Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: ‘Coordinated Operations’ Announced in Punjab; Security Forestalls Drug Eradication in Helmand

Topline

  • Pakistan’s military press wing announced “coordinated operations” in southern Punjab by paramilitary, police, and army forces; the announcement provided few details about the targets, but suggested that terrorists had relocated to the Rahim Yar Khan district to escape operations in North Waziristan. The civilian government has not comment on the announcement. At a press conference on Wednesday, Imran Khan vowed to keep up pressure on the PML-N after the Panama leaks reports indicated that Prime Minister Sharif’s family had held offshore businesses; the PTI has announced plans to hold a rally in Islamabad on April 24. In a NYT interview, the head of the Helmand provincial police accuses the chief counternarcotics commander of buying his position and ignoring his duties to curtail the drug trade in the province, where eradication efforts have been forestalled by deteriorating security. Government and opposition lawmakers have reportedly reached an agreement on the partial privatization of Pakistan International Airlines, agreeing to cap divestments at no more than a 49% stake, and to retain government management of the airline. The head of the Afghan Investment Support Agency said he was not informed of plans to merge the AISA with the ministry of commerce, protesting the move. The PTI’s candidate for the NA-245 special election in Karachi resigned from the party hours before the polls, accusing party leadership of ignoring the contest, and announced his support for the MQM instead.

Pakistan — Security

  • Army Announces Joint Operation in Punjab: On Wednesday, the military’s press relations arm announced that “coordinated operations” were underway in southern Punjab, including the Punjab Rangers, police, and Counter Terrorism Department, assisted by the army. The statement suggested that terrorist suspects had fled “from different parts of the country as a result of successful operations Zarb-e-Azb and took refuge in remote areas of Rohjan [and] Kache in district Rahim Yaar Khan”. As of this writing, no statements have been reported from the civilian leadership in response to the announcement; Dawn reports that Wednesday’s meeting of the National Security Committee of the cabinet, which last met in October 2014, did not focus on operations in Punjab. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Pathankot Investigations: In a statement on Wednesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that investigations were still ongoing into the Pathankot Airbase attack, and that no conclusions had yet been reached; the statement noted that “witnesses belonging to the Indian security forces were not produced” for the Joint Investigation Team to interview during its visit to India at the end of March.
  • FATA Operations: A security checkpost was attacked in the Kurram Agency on Thursday; local officials report that the attack was repelled, and that at least twelve unidentified militants were killed in the response. Separately, a police officer was killed and bystander injured when a bomb exploded near a police checkpoint in Peshawar. [AP]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Charges: Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Imran Khan vowed not to let pressure drop against Prime Minister Sharif after reports emerged over the weekend that his family members has used offshore business accounts to manage real estate holdings. Opposition parties in parliament have united in their calls for debate on the issue; government spokesmen held a counter press conference on Wednesday in which they accused Khan of mismanaging funds for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust hospital. The PTI has announced plans to hold another public sit-in in Islamabad on April 24, but city officials are reportedly considering fencing off the square outside parliament where the PTI gathered previously, and the supporters of Mumtaz Qadri most recently. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Elections: Polling is underway as of this writing in Karachi to fill vacancies for the NA-245 and PS-115 constituencies; just hours before the elections, the PTI’s candidate for the national assembly seat, Amjadullah Khan, announced his resignation from the party and decision to join the MQM, accusing the PTI leadership of ignoring of his campaign. A PTI spokesman claimed that Amjadullah had “taken this step for the protection of his family”. [ET] [ET]
  • MQM Under Pressure: On Wednesday, MQM provincial assembly member Bilquis Mukhtar announced her resignation and support for the breakaway Pakistan Sarzameen Party led by former mayor Mustafa Kamal, accusing Altaf Hussain of ignoring women’s leadership in the party. Separately, a Karachi judicial magistrate issued an arrest warrant against Sarfaraz Merchant, the former MQM financier who return to Pakistan this week to testify against party leadership. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Privatization: Government and opposition committee members have reportedly reached an agreement on modifications to legislation modifying Pakistan International Airline’s legal status to become a limited company, with the opposition agreeing to the change in exchange for language guaranteeing continued government ownership and a commitment that no more than 49% of PIA shares would be divested; the government also conceded opposition demands that PIA union leaders arrested after protests in February would be freed.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Jamaat ud Dawa Establishes ‘Sharia Court’ in Lahore [Dawn]
  • Three More Prisoners Executed in Multan Jail [AFP]
  • 25 ‘ISIS-Inspired’ Militants Operating in Karachi, Police Estimate [Dawn]
  • Planning Minister Proposes CPEC ‘Extension’ to Xinjiang [ET]
  • Jeay Sindh Tehreek Faction Leader Killed in Thatta [ET]
  • Prime Minister Seeks Briefing on Civil Service Reforms [Dawn]
  • PPP Leader Asif Hashmi, Arrested in Dubai, Faces NAB Corruption Charges [Dawn]
  • Parliamentary Committee Defers Discussion on Women’s Protection Legislation [Dawn]
  • Court Orders Repatriation of 261 Indian, 15 Iranian Fishermen [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Narcotics Economy: The NYT has an extended report on the challenges of controlling Helmand’s drug trade, where the spike in Taliban attacks over the past year has curtailed any eradication efforts by the Afghan security forces; in interviews, the head of provincial police forces, Maj. Gen. Esmatullah Dawlatzai, accuses the head of counternarcotics operations, Maj. Ramatullah Alokozai, of buying his post and of turning a blind eye to his duties.
  • Bilateral Security Agreement Review: U.S. and Afghan officials will hold a meeting in Kabul in the coming weeks to review the Bilateral Security Agreement between the two countries, TOLO reports; spokesmen for the ministries of defense and interior profess satisfaction with the agreement, although some lawmakers complain the U.S. has not provided sufficient support to Afghan security forces.
  • Raziq Claims Pakistan Supporting ‘Third Taliban Group’: In remarks on Wednesday, Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq suggested that the Taliban were supporting former Taliban military commander Mullah Qayyum Zakir as a third Taliban faction in opposition to Mullah Akhtar Mansour and Mullah Rasool; Zakir’s pledge of support for Mansour’s leadership was recently announced by the Taliban.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • AISA Merger: The head of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, held a press conference on Wednesday, saying he had not been consulted in the announced merger of AISA with the ministry of commerce, and criticized the move as “paving the grounds for corruption” and creating barriers to investment. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Intelligence Services Claim Seizure of Suicide Vests in Mehtarlam [Khaama Press]
  • Afghan Interpreter: ‘Taliban Don’t Wait to Kill You’ [AJE]
  • Russian Envoy Suggests ISIS in Afghanistan Seeking ‘Springboard for Wider Expansion’ [Khaama Press]
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