Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Punjab to Deploy Paramilitary Rangers Through Muharram; Taliban Pushed Back from Tirin Kot

Topline

  • The Punjab government, bowing to military pressure, will seek the deployment of paramilitary Rangers to provide additional security; provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah tells Dawn that the deployment will only be for a two-month period between Eid ul Azha and Muharram, and that the Rangers will not receive policing powers comparable to what they have been granted in Sindh. Afghan security officials report that they have pushed Taliban fighters out of the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tirin Kot and established some measure of security in the capital, although Taliban forces continue to encircle parts of the city. U.S. military spokesmen have not confirmed an American role in the city’s defense. The Pentagon acknowledge on Thursday that US Navy SEALs attempted two rescue missions to secure the release of two kidnapped American University of Afghanistan professors in early August; one was cancelled for lack of presidential authorization, and the captives were found not to be present during the second raid, which took place near Jalalabad. The Pakistani federal cabinet approved an extension for registered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan through March 2017, a three-month extension. Vice President Dostum met with Pres. Ghani on Thursday, a week after he had complained that he was being marginalized in government decision-making. Chief Executive Abdullah and other figures commemorated the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud on Thursday. Frontier Works Organization spokesmen report that at least 44 construction workers have been killed in attacks on China Pakistan Economic Corridor-related projects since 2014. The PPP won a vacant Sindh assembly seat previously held by the MQM in elections held Thursday; some violence was reported, and the MQM have protested the results. Construction work began Wednesday on a new rail link connecting Herat city with Iran.

Pakistan – Security

  • Punjab to Deploy Paramilitary Rangers: Dawn reports that the Punjab government plans to formally request the deployment of paramilitary Rangers to support police operations and counterterrorism investigation in the province, a move the PML-N government had previously resisted despite military pressure. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah tells Dawn that the deployment will be limited to a two-month period between Eid ul Azha and Muharram, and that “this is not going to be the Karachi-like deployment of Rangers who have been given policing powers by the Sindh Assembly”.
  • Attacks on CPEC Workers: A spokesman for the military-run Frontier Works Organization told Reuters on Thursday that 44 workers had been killed in separate attacks on projects connected to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor since 2014, the majority of them Pakistani nationals working on road construction projects in Balochistan. The last officially report figures were 25 killed in November 2015.
  • Balochistan Minister’s Son Freed: Asad Tareen, the son of Balochistan local government minister Sardar Mustafa Khan Tareen, was freed on Thursday and recovered from Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah district; he had been kidnapped in Pishin in May. Details of his release have not been reported. [ET]
  • FATA Attacks and Operations: The Pakistani military carried out airstrikes in the Tirah Valley of the Khyber Agency on Friday, which spokesmen claimed killed nine militants. Eight police officers were wounded in a roadside bombing in Peshawar on Thursday, which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for. A woman was killed in an hand grenade attack on the house of a pro-government tribal elder in the Mohmand Agency on Thursday; no claim of responsibility has been reported.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Afghan Refugees’ Stay Extended: On Friday, a federal cabinet meeting approved an extension for the stay of registered Afghan refugees living in Pakistan until the end of March 2017, a three-month extension from the current deadline for repatriation. Around 1.6 million of Pakistan’s estimated three million Afghan refugees are registered. [AP]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: The PPP won a vacant Sindh assembly seat previously held by an MQM legislator who defected to the Pak Sarzameen Pparty in elections held on Thursday. The PPP’s candidate for the PS-127 Malir seat reportedly recurred 22,187 votes, with the MQM winning 15,553 votes and the PTI only 5,580. Turnout was reported at only around 21%, and some violence was reported, including clashes between MQM and MQM-Haqiqi activists and the burning of several cars. MQM leaders protested the results. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations: On Thursday, the National Accountability Bureau approved new corruption investigations against former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and former Sindh information minister Sharjeel Memon. On Thursday, the Supreme Court initiated hearings for later this month on the NAB’s use of plea agreements. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Sargodha NGO Banned: The Express Tribune reports that last week police in Sargodha shut down the offices of the Taang Wasaib Organization, a local NGO working on interfaith and tolerance issues, on charges that the group was involved in unspecified “dubious activity”.

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • NEPRA Cancels Power Generation License for Chinese Project: The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority has cancelled a generation license for a 330 Megawatt coal-powered plant being built by the China Machinery Engineering Corporation in the Jhelum district, after CMEC officials reportedly objected to NEPRA-specified electricity tariffs and the availability of rail infrastructure in the area.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • FIA Tasked with Enforcing ‘Cybercrimes’ Legislation [ET]
  • Foreign Secretary Proposes Partnership with India on Nuclear Security [Dawn]
  • Religious Groups Call for More Sanctions on Ahmadi Minority [ET]
  • Rs 560 Million in Compensation Released for Families of Quetta Hospital Attack Victims [Dawn]
  • Displaced Waziristan Residents Protest Illegal Construction [ET]
  • Prime Minister Pledges to Resolve Exporters’ Concerns [ET]
  • 1.8 Million Children Still Out of School in Balochistan [Dawn]
  • World Bank Cuts Loan for Pakistan Health Sector [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Tirin Kot Under Attack: Afghan special forces and airpower were dispatched from Kabul and Kandahar to shore up the defense of the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tirin Kot on Thursday, which military officials claimed had successfully pushed back a Taliban offensive into the city. A spokesman for the provincial governor claimed that as many as 180 Talibban had been killed in the fighting, although casualty figures vary widely and are not independently confirmed. The provincial police chief denied Taliban claims that they had freed prisoners from the city’s prison, saying detainees had earlier been transferred to the airport. U.S. military spokesmen have not confirmed the presence of any U.S. forces or airpower in the city’s defense, although some accounts report their assistance. As of Friday, the Taliban were reported have been pushed out of the city center but remained present on the outskirts of the city; the ministry of defense reported “sporadic fighting” to the city’s northeast on Friday. [WAPO] [Khaama Press]
  • August Rescue Mission Failed to Secure Hostages: On Thursday, the Pentagon acknowledged that U.S. Navy SEALs led at least two attempted rescue operations to free two American University of Afghanistan professors, one an American and the other Australian, a few days after their kidnapping from Kabul on August 7. The White House initially withheld permission for the first attempt, but cleared the mission the following day; the hostages were not found to be at the site of the raid, which took place near Jalalabad. The two men are believed to be held by the Haqqani network, and their current whereabouts are unknown. [NYT] [WSJ] [Reuters] [AP]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: TOLO reports a bomb planted on a bicycle in the Baghlan-e-Markzai district on Thursday killed at least eight people, including a police officer; Khaama Press describes the incident as a rocket attack instead.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Dostum and Ghani Meet: Vice President Dostum met with Pres. Ghani on Thursday, a week after publicly complaining that he was being shut out of government power-sharing discussions; a statement from the president’s office said that Dostum had “briefed the president on his recent efforts to boost communications with the people, improve security, public support for security and defense forces and improve the morale of these forces”.
  • Martyrs Week Commemorations: Speaking at a ceremony on Thursday marking the 15th anniversary of the assassination of former Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, Chief Executive Abdullah warned against “politics based on ethnicity” and touted the legacy of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen. Ahmad Zia Massoud suggested that his brother was opposed to “political tyranny” and “governments formed with a few votes”; second vice president Mohammad Sarwar Danish emphasized the importance of “our martyrs” as “symbol[s] of national unity”. [RFE/RL]

Afghanistan – Economics and Development

  • Transit Trade: Construction officially began on Wednesday on a rail link connecting Herat city and Iran, with the ultimate goal of linking the Afghanistan national ring road with Iran’s Chabahar port. In a meeting with the UK’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, Pres. Ghani reportedly warned that he would block Pakistan’s transit route through Afghanistan to Central Asia if the Pakistani government did not provide Afghanistan access to India through the Wagah border, noting that Afghanistan has “several other options” for transit routes.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Mohaqiq Objects to Single-Member Constituency Electoral System [TOLO]
  • An Afghan Father-Son Tale Takes a Fatal Turn, But Does Not End [NYT]
  • Report: The Tenacious and Toxic Haqqani Network – “The group has skillfully established and utilized ties to a wide array of militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while also maintaining close ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).” [Marvin Weinbaum and Meher Babbar, MEI]
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