif is expected to observe the exercise on Tuesday. Separately, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz told a conference on Saturday that Pakistan was “strengthen[ing] our capacity to ensure that we remain ready to meet the emerging maritime security challenges”, noting concerns over the “the militarization of the Indian Ocean region, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increased missile capabilities and power projections by foreign militaries”, as well as the “nuclearization” of the Indian Ocean region by India. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Gilgit Political Party Leaders Arrested: On Sunday, police in Gilgit-Baltistan arrested two leaders of the Balawaristan National Front, a nationalist political party that currently holds one seat in the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly; police provided no detail on the charges, but last month arrested a group of twelve people linked to the party, who were charged with having ties to India’s RAW intelligence service.
  • Counterterrorism Response: On Thursday, National Security Advisor Janjua chaired a meeting of provincial, federal, and military officials to review the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism. Separately, Sindh police officials reported on Thursday that six men, identified as having links to Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, were killed in a raid in Karachi’s Gadap Town neighborhood.
  • Border Clashes: Officials in Balochistan’s Panjgur district reported that Iranian border forces fired at least four mortars across the border on Friday; no casualties were reported.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • US Visa Dispute: U.S. officials refused a visa for Senate deputy chairman and JUI-F secretary general Abdul Ghafoor Haideri to attend a New York-based conference of the International Parliamentary Union, prompting Senate chairman Raza Rabbani to order a freeze on any trips by Pakistani senators to the United States and for “no delegation, member of Congress or diplomat of the US [to] be welcomed by the Senate of Pakistan, Senate standing committees and senators in their official capacity [until] this issue is resolved”. Haideri’s visa application received a “technical refusal”, according to senate sources; the U.S. embassy declined to comment, citing privacy laws. The Express Tribune reports unhappiness from the JUI-F over the PML-N government’s response; JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman said that “we will see what happens” and “whether you want to stay silent and submissive just because you are in power or you want to challenge the world powers.” [AP]
  • FATA Reforms: In a statement on Thursday, the prime minister’s office said that decisions on FATA reforms would be made at the next cabinet meeting, after discussion was deferred at last week’s meeting. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited troops in South Waziristan on Sunday, and was quoted saying that the army would support the “mainstreaming of FATA by the government as per the aspirations of the local tribes”. Speaking on Monday, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman said that his party was not opposed to a merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa, but said the reforms committee tasked with preparing recommendations for the government had overstepped its mandate with such a proposal, reiterating calls for a public referendum. [Dawn]
  • Panama Papers Hearings: Dawn reports that hearings on the Panama Papers are set to resume on Feb 15, after a two-week recess period for the hospitalization at the end of January of Judge Sheikh Azmat Saeed. Separately, the Supreme Court halted operations at three sugar mills owned by the Sharif family as it considered a challenge against their construction brought by the PTI’s Jahangir Tareen, owner of a rival mill.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Borrowing from China: The Express Tribune reports that the government plans to borrow $600 million from China to shore up its dwindling foreign exchange reserves, which have declined by $1.7 billion since the completion of an IMF program last fall. Pakistan’s trade deficit grew to $17.4 billion during the first seven months of the current fiscal year, a 28.7% increase over the previous year driven by a 3.2% decline in exports and 13.7% increase in imports. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Regulatory Oversight: Dawn reports that the government is considering shifting oversight over the nominally independent regulatory bodies that were placed under direct ministerial control last December to the Inter-Provincial Coordination division of the civil service bureaucracy, as a precursor to the establishment of a permanent secretariat for the federal-provincial Council on Common Interests, which would assume responsibility for those regulatory bodies.
  • Energy Crisis: Pakistan State Oil is again at risk of defaulting on payments to international and domestic fuel suppliers and is itself owed Rs 277 billion in unpaid bills from power companies and other customers, the Express Tribune reports. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Afghanistan Trade Halted: Trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan at the Chaman border crossing was suspended throughout last week due to a dispute over the weighing system for trucks.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PakTurk School Employees Seeking UNHCR Resettlement After Expulsion Order [Dawn]
  • Sindh Police Chief Calls for New Law to Ensure ‘Neutral Police Force’ [Dawn] [ET]
  • Karachi Anti-Terrorism Court Seeks Report on Police Shootings [Dawn]
  • Sindh Governor Meets with Prime Minister to Discuss Security and Provincial Investment [ET]
  • Election Commission Summons Balochistan Chief Secretary Over Appointment Violations [ET]
  • Lawyer Withdraws After Supreme Court Ruling Against Government Use of Private Counsel [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Pakistan Leader Vows Challenge Against ‘Pre-Census Rigging’ [Dawn]
  • PSP Defends Use of National Flag at Rallies [Dawn]
  • Seven Pakistani Fishermen Jailed for 10 Years in Yemen Freed [AP]
  • Authorities Vow Investigation into Pakistan Stock Exchange Brokerage Scams [Dawn]
  • Sindh and Balochistan Form Committee on Water Issues [ET]
  • ‘Perpetual’ Arrest Warrant Issued Against Former Pres. Musharraf in Judges Case [Dawn]
  • Finance Minister Reshuffles Division Heads [ET]
  • Polio Vaccination Efforts Focus on Afghan Migrants [Dawn]
  • Report: Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees – “In the second half of 2016, a toxic combination of deportation threats and police abuses pushed out nearly 365,000 of the country’s 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees, as well as just over 200,000 of the country’s estimated 1 million undocumented Afghans. The exodus amounts to the world’s largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times.” [HRW]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Commander Calls for More Forces: Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson concluded that the conflict was in a “stalemate” and that “we have a shortfall of a few thousand” U.S. troops in theater to support the Afghan national security forces. Nicholson noted that reductions in U.S. troops had increased a reliance on private military contractors, which now number around 17,000. Nicholson said that he did not require additional forces for U.S. counterterrorism operations beyond existing levels but suggested that additional coalition forces would be used to “to thicken our advisory effort across the Afghan ministries and do more advising below the corps level”. He declined to specify a preferred force level, saying it would be discussed as part of an upcoming NATO conference this week. Secretary of Defense Mattis is departing on Tuesday for an official visit to Europe and meetings with European counterparts, but Pentagon officials said that they did not intend to make major policy announcements during the trip. During his testimony Gen. Nicholson criticized previous reductions, saying that the war should be managed “by objective, not force-manning level”, and called for a “holistic review” of U.S. policy towards Pakistan, noting that “it is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven”. Afghanistan’s ministry of defense welcomed the prospect of more international deployments in a statement on Friday, as did a spokesman for the presidency; Pres. Ghani and Pres. Trump spoke by phone on Thursday evening after Nicholson’s testimony, and a spokesman for Ghani suggested that the two leaders would “meet each other in the near future”. [LAT] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Defense Tech]
  • US Investigating Helmand Airstrike: The NATO coalition is investigating reports that U.S. airstrikes in the Sangin district on Thursday night killed as many as 22 Afghan civilians, the NYT reports, although a spokesman for the coalition said that “at this point we have no indication at all that civilians were killed”. Some Afghan officials also disputed the claims, but Helmand security chief Jabar Qahraman confirms the deaths in comments to the AP. A UN inquiry has concluded that at least 18 civilians were killed. The U.S. conducted at least 30 strikes in the district over the last week, and the Afghan Air Force has carried out 114 airstrikes in all of Helmand over the past three months. On Saturday, Afghan army officials claimed to have killed nearly 60 Taliban fighters who were preparing an attack on the district. Separately, a Taliban suicide bomber killed at least six people when he detonated outside a Kabul Bank branch in the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Saturday; as many as twenty were reportedly wounded, and initial reports put the death toll higher, at eleven or more. [WAPO] [Guardian] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: A magnetic bomb planted on a truck parked near the Ministry of Defense building in Kabul exploded on Saturday; no casualties were reported. U.S. airstrikes and Afghan ground forces killed as many as 33 Islamic State-affiliated fighters in the Achin, Rodat, and Kot districts in Nangarhar on Sunday, according to local officials. On Friday, a presidential spokesman said that Qari Munib, identified as an Islamic State operative responsible for planning several of the group’s major bombings in Kabul, had been killed in an operation in Achin earlier in January. A Taliban shadow district chief in Paktika’s Barmal district was killed in a U.S. airstrike on Saturday, along with four other fighters. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Dostum Blocks Arrest of Guards, Seizes Kabul Checkposts: The WSJ reports that Vice President Dostum has blocked the arrest of nine bodyguards charged with abuse of former Jawzjan governor Ahmad Eschi, and that militia forces loyal to him have seized control of at least two checkposts on a strategic hilltop in Kabul. Dostum himself is said to be holed up in his personal residence in Kabul, and has not responded to summons relating to the abuse charges; the presidential palace has not commented on the reports. [TOLO]
  • Ghani Visits UAE: Pres. Ghani visited the UAE on Saturday, accompanied by National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar, NDS Chief Masoom Stanekzai, and other advisors; a spokesman said talks would focus on “security issues and other issues of mutual interest”. Ghani also met with families of the victims of last month’s attack at the Kandahar governor’s compound. [TOLO]
  • Refugee Repatriation: The AFP profiles a man injured in last week’s attack the Kabul Supreme Court building, who had been deported from Germany in January after his application for asylum was denied. Demonstrations were held in several German cities on Saturday, calling for a halt to deportations; after a meeting with state premiers on Thursday, Chancellor Merkel agreed to a plan to increase the pace of deportations from Germany.
  • Electoral Reforms: Pres. Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, UN, diplomatic officials, and the Independent Election Commission met on Friday to discuss plans for parliamentary elections, which a spokesman for the IEC said would be held “either in the spring of the next solar year or in fall”. A final election schedule has not yet been announced; the IEC said it had presented a series of recommendations on whether to switch to single-member districts or retain current province-wide constituencies, and would announce a timeline after the government had made a decision on which system to adopt.
  • Political Reforms: A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah told Ariana News on Friday that he was “not demanding a parliamentary or federal system” and that “in the current situation, a presidential system is in interest of the country,” but that “we want decentralized system” with more power for provincial governors.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Shifting Frontlines Make Aid Work More Dangerous [Reuters]
  • Russia ‘Ready to Cooperate’ with US and NATO in Afghanistan [TOLO]
  • Man Killed by Atta Mohammad Noor’s Security Guards in Mazar-e-Sharif [Khaama Press]
  • ‘Tight Security’ Planned for Hekmatyar Return to Kabul [TOLO]
  • Snowfall Death Toll Hits 191 [AFP]
  • Number of Women in Government Declined Under NUG, Women’s Affairs Ministry Says [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Defense Pledges Action Against Corruption [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Hekmatyar Taken Off UN Sanctions List: Paving the Way for His Return – and Hezb-e-Islami’s Reunification? – “If his return to Kabul does bring the different groups into which the legal Hezb wing had splintered over the past decade closer together, it would give the party additional political weight.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
  • Commentary: Afghan Asylum Seekers in Europe – The Changing Situation – “Numbers of arrivals – both in general and in terms of Afghans – have dropped significantly, compared with the peak in late 2015, as European countries have since made getting, staying and integrating there more complicated.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Red Cross Workers Killed in Jawzjan Attack; Abducted Activist Speaks After Fleeing Pakistan

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Note: There will be no news update tomorrow; the regular daily update schedule will resume on Monday, February 13, with full coverage of the intervening period. Apologies again for the interruptions and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • Six Afghan Red Cross workers were killed and least two more are missing following an attack in the Qosh Tepa district in Jawzjan on Wednesday; the Red Cross has suspended its operations in Afghanistan, and local officials blame the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic State for the attack. The Islamic State’s Khorasan province affiliate claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack near the Supreme Court in Kabul. The AFP interviews one of five men abducted and detained in Pakistan earlier last month; activist Ahmad Waqas Goraya did not name his captors, but said that “I was critical of policies because I want to see a better Pakistan”. Janes reports that Pakistan and Myanmar are in “advanced negotiations” to license the construction of the joint China-Pakistan JF-17 Thunder fighter jet in Myanmar. At a meeting of corps commanders on Wednesday, Pakistan’s chief of army staff decried cross-border ceasefire violations in Kashmir as a “threat to regional stability”.

Pakistan – Security

  • Missing Activist Speaks: The AFP interviews one of five men abducted earlier last month; Ahmad Waqas Goraya is now living in the Netherlands. He refused to name his captors, but said that “nothing was against Pakistan, nothing was against Islam, I was critical of policies because I want to see a better Pakistan”.
  • Fighter Jet Sale: Janes Defense Weekly reported on Wednesday that Pakistan and Myanmar are in “advanced negotiations” to license the construction of the joint China-Pakistan JF-17 Thunder fighter jet in Myanmar. An order of 16 JF-17 fighters made in 2015 is scheduled to be in service “later this year”. [ET]
  • Arrest in Connection to 2009 Muzafarrabad Attack: On Wednesday, police in Azad Jammu and Kashmir announced the arrest of three men in connection to a December 2009 suicide attack on a Muharram procession in Muzafarrabad.
  • Military Courts: An anonymous opposition party member tells the Express Tribune that “the ball is in [the government’s] court” to secure the renewal of the military courts system, saying “now, it’s up to them to coax their allies into supporting military courts’ extension.” Awami Muslim League Sheikh Rashid and PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah echo that stance.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with India: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa presided over the monthly corps commanders meeting at the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday; the meeting warned that “renewed ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary (WB) pose a threat to regional stability.” On Wednesday, the Milli Yakjehti Council announced plans to hold a week of protest rallies beginning Friday in support of Jamaat ud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed. [Dawn]
  • Afghan Refugee Repatriation: The Express Tribune reports that Tuesday’s federal cabinet meeting decision to extend the deadline for registered Afghan refugees to remain in the country until the end of the year was made without input from provincial governments or the defense or interior ministries; sources in the Ministry of States and Frontier regions say that only the ISI and foreign ministry responded during a comment period prior to the meeting.
  • FATA Reforms: Speaking at a press conference in Peshawar on Wednesday, provincial PTI leaders criticized the PML-N, JUI-F, and PkMAP for delaying the merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa.
  • Other Political Activity: Draft electoral reforms that were approved by the cabinet on Tuesday include provisions that will mandate political parties to allocate at least five percent of non-reserved constituency tickets to female candidates, Reuters reports. The Election Commission has sent notices to 85 national assembly members, including Imran Khan, Fazlur Rehman, and a number of cabinet ministers, after completing an audit of their asset statements. The ECP has also issued summons to Imran and to PML-N lawmaker Hamza Shahbaz, citing them for code of conduct violations during a special election in Jhelum held last August. [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Circular debt within the energy sector has reached Rs 370 billion, a net increase of Rs 50 billion over the previous seven months, the Express Tribune reports; another Rs 335 billion in debts is being held by the Power Holding Company Ltd. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Forms Commission to Review Police Pay [ET]
  • Sindh High Court Again Clears BOL TV Broadcast of Aamir Liaquat Show [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Warns Against Government Use of Private Counsel [Dawn]
  • Germany Company Releases $5M Compensations for Baldia Factory Fire Victims [Dawn]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Orders Reopening of 2000 ‘Ghost’ Schools [ET]
  • Planning Minister Criticizes PIA Management [ET]
  • Balochistan Hit By 6.4 Earthquake [AP]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Red Cross Workers Killed in Jawzjan: Six Afghan employees of the Red Cross were killed and two others remain missing following an attack in the Qush Tepa district in Jawzjan province on Wednesday. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, which the Jawzjan provincial governor blamed on a local affiliate of the Islamic State; the provincial police chief blamed members of the Islamic State of Uzbekistan, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS in Afghanistan. No claim of responsibility has been reported. The Red Cross staffers had been conducting relief efforts to deliver livestock to the area following recent heavy snowfall in the area; Red Cross officials temporarily suspended operations in Afghanistan in the wake of the attack, which is the deadliest for the organization in Afghanistan since it began work in the country. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Supreme Court Bombing: On Wednesday, the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack near the Supreme Court building in Kabul; it is the third major attack in the capital to have been claimed by the group. Survivors and relatives of the victims of the attacks called on the government to take action against those responsible. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Two Islamic State commanders and nine other militants were killed in separate drone strikes in the Haska Mina and Achin districts in Nangarhar on Wednesday, provincial police officials reported.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Economy Minister Predicts Three Percent Growth Next Year [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: China Again Blocks UN Sanctions Against Masood Azhar; Bomber Strikes Near Supreme Court in Kabul

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Note: News updates will remain irregular this week. Coverage from Tues-Weds follows. Apologies for the interruptions in service.

Topline

  • A suicide bomber attacked near the Afghanistan Supreme Court offices in Kabul on Tuesday, killing more than twenty people and wounding more than forty; no claim of responsibility has been reported. U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis and National Security Advisor Flynn spoke by phone with Afghan leaders in the aftermath of the attack. China again blocked an Indian proposal seeking UN Security Council sanctions on Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar. A Pakistani civilian was reportedly killed in cross-border firing in Kashmir on Tuesday. Following meetings on Tuesday with his counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia will host six-nation talks on the Afghan peace process, including Pakistan, India, China, and Iran; the United States was not invited to participate. Pakistan transferred custody to Afghanistan of four Afghan suspects accused of support for the Islamic State on Tuesday. A Pakistani cabinet meeting on Tuesday agreed to extend permission for registered Afghan refugees to remain in the country through the end of the calendar year; decisions on proposals for FATA reforms did not make the agenda. Prime Minister Sharif is reportedly considering naming PML-Q leader Mushahid Hussain Syed as foreign minister, a move that would further split the PML-Q party. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government approved making primary and secondary schooling compulsory up to age 16 and for primary school to be coeducational; Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak also formed an Islamic Ideology Council advisory board, which he tasked with reviewing the public school curriculum.

Pakistan – Security

  • Tensions with India: On Tuesday, the Pakistani military reported that a civilian in Kashmir had been killed in cross-border firing by Indian forces; Pakistan summoned India’s ambassador on Wednesday to protest “the unprovoked ceasefire violation”. Separately, the Lahore High Court dismissed a challenge seeking the release of Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed, tossing out the please on procedural grounds. Meanwhile, China again blocked an Indian proposal in the UN Security Council to sanction Jaish-e-Muhammad leader Masood Azhar. [ET] [ET] [APP] [WAPO]
  • Military Courts: Military officials held another briefing session on the military courts system for parliamentary leaders on Tuesday; leaders of the JUI-F and PkMAP, who have opposed a renewal of the courts’ mandate, did not attend. Opposition party leaders were non-committal following the briefing about an agreement on extension, but criticized the government for failing to keep its allies on board.
  • Bannu Bombing: A suicide car bomber attacked a police station in the Bannu district on Tuesday, damaging the station gate and wounding two officers. A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • Chaman Bombing: A roadside bombing in the Chaman district on Tuesday wounded two Frontier Corps personnel and a civilian bystander. [ET]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Afghan Refugee Repatriation: A cabinet meeting on Tuesday formally approved the extension of permissions for registered Afghan refugees to stay in Pakistan through the end of the 2017 calendar year. [ET] [AP]
  • FATA Reforms: Tuesday’s cabinet meeting did not include a review of recommendations on political reforms in the FATA and proposals for its merger with Khyber Paktunkhwa, Dawn notes. ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan told a public rally in Charsadda on Tuesday that his party would hold a sit-in protest in Islamabad if the merger was not completed by March 12.
  • Karachi Operation: MQM leader Saleem Shahzad was jailed by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi on Tuesday following his arrest after his return to Pakistan. The federal interior minister is also seeking the issuance of an Interpol “red warrant” for MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain; the UK does not have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, and such warrants are not binding on other countries. Meanwhile, Sindh police chief A.D. Khawaja addressed the Karachi Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, calling for independence of the police and reforms of colonial-era police laws. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Foreign Minister Appointment Rumors: The Express Tribune reports that Prime Minister Sharif is considering the appointment of PML-Q leader Mushahid Hussain Syed as foreign minister; the PML-N is also reported to be reaching out to a number of PML-Q provincial assembly members, a move that the report suggests has spurred PML-Q leader to reach out to other factions in a bid to avoid further splits.
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports that cabinet members were divided over the suggestion that electoral laws should be amended to eliminate the use of a caretaker government system to manage the government in between elections. A spokesman for the PTI said that the party would release a package of electoral reform proposals by the end of the month, calling for “complete financial and administrative autonomy of the Election Commission of Pakistan so that it can shed any influence of the government”. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Education Reforms: On Monday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa cabinet approved a number of education reform proposals, including mandating coeducation at the primary school level, making primary and secondary education compulsory for all children between the ages of 5-16, and restricting teacher hiring to women teachers at the primary school level. Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak also approved the creation of an Islamic Ideology Council, saying their “first assignment will be to revise the whole curriculum taught in educational institutes in K-P.” [Dawn]
  • Energy Infrastructure: On Monday, the government announced a 10-year contract with the Hydro Electric Power System Enginee­ring Company (HEPSEC) of China to operate the Nandipur power project; details of the contract were not disclosed. Also on Monday, President Hussain participated in an inauguration ceremony for an 118-megawatt coal-fired power plant operated by the Fauji Fertilizer Bin Qasim Ltd. conglomerate. On Tuesday, Pakistan and the Asian Development Bank signed an agreement for a $325 million loan to support rural electricity distribution in Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa. [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Supreme Court Suggests Open to ‘Softening’ Quetta Civil Hospital Attack Investigation Report [Dawn] [ET]
  • Foreign Advisor Aziz Meets with Bahrain Foreign Minister [Dawn] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Assembly Passes Resolution Condemning US Muslim Entry Ban [Dawn] [ET]
  • Anti-Hate Speech Resolution Withdrawn in Punjab Assembly [ET]
  • Government Debts Grow to Rs 14.5 Trillion [ET]
  • Coal Dumping in Karachi Causes Health Hazards [Dawn]
  • China to Invest $24B in Xinjiang Road Projects for Better Connectivity to Pakistan [APP]
  • Commentary: The Disappeared, Pakistan – “It’s not just that the state is stifling dissent; it’s also making everyone wonder: Have I crossed the line? Where was that line? How come that other person crossed every line of decency and still has a TV show?” [Mohammad Hanif, NYT]
  • Report: A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions without Cutting Ties – “The new Trump Administration must review its policies toward Pakistan in order to more effectively contain, and eventually eliminate, the terrorist threats that continue to emanate from the country. The activities and operations of diverse terror groups on and from Pakistani soil, and the government’s failure to rein them in, threaten vital U.S. national security interests in the region.” [Husain Haqqani and Lisa Curtis, Hudson Institute]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Bombing Near Supreme Court: A suicide bomber – initial reports conflict as to whether he came on foot or by vehicle – detonated near the Supreme Court offices in Kabul during rush hour on Tuesday, killing at least 21 people and wounding more than forty; all of the dead were believed to have been civilians. There was no immediate claim of responsibility; Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah both denounced it, with Ghani saying that “by this act the enemies of the Afghan people once again showed their enmity towards the people.” The White House also issued a statement condemning the attack; Secretary of Defense Mattis spoke by phone with Ghani after the attack, and U.S. National Security Advisor Flynn also spoke with Afghan National Security Advisor Atmar, with both calls affirming U.S. support for Afghanistan. [WSJ] [WAPO] [AP] [Guardian] [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • NATO Assistance: National Security Advisor Atmar met with NATO deputy secretary Rose Gottemoeller in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss continued NATO support for Afghan security forces; in remarks to reporters on Tuesday, Atmar called for additional U.S. close air support assistance for Afghan forces.
  • Pakistan Transfers ISIS Suspects: On Tuesday, Pakistan transferred custody of four suspected members of the Islamic State who had been detained in Peshawar to Afghanistan; all were identified as being residents of Nangarhar. Details on their arrests were not disclosed; the assistant political agent for Landi Kotal, who presided over the transfer, described it as a “gesture of goodwill”. [ET]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Two civilians were killed and a police officer wounded when a suicide bomber attacked the Patan district headquarters in Paktia on Wednesday. Abdul Khaliq Noorzai, the district governor of the Khak-e-Safed district in Farah province, was killed in a roadside bombing outside the provincial capital on Tuesday. U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State fighters in the Haska Mina district in Nangarhar on Monday, killing at least two, and Taliban fighters in Helmand’s Garmser district on Monday, killing at least six. Three civilians, including a child, were killed in a Taliban rocket attack on the outskirts of the Laghman provincial capital on Monday. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Russia Talks: Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavror on Tuesday; Lavrov told reporters afterwards that “”we support efforts of Afghanistan’s leadership in stabilizing the situation in the country and in the war on terror”. Russia will host a six-party conference on the Afghan conflict and options for a peace process with China, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and India in Moscow in mid-February; the United States was not invited to attend, but Russian state media sources suggested that the US “could join the six-nation talks once the new administration there determines what they are planning to do in Afghanistan”. Lavrov said Tuesday that “we have confirmed our common stance that Taliban should be involved in a constructive dialogue in keeping with the criteria contained in the UN Security Council resolutions”. [TOLO]

Afghanistan – Economics and Development

  • Snow Recovery Operations: Afghan security forces rescued more than 700 people trapped by snowfall along the Kabul-Kandahar highway on Monday, officials report. The Afghan National Army delivered relief supplies in parts of Nuristan on Tuesday. On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry offered aid to those affected. In an address on Monday, Pres. Ghani expressed condolences for those affected by the snowfall and avalanches, which have left more than 160 people dead around the country and destroyed hundreds of homes.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • National ID Card Remains Stalled [TOLO]
  • Joint Investigation Over Murder of Afghan Diplomat in Karachi [Khaama Press]
  • Karzai Welcomes De-Listing of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from Sanctions Blacklist [Khaama Press] [Ariana News]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Eight Contracts [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Jamaat-ud-Dawa Renames Following Hafiz Saeed Detention; Hekmatyar Removed from UN Sanctions List

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Note: Due to travel, the summary update schedule will likely be irregular this week. Summaries will continue as soon as possible with coverage of any intervening developments. Apologies for the interruptions and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • Following a house arrest order against Hafiz Saeed last week, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa has reportedly renamed itself as the “Tehreek Azadi Jammu and Kashmir”; Pakistan marked Kashmir Solidarity Day on Sunday, for which the renamed organization held a rally in Lahore.  The UN Security Council approved the removal of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from an international sanctions blacklist on Friday, a move welcomed by the Afghan government. The new annual UN civilian casualties report for 2016 found a three percent increase in injuries and deaths over 2015; child casualties rose by 24%, driven by unexploded ordinance and ground operations near civilian residences. Fox News reported rumors on Friday that Dr. Shakil Afridi might be freed from detention by Pakistan. Taliban fighters attacked the Garmser district in Helmand on Friday; local officials claim to have killed dozens in clearing operations. The ‘Hakimullah Mehsud Group’ led by Khalid Mehsud rejoined the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan last week. Special assistant to the prime minister Tariq Fatemi met with U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale on Friday to discuss future meetings with the new U.S. administration; PPP opposition leaders criticized the government for failing to take a “more proactive approach” against the Trump administration’s visa ban. In a statement on Sunday, the Jamiat-e-Islami leadership council endorsed Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor’s negotiations with Pres. Ghani for a leadership position in the national unity government.  Afghanistan’s foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani will visit Moscow on Tuesday for talks. Heavy snowfall across Afghanistan has killed more than a hundred people and shut down or cut off the Salang Pass, Kabul airport, the Kabul-Kanadahar highway, and multiple villages; the government has imposed an emergency and declared a holiday on Sunday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Jamaat-ud-Dawa Renames: On Saturday, leaders of the Defense of Pakistan Council met in Islamabad and condemned the government’s restrictions on Hafiz Saeed and JuD, and on Friday the Islamabad Bar Association protested Saeed’s detention. Police in Hyderabad shut down a Jamaat-ud-Dawa conference on Kashmir on Friday; the Indian press reported on Saturday that the JuD is continuing operations under a new name, the “Tehreek Azadi Jammu and Kashmir”, which held a rally in Lahore on Sunday. Pakistan commemorated ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ on Sunday; in a statement issued the day prior, Prime Minister Sharif “call[ed] upon the international community to raise its voice in seeking an end to the gross violations of human rights and the reign of terror unleashed by Indian occupation forces in Indian Occupied Kashmir and fulfil the promises it made with the people of Jammu and Kashmir 70 years ago”. Weather disrupted the prime minister’s planned travel to Muzaffarabad. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa also visited the Lahore Garrison on Saturday, where he accused India of “trying to divert the world’s attention from its atrocities against innocent Kashmiris in occupied Kashmir” through ceasefire violations along the Line of Control. Also on Saturday, Pakistan’s military public relations arm released a song commemorating stone-throwing youth militants in Indian Kashmir. On Monday, Pakistan’s military accused India of “unprovoked firing” across the Line of Control; no casualties were reported. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Shakil Afridi Rumored for Release: Fox News reported Friday that Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor detained for his role in a CIA surveillance program in connection to the tracking of Osama bin Laden, “could be released as early as May”. The report indicates that both Prime Minister Sharif and ISI chief Naveed Mukhtar are supporting Afridi’s release, but that Army Chief of Operations Gen. Waseem Ashraf has yet to give his approval. Special assistant to the prime minister Tariq Fatemi told GEO News on Saturday that “we will handle this issue within the parameters of our legal system but at the same time we don’t want it to become an irritant with anyone”; he denied that Afridi’s release was a subject of discussion with the Trump administration, however.
  • TTP Faction Rejoins: On Thursday, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan announced that Khalid Mehsud aka Khan Said or ‘Sajna’, the former leader of the breakaway ‘Hakimullah Mehsud Group’, had rejoined the TTP and been named as a deputy to TTP chief Maulana Fazlullah. The Express Tribune also reports that the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi “have been discussing the possibility of forming a joint front”, without providing further details.
  • Karachi Operation: Sindh Rangers chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Saeed visited Lyari on Friday, where he praised the Rangers for the operation that killed local gang leader Baba Ladla. His family protested outside the Karachi Press Club on Saturday, calling for an inquiry into his killing. [ET]
  • PPP Leader Injured: Shaukat Basra, a PPP leader and former provincial assembly member from the Bahawalnagar district, was injured and his assistant killed in an exchange of fire with rival PML-Z activists on Monday. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • U.S. Relations: Special assistant to the prime minister Tariq Fatemi met with U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale on Friday to discuss bilateral relations and future meetings with the new U.S. administration. Fatemi was quoted as cautioning that “approaches that divide the world on religious, ethnic and racial lines should be eschewed”, but not as having commented directly on the U.S. travel ban. The Express Tribune reports that Fatemi held two previously undisclosed meetings with members of the Trump transition team during his visit to Washington in December, which sources suggest left the government optimistic over future ties and inclined to “adopt a more cautious approach”. PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah criticized the government’s response, saying it needed to take a “more proactive approach”. Speaking on Friday during a visit to Washington, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that adding Pakistan to the list of banned countries would be “counterproductive”. The BBC notes “high levels of anxiety” amongst Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans seeking to travel to the country, but quotes an unnamed administration spokesperson who says that there are no “imminent” plans to add more countries to the list of those banned; the executive order itself has been suspended pending court litigation.
  • Panama Papers Hearings: Hearings are expected to again be delayed this week as Judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh continues to recover from angioplasty surgery carried out last week.
  • Qatari Ties: In an interview on Saturday, Qatar’s ambassador to Pakistan said that the government was “not involved” in the Panama Papers case, describing it as an “internal issue”; Imran Khan touted that statement as evidence that two letters from Qatari royals used by the Sharif family in its documentation of the money trail behind its London real estate had been fake. Separately, the sixteen members of the emir of Qatar’s advance party arrested in Mashkeel last week have been transferred to Quetta.
  • FATA Reforms: State and Frontier Regions Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch met with the FATA national assembly delegation on Friday; the Express Tribune reports that the government has agreed to replace the Frontier Crimes Regulation in the FATA with the “Rivaj Act”, a hybrid of state law and tribal custom. JUI-F representative Maulana Jamaluddin was the only FATA legislator not to sign an agreement on the change in law, reiterating his party’s demand for a public referendum.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution Measure Passed: On Friday, the National Assembly passed legislation that gives legal and constitutional authority to customary dispute resolution systems; jurisdiction is initially limited to Islamabad, however. Under the legislation, the government and high courts will identify a list of local mediators, to include “lawyers, retired Judges of superior and subordinate judiciary, retired civil servants, social workers, ulema, jurists, technocrats and expels [sic] and such other persons of repute and integrity”.
  • Other Political Activity: Former Pres. Zardari has yet to return to Pakistan after leaving in mid-January, and the Express Tribune reports that he is again conducting meetings with party leadership in Dubai. Prime Minister Sharif met with several senior PML-N leaders in Sindh during his visit to Hyderabad on Friday to inaugurate the new Karachi-Hyderabad motorway project, seeking to mollify candidates who were passed over for appointment as the new Sindh governor. Speaking at the inauguration, Sharif remarked that “the people of Pakistan can well distinguish the dedicated and selfless leaders from those who have wasted time of the nation by impeding development through protests.” PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain met with former Pres. Musharraf in Dubai on Sunday to discuss the merger of their party with his APML party and the PML-F, under the banner of the ‘United Muslim League’. MQM-London leader Saleem Shahzad was arrested upon his return to Pakistan on Monday. The Express Tribune reports that Muhammad Tahir Khan Umarzai, a founding member of the PTI and close associate of Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak, has decided to defect to join the PML-N; he tells the paper that “the party has completely lost its ideology and is promoting the status quo now.”  [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Foreign Investment: On Friday, Nishat Mills, a textile subsidiary of the Nishat Group conglomerate, announced an agreement with Hyundai Motor Company to establish a car assembly plant in Pakistan; Hyundai previously assembled cars in the country but withdrew in 2004 after the collapse of their local partner. No details were released on the size of the planned investment. Separately, the British company Asian Precious Metals announced plans for a $400M cement plant in Khyber Paktunkhwa. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Amendments to Criminal Law to Raise Penalties for Inciting Religious Hatred [Dawn]
  • PM Plans Visit to Gilgit to Support CPEC [ET]
  • JUI-F Seminary Sealed in Charsadda [ET]
  • Sindh High Court Gives Split Order on Asim Hussain Bail [Dawn]
  • National Assembly Speaker Meets Egyptian Envoy [Dawn] [ET]
  • Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Aamir Liaquat Talk Show [Dawn] [ET]
  • Net Public Debt Crosses Rs 18 Trillion [Dawn]
  • National Assembly Committee Opposives Heavy Mechanical Complex Privatization [Dawn]
  • Oil and Gas Imports Under Negotiation with Azerbaijan [ET]
  • FBR to Audit 115 Politicians [ET]
  • High Consumer Interest Rates Continue Despite Historically Low State Bank Policy Rate [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Trump Versus Pakistan – “U.S. engagement with the region has revolved around two organizing ideas – China and the war on terrorism, of which the Afghanistan war is a part. For one, Washington needs India, and, for the other, it needs Pakistan.” [Touqir Hussain, The Diplomat]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: The UN annual report on civilian casualties in 2016, released on Monday, found a 3% rise over 2015 levels, with 3,498 deaths and 7,920 wounded, a record high. The number of child casualties spiked sharply by 24% compared to the previous year, primarily as a result of unexploded ordinance and ground operations near civilian residences. Roughly two thirds of all casualties were attributed to anti-government forces, although the share caused by government forces rose, particularly those caused by air strikes, which increased by 99% compared to the year prior. Civilian casualties from attacks by Islamic State-affiliated forces also rose around tenfold from the previous year, with at least 899 deaths and injuries attributed to the group, compared to at least 4,953 attributed to the Taliban. [WSJ] [AP] [Guardian] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [UN Statement] [UN Report (pdf)]
  • Diplomat Killed in Karachi: Muhammad Zaki, the third secretary of Afghanistan’s consulate in Karachi, was killed by a private security guard in a shooting incident on Monday; police officials attributed the shooting to “some sort of personal grudge”. The guard, also said to be an Afghan national, has been arrested and the incident is under investigation. [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters attacked the Garmser district in Helmand on Friday afternoon; local officials claim to have killed 16 insurgents and to have rebuffed the attack. On Sunday, the Ministry of Defense said that as many as 54 fighters had been killed in a joint clearance operation in the district over the past 24 hours. On Monday, the ministry reported that ten Taliban fighters were killed in operations in the Sangin district. In a TOLO news interview, Sar-e-Pul governor Mohammad Zahir Wahdat expressed concern over deteriorating security in the province, claiming that Tahir Yoldash, the son of the late chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, had relocated to the Sayad district and was recruiting for the Islamic State. A spokesman for the governor reported that an ALP commander in the Sayad district defected to join the Taliban on Sunday. Islamic State fighters attacked an Afghan Local Police checkpost in Nangarhar’s Kot district on Thursday night; local officials report 12 ISIS fighters and 5 ALP militiamen were killed. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sanctions Against Gulbuddin Hekmatyar Lifted: On Friday, the UN Security Council approved the removal of Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from an international sanctions blacklist; a spokesman for Pres. Ghani welcomed the move as “a major step toward peace and stability in Afghanistan”. Both Russia and France were previously reported to have placed holds on Hekmatyar’s de-listing, which the government sought last fall as part of a peace agreement with HIG; the AFP reports that France “later changed its mind”, and no reporting has explained the change in position on Russia’s part. Hekmatyar spokesman Amin Karim also welcomed the move, saying that the agreement “shows political discussions are the only logical way to achieve peace in Afghanistan”; he again said that the HIG would not disarm as a result of the agreement, which the ministry of defense’s spokesman rejected. The Taliban’s spokesman said that the delisting “will not help end the foreign occupation in Afghanistan… this will not solve the Afghan problem.” [AP] [WAPO]
  • Jamiat Endorses Noor Negotiations: In a statement on Sunday, the leadership council of the Jamiat-e-Islami, of which Balkh governor Atta Mohammad noor is a leading member, endorsed his negotiations with Pres. Ghani, saying that those talks were carried out “on behalf of Jamiat and in complete understanding with party leadership council”. The statement also reiterated a “call to the government leaders to ensure the implementation of the political agreement and to ensure the participation of representatives of people from all walks of society as it forms a key principle of governance”. [Pajhwok]
  • Foreign Minister to Visit Russia: Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani will visit Moscow on Tuesday of this week to hold talks on “political, technical, military, economic, trade, cultural issues”.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Meets with Chinese Ambassador [Khaama Press]
  • High Peace Council Appointment Under Review, Presidential Spokesman Says [TOLO]
  • Dispute Over the Term ‘Afghan’ Delays National ID Cards [TOLO]
  • Eight Governors Yet to Register Assets [TOLO]
  • Justice Ministry Opens Legal Advice Hotline [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Abdullah Spokesman Warns Against Cuts to His Share of Power; Pakistan Cautions Over US Refugee Ban

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Topline

  • Following further reports of negotiations between Pres. Ghani and Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah warned on Thursday that “no individual and no force would be allowed to undermine or move the political share of the CEO to someone else”. Pakistan’s foreign ministry responded cautiously to questions about new U.S. visa restrictions for seven other Muslim-majority countries, saying that “countries would be well advised to adopt policies that are not susceptible to be exploited as propaganda tools by entities wishing to see cracks in the coalition against extremism and terrorism along religious line”. Eight Faryab police were killed in an insider attack in the Almar district on Thursday, reportedly carried out by the outpost commander’s nephew. Pakistan’s interior ministry challenged the findings of a judicial investigation into last summer’s bombing of the Quetta Civil Hospital and the ministry’s response. A Pakistani parliamentary committee has proposed the replacement of the National Accountability Bureau with a National Accountability Commission, allowing for cases to be heard in regular district courts and eliminating the use of the plea bargain. On Thursday, the National Assembly passed a law allowing the Islamabad High Court to impose fees for frivolous litigation or adjournments. India has loosened visa restrictions for Afghan nationals, extending the duration of tourist visas to one year and business visas to up to five years.

Pakistan — Security

  • Quetta Hospital Attack Investigations: On Friday, lawyers representing the interior ministry filed a response in the Supreme Court challenging the findings of a judicial commission that had investigated and criticized the ministry’s handling of the attack last summer at the Quetta Civil Hospital.
  • Hafiz Saeed Detention: India’s foreign ministry spokesman brushed off Pakistani calls for India to provide more evidence against Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed, saying on Thursday that “the concrete evidence that Pakistan establishment is looking for is already available in Pakistan. All they need to find is requisite political will”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Visa Ban: In response to a question at a weekly Thursday press conference about new U.S. visa restrictions on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said that it was “every country’s sovereign right to decide its immigration policy,” but cautioned that “countries would be well advised to adopt policies that are not susceptible to be exploited as propaganda tools by entities wishing to see cracks in the coalition against extremism and terrorism along religious line”. [ET]
  • Anti-Corruption Reforms: The parliamentary committee reviewing accountability and anti-corruption laws has proposed the replacement of the National Accountability Bureau with a new National Accountability Commission, cutting the chairman’s tenure in office short by one year to a three-year term, allowing for regular district court s to hear corruption cases, and eliminating the use of plea bargain agreements. During Supreme Court hearings on Thursday, judges pressed NAB chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry over the use of a plea bargain agreement with former Balochistan finance secretary Mushtaq Raisani.
  • FATA Reforms: Members of the ‘All FATA Political Parties Alliance’, who support the FATA’s merger with Khyber Paktunkhwa, told a Peshawar press conference on Thursday that they would participate in a conference scheduled to take place in Islamabad on Feb 6 that is being organized by FATA parliamentarians to discuss proposed FATA reforms.
  • Legal Reforms: On Thursday, the National Assembly passed a bill, backed by the government and opposition, allowing for the Islamabad High Court to impose additional fines for frivolous litigation, false statements, or repeated unnecessary adjournment motions in court cases; the government is not liable for such costs. [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Following a Sindh High Court ruling against the Sindh Chief Minister’s delegation of powers to advisors, three advisors and seven special assistants to the Chief Minister resigned on Thursday. In an interview on Thursday, defense minister Khawaja Asif argued that Finance Minister Dar’s 2000 money laundering confession had been recorded under duress while being detained by the Musharraf regime, and should not be taken as evidence in the Panama Papers hearings.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Man Killed by Islamabad Police After Failing to Stop at Checkpoint [Dawn] [ET]
  • Prime Minister Inaugurates Karachi-Hyderabad Highway [Dawn]
  • Chinese Firms Eye Pakistan Investments Amid CPEC Splurge [Reuters] [APP]
  • UK Media Watchdog Pulls ARY TV Broadcast Licenses [Dawn] [ET]
  • PEMRA Fines Samaa TV Over Election Commission Criticism [APP]
  • Parliamentary Committee Seeks Investigation into Misuse of OGDCL Fund [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Assembly Mandates DNA Test in Rape Cases [ET]
  • Interior Minister Suspends Action Against Ridesharing Services [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Faryab provincial police officials report that at least eight regular and local police were killed in an insider attack in the Almar district on Thursday night; of the victims were reportedly members of the same family, and the attacker was reported to be a nephew of the station commander. Islamic State fighters attacked a police checkpost in the Kot district in Nangarhar, killing at least one police officer. In Paktika province’s Yusof Khali district, unidentified gunmen killed a local cleric and his wife; no claim of responsibility has been reported. Helmand officials reported on Friday 18 Taliban fighters had been killed in ground and air operations in the Sangin district.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • National Unity Government Divisions: A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah warned on Thursday that “no individual and no force would be allowed to undermine or move the political share of the CEO to someone else”, following further reports on talks between Pres. Ghani and Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor. Abdullah met with a group on Thursday and backed constitutional reforms to change the Afghan political system, but said members of parliament should make the “final decision” on those proposals. [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • India Loosens Visa Restrictions: On Friday, the Indian embassy in Kabul announced that it was extending the duration of tourists visas for Afghan nationals to one year, with individuals allowed to stay in-country for up to 90 days continuously. Business visas will have terms of up to five years, with a continuous stay of up to 180 days allowed for each visit. [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Afridi Family Denied ID Card Renewals; Drone Strike Kills Breakaway Taliban Faction Leader

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Topline

  • Family members of Dr. Shakil Afridi are being denied renewals of their computerized national ID cards, block their access to many government services, a lawyer for Afridi tells the AFP. A son-in-law of the breakaway Taliban faction commander Mullah Muhammad Rasool was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike targeting a vehicle traveling between the Khost and Kurram border. An advisor for Pres. Ghani confirmed reports that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar would return to Kabul in the next two to three weeks, and said the government was working provide housing for him and would appoint around 200 Hezb-e-Islami members to a new protective service detail for Hekmatyar. The Sindh Rangers announced on Thursday that they had killed Lyari gang leader Baba Ladla in a raid; two of his associates and two police officers were also killed. Muhammad Zubair was sworn in as the new Sindh governor on Thursday. Pakistan’s Air Force denied reports that a special flight had been chartered to transport a horse gifted by Prime Minister Sharif to the emir of Qatar; separately, a group of the emir’s advance staff were reportedly arrested in Balochistan after they tried to circumvent a Levies checkpoint in Mashkeel. Pakistani expatriates who have not lived in the country for six months will not be counted in the upcoming census, the Statistics Bureau announced on Wednesday.

Pakistan — Security

  • ID Cards Denied to Shakil Afridi Family Members: A lawyer for Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor detained in connection to his alleged cooperation with the CIA in conducting surveillance in Abbottabad as part of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, told the AFP on Wednesday that Afridi’s wife and children were being denied a renewal of their computerized National ID cards, which restricts their ability to enroll children in school, obtain a passport, or vote in elections, among other key functions. Afridi’s own card expired in 2014 and he has also been denied renewal.
  • Lyari Gang Leader Killed: On Thursday, the Sindh Rangers announced that they had killed Lyari gang leader Noor Muhammad, aka Baba Ladla, as well as two of his close associates. Two police officers were also killed in the operation.
  • Hafiz Saeed Detention: In a statement on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry rebuffed Indian calls for a “credible crackdown” on Hafiz Saeed and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, saying that the government had placed him under house arrest “as per its obligations vis-à-vis listing of JuD under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267,” and that “Pakistan is a democratic society, where judiciary takes free, independent and transparent decisions. If indeed India is serious about its allegations, it should come up with concrete evidence” against Saeed that could be used in a court of law. [ET] [ET]
  • Military Courts: The Express Tribune reports that a faction of the PML-N, including Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Finance Minister Dar, are pushing for the government to take action to renew the military courts system and resolve the investigations into a leaked account of civil-military tensions last fall, out of concern over the government’s relationship with the military.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Qatari Ties: Prime Minister Sharif has reportedly gifted a horse to Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani; a spokesman for the Pakistan Air Force denied that it was being transported to Qatar through a special C-130 flight. Separately, on Wendesday Balochistan Levies officials arrested sixteen members of the emir’s advance staff who were in Mashkeel to prepare for a bustard hunt, and who attempted to circumvent a checkpoint barrier. [ET]
  • Sindh Governor Sworn In: Former privatization commission chairman Muhammad Zubair was sworn in as the governor of Sindh on Thursday; he is a brother of PTI leader Asad Umar. Zubair’s appointment opens a vacancy at the privatization commission; the Express Tribune names Miftah Ismail, Daniyal Aziz, and Ashfaq Tola as potential candidates for replacement, in a piece that also notes delays in appointing a finance secretary and chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Census Planning: Pakistani expatriates who have lived outside the country for more than six months will not be counted in the upcoming census scheduled to begin in mid-March, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics announced on Wednesday, potentially impacting around seven million overseas workers. Six months’ residence in a new province will also be required to be counted as a resident of that area.
  • TAPI Pipeline: Route survey and feasibility study work on the TAPI gas pipeline project will begin in Pakistan in mid-February, to be carried out by the German firm ILF.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Sialkot Cantonment [Dawn] [ET]
  • Azada Jammu and Kashmir Police Arrest ‘Tehreek-e-Taliban Kashmir’ Suspect [Dawn]
  • More than 800 Militant Surrender Over Past Year in Balochistan [Dawn]
  • MQM Accuses Sindh Government of Discrimination [ET]
  • Stability Helps Boost Middle-Income Consumption in Pakistan [WSJ]
  • Baldia Factory Fire Survivors Reject Settlement Offer [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Blocks LPG Auction [Dawn]
  • Pakistan’s Oil Production Reaches Two-Year High [ET]
  • PML-N Legislators Criticize Government Agriculture Policies [Dawn]
  • Report: Water Security: Pakistan’s Most Critical Development Challenge – “Pakistan’s water profile has changed drastically from being a water abundant country, to one experiencing water stress.” [UNDP Pakistan]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Family of Breakaway Taliban Commander Killed in US Strike: A vehicle carrying Mullah Akhtar Rasool, the son-in-law of the commander of a breakaway Taliban faction who was reportedly detained in Pakistan last spring, was hit by a U.S. drone strike on the border between Khost and the Kurram Agency, Pakistani press sources report. Akhtar Rasool, also said to be a leader of that breakaway faction, is reported to have been killed in the strike along with four others; details remain limited. [Dawn]
  • Helmand Operations: Helmand provincial officials report that at least 32 Taliban fighters have been killed over three days of fighting in the Sangin district; details on Afghan security forces’ casualties have not been released. During his visit to Lashkar Gah, Chief Executive Abdullah met with Afghan soldiers and vowed to defend the city. [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: On Thursday, the Ministry of Defense reported that at least twelve Islamic State fighters, including commander Qari Munib, were killed in airstrikes in the Achin district; earlier on Wednesday, two U.S. drone strikes in the Haska Mina district reportedly killed five ISIS fighters. Two doctors working for the Badghis Public Health Department were kidnapped in the Qadis district on Wednesday evening, and are believed to be held by the Taliban. Kandahar provincial officials say they disrupted an operation that was preparing a suicide car bombing attack in the Maiwind district. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hezb-e-Islami Agreement: An advisor to Pres. Ghani confirms to TOLO that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar will return to Kabul within the next two to three weeks despite the unresolved question of his removal from the UN sanctions blacklist, and that the government would provide housing for him. Around 200 Hezb-e-Islami members will also be appointed under the General Directorate for the Protection of VIPs to provide security for Hekmatyar.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Germany Indicts Afghan Man Believed to Have Fought with Taliban [AP]
  • Italy Pledges Assistance for 155 KM Herat Road Project [Khaama Press]
  • Central Bank Seeks Recall of Defaced Banknotes [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Art of the Deal in Afghanistan – “Reaching a settlement would require the United States to keep an open-ended troop presence as its main bargaining chip, while demonstrating willingness to discuss and negotiate a timetable for complete troop withdrawal with Afghanistan, its neighbors and the Taliban.” [Barnett Rubin, NYT]