Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PTI and PAT Hold Protests; Ghani Reiterates Reform Pledges

Topline

  • Imran Khan headlined a PTI protest in Lahore on Saturday, as Tahir-ul Qadri led a parallel protest in Rawalpindi. Both parties have announced plans to continue their protests after the upcoming Eid-ul-Azha holidays. Pakistan’s Federal Board of Revenue has finally issued notices to individuals named in the Panama Papers, seeking a response on those individuals’ alleged overseas assets. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are reported to have formed a “joint group” to resolve disputes over the implementation of the national unity government agreement, although details are otherwise limited. Ghani chaired a meeting of the Special Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board on Sunday, held ahead of an October donors conference taking place in Brussels, in which he reiterated the government’s commitment to political reforms and anti-corruption efforts. MQM party offices in Karachi continue to be shut, and nearly 70 have been demolished on charges of illegal land encroachment. At a press conference on Friday, Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan accused the Khyber Paktunkhwa government of failing to coordinate with the federal government on counterterrorism efforts. A double bombing was reported in Kabul on Monday, but details are limited as of this writing. Taliban fighters are reported to have taken control of several villages in Paktia’s Omna district. A July cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sharif reportedly approved the negotiation of a defense agreement with China. Al Qaeda has claimed to have exchanged former Chief of Army Staff Kayani’s son for the release of two of Ayman al Zawahiri’s daughters and a third woman; Kayani’s son’s kidnapping had not previously been reported and other sources have not confirmed the claims. Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority ordered a shutdown of operations by Safi Airlines, the country’s largest private airline, charging it with Afs 1.15 billion in unpaid taxes.

Pakistan – Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the four attackers who targeted the Peshawar Christian Colony neighborhood were foreigners who entered Pakistan through the FATA. Chaudhry Nisar accused the Khyber Paktunkhwa government of negligence in preventing that attack and a bombing that targeted a Mardan district courthouse, saying that the federal government had issued warnings but that provincial officials had not coordinated with them on security concerns. On Sunday, one police officer was killed in a roadside bombing in Peshawar; no claim of responsibility has been reported. Meanwhile, the Punjab government has requested a decision from the federal government on the transfer of 67 cases that were sent to special courts created under the Protection of Pakistan Act, which expired in July. National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua has formed a special committee to review terrorism prosecutions; the first meeting, chaired by Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali, is due to be held Monday. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Khaama Press]
  • China Defense Agreement: The Express Tribune reports that a July 15 cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sharif following his return from London gave approval for the negotiation with China of a “long-term defense agreement”. The report does not detail specifics of a such an agreement or give an indication of the degree to which negotiations may have begun or progressed, though it notes Pakistani concern over the recently-announced US-India defense logistics agreement.
  • Al Qaeda Claims Hostage Swap for Gen. Kayani’s Son: A new Al Qaeda web magazine released in late August claims that two of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri’s daughters and a third woman were released in exchange for the freeing of former Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s son, the Long War Journal reports. Kayani’s son’s kidnapping had not previously been reporting and no Pakistani news outlets have reported the claim, which remains otherwise unconfirmed.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Protests: Roadblocks were set up in Rawalpindi and Lahore on Saturday morning in anticipation of protest rallies planned by the PAT and PTI, shutting down large sections of the cities; at least 5,000 police officers were deployed in Lahore to provide security. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid claimed that the shutdown cost Rs 4 billion in losses; the PTI accused the government of seeking to deter participation. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah warned of threats to the gathering and called for it to be postponed until after Eid ul Azha, but the demonstrations continued regardless. Speaking to supporters in Lahore on Saturday, Imran Khan threatened that he would lead a protest march on Prime Minister Sharif’s residence in Raiwind after Eid if Sharif did not address questions regarding his family’s alleged offshore wealth. Khan also accused the National Accountability Bureau, the Election Commission, and the Federal Board of Revenue of failing to hold Sharif accountable and working as the PML-N’s “B team”. On Saturday, the FBR is report to have issued notices to approximately 600 individuals named in the Panama Papers, seeking reports on their alleged overseas assets; the Public Accounts Committee has summoned NAB, FBR, Federal Investigation Agency, and State Bank of Pakistan officials for hearings on Sep 8 on the Panama Papers. Khan has reportedly cancelled his Haj plans and PTI sources tell Dawn that the party will intensify its protest movement after Eid. Speaking at his parallel rally on Saturday in Rawalpindi, Tahir ul Qadri again accused Sharif of working as an “Indian agent” and alleged that recent terrorist attacks had been carried out to distract from the anti-government protests. Separately, the Jamaat-e-Islami appealed the Supreme Court’s rejection of its petition demanding an inquiry into the Panama Papers leaks. Prime Minister Sharif, meanwhile, continued to tout his government’s infrastructure investments and brush off critics, inaugurating a Lahore bypass on Friday and a coal power plant in Faisalabad on Saturday. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM in Turmoil: At least nine more MQM party offices were razed in Karachi on Friday and Saturday; the Express Tribune puts the total at 69 so far, with 232 offices still sealed. At a press conference on Sunday, party leader Farooq Sattar called for an end to the crackdown, and for the deployment of the army to provide security during upcoming by-elections for the PS-127 constituency. At least three inmates at the Karachi Central Jail were injured in a clash on Saturday between factions apparently affiliated with the MQM and the Pak Sarzameen Party; jail officials denied that account. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah is reported to have departed on Saturday for a meeting with PPP leaders in Dubai to discuss the political situation in the city. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms: The Express Tribune reports that Minister for State and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch has objected to the government’s FATA Reforms Committee’s recommendations; the final draft of those recommendations is reported not to have included proposals to merge FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa, and the question of financing for the area is also reported to remain disputed.
  • Tensions with Bangladesh: Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Saturday saying that it was “deeply saddened” by the execution in Bangladesh of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Mir Quasem Ali on war crimes charges related to the country’s 1971 war of independence, the sixth such leader to be executed since tribunals were opened in 2010. Bangladesh protested Pakistan’s statement, saying that “by repeatedly taking the side of those Bangladesh nationals who are convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide, Pakistan has once again acknowledged its direct involvement and complicity with the mass atrocity crimes committed”. The Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan has announced a sit-in protest in Islamabad to be held on Sep 8, accusing the PML-N of being “criminally silent” on the issue. [Dawn]
  • Refugee Repatriation: UNHCR officials report that over 91,000 Afghan refugees have returned to their home country from Pakistan under the UN’s voluntary repatriation program between Jan 1 and Sep 2, up from approximately 58,000 last year.

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Energy Infrastructure: The commercial operations of two re-gasified LNG power plants currently under construction near Kasur and Jhang will be delayed by at least five months over delays in the delivery of two GE gas turbines, Dawn reports. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah met with the head of the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company on Friday; legal challenges brought by communities near the company’s mining site in Thar could delay the project’s 2019 start of operations and force it rely on imported coal, officials warned. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • JUI-F Objects to Sindh Seminary Registration Bill [ET] [ET]
  • Suspects Acquitted in Lahore Church Attack [ET]
  • Helicopter Search for Missing American Mountaineers Suspended [AFP] [Reuters]
  • Supreme Court Criticizes NAB Use of Plea Agreements [Dawn]
  • Asma Jahangir-Linked Group Wins Pakistan Bar Council Elections [ET]
  • ECP Reiterates Requirement for Parties to Report Assets [Dawn]
  • Mengal Likens CPEC to Kalabagh Dam [Dawn]
  • FATA Disaster Management Authority Seeks 25,000 Tents for Returning IDPs [Dawn]
  • PNSC Vessels Still Face Threat of Arrest [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Sets August 2017 Goal for Opening of New Islamabad Airport [Dawn]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Attacks and Operations: A double bombing took place in Kabul on Monday afternoon, near the Ministry of Defense; details are limited as of this writing. Taliban fighters are reported to have taken control of several villages in Paktika’s Omna district in fighting on Sunday morning; details are otherwise limited. Residents and officials in Paktia’s Janikhel district accuse the government of failing to reinforce positions there; a spokesman for the provincial governor said that investigations were underway into its collapse to a Haqqani network force in late August. Taliban fighters attacked a military base in Baghlan’s Pul-e-Hashim Khan area on Sunday, but were repelled by army forces. On Monday, Afghan Air Force officials said they had killed 13 Daesh militants in airstrikes in Nangarhar’s Achin district over the past 24 hours; Ministry of Interior officials reported the death of 11 suspected militants in airstrikes in Kandahar’s Khak Riz district on Saturday. On Saturday, the NDS announced the arrest of a man identified as a coordinator of suicide bombing operations in Faryab; on Sunday, Kabul police arrested four would-be suicide bombers. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Taliban Protest Death Sentence: In a statement on Saturday, the Taliban protested a death sentence issued last week for Anas Haqqani, the brother of commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, saying “there are no legal grounds on which the death sentence could ever be awarded to Anas Haqqani.”
  • Ministry of Defense Rejects Charge Officer Ranks Being Sold: Speaking in an interview last week, EU Ambassador to Afghanistan Franz-Michael Mellbin suggested that Afghanistan’s security forces were top-heavy with generals who had purchased their positions; a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense denied the charge and said “anyone who gets the General, Officer or Sergeant ranks must fulfill the requirements.”

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Reform Pledges: Pres. Ghani gave a keynote address on Sunday to a meeting of the Special Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, held ahead of an October donors conference taking place in Brussels. Ghani said that the government was “meeting its commitments to the international community to fight corruption, to improve gender equity, and to advance on the road toward self-reliance through economic growth”. Speaking earlier on Friday, Ghani said that the government would continue reform efforts despite the protests of “powerful elements” who had previously benefited from corruption, and contrasted such elements with his view of government as service to the public. The NYT and Post both profile Afghanistan’s attorney general, who acknowledges that he is inheriting an office that had been a “systematic” clearing house for graft by the elite”. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • National Unity Government Divisions: A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah reported Saturday that Pres. Ghani and Abdullah had agreed to form a “joint group” to resolve disputes over electoral reforms and other parts of the unity government agreement, without providing further detail. As noted earlier last week, Vice President Dostum has protested that he is also being marginalized within the unity government, and warned that he would “launch civic activities” if this continued. The LAT provides additional reporting on the disputed reburial of former king Habibullah Kalakani last week. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Regional Tensions: In an RFE/RL interview, National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar says that “Pakistan lied to us” about its efforts to crack down on Taliban leaders who rejected peace talks with the Afghan government, and rejects in turn Pakistani allegations that Pakistani militant groups are sheltering in Afghanistan. The Economic Times reports that Pres. Ghani may visit India this month, at which the Modi government may offer further military assistance. A Taliban spokesman warned that such actions by India “will create distrust between the people of both countries and become a reason for further deterioration of relationship.”
  • Enlightening Movement Vows to Continue Protests: Members of the Enlightening Movement held a rally in Kabul on Friday, marking the 40-day period since a suicide bomber targeted their last major Kabul rally, killing dozens. Demonstrators vowed to continue protests against the government over the re-routing of an electricity transmission line away from Bamiyan.

Afghanistan – Economics and Development

  • Safi Airlines Operations Suspended: On Sunday, the Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority announced that it had suspended the operations of Safi Airlines, Afghanistan’s largest private airline, citing Afs 1.15 billion in unpaid taxes owed to the Ministry of Finance. The shutdown will reportedly take effect from September 6 for domestic flights and September 8 for international flights. [TOLO]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Tax-Exempt NATO and Afghan Military Fuel Sold on Open Market [AFP]
  • Ghani Attends Uzbek President’s Funeral [TOLO]
  • Abdullah Calls on Clerics to Help Boost Literacy [TOLO]
  • Suspect Arrested on Charges of Smuggling Drone Parts to Pakistan [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Attack on the American University in Kabul: Who Did it and Why? – “An increase in the number and influence of those driven by more extremist ideas bodes ill for the protection of civilians and could make the insurgency even more lax on preventing civilian casualties.[AAN]
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