Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Accused Afghan Spies Arrested in Balochistan and Peshawar; Mansour Strike Dashes Peace Talk Hopes

Topline

  • Balochistan’s home minister announced the arrest on Thursday of six accused Afghan spies, who he said had been carrying out terrorist attacks in the province and were supported by the NDS and RAW intelligence agencies. Khyber Paktunkhwa police announced the arrest of two more accused Afghan spies in Peshawar on Friday. The parliamentary committee negotiating the terms of an investigation into the Panama Papers has reportedly agreed to drop explicit references to Prime Minister Sharif as the main target of inquiry; discussions are still ongoing as to how broad the inquiry will go beyond what is detailed in the Panama Papers leak. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz complained on Thursday that the strike targeting Mullah Akhtar Mansour had “undermined the Afghan peace process” and would “further destabilize Afghanistan”; Pres. Obama told reporters in Japan that he was “doubtful” serious reconciliation talks would be held soon. A Taliban source tells the AFP that “peace talks at any level will remain suspended till the new decision by the leadership council”. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar accused Iran of providing information to the U.S. that led to the strike on Mansour; Foreign Policy, meanwhile, reports that Iran has been providing funds and weapons to Taliban commanders in western Afghanistan, seeking to bolster them against the Islamic State. The Sindh High Court has delayed a verdict on reserve local government body seats, further delaying elections for local council chairmen and mayors.

Pakistan — Security

  • Accused Afghan Spies Arrested: On Thursday, Balochistan Home Minister Sarfarz Bugti announced the arrest of six Afghan nationals who he accused of being spies and “terrorists”, operating in the province with the support of India’s RAW intelligence agency. He did not provide details on the timing of those arrests, but broadcast confessional video statements by at least two of the group. Bugti accused three Afghan NDS generals of running the spy network, and warned that “we have had enough. Either the Afghan refugees can return voluntarily with respect and dignity, or the people of Balochistan can humiliate them and throw them out of the country”. On Friday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa Counter-Terrorism Department announced the arrest of two Afghan nationals accused of spying for an unspecified “foreign intelligence agency”. At least three other arrests of accused Afghan security or intelligence personnel in Balochistan have been announced since March.
  • FATA Operations: Three unidentified militants were killed and four others injured in a clash with security forces in the Shawal Valley in North Waziristan on Thursday. A jirga of tribal elders meeting in the Kurram Agency on Thursday at the Frontier Corps headquarters affirmed their support for the government.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Negotiations Over Panama Papers Investigation: The Express Tribune reports that opposition members of the committee formed to negotiated the terms of reference for an investigation into the Panama Papers leaks has conceded the government’s position that the investigation should be “issue-specific rather than person-specific”, dropping an explicit reference to Prime Minister Sharif as a target for investigation. Opposition sources say they affirmed their position that investigation of the Panama Papers leaks should be the investigating commission’s first priority, before broader investigations of loan write-offs or other forms of money laundering; Dawn reports the two sides are still “poles apart” on that issue, however. PPP senator Aitzaz Ahsan insisted that the prime minister would still face investigation, as his children were named in the Panama Papers documents. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: The Sindh High Court has postponed its verdict on petitions challenging the calculations for reserved seats on local councils until May 31, further delaying the election of council chairmen and mayors. Abdul Hakeem Baloch, the PML-N’s only elected national assembly member from Sindh, announced his resignation on Thursday, complaining his position as state minister for communications was “toothless”; he had also resigned last year, before withdrawing that action. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Planning: Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal has reportedly complained to Finance Minister Dar that his ministry is being bypassed in decision-making for the next fiscal year budget; the Annual Plan Coordination Committee’s targets for GDP growth and the investment-to-GDP ratio are reportedly lower than the finance ministry’s own, in light of lower projected growth in the agricultural sector. A separate Express Tribune report indicates the Planning Commission has only allocated Rs 124 billion for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects next year, most for National Highway Administration work, which amounts to approximately a third of those projects’ total requirements.
  • Pakistan Welcomes Chabahar: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan “welcomes projects of regional connectivity which have the potential to generate economic activity,” and suggested that the Iranian-Indian Chabahar port project could become a “sister port” to the Chinese-Pakistani Gwadar facility. Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan told an Islamabad audience on Friday that Chabahar “is not a rival to Gwadar”, and suggested that Pakistani or Chinese cooperation on the port would be welcomed.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Punjab Counterterrorism Department Arrests Suspects in Planned Bahawalnagar Shrine Attack [Dawn]
  • Punjab Law Minister Brushes Off Council on Islamic Ideology Recommendations on Women’s Protection Law [Dawn]
  • PTI Rejects Proposed Hike in Lawmakers’ Salaries [ET]
  • Public Accounts Committee Seeks Reclamation of Bahria Enclave Land [Dawn]
  • Senate Finance Committee Questions Election Commission Salaries [Dawn]
  • Electricity Tariffs Cut for April [ET]
  • ILO to Review Baldia Factory Fire Compensation Agreement [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Mansour Strike Aftermath: Speaking to Afghan press outlets on Wednesday, Pres. Ghani warned that “we want close relations with neighboring countries, but not in exporting terrorism, but if they send us terrorists, we will kill them and eliminate them”. As noted yesterday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz told reporters on Thursday that the strike on Mullah Akhtar Mansour last weekend “has also undermined the Afghan peace process”, adding that “in our view there is no military solution of the conflict in Afghanistan”. Aziz also cautioned that “this approach will further destabilise Afghanistan, which will have negative implications for the region, especially due to the presence of a large number of terrorist groups in Afghanistan”. Speaking at a press conference in Japan on Thursday, Pres. Obama said that “my hope, although not my expectation, is that there comes a point at which the Taliban recognizes that they are not going to simply be able to overrun the country and that what they need to be doing is to enter into serious reconciliation talks that are led by Afghans… but I am doubtful that that will be happening any time soon.” An anonymous Taliban source tells the AFP that “the drone strike against [Mansour] has proved that the US is not sincere in bringing peace in Afghanistan, so peace talks at any level will remain suspended till the new decision by the leadership council.” [WSJ] [Reuters] [AFP] [ET] [Dawn] [TOLO]
  • Tensions with Iran: Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar accused Iranian intelligence agencies of providing information that led to Mansour’s targeting in Balochistan, accusing Iran of having always “stabbed the Muslim Ummah in the back since its birth and has acted as inimical to the interests of the Islamic nations.” Separately, Foreign Policy reports that Iran has been providing money and “low-grade weaponry” to Taliban commanders in order to “set up a buffer zone along its border with Afghanistan to keep out the Islamic State”. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karzai Calls for Peace Talks, Execution Halt: In a statement on Friday, former Pres. Karzai called on the new Taliban leader Haibtaullah Akhunzada to join a peace process with the Afghan government, and urged the government to halt the execution of prisoners convicted under terror charges.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Despite Government Pledges, Child Soldier Recruitment Continues to Rise [Guardian]
  • Afghan Air Force Conducting 50-180 Missions Daily [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Taliban in Transition: How Mansour’s Death and Haibatullah’s Ascension May Affect the War (and Peace) – “The absence in Haibatullah of the liabilities that plagued Mansur’s leadership, plus his reputation as a scholarly person who taught many Taleban members in the ranks and files greatly reduces the chances of the aggressive opposition which Mansur faced upon assuming the leadership.” [Borhan Osman, AAN]
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