Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif and Army Chief Visit Kabul; Ghani Denies Prisoner Exchanged for Hostage Release


  • Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif arrived in Kabul on Tuesday for talks with the Afghan government. Pres. Ghani denied that hostages were exchanged for the release of 19 Hazara hostages on Monday, although most press reports conclude that Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants were freed. The WSJ reports that six Hazara men died while in captivity, and the release of the remaining six is still under negotiation. Pakistan and the IMF concluded their seventh quarterly review of economic reform benchmarks on Monday, clearing the way for the next tranche of funds to be released by June. The two sides set a fiscal deficit target of 4.3% of GDP for the next fiscal year, and estimates 4.5% GDP growth for FY2016. Former MQM gunman Saulat Mirza was executed at a Balochistan jail on Tuesday, ending his efforts to stay his execution and testify against former party leaders. International donors have cut funding for the Afghan Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission in the absence of a clear timeline for parliamentary elections; the Wolesi Jirga’s term expires June 22.

Pakistan — Security

  • Air Defense Test: On Monday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif presided over the test in Rawalpindi of a new FM-90 air defense system, transferred by China to Pakistan in March. The system is designed to target cruise missiles, drones, and air-to-surface guided missiles. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Saulat Mirza Executed: On Tuesday, death row convict and former MQM gunman Saulat Mirza was executed at the Mach jail facility in Balochistan where he had been serving a death sentence since 1999. Following video confessions in which he attributed his actions as an assassin in Karachi to the directives of senior MQM party members, Mirza was interviewed by a joint investigation team in March, receiving a temporary stay of execution; a death warrant was reissued for his execution on May 2, after investigators concluded that Mirza could offer no “actionable or cogent evidence” in support of his claims. Dawn profiles Mirza. [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Seeks Governor’s Resignation: At a press conference on Monday, MQM party leaders called for the resignation of Sindh governor Ishrat ul Ebad, who party chief Altaf Hussain expelled from the party in late April, charging him with “failing to take appropriate measures to safeguard the party’s political character.” [ET]
  • More Charges for Former Sindh Home Minister: Karachi police filed another case against former Sindh home minister Zulfikar Mirza (no relation to the above) on Monday, charging him with rioting and obstruction of the duties of a public service. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Election Complaints: The former Punjab election commissioner, Mehboob Anwar, told the judicial commission investigating allegations of election rigging that no additional ballot papers were printed after May 7. Meanwhile, the Election Commission has barred sitting national assembly and provincial assembly members from campaigning during upcoming special elections in two constituencies in Punjab and one in Khyber Paktunkhwa, forcing the PTI to alter plans for a rally led by Imran Khan in Qasimpur. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • IMF Talks: Finance Minister Dar and IMF mission chief Harald Finger announced the completion on Monday of the seventh quarterly review of economic reform targets as part of the Extended Fund Facility lending program with the IMF, paving the way for the release of the next tranche of $506 million following board approval in June. Dar indicated that the two sides had agreed on a fiscal deficit target of Rs 1.34 trillion, or 4.3% of GDP, for the coming fiscal year, up from 4% of GDP during FY2015, which ends in June. Officials agreed to a revenue collection target of Rs 3.1 trillion, and a further reduction of energy subsidies. Estimates of GDP growth for the current fiscal year were revised downward to 4.1%; the IMF predicts 4.5% growth in FY2016. Meanwhile, Sindh began its pre-budget discussions on Monday. [ET] [IMF Statement]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Officials Refute Hersh Account of Bin Laden Killing Conspiracy [NYT] [WSJ] [WAPO] [NBC] [Politico] [Politico] [Vox]
  • Federal Government Pushes Sindh to Crack Down on Hate Speech [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Grants Gallantry Award for Deceased Diplomats [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Prime Minister to Visit Central Asia for Talks on Energy Supply [ET]
  • Religious Parties Plan Demonstration Against Information Minister [Dawn] [ET]
  • 29 Militants Complete Deradicalization Program in Bajaur [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Legislators Protest Power Outages [Dawn]
  • Threats Over Curriculum Reform Measures Prompt Senior Academic to Flee Country [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Hazara Hostages Freed: In a statement on Monday, Pres. Ghani confirmed the release of 19 out of 31 hostages seized in Zabul in February, but denied that any ransom or prisoner exchange had been carried out for their release. Although officials initially suggested that the remaining twelve prisoners would subsequently be freed, the WSJ reports that six of the hostages died while in captivity, and that negotiations for the release of the remaining six are stuck over the release of a top Uzbek militant commander. The WSJ reports that the group was being held by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and that the prisoner exchange was negotiated through Afghan Taliban intermediaries, who controlled the Zhak-e Afghan district where they were being held. [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: A force of “dozens” of Taliban fighters attacked the Shindand district in Herat on Tuesday morning, the site of frequent clashes in the past; fighting with Afghan security forces is ongoing as of this writing, and details are limited in terms of casualties. Residents and lawmakers from Badghis staged protests in Kabul on Monday, demanding action against provincial authorities for failing to secure the Jawand district, which was taken over by Taliban fighters on Sunday evening. Separately, five civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in Kandahar on Tuesday. In remarks on Monday, a spokesman for the defense ministry attributed the recent spike in attacks to militant displacement from Pakistan, the coming of spring, and the consolidation of militants into larger fighting groups. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Pakistani Officials Visit Kabul: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, accompanied by senior civilian and military aides, arrived in Kabul on Tuesday for meetings with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, among other officials. It is Prime Minister Sharif’s second visit to Afghanistan since taking office and the first since the inauguration of the national unity government. Talks are expected to focus on prospective peace talks; the Express Tribune reports separately that a Taliban delegation will hold a round of talks with Chinese officials later this month, with the participation of unspecified Pakistani officials. The report also suggests that an unspecified Chinese research institution will host Track 2 talks between Afghan and Taliban leaders, prior to a ministerial conference in Islamabad on the ‘Istanbul Process’ of regional countries later this year. [TOLO] [Dawn] [ET] [AP] [ET]
  • Election Funding Cut: The Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission confirmed on Monday that international donor funding for their operations – which supplies around 80% of their budgets — had been suspended in the absence of a clear schedule for parliamentary elections or clarity on the process of electoral reform agreed to by the national unity government. The lower house of parliament’s tenure is due to end on June 22, leaving less than a month for parliamentary elections to be held per the constitutionally-mandated schedule. In debate on Monday, parliamentarians called on the government to set an election date. [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Supporters Rally for Ousted Paktika Governor [Pajhwok]
  • Ten Prisoners Released from Maidan Wardak Jail [Khaama Press]
  • UN High Commissioner for Refugees to Visit [TOLO]
  • Commentary: A Half-Solution: Provincial Councils Get Oversight Authority Back – For the Time Being – “Despite the mutual blockade between the Wolesi Jirga and the PCs, some PC members are still arguing for another attempt at overhauling the law.” [Ehsan Qaane and Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

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