Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: India and Pakistan Cancel Advisor-Level Talks; Twelve Killed in Kabul Bombing

Note: The news is back to regular daily updates from today. Apologies for the interruption in service and resulting length of this brief. Thanks for reading.

Topline

  • India and Pakistan called off a planned meeting of their national security advisors that was to have taken place Sunday, with Pakistan’s foreign ministry saying the meeting would “not serve any purpose” after India placed Kashmiri separatist leaders under house arrest and warned that it would not accept meetings by Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz with the group prior to his meetings with counterpart Ajit Doval. At least three American DynCorp contractors and nine Afghan bystanders were killed in a suicide bombing attack in Kabul on Saturday; the Taliban have denied responsibility. Afghan officials continue to lambaste Pakistan for its failure to crack down on the Taliban, and bilateral tensions are high. Vice President Dostum survived an apparent ambush in Faryab province on Friday as he continues to preside over clearing operations there; security officials arrested three would-be suicide bombers near his residence on Monday. Airstrikes and militant attacks on military checkposts continue in North and South Waziristan; a lieutenant colonel was among the casualties, in an attack in the Shawal Valley area on Monday. Prime Minister Sharif chaired a cabinet review of national security on Monday; speaking at a press conference afterwards, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claimed that “no militant network could now operate in Pakistan” as a result of counterterrorism crackdowns under the National Action Plan. The US Army has opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of as many as 17 Afghan civilians in Wardak’s Nerkh district between 2012-2013, alleged to have been killed after their detention at a U.S. Special Forces base. A Lahore election tribunal returned its verdict in the case of National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq’s 2013 election, upholding PTI leader Imran Khan’s challenge and calling for new polls. The PTI has touted the ruling as vindication for its contentions that the 2013 polls were rigged; Sadiq’s lawyers indicate he will appeal. Following meetings with Prime Minsiter Sharif in Islamabad brokered by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the MQM has agreed to reconsider its resignation from the assemblies, following the creation of a “Grievances Redressal Committee”, whose mandate has yet to be finalized. The Election Commission of Pakistan again delayed the schedule for local elections in Sindh and Punjab, the first phase of which is now due to be held October 31. Following trilateral talks with Afghan and UN officials in Kabul, Pakistan agreed on Saturday to extend the deadline for Afghan refugee repatriation until 2017.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif and Chief Air Marshal Sohail Aman met at the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Monday to review joint forces coordination in Operation Zarb-e-Azb; on Friday, the Pakistani Air Force released photos touting Aman’s participation in air strikes in the Shawal Valley area of North Waziristan prior to the launch of ground operations last week. On Tuesday, army helicopters reportedly destroyed a militant training camp in the Shawal. Two army personnel, including a lieutenant colonel, were killed in an attack in the Shawal area on Monday; details are limited, although the military claims to have killed six militants in the engagement. Another three soldiers were killed in a checkpost attack in South Waziristan on Tuesday. A roadside bombing in the Bajaur Agency on Saturday killed three people, including two pro-government tribal elders; on Sunday, the local president of the PPP’s Mohmand chapter was killed in another bombing in Bajaur, and at least four guards injured. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Counterterrorism Response: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a federal cabinet meeting on Monday focused on the national security situation; earlier on Saturday, Sharif also chaired a meeting to review Punjab’s implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism. At Monday’s cabinet meeting, Sharif ordered a continuation of operations in Waziristan and Karachi, and for the interior ministry to “prepare a plan to de-weaponize society”; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a press conference afterwards that “only the country’s law enforcement agencies will be allowed to use arms” and that an operation would be launched to disarm militia groups. Chaudhry Nisar claimed that “no militant network could now operate in Pakistan,” and maintained that “civil-military relations in the country had never been better” ; he acknowledged that Pakistan’s progress in curbing terrorism funding had been limited, “but we are determined to control it”. Speaking at an earlier press conference on Sunday, Chaudhry Nisar acknowledged that the investigation into the assassination of Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanazada was still a “blind case”; security personnel were reported to have arrested at least three suspects in a raid on an Islamabad seminary on Thursday in connection to the bombing that killed Khanazada, and the khateeb of an adjoining mosque was reportedly arrested on hate speech charges on Friday after issuing a sermon criticizing the raid. Chaudhry Nisar later denied that the raid was connected to Khanazada’s assassination, however. During his Sunday press conference, Chaudhry Nisar announced that the Interior Ministry was assuming responsibility for the Exit Control List, and said hundreds of names had been removed from the travel blacklist, leaving around 6,350 names left. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Military Courts: On Saturday, the Supreme Court registrar declined to hear a petition seeking records from military court proceedings that result in a death sentence conviction for Haider Ali, saying that the petitioner — Ali’s father — had failed to bring his petition to lower courts first. Lawyers for the family indicated they would re-submit the petition. On Tuesday, the Peshawar High Court suspended Ali’s execution to hear his petition. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • India and Pakistan Call Off Talks: In a statement issued late Saturday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry formally called off planned national security advisor-level talks with India that had been planned to take place on Sunday in New Delhi, saying that Indian insistence that Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz not meet with Kashmiri separatist leaders meant that the talks would “not serve any purpose”. At a press conference earlier in the day, India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had indicated India would not accept a meeting with the Hurriyat Council and had also insisted that the agenda for talks should remain limited to terrorism and cross-border tensions along the Line of Control. Pakistan blamed India for setting preconditions on the talks, and India blamed Pakistan for their cancellation. In an interview on Monday, Aziz said that “the whole nation is united that we cannot talk to India without Kashmir”. As of current writing, meetings between the directors general for military operations and Indian and Pakistani border security forces are still planned for September 6; Aziz said that Pakistan would be open to talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly but did not extend an invitation to India to do so. A civilian was reportedly killed on the Pakistani side of the border in an exchange of fire on Saturday evening. [NYT] [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Election Tribunal Overturns Speaker’s Election: On Saturday, a Lahore election tribunal issued its verdict after two years of hearings of a PTI petition challenging the outcome of the May 2013 elections in the NA-122 Lahore constituency, voiding the election of National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who had won against Imran Khan. The tribunal ordered re-polling in the constituency, and Sadiq was de-notified from his membership in the National Assembly by the Election Commission on Monday. Deputy speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi will assume the role of acting speaker in the interim; there is no immediate guidance on when a new speaker will be elected. Sadiq said that he would accept the tribunal’s decision, but his lawyer indicated he would appeal the ruling with the Supreme Court. Imran Khan and other PTI leaders touted the tribunal ruling as vindication of their contention that the 2013 elections had been rigged; NA-122 is one of four constituencies where the party initially alleged major manipulation of the results during the May 2013 polls. The PTI continues to call for the removal of Election Commission officials, citing their mal-administration of the polls; Khan threatened a renewed sit-in against the ECP following the Sadiq verdict if his demand for actions went unanswered. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM Meets with PM: On Friday, the MQM issued a statement indicating that its resignation from the assemblies “was final,” suggesting that the party would refocus on the “establishment of a province and welfare activities.” Party activists protested new PEMRA media restrictions they said were aimed at censoring speeches by party leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain, and said that at least eight more activists had been arrested by the Karachi police and Sindh Rangers in the preceding 48 hours. Mediator Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F spoke by phone with Hussain on Saturday, urging the party to resume negotiations with the government, and on Sunday the party indicated its willingness to meet with Prime Minister Sharif. Following a meeting with the prime minister on Monday, the party agreed to “reconsider” its resignations, after Sharif agreed to form a “Grievances Redressal Committee” in connection to the MQM’s complaints regarding the paramilitary crackdown in Karachi, but details of that committee’s mandate are limited as of this writing. Finance Minister Dar and other government representatives met with MQM leaders on Tuesday to discuss the terms of reference for the committee. Separately, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited Karachi on Tuesday to review the security situation in the city. Meanwhile, investigations are continuing into the attempted assassination of MQM leader Rashid Godil; police say footage of the event indicates that at least two groups of gunmen were involved in the attack. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Local Elections: Following an announcement last week that the first phase of local government elections would be held in Sindh and Punjab on October 12, the Election Commission announced on Friday that those polls would be delayed until October 31. The delay was attributed to continuing flood relief operations and the need for security resources to be devoted to protecting the Shia community during the Muharram period. A schedule for the polls is now due to be announced August 26. Voting will initially be held in twelve districts in Punjab and eight in Sindh during the first phase. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Limited Protest by ASWJ After Malik Ishaq Death Shows Leadership Divide [Dawn]
  • Chinese Cyclist Kidnapped Near Dera Ismail Khan in May 2014 Freed [Reuters] [AFP]
  • Two Killed, One Injured in Gwadar Grenade Attack; Bodies of Three Laborers Found in Turbat [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Families of Kasur Victims End Investigation Boycott After Meeting with Chief Minister [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Militia Beheads Bombing Suspects in Landi Kotal [Dawn]
  • Bombing Suspect Escapes Police Custody at Karachi Anti-Terrorism Court Hearing [Dawn] [ET]
  • Prime Minister Sharif Departs for Kazakhstan [APP]
  • Finance Ministry Pushed to Clear Rs 72 Billion in Unpaid Subsidy Bills [ET]
  • Pakistan and Iran Seek to Boost Trade [Dawn]
  • Sindh to Replace 61 Federal Laws [Dawn]
  • Former Khyber Paktunkhwa Mining Minister Freed on Bail [ET]
  • Opposition Criticizes Chitral Flood Response [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Suicide Bombing Targets NATO Contractors: A suicide bombing in Kabul’s Macrorayan neighborhood on Saturday struck the vehicle of a group of military contractors working with DynCorp International, killing three Americans and nine Afghan bystanders, and injuring more than sixty people; several nearby buildings were damaged or destroyed in the blast. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, and there has been no public claim of responsibility. Pres. Ghani and other international officials condemned the blast, including the UN and Pakistan’s foreign ministry. On Sunday, four Afghan soldiers were wounded in a roadside bombing in the Kalakan district of Kabul province. [WSJ] [Reuters] [BBC] [Guardian] [AP] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Taliban Succession Struggle: Taliban commander Mullah Akhtar Mansour met with clerical mediators seeking to bridge the succession split within the insurgency on Thursday, a spokesman for the Taliban told Reuters on Friday, but those talks “didn’t reach a conclusion”. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Dostum Survives Attack: Vice President Dostum, who continues to preside over military clearance operations in Faryab province, reportedly came under ambush on Friday while traveling in an armored vehicle in the Qaisar district; he was uninjured and spokesmen and local officials claim that between 4-8 Taliban fighters were killed in the engagement, and another 13 arrested. On Monday, a group of would-be suicide bombers was reportedly arrested near Dostum’s residence in Qaisar. [AP] [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok] [TOLO] [NYT]
  • Civilian Casualty Investigation Reopened: On Monday, a spokesman for the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Command confirmed that the military had opened an criminal investigation into the deaths of 17 Afghan civilian murders between 2012-2013 in the Nekh district of Wardak province. Afghan officials had, at the time, blamed a U.S. Special Forces team deployed in the area for the murders, including an Afghan-American interpreter and at least thre U.S. soldiers. The interpreter, identified as Zakaria Kandahari, was arrested by Afghan officials, but the outcome of any trial for him has not been reported.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: On Monday, the NDS announced that airstrike in Kunduz’s Chahar Dara district had killed Abu Hazifa, identified as the chief of the terrorist group Jundullah in Afghanistan; no further details were released. U.S. aircraft are providing air support for Afghan army operations in Helmand’s Musa Qala district, where the district governor has called for more reinforcements; ANA spokesmen said that 31 Taliban fighters had been killed in an airstrike on a Taliban weapons depot, while Taliban sources claimed to have taken control of several army posts in the district on Sunday. On Saturday, officials announced that Afghan security forces had retaken control of several areas of the Kohistanat district in Sar-e-Pul, including the district center. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Pakistan: The AP overviews the deterioration in Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations since the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, collapse in Pakistani-brokered talks between the Taliban and government representatives, and the subsequent spike in high-profile attacks in Kabul. Speaking on Saturday after the most recent Kabul bombing, Pres. Ghani said that “Pakistan should have an understanding of the situation in Afghanistan and use the same definition of terrorism with regards to Afghanistan as it does domestically”. In an interview on Friday, Vice President Dostum reiterated calls for Afghanistan to “cut our diplomatic relations” with Pakistan. Speaking at a graduation ceremony on Sunday, Deputy Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Murad Ali Murad said that “Pakistan’s rocket attacks which still continue in bordering areas of Afghanistan will not remain unanswered”. On Sunday, Pakistan formally protested what it said was rocket fire from the Afghan side of the border, killing four soldiers. Afghanistan cancelled a planned meeting of the Joint Economic Commission with Pakistan that was to take place Monday. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Reuters] [ET]
  • Refugee Repatriation: On Friday, Pakistani minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch arrived in Kabul for trilateral talks with Afghan and UN officials on the status of the roughly 1.5 million registered and estimated one million unregistered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. On Saturday, agreement was reached to extend the deadline for the refugees’ repatriation to 2017, while continuing encourage voluntary returns. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [TOLO]
  • EU Suspends Funding for National ID Card: In a TOLO interview on Sunday, EU Special Representative to Afghanistan Amb. Franz-Michael Melbin confirmed that the EU had suspended its funding for the Afghan government’s electronic National ID Card project, citing a lack of implementation by the government so far.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • With U.S. Withdrawal Looming, a Nascent Afghan Press is in Peril [WAPO] [TOLO]
  • Electoral Reform Commission Meets with Senators [TOLO]
  • Ghazni Deputy Governor Warns of Purported New ‘Islamic Commandos’ Group [Khaama Press]
  • Herat Gas Terminal Explosion Kills 11 [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • NDS Arrests Six Principals of Logar Schools Charged with Taliban Links [TOLO]
  • Police Arrest More Than 200 Drug Addicts in Kabul [TOLO]
  • Study Estimates More Than $267M in Gem Stones Smuggled Annually [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Teacher Crisis and the Quality of Education in Afghanistan – “The teachers who are supposed to facilitate the rapid growth of the sector are still often ill-trained, ill-equipped, badly paid, too few in numbers – and, increasingly unhappy about it.” [Qayoom Suroush and Christine Roehrs, AAN]
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