Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: One Killed in Border Forces Clash Near Torkham; Panama Papers Committee Deadlocked

Topline

  • At least one Afghan border guard was killed in an exchange of fire with Pakistani border security forces near the Torkham crossing on Sunday evening; both sides blame the other for firing first, but agree that the point of dispute was the Pakistani construction of a new gate facility at the crossing, which Pakistan insists is on its territory and Afghan officials say violates the border agreement. China’s foreign ministry said Sunday that “more talks were needed” over India’s joining of the Nuclear Suppliers Group; separately, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz argued that “Pakistan has stronger credentials for NSG membership than India” if the body allowed for “uniform criteria” for membership by those countries who have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. During a meeting with visiting U.S. Special Representative Olson and U.S. Afghanistan forces commander Gen. John Nicholson, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif is reported to have pushed for a crackdown on TTP forces in Afghanistan and to have again protested the strike on Mullah Mansour in Balochistan. Reuters reports that U.S. officials may not finalize a decision on troop levels in Afghanistan before the NATO summit in Warsaw in July. Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri issued an audio statement over the weekend pledging allegiance to new Taliban leader Mullah Haibtullah Akhunzada, citing the precedent of Osama bin Laden’s pledge to Mullah Omar. The Afghan parliament voted on Monday to reject Pres. Ghani’s March electoral reform decrees, after earlier postponing a vote on Saturday. The government-opposition committee on the Panama Papers investigation is reportedly deadlocked, with the PTI now considering plans for a mass protest movement after Eid. The government’s committee on FATA reforms has reportedly finalized a plan that would merge the FATA into Khyber Paktunkhwa province over the course of five years. The Sindh provincial government introduced its budget for the forthcoming fiscal year on Saturday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Nuclear Suppliers Group Membership: Following a meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna on Thursday, ahead of a plenary session scheduled for later this month in South Korea, the U.S. State Department said that Pakistan’s joining of the NSG would be “something for all the members of the [NSG] to consider”. On Sunday, China’s foreign ministry said that “large differences remain” over Indian NSG membership, and that more talks were necessary to reach agreement on the criteria by which states that have not signed onto the Non-Proliferation Treaty could join the NSG. In comments to Dawn, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz insisted that “if the group forms such a uniform criteria, then Pakistan has stronger credentials for NSG membership than India”. Aziz also suggested that the U.S. was seeking to “build up India” in order to “contain the Islamic world and China”. At a press briefing on Saturday, the State Department’s spokesman said that “there’s no zero-sum game” in terms of U.S. relations with India and Pakistan, and that “we need to pursue closer relations with India, with Pakistan, and they need to also pursue closer relations on the security front, certainly, with each other”. An anonymous U.S. official tells Dawn that “we do not believe that strategic stability in the region would be markedly different if India enters the Nuclear Suppliers Group” and reiterated that “our security relationships with Pakistan, India, as well as Afghanistan, are distinct”.
  • Gen. Sharif Presses on Action Against TTP: Dawn reports that Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif pressed visiting U.S. Special Representative Richard Olson and U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson to target Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militant sheltering in Afghanistan during a meeting in Rawalpindi on Friday. Gen. Sharif was also quoted as saying that “Pakistan will not allow Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies to foment terrorism in the country”, and to have reiterated objections to the drone strike that killed Mullah Mansour in Balochistan. Conservative religious parties held protests in southern Punjab on Friday against U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, and accusing the U.S. of protecting TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah in Afghanistan “in connivance with the Indian consulate general in Afghanistan.” Olson met with Chief Executive Abdullah on Sunday, who emphasized that Pakistan must take action against the Haqqani network and other militant groups. In comments to the Express Tribune, anonymous Pakistani security officials attribute the U.S. strike on Mullah Mansour to a desire to prolong the conflict and establish bases in Afghanistan from which to “keep a check on China”, and claim that a direct meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan had been planned for July of this year.
  • Balochistan Conflict: An unidentified militant suspect is reported to have killed himself after detonating a suicide vest during a Frontier Corps raid in Balochistan Zhob district on Saturday; two others were detained.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Committee Deadlock: Speaking after a meeting of the parliamentary committee negotiating the terms of reference for an investigation into the Panama Papers, PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi accused the government of insincerity in its negotiations, saying that he had “suggested the opposition parties to leave the committee” and would himself no longer take part in talks. Qureshi separately indicated he would seek guidance from party leaders before quitting the talks entirely. At meetings of senior PTI leaders on Sunday, Imran Khan reportedly began reviewing plans for a mass protest movement to begin after Eid.
  • Sharif Recovery: The Express Tribune reports that PML-N cabinet members opposed to Finance Minister Dar’s role as caretaker while Prime Minister Sharif recovers from heart surgery have pushed for Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to “unofficially” play the leading role in his brother’s absence; Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah dismissed those reports, however. Prime Minister Sharif was visited by Prince Charles at his residence in London on Saturday, his family reported.
  • FATA Reforms: Dawn reports that the FATA reform committee appointed by Prime Minister Sharif last fall has completed a report recommending a set of political, administrative, judicial, and security reforms for the tribal agencies, which would merge the FATA into Khyber Paktunkhwa province over a period of five years. The proposal includes the extension of Supreme Court and High Court jurisdiction to the area and the removal of collective punishment provisions under the Frontier Crimes Regulation. Prime Minister Sharif will reportedly review the recommendations after his return to the country.
  • Other Political Activity: Law advisor Zafarullah Khan told Dawn that a list of potential candidates for vacant Election Commission members would be sent to the prime minister this week for review. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition challenging the results of the May 2015 by-election held for the PK-95 Lower Dir constituency, from which petitioners allege female voters were barred from participating. The PTI plans to challenge the Election Commission’s allocation of a cricket batsman symbol to the PTI-Nazriati splinter party, arguing that it would be too easily mistaken for the PTI’s own cricket bat symbol. The MQM commemorated the 38th anniversary of the founding of the All Pakistan Mutthaida Students Organisation (APMSO student wing on Saturday. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Amendments Drafted for Khyber Paktunkhwa Prosecution Service Act [Dawn]
  • Sunni Ittehad Council Issues Fatwa Against ‘Honor Killing’ [Dawn] [ET]
  • Policeman Arrested for Beating Hindu Man for Violating Ramadan Fast [Dawn]
  • Kohat Officials Press Afghan Nationals to Vacate Area [Dawn]
  • JUI-F Senator Spars with Activist in TV Debate, Sparking PEMRA Notice [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Telenor Pakistan Recieves 4G License for $395M [AFP]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Unveils Orangi Town Rapid Bus Transit Project [Dawn]
  • Remittances Up 5.6% to $17.8 Billlion Over 11 Months [ET]
  • Khyber Agency Residents Face 20 Hour Power Outages [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Torkham Border Clash: At least one Afghan border guard was killed and six wounded, and one Pakistani border guard wounded, in an exchange of fire between the two sides near the Torkham border crossing on Sunday evening. Both sides accuse the other of firing first; Afghan officials accuse Pakistan of constructing a new border gate on disputed territory, which Pakistani officials maintain is at least 40 meters on their side of the border line. The border crossing has been closed for the second time in less than a month; Pakistan’s foreign ministry formally protested the incident with the Afghan charges d’affaires. Chief Executive Abdullah condemned the clash at Monday’s meeting of the Council of Ministers, saying Pakistan had violated an agreement to discuss the construction of any new facilities along the border, and praising Afghan security forces. A spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council said that the Afghan national security forces had been “put on alert” following the clashes, and the Ministry of Defense warned that the army “will not allow any unilateral move and establishment of [border] installations without consultations with the Afghan government.” [Dawn] [ET]
  • Broader Authorization for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan: As reported Friday, Pres. Obama has loosened restrictions on U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, allowing U.S. forces to operate alongside regular Afghan forces in combat with the Taliban and allowing them to more proactively strike Taliban forces, without the requirement that those fighters pose a direct threat to U.S. personnel. A White House spokesman said that U.S. forces would “continue to remain focused on the advise-and-assist mission that they’ve been carrying out for almost two years”, and that the decision was not necessarily indicative of any decision on keeping the roughly 10,000 U.S. forces currently in Afghanistan there past the end of this year. Reuters reports that there may be no U.S. decision on troop levels by the time of the NATO summit in Warsaw in July. Spokesmen for the Afghan ministry of defense and the presidency welcomed the change. In a statement on Saturday, the Taliban said that it would not be deterred by the decision, saying “we remain resilient and will carry forward our jihad against your occupation.” [AFP] [ET]
  • Zawahiri Pledges Allegiance to New Taliban Chief: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri issued an online audio message on Saturday pledging his support to Mullah Haibtullah Akhunzada, the new Taliban leader, citing the precedent of Osama bin Laden’s pledge of allegiance to Mullah Omar’s Islamic Emirate. Zawhiri, whose influence has been rivaled by the Islamic State, described Haibtullah as the “emir of believers” and said that “Allah has graced you by establishing the first legitimate emirate after the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, and in the world there was no other legitimate emirate”. A spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council said that “relations between Taliban and al-Qaeda network has been clear from the past” and that the “Taliban has often sacrificed Afghanistan and the Afghan people to save al-Qaeda leaders.” [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: TOLO reports that Taliban fighters have taken control of three districts in Kunduz, and claims that they nearly outnumber Afghan security forces in the province both in numbers of fighters and in military vehicles. Afghan army spokesmen claimed to have killed 15 Taliban fighters in operations in Kunduz on Sunday. Helmand army officials say they are preparing a large-scale operation in the Naw Zad and Musa Qala districts; however, provincial police chief Aqa Noor Kentoz says that his priority is reclaiming control of the Lashkar Gah fourth police district, which he says has been under Taliban control for the past eight months. On Sunday, a group of seventy Afghan security personnel were reportedly freed from a nearly two week-long Taliban siege in Faryab’s Almar district. The Haska Mina district police chief in Nangarhar was killed in an attack on the district police headquarters on Saturday, which officials said was carried out by Islamic State-affiliated militants; five other officers were also killed. Reuters attributes a rise in kidnappings and Taliban attacks on major highways to a shift away from static Afghan security force checkpoints; a spokesman for the interior ministry says that “we have decided to increase the number of checkpoints on major highways and also increase the number of regular patrols.” [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reforms: Voting was postponed on Saturday on the ratification of a presidential decree on electoral reforms issued by Pres. Ghani in March; Wolesi Jirga speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi indicated that parliamentarians remain divided over the nomination process for election commissioners. In a vote on Monday, the Wolesi Jirga rejected the decree. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Hezb-e-Islami Talks: A Hezb-e-Islami delegation arrived in Kabul on Sunday for further talks with the government over the details of draft peace agreement proposed last month; one member of the delegation tells TOLO that they are seeking to have the deal be made with “the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” as opposed to the national unity government.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Taliban Push into New Media [WSJ]
  • Ministry of Interior Claims Pakistani Beggars Carrying Out Spying in Kabul [TOLO]
  • Senators Welcome Indian Ambassador [TOLO]
  • Kandahar Police Chief Warns Residents Against Paying Taliban Taxes [TOLO]
  • Journalists Protest Ban on Camera Drones [TOLO]
  • Report: Lessons from the Danish Integrated Approach in Afghanistan 2001-2014 – “The compilation focuses on lessons regarding the Danish integration of political, military and developmental instruments, which has taken place under very challenging security conditions.” [Danish Institute for International Studies]
  • Commentary: Pushing the Parliament to Accept a Decree: Another Election Without Reform? – “With the sending of the decree to the Wolesi Jirga and the repeated insistence that it is now up to the parliament to ‘do its job,’ the government seems to have tried to shift the blame and to divert attention both from the absence of meaningful electoral reform and from the sheer improbability of its insistence that the elections will still be held in a little over four months’ time.” [Martine van Bijlert and Ali Yawar Adili, AAN]
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