Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Claim Quetta Attack on Frontier Corps; UK Considering Additional Troop Deployment

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Topline

  • The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan reportedly claimed responsibility for an attack on a Frontier Corps building in Quetta on Thursday; at least one police officer was killed along with five attackers, and four soldiers were also injured.
  • The UK is reportedly considering an increase in its troop deployments in Afghanistan, from around 600 to around a thousand personnel.
  • At least nine people, including four civilians on each side and an Indian soldier, have been killed in a spike in cross-border firing in Kashmir on Friday.
  • PM Abbasi and PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah held talks on the appointment of a caretaker government on Friday, but have not announced an agreement; Shah suggested the choice would be finalized and announced next Tuesday.
  • Pres. Ghani and PM Abbasi will travel to Turkey over the weekend to attend an Organization of the Islamic Conference summit focused on the U.S. opening of its Israeli embassy in Jerusalem.
  • PML-N lawmakers approved the government’s budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year in a national assembly vote on Friday.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Suicide Bombers Killed in Quetta Attack: Military spokesmen announced on Thursday that five would-be suicide bombers had been killed in an attack on a Frontier Corps headquarters building in Quetta; one police officer was killed and at least four FC personnel were injured. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack; the military described the attackers as all Afghan nationals, and suggested that it was in retaliation for the recent killing of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s provincial chief, Salman Badeni. A spokesman for LeJ denied on Thursday that Badeni had been affiliated with the group, describing him as a member of the Islamic State. [The Nation]
  • Several Killed in Indian Border Clashes: At least four Pakistani civilians, four Indian civilians, and an Indian soldier were reportedly killed in a spike in cross-border firing in Kashmir on Thursday and Friday. Pakistani officials say three of the four victims on their side were children. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Chinese Military Talks: A Chinese military delegation led by Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Gen. Zhang Youxia visited the Pakistani military’s General Headquarters on Thursday; the group met separately with PM Abbasi.
  • Waziristan Protests End: Demonstrators in North Waziristan concluded a five-day long protest over insecurity on Friday with an agreement from the military and local administration to increase patrols and provide more ammunition to militia forces.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Caretaker Government Talks: PM Abbasi and PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah held talks on Friday over the choice of a caretaker prime minister; no agreement was announced, although prior to the meeting anonymous sources told the Express Tribune that both sides have reached a consensus and are only waiting for a final announcement. Following the talks Shah said that he would meet again with Abbasi next Tuesday, and announce a nominee afterwards. [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: Despite agreement at a cabinet meeting on Thursday to move ahead despite opposition from the JUI-F and PkMAP to the introduction of FATA reforms legislation, the government appears to have postponed that move on Friday. A meeting of PTI legislators called for the merger to be implemented on Thursday.
  • Tensions Over Nawaz Comments: PML-N leaders insist to the Express Tribune that the party remains united under Nawaz Sharif’s leadership, contrary to reports of strain following his Dawn interview last week criticizing the failure to crack down on militant proxy groups. Speaking to reporters in Lahore, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah defended Nawaz’s recent remarks and vowed to “defeat unseen forces” in the upcoming polls. Speaking at an iftar in Lahore on Thursday, former Pres. Zardari accused Nawaz of “just not lov[ing] his country”, and said he was being held accountable “for the past thirty years”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The PTI has petitioned the Islamabad High Court on Thursday to overturn the formation of an Election Commission committee to scrutinize the PTI’s overseas fundraising. Two PML-N national assembly members and several former lawmakers quit the party and joined the PTI after a meeting with Imran Khan on Thursday. Jamshed Ahmed Dasti is reportedly considering a merger of his Awami Raj party with the PTI; Dasti is still facing a petition seeking his disqualification from office. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Interior Minister Praises Security Forces in First Public Speech after Recovery [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Local PPP Leader Shot Dead in Her Home in Thatta [ET]
  • Lawyer for Detained Indian National Petitions Peshawar High Court to End Solitary Confinement [ET]
  • Pakistan Puts Off Tax Concession for Chinese Operator of Gwadar Port [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • UK Considering Force Increase: The UK government is reportedly considering boosting its forces in Afghanistan from around 600 currently to around a thousand soldiers, who would all focus on providing training and support for the Afghan security forces. An announcement is not expected until a NATO summit in July. [BBC]
  • Attacks and Operations: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, a Pentagon spokesman said that it was “not rul[ing] out” Iranian involvement in the recent Taliban attacks on Farah city, but provided no details. On Friday, the ministry of defense announced that Afghan soldiers had retaken control of the Tala Barfak district in Baghlan province, following the launch of an operation the previous evening. [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Travels for OIC Meeting: Pres. Ghani departed on Friday for Turkey to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which will focus on the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
  • Helmand Activists Travel to Kabul: A group of Helmand activists are conducting a walk to Kabul to call for a ceasfire and peace in Afghanistan, after first staging sit-in protests in March.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • CEO’s Office and MPs Continue Criticism of New ID Cards [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Energy to Start Work on Daikundi Solar Project [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Public Works Defends Itself Over Highway Construction Delays [TOLO]
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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz’s Confrontational Statements Alarm PML-N Leaders; Taliban Resume Attacks in Farah

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Topline

  • Nawaz Sharif’s defiant statements this week have strained relations with PM Abbasi and Shehbaz Sharif, who have sought to press Nawaz to take a less confrontational stance.
  • Taliban fighters resumed attacks in Farah city over Wednesday night, with several suicide bombers reportedly striking near the provincial police headquarters. Police officials say search operations are currently underway in the city.
  • A cabinet meeting on Thursday reportedly approved moving ahead on FATA reforms legislation, despite objections from the PML-N’s allies the JUI-F and PkMAP, and statements the day prior that the issue would be deferred to the next government.
  • Pres. Ghani met with the families of victims of an Afghan Air Force airstrike in Kunduz in early April, apologizing for civilian deaths.
  • A Pakistani Military Intelligence colonel was killed and four soldiers wounded during an operation outside Quetta on Wednesday, which killed the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi provincial head for Balochistan, identified as Salman Badeni.
  • Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement leaders tell Reuters dozens of their supporters have been harassed and extrajudicially detained over the past month.
  • Pres. Mamnoon Hussain is expected to announce a date for the next general elections in Pakistan next week; anonymous Election Commission sources tell Dawn it will likely take place July 27.
  • Pres. Ghani and other officials called on the Taliban to allow for a ceasefire as Ramadan begins in Afghanistan and in Pakistan today.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • LeJ Commander, Army Colonel Killed in Balochistan: On Thursday, the Pakistani military announced that it had killed Salman Badeni, identified as the provincial head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and two other militants in an operation the previous day in the Killi Almas area of Balochistan, near Quetta. A Pakistani colonel, a military intelligence officer, was killed and four soldiers wounded during the operation. [AP] [Reuters] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • PTM Detentions: Leaders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement tell Reuters that dozens of PTM activists have been extrajudicially detained across the country over the past month, particularly in the run-up to the movement’s most recent protest in Karachi; university sources say they have been warned against hosting forums on Pashtun rights, and activists report threats. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, government officials have agreed to reconvene a “grand jirga” with PTM representatives.
  • Nowshera Bombing: At least a dozen people were wounded in a suicide attack on a Frontier Corps convoy in Nowshera on Thursday; no immediate claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PML-N Leaders Discuss Nawaz ‘Confrontation with Establishment’: Top PML-N leaders, including Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif and PM Abbasi, met in Islamabad on Wednesday; Abbasi and Shehbaz reportedly pressed Nawaz to deescalate his confrontation with the military establishment after remarks earlier this week drew censure from a meeting of the National Security Council. Nawaz is reported to remain defiant; he told reporters on Wednesday that he would “reveal the names of sponsors of the PTI and PAT anti-government sit-ins at a suitable time”. At a meeting of PML-N lawmakers on Thursday, Shehbaz and Abbasi reportedly assured them that Nawaz would “soften the stance he has taken”. On Thursday, the Lahore High Court dismissed a treason petition against Nawaz over his earlier remarks. [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: The Express Tribune reports that a cabinet meeting on Thursday agreed to introduce FATA reforms legislation over the objections of the government’s allies the JUI-F and PkMAP; earlier on Wednesday, States and Frontier Regions Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch had told the national assembly that the issue would be deferred to the next government, however. JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman reiterated opposition to the merger in remarks on Wednesday. [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Supreme Court registrar rejected a PML-N petition seeking the removal of National Accountability Bureau chairman Javed Iqbal on Wednesday. The Express Tribune notes ambiguities in the law as to how a NAB chairman could be removed from office. Iqbal did not appear in response to a national assembly committee summons on Wednesday, which was postponed until May 22. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Pres. Hussain is expected to announce the date for the next general elections next week; an anonymous Election Commission official tells Dawn that the polls will likely be set for July 27. The Sindh High Court is hearing a challenge against ECP constituency delimitations. PML-N party leaders will meet on Thursday to consider candidate nominations for Punjab. A meeting of the Balochistan Awami Party on Wednesday elected Jam Mir Kamal as the party president. On Wednesday, PML-N national assembly member Mir Zafarullah Jamali announced his resignation. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal has formed a provincial cabinet for its Khyber Paktunkhwa chapter; speaking at a press conference, MMA general secretary and Jamiat-e-Islami leader Liaquat Baloch said that “our establishment is forcing people before the upcoming elections to change their loyalties and join a specific political party”. [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Lahore Metro Test Run: Shehbaz Sharif inaugurated a test run of the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train project on Wednesday, pledging that work on the project would be completed within the next three months. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Ramazan Begins Thursday [Dawn]
  • FIA Interviews Former Army and ISI Chiefs in Asghar Khan Case [Dawn]
  • Army Transfers Peshawar Checkposts to Police [Dawn]
  • Bajwa Meets Visiting Nepalese Army Chief [The Nation]
  • Construction of Mohmand-Bajaur Expressway Halted Due to Lack of Funds [ET]
  • Compensation Payments for 2017 Quetta Church Attack Victims Still Unpaid [Dawn]
  • Huge Power Breakdown Cripples Life in Khyber Paktunkhwa and Punjab [Dawn]
  • Pakistan’s External Debt Soars to Record $91.8 Billion [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Fighting Resumes in Farah: Fighting resumed in Farah city Wednesday evening, with three suicide bombers reportedly attacking near police headquarters and other government buildings overnight. The city police chief tells Reuters that search operations are now underway in the city, and claimed that foreign fighters were bolstering the Taliban forces. On Thursday, the ministry of education ordered schools in Farah to close due to insecurity, at least through Eid. [Pajhwok]
  • Ghani Apologizes for Kunduz Civilian Deaths: Pres. Ghani met with tribal elders and families of the victims of an Afghan Air Force airstrike in Kunduz’s Dasht-e-Archi district in early April, apologizing for the civilian casualties; UN investigations reported at least 31 deaths and dozens of injuries in the incident. [Ariana News]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: On Thursday, the NDS announced the arrest of a man identified as an Islamic State recruiter in Kabul. A roadside bomb was discovered and defused in the Qarabagh district in Kabul on Wednesday. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Calls for Peace as Ramadan Begins: Pres. Ghani, UN Special Representative Yamamoto, and Resolute Support commander Gen. Nicholson all issued separate messages on Thursday urging the Taliban to institute a ceasefire as Ramadan begins in Afghanistan.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Head of Administrative Office of the President Daud Noorzai Resigns [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Withdraw from Farah; PTI Seeks Restrictions on Nawaz Speeches

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Topline

  • The PTI has petitioned for restrictions on the broadcast of speeches by Nawaz Sharif as he continues to face criticism for his recent remarks on stalled investigations into the 2008 Mumbai attacks and Pakistani support for proxy militant forces. Hearings in the Mumbai case resumed on Wednesday after having lapsed for months.
  • Taliban forces withdrew from fighting in Farah City early Wednesday; the provincial governor claims that hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed and acknowledged that 25 security personnel and five civilians had died. Elsewhere in the east, heavy fighting was reported in two Ghazni districts.
  • A national assembly committee has summoned National Accountability Bureau chairman Javed Iqbal to explain the NAB’s opening of an investigation against Nawaz Sharif on charges of laundering money to India; two PPP members resigned from the committee in protest. Separately, the Islamabad advocate general has appealed Imran Khan’s acquittal in a case related to the beating of a police officer during PTI protests in 2014.
  • On Tuesday, US military officials confirmed the death of Hazra Abbas, identified as a leader of the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent affiliate and a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander, in an airstrike in Nangarhar on April 23.
  • A Pakistani civilian was reportedly killed in cross-border shooting in the Poonch district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday.
  • Finance Minister Miftah Ismail gave a concluding speech on the budget on Tuesday, accepting a number of proposals from the senate’s review of the bill; passage of the budget is expected to take place later this week.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Indian Border Clashes: Police officials in the Poonch district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir accused Indian forces of killing a civilian man in cross-border shooting on Tuesday. Shelling was also reported in the Sialkot area. [ET]
  • US Diplomat’s Departure: The American diplomat who left the country earlier this week after facing charges related to a crash in Islamabad in early April was reportedly allowed to leave after the family of the victim received a settlement payment. An anonymous Pakistani foreign ministry source also claims that family members will receive US work visas in compensation. [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Backlash Continues Over Sharif Remarks: Opposition lawmakers staged another walkout during remarks by PM Abbasi in the national assembly on Tuesday defending Nawaz Sharif’s controversial Dawn interview, in which he questioned Pakistani support for militant proxies and the slow process of the Mumbai attacks case. National assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq met with Nawaz and other leaders on Tuesday. On Monday evening, prominent Chakwal politician Sardar Ghulam Abbasi announced his resignation from the PML-N, citing Nawaz’s comments. The PTI petitioned the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday, seeking to block the broadcast of speeches by Nawaz and to initiate a criminal case against him; a senate committee led by the PTI separately questioned Pakistan Television’s live coverage of speeches by Nawaz, which Federal Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb defended. On Wednesday, the anti-terrorism court hearing the Mumbai attacks case resumed hearings after a months-long lapse. [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: National Accountability Bureau chairman Javed Iqbal has been summoned by the National Assembly Committee on Law and Justice to appear on Wednesday and explain the NAB’s new investigations against Nawaz Sharif over charges of laundering money to India. Two PPP members resigned from the committee in protest over the move. Nawaz Sharif and his daughter and son-in-law are scheduled to record statements for accountability court hearings on Friday. On Wednesday, Islamabad Advocate General Tariq Mehmood Jahangri challenged Imran Khan’s acquittal in a case related to the beating of a police officer during 2014 PTI protests in Islamabad. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: PPP leaders met on Tuesday to discuss the caretaker government formation with the government; despite earlier reports of an agreement, opposition leader Khurshid Shah has reportedly been tasked with conducting a final round of talks with other opposition parties on proposed appointees. Two PML-N provincial assembly members from Punjab quit the party and joined the PTI after a meeting with Imran Khan on Tuesday. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Debate: Finance Minister Miftah Ismail gave a concluding address on the budget proposal in the national assembly on Tuesday, agreeing to a variety of amendments to the budget proposed by the senate during its review. The Express Tribune notes that the government has incorporated previously announced tax amnesty measures into the budget. Voting on the budget bill is expected to follow later this week. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Gas Tax: On Tuesday, the senate passed an amendment to the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess to recover Rs 12 billion in arrears from compressed natural gas stations; PTI senators opposed the bill, and alleged that CNG owners had collected Rs 62 billion under the GIDC surcharge and were being allowed to pay back only Rs 12 billion.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Senate Passes Human Trafficking Ordinance [Dawn]
  • MQM Lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui Allowed to Travel Abroad [Dawn]
  • Three Arrested in Dera Ghazi Khan [ET] [The Nation]
  • National Logistics Cell Signs Agreement on Creation of SEZ in Dabeji-Thatta [Dawn]
  • Cabinet Approves Rs 114B Equity Injection into Power Projects [ET]
  • Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa Face Power Outages [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Public Sector Enterprises Suffer Rs 3.74 Trillion Loss Over Five Years [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Abandon Farah Offensive: Taliban forces withdrew from an attack on Farah city early Wednesday, local sources report. Afghan security forces claim to have killed hundreds of Taliban fighters, and acknowledge that at least 25 security personnel and five civilians were killed in the fighting. The NATO Resolute Support mission backed up operations to fend off the Taliban assault with A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack fighters and MQ-9 Reaper drones; Afghan Air Force helicopters also provided air support. [WSJ] [WAPO] [Guardian] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Al Qaeda Leader Killed: On Tuesday, U.S. military spokesmen reported that Hazra Abbas, identified as a leader of the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent affiliate and a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander, had been killed along with a bodyguard in an airstrike in Nangarhar’s Sherzad district on April 23. [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Heavy fighting was reported in the Zana Khan and Jaghato districts in Ghazni on Wednesday, beginning Tuesday evening. The WSJ embeds with U.S. commandos in the Mohmand Valley in Nangarhar, who anticipate an uptick in attacks from the local Islamic State affiliate as spring arrives. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Talks with Pakistan: Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on on Tuesday, following the finalization by the two countries’ foreign ministries of a new “Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity”. Details of the Zakhilwal-Bajwa meeting are minimal. [ET]
  • Dostum Interview: Fox News interviews Vice Pres. Dostum in Anakara, who argues that “reconciliation with the Taliban should be handled from the position of strength, and not from the position of appeasement and weakness”.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Flash Floods Kill at Least 34 [Reuters]
  • Abdullah Warns Against Mismanagement of Water Resources [TOLO]
  • Report: Illicit Poppy and the Transformation of the Deserts of Southwest Afghanistan – “Located on the periphery of irrigated lands settled by the Afghan state in the 1950s and 1960s, this area has been at the forefront of technological change in Afghan agricultural production since 2003.” [David Mansfield, AREU]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz Defiant Over Interview Remarks; Taliban Attack Farah City Center

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Topline

  • Nawaz Sharif remains defiant despite facing censure from opposition parties over his remarks in an interview over the weekend, in which he suggested that Pakistan’s support for militant proxies and failure to take action against Lashkar-e-Taiba following the 2008 Mumbai attacks were isolating Pakistan. Treason charges have been filed against Nawaz in the Lahore, Islamabad, and Sindh High Courts.
  • Taliban fighters attacked the Farah city center early Tuesday morning; fighting is ongoing as of this writing, with local sources reporting high casualties and describing the city as on the verge of being overrun, and national officials insisting that they have the situation under control. Additional special forces and airpower reinforcements have reportedly been deployed to force back the attack.
  • The US defense attache facing charges related to a crash in Islamabad in early April was allowed to leave the country on Monday after previously being blocked from doing so.
  • The foreign ministries of Afghanistan and Pakistan finalized an agreement on the “Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity” framework on Monday.
  • Helmand governor Hayatullah Hayat has reportedly been named Nangarhar provincial governor after the resignation of Gulab Mangal on Sunday.
  • The Balochistan provincial government unveiled its budget for the fiscal year on Monday; the Punjab government also presented a supplementary budget for expenditure overruns in the outgoing fiscal year. In the national assembly, Finance Minister Ismail sought approval for plans to borrow Rs 22 trillion over the coming fiscal year to cover debt servicing, a 44% increase over this year.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Diplomat Leaves Pakistan: The U.S. defense attache in Islamabad facing charges related to a crash in early April that left one man dead left the country on Monday, after being blocked from doing so earlier over the weekend. A U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed Col. Joseph Hall’s departure; Pakistani officials have not commented publicly on the move to allow his return, but anonymous sources say they received guarantees from the U.S. that Hall would face prosecution under U.S. law. The Express Tribune reports that the interior ministry approved Hall’s departure and that he flew out of Nur Khan Airbase. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Nawaz Defiant in Face of Growing Censure of Mumbai Remarks: Speaking before the national assembly on Tuesday, PM Abbasi proposed forming a committee to review remarks by Nawaz Sharif that had suggested Pakistan was becoming isolated due to its failure to take action against militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba; Abbasi defended Nawaz, noting that several former military and security officials had acknowledged that the 2008 Mumbai attackers were from Pakistan and suggested that Nawaz’s remarks had been distorted by “Indian media”. Opposition lawmakers staged a walkout; opposition senators criticized Nawaz during senate debate on Monday. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Imran Khan said that “we need to understand why this statement was issued at this time”, suggesting that Nawaz was “appeal[ing] the international establishment to save him from Pakistan army” and calling for him to be charged with treason. Imran also reiterated calls for Abbasi and Shehbaz Sharif to resign. Separate petitions have been filed in the Islamabad High Court, Lahore High Court, and Sindh High Court seeking a treason case against Nawaz. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Nawaz remained defiant, saying that a Monday statement by the National Security Council censuring him was “painful and regrettable and “not based on facts”, adding that “a decision should be made about who is a patriot and who is a traitor … we should find out who laid the foundation of terrorism in the country.” [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • FATA Protests: Demonstrations were held in Mir Ali on Sunday and Monday to protest the killing of two men, including the son of a former national assembly member, in attacks over the weekend. Separately, a delegation of FATA parliamentarians and tribal elders met with Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra and Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak to discuss the demands of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. In Bajuar, tribal elders and administration officials voiced opposition to the PTM, accusing it of “misguiding people in the name of Pakthun rights”. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Dawn reports that MQM-Pakistan faction leader Farooq Sattar announced on Sunday that he would not contest the upcoming elections and would quit his position, describing it as a “powerless office”. The PML-N has invited candidates to apply for party tickets from May 15 – 25. The Election Commission has begun training poll officers, and has given parties until May 25 to apply for ballot symbols. [The Nation] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Debate: On Monday, the Balochistan government unveiled its budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which boosts expenditures to Rs 352.3 billion and will require Rs 62 billion in deficit borrowing. Also on Monday, Punjab Finance Minister Ayesha Ghous Pasha announced a Rs 85.4 billion supplementary budget to cover expenditure overruns for the outgoing fiscal year. In the national assembly, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail sought approval for Rs 22 trillion in borrowing over the next fiscal year to service maturing public debt, a 44% increase over the level for this year. [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Expresses ‘Grave Concern’ Over US Jerusalem Embassy Opening [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Over 100 Security Checkposts and Barriers Removed in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Court Orders [ET]
  • Six Killed in Shikarpur Tribal Clash [ET]
  • Ahsan Iqbal Discharged from Hospital [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Indictments Issued Against Karachi Mayor Over May 2007 Clashes [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Chinese Coal Supplier Accused of Evading Taxes [ET]
  • Sui Southern Gas Allowed Higher Loss Surcharge [ET]
  • Report: Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats Against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan – “Evidence of these threats and attacks is deeply concerning in the already perilous situation for civil society in Pakistan – a country where activists working on a myriad of issues are harassed, attacked and even subjected to enforced disappearance on a regular basis.” [Amnesty International (pdf)]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Attack Farah City: Farah provincial governor Basir Salangi has reportedly fled Farah city following a Taliban attack on the city center early Tuesday morning; in an earlier TOLO interview, Salangi downplayed the seriousness of the attack. Fighting is ongoing as of this writing, with the Taliban reportedly seizing checkposts and government buildings and residents warning of the city’s imminent collapse to Taliban control; local sources describe a much more serious security situation than national officials. Ministry of interior and ministry of defense spokesmen denied that the Taliban held any government buildings, and said that reinforcements were being deployed; a spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said that commandos had deployed to the NDS headquarters, police headquarters, and central prison. [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: One person was wounded in a bombing in a Kabul park on Monday; no claim of responsibility was reported.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Afghanistan and Pakistan Finalize Talks Framework: The foreign ministries of Afghanistan and Pakistan finalized an agreement on the “Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity” framework on Monday, following meetings in Islamabad between Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai. China’s foreign ministry endorsed the move. Khaama Press reports the plan includes, among other elements, the dispatch of military liaison officers between the two countries. [ET]
  • New Nangarhar Governor Named: Hayatullah Hayat, previously the governor of Helmand, has reportedly been appointed governor of Nangarhar following Gulab Mangal’s resignation on Sunday.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Badakhshan Residents Protest National ID Card Rollout [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Turkmenistan Agrees to Reduce Trade Tariffs with Afghanistan [TOLO]
  • Ghani Inaugurates Electricity Project in Logar [Khaama Press]
  • MPs Summon MAIL Minister Over Drought Concerns [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Qari Hekmat’s Islami State Island in Jawzjan After His Death by Drone – “Looking at the current dynamics within the ISKP militancy in Darzab and Qush Tepa, its fighters have remained unified and resilient enough to survive the death of their local supreme leader.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz Draws Rebuke for Comments on Mumbai Attacks; Islamic State Claims Jalalabad Attack

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Topline

  • In an interview on Friday, Nawaz Sharif warned that Pakistan had “isolated ourselves”, noting the continue presence of militant groups and asking “why can’t we complete the trial” of Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Nawaz’s remarks drew swift rebuke from a National Security Council meeting called on Monday at the “suggestion” of the military; the council said that Nawaz’s comments were “incorrect and misleading”, and PML-N leaders maintain that he has been “misquoted”. Nawaz was defiant on Monday, saying that he would “speak the truth without fearing any consequences”.
  • The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a customs department building in Jalalabad on Sunday, which killed at least 15 people and injured more than 40. More than a hundred Afghan police and soldiers have reportedly been killed in fighting over the past week, as the Taliban ramp up their spring offensive.
  • Afghan Interior Minister Wais Barmak announced the appointment of fourteen new provincial police chiefs and two regional commanders on Saturday, warning that they would be replaced if they failed to deliver results within the next three to five months.
  • Pakistan barred the U.S. defense attache involved in a crash in Islamabad in early April from leaving the country on Saturday, after the Islamabad High Court had held on Friday that he did not enjoy absolute diplomatic immunity and could face prosecution for the incident.
  • The PTI and PPP held competing rallies in Karachi on Saturday, the anniversary of 2007 clashes in the city that left dozens dead. Leaders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement were harassed while en route to a PTM rally in Karachi on Sunday; several thousand people nonetheless attended the gathering.
  • PML-N lawyers have filed a Supreme Court petition seeking the removal from office of National Accountability Bureau chairman Javed Iqbal, saying that he was “unable to work with fairness”. Speaking on Friday, PM Abbasi said that NAB investigations and “judicial activism” had “paralyzed” the government.
  • The Supreme Court has suspended an Islamabad High Court ruling that had overturned Election Commission of Pakistan restrictions on development spending and civil service appointments by the provincial and federal governments.
  • Afghan Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami visited Tehran for meetings with Iranian security officials on Sunday.
  • The Khyber Paktunkhwa and Balochistan provincial governments delayed the planned rollouts of their budgets on Friday; the lack of a quorum in the national assembly prevented Finance Minister Miftah Ismail from concluding debate on the national government’s budget.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Sharif Remarks on Mumbai Attacks Draw Rebuke: In a Dawn interview on Friday, Nawaz Sharif said that “you can’t run a country if you have two or three parallel governments … there can only be one government: the constitutional one.” Nawaz also warned that Pakistan had “isolated ourselves… our narrative is not being accepted. … Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” A meeting of Pakistan’s National Security Council was held on Monday at the “suggestion” of the military, and “unanimously termed this statement as incorrect and misleading”, placing the blame on India for delays in the trial of Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives linked to the Mumbai attacks. PM Abbasi met with Nawaz after the NSC meeting, and told a press conference that Nawaz would remain the PML-N’s leader; Abbasi and other PML-N leaders maintain that Nawaz was “misquoted”. Speaking to reporters earlier on Monday, Nawaz was defiant, saying that he would “speak the truth without fearing any consequences” and that “I had asked a question. I need an answer.” Nawaz’s remarks were widely denounced by opposition politicians, and Pakistan Awami Tehreek lawyers have filed a treason petition against him with the Lahore High Court. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • US Attache Blocked from Leaving Country: On Saturday, the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency barred U.S. defense attache Joseph Hall from departing the country, following an Islamabad High Court verdict on Friday that had ruled Hall did not hold “absolute immunity” from prosecution in connection to an early April crash in Islamabad that left one man dead. Anonymous Pakistani officials report that Hall was preparing to board a U.S. military aircraft in Islamabad but was blocked from departing. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy declined to comment on the reports or Hall’s exact location. Separately, Pakistan announced tit-for-tat restrictions on the movements and other activities of American diplomats in Pakistan, in response to a U.S. restriction on travel by Pakistani diplomats working at the embassy in Washington, a move which American officials in turn describe as a response to Pakistani harassment of US diplomats in Pakistan. [NYT] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Military Commanders Meet: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired the annual Formation Commander’s conference of all general officers of the Pakistani army on Friday, where he was quoted warning that “any hostile action anywhere along our frontiers shall be effectively and befittingly responded.” [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Waziristan Attacks: Two people, including the son of a former national assembly member, were killed in separate shootings in Mir Ali, North Waziristan on Saturday evening. On Monday, two security personnel were injured in a roadside bombing near Miram Shah; a police officer was also killed in a separate shooting. The TTP claimed responsibility for another attack on Saturday that reportedly killed seven army soldiers.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PML-N Pushes Back Amid Legal Battles: Speaking on Friday at a project inauguration ceremony, PM Abbasi criticized “judicial activism” and the investigations of the National Accountability Bureau, which he said had “paralyzed” the government’s efforts to deliver on its commitments. Top PML-N party leaders met on Friday and endorsed Nawaz’s criticism of new NAB investigations against him launched last week; anonymous party sources tell the Express Tribune the party remains divided on how confrontational of an approach to take, but on Saturday, a party lawyer petitioned the Supreme Court to remove NAB chairman Javed Iqbal from his position for “damaging the reputation of a political leader without any cogent material and causing reckless loss to the institution as he could not hold office due to partiality and unable to work with fairness”. On Sunday, the NAB summoned Nawaz for hearings as part of a separate corruption investigation. [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Other Corruption Investigations: Speaking during hearings on Sunday related to the construction of Imran Khan’s Bani Gala residence, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar insisted that Imran was not a “favorite” of the judiciary. On Saturday, former Lahore Development Authority chairman Ahad Khan Cheema’s custody with the National Accountability Bureau was extended for another seven days. Two more suspects were arrested in connection to his case on Friday. The Express Tribune reports that government functions have effectively halted over concerns that members of the civil service bureaucracy may face further investigations by the NAB, and that the government is considering classifying cabinet documents as secret to avoid handing them over as part of NAB probes. On Sunday, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the former chairman of the National Insurance Company Ltd, Ayaz Khan Niazi. On Saturday, Chief Justice Nisar ordered Airblue Airlines to pay compensation to the families of the 2010 Margalla Hills crash; contrary to initial reports, PM Abbasi, who founded Airblue, does not appear to have been summoned for those hearings, which also looked at disputes over the veracity of the educational degrees of Airblue Airlines pilots. On Saturday, Facebook reversed a block on a Dawn news article from October 2017 that featured an interview from Javed Hashmi criticizing the judiciary; Facebook did not clarify the reason for the initial restriction. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • PTI and PPP Rally in Karachi on Anniversary of 2007 Clash: Imran Khan and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari held competing rallies in Karachi on Saturday, the anniversary of widespread clashes in 2007 that coincided with the visit of then-chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Imran’s remarks focused on a ten-point plan to “revive Karachi’s old glory”, while Bilawal dismissed the PTI as “another MQM”, which he denounced as “a party of terrorists”, blaming Karachi mayor Waseem Akhtar for instigating the 2007 incident. PTI and PPP activists had recently clashed in advance of Saturday’s rallies, which were held in separate locations; no major incidents were reported Saturday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • PTM Leaders Rallies in Karachi Despite Restrictions: Manzoor Pashteen, a prominent leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, was blocked from boarding a flight from Islamabad to Karachi on Saturday in advance of a planned PTM rally in Karachi on Sunday, forcing him to travel by road. CNN profiles Pashteen. The PTM had originally planned to hold the rally on Saturday, but was denied permission after the PTI and PPP sought to stage gatherings on the same day. Over 150 PTM activists have been charged by Karachi police with sedition and other crimes for smaller gatherings held in advance of the rally; some arrests have been reported, although details are limited. On Friday evening, Karachi University professor Riaz Ahmed was abducted; he was subsequently returned home on Saturday, but declined to comment on the incident. On Saturday evening, Karachi city officials gave “conditional permission” to the PTM to hold its rally, but warned that the gathering would not be allowed to “deliver any speech against the ideology of Pakistan, state of Pakistan, its institutions and any religion”, among other restrictions. Several thousand people attended the rally on Sunday, where Pashteen reiterated demands for action against former Karachi police officer Rao Anwar in connection to the January killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud and warned of “worldwide protest” if detained activists were not released. At hearings on Monday, a witness for the prosecution reversed previous testimony that Anwar had been present at the time of Naqeebullah’s death, saying that he had been coerced. [NYT] [Reuters] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Election Preparations: On Saturday, the Supreme Court suspended an Islamabad High Court verdict that had overturned an Election Commission order barring the provincial and federal governments from carrying out development spending and recruitment. The ECP had appealed the IHC ruling on Friday. Separately, the ECP has directed parties to apply for ballot symbols by May 15, noting new requirements that at least five percent of general seat tickets be allotted to female candidates. [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The Nation reports that PM Abbasi and PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah have reached an agreement on the appointment of a caretaker prime minister and cabinet, to be announced May 15. The PTI has extended the deadline for candidate applications for party tickets until May 14. The Muttahid Majlis-e-Amal coalition held a rally in Lahore on Sunday; on Saturday, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haque led a gathering in Kalat, where he vowed to “carry out true accountability” and institute an “Islamic system of government”. Former PTI leader Javed Hashmi officially rejoined the PML-N on Saturday. Shahbuddin Khan, a PML-N national assembly member from FATA, announced that he was quitting the party on Saturday, citing a delayed Pakistan International Airlines flight. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Debate: The lack of a quorum in the national assembly on Friday prevented Finance Minister Miftah Ismail from concluding debate over the budget, leading to an adjournment until Monday. Speaking at a press conference on Friday following the Sindh government’s budget briefing, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah accused the federal government of withholding the transfer of funds to the province from the federal divisible pool, saying only Rs 449 billion out of an original budget of Rs 493 billion had been received. The PTI government in Khyber Paktunkhwa postponed a planned budget session for the second time on Friday, pushing the date back until May 22; the government faces a no-confidence motion and lacks a governing majority. Also on Friday, the Balochistan provincial government delayed its budget unveiling until May 14. [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [APP]
  • PIA Bailout: A cabinet meeting on Friday approved a Rs 20 billion bailout package for Pakistan International Airlines, the fifth such package approved in the past year and a half; the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet also approved increasing the governments guarantee of PIA debts to Rs 195 billion.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Judge Qazi Faez Isa Questions ‘Unwarranted and Unprecedented’ Reconstitution of Bench by Chief Justice [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Cabinet Empowers Minister to Remove or Place Name on ECL [The Nation]
  • Government Can’t Arrest TLYRA Leader Due to Faizabad Accord, Law Minister Says [ET]
  • Maulana Abdul Aziz Barred from Leading Lal Masjid Friday Prayers [Dawn]
  • Sindh Police Attempt Crackdown on Kashmore Bandits [ET]
  • Supreme Court Sets One-Month Deadline for Compensation to Quetta Church Attack Victims [Dawn]
  • Shaukat Hussain Appointed Head of Securities and Exchange Commission [ET]
  • LNG Re-classified as ‘Natural Gas’ by Cabinet Meeting [Dawn]
  • Finance Minister Says Under-Invoicing Raises Questions on Trade Data [ET]
  • PM Inaugurates Karachi Port Terminal, Khyber Paktunkhwa Roads Projects [ET] [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Jalalabad Attack: At least 15 people were killed and more than 40 injured in a five-hour complex attack near a customs department building in Jalalabad on Sunday; the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, which follows several major attacks in Kabul by the group. Shortly after the attack, Nangarhar governor Gulab Mangal resigned, although initial reports did not clarify whether his action was related to the recent attack. Elsewhere in Nangarhar, a U.S. airstrike in the Haska Mina district on Sunday reportedly killed four ISIS fighters, and provincial government officials reported that five Taliban fighters were killed in operations in the Bati Kot district on Saturday. [AP] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • New Provincial Police Chiefs: On Saturday, Interior Minister Wais Barmak announced the appointment of fourteen new provincial police chiefs and two senior police commanders, telling reporters that “the new police chiefs have been given three to five months to bring changes in terms of administration, fighting corruption and bringing people, government closer and improving security; otherwise, they will be sacked from their posts”. The new appointments include Kunduz, Herat, Khost, Takhar, Faryab, Sar-e-Pul, Logar, Laghman, Ghazni, Nuristan, Badakhshan, Daikundi, Badghis, and Kunar provinces.
  • Defense Minister Visits Iran: Defense Minister Gen. Tariq Shah Bahrami visited Iran on Sunday for talks with the Iranian military leadership; Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, was quoted telling Bahrami that Iran wanted to expand its military cooperation with the Afghan security forces, while Secretary of the National Security Council Ali Shamkani warned Bahrami that “the United States is the main player organizing terrorists and fomenting instability and insecurity” in the region.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: The NYT reports that more than a hundred Afghan soldiers and police have been killed in the past week, including as many as 70 police officers killed in heavy fighting in Zabul province. A spokesman for the interior ministry acknowledged that government forces had retreated from districts in Badakhshan, Faryab, and Baghlan provinces, but said they were working to retake the areas. Officials in Ghor province tell Pajhwok that Taliban fighters overran portions of the Shahrak district after an attack on Friday evening. At least eight Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack in Dasht-e-Archi district in Kunduz on Saturday evening. An Afghan Air Force helicopter crash landed in the Nahr-e-Siraj district in Helmand province on Sunday morning; the crew was evacuated, but the helicopter was destroyed, and the Taliban claim to have shot it down. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Indonesia Hosts Peace Conference: There is additional reporting on Friday’s gathering in Indonesia, where religious scholars from Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Pakistan issued a fatwa edict that condemned violence in Afghanistan and urged all participants in the conflict to enter into peace talks. Pres. Ghani’s office welcomed the move in a statement on Sunday, calling on other religious leaders in the Islamic world to “play a pivotal role in maintaining peace and eliminating terrorism”. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Atta Noor Remains a Power in Balkh: Despite formally stepping down from office and being replaced by Mohammad Ishaq Rahgozar as governor, Atta Mohammad Noor remains a dominant force in Balkh, the Washington Post reports.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Trade Agreements: A spokesman for the Afghan ministry of commerce said Friday that an agreement had been signed to reduce tariffs on fruit and vegetable exports to Pakistan and allow for the export of Afghan cotton. The government is reportedly planning to announce new “air corridor” agreements with Saudi Arabia and Turkey this week.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Government Accused of Restricting Media Activities [TOLO]
  • National Security Advisor Atmar Meets with CENTCOM Gen. Votel [Khaama Press]
  • Land Acquisition Could Delay TAPI Construction, Petroleum Ministry Says [TOLO]
  • 148 Arrested in Kabul in Latest Crackdown on Criminal Suspects [Khaama Press]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: New Restrictions on US and Pakistani Diplomats; Indonesia Hosts Conference on Afghan Peace

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Topline

  • Pakistan’s foreign ministry has announced new restrictions on the movement of US diplomats in the country, which it said was in response to restrictions imposed by the US on Pakistani diplomats.
  • On Thursday, Nawaz Sharif demanded that the head of the National Accountability Bureau substantiate allegations of his involvement in the transfer of money to India or resign; chairman Javed Iqbal defended the NAB in separate remarks on Thursday.
  • Indonesia hosted a conference of Islamic scholars on Friday, which endorsed the Afghan government’s peace plan and called on all parties to the conflict to enter into direct peace talks.
  • The Afghan Independent Election Commission has extended the first phase of voter registration in the provincial capitals by a month; the AFP reports that around 1.5 million voters have been registered to date, far below the IEC’s total target of 14 million registrations.
  • As many as forty or more security personnel have reportedly been killed in attacks in Farah province, although provincial government officials have given a lower death toll.
  • The Islamabad High Court has overturned Election Commission restrictions on development program spending and the recruitment and transfer of civil servants that were imposed in April.
  • At least six PML-N legislators defected to join the PTI and Balochistan Awami Party on Thursday. The group of former PML-N legislators who split from the party last month to demand the formation of a south Punjab province and who announced a merger with the PTI yesterday are reportedly split over whether to maintain a separate party identity from the PTI.
  • The Sindh provincial government presented its budget plan on Thursday; the Balochistan government will do so on Friday.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Pakistan Imposes New Travel Restrictions on US Diplomats: On Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry announced new restrictions on the movement and activities of US diplomats within the country, in response to restrictions imposed by the US on Pakistani diplomats. Also on Friday, the Islamabad High Court ruled that the US defense attache involved in a crash in early April that left one man dead “does not have absolute immunity”, and has ordered the interior ministry to report within two weeks on whether it will bar him from leaving the country. Separately, the foreign ministry’s spokesman confirmed earlier reports on Thursday that Pakistan was protesting a US block on the sanctioning of TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar leader Umer Khalid Khorasani by the UN, the rationale for which is unclear.
  • Supreme Court Hearing on Hazara Killings: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar presided over hearings on Friday on attacks on the Hazara community in Quetta, which he said were “equivalent to wiping out an entire generation” and were a “case of ethnic cleansing”. [Dawn]
  • Bannu Bombing: At least six people were injured and one policeman killed in a roadside bombing in the Bannu district in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Friday; no immediate claim of responsibility has been reported.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif and NAB Standoff: In a press conference on Thursday, Nawaz Sharif demanded that National Accountability Bureau chairman Javed Iqbal substantiate charges of his involvement in alleged transfer of money to India or otherwise tender and apology and resign, adding that “the NAB is a product of a dictator which should be eliminated once and for all”. Speaking in Peshawar on Thursday, Iqbal did not directly respond to Sharif’s complaints but insisted that the NAB was undeterred and defended its investigations. On Friday, the Lahore High Court indicted six PML-N leaders on contempt of court charges after they staged a protest rally in Kasur last month over the disqualification verdict against Nawaz Sharif. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • IHC Overturns ECP Ban on Pre-Election Spending: On Thursday, the Islamabad High Court struck down an ECP order from April that had barred the provincial and national governments from recruiting new public servants and halted spending on development projects. [The Nation] [ET]
  • PTM Protests: A government-backed jirga of tribal elders called for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement to be allowed to carry out its planned rally in Karachi on May 13 without disruption, but also called on the group to refrain from “anti-state statements”. PTM leaders report that several of their members have been arrested prior to the Karachi rally; jirga talks are planned for May 16.
  • FATA Reforms: PM Abbasi met with parliamentary party leaders on Thursday to discuss plans for the merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa but failed to secure the support of the government’s JUI-F and PkMAP allies, who have opposed the merger. Abbasi told the group that he would next consult with the PML-N central leadership. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Defense Minister Given Foreign Ministry Portfolio: Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan has reportedly been given the foreign ministry portfolio following Khawaja Asif’s disqualification from office last month. [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: Six PML-N national assembly members and two Punjab assembly members defected from the party on Thursday to join the PTI and the Balochistan Awami Party. Dawn reports some dissension within the Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz over the group’s announced merger with the PTI, with some preferring to maintain the new party’s identity and to partner with the PTI as an alliance instead. Shehbaz Sharif met with PML-N leaders from south Punjab on Thursday to discuss the recent defections and the party’s election strategy. The Nation reports former PTI leader Javed Hashmi will re-join the PML-N at a rally in Multan on Friday. Speaking in the national assembly on Thursday, PkMAP leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai called on Chief of Army Staff Bajwa to “stop his subordinates from interfering in politics” and called for a “grand jirga of judges, generals, politicians and journalists to steer the country out of crisis”. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Debate: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah presented the provincial government budget in a speech on Thursday; the budget plans for Rs 1.14 trillion in total outlays for the 2018-19 fiscal year but authorizes expenditures only for the first quarter, leaving the next government to approve the remainder of the fiscal year’s budget. The budget projects higher revenues from federal government transfers and increased sales tax collection. The Balochistan provincial government will unveil its budget on Friday. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Economic Indicators: Pakistan’s trade deficit widened in April and now totals $29.8 billion for the first ten months of the fiscal year, a 14.3% increase year-on-year. Remittances fell month-on-month in April, but remain up from last year, and total $16.2 billion for the first ten months of the fiscal year. The State Bank of Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves total $11.16 billion as of May 4.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • National Security Advisor Warns of Consequences of Hostile India-Pakistan Relations [ET]
  • Three Suspected Gangsters Killed in Lyari After Attack on PML-N Leader [Dawn]
  • Peshawar High Court Suspends Death Sentence of Military Court Convict [Dawn]
  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Meets with Hospitalized Ahsan Iqbal [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pashtun People Power is Jolting the Military Establishment in Pakistan – “A strategic shift, leading to a focus on Pakistanis’ welfare rather than endless war, is needed. Trying to suppress dissent through threats is likely to result only in instability and greater alienation of the Pashtuns and other minorities.” [Abubakar Siddiqui, WAPO]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Reuters reports that more than thirty people, most of them police officers, have reportedly been killed in attacks in Farah province in the Balabuluk district and the provincial capital, according to the head of the provincial council. Ariana News puts the death toll at 43 soldiers; a spokesman for the provincial governor said that only seven soldiers were killed in the Balabuluk district attack. Officials in Laghman say that 12 Taliban fighters were killed in a joint special forces and NDS operation in the Aligar district on Wednesday. Kabul police officials say that a travel agency specializing in Indian visa services was the target of Wednesday’s attack in central Kabul, which was claimed by the Talban. [TOLO]
  • Votel Visit: CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel visited Kabul on Thursday and Friday for meetings with Pres. Ghani and Afghan security officials.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Indonesia Hosts Conference on Afghan Peace: Indonesian Pres. Joko Widodo hosted a conference of religious scholars in Jakarta on Friday, at which the ulema endorsed the Afghan government’s peace initiative and called upon all sides to enter into direct peace talks. [Pajhwok] [TOLO]
  • Election Preparations: The Independent Election Commission has extended the first phase of voter registration in provincial capitals by a month, through mid-June. As of Thursday, the IEC had reportedly registered around 1.5 million voters; it had sought to register 14 million voters in total during the voting registration period.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Suspect Behind Killing of BBC Reporter in Khost Arrested [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz Denounces New NAB Investigation; NDS Links Latest Kabul Attacks to Haqqanis and LeT

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Topline

  • Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Nawaz Sharif denounced a new National Accountability Bureau money laundering investigation against him, saying that its apparently tenuous reliance on a World Bank report into Indian remittances meant that the NAB had “lost credibility”.
  • Anonymous Pakistani foreign ministry officials accuse the US of blocking the designation of TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar leader Umer Khalid Khursani for the UN sanctions blacklist, apparently over disputes regarding his location in Afghanistan.
  • The NDS accused the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba of organizing Wednesday’s two separate attacks in Kabul, which killed at least seven people, and dismissed a claim of responsibility by the Islamic State for one of those attacks.
  • Testifying before a senate defense appropriations committee on Wednesday, Sec. Mattis and Gen. Dunford defended the performance of the Afghan security forces despite declining numbers, arguing that they were focused on “quality not quantity”.
  • Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Aizaz Chaudhary will conclude his tenure at the end of May, to be succeeded by Ali Jahangir Siddiqui.
  • The breakaway faction of PML-N legislators demanding a new South Punjab province formally merged with the PTI at a ceremony on Wednesday, a move that complicates PPP plans to support those candidates as independents.
  • The Pakistani senate concluded debate on the government’s budget proposal, recommending 157 changes to the draft budget; the opposition appears to have dropped demands for a short-term budget rather than a full year. Shehbaz Sharif and other top PML-N leaders are reportedly conducting extensive personal outreach to PML-N legislators, as the party fears further defections ahead of a budget vote on May 14.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • UN Sanctions Dispute: Anonymous Pakistani foreign ministry officials accuse the United States of blocking a UN Security Council proposal to add TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar leader Umer Khalid Khurasani to the UN sanctions blacklist, apparently over his location being listed as in Afghanistan; the TTP JUA as an organization has already been listed for sanctions.
  • NGO Crackdown: Dawn reports that the interior ministry has ordered police to shut down the operations of 11 international NGOs who were denied permits to operate in Pakistan in November, including four UK-based organizations and two from the US.
  • LJ-Alami Member Arrested: Quetta police officials announced the arrest on Wednesday of a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami suspect linked with at least 40 deaths in Quetta, including police, Frontier Corps personnel, and members of the Hazara minority community. [ET]
  • JUD Asset Seizures: The Punjab government is reportedly evaluating the costs of funding the operations of Jamaat-ud-Dawa seminaries it seized in February and planning to create a special budget line in the new budget to pay for their administration.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PML-N Pushes Back on New NAB Investigation: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Nawaz Sharif denounced a new National Accountability Bureau investigation against him on charges of money laundering, saying the NAB had “lost credibility” and demanding an apology within 24 hours. The NAB said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “verifying the complaint” that Nawaz was responsible for $4.9 billion in illegal transfers to India, a charge that appears to be based on an opinion column tied to a 2016 World Bank report on remittances. PM Abbasi also denounced the new probe as “pre-poll rigging” in remarks in the national assembly on Wednesday. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • New US Ambassador: Dawn reports that Amb. Aizaz Chaudhary is expected to conclude his tenure in Washington on May 29, to be replaced by Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, who received an agrément for his posting earlier this week.
  • Election Campaigning: The Junoobi Punjab Sub Mahaz, the faction of south Punjab PML-N legislators who quit the part last month, officially merged with the PTI at a press conference in Islamabad on Wednesday; Imran Khan pledged support for the creation of a new South Punjab province. The Nation reports that the PPP had hoped to support the JPSM’s candidates as independents. Eight PTI Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly legislators have been expelled from the party for failing to respond to charges that they had sold their vote in the senate elections in February, a spokesman for the chief minister confirmed Wednesday. [The Nation] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Election Preparations: At a hearing on Thursday, the Supreme Court declined a PTI petition seeking the use of electronic voting systems in the upcoming general elections. Speaking at a press conference in Quetta on Wednesday, JUI-F leader Maulana Ghafoor Haideri criticized new constituency boundaries in Balochistan.
  • Chief Justice Visits Peshawar: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar visited Peshawar on Wednesday for hearings, where he met with the families of victims of the 2014 Army Public School attack and ordered the formation of a judicial commission to address their grievances. Nisar also visited the Peshawar Central Prison to evaluate health facilities, and ordered the removal of road checkposts within the city. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Other Court Proceedings and Corruption Investigations: The PTI has changed its lawyer in the Election Commission hearings regarding allegations of improper overseas fundraising, delaying proceedings. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that misconduct trials against judges could be heard in public, but could still be held behind closed doors if the Supreme Judicial Council holds them to be “scandalous”. The Supreme Court has summoned PM Abbasi and the heads of all Pakistani airlines for a hearing on allegations that pilots were holding fake educational degrees. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Debate: On Wednesday, the senate adopted 157 recommendations for the national assembly to consider after completing its review of the government’s budget proposal; in doing so, the opposition ultimately dropped previous arguments that the budget term should only last four months. Shehbaz Sharif and other top PML-N leaders are reportedly conducting extensive personal outreach to PML-N lawmakers to ensure their support for the budget’s passage, with concerns high over further defections in advance of the May 14 vote. The Sindh provincial government is expected to unveil its budget on Thursday; on Wednesday, Sindh Governor Muhammad Zubair announced a new Rs 25 billion development package for Karachi. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Girls Schools in North Waziristan Damaged in Bombings [Dawn] [ET]
  • FIA Forms Body to Implement Asghar Khan Case Verdict [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Center and Provinces Fail to Agree on Mechanism for Net Hydel Profit [ET]
  • Local PML-N Leader Injured in Lyari Attack; Charges Filed in PTI-PPP Clash in Karachi [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Foreign Ministry Expresses Concern Over US Action on Iran Deal [Dawn]
  • PML-N Loyalists Accommodated as Law Officers [ET]
  • Farooq Sattar Reportedly Denied US Visa [ET]
  • First Generation RLNG Plants Fire Up in Shadow of Second Generation Circular Debt [Dawn] [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Attacks: The reported death toll from Wednesday’s two separate attacks in Kabul has risen to at least seven, including two police officers; another 17 people were wounded. The NDS accused the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba of carrying out the attacks, and cast skepticism on a claim of responsibility from the Islamic State for one of the attacks on a police station in the western Dasht-e-Barchi district. [Reuters] [TOLO] [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press]
  • Mattis and Dunford Testify: Speaking before the senate defense appropriations committee on Wednesday, Sec. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford defended the performance of the Afghan security forces, arguing that the force was becoming better at initiating attacks against the Taliban despite declining numbers, saying that the focus is on “quality not quantity”.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: The head of the Baghlan provincial council, Mohammad Safdar Mohseni, tells TOLO that as many as a hundred Afghan security personnel are missing following the Taliban’s takeover of the Tala wa Barfak district on Tuesday; at least six soldiers have been confirmed to have been killed. Paktia provincial government officials claim that 22 Taliban fighters were killed in joint operations with US forces in the Aryoub Azai district. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Iran Deal Reactions: A spokesman for Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said that Afghanistan would aim to maintain friendly relations with both the United States and Iran after the Trump administration’s cancellation of its Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement with Iran; High Peace Council chairman Karim Khalili expressed hope that the move would not affect the peace process in Afghanistan.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Pakistan Trade: An Afghan delegation led by deputy minister for commerce Kamila Siqqui visited Islamabad and met with Pakistani National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua on Wednesday; the two sides reportedly “agreed that the economy should not be linked with politics and business must continue to prosper”.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghanistan and Indonesia Seek to Enhance Economic Cooperation [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: End of Hiatus

Note: After an approximately two-month hiatus, the news is returning to regular daily updates. As some readers might be aware, my wife Julia Fox passed away due to complications from brain surgery after a sudden-onset cancer in mid-March, and I have been on bereavement leave for the intervening period. I have recently returned to work. While I have gained a new perspective from this experience on what may or may not be truly important in life, tracking the news and producing these summaries has for better or worse been a daily constant for the past ten years, so for the time being I am resuming them as I work to reestablish a regular routine and resume a professional focus on the South Asia region. As you may imagine, I am not making long term plans of any kind these days, but should I ultimately decide to discontinue this service, for whatever reason, I will aim to give as much advance notice as I can.

For the immediately foreseeable future, however, I plan to resume regular daily news summaries and hope they will continue to prove useful for readers. As part of my own process of reorientation I collected and summarized some of the most significant developments that I was able to reconstruct from the preceding two months, covering the period from March 8 – May 9. This “summary” is much too long to be of use or interest to most readers and doubtlessly still features significant ommissions, but follows here for reference. Normal-length daily updates will resume on their usual schedule beginning tomorrow.

Thank you, and take care.

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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Five Senators Under Scrutiny for Dual Nationality; Suicide Bomber Targets Hazaras in Kabul

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Topline

  • The Election Commission of Pakistan formally notified the results of the senate elections except for five senators who are accused of holding dual nationalities; the Supreme Court has set hearings on the issue for Saturday, ahead of a vote on the new chairmanship at the start of next week.
  • A suicide bomber attacked a Hazara political gathering in Kabul on Friday, killing between seven and thirteen people and wounding many more; no immediate claim of responsibility has been reported, but deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq blamed the Islamic State.
  • On Thursday, the US State Department announced new bounties for the location of TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah and the heads of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Islam. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua called for “structured dialogue” between the U.S. and Pakistan, and “less on kinetics and more reconciliations” in Afghanistan.
  • Speaking at a UN Security Council session on Thursday, UN Special Representative Tadamichi Yamamoto called on the Taliban to enter into talks with the Afghan government.
  • In a ruling on Thursday, the Islamabad High Court ordered the ECP to re-hear a party registration application from the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s Milli Muslim League, which the ECP previously denied.
  • In a ruling on Friday, the IHC ordered that declarations of faith be made compulsory for all civil servants, members of the army, and the judiciary, and that information on an individual citizen’s “true faith” be included on all major identification documents.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Reward for Location of TTP Leader: On Thursday, the US State Department announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the location of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander Maulana Fazlullah, and $3 million each for Abdul Wali, the leader of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, and Mangal Bagh, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Islam. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman told a weekly press briefing that Pakistan “has always extended maximum possible cooperation that could help achieve our shared objectives” with the United States, which he said included “peace and stability in Afghanistan”. Speaking to reporters in Washington, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua called for “structured dialogue” and said that Pakistan “wants less on kinetics and more reconciliations [in Afghanistan], as ultimately it’s reconciliation that produces results”. [ET]
  • JuD Sanctions: Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza briefed a senate panel on Thursday, reporting that all Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation properties had been taken over by the government in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, and 148 properties or assets have been seized in Punjab. Separately on Thursday, the Islamabad High Court referred back to the Election Commission a JuD petition challenging the rejection of a party registration for its Milli Muslim League political party, directing the ECP to re-hear the application. [Dawn] [AP]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: On Friday, the Election Commission formally notified the election results of all but five senators elected last Saturday; the five are accused of holding dual nationality, and include Nuzhat Sadiq, Haroon Akhter, Chaudhry Sarwar, and Saeeda Abbasi from Punjab, and Khuda Babar from Balochistan. The Supreme Court ordered affidavits from three Abbasi, Sadiq, and Sarwar that they had renounced their dual nationalities after they appeared before the court on Thursday; the court is set to hear the case on Saturday. Negotiations continue amongst the parties over the choice of a new senate chairman; explaining his support for an alternative candidate on Thursday, former Pres. Zardari said that incumbent Chairman Raza Rabbani did “not resolve party’s reservations regarding the 18th Amendment and tried to side with Nawaz Sharif during his tenure”. Imran Khan announced on Thursday that the PTI would back a candidate chosen by Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddos Bizenjo, describing his goal as blocking the PML-N from taking the chairmanship. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Islamabad High Court Rules Declaration of Faith Compulsory: In a ruling on Friday, the Islamabad High Court ordered that it was mandatory for all citizens of Pakistan to declare their “true faith”, and for this information to be recorded on birth certificates, ID cards, voter lists, and passports. The court also ruled that members of the civil service, armed forces, or judiciary “must take an oath which ensures compliance with the definition of Muslim and non-Muslim provided in the Constitution”. Separately, the AP profiles the case of Aasia Bibi.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: During court hearings on Thursday at which he was direct to focus only on a specific corruption case at hand, Panama Papers Joint Investigation Team head Wajid Zia testified that the investigation “could not be seen in parts” and that its findings were “inseparable”. Judge Muhammad Bashir, the judge hearing the case, received a three-year extension to his tenure on Thursday. Dawn reports that the National Accountability Bureau is expanding its corruption investigations against former Lahore Development Authority director Ahad Khan Cheema. A spokesman for the Punjab government confirmed that Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif would cooperate with a court order to repay funds used for government advertisements. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The PTI’s Punjab chapter announced plans to file legal challenges against new constituency boundaries in the Lahore High Court and Supreme Court, accusing the PML-N of gerrymandering them to minimize opposition party strength. In a farewell speech in the senate on Thursday, PPP senator Aitzaz Ahsan denounced the PML-N for “attacking the higher judiciary of the country in speeches and rallies”, saying that doing so was “creating space for a dictator”. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Missing Activist Samar Abbas Contacts Family [Dawn]
  • JUI-F Leader Vows to ‘Stop Blasphemy’ at Rally in Support of Mashal Khan Lynching Suspect [ET]
  • Foreign Minister Insists Saudi Deployment Limited to ‘Internal Security’ [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Apex Body Orders Renaming of Buildings and Roads Honoring Altaf Hussain [Dawn]
  • Baloch Republican Army Commander Surrenders [ET]
  • Court Orders Musharraf’s Arrest and Extradition [Dawn]
  • Ministries Ask K-Electric to Disclose Stake Sale Agreement [ET]
  • Privatization Commission Reviews Plans for PIA Restructuring [Dawn]
  • Renault Suffers Setback as Pakistan Steel Mills Refuses to Provide Allocated Land [ET]
  • Commentary: To Be Young and Pashtun in Pakistan – “Mr. Mehsud, like me, was trying to build a life in a Pakistani city far from home. Doing that requires acts of will and hope despite an awareness of a history of neglect, prejudice and violence that the people of the tribal areas share with Pakistan.” [Raza Wazir, NYT]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Bombing: A suicide bomber attacked a gathering in Kabul on Friday commemorating the death anniversary of Abdul Ali Mazari, a Hazara political leader killed by the Taliban in 1995; reports of the death toll vary, with anywhere between seven to thirteen reported dead, and many more injured. No immediate claim of responsibility has been reported; deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq blamed the Islamic State. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: Pres. Ghani met with military officials on Thursday to review plans for a new nationwide military operation scheduled to be launched at the new solar year on March 21. On Thursday evening, at least sixteen Afghan soldiers and Afghan Local Police militiamen were killed in a Taliban attack in the Khaja Ghar district in Takhar province. Officials in Kandahar’s Maiwand district claim that as many as sixty Taliban fighters were killed in U.S. airstrikes on Wednesday evening. [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Speaking at a UN Security Council session on Thursday on the latest quarterly report on the situation in Afghanistan, UN Special Representative Tadamichi Yamamoto called on the Taliban to enter into talks with the Afghan government “to put an end to the suffering of the Afghan people”, saying that “it is now incumbent upon the Taliban to come forward with an offer of their own” in response to the government’s plan. On Thursday, the Afghan High Peace Council said that Indonesia will host a meeting of religious scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia to discuss the conflict in Afghanistan; a date for the conference was not announced. [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Female Police Officers Help Security on Afghan Front Line [Reuters]
  • AIHRC Chair Blasts Govt Over Gender Inequality [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz Backs Rabbani As Senate Chairman, But Zardari Opposed; Drone Strike in Kunar Targets TTP

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Topline

  • In a meeting with coalition partners on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif backed Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani’s continuation in that position, but former Pres. Zardari confirmed his opposition to another term for Rabbani in remarks on Wednesday, without elaborating.
  • A U.S. drone strike in Kunar province killed twenty or more Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants, including the son of TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah and several top commanders and trainers.
  • PM Abbasi has reportedly nominated Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, an advisor to the prime minister and business leader, as the new ambassador to the United States.
  • India and Pakistan have agreed to a release of elderly, disabled, and female civilian prisoners; Pakistan has proposed extending the amnesty to prisoners over the age of 60 or under the age of 18.
  • Kazakhstan has granted the United States transit access for non-military materiel between the Caspian Sea and Uzbekistan, in a possible alternative supply route that bypasses both Russia and Pakistan.
  • The Afghan ministry of defense sent a delegation to Tehran for talks on regional security issues on Wednesday.
  • Senator Farhatullah Babar resigned as a spokesman for former Pres. Zardari and the PPP on Wednesday following a farewell speech in the senate the day prior in which he criticized the “judicialisation of politics and politicisation of the judiciary”; he remains the party secretary general.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • India and Pakistan Agree on Prisoner Exchange: On Wednesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry announced that it had agreed to an Indian proposal for both sides to release all prisoners who are either over 70 years of age, mentally disabled, or women; Foreign Minister Khawaj Asif reportedly also proposed extending the amnesty to include prisoners over 60 or under the age of 18. [AP]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: Nawaz Sharif met with other top government coalition partners on Tuesday, including the JUI-F, PkMAP, and National Party, to discuss elections for a new senate chairman. Dawn reports that Nawaz backed the continuation of current chairman Raza Rabbani in his position. Former Pres. Zardari confirmed his opposition to Rabbani’s continuation in office at a press conference on Wednesday after a meeting with JUI-F leader Fazl-ur Rehman, cutting short the conference without elaborating. Another PML-N source tells Dawn that the party is considering National Party chairman Hasil Khan Bizenjo for the chairmanship if the PPP is unwilling to back Rabbani; an Express Tribune report suggests that rival factions of the PML-N are also backing former information minister Pervaiz Rashid or senator Raja Zaraful Haq as candidates. The PPP leader is reportedly considering former finance minister Saleem Mandviwala for the position. Speaking on Wednesday, Imran Khan said that his party was seeking to nominate its own chairman independent of the PML-N or PPP, who he suggested would be from Balochistan. The Nation reports that Imran may announce actions today against PTI legislators who failed to follow party direction on their votes in the senate elections. On Thursday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar set a Mar 10 date for hearings on four senators-elect accused of holding dual nationality. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • US Relations: PM Abbasi has nominated Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, the son of a prominent businessman and a chairman himself of JS Bank Ltd, as the new ambassador to the United States; Siddiqui has been serving as an advisor to the prime minister since last August. Anonymous Pakistani foreign ministry sources tell The Nation that “trust is building” as a result of Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua’s visit to Washington this week, but provide no details on her talks. [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: At hearings on Wednesday, lawyers for Nawaz Sharif sought to block the inclusion of the Joint Investigation Team report on the Panama Papers as evidence in the corruption trial against Nawaz. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif to repay Rs 5.5 million for a Punjab government advertisement carrying his photograph. On Wednesday, the National Accountability Bureau began investigations into PTI allegations of money laundering by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Wednesday, the PPP announced that Senator Farhatullah Babar had resigned as a spokesman for the party and former Pres. Zardari, after he criticized the “judicialisation of politics and politicisation of the judiciary” in farewell remarks in the senate on Tuesday. He remains the party’s secretary general. In remarks on Wednesday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari challenged Imran Khan to contest elections in Karachi, and denounced the PTI and MQM as “friends of terrorists”. On Wednesday, the PTI announced that PML-N lawmaker Raza Hayat had joined the PTI. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet on Wednesday approved a Rs 93 billion plan to raise financing for the energy sector and pay down circular debts owed to independent power producers. [The Nation] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • IHC Reserves Verdict in Khatm-e-Nabuwat Clause Change Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Report Reveals 213 Govt Officers Hold Dual Nationality [Dawn]
  • PTI Councilor Arrested in Mashal Khan Lynching Case [ET] [Dawn]
  • Waqt Group Accuses Federal Ombudswoman of Attacking TV Crew [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Reopening of Third Border Crossing with Afghanistan Deferred [The Nation]
  • Arms Cache Seized in Kohlu [ET]
  • Report: Caught in a Web: Treatment of Pakistanis in the Saudi Criminal Justice System – “The glaring defects in the criminal justice system are especially acute for Pakistanis, who face substantial difficulties finding legal assistance, navigating Saudi court procedures, and getting consular services from Pakistani embassy officials.” [HRW]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • TTP Targeted in Afghanistan: A U.S. drone strike in the Shegal district of Afghanistan’s Kunar province on Wednesday reportedly killed as many as 21 Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters, including Qari Yasin, a TTP trainer of suicide bombers, and TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah’s son, Abdullah. The TTP confirmed the strike in a statement late Wednesday evening; a spokesman for the U.S. military coalition in Afghanistan said that it was “not aware of this report and have no additional information to offer”. [AP] [Khaama Press]
  • Kazakhstan Agrees to Transit Agreement: The Kazakhstan parliament approved the opening of two ports on the Caspian sea for the transshipment of non-military U.S. materiel through Uzbekistan to Afghanistan, circumventing Russia and Pakistan.
  • Iran Talks: An Afghan ministry of defense delegation visited Tehran on Wednesday for talks with Iranian counterparts on regional security concerns; details are minimal.
  • Islamic State Calls for Immigration to Afghanistan: In a propaganda video released on Sunday under the banner of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province affiliate, the Islamic State calls on Muslims around the world to immigrate to Afghanistan.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: As many as four people were reportedly killed in a suicide attack targeting the Spin Boldak police headquarters in Kandahar on Wednesday evening. Five Taliban fighters were reportedly killed in an NDS operation in the Surkh Rod district in Nangarhar on Wednesday. A U.S. drone strike in the Achin district in Nangarhar on Thursday reportedly killed five ISIS fighters. [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Speaking at an event on Thursday, Chief Executive Abdullah reiterated the government’s offer to hold talks with the Taliban and recognize it as a political group, but said that it would first need to “lay down arms, cut ties with the terror groups and networks, and renounce violence”.
  • Election Preparations: On Wednesday, Independent Election Commission officials warned that over 1,700 polling stations across at least 32 districts face serious security threats and would need additional security protection for polling.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kabul Hotel Reopens After Deadly Attack, But Guests Stay Away [AFP]
  • Second Deputy Meshrano Jirga Speaker Accused of Affair [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Is Peace in Afghanistan Within Reach? – “By offering to engage in talks, the Taliban may have given us a window into their mindset, and they have most assuredly given us an opening. The United States should take advantage of it.” [Anish Goel, CNN]
  • Commentary: A Late Demand to Change the Electoral System – “This new motion to introduce an electoral system more conducive to political parties was initiated and driven by Jamiat.” [Ali Yawar Adili, AAN]