Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Undergoes Heart Surgery in London; Dozens Kidnapped, Later Freed, in Kunduz

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif completed open-heart surgery in London on Tuesday, and is being transferred to intensive care as of this writing. On Monday, Sharif approved by videoconference the federal government budget for the coming fiscal year; final decisions on salary increases for federal employees have reportedly yet to be made. Dozens of people were kidnapped in an attack on a bus convoy in Kunduz on Tuesday; most have since reportedly been released, but at least ten people were killed, and details of the attack remain sketchy. As many as 50 Afghan police and ALP members were reportedly killed in Taliban attacks on their checkposts in Helmand on Sunday and Monday, with fighting concentrated around the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Lt. Gen. Hidayatur Rehman, the Peshawar Corps Commander, told a press conference on Monday that paramilitary forces would assume responsibility for the FATA’s security in 2021, and that reconstruction would be completed by 2019, “if the situation remained normal”. Nine people were wounded when a suicide bomber targeted a police vehicle in Mardan on Monday. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is reportedly insisting on a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan as a condition for a peace agreement with the Afghan government.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Operations: Peshawar Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Hidayatur Rehman told a press briefing on Monday that the military had control of all but “0.8%” of the FATA; he suggested that operations would be transferred to the Frontier Corps and Levies Force in 2021, and that reconstruction would be completed by 2019, “if the situation remained normal”. Rehman also said that Rs 5.3 billion was needed for the immediate reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, and that only Rs 3.6 billion had been disbursed by the government so far.
  • Mardan Bombing: At least nine people were wounded when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated alongside a police vehicle near the Mardan city police station on Monday; another bomb was discovered on a cycle parked nearby, and was detonated in a controlled explosion. No claim of responsibility has been reported.
  • CNIC Crackdown: Ghulam Mohammad Bugti, the former assistant director of the National Database and Registration Authority, was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency on Tuesday for questioning in connection to the issuance of a computerized national ID card to Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has ordered a nationwide review of all CNIC; a two-month amnesty period has been ordered for NADRA officials or foreign nationals who possess a CNIC to voluntarily surrender. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Approved: Prime Minister Sharif presided remotely over a meeting of the National Economic Council and the cabinet on Monday, approving the draft budget plan for the forthcoming fiscal year, which Finance Minister Dar will unveil later this week. The budget reportedly allocates Rs 800 billion in federal and Rs 875 billion in provincial development plans, after cutting this year’s development spending to meet IMF targets. Dawn reports that the decision over options for a salary increase for federal government employees will be made by Dar. The prime minister spoke briefly with members of the press afterwards, touting improvements in growth, inflation, deficit, and tax indicators. Imran Khan criticized the use of the video link for the cabinet meeting, saying that “spy agencies could have easily intercepted sensitive information about the economic planning of our country.”
  • Energy Crisis: Circular debt within the power sector rose 23%, to Rs 633 billion, in the 2014-15 fiscal year, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority said in a state of the industry report issued Tuesday, attributing the increase to higher transmission and distribution losses and unpaid private sector bills. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Planning Commission Redraws Poverty Line; 53-59 Million Classified as Poor [Dawn]
  • Former Defense Secretaries Warn of Chabahar Port ‘Security Threat’ [Dawn]
  • Gas Pipeline Bombed in Dera Bugti [Dawn]
  • Committee Defers Debate on Amendment to NAB Authority [ET]
  • Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources Warns of ‘Absolute Water Scarcity’ by 2025 [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kunduz Kidnapping: At least ten people were killed and as many as 185 people or more were kidnapped by gunmen who stopped a bus convoy on the Kunduz-Badakhshan highway on Tuesday, provincial police officials reported; most of the hostages were later freed in a “rescue operation”, but details remain sketchy, and anywhere between 20-45 people are said to still be held hostage. Officials blamed the Taliban, who have not claimed responsibility as of this writing. [Reuters] [Khaama Press]
  • Helmand Checkposts Attacked: Taliban attacks on police checkposts in Helmand over the past two days killed at least 25 policemen, regional police commander Esmatullah Dawlatzai told the NYT on Monday; in comments to Reuters, he reported that 57 police were killed on Sunday and Monday, and nearly 40 more injured. Provincial council officials report at least 40 dead and accused security officials of corruption; “they are selling weapons, bullets, and want to continue the same condition”. Fighting is reported to be heaviest in the districts to the north and west of the provincial capital. On Tuesday, a spokesman for the ministry of interior said Tuesday that Afghan special forces had been deployed to the province.
  • ISIS in Afghanistan: A meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Pres. Ghani on Monday approved a draft strategy to combat ISIS in Afghanistan; details were not reported. An airstrike in Wardak killed an alleged ISIS leader on Tuesday. Two women were arrested in Nangarhar’s Kot district on Monday, and accused of carrying ISIS documents on bomb-making.
  • Border Restrictions: The Express Tribune reports that Pakistan will begin demanding valid passport documents for all travelers seeking to cross the Torkham border crossing in Khyber Agency, effective June 1; currently, an estimated 10-15,000 people cross the border daily without documentation.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz and Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal held a meeting on Monday to discuss the fate of peace talks with the Taliban after Mullah Mansour’s death. In remarks to Dawn on Monday, JUI-S leader Sami-ul Haq warned that “those who think that Haibatullah is a mere cleric and a seminary preacher will soon bear witness to his skill as a militant commander”, saying that “the martyrdom of Mullah Mansour will eventually help unite all the Taliban, since everybody will realise that talking peace with the US is futile.” Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Afghan government are reportedly at odds over the Hezb-e-Islami’s demand for a schedule for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country as part of a peace agreement; the party had earlier described the withdrawal as a “goal” rather than a condition for talks. Leaders of the Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution tell TOLO that they are concerned the agreement with HiG violates portions of the constitution; Wolesi Jirga speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi also criticized the agreement.
  • BBC Reporter Freed: Nematullah Kariab, a local BBC reporter who was detained in Nangarhar on Sunday, was freed a day later; no charges against him have been detailed.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • In Afghanistan, the Taliban Isn’t the Only Group Battling for Land [WAPO]
  • Presidential Guard Arrested on Kidnapping Charge [TOLO]
  • Herat Prepares for Salma Dam Inauguration Ceremony [TOLO]
  • Ghani Inaugurates Dar-ul Alam Palace Reconstruction [TOLO] [BBC]
  • Report: ‘My Children Will Die This Winter’: Afghanistan’s Broken Promises to the Displaced – “A staggering 1.2 million people are internally displaced in Afghanistan today, a dramatic increase from some 500,000 in 2013. Afghans already form one of the world’s largest refugee populations, with an estimated 2.6 million Afghan citizens living beyond the country’s border.” [Amnesty International]
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