Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: NDS-ISI Cooperation Agreement to be Reviewed; Investigation Clears Senior Punjab Officials

Topline

  • Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security announced Sunday that a “committee of experts” would review the NDS-ISI cooperation agreement signed earlier this month, whose disclosure has prompted widespread backlash; officials now describe the agreement as having been in draft only. In remarks on Friday, India’s defense minister suggested that “we have to neutralize terrorists through terrorists”, prompting criticism from Pakistani officials. Afghan officials are reviving militia groups in Kunduz and other northern Afghan provinces in a bid to counter recent Taliban offensives. The Joint Investigation Team investigating the clash between Pakistan Awami Tehreek activists and Lahore police last June has cleared senior Punjab government officials of involvement. Pres. Mamnoon Hussain’s son, Salman Mamnoon, survived a roadside bombing in Hub on Sunday. Several journalists have resigned from Bol News, before the channel’s launch, as Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced expanded investigations into the fake diploma company Axact, whose CEO also heads Bol. The WSJ reports that acting defense minister Masoom Stanekzai met with former Taliban officials in Xinjiang last week, but the Taliban denied taking part in talks and other sources suggest that the Taliban contacts were not authorized by the group’s leadership. Imran Khan appointed new provincial coordinators for the PTI in a party shakeup on Saturday, saying that new caretakers would be appointed ahead of intra-party office elections. A large truck bomb in the Zabul capital of Qalat killed at least four people and wounded dozens on Monday. India’s ambassador to Afghanistan denied that the consortium of Indian mining companies was preparing to pull out of its investment in the Hajigak iron mine, but said operations were under review.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: In remarks to the Indian press on Friday, Indian defense minister Manohar Parrikar said that India would take “proactive steps to prevent a [Mumbai]-type attack”, including Pakistan, and “anyone trying to infiltrate [India] will be neutralized”; Parrikar also stated that the army was carrying out “targeted kills” against terrorist targets in Jammu and Kashmir. He also reportedly that “we have to neutralize terrorists through terrorists only”, without elaborating. Parrikar later suggested that these comments were meant to suggest exploiting differences between existing terrorist groups, not undertaking operations “by our own people”. In reaction, Pakistan’s foreign advisor, Sartaj Aziz, expressed alarm in a statement issued Saturday; Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Asif, said that Parrikar’s remarks were “open and blatant admission and declaration of sponsoring terrorism”. The comments follow recent public statements by Pakistani military and civilian officials warning of an increase in activity by Indian intelligence within Pakistan; an Express Tribune account from Friday suggests that Chinese officials have warned of increased RAW efforts to sabotage the China-Pakistan economic corridor project by supporting Balochistan militants. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Attacks on Senior Officials’ Families: On Sunday, Salman Mamnoon, the son of president Mamnoon Hussain, survived a bombing near his convoy in the town of Hub, Balochistan; three people were killed in the blast and at least thirteen injured. No claim of responsibility has been reported. Separately, former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani confirmed on Sunday that he had been able to speak with his son, Ali Haider Gilani, by phone earlier in the day; the younger Gilani was kidnapped in May 2013 and remains hostage, and the elder Gilani reports that his captors have sought the release of Al Qaeda militants in exchange for his freedom. [Dawn]
  • Other Attacks: At least four security personnel were killed in a roadside bombing in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan on Friday evening or early Saturday morning; initial reports suggest that the blast hit their vehicle, while a subsequently Express Tribune report suggests that they were engaged in mine clearance. Dawn reports that military counteroffensives in the area killed seven militant suspects. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Officials Cleared in Model Town Shooting: A joint investigation team formed last November to investigate clashes in June between Pakistan Awami Tehreek activists and Lahore police, in which 14 people were killed, has absolved Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and former law minister Rana Sanaullah of involvement in the attack, dismissing charges brought by the PAT. Blame appears to have been placed on lower-level officers present at the time of the shooting; the full investigation has not been released. PAT officials, and the PTI, have denounced the findings. [ET]
  • Axact Investigations: On Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that Pakistani investigators would seek assistance from the FBI, the UK, and Interpol to conduct further investigations of the fake diplomacy mill Axact, saying that the information gathered so far suggested “substantive evidence” of illegal operations. The NYT, which first broke the news of the company’s prolific network of fake online universities and high schools, quotes two former sales associates confirming previous reports of fraud, and identifies additional layers of offshore companies established to hide the scope of Axact’s activities. Axact’s banking accounts have been frozen and are under audit by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. Following Chaudhry Nisar’s announcement, several top journalists and executives at the Bol network, a new media company also owned by Axact’s CEO, Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh, announced their resignations. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • PTI Shakeup: At a press conference on Saturday, Imran Khan announced plans to reorganize the party’s leadership, citing poor performance in cantonment local government polling, and indicated that former Punjab governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar would be responsible for organizing party activities in Punjab, Arif Alvi in Sindh, Yousaf Ayub in Khyber Paktunkhwa and Humayun Jogezai in Balochistan. A new “care-taker setup” will be announced at a later date, Khan indicated, after dates for intra-party office elections are set. [ET]
  • Karachi Tensions: Karachi Corps Commander Lt. Gen Naveed Mukhtar met with Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah on Friday, where they reviewed the ongoing paramilitary and police operations in Karachi and agreed to “further strengthen” coordination. Karachi police reportedly arrested the brother of one of the four suspects linked to attacks on the Ismaili community earlier this month in a raid on Friday. Meanwhile, the MQM launched protests around the city and in Hyderabad beginning Friday against water shortages they blamed on the provincial government. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Elections: Section 144 restrictions on mass gatherings have been put in place in Peshawar ahead of local government elections scheduled to take place May 30, and will be in place through June 23; on Sunday, police arrested over 100 people in sweeps through several parts of the city, including at least 25 Afghan nationals. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Assembly Speaker Resigns: Jan Muhammad Jamali, the Balochistan assembly speaker who clashed with PML-N leadership and split with the party following senate elections, issued a resignation letter from Saudi Arabia on Friday; a no-confidence vote against him was reportedly in the works last week.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: On Friday, Pres. Hussain signed into law the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess on Friday, following passage by parliament last week. Separately, Dawn reports that the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority may allow private housing developments and sugar mills to produce their own electricity. [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Bail Extended Again for Former Sindh Home Minister [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Blasphemy Accused in Lahore Detained by Police, Spared Mob Lynching [ET] [Dawn]
  • Police and Lawyers Clash in Sialkot [Dawn]
  • National Assembly Committee Agrees to Reexamine Cybercrimes Legislation [Dawn] [ET]
  • Auditor General Removed [Dawn] [ET]
  • PEMRA Chairman Reinstated [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Air Force Training Craft Crashes in Swabi [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Home Minister Touts Frontier Corps Operations [ET] [Dawn]
  • Another Death Row Prisoner Challenges Sentence on Grounds of Age [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • ANP Rallies Against China-Pakistan Corridor Route [Dawn]
  • World Polio Watchdog Concerned Over Challenges to Eradicate Virus [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Government May Miss Fiscal Deficit Target with IMF [ET]
  • State Bank Cuts Interest Rate to 42-Year Low of 7% [Dawn] [ET]
  • Prime Minister Orders Investigation into Diamer-Bhasha Dam Purchase [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • NDS-ISI Cooperation Backlash: In a statement on Sunday, the National Directorate of Security intelligence agency said that the cooperation agreement with Pakistan’s ISI service previously reported to have been signed earlier this month “has yet to be finalized”, and would be reviewed by a  “panel of experts” from the NDS, foreign ministry, chief executive’s office, and office of the national security advisor, who will report to the president on the agreement. Pres. Ghani met with a gathering of tribal elders, members of parliament, and civil society activists on Thursday to discuss the agreement, which has faced widespread backlash since its disclosure last week. On Saturday, members of parliament sought copies of the text, which has not been made public, and warned that they would invalidate the agreement if their conditions were not met. NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabeel, who reportedly opposed signing the deal, appeared before a closed door session of parliament on Sunday; national security advisor Hanif Atmar did not attend. Kandahar commander Abdul Raziq criticized the agreement in remarks on Sunday, saying that “the actions of the national unity government will have negative impacts on the morale of security forces”. Elsewhere, India’s national security advisor, Ajit Doval, told a press conference that the ISI-NDS agreement was based on “faulty assumptions” that India was seeking to use “Afghan soil or Afghan nationals for security purposes”. In remarks on Sunday at the nomination of Masoom Stanekzai as acting defense minister, Pres. Ghani reportedly took a more hawkish tone, saying that Pakistan was engaged in “undeclared war with Afghanistan”. [Pajhwok] [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press] [ET]
  • Militia Support: The NYT and Reuters report that the Kabul government is renewing support for local militias in an attempt to counter Taliban offensives in Kunduz and other northern provinces, drawing on former mujadeen combat groups, including Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum and Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani described the group as “selective voluntary citizens’ participation in the defense of the country against terrorists” and denied that the government was rearming previous militia networks, which Ghani had previously sought to dismantle. Pajhwok quotes Kunduz governor Mohammad Umar Safi, saying that 1,000 men will be recruited to join the Afghan Local Police. The WSJ meanwhile profiles a militia commander in Faryab, who complains of a lack of government support. [TOLO]
  • Force Planning: NATO and US forces commander Gen. John Campbell told reporters on Saturday that that talks are still underway to determine the level of any military component of a post-2016 NATO support mission in Afghanistan, which NATO foreign ministers agreed to in mid-May talks but stressed would be led by civilians. Roughly 1,000 U.S. soldiers and contractors are also expected to support U.S. embassy operations in the country after the end of the year. [AP] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: A large truck bomb detonated near several government offices in the Zabul capital of Qalat on Monday, killing at least four people and wounding as many as seventy, most reportedly civilians. The Taliban confirmed responsibility for the attack. Also on Monday, four policemen “in touch with militants” killed three of their colleagues in an insider attack and fled their checkpost in Kandahar’s Maiwand district. The governor of Uruzgan’s Shaheed Asas district was killed in roadside bombing on Saturday. Also on Saturday, four civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in Ghazni’s Gailan district; elsewhere in Ghazni in the Qara Bagh district, a police commander was killed in a Taliban attack on a checkpost. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [AFP] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: The WSJ reports that Masoom Stanekzai, the new defense minister-designate, participated in two days of meetings with former Taliban officials in Urumqi, China, where they held “talks about talks”. Chinese officials and Pakistani intelligence representatives are reported to have facilitated and attended the meeting. Mohammad Asem, an associate of Chief Executive Abdullah, also reportedly attended. The Taliban representatives are identified as Mullah Abdul Jalil, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani and Mullah Abdul Razaq, all described as being based in Pakistan and “close to” the Taliban leadership council. A Taliban spokesman denied on Sunday that the talks took place, however, and other sources suggest that they do not have a mandate from the Taliban leadership to engage in talks. Separately, the Express Tribune reports that Pakistan has given the Taliban a “stern warning” to halt its ongoing spring offensive and engage in talks with the government, or face “serious consequences”. Pakistan will host a regional conference of the ‘Heart of Asia’ diplomatic track on Monday.
  • Government Formation: On Saturday, the Wolesi Jirga passed a measure that bars all government officials — not just those subject to parliamentary confirmation, as was previously the case — from serving in an acting capacity for more than two months. The government will be required to submit new nominees within ten days in the event that parliament rejects an appointee subject to confirmation.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Indian Consortium Considering Withdrawal from Hajigak: India’s ambassador to Afghanistan denied on Sunday that the Indian consortium of mining companies was preparing to scrap its multi-billion dollar Hajigak iron ore mining project, as reported earlier in the weekend; the AP quotes Ambassador Amar Sinha saying that a government committee did meet last week to “discuss challenges and circumstances” surrounding the mine, however. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Whereabouts of 12 Remaining Zabul Hostages Still Unknown [TOLO]
  • First Lady Ghani Joins NATO Mission Advisory Committee [Khaama Press]
  • Kabul Continues to Face Internet Outages [TOLO]
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