Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Disputed Claims of Indian ‘Surgical Strikes’ into Kashmir; Ghani and Hekmatyar Sign Peace Deal

Topline

  • The Indian Director General of Military Operations, Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, told a press conference on Thursday that Indian forces had conducted “surgical strikes” across the border into Pakistani Kashmir targeting terrorist “launching pads”, which he claimed had inflicted “significant casualties”. Pakistan’s military disputed the claim, saying that India had only carried out “unprovoked firing”, which military spokesmen reported killed two Pakistani soldiers. India’s boycott of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in November was joined by Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, forcing the summit’s indefinite suspension. The US and China separately called for the peaceful resolution of the dispute. On Thursday, Pres. Ghani signed a peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami; Gulbuddin Hekmatyar participated through remote video link, calling on other insurgent groups to “join the peace process and pursue their goals through peaceful means. Afghanistan’s national unity government has passed the two-year mark without accomplishing many of the reform goals set out in the original power-sharing agreement; Chief Executive Abdullah earlier this week signaled his support for the government’s continued legitimacy through a full five-year term. Imran Khan held rallies in Lahore to gear up supporters for tomorrow’s march on Raiwind. The IMF’s board approved the disbursal on Wednesday of the final tranche of roughly $100 million remaining on Pakistan’s Extended Fund Facility loan program; Pakistan’s finance ministry has begun a roadshow for the issuance of $500 million in new Islamic bonds.

Pakistan – Security

  • India Claims ‘Surgical Strike’; Two Pakistani Soldiers Killed in Kashmir; SAARC Summit Suspended: At a press conference on Thursday, India’s Director General of Military Operations, Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, said that India had carried out what he described as “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control overnight against “terrorists … waiting to infiltrate the nation”. Singh said that “significant casualties” had been imposed, but provided no details on the targets. Singh said no further operations were currently planned. Pakistan’s military public relations army said that “the notion of surgical strike linked to alleged terrorists bases is an illusion being deliberately generated by Indian to create false effects”. Instead, the Pakistani military reported “unprovoked firing” by India and said that two Pakistani soldiers had been killed. Prime Minister Sharif issued a statement condemning the “naked aggression of Indian forces” on Thursday. Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership met on Wednesday, with the prime minister quoted saying that “Pakistan will continue to extend its moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris until the issue of Kashmir is resolved as per aspirations of Kashmiri people” and that “Pakistan has shown unequalled and unprecedented restraint despite great provocation”. Foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz tells the Express Tribune that Pakistan plans to prepare a dossier documenting Indian interference in Pakistan and “India’s water aggression”. Earlier on Wednesday, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Bhutan joined India in dropping out of the SAARC summit that was to have been held in Islamabad in November, forcing the summit’s indefinite postponement. China’s deputy foreign minister told a visiting Pakistani delegation on Wednesday that China “hopes that Pakistan and India will strengthen channels for dialogue, appropriately handle any differences, improve bilateral relations and together protect the region’s peace and stability”; the White House’s spokesman urged both countries to “resolve the differences peacefully and through diplomacy”. Sec. Kerry has reportedly asked his counterpart Sushma Swaraj that India not further escalate tensions with Pakistan; National Security Advisor Susan Rice also spoke by phone with her Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Wednesday, in which she “reiterated [the United States’] expectation that Pakistan take effective action to combat and delegitimise United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and their affiliates”. [Guardian] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Balochistan Conflict: Reuters conducted an interview with Allah Nazar Baloch, the leader of the Balochistan Liberation Front, who denounced the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project as an “imperialistic scheme,” threatening further attacks, and welcomed the prospect of support from India or “the whole world”. The Balochistan Frontier Corps reports that it killed Zafar Bugti, a member of the Baloch Republican Army, in an exchange of fire near Notal on Wednesday. [Dawn]
  • Journalist Kidnapped: The AP reports that Abid Abdullah, the executive director of the Jang media group, was kidnapped in Peshawar on Thursday; his captors have not been identified and no claim of responsibility has been reported.
  • Border Tensions with Iran: Balochistan provincial government officials report that Iranian border forces fired mortars across the border into the Panjgoor district on Wednesday morning; no casualties were reported. [Dawn]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Protests and Other Political Activity: Imran Khan led a rally of party activists in Lahore on Wednesday, urging them to take part in the planned march on Raiwind on Friday; the Express Tribune notes persistent divisions within the party in the run-up to the rally. A caravan of PTI leaders from Karachi departed on Thursday for Lahore. Separately, the Election Commission held hearings but deferred any judgement over petitions seeking the disqualification of Prime Minister Sharif and his family members from office, as well as PTI leaders Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Petition Against Lal Masjid Leader Dismissed: On Wednesday, the Islamabad High Court dismissed a petition brought by civil society activists against Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz, charging him with expressing support for the Islamic State; earlier this week, a separate hate speech charge against Aziz had been dropped. The Interior Ministry argued against charging Aziz, saying video statements by Aziz could not be used as evidence against him.

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • International Borrowing: On Wednesday, the IMF board approved the disbursal of the final $102 million tranche of the three-year $6.15 billion Extended Fund Facility loan to Pakistan. Finance Minister Dar will lead the Pakistani delegation to the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington next week. On Wednesday, the finance ministry began a road show for the issuance of a $500 million Islamic bond.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Chief Justice Criticizes NAB Use of Plea Deals on Embezzlement Cases [Dawn]
  • Sindh High Court Orders Restoration of BOL TV License [Dawn]
  • Arrest Warrants Issued for Farooq Sattar, Altaf Hussain [Dawn]
  • FATA National Assembly Members Back Reform Proposals [Dawn]
  • Senate Committee Criticizes Government for Neglecting CPEC ‘Western Route’ [Dawn]
  • Commentary: The Case for Restraint in India – “If the Modi government opts for a military response, it will be neglecting the wisdom of past Indian Prime Ministers, who recognized the costs of a risky, destabilizing crisis dwarf the scant political, reputational, and coercive effects.” [Sameer Lalwani, Foreign Affairs]
  • Commentary: Hidden Costs of CPEC – “Having blown the fiscal framework, [security expenditures] are now being offloaded directly onto the public through electricity bills.” [Khurram Husain, Dawn]

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Agreement with Hezb-e-Islami Signed: On Thursday, Pres. Ghani formally signed the peace agreement between the government and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin; HIG leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar did not participate in person, but addressed the ceremony through remote video. Hekmatyar said he “hope[d] to put an end to the current crisis in the country” through the agreement, and called on “the opposition parties of the government to join the peace process and pursue their goals through peaceful means.” He also expressed hope “that the day comes when foreign interference has ended, foreign troops have departed fully from Afghanistan, and peace has been achieved”. Pres. Ghani said that “our job is this to end the war and rescue the country from foreign countries – we need to stand on our own feet” and that “now is the time for Taliban that to think about whether they want to continue the war or come for peace”. Human Rights Watch criticized the agreement, which it said would “compound a culture of impunity”. The full text of the agreement has yet to be officially released. [AP] [AFP] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • National Unity Government Passes Two Year Mark: The two year anniversary of the Afghan national unity government’s inauguration passed on Thursday; the AP and Post note that many of the reform pledges agreed to at the outset have not been completed within the planned two-year time frame, but that Chief Executive Abdullah has dropped previous public criticisms and now maintains the government will remain “legitimate” for a full five-year term. [TOLO]
  • Refugee Repatriation: The Guardian reports that the EU plans to make its aid to Afghanistan at the upcoming Brussels donor conference conditional on a reduction in migration from the country, pushing Afghanistan to accept the deportation of at least 80,000 asylum seekers; only around 5,000 Afghans have agreed to voluntary deportation so far this year. The UNHCR opened a second voluntary repatriation processing center in Peshawar on Wednesday, to accommodate a greater rate of return from Pakistan in recent months. [TOLO]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Enlightening Movement Challenges the Government Through Grass-Roots Protest [LAT]
  • Selection Committee Vows to ‘Work Honestly’ [TOLO]
  • Ghani Attends Ceremony Highlighting Alokozay Group Industrial Park Investment [TOLO]
  • Attorney General’s Office Says Eight Major Corruption Cases Under Investigation [TOLO]

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