Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: 53 Killed in Quetta Hospital Bombing; Ghani Orders Investigation into Logar Helicopter Crash

Topline

  • At least 53 people were killed when a suicide bomber struck a crowd of lawyers at the Quetta Civil Hospital on Monday, who had gathered to mourn the death of the Baloch bar association president, who was killed in a driveby shooting the day prior. No claim of responsibility has been reported for either attack. Pakistan has arrested a U.S. man, identified as Matthew Barret, who was previously expelled from the country in 2011 on spying charges; an interior ministry statement on Monday contradicted that reported, however, and said that it “would be premature” to describe him as a spy. Pres. Ghani has ordered an investigation into the crash of a Pakistani helicopter in Logar province; Taliban sources say they are in talks with Pakistan for the crew’s release, although a TTP faction also claimed to be holding the men. Two American University in Afghanistan professors, one American and the other Australian, were kidnapped near the university campus in Kabul on Sunday evening. Imran Khan kicked off the PTI’s nationwide accountability protest campaign in Peshawar on Sunday; the PML-N’s Khyber Paktunkhwa chapter staged a counter-protest, and on Friday the PML-N sought Khan’s disqualification from office in response to opposition petitions seeking the same of Prime Minister Sharif. Taliban fighters seized control of portions of the Nad Ali district near the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah; the AP reports that a Taliban commando unit has been leading operations in the province. The WSJ reports that the Taliban and the Islamic State have reached a “patchwork ceasefire” in Nangarhar, as each focuses on repelling the Afghan government’s U.S.-backed offensive. Hezb-e-Islami leader Ghairat Baheer tells TOLO that he will lead a delegation to Kabul this week to revive peace talks with the Afghan High Peace Council. Prime Minister Sharif met with Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Friday for talks focused on energy issues.

Pakistan – Security

  • Dozens Killed in Quetta Hospital Bombing: At least 53 people were killed on Monday when a suicide bomber detonated amidst a crowd of lawyers outside the Quetta Civil Hospital who were mourning the head of the provincial bar association, who had been killed in a driveby shooting the day prior. No claim of responsibility has been reported for bar association president Bilal Anwar Kasi’s murder, or for the bombing on Monday; Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri blamed India’s RAW intelligence agency. Prime Minister Sharif condemned the attack, and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif met with victims later in the day; the prime minister has also traveled to the city. The Pakistan Bar Council called for a nationwide strike on Tuesday, to be followed by a week of mourning. [WSJ] [Reuters]
  • American Citizen Arrested: On Saturday, Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency officials reported the arrest of Matthew Barret, an American citizen who had previously been arrested and expelled from the country in 2011 on charges of spying on the country’s nuclear facilities. Barret was reported to have arrived by airplane using forged documents, and has been charged with violating immigration law; several officials at the Islamabad airport and the Houston consulate, where he obtained a visa, are under investigation or suspension. U.S. officials have not commented on the arrest; prior to his expulsion in 2011, Barret had claimed to have been living with a Pakistani wife and two children. An interior ministry statement on Monday said that “it would be premature” to describe Barret as a spy, and said he had not been expelled for spying in 2011. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Drone Strikes: Following an ACLU lawsuit, the U.S. government released a redacted policy document that sets out guidelines for how the United States’ covert drone program selects and approves targets in Pakistan and other countries, which includes a process of legal and National Security Council review, prior to presidential approval. [Reuters] [ACLU]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • PTI Kicks Off Protest Campaign: Imran Khan headlined a rally of PTI supporters in Peshawar on Sunday, launching what the party has described as a nationwide accountability campaign against the government. PTI legislators also plan to push the issue of investigations into the Panama Papers in the Public Accounts Committee. On Saturday, Pakistan Awami Tehreek activists led by Tahir-ul-Qadri launched sit-in protests in Lahore and several other cities across Punjab, demanding accountability for the deaths of 14 PAT activists in Lahore in 2014. On Friday, Prime Minister Sharif met with leaders of the National Party, Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party, and JUI-F, seeking to secure their continued support. Also on Friday, the PML-N filed a petition with National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, seeking Imran Khan’s disqualification from office; Khan dismissed the move, which follows petitions by the PTI and other opposition parties to the Election Commission, seeking Sharif’s disqualification. PML-N sources tell the Express Tribune that the party may also seek a parliamentary investigation into Khan’s charitable activities. The PML-N’s Khyber Paktunkhwa chapter held its own protest on Sunday against the PTI provincial government. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • MQM Protests: Speaking on Saturday, MQM leaders concluded a two-day hunger strike outside the Karachi Press Club, and criticized the continued detention of mayoral candidate Waseem Akhtar, alleging he was being held solely responsible for May 12, 2007 riots. On Sunday, MQM party worker Mohammad Waheed died after being hospitalized last month, which the party said was due to torture and ill treatment while imprisoned. [ET]
  • Pakistani Delegation Visits Tehran: Foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry led a Pakistani delegation to Tehran on Saturday for meetings with Iran’s deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Rahimpour; the Pakistani foreign ministry reported afterwards that “it was agreed that close cooperation was needed in countering extremism and terrorism, especially the threat posed by organisations such as Da’ish”. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah met with PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Saturday to finalize the remainder of the provincial cabinet; nine ministers and ten special advisors were sworn in on Sunday; the portfolios of home minister and finance minister have yet to be appointed. A nine-member cabinet was sworn in on Saturday for the Azad Jammu and Kashmir government, all of them PML-N legislators. The PPP is reportedly planning to complete work on a leadership shakeup of its Punjab chapter by the end of the month. [ET] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah met with Prime Minister Sharif on Friday, and told reporters afterwards that he had pushed for the supply of additional coal-based electrical power and natural gas, as well as permission for the province to import liquefied natural gas and funding for renewable energy sources, among other measures. Sharif chaired a meeting on Saturday to review the status of new electricity production projects. Dawn notes that unpaid dues to the power sector have risen by Rs 253.69 billion during the three years of the PML-N’s tenure to date; the ministry of water and power reports that recovery rates have increased, however, from 89.58% to 94.45%. Protests were held in Sukkur on Friday over continued power outages. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Trade with Turkey: Pakistani officials taking part in free trade talks with Turkey last month have sought an elimination of tariff duties on around 35% of existing tariff lines, the Express Tribune reports; further negotiations are planned by the end of August.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Prime Minister Calls for Medical and Humanitarian Organizations to Aid Indian Kashmir [Dawn] [ET] [APP] [ET]
  • Congressional Delegation Visit to North Waziristan Planned [Dawn]
  • Punjab Government Plans Amendments to Criminal Procedure Code [Dawn]
  • ‘Move On Pakistan’ Chief Remanded to Police Custody [Dawn] [ET]
  • Hindu Doctor Killed in Karachi [Dawn]
  • IHC Grants Government Extension in Challenge Against Closure of PakTurk Schools [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Activist Lawyer Asma Jahangir Calls for Rights for Gilgit-Baltistan Residents [ET]
  • LHC Calls for ‘Restructuring’ of Lahore Development Authority [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Pakistani Helicopter Crash: In a statement on Saturday, Pres. Ghani’s office said that he had ordered an investigation into the crash of a Pakistan Mi-17 transport helicopter in Logar province that occurred the day prior, including a direction to officials to confirm that the helicopter’s identity matched that of one whose transit to Uzbekistan for repairs had previously been approved by the Civil Aviation Authority. Pakistan’s chief military spokesman refuted reports on Saturday that one of the occupants of the helicopter was a son-in-law of Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif met with families of some of the crew members on Friday, pledging to take action for their safe return. An anonymous Taliban commander told Dawn that the crew members “are in safe hands” and that the Taliban are in direct contact with Pakistani officials regarding their return. Qari Saifullah Mehsud, a leader of a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction, claimed to be holding the group in Logar, and claimed that his fighters had come under attack from another Pakistani helicopter; TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani denied that report. [TOLO] [ET] [ET]
  • American University Professors Kidnapped: Two American University in Afghanistan professors, one American and the other Australian, were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen near the university’s Kabul campus on Sunday evening, Kabul police reported; an Afghan colleague and driver were left unharmed. No claim of responsibility has been reported, and the identities of the hostages have not been disclosed; the U.S. embassy said that it was “working closely with Afghan law enforcement and security colleagues and AUAF to assist in the investigation into the kidnapping”, and the Australian embassy reiterated warnings against travel to Afghanistan. [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Helmand Operations: Officials in Helmand’s Nad Ali District report that the Chan Anjir area has fallen under Taliban control, potentially endangering the capital of Lashkar Gah; reinforcements have been dispatched to retake the area. Provincial council officials claim that hundreds of Afghan security forces personnel have been killed in the past week’s fighting, although those figures have not been confirmed. The Helmand-Kandahar highway is also reported to be blocked for the past four days. The AP attributes Taliban gains in Helmand to a new unit of elite fighters, which a Taliban source confirms, putting the number at 200-300 men. In comments to TOLO on Sunday, Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, the head of military operations in Helmand, said that “if the government – despite having a large number of forces and alongside the presence of foreign forces – cannot curb the war, this indicates government’s weakness”. [TOLO]
  • Nangarhar Operations: The WSJ reports that the Taliban and Islamic State in Nangarhar have reached a “patchwork ceasefire” in Nangarhar as both focus on regrouping against the U.S.-backed Afghan government offensive against their forces; the degree to which such cooperation constitutes a negotiated alliance is unclear. Ministry of Defense officials reported on Sunday that six ISIS-affiliated fighters were killed in an airstrike in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Sunday; on Saturday, the army’s 201st Selab Corps reported that 21 fighters had been killed in ground operations. ISIS forces on Nangarhar released images on Saturday purported to show seized military equipment belonging to a U.S. soldier, including an ID card; the NATO Resolute Support mission said that he was accounted for and on duty with his unit, however. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: TOLO reports an increase in civilian deaths in Afghanistan in July, with 192 reportedly killed, an increase of 82% from the previous month. Two roadside bombings in Paktia on Friday killed at least ten civilians. An Afghan Local Police commander was reportedly killed in a clash with Taliban fighters on the outskirts of the Laghman provincial capital of Mehtarlam on Sunday. Five Kabul police officers were killed in a roadside bombing on Friday evening. Afghan army officials claim to have killed at least 40 Taliban fighters in an airstrike in Kunduz’s Imam Saheb district on Saturday, including two Taliban shadow governors. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hezb-e-Islami Talks: Hezb-e-Islami leader Ghairat Baheer told TOLO on Saturday that negotiations between the government and the Hezb-e-Islami, which stalled in June, “will be resumed from the point it had stopped” and that “we hope that these talks yield an outcome and the accord is finalized”. Baheer will reportedly visit Kabul this week for further talks with High Peace Council representatives.
  • Electoral Reforms: A spokesman for Pres. Ghani told Ariana News on Sunday that a new executive order on electoral reforms would be issued prior to the donors conference taking place in Brussels in October. RFE/RL reports on disputes over a proposal by Chief Executive Abdullah to distribute national ID cards that do not reference the bearer’s ethnicity and religion, and a separate “booklet” that would hold such information.
  • Iran Talks: National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar met with Iran’s foreign minister and interior minister in Tehran on Saturday. On Sunday, Iran’s interior ministry announced the revival of a joint Iran-Afghan economic commission, chaired on the Afghan side by Finance Minister Eklil Ahmad Hakimi and on the Iranian side by Minister of Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli; meetings are planned in Tehran for August 9-10. [Ariana News]
  • Refugee Repatriation: UNHCR officials report that more than 500 families are returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan daily, up from as few as ten families a day a few months prior. Afghanistan’s Peshawar consul general, Abdullah Wahid Poyan, criticized Pakistani police harassment of Afghan refugees.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Badakhshan Officials to Form ‘Special Unit’ to Deter Illegal Mining [TOLO]
  • Government Critics Call for Investigation Against Former Wardak and Helmand Police Chiefs [TOLO]
  • Finance Ministry Approves Public Financial Management Reform Document [TOLO]
  • Kandahar Police Chief Bans Use of Pakistani Rupee [AP] [TOLO]
  • Herat Court Sentences 14 to Death on Kidnapping and Murder Charges [TOLO]
  • More Than 65% of Paktia Schools Lack Buildings [TOLO]
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