Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Haqqanis Gain Influence in Taliban Leadership; Coalition Partners Pledge Support for Sharif

Topline

  • The NYT and AP have separate stories reporting on the rising influence of Sirajuddin Haqqani as a leader withing the Afghan Taliban movement; a Taliban spokesman confirmed that Sirajuddin’s “obligations have increased”. Prime Minister Sharif met with coalition partners on Saturday, who pledged their support for the government against opposition demands for an investigation targeting the prime minister and his family’s alleged offshore business assets; an Express Tribune report suggests Sharif may return to London later this month for a meeting with former Pres. Zardari. National Accountability Bureau investigators seized millions in Pakistani rupees and other currencies from the residence of Balochistan finance secretary Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani following his arrest on Friday, and are reportedly planning further arrests. On Sunday, Pres. Ghani approved the execution of six death row prisoners identified as Taliban, Haqqani, and Al Qaeda members. A Karachi-based activist, Khurram Zaki, was killed in a driveby shooting on Saturday; a faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility. Two Romanian trainers were killed in an insider attack at Kandahar airbase on Saturday; two Afghan police trainees who had opened fire were killed, and at least three Afghans have reportedly been arrested as part of the investigation. The NYT and Reuters note confusion amongst U.S. advisors serving in Kunduz last fall about their authority to lead the defense of the city. Pakistani security officials arrested an Indian national in Karachi charged with living in the country on forged documents and an Afghan Border Police officer on charges of subversion in Balochistan. Karachi police announced the arrest of a suspect in connection to the 2013 murder of water activist Parween Rehman. The head of the Sindh Rangers met with Rangers commanders on Friday following the death of a MQM activist in custody last week. Afghan High Peace Council officials claim that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar may visit Kabul as soon as this week to meet with Pres. Ghani and sign a peace agreement, although no resolution of the Hezb-e-Islami’s demands for its members to be de-listed from international sanctions and prisoners freed has been reported. Atta Mohammad Noor, Rahmatullah Nabil, and Mohammad Mohaqiq all met in Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, voicing opposition to a re-routing of a electricity transmission line away from Bamiyan.

Pakistan — Security

  • Activist Killed in Karachi: Khurram Zaki, a civil society activist and blogger, was killed in a driveby shooting while out at dinner in Karachi on Saturday evening. Two companions were also wounded. Reuters reports a claim of responsibility by the “Hakimullah faction” of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, who said they carried out the attack in retaliation for Zaki’s participation in a campaign against Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz; police say they are still investigating the incident. The Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen, a Shia party, said that Zaki had been targeted by sectarian militant groups. A public funeral service and protest was held outside the Sindh Chief Minister’s house on Sunday. A police case was registered for the murder, which at the insistence of the protestors named Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat leader Aurangzeb Farooqi and Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid as potential suspects. [NYT] [BBC] [ET] [ET]
  • Indian National Arrested: Karachi police arrested an Indian man, identified as Arshad Hussain, and charged him with living in Pakistan illegally since 2011; officials say he confessed to providing forged documents for Indians and Pakistani traveling between the two countries, and that they are investigating whether he had any links to foreign spy agencies.
  • Afghan Border Police Arrested: An unidentified member of the Afghan Border Police force was arrested in Balochistan’s Pishin district on Sunday, security sources tell Dawn; he is accused of carrying out subversive activities in Balochistan and is reported to have had “important documents and explosives” in his posession.
  • U.S. Assistance: The U.S. House of Representatives’ draft of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 increases the amount of Coalition Support Fund reimbursements to Pakistan that are fenced, conditioned on a certification that Pakistan is taking action to disrupt the operations of the Haqqani network, to $450 million, and caps total reimbursements to Pakistan at $900 million, should this condition be met. The legislation has yet to be passed in the Senate and through conference. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said that Pakistan would not accept Congressional conditions on the sale of F-16 fighter jets. In comments to Dawn, a State Department source says that “we support the sale, and we will continue to work with Congress”. [APP] [HR 4909 Text (pdf)]
  • Arrest in Parween Rehman Murder Case: On Saturday, Karachi police announced the arrest of Rahim Swati, a former ANP local leader with reported family links to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, in connection to the 2013 murder of water activist Parween Rehman. The Express Tribune notes several previous individuals that police had identified as lead suspects in the case, who were ultimately cleared; Rehman’s sister welcomed the arrest as a “breakthrough”. [Dawn]
  • Arms Exports: In a briefing to the National Assembly Defense Production Committee on Friday, the chairman of the Pakistan Ordinance Factories reported that POF had contracted for the export of $81 million worth of arms in the current fiscal year, with Saudi Arabia the largest recipient.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Campaigning: Opposition parties hit back at Prime Minister Sharif on Friday after his remarks equating their protests to terrorists seeking to “sabotage and divert the government’s attention from development”. Imran Khan countered that “protests are the beauty of democracy and the opposition’s job is to point out the government’s weaknesses” and said that he was “ready to offer himself up for accountability along with the premier”. On Saturday Sharif met with coalition partners from the JUI-F, Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party, and National Party, among others, who assured him of their continued support and rejected the opposition’s terms of reference for a judicial commission to investigate the overseas assets of the prime minister and his family. The government plans to formally object to the opposition’s proposal in a letter to PPP parliamentary leader Khurshid Shah, and has professed openness to further negotiation, to be led by Finance Minister Dar. The Express Tribune reports that Prime Minister Sharif will return to London on May 20, during which time he will reportedly meet with former Pres. Zardari. Sharif met with his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, on Sunday; the PPP and PTI have called separate meetings of the main opposition parties for Monday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Corruption Investigations: National Accountability Bureau officials seized more than Rs 730 million worth of currency from the home of Balochistan Finance Secretary Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani following his arrest on Friday. Raisani was remanded to 14 days’ custody at a court hearing on Saturday. Mir Khalid Langau, the advisor to the chief minister on finance, has also reportedly resigned. Anonymous NAB sources suggest that several finance department officials are facing imminent arrest, and that an unnamed “political figure” will likely also be arrested. Former Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch, in whose government Raisani also served, told the provincial assembly on Saturday that he had no knowledge of corruption in the finance department, saying he was ready to face accountability. On Monday, the head of the Balochistan Public Service Commission, Mohammad Ashraf Magsi, was arrested by the NAB, on charges of nepotism and embezzlement. Meanwhile, the Senate will vote on Monday on a bill introduced by the PPP which restricts the NAB’s powers to investigate federal departments and ministries only. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Crackdown: Maj. Gen. Bilal Akbar chaired a meeting of Sindh Rangers commanders on Friday, issuing a statement afterwards pledging that the paramilitary force would “continue chasing terrorists and targeted killers without any discrimination while meeting all legal formalities and requirement for justice.” The meeting follows the death in custody of a top MQM aide last week, who autopsy reports indicate was subjected to torture. Maj. Gen. Akbar met separately with Sindh governor Ishrat ul Ebad and Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah on Saturday. On Saturday, the MQM announced plans to hold a protest outside the Karachi Central Jail in the coming week; Senate debate on Monday is also expected to focus on the issue. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Afghan Expulsion: Peshawar cantonment officials have ordered the expulsion of unregistered Afghan nationals who own shops or houses in the cantonment area, warning that property owners would be “treat as facilitators of terrorists” if they are found to be employing or housing any unregistered Afghans.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Development Spending: The government has disbursed only Rs 429 billion of its Rs 700 billion federal development budget during the first ten months of the fiscal year, or about 60% of the total, a move senior officials attributed to their efforts to contain the fiscal deficit.
  • Privatization Plans: Dawn reports that the government is seeking to move ahead with the divestment of Pakistan Steel Mills and Pakistan International Airlines, but is “wary of the political reaction”; PIA management is reported to have skipped a meeting of the Privatization Commission on Saturday.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistani Foreign Ministry Expresses ‘Deep Concern’ Over Bangladesh Ruling on War Crimes Sentence for Jamaat-e-Islami Leader [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Concerned Over Indian Naval Nuclear Ambitions [ET]
  • Supreme Court Orders Common Seniority List Across Police Branches [ET] [Dawn]
  • Pakistani-Origin Chinese National Working on Karachi Power Plant ‘Goes Missing’ [Dawn]
  • Suspect in Killing of PML-N Provincial Assembly Member Killed in Gujranwala [Dawn]
  • 12 Injured in Grenade Attack on Uzair Baloch’s Home in Lyari [Dawn]
  • Four Abducted Balochistan Levies Personnel Freed [ET]
  • Prime Minister Directs Finance Minister Dar to Expedite Electoral Reforms Work [ET]
  • ECP Pledges to Boost Ratio of Women Registered Voters [Dawn] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Officials Acknowledge Widespread Extortion Threats [Dawn]
  • Boundary Dispute Between Kohistan and Diamer Districts Intensifies [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Govt Accused of Not Sharing Details on CPEC Projects [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Haqqani Control Rising within Taliban: The NYT and the AP have separate reports on the closer integration of Haqqani network commanders with the Taliban’s senior leadership; a spokesman for the NATO military coalition said that following his nomination as the Taliban’s deputy leader last summer, “Sirajuddin increasingly runs the day-to-day military operations for the Taliban, and, we believe, is likely involved in appointing shadow governors”. The AP’s account credits Sirajuddin with reconciling differences amongst Taliban commanders and bringing Mullah Mohammad Omar’s family back into the Taliban fold. A Taliban spokesman confirmed that Sirajuddin’s “obligations have increased”; his profile is also reported to have risen as Mullah Akhtar Mansour has limited his movements and gone into hiding following a reported assassination attempt in Quetta.
  • Taliban Prisoners Executed: On Sunday, a spokesman for Pres. Ghani announced that six Taliban prisoners on death row had been hanged at Pul-e-Charki prison, following demands from critics of the administration and pledges by Ghani during an address to parliament last month to resume executions in the wake of the Taliban attack in Kabul last month. Four of those hanged were identified as Taliban members, one a member of the Haqqani network, and one an Al Qaeda member; the separate charges include the assassinations of former president Burhannudin Rabbani and the deputy NDS chief Abdullah Laghmani, among other attacks. The Taliban issued a statement on Sunday denouncing the conditions of prisoners in Afghan jails, and warned that “for taking our revenge on the enemy, we have thousands of equipped suicide bombers”; last week, insurgent spokesmen suggest that the impending executions would amount to a war crime. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan issued a statement saying that it “regrets” the executions. [Khaama Press] [AP] [BBC]
  • Insider Attack: Two Romanian soldiers serving at the NATO airbase in Kandahar were killed and a third injured when two Afghan National Police recruits opened fire on their trainers on Saturday; the attackers were killed by coalition forces returning fire, and one Afghan police officer is also reported to have been arrested in connection to the attack. NATO spokesmen said an investigation was ongoing in response to the attack; on Monday, Romanian defense minister Mihnea Motoc said that three Afghan nationals had been arrested in connection to the incident. [WAPO] [AP] [TOLO]
  • U.S. Advising Mission: The NYT and Reuters have separate reports parsing the Pentagon’s investigation into the errant airstrike that hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz in October, noting confusion from U.S. special forces advisors about how far they were allowed to go in assisting Afghan forces in retaking the city after it fell to a Taliban advance given restrictions on their rules of engagement and mandate. U.S. Green Berets were in “close quarters combat” with Taliban forces at the airport, contradicting accounts from the Pentagon that they were “not directly engage in the fight”.
  • Journalists Fleeing: Roughly 300 journalists, 50-60 of them women, have left Afghanistan during the past ten months as security has deteriorated, the media advocacy organization Nai reports, most seeking refuge in Europe.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpost in western Kabul on Sunday, leaving at least one ANP officer dead and three wounded. NATO coalition forces participated in a “train, advise and assist role” in Friday’s Afghan special forces raid to free roughly sixty prisoners in a Taliban detention facility in Now Zad, coalition spokesmen confirmed. On Saturday night, Taliban fighters attacked multiple checkposts on the outskirts of the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, with both sides claiming to have killed more than dozen of their opponents; the NYT reports on life for soldiers in those frontline checkposts. Kunar provincial officials report that as many as 29 Taliban fighters were killed in an attack on checkposts in the Ghaziabad district that began late Friday night; fighting was reportedly ongoing through Sunday. On Monday, officials in Ghor reported that they had repelled a Taliban attack in the Taiwara district. [AP] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hezb-e-Islami Talks: High Peace Council sources tell TOLO that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar may visit Kabul as soon as this week to hold talks with Pres. Ghani and sign a peace agreement with the government, in exchange for the release of Hezb-e-Islami detainees and his de-listing from international sanctions lists.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • TUTAP Protests: Mohammad Mohaqiq, the second deputy to Chief Executive Abdullah and leader of the Hezb-e-Wahdat party, warned that he would “opt to go with the people if injustice exceeds the limit,” saying that he would not accept a re-routing of a planned electricity transmission line linking Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan that would skip Bamiyan province and transit the Salang pass instead. Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, with whom Mohaqiq met on Friday, and former NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil, who was also in Mazar-e-SHarif to meet Noor, also voiced opposition to any change in the route. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Chinese Assistance: Speaking at a conference in Kabul on Sunday, Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan Yao Jing said that agreements would be signed “in the near future” to build a railroad link between the two countries.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Civilian Death Toll ‘Much Higher Than the Official Estimate’ [Guardian]
  • Taliban Execute Two Women in Jowzjan [NYT]
  • Foreign Minister Rabbani Seeks to Rally Supporters in Badakhshan [TOLO]
  • Attorney General’s Office Pledges Anti-Corruption Action [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Deciding to Leave Afghanistan: Motives for Migration – “Although the majority of the respondents mentioned economic and/or educational opportunities as a main contributing factor, it was clear that in almost all cases declining security had also been a significant (primary or contributing) factor.” [Lenny Linke, AAN]
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