Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Criticizes Natl Accountability Bureau; Fighting Continues in Helmand and Baghlan

Topline

  • Speaking on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sharif voiced criticism of the National Accountability Bureau, which he said was “harassing government officers”, and warned of possible legal action; the PTI denounced Sharif’s remarks, while PPP leaders seized on their complaints that the Federal Investigation Agency was harassing party leaders in Sindh, and suggested that they would consider amendments to the NAB’s authorities. Heavy fighting continues in Helmand around the Sangin and Marjah districts; in Baghlan, officials claim to have repelled the Taliban from the Dand-e-Shahabuddin district outside Pul-e-Khumri, and say that efforts to repair damaged power lines serving Kabul are underway. At least twenty suspects have been arrested in connection to Sunday’s clash between rival PML-N and PPP activists in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, which left one PPP activist dead. The Supreme Court of Pakistan continues to hear the appeal of four military court convicts. Punjab police report killing seven terrorist suspects in Sharaqpur on Tuesday evening. Pres. Ghani has fired a legal advisor involved in the ‘Smart City’ development project and has cancelled the contract, a spokesman said Wednesday. A polio vaccination worker was wounded in Lahore in a driveby shooting; no claim of responsibility has been reported. Privatization Commission officials confirmed that the government still intends to privatize Pakistan International Airlines, and say they are considering splitting the airline into core and non-core operations, and selling off the former.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered the production of trial records for the cases of four military court convicts whose appeals it is currently hearing. [Dawn]
  • Counterterrorism Response: Punjab police officials report that a group of at least seven suspected militants were killed in an exchange of fire with the Counterterrorism Department in the town of Sharaqpur; the police describe them as being members of the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Details of the incident are sketchy, and the police claim that the militants were killed in a cross by their colleagues, some of whom fled.
  • Balochistan Conflict: The civil-military Balochistan provincial apex committee met on Tuesday to review the implementation of the National Action Plan against terorrism and security for the China-Pakistan economic corridor project. [Dawn]
  • School Security: A platoon of Khyber Paktunkhwa Frontier Corps soldiers has been deployed around Bacha Khan University after it reopened earlier this week. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations: Speaking to a group of new PML-N local government councilors in Bahawalpur on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sharif voiced criticism of the National Accountability Bureau, saying it was “harassing government officers”, preventing them from carrying out their duties. Sharif suggested that the government would take legal action against the NAB if his concerns were not addressed. The PTI denounced Sharif’s remarks; PPP leaders have suggested they would collaborate to amend the currently NAB law, and former Pres. Zardari cited the Federal Investigation Agency’s “mistreatment” of the PPP in its investigations. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan hit back at criticism of the FIA on remarks on Wednesday, saying that “as long as I am Interior Minister, the FIA will not be used against innocents or for political means”. Earlier on Tuesday, the NAB approved new corruption investigations against former Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Revenue Syed Murid Kazim and the former chairman of Pakistan Steel Mills, among others. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Arrests in Azad Kashmir Clash: At least twenty suspects have been arrested in connection to the clash between rival PPP and PML-N activists in Azad Jammu and Kashmir earlier this week, which left one PPP activist dead. Faryal Talpur, the head of the PPP’s AJK Political Affairs wing, visited the area on Tuesday, calling for an “immediate investigation” into the incident. [Dawn]
  • Lal Masjid Prosecution: Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called for critics of Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz to bring evidence against him, accusing the previous PPP government of accomodating Aziz and saying that “I will take action against Maulana Aziz if he breaks the law”.
  • MQM Chief Receives Passport: London police returned MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain’s passport to him on Tuesday after the cancellation of his bail in the money laundering case against him, party spokesmen confirmed. The status of Hussain’s bank accounts, which were frozen at the time of the investigation, has not been confirmed.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Worker Injured: A health worker was injured by unidentified men on a motorcycle in Lahore on Wednesday, in the midst of a nationwide vaccination campaign; the vaccinator is in stable condition. No claim of responsibility has been reported.
  • Privatization Plans: Speaking to the national assembly committee on finance on Tuesday, Privatization Commission secretary Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera confirmed that the government was moving ahead with plans to privatize PIA, and that the airline might be split into “core and non-core businesses”, with the former to be transferred to a “strategic investor”. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pentagon Officials Downplay Indian Concern Over F-16 Transfer [APP]
  • Supreme Court Bar Association Chief Calls for Council on Common Interest Meeting [Dawn]
  • Rs 22 Billion in Loans Written Off During Current Govt Tenure [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Local Government Officials Complain of Limited Powers [ET]
  • Opposition Criticizes Government Over High Oil Prices [ET] [ET]
  • Islamabad Raises Minimum Wage [Dawn]
  • Sindh Teachers Rush to Meet Deadline for Biometric Registration [Dawn]
  • Family of Aafia Siddiqui Seeks Meeting in US [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Reuters, citing anonymous local officials, reports that more than 50 Afghan police and soldiers have been killed in Helmand since Sunday as the Taliban have launched a new offensive in the province. Police and army forces are reported to be encircled in Marjah, and roads to the Sangin district blocked by mines. Provincial governor Mirza Khan Rahimi tells TOLO that Afghan security forces have retaken the Sangin district center, claiming that the Taliban were suffering heavy casualties. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior claimed that Afghan special forces had secured the Dand-e-Shahabuddin area on the outskirts of the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri, and that efforts were underway to repair damaged power pylons. Elsewhere, Afghan army officials claim to have killed 45 Daesh-affiliated militants in operations in the Achin district.
  • Afghanistan Seeks Delisting of ANSF: Afghan foreign ministry officials met with the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflicts, Leila Zerrougui, on Wednesday, to seek a removal of the Afghan national security forces from the UN’s “List of Shame”, citing measures taken to prevent child recruitment. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Fires Advisor Over ‘Smart City’ Project: After receiving and reviewing a report investigating the ‘Smart City’ development project between the Ministry of Urban Development and former Kabul Bank CEO Khalillulah Frozi, Pres. Ghani fired his legal advisor Abdul Ali Mohammadi and cancelled the contract, a presidential spokesman said Wednesday. [TOLO]
  • Taliban Talks: Ministry of foreign affairs officials stated on Tuesday that they expected a date to be set for direct talks with the Taliban at the meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group in Kabul scheduled to take place on February 23.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Polio Vaccination Drive Launched in Nangarhar [Khaama Press]
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