Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sindh Seeks to Ban Mosque Gatherings; Ghani Reiterates Opposition to ‘Two-Headed’ Govt

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  • The Sindh provincial government imposed a full curfew on Friday in an attempt to curtail attendance at mosques during Friday prayers; some violations of the curfew were still reported, however. Pakistan will reportedly suspend polio vaccination campaigns and house surveillance for at least six months as it seeks to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As of Friday, Pakistan reported 2,450 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • The Sindh home department has ordered the re-arrest and detention of four men acquitted on Thursday for involvement in the kidnapping and murder of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl; government sources say they plan to appeal the Sindh High Court ruling in the case.
  • In remarks on Thursday, Pres. Ghani said that he had offered Abdullah Abdullah a role as head of a new High Peace Council, but reiterated his opposition to “two-headed” government.
  • Ghani spoke by phone with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Thursday to discuss the peace process and transit trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan amid coronavirus-related border closures.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Police Re-arrest Suspects in Pearl Murder Case: Following a Sindh High Court order commuting the sentence of Omar Saeed Sheikh and acquitting three other men of involvement in the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the Sindh provincial home department has ordered their re-arrest and detention under the Maintenance of Public Order ordinance for at three month period; a government source tells Reuters that it will appeal the court ruling. In a statement earlier on Thursday, the U.S. State Department said that overturning of the convictions was “an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere”. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Government to Consolidate Debt Management Functions [ET]
  • Pakistan Protests New Indian Domicile Law in Kashmir [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Attorney General Endorses Release of Under-Trial Prisoners Accused of Minor Crimes [ET] [ET]
  • Government Moves to Take Over Second LNG Terminal’s Assets [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: A NYT tally for the past week reports at least 75 government security personnel and twelve civilians were killed.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Political Standoff: In remarks on Thursday, Pres. Ghani said that he had offered the role of head of a new High Peace Council to Abdullah Abdullah, and to induct Abdullah aides into the cabinet, but reiterated opposition to a “two-headed” government. Abdullah met with former Pres. Karzai, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, Salahuddin Rabbani, and other opposition politicians on Thursday. On Friday, Ghani issued an executive decree assigning responsibility to Vice Pres. Amrullah Saleh for coordination with the UN and non-governmental agencies and the distribution of land to refugees and IDPs. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Peace Talks: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Thursday for discussions on the peace process, as well as Afghan-Pakistan transit trade and the coronavirus pandemic. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Commentary: Dismembering Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry – “The Afghan government is eviscerating the ministry—carving out key constituent parts, putting them directly under the presidential palace, and gravely weakening one of the country’s most effective institutions.” [William Byrd, USIP]
  • Commentary: Can America Trust the Taliban to Prevent Another 9/11? – “The more Washington implements its obligations under the deal, the less constrained the Taliban will be to keep its own.” [David Petraeus and Vance Serchuk, Foreign Affairs]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sentence Commuted in Daniel Pearl Killing; Taliban Open to Ceasefire in COVID-Affected Areas

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  • The Sindh High Court has commuted the sentence of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, who was sentenced to death for involvement in the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; he is expected to be released for time already served. Three other men in the case were acquitted of involvement in Pearl’s kidnapping.
  • The Afghan government will reportedly begin the release on Thursday of approximately 100 Taliban detainees in exchange for the release of twenty Afghan security personnel held by the Taliban. In an AP interview, a spokesman for the Taliban said that the group would be willing to institute ceasefires in the case of a coronavirus outbreak in areas under its control, and pledged to protect health care workers in those areas.
  • The Pakistani government has extended its lockdown orders through April 14, following a meeting of the National Coordination Committee on Wednesday; PM Khan will chair another meeting of the committee on Thursday. The suspension of domestic flights has also been extended through April 11. As of Thursday, Pakistan reported 2,291 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • As of Thursday, the Afghan ministry of public health reported 239 confirmed COVID-19 cases. A shipment of medical assistance from China arrived in Kabul on Thursday; Uzbekistan has also delivered a shipment of aid.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sentence Overturned in Daniel Pearl Murder Case: On Thursday, the Sindh High Court overturned the convictions of four men who had been sentenced for the 2002 murder of Daniel Pearl, including British-Pakistani Ahmed Omar Sheikh, who had faced the death penalty, and three other men serving life sentences. The court held that there was insufficient evidence of the men’s involvement in Pearl’s killing, although it upheld Sheikh’s convictions for his kidnapping; all are now expected to be released from prison after time served. [NYT] [Reuters] [Guardian] [ET] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: Following a meeting of the National Coordination Committee on Pakistan’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus on Wednesday, planning minister Asad Umar told reporters that the government would further extend existing ‘lockdown’ restrictions through April 14. The suspension on domestic flights has separately been extended until April 11; the government is also chartering special flights over the next week to repatriate approximately 2,000 Pakistani expatriates. PM Khan will chair another meeting of the committee on Thursday. The parliamentary committee on COVID will meet on April 6; PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif reiterated calls for parliamentary oversight of the new Coronavirus Relief Fund in a letter to national assembly speaker Asad Qaiser on Wednesday. In a statement on Wednesday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa called for national unity, and pledged that the army would stand “shoulder to shoulder with the nation to guard the border between people and COVID-19”. During a visit to a Rawalpindi hospital on Wednesday, PM Khan pledged support and to provide protective equipment for healthcare workers; at an event on Thursday, Khan said that he would announce a new relief package for the construction industry tomorrow. As of Thursday, Pakistan reported 2,291 confirmed coronavirus cases, and at least 31 associated deaths. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Provincial Response: The Punjab government is reportedly preparing another Rs 11 billion relief package. Additional cases linked to the Tableegh-I Jamaat were reported in Raiwind on Wednesday; PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi has objected to the forcible quarantine of some Tableeghi members. The Sindh provincial government has also extended its lockdown order through April 14, and will reportedly conduct tighter enforcement of the controls. A spokesman for the Sindh government denied that there were any restrictions on the transport of goods in the province, rebuffing criticism from the federal government. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Education Ministry and Pakistan TV Sign Agreement on Tele-School [Dawn]
  • Pakistan May Not Invoke Force Majeure to Renegotiate LNG Deal [ET]
  • World Bank Approves $700M for Dasu Dam Project [Dawn]
  • Foreign Investment Outflows Exceed $2 Billion for the Fiscal Year, $1.74 B in March [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: The ministry of interior announced on Thursday that it had arrested two men and disrupted a plot to kidnap an Afghan Air Force pilot in Kabul; further details on the identities of the suspects were not released. Afghan military forces in Jawzjan reportedly killed six Taliban fighters in an operation in the Manjegak district on Thursday. Six Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack on their checkpost in the Moqor district in Badghis on Thursday. [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Reuters reports that the Afghan government has begun the release of approximately 100 Taliban prisoners on Thursday, as part of a prisoner exchange for the release of twenty Afghan security personnel held by the Taliban. In an AP interview on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Taliban said that the group was prepared to implement a ceasefire in areas of Afghanistan under its control in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, and pledged to guarantee the safety of healthcare workers in those areas; the Taliban said that the move should not be interpreted as a broader ceasefire agreement, however. NATO foreign ministers will meet by videoconference on Thursday for discussions; at a press conference on Wednesday, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on “the political actors in Kabul to find a solution, because we need a strong government we need a unity approach from the Afghans in engaging with the Taliban to have real peace negotiations”. Pakistan and India have welcomed the formation of an Afghan government negotiating team. [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • India’s NIA to Investigate Attack on Kabul Sikhs [Khaama Press]
  • Pentagon Announces $7.1 Million to Support Drone Operations in Afghanistan [Khabarnama]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PM Directs Sindh Rangers to Ensure Goods Transport; Taliban and Govt Talk Prisoner Exchange

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  • At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, PM Khan ordered the Sindh Rangers to ensure the implementation of orders allowing the transport of goods within the province, and also approved plans to issue new Islamic bonds. A joint opposition teleconference on Tuesday called for the establishment of a committee to oversee the PTI government’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. As of Wednesday, Pakistan reported 2,039 confirmed COVID-19 patients.
  • In a statement on Tuesday, Abdullah Abdullah endorsed the formation of a government negotiating team for intra-Afghan talks, saying that he was “committed to making sure that [the presidential election standoff] does not overshadow peace efforts”. A three-member Taliban delegation held talks with Afghan National Security Council representatives on Wednesday regarding a limited prisoner exchange, and will reportedly continue talks on Thursday. The US, UN, EU, and OIC issued separate calls for a ceasefire in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
  • As of Wednesday, Afghanistan reported 196 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including at least sixteen healthcare workers in Herat. Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan said that Pakistan would allow the import of food and medicine to Afghanistan within the next week despite overall border closures.

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Attorney General Seeks Report on Prisoners [ET]
  • Islamabad Court Denies Request to Unfreeze Faryal Talpur Bank Accounts [Dawn] [ET]
  • Inflation Slows to 10.2% [ET]
  • World Bank Approves $700M for Renewable Energy Projects [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: At least eight civilians, including six children, were killed in a roadside bombing in the Nahr-e-Saraj district in Helmand on Wednesday. The head of the National Directorate of Security’s gender department, Gen. Sharmila Farogh, succumbed to injuries from a magnetic bomb attack in Kabul earlier on Monday; there was no claim of responsibility for the attack. [AP] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Tuesday, Abdullah Abdullah welcomed the formation of a negotiating team by Pres. Ghani, saying that “although we have reached no satisfactory agreement to resolve the political crisis in the wake of the ‘rigged’ presidential election, we are committed to making sure that it does not overshadow peace efforts”; he suggested that “there are still considerations by some sides on the makeup of the negotiating team”, however. Former presidential candidate Hanif Atmar also endorsed the group’s formation. At a press conference on Tuesday, Sec. Pompeo called on the Taliban to reduce violence; the UN, EU, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference also issued calls for a ceasefire. A three-member Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to discuss plans for the limited release of some prisoners; a spokesman for the Taliban said that delegation had been reduced due to the risks of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, the Afghan National Security Council said that the two sides had met and would reconvene again tomorrow for further talks. [Reuters] [AP] [Ariana News] [Khabarnama]
  • Appointments: On Tuesday, Pres. Ghani appointed former minister of the economy Hadi Arghandiwal as acting finance minister. On Wednesday, Ghani appointed Daoud Sultanzoy as mayor of Kabul.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Report: Quarterly UN Security Council Briefing on Afghanistan – “A reduction of violence leading to a ceasefire in Afghanistan would save lives, create a more conducive environment to commence intra-Afghan peace negotiations, and enable the Government to focus its efforts on combating the looming health crisis.” [UNAMA]
  • Commentary: Are the Taliban Serious About Peace Negotiations? – “Neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government have fully prepared themselves for talks; both sides lack substantive bargaining positions and a well-articulated vision for a peaceful Afghanistan.” [ICG]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Cabinet Formally Approves Aid and Stimulus Package; Kabul Seeks to Expand Testing Capacity

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  • A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the Pakistani federal cabinet on Monday formally approved an assistance package previously announced last week, although it only released details for Rs 534 billion out of the headline figure of Rs 1.2 trillion announced by the government, and allocations for low-income families appear to be lower than the numbers previously announced. PM Khan launched a new Coronavirus Relief Fund on Monday, although he did not provide details on how it would be disbursed. Punjab and Sindh have placed new controls on members of the Tabligh-e Jamaat after a surge in coronavirus cases linked the group’s gathering in Rawalpindi earlier this month. As of Tuesday, Pakistani health officials reported 1,865 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Tuesday that there should be “no more excuses, no more reasons to delay the talks if the Taliban are committed to peace and comply to that agreement they signed”.
  •  Sec. Pompeo and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg spoke by phone on Monday to discuss “the need for Afghan leaders to form an inclusive government”; spokesmen for Ghani and Abdullah say that talks to resolve their standoff are still ongoing.
  • The Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported 174 confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday. The government opened a new testing facility in Kabul on Monday, expanding its testing capacity tenfold to approximately 1000 tests per day.

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Tuesday, Pakistan reported 1865 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 25 associated deaths. PM Khan will chair a federal cabinet meeting by teleconference on Tuesday. In an address on Monday, Khan announced the formation of a new Coronavirus Relief Fund to accept donations, although he did not specify how it would be distributed; PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif called for parliamentary oversight over the fund. Speaking to reporters on Monday, special assistant to the prime minister Moeed Yusuf said that Pakistan would “gradually resume” international flights starting April 5. Pakistan is working with the Association of Pakistani Physicians in North America to finance the purchase of ventilators from China. Pakistani distilleries are converting to the production of hand sanitizer, which the government has placed export restrictions on. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET]
  • Provincial Response: The Punjab government approved the use of the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as treatment for coronavirus patients, following a decision by the US Food and Drug Association; the government has also established additional field hospital facilities in Lahore. Following a surge in cases associated with a Tableegh-i Jamaat conference earlier in March, the Punjab government is targeting members of the group for testing and quarantine; the Sindh provincial police chief also ordered members of the group to be quarantined. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah ordered the withdrawal of charges against prayer leaders who violated restrictions on congregational gatherings on Friday. The Sindh provincial government is tracking cases of potential transmission in Karachi through digital phone mapping records. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government has extended school closures through May 31. The Balochistan provincial government ordered the release of Rs 1 billion in additional funds to district commissioners from the Provincial Disaster Management Authority; speaking to reporters on Monday, Chief Minister Jam Kamal criticized the federal government for not providing sufficient funds to the province. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Assistance Package: A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet on Monday gave formal approval to the stimulus and assistance package announced by the PTI government last week, although details were only provided for Rs 534 billion out of the headline figure of Rs 1.2 trillion announced by the government. The package includes Rs 230 billion in support for low-income families; PM Khan had previously given a figure of Rs 350 billion. Separately, the cabinet committee on energy deferred a decision on a proposal to freeze power tariff increases for the next six months. On Monday, the Asian Development Bank approved a $2 million grant to Pakistan to support coronavirus response efforts; Foreign Minister Qureshi also met with UN representatives to discuss proposals for support to Pakistan. [Dawn] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Jang Group Publisher Passes Away [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Nawaz Exempted from Court Appearance [Dawn]
  • Pakistanis Among Gulf Migrant Workers Fearing Virus Limbo [AFP]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In remarks on Tuesday, a spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that there should be “no more excuses, no more reasons to delay the talks if the Taliban are committed to peace and comply to that agreement they signed”. In a statement on Tuesday, the European Union joined the US in welcoming the appointment of a government negotiating team. TOLO reports that the Taliban have reshuffled the membership of its Qatar political office, removing at least three former members and appointing eight new members. The Washington Post profiles the role of five former Taliban prisoners released from Guantanamo as part of the 2014 prisoner exchange for the release of American soldier Bowe Berghdal, who have since joined the Taliban negotiation team in Qatar.
  • Election Standoff: Sec. Pompeo and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke by phone on Monday and “discussed the need for Afghan leaders to form an inclusive government that makes reaching a political settlement a priority and bolsters the security of the state”, according to a U.S. State Department readout. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that talks were ongoing as part of an effort to resolve the standoff over the presidential election results between Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah; a spokesman for Abdullah also said that “efforts are underway at various levels and we hope to finally reach an understanding about a comprehensive government”.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Lawsuit Alleges Company Charged Millions for Pro-America Ads That Never Aired [Stars and Stripes]
  • Commentary: Start the Negotiations, End the Afghan War Now – “The longer that violence and disputes delay negotiations, the more likely it becomes that the conflict in Afghanistan will deteriorate into a battle over who gets to bury the dead rather than who sits around the table.” [Sultan Barakat and Barnett Rubin, WOTR]
  • Commentary: Internal Divisions, in Kabul and Within the Taliban, Hinder Afghan Peace Talks – “The multiple actors involved in the conflict have widely divergent expectations of the political process. … The path toward productive intra-Afghan talks depends upon reconciling all of these contradictory positions.” [Michael Semple, WPR]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Transport Restrictions Relaxed Over Shortage Concerns; Taliban Rebuff Govt Negotiating Team

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  • On Friday, PM Khan lifted a ban on the inter-provincial transport of goods, as government concerns have grown over potential food shortages and rising prices for essential commodities. The Pakistani military announced it had completed its deployment of troops to support lockdowns across the country; the military has also reportedly begun tracking food prices as part of efforts to curtail hoarding. National Disaster Management Authority officials say they are working to increase the number of labs processing COVID tests from 14 to 50 within the next 15-20 days. Pakistan has extended border closures with its neighbors for another two weeks. The provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa have announced additional assistance packages on top of the federal program unveiled last week.
  • In a statement on Saturday, the Taliban rebuffed the negotiating team appointed by Pres. Ghani last week, saying that “the government is “against the peace agreement between the Taliban and the U.S.” and that “in order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides”. Sec. Pompeo and Amb. Khalilzad have praised the appointment of the group, however. A Taliban delegation is due to visit Kabul to hold talks on limited prisoner releases, but a spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council said that those releases would not take place on Tuesday as initially ordered by Pres. Ghani last week.
  • On Monday, the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Islamabad High Court freeing several hundred prisoners currently under trial, which the IHC had justified as a measure to control the spread of the coronavirus in prisons.
  • As of Monday, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus; after initial delays, Kabul police have reportedly begun taking steps to enforce a lockdown order in the capital.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Legal Proceedings: At an Islamabad High Court hearing on Sunday, law secretary Kashihur Rehman said that the law ministry had “no reservations” over the IHC’s order to release approximately 700 under-trial prisoners on bail as part of efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The Pakistan Bar Council and Supreme Court Bar Association have also endorsed the IHC’s order. On Monday, however, the Supreme Court overruled the prisoner release orders. The National Accountability Bureau has summoned Nawaz Sharif for a hearing on March 31 as part of its investigations against him and Geo News CEO Mir Shakil-ur Rehman. Hamza Shehbaz petitioned the Lahore High Court for bail on Saturday, citing the risk of COVID-19 in prisons. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Monday, Pakistan reported 1625 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 18 deaths. In a statement on Saturday, the Pakistani military announced that it had deployed soldiers around the country to assist civilian authorities in containing the spread of the coronavirus; the military did not provide details, although Dawn reports that border positions were not adjusted as part of the redeployments. The Express Tribune reports that military intelligence officers have begun tracking prices for food and other essential items as part of efforts to curtail hoarding. Planning Minister Asad Umar chaired a meeting on Saturday to review supply chains for essential commodities. On Friday, PM Khan announced that he had lifted a ban on inter-provincial transport of goods, but other forms of public transit remain restricted; Khan met with PTI party leaders on Sunday, and ordered the opening of rail and road links to goods transport in order to avoid food shortages. On Saturday, the government extended the closure of its borders with India, Iran, and Afghanistan for another two week period; some limited repatriation flights continue. The National Disaster Management Authority is working to increase the number of labs processing COVID tests from 14 to 50 within the next 15-20 days. Speaking at a Friday press conference, health advisor Zafar Mirza said that the government was working to supply more protective equipment to frontline health workers; several new cases of COVID have been reported among doctors in Punjab and Sindh. [Reuters] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • International Assistance: A team of eight Chinese medical personnel and another batch of supplies arrived in Pakistan on Saturday; health advisor Zafar Mirza met with the Chinese group on Sunday, praising their assistance. Pakistan is among the countries listed as “high priority” for U.S. coronavirus assistance. In a statement on Saturday, PM Khan expressed wishes for a speedy recovery by UK PM Boris Johnson and Prince Charles, both of whom have contracted COVID-19, and called for an “internationally coordinated response”; Foreign Minister Qureshi also spoke by phone with his UK counterpart. The Guardian reports at least 300 British nationals are currently in Pakistan and seeking assistance for repatriation. A spokesman for the IMF said Friday that it was reviewing Pakistan’s application for an additional $1.4 billion in lending. [AP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Political Response: On Friday, PM Khan announced plans to form a “Corona Tigers Relief Force” for youth volunteers, which he said would assist in coronavirus relief efforts by delivering food and other necessities to homebound individuals. Registration for the group began on Sunday. The PML-N has announced plans for a coronavirus relief fund to provide financial assistance to the poor; after meeting with doctors on Saturday, PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif called for COVID patients to be isolated in special quarantine facilities separate from major hospitals. In remarks on Friday, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman endorsed calls to limit prayer gatherings. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Provincial Response: On Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar announced a Rs 10 billion assistance package, on top of a federal assistance package unveiled last week; the program calls for the distribution of Rs 4000 to approximately 2.5 million low-income families. Punjab has also waived Rs 18 billion in provincial taxes. On Friday, Buzdar ordered limited operating hours for grocery shops and general stores. The Punjab government has issued an ordinance allowing for compulsory testing and bans on public gatherings. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah noted on Friday that at least 10% of Sindh’s COVID cases appear to have originated through community transmission, although the majority have been reported from returning pilgrims from Iran. On Saturday, Murad ordered the establishment of 14 additional critical care units across the province, and on Sunday he reviewed plans to distribute food rations to daily wage workers. At least 35 prayer leaders in Sindh and five in Punjab were reportedly arrested for violating restrictions on congregational gatherings. On Saturday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa government also announced an additional Rs 11.4 billion stimulus package; government officials tell the Express Tribune they are considering redirecting money from the Annual Development Program to support the coronavirus response. On Friday, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal called for the use of the National Logistics Cell and Pakistan Railways to ensure continued food supply throughout the country. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]  [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Balochistan Times Editor Missing in Sweden [Balochistan Times] [AJE] [Dawn]
  • 11 New Polio Cases Reported [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • SAFRON Minister Calls for Additional UNCHR Assistance for Afghan Refugee Camps [Dawn]
  • Finance Ministry Asserts Control Over Debt Policy Coordination Office [ET]
  • Commentary: Pakistan Teeters on the Edge of Potential Disaster with the Coronavirus – “What Pakistan needs now is for Khan to back a lockdown wholeheartedly, including shutting down mosques, rather than hope for a miracle.” [Madiha Afzal, Brookings]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Sunday, Sec. Pompeo welcomed the appointment of “an inclusive negotiating team” by Pres. Ghani earlier last week, and also applauded the “commitment to begin releasing prisoners and your commendable effort to set conditions for peace and reconciliation”; he added a call “to show the same commitment to the effort to form an inclusive government”. Earlier on Friday, Amb. Khalilzad also welcomed the appointment of the negotiating team. On Saturday, a spokesman for the Taliban said it would not hold talks with the new negotiating team, saying that the government is “against the peace agreement between the Taliban and the U.S.” and that “in order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides”. Abdullah Abdullah has not yet publicly endorsed the new negotiating team; a spokesman for Pres. Ghani dismissed the Taliban objections at a press conference on Sunday, and said that the team’s membership was final. Another Ghani spokesman said on Saturday that the government was working to establish a High Reconciliation Council to “define the authorities” of the negotiating team. The Taliban have themselves identified a delegation — Ariana News reports ten members, TOLO reports fifteen — ten-member delegation, which was reportedly set to visit Kabul over the weekend to discuss planned prisoner releases; a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council suggested on Saturday that the exact date for talks had not been finalized. In a statement on Monday, the NSC said that those talks would be held, but that the planned release on Tuesday of a hundred prisoners authorized by Pres. Ghani last week would be delayed. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Ariana News] [Khabarnama] [Khabarnama]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • UN Security Council Condemns ISIS Attack on Sikh Temple [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Tax Revenues Decline in First Quarter [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Coronavirus Situation in Afghanistan – “Given the country’s generally weak infrastructure, variable health coverage – particularly in rural areas – relatively late and patchy preventive measures and a partly reluctant public, fears are that the virus might spread more extensively.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sindh and Balochistan Restrict Mosque Gatherings; Ghani Orders Non-Taliban Prisoner Releases

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  • A Thursday meeting of Pakistan’s National Coordination Committee on the COVID-19 coronavirus response endorsed the continuation of “lockdown” orders across the country but stopped short of mandating a ban on mosque gatherings; the Sindh and Balochistan provincial governments, however, have ordered such restrictions.
  • Following an earlier order allowing the release of approximately 100 Taliban prisoners on March 31, a spokesman for Pres. Ghani said he had approved the release of approximately 10,000 non-Taliban prisoners as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Ghani has reportedly ordered a new curfew in Kabul city on Friday, but details are limited as of this writing.
  • On Thursday, Abdullah Abdullah called for further mediation efforts to resolve his standoff with Pres. Ghani over the outcome of the presidential elections; spokesmen for Abdullah have reacted cautiously to the announcement by the Ministry of State for Peace of a new negotiating team for intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban.

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Friday, Pakistani health officials reported 1197 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and nine deaths. PM Khan chaired a meeting of the National Coordination Committee on Pakistan’s coronavirus response, which despite Khan’s earlier cautions against “lockdown” policies, endorsed their continuation around the country and extended the closure of schools nationwide through May 31. The meeting did not approve the mandatory closure of mosques, but Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said that congregants over 50 were being advised not to attend community prayers. The Sindh provincial government, however, has barred the public from attending mosques or other religious sites; Balochistan followed that action later on Thursday night. Reuters interviews the leaders of the Edhi Foundation, which lacks protective gear for its ambulance staff, relying only on raincoats. PM Khan inaugurated a new Chinese-funded hospital facility in Islamabad on Thursday; National Disaster Management Authority officials say a Chinese walkthrough coronavirus testing machine will be delivered next week. Pakistan International Airlines has cancelled plans for limited repatriation flights to the UK and Canada. Foreign Minister Qureshi spoke with his Italian counterpart on Thursday; the foreign ministry reiterated calls for debt relief for poorer countries; Pakistan is facing $2.3 billion in debt repayments in the next three months. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Provincial Responses: The Sindh High Court has ordered the release on bail of more than 800 prisoners held for minor crimes in order to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread in prison facilities. The Sindh provincial government has ordered the release of Rs 600 million in funds for low-income families, and has registered approximately 3,000 volunteers to support its response efforts. A group of approximately 600 pilgrims being held at the quarantine center in Dera Ghazi Khan were released to their homes on Thursday. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Economic Stabilization Efforts: The PTI government will distribute a lump sum Rs 12,000 payment over the next four months through its Ehsaas program for low-income families. The Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet approved an additional Rs 5 billion for the NDMA, among other projects. The State Bank of Pakistan announced additional lending options and reduced capital requirements for banks in an effort to expand lending. On Thursday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari called on the government to renegotiate the terms of its agreement with the IMF. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • NAB Files New Charges Against Former Prime Minister Abbasi [Dawn]
  • Two Security Personnel Killed in Attack Near Kech [AP] [ET]
  • Supreme Court Postpones Hearings in Judge Isa Case [Dawn]
  • Drop in Oil Demands Closes Pakistan’s National Refinery [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: A bombing on Thursday targeted a funeral gathering for victims of Wednesday’s attack on the Sikh temple in Kabul; no casualties were reported. The Islamic State released photos of one of the attackers. An Afghan army helicopter crash landed in the Takhar provincial capital of Taloqan on Thursday; no casualties were reported, however. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Prisoner Releases: On Thursday, the Afghan government authorized the release of at least 10,000 prisoners, including those “with serious health problems, women, children, [and] the elderly above 55 years” in order to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spread; Taliban prisoners are excluded from the new release order. [WAPO] [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Peace Talks: Representatives for Abdullah Abdullah tell TOLO that a delegation announced by the State Ministry for Peace on Wednesday to participate in future intra-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban is “not a final list, but we are working to create a comprehensive delegation that will be released with further consultation”. TOLO profiles some members of the delegation, which is headed by former NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai. [Reuters]
  • Political Standoff: In remarks on Wednesday, Abdullah Abdullah called for the formation of a group of three to five “national prominent figures” to mediate his dispute with Pres. Ghani over the outcome of the presidential elections. [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Commentary: An Ailing America Must Not Abandon Afghanistan – “The government has now agreed to release prisoners. The Taliban should agree to a cease-fire and both sides should start intra-Afghan talks as quickly as possible in whatever format is feasible.” [Barnett Rubin, FP]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PM Khan Reiterates Concerns Over Curfews; Afghan Govt to Release Some Taliban Prisoners

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Topline

  • PM Khan participated in a teleconference meeting of parliamentary party leaders on Wednesday, repeating warnings of the economic consequences of a nationwide curfew. After making his remarks, Khan did not participate in conversations with opposition party leaders, prompting them to walk out of the meeting. Pakistan is seeking at least $3.6 billion in lending from the IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank to cushion the impact of the pandemic on the economy. As of Thursday, Pakistan reported 1057 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
  • Taliban and Afghan government representatives held a second teleconference meeting on Wednesday; the Taliban said afterwards that the government had agreed to begin limited prisoner releases starting March 31. The Afghan National Security Council said that it would begin with the release of 100 prisoners on humanitarian grounds. Pres. Ghani has also reportedly appointed a 20-person group to participate in future intra-Afghan talks.
  • As of Wednesday, the Afghan government reported 84 confirmed coronavirus cases.

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Thursday, Pakistan reported 1057 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and eight deaths. In remarks on Wednesday while participating in a teleconference of parliamentary party leaders, PM Khan reiterated warnings against the impact of a nationwide lockdown, and called for reassessments of the provincial orders to do so. Khan said that he was “ready to get an input” from all parties, including the opposition, but he left the teleconference after making his opening remarks, leading to a subsequent walkout by the leaders of the PML-N and PPP. PM Khan will chair a meeting of the national coordination committee on coronavirus on Thursday. While overall flight restrictions remain in place, some limited flights are continuing for repatriations, and to connect to the towns of Gilgit and Skardu. China has requested an opening of the Khunjerab Pass border crossing to allow the shipment of medical assistance from Xinjiang; China donated half a million N-95 face masks to Pakistan on Wednesday. The NYT overviews Pakistan’s coronavirus response to date. Rs 7.89 billion was allocated to the National Disaster Management Authority on Wednesday to supplement response efforts. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Provincial Responses: Punjab police have arrested more than a thousand people for violations of lockdown controls and rules against hoarding. Over 400 people have also been arrested across Sindh. Islamabad hospital outpatient departments have been closed to focus on COVID response and emergency services. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah approved plans to purchase additional ventilators, testing materials, and protective equipment at a meeting on Wednesday. Sindh Governor Imran Ismail met with religious leaders on Wednesday to seek their support for health advisories and restrictions on community prayers. Khyber Paktunkhwa has announced plans to hire 1,300 additional doctors to help with the COVID response. The Balochistan provincial apex committee met on Wednesday and ordered further movement restrictions in parts of the province and an expanded testing effort for returned pilgrims at the Taftan border crossing. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Assistance Package: At a press conference on Wednesday, finance advisor Hafeez Shaikh provided some additional details on the stimulus and assistance package approved by the government earlier this week, expressing concerns that the worldwide pandemic would lead to drops in Pakistan’s remittance income and exports. Shaikh said that Pakistan was seeking another $1.4 billion in lending from the IMF, as well as $2.25 billion from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The rupee fell to a record low of 166 against the dollar in trading on Thursday. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Nawaz Likely to Undergo Heart Procedure Next Week [ET]
  • Government Unhappy with Islamabad High Court Bail Order [ET] [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government and Taliban Agree to Limited Prisoner Release: On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Taliban announced that, following a second round of teleconference talks with Afghan government representatives, the government had agreed to “start the process of releasing the prisoners on March 31”. Ambassador Khalilzad confirmed the move, and described it as a “positive development”. The Afghan National Security Council said that it had agreed to release 100 prisoners on humanitarian grounds, and that “to carry out these further discussions, a Taliban team will meet with the government face-to-face in Afghanistan in the coming days”. On Wednesday, the Afghan government announced a list of 20 representatives to take part in intra-Afghan negotiations. [Pajhwok] [TOLO]
  • US Aid Cut: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Abdullah Abdullah said that Sec. Pompeo “did not come to Afghanistan for mediation,” but said that “Pompeo told us that if the political tensions end, [the US] will continue to offer assistance and support to Afghan government”. Abdullah said that he was “ready for talks to end the political crisis in the country,” and “a continuation of the political struggle would not benefit the people of Afghanistan”. During a parliamentary session on Wednesday, legislators criticized Abdullah and Ghani for their ongoing standoff. [Ariana News] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: The NYT reports on the outbreak in Afghanistan, which has grown as Afghan nationals have returned from Iran. As of Wednesday, the Ministry of Public Health reported 84 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The government has imposed movement restrictions in Herat and other western cities in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. The Pentagon ordered a 60-day freeze on overseas troop movements on Wednesday, but exempted the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan from the order. [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PTI Government Announces COVID Aid Package; ISIS Attacks Sikh Temple in Kabul

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Topline

  • In remarks to reporters on Tuesday, PM Khan again expressed concerns over the economic costs of imposing a full nationwide curfew to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, saying such a measure would only be taken as a “last option”. Khan announced a Rs 1.13 trillion stimulus and assistance package on Tuesday, although details on some of its implementation provisions have yet to be released. The State Bank of Pakistan also cut its interest rate further, to 11%. Officials halted domestic flights effective from Thursday, but have yet to impose uniform restrictions on prayer gatherings at mosques. Major political party leaders, with the exception of the PTI, met by teleconference on Tuesday to discuss calls for a joint national strategy. Pakistan reported at least 991 confirmed COVID cases as of Wednesday, and six deaths.
  • The Islamic State attacked a Sikh temple in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 25 people in a multi-hour siege.
  • U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Scott Miller held a teleconference with Afghan security forces commanders on Tuesday after the announcement of an impending $1 billion cut to U.S. assistance to the Afghan government and security forces; he reiterated support for the security services, and said that “we know we’ll work through the political difficulties”.
  • On Tuesday, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported 32 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in Herat, bringing the national total to 74. On Wednesday, the government ordered a freeze on movement and limits on public activities in Herat, Farah, and Zaranj cities.

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • British Diplomat Found Dead at Home; COVID Ruled Out [ET]
  • Government Approves Pay Raise for FIA Staff [The Nation]
  • Officials Considering Force Majeure Renegotiation of LNG Import Agreement [ET] [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Sikh Temple in Kabul Attacked: At least 25 people have been killed after as many as four gunmen attacked a Sikh temple in Kabul on Wednesday, leading to a multi-hour gun battle with Afghan security forces before the attackers were killed. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack; it previously carried out an attack against the Sikh minority community in Jalalabad in 2018. [NYT] [WAPO] [AP] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: In remarks on Wednesday, Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid said that Afghan security forces had been ordered to shift to an “active defense” posture, and “from now on we should think on attacking the nests and hideouts of the enemies, taking the initiative … and leaving nowhere safe for the enemies to hide”. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • US Aid Cut: U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Scott Miller held a video conference with Afghan security forces commanders on Tuesday after the earlier announcement by Sec. Pompeo of an impending $1 billion assistance cut to the Afghan government. Miller was quoted reiterating support for the Afghan security forces, saying that “we know we’ll work through the political difficulties and we’ll be something that the Afghan people can be proud of as well as our own nations”. Miller also said that “if the Taliban escalate violence and they have, they know they’ll get a response. For our part, the Taliban explicitly know and agree that we have the right to defend not only ourselves, but our Afghan security force partners.” Afghan government officials express concerns to the NYT about the impact of the aid cut. [WSJ] [Ariana News] [Khabarnama] [Khaama Press]
  • New UNAMA Representative: Following the departure of UN Special Representative Tadamichi Yamamoto at the conclusion of his tenure, UN Secretary General Guterres announced the appointment of Ambassador Deborah Lyons of Canada as the new UNAMA special representative; she previously served as Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2013-2016.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Nine Taliban Prisoners Freed in Wardak [Khabarnama]
  • U.S. Calls for Investigation Into Attack on Maidan Shar Mayor [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pompeo Slashes Assistance As Political Deadlock Persists; Army Deploys for COVID Response

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Topline

  • Following meetings with Pres. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah on Monday, Sec. Pompeo left Kabul without an agreement, and in a statement criticized both leaders, saying that the U.S. was “disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests”. Pompeo announced that the U.S. would cut aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion this year and another $1 billion in 2021, although he held out the option for reviewing this decision “should Afghan leaders choose to form an inclusive government that can provide security and participate in the peace process”. In a speech afterwards, Ghani sought to downplay the impact of the cuts; in a statement on Tuesday, Abdullah said Pompeo’s visit had been a “lost opportunity”.
  • Following his Kabul visit, Pompeo also stopped in Qatar and met with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar; he told reporters afterwards that the Taliban had “largely” met their commitments thus far under the U.S.-Taliban agreement, and that “it’s time to sit down at the table and begin to have these hard conversations that have been put off for too long.”
  • Pakistani soldiers have begun deploying to assist in the enforcement of “lockdown” curfew orders around the country as part of efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. On Monday, Punjab extended its lockdown period from an initially announced three day period to two weeks. The PTI government is working to development an assistance package, which may be announced later today. As of Tuesday, Pakistan reported 887 confirmed COVID cases.

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Tuesday, Pakistan’s number of COVID-19 cases has risen to 887 confirmed cases, and six deaths. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa ordered the deployment of army troops on Monday to assist in enforcing “lockdown” orders around the country. Governmet spokeswoman Firdous Ashiq Awan said that PM Khan “had allowed” the provinces to enforce the lockdowns, which he had previously cautioned against. On Monday, Khan gave approval to an increase in assistance payments through the Benazir Income Support Program, and Rs 200 billion in assistance for exporters; an overall aid package of Rs 1.16 trillion, or 2.7% of GDP, is reportedly under consideration, with an announcement expected Tuesday. The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has begun sending automated text message alerts to individuals who may have come into contact with other coronavirus cases, as determined by cell phone tracing. Pakistan Railways has suspended all passenger train services throughout the country through the end of the month. The Supreme Court has refused to suspend court proceedings. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Provincial Response: On Monday, Punjab officials extended a lockdown order initially set for only three days for a two-week period, although Chief Minister Usman Buzdar sought to avoid describing the action as a lockdown or curfew. Islamabad city officials are tracing an outbreak cluster to a Tableegh-e-Jamaat gathering that was held earlier in March. On Monday, Lahore police ordered a ban on all religious gatherings. Sindh has suspended all intra and inter-city public transport in the province following the imposition of a lockdown order on Monday. On Tuesday, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah announced plans to further distribute rations to the poor. Sindh education minister Saeed Ghani tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. The Khyber Paktunkhwa government ordered a public holiday from March 24-28 in an effort to limit public activities. The government in Azad Jammu and Kashmir ordered a three-week lockdown beginning Monday. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Political Response: Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif called for national unity in support of Pakistan’s coronavirus response, saying that “we need to highlight things that the government is doing wrong and we need to appreciate the government if they’re taking the correct steps”; on Monday, Shehbaz spoke with the heads of several political parties to discuss proposals for an all-parties videoconference. PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also spoke with other party leaders about an all-parties conference plan. The first meeting of a parliamentary committee on the coronavirus response is expected to take place Wednesday. [The Nation]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Afghan special operations forces in Balkh say they repelled Taliban attacks on checkposts in several districts on Tuesday, and claim to have killed more than two dozen. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Pompeo Announces Aid Cuts After Failing to Break Impasse: Sec. Pompeo met with Pres. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Monday but failed to broker an end to the standoff between the two leaders over the presidential election results. In a statement afterwards, Pompeo said that the U.S. was “disappointed in [Ghani and Abdullah] and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests”, and announced a “review of the scope of our cooperation with Afghanistan”, and an immediate reduction of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan by $1 billion this year, with another $1 billion reduction under consideration for 2021. The statement did not specify whether military assistance and support to the Afghan security forces would be part of that reduction, although total non-military appropriations for Afghanistan was only approximately $500 million as of Fiscal Year 2019. The statement added that “we have made clear to the leadership that we will not back security operations that are politically motivated, nor support political leaders who order such operations or those who advocate for or support parallel government.” The statement left open the option for reversing these decisions “should Afghan leaders choose to form an inclusive government that can provide security and participate in the peace process”, and also pledged $15 million in assistance for Afghanistan’s COVID-19 response. In a speech after Pompeo’s departure, Pres. Ghani downplayed the impact of the move, insisting that “the reduction of the U.S. assistance would not have a direct impact on the system”; he said that Abdullah was seeking an unconstitutional power-sharing structure and that his offers of a role for Abdullah in the peace process had been declined. In a statement on Tuesday, Abdullah said that Pompeo’s visit had been a “lost opportunity”. [AP] [Khaama Press]
  • Pompeo Meets Baradar: Following his visit to Kabul, Pompeo made a stopover in Qatar and met with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Pompeo told reporters afterwards that the Taliban “committed to reducing violence” in its agreement with the United States in February and “they have largely done that, and then they are working towards delivering their team to the ultimate negotiations”. He added that “people want to try to gain advantage as they enter into these negotiations and we completely understand that. But it’s time to sit down at the table and begin to have these hard conversations that have been put off for too long.”

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with PM Modi on Tuesday to discuss cooperation in the COVID response. At a press conference on Tuesday, Afghan ministry of public health officials warned that more than 100,000 Afghans could be killed in a widespread COVID-19 pandemic, and could reach 80% of the country’s population. Health officials have repeated calls for a lockdown on public activity in Herat, where most cases have been reported so far. Authorities in Balkh opened a new hospital facility focused on coronavirus treatment on Tuesday. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Commentary: What Has Happened Since the Reduction in Violence Ended? – “The sharp drop in violent incidents during the Reduction in Violent was clear-cut. What has happened since is less certain.” [AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Provinces Impose Lockdowns as COVID Cases Rise; Pompeo Visits Kabul for Ghani-Abdullah Talks

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Topline

  • Despite comments from PM Khan on Friday and Sunday expressing concerns over the economic impacts of a broad “lockdown” on movement within Pakistan, officials in Sindh announced a 15-day lockdown period beginning Sunday to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and provincial officials in Punjab, Khyber Paktunkhwa, Balochistan, and Gilgit-Baltistan have all announced more limited lockdowns. On Monday, Khan approved requests from the provinces to allow the deployment of military personnel to assist in enforcing the curfews. Pakistan’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen to 803 as of Monday, including five deaths. Pakistan suspended all international flights to the country for a two-week period beginning on Sunday.
  • On Sunday, U.S. and Qatari officials facilitated a video teleconference between Afghan government and Taliban representatives to discuss stalled proposals for Taliban prisoner releases; a spokesman for the Taliban said that talks would continue Tuesday. Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib said that they had “emphasized the importance of a reduction in violence, direct negotiations, and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire”, although the Taliban insisted that only prisoners had been discussed. Multiple attacks were reported around the country over the weekend, including an attack in Kabul by unidentified gunmen on the mayor of Maidan Shah, Zarifa Gharifa, who survived unharmed.
  • On Monday, Sec. Pompeo arrived in Kabul for talks with Pres. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, in an apparent effort to broker a resolution to the standoff between the two sides following the announcement of presidential election results last month.
  • Shehbaz Sharif return to Pakistan on Sunday ahead of the international flight ban, after a four-month period of quasi-exile in London.
  • On Sunday, the MQM announced that it would rejoin the federal cabinet; Dawn reports that the PTI has pledged to provide additional development funds for Karachi and Hyderabad, and to appoint a third cabinet ministry to the party.
  • As of Sunday, Afghanistan reported 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including at least two unidentified foreign diplomats; one death has been confirmed to date. On Monday, a spokesman for the ministry of public health called for a lockdown in Herat city; Pres. Ghani spoke with Herat officials on Sunday evening and ordered special compensation for healthcare workers working on the COVID response effort.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Shehbaz Returns to Pakistan: Shehbaz Sharif returned to Pakistan on Sunday after a four-month period in London; he announced afterwards that he would self-quarantine. Prior to his departure, Shehbaz called for a “lockdown” response to contain the COVID-19 pandemic; on Sunday, he offered the Sharif Group’s hospital network to serve as quarantine centers. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM Rejoins Cabinet: On Sunday, following a meeting with Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, the MQM announced that it would rejoin the federal cabinet; Dawn reports that the party has received pledges of additional development funds for Karachi and Hyderabad, and a third cabinet ministry. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: In an interview with reporters on Friday, PM Khan expressed hope that Pakistan could manage a response to the coronavirus, suggesting that Pakistan’s climate might reduce the spread, although there is no scientific consensus to that effect. Khan suggested that Pakistan could not afford a nationwide mandatory lockdown, saying that “we don’t want that we try to save people from corona but they end up dying due to hunger and poverty.” In a national address on Sunday, Khan reiterated that point but said that “if you have symptoms, self-quarantine yourself.” The provincial governments of Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan have all requested the deployment of the armed forces to assist in their responses and the enforcement of lockdown orders, which PM Khan approved on Monday. In a statement on Sunday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa called for Pakistanis to “be responsible citizens at an individual level first and in turn assist authorities for safety and protection at a collective level”; Bajwa chaired a special corps commanders meeting on Sunday. As of Monday, Pakistan reported 803 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and at least five deaths; Reuters profiles Pakistan’s first confirmed victim of the coronavirus. On Saturday, the government suspended all international flights for a two-week period; on Sunday, officials said that they would undertake efforts to repatriate Pakistani nationals stranded at international airports. The Chaman border crossing with Afghanistan was opened for a two-day period on Saturday for trade goods shipments, but individuals remain barred from crossing. Members of the Young Doctors’ Association in Multan have gone on strike, protesting the lack of personal protective equipment; Dawn reports an acute shortage of ventilators in Punjab amid a global shortfall. [WAPO] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Provinces Order Lockdowns: On Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar ordered a three-day lockdown across the province, with exceptions for some essential businesses. Islamabad city officials have imposed a ban on all mosque activities. Prisoners were released from the Rawalpindi jail on Saturday to reduce the spread of the virus. In an address on Sunday evening following PM Khan’s earlier address, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah announced that he would impose a mandatory lockdown across the province for a 15-day period, with limited exemptions for essential personnel and services; Shah had appealed earlier for a voluntary three-day isolation period on Friday. Sindh has formed an emergency fund to collect donations for its response. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government suspended public transit between districts for a seven-day period, beginning Monday, and imposed a two-day lockdown on Sunday. The Balochistan government also limited intra-provincial travel on Friday, and ordered a lockdown in Quetta on Sunday. The Express Tribune reports that Khyber Paktunkhwa police lack protective equipment. Gilgit-Baltistan has also announced the imposition of an indefinite lockdown, beginning Monday; a doctor in Gilgit died from the virus on Sunday. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Political Response: The PML-N and PPP have agreed to join a joint parliamentary committee on the COVID outbreak; Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani nominated 15 senators for the committee on Sunday. On Saturday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari called for a multi-party conference on the COVID response; on Sunday, PML-N spokeswoman Marriyum Aurganzeb called on the PTI government to “make necessary arrangements prior to lock[ing] down the whole country”. On Monday, government spokeswoman Firdous Ashiq Awan said that the government “had not ruled out the option” of a nationwide lockdown. [Dawn]
  • International Coordination: The Nation reports that a U.S. diplomat arriving at the Islamabad airport on Sunday was found to have COVID symptoms, but was transferred to the U.S. embassy rather than being hospitalized. A group of 75 embassy staffers departed Islamabad on Sunday. Foreign Minister Qureshi and PM Khan reiterated calls for international debt forgiveness for development countries in order to assist in the COVID response, and for international sanctions on Iran to be lifted. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Day Commemorated with Messages of Unity in Face of Coronavirus Threat [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Government Considering Stimulus Plan to Offset COVID Impacts on Economy [ET]
  • 65 Senior Bureaucrats Promoted [Dawn]
  • Punjab in Dispute with Central Government Over Revenue-Sharing [ET]
  • World Bank Evaluation Criticizes Pakistan Budget Support Loan [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: On Sunday, Amb. Khalilzad announced that Afghan government and Taliban representatives had held a two-hour Skype call facilitated by the U.S. and Qatar to discuss Taliban prisoner releases as part of efforts to restart the peace process; Khalilzad said that “everyone clearly understands the coronavirus threat makes prisoner releases that much more urgent,” and that “all sides conveyed their strong commitment to a reduction of violence, intra-Afghan negotiations, and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire”. A Taliban spokesman insisted that the discussion had focused solely on prisoner releases, and said that further talks would be held on Tuesday; National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib said that “all sides emphasized the importance of a reduction in violence, direct negotiations, and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire”. Pres. Ghani chaired a meeting on Sunday evening to review plans for prisoner releases. [TOLO] [Khabarnama]
  • Pompeo Visits Kabul: On Monday, Sec. Pompeo arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit on Monday, where he is reportedly focused on attempting to broker an end to the standoff between Pres. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah over the results of the September 2019 presidential elections. A spokesman for Ghani said that he and Pompeo “had conversations about the peace process, next steps in the process, regional consensus for Afghanistan peace, security situation and ongoing political issues”. Reuters reports that the three leaders may meet together later on Monday. A spokesman for former mujahedeen leader Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf tells TOLO that he is seeking to mediate the political standoff between Ghani and Abdullah. [WAPO] [Ariana News]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Sunday, Afghan health officials reported 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 16 of them new cases since Friday; Afghanistan is currently conducting approximately 100 tests per day. Two of the confirmed cases are reportedly foreign diplomats, although no further information has been released. A man suspected of suffering from the virus died in Herat on Sunday, which would be Afghanistan’s first COVID-related death if confirmed. At least two members of parliament are reportedly under evaluation as possible cases. On Monday, a spokesman for the ministry of public health called for a lockdown in Herat city; Pres. Ghani spoke with Herat officials on Sunday evening and ordered special compensation for healthcare workers working on the COVID response effort. On Friday, the U.S. military Central Command ordered a stop movement order for its forces, including those in Afghanistan, and ordered a 14-day quarantine for any troops slated for deployment in the area. Approximately 90% of international flights to Afghan have been halted as a result of controls imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority reports. Afghanistan has pledged a $1 million donation to the SAARC COVID-19 emergency fund. China has pledged to donate two ventilators and 20,000 test kits for Afghanistan. Public Nowruz celebrations were cancelled in Mazar-e-Sharif last week. [WAPO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khabarnama] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • As U.S. Troops Leave Afghanistan, Diplomats Are Left to Fill an Uncertain Mission [NYT]