Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM Splits from London Leadership; U.S. Soldier Killed in Helmand

Note: The news will be on vacation hiatus for the next week, and will return with full coverage of the intervening period and new updates from Wednesday, August 31st, or otherwise as soon as possible after that point. Apologies for the interruption in service, and thank you for reading.

Topline

  • Following Tuesday’s press conference by MQM leader Farooq Sattar in which Sattar stated that “from now onwards, decisions will be made in Pakistan”, party leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain announced that he was handing over decision-making powers to the party’s Coordination Committee and would “focus on improving my health”. Multiple treason cases have been filed against Hussain and other party leaders, and more than a dozen party members remain under arrest in connection to Monday’s attack on an ARY News office in Karachi. Meanwhile, elections are underway in Sindh today for council chairmanships and the mayor of Karachi, a position the MQM’s candidate Waseem Akhtar is expected to win despite his imprisonment on separate terrorism charges. A U.S. soldier was killed in a roadside bombing outside the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Tuesday; one other American and six Afghans were wounded in the bombing, which marks the second American casualty in Afghanistan since January of this year. The Taliban continue to encroach on Lashkar Gah and Kunduz city, although Afghan military officials claim to be pushing both offensives back. Abdullah Abdullah welcomed a cabinet review and approval of a new electoral reform law, which has gone to Pres. Ghani for review and approval; details are limited, but the reforms reportedly include a shift away from multi-member provincial constituencies in favor of single-member constituencies for parliamentary elections. The PTI has stated it will go ahead with an Imran Khan-headlined rally in Jhelum ahead of by-elections taking place there next Wednesday, despite an Election Commission warning that doing so violates the electoral code of conduct. The Chaman border crossing remains closed for the fifth day.

Pakistan – Security

  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited the Kurram Agency and Hangu district on Tuesday, reviewing security measures along the border with Afghanistan; he vowed that the army would “continue its fight against terrorism without any discrimination”. [Dawn]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM in Turmoil: In a statement on Wednesday, MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain announced that he was handing over “powers of reorganization, policy making, and decision making” to the party’s Coordination Committee, saying he would “focus on improving my health in line with the Coordination Committee’s suggestions”. Sindh assembly opposition leader and MQM leader Khwaja Izahrul Hassan tells Dawn that MQM leader Farooq Sattar did not consult with Hussain or other MQM leaders in London prior to Sattar’s Tuesday press conference, in which he had announced that “from now onwards, decisions will be made in Pakistan”. Sattar stopped short of directly criticizing Hussain, but criticized his remarks on Pakistan and the attack on an ARY News office in Karachi. At least three party leaders and 11 activists remain under arrest in connection to that attack. TV host and MQM leader Amir Liaquat Hussain, who appeared alongside Sattar at the press conference, later announced his resignation from the MQM; Sattar told journalists on Wednesday that despite his resignation Liaquat “is still apart of us and will always be”. The MQM’s political rivals continue to heavily criticize the party in the wake of Monday’s attack on the ARY offices and Hussain’s critical remarks on Pakistan; former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal said that the “MQM is about to fall now and whoever tries to save it will be buried under the rubble.” In separate remarks, PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah and PTI leader Imran Khan demurred on the suggestion that the party should be banned outright, however. Multiple treason and terrorism cases have been filed against Hussain and over a dozen MQM party leaders, and access to the party’s website has been blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. UK police confirmed on Tuesday that they had received complaints and were investigating Hussain’s comments. Separately on Tuesday, the Rangers released a report detailing their arrest of 654 accused “target killers” affiliated with the MQM since September 2013, which they linked to nearly 6,000 murders. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Sindh Elections Underway: Indirect elections are being held on Wednesday in Sindh for district council chairmanships and the mayor and deputy mayor of Karachi; despite the turmoil in the MQM and the fact that he remains imprisoned on separate charges, the MQM’s nominee Waseem Akhtar is expected to be elected to the position of Karachi mayor, on the strength of the party’s strength in the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation council. Akhtar’s lawyer tells the Express Tribune that “will open an office in jail and via video link he will conduct council sessions”. [ET]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: On Tuesday, the Election Commission cited its code of conduct and barred Imran Khan from participating in a rally in the NA-63 Jhelum constituency, ahead of by-elections scheduled to take place there on August 31; a PTI spokesman said that the rally would proceed regardless. On Tuesday, the Lahore High Court ordered the Election Commission to issue a new schedule for indirect elections for reserved local government body seats, upholding a PML-Q challenge that new nominations had not been taken after the government changed the electoral law in January. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Prime Minister Reviews FATA Reform Proposals [Dawn] [ET]
  • Former AXACT CEO Acquitted in Money Laundering Case [ET]
  • Islamabad High Court Seeks Response on Missing Persons Issue [ET]
  • ‘Move On Pakistan’ Leader Granted Bail [ET]
  • ADB Approves $810M Loan for Power Transmission Upgrades [ET]
  • Power License Approved for New Coal Plant in Karachi [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • US Soldier Killed in Helmand: In a statement on Tuesday, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan confirmed the death of an American soldier in a roadside bombing in Helmand near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah; one other American and six Afghan soldiers were wounded in the blast. A U.S. military spokesman said that the soldier was not a member of the approximately 100 U.S. soldiers whose deployment to Helmand in an advisory capacity was announced on Monday; identification details have not been released pending notification of family members. The death is the first U.S. casualty in Afghanistan since January. [WAPO] [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, deputy chief of army staff Gen. Murad Ali Murad claimed to have inflicted a “heavy defeat” on Taliban forces around Kunduz, citing apparent phone intercepts of conversations by the Taliban’s top commander in the area. Separately, deputy presidential advisor for tribal affairs Dawoud Gulzar, who heading a team tasked with investigating the fall of the Dahna-e-Ghori district in Baghlan to Taliban control, told reporters on Tuesday that the Taliban had infiltrated the area without apparent resistance from local security forces. The Ministry of Interior reported on Tuesday that they had killed a Taliban commander, identified as the “shadow governor” for Ghor province, in an airstrike in Faryab’s Pashtunkot district on Monday evening. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reform: TOLO quotes Chief Executive Abdullah praising “significant progress” on electoral reforms following the cabinet’s review and approval of a new draft electoral law on Monday evening, which will now go to the president for final review; details are limited but are reported to include a shift from multi-member to single-member constituencies for parliamentary elections.
  • Chaman Border Crossing with Pakistan Remains Closed: A second round of talks between Pakistani and Afghan border security officials at the Chaman border crossing on Tuesday failed to reach an agreement on the reopening of the border. Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, condemned the burning of Pakistani flags by Afghan demonstrators last week, saying “whoever burnt the flag was certainly representing neither the government nor the people of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Attorney General Opens New Anti-Corruption Justice Center [TOLO]
  • Acting Government Officials Remain in Place Despite Pledges to Bring in Full Appointees [TOLO]
  • New Housing Project Inaugurated in Kabul [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM Leaders Arrested After Attack on ARY News Offices; Fighting Continues Around Kunduz

Topline

  • Top MQM leaders were arrested and the party’s Karachi headquarters sealed after party supporters attacked the offices of ARY News on Monday evening, in a clash which followed an address by party leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain in which Hussain denounced the media for failing to cover the MQM’s week-long hunger strike over the alleged extrajudicial detention and killing of party activists. Hussain issued an apology statement on Tuesday; treason charges have been filed against him, and several MQM leaders remain in detention. MQM leader Farooq Sattar was released on Tuesday and in a press conference that is ongoing as of this writing, broke with Hussain, saying that the MQM “should operate from Pakistan”, seeking to disassociate the party from the violence and from comments by Hussain that described Pakistan as a “cancer”. Fighting continues around Kunduz, with the highway to Baghlan still blocked and the Taliban reported to have made probing attacks on the Kunduz city airport. Approximately 100 U.S. advisors have been deployed to Lashkar Gah to provide advisory support for the Afghan police; districts in Sar-e-Pul and Faryab are reportedly under Taliban threat. India’s finance minister will skip a ministerial SAARC meeting in Islamabad this week, and officials have raised doubts as to whether Prime Minister Modi will attend the summit in November. India will deliver the fourth of four Mi-25 helicopter gunships to Afghanistan soon, after securing additional parts from Russia; Afghan National Army chief of staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shaheem will visit New Delhi this week to seek additional military aid. Prime Minister Sharif chaired another security review meeting on Tuesday, following a meeting of a committee reviewing the National Action Plan on Monday that was chaired by National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua. TOLO reports that the Afghan government is considering replacing the multi-member single non-transferrable voting system for parliamentary elections with new single-member districts. China’s Shanghai Electric announced on Monday that it was exploring negotiating a stake in Karachi’s K-Electric power utility.

Pakistan – Security

  • Security Review: There was no official readout of Monday’s inaugural meeting of a new oversight committee on the National Action Plan against terrorism, chaired by National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua; the Express Tribune reports that the meeting highlighted a lack of progress on multiple fronts, including banned groups who continue to operate under new names and terrorism financing. Prime Minister Sharif chaired another review meeting with top aides on Tuesday.
  • FATA Operations: In a statement on Monday, the Pakistani military’s public relations arm said that “security forces have occupied passes and are now consolidating their positions up in high mountains in Rajgal” as part of ongoing operations in the Khyber Agency, and had seized multiple weapons caches.
  • Lawyers Protest Quetta Attack: Members of Pakistan’s bar associations staged protests around the country on Monday, charging the government and security agencies with failing to identify and take action against those responsible for the attack on the Quetta Civil Hospital earlier this week. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Leader Arrested, Offices Raided and Shut Down:  MQM leaders met separately with federal information minister Pervaiz Rashid and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Monday, reiterating their complaints that the party was being targeted for extrajudicial killings and detentions; a spokesman for Shah said that the “PPP government is against political victimisation and will not support any criminals irrespective of their party affiliation.” Later that evening, following an address to supporters by MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain in which he accused the media of failing to cover the party’s hunger strike over the past week, party activists attacked the offices of ARY News in Karachi’s Saddar neighborhood, clashing with police; one person was killed, and five people were injured in the brawl. MQM leaders issued contradictory claims afterwards that accused the police of firing unprovoked on the crowd, or that the protestors were not in fact MQM activists but “masked men”; the police accused the MQM of firing first. The Sindh Rangers raided the MQM’s Nine Zero headquarters after the clash, seizing weapons and arresting top party leaders Farooq Sattar and Khawaja Izharul Hasan, among others, and sealing the offices afterwards. Karachi Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar met with the Sindh Rangers leadership on Tuesday to review the arrests; MQM leaders Shahid Pasha, Kunwar Naveed Jamil, and Qamar Mansoor were all transferred to police custody. Pakistan Sarzameen Party leader Mustafa Kamal seized on the incident, reiterating criticisms of Hussain; Prime Minister Sharif and other political leaders also condemned the attack. Dawn quotes Hussain describing Pakistan as a “cancer for the entire world” during his remarks; on Tuesday, treason charges were filed against him. Hussain issued an apology statement on Tuesday, attributing his comments to “severe mental stress over extra-judicial arrests and precarious condition of my workers sitting at the hunger strike camp”. Irum Farooque, an MQM provincial assembly legislator, resigned from the party on Monday. Sattar was released on Tuesday, and in a press conference that is ongoing as of this writing, broke openly with Hussain’s leadership for the first time, saying that “it would be better for MQM to operate from Pakistan until Altaf Hussain’s health issues are not resolved, as such statements push MQM into isolation”, and saying that the party “totally disassociates[s]” itself from Monday’s violence and from Hussain’s remarks on Pakistan. [AP] [Reuters] [ET]
  • India to Skip SAARC Conference: Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley will not attend a meeting of the SAARC regional association to be held in Islamabad this week, and officials suggest that Prime Minister Modi may not attend the heads of state summit scheduled to take place in November. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The PTI opposition staged a walkout from the Punjab assembly on Monday, accusing the government of failing to take action after the murders of two PTI party members and reiterating Imran Khan’s call for a paramilitary operation in the province. Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters there was no need for an operation by the Rangers, dismissing suggestions that the number of targeted killings had increased. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Shanghai Electric Bids for K-Electric Stake: A spokesman for China’s Shanghai Electric Power company said in a statement on Monday that the company had begun “preliminary work” on acquiring a stake in the K-Electric power utility in Karachi, but said negotiations had not yet begun and the size of the stake had yet to be determined.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Prime Minister to Chair Meeting on FATA Reforms [ET]
  • Baloch Liberation Army Commander Linked to Attack on President’s Son Killed [ET]
  • Sindh Police Plan Punishments for 545 Police Officials [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Two ASWJ Members Killed in Karachi [Dawn]
  • WAPDA Chairman Resigns Over Kalabagh Dam Remarks [Dawn]
  • Punjab Finance Minister Seeks Greater Share of Hydroelectric Profits [ET]
  • Irsa Cuts Sindh and Punjab Water Shares [Dawn]
  • Capital Development Authority Chief Removed [Dawn]
  • Pakistani Vessel Detained in South Africa Over Unpaid Pakistan Steel Mills Dues [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reforms: TOLO reports that the government is considering electoral reforms that would replace the current multi-member, single non-transferrable vote system for parliamentary elections, with a single-member district and new constituency boundaries.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • AISS Survey Suggests Majority Favor Change in Presidential System [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Abdullah Meets Businessmen, Hears Complaints on High Crime Rate [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Threaten Kunduz and Other Northern Districts; PTI Allege Rigging in Kashmir Elections

Topline

  • Taliban fighters briefly took control of Kunduz’s Khan Abad district on Saturday; the deputy chief of staff of the Afghan National Army, Gen. Murad Ali Murad, arrive on Sunday to oversee operations, and officials claimed to have retaken control of the area later that day. The Taliban destroyed a key bridge linking Kunduz city to adjoining northern districts, however, and Taliban attacks on the outskirts of the city were reported on Monday. Hundreds of families are reported to have fled Khan Abad for Takhar province, where Taliban fighters also briefly seized control of the Khwaja Gar district before being repelled early Monday morning. Heavy fighting was also reported in Nangarhar’s Hesarak district, and operations continue around Lashkar Gah. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited Khyber Agency on Friday to review ongoing operations in the Rajgal Valley area. Balochistan security officials reported the arrest of dozens of suspects in Quetta and Mastung over the weekend, which they suggested were linked to the attack on the Quetta Civil Hospital earlier this month; no details on the suspects’ identities have been released, however. Pakistan closed the Chaman border crossing with Afghanistan on Friday after Afghan demonstrators burned the Pakistani flag during protests the day prior. A planned meeting between Chief Executive Abdullah and Pres. Ghani was delayed on Friday; a spokesman for Abdullah suggested they would meet again soon. The PTI’s Azad Jammu and Kashmir chapter accused the PML-N of rigging the results of the legislative assembly elections there, calling on General Sharif to intervene; Imran Khan has called for the deployment of Rangers in Lahore, describing the Punjab police as the “militant wing” of the PML-N. PAT leader Tahir-ul-Qadri also addressed supporters, suggesting that India was supporting the PML-N’s continued rule. MQM leaders and activists continue to carry out a hunger strike over the arrests of party members. Former Pres. Karzai visited New Delhi on Friday, telling reporters that India “should be a lot bolder” in providing Afghanistan military assistance. The secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Iyad bin Amin Madani, met with Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz on Saturday, echoing Pakistan’s position that the Indian government’s crackdown in Kashmir was “not an internal matter”; in a visit to Afghanistan, Madani announced plans to host a conference of Islamic scholars to discuss Afghan reconciliation in Saudi Arabia in October. The Taliban have rejected participation in that meeting, however. The number of registered and unregistered Afghan refugees leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan has spiked over the past month, with a UN processing center in Peshawar for registered refugees reportedly over its capacity. U.S. national Matthew Barrett was finally deported from Pakistan on Saturday morning. Government officials say they will appeal a Supreme Court of Pakistan ruling curtailing the prime minister’s ability to make financial decisions and issue ordinances without the approval of the full cabinet.

Pakistan – Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua will oversee the first meeting of a new implementation committee for the National Action Plan against terrorism on Monday. The Sindh provincial government reportedly plans to establish a new forensic database of firearms; on Saturday, the provincial cabinet also approved a draft law on the registration of seminaries in the province, prompting JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman to warn against “targeting madrassahs [to serve] the agenda of their foreign masters”. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited troops stationed in the Khyber Agency on Friday, reviewing the ongoing “Operation Khybber III” in the Rajgal Valley. Military spokesmen report continued airstrikes in the area, which they said killed nine militant suspects on Saturday and six on Sunday, without providing further information. In Bajaur, one security officer was killed and a civilian bystander injured when a bomb exploded in Salarzai on Saturday. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [AP]
  • Balochistan Operations: Balochistan security officials report the arrest of as many as 27 militant suspects during raids in the Mastung district, including nine foreigners; another 13 arrests were reported in Quetta on Saturday. Officials linked the arrests to the attack on the Quetta Civil Hospital earlier this month, although they provided no details on the suspects’ identities. The Pakistan Bar Council will boycott court proceedings on Monday, reiterating demands that the government bring those responsible for that attack to justice. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • U.S. National Deported: American national Matthew Barrett was deported from Pakistan on Saturday morning, following his detention earlier this month on charges of entering the country in violation of a ban related to his previous expulsion from Pakistan in 2011. [ET]
  • U.S. Spying Intercepted Pakistani Communications: New leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to The Intercept include internal NSA presentations from 2013 describing efforts to penetrate targets in Pakistan’s National Telecommunications Corporation’s VIP Division, including the “Green Line communications network” used by top civilian and military leaders.
  • Military Courts: Dawn reports that a military appellate court upheld death sentences for five men convicted in May in connection to attacks on Karachi’s Ismaili community and the murder of activist Sabeen Mahmud; lawyers for the defendants have indicated their intention to appeal to the high courts.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with India: Foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz met with visiting Organization of the Islamic Conference secretary general Iyad bin Amin Madani on Saturday; at a joint press conference afterwards Madani echoed Pakistan’s position that “the human rights violations in India-held Kashmir are not internal matter of the Indian state” and calling for a referendum on the status of Kashmir. On Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry reiterated an invite to India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar for discussions on the disputed territory, apparently without directly responding to Jaishankar’s earlier response on Thursday that laid out an agenda for talks focused on terrorism and “Pakistan’s illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir”. On Monday, Balochistan registered cases in absentia against five Balochistan separatist leaders who had made comments in support of Prime Minister Modi’s remarks in which he referred to support from Balochistan. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Refugee Repatriation: The UN-managed center in Peshawar that processes the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is unable to process a surge in repatriations over the past few weeks, Dawn reports. The International Organization on Migration estimates that 60,000 unregistered refugees have returned from Pakistan over the past four weeks, and have not received any support; more than two-thirds of those returnees are children. On Saturday, a Pakistani lawyer, Zulfikar Ahmed Bhatta filed a Supreme Court petition seeking an extension of the deadline for the return of registered Afghan refugees for another year, to December 2017; Bhatta’s filing suggests that the Supreme Court investigate whether Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government officials are purchasing up properties previously owned by Afghan refugees. [ET]
  • Opposition Protests and Other Political Activity: At a press conference on Friday, the PTI’s chapter president for Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Sultan Mahmood, issued a white paper alleging that the PML-N government had rigged the results of recent legislative assembly elections in the region, and called for the current AJK government’s term to be cut short to 2018, with new elections there held in conjunction with the nationwide general elections.  Mahmood called on Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif to intervene, saying “rigging in the AJK elections will adversely impact the ongoing freedom movement in Indian-held Kashmir”. The PTI’s AJK chapter staged a protest in Lahore on Sunday against India. Speaking in an address to supporters on Saturday, Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir-ul Qadri accused India of “fighting to keep [Prime Minister Sharif’s government] in power” and of carrying out attacks in the country which Qadri suggested Sharif had deliberately failed to respond to. Qadri has announced plans for protests in several cities beginning at the end of the week. On Sunday, following the shooting death of a PTI union council chairman candidate in Lahore on Saturday, Imran Khan called for the deployment of paramilitary Rangers in Punjab, to investigate what he said was an “alarming” increase in targeted killings. Dawn overviews the flurry of recent petitions seeking the disqualification from office of Prime Minister Sharif, his family members, and PTI opposition leaders. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Karachi Crackdown: Prime Minister Sharif met with Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and governor Ishratul Ibad Khan on Friday during a visit to Karachi; sources tell Dawn that Sharif said that “there would be no compromise on efforts aimed at restoring a lasting peace to the city” and that operations in Karachi were “not going to end anytime soon”. MQM activists continued to maintain a hunger strike on Friday, saying that none of a group of six party members had been released from police custody, as ordered by the Chief Minister last week; police said they were released later on Friday. In remarks following a court appearance on Saturday, the MQM’s Karachi mayoral nominee, Waseem Akhtar, vowed to continue to fight charges against him. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Court Ruling Constrains Prime Minister’s Financial Autonomy: Government officials tell the Express Tribune that they will appeal a Supreme Court ruling last week that held that the prime minister must hold meetings of the full cabinet when considering financial issues or executive orders, saying that “if we accept the judgment, it will not be possible to run the government smoothly”. [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Accused Financier Arrested in Connection to 2008 Mumbai Attacks [Dawn]
  • Two Sindhi Nationalist Party Activists Arrested Over Alleged Links with Indian Intelligence [Dawn]
  • Cabinet to Review Right to Information Bill [ET]
  • Former Ambassador Haqqani ‘Still Waiting’ for Passport Renewal [Dawn]
  • Bail Hearing Adjourned Over ‘Move on Pakistan’ Chairman’s Arrest [ET]
  • Former Judge Sentenced to Five Years Over Embezzlement Charges [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Accuses Central Government of Stealing Electricity [Dawn] [ET]
  • Power Sector Receivables Cross Rs 684 Billion, Despite Cut in Generation Costs [Dawn]
  • Gwadar Facing 22% Power Shortage [ET]
  • Senate Planning Committee Concerned Over Balochistan Water Storage Project Delays [Dawn]
  • Commentary: New Survey Shows that Pakistanis Penalize Candidates for Religious Piety – “In our analysis, we find that appeals to religion can sometimes backfire, causing a backlash from voters when nominally devout politicians fall short of the higher moral standards that they implicitly invoke.” [Niloufer Siddiqui and Michael Kalin, WAPO]

Afghanistan – Security

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • National Unity Government Divisions: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah will hold a second meeting in connection to Abdullah’s complaints “in the next few days”, a spokesman for Abdullah said Sunday, saying that both leaders “want to work side by side”. A meeting was to have taken place Friday but was postponed due to Independence Day celebrations. Second Deputy to the Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqiq warned against “unilateralism” during remarks on Friday.
  • Chaman Border Crossing Closed: Pakistan closed the Chaman border crossing with Afghanistan on Friday after a group of Afghan protestors burned the Pakistani flag and attempted to breach the border gate during an Afghan Independence Day gathering the day prior. Border security officials from each side met on Saturday but reached no resolution for the gate’s reopening. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries reports that trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan dropped more than 50% over the past two months. [ET] [Dawn] [Khaama Press]
  • India Ties: Pres. Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Modi held a videoconference on Monday, in which they jointly inaugurated the India-financed reconstruction of the Stor Palace in Kabul and touted India’s support for Afghanistan. Separately, former Pres. Karzai visited New Delhi on Friday, telling reporters that he “appreciated” remarks by Modi alluding to support for dissidents in Balochistan, and that “India should be a lot bolder in meeting the military needs of Afghanistan”.  [TOLO]
  • Taliban Talks: The Organization of the Islamic Conference will hold a conference of Islamic scholars in Mecca and Medina on October 8-10 in support of reconciliation in Afghanistan; Pakistan’s Ulema Council will send delegates, but the Taliban rejected it as an “attempt to legitimise the presence of infidel invaders in Afghanistan by providing misleading information and painting the legitimate Jihad of the Mujahideen as corruption”.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Russia Express Concerns Over Report of ISIS-Taliban ‘Ceasefire’ [Khaama Press]
  • Taliban Condemn Death of Afghan Cleric in Peshawar [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Paralyzed Afghan, His Family Ripped Apart, Bears Pain of Perpetual War [NYT]
  • Over 200,00 Hectares of Land Stolen Since 2001 by Government Officials, Land Authority Reports [TOLO]
  • The Fight Over a Shrine for a Tyrannical Afghan King [WAPO] [RFE/RL]
  • Commentary: From Guantanamo to the UAE: A Scrutiny of the Three Afghan Transfer Cases – “Their files reveal multiple mistakes in intelligence, mistakes in Afghan geography and history, and cases largely made up variously of hearsay, secret evidence and confessions.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PML-N Prepares to ‘Fight Out’ Panama Papers Pressures; Ghani and Abdullah Meet Again

Topline

  • At a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif and top aides are reported to have decided to “fight out the Panamagate battle on the legal front”. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah met again on Thursday to discuss Abdullah’s complaints regarding the implementation of the national unity government agreement; Protests were held in Balochistan on Thursday, denouncing remarks by Indian Prime Minister Modi in which he suggested that he had received thanks from the region for Indian support; Pakistan’s foreign ministry described those remarks as “crossing a red line”. MQM party leaders are staging a hunger strike in Karachi over the arrest of party activists, six of which were freed on the order of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Thursday. The U.S. Air Force has resumed the use of B-52 bombers in Afghanistan for the first time in ten years; Air Force officials said two bombing sorties had taken place, although they did not specify when and where. Reuters reports progress on de-mining efforts in Afghanistan has slowed as international funding for the effort has diminished in recent years. The target of a bombing in Kabul on Thursday has been identified as General Samim Samim, a former aide to the late Muhammad Qasim Fahim; he survived but his son was injured in the blast.

Pakistan – Security

  • U.S. National Approved for Deportation: Contrary to earlier reports, the Express Tribune indicates that detained U.S. national Matthew Barrett has not yet been deported from Pakistan, but that a special court approved his deportation by the Federal Investigation Agency on Thursday. The court accepted bail bonds from two FIA officials who are being investigated for allowing Barrett to enter the country.
  • FATA Operations: Pakistani military spokesmen said that airstrikes carried out in the Khyber Agency’s Rajgal Valley on Thursday killed “eleven terrorists” and destroyed “eight terrorist hideouts”, without providing further details. [Dawn]
  • NADRA Officials Arrested: On Thursday, the Federal Investigation Agency arrested two National Database and Registration Authority officers in Quetta, charging them with accepting bribes to issue national ID cards to an Afghan national, who was also arrested. [Dawn]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with India: Protests were held in Balochistan on Thursday, denouncing remarks by Indian Prime Minister Modi; Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri touted the protests and lashed out at exiled Baloch Republican Party chief Brahamdagh Bugti, who Zehri said had “proved that he is a traitor” by welcoming Modi’s support. At a press briefing on Thursday, the foreign ministry’s spokesman said that Modi had “crossed a red line” and that his comments “could set back relations in a far more serious manner than anything that’s gone before”. The foreign ministry also said that it would welcome any UN observation mission to Kashmir, but insisted that the focus should be on Indian-administered Kashmir, not Pakistan’s side. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Norwegian foreign minister have offered separately to mediate between India and Kashmir over Kashmir.
  • Panama Papers Investigation: During Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sharif and his aides decided to “fight out the Panamagate battle on the legal front and not to be blackmailed” by the opposition, the Express Tribune reports. On Thursday, PML-N legislators brought another motion to the national assembly speaker, seeking the disqualification of PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen from office. Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, the PTI’s opposition leader in the Punjab assembly, says that the party plans to “bring Lahore to a standstill” with its protest march, scheduled to take place September 3. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Karachi Operations: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah ordered the release of six MQM party activists who had been detained by police, saying that “there should not be unnecessary harassment of any citizen, but at the same time my government will not allow anyone to support criminals”. MQM officials say three more activists remain in custody, and say they will continue a hunger strike that began on Wednesday. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Chinese Investment: Thursday’s federal cabinet meeting reviewed progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, focusing particularly on electricity sector infrastructure; the planning and finance ministers reportedly objected to proposals to create a “special monitoring committee” to oversee implementation. The Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet also granted tax concessions for two Chinese firms working on two highway projects under CPEC. [Dawn]
  • Pipeline Firm Leadership Sacked: Dawn reports that the chairman and a member of the board of directors of the Interstate Gas Systems pipeline firm have been removed by the Ministry of Petroleum after they objected to plans for pipelines linking Gwadar and Nawabshah, Karachi and Lahore, and Iran and Pakistan.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Prime Minister Inaugurates Turkish-Designed Pakistan Navy Fleet Tanker [Dawn] [ET]
  • NACTA Hotline Choked with Prank Calls [Dawn] [ET]
  • Suspect Arrest in Connection to Charsadda Bombing [ET]
  • Afghan Refugees Facing Deportation Under Renewed Financial Constraints [ET]
  • New Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government Shakes Up Bureaucratic Appointments [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Orders Halt to Orange Line Metro Train Near Heritage Sites [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Vows ‘Legal Battle’ Over FBR Withholding of Taxes [ET]
  • Parliamentary Delegation Meets Erdogan [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • U.S. Assistance: U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfien told reporters earlier this week that the U.S. had resumed the use of B-52H Stratofortress bombers in Afghanistan for the first time in ten years; the planes carried out two sorties and dropped 27 bombs, although the Air Force did not specify when and where those took place. Separately, the State Department approved a $60 million Foreign Military Sale agreement for small arms to the Afghan forces.
  • Slow Progress on De-Mining: The deadline for clearing Afghanistan of millions of landmines has been pushed back by ten years to 2023 as international support dwindles, Reuters reports; although four-fifths of the country is reported to be mine-free, nearly 600 square kilometers of minefields dating back to the anti-Soviet jihad and civil war era remain unclear, affecting more than 1500 communities.
  • Attacks and Operations: The bomb planted on a vehicle in Kabul on Thursday targeted General Samim Samim, a former secretary to the late Mohammad Qasim Fahim and a current defense ministry employee; Samim was unhurt but his son was injured in the blast. On Friday, local security officials reported that they had reopened the Baghlan-Kunduz highway; Kunduz provincial council members tell TOLO that as much as 80% of the province is outside the government’s control.
  • Ministry Promotions: On Thursday, in conjunction with Afghan Independence Day celebrations, Pres. Ghani promoted Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Jahid, both lieutenant generals, to full general rank.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani and Abdullah Meet Again: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah met again on Thursday to discuss Abdullah’s complaints that he was being marginalized and that the government had not completed its electoral reform pledges. Sec. Kerry is also reported to have spoken by phone with both leaders on Thursday morning. Details are limited and further discussions are reportedly planned, although no date for those talks has been set.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Pottery Town of Istalif Struggles in the Face of Economic Contractions [NYT]
  • Hazaras Seek Refuge in Iran, and Get Sent to Fight in Syria [LAT]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Ghani and Abdullah Meet Ahead of Independence Day; India Rebuffs Pakistan Kashmir Talks Invite

Topline

  • Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah met on Wednesday, in what the president’s office described as a “cordial environment”; talks will reportedly continue this week. Ghani and Abdullah attended independence day celebrations on Thursday, where Ghani and other speakers emphasized the need for national unity and praised Afghanistan’s security forces. India’s foreign secretary responded to an invite from his Pakistani counterpart, saying that India wanted talks to focus on cross-border terrorism, and rejecting Pakistan’s “self-serving allegations regarding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir”. A spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor claimed that fighting had subsided somewhat on Wednesday, and that forces were now working to de-mine the Kandahar-Helmand highway; in Kunduz, Taliban fighters attacked police checkposts in two districts, and are reported to have established their own checkposts on the Baghlan-Kunduz highway. Former North Waziristan-based militant commander and several top aides are reported to have escaped Pakistani military operations and to have relocated to Afghanistan’s Khost province. The Election Commission of Pakistan has given Prime Minister Sharif and his family until September 6 to respond to a batch of petitions seeking his disqualification in connection to allegations of undeclared overseas business assets; opposition party leaders say they will only agree to rejoin a parliamentary committee on investigations into the Panama Papers leaks if the government agrees to concessions. In a ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan held that Prime Minister Sharif could not make discretionary spending decisions or issue ordinances without the approval of the full federal cabinet. Pakistan’s finance ministry is reportedly considering setting up an entity under the Federal Board of Revenue to borrow money with which to pay overdue taxpayer refunds, over the objections of the IMF.  

Pakistan – Security

  • FATA Attacks and Operations: The Express Tribune reports that former North Waziristan-based militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur and several of his top aides evaded Pakistani military operations and have relocated to Khost province; Gul Bahadur has previously been reported to have been killed. The piece also reports that a group of 11 TTP fighters escaped police custody in Mardan two months prior. A district police officer was lightly injured when a roadside bomb struck near his vehicle in the Buner district on Wednesday. Two of the five soldiers wounded in a bombing in the Khyber Agency on Wednesday succumbed to injuries before being hospitalized. South Waziristan officials tell RFE/RL that members of the Mehsud tribe have lost more than 11,000 houses since military operations began in the area in 2009; the government has paid roughly $19 million in total compensation.
  • Quetta Bombing Aftermath: On Wednesday, Balochistan’s home and tribal affairs department appointed Zahoor Afridi, a senior police officer, to head a Joint Investigation Team into the attack on the Quetta Civil Hospital.
  • Attacks on Press: Two staffers for Dawn News were injured in a driveby shooting that targeted their van in Karachi on Wednesday evening; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [Dawn]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with India: Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar responded to his Pakistani counterpart’s invitation for talks on Kashmir, saying in a letter that “since aspects related to cross-border terrorism are central to the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir, we have proposed that discussions between the foreign secretaries be focused on them” and adding that India’s government “rejects in their entirety the self-serving allegations regarding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India where Pakistan has no locus standi”. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has sought observer access to both sides of the disputed Kashmir territory. [Dawn] [WSJ]
  • Panama Papers Investigations: The Election Commission has given Prime Minister Sharif and his family until September 6 to respond to five petitions seeking Sharif’s disqualification from office in connection to allegations of undisclosed offshore business holdings leaked in the Panama Papers. Opposition party leaders said on Wednesday that they would only agree to attend meetings of the parliamentary committee set up to negotiate the terms of an investigation if the government first “softened its stance”. The MQM has withdrawn its members from the opposition alliance. The prime minister will hold a cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss the Panama Papers investigations and other issues, the first full meeting since Sharif left the country for heart surgery in May. The Federal Board of Revenue rejected allegations by Imran Khan that the agency had doctored the prime minister’s tax records; Dawn notes that the FBR and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan have taken no action thus far against any Pakistani nationals named in the Panama Papers. [Dawn]
  • Refugee Repatriation: Maulana Sami-ul Haq, the leader of the Defense of Pakistan Council and Darul Uloom-i-Haqqani, met with an Afghan delegation on Wednesday and afterwards express objections to the harassment of Afghan refugees, vowing to raise the issue with the Khyber Paktunkhwa authorities.
  • Karachi Operation: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah told reporters on Wednesday that he had told Rangers officials that operations in Karachi “will be really successful when Sindh police and civil institutions take care of it,” saying that “we are now in a process of strengthening institutions like police. So, we are trying to reduce [the scope of the operation] instead of expanding it”.

Pakistan – Economics and Development

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Bomb Disposal Squad Member Killed in Balochistan’s Naseerabad District [Dawn]
  • Deported U.S. National Linked by Marriage to PTI Senator [ET]
  • Parliamentary Panel Formed to Review NAB Law [ET] [Dawn]
  • Army Chief Visits Malaysia [ET]
  • NADRA Estimates Records Missing for 70 Million Out of Total Population of 196 Million [Dawn]
  • Water and Power Ministry Claims to Have Cut Circular Debt [Dawn]
  • District Budget for Peshawar Passed [ET]

Afghanistan – Security
Attacks and Operations: A bomb in Kabul planted on a vehicle wounded a child on Thursday, the third such attack in the past week. Two people were killed and more than 50 wounded in a mortar strike on a marketplace in the Kunar provincial capital of Asad Abad on Thursday; a spokesman for the provincial governor said that the crowd had gathered for independence day celebrations. A spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor’s office claimed on Wednesday that fighting had subsided in several districts, and that Afghan security forces were working to clear the Helmand-Kandahar highway. Heavy fighting was reported in Kunduz’s Khan Abad district on Wednesday after the Taliban launched attacks on police checkposts there and in the Chardara district. The Taliban are reported to have set up their own checkposts on the Baghlan-Kunduz highway. Kunduz security officials claim that the Taliban shadow governor for the province was killed in the fighting. TOLO reports allegations that the Baghlan provincial police chief removed the head of police operations in the Dahan-e-Ghori district prior to its fall to Taliban control last week.
Indian Assistance: More than 300 Afghan Air Force personnel are currently undergoing training in India, ministry of defense spokesmen report.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy
Ghani and Abdullah Meet Ahead of Independence Day Celebrations: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah met on Wednesday after a week of open complaint by Abdullah that he was not being consulted as part of the national unity government agreement; a spokesman for the president said that the meeting “took place in a cordial environment” and that the president had agreed to “seriously focus on [Abdullah’s] remarks in the next meeting”. A spokesman for Abdullah said that discussions “focused on the reforms and better performance of the government”. Ghani and Abdullah both commemorated Afghanistan’s Independence Day on Thursday, with Ghani and other speakers emphasizing the need for national unity and praising the performance of Afghanistan’s security services. [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Remainders
ID Cards, Meant to Stop Voter Fraud, Stoke Ethnic Division [WAPO]
After Years of War, Afghans Wary to Talk of Mental Health [AP]
Former Deputy Interior Ministers’ Guards Clash with Kabul Police [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PML-N Reaches Out to Opposition; Ghani and Abdullah Aides Meet in Bid to Defuse Tension

Topline

  • Finance Minister Dar has revived outreach to the opposition over the formation of a commission to investigate the Panama Papers leaks; the PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek have announced plans to resume their protests, and the Election Commission has begun reviewing petitions seeking the prime minister’s disqualification. Indian and Pakistani officials continue to spar over Kashmir and other disputes, with Pakistan’s foreign ministry challenging India to embrace a joint ban on nuclear testing in South Asia, and Prime Minister Sharif denouncing “Indian state oppression” in Kashmir. Representatives of Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah reportedly met on Tuesday for a “working session”, and Abdullah and Ghani are reported to be meeting in person soon. The presidency has reportedly finalized another executive order on electoral reform, and submitted it to the cabinet for review. The Pakistani army continued operations in the Rajgal Valley area of the Khyber Agency on Tuesday, although Dawn reports that artillery shelling began in the area two weeks prior to the announcement of operations. Seven security personnel were wounded in a roadside bombing in the Tirah Valley on Wednesday. Fighting continues in Helmand and in several northern province; officials in the Badghis district of Balamorghab claim to have repelled an attack by thousands of Taliban fighters. Officials in Jowzjan announced the arrest of a man identified as an Islamic State “shadow governor” for the province, accused of seeking to recruit new supporters. In a statement to Reuters, the TTP splinter faction Jamaat ul Ahrar denied any linkage to the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, saying it was not fighting outside Pakistan. In remarks to Pakistan’s national assembly on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan described a new “implementation committee” headed by National Security Advisor Naseer Khan Janjua as “merely an administrative body”; he also indicated that U.S. national Matthew Barret has been deported from Pakistan, without specify when. Pakistan’s ambassador renewed an invitation to Chief Executive Abdullah to visit Pakistan at an unspecified future date.

Pakistan – Security

  • FATA Operations: Dawn reports that the Pakistan army began heavy shelling in the Rajgal Valley in the Khyber Agency two weeks prior to Tuesday’s announcement of new military operations in the area. The military claimed on Tuesday to have killed at least 15 militants and to have destroyed nine bases in airstrikes, but has provided no further details on the targets. On Wednesday, seven security personnel were reportedly wounded in a roadside bombing in the Tirah Valley area. An army checkpost was attacked in the Mohmand Agency on Tuesday, although officials report no casualties.
  • Jamaat ul Ahrar Denies ISIS Link: In a statement to Reuters, a spokesman for the TTP Jamaat ul Ahrar splinter faction, Omar Khalid Khorasani, said that while “those in Daesh or al Qaeda or any other mujahideen movement are our Muslim brothers,” Jamaat ul Ahrar “does not have any organisational link with any of them.” Khorasani also said that his group was not fighting outside Pakistan. Both Daesh and the JuA issued separate claims of responsibility for this month’s bombing of a Quetta hospital.
  • Counterterrorism Policy: Speaking in the national assembly on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan described the new “implementation committee” formed after last week’s series of civil-military security review meetings and headed by National Security Advisor Naseer Khan Janjua as “merely an administrative body”, saying the Interior Ministry and National Counter Terrorism Authority would continue to have an oversight role on the National Action Plan.
  • U.S. Citizen Deported: In his remarks to the national assembly, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said that detained U.S. national Matthew Barret had been deported from Pakistan, without specify when; he also vowed to hold officials responsible who had approved Barret’s re-entry to the country despite being blacklisted follow his expulsion in 2011.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with India: In a meeting with the outgoing president of Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Sharif called on the international community to “take stock of the brutalities against unarmed and innocent Kashmiri people,” condemning “Indian state oppression”. Two Indian soldiers and one police officer were killed in an ambush in Indian Kashmir on Wednesday, and five protestors were killed in clashes with police on Tuesday. Separately, Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri condemned Indian interference in the province. On Tuesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry proposed a joint moratorium with India on nuclear testing. Despite public statements setting Pakistani action against terrorism as a precondition for talks on Kashmir, Reuters reports that Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar might agree to hold talks “focused on fighting cross-border terrorism”. Prime Minister Modi is reported to be debating whether to send Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley to attend a SAARC summit in Islamabad next week. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Opposition Protests: Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan and other members of the Election Commission will hear five petitions today seeking the disqualification from office of Prime Minister Sharif and his family members. Both the PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami have also announced plans to bring Supreme Court petitions against the prime minister, who also faces parallel motions in the national assembly for his disqualification. On Tuesday, Finance Minister Dar held talks with PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah, seeking to reconvene the parliamentary committee on investigations into the Panama Papers. Opposition parties are meeting on Wednesday to discuss the government’s offer. On Tuesday, Imran Khan directed the PTI to continue with plans for rallies in Gujrat on August 21 and Jehlum on August 28, and with a march from Gujranwala to Lahore planned on September 3. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek has separately announced plans to resume its protest movement from August 20. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Tuesday, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly elected Muhammad Masood Khan of the PML-N, a former diplomat at head of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, as president of the region. The Express Tribune notes that while the MQM is expected to win mayor and deputy mayor positions in upcoming elections for the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, joint opposition candidates have been fielded in three district municipal corporations. On Tuesday, Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto announced that he was splitting away from the PML-N to reform his own Sindh National Front party [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Senate Committee on Human Rights Rejects Fake Report Touted by Rangers as Endorsement of Karachi Operation [Dawn] [ET]
  • National Finance Commission Remains Stalled [Dawn]
  • Government Collects Rs 200 Billion in Electricity Surcharges [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Army Chief of Staff Qadim Shah Shahim, on a visit to Helmand on Tuesday, tells TOLO that “the enemies of Afghan people, international terrorists, drug smugglers and the region’s intelligence agencies have joined hands to carry out terrorist activities in Afghanistan”, but “we will soon change Helmand’s situation to normal”. Officials in the Balamorghab district in Badghis claim to have repelled an attack of as many as three thousand Taliban fighters over Monday night; the Zafar 207 Corps claims to have killed Qari Ehsanullah, identified as the Taliban deputy coordinator for military operations in northern Afghanistan. A spokesman for the Jowzjan provincial governor announced the arrest on Wednesday of Mullah Baz Mohammad, identified as an Islamic State “shadow governor” for the province who was described as seeking to report new supporters in the area. [Ariana News] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [RFE/RL]
  • Captives Executed: Military officials in Farah province report that the Taliban carried out the public execution of three soldiers, two police officers and one civilian in the Bakwa district center on Monday. Separately, the Helmand provincial governor accused the Taliban of abducting and executing four civilians, including two teenage boys. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • National Unity Government Divisions: Representatives from the chief executive and presidents’ offices held a “working session” on Tuesday in an effort to resolve their dispute, and Pres. Ghani will reportedly meet Chief Executive Abdullah “in the near future”, TOLO reports. Ariana News reports a meeting will take place Wednesday. Separately, the presidency sent a draft executive decree on electoral reforms to the cabinet for review on Tuesday, the details of which have not been reported. Meanwhile, in a RFE/RL interview, former Pres. Karzai calls for the formation of a traditional Loya Jirga “so that Afghans can gather to determine their future and constitution, and revitalize the legitimacy of the current government.”
  • Abdullah Invited to Pakistan: Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan Abrar Hussain met with Chief Executive Abdullah on Tuesday, extending an invitation on behalf of Prime Minister Sharif for Abdullah to visit Pakistan; Abdullah’s last planned visit in May was postponed indefinitely after a Taliban attack in Kabul. Abdullah’s office said that he had promised to “visit at an appropriate time”.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Senior Officials Yet to Register Assets [TOLO]
  • Afghan Fighters on Opposite Sides of the Conflict Reunite as Family [NYT]
  • Report: Education on the Front Lines: Military Use of Schools in Afghanistan’s Baghlan Province – “As the country’s security situation has deteriorated, schools throughout Afghanistan have been under threat, not only from resurgent Taliban forces but also from the very Afghan state security forces mandated to protect them.” [Human Rights Watch]
  • Report: Bringing the State Closer to the People: Deconcentrating Planning and Budgeting in Afghanistan – “This paper argues that the existing subnational entities such as the Governors’ Offices, provincial and district departments, and elected Provincial Councils to have the potential to play a pivotal role in improving provincial budgeting and planning.” [Nehmatullah Bizhan and Ferhat Emil, AREU (pdf)]
  • Commentary: Far from Back to Normal: The Kunduz Crisis Lingers On – “Kunduz’s recent history has shown that successive military offensives (ANSF-led, with or without the support of US Special Forces or militias recruited to swell the ranks of the ANSF) have not resulted in a viable solution to the structural crisis in the province that has been unfolding for the past ten years.” [Lola Cecchinel, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: NSA Janjua to Head Counterterrorism Review; Dadullah Nephew to Lead Splinter Group

Topline

  • National security advisor Nasser Khan Janjua has been tasked with leading a committee to oversee the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism; the government has reportedly also approved the creation of additional Frontier Corps units for the Khyber Paktunkhwa-Afghanistan border. Pakistan’s military announced new deployments in the Khyber Agency on Tuesday. Pakistani officials said that remarks by Indian Prime Minister Modi on Monday in which Modi cited “expressions of gratitude” from Balochistan “prove[d] Pakistan’s contention” that India was interfering in the province. The AP reports that the Taliban splinter group led by the late Mullah Mansoor Dadullah has named Mullah Emdadullah Mansoor, his nephew, as the group’s new leader. Fighting continues in Helmand around the provincial capital, and in Baghlan. The Pentagon announced the transfer of 15 former Guantanamo Bay inmates to the UAE on Monday, including three Afghan nationals. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif approved death penalty sentences for 11 military court convicts, all described as members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani announced that an electoral reform decree had been finalized, and would be issued soon following cabinet review. The PTI is due to meet on Tuesday to plan the next steps of its protest campaign against the government.  The Express Tribune reports a $1.5 billion Saudi grant made to Pakistan in 2014 has gone unused, as the government has failed to establish a new development finance institution meant to capitalize on the funding.

Pakistan – Security
National Action Plan Review: At another high-level meeting of top civilian and military aides on Monday, Prime Minister Sharif tasked National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua with overseeing an “implementation committee” for the National Action Plan against terrorism; the federal interior secretary, director general of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, and provincial representatives will also form the committee. The government has also reportedly approved the creation of additional Frontier Corps units in Khyber Paktunkhwa dedicated to cross-border security management. Separately, a petition was made against Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, seeking his disqualification from office by the Election Commission for his comments criticizing Pakistan’s security agencies for failing to prevent the recent attack in Quetta; the ECP has sought a response from Achakzai by September 1.
Khyber Operations: On Tuesday, Pakistan’s top military spokesman announced the deployment of additional military forces to reinforce positions and prevent cross border infiltration in the Khyber Agency’s Rajgal Valley, located north of the Tirah Valley region. [ET]
Military Courts: On Tuesday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif approved death sentences for 11 men convicted in the military court system, all identified as former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan members. [ET]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy
Tensions with India: Monday’s meeting of top military and civilian officials also reviewed security concerns with India, noting an exchange of fire across the Line of Control on Sunday. Indian Prime Minister Modi’s independence day remarks included a reference to “people of Balochistan, Gilgit [and] Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” who he suggested had “thanked me [and] expressed gratitude”. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that Modi’s remarks “proves Pakistan’s contention that India through its main intelligence agency RAW has been fomenting terrorism in Balochistan”, adding that Modi was “trying to divert world attention” from ongoing conflict in Indian Kashmir. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Times of India]
Opposition Protests: The PTI’s core leadership committee is due to meet today to discuss future plans for the party’s accountability campaign against the government, which Imran Khan did not clarify during a rally in Islamabad; PTI legislator Arif Alvi tells the Express Tribune that the PTI is prepared to attend a meeting of the parliamentary committee on Panama Papers investigations and “give a last chance to the government”. On Monday, the PTI filed a petition with the national assembly speaker, seeking Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification from office; Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid filed a parallel petition on Tuesday.

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Saudi Assistance: The Express Tribune reports that a $1.5 billion Saudi grant announced by the government in early 2014, which was allocated to a new “Pakistan Development Fund Ltd” entity that was set up as an independent development finance institution, remains unutilized. The government has held talks with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and Ex-Im Bank of China to become equity partners in the PDFL.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • JUI-F Leader Speaks Out Against ‘Forced Repatriation’ of Afghan Refugees [Dawn]
  • MQM Nominee to Contest Hyderabad Mayoral Election [ET]
  • Pakistan and Tajikistan Discuss Energy and Trade Ties [APP]
  • Ministry of Water and Power Proposes Cut in Solar and Wind Tariffs [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Taliban Splinter Faction Names New Leader: The AP reports that the “Mahaaz-e-Dadullah”, a Taliban splinter faction formerly led by Mullah Mansoor Dadullah in Zabul, has named Mullah Emdadullah Mansoor, his nephew, as the group’s new leader.
  • Attacks and Operations: The Islamic State’s ‘Amaq news agency claimed responsibility for a bombing on Monday in Kabul, which they claimed had killed senior U.S. military officials; NATO spokesman said there was “no truth” to the claim, noting that three Afghan army soldiers and civilians were wounded instead. Afghan forces fighting in Helmand tell TOLO they need more reinforcements and air support in their fight against the Taliban in the Chah Anjir area on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah. Security officials in Baghlan say they are preparing to retake control of the Dahana-e-Ghori and Baghlan-e-Markzai districts “in the near future”. On Tuesday, the ministry of interior announced the arrest of a Taliban commander described as leading a “special forces” group in Kunduz, following the group’s attack on a checkpost in the Chardara district. In total, the ministry of defense reported Monday that operations were ongoing in fifteen provinces. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [WAPO]
  • Gitmo Transfers: On Monday, the Pentagon announced the transfer of 15 Guantanamo Bay inmates to the UAE, the largest single transfer to take place under the Obama administration, bringing the detainee population down to 61. Three of the transferred detainees are Afghans, including a man identified as Obaydullah who was arrested in 2002 on charges of planting land mines, which were later withdrawn. The WSJ notes that the Pentagon’s special envoy for the prison’s closure testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June that 14 Afghan detainees who had been previously repatriated, all during the Bush administration, had subsequently joined combat operations against U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan; overall, approximately 21% of detainees repatriated under the Bush administration and 4.5% of detainees transferred under Obama are reported to have reengaged in hostile activity. [Guardian] [AFP]
  • Air Force Shortages: Reuters notes the shortfall in available pilots for the still-nascent Afghan Air Force, even it is called on to play a greater role in combat and transport missions for Afghan forces around the country.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • National Unity Government Divisions: At a press briefing on Monday, the State Department’s spokeswoman said that the U.S. “had seen” Chief Executive Abdullah’s criticisms of Pres. Ghani, saying that “we remain supportive of a government of national unity, and we encourage both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah to work together to pursue these common goals”. In a statement on Monday, Pres. Ghani’s office announced that a new presidential decree on the electoral law had been finalized and would be issued soon after cabinet review; Abdullah had cited delays in implementing electoral reforms as a major complaint. [TOLO]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Iranian Envoy Denies that Mullah Akhtar Mansour Was Hiding in Iran [Dawn]
  • Bergdahl Lawyers Allege General Overseeing Court-Martial Destroyed Letters Connected to Case [WAPO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Celebrates Independence Day; Abdullah Reiterates Criticisms of Ghani

Topline

  • Pakistan commemorated its 70th Independence Day on Sunday; Prime Minister Sharif dedicated his remarks “to the freedom of Kashmir”. Prime Minister Modi accused Pakistan of “encouraging cross-border terrorism” in Kashmir in remarks on Friday; Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz suggested that Pakistan was preparing to write to India to seek the resumption of dialogue on Kashmir and other issues, but India’s foreign ministry rebuffed the suggestion, saying Pakistan would have to revolve concerns over terrorism first. Abdullah Abdullah met with supporters on Saturday and Sunday, reiterating his criticisms of Pres. Ghani for failing to uphold the terms of the national unity government agreement; a planned meeting between the two leaders on Saturday did not take place, and in separate remarks Ghani was obliquely critical of Abdullah. A spokesman for Ghani was more direct, saying that Abdullah’s remarks were “in contradiction to the spirit and morale of the governance… [the] national unity government will move ahead as a collection, serious discussions will be held on his remarks in the near future.” On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed the death of Hafiz Saeed Khan, the leader of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Wilayat in Afghanistan and Pakistan; ISIS has not yet confirmed his death, but the WSJ reports that an Afghan commander from Logar, Haseeb Logari, has been named Khan’s replacement. Afghan security forces continue to struggle to defend the Helmand provincial capital against a Taliban offensive in surrounding districts; the provincial police chief was wounded in a roadside bombing on Sunday. The Taliban are also reported to have attacked two districts in Baghlan, taking over some checkposts. At a meeting on Friday with top military commanders, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif reiterated concerns over the government’s “lack of progress” in implementing the National Action Plan against terrorism, and said that criticisms of the security agencies was “distracting and inciting”. The military conducted raids on the outskirts of Lahore on Saturday, as well as search operations and arrests in Karachi, Rawalpindi, and other parts of the country. The WSJ reports a deputy to Taliban splinter group leader Mullah Mohammad Rasool has reconciled with the main Taliban faction led by Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada; a spokesman for the Rasool faction has not confirmed the reports. Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed the return of all members of a Punjab government helicopter crew who crashed in Afghanistan earlier this month and were held by Taliban fighters. In a press conference on Friday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan indicated that detained U.S. national Matthew Barret was “not a spy” and would be deported in the coming few days. The PTI will also bring a petition for Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification from office to the national assembly speaker, in parallel with an Election Commission petition seeking the same action, and in response to a move by PML-N legislators seeking Imran Khan’s disqualification last week.

Pakistan – Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: A meeting of the Pakistan Bar Council passed a resolution on Saturday demanding that the federal and Balochistan provincial governments bring those responsible for last Monday’s attack in Quetta to justice by August 19, or face a demonstration outside parliament. On Friday – following a two day-long review of internal security by top civilian and military officials – Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif held another meeting of senior military aides, and was quoted afterwards expressing concern that the “lack of progress” on the National Action Plan against terrorism “is affecting the consolidation phase of Operation Zarb-i-Azb”. In Friday’s meeting and those that preceded it, military officials are also reported to have pushed back at criticism of the security agencies by some government coalition partners, describing those remarks as “distracting and inciting”. Military officials are reported to have raised concerns over the expiration of the Protection of Pakistan Act last month, as well as the continued objections of the PML-N and PPP to conducting paramilitary operations in Punjab and Sindh. On Saturday, military raids on the outskirts of Lahore reportedly led to the arrest of 11 terrorist suspects, including two members of the TTP’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar splinter faction. Search operations and arrests also took place in Karachi, Rawalpindi, and the Khyber Agency, among other locations around the country. Meanwhile, PPP leaders continue to spar with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, accusing him of failing to uphold law and order in the country; speaking at a press conference on Friday, Chaudhry Nisar said that he was being targeted by the PPP due to ongoing investigations against aides to the party’s leadership. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • U.S. National to Be Deported: Speaking at Friday’s press conference, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said that a Joint Investigation Team had confirmed that detained U.S. national Matthew Barret “is not a spy”, and said that he would be deported within the next two to three days. At least three officials who cleared Barret for entry to the country remain under investigation. Dawn publishes an extended excerpts from Barret’s testimony to interrogators, describing his previous expulsion from the country.
  • Sindh Preparing to Cancel Arms Licenses: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has reportedly directed the home secretary to revoke as many as 540,000 arms licenses whose bearers had not applied for a reverification process that has been underway for the past three years.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Pakistan Commemorates Independence Day: Pakistan marked its 70th Independence Day on Sunday, with ceremonies held around the country and at the country’s embassies in New Delhi and Kabul, among other venues. Security was tight on the occasion, with processions and public gatherings banned in Islamabad, and the use of fireworks or display of arms banned for the next two month period. Cell phone service was also shut down in most major cities. In his address to the country, Prime Minister Sharif dedicated the celebrations “to the freedom of Kashmir”, saying that “nowadays the spirit of independence in Occupied Kashmir is at its peak”. Former Pres. Zardari issued a statement on the occasion as well, in which he “reiterate[d] our rejection of attempts by some to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state”. Indian and Pakistan troops exchanged sweets on the occasion at the Wagah border crossing, but are also reported to have exchanged fire across the Line of Control early Sunday morning near Rawalkot; no casualties were reported. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Tensions with India: Speaking at Independence Day celebrations on Sunday, Pakistan’s ambassador to New Delhi Abdul Basit said that “Pakistan will continue to extend full diplomatic, political and moral support to the valiant people of Jammu and Kashmir till they get their right to self-determination”. In an address to India’s parliament on Friday, Prime Minister Modi accused Pakistan of encouraging “cross-border terrorism” in Kashmir, which he described as the “root cause of unrest” in the region; on Sunday, Modi suggested that Pakistan’s government was “inspired by terrorism”. On Friday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan would extend an invitation to India for dialogue on Kashmir; India’s foreign ministry responded that Pakistan must address “incitement to violence and terrorism across the border, parading of internationally recognised terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin, and sincere follow up on the Mumbai attack trial and the Pathankot attack investigation” before talks could be held. Pakistan’s foreign secretary formally extended the invitation nonetheless on Monday. India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is also reported to have raised concerns with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi over China’s blocking of UN sanctions against Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, as well as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects in Kashmir, in a meeting on Saturday. In his remarks, Aziz also suggested that Afghan and Indian intelligence had previously backed the TTP Jamaat ul Ahrar, allegations that were echoed by Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Aamir Riaz in a separate interview with journalists on Friday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Opposition Protests and Other Political Activity: Following a move last week by PML-N legislators to seek Imran Khan’s disqualification from election to the national assembly through a petition to Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the PTI now also plans to bring a petition against Prime Minister Sharif, in parallel to its separate petitions to the Election Commission seeking the same action. Imran Khan addressed a rally of supporters in Islamabad on Sunday, saying that next year would be a “real independence day” from the PML-N’s rule, and claiming that Prime Minister Sharif had offered an extension and promotion to field marshal rank to Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif because “he fears him; [PM Sharif] has all other institutions under his control”. In an interview with the Express Tribune, Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir ul Qadri claimed that unnamed “foreign emissaries” and relatives to the prime minister and Punjab chief minister had requested that he not press charges against the Sharifs in response to the 2014 deaths of 14 PAT activists in a clash with Lahore police. [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Russia is reportedly seeking a $1.25 per unit transmission fee for a liquefied natural gas pipeline linking Karachi and Lahore that will be constructed by the energy firm RT Global Resources at a cost of $2 billion, of which Pakistan will provide 15% of the financing. The Russian firm faces US sanctions, which the ministry of law sought to avoid through the creation of a local shell company. In Sindh, compressed natural gas distributors have reportedly agreed to call off a strike, after the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority agreed to meet with them on August 16; CNG distributors are seeking to sell at deregulated prices, after a three-year price hike freeze. [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • PIA ‘Premier Service’ Inaugurated: On Sunday, Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated the first flight of “PIA Premier”, a new luxury air service for the national carrier. Routes to London and China are planned, using newly-leased aircraft from Sri Lanka. [APP] [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Pakistan Has More Glaciers Than Almost Anywhere on Earth; But They Are at Risk [WAPO]
  • PAT Challenges Prevention of Electronic Crimes Law in Lahore High Court [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Leadership Again Offers Talks to Separatist Leaders [Dawn]
  • 15,000-Man Special Security Division Formed to Protect CPEC Projects [Dawn]
  • Axact CEO Granted Bail after 15 Months [Dawn] [ET]
  • Prime Minister Inaugurates Shorkot-Kanewal Motorway [ET]
  • ANP Leader Warns Against Threats to Provincial Autonomy [Dawn]
  • ADB Considering Three-Year, $6 Billion Loan Program [ET]
  • Sindh Leaders Inaugurate Karachi Water Project [Dawn]
  • WAPDA Chairman Reiterates Support for Kalabagh Dam [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Who Will Be the Next Army Chief? – “In the build-up to the appointment of the next army chief, all candidates appear to be evenly poised and there are no clear front-runners.” [Baqir Sajjad Syed, Dawn]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Islamic State Khorasan Commander Reportedly Killed: On Friday, Pentagon spokesmen said that they had confirmed that Hafiz Saeed Khan, the chief of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Wilayat encompassing Afghanistan and Pakistan, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike on July 26 in Nangarhar’s Achin district. Afghan officials had reported his death last week, which ISIS has not yet publicly confirmed. Afghan officials tell the WSJ that Haseeb Logari, an Afghan national from Logar province, had been named as Khan’s successor, but provided few other details. Another U.S. drone strike was reported in Achin on Saturday, killing at least two. In a separate report, Afghan officials in Zabul province tell the AP that a group of ISIS loyalists, including Uzbek, Chechen, and Arab fighters displaced from Waziristan last year, have formed a training camp in Zabul’s Khak-e-Afghan district, alleging that the group communicates directly with the central ISIS leadership in Syria and Iraq. A spokesman for the U.S. coalition downplayed those reports, however, saying that “we believe [ISIS] is still primarily in two districts of southern Nangarhar, with a very small presence in Kunar province”. [NYT] [Khaama Press] [Reuters]
  • Helmand Under Siege: Afghan special forces have been deployed on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah as part of an effort to repel a Taliban offensive in surrounding districts; in NYT interviews, regular army and police commanders trade blame for ceding territory to the Taliban, and officials report that the force has been hollowed out by local narcotics traffickers seeking to gain control of key checkposts and desertions. The Times reports that many senior generals have been directly involved in leading troops in the area; the provincial police chief and two bodyguards were wounded in a roadside bombing on Sunday. The Garmser district center fell under Taliban control on Saturday, but was later retaken on Sunday. The U.S. has carried out approximately 30 airstrikes in Helmand since July 29, coalition officials tell the LAT, which quotes the deputy army chief and deputy interior minister acknowledging “a lack of fighting abilities” among soldiers and police. The Post reports at least 18,000 families have fled outlying districts to resettle in the provincial capital; on Friday, Doctors Without Borders warned that “one in four patients are unable to reach our emergency room” in Lashkar Gah. A spokesman for the provincial governor insisted that the situation was “normal” and “under control”.  [TOLO] [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
  • Taliban Splinter Faction Leaders Reconcile: On Sunday, the Taliban announced that a top deputy to splinter faction commander Mullah Mohammad Rasool, Mullah Baz Mohammad Haris, had agreed to rejoin the main Taliban movement led by Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada, along with a Rasool-affiliated commander in Uruzgan province. Spokesmen for the Rasool faction have not commented on the report; Rasool himself is believed to have been detained in Pakistan earlier this spring.
  • Pakistani Helicopter Crew Returns: Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed the return to Islamabad on Saturday of five Pakistanis and one Russian crew member of a Punjab government helicopter that crashed in Logar province earlier this month; a spokesman for the ministry said that initial reports that seven people were onboard the craft were incorrect, and that all passengers had been accounted for. The release was attributed to an “inter-tribal exchange”, without naming the Taliban, and further details were not provided; the Express Tribune reports that a Taliban commander in Logar released the crew to Kurram Agency officials on Saturday, and that they had previously been held by fighters affiliated with Sirajuddin Haqqani.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: At least two people were wounded when a bomb planted on a civilian vehicle detonated in Kabul on Monday; there are conflicting accounts as to whether a third victim, an ANA officer, was also wounded. Kunduz officials report that at least 21 Taliban fighters were killed in operations in the Imam Sahib district on Saturday. The Taliban attacked multiple police checkposts in Baghlan’s Baghlan-e-Markazi district over Saturday night, killing at least nine officers. A Baghlan provincial council officials tells Khaama Press that the Taliban took control of the Dahana-e-Ghori district on Sunday; the provincial police chief disputed that account but confirmed that an Afghan Local Police commander and four militiamen were killed and at least two police stations taken over. The deputy provincial police chief tells Reuters that Afghan forces made a “tactical retreat” from the district, after fighting without reinforcements for several days. On Friday, protestors in the Khenjan district of Baghlan blocked the Kabul-Mazar highway, protesting the siege of a unit of roughly 200 police in Paktia’s Jani Khil district for the past ten days. In Badakhshan, the district governor of Baharak district reports that the Taliban control at least 17 villages. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • National Unity Government Divisions Continue: Following remarks last week in which he accused Pres. Ghani of failing to uphold the terms of the national unity government agreement and failing to consult him on key government decisions, Chief Executive Abdullah met with top allies on Saturday, including Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani, former defense minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, and former NDS chief Amrullah Saleh, among others. In another meeting with supporters on Sunday, Abdullah reiterated that “our demand is the implementation of the political agreement”. The Post notes that in an interview conducted last Tuesday, Abdullah had played down differences with Ghani. A planned meeting between Abdullah and Ghani did not take place on Saturday. Publicly, Ghani has only responded obliquely to Abdullah’s remarks; TOLO quotes him telling a gathering on Friday that “the one who follows negative interests will not believe in me, I also do not believe him”, adding that he did not have a “political family” of his own. A spokesman for Ghani said Friday that Abdullah’s remarks were “in contradiction to the spirit and morale of the governance… [the] national unity government will move ahead as a collection, serious discussions will be held on his remarks in the near future.” Speaking at a gathering of Afghanistan’s Youth Parliament on Sunday, Ghani said that “leadership comes when you have a plan, this is not leadership to have reactions, leadership can’t be the reactionary, the leadership requires that you must evaluate the issues thoroughly”. Separately, on Saturday, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Norway Manizha Bakhtari resigned, protesting what she described as “monopolization, discriminatory policies and nepotism by the president and his colleagues”. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Economics and Development

  • Investment Contracts: Afghanistan Investment Support Agency officials report a 26% drop in the registration of new companies since the national unity government took office in September 2014, and investment over the two-year period totaled roughly $1 billion, compared to $2.2 billion during the two years that preceded it. Major investment contractions were reported in the mining, construction, and energy sectors.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Young People Don’t See a Future in Afghanistan, So They’re Leaving [WAPO]
  • ‘Acting’ Positions Remain in Place Two Years On [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Taliban in the North: Gaining Ground Along the Ring Road in Baghlan – “The Taleban have started to close in on the Baghlan-Balkh highway by establishing mobile checkpoints in their search for members of the ANSF, as well as to establish a permanent presence in the area.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Abdullah Voices Complaints Over Ghani Partnership; Counterterrorism Oversight ‘Task Force’ Formed

Topline

  • In remarks on Thursday, Chief Executive Abdullah made his most direct and public criticisms to date of Pres. Ghani, accusing him of failing to consult on government appointments, failing to implement election reform, and suggesting that “if someone does not have the patience for discussion, then they are not fit for the presidency”. Ghani has not responded, but anonymous presidential sources suggested that Abdullah’s comments were timed to mollify his supporters an upcoming Jamiat-i-Islami party meeting. At another review meeting on Thursday, Pakistani civilian and military officials agreed to form a “high level task force” to oversee the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism, although details are otherwise limited. PPP opposition leaders blamed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for failing to implement the NAP and prevent Monday’s bombing in Quetta. The Pakistani military announced the arrest of six suspected militants in Rawalpindi in “combing operations” over Thursday night. Major routes to the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah have reportedly been cut off; defense ministry spokesmen insisted that the province would be protected “at all costs”. Pakistan’s GEO TV reported that the crew of a Pakistani helicopter that crashed in Logar province last week had been released, although officials have not confirmed the report and as of Thursday said they were still working to secure the group’s release. Pakistani civil society activists protested the passage of a new law that imposes penalties on various broadly defined online crimes. Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir ul Qadri postponed his planned nationwide protest campaign earlier this week, and has not a set new date despite pledges that the protests will take place.

Pakistan – Security

  • Quetta Attack Aftermath: Thursday’s meeting of top military and civilian leaders agreed to establish a “high level task force” to oversee the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism, and to improve communications between intelligence and security agencies; details were limited. Speaking at a weekly press briefing, the foreign ministry’s spokesman said that “involvement of foreign elements working in cahoots with their local contacts” to carry out Monday’s attack in Quetta “cannot be ruled out”. Pakistan’s military spokesman announced the arrest of six suspected militants in “combing operations” in Rawalpindi over Thursday night, but provided few details; there have been no reports that civilian officials in Punjab have formally requested military policing assistance, previously a point of tension between the PML-N and the military. Speaking to the press on Thursday, PPP opposition leaders Khurshid Shah and Aitzaz Ahsan blamed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for failing to implement the NAP and prevent the bombing in Quetta; the PPP and PTI staged a walkout during Chaudhry Nisar’s speech to parliament on Wednesday. [WSJ] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Provincial Policing: The Express Tribune reports that the Khyber Paktunkhwa police are facing a shortage of civil service officers for senior officer positions. In a hearing on Thursday, the Supreme Court directed the Sindh government and federal government to cooperate and provide resources for the provincial police; the court also ordered screenings of private security guards. In Punjab, 3338 constables have been recruited so far for a Special Protection Unit tasked with protecting Chinese engineers working on development projects in the province.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • ‘Cybercrime Law’ Protests: Civil society activists criticized the passage on Thursday of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, saying it gave security agencies “unbridle powers” to pursue criminal charges against online speech and access to information, and broad censorship powers to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority regulator. Reuters notes that the bill outlaws “spoofing”, and could potentially be used to prosecute satirical or parody sites. [Dawn]
  • Opposition Campaigning and Other Political Activity: Speaking on Thursday, Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir ul Qadri insisted that his party would carry out sit-ins in more than 100 cities across the country, demanding justice for 14 PAT activists killed in a clash with Lahore police in June 2014. Earlier this week, Qadri had postponed his protest plans, which had been scheduled to begin August 16, and new no date has been set. [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Investigations Continue into U.S. National’s Attempted Return to Pakistan [Dawn]
  • NAB Files Case Against Former Army Chief’s Brother in DHA Lahore Land Scam [Dawn]
  • Railway Bombing in Hyderabad Averted [ET]
  • Iran Deputy Foreign Minister Visits Karachi [Dawn]
  • Minority Parliamentarians Seek to Open Top Government Positions to Non-Muslims [Dawn]
  • PSO Receives 42 LNG Shipments Over Past 17 Months [ET]
  • BISP to Review Beneficiary Eligibility [Dawn]
  • PEMRA Bans ARY News Program for Comments Over Judge’s Son’s Kidnapping [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Helmand Under Siege: TOLO reports that all roads to the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah have been cut off; a defense ministry spokesman insisted that “Helmand province will be protected at any cost, Helmand province will be cleared and no threats will reach Lashkar Gah”. Taliban fighters are reported to control five out of the province’s fourteen districts, and to be fighting to seize control of seven more. [RFE/RL]
  • Reports of Pakistani Helicopter Crew’s Release: Pakistan’s GEO TV reported Thursday that the crew of a Pakistani helicopter that crashed in Logar province last week had been released, although there are few details and no official confirmation. Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday that efforts were still ongoing to negotiate the crew’s release. [Dawn]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal told an Afghan television interviewer that the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate commander Hafiz Saeed Khan had been confirmed to have been killed in Afghan military operations in the Kot district in late July, echoing Afghan military claims; U.S. and Daesh officials have not confirmed Saeed’s death. Five people, including two soldiers, were killed in a bombing at a marketplace in the Shindand district in Herat on Thursday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [TOLO]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Abdullah Opens Up with Criticism for Ghani: Speaking to a televised gathering of young supporters at his office on Thursday, Chief Executive Abdullah voiced some of his most direct and public criticism to date against his unity government partner Pres. Ghani, saying that Ghani had not been consulting him on government appointments and had not made progress on electoral reform pledges. Abdullah added that “there are arguments in any government, but if someone does not have the patience for discussion, then they are not fit for the presidency, either.” Abdullah suggested he would meet with Ghani on Saturday to discuss some of these issues. Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor and former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh voiced support for Abdullah’s criticisms. Pres. Ghani has not commented on Abdullah’s remarks; an anonymous presidential source tells Pajhwok that Abdullah’s remarks were “aimed at to attract the attention of members of Jamiat-i-Islami”, noting an upcoming meeting of the party and suggesting that the Jamiat might try to put forward an alternative to Abdullah as chief executive. [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Judicial Shuffle: A spokesman for the presidency says that the government has reshuffled around a thousand judges and at least 50 attorneys to different positions around the country as part of its judicial reform program.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • ‘Martyr of the Nation’ Title Awarded to the Late Hashmat Khalil Karzai [TOLO]
  • Start-Up Seeks to Invest in Saffron to Help Afghanistan Regrow [NYT]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Bombing in Quetta as Officials Review Security; Nicholson Endorses Indian Military Aid to Afghanistan

Topline

  • Top Pakistani civilian and military officials met in Islamabad on Wednesday to review the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism, and further meetings are reportedly planned for today and this coming Monday. Paramilitary Rangers have been deployed to provide additional security at Quetta courthouses, and arrest sweeps were undertaken in Quetta and Karachi. On Thursday, a roadside bomb hit a security vehicle escorting a Federal Shariat Court judge in Quetta, injuring at least 14; no claim of responsibility has been reported. U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson visited New Delhi on Wednesday for meetings with Indian security officials; he told reporters afterwards that the U.S. was supportive of additional Indian military assistance to Afghanistan, particularly for its fleet of Russian-made helicopters. Clashes continue around the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah; officials claim to have retaken control of the Nawa district in fighting over Wednesday night. In Peshawar, Counter-Terrorism Department officials announced the arrest of two Afghan nationals accused of working for the National Directorate of Security and plotting attacks and bombings in the city. Despite an opposition filibuster attempt and protests from the IT community, Pakistan’s national assembly passed legislation that imposes new penalties on broadly defined charges related to online hate speech or improper access to data. Remittances from Pakistani workers and exports dropped in July, State Bank of Pakistan data indicates.

Pakistan – Security

  • Another Bombing in Quetta Follows Security Review: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior military and civilian officials in Islamabad on Wednesday to review the National Action Plan against terrorism; Dawn reports that a continuation of the meeting is planned for Thursday, and a meeting with the provincial chief ministers for Monday. Military officials are reported to have voiced concerns that civilian authorities were “lagging behind” on the NAP’s implementation. Sharif addressed the national assembly on Wednesday as well, saying intelligence agencies were working “night and day” to prevent terrorism attacks; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan rebuffed calls by the Paktunkhwa Milli Awami party leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai for the government to sack security and intelligence officials if they fail to identify those responsible for Monday’s bombing in Quetta. Parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah called for the government to hold a briefing session with security officials for parliamentarians. In Balochistan, Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri and Southern Corps commander Lt. Gen. Aamir Riaz met to review security measures. Frontier Corps, police, and intelligence service personnel carried out “combing operations” in Quetta on Wednesday, reportedly under the order of Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif; details are limited, but police earlier reported that they had arrested around 20 people in the wake of the attack. Paramilitary Rangers were deployed to provide security at Quetta courts. Security forces are also reported to be on alert in Lahore and Karachi, where the police and Rangers reportedly arrested as many as 100 people in separate raids on Wednesday. On Thursday, at least 14 people were wounded when a roadside bomb hit a security vehicle that was escorting Judge Zahoor Shahwani, a member of the Federal Shariat Court. There has been no claim of responsibility as of this writing. [Reuters] [ET] [Dawn] [Reuters] [AP]
  • Accused Afghan Spies Arrested: On Wednesday, Peshawar Counter-Terrorism Department officials announced the arrest of two Afghan men accused of working for the National Directorate of Security intelligence agency, charging them with plotting to carry out bombings in the city and attack an unspecified seminary in the Tekhal neighborhood. [Dawn]
  • ‘Cybercrime’ Legislation Passes: On Thursday, the national assembly passed the Senate’s amended version of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, setting the legislation up for presidential signature. Dawn provides a copy of the full legislative text. PPP legislator Naveed Qamar sought and failed to filibuster the bill’s passage, describing it as “draconian” and warning that “whoever enforces this law will have the complete [power] to silence dissent, eavesdrop on citizens’ conversations and view their data”. [ET]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • New Torkham Crossing Opens: A new gate facility at the Torkham border crossing officially opened on Wednesday, albeit without formal ceremony; Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan Sayed Ibrar Hussain was reported to be in attendance.
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: The Election Commission launched a nationwide verification exercise on Wednesday to update electoral voting lists; the number of registered voters is projected to pass 100 million by the time of the 2018 general elections. The Express Tribune interviews PTI leader Ishaq Khan Khakwani, recently appointed as regional chapter president for the PTI in southern Punjab. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Crackdown: The Supreme Court is holding hearings on Thursday to review the implementation of an October 2011 verdict on law and order in Karachi. On Wednesday, the court rejected a bail plea from Moazzam Ali, a suspect in the 2010 murder of former MQM leader Imran Farooq in London. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Remittances and Exports Drop: Remittances from overseas Pakistani workers totaled $1.3 billion in July, a 20.2% drop from the same month in 2015 and a 36% month-on-month drop from June, State Bank of Pakistan figures indicate. Analysts cite job cuts in Saudi Arabia as a factor, and the drop in the value of the bound linked to the Brexit vote. Separately, export figures for July totaled just under $1.5 billion, a 6.9% decrease from the same period last year; imports for the month grew 6.2%, to $3.6 billion. [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Anti-Terrorism Court Reopens Shahbaz Taseer Kidnapping Case [APP] [Dawn]
  • PakTurk Schools Deny Sacking Principals [ET]
  • No CNICs for Children of Afghan Refugees, Interior Minister Affirms [Dawn]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Pledges Grant for Lyari High School [ET]
  • Sindh CNG Stations Closed Indefinitely as Distributors Protest OGRA Regulations [Dawn]

Afghanistan – Security

  • U.S. Commander Backs Indian Military Assistance to Afghanistan: Speaking to the press during a visit to New Delhi on Wednesday, U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson said that the U.S. was supportive of Indian military assistance to the Afghan national security forces, saying that “it is up to the Indian government to decide what form it would take… We encourage it.” Nicholson noted the ANSF’s need for more military aircraft, and for servicing of repairs of Afghanistan’s Russian-made helicopter fleet. He also suggested that the U.S. had “seen Lashkar-e-Taiba’s presence and operations in Afghanistan” and was “put[ting] pressure on LeT”, and that the Taliban were struggling to maintain their operations and financial sources in the wake of Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death. Nicholson estimated that around 300 Daesh fighters had been killed in operations in Nangarhar over the past two weeks, which he put at “about 25 percent of the organization at least”. Nicholson met with India’s national security advisor, foreign secretary, and defense secretary during his visit. [Khaama Press]
  • Helmand Under Siege: A spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor said that Afghan security forces backed by U.S. airpower have retaken control of the Nawa district from Taliban forces during fighting over Wednesday night. TOLO reports heavy fighting in the Nad Ali and Chah-e-Anjir districts as well, and the presence of Taliban snipers. [TOLO]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Pakistan: A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah rejected suggestions that recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan had been planned from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Three Killed in Laghman Bombing [Khaama Press]
  • UNAMA Official Warns of Need to Curtail Corruption or Risk Donor Cut-Off [TOLO]
  • Afghanistan’s Healthcare System Struggles to Rebound [AJE]