Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: UN Releases Annual Report on Afghan Civilian Casualties; Pentagon Notifies F-16 Sale to Pakistan

Topline

  • The UN released its annual report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan on Sunday, reporting 3,545 civilian deaths and 7,457 injuries in 2015. The U.S. Department of Defense has formally notified Congress of its intention to sell Pakistan up to eight F-16 fighter jets; Congressional blocks on the use of Foreign Military Funding for the purpose may force Pakistan to pay for the planes with its own funds. India’s foreign ministry expressed “disappointment” at the move. Separately, India’s ambassador to Pakistan said that foreign secretary-level talks were not conditional on a resolution of the Pathankot attack, and that the two sides were in “constant contact” about the resumption of talks. The head of the Taliban’s Qatar-based political office was in Islamabad at the same time of last week’s Quadrilateral Coordination Group and met separately with the the group’s representatives, the Express Tribune reports. Fazlullah Wahidi, the former governor of Herat and Kunar, was kidnapped in Islamabad on Friday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. Taliban fighters attacked a checkpost in Sangin on Saturday using Humvees previously seized from abandoned Afghan army posts; at least six security personnel were killed. The head of the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial anti-corruption body resigned on Saturday; Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak defended changes to the anti-corruption law. The Election Commission of Pakistan has set dates for the indirect eleciton of reserved local government seats in Sindh. PPP and PML-N activists clashed violently in Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, leaving one PPP activist dead. Finance Minister Dar approved a hike in stipend payments for recipients of the Benazir Income Support Program, a move the Express Tribune reports was prompted by conditions from DFID.

Pakistan — Security

  • Pentagon OKs F-16 Sale to Pakistan: On Friday, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency formally notified Congress that it had approved the prospective sale of up to eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, as well as radar and other equipment totaling $699 million. Congressional officials have up to 30 days to block the sale. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker had previously notified the administration that he would block the use of Foreign Military Funding assistance to support the purchase, but would not oppose the sale; Reuters quotes a U.S. source who estimates that Pakistan would only be able to purchase four of the planes using its own funding. A spokesman for India’s ministry of external affairs voiced “disappointment” with the move, which was formally conveyed to the U.S. ambassador in New Delhi on Saturday. Pakistan’s foreign ministry professed “surprise” in turn in a statement on Sunday, noting that India’s “army and arsenal stock is much larger and they are the largest importer of defence equipment”. The DCSA also issued a certification that the sale was in the U.S. national interest, and said that it would “not alter the basic military balance in the region”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Former Afghan Governor Kidnapped: Fazlullah Wahidi, a former governor of Afghanistan’s Herat and Kunar provinces during the Karzai administration, was kidnapped in Islamabad on Friday afternoon, the Afghan foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday, appealing for Pakistani authorities to use “all their tools and possibilities to identify the group of kidnappers and take action to free Wahidi immediately”. The Pakistani ambassador to Kabul was summoned to the Afghan foreign ministry on Sunday share Afghanistan’s “deep concerns” regarding the incident. Wahidi had been in Islamabad to secure a British visa, which the UK does not issue from Kabul. No claim of responsibility and no leads have been reported; police have pledged to investigate. [Khaama Press]
  • School Security: Speaking in the Sindh assembly on Friday after a spate of grenade attacks in Karachi that targeted a police station and two schools, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah pledged to “protect not only out children but every citizen”. In Rawalpindi, school officials say they are seeking to purchase semiautomatic machine guns for new security guards hired to protect their facilities, but had received no additional funds from the district education department. On Monday, Bacha Khan University reopened in Charsadda, nearly a month after the attack there; teachers have been permitted to carry their own licensed weapons on school grounds. [ET]
  • Counterterrorism Response: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan insisted that the Islamic State “does not exist in Pakistan”, but that “other terrorist groups, which are involved in activities against the state are using Daesh’s name”. Chaudhry Nisar also suggested that an agreement had been reached with the Wifaq-ul-Madaris network of Deobandi seminaries on government registration, which he said would be announced soon, adding that “madrassas are a shield against terrorism”. Dawn quotes seminary sources who suggest that progress has been limited. Separately, a rare attack on a police checkpoint in Islamabad was reported on Friday, after officers attempted to stop two men on a motorcycle, who subsequently opened fire; one policeman was killed and two others wounded. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Conflict: Balochistan security officials claim to have killed ten militants and arrested at least a dozen during an operation in the Sibi district on Sunday. National Security Advisor Nasir Khan Janjua, formerly the Balochistan corps commander, met with Chief Minister Sanaullah Khan Zehri in Quetta on Friday to discuss provincial security. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • India Talks: Dawn quotes India’s ambassador to Pakistan, Gautam Bambawaly, as saying that foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan were not conditional on a resolution of the Pathankot Airbase attack; although he gave no date, he said the two sides were in “constant contact” about setting a date for those talks.
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Anti-Corruption Chief Resigns: On Saturday, acting governor of Khyber Paktunkhwa Asad Qaiser formally accepted the resignation of retired Lt. Gen. Mohammad Hamid Khan, the former head of the Ehtesab Commission, the provincial special anti-corruption authority. Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak insisted that the government had not curtailed the commission’s powers, saying that changes were made to ensure consensus among commissioners and to strengthen the institution as a whole. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Saudi Relations: UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke by phone with Prime Minister Sharif on Friday evening to discuss his earlier efforts to broker relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran; a statement from Sharif’s office said that Ban had praised Pakistan’s “pivotal role”. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia announced that Pakistan was one of twenty participants in a joint military exercise that Riyadh said would send a “clear message” that its allies “stand united in confronting all challenges and preserving peace and stability in the region”. [Dawn]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: At least one person was killed and eight wounded when rival PML-N and PPP activists clashed in the Kotli area of Pakistani-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday; PPP leaders issued statements condemning the violence and the “dictatorial mindset” of the PML-N leadership. General elections for the AJK legislative assembly have been set for June; the PPP announced a protest on Monday; an advisor to Prime Minister Sharif lay blame for the incident on the AJK prime minister, Chaudhry Abdul Majeed of the PPP. Following a Sindh High Court ruling restoring the use of the secret ballot, the Election Commission of Pakistan set February 20 and 22 as the dates for indirect elections for reserved members of district and union councils and other local bodies. Voting is underway as of this writing on Monday for the election of Islamabad’s mayor and deputy mayors, which the PML-N is expected to sweep. Dates for the rest of Punjab have not yet been announced. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • BISP Stipend Increased: On Saturday, Finance Minister Dar announced an increase in the stipends for recipients of the Benazir Income Support Program, from Rs 18,000 per year to Rs 18,800 per year, dated retroactively to the start of the current fiscal year. The Finance Ministry said that the move was taken to bring benefits in line with the growth in inflation; the Express Tribune reports that the inflation-linkage change was made to meet conditions from the UK aid agency DFID in exchange the release of a £60 million grant.
  • PIA Strike: Pakistan International Airlines management will begin punitive action against striking union leaders and workers from Monday, the Express Tribune reports. Movement restrictions have also been imposed on PIA employees. On Saturday, Prime Minister Sharif announced financial and employment compensation for the families of two union members who were killed in a shooting incident in Karachi at the outset of the strike, and pledging investigations into those responsible. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Development Spending: The government has allocated the entirety of the annual Rs 20 billion budget for community sector development programs selected by members of parliament during the first seven months of the fiscal year, the Plannning Commission reports.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • One Killed in South Waziristan IED Blast [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Yet to Approve New Head of Musharraf Treason Court [ET]
  • Prime Minister Orders New Merit Posting Requirements for Foreign Service [ET] [APP]
  • ARY News Censured for Broadcasts on Army Leadership Succession, Malala Criticism [AFP]
  • Sindh Assembly Passes Hindu Marriage Bill [Dawn] [ET]
  • Abid Qadri Named Acted Head of FIA [ET]
  • Former Defense Housing Authority Project Director Arrested [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Reserves Ruling on Lower Court Powers to Order FIR Registration [Dawn]
  • Government Blocks NEPRA Notification of Ten Tariffs [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Retracts Plans for Centralized Exams [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court to Hear Sharif Family Plea Against Wealth Tax [ET]
  • Punjab Government Seeks $300M World Bank Loan for Education [Dawn]
  • Pakistan’s Parliament Switches to Solar Power [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and UN Human Rights Office released their annual report on civilian casualties in the Afghan conflict for the 2015 calendar year on Sunday, documenting 3,545 civilian deaths and 7,457 injuries. Special Representative Nicholas Haysom noted that “the real cost we are talking about in these figures is measured in the maimed bodies of children, the communities who have to live with loss, the grief of colleagues and relatives, the families who make do without a breadwinner, the parents who grieve for lost children, the children who grieve for lost parents.” The overall casualty numbers rose 4% from the year prior, although this was driven by an increase in injuries; deaths dropped by 4%. One in ten victims was a woman and one in four a child. UN investigators attributed 62% of all casualties to insurgent actors, a drop from previous years, although the share of attacks that could not be positively attributed rose and may underreport insurgent attacks, particularly surrounding the Taliban offensive in Kunduz; the Afghan government criticized this failure to attribute all violence, saying that it “misrepresents reality and could help the Taliban and other terrorist groups avoid accountability.” The report found a 24% increase in the level of targeted killings of civilians and government officials; casualties from IEDs decline. Overall, victims of crossfires between Afghan and Taliban forces were the largest share of civilian casualties; international military forces were responsible for 2% of all casualties. UN officials called on the Taliban to halt the use of IEDs and suicide bombings, and called on the government to stop using mortars, rockets, and other indirect weapons. [BBC] [UN Report]
  • U.S. Assistance: Outgoing U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Campbell confirmed to reporters in a briefing on Saturday that he had ordered the deployment of additional U.S. special forces to support and train Afghan forces in Helmand, and confirmed the replacement of as many as 90 officers in the Afghan army corps there. Campbell emphasized that international forces in Afghanistan were “here to stay” but also said that “the mission hasn’t changed” and that U.S. forces would not return to an active combat role. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Resolute Support spokesman Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner emphasized the need for the Afghan army to meet its recruitment targets, create a deployment rotation cycle, reduce the number of static checkpoints, and to make leadership changes within the military. [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Taliban suicide bombers struck a security checkpost in Helmand’s Sangin district in a complex suicide attack on Saturday; the NYT reports that the Taliban attackers were using Humvees rigged with explosives that had previously been abandoned and seized by the insurgents. Six security personnel were killed. Estimates vary on the number of vehicles that have been stolen over the past six months, ranging from 50-100 in Helmand, more than 40 in Kunduz, and roughly a dozen in Baghlan. The Afghan ministry of defense claimed to have killed 22 insurgents in military operations around the country on Friday. On Saturday, four women were injured when a rocket struck in the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri. Khaama Press reports that a meeting was held at Kabul’s Intercontintental Hotel, where speakers opposed military operations in Baghlan’s Dand-e-Ghor district; anonymous sources link the organizers to Taliban units operating in the district, although there is no independent confirmation of the accusation. Electrical cables linking Kabul and Tajikistan that were cut during fighting in Baghlan last week have been repaired, partially restoring power, but cables linking Uzbekistan suppliers to Kabul remain cut. [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: The Express Tribune reports that Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the newly-appointed head of the Taliban political office in Qatar, and Qari Din Mohammad visited Islamabad last week, coinciding with the meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group of American, Afghan, Pakistani and Chinese diplomats. The Taliban representatives did not participate in the group meetings but held “informal discussions”, the report indicates; one source says the Taliban shared a list of representatives who would attend formal talks. Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, former finance minister Omar Zakhilwal, met with Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif on Friday, and with Pakistani Finance Minister Dar; details of their conversations were not reported. Separately, the EU has invited Iran to attend the October conference in Brussels focused on Afghanistan. [Khaama Press]
  • Government Under Criticism: Former National Directorate of Security chief Amrullah Saleh accused the government of issuing passports to “hundreds” of Taliban family members and commanders through the Afghan consulate in Dubai; the foreign ministry rejected the charge. In a meeting with local leaders in Badakhshan, former vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud blamed the “soft policy of the previous government and the lack of a strong resolve in the fight against the Taliban” as the cause of the group’s expansion. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Investment Drops: The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Friday that foreign investment in Afghanistan had dropped by 26% this solar year, citing security concerns as the primary factor.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani and Abdullah Mark Anniversary of Soviet Troop Withdrawal [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Anti-Corruption Bodies Criticized Unity Government’s Performance [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Defense Warns of Punishment After Video of Woman Giving Birth Outside Military Hospital [TOLO]
  • Activists Criticze Government for Failing to Ensure Justice in Farkhunda Case [TOLO]
  • Afghans Skirt Strict Rules to Find Love on Social Media [WAPO]
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