Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Modi and Sharif Meet in Russia; Government Representatives Share More Details on Murree Talks

Topline

  • During meetings on the sideline of the BRICS and SCO summit in Ufa, Russia on Friday, Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Sharif discuss terrorism and other security concerns, and agreed to further meetings between the two countries’ national security advisors. Modi will attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad next year. Pres. Ghani also attended the summit, where he met with a range of regional leaders; Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping reportedly promised to provide additional security assistance to Afghanistan, although details are limited. Afghan government representatives who attended talks with Taliban representatives in Murree told reporters on Thursday that they believed the Taliban delegation had the authority to negotiate on behalf of the movement, although other analysts remain skeptical; talks reportedly focused on reaching a temporary ceasefire agreement around Eid, while the Taliban reiterated long-standing demands for the withdrawal of foreign military forces and the release of prisoners. Speaking in the senate on Thursday, Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claimed that as many as a thousand foreign intelligence agents had entered Pakistan under the guise of NGO workers during the previous government’s tenure, and reiterated that the government would ban the operations of those “harmful for the country’s security and national interest”. The PTI’s Punjab chapter is reorganizing to accommodate an influx of defectors from the PPP, including a new group of legislators from Gujranwala who joined on Thursday. The senate of Pakistan passed legislation on local government elections in Islamabad on Thursday, clearing the way for national assembly approval.  The Supreme Court of Pakistan appears to have overturned an earlier Lahore High Court ruling voiding electricity surcharges set by the government.

Pakistan — Security

  • NGO Crackdown: Speaking to the senate on Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reiterated that international NGOs carrying out “activities harmful for the country’s security and national interest” would not be allowed to operate in Pakistan, “even in the face of pressure by other states and multinational bodies”; many NGOs, he acknowledged, “were playing an important role in the country’s development”. Chaudhry Nisar claimed that as many as a thousand intelligence operatives had visited the country under the guise of NGO workers during the previous government’s tenure. A Securities and Exchange Commission source tells Dawn that the licenses of 208 local NGOs have been revoked since April, most for failing to file annual financial reports and apply for the renewal of their five-year operating licenses.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Modi Agrees to Pakistan Visit: Prime Ministers Sharif and Modi met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Ufa, Russia, on Friday, their first direct meeting since Modi’s swearing-in in May 2014. In a joint statement issued afterwards, the two countries’ foreign secretaries reported that “both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia”, and Modi has agreed to visit Pakistan when it hosts the regional SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016. Additionally, the two countries’ national security advisors will meet in Delhi to discuss terrorism issues, and border security officials will now meet annually, followed by the directors general for military operations. Friday’s meet was preceded by reports from Indian border security officials that a Pakistani sniper had killed an Indian border guard, the third such incident in the past week. [AP] [Dawn] [APP] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Local Elections: On Thursday, the senate passed legislation for the provision of local government elections in Islamabad, which now goes to the national assembly for final passage. On Friday, the Peshawar High Court rejected all petitions pending before the court challenging the results of the May Khyber Paktunkhwa local government elections, and ordered the Election Commission to set a schedule for re-polling at 256 disputed polling stations.
  • PTI Shake-Up: On Thursday, a new PTI advisory council approved a broad reorganization of the party, accommodating an influx of defectors from the PPP in Punjab. On Thursday, former PPP provincial vice president Chaudhry Tariq Gujjar joined the PTI, accompanied by several allies. On Friday, Khyber Paktunkhwa mining minister Ziaullah Afridi was remanded to police custody for 13 days following his arrest the day prior, which Imran Khan indicated would require his resignation from the party; the former PPP provincial mining minister, Mehmood Zeb, has also been arrested. The PTI has meanwhile also agreed to return the salaries of lawmakers who boycotted the assemblies for seven months last fall; MQM and JUI-F rivals tell Dawn they will push for PTI legislators’ expulsion. [Reuters] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Growth Forecast Cut: The IMF issued a downward revision of its GDP growth forecast for Pakistan in 2015 on Thursday, cutting the projection to 2.6% from 2.9%. 2016 forecasts remain unchanged at 3.8%.
  • Energy Crisis: On Friday, a Supreme Court bench reportedly overturned a Lahore High Court ruling voiding the government’s collection of surcharges on electricity tariffs, chiding the lower court for not exercising judicial restraint; the Express Tribune reports that the Supreme Court directed the federal government to collect the surcharges “in twelve installments instead of one go,” without elaborating.
  • Tax Revenues: On Thursday, the Federal Board of Revenue and members of the business community reached an agreement to temporarily reduce the new 0.6% withholding tax placed on banking transactions for those who did not file income tax returns, cutting it to 0.3% until September 30, the last day for filing tax returns in 2015. The higher rate will be reimposed on October 1. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Finance Minister Meets Army Chief on FATA Displacement [ET] [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Chief Minister to Meet Exiled Khan of Kalat [Dawn]
  • Two Suspects Arrested in Wagah Bombing [Dawn]
  • Witnesses Identify Suspects in Attack on Ismaili Community [Dawn]
  • Government School Bombing in Khyber [ET]
  • Karachi City Officials Suspend Two Land Department Officials [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Health Officials Order Action After Last Polio Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Youm-e-Ali Marked Without Major Violence [ET]
  • Electricity Outages Bring Renewed Water Shortages in Karachi [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Drone Strikes Target Daesh: Several international news outlets pick up the earlier reports this week from the Afghan intelligence service that two senior leaders of the regional Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan were killed in Predator drone strikes earlier this week in Nangarhar. ISIS spokesmen have yet to confirm the deaths of deputy leader Gul Zaman and former TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. A Pentagon spokesman did not confirm the targets of those strikes or the identities of those killed but said that “all of these strikes were conducted against individuals threatening U.S. and coalition forces”. The NDS, meanwhile, released a promotional video touting its new “Special Task Force” targeting Daesh.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Speaking to reporters on Thursday, members of the Afghan government delegation that took part in talks in Murree, Pakistan, earlier this week said that their Taliban counterparts had been authorized by the Taliban leadership to hold the negotiations; one member tells the NYT that those assurances were in part reinforced by a message from Pakistan’s head of ISI. Other analysts remain doubtful that the group had the full approval of deputy Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who faces his own rivals within the movement for leadership. Afghan deputy foreign minister Hekmat Karzai, who led the government side, suggested that talks had not set preconditions on future meetings, but High Peace Council member Azizullah Din Mohammad indicated that a temporary ceasefire after the end of Eid was expected to be a major focus of the next round of talks, planned for later this month. The BBC reports the Taliban side presented longstanding demands for the closure of all foreign military bases and the release of Taliban prisoners, as well the end to an international UN blacklist on the Taliban’s leadership. [Reuters] [AFP]
  • SCO Summit: Pres. Ghani met with Prime Minister Sharif on the sidelines of the SCO and BRICS summits taking place in Russia on Friday, where Sharif welcomed the “upward trajectory” in bilateral relations; Ghani also met with other regional leaders, including Xi Jinping, who promised to provide Afghanistan with an unspecified amount of “security supplies, technology, equipment and training assistance.” In his address to the BRICS summit, Ghani emphasized the importance of regional security cooperation. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Refugee Repatriation: UN High Commission for Refugees officials estimate that 42,000 Afghan refugees have returned to the country from Pakistan so far in 2015, the Associate Press of Pakistan reports.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Nominee Alleges Discrimination in Her Rejection by Parliament [TOLO]
  • Interior Minister Visits Faryab, Vowing Support [TOLO]
  • Chief Executive Meets with Family of Kabul Lynching Victim [Pajhwhok]
  • 30% of Afghan Bank Loans Unlikely to Be Repaid, Association Warns [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools – “The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.” [Azmat Khan, Buzzfeed News]
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