Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Set Talks Preconditions At Doha Conference; Bacha Khan University Suspects Arrested

Topline

  • Taliban representatives attended a Pugwash-sponsored conference in Doha over the weekend, where they insisted that the international community would need to remove Taliban leaders from the international UN blacklist, end travel bans, and free Taliban prisoners before peace talks could begin, among other steps; a spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that it was “unacceptable” for the Taliban to make preconditions for the talks. Pakistani military officials announced the arrest of five suspects in connection to the attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda last week, reiterating their conclusion that the attack was directed by Pakistani Taliban militants based in Afghanistan. The National Directorate of Security announced the arrest of eight Haqqani network-linked suspects in connection to the attack on a TOLO production team last week; no further details have been provided. Pres. Ghani attended prayer services for the victims on Sunday. In a statement on Monday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif ruled out any extension to his three-year term, which is due to expire in November. NATO and Afghan defense ministry officials report that commander of the Afghan National Army’s 215 Maiwand Corps, leading operations in Helmand, has been replaced, along with several other senior officers. The Balochistan home minister survived a roadside bombing on Friday, which was claimed by the Baloch Republican Army. Anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources suggest that a foreign secretary-level meeting with India could take place in February. The PPP won most seats in rescheduled local elections in the Sanghar district, previously seen as the main power base of the rival PML-F; former home minister Zulfikar Mirza has alleged rigging in Badin, where results have yet to be announced. Balochistan officials have announced plans to end gender segregation in government primary schools, effective in March.

Pakistan — Security

  • Bacha Khan University Attack Aftermath: The chief Pakistani military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, held a press conference on Saturday, during which he played excerpts of a phone call that he said was made between one of the gunmen and an unidentified Pakistani reporter during the attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda last week. Bajwa reiterated previous reports that the attack was coordinated from Afghanistan, and that the attackers were using Afghan-registered SIM cards in their phones, but said that Pakistan’s concern was the Afghan government’s “border management,” not that it was responsible for the attack. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Prime Minister Sharif said that “Pakistan and Afghanistan are strictly following this agreement [not to allow militants to carry out attacks on the other’s territory] but there are certain elements in Afghanistan who are attacking Pakistan on their own”, saying that “such attacks should be stopped”. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani reiterated that “it is not policy of Afghanistan’s government to allow terrorist groups to use its soil against any country, group or people”. Bajwa also announced the arrests of five “facilitators” of the attack who provided surveillance and logistical support for the attackers, four of whom were paraded before the press; one more is reported to still be at large. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif chaired a security review meeting at the Peshawar Corps headquarters earlier on Saturday, although no details of that meeting have been disclosed; on Friday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial apex committee ordered an investigation of existing security arrangements on the day of the attack. Bacha Khan University reopened on Monday, but school officials announced shortly afterwards that it would be closed indefinitely, citing the “traumatic effect” of the attack on students; Reuters reports that students demonstrated on university grounds at the opening, calling for security. In Balochistan, officials have ordered the creation of a special security force for universities and colleges, and in Sindh the director of the Rangers met with governor Ishrat ul Ebad to discuss security at universities in the province. [AP] [AFP] [AFP] [ET]
  • Chief of Army Staff Rules Out Extension: The Pakistani military’s chief spokesman issued a statement over Twitter on Monday saying that speculation regarding an extension in the three-year term of Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif was “baseless” and quoted Sharif saying that he would retire this November as scheduled. The federal government was earlier reported to have considered extending the duration of tenure for the army chief from three to four years, but Sharif is also reported to have rebuffed this.
  • Balochistan Home Minister Survives Bombing: A roadside bomb hit a convoy carrying Balochistan home minister Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti as he was traveling to his hometown in the Dera Bugti district on Friday; he survived unharmed. The Balochistan Republican Army claimed responsibility. Elsewhere on Friday, six militant suspects and one soldier were killed in a clash in the Awaran district.
  • Peshawar Bombing: A roadside bombing injured at least two people in the Sabzi Mandi area of Peshawar on Sunday; police denied reports that the apparent target, Qari Salahuddin, was a leader of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, describing him instead as an Afghan national and local seminary teacher. No claim of responsibility has been reported. Elsewhere in the FATA, the Pakistani military claimed to have killed eight militant suspects in airstrikes in North Waziristan on Sunday.
  • Restrictions on Diplomats: The Express Tribune reports that the government has sent notices to all foreign diplomatic missions in Pakistan instituting a new requirement that diplomats provide seven days’ advance notice to the ministry of foreign affairs regarding any planned travel within “open areas” of the country, and twenty days’ notice for visits to “prohibited areas”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • India-Pakistan Talks: Anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources report that the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan may meet in February, but say that dates have not been finalized. Interior ministry sources also confirm that a visit by Pakistani investigators to Pathankot has not been scheduled. Indian diplomatic sources tell The Hindu that “we are confident of finding a convenient date for their meeting soon”. [BBC]
  • Saudis Rebuff Mediation: Downplaying the recent trip by Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told reporters on the sidelines of a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting that Riyadh would not accept mediation “unless Iran responds positively,” saying that “Iran knows what is required from it”. [ET]
  • PPP Ramps Up Criticism of Interior Minister: PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah called for the ouster of interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, for failing to respond to the Bacha Khan University attack. On Friday, the PPP-dominated Sindh assembly passed a joint resolution condemning the attack and calling for “countrywide implementation” of the National Action Plan against terrorism. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The PML-F lost ten out of eleven town committees to the PPP during local elections held Saturday in the Sanghar district, a traditional stronghold of the group; former home minister Zulfikar Mirza, who has split with the PPP and allied with the PML-F, alleged rigging in the Badin district, where the results have yet to be announced. Punjab provincial assembly leaders of the PTI, PPP, PML-Q, and Jamaat-e-Islami are planning to meet in Lahore on Monday to discuss the formation of an opposition alliance. The PTI is preparing for intra-party leadership position elections. MQM activists rallied outside the Lahore High Court on Sunday, seeking a withdrawal of a ban imposed on the broadcast of remarks by leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain. The Express Tribune notes dissension within the Election Commission over the recent rotation and transfer of 54 senior civil service officers within the organization, a move apparently pushed through by Chief Election Commission Sardar Raza with input from other commissioners. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Balochistan Eliminates School Gender Segregation: On Saturday, Balochistan education secretary Saboor Kakar announced that the province would eliminate gender segregation in all government-run primary schools, with the goal of improving provincial female literacy rates, which rank among the worst in Pakistan. The change will take effect in March. 66% of Balochistan’s school-age population, the majority of them girls, do not attend school.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Russian Army to Hold First Ever Military Exercises with Pakistan [Dawn]
  • IMF Calls for ‘Rebalancing’ of Resources Under National Finance Committee [Dawn]
  • Axact Prosecutor Resigns from Case [Dawn]
  • Sindh Rangers Chief Meets Karachi Baloch Community Leaders [Dawn]
  • Government Halts Removal of Top Power Transmission Officials [Dawn] [ET]
  • Three Acquitted in Kasur Child Sexual Abuse Case [ET]
  • NADRA Investigating 100,000 Afghans for Illegal National ID Cards [ET]
  • Punjab Advocate General Resigns, Citing Health [ET]
  • Commentary: Can Pakistan Broker a Iran-Saudi Detente? – “For Pakistan, the real victory may be at home. Tested many times over the past two years, it has successfully avoided becoming entangled in a conflict between its neighbor and a long-time ally without jeopardizing ties with both countries.” [Arif Rafiq, The National Interest]
  • Commentary: Pakistan’s Unnecessary Martyrs – “This is imposed martyrdom, and it isn’t a sign of strength. It’s a sign of utter helplessness.” [Mohammad Hanif, NYT]

Afghanistan — Security

  • TOLO Attack Investigations: On Friday, the National Directorate of Security intelligence agency announced the arrest of eight people in Kabul’s Bagrami district that officials identified as members of the Haqqani network who had been involved in plotting last week’s attack on TOLO TV staffers in Kabul. No further details on their identities have been released. Families of the victims called for prosecutions of those arrested “in public and at the scene of the incident.” On Sunday, Pres. Ghani attended a prayer ceremony for the victims in Kabul, saying that the perpretrators of the attack were “neither Muslim, nor human nor Afghans.” The Afghanistan Radio and Television Union called for the creation of a special security forces united dedicated to protecting members of the press. Separately, the Afghan ministry of information and culture announced new regulations on private media organizations; TOLO reports the rules obliges both the government and media owners to provide security for reporters, and also requires that media companies make their employment contracts public. [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [ET] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: A NATO spokesman tells the AP that an unspecified number of senior Afghan army officers in Helmand are being replaced due to “a combination of incompetence, corruption and ineffectiveness”, including the 215 Maiwand Corps commander, “some brigade commanders, and some key corps staff up to full colonel level”. The Afghan defense ministry confirmed that Gen. Moheen Faqiri had been appointed to lead the corps. A suicide bomber attacked a border police checkpost in Kandahar’s Spin Boldak district on Monday; at least two police officers and five attackers were killed. In a BBC interview from Davos, Pres. Ghani vowed to “bury” the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, saying that “Afghans are now motivated by revenge”. In a Nangarhar provincial officials claim to have killed 16 Daesh-affiliated militants, including two commanders, in airstrikes in the Achin and Haska Mina districts on Saturday. Another U.S. drone strike in Achin on Sunday is reported to have killed six. On Monday, the ministry of defense claimed that 17 Daesh fighters had been killed in another drone strike. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Attend Qatar Conference: Representatives of the Taliban’s Qatar-based political office attended a conference sponsored by the international conflict mediation group Pugwash in Doha on Saturday; a similar meeting was held earlier in May. Senior Afghan government officials tell the WSJ that the meeting “gives the Taliban a chance to repair their image globally”, and suggests that the government has no interest in participating or “help[ing] the Taliban repair their image by talking on international platforms and acting like it is a legitimate power”. Reuters notes that an advisor to Pres. Ghani, Malalai Shinwari, was present at the meeting, as was former interior minister and Karzai chief of staff Umer Daudzai and former finance minister Anwar Ahady, who recently founded an opposition political party. In a statement on Sunday, the Taliban reaffirmed the authority of the group’s Qatar office to carry out negotiations on behalf of the movement, and laid out what it said were “preliminary steps” that would need to be taken prior to the start of peace talks, including the removal of Taliban officials from the UN international sanctions list, freedom of travel, and the official reopening of the group’s political office. The Taliban delegation also reiterated their opposition to any talks as long as foreign forces remain in the country. An anonymous Taliban source, not a participant at the Pugwash conference, tells Al Jazeera that these conditions “are not meant to express our disagreement with the peace process” but that “we cannot trust any agreements at this point,” and that peace talks could only proceed “if our conditions are met”. A member of the Afghan High Peace Council tells the AFP that “the Taliban need to join the negotiating table before making such demands” and warns that “any pre-conditions could further delay the reconciliation process”. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that it was “unacceptable” for the Taliban to set conditions for talks. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Taliban Statement via Jihadology.net]
  • Official Firings: The NYT returns to the firing of Helmand deputy provincial governor Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, whose widely-circulated public calls on Facebook for an intervention to stop the deterioration of security in Helmand later led to his firing by the Independent Directorate of Local Governance. Ghazni deputy governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi was also fired for similar public complaints. A former governor, Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi, suggests that the complaints may have been a pretext for government officials to remove officials who did not support them during the presidential elections and replace them with loyalists. A spokesman for the president says that “the decision was never because they posted on Facebook, but rather because they broke a disciplinary rule that jeopardizes morale of the Afghan security forces”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kabul’s Blast Walls Protect a Powerful Few While Causing Misery for Many [WAPO]
  • Foreign Minister Departs for Four-Day Trip to China [Khaama Press]
  • Over a Thousand ANA Soldiers Graduate Kabul Military Training Center [TOLO]
  • Activists Hold Kabul Protest Seeking Guantanamo Closure [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Accepts Credentials of New Indian Ambassador [Khaama Press]
  • Afghanistan Signs $128M World Bank Grant Agreements [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: The Troubled History of the E-Tazkera – “The introduction of a standardised ID document that can also function as a voter card or at least help establish reliable voter lists, has long been seen as a prerequisite to reducing the fraud that had plagued Afghanistan’s elections.” [Martine van Bijlert and Jelena Bjelica, AAN]
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