Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Celebrates Independence Day; Abdullah Reiterates Criticisms of Ghani

Topline

  • Pakistan commemorated its 70th Independence Day on Sunday; Prime Minister Sharif dedicated his remarks “to the freedom of Kashmir”. Prime Minister Modi accused Pakistan of “encouraging cross-border terrorism” in Kashmir in remarks on Friday; Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz suggested that Pakistan was preparing to write to India to seek the resumption of dialogue on Kashmir and other issues, but India’s foreign ministry rebuffed the suggestion, saying Pakistan would have to revolve concerns over terrorism first. Abdullah Abdullah met with supporters on Saturday and Sunday, reiterating his criticisms of Pres. Ghani for failing to uphold the terms of the national unity government agreement; a planned meeting between the two leaders on Saturday did not take place, and in separate remarks Ghani was obliquely critical of Abdullah. A spokesman for Ghani was more direct, saying that Abdullah’s remarks were “in contradiction to the spirit and morale of the governance… [the] national unity government will move ahead as a collection, serious discussions will be held on his remarks in the near future.” On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed the death of Hafiz Saeed Khan, the leader of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Wilayat in Afghanistan and Pakistan; ISIS has not yet confirmed his death, but the WSJ reports that an Afghan commander from Logar, Haseeb Logari, has been named Khan’s replacement. Afghan security forces continue to struggle to defend the Helmand provincial capital against a Taliban offensive in surrounding districts; the provincial police chief was wounded in a roadside bombing on Sunday. The Taliban are also reported to have attacked two districts in Baghlan, taking over some checkposts. At a meeting on Friday with top military commanders, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif reiterated concerns over the government’s “lack of progress” in implementing the National Action Plan against terrorism, and said that criticisms of the security agencies was “distracting and inciting”. The military conducted raids on the outskirts of Lahore on Saturday, as well as search operations and arrests in Karachi, Rawalpindi, and other parts of the country. The WSJ reports a deputy to Taliban splinter group leader Mullah Mohammad Rasool has reconciled with the main Taliban faction led by Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada; a spokesman for the Rasool faction has not confirmed the reports. Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed the return of all members of a Punjab government helicopter crew who crashed in Afghanistan earlier this month and were held by Taliban fighters. In a press conference on Friday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan indicated that detained U.S. national Matthew Barret was “not a spy” and would be deported in the coming few days. The PTI will also bring a petition for Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification from office to the national assembly speaker, in parallel with an Election Commission petition seeking the same action, and in response to a move by PML-N legislators seeking Imran Khan’s disqualification last week.

Pakistan – Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: A meeting of the Pakistan Bar Council passed a resolution on Saturday demanding that the federal and Balochistan provincial governments bring those responsible for last Monday’s attack in Quetta to justice by August 19, or face a demonstration outside parliament. On Friday – following a two day-long review of internal security by top civilian and military officials – Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif held another meeting of senior military aides, and was quoted afterwards expressing concern that the “lack of progress” on the National Action Plan against terrorism “is affecting the consolidation phase of Operation Zarb-i-Azb”. In Friday’s meeting and those that preceded it, military officials are also reported to have pushed back at criticism of the security agencies by some government coalition partners, describing those remarks as “distracting and inciting”. Military officials are reported to have raised concerns over the expiration of the Protection of Pakistan Act last month, as well as the continued objections of the PML-N and PPP to conducting paramilitary operations in Punjab and Sindh. On Saturday, military raids on the outskirts of Lahore reportedly led to the arrest of 11 terrorist suspects, including two members of the TTP’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar splinter faction. Search operations and arrests also took place in Karachi, Rawalpindi, and the Khyber Agency, among other locations around the country. Meanwhile, PPP leaders continue to spar with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, accusing him of failing to uphold law and order in the country; speaking at a press conference on Friday, Chaudhry Nisar said that he was being targeted by the PPP due to ongoing investigations against aides to the party’s leadership. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • U.S. National to Be Deported: Speaking at Friday’s press conference, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said that a Joint Investigation Team had confirmed that detained U.S. national Matthew Barret “is not a spy”, and said that he would be deported within the next two to three days. At least three officials who cleared Barret for entry to the country remain under investigation. Dawn publishes an extended excerpts from Barret’s testimony to interrogators, describing his previous expulsion from the country.
  • Sindh Preparing to Cancel Arms Licenses: Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has reportedly directed the home secretary to revoke as many as 540,000 arms licenses whose bearers had not applied for a reverification process that has been underway for the past three years.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Pakistan Commemorates Independence Day: Pakistan marked its 70th Independence Day on Sunday, with ceremonies held around the country and at the country’s embassies in New Delhi and Kabul, among other venues. Security was tight on the occasion, with processions and public gatherings banned in Islamabad, and the use of fireworks or display of arms banned for the next two month period. Cell phone service was also shut down in most major cities. In his address to the country, Prime Minister Sharif dedicated the celebrations “to the freedom of Kashmir”, saying that “nowadays the spirit of independence in Occupied Kashmir is at its peak”. Former Pres. Zardari issued a statement on the occasion as well, in which he “reiterate[d] our rejection of attempts by some to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state”. Indian and Pakistan troops exchanged sweets on the occasion at the Wagah border crossing, but are also reported to have exchanged fire across the Line of Control early Sunday morning near Rawalkot; no casualties were reported. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Tensions with India: Speaking at Independence Day celebrations on Sunday, Pakistan’s ambassador to New Delhi Abdul Basit said that “Pakistan will continue to extend full diplomatic, political and moral support to the valiant people of Jammu and Kashmir till they get their right to self-determination”. In an address to India’s parliament on Friday, Prime Minister Modi accused Pakistan of encouraging “cross-border terrorism” in Kashmir, which he described as the “root cause of unrest” in the region; on Sunday, Modi suggested that Pakistan’s government was “inspired by terrorism”. On Friday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan would extend an invitation to India for dialogue on Kashmir; India’s foreign ministry responded that Pakistan must address “incitement to violence and terrorism across the border, parading of internationally recognised terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin, and sincere follow up on the Mumbai attack trial and the Pathankot attack investigation” before talks could be held. Pakistan’s foreign secretary formally extended the invitation nonetheless on Monday. India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is also reported to have raised concerns with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi over China’s blocking of UN sanctions against Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, as well as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects in Kashmir, in a meeting on Saturday. In his remarks, Aziz also suggested that Afghan and Indian intelligence had previously backed the TTP Jamaat ul Ahrar, allegations that were echoed by Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Aamir Riaz in a separate interview with journalists on Friday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Opposition Protests and Other Political Activity: Following a move last week by PML-N legislators to seek Imran Khan’s disqualification from election to the national assembly through a petition to Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the PTI now also plans to bring a petition against Prime Minister Sharif, in parallel to its separate petitions to the Election Commission seeking the same action. Imran Khan addressed a rally of supporters in Islamabad on Sunday, saying that next year would be a “real independence day” from the PML-N’s rule, and claiming that Prime Minister Sharif had offered an extension and promotion to field marshal rank to Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif because “he fears him; [PM Sharif] has all other institutions under his control”. In an interview with the Express Tribune, Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir ul Qadri claimed that unnamed “foreign emissaries” and relatives to the prime minister and Punjab chief minister had requested that he not press charges against the Sharifs in response to the 2014 deaths of 14 PAT activists in a clash with Lahore police. [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Russia is reportedly seeking a $1.25 per unit transmission fee for a liquefied natural gas pipeline linking Karachi and Lahore that will be constructed by the energy firm RT Global Resources at a cost of $2 billion, of which Pakistan will provide 15% of the financing. The Russian firm faces US sanctions, which the ministry of law sought to avoid through the creation of a local shell company. In Sindh, compressed natural gas distributors have reportedly agreed to call off a strike, after the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority agreed to meet with them on August 16; CNG distributors are seeking to sell at deregulated prices, after a three-year price hike freeze. [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • PIA ‘Premier Service’ Inaugurated: On Sunday, Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated the first flight of “PIA Premier”, a new luxury air service for the national carrier. Routes to London and China are planned, using newly-leased aircraft from Sri Lanka. [APP] [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Pakistan Has More Glaciers Than Almost Anywhere on Earth; But They Are at Risk [WAPO]
  • PAT Challenges Prevention of Electronic Crimes Law in Lahore High Court [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Leadership Again Offers Talks to Separatist Leaders [Dawn]
  • 15,000-Man Special Security Division Formed to Protect CPEC Projects [Dawn]
  • Axact CEO Granted Bail after 15 Months [Dawn] [ET]
  • Prime Minister Inaugurates Shorkot-Kanewal Motorway [ET]
  • ANP Leader Warns Against Threats to Provincial Autonomy [Dawn]
  • ADB Considering Three-Year, $6 Billion Loan Program [ET]
  • Sindh Leaders Inaugurate Karachi Water Project [Dawn]
  • WAPDA Chairman Reiterates Support for Kalabagh Dam [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Who Will Be the Next Army Chief? – “In the build-up to the appointment of the next army chief, all candidates appear to be evenly poised and there are no clear front-runners.” [Baqir Sajjad Syed, Dawn]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Islamic State Khorasan Commander Reportedly Killed: On Friday, Pentagon spokesmen said that they had confirmed that Hafiz Saeed Khan, the chief of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Wilayat encompassing Afghanistan and Pakistan, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike on July 26 in Nangarhar’s Achin district. Afghan officials had reported his death last week, which ISIS has not yet publicly confirmed. Afghan officials tell the WSJ that Haseeb Logari, an Afghan national from Logar province, had been named as Khan’s successor, but provided few other details. Another U.S. drone strike was reported in Achin on Saturday, killing at least two. In a separate report, Afghan officials in Zabul province tell the AP that a group of ISIS loyalists, including Uzbek, Chechen, and Arab fighters displaced from Waziristan last year, have formed a training camp in Zabul’s Khak-e-Afghan district, alleging that the group communicates directly with the central ISIS leadership in Syria and Iraq. A spokesman for the U.S. coalition downplayed those reports, however, saying that “we believe [ISIS] is still primarily in two districts of southern Nangarhar, with a very small presence in Kunar province”. [NYT] [Khaama Press] [Reuters]
  • Helmand Under Siege: Afghan special forces have been deployed on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah as part of an effort to repel a Taliban offensive in surrounding districts; in NYT interviews, regular army and police commanders trade blame for ceding territory to the Taliban, and officials report that the force has been hollowed out by local narcotics traffickers seeking to gain control of key checkposts and desertions. The Times reports that many senior generals have been directly involved in leading troops in the area; the provincial police chief and two bodyguards were wounded in a roadside bombing on Sunday. The Garmser district center fell under Taliban control on Saturday, but was later retaken on Sunday. The U.S. has carried out approximately 30 airstrikes in Helmand since July 29, coalition officials tell the LAT, which quotes the deputy army chief and deputy interior minister acknowledging “a lack of fighting abilities” among soldiers and police. The Post reports at least 18,000 families have fled outlying districts to resettle in the provincial capital; on Friday, Doctors Without Borders warned that “one in four patients are unable to reach our emergency room” in Lashkar Gah. A spokesman for the provincial governor insisted that the situation was “normal” and “under control”.  [TOLO] [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
  • Taliban Splinter Faction Leaders Reconcile: On Sunday, the Taliban announced that a top deputy to splinter faction commander Mullah Mohammad Rasool, Mullah Baz Mohammad Haris, had agreed to rejoin the main Taliban movement led by Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada, along with a Rasool-affiliated commander in Uruzgan province. Spokesmen for the Rasool faction have not commented on the report; Rasool himself is believed to have been detained in Pakistan earlier this spring.
  • Pakistani Helicopter Crew Returns: Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed the return to Islamabad on Saturday of five Pakistanis and one Russian crew member of a Punjab government helicopter that crashed in Logar province earlier this month; a spokesman for the ministry said that initial reports that seven people were onboard the craft were incorrect, and that all passengers had been accounted for. The release was attributed to an “inter-tribal exchange”, without naming the Taliban, and further details were not provided; the Express Tribune reports that a Taliban commander in Logar released the crew to Kurram Agency officials on Saturday, and that they had previously been held by fighters affiliated with Sirajuddin Haqqani.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: At least two people were wounded when a bomb planted on a civilian vehicle detonated in Kabul on Monday; there are conflicting accounts as to whether a third victim, an ANA officer, was also wounded. Kunduz officials report that at least 21 Taliban fighters were killed in operations in the Imam Sahib district on Saturday. The Taliban attacked multiple police checkposts in Baghlan’s Baghlan-e-Markazi district over Saturday night, killing at least nine officers. A Baghlan provincial council officials tells Khaama Press that the Taliban took control of the Dahana-e-Ghori district on Sunday; the provincial police chief disputed that account but confirmed that an Afghan Local Police commander and four militiamen were killed and at least two police stations taken over. The deputy provincial police chief tells Reuters that Afghan forces made a “tactical retreat” from the district, after fighting without reinforcements for several days. On Friday, protestors in the Khenjan district of Baghlan blocked the Kabul-Mazar highway, protesting the siege of a unit of roughly 200 police in Paktia’s Jani Khil district for the past ten days. In Badakhshan, the district governor of Baharak district reports that the Taliban control at least 17 villages. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • National Unity Government Divisions Continue: Following remarks last week in which he accused Pres. Ghani of failing to uphold the terms of the national unity government agreement and failing to consult him on key government decisions, Chief Executive Abdullah met with top allies on Saturday, including Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani, former defense minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, and former NDS chief Amrullah Saleh, among others. In another meeting with supporters on Sunday, Abdullah reiterated that “our demand is the implementation of the political agreement”. The Post notes that in an interview conducted last Tuesday, Abdullah had played down differences with Ghani. A planned meeting between Abdullah and Ghani did not take place on Saturday. Publicly, Ghani has only responded obliquely to Abdullah’s remarks; TOLO quotes him telling a gathering on Friday that “the one who follows negative interests will not believe in me, I also do not believe him”, adding that he did not have a “political family” of his own. A spokesman for Ghani said Friday that Abdullah’s remarks were “in contradiction to the spirit and morale of the governance… [the] national unity government will move ahead as a collection, serious discussions will be held on his remarks in the near future.” Speaking at a gathering of Afghanistan’s Youth Parliament on Sunday, Ghani said that “leadership comes when you have a plan, this is not leadership to have reactions, leadership can’t be the reactionary, the leadership requires that you must evaluate the issues thoroughly”. Separately, on Saturday, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Norway Manizha Bakhtari resigned, protesting what she described as “monopolization, discriminatory policies and nepotism by the president and his colleagues”. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Economics and Development

  • Investment Contracts: Afghanistan Investment Support Agency officials report a 26% drop in the registration of new companies since the national unity government took office in September 2014, and investment over the two-year period totaled roughly $1 billion, compared to $2.2 billion during the two years that preceded it. Major investment contractions were reported in the mining, construction, and energy sectors.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Young People Don’t See a Future in Afghanistan, So They’re Leaving [WAPO]
  • ‘Acting’ Positions Remain in Place Two Years On [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Taliban in the North: Gaining Ground Along the Ring Road in Baghlan – “The Taleban have started to close in on the Baghlan-Balkh highway by establishing mobile checkpoints in their search for members of the ANSF, as well as to establish a permanent presence in the area.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]
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