Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: FATF Reportedly Defers Vote on Pakistan Blacklisting; HRW Calls For Kandahar Killings Investigation

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Topline

  • Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif concluded talks with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on Tuesday, pledging to increase security and counterterrorism cooperation. Following those meetings, Asif also reported that the Financial Action Task Force meeting had failed to reach a consensus over blacklisting Pakistan over its counter-terrorism financing performance, with Russia joining China and Turkey in delaying a vote until June. The FATF has not officially confirmed Asif’s account.
  • Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar pushed back at criticism from PM Abbasi over judicial activism, insisting that “parliament is a supreme institution,” but that the courts retained responsibility for enforcing the constitution. The Supreme Court concluded hearings on Wednesday on challenges to provisions of the Elections Act 2017 that allow Nawaz Sharif to continue as PML-N party chief despite being disqualified from office; a verdict has not been announced.
  • Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into allegations that a NDS commando unit carried out summary executions in operations in Kandahar at the beginning of the month, killing as many as twenty civilians.
  • Members of smaller Afghan ethnic minority groups tell TOLO they will boycott the issuance of new national ID cards, which provide only 14 options for ethnic identity.
  • Pakistan has declined a low-interest Japanese loan for a tunnel construction project, reportedly over Chinese objections.
  • The State Bank of Pakistan has proposed new controls over foreign currency accounts, and the taxation of remittances over Rs 10 million annually.
  • A ground-breaking ceremony is planned on Friday in Herat to inaugurate construction of the Afghanistan portion of the TAPI gas pipeline.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Russia and Pakistan Discuss Security Cooperation: At a joint press conference on Tuesday following talks in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov voiced support for “boosting Pakistan’s counterterrorism capacity”; the two countries agreed to form a new commission on military cooperation. Both Lavrov and Foreign Minister Asif expressed concern over the Islamic State presence in Afghanistan, which Lavrov suggested was being supported by the United States. [ET] [The Nation] [TOLO]
  • FATF Blacklisting: On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Asif claimed that the Financial Action Task Force had failed to reach a consensus on holding a vote to blacklist Pakistan over failure to take counter-terrorism financing actions, deferring the issue for another three months. Foreign ministry sources tell the Express Tribune that China, Turkey, and Russia supported Pakistan in blocking the move. No official statement from the FATF has confirmed Asif’s statement; the plenary session is due to conclude at the end of this week. Meanwhile, Reuters visits Jamaat-ud-Dawa properties seized by the government earlier this month. [Dawn] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Parliament-Judiciary Disputes: In remarks on Tuesday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar indirectly responded to criticism from PM Abbasi over judicial activism, saying that “parliament is a supreme institution, but there’s something even more supreme, and that is the Constitution”. Chief Justice Nisar added that “we will not transgress our authority unless any provision of the Constitution relating to fundamental rights of the citizens is violated”. Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb continued Abbasi’s criticism of the judges’ verdict in parliamentary debate on Tuesday. At hearings on Wednesday, Judge Asif Saeed Khosa also pushed back at the criticism over the language used in the judges’ ruling disqualifying Nawaz Sharif from office. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Imran Khan warned the PML-N against using “parliament to slander the judiciary”, threatening renewed street protests. Nawaz Sharif met with party leaders on Wednesday, where he was quoted vowing to “not hesitate to sacrifice anything for democracy and the rule of law”. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court concluded hearings on challenges against provisions in the Elections Act 2017 that allow Nawaz to serve as PML-N party chief despite being disqualified from office; no verdict has been issued as of this writing. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Refugee Repatriation: A cabinet committee meeting on Tuesday agreed to expedite the repatriation of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan before the current deadline for their stay ends in March, and to seek further international support for that purpose; further details were not reported.
  • Other Political Activity: On Tuesday, the Election Commission released a final list of senate candidates for the elections on March 3. PTI and PML-F leaders met in Sindh on Tuesday to discuss their strategy for the senate vote. At a meeting on Tuesday, Nawaz Sharif agreed to use the Sharif family’s home in Lahore’s Model Town neighborhood as the PML-N’s 2018 parliamentary campaign headquarters. [ET] [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Japanese Loan Declined: The Express Tribune reports that Pakistan has declined a low-interest infrastructure loan from Japan, in part due to Chinese resistance to the project; an anonymous Pakistani government official says that “the government has decided it will not seek any more loans for infrastructure projects, instead the country will encourage investment from different countries”.
  • SBP Proposes Changes in Rules for Foreign Inflows: The State Bank of Pakistan has proposed new controls on foreign currency accounts, and the imposition of taxes on foreign remittances above Rs 10 million a year.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Says Voluntarily Implementing IAEA Code of Conduct on Nuclear Safety [AP] [ET]
  • 17 Years On, NAB Reopens Case Against Ex-Army Generals [Dawn]
  • PPP Calls for Withdrawal of Forces from Saudi Arabia [The Nation]
  • Officials Oppose Public Execution of Kasur Rape Convict [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • IHC Seeks Guidance from Religious Scholars in Khatm-e-Nabuwat Case [ET]
  • Senators Object to No-Bid Contract to Frontier Works Organization for 20-Year Toll Plaza Project [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Budget Deficit Widens to Rs 796 Billion in First Half of Fiscal Year [ET]
  • Reversing Course, Supreme Court Orders Opening of Sharif Sugar Mills [ET]
  • Balochistan Chief Minister Approves Rs 1 Billion in Gwadar Development Projects [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: In a statement on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into allegations that a NDS special forces unit carried out summary executions of civilians in operations in the Maiwand and Panjwai districts in Kandahar between Jan 31 – Feb 1. As many as twenty civilians were allegedly killed in the incident. On Wednesday, another mass grave of ISIS victims was discovered in Nangarhar’s Achin district, containing at least ten bodies; Nangarhar provincial officials identified them as hostage initially seized in the Pachiragam district more than a year ago. A militia commander affiliated with Vice Pres. Dostum was killed in a Taliban ambush in Jawzjan province on Tuesday, along with his driver. [Pajhwok]
  • Jamiat-Junbesh Tensions: Khaama Press reports that the Afghan National Army’s 209th Shaheen Corps intervened to forestall a clash between rival leaders of Jamiat-e-Islami and Junbesh-e-Milli in Faryab province.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • National ID Card Rollout: Members of smaller ethnic minorities tell TOLO they will boycott the disbursal of a new national electronic ID card that offers only 14 options for ethnicities based on those recognized by the constitution. Officials report that around 400 families have been enrolled for the cards thus far.
  • Kabul Process Meeting: Afghanistan will host a meeting of the “Kabul Process” in Kabul beginning Feb 28.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • TAPI Construction: A ground-breaking ceremony will be held in Herat on Friday to formally launch the construction of the Afghan portion of the TAPI gas pipeline.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Sole Woman in Kandahar’s Attorney General’s Office Seeks Greater Equality in the Justice System [Guardian]
  • Kabul Residents Seek to Curtail Celebratory Gunfire [TOLO]
  • Afghanistan to Attend Saudi Conference on Migrant Labor [TOLO]
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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Seeks to Block FATF Blacklisting; Samangan Governor Steps Down

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Topline

  • Meetings of the Financial Action Task Force are ongoing this week, with Pakistan’s performance combating terrorism financing under review; finance advisor Miftah Ismail is attending the session to represent Pakistan.
  • Samangan governor Abdul Karim Khadam reversed course and has agreed to step down from his position after Monday evening negotiations between the government and Jamiat-e-Islami; his successor Abdul Latif Ibrahimi took office on Tuesday.
  • Pakistani military officials say they killed two Indian soldiers in retaliation for the killing of a Pakistani boy in a cross-border firing incident at the Line of Control on Monday.
  • The AFP reports on security lapses at the Kabul Intercon hotel; the former deputy head of security accuses the hotel management of granting VIP access to a vehicle that carried attackers and explosives in last week’s attack.
  • The Financial Times reports that Chinese diplomats have been in direct talks with Baloch separatist groups in Balochistan for the past five years; Pakistani foreign ministry officials suggest those talks are being undertaken in coordination with Pakistan.
  • Speaking in the national assembly on Monday, PM Abbasi called for a debate over the powers of the parliament, pushing back at criticism and activism from the judiciary.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • FATF Watchlisting: Advisor to the prime minister on finance Miftah Ismail returned to Paris over the weekend and will attend the Financial Action Task Force plenary session at which Pakistan’s performance on counter-terrorism financing is being reviewed, the Express Tribune reports; Ismail had just spent six days in Europe lobbying FATF members. The plenary session will conclude on Friday. Anonymous foreign ministry officials tell The Nation that “Russia is our best hope” to counterbalance the United States; Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif arrived in Moscowon Monday for talks. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Kashmir Border Clashes: Pakistani military officials claim to have killed two Indian soldiers posted at the Line of Control in retaliation for the death of a Pakistani boy in cross-border fire on Monday. The Pakistani foreign ministry also formally protested the incident. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • China Talking with Balochistan Separatists: The Financial Times reports that Chinese officials have been holding direct talks for the past five years with Baloch separatist groups in a bid to forestall disruptions to Chinese investment projects in the province; details are limited. Pakistani foreign ministry officials tell The Nation that “Pakistan [has] no reservation” over the talks and suggested that Chinese officials in those meetings were “normally” accompanied by Pakistani counterparts. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Saudi Deployment: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani rejected a briefing by defense minister Kurram Dastigir Khan on the planned deployment of additional Pakistani forces to Saudi Arabia, at which Khan refused to provide “operational details” on the deployment. [AP] [ET] [ET]
  • Rao Anwar Aides Arrested: Dawn and the Express Tribune report that two senior Karachi police officers associated with former senior superintendent of police Rao Anwar were arrested in mid-January and have confessed to staging an extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud. [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Speaking in parliament on Monday, PM Abbasi criticized judicial activism and pushed back at critical remarks made by members of the judiciary, calling for a debate over the powers of the parliament. Abbasi’s remarks followed a meeting of PML-N legislators earlier on Monday; anonymous PML-N sources tell the Express Tribune that legislation for increased parliamentary oversight of the judiciary is unlikely, however. Separately, National Accountability Bureau investigators traveled to the UK on Monday to seek additional witness statements in connection to properties owned by the Sharif family; the head of the Panama Papers Joint Investigation Team has been summoned to testify for court hearings against Nawaz Sharif on Feb 22. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The Bahadurabad faction of the MQM-Pakistan reportedly petitioned the Election Commission on Monday to withdraw nine senate candidates chosen by rival party leader Farooq Sattar; a spokesman for the ECP said that it had not received the request for withdrawal, however. On Tuesday, the Bahadurabad group filed an ECP challenge against intra-party elections for party leadership positions held by Sattar on Sunday. Nawaz Sharif met with former Balochistan chief minister Sanauallah Zehri to discuss the PML-N’s senate elections strategy on Monday; at Monday’s meeting of the PML-N legislative delegation, PM Abbasi emphasized the importance of the elections and the need for party legislators to maintain their attendance and back the party’s candidates in the upcoming polls. Elsewhere, the PPP plans to initiate a no-confidence motion against Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister Hafeezur Rehman. [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Lawyers Killed in Shooting At Lahore Court [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • UNICEF Says Pakistan is Riskiest Country for Newborns [AP]
  • Moscow-Based Baloch Nationalist Leader Quits Separatist Movement [Dawn]
  • Deputy Attorney General Submits Report on ‘Finality of the Prophet’ Debate to IHC [The Nation]
  • Kasur Rape Convict Appeals Verdict [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Withholding Taxes Grow as Share of Direct Taxes [Dawn]
  • President Removes Pakistan’s Representative to ADB Board [ET]
  • Commentary: New Choices – “We must rethink our foreign policy beginning with an honest question: are we providing others with a rationale for hostility?” [Touqir Hussain, Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Intercon Security: The AFP reports that the Kabul Intercon management directed the head of hotel security to grant VIP access to a vehicle carrying militants and explosives used in last month’s attack at the hotel; the former deputy head of security also describes lax security practices and malfunctioning equipment inside the hotel.
  • Attacks and Operations: At least eight policemen were killed in an attack on their checkpost in the Bala Balok district in Farah province on Monday night; a spokesman for the governor claimed that thirteen Taliban fighters were also killed. Members of the Faryab provincial council tell TOLO that a unit of Afghan commandos are currently being besieged at their base in the Pashtun Kot district; the ministry of defense disputed that account. Three tribal elders were killed when a bomb exploded in their hotel room in Jalalabad on Tuesday; there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Provincial officials in Laghman report that at least thirty people were freed from a Taliban detention facility in the Alingar district on Sunday. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Samangan Governor Steps Aside: Samangan governor Abdul Karim Khadam reversed course and agreed to step down from his position after negotiations between the government and Jamiat-e-Islami representatives on Monday evening; Abdul Latif Ibrahimi, his replacement, took office on Tuesday. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Taliban Talks: Speaking at a conference on Tuesday, High Peace Council secretary Mohammad Akram Khpalwak said that the Taliban “should have approached Afghans to end current violence in Afghanistan instead of sending letters to the US”. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • National Security Advisor Holds Talks in Saudi Arabia [Pajhwok]
  • Afghan Nomads Trapped, Hungry as Pakistan Blocks Access to Grazing Land [Reuters]
  • Afghanistan Launches Visa on Arrival Facility at Kabul Airport [TOLO]
  • Report: Lead Inspector General’s Report to Congress on Operation Freedom’s Sentinel – “Overall, based on available data, it is too soon to judge whether the new strategy has broken the stalemate in the fight against the Taliban and other extremists.” [Offices of the DOD, State, and USAID Inspectors General (pdf)]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sattar Re-Elected in Disputed Intra-Party Polls; Samangan Governor Refuses to Accept Removal

Topline

  • MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar organized intra-party elections for party leadership positions on Sunday, over the opposition of the party’s breakaway Bahadurabad faction; Sattar was reelected as party leader and several of his associates replaced the Bahadurabad group on the party’s coordination committee.
  • Afghanistan’s Independent Directorate of Local Governance announced five new governor’s appointments and transfers on Saturday, including the replacement of Samangan governor Abdul Karim Kadam. He has refused to accept his removal, and was backed up in his stance by a statement from the Jamiat-e-Islami on Monday.
  • Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor warned that Pres. Ghani was “driving the country towards a crisis” and “attempting to promote divisions” through the introduction of new electronic national ID cards. Chief Executive Abdullah has also called for delays in the card’s distribution; his deputies are split on the issue.
  • The Financial Action Task Force began meeting on Sunday to review Pakistan’s counter terrorism financing initiatives and to consider a possible blacklisting; no read-out has been announced as of this writing.
  • In an interview on Friday, former Pres. Zardari praised former Karachi police senior superintendent Rao Anwar as a “brave kid”; his spokesman subsequently retracted those remarks, saying that extrajudicial killings were “abhorrent, criminal and unacceptable”.
  • The bodies of a group of local residents kidnapped by the Islamic State in Nangarhar’s Kot district early last year were found in a mass grave in Kot, local officials report.
  • PML-N leaders rallied in Lodhran and Sheikhupura on Saturday and Sunday, touting the party’s electoral victory and development record and challenging Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification from office.
  • PM Modi and Pres. Rouhani agreed on Sunday to “work for restoring peace, stability, prosperity and a pluralistic system in Afghanistan”; India has committed to an additional $85 million in infrastructure developments at the Chabahar port.
  • Pakistan secured a new $500M loan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China last month, boosting its foreign exchange reserves.
  • PM Abbasi gave preliminary approval to new plans for the restructuring and privatization of Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Steel Mills at a cabinet meeting on Friday; the PPP vowed to oppose those moves.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with US: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa attended the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, where he argued that “instead of blame games, it is time for NATO and allies to conduct an audit and introspection to find out causes for this stalemate” in Afghanistan. Separately, the Financial Action Task Force began meeting on Sunday for a review of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism financing efforts; The Nation reports that only China has committed to voting in favor of Pakistan on a US resolution seeking its blacklisting. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Saudi Deployment: In an interview on Saturday, Defense Minister Kurram Dastigir Khan said that the new deployment of Pakistani soldiers to Saudi Arabia announced last week would be limited to training and advising Saudi military forces; opposition lawmakers criticized the move in parliamentary debate on Friday. The Express Tribune reports that the new contingent will number nearly a thousand soldiers, almost doubling the total Pakistani deployment in Saudi Arabia; anonymous security sources insisted they would not take part in operations in Yemen. A joint maritime special operations exercise between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia concluded on Friday in Karachi. [The Nation]
  • Bajaur Militants Killed: The military announced on Monday that it had killed two would-be Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan suicide bombers in a raid in the Bajaur Agency on Sunday evening; one man was arrested. [ET]  [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Divisions: Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, the leader of the breakaway Bahadurabad faction of the MQM-Pakistan, told a meeting of supporters on Friday that he was willing to withdraw the party’s nominees for senate elections in deference to rival party leader Farooq Sattar as a means of ending the split; the Bahadurabad group remains opposed to intra-party leadership elections called by Sattar for Sunday. Sattar’s faction went ahead with those elections on Sunday, with Maqbool and other faction leaders excluded from the nominees; he was re-elected in the vote to the party’s lead convener role, along with a new slate of associates elected to the party’s coordination committee. Among the latter is Kamran Tessori, whose senate nomination the Bahadurabad group had opposed. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Zardari Praises Rao Anwar, Retracts Comments: In an interview on Friday, former Pres. Zardari praised former Karachi senior superintendent Rao Anwar, who remains at large after orders for his arrest in connection to the killing of a Waziristan man last month. Zardari disputed charges that Anwar had been involved in hundreds of “encounter” killings and praised him as a “brave kid” for his previous work leading crackdowns on the MQM. A spokesman for Zardari retracted those comments in a statement on his behalf on Saturday, saying that extrajudicial killings were “abhorrent, criminal and unacceptable”. The Supreme Court issued a contempt of court order against Anwar for failing to appear in response to the charges against him on Friday. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • PML-N Rallies: Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, and Hamza Shehbaz held a joint rally in Lodhran on Saturday to commemorate the party’s victory in the NA-154 by-elections and show party unity; referring to past calls by Imran Khan for an intervention by the military, Nawaz told supporters that “it’s not umpire’s finger but the thumbs of the masses that take decisions.” Nawaz and Maryam led another rally in Sheikhupura on Sunday, touting the party’s development record and dismissing the corruption cases against them. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Lahore High Court agreed to hear an appeal on Saturday from former finance minister Ishaq Dar against the rejection of his senate candidacy nomination; it also dismissed a challenge against the candidacy of Sadia Abbasi, the prime minister’s sister. The LHC held hearings on Monday on a petition charging Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz with contempt of court over their criticism of Nawaz’s disqualification from office. On Monday, the Islamabad High Court dismissed a National Accountability Bureau petition challenging Maryam’s husband Mohammad Safdar’s bail last October. At a hearing on Monday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar opposed the reopening of sugar mills owned by the Sharif family in southern Punjab. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The PTI announced on Sunday that Imran Khan had remarried for the third time with Bushra Maneka, previously identified as his “spiritual advisor”; earlier reports that suggested that they married at the start of the year. The Nation notes that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition of religious parties has yet to announce an agreement on party leadership, and reports that the JUI-F and JI remain split over FATA reforms proposals. Fazlur Rehman led a JUI-F rally in Hyderabad on Sunday, vowing to challenge the PPP’s leadership in Sindh. On Friday, the PTI announced a review of the party’s constitution. Omar Ayub Khan, formerly the minister of state for finance from 2004-2007, joined the PTI on Saturday. Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi, who leads a PML-N faction in Punjab, suffered a brain hemorrhage on Sunday and was hospitalized in Lahore.  [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Reuters]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Chinese Lending: The Express Tribune reports that Pakistan contracted a $500 million loan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in mid-January, at an interest rate of 4.5%.
  • Privatization Plans: At a cabinet committee meeting on Friday, PM Abbasi approved plans to “restructure” Pakistan International Airlines and split off its non-core business and assets; details were not reported. Officials also discussed plans to privatize Pakistan Steel Mills. PPP leaders Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and former Pres. Zardari both objected to the plans in statements on Saturday. [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Multiple Death Sentences Issued for Kasur Child Rape Convict [Dawn] [NYT] [Reuters]
  • Foreign Minister Visits Moscow [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • PM Abolishes Gilgit-Baltistan Council, Shifts Powers to Legislative Assembly [Dawn]
  • Schoolteacher Linked to Missing Reporter Detained in Badin [Dawn]
  • Chief Justice to Review Judicial Policy [Dawn]
  • Punjab Cabinet Approves Witness Protection Bill [Dawn]
  • Two Militants Arrested in DI Khan [ET]
  • 350 NGOs Lose Registration in Rawalpindi [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Suspends Arms Licensing Restrictions [The Nation]
  • Ministry of Religious Affairs Plans Interfaith Conference to Counter State Department Religious Freedoms Watchlisting [ET]
  • Kurram Jirga Demands Government Aid [ET]
  • Commentary: The PTI is Split Down the Middle and Imran Has No Clue What to Do About It – “For the past two years or so, the PTI has been embroiled in a serious split at the local level. And nowhere is this split and infighting more pronounced than in south Punjab.” [Adnan Rasool, Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Bodies of Hostages Found: Officials in Nangarhar’s Kot district reported on Monday the discovery of a mass grave containing the bodies of a group of people kidnapped from Kot by the Islamic State in early 2017; the AP reports that nine bodies were recovered, while TOLO puts the number at twelve.
  • Civilian Casualties: In response to the annual UN report on civilian casualties’ findings that the share of casualties caused by government or international military airstrikes had grown, spokesmen for the Afghan defense and interior ministries said that “restrictions have been imposed” to avoid civilian casualties; they did not provide details.
  • Chinese Basing: In a statement on Sunday, the Afghan National Security Council denied reports that China had been granted approval for the construction of a military base in Badakhshan.
  • Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpost in the Zabul provincial capital of Qalat on Saturday, killing five policemen. A drone strike in Farah province on Friday reportedly destroyed a large Taliban drug lab in the Bakwa district. An airstrike in Paktika province’s Barmal district on Sunday killed two Haqqani network militants, Afghan security officials announced. A U.S. drone strike in Kunar province’s Chapara Dara district on Sunday reportedly killed seven ISIS fighters; military officials in Nangarhar also reported that five ISIS fighters were killed in operations in the Deh Bala district on Sunday. Kandahar provincial police chief Gen. Abul Raziq claimed that as many as three dozen Taliban fighters were killed in operations in the Maiwand district on Saturday and Sunday. [WAPO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Samangan Governor Refuses to Accept Replacement: On Saturday, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance announced five new gubernatorial appointments, including the transfer of current Badghis governor Anwar Khan Ishaqzai to become governor of Logar province, current Farah governor Shah Jahan to become governor of Wardak, former Farah governor Mohammad Asif Nang to become governor of Laghman, current Laghman governor Abdul Jabar Naeemi to become governor of Kunduz, and current Kunduz governor Abdul Latif Ibrahimi — who TOLO notes is a brother to Wolesi Jirga speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi — to become governor of Samangan. Abdul Karim Kadam, the incumbent Samangan governor, has refused to accept his removal; Kadam is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami and ally of Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, who remains locked in a standoff with the central government over his removal. In a statement on Monday, Jamiat said that Kadam’s dismissal was “unjustifiable, another step toward increasing tensions in the country, unilateral and in opposition to the nature of [the national unity government] agreement”. [NYT] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • ID Card Disputes: The head of the office responsible for issuing new electronic national ID cards tells TOLO they are preparing to launch the distribution of the cards in Kabul, beginning with Pres. Ghani and other senior officials. Chief Executive Abdullah objected to the move in a statement on Friday. Abdullah’s first deputy, Engineer Mohammad Khan, supported the card in a statement on Sunday, while his second deputy, Mohammad Mohaqiq, voiced concerns that the card would “impose an identity on other identities”. Speaking to supporters on Saturday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, who has protested the issuance of the ID cards, warned that Ghani was “driving the country towards a crisis” and “attempting to promote divisions”. [TOLO] [Ariana News] [Ariana News] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Election Preparations: Independent Election Commission operations deputy Wasima Badghisi told TOLO on Sunday that the new ID cards would not be used as registration for the upcoming parliamentary elections. TOLO reports that the IEC has appointed fourteen provincial election commissioners. Speaking at a ceremony on Saturday, Pres. Ghani said that elections must be held “on time”. [Khaama Press]
  • Atmar Visits Saudi Arabia: National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar departed for Saudi Arabia on Sunday for talks with Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • India and Iran Pledged Increased Cooperation on Afghanistan: In a statement on Saturday after a visit by Iranian Pres. Rouhani to New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi pledged to “work for restoring peace, stability, prosperity and a pluralistic system in Afghanistan”; no specific assistance was mentioned, but the two countries signed an agreement for an additional $85 million in Indian infrastructure investment at Iran’s Chabahar port. [TOLO] [AFP]
  • Unemployment Rises: The Ministry of Labor estimated on Saturday that Afghanistan’s unemployment rate rose 2% during the last solar year to 27%.
  • Saudi Arabia Bans Afghan Poultry Imports: Saudi Arabia has banned the import of live poultry from Afghanistan after a reported bird flu outbreak in Kabul and Khost.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • US Assistant Secretary Says Negotiated Settlement is Key to Peace [TOLO]
  • Interior Ministry Announces Four-Year Plan to ‘Speed up Reforms’ [TOLO]
  • Contract Signed for $47.3 Million Kandahar Solar Power Plant [Khaama Press]
  • Kabul Municipality Revenue Collection Grows [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Impunity for US-Funded Warlords in Afghanistan: The Case of Abdul Raziq – “After 2001, the U.S. government determined that security needs required it to partner with warlords like Raziq, even as it acknowledged the long-term costs. But as the years pass, it becomes harder to justify disregarding the long-term effects of empowering rights abusers.” [Katherine Hawkins, Just Security]
  • Commentary: To Win ‘Hearts and Minds’ in Afghanistan, Some Aid Programs Worked Better Than Others – “Providing young people with more discretionary money — the cash transfers — appeared to provide a short-term financial boost that helped them realize the potential of the longer-term vocational training intervention. The result was lower support for political violence.” [Jason Lyall and Rebecca Wolfe, Monkey Cage]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Seeks to Block FATF Blacklisting; Abdullah Objects to National ID Card Rollout

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Topline

  • Minister of State for Finance Rana Afzal told the Pakistani senate on Thursday that Pakistan was seeking to lobby other countries to block blacklisting at the Financial Action Task Force meeting next week; a spokesman for the Pakistani foreign ministry said that “the real aim of this politically-motivated move is to hamper Pakistan’s economic progress”.
  • In a statement on Friday, Chief Executive Abdullah called for the halting of the rollout of a new national electronic ID card, the inauguration of which by Pres. Ghani was expected to start early next week; Abdullah said that “national consensus” was needed before moving forward.
  • The Pakistani military announced on Thursday that it would deploy an additional contingent of soldiers to Saudi Arabia; details were limited, and it is unclear whether they will fall under the Saudi Islamic Military Alliance commanded by former chief of army staff Raheel Sharif.
  • Pakistani military spokesmen claim to have killed five Indian soldiers in retaliation for cross-border firing that killed a civilian school bus driver on Thursday.
  • The HALO Trust announced on Thursday that it had cleared Herat province of landmines, after a ten-year clearance program.
  • The International Criminal Court has received more than 1.7 million victim statements as it considers the opening of war crimes investigations in Afghanistan, the AP reports.
  • U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells visited Kabul for meetings on Thursday, ahead of the Kabul Process Conference scheduled to take place on Feb 28.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Terror Financing Sanctions: Reuters interviews analysts on the potential impacts of Pakistan being placed on the Financial Action Task Force blacklist over its failure to curtail terrorist financing, a move that is reportedly being supported by the United States and UK ahead of next week’s plenary session in Paris. In a briefing for the Pakistani senate, Minister of State for Finance Rana Afzal said that Pakistan was lobbying other countries to block the move; a spokesman for the Pakistani foreign ministry protested on Thursday that the blacklisting motion was a violation of FATF procedures and that “the real aim of this politically-motivated move is to hamper Pakistan’s economic progress”. The Cipher Brief reports that the U.S. has given Pakistan a “hit list” of a dozen top militant targets to detain, and has rebuffed Pakistani requests for a meeting with CIA director Mike Pompeo. [ET] [The Nation] [APP]
  • Saudi Deployment: The Pakistani army announced Thursday that it would deploy a “contingent” of army soldiers to Saudi Arabia on a “training and advice mission”; the statement did not specify the size or duration of the deployment, although Dawn reports it will be a composite brigade. Around 1200 Pakistani troops are already deployed in the country. The statement said that those soldiers would not take part in operations outside Saudi Arabia; it is unclear whether they will fall under the commander of the Islamic Military Alliance headed by former chief of army staff Raheel Sharif. On Friday, PPP senator Farhatullah Babar called for parliamentary review of the decision. [Reuters] [The Nation]
  • Kashmir Border Clashes: The Pakistani army accused India of firing on a school van on Thursday, killing the driver; India denied the claim. On Friday, military spokesmen claimed to have killed five Indian soldiers in retaliatory fire late Thursday. [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn]
  • FATA Attacks: A landmine explosion in the Orakzai Agency on Thursday killed two tribesmen and wounded two others; one of the victims was identified as a local tribal elder. A roadside bomb in Bajaur Agency also killed a local militia member on Friday. [ET]
  • Journalist Abducted: Rafaqat Ali Jarwar, a journalist with a Sindhi newspaper, was abducted by plainclothes security personnel in Badin on Thursday, his brother reported; a police official denied carrying out any arrest.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Fawad Hassan Fawad, a former secretary for Nawaz Sharif, did not appear before National Accountability Bureau investigators on Thursday. At Supreme Court hearings on Thursday on changes to the the law to allowed disqualified legislators to continue to lead their party, Judge Ijaz ul Ahsan suggested that “a corrupt party leader corrupts the entire structure of the party”. Speaking to reporters after court hearings on Thursday, Nawaz said that the judiciary was “using language which doesn’t suit them”, saying that Imran Khan “has been using the same language which they are using now.” [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • IDP Registration: In a statement on Thursday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa ordered the issuance of computerized national ID cards for displaced FATA residents who have been receiving compensation payments, replacing the “Watan Card”. [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking to reporters on Thursday, dissident PTI member Ayesha Gulalai claimed credit for the PML-N’s victory in the NA-154 by-election, but said that she had refused a PML-N senate nomination because “it required speaking against the army”. [The Nation] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Interior Ministry Proposes Punishments for False Blasphemy Accusations [Dawn]
  • Government Planning Anti-Riot Law After Faizabad Protests, Court Told [Dawn]
  • Former TTP Spokesman to Be Tried in Military Court, Interior Ministry Says [Dawn]
  • Islamabad High Court Removes Judge for Axact CEO’s Acquittal [Dawn]
  • Mashal Lynching Convicts Appeal Sentences [Dawn]
  • Foreign Investment Falls During First Seven Months of Fiscal Year [Dawn]
  • Senate Panel Approves NEPRA Appeals Panel [ET]
  • Commentary: Rao Anwar and the Killing Fields of Karachi – “According to data from the home department, aside from encounters in which Rao was involved, there were in all of Karachi at least 304 encounters in 2017 resulting in 170 deaths, down from a high of 1,719 such incidents in 2014 with 609 deaths.” [Fahim Zaman and Naziha Syed Ali, Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Herat Cleared of Landmines: The demining group HALO Trust announced Thursday that Herat province had been cleared of landmines after a ten year clearance program that cleared more than 600 minefields. [RFE/RL]
  • War Crimes Filings: The International Criminal Court has received more than 1.7 million victim statement filings from Afghan human rights groups as it considers opening war crimes cases in Afghanistan, the AP reports.
  • Attacks and Operations: A U.S. airstrike on the outskirts of Tirin Kot on Wednesday killed six Taliban fighters, local security officials report. Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpost in the Bala Buluk district in Farah, killing seven policemen. Kabul residents complain that new security measures have worsened city traffic. [Ariana News]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electronic ID Card Rollout: Pres. Ghani, his wife Rula Ghani, and Second Vice President Sarwar Danish began the process of applying for the first new electronic national ID cards on Thursday, a process that Ghani was expected to formally at the start of next week. On Friday, however, Chief Executive Abdullah called for further delay in the issuance of the cards, citing the need for “a national consensus”. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
  • US Assistant Secretary Visits: Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells visited Kabul on Thursday for meetings with Afghan officials in advance of a Feb 28 meeting of the Kabul Process Conference.
  • Atta Firing Dispute: An associate of Engineer Mohammad Daoud, the government’s official replacement for Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, tells Ariana News that Daoud will seek to take office within the next two to three days, claiming that “the government has tolerated Mr. Noor’s disobedience so far, but not anymore”.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • UK Calls for Elections to be Held as Scheduled [TOLO]
  • Government Sets Five-Year Land Management Program [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Parents of Afghan-Turk Students Threaten Sit-in Protest [TOLO]
  • ADB Pledges $70M to Fund Surkhan-Pul-e-Khumri Power Line [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: More Than 200 JuD Properties Reportedly Seized; Afghan Civilian Casualties Dropped in 2017

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Topline

  • US officials say they are still seeking information on “concrete steps” being taken by Pakistan to curtail the operations of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its affiliated charities; finance advisor Miftah Ismail tells the WSJ that more than 200 JuD properties have been seized by the government in the past week.
  • The UN’s annual report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan reported an overall nine percent decline in the number of casualties from last year, but a rise in the number of casualties from coalition airstrikes. In total, the report found 3,438 civilian deaths and 7,015 wounded in 2017.
  • At a Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday on challenges to the Elections Act 2017’s provisions allowing politicians disqualified from office to continue as party leader, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar sought reports on the role of the party chief in selecting the party’s senate candidates.
  • A NATO spokesman dismissed the Taliban’s statement on Wednesday calling for dialogue with the United States, saying that “the recent attacks speak louder than these words”.
  • The PML-N will reportedly nominate senator Raja Zafarul Haq as senate chairman should it win control of the upper house after next month’s elections.
  • Pakistan has reportedly rejected a $5 billion Asian Development Bank program to install “smart meters” for the electricity grid, a move that may lead to the withholding of future loan programs.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • JuD Crackdown: A State Department spokesman said that the U.S. welcomed new Pakistani efforts to crack down on the operations of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its affiliated charities but was seeking additional information on the “concrete steps” being taken to curtail their financing ahead of a Financial Action Task Force meeting scheduled for next week. Finance advisor Miftah Ismail told the WSJ that more than 200 JuD properties had been seized in the last week; a spokesman for the JuD vowed to challenge the takeover in the courts. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: At a Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday on challenges to provisions of the Elections Act 2017 that allow a disqualified politician to serve as a party chief, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ordered a report from the major parties as to who within the party had approved their respective senate candidate choices. Speaking outside an accountability court appearance on Thursday, Nawaz Sharif said that he “would not accept” efforts to remove him from his party leadership position. On Wednesday, the National Accountability Bureau filed supplementary references against Nawaz Sharif, his sons, and Ishaq Dar. The court rejected a petition by Nawaz to be allowed to skip hearings from Feb 19 – Mar 5. Also on Thursday, Chief Justice Nisar ordered the formation of a committee to prepare legal guidelines for the recovery of money in foreign accounts. In other court hearings, Chief Justice Nisar warned that he would overturn out-of-turn promotions given to Punjab police officers, who he suggested were being promoted despite facing charges of carrying extrajudicial killings. Elsewhere, a Karachi anti-terrorism court indicted MQM-Pakistan leader Rauf Siddiqui in connection to the 2012 Baldia Factory fire case, and Imran Khan filed a petition seeking the dismissal of charges against him related to the PTI’s 2014 Islamabad sit-ins. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The  Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports that the PML-N will nominate party chairman Raja Zafarul Haq as its candidate for senate chairman should it secure control of the upper house of parliament after the March senate elections. Lawyers for Ishaq Dar have challenged the rejection of his nomination papers for reelection before the Lahore High Court. Dawn notes new strains between the PML-N leadership and former interior minister Chaudhry  Nisar Ali Khan. Representatives of the new MQM Bahadurabad group met with rival leader Farooq Sattar on Wednesday in an attempt to resolve their split. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Reforms: Dawn reports that Pakistan has rejected a $5 billion Asian Development Bank-sponsored smart metering program to upgrade the electricity grid, a move that ADB officials warn could lead to a refusal to provide any future loans to the distribution sector. Pakistani officials cited high costs and a long installation time as reasons for rejecting the program.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Issues Arrest Warrant Against Husain Haqqani in Revival of ‘Memogate’ Case [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Public Accounts Committee Finds Expiring Funds Transferred to Permanent Accounts in Violation of Budget Rules [ET]
  • Rawalpindi Corps Commander Visits Line of Control [ET]
  • Two High Court Judges Hold Dual Nationality, Supreme Court Told [Dawn]
  • Government Seeks to Prepare New Five-Year Plan [ET]
  • Senate Seeks Extradition of Former PIA CEO [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Why Trump’s Troubling Pakistan Policy Dooms Afghanistan Peace – “Pakistan has limited influence to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, and has little incentive to do so when there is lack of clarity about American policy and Pakistan’s own relations with Washington are strained.” [Touqir Hussain, The Diplomat]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • UN Report on Civilian Casualties: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released its annual report on civilian casualties on Thursday, which found that 3,438 civilians were killed and 7,015 wounded in 2017, a total decline of nine percent compared to the year prior. Despite the overall decline, the number of casualties caused by airstrikes carried out by international and Afghan government forces increased, although the NYT notes that the increase did not match the overall rise in the use of airstrikes during this period. Around two thirds of all casualties were still attributed to the Taliban, Islamic State, and other anti-government forces. [Reuters] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [UNAMA Report (pdf)]
  • Attacks and Operations: Faryab provincial police report that a mass Taliban force attacked multiple security checkposts in the Qaisar district beginning earlier this week but that they had been repelled as of Thursday; four police officers and three milita members were reportedly killed, as well as 23 Taliban fighters. A would-be suicide bomber was arrested in Lashkar Gah on Wednesday. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Responding to a Taliban statement on Wednesday calling for the resolution of “the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogues”, a spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan said that “the Taliban statement alone does not show willingness to engage in peace talks. The recent attacks speak louder than these words”.
  • Karzai Interview: The Washington Post interviews former Pres. Hamid Karzai, who reiterates calls for a national Loya Jirga and the “need to go back to the people” but professes “no desire to return” to office.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Senior Al Qaeda Member Faces Sentencing in Brooklyn Court for Conspiring to Kill US Servicemembers in Afghanistan in 2003 [WAPO]
  • Former Presidential Spokesman Says He ‘Resigned Under Pressure’ [Pajhwok]
  • Afghan Leaders Mark Anniversary of Soviet Withdrawal [TOLO]
  • Technical Studies Underway for ‘Five Nations Railway Corridor’ [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Nine Percent Reduction in Civilian Casualties in 2017: Better News (But Still Bad) – “If the reduction in civilian casualties is to become a downward trend, rather than a one-year blip, some of the ways forward are clear. Government forces, UNAMA says, need to cease firing mortars and carrying out air strikes in civilian-populated areas and develop clear rules of engagement and tactical directives for using these weapons.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: US Pushing FATF Blacklisting for Pakistan; NATO Increases Troop Training Commitments

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Topline

  • Pakistani finance ministry officials tell Reuters that the US is seeking to add Pakistan to the Financial Action Task Force blacklist over its failure to curtail terrorist financing and money laundering. On Tuesday, the Pakistani federal cabinet approved new restrictions on banned organization’s accounts, and the Punjab government has reportedly taken over operations of several Jamaat-ud-Dawa facilities in Rawalpindi.
  • A NATO defense minister’s meeting in Brussels on Tuesday agreed to increase the allied troop contribution to the Afghanistan training mission from 13,000 to 16,000 troops this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced.
  • The Supreme Court of Pakistan concluded hearings on Wednesday on the duration of disqualification for legislators disqualified under Article 62 of the Constitution, but has not yet issued a verdict. The National Accountability Bureau petitioned the interior ministry of Wednesday to impose international travel restrictions on Nawaz Sharif and his family.
  • In a message addressed the American people on Wednesday, the Taliban insisted that they were open to “solv[ing] the Afghanistan issue through peaceful dialogue” but that “this can never mean that we are exhausted or our will has been sapped”. A spokesman for National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar denied an AP report that he and NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai were carrying out separate and uncoordinated backchannel talks with Taliban representatives but said that the Afghan government was “committed to meaningful talks with the Taliban and has the doors open”.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Seeks FATF Blacklisting: Pakistani finance ministry officials tell Reuters that the United States, France, and Germany have sponsored a motion to blacklist Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force meeting in Paris next week for failing to take action to curtail terrorist financing; finance advisor Miftah Ismail said Pakistan was working to challenge the move. On Tuesday, a federal cabinet meeting approved new measures to freeze the accounts and funds of banned terrorist groups; on Friday, Pres. Hussain issued an ordinance expanding the list of banned organizations to include those sanction by the UN, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa; the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan banned donations to such groups last month. Dawn reports that the Punjab government has taken over the operations of a JuD madrassah and four health care centers run by the organization in Rawalpindi. Separately on Tuesday, the government added the Karachi-based militant group Jundullah to its list of banned organizations. Speaking at an annual threat briefing for Congress on Tuesday, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that “Pakistan-based militant groups continue to take advantage of their safe haven to conduct attacks in India, in Afghanistan, and including US interests therein”. In a CNN interview on Tuesday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal warned that “any unilateral action in Pakistan will be a red line” and that “any effort to try to bully Pakistan or force Pakistan will be counterproductive.” [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • TTP Leadership: Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander Maulana Fazlullah has yet to formally approve Mufti Noor Wali’s appointment as Khan Saeed Sajna’s successor after the latter’s death, Dawn reports. [NYT]
  • Quetta Attack Kills Four FC Men: Four Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in an attack on their vehicle in Quetta on Wednesday; the TTP claimed responsibility. [Reuters] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Supreme Court concluded arguments on Wednesday and reserved its verdict on hearings over the duration of disqualification for legislators disqualified under Article 62 of the Constitution; Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali argued that the term was not set under existing law and should be left to parliament to decide. Hearings continue in a case challenging the Election Law 2017’s provisions allowing disqualified officials to serve as party chairs. The Supreme Court has also ordered reports from all federal departments on dual national civil servants. The Lahore High Court has set a March 7 date for hearings on further investigations into the 2014 Model Town killings. The National Accountability Bureau petitioned the ministry of interior on Wednesday to impose travel restrictions on Nawaz Sharif and his family. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM Divisions: On Tuesday, MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar sought to counter an Election Commission petition from the rival MQM Bahadurabad faction to remove him from the party’s leadership with a petition of his own; the two factions have called rival party meetings on Friday and Saturday. MQM-P leader Salman Mujahid Baloch, who just rejoined the party from the PSP, faces new charges of sexual assault and blackmail and of threatening a PTI social media activist. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: In a statement on Tuesday, PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah called on PM Abbasi to begin the process of consultations to appoint a caretaker prime minister during the election period. On Tuesday, 27 candidates filed nomination papers to contest senate elections for the FATA. Dawn interviews PTI leaders assessing the causes of their loss in the NA-154 Lodhran by-elections. [Dawn] [The Nation] [AFP]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Investments: Tuesday’s cabinet meeting approved the negotiation of an LNG import agreement with Oman and Italy. Separately, Dawn reports that the government is preparing to transform the Central Power Purchasing Agency into a “market operator”, drawing on Turkish energy market reforms.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Mashal Khan’s Family Challenge Acquittals in Lynching Case [Dawn]
  • National Assembly Approves Harsher Punishments for Child Abuse [ET] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Karachi Policeman Wounded in Driveby Shooting [ET]
  • Gilgit Court Sentences Lawyer on Blasphemy Charge [The Nation]
  • National Assembly Speaker Meets with German Ambassador [Dawn] [ET]
  • Government Misses Macroeconomic Targets in Five-Year Plan [ET]
  • Interior Minister Considering ‘Electronic Visa’ Plan [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US and Allied Assistance: Reuters profiles the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigade, set for deployment to Afghanistan later this spring. Speaking following a NATO defense ministers conference in Brussels on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance had agreed to provide an additional 3,000 soldiers to support the Resolute Support training mission, bringing the total allied contribution to around 16,000. Tuesday’s U.S> national intelligence estimate warned that conditions in Afghanistan are likely to worsen this year, the WSJ notes. [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Security Retirements: Reuters notes the Afghan government’s efforts to pension off senior military officials and the institution of new mandatory retirement ages; a NATO spokesman backed the move as a way to “pave the way for long-term success as ranks replenish” and greater opportunities for junior officer promotion open up, but one retired general accuses Pres. Ghani of wanting to “systematically erase ethnic Tajiks from the force”. A spokesman for the interior ministry confirmed that it would follow the defense ministry in retiring senior officers.
  • Attacks and Operations: TOLO reports that the interior ministry has completed its investigations into last month’s attack on the Kabul Intercon hotel, the results of which are being shared with the president. Military officials in Kunduz say they killed one Taliban fighter in airstrikes in the Qala-e-Zal district on Wednesday. Kandahar police claim that as many as 40 Taliban fighters were killed in airstrikes in the Nish district after the Taliban attacked multiple security checkposts.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Regional Security Chiefs Meet: Army chiefs from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and NATO, and the Central Asian states met in Kabul on Tuesday for talks; the Pakistani military’s spokesman quoted Chief of Army Staff Bajwa as saying that “Pakistani territory is not allowed to be used against any other country and Pakistan expects the same in reciprocity” and that “collaborative approach and persistence is the answer to all challenges, for which Pakistan is ready to play its part”. [AP] [Dawn] [TOLO]
  • Taliban Talks: A spokesman for National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar denied an AP report yesterday that Atmar and NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai were pursuing separate and uncoordinated talks with Taliban representatives from the High Peace Council, adding that the government “is committed to meaningful talks with the Taliban and has the doors open.” In a statement on Wednesday addressed to the American people, the Taliban said that “our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogue” but “this can never mean that we are exhausted or our will has been sapped”.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Watchdogs Skeptical as Afghanistan’s Poll Timeline Looms [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Mission Accomplished? What’s Next for Iran’s Afghan Fighters in Syria – “Now that the Fatemiyoun and Zeinabiyoun have helped Iran attain “victory” against ISIL, the question is what Iran will do with these tens of thousands of battle-hardened fighters.” [Ahmad Shuja Jamal, War on the Rocks]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PML-N Wins NA-154 Election Upset; Regional Army Chiefs Meet in Kabul

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Topline

  • Unofficial figures indicate that the PML-N won the NA-154 special election in Monday’s special election, a surprise upset for the seat previously vacated by PTI leader Jahangir Tareen and contested by his son. Nawaz Sharif touted the results, which Imran Khan described as an opportunity to “learn from failure”.
  • Army chiefs from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Central Asian states, as well as Resolute Support commander Gen. John Nicholson and CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel are meeting in Kabul on Tuesday for a regional security chiefs conference.
  • India’s defense minister warned that Pakistan would “pay for this misadventure” after a Saturday attack on an Indian army camp in Jammu that left seven dead and a Tuesday attack on a police base in Srinagar; she linked the former attack to Jaish-e-Mohammad.
  • The AP reports that NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai and National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar have maintained backchannel contacts with the Taliban despite last month’s attacks in Kabul, but that neither of those channels are coordinated with each other or the High Peace Council.
  • A presidential ordinance issued last Friday has added groups sanctioned by the UN Security Council to the list of organizations banned under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, a move that will include Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its charity affiliates; the move comes ahead of a Financial Action Task Force session next week at which Pakistan will come under scrutiny for its counterterrorism financing efforts.
  • Thirty-five of Kam Air’s foreign staff have departed the country since last month’s attack at the Kabul Intercon killed nine pilots and flight crew; Ukraine as also reportedly retaken control of two rental aircraft.
  • Leaders of the breakaway MQM-Pakistan faction currently embroiled in a leadership battle with Farooq Sattar petitioned the Election Commission on Monday to recognize Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui as the party’s new leader.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: Indian defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters on Monday that the Indian army had evidence that a Saturday attack on an army camp in Jammu that left seven dead and ten wounded was carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad, warning that Pakistan would “pay for this misadventure”. Another police base in Srinagar was attacked on Tuesday, with one soldier and two militants killed. Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastigir Khan responded on Tuesday that “any Indian aggression, strategic miscalculation, or misadventure regardless of its scale, mode, or location will not go unpunished and shall be met with an equal and proportionate response.” [Dawn] [Dawn] [AFP]
  • Anti-Terrorism Act Amended: Pres. Mamnoon Hussain approved an ordinance last Friday that expands the list of groups banned under the Anti-Terrorism Act to include groups sanctioned by the UN Security Council, a move that brings Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation under the scope of the law. The move comes ahead of a Financial Action Task Force plenary session scheduled to take place Feb 18, at which Pakistan will come under scrutiny for measures against terrorist financing. [AFP]
  • Supreme Court Grants Rao Anwar Bail: On Tuesday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar granted protective bail to former Karachi senior superintendent of police Rao Anwar in connection to the death of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a police encounter last month, ordering him to appear before the court on Friday; Anwar has reportedly written to the chief justice denying any involvement in Naqeebullah’s death. Three more police officers affiliated with Anwar were arrested on Sunday evening. [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PML-N Wins NA-154 By-Election: Unofficial results from Monday’s special election for the NA-154 Lodhran seat vacated by PTI leader Jahangir Tareen after his disqualification indicate that the PML-N candidate, Syed Iqbal Shah, won by a margin of more than 20,000 votes; Ali Khan Tareen, Jahangir’s son, had sought to succeed him for the PTI. In a statement afterwards, Imran Khan said that the loss was an opportunity to “learn from failure”. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday while appearing at an accountability court hearing, Nawaz Sharif said that “the public of Lodhran took revenge from those who tried to take revenge from us”; his daughter Maryam Nawaz said that the results had “set the tone” for the general elections.  [ET] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Supreme Court fined Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf for failing to appear at hearing on Monday related to the disqualification period for politicians disqualified from office under Article 62 of the constitution. As noted yesterday, the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking PM Abbasi’s disqualification from office on allegations of corruption related to the 2015 Qatar LNG import agreement, saying the case should first be investigated by the NAB. Wajid Zia, the head of the Panama Papers Joint Investigation Team, testified in an accountability court hearing on Monday related to former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s assets. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: Leaders of the breakaway “Bahadurabad” faction of the MQM-Pakistan petitioned the Election Commission on Monday to recognize Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui as the new head of the party, seeking to retain the use of its name and election symbol; party leader Farooq Sattar, who has ordered the dissolution of the MQM-P’s coordination committee, vowed to block those actions in the courts. Dawn reports that the PTI and PML-Q have agreed to back each others’ candidates with second-priority votes for senate elections from Punjab. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Regional Diplomacy: Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov met with Foreign Minister Asif on Monday, and with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat. Turkey’s new ambassador to Pakistan also met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Monday.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Funeral Services Held for Asma Jahangir in Lahore [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Military Spy Agencies Not Cooperating in Islamabad High Court Investigation into Faizabad Sit-In [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • FIA Summons Altaf Hussain Associates in Money Laundering Case [Dawn]
  • CPEC Western Highways to be Completed by End-2018 [ET]
  • Pakistan Receives $1.64 Billion in Remittances in January [ET]
  • Commentary: An Irreplaceable Champion for Pakistan’s Dispossessed is Gone – “Will a new generation of activists assume the mantle that Jahangir left behind for them, or will Pakistanis be left weaker without her?” [Omar Waraich, The Atlantic]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Security Chiefs Meet: Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to attend a conference with US and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson, CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel, and Afghan Chief of Army Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi. Army chiefs and representatives of the Central Asia states are also attending; Pres. Ghani met separately with the army chiefs of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on Monday. [Dawn]
  • Kabul Attacks Aftermath: Ariana News reports that 35 foreign nationals working for Kam Air have left the country since last month’s attack at the Kabul Intercon hotel, which killed nine pilots and crewmembers staying there; the airline has reduced its number of daily flights from 40 to less than ten, and Ukraine has reportedly taken back two rental aircraft.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Military officials in Badakhshan say that two militants were killed and six inured, including two Tajik nationals, in operations in the Jurm district on Monday. Kunar residents interviewed by TOLO express concerns over a growing Islamic State presence in the province. On Monday evening, a grenade was thrown at the Jalalabad home of Hamid Hassan, an Afghan cricket star; no injuries were reported. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: The AP reports that NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai and National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar are continuing separate back-channel talks to the Taliban despite last month’s major attacks in Kabul, but also reports that neither channel is being coordinated with each other or with the High Peace Council.
  • Election Preparations: Independent Election Commission administrative head Mazaaullah Dawlati tells TOLO that the government has yet to respond to the IEC’s proposal to decrease the size of parliamentary electoral constituencies from province-wide to several multi-member districts, more than ten months after the proposal was first made.
  • Corruption Investigations: A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said Monday that 158 police officials, including four generals, had been referred to the Attorney General’s office for corruption investigations; reports did not clarify the time frame in which those referrals were made.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Tehran to Host Afghanistan-Iran Economic Conference in March [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Afs 22.1 Billion in New Contracts [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Rival MQM-Pakistan Factions Split; “No Progress” in Foreign Ministry Talks

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Topline

  • Divisions within the MQM-Pakistan grew over the weekend; after several reversals, the dissident faction led by Amir Khan announcing on Sunday that it was removing Farooq Sattar from his leadership position, and Sattar in turn announcing a dissolution of the party’s Coordination Committee.
  • An Afghan foreign ministry delegation concluded talks in Islamabad on Saturday without any agreement on a joint statement; the Afghan foreign ministry said afterwards that “no progress was achieved” on security issues, and no follow-up talks have been scheduled.
  • On Friday, the Islamabad High Court ordered a National Accountability Bureau investigation against former Pres. Musharraf, ruling that retired army service members are no longer immune from investigation under the accountability law after their service tenure ends. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar also ordered investigations into extrajudicial killings by the Punjab police, and ordered the removal of security barriers around Nawaz Sharif’s home and other government buildings in Punjab. On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking PM Abbasi’s disqualification from office on corruption charges related to the 2015 Qatar LNG import agreement, saying that the NAB should be the one to investigate the allegations.
  • Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor announced plans for a three-day nationwide mass protest movement beginning Feb 27, as talks between the Jamiat-e-Islami and government remain deadlocked over Atta’s removal from office.
  • A sit-in protest in Islamabad protesting the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a police encounter in Karachi last month ended on Saturday, after a meeting with advisor to the prime minister Amir Muqam.
  • The Afghan attorney general’s office has imposed a travel ban on the head of the company responsible for security at the Kabul Intercon Hotel, as well as the hotel’s security manager and head manager.
  • Pres. Ghani fired the head of the interior ministry’s Major Crimes Task Force on Sunday and ordered the attorney general’s office to investigate him for failing to pursue corruption cases while in office.
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan rejected former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s candidacy for senate elections after a PTI challenge. Voting is currently underway for the NA-154 constituency vacated by Jahangir Tareen after his disqualification from office by the Supreme Court last year; the ECP charged Imran Khan with violating the electoral code of conduct for a campaign appearance in the area last week.
  • The TTP has confirmed commander Khan Said Sajna’s death in a U.S. drone strike last week, and has named Mufti Noor Wali as his successor.
  • Lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir passed away on Saturday from a heart attack.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Sit-In Over Waziristan Man’s Killing Ends: The sit-in held in Islamabad for the past week and a half to protest the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in a police encounter in Karachi last month ended on Saturday, after advisor to the prime minister Amir Muqam met with them and pledged to bring those responsible for Naqeebullah’s murder to justice. [Dawn] [AP]
  • TTP Confirms Sajna Death: In a statement on Monday, a spokesman for the main Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction confirmed that commander Khan Said Sajna had been killed in a U.S. drone strike last week, and named Mufti Noor Wali as his successor; a spokesman for Sajna’s Mehsud faction had previously name Maulvi Khatir as the group’s acting chief.
  • Indian Border Clashes: Three Pakistani civilians were injured in cross-border firing along the Line of Control on Sunday, the Pakistani military said in a statement. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Military Courts: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa approved death sentences for seven men convicted under the military courts system on Friday, all of whom were identified as members of unspecified “proscribed organizations” and reported to have confessed to attacks on civilians and security personnel. [Dawn] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Splits: MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar and members of a rival faction led by senior deputy convener Amir Khan continued to clash over the weekend; on Friday, the latter group announced that it had withdrawn support for Sattar to grant party tickets to senate candidates and given that power to deputy convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui instead. The Election Commission upheld Sattar’s authority to nominate candidates in the MQM-Pakistan’s name, however. The Khan faction initially stopped short of removing Sattar from his position, and on Saturday announced a reversal of its earlier action against Sattar, with Khan professing not to want any party leadership position for himself at all. On Sunday, the rival faction reversed course again and voted to remove Sattar from his leadership position, prompting him to announce in turn a dissolution of the party’s Coordination Committee and new intra-party elections for leadership positions on Feb 17. Separately, Salman Mujahid Baloch, a former MQM leader who quit to join the Pak Sarzameen Party in December, rejoined the Sattar faction of the MQM on Saturday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Friday, the Islamabad High Court directed the NAB to open an investigation against former Pres. Musharraf for corruption, ruling that retired military officers can be investigated under the accountability law and do not enjoy immunity after the end of their service. At a press conference on Saturday, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah pushed back on complaints from National Accountability Bureau Chairman Javed Iqbal that the Punjab government was not responding to NAB inquiries; earlier on Friday, a spokesman for the provincial government also insisted that it was cooperating with all NAB requests. Nawaz Sharif did not attend NAB hearings on Saturday related to supplementary corruption references against him. At hearings on Sunday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ordered the removal of security barricades on roads near Nawaz’s residence and other official buildings in Punjab; those barriers were withdrawn on Monday. Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif also appeared before the court on Sunday in a case related to the provision of unclean water in Lahore; Shehbaz said that a water treatment plan would be finished within three weeks. At that hearing the chief justice also ordered a report from the Punjab police on extrajudicial killings in the province. On Monday, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition seeking the disqualification of PM Abbasi based on allegations of corruption in the negotiations of the 2015 Qatar LNG import agreement, saying the issue should be investigated by the NAB instead. Meanwhile, the national assembly committee on finance referred an investigation into illegal investments by Pakistani nationals in the Dubai real estate sector to the NAB for further investigation; a Supreme Court bench is also set to begin hearings on Thursday on overseas property ownership. [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Senate Elections: Speaking on Saturday, PM Abbasi vowed to oppose vote-buying and “horse trading” in the upcoming senate polls, making a veiled reference to negotiations last month by the PPP with the Balochistan cabinet. Dawn and The Nation report dissension within the PML-N over the top leadership’s choice of senate candidates. On Monday, the Election Commission rejected former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s nomination papers for the senate elections, after the PTI filed challenges against his candidacy. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Responding to a question about the future of the PML-N’s leadership at a press conference on Saturday, former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that he could not “work under children” and would not accept Maryam Nawaz as a “senior”, but also said he was not forming any “forward bloc” within the party. PTI leader Imran Khan suggested on Sunday that he would support Chaudhry Nisar as an independent candidate were he to quit the PML-N. Earlier on Friday, the Election Commission served notice against Imran for appearing at a campaign rally in Lodhran on Thursday ahead of special elections for the NA-154 seat, in violation of the electoral code of conduct; the ECP has also fined both the PTI and PML-N candidates. Voting is currently underway in the NA-154 polls, with Ali Khan Kareen of the PTI seeking to re-take his father Jahangir Khan’s seat after the latter’s disqualification last year. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Asma Jahangir Passes Away: Asham Jahangir, a nationally prominent activist and lawyer who had previously served as president the Supreme Court Bar Association and a founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, passed away from a heart attack on Sunday in Lahore; she was 66. Dawn and the Express Tribune collect tributes. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has requested that she be given a state funeral. [NYT] [Reuters] [Dawn] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PM Abbasi Refuses to Intervene in Maldives Crisis [ET] [APP]
  • Interior Minister Concludes Washington Visit [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia Hold Joint Naval Exercises; Air Chief Visits Riyadh [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Nationa Security Advisor Janjua Meets Iranian Ambassador [APP] [Dawn]
  • Khyber Agency Tribesmen Kidnapped in September and Held in Afghanistan Freed [The Nation]
  • Twenty Militant Suspects Arrested in Balochistan [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • PM Abbasi Inaugurates Mianwali Gas Project [ET] [The Nation]
  • Supreme Court Concludes Hearings on Kasur Child Rape Case [Dawn]
  • Chief Justice Withdraws Travel Restrictions on Axact CEO [The Nation]
  • Record High Import Bill of $5.6 Billion in January [ET]
  • Punjab Surpasses Sindh as Largest Gas Consumer [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Security: The Washington Post interviews Kabul residents and security analysts who express continued concern over security in the city in the wake of last month’s major attacks. The NDS announced the arrest of eight Islamic State members in Kabul on Saturday. On Saturday, the Attorney General’s office imposed a travel ban on the owner of the Kabul Balkh Security and Safety company, responsible for security at the Kabul Intercon Hotel, as well as his deputy, the hotel head, and the hotel security manager. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: An insider attack on a militia group in Helmand’s Gereshk district on Saturday killed as many as sixteen militiamen; the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. An attack on a checkpost in the Nawa district in Helmand on Friday killed at least six security personnel. At least three people were killed when a bomb exploded on a cricket ground in the Bati Kot district in Nangarhar province on Friday; no claim of responsibility was reported. A U.S. drone strike in the Achin district on Friday killed at least two ISIS fighters. Officials in Ghor announced the arrest of a local ISIS commander in an operation in the Lal district on Monday. Afghan military officials in Takhar reported killing six Taliban fighters in operations in the Darqad district on Sunday. U.S. airstrikes on the outskirts of the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tirin Kot on Saturday reportedly killed five Taliban fighters. [Reuters] [AP] [AP] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Pakistan: An Afghan foreign ministry delegation concluded two days of talks in Islamabad on Saturday without any agreement on a joint statement by the two sides; the Afghan foreign ministry said that “no progress was achieved on specific, results-oriented, time-bound measures … in the areas of counter terrorism, reduction of violence, peace and reconciliation”. No follow-up talks were announced, and a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry said that “there is no agreement to continue working on a Joint Action Plan”. Meanwhile, Kunar provincial governor Wahidullah Kalimzai tells TOLO that Afghan border forces have begun to retaliate in response to Pakistani cross-border shelling. Spokesmen for the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries also report that the Spin Boldak and Chaman border crossings have remained closed to Afghan exports for the past month. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Ghani Sacks Major Crimes Task Force Head: On Sunday, Pres. Ghani fired the head of the interior ministry’s Major Crimes Task Force, Abdul Ghayor Andarabi, and referred his case to the attorney general’s office for investigation on charges that he had not taken effective action in corruption cases.
  • Atta Firing Dispute: Speaking to supporters on Sunday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor announced plans for a three-day mass protest across the country beginning February 27, as talks with the government over his removal from office remain deadlocked. [Ariana News]
  • Election Planning: Independent Election Commission officials say they will begin a voter registration process on April 4, a process estimated to take three months.
  • Sayyaf Visits Saudi Arabia: Former mujahedeen leader Abdul Rasool Sayyaf departed Kabul for a trip to Saudi Arabia on Friday to “talk with Saudi officials about the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism in the Muslim world”. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kabul Municipality Staff Accused of Fuel Compensation Scam [TOLO]
  • Over 160 Afghan Companies Licensed to Operate Through Chabahar [TOLO]
  • Two Million Afghans Face Food Shortage [TOLO]
  • Heavy Snow Closes Salang Pass [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Commander Sajna Reportedly Killed in Drone Strike; Afghan Delegation Visits Islamabad

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Topline

  • A U.S. drone strike or series of strikes in North Waziristan on Thursday reportedly killed at least three militants, including Khan Saeed “Sajna” Mehsud, leader of a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction; Sajna was previously reported to have been killed in November 2015.
  • Deputy Afghan Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai arrived in Islamabad on Friday for another round of talks with his counterpart Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua. Separately, Pres. Ghani praised Pashtun activists conducting a sit-in in Islamabad, expressing hope that it would “succeed in uprooting and eradicating terrorism from their region”.
  • The Supreme Court of Pakistan continued hearings on Thursday and Friday into the term of disqualification under article 62 of the constitution, and challenges against the Election Act 2017.
  • 144 candidates have filed nomination papers to contest upcoming senate elections on March 3; the PTI has announced plans to contest former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s filing.
  • Pres. Ghani met with several senior mujahedeen veterans and political leaders on Thursday, and is reportedly planning to form a new “Council of Elders”, a move that some opposition critics claimed could be part of a move to extend the government’s tenure in office.
  • Chinese negotiators have agreed to reduce tariffs on Pakistani imports to match levels for ASEAN countries as part of Free Trade Agreement talks, Pakistan’s commerce ministry announced Thursday.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Drone Strike Kills TTP Commander: A U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan on Thursday killed at least three suspected Haqqani network militants on Thursday. Anonymous intelligence officials tell the Express Tribune that at least three strikes were carried out along the border, and that one of those killed was Khan Saeed Mehsud, alias “Sajna”, a leader of the “Mehsud faction” of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. He was previously reported to have been killed in a drone strike in November 2015. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Khaama Press]
  • US Relations: The national assembly committee on national security held a closed-door briefing session on Thursday to discuss Pakistan’s relations with the United States; afterwards, speaker Ayaz Sadiq suggested that US-Pakistan relations had “improved considerably”. [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Court Orders Release of Peshawar School Attack Report: On Thursday, the Peshawar High Court ordered the publication of a police inquiry into the 2014 Army Public School attack, but declined a petition from the father of one of the victims for a new judicial inquiry into the incident. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Supreme Court heard continued arguments on Thursday over the term for politicians to be disqualified from office under Article 62 of the constitution, and the scope of that article’s grounds for disqualification; on Friday, the court held hearings on challenges to the Elections Act 2017, at which Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar suggested that the court could only nullify a law “if it contradicts the constitution”. Speaking on Thursday, National Accountability Bureau chairman Javed Iqbal accused the Punjab government of not cooperating with the NAB. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Senate Elections: 144 candidates filed nomination papers to contest the 52 vacant senate seats in March’s elections; the Election Commission is currently evaluating the filings, and a final candidate list will be announced by Feb 19. On Thursday, the PTI announced that it would challenge former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s nomination, given the pending corruption cases against him. Speaking Thursday, MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar insisted that the party was not divided and that its senate nominees had been filed “under one roof”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The JUI-F announced plans to organize a tribal jirga in Peshawar next week to discuss FATA reforms and to “counter conspiracies against the unity of Paktuns”, amidst ongoing sit-in protests in Islamabad by a group of activists protesting extrajudicial killings in Karachi. Imran Khan will lead a rally in Lodhran on Friday, ahead of special election taking place there on Feb 12. Dissident PTI legislator Ayesha Gulalai announced plans to form her own political party on Thursday. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Trade Talks: The ministry of commerce announced on Thursday that Chinese officials had agreed to new concessions for Pakistani traders as part of negotiations on a new Free Trade Agreement, bringing tariffs on Pakistani imports down to match those for ASEAN countries. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Audit Into LNG Import Agreement Raises Concerns [ET]
  • Islamabad High Court Demands Answers Over Faizabad Protests [ET] [The Nation]
  • Religious Parties Assembly in Mardan to Demand Release of Men Convicted in Mashal Khan Lyncing Case [Dawn]
  • PM Abbasi and King Abdullah Hold Talks [The Nation]
  • Embattled Maldives President Sends Foreign Minister to Pakistan [ET]
  • PPP Senator Challenges Census Post-Enumeration Survey [ET]
  • Council of Islamic Ideology Advises Against Amending Law to Allow Public Hanging [ET]
  • Supreme Court Bars Travel by Axact CEO [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Mobeen Reappointed as NADRA Chairman [The Nation]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Assistance: The Washington Post profiles the new Army Security Force Assistance Brigade; in another piece, the Post interviews the commander of a Marine task force in Helmand, who says that his forces “didn’t see a need to directly maneuver alongside Afghan troops” while conducting their advisory mission. [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: The Afghan Air Force carried out 51 flights and 12 airstrikes in the past 24 hours, the ministry of defense said in a statement on Friday. Government officials denied reports that seven civilians were killed in an errant airstrike in Khost province earlier this week. At least 11 ISIS fighters were killed in operations in Nangarhar’s Deh Bala district on Thursday, military officials report.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Regional Diplomacy: Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai led an Afghan delegation to Islamabad to hold a second round of talks with his counterpart Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua on Friday. On Friday, Pres. Ghani praised protests in Islamabad by Pashtun activists in a series of statements on Twitter, expressing hope that it would “succeed in uprooting and eradicating terrorism from their region”. Anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources tell The Nation that they have told the United States that Afghanistan is “not sharing any actionable intelligence” regarding militant groups based in Pakistan. On Thursday, Pres. Trump spoke by phone with Prime Minister Modi, during which the two sides “reiterated their commitment to supporting Afghanistan’s security and stability”. [ET] [The Nation] [Khaama Press] [Reuters]
  • Opposition Politics: On Thursday, Pres. Ghani met with several senior mujahedeen leaders, including Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, Mohammad Mohaqiq, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; the government is reportedly planning to form a “grand council of elders” to formalize the consultations, which some opposition figures warned could be a pretext to prolong the government’s tenure in office. [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • UN Concerned Over Possible Drought [TOLO]
  • Afghan Government Signs Prisoner Exchange Agreement with Iran [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM Still Divided Over Senate Candidates; US and Afghan Air Power Continues to Surge

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Topline

  • The MQM-Pakistan remains divided and the two factions led by Farooq Sattar and representatives from the party’s coordination committee fielded separate slates of candidates for the senate elections on Thursday.
  • In a briefing for reporters on Wednesday, U.S. military officials said that the Afghan Air Force had carried out more than 2,000 airstrike sorties in 2017, and that Afghan A-29 pilots were beginning to be trained in the use of laser-guided precision munitions.
  • The Afghan interior ministry has established more than 90 checkpoints around Kabul as part of a new city security plan.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on three Pakistani nationals linked to Sheikh Aminullah, a terrorist financier who had been under sanction since 2009.
  • An Islamabad anti-terrorism court acquitted PTI leader Shireen Mazari and extended bail for five other party leaders in connection to charges related to the PTI’s 2014 Islamabad sit-ins. On Thursday the Election Commission dismissed a challenge to PTI intra-party elections held last June, but also denied a petition from Imran Khan to disqualify former provincial minister Ziaullah Afridi from office after his split with the party.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Tensions: Wednesday’s meeting of army corps commanders resolved that “national interest shall be kept at premium while cooperating with all other stakeholders for regional peace and stability”, according to a military spokesman. An anonymous Pakistani foreign ministry source tells The Nation that the U.S. was “ready to grant concessions but have attached some conditions. The first and the foremost being: ‘play fair’” and that “we are trying to assure them we have never played foul”. On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned three Pakistani nationals linked to Sheikh Aminullah, a terrorist financier who has been sanctioned since 2009. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal is currently visiting Washington, and met with Senator Lindsey Graham on Wednesday. [The Nation]
  • Afghan Border Fencing: Brigadier Nadeem Sohail, a commander of the Balochistan Frontier Corps, met with a tribal jirga in Chaman on Wednesday and told them fencing of the border area would be started “very soon”. Pakistan will also stop accepting Afghan tazkira documents and will require passports, effective Feb 28. [Dawn]
  • Naqeebullah Murder Case: A Karachi anti-terrorism court set a new deadline for the arrests of former senior superintendent of police Rao Anwar in the Naqeebullah murder case by Feb 19; four other policemen detained in the case have recanted their initial confessions.
  • FATA Attacks: A child was killed and another wounded in a roadside bombing in North Waziristan on Thursday. On Wednesday, another bombing killed a local tribal elder in Bajaur.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: The MQM-Pakistan remains split between party leader Farooq Sattar and the party’s coordination committee; each has fielded a competing slate of candidates for the senate elections. The two sides are still continuing talks, however. The Nation reports that the PML-N has finalized its candidates for the senate, but it has yet to make an announcement of the slate. On Wednesday, twenty-three candidates, most from the PPP, filed nomination papers to contest the Sindh seats. Maulana Sami-ul Haq also filed to contest the elections for Khyber Paktunkhwa. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Speaking at a hearing on Wednesday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar warned against criticism of the judiciary, and heard arguments from PPP lawyers over the Election Act’s amendment to allow Nawaz Sharif to continue to serve as party chief despite his disqualification. On Thursday, the Islamabad High Court accepted petitions from the Sharif family to allow a defense counsel to participate during remote witness interviews recorded for corruption cases against him. An Islamabad anti-terrorism court has acquitted PTI leader Shireen Mazari and extended bail for five other PTI leaders in cases related to the party’s 2014 Islamabad sit-in protests. The Election Commission adjourned hearings against the PTI’s overseas fundraising on Wednesday, after PTI lawyers failed to attend the proceedings. On Thursday, the ECP dismissed a motion by Imran Khan to disqualify former minister Ziaullah Afridi, and a petition to void the PTI’s intra-party elections held last June. [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Abdullah Visits: Jordanian King Abdullah II arrived in Islamabad on Thursday for a two day visit.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • At Least 80 Detained, DPO Transferred After DI Khan Clashes [ET]
  • JUI-F Celebrates Acquittals in Mashal Khan Lynching Case [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • CPEC Joint Working Group Focuses on Security for Chinese Nationals [The Nation]
  • Husain Haqqani Withdraws Counsel, Criticizes Top Court Over Memogate [ET] [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Hears Axact Diploma Mill Case [ET] [The Nation]
  • Aasia Bibi Family Members Petition Supreme Court for Hearing [ET]
  • Three Arrested in Karachi Raid [ET] [ET]
  • Public Sector Enterprises Borrowed Rs 115 Billion During First Seven Months of Fiscal Year [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Operations: In a briefing for reporters on Wednesday, U.S. Major General James B. Hecker said that three Afghan A-29 light aircraft pilots have been trained in the use of laser-guided precision munitions, and that the Afghan Air Force conducted approximately 2,000 airstrike sorties in 2017, roughly double the rate of the U.S. Air Force. In Reuters interviews, security officials from Kunduz to Helmand praise the increased use of U.S. airpower, describing it as a “game changer”. The Jowzjan provincial police chief tells the AP that joint U.S. and Afghan airstrikes in the Darzab and Kosh Tepa districts killed at least 25 ISIS fighters, including a Chinese national and three Uzbek militants. The Badakhshan provincial police also welcomed U.S. airstrikes there. [Military.com]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Interior Ministry officials said Wednesday that they had established at least 90 checkpoints around Kabul as part of a new security plan for the city. A group of Afghan security personnel escaped a Taliban prison in Badghis’ Muqor district on Tuesday night, officials reported on Thursday. Four children were killed in Ghazni on Wednesday; officials attributed their deaths to a crossfire between Taliban and government forces, but protesting family members said they had been killed in an airstrike. Operations in Takhar province have killed twelve insurgents over the past two days, local officials claim. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Mining Investment: The U.S. embassy in Kabul hosted a meeting between the ministry of mines and more than eighty private sector business leaders on Wednesday to discuss the Afghan mining sector.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Pentagon Exonerates Marines in War Crimes Case [WAPO]
  • Iranian Pres. Rouhani Offers ‘Advisory and Security Cooperation’ [TOLO]
  • Dar-ul-Aman Renovation to Resume in Spring [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Cost of Escalating Violence in Afghanistan – “Notwithstanding the many difficulties peace talks would pose, he and the U.S.’s other allies should press Washington to do exactly that: keep channels of communication to insurgent leaders open and at least lay the ground for peace talks by continuing to test with Afghanistan’s neighbours and other regional powers what a settlement might look like.” [Borhan Osman, AAN]
  • Commentary: Afghan Victims of War Crimes Want Investigation; Hundreds of Thousands Apply to ICC – “The fact that at least 345 representations on behalf of more than seven hundred thousand victims were sent to the Court by the deadline does show that there is an interest in ICC proceedings in Afghanistan – and that Afghans do not want to forget the crimes that have been committed in Afghanistan.” [Ehsan Qaane, AAN]