Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Tensions High in Kashmir Ahead of Polls; Joint Chiefs Chairman Visits Kabul

Topline

  • The PML-N government has set July 20 as a “black day” to protest violence in Indian Kashmir, coming a day before elections in Pakistani-administer Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Imran Khan led separate rallies over the weekend in Muzaffarabad ahead of the polls; speaking after the failed Turkish coup attempt, Imran Khan suggested that Pakistanis would welcome military intervention and the ouster of the PML-N. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford visit Kabul on Saturday, meeting with U.S. commanders and Pres. Ghani. U.S. forces commander Gen. John Nicholson told the AP that new U.S. targeting authorities would help Afghan forces “stay on the offensive”; U.S. military intelligence officials suggest that the Taliban’s operation tempo “has decreased a little bit” following the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Pres. Ghani visited Nangarhar on Friday, ordering the Afghan army to prepare for a “decisive battle” to eliminate Daesh forces in the east. The Sindh Rangers have reportedly issued an ultimatum for the handover an associate of Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal’s brother, who was freed from the Rangers’ detention by police last week; Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah is reported to be planning to remove Siyal from his position. Social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch was killed by her brother in an “honor killing” on Friday night; he was arrested Saturday, and professes no remorse. The Afghan Independent Human Righs Commission reported a 17% increase in overall casualties during the solar year ending March 21, with 3,129 civilians killed and 6,302 injured.

Pakistan — Security

  • Social Media Star Killed: Qandeel Baloch (real name Fauzia Azeem), a prominent Pakistani model, singer, and social media celebrity known for her provocative imagery and commentary, was killed by her brother in a so-called “honor killing” over Friday night. By Saturday evening the brother, Muhammad Waseem Azeem, had been arrested and confessed to killing her by smothering her after drugging her first, denying any remorse over the murder; some accounts indicate she was strangled. Prior to Waseem Azeem’s arrest, Qandeel’s father had filed charges with the police against him and another brother, Aslam Shaheen. Civil society activists held vigils following her death. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates more than a thousand women were killed in “honor killings” last year. [Reuters] [AP] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Former ANP Provincial Assembly Leader Killed: Haji Shoaib Khan, a former Awami National Party provincial assembly member, was killed by unidentified gunmen in the Swabi district on Sunday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kashmir Tensions: Friday’s cabinet meeting in Lahore chaired by Prime Minister Sharif reiterated condemnations of the killing of Hezb-ul-Mujahadeen commander Burhan Wani in a clash with Indian forces the week prior, and set July 19 as the date for a countrywide “black day” observance. On Saturday the government revised the date for July 20; JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman has called a meeting of the parliamentary committee on Kashmir affairs for the same day. Elections in Pakistani-administered Kashmir are scheduled for July 21; PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari led a rally in Muzaffarabad on Saturday, accusing the PML-N of failing to confront the Indian government; PPP activists also held demonstrations in Karachi and Hyderabad. The PTI is also campaigning ahead of the polls. Prime Minister Sharif has reportedly been advised not to visit the region; his planned return to Islamabad on Monday was delayed by an infection and fever. [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Imran Khan Claims Popular Support for Coup: Referring to the failed Turkish coup attempt while campaigning in Muzaffarabad on Sunday, PTI leader Imran Khan said that “democracy in Pakistan is threatened by Nawaz’s monarchy and the people will celebrate and distribute sweets if the army takes over”. Khan also reiterated demands for Prime Minister Sharif to account for his alleged offshore wealth. In an earlier statement on Saturday, Prime Minister Sharif praised “the brave and resilient Turkish people, who stood up against the forces of darkness and anarchy to express their support and commitment to democracy”. The NYT notes the recent campaign by a small political group calling for Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif to take control; police registered criminal conspiracy charges against the group’s chairman on Sunday. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Crackdown: The head of the Sindh Rangers met with Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and reportedly issued an ultimatum that Sindh Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal hand over his brother, Tariq Siyal, and an alleged associate, Asad Kharal, who was freed by the police from the Rangers’ custody last week. Sohail Siyal denied any involvement in the incident; the Rangers are reported to have set up checkpoints around his house in Larkana. Dawn reports that Chief Minister Shah has agreed to remove Siyal as home minister within the week. On Sunday, the Rangers arrested at least twenty people in Larkana linked to Kharal. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations: On Friday, the National Accountability Bureau formally cleared Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in connection to a 15-year old corruption case, dating back to his term as commerce minister. In a statement, Imran Khan accused the NAB of negligence and called on the Supreme Court to take up the case. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Finance Minister Dar and PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah met on Sunday and confirmed they would meet again Tuesday to discuss nominees for vacant Election Commission members. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Oversight: Dawn cites anonymous military sources who report complaints from Chinese officials about the “overall management of the [China Pakistan Economic Corridor] project, particularly the involvement of various ministries”, and suggest the military is positioning itself to assert greater control over the project. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, whose ministry is in charge of overseeing the project, insists that “the Chinese are very happy with the arrangement we have in place for CPEC.”
  • Census Planning: At a Supreme Court hearing on Friday, Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali ordered the government to provide a “definitive time frame” for holding a national census within two weeks. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • JUI-F Opposes Protection of Pakistan Act Extension [Dawn] [ET]
  • Islamabad Police Report ‘Mumbai-Style’ Terror Plot Disrupted [Dawn]
  • Technical Problems Slow CNIC Re-Verification Drive [Dawn]
  • One Killed in Frontier Corps Operation in Kalat District [Dawn]
  • Senate Chairman Seeks Discussion on ‘Irresponsible Statements’ of U.S. Congressmembers [Dawn] [ET]
  • Talks Planned with Afghan Telecom Officials Over SIM Usage [Dawn]
  • Sindh Governor Hospitalized with Chest Pains [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa to Challenge Gas Infrastructure Development Cess [ET]
  • Two NADRA Officials Jailed for Providing Fake IDs to Foreigners [ET]
  • Power Sector Continues to Face Losses and Circular Debts [ET]
  • Commerce Minister Suggests 2018 Export Target Out of Reach [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Dunford Visits: On Sunday, Pres. Ghani met in Kabul with visiting U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, who previously commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan; Dunford was quoted praising the efforts of the Afghan special forces and reiterating support for Afghan security forces. In an AP interview, Dunford said that Afghan forces “have the momentum”, and U.S. military intelligence officials suggest that the Taliban’s “overall operation tempo appears to be decreased a little bit” following the death of Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour. In another AP interview, Gen. John Nicholson said that changes to U.S. targeting authorities in Afghanistan would help the Afghan army to “stay on the offensive”. Nicholson also suggested that the strike on Mansour “had a more profound impact than even we estimated that it would”. On Saturday, the U.S. delivered five MD-530 combat helicopters to the Afghan Air Force, expanding the fleet to 23.
  • Ghani Visits Army Commanders: During a visit to Nangarhar province on Friday, Pres. Ghani met with commanders of the 201st Selab Army Corps, ordering them to take action to prepare for a “decisive battle” to “eliminate Daesh in the east”. Ghani also met with displaced residents of the Kot district. Meshrano Jirga speaker Zahir Qadir met with tribal elders in Nangarhar on Sunday, pledging support for operations against ISIS fighters in the province. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Civilian Casualties: The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission released a report on Saturday, documenting civilian casualties over the previous solar year that ended March 21. The AIHRC reported a 17% increase in overall casualties, with 3,129 civilians killed and 6,302 injured. Separately, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 149,000 Afghans had been displaced from their homes during the first six months of this year, with Baghlan one of the worst-hit provinces.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Provincial security officials in Kunduz reported that they repelled a coordinated Taliban offensive in the Qala Zal district on Monday; TOLO quotes anonymous provincial council officials who report that the Taliban have taken control of several villages. Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpost in Badghis’ Jund district on Sunday; at least nine were killed. Three Afghan Red Crescent aid workers were freed in Sar-e-Pul on Saturday after being kidnapped in the Sayad district earlier last week. Helmand provincial officials report that Afghan Air Force airstrikes in Marjah and outside the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah killed 20 Taliban fighters on Sunday. Nangarhar provincial officials reported that six Daesh fighters were killed in a U.S. drone strike in the Achin district on Sunday. The Pakistani press reports that five Pakistani nationals were killed in a NATO airstrike in Helmand on Friday that targeted a drug-running convoy; as many as thirty people were reportedly killed in all. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Pakistan: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan on Saturday, discussing the drone strike that killed Umar Mansour, the TTP commander whose splinter faction carried out the December 2014 attack on the army public school in Peshawar. Prime Minister Sharif is reported to have thanked Pres. Ghani for the strike, which was carried out by U.S. forces but which Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal claimed had been directed by Ghani. [Dawn] [ET] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Makes Personal Calls to Families of Slain Afghan Security Forces [NYT]
  • Taliban Disavow Interference in Central Asia [Khaama Press]
  • Investigations into Wardak Police Chief’s Alleged Taliban Ties Moving Slowly [TOLO]
  • Vice President Danish Pledges Counter-Narcotics Efforts [TOLO]
  • Kabul Mayor Pledges to Reclaim Dues, Take Action Against Land Theft [TOLO]
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