Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Dispute Continues Over Rangers’ Powers in Sindh; Taliban Assault Spanish Compound in Kabul

Topline

  • The federal government and Sindh provincial authorities remain at odds over the extension of policing powers for the Sindh Rangers; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan charged the PPP-led government of derailing paramilitary operations in Karachi “to save just one man”, in a reference to ongoing investigations against PPP leader Asim Hussain. Sindh information advisor Moula Boux Chandio insisted that the Rangers were overstepping their mandate by conducting anti-corruption investigations. Opposition disruptions delayed debate in the Sindh assembly over the issue on Monday. Taliban gunmen attacked a Spanish embassy compound in Kabul on Friday, leaving two Spanish police officers, five Afghan police officers, and at least one civilian dead after several hours of fighting with Afghan forces. The UN released an investigation into the fall of Kunduz to the Taliban in October, concluding that at least 289 civilians had been killed and 559 injured, although in most cases UN investigators were unable to conclusively attribute responsibility between the combat parties. Doctors Without Borders issued updated casualty figures from the U.S. aristrike on its hospital in Kunduz, saying that 42 people were now confirmed to have died. At least 25 people were killed when a bomb exploded at a clothing market in the Kurram Agency capital of Parachinar on Sunday; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out in revenge against Iran and Syria. U.S. special operations forces are directly engaged in a previously undisclosed combat role in Helmand, the NYT reports; Helmand provincial officials report deteriorating security, and that the Marjah district has been largely overrun by Taliban forces. The leaders of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India gathered for the groundbreaking inauguration of the TAPI pipeline on Sunday; Pakistan’s Minister of Water and Power Khawaja Asif suggested earlier that Pakistan would seek to intercede with the Taliban to ensure security for the project, comments which prompted condemnation from the Afghan parliamentary speaker. Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch submitted his resignation on Saturday, to be succeeded by the PML-N’s Sanaullah Zehri. Pakistan’s defense secretary will hold talks with U.S. Undersecretary for Defense Christine Wormuth, seeking an extension of Coalition Support Fund assistance.

Pakistan — Security

  • Parachinar Bombing: A bomb exploded at a clothing market in Parachinar, the capital of the Kurram Agency, on Sunday, killing at least 25 people and wounding 50 or more. A spokesman identifying himself as a representative of the global wing of the Sunni sectarian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility, saying that it was “revenge [for] the crimes against Syrian Muslims by Iran and Bashar al Assad”; the South Waziristan-based Ansar ul Mujahadeen also claimed responsibility. Kurram has been the site of clashes between Sunni and Shia tribal rivals in the past, and all of the victims are reported to have been Shia. [ET] [ET] [BBC]
  • Military Operations: In a statement on Saturday, the Pakistani military’s chief spokesman suggested that North Waziristan’s Shawal Valley had been cleared of militants except for one “pocket” in the valley’s northwest; the military released statistics claiming that Operation Zarb-e-Azb had killed 3,400 militants since it began in summer 2014, and also touted that 55 out of 142 cases referred to the military courts system had been resolved. 18 cases, including the attack on Ismailis in Karachi’s Safoor Goth community and the murder of activist Sabeen Mahmud, were recently transferred to the military courts system. Sweep arrests were carried out across the Swabi district and other parts of Khyber Paktunkhwa on Saturday, detaining as many as 500 people. [AP] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: A roadside bombing in Quetta on Saturday killed one Frontier Corps soldier and wounded four other people, including a child. In Peshawar, the deputy superintendent of police was wounded in a driveby shooting; the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for both attacks. Karachi police report killing two TTP-affiliated militants in the Sohrab Goth neighborhood on Saturday; Lahore police say they killed five Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants on Friday. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Center-Provincial Split Over Rangers’ Extension: The federal and provincial government remain at odds over the extension of policing powers for the Sindh Rangers to continue their anti-corruption investigations in the province. Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan accused the Sindh provincial government of trying to derail the paramilitary operation in Karachi “to save just one man”, a reference to disputes over the arrest and investigation against top PPP aide Asim Hussain. Moula Bux Chandio, advisor on information to Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, insisted that the Sindh government was not opposed to the operation and that it was merely following the law by taking the issue to the provincial assembly for a vote, which he suggested would be concluded by Monday. Chandio said that the Rangers lacked the authority to conduct corruption investigations, however, which he said lay with provincial and federal anti-corruption agencies. Speaking at a seminar on Friday, Chief Minister Shah said that he “refuse[d] to accept that corruption is a problem exclusive to my government”, saying that federal agencies should “stop attacking Sindh”. Prime Minister Sharif is reported to have spoken by phone with Shah on Sunday to discuss the issue. Speaking earlier on Friday, the head of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad trader’s union called on the government to extend the Rangers’ policing authority; the WSJ reports that the city’s economy is rebounding after drops in homicide, kidnapping, and extortion since the operation began in 2013. On Sunday, the PTI announced it would hold protests on Monday against the provincial government for failing to extend the operation; the Sunni Tehrik held a demonstration on Sunday. Assembly debate was disrupted by opposition protests on Monday, prompting speaker Agha Siraj Durrani to adjourn the session until Tuesday morning. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Relations with India: Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj spoke before the Indian parliament on Monday to discuss the outcome of her meetings last week with Pakistani officials in Islamabad and the agreement to resume “comprehensive” dialogue. Anonymous Pakistani sources tell the Express Tribune that Prime Ministers Sharif and Modi agreed to use back-channel negotiations to explore options for resolving the Kashmir dispute; it is unclear whether the two countries’ national security advisors will lead these talks or rely on intermediaries. On Friday, the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet approved cross-border communications links between Pakistan and India.
  • Balochistan Chief Minister Transition: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, outgoing Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch acknowledged that he had failed to resolve the issue of “missing persons” in the province, but suggested that some progress had been made and that overall militancy in the province had been reduced. Baloch submitted his resignation on Saturday, and will be succeed by PML-N provincial head Sanaullah Zehri.
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: On Friday, Aleem Khan, the PTI candidate for the NA-122 Lahore special election held in October, filed a complaint with an election tribunal disputing the outcome of the election, which saw National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq return to his seat. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Sadiq laid blame on the Election Commission, and denied any wrongdoing on his part. The ECP pushed back at Sadiq’s criticism, saying that it “cannot bend itself or the law to please one or the other interested party”. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Coalition Support Funds: Pakistan’s defense secretary, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Alam Khattak, departed for the U.S. on Sunday to hold talks with U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Christine Wormuth as part of the U.S.-Pakistan Defense Consultative Group. Talks are expected to focus on Pakistani requests to extend Coalition Support Fund assistance.

Pakistan — Remainders
Cyber Crimes Law Opened for Debate in Parliament [Dawn]
Iran Recruiting Pakistanis for Syria Combat [Reuters]
Supreme Court Rejects Mumtaz Qadri Review Petition Against Death Sentence [Dawn] [ET]
Imran Khan Meets Modi [Dawn] [Dawn]
FATA Reform Committee Plans Jirga Meetings [ET]
Three Pakistanis Transferred from Indian Custody [ET]
Senate Committee Considers Journalists Protection Bill [Dawn]
BNP-Mengal Chief Meets Senate Chairman to Discuss CPEC Concerns [Dawn]
Prime Minister Visits Peshawar to Announce Grant for Islamia College [Dawn] [ET]
PPP Vows to Oppose Privatization Moves [Dawn]
Irregularities Alleged in Karachi-Lahore Motorway Contract [Dawn]
Combined Pakistan Stock Exchange to Open December 28 [ET]

Afghanistan — Security
Taliban Attack Near Spanish Embassy: A team of at least four Taliban fighters launched an attack on a Spanish embassy compound guesthouse in Kabul on Friday evening, beginning with a large car bomb and continuing for several hours before the last holdouts were killed. At least two Spanish police officers, five Afghan police, and a civilian were killed in the attack. Embassy staff have been evacuated from the compound; Spain withdrew the last of its military forces from Afghanistan in October. The Taliban claimed responsibility, and said that “the presence of our Mujahideen with weapons and a car loaded with explosives in such a high security area shows God’s support and the cooperation of the poor and Muslim people.” The attack follows a high-profile assault on the Kandahar Airfield earlier in the week, and meetings in Islamabad at which the Afghan and Pakistani governments renewed pledges to seek negotiations between the government and the Taliban; Mohammad Khan, first deputy to Chief Executive Abdullah, blamed Pakistan for the latest attack. [WSJ] [BBC] [AFP] [TOLO]
Taliban Talks: Speaking at a press conference on Friday prior to the Kabul attacks, Pres. Ghani suggested that peace negotiations with the Taliban might begin “within a few weeks,” and said that the U.S. and China had committed to supporting “an inclusive framework … to monitor violation of the process and record interference in peace talks”. He also denied that NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil had been removed from office at Pakistan’s request. High Peace Council member Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar said that the recent attacks were a “slap in the face” to peace efforts, but suggested that “Pakistan realized all regional countries want Pakistan to support the government of Afghanistan in the peace process”. [AFP] [Reuters] [Khaama Press]
Kunduz Investigations: In a statement on Saturday, Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres said that further investigations had increased the death toll from an errant U.S. airstrike on an MSF hospital in Kunduz on October 3 from 30 to 42. The Post reports that House Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has sought a response from the Department of Defense regarding claims from two unnamed soldiers who maintain that the Taliban were present at the time of the strike, a charge MSF has denied and Pentagon investigations have not substantiated, and more details regarding the position of Afghan units at the time of the incident. Separately, the UN released a report concluding that at least 289 civilians had been killed and 559 injured during the Taliban attack on Kunduz, most of which the UN was unable to specifically attribute to any party to the conflict. The UN echoed MSF calls for an independent investigation into the hospital strike. [BBC] [TOLO] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [UNAMA Kunduz Report (pdf)]
Attacks and Operations: U.S. special operations forces have been engaged in combat in Helmand for the past several weeks, the NYT reports, a role that has largely been kept secret and that Afghan officials say they have been ordered not to publicize. NATO forces also carried out airstrikes in several Helmand districts earlier in December. A U.S. military spokesman declined to comment on the reports. On Sunday, the Helmand provincial police chief told Reuters that with the exception of the governor’s compound and army and police headquarters, insurgents had taken control of much of the Marjah district, and that the Taliban control a 12 km stretch of the road linking it with the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
IDLG Chief Resigns: Pajhwok reports that Jilani Popal, the head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, has resigned and returned to the United States after unspecified disagreements with Pres. Ghani; a presidential spokesman denied the report and an IDLG spokesman maintained that Popal was taking a previously approved holiday.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development
TAPI Project Inaugurated: On Sunday, Pres. Ghani and Prime Minister Sharif joined Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov and Indian vice president Muhammad Hamid Ansari to attend an inaugural groundbreaking ceremony for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which Turkmenistan officials vowed would be completed by 2019.  The project is expected to cost at least $10 billion, to span 1,814 kilometers, and to have a capacity of 33 billion cubic meters of gas. An agreement was also signed with a consortium of Japanese and Turkish companies to boost output from the Galkynysh gas field. Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Pakistani Minister of Water and Power Khawaja Asif said that Pakistan “will make utmost efforts to complete it on time and ensure concerns regarding its security due to the situation in Afghanistan are removed”, including “wield[ing] all our positive influence [with the Taliban] to ensure our interests”. Wolesi Jirga speaker Rauf Ibrahimi condemned Asif’s remarks as “clearly interfer[ing] in Afghan affairs”. Ghani met separately with Berdymuhamedov on Saturday, praising Turkmenistan’s role as a “good and benevolent neighboring country”, and voiced support for Afghanistan’s role as a transit state for China as a well. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [ET] [APP]

Afghanistan — Remainders
CEO Abdullah Visits China for SCO Conference [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
31 Afghan National Army Cadets Graduate from Indian Military Academy [Khaama Press]
Mohaqiq Warns of Worsening Security [TOLO] [TOLO]

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