Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Kerry Backs Unity Govt During Visit; Chaudhry Nisar Seeks Authorization for Punjab Ops

Topline

  • Sec. Kerry made a surprise visit to Kabul on Saturday, where he met with Pres. Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, and his counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani; speaking at a press conference after his meetings, Kerry stressed that national unity government agreement did not expire at the two-year mark this September, a statement which sparked criticism from the senate chairman, Fazel Haidi Muslimyar, among other opposition politicians. Prior to Kerry’s arrival, the lower house of parliament confirmed Ghani’s nominees for interior minister and attorney general. Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reportedly met with Punjab legislators on Sunday to discuss authorizations for military and paramilitary action in Punjab, which Prime Minister Sharif is reported to still oppose. In a speech on Sunday, Imran Khan threatened a protest movement at Nawaz Sahrif’s Raiwind home if the government failed to constitute an investigation committee headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to investigate the Sharif family’s offshore business holdings by April 24. A Pakistan Supreme Court investigation into the 2014 assassination attempt against anchor Hamid Mir ruled out ISI culpability in the attack and criticized GEO News’ reporting at the time. In an interview on Sunday, the former British deputy chief of mission in Karachi echoed allegations that the MQM had received support from India’s RAW intelligence service. The Pakistani military accused India of “unprovoked firing” across the Line of Control on Saturday; the two countries’ directors general for military operations spoke by hotline after the incident. The NYT reports that Afghanistan’s telecom sector is facing mounting losses as the country’s economy contracts and the government places an additional tax burden on the sector.

Pakistan — Security

  • Punjab Operations: Punjab police officials announced the beginning of “Operation Zarb-e-Aahan” in the Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts on Friday, saying that as many as 1500 police officers had been deployed in the area to crack down on banditry and militancy; another report describes the target as the ‘Chotu Gang,’ a local kidnapping ring. The Express Tribune reports that the Punjab Rangers and army have refused to move from a supporting role, citing the absence of a formal legal request from the provincial government. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is reported to be in favor of requisitioning military and paramilitary assistance, while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is reported to be opposed; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with PML-N provincial lawmakers on Sunday to discuss the issue. A meeting of civilian and military officials, the Joint Operations Coordination Committee, was convened on Saturday; the military’s public relations arm issued a statement saying that the group had “decided to vigorously undertake coordinated actions across the board against all terrorist outfits and their facilitators”, but provided few other details. [Dawn]
  • Investigation into Attack on Hamid Mir Released: A three-member judicial commission chaired by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali has ruled out ISI culpability in a 2014 assassination attempt on prominent GEO TV news anchor Hamid Mir, criticizing the network’s reporting after the attack for implicating the spy agency on the basis of “suspicions, assumptions or apprehensions” and calling for “an appropriate mechanism is required to be put in place to deal with such complaints of journalists so that the individuals concerned are dealt with according to the law.”
  • Balochistan Conflict: Balochistan home minister Sarfaraz Bugti announced that thirty-four members of the United Baloch Army had been killed in an operation in the Kalat district on Saturday; he linked the group to a May 2015 attack on two passenger buses in the Mastung district, that had left 23 Pashtun passengers dead. Abdul Nabi Bangulzai, a UBA commander, was also reportedly among those killed; he was linked to the 2000 assassination of Balochistan High Court Justice Nawaz Marri. [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Tensions with India: A Pakistani military statement on Sunday accused India of “unprovoked firing and shelling” across the Line of Control; the Pakistan army director general of military operations contacted his Indian counterpart by hotline afterwards to discuss the incident. The Senate defense committee will hold hearings on Indian intelligence activities in Pakistan on Wednesday this week. Reuters reports that India has received U.S. permission to purchase 40 unarmed Predator surveillance drones, although the pricing and timeline for delivery appears to still be under negotiation. Indian officials have also expressed interest in the armed Predator variant, but have yet to receive clearance for such a sale.
  • Missile Test: The Pakistan Navy conducted a test of the “Zarb” surface-to-sea anti-ship missile on Saturday, which officials report successfully hit its target in the Arabian sea, clearing the way for the missile’s formal induction into the naval arsenal. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Imran Khan Threatens Renewed Protests: In an address on Sunday, Imran Khan demanded that Prime Minister Sharif form an independent investigation commission headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to investigate reports of his family’s offshore business holdings, setting an April 24 deadline and threatening to stage sit-ins outside Sharif’s residence in Raiwind if Khan’s demands were not met. Khan had sought, unsuccessfully, to have his remarks carried by the state broadcaster, Pakistan Television. Speaking earlier on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters that two former chief justices had declined to head the government’s proposed judicial commission, laying blame on the opposition for their reticence. Punjab provincial assembly opposition leader Mehmoodur Rasheed has called for a conference of opposition parties to put further pressure on the PML-N. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM Under Pressure: In a GEO News interview on Sunday, Shaharyar Khan Niazi, the former deputy chief of mission for the British High Commission in Karachi, alleged that MQM leader Altaf Hussain had acknowledged links between the party and India’s RAW intelligence service in remarks to British diplomats in 2011. On Friday, the Election Commission rejected an application for party registration for former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal’s new Pakistan Sarzameen Party, saying the application failed to include information on the party’s assets, constitution, or manifesto, all of which are required for registration. Kamal separately received permission from city authorities to stage a public rally in Karachi on April 24. The MQM issued a separate statement on Saturday alleging that its party members were being threatened with arrest if they did not join Kamal’s group. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking to supporters on Sunday, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi suggested that he would quit the party if his rivals Jahanghir Tareen and Chaudhry Sarwar won control of the party’s Punjab offices in upcoming intra-party elections. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Overhaul: Monday’s joint session of parliament, reconvened after three weeks, is expected to vote on legislation converting Pakistan International Airlines into a limited company, allowing for partial government divestment from the airline. Opposition members tell Dawn they will insist on the withdrawal of cases against PIA union leaders as a precondition for accepting the legislation. On Friday, Prime Minister Sharif reviewed PIA operations and plans for the parallel airline established by the government in February, Pakistan Airways Limited (now reported to have been renamed “Premier Airways”). [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • CPEC Project: The WSJ notes challenges in developing Gwadar port, where water and electricity shortages and limited transit links compound security threats from Baloch militant groups; Chinese investors are reportedly seeking a security fence around the entire town, with access restricted even for locals.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Earthquake Jolts Region; Six Killed [AFP] [AP] [NYT]
  • ANP Leader Killed in Swat [Dawn] [ET]
  • Qadri Family Drops Second Rally Plan [Dawn]
  • Pakistan and Chinese Air Forces Conduct Joint Training Exercise [Dawn]
  • Ulema Council Adopts Seminary Code of Conduct [Dawn]
  • Three Women are First to Join Landi Kotal Tribal Police [AFP]
  • Iran to Hold Balochistan Border Exercise [Dawn] [ET]
  • Three Killed in Karachi Sectarian Attack [Dawn]
  • Former Balochistan Chief Minister Accuses Sindh of Violating Water Agreements [ET]
  • IMF Official Calls for ‘National Consensus’ on Economic Reforms [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • State Bank Leaves Policy Interest Rate Unchanged at 6% [ET]
  • Tarbela Dam Expansion Likely to Miss Deadline [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pakistan After the Lahore Bombing: Shaping the Security Response – ” In light of the attack in Lahore, this brief discusses the implications of the current civil-military relationship and the continuing struggle over who has discretionary power to set and implement relevant policy.” [Colin Cookman, USIP]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: A former Taliban commander in Helmand tells the AFP that Mullah Akhtar Mansour is “preparing for a major military push” this spring, following recent efforts to consolidate his control over the movement and co-opt former rivals. The NYT profiles Maj. Gen. Moein Faqir, the 215th Afghan National Armys Corps commander responsible for securing Helmand; he describes a shift in strategy towards the use of night raids, although other military officials warn that Afghan forces are ceding territory. Uruzgan provincial officials tell TOLO that the Deh Rawud, Khas Uruzgan, Gizab, and Charcheno districts are at risk of falling to Taliban control, and that several routes into the provincial capital of Tirin Kot have been closed by insurgent activity. Herat police reported the rescue of 17 civilians kidnapped by the Taliban in the Zindjan district on Saturday. Kunduz officials report that as many as 26 Taliban fighters were killed in operations in the Dash-e-Archi and Chahardara districts on Sunday. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Kabul Attacks: Several rockets struck near a girls high school in Kabul on Saturday evening, just a few hours after Sec. Kerry’s departure; TOLO reports that the principal’s office was destroyed, but no casualties have been reported. Two people were killed and at least seven injured when a bus carrying Ministry of Education employees was bombed in Kabul on Monday; a ministry of interior spokesman says that a magnetic bomb was planted on the vehicle. No claim of responsibility has been reported as of this writing. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kerry Makes Visit to Kabul: Sec. Kerry made a previously unannounced visit to Kabul on Saturday, his first trip since brokering the national unity government agreement in the aftermath of the disputed presidential elections in September 2014. Kerry met separately with Pres. Ghani and then jointly with Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, and also participated in a review of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richrd Olson also visited and met with Ghani and Abdullah on Saturday. Ghani pledged that “Afghanistan is committed to reforms,” saying that “we want to show visible gains” at upcoming conferences in Warsaw and Brussels later this summer and fall, “so our people see change is coming.” Kerry told reporters that “we need to make certain that the government of national unity is doing everything possible to be unified and to deliver to the people of Afghanistan,” and stressed at a joint press conference that “there is no end to this agreement at the end of two years or six months from now. This is an agreement for unity government the duration of which is five years.” Opposition political figures have challenged that account, suggesting that Ghani and Abdullah’s mandate might expire later this fall if no constitutional loya jirga is held to ratify the terms of the agreement; Senate Chairman Fazel Hadi Muslimyar and other members of parliament criticized Kerry’s remarks at a session on Sunday. Former interior minister Omar Daudzai called for a loya jirga to be held, saying the government “is facing [an] administration crisis” and “is not legally legitimate”. [Bilateral Commission Joint Statement] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok] [TOLO]
  • Appointees Confirmed: In a vote on Saturday, the Wolesi Jirga voted to confirm the nominations of Gen. Taj Mohammad Jahid as the new minister of interior and Farid Hamid as attorney general; they received 190 and 200 votes, respectively, out of 225 legislators present. Ariana News reports that Pres. Ghani is seeking to nominate acting defense minister Masoom Stanekzai as head of the National Directorate of Security and former Helmand governor Gulab Mangal as Minister of Defense, appointments which Chief Executive Abdullah has reportedly objected to. [Reuters] [AAN] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Taliban Talks: The Express Tribune, citing anonymous sources, suggests that Pakistan will host another meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group and aim to revive the prospect of direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government by the end of the month. Speakers during Sunday’s Afghan senate session accused Pakistan of dishonesty in its support of peace talks. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Refugee Repatriation: Pakistan will participate in a UN-sponsored World Humanitarian Summit taking place in Turkey on May 23, where it will seek support for “an early return” of Afghan refugees from its territory; the government’s current deadline for registered Afghan refugees to remain in the country expires in June 2016.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Telecoms Face Losses: The drawdown in international forces from Afghanistan and the government’s recent increases of taxes on the industry are threatening Afghanistan’s telecommunications industry, the NYT reports. Although 75% of the Afghan population are estimated to be cell phone subscribers, and over $2 billion in infrastructure investments have been made, the economic contraction and additional levies have contributed to a 10-25% drop in sales; Roshan, the country’s largest provider, reports a 10% revenue drop in 2014 and a further slide in 2015. Still, agreement is reportedly near to allow private companies to share the country’s fiber optic network and lay down their own, potentially offering faster and cheaper access, as well as increased revenue.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Dostum Reaffirms Support for Ghani [Khaama Press]
  • Out of Work, Afghan Policeman Finds a New Job as Human Smuggler [LAT]
  • Nangarhar Drug Trafficker Arrested [TOLO]
  • TAPI Sponsors Sign Investment Agreement [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Violence in Badakhshan Persists: What Last Year’s Jurm Attack Still Tells Us About Insecurity in the North – “Over the past year, little has changed in the province, other than a renewed commitment from the Taleban (including their foreign fighters) to continue their push for control.” [Bethany Matta, AAN]
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