Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PML-N Officials Meet with Military Over Punjab Operation; Balkh Governor Refuses to Step Down

Topline

  • Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and other top PML-N aides met with Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif late last week, but are not reported to have resolved the standoff between civilian and military leadership over counter-terrorism operations in Punjab. General Sharif and other military officials attended a meeting of the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial apex committee on Saturday to review military operations in the FATA. In a NYT interview, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor suggested that he would only step down from his position if first reappointed by Pres. Ghani, saying he would decide on his successor and “they cannot remove me by force”. A spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin negotiators rebuffed reports that the group was seeking at least two ministries in exchange for agreeing negotiating an end to its conflict with the government, saying such reports were “creating obstacles before the peace process”. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan insisted on Saturday that Iran was not linked to the RAW intelligence agency network under investigation in Balochistan. Prime Minister Sharif’s sons and daughter among the individuals implicated in the ‘Panama Papers’ leak of an offshore legal firm, as is the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto; the Sharif family pushed back in statements on Monday, insisting their use of the firm was legal and that the prime minister himself held no overseas assets. MQM leaders protested the arrest of party activists who harassed a convoy carrying former mayor Mustafa Kamal in Mirpurkhas on Friday. The PPP commemorated the death anniversary of party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on Monday; former Pres. Zardari issued a statement on Sunday highlighting the shift of power “towards unelected elements”. Afghanistan’s ministry of higher education announced the results of the national university entrance exam on Sunday. A group of eleven de-miners were kidnapped in Herat but subsequently freed on Friday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Civilian and Military Leaders Meet: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif on Thursday evening, the first meeting between senior civilian and military leaders since the army began a unilateral counterterrorism operation in Punjab in the aftermath of the attack in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park last Sunday. Finance Minister Dar also visited the military’s headquarters on Friday to discuss the defense budget. No resolution on the question of paramilitary deployments in Punjab has been reported, however.
  • RAW Links to Balochistan Conflict: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan insisted that “Pakistan and Iran are tied in decades-long religious, social, cultural and political bonds, and nothing can come in way of our relations,” and that “Iran has nothing to do with the activities” of accused RAW agent Kulbushan Yadav, whose arrest was announced in March and who has been reported to have entered Balochistan through Iran. The Express Tribune reports that Iran is investigating Yadav’s crossing into Pakistan; Indian officials, meanwhile, are pushing for an investigation as to whether he was captured by Pakistani forces inside Iran. Speaking on Saturday, Balochistan Frontier Corps Inspector General Maj. Gen. Sher Afgan said that Yadav’s arrest was proof of “Indian state sponsored terrorism in Pakistan” and that there is no indigenous armed movement” in Balochistan. Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti reported Friday that 92 militant suspects had been killed in operations in the province since the start of the year. [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • FATA Operations: General Sharif and other top military officials met with Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial apex committee members on Saturday, where discussions are reported to have focused on military operations in the FATA and concerns about extortion demands being made by groups operating from across the Afghan border. In a statement on Sunday, the military’s public relations arm reported that 252 militant suspects and eight Pakistani soldiers had been killed in the past two months of operations in North Waziristan’s Shawal valley region, which the military describes as the “final phase” of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Dawn reports that authorities in Parachinar in the Kurram Agency have sought to mobilize local residents against attacks by the TTP and Islamic State-affiliated groups sheltering across the border in Paktia province, and that Pakistani security forces are conducting regular cross-border artillery strikes. [Dawn]
  • Pathankot Investigations: On Friday, the Pakistani Joint Investigation Team completed its five-day visit to India to meet with Indian counterparts investigating the Pathankot Airbase attack; the head of the Indian National Investigation Agency told reporters that they had provided “concrete evidence” of involvement by Jaish-e-Mohammad in the attack. India’s foreign ministry spokesman protested China’s move in the UN Security Council to block sanctions for Jaish leader Masood Azhar; Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi said the Indian request did not meet the “necessary requirements,” without elaborating. [Dawn]
  • Nuclear Security: Speaking at the close of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on Friday, Pres. Obama highlighted concerns over the nuclear threat in South Asia, saying that it was important to make sure that “as [India and Pakistan] develop military doctrines, that they are not continually moving in the wrong direction” and highlighting concerns over growing “tactical” nuclear arsenals. Pakistan’s delegation, led by special assistant to the prime minister Tariq Fatemi, stated that “since Pakistan has strong credentials on nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation, it qualifies for full integration in the multilateral export control regimes”.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Prime Minister’s Family Implicated in ‘Panama Papers’: Prime Minister Sharif’s sons and daughter are among those figures who have been identified in the ‘Panama Papers’, a collection of files from an offshore law firm released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday. The Sharif family is reported to have used offshore companies to manage London real estate holdings. Husain Nawaz Sharif, one of the prime minister’s sons, told GEO that the use of the companies was legal, and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid insisted that Prime Minister Sharif himself had no funds abroad, countering statements from PTI leader Imran Khan claiming vindication for his charges of corruption against the PML-N. Only selected files have been released, although some accounts suggest that more than 200 Pakistani nationals have been identified by reporters; the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is also reported to have used the firm Mossack Fonseca [Dawn]
  • MQM Under Pressure: A delegation of senior MQM officials led by Farooq Sattar met with Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah on Saturday to protest the arrest of several party activists who attacked former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal with stones and eggs while he was traveling to Mirpurkhas for a rally on Friday. Kamal held a press conference in Hyderabad on Friday, said that the attack had been ordered by the MQM’s leadership because of what he said was the new Pakistan Sarzameen Party’s success in generating mass support. Another arrest warrant was issued for Anis Kaimkhani, Kamal’s fellow leader of the PSP, in connection to the arrest and investigation of former PPP minister Asim Hussain. On Friday, the Sindh provincial government appointed Laeeq Ahmad as the new Karachi Metropolitan Corporation administrator. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Qadri Protests: Karachi police have filed cases against at least 14 leaders of religious political parties who organized protests last week to denounce the execution of Mumtaz Qadri. Seven suspects previously arrested in connection to those protests have been freed for lack of evidence, police told the a Karachi anti-terrorism court on Friday. At his press conference on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan defended the government’s handling of the protests in Islamabad. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: In an order on Sunday, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah froze the use of government funds to conduct a rally in commemoration of the death anniversary of PPP party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, which the PPP observed on Monday. Former Pres. Zardari did not return from London to attend, but issued a statement on Sunday arguing that “the example of Bhutto is even more relevant today than ever before,” noting “the locus of power is shifting away from the people towards unelected elements” and arguing for “the democracy loving people to re-dedicate themselves to the ideal that all power must flow from the ballot box and not from the bullet”. Meanwhile, a “Grand Democratic Alliance” of PPP rivals in Sindh announced its formation on Friday. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Imran Khan said that intra-party elections for PTI offices would be held by the end of May, despite the recent resignation of party election commission chief Tasnim Noorani. Deputy senate chairman and JUI-F member Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Hyderi held a press conference in Hyderabad on Friday, criticizing the Punjab women’s protection law, which he said was part of an effort to “make Pakistan a secular state”. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • IMF Loans: The IMF released the report of its quarterly review with Pakistan on Friday, the funds for which were approved for disbursal by the IMF board in late March. The three-year, $6.2 billion Extended Fund Facility loan is due to be fully disbursed at the end of the final quarterly review in September. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, IMF Pakistan mission chief Harald Finger acknowledged setbacks in the government’s privatization process, saying “the situation is fluid”. The Express Tribune highlights IMF concern with Pakistan’s growing external debt burden, now projected to reach $72 billion by the end of this fiscal year, up from $68 billion when the budget was first passed. The government is reported to have rejected an IMF proposal to require approval in parliament for the issuance of supplementary budgets outside of the normal approval process. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Supreme Court Releases Detailed Judgement on Musharraf Travel [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Interior Ministry Claims to Have Collected Details from All Islamabad Foreign Residents [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms Group Protests Exclusion of Political Parties from Committee Meetings [ET]
  • Reports of ‘Honor Killings’ on the Rise, Pakistan Human Rights Commission Reports [BBC]
  • Former Swat Militants Get Vocational Training [Dawn]
  • Torrential Rain Hits Khyber Paktunkhwa and Azad Kashmir, Killing at Least 60 [Dawn] [AFP]
  • Two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Suspects Killed in Karachi [ET]
  • Deobandi Seminary Network Refuses Membership to Lal Masjid-Affiliated Seminary [Dawn]
  • Climate Change Committee Formed Ahead of Paris Climate Agreement Signing [ET]
  • Three Former NAB Officers Charged in Land Dispute Case [Dawn]
  • NAB Tasked with Recovering Quetta Electricity Dues [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: A group of eleven de-miners working with the group HALO Trust were kidnapped in Herat province’s Kohsan district on Friday; provincial police officials announced their release on Saturday, but provided no details on how they were freed or their captors. Officials in Ghazni allege that Islamic State-affiliated militants are seeking to recruit members in parts of the province bordering Zabul. Six policemen were killed in an ambush in Jawzjan’s Murdian district on Sunday; one has reportedly been taken hostage. Two people were killed and ten wounded, all reported to be civilians, when an Afghan Local Police-affiliated guesthouse was bombed in Nangarhar’s Shewa district; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Divisions: The NYT has an interview with Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, who has stayed on in power despite officially being officially dismissed by Pres. Ghani, along with all other governors, a year and a half ago. Noor suggests he might agree to step down, but only after his formal reappointment by Ghani, saying that “we decide what to do next and who should become governor here. They cannot remove me by force — I am with my people.” Separately, during a visit to Herat on Saturday minister of water and energy Ali Ahmad Osmani accused for national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta of “struggling to destroy the system” by predicting that some provinces could fall to Taliban control, saying that “people predicting bleak future will be responsible for any bad results.”
  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Friday, the Afghan High Peace Council said it would convene another round of talks with negotiators for Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin as soon as Saturday; deputy senate speaker Abdullah Qarloq tells TOLO that the group is seeking to bargain for ministry appointments as a condition of giving up armed opposition. In a statement on Saturday, a spokesman for HiG denied that account, accusing unspecified “elements inside the government” of “creating obstacles before the peace process”. Separately, in an interview with Japanese television on Friday, incoming UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto, currently the deputy UN special representative, said that he would seek to “serve as a neutral mediator” between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and “make great efforts to create a climate in which both sides can talk frankly”. [TOLO]
  • Tensions with Pakistan: Speaking to Pakistani journalists on Sunday, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal announced that Afghanistan would begin to offer a one-year multiple visa permit for Pakistani journalists, and to expedite the visa issue process. Meanwhile, former interior minister Omar Daudzai and special advisor Ahmad Zia Massoud criticized Pakistan’s support of the Taliban insurgency in a gathering in Helmand on Friday. [Khaama Press]
  • ID Cards: Second Vice President Sarwar Danish chaired a meeting of cabinet ministers on Sunday that agreed to amend the draft national census and ID law to add “nationality” and “tribe” as identifiers on the still yet-to-be-distributed national ID cards.
  • New Presidential Spokesmen Appointed: On Sunday, Pres. Ghani appointed Shah Hussain Murtazvi and Dawa Khan Meenpal as new presidential spokesmen; the former has been chief editor of the Hasht-e-Sobh newspaper, and the latter head of Information and Culture in Kandahar province. Presidential spokesman Syed Zafar Hashemi will continue as acting head of the presidential palace media office. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Exam Results Announced: The Ministry of Higher Education announced the results of the Kankor university entrance exams on Sunday, for which around 200,000 registered, 156,000 passed, 23,000 failed, and roughly 20,000 did not take. Around 58,000 students have qualified for entry into state-run schools, 40,000 to private institutions, and 64,000 to semi-government higher education.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Highlights Challenges in Remarks to Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Taliban Release Smartphone App [Guardian]
  • Turkish Chief of Army Staff Visits, Pledges Continued Support [Khaama Press]
  • Traumatized Afghan Refugees Fear Deportation from EU [AJE]
  • First Lady Rula Ghani Calls for Effective Women’s Promotion Programs [TOLO]
  • Pakistani Rupees Dominate Nangahar Transactions [TOLO]
  • Gereshk-Lashkar Gah Highway Construction Begins [TOLO]
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