Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Prime Minister Sharif Attends SCO Summit; Taliban Talks to Resume ‘By the Turn of the Year’

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif and Chief Executive Abdullah attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit on Tuesday; Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif is reportedly due to visit Kabul soon, after which Pakistani sources suggest that talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government will resume by the end of the year. The standoff between the federal and Sindh governments over the extension of policing powers for the Sindh Rangers continues. India’s ambassador to Pakistan suggested on Monday that talks would only focus on Pakistani-administered Kashmir; speaking to the Hindu on Sunday, Prime Minister Sharif urged “time and patience” for the revived comprehensive dialogue process. PPP and PML-F activists clashed violently in Sindh’s Sanghar district on Tuesday, ahead of rescheduled local elections due to take place on Thursday; at least four people, including two police constables, are reported dead. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will face court martial charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, for which he faces a potential life prison sentence. The brother of Afghanistan’s ambassador to India was killed by unidentified gunmen in an attack in Kandahar on Monday. Additional security has been deployed in Peshawar ahead of the one-year anniversary of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar; on Monday, Prime Minister Sharif approved a measure to rename 122 Islamabad schools and colleges in honor of each of the victims. Speaking before parliament on Monday, former presidential legal advisor Abdul Ali Mohammadi insisted that Pres. Ghani personally oversaw the ‘Smart City’ land deal with former Kabul Bank CEO Khalillulah Frozi, and that he was being made a scapegoat for the agreement. The UN estimates Afghan opium cultivation acreage fell by 19% in 2015, the first such drop in six years.

Pakistan — Security

  • U.S.-Pakistan Defense Talks: Although the Pakistani delegation headed by defense secretary Alam Khattak will discuss the Afghanistan situation and the presence of the Islamic State in the region, as well as “strategic and conventional stability”, anonymous sources tell Dawn that talks will “discuss the Afghan reconciliation process, as it is a national effort and not a defence issue”.
  • Peshawar School Attack Anniversary: Senate chairman Raza Rabbani has requested a briefing for the house from Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism tomorrow, the one-year anniversary of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. At least 2,500 police have been deployed in Peshawar for extra security around the anniversary. On Monday, Prime Minister Sharif approved a measure to rename 122 Islamabad schools and colleges in honor of each of the victims. In Rawalpindi, police are reportedly on alert for potential attacks by the Ahrar-ul Hind, a splinter group from the TTP splinter group Jamaat ul Ahrar, which is reportedly seeking to carry out attacks on foreign workers, particularly Chinese engineers. In Lahore, two Punjab University faculty members and one student were arrested on charges of membership in the banned proselytizing organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Missile Test: Pakistan test-fired a Shaheen 1-A short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile on Tuesday, the second such test within the past week.
  • Attacks and Operations: Pakistan Air Force jets carried out airstrikes in the Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency on Tuesday, killing at least six militant suspects. On Monday, Balochistan security officials claimed to have killed 13 militants during search operations in the Awaran district. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Rangers Standoff Continues: In a statement on Monday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan upped his criticisms of the PPP-led Sindh provincial government, saying that “when some institution holds them accountable they term it an attack on Karachi” but that “the actual enemies of Sindh are those who have occupied lands and resources of the province for years”. Chaudhry Nisar also asserted that the federal government was spending Rs 9 billion annually on the Rangers’ activities in Sindh, saying that they were a “federal force” and that the extension of their policing powers was not an exclusively provincial prerogative. Speaking at a rally in Shangla, Imran Khan said that the Sindh government was balking at extending the Rangers’ policing mandate “because it wanted to hide its corruption”. Sindh nationalist parties and PPP dissident Zulfikar Mirza have also threatened protests if the Rangers’ mandate is not extended. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Relations with India: Speaking to The Hindu at the TAPI gas pipeline groundbreaking, Prime Minister Sharif said that the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan needed “time and patience”. On Monday, India’s ambassador to Pakistan, High Commissioner T.C.A. Raghavan, suggested that India would only discuss the status of parts of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan. Speaking before the Indian parliament on Monday, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said that “we would like not to get provoked by the saboteurs, who want to stall the dialogue somehow, and will try to find a way forward through the dialogue”, but stopped short of saying that talks would be “uninterruptable”. [ET]
  • Sharif Attends SCO: On Tuesday, Prime Minister Sharif attended a heads of government meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where he met bilaterally with Chimese Premier Li Keqiang to discuss China-Pakistan economic corridor projects, proposals for a “steering committee” for the Afghan peace process including China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States, and China-Pakistan air defense cooperation. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [TOLO]
  • Elections: Violent clashes between PPP and PML-F activists were reported in the Sanghar district on Tuesday, ahead of local elections that were rescheduled for December 17, after violence in the adjoining Khairpur district during the first phase of local elections postponed initial polling. At least four people, including two police constables, were reportedly killed.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Agricultural Assistance: The Express Tribune reports that, thus far, the finance ministry has not transferred funds for Prime Minister Sharif’s Rs 341 billion ‘Kissan Package’ of agricultural aid to any provinces except Punjab.
  • Polio Crisis: A polio vaccination campaign was postponed in Lahore on Monday after health workers protested against what they charge was a violation of government commitments for pay raises and other financial incentives. A vaccination drive began in Balochistan across all 30 provincial districts, targeting 2.4 million children.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Eight Death Row Convicts Hanged Across Punjab Jails [Dawn] [ET]
  • Imran Farooq Suspects’ Remand Extended [Dawn] [ET]
  • Prime Minister, President’s Son Received Arms License Despite Freeze [Dawn]
  • Aviation Advisor Resigns After Supreme Court Hearings [Dawn]
  • CPEC Western Route ‘To Be Completed Next Year’ [Dawn]
  • Quetta Mayor Protests Budget Cut [Dawn]
  • PIA Employees Protest Move Towards Privatization [ET]
  • Karachi Electric Inaugurates Power Line Upgrade Project [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Haji Sardar Mohammad Khan, the brother of Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, was killed by unidentified gunmen at a Kandahar mosque on Monday. No claim of responsibility has been made for the attack, which was condemned by former President Karzai. On Monday, the NDS announced that it had arrested two Daesh-affiliated militants allegedly planning an attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad. On Tuesday, the Marjah district police chief claimed that security forces had killed the Taliban military commander for the district during overnight fighting. [Pajhwok]
  • Bergdahl to Face Court Martial: On Monday, the head of the U.S. Army Forces Command at Ft. Bragg ordered that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl face a court-martial on charges of desertion and endangering troops through “misbehavior before the enemy” following his 2009 departure from his outpost and subsequent capture by the Taliban. An early army investigation had recommended against prison time. Bergdahl now faces up to five years for the desertion charge and a potential life sentence for the endangerment charge. No date has yet been set for his next hearing. [Guardian] [AJE]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Anonymous Pakistani sources tell Dawn that talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government will resume “by the turn of the year”, and will be driven through a “steering committee” that includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and the United States. Those sources suggest that Mullah Akhtar Mansour and his aides will support the talks, and that “the irreconcilables would then be squeezed”, without elaborating. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif is expected to visit Kabul to discuss the revival of the talks.
  • Smart City Investigations: Speaking before parliament on Monday, former presidential legal advisor Abdul Ali Mohammadi insisted that President Ghani had personally supervised the ‘Smart City’ partnership with former Kabul Bank CEO Khalillulah Frozi, which Mohammadi defended as a means to recover Frozi’s debts, and that he had been made a scapegoat for the issue.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Opium Cultivation Drops: The UN Office of Drugs and Crime reported on Tuesday that opium cultivation acreage fell in Afghanistan in 2015 by 19%, to 183,000 hectares, the first reported drop since 2009; dry weather conditions were cited as the main cause. [UNODC Report]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Government Pledges Tight Security for TAPI Project [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Abdullah Meets Medvedev on SCO Sidelines [TOLO]
  • Afghan Refugees Evicted from Abbottabad Cantonment [ET]
  • Multiple Entry Visa Offered for Khyber Paktunkhwa Traders [Dawn]
  • Kabul Air Pollution Reaching Alarming Levels [TOLO]
  • Interior Minister Praises Special Forces Following Embassy Attack [TOLO]
  • Commentary: A Bridge for the Taliban? Harakat Leaps Back into Action – “Harakat-e Inqilab-e Islami, one of the formerly most important mujahedin parties (tanzim) that had kept a low profile after 2001, is more visibly returning to the Afghan political scene. With a publicity campaign, it is presenting itself as the party of the religious scholars, with a history distinct from other Muslim Brotherhood-inspired tanzim, and offers itself as a possible bridge for peace talks with the Taleban.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
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