Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Agriculture Sector Contracts in Outgoing Fiscal Year; Sar-e-Pul Hostages Released

Topline

  • The Ministry of Finance released the annual Economic Survey of Pakistan on Thursday, which attributed the government’s failure to meet its GDP growth targets for the outgoing fiscal year to contraction in the agricultural sector, driven by the cotton crop. The head of India’s National Investigation Agency told an interviewer on Thursday that evidence “so far does not point to any inside hand” or role of the Pakistani government or security agencies in supporting in the January attack on the Pathankot airbase. A group of bus passengers taken hostage in Sar-e-Pul earlier this week was freed after negotiations mediated by local tribal elders. The ‘Green Trend’ party carried out protests in Kabul and Badakhshan, denouncing the kidnappings and demanding government action against the Taliban. An Afghan parliamentary commission investigating last month’s bombing in Kabul accused the police and intelligence services of negligence in failing to take action in response to warnings that the VIP protection unit whose headquarters was attacked was a target. The Senate of Pakistan passed the 22nd Amendment to the constitution in a vote on Thursday, which allows for the appointment of former civil servants and “technocrats” as Election Commission members. In a low-turnout special election on Thursday, the MQM retook two Sindh assembly seats that had been vacated after former party members quit to join the Pakistan Sarzameen Party.

Pakistan — Security

  • Pathankot Investigations: In an interview with India’s CNN News18 on Thursday, director general of the Indian National Investigation Agency Sharad Kumar said that the investigation into January’s attack on the Pathanakot Airbase had produced “sufficient and stringent evidence against Masood Azhar and his brother Rauf Azhar”, leaders of Jaish-e-Mohammad, but “so far does not point to any inside hand” or role of the Pakistani government or security agencies in supporting the attack. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the comments “vindicated” its position and touted Pakistan’s “spirit of cooperation”; Kumar said that he was still waiting for approval from Pakistani authorities to visit Pakistan but that charges would be filed against the Azhar brothers regardless of the investigation team’s access. [ET]
  • F-16 Sale: In a Capitol Hill briefing on Thursday, State Department confirmed that the offer of sale for eight F-16 fighter jets had expired on May 24 after Pakistan failed to sign on to the full purchase price, and was “for now … not a viable offer”.
  • Formation Commanders Conference: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif addressed the semi-annual Formation Commanders’ Conference on Thursday, where he said that Operaton Zarb-e-Azb was “now successfully transiting into final phases”; a military source suggests its completion will be announced before Sharif’s tenure ends in November, and also notes a “surge in intelligence-based operations” in Punjab. Military spokesmen quoted Gen. Sharif pledging to “pay any price” to protect the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections and Other Political Activity: The Senate passed the 22nd Amendment bill on Thursday, which changes the eligibility criteria for Election Commission members, allowing for the appointment of former civil servants and “technocrats”, rather than the judiciary exclusively; four ECP commissioners are due to retire within a week. In by-polls in Karachi on Thursday, the MQM retook two Sindh Assembly seats, PS-106 and PS-117, which had been vacated by two party legislators who had quit to join the Pakistan Sarzameen Party. Voter turnout was reportedly extremely low, at 11% or less. The PPP won the vacant PS-22 seat in Naushahro Feroze. In comments to reporters on Thursday, Imran Khan claimed that the government would be forced to call snap polls before the end of the year, without specifying how, and said the PTI was ready for elections. Intra-party elections for PTI leadership positions remain postponed indefinitely; the Express Tribune reports a decision may be taken within the coming week on “caretaker” positions. The Sindh provincial government has appointed Ejaz Ahmed Khan to replace former Karachi commissioner Asif Hyder Shah, who held his position less than five months before being replaced on Thursday. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Economic Survey: The Ministry of Finance released the annual Economic Survey of Pakistan for 2015-16 on Thursday, ahead of the introduction of the federal budget for the forthcoming fiscal year. Speaking at a press conference to unveil the report, Finance Minister Dar said that “the government has no intention to go back to the International Monetary Fund for a new program” after the current agreement is concluded in September. The report acknowledges that the government missed its target for GDP growth during the outgoing fiscal year, which it reported as 4.7% against a target of 5.5%, driven principally by a decline in the cotton crop that cut agricultural sector growth to negative 0.19%, which had been projected to grow by nearly 4%. The investment-to-GDP ratio was also lower than targeted, although the industry and service sectors posted gains of 6.8% and 5.7% overall, respectively. Inflation was also kept around 3%, and the fiscal deficit at 3.8% of GDP. Despite a 13% increase in tax revenue, the overall tax-to-GDP ratio was 8.4%; tax exemptions during the outgoing fiscal year totaled Rs 394.5 billion. The ministry of finance also estimates direct and indirect costs of terrorism and conflict totaled $118.31 billion over the past 14 years, although losses are said to have declined to $5.55 billion in the outgoing fiscal year. [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Challenges Indian Addition to UN Security Council [Dawn]
  • NADRA Officials Reshuffled, Directors Demoted [Dawn]
  • Another Official Arrested in Connection to Mansour ID Documents [ET]
  • PTI Spokesman Defends Description of Mullah Mansour as ‘Martyr’ [Dawn]
  • Former KPK Mines Minister Challenges Anti-Corruption Commission Appointments [ET]
  • Former Minister for Religious Affairs Hamid Kazmi Sentence to 16 Years in Haj Corruption Case [Dawn]
  • Commentary: High Hopes, Great Disappointments: U.S.-Pakistan Relations Under Obama – “Obama’s Pakistan policy was doomed by a fundamental reality of U.S.-Pakistan relations: Security issues will always find a way to dominate the agenda, but the security interests of the two countries do not align.” [Michael Kugelman, World Politics Review]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kidnappings: TOLO quotes an unnamed Afghan Public Protection Force commander who complains he was restricted from carrying out retaliatory attacks against the Taliban after the kidnapping of bus passengers in Kunduz earlier this week; an ANP official says that the prisoners had been moved by the time news of the kidnapping had been conveyed to their unit. The ‘Green Trend’ organization staged street protests in Kabul and Badakhshan on Thursday against the kidnappings, demanding government action; UNAMA issued a statement saying that the taking of civilian hostages was “indefensible”. On Friday, officials in Sar-e-Pul reported that a group of 17 bus passengers kidnapped on Wednesday, reported to be members of the Hazara community, were freed after negotiations by tribal elders; a local source tells Pajhwok that a wounded Taliban fighter who had been detained from a local hospital was freed as part of the deal.
  • Attacks and Operations: A parliamentary commission tasked with investigating last month’s bombing in Kabul targeting a VIP security unit accused police and intelligence services of negligence in failing to respond to intelligence warnings of a possible attack. TOLO interviews army sources who allege that they are being restrained from carrying out offensive operations against the Taliban in Helmand, although other officials say the restraint is due to the presence of civilians and the need to conduct de-mining operations. U.S. and Afghan military officials report that the Taliban have refocused their operations on Helmand, Uruzgan, and Kandahar. Two civilians were killed and sixteen wounded in a marketplace bombing in Laghman’s Alisheng district on Thursday. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Border Tensions with Pakistan: At a press briefing on Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry defended the move to require travel documentation from Afghan nationals seeking to cross the Torkham border crossing, adding that “the Afghan government’s cooperation in this regard is important for strengthening mutual security.” [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Modi to Inaugurate Salma Dam: Pres. Ghani arrived in Herat on Friday, ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit on Saturday to inaugurate the $300 million India-sponsored Salma Dam project, which officials say will ultimately produce 42 megawatts of energy and irrigate 75,000 hectares of agricultural land. [TOLO] [AFP]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Major Crimes Unit Up Against ‘Ocean’ of Lawbreaking [WAPO]
  • Afghan Government Money Reaching Taliban Through Marble Trade [Guardian]
  • Interview: Karzai Says Mansour Killing “Hurt Chances” for Afghan Peace [RFE/RL]
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