Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Punjab Bans Speech in Support of Terrorism; Dostum Seeks to Establish Militia Force

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif chaired another meeting to review national counterterrorism efforts on Wednesday. The Punjab government issued a legal ordinance banning spoken or written support for terrorism, or criticism of Pakistani security services’ actions against terrorist groups, in any public “formal forum”, to include religious sermons. The WSJ reports on efforts by Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum to establish a new “army within an army” force of 20,000 fighters, drawn from his northern support base, which might be deployed around the country to conduct operations against the Taliban. Prospective Afghan cabinet ministers began presentations to parliament on Wednesday as it considers their nominations. Pakistani officials continue to trade blame for the ongoing petroleum shortage, with various sources laying primary responsibility on the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority for failing to enforce reserve stock requirements, or the electricity sector for unpaid dues to Pakistan State Oil; opposition members of parliament have called for a session to investigate the issue. Iranian foreign minister Zarif visited Kabul for talks with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah on Tuesday; Ghani departed for a two-day trip to Turkmenistan on Wednesday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: Prime Minister Sharif chaired another meeting of senior military and civilian officials on Wednesday to review the government’s progress on implementing its National Action Plan established in the wake of the December Peshawar attacks. The ministries of law and interior are reportedly considering further legal measures intended to curb funding for and hate speech by banned terrorist organizations. On Wednesday, the Punjab government issued a legal ordinance banning spoken or written support for terrorism, as well as public criticism of “action of Pakistan army, air or naval force, police or Rangers against any terrorist or terrorist organization”, in any “formal forum”. Religious sermons are included but educational settings and meetings of clubs, societies, or companies are excluded. The law places onus on the organizers of all formal assemblies to record audio and video of any speeches made there, and to submit it to police officers. Separately, ministry of interior additional secretary Muhammad Asghar Chaudhry told the senate interior committee on Tuesday that the Haqqani network and Jamaat-ud Dawa had not been banned, although he suggested that JuD “has been kept under observation”. Meanwhile on Tuesday evening, Islamabad police arrested four TTP suspects. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sindh Accepts PTI Ministers’ Resignation: On Wednesday, the speaker of the Sindh provincial assembly, Agha Siraj Durrani, accepted resignations submitted by the body’s four PTI assembly members in September during the height of the PTI’s protest movement. PTI resignations remain pending in the National Assembly. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Oil Shortage: On Tuesday, a group of 95 opposition members of parliament submitted a joint demand for a national assembly session to discuss the current petroleum crisis facing Pakistan, laying blame on the government for the situation. The PPP has called for a judicial probe into the issue; at least two legal cases are now pending against the government in the Lahore High Court. At a meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sharif suspended another Pakistan State Oil official, deputy managing director Sohail Bhatti. The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, whom officials in the cabinet have pinned blame on for the current crisis, have issued formal notices to the 11 oil marketing companies in the country, charging them with failing to maintain mandatory 20-day stocks. Other reports continue to lay blame on the crisis for circular debts within the power sector that have degraded PSO’s credit and ability to purchase fuel oil from suppliers. One report indicates that the National Accountability Bureau may be tasked with recovering Rs 100 billion in dues to PSO from chronic electricity defaulters. The Express Tribune reports that Sharif is considering calls to dismiss cabinet ministers over the crisis, all of whom disclaim responsibility; Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is considered the most likely victim. [ET] [Dawn] [WAPO] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sindh Assembly to Introduce Local Government Law Amendments [Dawn]
  • Islamabad Police Tracking former Lal Masjid Militants [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Telecommunications Authority Has Blocked Over 60,000 Websites, it Reports [ET]
  • Thar Coal Expected to Begin Electricity Production in 2018 [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Dostum Seeks to Revive Militia: The WSJ notes efforts by Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum to form a special defense force of roughly 20,000 fighters, recruited from his power based in the northern provinces of Jawzjan, Sar-e-Pol, Faryab, and Takhar, that would be deployed across the country to “focus exclusively on carrying out independent operations against the Taliban.” A spokesman for Dostum insisted that the force would not be a militia, since it would technically be funded by and fall under the Afghan National Army, but in practical purposes the force appears to function as an “army within the army” loyal to Dostum. A spokesman for Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, a longtime Dostum rival, said that such a force was not needed in northern Afghanistan but could perhaps be deployed to the south; Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Hazara leader and deputy to Chief Executive Abdullah, voiced opposition to the plan, saying that “the Afghan government already has its own plan to fight the Taliban.”

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Formation: Following Pres. Ghani’s introduction of his cabinet nominees before parliament on Tuesday, presentations by the ministerial candidates began on Wednesday, beginning with the ministers for defense, education, religious affairs, and rural rehabilitation and development. Separately, on Wednesday Pres. Ghani appointed Hekmat Karzai, a cousin to the former president and advisor, as Deputy Minister of Political Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. [TOLO]
  • Regional Relations: Chief Executive Abdullah met with visiting Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif on Tuesday, who said that “unfortunately, the circumstances of our region didn’t improve during the presence of foreigners in Afghanistan,” and that Iran had a committed policy of non-interference in Afghanistan. Zarif also blamed an increase in drug production on the foreign presence. Pres. Ghani met with Zarif separately and received an invitation to visit Iran at an unspecified future date to sign a “comprehensive security agreement”. On Wednesday, Ghani departed on a two-day visit to Turkmenistan.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Eight Civilians Killed in Ghazni Bombing [Khaama Press]
  • 40 Female Detainees Released from Women’s Prison After Presidential Pardon [TOLO]
  • Nangarhar Judicial Official Arrested on Bribery Charges [Khaama Press]
  • Report: Stop Reporting or We’ll Kill Your Family: Threats to Media Freedom in Afghanistan – “The failure to protect journalistic freedom has emboldened those determined to suppress criticism of the government, the security forces, and other powerful entities in Afghan society.” [Human Rights Watch]
  • Commentary: The Cabinet and the Parliament: Afghanistan’s Government In Trouble Before It Is Formed – “The attempt to have a different kind of cabinet means that many who felt entitled to a position now feel snubbed.” [Kate Clark, AAN]
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