Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Summoned in Reopened Corruption Investigations; US Soldier Killed in Achin Operation

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Topline

  • The National Accountability Bureau has summoned former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his sons to give statements on Friday as it begins investigations into reopened corruption charges against the family. PML-N senator Sardar Yaqoob Khan will reportedly take over as the official party president, in what sources describe as an “interim” role.
  • Pres. Trump, VP Pence, and top national security aides will meet at Camp David on Friday to review strategy proposals for the U.S. in Afghanistan and the region, the White House said Wednesday. A U.S. servicemember was killed and several others wounded in a joint operation with Afghan forces targeting the Islamic State in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Wednesday; no further details were released.
  • Kulsoom Nawaz did not appear in person before the Election Commission to respond to challenges to her candidacy, traveling instead to London on Thursday. Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir-ul Qadri led a sit-in protest in Lahore on Wednesday, warning that the Sharif brothers “will be hanged” for their alleged role in 2014 clashes between PAT activists and the Punjab police that left several dead.
  • A presidential delegation led by the deputy attorney general arrived in Balkh and met with governor Atta Mohammad Noor on Thursday as part of investigations into the disputed arrest of Balkh councilmember Asif Mohmand. Vice Pres. Dostum issued a statement pledging to support Noor against “conspiracies”.
  • Yar Mohammad Dostum, a son of the vice president, has reportedly been named commander of the Sheberghan Garrison, an appointment spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries profess to have no information about.
  • The US State and Treasury Departments issued new sanctions against the Kashmiri militant group Hizb-ul Mujadeen on Wednesday; Pakistan’s foreign ministry described the action as “saddening”.

Pakistan — Security

  • US Sanctions Hizb-ul Mujahadeen: On Wednesday, the US State and Treasury Departments formally sanctioned the Kashmiri militant group Hizb-ul Mujadeen, barring U.S. citizens and residents from dealing with the group and freezing any assets under U.S. jurisdiction. The group’s leader, Syed Salahuddin, had already come under individual sanction. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry described the action as “saddening”. [Reuters] [State Department Statement]
  • Punjab Arrests: The Pakistani military announced Wednesday that the Punjab Rangers had arrested seven Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan suspects and another twenty Afghan nationals during raids in several cities across the province since the start of the week. [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • NAB Summons Sharifs in Corruption Investigations: The National Accountability Bureau has reportedly summoned former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his sons to make statements on Friday in connection to several corruption cases reopened against them. NAB investigators were granted access to a classified annex of the Panama Papers Joint Investment Team report on Thursday. Meanwhile, party sources report that PML-N senator Sardar Yaqoob Khan Nasir will be nominated as the formal acting party president while the party continues to debate choices for a permanent leader; the PML-N’s Central Working Committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday. Sources conflict over who might succeed Yaqoob, with Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Kulsoom Nawaz both named as possible leaders. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Opposition Protests: Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir-ul Qadri led sit-in protests in Lahore on Wednesday, joined by leaders of the PTI and Awami Muslim League. Qadri demanded the release of an investigation report into the deaths of PAT activists in a clash with police in 2014, saying “we will take this case to its conclusion and the Sharif brothers will be hanged”. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: Kulsoom Nawaz did not appear in person before the Election Commission on Thursday to respond to challenges brought against her candidacy for the NA-120 Lahore seat, and departed instead for London “on a personal tour”. The nomination papers of the PTI’s candidate for the seat, Yasmin Rashid, were accepted earlier by Election Commission officials. A Rawalpindi accountability court has scheduled daily hearings on the last major outstanding corruption case against former Pres. Zardari. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Four Injured in Lower Dir Bombing Targeting ANP Leader [ET]
  • Bail Granted for Accused Islamic State Fundraiser [Dawn]
  • Amb. Sohail Mahmood Takes Up Position as Pakistani Ambassador to India [Dawn]
  • Chief of Army Staff Meets Jordanian Ambassador [The Nation]
  • Pakistan Air Force Training Jet Crashes Near Sargodha [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Asks Center to Seek CCI Approval for LNG Imports [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Balkh Council Member Arrest Dispute: On Thursday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor met with a presidential delegation led by the deputy attorney general that has been tasked with investigating the disputed arrest of Balkh provincial council member Asif Mohmand’s; Noor called for a “thorough investigation”. In a statement on Wednesday, Vice Pres. Dostum said that members of the opposition alliance Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan would support Noor against “conspiracies”. In a statement on Thursday, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin condemned Mohmand’s arrest and called for punishments against those responsible for the deaths of two of his guards. [TOLO]
  • Tensions with Pakistan: A meeting of civilian and military leaders at Pakistan’s National Security Council on Wednesday agreed to “work at all levels with the people and government of Afghanistan for removal of all irritants including repeated cross-border fire and support network in Afghanistan for terrorist incidents in Pakistan”, a statement released following the meeting said. [ET] [ET] [AP]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Water Disputes: Speaking in Kabul on Thursday, Pres. Ghani reiterated Afghanistan’s “resolve for proper administration of the waters of Afghanistan” despite objections from neighboring riparian states, particularly Iran.
  • Fruit Export: Reuters reviews the problems facing the planned twice weekly export of Afghan fruits to India via air; only one flight has departed Kandahar thus far, and only a few from Kabul. Ariana Airlines officials attribute the problems to a lack of available cargo aircraft from a subcontractor.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Indian Envoy Says Terrorist Activities in Afghanistan a Threat to India [TOLO]
  • Hezb-e-Islami Denounces “Pro-Iran Media” [Khaama Press]
  • Two Million Employable Afghans Still Jobless [TOLO]
  • Abdullah Signs Economic Agreements on Visit to Belarus [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PML-N Considering Kulsoom Nawaz as Party Head; Investigation Ordered into Balkh Councilmember’s Arrest

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Topline

  • Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting of PML-N leaders on Tuesday; the party did not finalize a decision on who would be officially named as the party’s leader, although Nawaz’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz, who is also contesting his vacant national assembly seat, is reportedly a leading contender.
  • Pres. Ghani tasked the Afghan Attorney General’s Office with investigating the arrest of Balkh provincial council member Mohammad Asif Mohmand on Monday; in a statement on Tuesday, governor Atta Mohammad Noor denied involvement in Mohmand’s arrest and blamed National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar and NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai for “destabilizing the province”.
  • Police in Sar-e-Pul say they have discovered at least three mass graves in the village of Mirza Olang; local sources say that Taliban fighters have retaken control of parts of the village, which a spokesman for the Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps denied.
  • The Election Commission rejected a PTI petition to delay hearings on its investigations into the party’s overseas fundraising, and gave another “last chance” deadline of September 7 for the party to submit financial records.
  • On Tuesday, the Afghan Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center sentenced Abdul Ghafar Dawi, the head of Dawi Oil Group, to a nine year prison sentence on charges related to embezzlement from a fuel contract with Ariana Airlines.
  • The Afghan ministry of water and energy announced Tuesday that an unnamed Indian firm had won the tender for construction of the CASA-1000 energy distribution line.
  • CENTCOM chief Lt. Gen. Michael Garrett visited Pakistan on Wednesday for meetings with military counterparts.

Pakistan — Security

  • CENTCOM Chief Visits: US Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Michael Garrett visited Pakistan on Wednesday, meeting with Pakistani military officials and visiting the National Counter Terrorism Training Center in Pabi.
  • Hostages Rescued in Tank: A group of four Pakistani employees of a Chinese oil and gas survey company were freed in the Frontier Region of the Tank district on Tuesday, after being kidnapped earlier this month; the Express Tribune reports they were freed after “negotiations with a local militant group”.
  • Bannu Shooting: A police officer was killed in a driveby shooting in Bannu on Wednesday

    ; the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PML-N Plans Future Strategy: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting of party leaders at his residence in Raiwind on Tuesday to discuss the party’s future strategy; the group did not finalize a decision on who would replace Nawaz as the party’s official head in filings with the Election Commission. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif had previously been considered for the position, and Dawn reports that Nawaz’s wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, may be nominated instead. The party is also considering future public rallies after the conclusion of Nawaz’s trip to Lahore last week, and constitutional amendments to remove Articles 62 and 63; the Express Tribune reports that Nawaz will hold a rally in Multan within the next ten days. Meanwhile, representatives of the PPP and PAT have filed petitions objecting to Kulsoom Nawaz’s candidacy for the NA-120 Lahore seat vacated by her husband. The National Accountability Bureau has also begun new investigations in corruption cases reopened against the Sharif family. [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • PTI Ordered to Financial Records: On Wednesday, the Election Commission issued another “last chance” for the PTI to submit financial records related to its overseas fundraising, setting a September 7 deadline. On Tuesday, former Khyber Paktunkhwa mining minister Ziaullah Afridi accused the PTI leadership of hiding illegal appointments to the Bank of Khyber. [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations: On Wednesday, the Sindh High Court ordered the National Accountability Bureau to continue operations in Sindh despite the passage of legislation barring it from investigating provincial officials. The PTI joined other opposition party petitioners in challenging the new law with filings in the SHC on Tuesday. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Among other meetings, PM Abbasi met with a group of FATA senators on Tuesday, telling them that “the status quo has to end” in FATA. Abbasi appointed five new special assistants on Tuesday, bringing the total size of the cabinet to 56; the prime minister chaired the first weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday evening, and has called a meeting of the national security council for Wednesday. Former Pres. Zardari returned to Pakistan from Dubai on Tuesday; meeting with party leaders in Lahore on Wednesday, he said that the PPP “would not be part of any grand national dialogue” with the PML-N. On Tuesday, the PPP’s candidate, Murtaza Wahab, was elected unopposed to the senate seat vacated by Saeed Ghani. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek has changed the venue of a sit-in planned for Wednesday after Lahore city officials rejected an initial permit application. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [APP] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Cabinet Divided Over Ban on Automatic Weapons [Dawn]
  • Afghan Registration Drive to Begin Wednesday [The Nation]
  • Sindh High Court Overturns Death Sentence for Suspect in Journalist Wali Khan Babar’s Murder [Dawn]
  • Suspect Arrested in 2014 Murder of Karachi Police Counterterrorism Chief Chaudhry Aslam [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Javaid Jehangir Appointed Auditor General of Pakistan [Dawn]
  • Funding Issues Delay Construction of Dadu Dam by Four Years [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Sar-e-Pul Massacre: Local police officials in the Sayad district of Sar-e-Pul province tell TOLO that Taliban fighters retook control of portions of the Mirza Olang village; spokesmen for the Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps deny that, and say that their forces remain in control of the area after operations earlier this week. Provincial officials said that Afghan police had discovered mass graves containing the bodies of at least 36 victims, many of whom had reportedly been beheaded. [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Faryab provincial officials claim that as many as 80 Taliban fighters have been killed in operations to retake control of the Ghormach district. In Badakhshan, army officials claim that the Tagab district has been “fully cleared of Taliban”, who are reported to have retreated to the neighboring district of Yamgan. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Balkh Provincial Council Member’s Arrest Disputed: In a statement on Tuesday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor denied involvement in the arrest of provincial council member Mohammad Asif Mohmand at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport on Monday, blaming National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar and NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai for “destabilizing the province”. A provincial government spokesman said that Mohmand was in NDS custody and that he was facing charges of corruption from the NDS and the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center. A spokesman for the National Security Council rejected Noor’s remarks; on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said that no arrest warrant had been issued and that Pres. Ghani had tasked the office with investigating the incident. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Corruption Investigations: On Tuesday, the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center convicted and sentenced Abdul Ghafar Dawi, the head of the Dawi Oil Group, and his deputy Asghar Ghiyasi to a nine-year and nine month prison sentence, as well as $38 million in compensation payments to the government; they were found guilty of embezzling in a fuel contract with Ariana Airlines.
  • Tensions with Pakistan: Pakistani foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua visited Kabul on Tuesday, meeting with Pres. Ghani to discuss bilateral relations. Elsewhere, two children were reportedly injured by mortar shells fired from across the Afghan border into Landi Kotal on Tuesday. [TOLO] [ET]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Indian Company Wins Tender for CASA-1000 Project: The Ministry of Energy and Water announced Tuesday that an unnamed Indian company had won the bid for the construction of the CASA-1000 electricity transmission line project linking Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, at a cost of $404 million.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • First Four Blackhawk Helicopters Due for Delivery Next Month [Khaama Press]
  • Ministry of Defense to Investigate Complaints Against Military Hospital [TOLO]
  • Procurement Commission Approves Nine New Contracts [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz Appeals Supreme Court Disqualification; Taliban Reiterate Calls for US Withdrawal

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Topline

  • Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has filed a set of appeals against his disqualification from office by the Supreme Court; several family members are expected to do so as well.
  • Six paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in Balochistan’s Harnai district on Monday; another soldier was killed in a shooting in the Panjgur district. No claims of responsibility have been reported.
  • The Taliban released an open letter to Pres. Trump on Tuesday, reiterating calls for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Sec. Mattis said that a decision on Afghanistan strategy would be made “very, very soon” but that for now all options remained under consideration.
  • Afghan security forces retook control of the village of Mirza Olang in Sar-e-Pul’s Sayad district in operations over Monday night; in the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate made a belated claim of responsibility for the attack on the village earlier this month.
  • Two people were killed in a clash at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport on Monday when police arrested Asif Mohmand, a member of the provincial council who had criticized Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor.
  • Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have dropped $4.2 billion since the end of an IMF agreement last year, and are on track to fall below three months of import cover by the end of this month, finance ministry officials warn.

Pakistan — Security

  • Balochistan Bombing: A roadside bombing killed six Frontier Corps paramilitary soldiers and injured another three in the Harnai district in Balochistan on Monday; there has been no reported claim of responsibility for the attack. Separately, another FC soldier was killed in a shooting incident in the Panjgur district. [Dawn] [The Nation] [AP]
  • Tensions with India: Police in Azad Jammu and Kashmir reported that two civilians were wounded in cross-border firing on Monday, which coincided with a visit by Chief of Army Staff Bajwa to the area. The Express Tribune reports that the government is likely to appoint lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan to represent Pakistan at the next hearings of the International Court of Justice case on accused spy Kulbhushan Jhadav, which are set to resume in September. [The Nation]
  • Islamic State Suspects Arrested: At least five people were arrested in the Frontier Region Peshawar on Monday on suspicion of linkages with the Islamic State, the Express Tribune reports.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Appeals Court Verdict: On Tuesday, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif filed three separate appeals with the Supreme Court challenging its verdict disqualifying him from office; other Sharif family members are also expected to file appeals. Dawn reports that Nawaz will likely visit Khyber Paktunkhwa soon to hold additional rallies. Speaking on Monday in Lahore during Independence Day celebrations, Nawaz suggested that the government would introduce new constitutional amendments to “ensure respect for public mandates”, without providing further details; in separate remarks, Pres. Mamnoon Hussain called for a “halt to experiments with the systems of governance” in Pakistan and for “unity under the Constitution”. PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari voiced opposition to Nawaz’s proposal, saying “the PPP has its own principles and will not follow anyone else’s line to support any amendment to the Constitution”. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Regional Diplomacy: US Secretary of State Tillerson spoke by phone with Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif on Monday to convey greetings on Pakistan’s Independence Day; both leaders invited the other to visit their countries at a future date. Pres. Hussain met with visiting Chinese Vice President Wang Yang on Monday, pledging Pakistan’s support for China’s position on Tibet and the South China Sea. [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: The Election Commission has begun reviewing candidate filings for the NA-120 Lahore constituency vacated by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif; at least 65 candidates have registered. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek has challenged the nomination of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, the former PM’s wife. Dawn reports that Sunday’s PTI and Awami Muslim League rally in Rawalpindi saw lower than usual attendance. [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Foreign Exchange Drop: Ministry of Finance officials tell the Express Tribune that Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves are on track to fall below the equivalent of three months of imports by the end of August or first week of September, a condition which would make Pakistan ineligible for loans from the World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Pakistan’s reserves have fallen $4.2 billion since the end of an IMF agreement last year.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Warns Against Use of Anti-Terrorism Act Over ‘Non-Terrorist Actions’ [Dawn]
  • Karachi Police Killed Two Militant Suspects [ET]
  • Child Injured in ‘Toy Bomb’ Blast in Chaman [The Nation]
  • PM Abbasi Orders High-Level Meeting on Polio Eradication [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa District Governments Allowed to Purchase 400 Vehicles [Dawn]
  • Oil Companies Seek Approval for Higher Profit Margins [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Democracy in Pakistan: Elections Tell Us Why Politicians Behave Badly – “When politicians face an uncertain time horizon and the prospect of almost certainly being booted out of office, their behaviour suffers.” [Madiha Afzal, Vox Dev]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Call on US to Withdraw: The Taliban released an “open letter” to Pres. Trump and the United States on Tuesday, calling on him to “not hand over the Afghan issue to warmongering generals” and reiterating calls for a withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Sec. Mattis said that the administration was “very, very close” to finalizing a strategy decision on Afghanistan, but said that decision had not been made, and that all options, including withdrawal, remained on the table. [Reuters] [Khaama Press]
  • Sar-e-Pul Village Retaken: On Tuesday, the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate issued a belated claim of responsibility for the attack in the Mirza Olang village in Sar-e-Pul’s Sayad district earlier this month. Local officials reported that the village was recaptured by Afghan security forces in operations over Monday night. [TOLO]
  • Balkh Airport Clash: Two people were reportedly killed in a clash at the Mazar-e-Sharif airport on Monday as police arrested Asif Mohmand, a member of the Balkh provincial council; the provincial police chief tells TOLO that Mohmand was “arrested on [governor Atta Mohammad] Noor’s orders”; Mohmand earlier accused Noor of “planning to assassinate him”. A spokesman for Noor attributed Mohmand’s arrest to corruption charges from the attorney general’s office. [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: A Taliban suicide car bomber attacked an Afghan military checkpost in the Chardara district of Kunduz province on Tuesday, killing at least one person. Three Afghan employees of the charity Catholic Relief Services were killed in Ghor province on Monday; no claim of responsibility was reported. Unidentified gunmen attacked a police checkpost in western Kabul on Sunday evening; three police officers were killed. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Celebrates Independence Day; White House Considering Three Options for Afghan Strategy

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Topline

  • Pakistan commemorated its 70th Independence Day anniversary on Monday. On Saturday, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif concluded his rally from Islamabad to Lahore, pledging that he would “bring a revolution to Pakistan” and continued to challenge his disqualification from office. The PTI and AML held a counter-rally in Rawalpindi on Sunday, at which Imran Khan warned of further protests if the government sought to remove Article 62 from the Constitution.
  • The Weekly Standard reports that the administration is considering three main options as part of its Afghanistan policy review: the small increase in troops favored by National Security Advisor McMaster, the private contractor plan put forward by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, and a CIA plan developed by Director Pompeo.
  • At least 15 people were killed and more than 40 wounded when a suicide bomber struck a military vehicle on Quetta on Saturday evening; no claim of responsibility has been reported for the attack.
  • US military officials in Afghanistan announced the death in a Kunar airstrike of Abdul Rehman, identified as the newest leader of the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate.
  • Pres. Ghani has appointed former minister for rehabilitation and rural development Wais Barmak to be the new minister of interior, replacing Taj Mohammad Jahid.
  • US military officials denied that an airstrike in Nangarhar on Friday had killed civilians, saying all of the targets had been militants. The Afghan army has begun operations to retake control of the Mirza Olang village in Sar-e-Pul, the Ghormach district in Faryab, and the Janikhel district in Paktia.
  • PM Abbasi visited Karachi on Saturday, where he announced a new spending package for the city and for Hyderabad, and met with provincial government and MQM-Pakistan leaders.
  • Pres. Ghani has ordered a resolution to flight delays that have curtailed plans for regular weekly fruit exports from Kabul and Kandahar to India.

Pakistan — Security

  • Quetta Bombing: At least 15 people were killed and more than 40 wounded when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck near a military vehicle in Quetta on Saturday evening; eight of those killed were soldiers. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal visited the city on Sunday to attend funerals for the victims and receive briefings on the security situation; provincial home minister Mir Safaraz Bugti announced the formation of an investigation, but no claim of responsibility has been reported for the attack. [AP] [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]
  • FATA Operations: The Pakistani military announced the seizure of a weapons cache in North Waziristan on Friday; no arrests were reported. On Friday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met with the family members of an army major killed in an operation in Dir last week, and the family of a brigadier killed in a road accident South Waziristan. Peshawar Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Nazir Ahmed Butt visited soldiers in the Rajgal Valley area of Khyber Agency on Saturday. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Operations: A meeting of the Sindh provincial apex committee on Friday has decided to transfer 110 cases to the military court system, and to shift custody of 270 prisoners from Karachi Central Jail to other prison facilities in the province. [Dawn]
  • Blasphemy Law: A mentally disabled man who had been acquitted on blasphemy charges was killed in Tando Adam on Friday; the two gunmen subsequently surrendered to police. On Friday, the Islamabad High Court issued a detailed judgement based on an earlier short order released in March, recommending criminal penalties in for blasphemy accusations found to be false. [AP] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Pakistan Marks Independence Day: Pakistan’s 70th Independence Day celebrations were held on Monday, with a flag hoisting ceremony in Islamabad and other events around the country. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang attended the event as a guest of honor. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa held another flag-raising ceremony at the Wagah border crossing on Sunday evening, and visiting troops along the Line of Control on Monday. Three people were injured in clashes between rival MQM and Pak Sarzameen Party rallies in Karachi on Sunday. [AP] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Nawaz Concludes Rally with Lahore Address: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif made stops in Gujrat and Gujranwala on Friday and arrived in Lahore late on Saturday, ending his rally from Islamabad last week. In his remarks along the way, Nawaz continued to denounce his disqualification by the Supreme Court and tout his public support, pledging to “bring a revolution to Pakistan” and end the country’s “undemocratic system”. Aides to Nawaz say that he is considering holding further rallies in the near future. Speaking from Lahore on Monday during Independence Day celebrations, Nawaz said that “we need to decide that we will hold the vote valuable at any cost. We have to respect the law and Constitution if we must make Pakistan that of Quaid-i-Azam and Allama Iqbal’s vision.” Petitions have been filed against Nawaz, accusing him of contempt of court for his remarks. A young boy was struck and killed by a police vehicle in Nawaz’s convoy in Lalmusa on Friday; Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has formed a inquiry team into the incident. Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau has sought copies of the classified tenth volume of the Panama Papers Joint Investigation Team report, as it reopens corruption cases against Nawaz and his family members. [AP] [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Opposition Politics: The PTI and Awami Muslim League held a rally in Rawalpindi on Sunday, at which Imran Khan warned of major protests if the government sought to amend Article 62 of the Constitution. Prior to the event, the PTI distributed leaflets by helicopter drop, documenting allegations of corruption against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek plans to begin sit-in protests in Lahore starting August 16, to demand justice for the deaths of party activist in a clash with police in 2014. On Saturday, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari led a rally in Chiniot, criticizing both Nawaz and Imran Khan as “two sides of the same coin”; speaking to reporters on Friday, Bilawal criticized Nawaz for “pay[ing] no heed to the Charter of Democracy and other such agreements when he’s the PM” and downplaying his own role in the ouster of previous prime ministers. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • PM Visits Karachi: PM Abbasi made his first visit to Karachi since taking office on Saturday; in addition to meetings with the provincial government, he also met with leaders of the MQM-Pakistan. Abbasi announced Rs 25 billion in additional spending for Karachi and another Rs 5 billion for Hyderabad, to be managed by the provincial governor in consultation with the provincial government. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The PTI has challenged the Election Commission’s code of conduct restrictions on campaigning by sitting national assembly members in the NA-120 by-election to fill Nawaz Sharif’s vacant seat. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s new political party, the Milli Muslim League, which has yet to be registered, has fielded a candidate for the NA-120 seat, Muahmmad Yaqoob Sheikh, who will officially contest as an independent. The News reports on the MML’s organizing efforts in Karachi. Former foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz has been appointed deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Revenues: On Friday, Finance Minister Dar released a tax directory for the 2015-16 fiscal year, touting an increase in the number of taxpayers filing returns over the four years of the PML-N government; 1.21 million total taxpayers have been recorded, including individuals and companies. Dar met with Federal Board of Revenue officials on Saturday to review tax collection performance. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Government Criticized for FATA Reforms Delay [Dawn] [ET]
  • Former Pres. Zardari Expresses Concern Over Banned Groups’ Resurrection [Dawn]
  • Police Kill MQM-London Activist, Three Arrested [ET]
  • 35 Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz Activists Quit Separatist Politics [Dawn]
  • Seven Convicted in Modaraba Scam [Dawn]
  • Chinese Firm Plans $1.5B Wind Farm Investment in Punjab [ET]
  • PM Reviews Hydroelectric Power Projects [ET]
  • Private Sector Money Eludes Infrastructure Projects [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Will Pakistan Find Stability Following its Latest Political Shake-Up? – “In a Pakistan settling back to business as usual, the country’s policy agenda is likely to be notable for its continuity.” [Marvin Weinbaum and Touqir Hussain, The National Interest]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: The Weekly Standard reports on an August 3 meeting of the National Security Council principals committee chaired Vice Pres. Pence, which reportedly ordered the development of three options for Afghanistan strategy for consideration by the president, including the deployment of additional U.S. troops favored by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, the use of private security contractors proposed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and favored by Attorney General Sessions and political advisor Steve Bannon, and a CIA alternative being developed by Director Pompeo that would also “rely heavily on a small but select military force”. McMaster spoke by phone with Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar on Saturday. In a statement on Saturday, former Pres. Karzai denounced plans for the “outsourcing of the Afghan war”.
  • ISIS Leader Killed: On Sunday, US forces in Afghanistan announced the death of Abdul Rahman, identified as the newest emir of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province affiliate, in an airstrike in Kunar province’s Dar-e-Pech district earlier on August 10. If confirmed, Rahman would be the third ISIS leader in Afghanistan to be killed since April. [TOLO]
  • New Interior Minister Nominated: On Sunday, Pres. Ghani appointed former minister for rehabilitation and rural development Wais Barmak as the minister of interior, replacing Taj Mohammad Jahid, who was named to be a “presidential advisor in security affairs”.
  • Civilian Casualties: A spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan denied reports on Friday that as many as 16 civilians had been killed in an airstrike in Nangarhar’s Haska Mina district, saying that all targets had been militants and there was “zero chance” of civilian deaths. Former Pres. Karzai issued a statement on Saturday condemning the airstrike. Separately, thirteen civilians were reportedly killed in a rocket attack in Faryab’s Dawolat Abad district on Friday; no claim of responsibility was reported. [NYT] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
  • Sar-e-Pul Massacre: On Friday, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission released an investigation into the attack on the Mirza Olang village in Sar-e-Pul’s Sayad district the week prior, which left dozens of civilians dead; it echoes earlier reports that suggest cooperation between the Taliban and an Islamic State-affiliated commander, although the Taliban have previously claimed that that commander was a member of their organization. The Afghan National Army announced the start of operations to retake control of the village on Friday. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Afghan special forces launched operations to retake control of the Janikhel district in Paktia on Monday. Taliban fighters overran the Ghormach district in Faryab province on Sunday; the provincial police chief denied the report but said security forces had made a “tactical retreat”. Afghan National Army officials claimed to have killed at least 60 Taliban fighters in operations to retake Ghormach that began on Monday. Three people were wounded when a bomb was planted on a civilian vehicle in Kabul on Monday morning; there has been no reported claim of responsibility. The Herat provincial traffic police chief was killed by unidentified gunmen in a driveby shooting on Sunday. Three Taliban fighters were killed in an attack on a police checkpost in the Logar provincial capital of Pul-e-Alam on Saturday. US airstrikes in Wardak and Laghman provinces reportedly killed 17 Taliban militants. Gunmen affiliated with a former Hezb-e-Islami commander opened fire at a mosque in the Cha Aab district in Takhar province on Friday; casualty reports vary widely, with anywhere between three and thirty people said to have been killed. Hezb-e-Islami spokesmen denounced the incident, although Gulbuddin Hekmatyar reportedly expressed concern over the arrest of HIG party members in a meeting with tribal elders from Paktia on Monday. TOLO reporting suggests that the mosque leader and commander had clashed in the past. A Taliban commander was reportedly killed by his own guards in Nangarhar’s Khogyani district on Thursday. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: The Washington Post reviews the formation of new opposition coalitions against Pres. Ghani and the national unity government, most of whom accuse the presidency of monopolizing power. Ghani addressed a ceremony on Saturday to commemorate International Youth Day, at which he expressed concerns “regarding the misuse of the youths of country to spark tensions among the people of the country”. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Former Helmand Police Chief Sentenced: The Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center sentenced former Helmand police chief Brig. Gen. Abdul Rahman Sarjang to a three-year prison sentence on charges of embezzlement and interfering to release two soldiers who had been imprisoned on corruption charges.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Fruit Exports: Pres. Ghani ordered officials to “immediately resolve” issues with an air cargo agreement to make weekly shipments of Afghan fruit to India, which has stalled as a result of flight delays; Ghani has also reportedly ordered the construction a new cold storage facility at the Kabul airport.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • In Bid to Beat Back the Taliban, Afghanistan Starts Expanding its Commando Units [WAPO]
  • Hekmatyar Warns Against Repeat of Past Violence [Khaama Press]
  • Abdullah Launches National Access to Information Strategy [TOLO]
  • Pakistan Seeks Technical Meeting Prior to Joint Economic Commission Meeting with Afghanistan [TOLO]
  • Central Bank Collects 935 Million Defaced Banknotes [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif’s Wife to Contest His Assembly Seat; McCain Proposes Afghanistan Strategy

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Topline

  • Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif continued his road rally from Jhelum to Gujrat on Friday; addressing supporters in Jhelum on Thursday, he continued to tout his government’s development record and criticize his disqualification by the Supreme Court as an “insult” to Pakistani voters. Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, Nawaz’s wife, has filed candidacy papers to contest his now vacant national assembly seat in Lahore; the former prime minister is expected to arrive there on Saturday.
  • Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2018 proposing the outlines of an Afghanistan strategy, criticizing the Trump administration for failing to produce one of its own. The amendment’s language is non-binding. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Pres. Trump suggested that “we’re very close” to a decision on the strategy, but provided no details.
  • Prime Minister Abbasi has removed Finance Minister Dar as chairman of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet and will hold that position himself, except during periods of absence.
  • The Sindh High Court will hear challenges to the new provincial accountability law, which bars the National Accountability Bureau from investigating provincial officials; hearings have been set to begin August 16.

Pakistan — Security

  • Bajaur Bombing: At least two people were killed and as many as 25 injured in a roadside bombing in the Bajaur Agency on Friday; the Express Tribune identifies the victims as laborers. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Nawaz Continues Rally: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif addressed supporters in Jhelum on Thursday in his second major stop along his Grand Trunk Road rally from Islamabad to Lahore, saying that his disqualification from office was an “insult” to Pakistani voters. Nawaz is traveling to Gujrat on Friday, and to arrive in Lahore on Saturday. The Nation reports clashes between PML-N and Pakistan Awami Tehreek supporters in advance of Nawaz’s arrival, but details are limited. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan did not take part in the rally as it passed through his constituency, spurring further rumors of a split between him and the party leadership, which he sought to deny; Dawn also details splits within the PML-N in Rawalpindi, where crowds were reportedly light. PTI leader Imran Khan criticized Nawaz and what he described as the “save corruption” rally in remarks on Twitter on Thursday; PTI spokesmen accused Nawaz of “attacking the judiciary” in his remarks and said that “their real target is the Pakistan Army”. On Friday, Nawaz’s wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz filed candidacy papers to succeed him in the NA-120 Lahore constituency; the PTI’s candidate, Dr. Yasim Rashid, also filed her nomination papers. [AP] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Sindh Accountability Law Challenged: The Sindh High Court has taken up a batch of petitions filed by opposition party figures challenging the provincial government’s passage of a law barring the National Accountability Bureau from conducting corruption investigations against provincial government officials; hearings are scheduled to begin August 16.
  • Other Political Activity: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani plans to invite representatives of the government, judiciary, and armed services for an “inter-institutional dialogue”, following senate debate over the Panama Papers verdict and the need to “strengthen democracy”. In the national assembly, Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq has requested nominees from the opposition for a special committee to investigate harassment allegations by former PTI member Ayesha Gulalai against Imran Khan. [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PM to Chair Economic Cabinet Committee: On Friday, PM Abbasi removed Finance Minister Dar from his position as chairman of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet, taking the chairmanship himself except during absences.
  • Exchange Reserves: Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves dropped for the fourth consecutive week according to State Bank of Pakistan data released Thursday, and totaled $14.4 billion as of August 4. Remittances were up year-on-year in July, totaling $1.54 billion.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sindh High Court Forms JIT Over ‘Missing’ MQM Activists [Dawn]
  • Lt. Gen. Nadeem Raza Appointed Commandant of Sindh Regiment [Dawn] [ET]
  • Karachi Traffic Police Officer Killed [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • 31 Suspects Arrested in Quetta, Nine in Punjab [ET] [ET]
  • NAB Pursues Land Encroachment Case Against Sindh Building Control Authority [ET]
  • Pakistan and China Sign $325M in Trade Agreements [The Nation]
  • Commentary: Pakistan’s New Patriarchs – “Pakistan’s new patriarchs don’t approve of a girl being shot in the face, but when she survives, they want to decide what to do with that face.” [Mohsin Hamid, NYT]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: On Thursday, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain introduced amendment language for the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act, laying out the parameters of a U.S. strategy in Afghanistan; McCain’s statement on the legislation criticized the administration as being “adrift in Afghanistan”. The proposal, which can be read here (pdf), is a sense of Congress resolution and does not include binding statutory language; it includes calls for the U.S. military to have “status-based targeting authorities” against the Taliban and other terrorist groups, to deploy U.S. military advisors at the kandak level of the Afghan army, and to impose “graduated diplomatic, military, and economic costs” on Pakistan “as long as it continues to provide support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups”. Speaking briefly to reporters on Thursday, Pres. Trump suggested that “we’re getting very close” to a decision on Afghanistan strategy, without elaborating. [WAPO] [CNN]
  • Civilian Casualties: A spokesman for the Nangarhar provincial governor said they were investigating reports that as many as sixteen civilians had been killed in a US airstrike in the Haska Mina district on Thursday evening, saying that the identities of the victims were unclear.
  • Attacks and Operations: Residents of the village of Mirza Olang in Sar-e-Pul complain to TOLO that Afghan security forces have yet to launch operations to retake control of the area from the Taliban. The Washington Post shadows an Afghan Air Force training exercise. In a TOLO interview, the commander of an Afghan army special forces brigade says that the commandos are capable of carrying out 30 operations around the country within a 24-hour period. As many as thirty Taliban insurgents were reportedly killed by a malfunctioning explosive vest in Farah’s Bala Bolok district on Thursday. [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Dam Infrastructure: Minister of Water and Energy Ali Ahmad Osmani told reporters on Thursday that negotiations were underway with the World Bank and India for the construction of a $260 million hydroelectric dam project in the Chahar Asyab district in Kabul.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Abdullah Stresses Need to Rid Security Agencies of Corruption [TOLO]
  • Optimism for Investment in Afghanistan Declines, Survey Finds [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Trump’s Options for Winning in Afghanistan – “A realistic win would result from a peace process that achieves the following goals: (1) a negotiated outcome that respects the dignity and sacrifices of the American and Afghan people, (2) an Afghanistan that is at peace internally and with its neighbors, and (3) actively prevents the reemergence of a large-scale terrorist presence in the country.” [Christopher Kolenda, CGP]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan Has No Silver Bullet – “Whatever approach the administration takes it must clarify its minimal acceptable outcome in Afghanistan and be clear about where it is willing to tolerate risk.” [Stephen Tankel, CNAS]
  • Commentary: America Keeps on Failing in Afghanistan – “The strategy of trying to build an Afghan security structure that could successfully combat the Taliban only began six years ago and then was undercut after four years — scarcely enough time to build a whole new army.” [Ronald Neumann, WAPO]
  • Commentary: Why We Aren’t ‘Winning’ in Afghanistan – “All experts agree that the Afghan war will end in a negotiated settlement rather than a military victory, yet the president is seeking massive cuts to the State Department that would presumably do the negotiating.” [Aaron O’Connell, WAPO]
  • Commentary: A Legal and Policy Risk Analysis of the Erik Prince Plan to Privatize War in Afghanistan – “The Prince proposal offers some policy benefits but it also appears to raise a unique and lengthy list of extraordinary legal risks, policy pitfalls, and financial costs.” [Laura Dickinson, Just Security]
  • Commentary: We Need a New Afghanistan Strategy – “Blackwater’s accomplishments in Afghanistan are legendary. Prince has credibility and a proven track record on Afghanistan and in other trouble spots.” [Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Washington Examiner]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Continues Road Rally to Lahore; Pakistan Blamed for Mullah Mansour’s Death

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Topline

  • Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif continue his slow-moving road rally today; speaking to supporters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday evening, he was defiant, saying that “the court of the people of Pakistan has given its verdict in my favor”. PM Abbasi indicated that the government would file a Supreme Court review petition over Sharif’s disqualification.
  • An anonymous former Taliban commander and Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq allege that Pakistan was responsible for the death of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who they suggest was killed for seeking to establish independence for the Taliban from Pakistan and enter into peace talks with the Afghan government.
  • Four new members of the Pakistani cabinet were sworn in on Thursday, including PML-N leader Daniyal Aziz. The PPP and PML-N have yet to nominate candidates for Nawaz Sharif’s vacant NA-120 seat; the filing deadline is August 12.
  • The new Sindh accountability law restricting the National Accountability Bureau’s ability to investigate provincial government officials passed into law on Thursday, despite objections from the governor and the opposition.
  • Two female guards working at Bagram airbase were killed and another two wounded in a driveby shooting outside the base on Wednesday; no claim of responsibility has been reported.
  • Pres. Ghani ordered action to retake control of the Sayad district after dozens of civilians were killed and hundreds held hostage there last week. The Taliban are reported to have again taken control of Paktia’s Janikhel district.
  • Several Sindhi activists were released after being detained in Tharparkar earlier this week.
  • Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to resume meetings of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission after a nearly two-year gap, with the next talks scheduled to take place in Kabul in September.

Pakistan — Security

  • Activists Freed: Three activists in Tharparkar who were reportedly detained on Tuesday were returned to their homes on Wednesday evening; police sources tell Dawn they were taken away based on “incorrect information”, without elaborating.
  • Karachi Seminary Raided: Sindh police arrested at least seven men in a raid on the Al-Kareem Islamic Academy in Karachi on Wednesday, which officials said had been founded by a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander, Mufti Shakir. [ET]
  • Tank Kidnappings: Four Pakistani employees of a Chinese company carrying out gas surveying in Khyber Paktunkhwa’s Tank district were kidnapped on Wednesday; no claim of responsibility has been reported.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Continues Rally: A defiant former prime minister Nawaz Sharif addressed a crowd of supporters in Rawalpindi on Wednesday evening, saying that “the court of the people of Pakistan has given its verdict in my favour” and pledging to “make sure that the mandate of the people is respected in the future”. Speaking separately to reporters, PM Abbasi said that the government plans to file a review petition with the Supreme Court challenging Nawaz’s disqualification. Nawaz’s slow-moving road rally resumed on Thursday; Dawn reports that Nawaz complained to PML-N leaders about low attendance from supporters, and another report suggests that many of those in attendance had traveled from Khyber Paktunkhwa. The Nation reports that most of the party’s parliamentary delegation opted to attend his rally rather than a parliament session. PTI spokesmen accused the PML-N of using state resources to organize the rally, and PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said that “the former prime minister and his colleagues are continuously talking about a conspiracy since the Panamagate verdict, but are not explaining who hatched the conspiracy and how.” [NYT] [AP] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Cabinet Expansion: On Thursday, four new members of cabinet were sworn in; their portfolios have not been announced as of this writing but Daniyal Aziz, who skipped the first swearing-in ceremony amidst reports of a dispute over his choice of ministry, will reportedly be named federal minister of privatization, and Mumtaz Ahmed Tarar, Mir Dostain Khan Domki, and Syed Ayaz Ali Sherazi will all reportedly receive minister of state appointments.
  • Sindh Accountability Law: Despite objections from the provincial governor Mohammad Zubair, legislation passed by the Sindh assembly restricting the ability of the National Accountability Bureau to conduct investigations against provincial officials was gazetted into law on Thursday.
  • Saudi Diplomacy: Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister, Mohammad Bin Abdullah Al-Aysh, met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Wednesday; details of their conversation were minimal, but Bajwa was quoted affirming Pakistan’s “unwavering commitment to the defence of [the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina] and safe guarding the territorial integrity of the kingdom”. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The PML-N and PPP have yet to nominate candidates for Nawaz Sharif’s vacant NA-120 seat; the filing deadline is August 12. On Thursday, the Election Commission upheld its own jurisdiction to pursue contempt of court hearings against Imran Khan. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • “Positive Attitude” Raises Hopes for Upcoming India-Pakistan Water Talks [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Air Force Pilot Killed in Crash Near Mianwali [Dawn]
  • Government Seeks to Block Release of ‘Dawn Leaks’ Inquiry [Dawn]
  • Lawyers Strike, Seek Supreme Court Action Over Suspension of Multan Bench [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Mullah Mansoor’s Death Linked to Pakistan: In a NYT interview, an anonymous former Taliban commander blames Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US drone strike last May on Pakistan, which he said was “making very strong demands” and was alarmed by Mansour’s efforts to establish an independent power base with the help of Iran, Russia, and the Afghan drug trade. Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq claims that “we knew one month before that Mansour was ready to make peace”.
  • Two Bagram Guards Killed: Two women working as guards for a security firm at Bagram airbase were killed and another two injured in a driveby shooting just outside the base on Wednesday; the Taliban did not make an immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. [TOLO]
  • Sar-e-Pul Security: In a statement on Tuesday evening, the presidential palace announced that Afghan security forces had been directed to retake control of the village of Mirza Olang in Sar-e-Pul province’s Sayad district, where dozens of civilians were killed and several hundred captured last week. Vice President Sarwar Danish pledged to take revenge over the massacre in remarks on Thursday, apologizing for the government’s failure to provide security. Approximately 700 families have reportedly been displaced by the conflict. [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Security sources tell TOLO that Afghan security forces have retreated and Taliban fighters have again taken control of Paktia’s Janikhel district, the third exchange of power in the past two weeks. At least four policemen were wounded when a bomb was planted on their vehicle in Kabul on Wednesday evening. A US drone killed six Taliban fighters in Farah province on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Defense said that the Afghan Air Force had carried out sixteen independent airstrikes in the previous 24 hours. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Trade Talks with Pakistan: Following a meeting between Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal and Pakistani Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday, Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to hold a meeting of the Pak-Afghan Joint Economic Commission in Kabul in September, the first such high-level talks since November 2015.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani, Nicholson Launch Invictus Games Ceremony in Kabul [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: The Assault in Sayad: Did Taliban and Daesh Really Collaborate? – “The Taliban’s large presence, their obvious intention to eliminate rival groups and their superior manpower and resources limit the space for Daesh to establish a footprint in areas such as Sayad, and in fact in most areas of northern and north-eastern Afghanistan.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]
  • Commentary: The State of State-Building in Afghanistan – “Western governments can engage the Afghan state most effectively by remaining committed to those institutions and processes that have survived the surrounding turmoil and remain the key markers of fledgling democracy.” [Dipali Mukhopadhyay and Omar Sharifi, Lawfare]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz Launches Caravan from Islamabad to Lahore; Blackwater Founder Promotes Contractor Plan

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Topline

  • Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif kicked off a caravan rally from Islamabad to Lahore via the Grand Trunk Road on Wednesday; he is expected to take at least two days to reach his destination, with stops along the way to rally supporters. Shehbaz Sharif is now expected to succeed Nawaz as the PML-N’s official party president, and PM Abbasi to continue in his position through the end of the government’s term.
  • Blackwater founder Erik Prince continues to promote his plan for the replacement of U.S. forces in Afghanistan with an advisory force of private security contractors.
  • As many as 235 villagers were freed after being taken hostage last week in the attack in the Sayyad district of Sar-e-Pul province; provincial officials say as many as a hundred more may be still held hostage, and that plans are underway to retake the district.
  • Three Sindhi activists were detained in the Tharkarpar district on Monday, the latest in a series of extrajudicial detentions by security agencies.
  • The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the deaths of four Pakistani soldiers killed by a suicide bomber during a raid on a militant hideout in Upper Dir on Tuesday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Activists Detained: Three Sindhi activists were detained by law enforcement agencies in the town of Mithi, Tharparkar district on Monday evening, their families allege; police denied involvement in their detention.
  • Four Killed in Dir: Four Pakistani army soldiers, including a major, were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives during a raid on a militant hideout in Timergara in the Upper Dir district, a military statement released Wednesday said. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the incident. [Dawn]
  • Intel Officer Killed: Mahar Muhammad Yasir Manzoor, who Dawn identifies as being “associated with” the ISI and The Nation identifies as “a sub-inspector of a law enforcement agency”, was killed in a driveby shooting in Multan on Tuesday. No claim of responsibility has been reported.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Launches Caravan Rally: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif kicked off a caravan rally of supporters on Wednesday, departing from his offices in Islamabad and traveling towards Lahore via the Grand Trunk Road. As of this writing, supporters are still gathering, with several hundred vehicles taking part; the entire trip is expected to last two to three days. Prime Minister Abbasi did not accompany Nawaz on the trip but saw him off from Islamabad; Nawaz’s daughter Maryam Nawaz was reportedly told not to accompany him due to security concerns, and she and Nawaz’s wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz arrived in Lahore on Wednesday. Dawn reports that Nawaz had been warned by some advisors of the security risks of the trip; Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal is traveling ahead of the convoy to review security. A PTI spokesman advised party members to stay away from the rally and “be careful and remain peaceful”. Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Nawaz said that he was not seeking reinstatement in office but vowed to continue his political activity, adding that “the mandate of the people must be respected”. PTI lawyers for Dr. Yasmin Rashid, the party’s candidate to succeed Nawaz in the NA-120 Lahore seat, filed a petition with the Election Commission to bar him from carrying out any political activities. [Reuters] [WSJ] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Succession Plans: PML-N senate leader Raja Zafarul Haq told a BBC Urdu interview on Tuesday that Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif would likely be elected as the party’s president following Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification from office. PML-N sources tell Reuters that Shehbaz “will definitely not contest for NA 120”, his brother’s vacant assembly seat, leaving PM Abbasi in charge through the next elections. Reuters profiles Abbasi, noting his family ties to the military and experience working to resolve Pakistan’s energy crisis. Kulsom Nawaz is now reported to be a leading contender to fill the NA-120 seat. In an interview on Tuesday, PM Abbasi suggested that the PML-N might consult with other parties to amend or remove Article 62 of the constitution, under which Nawaz Sharif was disqualified after being judgment not to have met undefined standards of honesty and integrity. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: Upon returning to Pakistan on Tuesday, Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir-ul Qadri vowed to “seek justice” for the victims of the June 2014 Model Town clash between Punjab police and PAT activists, warning of future sit-in plans; several other opposition party leaders attended a gathering with Qadri in Lahore on Tuesday. PTI chief Imran Khan met with party leaders in Islamabad on Tuesday and directed them to prepare for elections before the end of the year. A petition has been filed with the Supreme Court seeking the disqualification of three senior PML-N ministers, accusing them of concealing UAE work permits in their election filings. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Little Headway in Lahore Blast Investigation [Dawn]
  • Two Killed in Awaran District Bombing [ET]
  • Prime Minister Cracks the Whip as Load-Shedding Returns [Dawn]
  • Intra-Kashmir Trade Remains Blocked [Dawn]
  • National Assembly Considers Transgender Rights Legislation [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Private Security Plan: Former Blackwater founder Erik Prince appeared on CBS and MSNBC as well as CNN on Tuesday to promote his plan for the deployment of around 5,000 private security contractors, including a special air wing, to replace US forces in Afghanistan currently advising and supporting Afghan security forces. Prince told USA Today that the White House was “actively considering” the plan, and claimed that it would cost less than $10 billion annually. The Post reports that Prince proposes placing the contractors under Title 50 of the US code, which governs covert operations. The plan is reported to have faced wide opposition from Pentagon officials and the National Security Council, but to have the support of some of the president’s political advisors.
  • Sar-e-Pul Hostages Freed: As many as 235 villagers were freed by the Taliban after being taken hostage in the Sayyad district in Sar-e-Pul province last week, following negotiations with tribal elders; a spokesman for the provincial governor said that an unknown number of civilians were still being held, and that Afghan security services were preparing operations to retake control of the area; the AFP reported that as many as a hundred are still being held hostage. [WAPO] [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: A suicide car bomber attacked a police checkpost in Kabul on Wednesday, killing himself and wounding one bystander. Taliban fighters are reported to have resumed attacks on the Janikhel district in Paktia province on Wednesday. Two would-be suicide bombers were killed in Kapisa’s Tagab district on Monday evening as they were attempting to target an Afghan army convoy. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Anti-Corruption Efforts: Pres. Ghani addressed a conference hosted by the Attorney General’s office on Tuesday on anti-corruption efforts in the security services, pledging not to interfere in appointments within the security services and professing a desire to “reduce my authority in appointments day-by-day”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Indian Air Cargo Route Failure Prompts Backlash from Fruit Sellers [TOLO]
  • Water and Power Minister Says Procurement Law ‘Does Not Meet Needs’ of Energy Projects [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Lahore Blast Injures Dozens Ahead of Sharif Rally; Saudi Diplomat Rebukes Qatar Over Taliban Ties

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Topline

  • An explosion in a Lahore parking lot on Monday evening wounded dozens of people, and killed at least one person; there has been no claim of responsibility, and Punjab government officials said that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s planned rally between Islamabad and Lahore would continue.
  • Nawaz appeared to confirm on Monday that the PML-N has changed its plans and will allow PM Abbasi to continue in his current role through the end of the government’s tenure rather than replacing him with Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Nawaz’s wife and daughter are reportedly possible contenders to fill his vacant national assembly seat.
  • Former PTI member Ayesha Gulalai refused to resign from her national assembly seat; a former secretary has accused her and her father of corruption and embezzlement. On Tuesday, the PTI rejected the formation of a special committee to investigate Gulalai’s harassment allegations against Imran Khan.
  • At a press conference on Monday, Saudi Arabia’s charges d’affaires in Kabul accused Qatar of supporting the Taliban, which he characterized as an “anti-government terrorist group”; a Taliban spokesman responded defending the group’s formation of an office in Doha and calling on Saudi Arabia to “play its role to resolve the ongoing conflict in the country”.
  • Around a hundred additional Marines will be deployed to supplement the advisory force in Helmand, NBC reports. CNN interviewed Erik Prince on his proposal for the deployment of private security contractors to supplement and advise the Afghan security forces.
  • Taliban commanders denied cooperation with the Islamic State or foreign fighters in the recent attack in the Sayyad district in Sar-e-Pul earlier this week.
  • The Jamaat-ud-Dawa formally launched an affiliated political party, the Milli Muslim League, on Monday, headed by JuD member Saifullah Khalid; JuD leader Hafiz Saeed currently does not have a formal role in the party.
  • Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced the beginning of a monthlong security assessment of polling centers around the country on Monday, but said it needed security protection and funding from the government for the initiative.

Pakistan — Security

  • Dozens Wounded in Lahore Blast: An explosion in a parking lot on Lahore’s Out Fall Road on Monday evening damaged more than a hundred vehicles and wounded at least 46 people; the Express Tribune reports that one person was killed. Officials believe that a truck from Swat had been parked at the site for several days and was carrying explosives, but there has been no claim of responsibility and it is unclear if the detonation was deliberate or not. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif briefed his brother former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on security plans for his travel from Islamabad to Lahore later this week. A spokesman for the Punjab government tells the AP that Nawaz will continue with the planned rally despite Monday’s blast. On Tuesday, Lahore police claimed to have killed four Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants in a raid late Monday evening. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Tensions with India: A woman was killed and another injured in cross-border firing along the Line of Control in Kashmir on Monday; Pakistan formally protested the incident.
  • Corps Commanders Meet: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired a meeting of army corps commanders on Monday, at which he was quoted saying that “efforts must continue, in concert with other elements of national power, to defeat terrorism/militancy in order to establish rule of law and uphold supremacy of the Constitution”. On Tuesday, Gen. Bajwa met with PM Abbasi for the first time since the latter took office; details of their discussions are limited. [ET] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Succession Plans: At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Sharif indicated that his brother Shehbaz Sharif would not succeed him as prime minister as initially planned, and that PM Abbasi would continue on in the role until the next general elections; The Nation appears to be the only outlet reporting this portion of the remarks, however. A PML-N source tells Dawn that Nawaz’s wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz or daughter Maryam Nawaz are potential candidates to replace him in the NA-120 Lahore seat. Nawaz also criticized the court verdict disqualifying him, saying that he had “yet to see a court of law that could hold a dictator accountable” and that “the clash of institutions will lead the country to nowhere”. On Tuesday, the Election Commission formally notified the PML-N that Nawaz could no longer continue as the official party leader following his disqualification from office. On Monday, PTI leader Imran Khan called on the PML-N to “distance itself from Nawaz Sharif and his corrupt family”, and accused him of attacking the judiciary and the army and misusing public funds for his planned rally to Lahore. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Abuse Allegations Against Imran Khan: Former PTI member Ayesha Gulalai rejected calls from the PTI for her resignation from her national assembly seat on Monday, accusing the party of threatening her and her family after her allegations of harassment against party leader Imran Khan. On Tuesday, a former secretary of Gulalai’s, Noor Zaman, filed embezzlement and corruption charges against her and her father. On Tuesday, the PTI rejected a special committee established by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq to investigation Gulalai’s allegations against Imran, saying that “political opponents cannot be accusers, judge and jury”; the PTI instead proposed the formation of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards office along the lines of the British model. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Jamaat-ud-Dawa Launches Party: Jamaat-ud-Dawa activists and officials announced the formation on Monday of the Milli Muslim League, a new political party affiliated with the group and Lashkar-e-Taiba; Saifullah Khalid has been named president of the party, and Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed does not have an official role in the organization. [AJE]
  • Other Political Activity: No agreement was reached among opposition party leaders in the Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly to challenge Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak’s government following a meeting on Monday, The Nation reports. Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir-ul Qadri returned to Pakistan on Tuesday, telling reporters upon his arrival that he had “returned to the country to seek justice for victims of the Model Town brutality and their families”. On Monday, Law Minister Zahid Hamid introduced the Election Bill 2017, a series of amendments to existing election law produced after a three-year process of reform committee negotiations. [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Karachi Police Kill Three Militant Suspects [Dawn]
  • Four Injured in Quetta Blast [The Nation]
  • Former Securities and Exchange Commission Chief Granted Bail [Dawn] [ET]
  • Lawyers Mark Anniversary of Quetta Hospital Attack [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Senate Chairman Rabbani Meets Iranian Pres. Rouhani [Dawn]
  • Lal Masjid Challenges Beauty Pageant [ET]
  • Pakistani Taliban Starts Women’s Magazine [Guardian]
  • Partition Interview Archive to Be Released [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: NBC reports that the Marine task force in Helmand will receive around 100 more Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response unit in US Central Command, bringing total forces there to around 400; military officials say the deployment was not tied to the broader debates over U.S. strategy and troop deployments in Afghanistan. CNN interviews former Blackwater chief Erik Prince on his proposal for the deployment of a private security force in lieu of regular U.S. forces.
  • Sar-e-Pul Massacre: Taliban sources speaking to Reuters deny any cooperation with the Islamic State or foreign fighters in the attack earlier this week on the Sayyad district in Sar-e-Pul province, and denied that civilians had been killed through beheadings. Pres. Ghani vowed to avenge the incident in remarks on Tuesday, saying that the attack “proved that the enemies of Afghanistan do not recognize any borders” and “do not recognize Islam and have no respect to the Afghans and humanity”. TOLO interviews some survivors from the village.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: At least four senior police officials have been dismissed from their positions following the bombing of a Shia mosque in Herat last week. The NYT profiles the back-and-forth battle for control over the Taywara district in Ghor province earlier this month. Jawzjan provincial officials say that the Taliban shadow district governor for the Faizabad district was killed in a clash with security forces on Monday. Ghazni provincial police say that seven Taliban fighters were killed in a US drone strike on Monday night. [Khaama Press]
  • Tensions with Pakistan: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone on Monday with new Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi; Abbasi was quoted pledging to “work with Afghanistan for security and stability in the region”. Separately, Pakistan’s foreign ministry rejected allegations by Kunar governor Waheedullah Kalimzai that the Pakistani military was deliberately pushing militant groups to relocate into Afghanistan. On Monday, the NDS announced the arrest in Paktia’s Janikhel district of a Pakistani man they said was a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan sectarian group. [ET] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban React to Saudi Criticism: On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s charges d’affaires in Kabul, Mishari Al-Harbi, blamed Qatar for supporting the Afghan Taliban, saying that Saudi Arabia viewed the Taliban as an “anti-government terrorist group”. The Taliban issued a statement in response saying that Saudi Arabia “should play its role to resolve the ongoing conflict in the country”, and defended the formation an office in Doha.
  • Election Preparations: The Independent Election Commission announced Monday that it was beginning a monthlong process assessing polling centers around the country, but said doing so would require the provision of security and funding by the government.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Taliban Taking Control of Drug Production: US Assistant Secretary for Drugs and Law Enforcement William Brownsfield tells the AFP that the Taliban are now believed to have extended their control over the poppy and opium trade to include the establishment of opium production factories within Afghanistan, beyond just taxing farm crops; UN Office of Drugs and Crime officials say they have anecdotal evidence of Taliban commanders involved in opiate manufacturing, but “that stops short of proving that the Taliban as an organisation has a systematic programme of running factories.”

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ahmad Wali Massoud Accuses Government of Monopolizing Power [TOLO]
  • Local Government in Kunduz’s Charsadda District ‘Paralyzed’ [TOLO]
  • Commentary: At the End of a Long Curve: The Fall of Janikhel – “Although the capture was a raid and show-of-force, rather than an attempt to seize and hold a district centre, it seems to reflect a more aggressive approach on the part of the insurgents in that area.” [Thomas Ruttig and Fazal Muzhary, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Trump Admin Divided Over Afghanistan Policy; Sharif to Travel to Lahore by Grand Trunk Road

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Topline

  • There is additional reporting on divisions within the Trump administration over the Afghanistan policy review; NYT sources now say that suggestions from Trump for the removal of Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson were “just a thought expressed out loud”, but Afghan officials and analysts express alarm over the prospect in interviews with the Post. Trump defended National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster in a statement on Friday, who has been the subject of critical coverage in far-right media outlets over the past week. On Monday, Chief Executive Abdullah disclosed a previously unreported visit by CIA Director Pompeo to Kabul last week.
  • Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif postponed plans to travel from Islamabad to Lahore on Sunday, and is now expected to travel in a rally along the Grand Trunk Road beginning Wednesday. Speaking to a business audience in Islamabad on Sunday, Sharif said that he would accept the Supreme Court verdict against him, but “the masses have not”. Meanwhile, PM Abbasi chaired his first cabinet meeting on Friday.
  • Pakistan’s national assembly approved the formation of a special committee to investigate allegations of abuse and harassment against PTI leader Imran Khan by former PTI member Ayesha Gulalai. Meanwhile, the PTI has backed allegations by Ayesha Ayad, a woman who accuses Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s son Hamza Shehbaz of marrying and then abandoning her.
  • As many as fifty Afghan civilians, many of them Shiites, have reportedly been killed in an attack in the Sayyad district in Sar-e-Pul province on Sunday; the district governor tells the NYT that a local commander affiliated with the Islamic State teamed up with the Taliban in the attack, although a Taliban spokesman said that the commander was a member of the Taliban, and claimed that all of the victims were ALP militiamen.
  • Additional security scanners and checkposts have been installed in Kabul as part of a new security plan following the bombing near the German embassy in late May.
  • Pres. Ghani visited Iran for the swearing-in of Pres. Hassan Rouhani on Saturday; the NYT has an extensive piece on Iranian intervention in Afghanistan and linkages with the Taliban.
  • Pres. Ghani appointed three new ministers on Monday. Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor warned that “we may have to take control of administrative buildings and airports to put pressure on and paralyze the government” if the opposition Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan’s demands were not met.
  • China was Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the 2016-17 fiscal year, new State Bank of Pakistan statistics indicate, but Pakistani exports dropped to $1.62 billion, and imports from China totaled $10.53 billion.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited the Khyber Agency’s Rajgal Valley on Saturday, the site of ongoing military operations; he vowed that the agency would be “free of terrorism” once operations are concluded. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Balochistan Operations: A member of the Balochistan Constabulary was kidnapped in the Naushi district on Friday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. On Sunday, Pakistani military officials reported that they had killed four terrorist suspects in separate raids in Kohlu and Dera Bugti.
  • Karachi Operations: Karachi police arrested three members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Swat group on Sunday; the head of the Counter-Terrorism Department tells Dawn that multiple splinter factions of the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are believed to be operating in the city and targeting police in attacks. Separately, police killed a member of the MQM-London faction in an encounter on Sunday.
  • Missing Persons: Punhal Sario, a Sindhi activist working for the recovery of extrajudicially detained “missing persons”, was himself abducted in Hyderabad on Thursday, the Express Tribune reports. Demonstrations were held in Karachi on Sunday to protest his arrest.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Formation: Prime Minister Abbasi chaired the first meeting of the new cabinet on Friday, pledging to meet weekly and to “take forward the vision” of former Prime Minister Sharif. Abbasi also indicated he would attend all sessions of parliament. Among other cabinet reorganization moves, Abbasi has formed a new federal ministry of energy, merging the power division of the former water and power ministry with the former petroleum ministry; he will control the portfolio. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • PML-N Prepares Rally in Support of Sharif: Speaking to journalists on Saturday, former Prime Minister Sharif said that the Supreme Court verdict disqualifying him was a “joke”, reiterating that he had not been disqualified for corruption. Nawaz told a business audience in Islamabad on Sunday that he “will not yield to pressure despite the fact that I was subjected to exploitation under the garb of accountability”, suggesting that he would accept the court’s verdict but “the masses had not”. Nawaz had been scheduled to travel by highway to Lahore on Sunday, but altered his plans and is now expected to make a longer trip via the Grand Trunk Road, departing on Wednesday with public rallies planned along the way. In a statement on Sunday, Imran Khan criticized the rally plan, saying it was “a deliberate attempt to continue undermining the Supreme Court of Pakistan by calling into question its decision on the Panama case”. On Saturday, Nawaz’s son-in-law Mohammad Safdar announced plans to “launch an agitation” against the former prime minister’s disqualification, describing it as a “conspiracy hatched by Israel and India”. Nawaz also met with former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Sunday, their first one-on-one meeting since Nawaz’s disqualification; Nisar held a rally in Rawalpindi on Friday, voicing support for Nawaz’s leadership of the party and suggesting he would explain his decision not to join the new cabinet “soon”. Campaigning has begun for Nawaz’s vacant national assembly seat, although the PML-N has yet to finalize a choice of candidate; the PTI candidate, Dr Yasmin Rashid, accused PML-N supporters of harassing PTI campaign activists. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Abuse Allegations Against Imran Khan: The national assembly formed a special committee on Friday to investigate allegations of harassment by former PTI member Ayesha Gulalai, who has accused PTI leader Imran Khan of sending “indecent” text messages. The composition of the committee has yet to be finalized. In an interview on Friday, Imran welcomed the move, but called for the investigation to be broadened to include communication between Gulalai and PML-N leader Amir Muqam and media organizations who broadcast the allegations, saying that he would be vindicated and blaming the PML-N for promoting the accusations. On Saturday, Gulalai said that she would forgive Imran “if he accepts that he has done it and seeks forgiveness from God, the nation and its women”. A tribal jirga threatened to attack Gulalai’s family home in North Waziristan, accusing her and her father of making the charges in exchange for money. Meanwhile, Ayesha Ayad, a woman who accuses Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s son Hamza Shehbaz of marrying and then abandoning her, called for an investigation of her claims by the parliamentary committee on Sunday, backed up by the PTI. Ayad filed a defamation suit against Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah on Monday after he accused her of prostitution and of seeking to extract financial benefits. [NYT] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari led a rally in Chitral on Saturday, criticizing both PML-N and PTI rivals and predicting victories for his party in the next general election. In an interview on Friday, PPP leader Asim Hussain alleged that he had been drugged during his interrogation and imprisonment by the Sindh Rangers, a charge the Rangers denied. The Express Tribune reports that the MQM-Pakistan is likely to be granted access to former offices seized last summer, in exchange for its support in the election for Prime Minister Abbasi last week. Quami Watan Party chief Aftab Sherpao chaired a meeting in Peshawar on Saturday to discuss the party’s strategy after its expulsion from the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial governing coalition. Leaders of the Pakistan Bar Association were split over comments by lawyer Asma Jehangir criticizing military and judicial intervention in Pakistani politics. Foreign minister Khawaj Asif has sought records from the national assembly speaker’s office on salary payments made to PTI legislators during their temporary resignation from parliament in late 2014. The national assembly is expected to consider the new electoral reforms bill during the current session of parliament. [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Regional Relations: Prime Minister Abbasi received his first briefing on foreign policy from the foreign ministry on Saturday, ordering “continued diplomatic and political support for freedom struggle in India-held Kashmir, continued focus on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and greater emphasis on economic diplomacy”. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, foreign minister Khwaja Asif said that “it’s high time for both India and Afghanistan to come forward as good neighbours and give positive response to Pakistan’s peace initiatives and end the blame game”. [ET] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Chinese Trade: State Bank of Pakistan data for the previous fiscal year indicates that China was Pakistan’s largest trading partner, with imports growing to $10.53 billion; exports from Pakistan declined, however, to $1.62 billion.
  • Energy Infrastructure: Korean engineers taking part in the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Kotli district in Azad Jammu and Kashmir have been evacuated to Islamabad after reports of security threats to the project from “an Indian border action team”, the Express Tribune reports. [ET]
  • Tax Collection: The Federal Board of Revenue exceeded its tax collection target for the month of July, taking in Rs 200 billion.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Would-Be Suicide Bomber Sheds Light on Militant Web [Reuters]
  • Senate Marks Founding Day Anniversary [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Former PIA Engineer Sentenced for Financial Support to Safoora Goth Attackers [Dawn]
  • PM Abbasi Meets Air Chief [ET]
  • US Military Cargo Transits Karachi [Dawn]
  • Shikarpur Feud Settled by Jirga [Dawn]
  • Further Talks Scheduled for Pakistan-Gulf Cooperation Council Free Trade Agreement [ET]
  • Cable Damage Disrupts Internet Access, Flights for 38 Hours [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Petroleum Prices Cut [ET] [The Nation]
  • Commentary: What’s Next for the House of Sharif? – “Surely the court ruling against the prime minister has given the opposition, particularly the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which was the main petitioner in the Panama case, a cause to celebrate. But it is not clear how disparate groups can build on the ouster of Nawaz Sharif.” [Zahid Hussain, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: The Post reviews internal divisions within the White House, and between Pres. Trump and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, over the ongoing Afghanistan policy review; political advisor Stephen Bannon is reported to have become a “more regular and outspoken presence at meetings led by McMaster and his team on Afghanistan”, and critical coverage of McMaster has spiked in far-right news outlets over the past week after his dismissal of several NSC aides. Trump issued a statement on Friday praising McMaster, and White House officials tell the NYT that “no one should expect him to leave anytime soon”. Another Post piece notes concern among Afghan officials and analysts over the prospect of US and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson’s removal, although White House officials tell the NYT that the proposal from the president was “just a thought expressed out loud”. Sources tell Reuters that “odds are that Trump will ultimately send more troops” as a “least worst option”, and that Sec. Mattis has decided not to use authorities to alter troop levels without first securing “buy-in from Trump for a strategic vision”. In a MSNBC interview on Saturday, McMaster said that “hat we’ve had in Afghanistan for years is a disconnected strategy” and that negotiations with the Taliban could not succeed “when your enemy believes that they are ascendant militarily”. On Monday, Chief Executive Abdullah disclosed a previously unreported visit by CIA Director Michael Pompeo to meet with Afghan officials last week. A meeting of national security advisors chaired by VP Pence last Thursday ended without an agreement; the administration is also reportedly divided over how to approach relations with Pakistan. Assistant secretary of United States for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells visited Islamabad on Friday for meetings with Pakistani officials, and was quoted warning that “Pakistan’s soil must not be used to plan or conduct terrorist attacks against its neighbors”. [AFP] [TOLO]
  • Sar-e-Pul Massacre: As many as 50 civilians have reportedly been killed in an attack on a village in the Sayyad district of Sar-e-Pul province on Saturday; dozens more are reported to have been taken hostage. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack but not the civilian deaths. The district governor tells the NYT that the Taliban forces partnered in the attack on the district with Sher Mohammed Ghazanfar, a local commander who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State; all of the victims were reported to have been members of the Shiite community. A spokesman for the Taliban said that Ghazanfar was a member of the Taliban and not ISIS, and said that only Afghan Local Police militiamen had been killed. Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor and Vice President Dostum criticized the government for failing to provide security; at Monday’s Council of Ministers meeting, Chief Executive Abdullah acknowledged security lapses.
  • Kabul Security: Reuters reports on new checkpoints, scanners, and camera systems being deployed in Kabul following the truck bombing outside the German embassy in late May, focused primarily around the diplomatic area; the security initiative is expected to be completed within six months. A bomb planted on an army truck in Kabul exploded Sunday evening; two people were wounded. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Insider Attacker Killed: An Afghan policeman was killed by Romanian NATO soldiers at a training session on a Kandahar base on Saturday as he was attempting to carry out an attack on his colleagues, NATO said in a statement. One Romanian soldier was wounded in the incident. [Khaama Press]
  • Border Disputes with Pakistan: Kandahar border police officials tell TOLO that Pakistani forces are building “dozens of checkposts” at the border line near the Spin Boldak border crossing, in two disputed villages where Afghan and Pakistani border forces clashed earlier this summer. An Afghan military delegation from the 201st Afghan National Army corps visited Peshawar on Friday for border security talks with the Peshawar Corps commander. [ET] [Khaama Press]
  • Special Forces to Expand: A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said Sunday that the government has begun “preliminary work” for the doubling of special forces commandos as part of the government’s four-year national security strategy. Pres. Ghani met with the heads of special forces units at the presidential palace on Sunday, praising their efforts.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Khaama Press quotes the Islamic State’s Khorasan affiliate claiming responsibility for the deaths of several “apostate” Taliban fighters in Ghor province who had attack their forces. The Ghor police counternarcotics director, Noorudin Sharifi, was killed in a shooting in the provincial capital on Saturday. Taliban fighters attacked a checkpost in the Momand Dara district in Nangarhar on Sunday; provincial government officials said seven attackers were killed. Police in Paktia called for the deployment of additional reinforcements to secure the Janikhel district after it was retaken from Taliban forces last week. A Taliban offensive in Helmand’s Gereshk district was repelled on Friday; Taliban fighters were reportedly using captured Humvees and car bombs in the attack. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Visits Iran: Pres. Ghani visited Tehran on Saturday to attend the oath-taking ceremony of newly re-elected Pres. Hassan Rouhani; he also met bilaterally with Rouhani to discuss “issues of mutual interest”. The NYT has an extensive report on increasing Iranian intervention in support of insurgents operating in western Afghanistan, providing arms, money, and training for Taliban commanders and infiltrating spies into the Afghan security services in an effort to raise the costs of the U.S. mission. A presidential advisor and the Kandahar deputy governor, Haji Agha Lalai, also says that the late Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, had been negotiating with senior Iranian officials before his death in a U.S. drone strike near the border in Balochistan last year.
  • Ministry Appointments: On Monday, the presidential palace announced the appointment of three new ministers, naming Mohammad Mustafa Mastoor for the Minister of Economy, Yama Yari as Minister of Public Works, and Shahzad Gul Aryubi as Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technology. All are now serving in “acting” capacity, with a parliamentary confirmation vote planned “in the near future”.
  • Opposition Politics: Vice Pres. Dostum met with New National Front leader and former finance minister Anwar ul Haq Ahadi in Turkey on Saturday, his spokesman said; in a joint statement, the two leaders criticized the current government and warned the “ongoing situation in the country could affect the confidence and perspective of the international allies of Afghanistan regarding the situation and future of the country”. The Post reviews Dostum’s split with the government and his formation of the Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan with Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor and Hezb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami leader Mohammed Mohaqiq; in that piece, Noor is quoted warning that “we may have to take control of administrative buildings and airports to put pressure on and paralyze the government” if the coalition’s demands are not met. Separately, Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar held a press conference on Saturday at which he predicted that the next president would be dependent on HIG support, and criticized the opposition coalition. [AFP] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Underground Economy Equals Licit Economy: Central Statistics Organizations figures suggest that the underground economy in Afghanistan — including opium production and trafficking, illegal mining and land theft, and tax evasion and money laundering — is now roughly equivalent in size to its licit economy, TOLO notes.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Four Jailed Over Corruption Charges [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Finance Hopes to Exceed Revenue Target [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Higher Education to Review Private University Degrees [TOLO]
  • 120 Tons of Fruit Waiting for Export to Indian Markets [TOLO]
  • Afghan Civil Aviation Authority to Receive New Radar System [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: New Pakistani Cabinet Sworn In; White House Debating Nicholson’s Removal as Commander

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Topline

  • Members of the new Pakistani cabinet were sworn in on Friday, many returning to their positions from the Nawaz Sharif government and some switching portfolios. Former planning minister Ahsan Iqbal will take the interior ministry portfolio, and Khawaja Muhammad Asif the foreign ministry. The PML-N leadership has reportedly still not finalized plans for former Prime Minister Sharif’s vacant seat, and whether Shehbaz Sharif will step down as Punjab chief minister to contest it.
  • CNN confirms that White House officials are considering the removal of US and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson, with National Security Advisor HR McMaster named as one possible successor. SASC Chairman McCain and Pentagon officials have voiced support for Nicholson, and the White House remains divided over Afghanistan strategy.
  • PM Abbasi ordered the formation of a parliamentary committee to investigate allegations of harassment by former PTI member Ayesha Gulalai on Friday; Imran Khan dismissed the charges as being coordinated by the PML-N and motivated by the denial of a party ticket for the NA-1 Peshawar constituency. Meanwhile, Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak is reportedly facing a no-confidence challenge from the opposition and dissident PTI parliamentary assembly members.
  • Two Afghan civilians and a Georgian soldier were killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul’s Qarabagh district on Thursday; the Pentagon has also released the identifications of two American soldiers killed in an attack in Kandahar on Wednesday. Afghan forces say they have retaken control of the Janikhel district in Paktia and repelled a Taliban attack in Helmand’s Gereshk district.
  • India press reports suggest that Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed plans to register a new political party, the “Milli Muslim League Pakistan”, despite being under house arrest and international sanction.

Pakistan — Security

  • Hafiz Saeed to Register Political Party: Despite being placed under house arrest and facing international sanctions, Indian news sources report that Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed is planning to register a new political party, the “Milli Muslim League Pakistan”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • New Cabinet Sworn In: Members of PM Abbasi’s new cabinet were sworn in on Friday morning, after the nominees were finalized on Thursday; news outlets differ in their reporting as to the exact size of the new cabinet, and a full list has not yet been released. Former defense minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been given the foreign ministry portfolio, with former commerce minister Khurram Dastgir Khan taking defense; former planning minister Ahsan Iqbal will take the interior ministry. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will retain his portfolio, as will railways minister Saad Rafique and information minister Marriyum Aurganzeb. Daniyal Aziz, a frequent party spokesman, did not attend the swearing-in ceremony amid reports that he was unhappy his junior ministry of state position; he denied any dispute with the party leadership. Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan did not rejoin the cabinet, but The Nation reports that he has been closely involved in party consultations since making an earlier pledge to resign from the national assembly, and PML-N sources say he is planning rallies in Rawalpindi to launch his son’s political career in the PML-N beginning Friday. The PML-N leadership has still not finalized a decision on the party’s choice for a candidate in Nawaz Sharif’s NA-120 Lahore constituency, and whether his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif will give up his current position to contest that election and replace Abbasi. The PML-N is planning a large rally in support of Nawaz in Lahore on Sunday as he returns from Murree. [AP] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Imran Khan Faces Harassment Allegations: In an interview on Thursday, Imran Khan blamed the PML-N for allegations brought by former party member Ayesha Gulalai that he had harassed her and other female party members, describing the allegations as a “coordinated effort” and echoing other party spokesmen in describing her as disgruntled after not receiving a party ticket for the NA-1 Peshawar constituency. A group of female Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly members from the PML-N introduced a resolution calling for Imran’s disqualification on Thursday, and Railways Minister Saad Rafique called for Imran to resign. On Friday, PM Abbasi called for the formation of a parliamentary committee to investigate the accusations. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The Nation reports that opposition members and PTI dissidents are preparing a no-confidence motion against Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak; as many as two dozen PTI provincial assembly members are said to be in talks with the PML-N and other opposition parties. The senate will discuss the Panama Papers verdict at a special session scheduled for August 9. Lawyer Asma Jahangir criticized military involvement in Pakistan’s politics in remarks at a press conference on Thursday. JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman was also critical of the military’s role in politics in separate remarks. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Line of Control Trade to Resume: Following a meeting on Thursday at the Chakothi-Uri crossing, Indian and Pakistani officials agreed to resume cross-Line of Control trade in Kashmir, beginning August 8.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Project: On Thursday, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority agreed to impose a one percent surcharge on power tariffs for 19 power projects being constructed under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor plan, in order to generate funds for project security.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Meets Chinese Ambassador [The Nation]
  • Chief of Army Staff Commemorates Police Martyrs [The Nation]
  • Operations Continue in Khyber Agency [ET]
  • Sindh Governor and Karachi Corps Commander Reiterate Support for Karachi Operation [Dawn]
  • US Transfers $3.3M in Protective Equipment to Sindh Police [APP]
  • Former Auditor General Released on Bail [ET]
  • State Bank of Pakistan Reserves Drop 2.03% [ET] [The Nation]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: The AP and WSJ have additional reports on divisions within the Trump administration over Afghanistan strategy, with the WSJ reporting that recent firings of several National Security Council staff held over from the tenure of former Gen. Michael Flynn had increased internal tensions with other White House advisors. CNN confirms that White House officials are considering firing or removing US and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson, but says no decision has been made; some accounts have suggested that he could be replaced by McMaster. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain issued a statement of support for Nicholson on Thursday, saying that “our commanders-in-chief, not our commanders in the field, are responsible for this failure” to establish a strategy and win the war in Afghanistan.
  • NATO Casualties: A suicide bomber attacked a NATO patrol in Kabul’s Qarabagh district on Thursday, killing a Georgian soldier and two Afghan civilians and wounding six other personnel, including two Americans. Seven other Afghan civilian bystanders were also wounded. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Friday. Separately, the Pentagon released the identifications of two American soldiers killed in an attack in Kandahar on Wednesday, Spc. Christopher Harris and Sgt. Jonathan Hunter of the 82nd Airborne. In a statement on Thursday, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff condemned the deaths of the two American soldiers. [AP] [WAPO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Afghan forces repelled a Taliban offensive in the Gereshk district center that began Thursday evening, a spokesman for the provincial governor claimed on Friday; at least five soldiers were killed in a car bombing near an outpost in Gereshk on Thursday, although some unconfirmed reports put the death toll higher. On Friday, Afghan army officials claimed to have retaken control of the Janikhel district in Paktia province. Ongoing fighting is reported between Taliban fighters and Afghan border police in Zabul’s Shemalzai district on Friday; as many as 15 border police have reportedly been killed. [AJE] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: Speaking at a signing ceremony on Thursday, Pres. Ghani attributed opposition protests to those who “are in fearing of losing their personal interests”. Supporters of Vice Pres. Dostum held an event on Thursday, arguing that he could not be removed from office and protesting the diversion of his plan from Balkh last month.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Vows “No Mercy” Against Insurgents After Meeting with Petroleum Ministry Bus Bombing Victims [TOLO]