Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Modi and Sharif Speak on Pathankot Attack; U.S. Soldier Killed in Marjah

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif and Prime Minister Modi spoke by phone on Tuesday regarding the Pathankot airbase attack, during which Modi emphasized the need for “firm and immediate action”; Sharif’s office said that Pakistan was “working on the leads and information provided by the Indian government”. A U.S. soldier was killed during a special forces operation in Marjah, Helmand, on Tuesday; specific details on the operation are limited, but a U.S. Pave Hawk helicopter is reported to have been damaged during the course of a medevac mission and fighting appears to be ongoing. Another small bombing was reported in Kabul on Tuesday, the fourth since the start of the year; no casualties or claim of responsibility have been reported. The Sindh High Court has sought responses from the federal and provincial governments on the status of the Rangers’ policing powers in Karachi. Chief Executive Abdullah met with Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei on Tuesday and with Iranian economic officials on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, planning minister Ahsan Iqbal rebuffed criticism from Khyber Paktunkhwa government that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project was marginalizing smaller provinces to favor Punjab. Nangarhar provincial officials report renewed clashes between Taliban and Daesh-affiliated forces in the Achin and Bati Kot districts.

Pakistan — Security

  • Attack on Indian Airbase Ends: As noted yesterday, Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif spoke by phone on Tuesday; a statement from Modi’s office afterwards said that he “strongly emphasised the need for Pakistan to take firm and immediate action against the organisations and individuals responsible for and linked to the Pathankot terrorist attack”. The Indian statement said that Sharif had “assured PM Modi that his government would take prompt and decisive action against the terrorists”; Prime Minister Sharif’s office said that his government “is working on the leads and information provided by the Indian government” and “would like to investigate the matter.” Indian defense minister Manohar Parrikar confirmed on Tuesday that all six attackers at the Pathankot airbase had been killed, although search operations in the area are ongoing. Parrikar visited the site and told reporters that “I see some gaps (in intelligence) but we will be able to understand only after the investigation. But I don’t think we compromised on security.” [NYT] [BBC] [BBC] [ET]
  • TTP Issues “Annual Report”: On December 29, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan released a first-ever “annual report” for 2015, claiming to have carried out 73 targeted attacks, 12 ambushes, 10 raids, 19 IED attacks, five suicide attacks, 17 missile attacks, and the downing of two helicopters. The group has considerably exaggerated the number of casualties from its attacks, AFP analysts note, and 2015 saw the fewest deaths from terrorist attacks since 2007. On Wednesday, Karachi police arrested four TTP-affiliated suspects in the upscale Defense Housing Authority neighborhood, recovering bomb-making materials; police have also arrested two suspected members of an unspecified “banned religious group” for alleged involvement in attacks on the Express Media group in 2014. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Rangers Standoff: On Tuesday, while hearing a petition challenging the Sindh assembly’s December resolution imposing conditions on the policing operations of the Sindh Rangers, the Sindh High Court sought replies from the federal and provincial governments on the status of those powers after the interior ministry extended them without accepting the provincial assembly’s conditions. [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, members of the FATA Political Alliance, a group of legislators and activists that earlier introduced legislation seeking a constitutional amendment to integrate the FATA into Khyber Paktunkhwa, threatened protests if they are not included in the committee constituted by the government to consider reform proposals.
  • Other Political Activity: The leaders of the three Balochistan coalition parties met on Tuesday to discuss cabinet formation for the new government headed by the PML-N’s Sanaullah Zehri. Candidates for the special election for an empty Balochistan assembly seat held on December 31 have all claimed victory; the Election Commission has yet to announce a winner. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Disputes: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, planning minister Ahsan Iqbal denied any discrimination against smaller provinces as part of the planning of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, dismissing criticism from Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari met with representatives of the BNP-Mengal and voiced support afterwards for the rights of the provinces. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Signs Accords During Sri Lanka Visit [Dawn] [ET]
  • Bookseller Gets Five-Year Prison Term Over Banned Materials [ET]
  • PTI to Protest Lahore Metro Train Project [ET]
  • Government Agrees to Supply Re-gasified LNG to Textile Sector [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Casualty in Helmand: One U.S. soldier was killed and at least two wounded in Helmand’s Marjah district on Tuesday. Pentagon officials reported that the casualties occurred during an operation by a U.S. special forces team supporting and training an Afghan special forces unit in the district, in which a U.S. Pave Hawk medevac helicopter suffered damage while landing. Details are otherwise sketchy, and the identity of the casualty has not been released; fighting was reported to still be ongoing in the area of the site. The police chief of the adjacent Nad Ali district tells the NYT that an operation to retake control of the Marjah-Lashkar Gah highway began on Monday, preceded by U.S. airstrikes.  [WAPO]
  • Kabul Bombing: A magnetic bomb placed on a car in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood detonated on Tuesday evening, the fourth bombing in the city since the start of the year. No casualties were reported in the most recent blast and there was no claim of responsibility. [TOLO] [Pajhwok] [TOLO]
  • Indian Consulate Attack Aftermath: India’s ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha visited the site of the Mazar-e-Sharif consulate attack on Tuesday, praising Afghan security forces; he said that “the NDS and security forces will investigate and let us know but we more or less understand who the common enemy is. And we know that these are people who don’t like India and Afghanistan’s relations very much but they are making a mistake as these attacks only make us stronger”.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Nangarhar provincial officials report that as many as 31 militants have been killed in clashes in the Bati Kot and Achin districts on Wednesday between rival Taliban and Daesh-affiliated groups. The Kunduz provincial police chief warns of continued Taliban presence outside the city, but tells TOLO that “we have plans to stop them and eliminate them.” The government is disconnecting cell phone service overnight, a move that residents attribute to insurgents but acting governor Hamdullah Danesh attributes to government moves to increase operational security.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Iran Visit: Chief Executive Abdullah met with supreme leader of Iran Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei on Tuesday; a readout of their meeting indicates Khamenei emphasized the need for “unity among all ethnic groups” in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, Abdullah met with the chairman of Iran’s commerce, economic and industrial coordination council, Akbar Tarkan, touting the Chabahar port link.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Receives Report on ‘Ghost Schools’ [TOLO]
  • Zabul Director of Education Faces Corruption Charges [Khaama Press]
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