Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Afghan Army Intelligence Officer Detained at Chaman; PM Sharif Touts Development Projects

Topline

  • An Afghan army intelligence officer was reportedly arrested near the Chaman border crossing in Balochistan on Thursday. Prime Minister Sharif continued to tout his government’s commitment to infrastructure development, contrasting his focus on “the country’s progress” with his opponents’ “protests and rallies”. Pres. Ghani is reported to be reviewing a list of death row prisoners, amid calls for their execution following last week’s attack in Kabul. The Pentagon is expected to announce details today of the disciplinary actions it has taken against sixteen servicemembers in connection to the October 2015 hospital bombing in Kunduz. One of the suspects in the Imran Farooq murder case, Khalid Shamim, appear in an interrogation video on GEO TV on Wednesday, repeating allegations that MQM leader Altaf Hussain had ordered the assassination of Farooq in London in 2010. On Thursday, Afghan presidential spokesmen denounced the reported visit by a Taliban delegation to Islamabad this week, saying “a terrorist group does not have the right to travel to countries. We expect Pakistan to have government-to-government relations with Afghanistan.” Pakistan will need to pay the full $700 million price for eight F-16 fighter jets planned for sale, State Department sources tell the BBC, after Congress blocked price subsidy assistance.

Pakistan — Security

  • Afghan Intelligence Officer Arrested: An Afghan National Army intelligence officer, identified as Rozi Khan, was reportedly arrested near the Chaman border crossing in Balochistan on Thursday, Dawn reports. His arrest follows the detention of a National Directorate of Security agent in Chaman earlier this month.
  • F-16 Sales: Congress’ refusal to approve Foreign Military Financing for the planned sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan means Pakistan will have to pay the full unsubsidized price itself of roughly $700 million, anonymous State Department sources tell the BBC. During House Foreign Affairs Committee hearings on Wednesday, Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called for a halt to the sale, saying Pakistan “does not need and will probably not use [the F-16s] in its supposed fight against terrorism”. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Prime Minister Touts Development Plans: At a groundbreaking ceremony for a new highway segment in Mansehra on Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif pledged his commitment to “making Pakistan and its people prosper”, contrasting his focus on “the country’s progress” with others’ focus on “protests and rallies”. The prime minister also pledged Rs 1 billion in funds for Hazara University, and inaugurated a new gas supply pipeline. His brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also attended groundbreaking ceremonies in Bahawalpur on Thursday, saying that “people should reject the politics of agitation”, which was stalling economic progress, and that “those who have been staging sit-ins do not want the country to flourish”. Separately, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman spoke by phone with Prime Minister Sharif, pledging his party’s support and dismissing the significance of the Panama papers leaks. In parliament, the PPP accused the government of using public funds to place advertisements in papers defending the prime minister. Attorney General of Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf met with representatives of the Supreme Court Bar Association on Thursday. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Video of Suspect Alleging MQM Involvement in Imran Farooq Murder: GEO TV broadcast a video on Wednesday showing the apparent interrogation of one of the suspects in the Imran Farooq murder case, Khalid Shamim, in which Shamim alleges that MQM leader Altaf Hussain had personally directed the assassination of Farooq in London. The interior ministry has ordered an investigation into the video’s leak. The MQM denounced the broadcast as a “mockery of justice” and part of “the MQM’s media trial”. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Unofficial results indicate that the PML-N candidate in the NA-267 Jhal Magsi by-election, Khalid Khan Magsi, is leading his PTI rival by approximately 27,000 votes to approximately 16,000. PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi led rallies in Nawabshah on Thursday, pledging action against corruption. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Seminaries Boom in Absence of Government Checks [Dawn]
  • Chief of Army Staff Observes Jhelum Exercises [ET] [APP]
  • Ecologists Criticize PTI Tree-Planting Campaign [Dawn]
  • Filmmaker Challenges ‘Maalik’ Ban [Dawn] [ET]
  • Public Accounts Committee Authorizes Probe Into Ministry of Religious Affairs Phone Purchases [ET]
  • Balochistan Chief Minister Seeks Chinese Coal Investments [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Detainee Releases: The Post notes that at least one of the attackers in the Kabul bombing last week had previously been detained in Bagram prison but was later released as part of periodic amnesties by the Karzai administration; in a Taliban video this week, the alleged bomber, Abdul Wali, credits prison for strengthening his faith. A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah suggested that “those who have released criminals from prisons will be held accountable by the government.” Pres. Ghani is reported to be reviewing a list of death row prisoners, amidst calls for the government to avenge the Kabul attack by carrying out executions of detained Taliban leaders, specifically Anas Haqqani, a son of Jalaluddin Haqqani arrested in October 2014. [TOLO]
  • Punishments for Kunduz Hospital Bombing: Reuters reports that the U.S. military will announce on Friday that it has taken disciplinary action against 16 servicemembers in connection to the October 2015 bombing of a Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, which killed at least 42 people. At least one general officer is among those subjected to non-judicial disciplinary action, which military officials say will be effectively “career-ending”. [AP]
  • Herat Prosecutor Killed: Samiuddin Rahin, who sources variously described as the chief prosecutor or appellate court chief in Herat province, was killed in a drive-by shooting near his home in the capital city on Thursday. At least one younger son — TOLO reports two — was also wounded in the attack. No claim of responsibility has been reported.
  • Russian Assistance: Acting Afghan defense minister Masoom Stanekzai met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu on Thursday and agreed to form a “military-technical cooperation committee”; they are also reported to have discussed intelligence sharing and training assistance.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: In a statement on Thursday, spokesmen for the Afghan presidential palace said that the visit by a Taliban delegation to Islamabad this week is “totally questionable”, adding that “a terrorist group does not have the right to travel to countries. We expect Pakistan to have government-to-government relations with Afghanistan.” The statement also said that “the remarks by the Taliban group is mainly aimed at deviating the public thoughts from the crimes the group committed and is currently committing”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Sayyaf Warns Against ‘Sidelining’ Mujahadeen Veterans [TOLO]
  • Ghazni Calls for Security Unit to Safeguard Historical Sites [TOLO]
  • Report: “We Knew They Had No Future in Kabul”: Why and How Afghan Families Decide to Leave – “There are clear information and knowledge gaps on the reasons behind the current, increased levels of Afghan migration. For this reason, this brief study aimed to explore the decision-making processes at the family level of a small number of migrants.” [AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Uzair Baloch Shifted to Police Custody; US ‘Not Satisfied’ on Pakistani Action Against Haqqanis

Topline

  • Former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch was transferred to police custody on Wednesday as his ninety-day detention period under the Sindh Rangers’ custody neared an end; Rangers officials claim he has confessed to involvement in nearly 200 murders, but the new case against him relates to new weapons charges. Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson said that Pakistan had not taken action against terrorist groups that threaten its neighbors, and “we will not be satisfied until Pakistan makes a decisive shift in its policy toward these externally-focused groups”. In Senate finance committee hearings on Wednesday, State Bank of Pakistan officials an other analysts acknowledge that the lack of restrictions on the transfer of foreign exchange outside Pakistan may make prosecution of individuals who hold offshore businesses impossible. A female foreign aid worker is reported to have been kidnapped while traveling the Kabul-Jalalabad highway on Thursday; no further details have been reported. Taliban fighters are reported to have taken control of the Dahan-e-Ghori district in Baghlan. The Lahore High Court has punted a petition challenging the authority of a Jamaat-ud-Dawa ‘Shariat court’ in Lahore to the interior ministry. The federal government’s FATA Reform Committee has reportedly produced draft legislation that will extend the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court into the FATA.

Pakistan — Security

  • Former Lyari Gang Leader Transferred to Police Custody: On Wednesday, the Sindh Rangers transferred former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch to two weeks of policy custody, following his announced arrest on January 30. Baloch is reported to be facing new weapons charges after leading police to a cache of arms; his ninety-day detention period had been set to expire today. An anonymous Rangers source claims to the Express Tribune that Baloch has confessed to involvement in as many as 198 murders, as well as extortion, targeted killings, drug distribution, and “anti-state activities”. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Campaigning: The Express Tribune notes the failure of previous investigation commissions to dig up information on non-performing bank loan write-offs for politically-connected beneficiaries, and expresses doubts that the government’s current investigations will prove more successful. Testifying before the Senate finance committee on Wednesday, State Bank of Pakistan officials and analysts acknowledged that 1992 legislation had removed most restrictions on taking foreign exchange outside Pakistan, limiting the government’s ability to prosecute offshore business holders. A cabinet meeting on Wednesday is reported to have been upbeat about the prime minister’s ability to weather the opposition; on Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated a new highway section in Mansehra. The Supreme Court Bar Association declined a PPP invitation to join a conference of opposition party leaders planned for next Monday, although the SCBA has endorsed the PPP’s call for special legislation to form the investigation commission into the Panama papers, and has criticized the government’s planned commission as “powerless”. The PTI has filed a petition seeking the disqualification of the prime minister’s son-in-law, Mohammad Safdar, alleging that he hid assets of his wife, Maryam Nawaz; the party also accused the information ministry of using public funds to defame the PTI, and threatened to take legal action. PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi led an anti-corruption rally in Badin on Wednesday. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Punts on Jamaat-ud-Dawa ‘Court’: In a ruling on Wednesday, the Lahore High Court directed the Punjab interior ministry to take a petition originally brought to the LHC by a Lahore property developer who has challenged a summons issued to him by a Jamaat-u-Dawa “Shariat Court”; the LHC ruling directs the interior ministry to “decide the matter in accordance with the law after hearing the parties concerned”. A spokesman for Jamaat ud Dawa denied allegations of coercion.
  • Tensions with India: Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said there had been no breakthrough in his talks with his counterpart S. Jaishankar in New Delhi earlier this week and no agreement on a future meeting of the foreign secretaries as part of the comprehensive dialogue process. Chaudhry said that “Pakistan is ready for dialogue, whenever India agrees to it”. Separately, the Indian Border Security Force said that it had activated a dozen laser fences in “infiltration-prone” areas along the Line of Control in Kashmir, with as many as 45 planned in total. [Dawn] [ET]
  • FATA Reforms: Dawn reports that the government’s FATA Reform Committee has produced draft legislation that will extend the Peshawar High Court’s jurisdiction to the FATA, applying the Pakistani civil and criminal procedural codes to the tribal areas. The legislation retains the authority of political agents as magistrates, and formalizes the formulation of “councils of elders” to advise judges on dispute rulings.
  • Other Political Activity: Despite opposition objections, the ruling PPP government passed legislation amending the Sindh local government law to tighten controls over local government bodies, establishing “regional directorates” to “monitor” local council activities. Special elections to fill the vacant NA-267 Jhal Magsi constituency are being held today. Rival PPP and PML-N district council candidates and their supporters clashed at a Khanpur tehsil hospital in Bahalwalpur on Tuesday, leaving many injured. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Pakistan ‘Ready to Go it Alone’, IMF Says: In a Reuters interview, IMF Middle East and Central Asia department head Masood Ahmed says that Pakistan has made progress in building up foreign currency reserves, cutting the federal budget deficit, and bringing up growth rates over the course of the three-year $6.7 billion loan agreement with the IMF, although he noted low export levels and the need for continued reforms.
  • Budget Planning: On Wednesday, the federal cabinet approved a budget strategy paper for the coming fiscal year, setting a target of 6.5% growth rate, increasing the investment-to-GDP rate to 19.5%, and keeping inflation at 6%. Total outlays for the coming fiscal year are planned to be Rs 1.497 trillion, up 14% from the current year, driven primarily by an increase in spending for the Public Sector Development Program.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Air Force Plans Induction of JF-17B by April 2017 [Dawn] [ET]
  • Two Alleged Baloch Republican Army Militants Killed in Panjgur Camp [Dawn]
  • Government Forms ‘National Ulema and Mashaikh Council’ [Dawn]
  • Indirect Taxation Prohibited Under Sharia, Council of Islamic Ideology Says [Dawn] [ET]
  • US Trade Representative Removes Pakistan From Intellectual Property ‘Shame List’ [Reuters]
  • Hearing on Challenge to Nationa Crisis Management Cell Merger with NACTA Adjourned [Dawn]
  • Foreign Advisor Sartaj Aziz Hold Talks with Chinese Foreign Minister [APP]
  • Federal Government Bans Film ‘Maalik’ [Dawn] [ET]
  • NARA Merged with NADRA to ‘Curb Illegal Immigration’ [Dawn]
  • Commentary: What is Wrong with Madrasas? – “ Background interviews with police officials and madrasa administrators in Multan, Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan suggest that the official attitude towards madrasas has shifted from benign indifference in the past to intrusive watchfulness.” [Umer Farooq, Moosa Kaleem, Nasir Jamal, Ghulam Dastageer, and Saher Baloch, Dawn Herald]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Aid Worker Kidnapped: Nangarhar security officials report that an unidentified female foreign aid worker has been kidnapped while traveling on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway; details are limited, and her identity or the location of the kidnapping have not been reported. [TOLO]
  • Insider Attack: Laghman provincial police officials reported on Thursday that a police officer killed three colleagues in an insider attack at a checkpost in the provincial capital of Mehtarlam; the Taliban claimed responsibility for sponsoring the attack.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters are reported to have taken control of multiple police checkpoints in the Dahan-e-Ghori district in Baghlan province, and to have encircled much of the district, closing off roads. In Kunduz, the ministry of defense claims to have arrested as many as sixty suspected militants in an overnight raid, which also killed six. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Olson Testifies at HFAC: Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson said that “we believe Pakistan has not taken action against terrorist groups that threaten its neighbours” and that “it is time to take action against terrorist groups more robustly, that threaten Afghanistan”, saying “we will not be satisfied until Pakistan makes a decisive shift in its policy toward these externally-focused groups”. [TOLO] [HFAC Hearing]
  • Taliban Talks: Dawn notes that the reported visit by a Taliban delegation to Islamabad coincides with the arrival of U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jonathan Carpenter; the Taliban’s spokesman denied that any further talks were planned, beyond those it said it was carrying out with Pakistan on prisoner releases and refugee issues.
  • Government Divisions: In comments to TOLO, Sayed Aqa Fazel Sancharakai, cultural advisor to Chief Executive Abdullah, complains that the presidential palace has concentrated responsibility in executive councils, marginalizing the ministries. A presidential spokesman rebuffs the criticism, saying that “there is no problem of monopoly but in accordance with the constitution the president has more authority compared to others and according to the law the president has the authority and responsibility to implement his authority”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Families of Kabul Attack Victims Seek Justice [TOLO]
  • Mujahadeen Veterans Criticize National Unity Government, United States, Taliban [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PML-N Hits Back Against Rivals; Closer Police-Army Coordination in Kunduz

Topline

  • PML-N officials say they will not change the terms of reference on a proposed judicial commission, and have sought to broaden allegations of corruption to include their rivals in the PPP and PTI. The Pakistani military has reportedly withdrawn from Rajanpur, ending operations against gangs operating in the border area there; five Rangers checkposts have been established. In Kunduz, Reuters reports closer coordination between the Afghan police and army, and a shift towards more offensive operations in districts outside the city. The Taliban confirmed that they had sent a delegation to Islamabad this week, for talks they said were focused on the release of prisoners and the status of Afghan refugees; no meetings are planned with Afghan government diplomats. The PML-N government has formally requested the formation of a parliamentary committee to make nominations for the four outgoing provincial Election Commission members, although new amendments may yet be introduced altering the criteria for their nomination. Pres. Ghani has formed a new anti-corruption council, which he will chair, tasked with review stalled corruption cases. UK police say they have received and are evaluating additional evidence from Pakistan regarding money laundering charges against MQM leader Altaf Hussain.

Pakistan — Security

  • Rajanpur Operation Ends: The Express Tribune reports that a curfew has been lifted and Pakistani army forces have withdrawn from Rajanpur, ending the nearly month long “Operation Zarb-e-Ahan” targeting gangs operating in the border area; the Punjab Rangers and Elite Force have established five checkposts in the area.
  • Balochistan Conflict: The Balochistan home secretary reported Tuesday that 1025 militants had surrendered to the provincial government during 2015, receiving a sum of Rs 500,000 in compensation. Another 12,234 were arrested.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PML-N Mobilizes Against Opposition: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Law Minister Zahid Hamid insisted that the government would not change the proposed terms of reference for a judicial commission to investigation Pakistani nationals named in the Panama papers leaks as well as other charges of tax evasion and money laundering. Anonymous PML-N aides express confidence that the opposition parties will not successfully threaten the government’s tenure, saying that “at the end of the day, PTI will be the only party the government has to deal with when it came to Panamagate”. Dawn reports dissension between the PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar over the party’s response to the issue. Senior PML-N ministers are holding meetings with district-level party leadership, seeking to mobilize supporters of the government. Meanwhile, PML-N legislators on the Public Accounts Committee have called for an investigation into the award of quota contracts for the provision of liquefied petroleum gas between 2007-2012, implicating PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan. The Supreme Court is also reported to be considering investigations into the write-off of non-performing loans issued by commercial banks from 2009 onwards, a topic that was included in the government’s terms of reference for the Panama leaks commission; Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid earlier accused PTI leader Jahangir Tareen of being the beneficiary of a Rs 49.8 million loan write-off, which Tareen denied. Separately, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani called for the formation of a new anti-corruption institution that “should hold accountability of all, including the sacred cow”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Kayani Brother Offered Plea Deal: Dawn reports that the National Accountability Bureau is seeking to reach a plea agreement with Kamran Kayani, brother of former Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, in connection to a Lahore land scandal; NAB spokesmen deny they are in contact regarding a plea bargain, however. Kayani’s family have refused to accept a summons for his testimony, and he is reported to be living outside the country.
  • MQM Under Pressure: At a press conference on Tuesday, former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal reiterated calls for a ban on the MQM, alleging that the party had taken charitable donations and used them to fund its leadership in London. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with UK police officials in London on Tuesday, who confirmed that they had received additional materials from Pakistan to consider as part of money laundering investigations against Altaf Hussain. Separately, the Sindh Rangers released a list of 60 detainees they have held for a 90 day questioning period, allowing their family members to meet with them; the MQM welcomed the move.
  • Other Political Activity: The government has formally requested the formation of a parliamentary committee to finalize nominations for the four provincial Election Commission members; current commissioners’ terms will expire in the second week of June. Law Minister Zahid Hamid suggested that amendments to the appointment criteria for the commissioners could be introduced as a separate bill to ensure that those criteria are applied to the new nominees. On Tuesday, the Sindh provincial assembly increased the number of reserved seats for women on local government bodies from 22 to 33, and introduced another new amendment to “appoint officers to monitor local government functions”; voting on the latter amendment was passed on Wednesday, over the objection of MQM and PML-F opposition members. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Judge Recuses Himself from Convict’s Appeal in Daniel Pearl Murder Case [Dawn]
  • Lal Masjid Cleric Briefly Detained Over Possession of Three Kalashnikovs [Dawn]
  • Pakistani Sikhs Open Temple After 73 Years, Risking Attacks [AP]
  • Unvaccinated Afghan Children Hamper Khyber Paktunkhwa Polio Vaccination Efforts [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Seeks ‘Revamping’ of Health Sector [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Why Pakistan Army is Targeting the ‘Robin Hoods’ of Indus – “Leaders from Pakistan’s political parties, understanding that complex social problems can’t be beaten into submission, have chosen to walk softly around the problem. The generals, with their big sticks, might be stirring up more trouble than they counted on.” [Praveen Swami, Indian Express]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Soviet Anniversary: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah issued separate statements on Wednesday commemorating the 24th anniversary of mujahadeen victory over the Najibullah government; Ghani praised Afghan security forces as continuing to “wage jihad”, while Abdullah warned that “countries supporting terrorism will suffer more than Afghanistan” unless they change their strategy. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Kunduz Operations: Reuters reports from Kunduz, where officials credit the Afghan army and police with working more closely together than they did last year, and with taking more offensive action against Taliban forces in outlying districts. A spokesman for the Taliban claims that the group halted an earlier offensive deliberately to avoid harming civilians. Officials report killing nine Taliban fighters during operations in the Chahardara district on Tuesday. Speaking to TOLO, Vice President Dostum blames the National Security Council for rejecting previous proposals that he lead military operations in Kunduz last year, blaming that move for the city’s temporary fall to Taliban control. Dostum also indicated a proposal for a “special anti-terrorism unit” had been blocked. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Police Chief Replaced: Khaama Press reports that newly-appointed Paktika police chief Gen. Dawlat Khan Zadran was sacked from his post just hours after assuming charge, following an interior ministry delegation visit to the province; no official explanation has been offered. Senior police official Nisar Ahmad Abdul Rahimzai has reportedly been named as an acting replacement.
  • Tensions with Pakistan: Afghanistan’s ministry of foreign affairs summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Syed Abrar Hussain, to formally protest cross-border shelling into Nangarhar’s Goshta district earlier this week. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Visit Islamabad: A spokesman for the Taliban’s Qatar office confirmed that a Taliban delegation was visiting Islamabad this week, saying that the group was sent to “discuss issues regarding Afghan refugees, some problems about frontier areas and particularly to discuss the release of Mullah Baradar Akhund and some other prisoners”. A Taliban sources tells Reuters that the group may also meet with Chinese diplomats; no meetings with Afghan diplomats are planned, however. [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Forms New Anti-Corruption Body: The WSJ reports that Pres. Ghani has formed a new Anti-Corruption Council, bringing together officials from the attorney general’s office, the Justice Ministry, and other existing oversight bodies to coordinate a review of as many as 1,500 corruption cases. Ghani himself with chair the group, joined by his two vice presidents and several other presidential advisors. The move comes after the government stripped the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption of investigative and prosecutorial powers last year, prompting donors to threaten to cut its funds; the HOOAC is represented on the new council but its role now appears unclear.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Deputy Foreign Minister Attends New Delhi Heart of Asia Conference [TOLO]
  • Uzbek President Calls for Afghan Peace Process [Reuters]
  • Badakhshan Pamir Residents Facing Famine [Pajhwok]
  • Commentary: Ghani’s Speech to the Parliament: A Hardening Position on War, Peace, and Pakistan – “The president’s messages – of resolve, success and commitment – were aimed at countering the image of a besieged and dysfunctional government that is being deceived and pushed around by Pakistan.” [Martine van Bijlert, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Indian and Pakistani Secretaries Meet in New Delhi; Taliban Delegation Visits Islamabad

Topline

  • India and Pakistan’s foreign secretaries met on the sidelines of a ‘Heart of Asia’ summit in New Delhi on Tuesday; Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that the conversation covered “all outstanding issues”, while India’s emphasized “the need for early and visible progress on the Pathankot terrorist attack investigation”. Pakistan’s foreign ministry also issued a statement responding to Pres. Ghani’s address to parliament on Monday, insisting that “condemns all forms and manifestations of terrorism”, and arguing that “Pakistan alone is not responsible for bringing the Taliban back to the negotiating table“. A three-member Taliban delegation reportedly arrived in Islamabad on Monday, although details of their talks have not been disclosed. Pakistan PPP and PTI opposition party leaders held meetings on Monday to plan a response to the government’s proposed Supreme Court-led investigation into the alleged offshore business accounts of the prime minister’s family and other Pakistani nationals; both parties are now calling for the investigation to focus specifically on the Sharifs. The prime minister, meanwhile, began what is reported to be a series of planned public rallies and infrastructure inaugurations. The NYT reports that Vice President Dostum has been barred from receiving a visa to visit the United States, with the State Department citing his history of alleged war crimes. Pres. Ghani met with provincial NDS directors on Tuesday, urging them to use “all available force” against the Taliban.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Foreign Secretaries Meet: The Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries met on the sidelines of the “Heart of Asia” conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, in which the Pakistani foreign ministry said “all outstanding issues” were discussed, including the disputed Kashmir territory and the arrest of accused Indian spy Kulbushan Yadhav. India’s foreign ministry’s readout of the meeting emphasized “the need for early and visible progress on the Pathankot terrorist attack investigation as well as the Mumbai case trial”, and said that India had reiterated demands for consular access to Yadhav. The WSJ notes that despite the official ban, Jaish-e-Mohammad remains active outside Bahawalpur, where it is building a new madrassa complex; in an interview, Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah says that Jaish “isn’t involved in terrorism in Pakistan”, and said that no evidence had been found against it in an earlier search of its offices. [ET] [Reuters]
  • Corruption Campaigning: PPP and PTI leaders held meetings with each and with other opposition party heads on Monday to discuss their response to the government’s announced plans to seek a Supreme Court-led investigation commission, accusing the PML-N of formulating the terms of reference for the investigation without consulting other parties. The PTI in particular rejected the proposal for the investigation to encompass all Pakistani nationals named in the Panama papers leaks, saying it should start first with the prime minister’s family; PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah later echoed that stance. The PPP said that it had formed a legal team to collect evidence against the prime minister. Dawn reports that PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi sought to ameliorate PPP concerns regarding Imran Khan’s announcement of an anti-corruption drive in Sindh, saying it was “not targeting individuals”. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sharif began the first in what is reported to be a series of planned public inaugurations of new development projects, visiting the Kotli Sattiyan tehsil in Rawalpindi to tout the government’s infrastructure-building efforts, and telling supporters that “I don’t believe in politics through sit-ins, destabilisation and lies. All my efforts are for the prosperity of the common man.” Sharif reportedly plans to headline a public rally on April 28 in Mansehra, which his son-in-law Sardar Muhammad Yousaf represents in parliament. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM Under Pressure: Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah met with MQM leaders on Monday, pledging to respond to their allegations that as many as 172 party activists had been arrested by law enforcement agencies. On Tuesday, the Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of an accused MQM hit man, linking him to multiple killings. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Tribal Elder Killed in Kalat; Bodies Recovered in Kech [ET] [Dawn]
  • Interior Minister to Meet UK Counterpart [APP] [ET]
  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Jordan [ET]
  • Thar Commission Blames Multiple Factors for Child Deaths [ET]
  • Mother of Paraplegic Son Seeks Death Row Pardon [AP]
  • Islamabad High Court Sets Hearing for Case Against Lal Masjid Leader Abdul Aziz [ET]
  • Civil Service Stalling Implementation of Supreme Court Order On Deputation [ET]
  • Banks Refuse to Give FBR Access to Accounts [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Reactions to Ghani Address: TOLO notes that Chief Executive Abdullah did not attend Pres. Ghani’s address to parliament on Monday, despite reportedly being invited. In a statement on Tuesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that “Pakistan condemns all forms and manifestations of terrorism and it is committed in the fight against this menace”, adding that “Pakistan hosted the first round of direct talks between Afghan government and Taliban but Pakistan alone is not responsible for bringing the Taliban back to the negotiating table”. Ghani left open the prospect of talks with some Taliban factions, but only those willing to lay down their arms. The Express Tribune reports that a three-member Taliban delegation from the Qatar office, led by Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, arrived in Islamabad on Monday; no details of their meetings have been reported. Meanwhile, army officials in Nangarhar report continuing cross-border exchanges of fire with Pakistani forces.
  • Attacks and Operations: Pres. Ghani met with National Directorate of Security provincial directors on Tuesday, telling them to use “all available force” to target insurgents and terrorists operating in the country. In Kandahar, provincial police chief Abdul Raziq announced the launch of a new operation in the Ghorak district. In Nangarhar, Brig. Gen. Zarawar Zahid took command as the new provincial police chief, pledging increased police coordination with other security agencies and the public. At least four police officers were killed in Helmand in an attack on their checkpost in the Gereshk district on Monday. Eight would-be suicide bombers reportedly died in an explosive malfunction in Kunduz’s Dasht-e-Archi district on Tuesday. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Dostum Barred from United States: The NYT reports that Vice President Dostum cancelled a planned visit to New York and Washington this month after the U.S. State Department threatened to deny him a visa, citing his history of alleged war crimes. In a Voice of America radio interview this week, Dostum attributed the cancellation to local security demands.
  • Russian Assistance: In a briefing for reporters on Monday, Russian ambassador to Afghanistan Alexander Mantytskiy denied that Russia had any connection to the Taliban insurgency, although he noted contacts with the group by other countries and called on the Taliban to join Afghan peace talks. Mantytskiy said that negotiations were ongoing for the delivery of additional Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan soon, but provided no timeline.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Corruption in Afghanistan All But Cripples Women’s Team Sports [NYT]
  • Accused Islamic State Facilitator Arrested in Peshawar [AP]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PTI Rallies After Sharif Requests Judicial Commission; Ghani Demands Pakistani Crackdown on Taliban

Topline

  • Pres. Ghani spoke to a joint session of parliament on Monday, saying that the Afghan government wants Pakistan to “keep its promises and launch military operations against insurgents.” Continuing the shift towards more bellicose language, Ghani described the Taliban as “alien hirelings” and ruled out peace talks with any group that refused to give up violence first. Pakistani and Afghan border guards exchanged mortar fire on Saturday and Sunday, leaving at least one Afghan border police soldier dead and two injured on the Pakistani side. In an address on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif announced that he had written to the Supreme Court asking it to form a judicial commission to investigate charges of corruption related to his family’s reported offshore business holdings; the terms of reference for the commission call for an investigation of all Pakistani citizens involved in “off-shore companies in Panama or in any other country”, as well as public off-holders who received preferential bank loans. Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali is traveling to Turkey until May 1 and no decision will be made until his return, judiciary officials say. Opposition parties denounced the commission as insufficient; on Sunday, Imran Khan headlined a rally in Islamabad timed to commemorate the PTI’s twentieth anniversary, during which he announced plans for an “anti-corruption movement in Sindh” and for a future rally in Lahore on May 1. In Karachi, former mayor Mustafa Kamal led the first major public rally of his new Pakistan Sarzameen Party on Sunday; the MQM held a counter-protest outside the chief minister’s house, demanding action against the alleged extrajudicial detention of party activists. Military officials in Kunduz report the retaking of the Kunduz-Takhar highway and the Dasht-e-Archi district during operations on Saturday and Sunday, as well as the arrest of a Taliban commander. Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial police officials reported the arrest of a PTI rival from Swat after the killing on Friday of Sardar Soran Singh, a PTI provincial assembly member and member of the minority Sikh community in Buner; the TTP had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan — Security

  • PTI Minority Lawmaker Killed: Sardar Soran Singh, a PTI provincial assembly member in Khyber Paktunkhwa and special assistant to the chief minister on minorities, was killed in a driveby shooting on Friday in the Buner district, outside his home. Singh was a member of Pakistan’s small Sikh community, and had joined the PTI in 2011. A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, which was condemned by the PTI’s senior leadership. On Monday, however, provincial police officials confirmed the arrest of Baldev Kumar, a rival PTI councilor from the Swat district, on charges of plotting Singh’s murder, saying the TTP claim was false. [AFP] [AP] [ET] [ET]
  • Rajanpur Operations: The Express Tribune reports that the Pakistani army is continuing to carry out ground operations in the Rajanpur district, using armored personnel carriers and artillery to target gang members hiding out in the area; there are reports of casualties but no details. Gang leader Ghulam Rasool, who surrendered to the army last week, is reported to have been transferred to Islamabad for interrogation.
  • FATA Operations: At least one Frontier Corps soldier was killed in the Mohmand Agency in a roadside bombing on Sunday, which was claimed by the TTP Jamaat ul Ahrar faction. Khyber Paktunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra met with representatives of North Waziristan’s Utmankhel tribe in Peshawar, pledging that “the repatriation of displaced population is the topmost priority of the federal government”. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Prime Minister Announces Supreme Court Investigation: In a national address on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif challenged his critics to prove wrongdoing on his behalf, saying that “if charges are proved against me, I will resign immediately”. Sharif said that he had written to Supreme Court Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali requesting that he appoint a commission to investigate charges that his family had benefited from offshore business holdings “so that those who are making these demands … can see the extent of our innocence”. Dawn reports that the government’s proposed terms of reference for the commission call on it to examine the “involvement of Pakistani citizens, persons of Pakistan origin and legal entities in off-shore companies in Panama or in any other country”, as well as to examine the “involvement of former and present holders of public office in writing off their own bank loans or those of their immediate family members through political influence”. Chief Justice Jamali departed the country on Friday for a weeklong visit to Turkey, and acting chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar told reporters that a decision on the formation of the commission would not be taken until Jamali returns, after May 1. The president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Ali Zafar, suggested that the Supreme Court would not accept “this toothless inquiry commission”. [WSJ] [AP] [Reuters] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • PTI Holds Islamabad Rally: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, PTI chairman Imran Khan rejected the government’s proposed commission as a “mere eyewash and a joke” that had been “made to bury justice and accountability”. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid accused Khan of “backing out of his demand for the commission for those who are bearing the expenses of his politics”. On Sunday, the PTI held a rally in Islamabad, commemorating the party’s twentieth founding anniversary; Dawn notes that the party did not provide funds to transport activists, and suggested divisions within the party might contribute to lower turnout. At the rally, Khan announced plans to “launch an anti-corruption movement in Sindh” beginning April 26, and to hold another rally in Lahore on May 1, “where I will announce our future course of action.” Separately, the Jamaat-e-Islami announced plans to hold anti-corruption rallies across the country on May 1. The Express Tribune reports that the PML-N also plans to hold a series of public gatherings and visits by the prime minister around the country to rally support. Another report indicates that the PTI has dropped plans for a sit-in at the Sharif residence in Raiwind. A breakaway PTI faction led by the party’s founding Balochistan chapter president Akbar Babar and founding Punjab chapter president Saeedullah Khan Niazi called on Imran Khan to step down from the chairmanship on Sunday, alleging that party “tickets, positions, and authority are being auctioned off to highest bidders.” [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: At a press conference on Friday, Syed Hafeezuddin, a PTI Sindh provincial assembly member, joined former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal’s Pakistan Sarzameen Party; Hafeezuddin is the first lawmaker from outside the MQM to join the new splinter party. The News looks at the PTI’s weakening organizational infrastructure in Karachi. Two more former MQM leaders joined the PSP on Saturday. On Sunday, Kamal addressed a crowd of supporters at the PSP’s first major public gathering in Karachi, calling for a further devolution of authority to local government and saying that ” he provincial and federal governments should fill the vacuum which is left by the army operations against terrorists.” Dawn reports a “visible diversity” among the attendees, but provides no crowd size estimate. Meanwhile, the MQM held a protest demonstration outside the chief minister’s house on Sunday, demanding investigations into the alleged extrajudicial detention of party activists. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Sindh Police Face Dismissal: A committee formed under Supreme Court orders found that 820 members of the Sindh Reserve Police were appointed illegally by former provincial police chief Ghulam Hyder Jamali between 2013-2014 and now face dismissal, senior police sources tell Dawn.
  • Foreign Secretaries Meeting: Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry departed for New Delhi on Monday to take part in a “Heart of Asia” conference, at which he is expected to meet with his Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Crisis: Following Wednesday’s attack on two groups of police providing security for a polio vaccination campaign in Karachi, the Sindh government has reportedly decided to form a dedicated security force to protect polio healthcare workers, Dawn reports; a similar proposal is reported to have been raised two years previously, but dropped for lack of funding and available personnel. A new vaccination drive began in Balochistan on Monday, targeting 1.3 million under the age of five. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government announced plans to hold an “all-parties conference” on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project on April 25, which PTI chairman Imran Khan will also attend. Khyber Paktunkhwa finance minister Muzaffar Sayyed objected to federal government plans to construct a Rs 124 billion motorway linking Hakla to Dera Ismail Khan, saying it violated previous agreements on routes through western Pakistan.
  • Energy Crisis: National Accountability Bureau officials report that the public sector owes Rs 206 billion total in unpaid electricity bills as of March 1, with the Sindh provincial government alone owing roughly Rs 70 billion.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Karachi Police Report Arrest of Alleged Al Qaeda Financier [AFP] [Reuters]
  • FATA Party Alliance Calls for Abolition of FCR [ET]
  • Pakistan to Receive Six Cessna Medevac Planes from United States [Dawn]
  • Military Farms Tenants Set up Protest Camp in Islamabad [Dawn]
  • National Party Leader Killed in Shooting Near Quetta [Dawn]
  • Election Commission Publishes Senators’ Asset Declarations [APP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Refuses to Offer Funds for Prime Minister’s Agriculture Program [Dawn]
  • Lahore High Court Rules Against FBR Access to Lawyers’ Client Tax Records [Dawn]
  • Interior Minister Signs Climate Accord on Behalf of Pakistan [APP]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Ghani Addresses Joint Session of Parliament: Pres. Ghani called a joint session of parliament to be held on Monday to discuss “to consult with both houses’ representatives about current issues, security forces support and other big issues and to take a decision” on the country’s security strategy and military operations. Wolesi Jirga speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi told TOLO that Ghani should introduce nominees for the minister of defense and National Directorate of Security director before addressing parliament. The speech proceeded regardless on Monday, during which Ghani suggested that the government no longer expects Pakistan to “bring the Taliban to the negotiating table” but rather now wants Pakistan to “keep its promises and launch military operations against insurgents.” A spokesman for the Afghan presidency, Dawa Khan Meenpal, told reporters on Saturday that “Pakistan still supports groups involved in fighting in Afghanistan,” and that the Kabul attack had been “planned by the Haqqani network in Pakistan”. Meenpal also said that Afghanistan was “reviewing its policy on Pakistan”, and that said that Afghanistan wanted “to use diplomatic initiative[s] to isolate Pakistan at regional and international levels and to tell the world community where terrorists are and which country and intelligence (agency) support them”. Describing the “enemies of Afghanistan” as “alien hireling groups” and “slaves … who shed the blood of their countrymen”, Ghani said that the “time for unjustified amnesty is over. Those involved in terrorist activities will be executed.” He did not rule out the possibility of negotiations for those willing to give up violence, however. Ghani also promised to nominate a defense minister and NDS chief soon. Prior to the president’s speech, a spokesman for the ministry of interior said that “previously, the Afghan government tried to launch a peace process, so that these people will change, but we think they will no longer have this opportunity”. In comments to TOLO on Friday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said that “war has been imposed on us” and that “anyone that negatively responds to our peace slogan, we will have no option except to carry out their destruction”. Acting defense minister Masoom Stanekzai visited Kunduz on Friday, where he praised the efforts of the Afghan national security forces, saying that “Afghanistan is facing an imposed war” and vowing that Afghan forces “will remain resilient against the conspiracies of enemies of Afghanistan”. [NYT] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [ET]
  • Border Tensions with Pakistan: On Saturday, Pakistani military officials reported that two soldiers were injured in an exchange of mortar fire across the border between the Mohmand Tribal Agency and Nangarhar province’s Goshta district; Afghan officials report that firing continued through Sunday morning and that one Afghan Border Police soldier was killed and two wounded in the exchange. [ET] [Pajhwok] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Kunduz provincial police officials reported on Saturday that they had retaken control of the Kunduz-Takhar highway during overnight operations, and on Sunday claimed to have retaken control of the Dasht-e-Archi district. On Monday, military officials announced the arrest of a Taliban military commander in the Khan Abad district. The Ministry of Interior reported separately that special forces had killed senior Taliban commanders in Takhar’s Khwajah Bahauddin district, Parwan’s Shinwari district, and Jowzjan’s Manjigak district. Joint military operations are ongoing around the Jowzjan provincial capital of Sheberghan, and in the Qush Tepa district. Operations are also underway in Ghazni and Farah. Two people were killed in a suicide bombing attack in Garmser district in Helmand province on Sunday; an unnamed presidential advisor is reported to have been the target of the attack. Nangarhar provincial officials report that as many as 25 militants, including six affiliated with the Islamic State, were killed in Afghan Air Force strikes in the Achin, Mamand Dara, and Ghani Khel districts on Friday. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • CASA-1000 Inauguration: Representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will meet on May 12th to officially inaugurate the CASA-1000 electricity transmission project, and work will be completed by 2018, Afghan ministry of foreign affairs officials indicated on Sunday. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Outgoing Red Cross Official Warns Against Letting Afghanistan Become a ‘Forgotten Crisis’ [Reuters]
  • Kabul University Lecturer Arrested on Alleged ISIS Connections [Khaama Press]
  • Food Shortages Reported in Badakhshan’s Pamir Region [TOLO]
  • Chief Justice Meets with Women Judges Group [TOLO]
  • Farah Schoolgirls Hospitalized After Alleged Poisoning [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Deal Signed for Pepsi Manufacturing and Distribution [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Military Disciplinary Actions Up Pressure on PML-N; Dostum Claims to Clear Jowzjan Districts

Topline

  • There are some, but limited, additional details on the military’s reported dismissal of several senior military officers; the military’s public relations arm has yet to comment on the reports, which analysts have interpreted as a signal to the PML-N government about the need for internal accountability. Prime Minister Sharif met with senior aides on Thursday, pledging not to allow “anyone to create any obstacle” to the country’s development; he is reported to be giving an address to the nation on Friday evening. Aides suggest a commission to investigate the Panama papers leaks may be formed within the next day or two. Afghan officials continue to take a more bellicose tone towards the Taliban in the wake of Tuesday’s attack, with a spokesman for the National Security Council saying that “our topmost priority is to deal with the Taliban with war”. Some unconfirmed accounts suggest that at least one of the suicide bombers in the attack was previously released from Bagram prison during the Karzai administration. In Jowzjan, Vice President Dostum claimed to have cleared three districts of Taliban fighters, suggesting he would travel to Faryab and Sar-e-Pul next. Opposition senators in the Pakistani senate finance committee raised concerns on Thursday that recently-passed legislation converting Pakistan International Airlines to a limited company had removed civil service protections for PIA employees, an interpretation the privatization secretary disputed; legal consultations are underway.

Pakistan — Security

  • Punjab Operations: During parliamentary debate on Thursday, opposition party senators called for a “full-fledged military operation” against militants operating in Punjab. Dawn reports continued artillery fire in Rajanpur targeting gang members who did not surrender alongside gang leader Ghulam Rasool, aka Chotoo; the report also attributes Rasool’s surrender to mediation by retired federal secretary Major Tariq Mehmood Mazari.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Military Accountability: Subsequent reporting on the army’s reported dismissal of several top officers now puts the number at six, including Lt. Gen. Obaidullah Khatak, Maj. Gen. Ejaz Shahid, three brigadiers, and a colonel. They are described as being forced into early retirement, and to have lost their retirement privileges except pension and medical benefits. The military’s public relations arm has not commented on the issue, and details of the charges against the officers and the timing of the disciplinary action against them remains limited; the NYT cites anonymous military sources who attribute the action to a 2014 incident in which the general took possession of a sports car impounded at the customs border, and two junior officers died during a driving accident. Multiple analysts and commentators describe the action as a signal to the civilian government of the military’s intention to “raise the bar” in terms of accountability, and several political leaders called for similar action. [AP] [BBC] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Panama Papers Fallout: On Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif met with top aides and advisors, vowing that “the nation is focused on economic progress and prosperity, and we will not let anyone create any obstacle in the way”. Sharif added that “with God’s grace our hands are clean. We have faced ruthless accountability in the past too, with success.” Sources at the meeting suggest that the government will seek action by the Chief Justice to initiate a commission to investigate the Panama papers’ reports of offshore business holdings “within a day or two”; speaking to reporters while visiting New York on Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that a commission could be formed within 48 hours. Prime Minister Sharif is reportedly planning a national address on Friday evening. On Thursday, the Supreme Court Bar Association has rejected the government’s proposed formulation for the investigation and instead proposed a “national task force”. Dawn notes that the prime minister, who has not declared any assets abroad and who was not personally named alongside his children in the Panama papers leaks, received roughly Rs 200 million a year since 2013 from his son Hussain Nawaz. Punjab opposition parties plan to meet next Tuesday to discuss their strategy, postponing a previously planned meeting. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The PTI has reached an agreement with Islamabad city officials regarding a code of conduct and security for its planned April 24 rally marking the party’s founding anniversary. The MQM’s nominees for the Karachi mayoral and deputy mayoral elections met with the Sindh provincial election commissioner on Thursday, urging that the indirect elections be held without further delay. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Conversion: During senate finance committee hearings on Thursday, PML-Q senator Kamil Ali Agha charged that the recently-passed legislation converting Pakistan International Airlines into a limited company had also struck civil service protections for PIA employees; Privatisation Secretary Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera disputed that interpretation of the bill’s language, and further legal advice was sought to clarify the issue.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Council of Islamic Ideology Reasserts Authority to Demand Changes to Women’s Protection Act [ET]
  • Anti-Terrorism Court Rejects Musharraf Medical Report [Dawn]
  • Karachi Polio Vaccination Campaign Continues Despite Attack [Dawn]
  • Italian Foreign Minister Visits [Dawn]
  • Three Militants Killed in Karachi [Dawn]
  • India Repatriates Kashmiri Woman Held for Two Years [Dawn]
  • Peshawar Shopping Plazas Sealed Over Tax Charges [Dawn]
  • FBR Officials Under Investigation for Leaking Reports [Dawn]
  • Sindh CNG Prices to Be Reduced [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Attack Aftermath: Khaama Press reports that at least one of the suicide bombers in Tuesday’s attack in Kabul had previously been imprisoned at Bagram but was released by the Karzai administration, an account which has not been confirmed. On Thursday, a spokesman for the National Security Council said that “our topmost priority is to deal with the Taliban with war as we maintain responsibility to ensure the security of our people”; a presidential spokesman suggested the Taliban had deliberately sought to kill civilians. TOLO interviews additional family members of the victims of the attack, who criticize government officials and call for vengeance. On Friday, the government ordered national flags lowered to half-staff for a two-day mourning period. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: On Thursday, Vice President Dostum claimed to have cleared three districts in Jowzjan province of Taliban fighters, pledging to travel next to Faryab and Sar-e-Pul, pending presidential permission. At least one militia member and four Taliban fighters were reportedly killed in a clash in Faryab’s Garziwan district on Thursday. In Badakhshan, provincial police officials say they have begun operations to retake control of the Warduj district. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Report: Curbing Illicit Financial Flows in Afghanistan – “Illicit financial flows allow criminals, corrupt politicians, and warlords to send the proceeds of their crimes throughout Afghanistan and the world to purchase elaborate houses, cars, and weapons, pay salaries for militias and criminal gangs, and buy their way to immunity for their crimes.” [Integrity Watch Afghanistan (pdf)]
  • Commentary: A Shaken City: On the Taliban’s Truck Bomb Attack in Kabul – “In the aftermath of the attack, the government sought to regain the initiative by taking a strong and belligerent position.” [Martine van Bijlert, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistani Defense Ministry Seeks Budget Hike, Control of CSF; Kabul Police Suspended After Attack

Topline

  • The Pakistani defense ministry has sought an 18% increase in its budget for the coming fiscal year, to Rs 920 billion, and has also sought to retain control of all Coalition Support Fund money transferred to Pakistan, rather than sharing it with the civilian government. Several Kabul police officials were suspended in the wake of the truck bombing earlier this week; NDS officials blamed the Haqqani network for organizing the attack. Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar met with Chinese military officials on Wednesday, who pledged support for closer military and counterterrorism cooperation. PPP leaders reiterated their call for a parliamentary committee to investigate the Panama papers leaks, rather than a judicial commission as proposed by the government. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif has reportedly dismissed as many as a dozen senior military officers on corruption charges, all reported to have been serving in the Balochistan Frontier Corps. Vice President Dostum traveled to Dostum on Wednesday, where he is leading military operations against Taliban fighters in the Aqcha district. Reuters notes that the number of remotely-piloted drone strikes in Afghanistan exceeded those carried out by manned planes in 2015, and that the ratio has rise to over 60% during the first quarter of this year. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for Wednesday attack on Karachi police providing protection for a polio vaccination campaign.

Pakistan — Security

  • Defense Ministry Seeks Budget Increase: The Express Tribune reports that during briefings to the senate defense committee on April 13, the defense ministry sought an increase in its budget for the coming fiscal year of roughly 18%, to Rs 920 billion, not counting defense procurement. The report also indicates that the ministry has sought to retain control of all Coalition Support Funds provided by the United States, rather than sharing 40% of those funds with the civilian government for other purposes, and to have sought U.S. funding for an $8 billion, five to eight year plan to develop the FATA. CSF payments were previously reported to be expiring this September.
  • Chotoo Gang Surrenders in Rajanpur: At a press conference on Wednesday, chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa confirmed reports that gang leader Gulam Rasool, aka Chotoo, had surrendered along with thirteen other gang members, freeing 24 policemen in the process. Bajwa vowed that “the army will not vacate this area until all the miscreant elements are neutralised”. Dawn reports five other gangs are still operating in the area. [Reuters]
  • Karachi Police Attack: A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility for drive-by shooting attacks on seven police officers providing security for polio vaccination teams in Karachi on Wednesday. Commissioner Asif Hyder Shah vowed that the vaccination campaign would continue on Thursday despite the attacks, although other reports suggest it has been postponed. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif spoke by phone with the Sindh provincial police chief, A.D. Khawaja, on Thursday to condole the deaths of the seven officers and pledge the army’s “complete support to the police in all aspects”. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Fallout: Dawn cites anonymous sources in the prime minister’s office who say he is “determined” to clear his three children of accusations of wrongdoing and tax evasion in their overseas Panamanian-registered business holdings; the government is reportedly willing to pursue a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the case if a judicial commission cannot be quickly formed. PPP leaders met with Finance Minister Dar on Wednesday and reiterated their demand for the parliamentary committee investigation format; PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that any judicial nominee of the prime minister’s “would not be credible”. Speaking in the national assembly on Wednesday, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haq called for a “National Action Plan against corruption,” citing statements by the army chief calling for “across the board accountability”. The Federal Bureau of Revenue has sought information on the reported assets of Pakistani nationals named in the leaks, but officials there say the FBR “cannot move against these individuals until it has actionable information”. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Army Chief Dismisses Officers on Corruption Charges: News reports indicate that Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif has dismissed a dozen senior military officers on corruption charges. No official announcement has been made; Dawn provides a partial list, including one lieutenant general and one major general, and reports that all involved were serving with the Balochistan Frontier Corps. The action follows the army chief’s call for “across the board accountability” earlier this week.
  • Other Political Activity: At a hearing on Wednesday, Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali and a bench of two other judges gave the Balochistan provincial government a two-week deadline to introduce legislation delegating financial and administrative powers to local government councils elected last fall, warning of unspecified action if it failed to do so. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Peshawar High Court Freezes Salaries Over Failure to Respond to Petition [Dawn]
  • Anti-Terrorism Court Judge Recuses from Imran Farooq Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Two Killed in Mohmand Agency Bombing [Dawn]
  • New Pakistani Ambassador Presents Credentials to Pres. Putin [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Agrees to Hear Ali Musa Gilani Petition Over Exit Controls [ET]
  • Balochistan Minister Defends Environment Impact of Gwadar LNG Terminal Project [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Bombing Aftermath: Omar Azizi, the Kabul NDS chief, told a press conference on Wednesday that the truck bombing attack on Tuesday was organized “outside the country” by the Haqqani network. The truck used in the bomb stopped in a parking lot adjacent to the Directorate of Security for Dignitaries; at least three gunmen, wearing directorate uniforms, then entered the compound and opened fire on the VIP protection unit’s staff, engaging in a two-hour gun battle. On Thursday, Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Jan suspended the First Police District police chief and four other police officials in connection to the attack. In addition to the death toll, the deadliest in Kabul since the 2011 Ashura bombing, the attack also caused $10 million in losses and damages to the private sector, the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries estimated on Wednesday. Members of parliament and families of the victims criticized the national unity government’s security preparations; presidential advisor Ahmad Zia Massoud called on the president to sign execution orders for imprisoned terrorists, and alleged that “Taliban have penetrated into our security and civil organizations and have paved the ground to carry out their cowardly attacks”.
  • Drone Operations: U.S. Air Force data indicates that more weapons were fired from remotely piloted drones in Afghanistan than manned planes last year, and that that ratio is rising, Reuters reports. The overall number of strikes declined from 2014, but drone strikes accounted for around 530 cases of weapons deployed in 2015, or 56% of the total, and 61% of weapons deployed during the first quarter of this year.
  • Chinese Military Assistance: Afghan National Security Advisor met with Chinese General Feng Fehui on Wednesday and offered support to “deepen counter-terrorism intelligence, joint drills, personnel training and other areas of practical cooperation”, the Chinese defense ministry said in a statement. Atmar was reported to have traveled to China with a “wish list” of military equipment; that request was reportedly “discussed” but no details in that regard were announced. Atmar also met with Chinese domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu for discussions focused on counterterrorism. [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: In a CNN interview on Wednesday, NATO military chief Gen. Philip Breedlove said that the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 5,500 by the end of the year “would have a negative impact” on the training and support mission for Afghan forces, and “the mission would have to change in some way.” Breedlove said that “we are looking at options now to retain that connectivity to the cause, providing enablers and possibly other nations providing more troops” but said that “this is still very preliminary”. Officials in Nangarhar claim that Afghan and coalition airstrikes in the Achin district on Wednesday killed 21 Daesh-affiliated militants. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Dostum in Jawzjan: Vice President Dostum donned a military uniform and returned to Jawzjan province on Wednesday, where provincial officials described him as leading military operations in the Aqcha district that killed at least thirty Taliban fighters. Meanwhile, a presidentially appointed delegation arrived in Faryab province on Tuesday to investigate clashes last month between Dostum supporters and those of Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor; officials on both sides criticized the move, saying the dispute had been resolved.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Pakistani Trade Initiatives Stall as Afghanistan Prefers Chabahar Port Plans [ET]
  • Barely Guarded Afghan Border Puts Tajikistan in Peril [Reuters]
  • Russian Envoy Alleges ISIS Seeking Expansion into Central Asia [Khaama Press]
  • My Terrifying Plunge in a Car from One of Afghanistan’s Most Dangerous Roads [WAPO]
  • Commentary: Can Afghanistan Survive September? – “Now that the agreement is valid for three more years, the government should move decisively on electoral reforms and amending the constitution to resolve the source of the current crisis.” [Mohammad Sayed Madadi and Tabish Forugh, South Asia Channel]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Gen. Raheel Calls for ‘Across the Board Accountability’; Kabul Bombing Death Toll Rises to 64

Topline

  • In a statement on Tuesday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif voiced support for “across-the-board accountability” in Pakistan, saying military operations could not succeed “unless the menace of corruption is uprooted”; Imran Khan seized on the remarks, reiterating demands that Prime Minister Sharif account for his wealth. PML-N and PTI leaders met separately with other members of the opposition to seek their support for their respective investigation proposals into the Panama papers accounts. The death toll from Tuesday’s bombing in Kabul has risen to 64, an interior minister spokesman said Wednesday; Pres. Ghani vowed to avenge “every drop of blood”. Chief Executive Abdullah has cancelled a planned visit to Pakistan in May. In Balkh, governor Atta Mohammad Noor called for a “widespread uprising” in support of the Afghan national security forces, blaming deteriorating security on political divisions within the national unity government. In Punjab’s Rajanpur district, ‘Chotoo gang’ has surrendered without confronting the Pakistani army, releasing 24 police officers that were taken hostage last week. Seven Karachi police officers were killed in two separate drive-by shootings on Wednesday, as they were providing security for a polio vaccination team.

Pakistan — Security

  • ‘Chotoo Gang’ Surrenders in Rajanpur: On Wednesday, members of the ‘Chotoo gang’ battling army and police forces in Punjab’s Rajanpur district surrendered to the army, releasing twenty-four police officers who they had taken hostage in fighting last week. Gang leader Ghulam Rasool, aka Chotoo, is also reported to have surrendered. [Dawn]
  • Karachi Police Killed: Seven Karachi police officers were killed in two separate drive-by shootings in Karachi’s Orangi Town neighborhood on Wednesday as they were providing security for a polio vaccination team; no claim of responsibility has been reported.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Aftermath: Prime Minister Sharif returned to Pakistan on Tuesday evening, after slightly less than a week in London for what his office maintains were medical check-ups. Speaking during a visit to the Signal Regimental Center in Kohat on Tuesday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif said that “across the board accountability” was necessary, which local press coverage has interpreted as referring to leaks detailing the Sharif family’s overseas business holdings. General Sharif was quoted as saying that “the ongoing war against terrorism and extremism being fought with the backing of entire nation cannot bring enduring peace and stability unless the menace of corruption is uprooted”. Speaking at a separate press conference in Peshawar, Imran Khan said that “every single Pakistani stands with the army chief Sharif stance’s on across-the-board accountability”, and reiterated demands that Sharif account for his own wealth. Khan also disputed PMl-N suggestions that funding for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital had been misused. Prior to his departure from London, Prime Minister Sharif told reporters that Khan’s 2010 flood relief fund should also be investigated. In a Guardian interview, Khan asserts that Sharif “is caught” following the recent Panama papers leaks, and accuses a “coalition of the corrupt” of supporting one another in Pakistani politics; Khan also voices support for London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, his ex brother-in-law. PML-N and PTI leaders met separately on Tuesday with other opposition party representatives to seek support for their respective positions on the formation of an investigation commission into the Panama papers. The National Assembly finance committee has demanded information from the State Bank of Pakistan about overseas investments, and sought information from the Federal Bureau of Revenue on what steps it was taking to investigate the assets of those named in the Panama papers. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Jamaat-ud-Dawa ‘Court’ Challenged: Khalid Saeed, a local property developer, has filed a petition with the Lahore High Court seeking government action against an “arbitration court” established by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which had summoned him in connection to a dispute; he also reports receiving threats demanding he appear, and charged the group with creating a “parallel judicial system”.
  • Other Political Activity: Former MQM leader Iftikhar Akbar Randhawa became the latest to join former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal’s Pakistan Sarzameen Party in a press conference on Tuesday. Following PTI petitions, the Election Commission has sought the deployment of army personnel to provide security for the NA-267 by-election scheduled to take place on April 28. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Petitioner Challenges Appointment of JUI-F Leader’s Brother as Afghan Refugees Commissioner [ET]
  • Federal Government Seeks to Make Quranic Education Compulsory Subject [APP]
  • Pakistan Hands Over Body of Deceased Indian Death Row Prisoner [Dawn] [ET]
  • Okara Police Crack Down on Protesting Military Farms Tenants [Dawn]
  • New Arrest Warrant Issued for Former Pres. Musharraf [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Summer Loadshedding Hours Announced [Dawn]
  • FBR Considering Taxes on Dairy Sales [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Attack Aftermath: A second explosion was reported in Kabul on Tuesday following the suicide truck bombing that struck the Pul-e-Mahmood neighborhood earlier in the day; Khaama Press reports that an improvised explosive device was planted inside a restaurant in the Sherpoor neighborhood. There were no reported casualties. The death toll from the main bombing has risen to 64 people, according to the Ministry of Interior’s spokesman; 347 were wounded. Pres. Ghani visited a hospital on Tuesday evening, vowing to avenge “every drop of blood” of the Afghan people. Ghani was earlier reported to have met with lawmakers from both houses of parliament and security officials to review the security situation; he was quoted as vowing “never make peace with the regional and international terrorists”. Chief Executive Abdullah has cancelled a planned trip to Pakistan in May; his spokesman said that “initial evidence shows that the Kabul attack was planned in abroad, not in Afghanistan and this is the reason that the CEO postponed his scheduled trip to Pakistan”. New Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Jahid held a meeting with senior police officials on Tuesday evening, ordering them to “do everything possible to improve the security in Kabul and other cities.” In Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor blamed government disunity for the deteriorating security situation, suggesting that a “widespread uprising” was needed to support Afghan security forces, and rejecting peace talks. Former NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil called on the government to “immediately hang” Anis Haqqani, the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani arrested by Afghan security officials in October 2014, in retaliation. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [BBC] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: In separate statements, Afghan security officials claim to have kiled three Taliban commanders and at least 28 fighters in operations in Kunduz, Paktia, and Ghazni; the senior-most was identified as Qari Zubair, described as the “military commission chief” for Paktia. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Election Observer Groups Criticize Electoral Reform Delays [TOLO]
  • AISA Raises Concerns Over Drop in Investment [TOLO]
  • Takhar Schoolgirls Hospitalized [Pajhwok]
  • Commentary: Under the Mountain: A Pre-Emptive Taliban Spring Offensive in Shindand – “With substantial help from Quetta, the local pro-Mansur Taleban group has swept away a pro-Rasul outfit that had recently proved less aggressive towards the government.” [Fabrizio Foschini, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Suicide Attack Wounds Hundreds in Kabul; North Waziristan Operations Near ‘Completion’

Topline

  • A large car or truck bomb exploded in Kabul on Tuesday morning, wounding at least 327 people and killing at least twenty eight; the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which struck near the offices of a NDS branch responsible for providing security to senior government officials. Some reports indicate fighting is ongoing at the site of the attack, although others suggest that any Taliban gunmen have now been killed. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited forward positions in North Waziristan on Monday, announcing the “successful completion” of operations in the Shawal Valley area; military sources indicate the army may announce the completion of Operation Zarb-e-Azb within the coming days. A suicide bomber struck a Mardan district tax office on Tuesday, killing at least one person and wounding eighteen; the TTP’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility. Prime Minister Sharif departed London on Tuesday to return to Pakistan; PTI sources tell Dawn that the party may postpone its planned protests at his residence, citing lacking of funds and division within the party over whether to pursue another sit-in. Afghanistan’s ministry of commerce suggests that a signing agreement on the Chabahar port transit trade agreement between India, Iran, and Afghanistan will take place within the next two months.

Pakistan — Security

  • Chief of Army Staff Says Shawal Offensive Completed: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited forward positions in the North Waziristan agency on Monday, announcing the “successful completion” of operations begun in the Shawal Valley area in February. Military sources tell Dawn that the army will likely announce the completion of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in North Waziristan in June 2014, in a few days. Separately, Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra visited the Bajauar Agency on Monday, pledging support for the repatriation of two million internally displaced persons by May, and new development projects for the area. [ET] [ET]
  • Mardan Bombing: A suicide bomber detonated after attempting to enter the Mardan district Excise and Taxation office in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Tuesday, killing at least one person and wounding eighteen. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP] [Dawn]
  • Rajanpur Operations: An Monday afternoon army deadline for members of the ‘Chotoo gang’ to surrender went without response, prompting the deployment of military helicopters for further airstrikes on the area. II Corps commander Maj. Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem visited the area to review operations, but departed afterwards. [ET]
  • Police Reforms: The Express Tribune reports that Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial cabinet officials are considering a range of amendment proposals to policing regulations, including restrictions on the provincial police chief’s powers to appoint officers above the assistant inspector general rank.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Fallout: Senior PML-N ministers met on Monday to discuss outreach to the PPP to seek its support for the creation of a government-appointed judicial commission to investigate offshore business accounts leaked as part of the Panama papers; the meeting debated, but is not reported to have reached an agreement on, the PPP’s proposal for a parallel parliamentary commission. Prime Minister Sharif departed London on Tuesday to return to Islamabad. Anonymous PTI sources tell Dawn that the party may postpone a planned protest rally at the Sharifs’ Raiwind residence, suggesting the party was short of funds and was internally divided over the plan; plans for a rally to commemorate the PTI’s founding anniversary on April 24 will proceed, however. [Dawn]
  • MQM Under Pressure: Sindh assembly member Ashfaq Mangi became the latest MQM member to quit the party and join former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal’s Pakistan Sarzameen Party on Monday. In an address to supporters afterwards, MQM leader Nadeem Nusrat denounced “baseless” allegations against the party’s senior leadership. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The parliamentary committee on electoral reforms has asked the Election Commission to reinstate documents on the ECP website detailing assembly members’ income and asset filings, Finance Minister Dar told reporters on Monday. On Tuesday members of the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly voted through open show of hands to elect members of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, half of whose membership comes from the federal government and half from the Gilgit-Baltistan government; four of the six members elected were PML-N candidates. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Former Sindh Home Minister Zulfikar Mirza Calls for Investigation into Bahria Town Land Theft Charges [Dawn]
  • Pakistan ‘May Consider’ Indian Request for Reciprocal Investigation Trip on Pathankot Attack [ET]
  • Baloch Liberation Army Fighters Surrenders in Kalat [Dawn]
  • Two Life Sentences Issued in Kasur Child Sex Abuse Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Musharraf Lawyers Put Onus on Government for His Travel [Dawn]
  • Religious Parties and Punjab Government Hold First Round of Talks on Women’s Protection Law [Dawn]
  • Retired Army Officer and Nephew Injured in Drive-By Shooting in Karachi [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan Navy Inducts Two New Landing Craft [APP]
  • NAB Plans Three New Cases [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Hundreds Wounded in Kabul Bombing: At least 327 people have been wounded and 28 killed when a car or truck bomb detonated in a crowded area of downtown Kabul’s Pul-e-Mahmud neighborhood on Tuesday, outside the offices of the Directorate of Security for Dignitaries, an elite NDS force responsible for protecting senior government officials. At least one gunman reportedly entered the building after the blast, which was followed by reports of heavy gunfire; Ministry of Interior officials said he was killed by security forces after roughly half an hour, but the WSJ’s account suggest multiple gunmen may have been present and the Guardian reports that fighting is still ongoing as of this writing. Al Jazeera reports the attack took place at the same time as a graduation ceremony for new recruits. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Chief Executive Abdullah condemned the attack, saying it “signals the losses, weaknesses and defeats of the terrorists in battlefields against our heroic security forces” and saying that “our political elites must give priority to the national interests and defy terror attacks against the Afghans. Afghanistan must come first.” Pres. Ghani also issued a statement condemning the attack, as did Pakistan’s foreign ministry. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: TOLO quotes unnamed officials in Kunduz who claim to have repelled a force of as many as a thousand Taliban fighters from attacks on checkposts in the Chardara district on Monday. Military officials credit the Afghan Air Force with carrying out airstrikes and resupply missions in and around Kunduz. Airstrikes in Kandahar are also reported to have destroyed a Taliban bomb-making factory. Separately, the ministry of defense reported the arrest of a Taliban commander in Kandahar’s Khakriz district in an overnight raid on Sunday. On Tuesday, Ministry of Interior officials announced the arrest in Bamiyan of a former police intelligence officer accused of killing two American advisors in an insider attack at the ministry of interior headquarters in Kabul in 2012.
  • International Assistance: The Czech Republic has pledged to maintain its support for the NATO Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan next year, deploying up to 290 soldiers.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Chabahar Port Agreement: Afghanistan, India, and Iran plan to formally sign the agreement for a transit corridor between India and Afghanistan via Iran’s Chabahar port at a ceremony in Kabul within the next two months, a spokesman for the Afghan ministry of commerce and industries said Monday.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • ANA Inducts ScanEagle Surveillance Drones [Khaama Press]
  • Legal Experts Rally for Constitutional Loya Jirga [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PML-N Finalizes Plans for Panama Leaks Investigation; UN Reports Rise in Civilian Casualties

Topline

  • PML-N leaders have reportedly finalized the terms of reference for a judicial commission to investigate the offshore business accounts detailed in the documents of a Panamanian law firm leaked earlier this month; no details have officially been released, but former Supreme Court judge Sarmad Jalal Osmany has reportedly been tapped to lead the commission. The UN’s quarterly report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan documented 600 deaths and 1343 injuries during the first three months of 2016; the share of casualties caused by government forces rose, although the Taliban remain responsible for the most deaths. Fighting continues around Kunduz after the Taliban launched a simultaneous attack on several districts on Friday; U.S. military advisor are reportedly present, supporting Afghan security forces. Pakistani military helicopters carried out airstrikes in the Rajanpur district on Friday, targeting members of the ‘Chotoo gang’; on Saturday, the military’s public relations arm announced that the army had taken command of the operation, and on Monday the army issued a mid-afternoon deadline for the gang to surrender. Some police officers taken hostage last week have reportedly been freed, but reporting on the operation remains sketchy. In a Reuters interview, U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson suggested that there was “more overt cooperation” between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, saying he was concerned that the Taliban might provide support to the group again should it return to power. Pakistani sources claim that they are pushing the Taliban to halt their spring offensive and take part in direct talks with the Afghan government. Another round of talks between the High Peace Council and Hezb-e-Islami negotiatiors will reportedly be held this week. The Pakistani army has reported proposed the creation of a new authority to oversee the implementation of China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects, giving the army an unspecified role in the oversight; Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal has pushed back at the suggestion. In a statement on Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry denied any connection to the 2009 suicide attack on Camp Chapman in Khost, as suggested in a newly declassified U.S. State Department cable.

Pakistan — Security

  • Army Takes Over Rajanpur Operation: On Friday, military helicopters carried out airstrikes against members of the “Chotoo gang” in the remote river island area of Punjab’s Rajanpur district, backed by mortar fire from the Punjab Rangers. On Saturday, the military’s public relations arm announced that the army had taken over control of police operations. Families of the nearly two dozen police officers taken hostage by the gang last week held a protest on Friday, demanding their release and criticizing police authorities. At least seven police officers have been killed over the past week; Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced compensation for their families on Friday, and praised police efforts. Anonymous Express Tribune sources attribute the gang’s resistance to the presence of two dozen “foreign militants”; Dawn, however, quotes anonymous police sources who put blame on Punjab police chief Mushtaq Ahmad Sukhera for forcing a hasty start to the operation. Reporting has generally be sketchy since the start of the operation; Dawn provides the most detailed profile to date of gang leader Ghulam Rasool, aka Chotoo, which highlights his previous connections to PML-N provincial assembly member Atif Mazari and the Punjab police now targeting him. A curfew has been imposed across the district, and at least 240 residents of the area have reportedly been arrested in connection to the police action. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah met with the head of the Sindh Rangers on Saturday to discuss the deployment of additional forces along the border between Rajanpur and Sindh. On Sunday, the gang reportedly released an unspecified number of hostages, demanding safe passage in return for the release of the rest; on Monday, the army issued a mid-afternoon deadline for the group to surrender. [Reuters] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Denies Connection to Camp Chapman Attack: In a statement on Friday responding to a recently-declassified U.S. State Department correspondence suggesting that Pakistani intelligence officers had met with Haqqani network operatives and provided funding to support the December 2009 suicide attack on Camp Chapman in Khost, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that “allegations in the media on Pakistan’s involvement with HQN are preposterous”. The statement also noted contemporaneous reporting suggesting the attack had been carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. [Guardian] [ET]
  • Tensions with India: Pakistan’s foreign ministry held a briefing for Arab and Southeast Asian diplomats in Islamabad on Friday, detailing allegations that Kulbushan Yadav was an Indian spy supporting militant separatist groups in Balochistan; in a statement, the foreign ministry said that “it was emphasised in the briefing that in order to achieve regional peace and stability, it was imperative that India immediately stops its interference in Pakistan and resolves all contentious issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, through the process of sustained dialogue”. In Balochistan on Friday, home minister Sarfaraz Bugti announced the seizure of a large cache of weapons smuggled across the border from Afghanistan, which he alleged was sent by India’s RAW intelligence agency for the Baloch Liberation Army. On Saturday, the Karachi Counterterrorism Department announced the arrest of two Pakistani fishermen accused of working for India’s RAW intelligence agency to conduct coastal surveillance. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: A team of senior PML-N ministers, led by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, finalized terms of references for a judicial commission investigating the offshore business holds revealed in the leaked accounts of a Panamanian law firm released at the beginning of the month. Unconfirmed accounts indicate retired judge Sarmad Jalal Osmany will head the commission, but Dar and other officials have refused to provide further details on the record at this point. In an interview on Friday, Punjab Chief Minister echoed earlier reports indicating that the commission will investigate the reported assets of all Pakistani nationals named in the Panama leaks, not just the Sharif family. Speaking on Friday, PPP senator Aitzaz Ahsan said that the opposition was united in their demand that the investigation be carried out as a “forensic audit” conducted by an “international audit firm”; PML-N officials said the commission staff would include professionals from the Federal Investigation Agency or chartered accountants. On Sunday, Senate chairman Raza Rabbani ruled out suggestions from national assembly opposition leader Khursheed Shah that he might chair a parliamentary commission to investigate the issue. Former Pres. Zardari spoke by phone with Prime Minister Sharif while both are in London on Friday evening, but no meeting is planned. PTI leadership will hold a meeting on Tuesday to review developments in the investigations. On Saturday, the interior ministry announced that the PTI had been given permission to stage a protest rally on April 24, overruling a notice from the district administration the day prior denying the PTI’s application. PML-N and PTI activists staged protests outside the London residences of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan’s ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith on Sunday. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune notes that the Election Commission of Pakistan has removed asset filing details for national and provincial assembly members from its website. In an open letter to supporters on Friday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari sought recommendations on how to restructure the party. On Sunday, Bhutto accused the PML-N of “pre-poll rigging” in Azad Jammu and Kashmir by providing development funds to ruling party candidates. By-elections have been scheduled for June 2nd for two Sindh assembly seats vacated by former MQM legislators who quit to join the Pakistan Sarzameen Party. In Peshawar, Jamaat-e-Islami local government councilors threatened to quit their seats if the party withdrew its support for JI candidate Fazalullah Daudzai for the PK-8 provincial assembly seat in favor of the PTI’s candidate, Shehzad Khan. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Army Seeks Role in CPEC Administration: The Express Tribune reports that the Pakistani army has proposed the creation of a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority, to be headed by a chairman and staffed by directors general, that would be responsible for executing development projects under the CPEC framework; the report does not specify how, but says the army would seek a formal role as part of the authority. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal is quoted objecting to the proposal, saying it would add another layer of bureaucracy and slow down the project. [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sunni Tehreek Protestors Call for Blasphemy Executions [AP]
  • Pro-Government Militia Leader Killed in Khyber Agency Attack [Dawn]
  • Karachi Criminals Seek Refuge in Tablighi Jamaat [The News]
  • Five Karachi University Staffers Arrested in Rangers Raid [Dawn]
  • Sindh High Court Orders Case Against Police Superintendent Over Staged Killing [Dawn]
  • Bomb Defused in Parachinar Market [ET]
  • Prosecutor Seeks Interpol ‘Red Warrant’ for Musharraf in Treason Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Seeks Closer Prison Surveillance [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Faces Rs 50 Billion Budget Crunch [Dawn]
  • Half of Khyber Paktunkhwa Police Stations Operate in Rented Buildings [Dawn]
  • President of Mauritius Visits Islamabad [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Bahria Town Karachi: Greed Unlimited – “How land authorities and Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd colluded in violating multiple laws to facilitate a massive land grab.” [Fahim Zaman and Naziha Syed Ali, Dawn]
  • Report: Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan: Religious Bias in Public School Textbooks – “The content of Pakistani public school textbooks related to non-Islamic faiths and non-Muslims continue to teach bias, distrust, and inferiority. Moreover, the textbooks portray non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan as sympathetic towards its perceived enemies.” [US Committee on Religious Freedom (pdf)]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released its report on civilian casualties during the first quarter of the calendar year on Sunday, which found a total of 600 civilians killed and 1,343 injured in the conflict during that period, compared to 688 deaths and 1210 wounded during the first quarter of 2015. This year, 127 deaths and 242 of those wounded were attributed to government-affiliated forces, a 70% rise from the same period a year prior; the Taliban remain responsible for roughly 60% of all civilian casualties. 161 children were killed during the quarter and 449 injured, a 29% increase that UN officials attributed to increasing combat around cities and urban centers. [NYT] [AP] [Khaama Press] [UNAMA Report]
  • Kunduz Attacks: Afghan forces pushed back simultaneous Taliban attacks in multiple districts around Kunduz city on Friday; fighting continued through the weekend, and as of Sunday Afghan special forces were reported to be battling to retake control of checkpoints along the Kunduz-Khanabad district highway; the provincial police chief, Qasim Jangalbagh, told the AFP that insurgent fighters appeared to be concentrating their efforts on cutting off the Chardara district to the city’s southwest. The LA Times reports that village residents received warnings from the Taliban to flee their homes. Governor Asadullah Amarkhel pledged that “Kunduz will never be a safe haven for the Taliban or any other insurgent outfit. They would not succeed in reaching their objectives”. NATO officials confirmed that U.S. military advisors were present in Kunduz providing support to Afghan security forces, but did not provide details. Pres. Ghani held a security review session with the governors and police chiefs of all 34 provinces on Saturday, directing them to “prioritize security and the fight against the enemy”. Reports of casualties in the fighting vary, and range from between 50-80 Taliban fighters killed, with limited details on Afghan security forces’ casualties; three Taliban commanders are reported to have been killed. [Reuters] [AFP] [AP] [AJE] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: In a Reuters interview, U.S. and NATO military commander Gen. John Nicholson said that he saw “more overt cooperation” between the Taliban and foreign terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, a move he suggested was necessitated by Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s succession struggles. He provided few details, but said that “our concern is that if the Taliban were to return, that because of their close relationships with these groups, that they would offer sanctuary to these groups”, and that this would inform his review of U.S. force plans in the coming year.
  • Militias: A presidential spokesman stated on Friday that Pres. Ghani had ordered a crackdown on the activities of “illegal armed groups”, saying that “legitimate use of force is only within the competence of the state and no one has the right to use weapons outside the framework of the state. The president ordered all security agencies to take serious action against these groups.”
  • Afghan Cadets Graduate Pakistan Military Academy: A group of six Afghan army cadets completed a training course at the Pakistan Military Academy on Saturday, becoming the first ANA soldiers to take part in the course, after entering last February.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: On Saturday, ministry of defense and ministry of interior spokesmen reported that Afghan forces were engaged in operations in twelve provinces and 25 districts, including Kunduz. At least twelve people, including three children, were killed in a joint U.S.-Afghan overnight raid targeting a suspect Al Qaeda member in Logar province on Friday, the WSJ reports. At least seven of the occupants, including the children, were reported by the ministry of interior to be ethnic Chechens. Also on Friday, the Bulcharagh district police chief in Faryab province was killed in a Taliban ambush in the Garziwan district. On Sunday, the ministry of defense confirmed that the Taliban had hit a military helicopter with rocket fire in Kunar, forcing an emergency landing, but denied Taliban claims that as many as twenty soldiers had died in the incident. Also on Sunday, Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpost in Balkh’s Chaharbolka district; police officials say that a dozen Taliban were killed, and report no casualties of their own. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [WAPO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Anonymous Pakistani officials tell the Express Tribune that they are “utterly disappointed” by the Taliban’s announcement of its new spring offensive, and say that the Taliban have been warned through unspecified intermediaries that they will pay a “heavy price” if they continue to reject direct talks with the Afghan government. Meanwhile, Afghan High Peace Council officials say they will hold another round of talks with Hezb-e-Isami Gulbuddin negotiators in Kabul “in the next couple of days,” expressing optimism that an agreement could be reached. HiG officials are reported to be seeking unspecified electoral reforms, the release of prisoners, and the repatriation of refugees from Pakistan; the Express Tribune reports the group is also seeking the de-listing of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from UN and US sanctions lists, and is also seeking positions in the government. [TOLO]
  • Government Under Pressure: In comments to TOLO, Chief Executive Abdullah dismissed opposition criticism of remarks by Sec. Kerry endorsing a full five-year tenure for the national unity government, suggesting that that opponents were motivated primarily by the loss of their previous official positions. On Saturday, a presidential spokesman said that the president’s early March electoral decree — which has not been publicly released — had been transferred to the ministry of justice for review; ministry of justice officials said it had been transferred in turn to the ministry of parliamentary affairs. [TOLO]
  • Atmar Visits China: National security advisor Hanif Atmar departed on Sunday for a visit to China, where he will meet with political and military leaders to discuss China’s support for the Afghan security forces and the peace process.
  • Judges Dismissed: A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Friday that at least 125 judges had been removed from their posts, saying that the Supreme Court had presented a plan to the president seeking the removal and replacement of roughly 500 judges. No further details were reported.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Refugees Seek New Routes into Europe [WAPO] [Khaama Press]
  • Afghan Army Occupying Helmand Schools as Bases [Guardian]
  • Sprawling Parwan Prison Facility Takes in Detainees from Across Afghanistan [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Found Alive, Soldiers are Told: You Owe Us for Burials [NYT]
  • Lawmaker Suspended After Brawl with Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Union Employees Criticize Hajj Contract to Ariana Airlines [TOLO]
  • After 13 Years, CIA Honors Green Beret Killed on Secret Afghanistan Mission [WAPO]
  • Report: Education and Healthcare at Risk – “Throughout 2015, children increasingly struggled to access already fragile health and education services in Afghanistan due to insecurity and conflict-related violence – limitations further exacerbated by high levels of chronic poverty throughout the country.” [UNAMA / UNICEF (pdf)]