Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Gen. Sharif Departs for Washington Visit; Afghan and European Ministers Discuss Refugee Exodus

Topline

  • Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif departed on Sunday for a visit to Washington, where Pakistani sources suggest the stalled Afghan peace process will be the top item on the agenda; Pakistani officials attribute the breakdown in talks to the Afghan government. The Afghan minister of refugees and repatriation and foreign minister met with European diplomats in Kabul on Saturday to discuss the surge of Afghan nationals seeking asylum in Europe and Scandinavian countries; roughly 146,000 Afghans are reported to have arrived in Europe this year. Norwegian officials announced their intention to repatriate roughly 90% of the 4,000 Afghans seeking asylum this year, compared to only ten last year. Balochistan Republican Party leader Brahamdagh Bugti has called for a meeting of Balochistan separatist and insurgent factions to establish a united front and to discuss the question of engaging with the state. As many as 65 Afghan soldiers reportedly defected to the Taliban in Helmand’s Sangin district after weeks of fighting there; a suicide car bombing struck a NATO convoy in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah on Sunday, killing at least one civilian bystander. Pakistan carried out airstrikes in North Waziristan on Saturday; Finance Minister Dar told parliament on Friday that roughly Rs 190 billion would be spent on the Zarb-e-Azb operation between its start last year and next year. Recently freed survivors of the Zabul kidnapping earlier this year tell TOLO that they were released from Daesh captivity by the Taliban rather than government security forces. The Election Commission of Pakistan has cancelled polling in Sindh’s Sanghar district after reviewing security ahead of the second phase of local elections scheduled to take place in Sindh and Punjab on November 19; Imran Khan and Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari headlined several campaign events over the weekend. The Wolesi Jirga rejected a presidential ordinance allowing acting security ministers to continue in their role indefinitely; defense minister Masoom Stanekzai has continued in an acting role since parliament rejected his nomination in July. The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority approved a major hike in Khyber Paktunkhwa’s hydroelectric power royalties, which are estimated to be boosted by more than threefold.

Pakistan — Security

  • Chief of Army Staff Departs for Washington: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif departed for his visit to the U.S. on Sunday; he will reportedly meet with Secretaries Kerry and Carter, CIA Director Brennan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford, and Vice President Biden during the trip. Anonymous PML-N sources suggest that General Sharif’s trip is a source of tension with the political leadership; the military in turn is said to be unhappy with the government’s reluctance to pursue anti-corruption cases against MQM and PPP leaders. Dawn reports that the stalled Afghan peace process will be the top agenda item during the visit, and echoes previous accounts from Pakistani security and diplomatic sources who place the onus on the Ghani administration to commit to a negotiations process. Foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz met with UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Nicholas Haysom on Friday, voicing support for an “all inclusive” dialogue in Afghanistan; Pakistan will host the ‘Heart of Asia’ regional forum on December 8. Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, the Pakistani military’s chief spokesman, arrived in Washington a day ahead of Gen. Sharif on Sunday, where he called on Afghan authorities to implement “strict surveillance” along the border with Pakistan to curtail cross-border movements by fighters fleeing operations in FATA. Prior to his departure, Gen. Sharif visited the ‘Pakistan Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Security’ on Friday, where he express confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear security. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [BBC]
  • Balochistan Talks: In a statement on Sunday, Balochistan Republican Party leader Brahamdagh Bugti invited all Baloch separatist and insurgent groups to participate in talks in Switzerland within the next month to establish a united front, saying that he would accept a majority decision on whether or not to try and engage with the Pakistani government over peace talks in Balochistan. Bugti acknowledged earlier meetings with Balochistan Chief Minsiter Abdul Qadir Baloch but said that he had rejected further talks given Baloch’s status as a “messenger” only. [ET] [ET]
  • FATA Attacks and Operations: In a statement on Saturday, Pakistani military spokesmen claimed that as many as 22 militant suspects had been killed in airstrikes in the Shawal Valley region of North Waziristan; local political administration officials put the toll as high as 28, and Reuters cites a local resident who reports that “more than thirty” people were either killed or injured from the strike. No details have been reported as to the identities of the targets. Speaking before parliament on Friday, Finance Minister Dar said Rs 45 billion had been spent on the Zarb-e-Azb military operation last year, Rs 100 billion allocated for this year, and estimated that another Rs 45 billion would be allocated next year; he said that only $350 million in international assistance had been received to support the operation. [Dawn]
  • Border Clashes: At least five rockets were fired across the Pakistan-Afghan border between South Waziristan and Paktika on Sunday, prompting retaliatory fire from Pakistani military forces; no casualties were reported on either side. Afghan officials accuse Pakistan of building a border crossing at Angor Adda that they say encroaches on Afghanistan’s side of the border. On Saturday evening, several mortar shells were fired across the Iranian border into Balochistan’s Chagtai district; Iranian border forces denied that they carried out the firing.
  • Karachi Violence: A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the murder of two Karachi police officers in a driveby shooting on Saturday; another officer was injured in the incident, and subsequently died of his injuries. Both had been deployed at a checkpoint to provide security for an Ismaili community residential complex.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections and Other Political Activity: Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan chaired a meeting on Friday to review preparations for the second phase of local elections in Sindh and Punjab, scheduled to take place November 19. On Saturday, the Election Commission cancelled polling in the Sanghar district in Sindh, but decided to proceed with elections in Badin, where former Sindh home minister Zulfikar Mirza has formed an opposition alliance to challenge the PPP. Also on Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif chaired a review of security for election day. Dawn notes only 59 women and 111 non-Muslims have registered to contest the second phase elections in Punjab, less than one percent of the total number of candidates Imran Khan campaigned in Badin on Friday, with the PTI’s student wing in Islamabad on Saturday, and in Mianwali on Sunday and Monday, where he criticized the PPP and PML-N leaders. Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari led a PPP rally on Sunday to the Thatta district in Sindh. PML-Q and PML-F leaders protested interference by the incumbent PML-N and PPP, alleging police and polling staff were working on their behalf. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: A jirga of the ‘FATA Grand Alliance’ in Jamrud on Sunday voiced support for the government’s creation of a special committee to review options for FATA reforms, and opposed a proposed constitutional amendment that would merge the agencies into Khyber Paktunkhwa, calling instead for a FATA legislative council and the repeal of the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Hydroelectric Price Hike: On Friday, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority approved a 217% increase in net hydroelectric profits for Khyber Paktunkhwa, boosting the province’s hydel royalty payments from Rs 6 billion annually to Rs 19 billion annually. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Earthquake Relief: Prime Minister Sharif visited the Swat district in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Saturday, where he extended further pledges of relief assistance for those affected by the October 26 earthquake, which he said would be delivered by November 24. [ET]
  • Tax Revenues: Speaking before the senate on Friday, Finance Minister Dar avoided questions about how much tax revenue had been raised by the government’s imposition of a tax on banking transactions by individuals who did not file income tax forms. Dar also insisted that he had pushed back at IMF calls for a hike in the general sales tax, and defended delays in the formation of the National Finance Commission to update the federal-provincial revenue sharing formula.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • US Announces Arrest of Pakistani National On Illicit Money Transfer Charges [Dawn] [ET]
  • Navy Test-Fires Anti-Ship Guided Missiles [Dawn]
  • Lal Masjid Cleric Rallies in Support of Sharia Law [Dawn] [ET]
  • Interior Minister Seeks Report on Human Smuggling [Dawn]
  • Over 9,500 Names Removed from Exit Control List [Dawn]
  • Indictment Issued Over MQM Activist’s Death During March Raid [ET]
  • Sindh Government Stalls Formation of Provincial Finance Commission [ET]
  • Parliamentary Committee to Observe China Pakistan Corridor Projects [Dawn]
  • Jamaat-e-Islami Announces Plan to Induct Ten Women Members Into Central Council [ET]
  • Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government to Challenge Federal ‘Interference’ [ET]
  • Senate to Consider Vaccination Legislation [ET]
  • Prime Minister Inaugurates Faisalabad-Multan Motorway Section [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: On Friday, Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah held a video teleconference with U.S. Secretary of Defense Carter to discuss ongoing U.S. security assistance in Afghanistan. Helmand provincial governor Mirza Khan Rahimi told Reuters on Saturday that as many as 65 Afghan soldiers had defected to join the Taliban after weeks of fighting in the Sangin district, handing over a military checkpost on Friday; a Taliban spokesman echoed that claim. A spokesman for the ministry of defense denied those reports and insisted that “our troops will never surrender to the enemy”, although they acknowledged that a tactical retreat was possible. On Sunday, a suicide car bombing targeted a NATO convoy on the outskirts of the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah; one Afghan bystander was killed and as many as a dozen people wounded. Officials in Faryab’s Pashtun Kot district reported on Saturday that two checkposts have been taken over by insurgents and that ten policemen who were stationed there are now missing. In Kunduz, officials estimate that as much as 40% of the Imam Sahib district is under Taliban control, although some locals interviewed by TOLO suggest this represents an improvement in the district’s security situation. On Sunday, Nangarhar provincial officials reported that 12 Taliban fighters had been killed in a drone strike in the Khogyani district the previous evening, including the Taliban’s shadow district governor. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Hostage Aftermath: Five survivors who were freed last week after months in captivity by militants linked to the Islamic State tell TOLO that they were freed by the Taliban during the recent clashes in Zabul, and say that the National Directorate of Security’s accounts that it had secured the release of eight former hostages were inaccurate. One former hostage describes the leaders of the Daesh kidnappers as being Uzbek and Tajik nationals.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Refugee Exodus: On Saturday, Minister of Refugees and Repatriation Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani met with ambassadors from several European and Scandinavian countries to discuss the influx of Afghan refugees seeking asylum in Europe; Balkhi voiced interest in reopening negotiations on memoranda of understanding governing asylum seekers. The two ministers briefed parliament on Monday, where they reported that 146,000 Afghans had left the country for Europe so far this year. Following meetings with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah and the visiting Norwegian deputy minister of justice and deputy minister of foreign affairs, Norway has announced its intentions to repatriate “about 90%” of approximately 4,000 recent Afghan refugees to Norway, compared to just 10 aslyum seekers last year. Germany initiated an advertising campaign in Kabul on Sunday warning migrants away from traveling to Germany. Meanwhile, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government has reportedly objected to any further extension of Afghan refugees’ stay in the province, and is cracking down on unregistered Afghan nationals; another report suggests that Afghans who fled earlier crackdowns this year are returning to Pakistan as a result of the deteriorating security situation and shortage of economic opportunities. [Khaama Press]
  • Caretaker Appointments: On Saturday, the Wolesi Jirga rejected a presidential decree indefinitely extending the tenure of acting ministers holding security portfolios; Masoom Stanekzai, whose nomination as defense minister was rejected by parliament in July, has continued in an “acting” role since.
  • Electoral Reforms: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, members of the special electoral reform commission called on the government to take action and complete the formation of a special selection committee that is to be tasked with appointing new Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission members. A presidential spokesman attributes the delay to disagreements amongst civil society organizations over their nominee for the selection committee.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Warns Against ‘Individual Interference’ by Provincial Council Members into Local Administration [Pajhwok]
  • Ghazni Residents Express Concern Over Government Support for Militias [Pajhwok]
  • A Day at the Office for Afghan Drug Prosecutor: Paperwork and Death Threats [NYT]
  • India to Build Healthcare Centers in Three Badakhshan Districts; Qatar Pledges Nangarhar Earthquake Aid [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • An Afghan Woman’s Radio Station Becomes a Taliban Casualty [WAPO]
  • First Lady Urges Bigger Role for Women in Security Institutions [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Afs 822 Million in Contracts [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: An ‘Afghan Exodus’: Facts, Figures, Trends – “A central element in the current debate is whether the refugees arriving now represent asylum seekers, civil war refugees or economic migrants. In the case of Afghans, at least, this distinction is often difficult to make.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
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