- At a press conference on Tuesday, the Pakistani military’s top spokesman, Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, presented a purported video confession by a man whose arrest was announced in Balochistan last week, and who in the video admits to being a serving RAW intelligence officer working with Baloch separatist militants. India’s foreign ministry reiterated denials that it supported such activities. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, who also attended the press conference, told a questioner that the Punjab provincial government had the authority to determine whether or not to call on the military and paramilitary forces to conduct operations targeting terrorists in the province in the wake of the Lahore park bombing; Bajwa, however, said that operations were already underway and would be carried out with “whatever force is required and wherever it is required”. Former Taliban military commander Abdul Qayyum Zakir has reportedly pledged allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, ending their rivalry and backing Mansoor’s claim to leadership. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford told a Washington audience Tuesday that he had presented force level recommendations to the secretary of defense for U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year, without providing details. Following the visit by Pakistani investigators to the Pathankot Airbase, India’s National Intelligence Agency will seek reciprocal access to Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar. Two deadlines for supporters of Mumtaz Qadri to disperse and end their sit-in outside parliament passed on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning; security personnel have reportedly mobilized in response, but have not yet moved to evict them by force, and talks with the protest leadership are reportedly ongoing. A U.S. F-16 fighter jet crashed after takeoff from Bagram Airbase on Tuesday; the pilot ejected safely. An Afghan Air Force helicopter crash landed in Kunar on Wednesday; the crew is also reported to be safe.
Pakistan — Security
- Video Released of Accused RAW Spy ‘Confession’: Tuesday’s joint press conference with chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid focused on the allegations surrounding Kulbushan Yadav, the Indian officer whose arrest in Balochistan was announced last week, and who Pakistani officials accuse of being a member of the RAW intelligence service working to support militant Baloch separatists. In a six-minute edited video shown at the conference, Yadav — who remains under detention but professed to be speaking without coercion — described himself as an active naval officer and RAW agent, and confessed that “RAW is involved in some activities related to the Baloch liberation movement within Pakistan and the region around it”. Bajwa described Yadav’s target as the Gwadar port and associated China-Pakistan economic corridor projects, saying that “this is nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism… There can be no clearer evidence of Indian interference in Pakistan.” India’s foreign ministry said that it “categorically rejects allegations that this individual was involved in subversive activities in Pakistan at our behest” and reiterated demands for consular access. The Balochistan provincial assembly passed a unanimous resolution on Tuesday condemning RAW interference in the province. [NYT] [ET]
- Lahore Attack Aftermath: Responding to questions during Tuesday’s joint press conference, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said that authority lay with the provincial government to decide whether or not to call out the paramilitary Rangers or army personnel to conduct counterterorrism operations in Punjab. Lt. Gen. Bajwa, however, said that military operations had already started, and that “whatever force is required and wherever it is required, operations will be conducted”. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and Balochistan Chief Minsiter Sanaullah Zehir met separately with victims of the bombings; Shah pledged compensation for the victims, as Sharif did earlier this week. Lahore police officials say that they have “some solid evidence” linking the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park bombing with the TTP Jamaat-ul Ahrar, which has claimed responsibility for the attack. [WSJ] [ET] [ET]
- Pathankot Investigations: The Pakistani Joint Investigation Team’s visit to the Pathankot Airbase was apparently cut short by protestors from the opposition Congress and Aam Admi Parties on Tuesday, although investigators appear to have been granted limited access to some of the base’s periphery and to have visited the site where the attackers breached base walls. The head of India’s National Intelligence Agency told the Indian press that Indian investigators would seek reciprocal access to Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar. [NYT]
- Government Extends Deadline for Qadri Protestors: Speaking on Tuesday evening, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan extended the deadline for demonstrators to disperse from the sit-in they are holding in Islamabad to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, warning that the government would clear the area “at any cost”. A 10:00 AM Wednesday morning deadline passed without action, although security forces are present and waiting for orders. A delegation of government officials met with the protestors on Tuesday night, but failed to reach an agreement; talks are reportedly continuing on Wednesday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [AFP] [AP]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Privatization Plans: Finance Minister Dar met with parliament committee members on Tuesday to discuss plans to convert the status of Pakistan International Airlines, pledging that the government would retain management control over PIA, and would not allow total privatization of the airline. Dar rejected committee proposals to involve the PIA union in the discussion, however. [Dawn] [APP]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Peshawar High Court Suspends Military Court Death Sentence; Two Convicts Executed in Kohat [ET] [Dawn]
- Coast Guard Seizes Narcotics Cache in Gwadar [ET]
- Qatari Ambassador Express Interest in New Power Plant Investments [ET]
- JUI-F Chief Calls for Making Pakistan an ‘Islamic Welfare State’ [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Taliban Divisions: The Express Tribune reports that former Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir has declared his allegiance to insurgent leader Mullah Akthar Mansoor, ending their rivalry. Zakir had reportedly resisted endorsing Mansoor’s leadership, but was the subject of outreach by Mansoor earlier this year; details of the reconciliation are limited. Kandahar police officials claimed that Bashir Ahmad Rayan, identified as a Taliban webmaster, was abducted two months previously and had recently been killed as a result of tensions between Mansoor and rival leader Mullah Mohammad Rasool. Taliban and Daesh fighters reportedly clashed in the Achin district on Wednesday, leaving 14 dead. [Khaama Press]
- Force Levels: Speaking at an event in Washington on Tuesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford, who previously served as U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said that he had drafted a recommendation for the secretary of defense and president to consider for U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan next year. Dunford provided no details, but said that NATO planning timelines meant he could not wait for a 90-day assessment by new commander Gen. John Nicholson, who took command at the beginning of March.
- Air Crashes: A U.S. F-16 fighter jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram Airbase on Tuesday evening, but the pilot ejected and was recovered safely, Pentagon spokesmen reported. The Taliban claimed to have shot down the aircraft, but Pentagon officials dismissed those reports, saying that the cause of the crash remained under investigation. Separately, a Afghan Air Force helicopter made an emergency landing in Kunar’s Nari district on Wednesday; the crew was reportedly unhurt. The Taliban again claimed to have shot down the craft. [Khaama Press]
- Other Attacks and Operations: Acting minister of defense Masoom Stanekzai visited Kandahar on Tuesday, where he pledged that the ministry was working to “equip Afghan army forces in southern Afghanistan with modern weapons”, and touted the performance of the security services. Five police officials, including the Kabul 13th Police District commander, have been suspended following Monday’s rocket attack on the parliament building. Four policemen were wounded in a roadside bombing in Kabul on Tuesday. The father of Chief Justice Sayed Yousuf Halim was freed on Tuesday after nearly two weeks in captivity, Nangarhar officials report; details are limited, but officials credit “a special operation and mediation of tribal elders” for his release. Two policemen were killed in Balkh during clashes with Taliban fighters on the Mazar-Sheberghan highway in the Chaharbolak district on Tuesday. As many as 15 Afghan security personnel were killed and eight wounded during fighting on Tuesday to reopen a highway linking the Uruzgan provincial capital and the Dihrawud district, district police officials tell the AP. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Government Divisions: The Post interviews a number of dissident Afghan leaders who criticize the National Unity Government’s failure to deliver on its promises or address the country’s economic and security challenges. TOLO reports that the government is preparing to dismiss an unspecified number of cabinet members on charges of mismanagement or corruption.
- High Peace Council Mismanagement: Mawlavi Shahzada Shahid, a spokesman for the High Peace Council, told a TOLO interview show on Tuesday that funding for as many as 2,400 council projects had been embezzled, and alleged that an unspecified number of council members had been receiving salaries from foreign embassies.
Afghanistan — Remainders