Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Reinforcements Shore Up Kunduz Security; Pakistan’s National Finance Commission Meets

Topline

  • Afghan army and police forces rushed reinforcements to Kunduz in a counteroffensive on Tuesday, which officials reported as of Wednesday had repelled the main Taliban attacks in the districts surrounding the provincial capital. Reuters reports that U.S. aircraft assisted in the operation, although sources are contradictory as to whether or not airstrikes were carried out. The first meeting of Pakistan’s National Finance Commisson revenue-sharing negotiations was held on Tuesday, with federal government officials pushing for an extension of the current formula for another year and provincial governments pushing for an increase of their revenue share. Investigators have reportedly forwarded their findings to the interior ministry after interrogating former MQM gunman Saulat Mirza. Civil society activists protested the murder of Sabeen Mahmud in gatherings around the country on Tuesday. Pres. Ghani continued his visit in India, holding talks with Prime Minister Modi and seeking economic investments.

Pakistan — Security

  • Protests Over Activist’s Murder: Civil society activists gathered at the National Press Club in Islamabad on Tuesday to protest the killing of Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi last Friday, calling for justice and proclaiming that “Sabeen’s voice cannot be silenced”. Baloch rights activist Mama Qadeer also participated in a parallel gathering at the Karachi Press Club. [Dawn]
  • FATA Operations: Military officials announced on Tuesday that they had taken control of the Sipah  and Akkakhel regions of Khyber Agency’s Tirah Valley, and are now pushing ground operations into the encircled Kukikhel area. A Lashkar-e-Islam spokesman claims that the group has engaged in a “tactical retreat” and will reclaim the areas now held by the military. Separately, one person was killed and another injured when a convoy of security forces was struck by a roadside bombing in Peshawar’s Hayatabad area, which the TTP claimed responsibility for. [ET]
  • Karachi Professor Killed: Syed Wahidur Rehman, a University of Karachi professor, was killed by unidentified gunmen on Wednesday. Police indicated that the attack did not appear to have sectarian motives, or a connection to the assassination of activist Sabeen Mahmud.
  • Executions: Pakistan carried out its hundredth execution since the end of a moratorium on the use of capital punishment in December, following the hanging of a double murder convict in Vehari, Punjab, on Tuesday. Amnesty International condemned the “shameful milestone”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Investigation Reports on Saulat Mirza Confession: The joint investigation team appointed to investigate former MQM gunman Saulat Mirza’s televised death row accusations against party leaders has reportedly sent its findings to the interior ministry, following further interrogations of Mirza. No details have been disclosed.
  • PTI Divisions: In a statement on Tuesday, PTI information secretary Shireen Mazari reiterated that retired judge Wajihuddin Ahmed had no standing to continue his activities as head of an internal party election tribunal. Dawn reviews the split between Ahmed and the party leadership. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • National Finance Commission Meets: The first meeting of the National Finance Commission was held on Tuesday, during which the federal government confirmed that President Hussain might extend the current formula for a year in the absence of a negotiated agreement, and provincial representatives — including Punjab — sought an increase in the provincial share of resources collected by the federal government. Balochistan representatives have opposed the federal government’s proposal to share costs for counterterrorism and natural disaster operations with the provinces.
  • Energy Infrastructure: Ministry of Water and Power officials tell the Express Tribune that plans to use funding from a special gas infrastructure development cess levied to support gas pipeline construction and improvements are on hold as the cess faces multiple legal challenges.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • New FATA Secretariat Head Named [ET]
  • Campaigning to Reform Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law [AJE]
  • PPP and PML-N Spar Ahead of Gilgit-Baltistan Elections [ET]
  • PML-Q Calls for Military Intelligence as Witnesses in Election Rigging Investigations [ET]
  • Concerns Rise Over Capital Flight to Gulf [Dawn]
  • Senate Introduces Public Complaints System [Dawn]
  • National Accountability Bureau Drops Charges Against PPP Leader Amin Fahim [Dawn] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Promises Pay Raises for Government Employees [ET]
  • Punjab Plans Conversion of Government Schools to Solar [The Nation]
  • Commentary: Point-Blank – “From factional rivalries among the Taliban to police informants planted within militant groups, from staged police encounters to hit-and-run attacks on security forces, the Karachi operation has passed through a whole gamut of moves and counter-moves.” [Maqbool Ahmed, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kunduz Operations Push Back Taliban: On Tuesday, the Afghan National Army officially launched an operation to repel a Taliban assault in the districts surrounding Kunduz city. TOLO reports suggest that “overall fighting has subsided” and that militant forces are retreating, following the dispatch of several thousand ANA reinforcements. Provincial governor Mohammad Omar Shafi said Wednesday that control had been reestablished over the Imam Sahib district, previously reported to have been the worst hit of the four districts under attack. Afghan local police commanders complain of being poorly resource and supported during the operations, saying that they are “used as firewood in the fighting” by the Afghan army and national police. At a press conference on Wednesday, Afghan defense and interior ministry officials pledged that “security forces are capable enough to control the situation”, and that no district or province would be allowed to collapse. Officials insisted that they would not call on interational Resolute Support forces unless needed, but Reuters reports that U.S. jet aircraft were carrying out supporting missions in Kunduz over the past 72 hours, although “no munitions [were] dropped”. Anonymous interior ministry sources suggest that two air strikes were carried out in the affected districts earlier this week. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Two police officers were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in Zabul province’s capital of Qalat on Wednesday, officials reported. Meanwhile, the family members of 31 Hazara men kidnapped in Zabul earlier this year say that they have received reports from local elders that two of the hostages had been killed, but that they had not been able to confirm their identities. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Visits India: Speaking on Tuesday following his meetings with Prime Minister Modi, Pres. Ghani said that he wants to “make Afghanistan a graveyard of terror” but needs help from neighbors and allies; in a separate speech at an Indian think tank, Ghani described his country as “the battlefield,” and his government “fighting on behalf of our friends from India to Russia”. During meetings, Indian officials reportedly “sought clarity” on Pres. Ghani’s peace and reconciliation initiatives, which Prime Minister Modi publicly voiced support for, and extended invitations that Afghanistan should “let their defense requirements be known” to India. Ghani also sought to promote economic ties, and touted Afghanistan’s mineral resources; Prime Minister Modi called for the inclusion of India in the current Afghanistan-Pakistan transit trade agreement framework, and touted India’s support for the development of the Chabahar port link through Iran. [TOLO] [TOLO] [WSJ]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Islamic State Promotes Imagery of Logar Training Camp [LWJ]
  • At Least 52 Missing, Feared Dead in Badakhshan Landslide [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Kabul Iron Plants Face Closure Due to Power Outages [TOLO]
  • Anniversary of Najibullah Government’s Collapse Marked [TOLO]
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