Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PM Modi Makes Surprise Visit to Lahore; General Sharif Visits Kabul to Discuss Taliban Talks

Note: The news is back to daily updates today and tomorrow, before another hiatus through the new year’s holiday. This summary covers items from the December 24 – 28 period; apologies for the resulting length of the brief, and thanks for reading.

Topline

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise stop-over in Lahore on December 25 to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, following an earlier visit to Kabul where he inaugurated the new Afghan parliament building and announced the delivery of the remaining three Mi-35 attack helicopters for Afghanistan’s air force. The Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries are due to meet in January in a bid to restart the “comprehensive dialogue” process. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited Kabul on December 27 for talks with Afghan government officials, reportedly reaching an agreement to support an intra-Afghan peace process; agreement was also reported that “elements who would still continue to pursue violence will be dealt [with], under a mutually worked out framework.” A quadrilateral meeting between the U.S., Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan is reportedly planned for January. Fighting continues in Helmand, where local police units complain that they are not being supported by the Afghan army and where local officials allege that all but a handful of districts in the province are under Taliban threat. Afghan security forces’ casualties rose by nearly 25% in 2015, with over 7,000 killed. The NYT echoes earlier reports that Mullah Qayyum Zakir has indirectly challenged Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s legitimacy as leader of the Taliban, citing a recent fatwa by a group of Taliban clerics. The Pakistani federal government formally notified the extension of the Sindh Rangers’ policing authority without conditions placed on their operations by the Sindh Assembly; Prime Minister Sharif visited Karachi on December 28 without meeting with Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, who along with other senior PPP leaders has condemned the federal government’s move. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, headlining a rally marking the eighth anniversary of his mother’s death on December 28, charged that the PML-N was using the National Action Plan to crack down on its political opponents. Russia’s special representative for Afghanistan told the press that Russia has been exchanging information with the Taliban regarding the activities of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, although Taliban officials deny this. The PTI’s Jahangir Tareen won election to the NA-154 Lodhran constituency during polling on December 23; unofficial results suggest that he nearly doubled his vote tally from elections in May 2013, which PTI leaders touted as evidence of their contention that those elections were rigged in the PML-N’s favor. Sanaullah Zehri was elected the new Balochistan assembly speaker on December 24.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Attacks and Operations: A roadside bombing in the Mohmand Agency on Dec 23 killed at least three people, the third such attack in as many days; two of the victims were reported to have been children. [Dawn]
  • Syrian Conflict: In remarks to the senate foreign relations committee on December 23, Pakistan’s foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said that despite joining a Saudi-backed alliance of Islamic countries aimed at targeting ISIS, Pakistan was opposed to any effort to depose Syrian president Bashar al Assad, and was “against foreign military intervention in Syria and fully supports the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic”. [ET]
  • Iranian Border Tensions: Iranian border guards reportedly fired at least three mortars across the border into Balochistan’s Mashkil district on December 27; no casualties were reported. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Indian Prime Minister Makes Surprise Visit to Lahore: On December 25, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore on the way home from a trip to Russia and Kabul, meeting with Prime Minister Sharif at his home in Raiwind on his birthday, and ahead of his granddaughter’s wedding the following day. It is the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan since 2004, and appears to have been arranged on so short a notice that neither of the Pakistani foreign and national security advisors were able to attend. Modi’s visit follows an agreement at the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad earlier this month to resume “comprehensive dialogue” talks, which are due to be held at the foreign secretary level in mid-January. Both Sharif and Modi have also been invited to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in March 2016. Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said that the two leaders “expressed their desire to carry forward the dialogue process for the larger good of the people of the two countries”; Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said that they also agreed that “people-to-people contact would be strengthened so that the atmosphere can be created in which the peace process can move forward”. Foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz cautioned that “initially the focus (of talks) would be on the reduction of tension and maintenance of calm on the Line of Control” and that issues would not be instantly resolved by the resumption of talks. Reuters reports that Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif and the new Pakistani national security advisor Naseer Khan Janjua are “on board” with the new efforts to restart dialogue with India; the U.S. is also reported to have stressed the issue with both General Sharif and Modi. Modi’s visit was criticized by some opposition Congress Party leaders; on Saturday, Imran Khan said that he welcomed the thaw in relations but that there was an “underlying conflict of interest”, charging that a business associate of Sharif’s had been responsible for arranging the meeting. Earlier on December 23, India named its current ambassador to Bhutan, Gautam Bambawale, to serve as its next ambassador to Pakistan; he will take office in January. [WSJ] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [AJE]
  • Rangers Dispute: On December 25, the federal government formally notified the extension of the Sindh Rangers’ policing powers in Karachi without conditions placed on their operations by the provincial assembly on December 16, overruling objections from the provincial cabinet that doing so was unconstitutional. In a statement on December 27, the Rangers announced their commitment to targeting banned religious groups and members of political parties’ “militant wings”; at least six arrests were made hte day prior. Prime Minister Sharif was earlier reported to be planning a visit to Karachi in the coming week to meet with Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to defuse tensions over the issue, but arrived and departed on December 28 without meeting with Shah, focusing instead on energy and infrastructure projects. The Express Tribune now reports that Sharif has invited Shah to Islamabad ot discuss the issue. In a statement on December 24, former Pres. Zardari reiterated the PPP’s position that the federal government was “invading the province of Sindh”; the PPP and ANP staged a joint walkout in the Senate the day prior to protest the federal government’s actions. Speaking at a rally in Garhi Khuda Bux on December 28 marking the eighth anniversary of his mother’s death, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari accused the PML-N of using the National Action Plan against counterterrorism to target its political opponents; Chief Minister Shah, speaking at the rally, said that “one man”, an apparent reference to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, “cannot overrule the Sindh Assembly resolution”. PPP leaders are said to be still considering their legal options to challenge the federal government’s move. In a statement on December 23, the interior ministry said that the federal government had spent Rs 9 billion on the Rangers’ salaries and operations so far this fiscal year, compared to Rs 2.44 billion in payments by Sindh; PPP leaders allege that the federal government has failed to contribute to an operation cost-sharing agreement for the Ranger’s operation expenses. In comments to the Express Tribune, anonymous interior ministry sources also suggest that the dispute over the Rangers’ powers was constraining their ability to pursue supporters of the Islamic State. During court hearings on December 23, the detention of top PPP aide Asim Hussain on corruption charges was extended until January 5. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: The PTI’s Jahangir Tareen defeated the former incumbent Siddique Baloch of the PML-N in special elections for the NA-154 national assembly seat held on December 23 in Lodhran; some unofficial results indicate that Tareen won nearly 139,000 votes to Baloch’s nearly 100,000, a result that nearly doubled Tareen’s performance during the May 2013 general elections, whose outcome he challenged through an electoral tribunal that ordered re-elections earlier this summer. Several PTI leaders touted Tareen’s victory as proof that the 2013 polls had been rigged in the PML-N’s favor. Imran Khan met with PTI activists in Karachi on December 26, promising that intra-party elections for leadership positions would be held “in a few months”, and pushed back against protests against the party’s local leadership. Indirect elections for local government positions reserved for women and minorities in Sindh have been postponed pending the completion of polling in all remaining constituencies. Elsewhere, Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch formally resigned from his position on December 23 and was succeeded by the PML-N’s Sanaullah Zehri, who was elected to the chief ministership unanimously by the provincial assembly on December 24, in line with the coalition government agreement first reached between the parties in 2013. Rahila Durrani of the PML-N was elected assembly speaker, the first woman to hold the position in Balochistan’s history. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari presided over a meeting of the PPP central executive committee on December 27; at the meeting his father, former Pres. Zardari, was named as the head of the party’s PPP-Parliamentarians organization. Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry announced the launch of the “Pakistan Justice Democratic Critic Party” on December 25. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: Imran Khan participated in a tribal jirga in Peshawar on December 23, where he voiced support for the FATA’s merger into Khyber Paktunkhwa on a phased basis.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Recalls Diplomat from Bangladesh After Charges of Supporting Jamayetul Mujahadeen Bangladesh [AFP] [APP]
  • Fourth JF-17 Thunder Squadron Complete [Dawn]
  • Child’s Death During Visit by Bilalwal Bhutto to Karachi Hospital Prompts Criticism [APP] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • FIA Seeks to Interview Musharraf ‘Abbetors’ [ET]
  • Sindh to Transfer 18 Cases to Military Courts [Dawn]
  • JUI-F Ends Protests After Pledge to Investigate Leader’s Killing [Dawn] [ET]
  • Eight Militants, Two Frontier Corps Soldiers Killed in Kech District; Former Minister’s House Targeted [ET] [Dawn]
  • Five Balochistan Liberation Army Suspects Detained in Karachi [Dawn]
  • Six Cadet Colleges Planned for FATA [ET]
  • Senate Committee to Review All Acts of Parliament [Dawn]
  • Long-Term LNG Supply Deal Still Awaited [ET]
  • Musharraf’s APML Splits in Khyber Paktunkhwa [Dawn]
  • US and Pakistan Sharing Banking Data on Dual Nationals [Dawn]
  • Senate Seeks Additional CPEC Details [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Helmand Fighting Continues: Speaking at a press conference on December 23, acting defense minister Masoom Stanekzai insisted that the Taliban were not in control of any districts in Helmand, attributing “problems in a few districts” to the province’s “open border” and the support for terrorism of “sponsors in Afghanistan’s neighborhood”. Interior Minister Noor ul Haq Uloomi attributed the Taliban’s recent offensives to a desire to maintain access to opium as a funding source. Speaking at a separate press conference the same day, Helmand provincial council chief Karimullah Atal said that five districts in the province were under Taliban control, that fighting was ongoing in four districts, and that four were “on the brink of collapse”. The NYT interviews Afghans who have fled to the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, and now fear that it too is under threat of Taliban attack; at least 7,000 families are reported to have been displaced this year. A roadside bombing in Lashkar Gah killed four people on December 27. Echoing other accounts, a local police commander fighting in the Sangin and Marjah districts tells Reuters that his units are fighting without support from the Afghan army; TOLO reported on December 27 that several Afghan army units were awaiting orders to advance on Taliban positions. On December 24, ministry of interior officials reported that as many as 50 Taliban fighters had been killed during a combined operation by police and army special forces in Sangin; the defense ministry said that 60 had been killed and that NATO air support had carried out at least two strikes in the district. Officials also said they had retaken control of the district governor’s compound on Thursday; the district governor was evacuated to the joint base near Lashkar Gah the day prior. Despite the reinforcements and intensified operations, police commanders report that they are still encircled and under threat of ambush at their outposts. [TOLO] [BBC] [Guardian] [Guardian] [Guardian] [AJE]
  • Taliban Divisions: The NYT builds on previous reports by RFE/RL that a group of Taliban religious clerics had issued a fatwa disputing that Mullah Akhtar Mansour had the religious legitimacy to lead the Taliban insurgency. A Taliban spokesman dismissed the letter as “an old fake version that popped up with a new date”. Mullah Qayyum Zakir is reported to have used the fatwa finding as justification for directing commanders loyal to him to avoid infighting and to “refuse orders when asked to fight fellow Taliban”. Zakir’s letters to supporters stop short of directly challenging Mansour’s leadership, and the piece notes that Zakir-affiliated commanders are leading operations in Helmand, and continue to receive resourcing support from the central leadership, over which Mansour retains control.
  • Russia Reportedly Sharing Information with Taliban: Russian special representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told Russian media on on December 23 that “the Taliban interest objectively coincides with ours” where opposition to the Islamic State was concerned, and suggested that “we and the Taliban have channels for exchanging information”. The Washington Post confirmed the remarks with a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman who said that there had been “only information exchange” with the Taliban, without providing further details. A Taliban spokesman denied the account on December 25, telling Al Jazeera that they “don’t need anyone’s support to fight and eliminate the presence of ISIL” and that “we are having talks, but not about fighting ISIL. We want foreign forces out of our country, that is what we are talking about at the moment”. The London Times reported that Vladimir Putin and Mullah Akhtar Mansour met in Tajikistan in September, but both Russian officials and the Taliban deny that account. Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan briefed Afghan deputy foreign minister Hekmat Karzai on December 27. [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Overviewing the deteriorating security situation in Helmand and other provinces, the Post reports that roughly 7,000 Afghan security personnel have been killed this year and 12,000 injured, a 26% increase over 2014 figures; in an closed-door meeting of the Afghan National Security Council, Chief Executive Abdullah is reported to have voiced concerns that “we haven’t delivered” on security pledges and that Afghan forces “lack discipline. They lack rotation opportunities. We haven’t taken care of our own policemen and soldiers. They continue to absorb enormous casualties.” A separate Post report, citing U.S. military sources, reports that an Afghan police officer failed to closely screen the suicide bomber who targeted a U.S. patrol near Bagram Airbase last week, killing six U.S. Air Force law enforcement personnel. Nangarhar police officials reported that three Taliban militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike in the Ghanikhil district on December 23. A spokesman for the Afghan National Army said that soldiers retook control of the Ghormach district in Badghis province on December 24. District officials warn that Kunduz’s Dasht-e-Archi and Imam Sahib districts continue to serve as bases of operation for the Taliban. A bombing at a mosque in Baghlan on December 25 wounded five people, including the imam; no claim of responsibility has been reported, although the ministry of interior laid blame on the Taliban. A roadside bombing in Nangarhar’s Behsood district on December 25 killed a community elder and wounded another person. On December 26, a militia force affiliated with deputy speaker of parliament Zahir Qadir clashed with Daesh-affiliated fighters in the Achin district, after which Qadir’s forces beheaded four Daesh captives and killed five others; Qadir defended the action as retaliation for similar killings, rebuffing criticism from the district governor. Speaking in parliament on Monday, Qadir charged that the government was only targeting the Taliban, not Daesh. A suicide car bomber detonated near a school near the Kabul airport on December 28, killing at least one person and wounding as many as 33 people, including many children; NATO said that none of its personnel were involved in the incident, contrary to Taliban claims. Elsewhere on Monday, a female polio vaccination worker was killed and her granddaughter seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting in Kandahar city. [NYT] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [AP] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Modi Visits Kabul: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kabul on December 25 for meetings with Pres. Ghani and other senior Afghan officials. The Indian government announced the delivery of three Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan the day prior to his arrival. During the visit, his first to Afghanistan, Modi inaugurated a new parliament building, whose construction India has supported since 2009 at a cost of roughly $90 million; in his remarks on the occasion, Modi said that India was “here to contribute not to compete; to lay the foundations of future, not light the flame of conflict,” adding that “Afghans’ success needs cooperation of all neighbors and all of us in the region. India, Pakistan, Iran and others must unite and cooperate for this common purpose.” India also announced a scholarship program for the children of Afghan security personnel killed in the line of duty. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Kabul: Pres. Ghani reportedly spoke by phone with Prime Minister Sharif on December 25 following their separate meetings with Prime Minister Modi the same day. Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited Kabul on December 27 to discuss Afghan peace talks; prior to his arrival, the Afghan defense ministry spokesman urged Pakistan “to cooperate with us to put an end to the war in Afghanistan”. Pakistani military spokesmen reported afterwards that General Sharif, Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah had agreed to “support and ensure success of an Afghan-led dialogue and reconciliation process” and that “elements who would still continue to pursue violence will be dealt [with], under a mutually worked out framework.” Anonymous Taliban sources tell the Express Tribune that they are “neither under pressure for talks nor will [we] accept any pressure.” A hotline between the two countries’ directors general for military operations will also be established to improve border security cooperation, and a quadrilateral meeting between the U.S., Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan will be held in January to “prepare a comprehensive plan to achieve peace and stability”. In a December 23 interview with the Express Tribune, Chief Executive Abdullah said that “we’re ready to take risks but then we also expect Pakistan to stand by us for the sake of the greater good,” and that “Afghanistan does not interfere in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries and hopes its neighbours will not interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs.” High Peace Council member Ismail Qasimyar tells TOLO that “we want Pakistan to take practical steps and approve its sincerity in-spite of making verbal assurances”. [AP] [TOLO] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other Regional Diplomacy: Pres. Ghani stopped in Turkey while en route home from Azerbaijan on December 23, where he met with President Erdogan and called for Turkish investment in Afghanistan; Erdogan said that the international community “must continue helping Afghanistan in [the] security and development process”. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • TAPI Pipeline: Speaking to the senate, minister of mines and petroleum Daud Shah Saba said that a special 7,000-strong security guard force would be established to protect the TAPI gas pipeline once construction begins on Afghanistan’s portion of the pipeline, and that mine-clearing work along the route would begin in April.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Hazaras React to New Threats [WAPO]
  • Nuristan Lies Beyond Reach of Aid and Time [NYT]
  • Flawed Justice After a Mob Kills Afghan Woman [NYT]
  • Former Interior Minister Daudzai Criticizes Government Security Response [Reuters]
  • Former Mujahadeen Soldier Criticizes Government Support for Disabled [TOLO]
  • Strong Quake Epicentered North of Kabul Shakes Region [Reuters] [AP] [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Finance Seeks Bids for Kabul Bank Privatization [Khaama Press]
  • New Ministry of Defense Building Inaugurated [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Over 300,000 Returnees, 150,000 Migrants in 2015, Ministry Reports [TOLO]
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s