Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Contractors Withdrawing, Leaving Air Force Support Uncertain; Khan Departs for Saudi Arabia

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Topline

  • Secretary of Defense Austin told reporters on Thursday the withdrawal of all contractor supporting the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan is underway. The NYT reports that Afghan ground commanders are continuing to appeal for U.S. air support; anonymous U.S. officials say that current rules of engagement for airstrikes are “extremely restrictive”. Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Milley said that “the intent is to provide [the Afghan security forces] “with continued support”, but “we haven’t figured that out 100% yet”, and that follow-on support contracts for the Afghan air force would be determined by security conditions on the ground.
  • Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Jeddah on Friday to discuss “the regional security situation including developments in the Afghan peace process”, according to the Pakistani military’s readout. PM Khan will depart for a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday.
  • The TTP claimed responsibility for attacks near the Afghan border in Khyber Paktunkhwa and Balochistan earlier this week.
  • As of Friday, Pakistan reports 850,131 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 12.1 million tests, with at least 18,677 associated deaths.
  • As of Friday, Afghanistan reports 61,755 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 417,283 tests, with at least 2,683 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • TTP Claims Border Attacks: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility on Thursday for separate attacks in Khyber Paktunkhwa and Balochistan earlier this week targeting Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border. Separately, at a meeting on Wednesday, Balochistan home minister Mir Ziaullah Langove reviewed work on the construction of fencing along the Afghan border.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Saudi Visits: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Jeddah on Friday to discuss “the regional security situation including developments in the Afghan peace process”, according to the Pakistani military’s readout. PM Khan will depart for a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday. [The Nation]
  • Diplomats Object to PM’s Criticism: Anonymous foreign ministry officials tell the Express Tribune that criticism by PM Khan of embassy staff has “demoralized the entire foreign service”; several former diplomats and opposition party members pushed back on Khan’s remarks, which had noted allegations of bribe-taking and “indifferent attitude and unnecessary delays in routine services” for Pakistani expatriates. Separately on Thursday, PM Khan announced a new grant fund to support funeral services for expatriates. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif has petitioned the Lahore High Court to be allowed to travel outside the country for medical treatment. Thirteen new judges were appointed to the Lahore High Court on Thursday, with swearing-in ceremonies scheduled for Friday. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser formed a five-member committee of federal cabinet ministers to reach out to opposition lawmakers on the PTI government’s proposals for electoral reforms. The PPP and PML-N rejected the formation of the committee. Shehbaz Sharif met separately with the ambassadors of China and the UK on Thursday. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Friday, Pakistan reports 850,131 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 12.1 million tests, with at least 18,677 associated deaths. [ET]
  • IMF Talks: Following remarks by Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen this week suggesting that Pakistan would not meet benchmarks for increasing electricity tariffs and taxes, a spokesman for the IMF said that the Fund was “ready to discuss” Pakistan’s lending agreement. On Thursday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reiterated criticism of the PTI government’s negotiations of the IMF agreement.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Punjab Police Prepares Crackdown on TLP Funders [Dawn]
  • Student Killed in Quetta Police Shooting [ET] [Dawn]
  • Fiscal Deficit Increases to 3.6% of GDP [Dawn]
  • Chinese Firm Awarded $355M Tarbela Dam Project [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Withdrawal: In remarks at a press conference on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Austin said that the withdrawal of all contractor supporting the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan was also underway; as of April, there were approximately 17,000 Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan. The NYT reports that Afghan ground commanders are continuing to appeal for U.S. air support; the US has deployed a dozen additional F-18 to provide force protection for U.S. forces. Anonymous U.S. officials say that current rules of engagement for airstrikes are “extremely restrictive”. Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Milley said that “the intent is to provide [the Afghan security forces] “with continued support”, but “we haven’t figured that out 100% yet”, and that follow-on support contracts for the Afghan air force would be determined by security conditions on the ground. Speaking separately at a meeting of EU defense ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that “the drawdown of NATO troops and the end of the Resolute Support Mission is not the end to our partnership with Afghanistan”. In a joint statement on Friday, the special envoys for Afghanistan of the EU, France, Germany, Italy, NATO, Norway, the UK, and US reaffirmed their support for the Afghan security forces and their opposition to “the establishment in Afghanistan of any government by force which would constitute a threat to regional stability”. [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Attacks and Operations: A NYT tally for the week of April 30- May 6 reports that at least 139 government security personnel and 44 civilians were killed in attacks around the country, the highest single-week death toll since last October. Several electricity pylons were destroyed in the Kalakan district in Kabul early Friday morning, cutting power to northern portions of the city. Taliban fighters have seized control of the Dahla Dam in Kandahar’s Arghandab district, the country’s second-largest dam facility. Military officials in Baghlan say they are pushing back a Taliban offensive in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district and around the outskirts of the provincial capital. [TOLO] [KabulNow]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Members of the High Council for National Reconciliation tell TOLO that the Taliban have conveyed through meetings with Amb. Khalilzad that they “in principle have no problem with participating” in a UN-led conference on Afghanistan in Turkey, but have called for a “preliminary meeting” to be held first.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Delegation Visits International Criminal Court [TOLO]
  • Report: Women’s Access to Health Care in Afghanistan – “This decline in [international donor] funding has already had a harmful—and life-threatening—impact on the lives of many Afghan women and girls, as it affects access to, and quality of, health care.” [HRW]
  • Commentary: Defending or Abandoning Afghan Women is a False Choice – “Washington and its allies still have tools at their disposal to help Afghan women defend their rights and to ensure that the state and security forces that Afghan women depend on remain intact.” [Rina Amiri, Foreign Affairs]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban and NDS Warn Journalists Over Coverage; Tareen Suggests Renegotiation of IMF Terms

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Topline

  • In a statement on Wednesday, the Taliban warned journalists who give “one-sided news in support of Afghanistan’s intelligence” service to stop or “face the consequences.” The remarks follow reports from a Ghazni lawmaker that in a meeting with Wolesi Jirga members NDS chief Ahmad Zia Seraj had warned of legal consequences for media outlets carrying “terrorist propaganda”.
  • Anonymous U.S. military sources tell VOA that U.S. forces are “actively carrying out airstrikes” against Taliban forces carrying out attacks in Helmand province, where the Taliban have carried out an offensive on the provincial capital over the past week.
  • In remarks at a press conference on Wednesday, Pakistani finance minister Shaukat Tareen insisted that the government was not seeking to exit its lending agreement with the IMF, but also said that Pakistan could not increase tariff or taxes at the rates previously agreed to with the Fund; Tareen said that “if the IMF sticks to any point then we have other alternates”, without elaborating.
  • The PML-N candidate won the PP-84 Khushab by-elections on Wednesday, according to unofficial results. The PML-N, PTI, MQM, and PSP are boycotting the recount of the NA-249 constituency results, accusing polling officers of failing to provide results forms and alleging that ballot bag seals had been broken prior to the recount.
  • As of Thursday, Pakistan reports 845,833 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 12.056 million tests, with at least 18,537 associated deaths.
  • As of Thursday, Afghanistan reports 61,455 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 414,983 tests, with at least 2,673 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Waziristan Operations: Three Pakistani soldiers, including an army captain, were killed in an operation in the North Waziristan district on Wednesday, the Pakistani military reported; two unidentified militant suspects were also reported to have been killed. [Dawn]
  • TLP Ban: The ministry of interior has nominated a three-member committee to consider the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s challenge to the government’s ban on the group last month.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections: The PML-N candidate won the PP-84 Khushab by-elections on Wednesday, according to unofficial results, beating the PTI runner-up by a margin of approximately 10,000 votes. Separately on Thursday, the PML-N, PTI, MQM, and PSP announced that they were boycotting the recount of the NA-249 constituency results, accusing polling officers of failing to provide results forms and alleging that ballot bag seals had been broken prior to the recount. PML-N runner-up candidate Miftah Ismail has petitioned the Election Commission to halt the recount process. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Election Commission committee scrutinizing PTI overseas fundraising continues to restrict complainant Akbar Babar’s lawyers from using computers to aid their independent review of the PTI’s financial documents. The Supreme Court has set hearings for May 17 on a challenge by former Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui against his removal from office in 2018. [Dawn]
  • Gulf Diplomacy: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met with Saudi military officials on Wednesday, who “assured full cooperation and support from [Saudi Arabia] in all initiatives aimed at improving regional cooperation, peace and stability”, according to a Pakistani military spokesman. In a teleconference meeting on Wednesday with Pakistani ambassadors, PM Khan raised concerns over embassy officers showing “indifferent attitudes” towards Pakistani expatriates, saying that “embassies’ foremost work is to service the diaspora”; the outgoing Pakistani ambassador to Saudi Arabia and several staffer were recalled last month following misconduct complaints. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The formation of senate committees continues to be delayed by disputes within the divided opposition over seat distributions. PM Khan inaugurated a new housing project in Raiwind on Thursday.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Thursday, Pakistan reports 845,833 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 12.056 million tests, with at least 18,537 associated deaths. The Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial governments are planning to enforce lockdowns on public activities during the Eid holidays from May 8-15. Balochistan Awami Party leaders have called on the government to ease restrictions on market activities to reduce crowding during open periods. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ordered the government to fix pricing for oxygen supplies used for coronavirus treatment. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • IMF Talks: In remarks at a press conference on Wednesday, finance minister Shaukat Tareen insisted that the government was not seeking to exit its lending agreement with the IMF, but also said that Pakistan could not increase tariff or taxes at the rates previously agreed to with the Fund; Tareen said that “if the IMF sticks to any point then we have other alternates”, without elaborating.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Islamabad High Court Seeks Indian Lawyer for Accused Spy Jadhav [Dawn] [ET]
  • Trade Deficit Widens Further to $23.83 Billion [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Threats to Journalists: In a statement on Wednesday, the Taliban warned journalists who give “one-sided news in support of Afghanistan’s intelligence” service to stop or “face the consequences.” The remarks follow reports from a Ghazni lawmaker that in a meeting with Wolesi Jirga members NDS chief Ahmad Zia Seraj had warned of legal consequences for media outlets carrying “terrorist propaganda”. The NDS said that Seraj’s comments had been misinterpreted and that “disclosure and distortion of the contents of secret meetings to the public is unacceptable”. On Thursday, a former TOLO News anchor who had recently joined the ministry of finance’s press department was killed in a shooting in Kandahar city; no claim of responsibility was reported. [AP] [Khabarnama]
  • US Withdrawal: NATO forces have transferred control of a military base in Mazar-e-Sharif to the Afghan National Army.
  • Attacks and Operations: Anonymous U.S. military sources tell the VOA that U.S. forces are “actively carrying out airstrikes” against Taliban forces carrying out attacks in Helmand province, where the Taliban have carried out an offensive on the provincial capital over the past week. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to provide details but said that “to the degree we can, as we transition out, we’re going to continue to try to support Afghan national security forces in the field”. Taliban fighters have reportedly seized control of a security checkpost inside Ghazni city in fighting over Wednesday night. The Taliban are also reported to have seized two bases in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district in Baghlan in overnight fighting. Five soldiers were killed in an overnight attack on a security checkpost outside the Logar provincial capital of Pul-e-Alam. Four civilians were wounded in a magnetic bomb attack in Kunduz city on Thursday morning. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Wednesday, the G7 group’s foreign ministers called for a resumption of peace talks in Doha and “for a significant reduction in violence as a pathway to a comprehensive ceasefire”. High Council for National Reconciliation deputy head Haji Din Mohammad tells TOLO that he expects the UN-mediated conference in Turkey to be held in late May or early June, and says that US and Taliban officials are still in talks. In remarks at a ceremony in Kabul on Wednesday, Ahmad Massoud, the son of the late mujahadeen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, called on the Taliban to “seize the current opportunity to end the war” and warned that “in case the parties see a military solution as the way out for Afghanistan, then we will also make our own military preparations within the structure of the mujahideen”. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghans Fleeing Home are Filling the Lowliest Jobs in Istanbul [NYT]
  • ADB Pledges $1M for Agricultural Projects in Kabul [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Army Chief Travels to Saudi Arabia; US Intelligence Expects Rollback of Women’s Rights

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Topline

  • Chief of Army Staff Bajwa traveled to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for meetings with Saudi civilian and military leaders, ahead of a trip by PM Khan scheduled for later this week.
  • A recently declassified U.S. National Intelligence Council assessment from last month concludes that the Taliban “remains broadly consistent in its restrictive approach to women’s rights and would roll back much of the past two decades of progress if the group regains national power”; the assessment also judges that “progress probably owes more to external pressure than domestic support, suggesting it would be at risk after coalition withdrawal, even without Taliban efforts to reverse it”.
  • Four paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in a clash while working on a fencing project for the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Balochistan’s Zhob district on Wednesday.
  • In a statement on Tuesday, the U.S. embassy said that in his meetings with Afghan political leaders, Amb. Khalilzad had “emphasized that there was strong consensus within both the regional and international community against any effort by the Taliban to pursue a military takeover. Only a negotiated settlement can end over 40 years of war in Afghanistan”.
  • As of Wednesday, Pakistan reports 841,636 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 12.01 million tests, with at least 18,429 associated deaths.
  • As of Wednesday, Afghanistan reports 61,162 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 412,798 tests, with at least 2,664 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Four Soldiers Killed in Afghan Border Attack: Four paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers were killed and six wounded in a clash near the border between Balochistan’s Zhob district and Afghanistan’s Paktika province on Wednesday; the soldiers were reportedly working on a border fencing project, which has caused clashes between Afghan and Pakistani border forces in the past. The Pakistani military did not attribute responsibility for the attack beyond identifying the assailants as “terrorists from Afghanistan”. [Dawn]
  • Bajaur Bombing: Two Pakistani soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in the Bajaur district on Tuesday evening.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Bajwa Visits Saudi Arabia: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa traveled to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for meetings with Saudi civilian and military leaders; his visit precedes a trip by PM Khan scheduled for later this week. [Dawn]
  • Elections: In remarks on Tuesday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari welcomed the “new precedent” set by the PML-N’s recount request for the NA-249 by-election, suggesting his party would seek broader recounts in other elections dating back to 2018. By-elections are underway as of this writing for the PP-84 Khushab constituency on Wednesday. At a federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday, PM Khan approved proposals for two ordinances to introduce electronic voting machines and overseas absentee balloting. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Judicial Commission of Pakistan has rejected nominees for five Peshawar High Court vacancies, postponing the issue until next month. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Cabinet Forms Committee to Address IPP Payments [Dawn]
  • CPEC Authority Chairman Suggests Shift in Focus to Agriculture [ET] [The Nation]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Approximately a thousand families have reportedly fled their homes following a Taliban offensive on the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. On Wednesday, Afghan military forces withdrew from the Burka district in Baghlan province after clashes with Taliban forces; Taliban fighters also attacked a checkpost in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district, on Tuesday, killing nine security personnel. The district police chief for Paktika’s Sar Rawza district was killed in a roadside bombing on Tuesday evening. One person was killed in a bombing in Kabul on Wednesday that targeted a bus carrying healthcare workers. [Reuters] [Ariana News] [TOLO] [TOLO] [KabulNow]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Tuesday, the U.S. embassy said that in his meetings with Afghan political leaders, Amb. Khalilzad had “emphasized that there was strong consensus within both the regional and international community against any effort by the Taliban to pursue a military takeover. Only a negotiated settlement can end over 40 years of war in Afghanistan”. Khalilzad traveled to Tajikistan on Tuesday, where he met with Pres. Emomali Rahmon to discuss the Afghan peace process.
  • Threats to Afghan Women: A U.S. National Intelligence Council assessment from last month, declassified at the request of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has concluded that the Taliban “remains broadly consistent in its restrictive approach to women’s rights and would roll back much of the past two decades of progress if the group regains national power”; the assessment also judges that “progress probably owes more to external pressure than domestic support, suggesting it would be at risk after coalition withdrawal, even without Taliban efforts to reverse it”.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Germany Cancels Migrant Repatriation Flight [Khabarnama]
  • Taliban Collecting Electricity Tariffs in Contested Provinces [TOLO]
  • Ghani Criticizes Government Agencies’ Low Budget Execution [Ariana News] [KabulNow]
  • Commentary: Don’t Expect an Al Qaeda Reboot in Afghanistan – “Although al-Qaida has fighters in Afghanistan, its ability to launch international terrorist attacks from there and from Pakistan, where the core organization has been based for almost 20 years, is limited.” [Daniel Byman, Brookings]
  • Commentary: Leaving Afghanistan Will Make America Less Safe – “When America left Beirut in 1983, Mogadishu a decade later, and Iraq in 2011, the result was more terrorism, not less.” [Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware, WOTR]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Khalilzad Meets with Ghani and Abdullah; ECP Orders NA-249 Recount

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Topline

  • Amb. Khalilzad met separately with Pres. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Monday; a spokesman for Ghani said that he had “stressed the need to update the peace process with new realities”. In remarks at a press conference in London on Monday, Secretary of State Blinken reiterated that “we intend to be very active diplomatically in terms of trying to advance negotiations in a political settlement”, even as U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan.
  • In remarks at a press briefing on Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that “small harassing attacks” on U.S. forces in Afghanistan over the weekend “have not had any significant impact, certainly not on our people or our resources there”.
  • On Tuesday, the Election Commission accepted PML-N candidate Miftah Ismail’s application for a recount of the results of last week’s NA-249 Karachi by-election; the recount is due to be completed by Thursday.
  • PM Khan chaired a meeting on Monday in response to a resolution by the European Parliament calling for a review of Pakistan’s GSP+ trading status; the government has reportedly “decided not to compromise on the country’s blasphemy law” but also plans to “introduce new legislation with regard to various aspects of human rights in line with its agreements” with the EU.
  • Pakistan’s foreign ministry accused Indian forces of violating the Line of Control in Kashmir near Sialkot on Monday, and firing guns and mortars across the border at a Pakistani checkpost.
  • In remarks on Monday, finance minister Shaukat Tareen said that IMF proposals for an increase in electricity tariffs were “unjustified”, and suggested that he may seek to renegotiate the existing lending agreement with the Fund.
  • As of Tuesday, Pakistan reports 837,523 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 11.965 million tests, with at least 18,310 associated deaths.
  • As of Tuesday, Afghanistan reports 60,563 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 410,805 tests, with at least 2,648 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: In a statement on Monday, the Pakistani foreign ministry accused Indian forces of violating the Line of Control in Kashmir near Sialkot, and firing guns and mortars across the border at a Pakistani checkpost. No casualties were reported; it is the first major incident to be reported on the Pakistani side since the two countries renewed their ceasefire agreement in February. [ET]
  • Balochistan Bombing: Two paramilitary Levies soldiers were killed and two injured in a roadside bombing in the Awaran district in Balochistan on Monday evening.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • NA-249 Recount Ordered: On Tuesday, the Election Commission accepted PML-N candidate Miftah Ismail’s application for a recount of the results of last week’s NA-249 Karachi by-election; the recount is due to be completed by Thursday. [ET]
  • Blasphemy Law: PM Khan chaired a meeting on Monday in response to a resolution by the European Parliament calling for a review of Pakistan’s GSP+ trading status in response to Pakistan’s blasphemy law and its use for the persecution of minorities. The Express Tribune reports that the government has “decided not to compromise on the country’s blasphemy law” but also that it plans to “introduce new legislation with regard to various aspects of human rights in line with its agreements” with the EU, without providing further details. Khan later met with a group of ambassadors from member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to discuss “ways to combat Islamaphobia and promote inter-faith harmony”. [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Disputes continue between PTI lawyers and complainant Akbar Babar over efforts to view PTI financial documents submitted to the Election Commission as part of an investigation into alleged improper overseas fundraising by the party. On Monday, a Lahore accountability court accepted the closure of two National Accountability Bureau cases against PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking at a press conference on Monday, advisor to the prime minister Babar Awan reiterated the government’s intentions to amend the 2017 Elections Act in order to enable the use of electronic voting machines and allow expatriate Pakistanis to cast absentee ballots, among other changes. Speaking at a separate press conference, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the “the most important and fundamental aspect for stopping rigging in elections … is the role of the establishment in elections.” [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Tuesday, Pakistan reports 837,523 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 11.965 million tests, with at least 18,310 associated deaths. [Dawn]
  • IMF Agreement: Speaking to the national assembly finance committee on Monday, finance minister Shaukat Tareen said that IMF proposals for an increase in electricity tariffs were “unjustified”, and suggested that he may seek to renegotiate the existing lending agreement with the Fund. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Chinese Ambassador Meets with Army Chief [ET] [Dawn]
  • Two Pro-Government Militia Members Killed in Mohmand District [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Withdrawal: In remarks at a press briefing on Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that “small harassing attacks” on U.S. forces in Afghanistan over the weekend “have not had any significant impact, certainly not on our people or our resources there”. TOLO reports that the US and Taliban have discussed the possibility of reaching an agreement under which the US will complete its withdrawal by the beginning of July, and the Taliban in turn agree to attend the postponed conference in Turkey and reduce violence. The NYT reports on the decommissioning process of the U.S. base at Kandahar airfield. In a resolution on Tuesday, the Wolesi Jirga foreign affairs committee called on the U.S. government to “fulfill its commitments in the security, political, and economic sectors under the Kabul-Washington Security Agreement and the Bilateral Strategic Agreement”, warning of “dire consequences” from an “irresponsible withdrawal”.
  • Attacks and Operations: Helmand sources report that the Taliban launched a multi-pronged offensive on the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Monday, taking over some checkpoints; the ministry of defense claimed to have killed more than a hundred fighters in operations in Helmand on Monday. At least 18 people were wounded, many of them students, in a grenade attack at a school in Farah city on Monday. Nine security personnel were killed in an overnight attack on their checkpost in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district on Monday. [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Amb. Khalilzad met separately with Pres. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Monday; a spokesman for Ghani said that he had “stressed the need to update the peace process with new realities”. In remarks at a press conference in London on Monday, Secretary of State Blinken said that “even as our forces are drawing down and pulling out of Afghanistan, we are not withdrawing, we are not disengaging” and “we intend to be very active diplomatically in terms of trying to advance negotiations in a political settlement between the government of Afghanistan, the Taliban and other key parties”. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Commentary: Afghanistan’s Moment of Risk and Opportunity – “I am focused on achieving the best possible outcome of this long period of conflict: a sovereign, Islamic, democratic, united, neutral, and connected Afghanistan.” [Ashraf Ghani, Foreign Affairs]
  • Commentary: Here’s What Biden Must Do Before We Leave Afghanistan – “As our sources on the ground will soon go dark, the gaps in our intelligence collection and counterterrorism networks must be remedied so we retain the ability to identify and eliminate threats before they reach our shores.” [Michael McCaul and Ryan Crocker, NYT]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Warn of ‘Counteraction’ As US Begins Withdrawal; ECP Withholds Final NA-249 Results

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Topline

  • In a statement on Saturday, the Taliban warned that delays in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan had “opened the way for mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces”, although a Taliban spokesman also said that the group’s leadership had not yet made a decision on how to respond to the U.S. plans to withdraw by September, rather than May 1 as committed to last year by the Trump administration. In a separate statement on Saturday, U.S. commander Gen. Scott Miller said that “we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the [Afghan] security forces”; the US carried out airstrikes in retaliation against indirect rocket attacks against Bagram airbase on Saturday.
  • In a statement following a meeting in Moscow on Friday of envoys from Russia, the United States, China, and Pakistan, the group reiterated calls for a negotiated political settlement. The group also met with representatives of the government and Taliban negotiating teams and Qatar; the statement supported a review of UN sanctions on the Taliban, as sought by the group, and also said that “we expect the Taliban to fulfill its counterterrorism commitments, including preventing terrorist groups and individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country”.
  • On Saturday, the Election Commission of Pakistan withheld the official final vote count from last week’s NA-249 by-election and agreed to hear a petition from PML-N runner-up Miftah Ismail seeking a recount.
  • In a resolution last week, the European Parliament called for a review of the GSP+ trading agreement with Pakistan in light of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and discrimination against religious minorities
  • As of Monday, Pakistan reports 834,146 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 11.928 million tests, with at least 18,149 associated deaths. On Saturday, the government ordered the reduction of inbound international flights by up to 80% through May 20; inbound pedestrian migrants crossing the Iran or Afghan borders will also be restricted. Yaum-e-Ali processions during Ramazan have been banned.
  • As of Monday, Afghanistan reports 60,563 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 408,727 tests, with at least 2,648 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections: PPP and PML-N leaders traded complaints and allegations of misconduct in the NA-249 by-election held last week, which the PPP candidate won by a margin of approximately 500 votes; on Saturday, the Election Commission withheld the official final vote count and agreed to hear a petition from PML-N runner-up Miftah Ismail seeking a recount. Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called for a re-election in the constituency, citing low turnout. On Saturday, PM Khan called for the use of electronic voting machines in future elections; advisor to the prime minister Babar Awan tells the Express Tribune that the government is planning a series of amendments to the electoral law. At a meeting on Saturday, the ECP reportedly advised against the use of electronic voting machines; PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif rejected the proposal in a statement on Sunday. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Europe to Review GSP+ Over Blasphemy Law: In a resolution last week, the European Parliament called for a review of the GSP+ trading agreement with Pakistan in light of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and discrimination against religious minorities; the resolution also expressed. Concern over “anti-French sentiment in Pakistan” following TLP protests against remarks by Pres. Macron last year. Special assistant to the prime minister Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi insisted on Saturday that there would be “no compromise on the blasphemy laws”. [AP] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Former Federal Investigation Agency chief Bashir Memon reversed previous allegations that PM Khan had directed him to pursue investigations against Judge Qazi Faez Isa and his family, telling an interviewer on Saturday that Khan had “just appreciated my professionalism” and had not discussed specific cases with him. Pushing back on Memon’s earlier allegations on Friday, special assistant to the prime minister Shahbaz Gill accused Memon of tax evasion. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: In remarks to reporters at a court appearance on Monday, former PTI leader Jahangir Tareen said that his supporters had had a “good meeting” with PM Khan last week. PM Khan is planning to replace the provincial governor of Balochistan, Amanullah Khan Yasinzai, although no replacement has yet been named. On Monday, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan removed minister for local government Mohammad Saleh Bhootani from the provincial cabinet. Two dissident PPP provincial assembly members met with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar on Sunday. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistani Journalists Group Vows to Fight for Press Freedom [AP]
  • PM Khan to Visit Saudi Arabia May 7-9; Team Formed to Review Complaints Against Former Ambassador [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • China Begins Construction of Pakistan Navy Frigate [The Nation]
  • Target for Reduction in Circular Debt Unlikely to Be Achieved [Dawn]
  • Petroleum Prices Kept Unchanged [Dawn]
  • Hungarian Foreign Minister Visits [The Nation]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Withdrawal: In remarks to reporters on Sunday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley said that the future of the Afghan conflict was “not 100% predictable”, but said that “a responsible end to the conflict in Afghanistan, the best, the optimal way to do this is through a negotiated outcome”. In a statement on Saturday, the Taliban warned that delays in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan had “opened the way for mujahidin to take every counteraction it deems appropriate against the occupying forces”, although a Taliban spokesman also said that the group’s leadership had not yet made a decision on how to respond to the U.S. plans to withdraw by September, rather than May 1 as committed to last year by the Trump administration. Reuters reports that Taliban forces in western Afghanistan provided a “ring of protection” for international military bases under the terms of the Doha agreement signed last February, although attacks against Afghan security personnel intensified over the past year. In a separate statement on Saturday, U.S. commander Gen. Scott Miller said that “we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the [Afghan] security forces”; the US carried out airstrikes in retaliation against indirect rocket attacks against Bagram airbase on Saturday. U.S. forces transferred control of a military base in Helmand, Camp Antonik, to the Afghan National Army on Sunday. Afghan contractors working for U.S. forces express fears of attack in interviews with TOLO. [WAPO] [LAT] [AP] [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: In a statement on Sunday marking the anniversary of the U.S. mission to kill Osama bin Laden, Pres. Biden reiterated that the U.S. “will continue to monitor and disrupt any threat to us that emerges from Afghanistan. And we will work to counter terrorist threats to our homeland and our interests in cooperation with allies and partners around the world.”
  • Attacks and Operations: The Washington Post reports on the proliferation of Taliban road checkpost across the country’s main highways. At least 27 people were killed and dozens wounded in a car bombing near the guesthouse of the former Logar provincial council head in the provincial capital of Pul-e-Alam on Friday; many of the victims were reported to be high school students. Taliban fighters reportedly overran a checkpost on the outskirts of Ghazni city on Saturday, taking as many as twenty soldiers hostage. At least 22 soldiers were reportedly killed in an attack on their base in the Bala Buluk district in Farah over Sunday night. One Afghan soldier was reportedly killed and 24 wounded in an explosion at a mosque adjoining Bagram airbase on Friday evening. Three police officers were killed in an attack in the Zabul provincial capital of Qalat on Saturday evening. A Junbesh-e-Milli-affiliated militia commander was killed in an clash in the Rustaq district of Takhar province on Saturday. An Islamic University professor was killed in a shooting in Kabul city on Saturday evening. At least seven people were killed and 14 injured in a fuel tanker fire in Kabul on Saturday. [Reuters] [AFP] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Ariana News] [Ariana News] [TOLO] [TOLO] [KabulNow]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement following a meeting in Moscow on Friday of envoys from Russia, the United States, China, and Pakistan, the group reiterated calls for a negotiated political settlement. The group also met with representatives of the government and Taliban negotiating teams and Qatar; the statement supported a review of UN sanctions on the Taliban, as sought by the group, and also said that “we expect the Taliban to fulfill its counterterrorism commitments, including preventing terrorist groups and individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country”. The AP interviews Abdullah Abdullah, who suggests that he is “unconvinced” that the Taliban are open to peace; in a VOA interview, Abdullah said that the Taliban continue to be vague in their positions, and that there are no current contacts between the two sides. In a press conference on Saturday, National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib described the Taliban as “slaves of the ISI” and said that they are a “force that is only seeking power”. [WAPO] [Khaama Press] [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghanistan Signs Border Agreement with Iran [Khabarnama]
  • Labor Ministry Launches Work Visa Program with Saudi Arabia and UAE [TOLO]
  • Qala-e-Naw Mayor Leaves Province After Corruption Charges [KabulNow]
  • Kapisa Prosecutor Arrested on Bribery Charges [Khabarnama]
  • Commentary: As US Troops Withdraw, What Next for War and Peace in Afghanistan? – “Now that the US has set its course on unconditional withdrawal, the Taleban have no need to hold back for fear this might influence US decision-making.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PPP Wins Karachi By-Election; German Foreign Minister Visits Kabul

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Topline

  • Provisional results indicate that the PPP candidate won the NA-249 by-election in Karachi on Thursday, by a margin of approximately 500 votes over the runner-up PML-N candidate; a candidate for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan came in third place, and the PTI in fifth.
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Kabul on Thursday, meeting with Pres. Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, and other officials. Maas pledged continued support for Afghanistan even after the withdrawal of German troops, but also warned that “his international aid certainly will not flow if the Taliban were to scrap all the rights and democratic standards that have been established in this country.”
  • On Thursday, Pakistan recalled outgoing Ambassador Raja Ali Ejaz and six other employees at the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh, citing complaints against them from expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia; retired Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar was previously appointed to replace Ejaz, and presented credentials to the Saudi foreign ministry on Thursday.
  • As of Friday, Pakistan reports 820,823 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 11.788 million tests, with at least 17,811 associated deaths. Pakistan expects delivery of approximately 13 million doses of vaccines from three Chinese companies over the next two months, in addition to 2.4 million doses from the international Covax donor alliance. Approximately two million vaccine doses have been administered in Pakistan to date.
  • As of Friday, Afghanistan reports 59,939 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 403,732 tests, with at least 2,631 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PPP Wins Karachi By-Election: Provisional results from the NA-249 by-election in Karachi indicate that PPP candidate Qadir Khan Mandokhail won the contest by a margin of approximately 500 votes over the runner-up PML-N; a candidate for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan came in third place, with the PTI in fifth. PML-N leaders disputed the outcome, calling for an audit of the results, and the PTI accused the Election Commission and Sindh police of vote rigging. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Recalled: On Thursday, Pakistan recalled outgoing Ambassador Raja Ali Ejaz and six other employees at the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh, citing complaints against them from expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia; retired Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar was previously appointed to replace Ejaz, and presented credentials to the Saudi foreign ministry on Thursday. [ET]
  • TLP Crackdown: Following a petition from the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan challenging the interior ministry ban on the group, on Friday Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid formed a committee to consider the petition.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Senator Ali Zafar, who was tasked by PM Khan to review sugar profiteering charges against PTI leader Jahangir Tareen, met separately with a group of Tareen’s supporters and with Federal Investigation Agency officials on Thursday. Election Commission investigators have begun reviewing PTI financial documents as part of an ongoing investigation into the party’s overseas fundraising. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: In remarks to reporters on Thursday, PM Khan denied allegations by former Federal Investigation Agency director general Bashir Memon that he and other officials had pressured the FIA to conduct investigations against Supreme Court judge Qazi Faez Isa. On Friday, Khan visited Gilgit-Baltistan and pledged a five-year, Rs 370 billion development program for the territory. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Gang Suspects Killed in Karachi Police ‘Encounter’ [Dawn]
  • South Korean Ambassador Meets Army Chief [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Withdrawal: A White House spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan was now “formally underway”; defense officials tell CNN around a hundred troops have initially been withdrawn. In a TOLO interview, US charges d’affaires Ross Wilson said that “civil war is not in the interest of any party” and that “we came to the conclusion a number of years ago that just continued fighting was a dead end”. The AP reviews reporting on the costs of the Afghan war since 2001, both financially and in lives.
  • Attacks and Operations: Afghan security officials tell Reuters that more than 120 security personnel and 65 civilians have been killed in attacks across the country over the past two weeks. Herat provincial officials report that an Afghan National Army unit withdrew from a border security base in the Golran district; the Taliban claim to have captured the facility. Unidentified gunmen killed the cousin of a Ghor radio journalist who was killed in an attack earlier this year. Seven family members of an Afghan security officer were killed in an attack in the Khinjan district in Baghlan on Thursday evening. Heavy fighting is ongoing in several Kandahar districts. [KabulNow] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • German Foreign Minister Visits: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Kabul on Thursday, meeting with Pres. Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, and other officials. Maas pledged continued support for Afghanistan even after the withdrawal of German troops, but also warned that “his international aid certainly will not flow if the Taliban were to scrap all the rights and democratic standards that have been established in this country.” Germany will officially end its local training mission on Friday and shift to withdrawal; approximately 1,100 German troops are currently deployed in the country. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan Border Dispute Casts Shadow Over US Departure [NYT]
  • Mapping the Afghan War, While Murky, Points to Taliban Gains [AP]
  • Report: SIGAR Quarterly Report to Congress – “The basic risk facing the current and any potential post-peace Afghan government is whether future foreign assistance levels during this uncertain period will be sufficient to prevent its collapse.” [SIGAR (pdf)]
  • Commentary: The Once and Future Afghanistan – “U.S. forces are in Afghanistan to ensure that its soil is never again used to stage an attack on the United States. We are not ending a war; we are leaving the battle space to our adversaries.” [Ryan Crocker, CEIP]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Propose Direct Talks with Some Afghan Leaders; TLP Seeks Reversal of Ban

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Topline

  • The Taliban have sent letters to Abdullah Abdullah, former Pres. Karzai, and other Afghan political leaders calling for direct talks; a spokesman for Abdullah insisted that “the republic side is unified and no efforts have been successful in creating discord on the republic side”. Pres. Ghani also met with Karzai, Abdullah, Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf, and others in a meeting on Tuesday evening to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. forces, prospects for a revived UN conference in Turkey, and other issues.
  • The Russian foreign ministry will host a meeting on Friday of representatives from the US, China, and Pakistan. US Secretary of Defense Austin spoke by phone with Gen. Bajwa on Wednesday to discuss the Afghan peace process and regional stability and security. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Islamabad on Thursday for meetings with Foreign Minister Qureshi to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
  • On Thursday, representatives for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan petitioned the interior ministry to reverse the ban imposed on the group earlier this month.
  • At a meeting on Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Judicial Council reportedly decided not to proceed further with investigations into the assets of Judge Qazi Faez Isa’s wife Sarina Isa.
  • As of Thursday, Pakistan reports 815,711 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 11.739 million tests, with at least 17,680 associated deaths.
  • As of Thursday, Afghanistan reports 59,745 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 401,964 tests, with at least 2,625 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Austin Speaks with Bajwa: US Secretary of Defense Austin spoke by phone with Gen. Bajwa on Wednesday to discuss the Afghan peace process and regional stability and security, the Pentagon announced; no details were reported. Separately, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Islamabad on Thursday for meetings with Foreign Minister Qureshi to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and other issues; Qureshi visited Germany earlier this month. [Dawn]
  • TLP Crackdown: On Thursday, representatives for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan petitioned the interior ministry to reverse the ban imposed on the group earlier this month after nationwide protests following the arrest of leader Saad Rizvi.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: At a meeting on Wednesday, Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition leaders reportedly agreed to delay anti-government protest plans until after the announcement of the next fiscal year’s annual budget in June. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Regional Diplomacy: PM Khan will visit Saudi Arabia during the second week of May, the Express Tribune reports. On Wednesday, Khan welcomed reports of Saudi outreach to Iran.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: At a meeting on Wednesday, the Supreme Judicial Council reportedly decided not to proceed further with the findings of a Federal Board of Revenue investigation into the assets of Judge Qazi Faez Isa’s wife Sarina Isa. At a press conference on Wednesday, Law Minister Farogh Naseem and special assistant Shehzad Akbar denied allegations by former Federal Investigation Agency chief Bashir Memon that they had pressured investigators for charges against Isa. PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif called for an independent investigation into the issue. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Media Controls: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued guidance to television channels on Wednesday ordering them to report on official meetings, including cabinet meetings, only on the basis of official reports and not “informal sources”. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Voting is underway as of this writing in the NA-249 Karachi by-election; the constituency was vacated following PTI minister Faisal Vawda’s election as a senator. PTI lawmaker Farrukh Habib was appointed minister of state for information on Wednesday. PM Khan visited Quetta on Wednesday to inaugurate several new roady projects. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Policeman Killed in Balochistan Bombing [Dawn]
  • Finance Minister Defers Decision on Payments to Power Producers and LNG Subsidy for Exporters [Dawn]
  • ADB Projects 2% GDP Growth in Current Year [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Withdrawal: In an address to Congress on Wednesday evening, Pres. Biden reiterated his commitment to “ending the forever war in Afghanistan”, but said that “we will maintain an over—the—horizon capability to suppress future threats to the homeland.” The US military has deployed a HIMARS mobile rocket system to Afghanistan to provide additional force protection for withdrawing American troops. Gen. Haibatullah Alizai, the head of the Afghan National Army’s Special Operations Command, told reporters on Wednesday that the Afghan security forces were “fully prepared to crush any hostile move” by the Taliban following U.S. withdrawal. [Khabarnama] [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: Four employees of the Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat electricity utility and two civilian bystanders were injured in a roadside bombing in Jalalabad on Thursday; no claim of responsibility was reported. [TOLO] [Khabarnama]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: The Taliban have sent letters to Abdullah Abdullah, former Pres. Karzai, and other Afghan political leaders calling for direct talks; a spokesman for Abdullah insisted that “the republic side is unified and no efforts have been successful in creating discord on the republic side”. Pres. Ghani also met with Karzai, Abdullah, Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf, and others in a meeting on Tuesday evening to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. forces, prospects for a revived UN conference in Turkey, and other issues. On Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry announced that it would host a meeting on Friday of representatives from the US, China, and Pakistan to discuss the Afghan peace process. [AP] [Ariana News] [Khabarnama]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Pardons 500 Inmates in Herat Prison [KabulNow]
  • ADB Projects 3% GDP Growth for Afghanistan in 2021 [Ariana News]
  • Report: How Afghanistan’s President Helped His Brother Secure Lucrative Mining Deals with a U.S. Contractor – “In 2019 SOS International (SOSi), a Virginia company with links to the U.S. military, won exclusive access to mines across Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani’s brother is a major shareholder of a SOSi subsidiary.” [OCCRP]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Khalilzad Expresses Hope for Continuation of Talks; Imran Meets with Tareen Group

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Topline

  • Testifying before the SFRC on Tuesday, Amb. Khalilzad expressed hope for the continuation of negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government, saying that continued war would be “senseless”. In a CNN interview on Tuesday, Secretary Blinken said that civil war or a Taliban takeover were “possible scenarios” but “no one has an interest in renewed civil war in Afghanistan” On Tuesday, the State Department ordered government employees serving at the Kabul embassy to leave the country if their work can be performed remotely; the department declined to specify how many staff would be withdrawn.
  • PM Khan met with a group of lawmakers backing estranged PTI leader Jahangir Tareen on Tuesday; senator Syed Ali Zafar has reportedly been tasked with conducting a parallel review of Tareen’s complaints regarding the charges against him. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry insisted that the prime minister had committed not to influence the ongoing FIA investigation against Tareen; anonymous FIA sources tell Dawn that the removal of FIA Lahore director Muhammad Rizwan earlier this week has halted the case.
  • As of Wednesday, Pakistan reports 810,231 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 11.682 million tests, with at least 17,530 associated deaths. Planning Minister Umar announced Wednesday that Pakistan had administered 2.1 million coronavirus vaccine doses so far, with over 117,000 administered on Tuesday.
  • As of Wednesday, Afghanistan reports 59,576 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 400,412 tests, with at least 2,618 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PM Meets with Tareen Group: PM Khan met with a group of lawmakers backing estranged PTI leader Jahangir Tareen on Tuesday; national assembly member Raja Riaz said afterwards that Khan was “personally monitoring the case and assured us that he would not allow injustice to be done with anyone”. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry insisted that the prime minister had committed not to influence the ongoing Federal Investigation Agency investigation against Tareen on sugar profiteering charges; senator Syed Ali Zafar has been tasked with conducting a parallel review of Tareen’s complaints regarding the charges against him. The Nation reports Khan rejected a demand for a new judicial commission on the issue. Anonymous FIA sources tell Dawn that the removal of FIA Lahore director Muhammad Rizwan earlier this week has halted further investigations in the case. [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Supreme Judicial Council is expected to begin hearings on Wednesday on a complaint filed by the PTI government against Sindh High Court Justice K. K. Agha, who was accused of failing to disclose the value of overseas properties. Law Minister Farogh Naseem disputed allegations by former FIA Director General Bashir Memon that Memon had been pressured by the government to initiate a parallel case against Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa. The National Accountability Bureau has sought arrest warrants for Nawaz Sharif, and filed additional charges on Tuesday against former Pres. Zardari. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: In remarks on Tuesday, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz criticized the PTI government for “making a decision on Kashmir while keeping it secret with the people, especially Kashmiris, and the parliament”. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Chaman-Spin Boldak Border Crossing Reopened After Clash [Dawn]
  • Japan and Pakistan Agree on Debt Deferral [ET]
  • Fiscal Deficit Reaches 3.5% in First Eight Months of Fiscal Year [Dawn]
  • Saudi Arabia Expected to Resume Oil Supply on Deferred Payment [ET]
  • Cabinet Considers Proposals to Split PIA [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Withdrawal: Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Amb. Khalilzad expressed hope for the continuation of negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government, saying that continued war would be “senseless”. SFRC Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) warned that “I don’t believe under any circumstances that the United States Senate will support assistance for Afghanistan… if the Taliban has taken a governing role that ends civil society advances and rolls back women’s rights”. In a CNN interview on Tuesday, Secretary Blinken said that civil war or a Taliban takeover were “possible scenarios” but “no one has an interest in renewed civil war in Afghanistan”; Blinken also insisted that “we’re remaining deeply engaged in the diplomacy in support for the Afghan government and its people”. Khalilzad also said that the U.S. was “helping to find replacements” for withdrawing American contractors to assist the Afghan government. On Tuesday, the State Department ordered government employees serving at the Kabul embassy to leave the country if their work can be performed remotely; the department declined to specify how many staff would be withdrawn. The NYT notes concerns over the cohesion and ability of the Afghan national security forces to hold off a Taliban offensive. [CNN] [Ariana News] [Khalilzad Prepared Testimony (pdf)]
  • Attacks and Operations: TOLO reports that the former provincial head of the NDS in Takhar has formed a new militia unit in the province. At a press conference on Tuesday, NDS chief Ahmad Zia Saraj claimed that the government had detained at least 408 Islamic State-affiliated foreign fighters, of whom 299 are Pakistani nationals, and called on Pakistan to transfer custody of Taliban leaders in exchange. [Khaama Press] [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Faryab Governor Dispute: On Wednesday, Pres. Ghani appointed former Faryab governor Naqibullah Fayeq as a member of the senate, after previously removing him and replacing him with governor Mohammad Dawood, whose appointment Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum has objected to.

Afghanistan— Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Pardons Imprisoned Women with Children [Khabarnama]
  • Commentary: Leaving Afghanistan Will Be More Expensive Than Anyone Expects – “If Congress is expecting a windfall of savings to result from the Afghanistan withdrawal, it is likely to be disappointed.” [Mackenzie Eaglen, Foreign Policy]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Investigator Replaced Ahead of Meeting with Tareen Group; Rangers Deploy for Force Protection

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Topline

  • On Monday, the PTI government replaced the head of the FIA team investigating allegations of sugar profiteering, who had led investigations against PTI leader Jahangir Tareen. PM Khan will meet with a group of PTI lawmakers supporting Tareen on Tuesday.
  • CNN reports that a unit of approximately 650 troops from the 75th Ranger Regiment will deploy to Afghanistan to provide additional force security and close air support for withdrawing U.S. forces.
  • Ambassador Khalilzad is scheduled to testify at a SFRC hearing on Tuesday, where lawmakers plan to raise concerns over the risks facing Afghan women following a U.S. withdrawal.
  • As of Tuesday, Pakistan reports 804,939 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 11.632 million tests, with at least 17,329 associated deaths. At a press conference on Monday, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman said that the army had deployed troops to sixteen major cities across the country to assist in the enforcement of health protocols.
  • As of Tuesday, Afghanistan reports 59,370 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 398,533 tests, with at least 2,611 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tareen Factional Disputes: On Monday, the PTI government replaced the head of the Federal Investigation Agency team investigating allegations of sugar profiteering, Muhammad Rizwan, who had led investigations against PTI leader Jahangir Tareen. PM Khan will meet with a group of PTI lawmakers supporting Tareen on Tuesday; Tareen himself will not participate in the meeting.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Tuesday, PML-N leader Javed Latif was arrested after being denied bail on charges that he had made “anti-state remarks” during a media appearance last month. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman announced plans for a “mass contact drive” by the Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition after Eid. Dawn profiles the NA-249 Karachi constituency, where by-elections will be held on April 29; the Express Tribune interviews former finance minister Miftah Ismail, the PML-N candidate. PM Khan visited Multan on Monday to inaugurate a South Punjab civil secretariat, where he defended his government’s approach to “tackle Islamophobia”, in contrast to TLP protests. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Saudi Minister for Media Invites Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry to Visit [Dawn]
  • TLP Activists Freed from Haripur Jail [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Withdrawal: A unit of approximately 650 troops from the 75th Ranger Regiment will deploy to Afghanistan to provide additional force security and close air support for withdrawing U.S. forces. CNN interviews Congressional Democrats, who express cautious support for the Biden administration’s withdrawal plans, with several describing it as the “least bad” option. Ambassador Khalilzad is scheduled to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday, where lawmakers plan to raise concerns over the risks facing Afghan women following a U.S. withdrawal. [WSJ]
  • Attacks and Operations: Five security personnel were reportedly killed in separate attacks in Uruzgan and Kandahar on Monday. Five people, including a former Taliban fighter, were killed in an attack on a guesthouse in the Lalpur district in Nangarhar over Tuesday evening. [Khaama Press] [KabulNow] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Pakistani diplomatic officials visiting Kabul on Monday “assured that” the Taliban would participate in a future peace conference in Turkey, Afghan special envoy to Pakistan Umer Daudzai tells TOLO, who said that Pakistan had pledged to “work with all their resources to convince the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire”. [Khabarnama]
  • Faryab Protests: Demonstrations were held in four districts in Faryab province on Monday to protest the appointment of Mohamamd Dawood as the new provincial governor last week; Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum has opposed Dawood’s appointment.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Islamic State Degraded in Afghanistan But Still Poses Threat [AP] [Khabarnama]
  • MPs Object to Continued ‘Acting’ Ministers [TOLO]
  • Karzai Meets Iranian Ambassador [Khabarnama]
  • Commentary: The Taliban Seek a Negotiated Path to Power; Will it Work? – “The farthest the Taliban will go in terms of concessions is a hybrid political system, mixing some elements of the Islamic Republic with others from the Emirate.” [Antonio Giustozzi, RUSI]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: US Forces Begin Withdrawal Process; Qureshi Denies Reports of India-Pakistan Talks

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  • Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, US and NATO commander Gen. Austin Miller said that U.S. military forces in Afghanistan had official begun their withdrawal from the country. An aircraft carrier, Army Ranger unit, and B-52 bombers based in the Mideast will reportedly be temporarily deployed to provide force protection for the withdrawing U.S. forces. Ariana News reports that the Kandahar airport and three other bases will be transferred to Afghan forces within the next two weeks. The AP reports CIA director William Burns made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan last week for meetings reportedly focused on the transition of U.S. intelligence forces and CIA-backed paramilitaries to the NDS.
  • In an interview with Turkish television on Friday, Foreign Minister Qureshi denied previous reports that India and Pakistan had held secret talks facilitated by the UAE; Qureshi suggested that Pakistan remained open to talks, but that India must create a “conducive environment” by rolling backs controls in Indian Kashmir.
  • In a joint statement following a trilateral meeting in Istanbul on Friday, the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey voiced an “urgent need for an immediate ceasefire” in Afghanistan, and “called on all parties, in particular the Taliban to reaffirm their commitment for achieving an inclusive negotiated settlement leading to lasting peace in Afghanistan”. On Sunday, a Pakistani delegation headed by special envoy Mohammad Sadiq arrived in Kabul for further talks.
  • JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman has called a meeting of the Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition coalition for April 29. PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz claimed that the PTI faction affiliated with Jahangir Tareen was “in contact” with the party; supporters of Tareen met with Punjab governor Chaudhry Sarwar on Friday.
  • As of Monday, Pakistan reports 800,452 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 11.588 million tests, with at least 17,187 associated deaths. On Sunday the interior ministry formally sought the assistance of the military to enforce health protocols across the country; the Sindh provincial government declined to participate. Sindh closed all educational institutions and placed a ban on inter-city transit within the province on Monday.
  • As of Sunday, the most recent day for which figures are available as of this writing, Afghanistan reports 59,015 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 395,395 tests, with at least 2,592 associated deaths.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: In an interview with Turkish television on Friday, Foreign Minister Qureshi denied previous reports that India and Pakistan had held secret talks facilitated by the UAE; Qureshi suggested that Pakistan remained open to talks, but that India must create a “conducive environment” by rolling backs controls in Indian Kashmir. Anonymous Pakistani security officials tell Dawn that India had reached out to Pakistan through the UAE backchannel in December 2020, and argue that while Pakistan is not changing its stance, “we cannot remain at loggerheads forever”. [AFP]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tareen Faction Meets Punjab Governor: Supporters of estranged PTI leader Jahangir Tareen met with Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar on Friday to discuss their objections to the investigations against him; Sarwar was quoted describing Tareen as an “asset of the party” and pledging that “justice would be ensured”. [The Nation]
  • Opposition Politics: Following talks with PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman has called a meeting of the Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition coalition for April 29. PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz claimed that the PTI faction affiliated with Jahangir Tareen was “in contact” with the party, and that “the selectors pressured these people to join the PTI but now they want to jump ship.” Maryam cancelled a planned campaign visit to Karachi, citing rising coronavirus cases. Separately, on Sunday PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari called on PM Khan to resign, citing rising inflation. [Dawn] [ET]
  • TLP Dispute: Opposition lawmakers in the national assembly have opposed a PTI government proposal to form a special committee to consider the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s demands for the expulsion of the French ambassador, calling for debate in the full assembly instead. [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Monday, a Supreme Court bench agreed to hear a review petition from Judge Qazi Faez Isa challenging the court’s June 2020 order for an investigation into his family’s assets. On Friday, an Islamabad accountability court ordered district officials to auction off assets seized from Nawaz Sharif by the National Accountability Bureau within sixty days. The NAB has sought details from the petroleum ministry on the negotiation of a new liquefied natural gas purchase agreement from Qatar in 2020. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Subnational Governance: The federal ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan has reportedly curtailed the powers of the government of Gilgit-Baltistan, centralizing control over development projects. The Punjab provincial government has revived the patwar land registry system. Lawmakers in the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly called for the reinstatement of paramilitary Levies personnel in the former Provincially Administered Tribal Areas.
  • Other Political Activity: PM Khan visited Multan on Monday to launch a new registration program for farmers receiving government benefits. On Sunday, Khan marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the PTI.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Government Supporters Killed in Turbat [Dawn]
  • Local Journalist Killed in Quetta [Dawn]
  • Lt Gen. Bilal Akbar Assumes Position as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia [The Nation]
  • Circular Debt Expected to Exceed Rs 1.1 Trillion by End of FY 2023 [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Withdrawal: Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, US and NATO commander Gen. Austin Miller said that U.S. military forces in Afghanistan had official begun their withdrawal from the country. The WSJ reports that the White House has approved the temporary deployment of an aircraft carrier, an Army Ranger unit, and B-52 bombers based in the Mideast to provide force protection for the withdrawing U.S. forces. Miller said that “wherever possible” the US would transfer surplus materiel and bases over to the Afghan security forces, and that some support contracts “will have to be adjusted” to allow their continuation in support of the security forces. Ariana News reports that the Kandahar airport, Camp Shorabak in Helmand, Camp Eggers in Kabul, and a combat outpost in Wardak would all be transferred to Afghan forces within the next two weeks. CIA director William Burns made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan last week, the AP reports, for meetings reportedly focused on the transition of U.S. intelligence forces and CIA-backed paramilitaries to the NDS. The heads of the Afghan ministries of defense and interior, the NDS intelligence agency, and National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib held a press conference on Saturday reiterating that the security services are prepared for the withdrawal of international forces. [Reuters] [CNN] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: At least two civilians and four security personnel were killed in separate shootings in Kabul between Friday and Saturday evenings. Four civilians were killed in a roadside bombg in the Arghandab district in Kandahar on Friday afternoon; three civilians were killed in a separate bombing in Ghazni city on Saturday. Three Afghan soldiers were killed in a bombing in the Logar provincial capital of Pul-e-Alam on Saturday; seven security personnel were killed in an ambush near the Mes Aynak copper mine in Logar on Sunday. The district police chief for the Wazakhawa district in Paktika was killed in fighting over Sunday evening. Elsewhere, a Kandahar police special forces commander was killed in a roadside bombing in the Maiwand district. Provincial council sources in Wardak report that a dozen civilians were killed in separate mortar and airstrikes in the Sayed Abad and Jalrez districts. On Sunday, the ministry of interior accused the Taliban of killing at least 63 civilians in attacks around the country over the preceding ten days. On Monday, a rocket struck the Kunar provincial governor’s compound during a ceremony, wounding at least sixteen children. [Khaama Press] [KabulNow] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]
  • Border Tensions with Pakistan: Afghan and Pakistani border guards clashed at the Spin Boldak border crossing in Kandahar on Sunday morning, leaving at least one Afghan government employee wounded and closing the border to crossings.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a joint statement following a trilateral meeting in Istanbul on Friday, the foreign ministers of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey voiced an “urgent need for an immediate ceasefire” in Afghanistan, and “called on all parties, in particular the Taliban to reaffirm their commitment for achieving an inclusive negotiated settlement leading to lasting peace in Afghanistan”. On Sunday, a Pakistani delegation headed by special envoy Mohammad Sadiq arrived in Kabul for further talks. On Sunday, Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai claimed that additional Taliban prisoners would be released “soon” and Taliban leaders would be removed from the UN-managed blacklist; he did not elaborate. [Ariana News] [TOLO] [KabulNow]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • COVID Crisis: As of Sunday, the most recent day for which figures are available as of this writing, Afghanistan reports 59,015 confirmed COVID-19 cases, out of 395,395 tests, with at least 2,592 associated deaths. In remarks on Sunday, China’s ambassador to Afghanistan said that 400,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine would be delivered to Afghanistan “in the near future”. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • US Withdrawal Plans Raise Fears for Fate of Captured American Contractor [WAPO]
  • Dostum Supporters Object to Appointment of New Faryab Governor [Khabarnama]
  • Iranian Forces Kill Three Militants Near Balochistan-Afghanistan Border [AP]
  • New National Security Council Appointments Announced [Khabarnama]
  • Oil and Gas Director Sentenced on Corruption Charges [Khabarnama]
  • Report: Biannual Pentagon Report to Congress on Afghanistan – “In November 2020, at the President’s direction, the Acting Secretary of Defense announced a further reduction of U.S. military personnel deployed to Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by January 15, 2021. To meet this directive, RS has closed or transferred four primarily U.S.-led bases while maintaining 11 bases positioned throughout Afghanistan.” [DOD (pdf)]