Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Suicide Bomber Strikes Shia Mosque in Kabul; Army Chief Begins Pre-Retirement Tour

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Topline

  • Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif has begun “farewell visits” with top commanders and troops in the run-up to his retirement on Nov 29; the government has not yet named a successor. A suicide bomber struck a Shia mosque in Kabul on Monday, killing at least 27 people. At least four children were killed in cross-border shelling in Pakistani Kashmir on Saturday. The Pakistani Interior Ministry formally banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, which claimed responsibility for another attack on Quetta police on Saturday, and the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction. The Pentagon will halt the procurement of Russian Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan Air Force, switching to US-made Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters instead. The government has introduced a draft constitutional amendment that would allow for the appeal of suo moto Supreme Court rulings to a larger bench, and is reportedly considering an amendment to bypass the Supreme Court’s recent ruling restricting the prime minister’s discretionary fiscal authorities. Former Pres. Zardari suggested he would return to Pakistan in the coming weeks; former federal information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira was appointed the head of the PPP’s central Punjab chapter on Friday. The government of Pakistan is reportedly considering loosening visa requirements for Afghan refugees and potentially allow for permanent residence for those born in Pakistan.

Pakistan – Security

  • Military Leadership Transition: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited the Lahore Garrison on Monday to meet with soldiers and Rangers, in what military spokesmen described as the beginning of a series of “farewell visits” ahead of his retirement on Nov 29. The government has not announced Sharif’s successor; the current seniormost officers are Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmed, Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmed, Lt Gen Syed Wajid Hussain, and Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem. [Reuters]
  • Tensions with India: At least four children were killed in cross-border shelling in the Kotli district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, local officials report; three people were also wounded. Pakistan requested an investigation by UN observers on Monday. On Saturday evening, Pakistan’s military spokesman claimed that an Indian surveillance drone had been shot down after crossing the border in the Rakhchakri sector. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited with soldiers posted near the Indian border at Sulemanki on Saturday, where he praised the Pakistani military as “battle-hardened” and “ready for conventional war”. In a Pakistani senate briefing on Friday, the defense and foreign affairs committees reported that there had been 103 ceasefire violations along the Line of Control in the past year. At a briefing for reporters on Friday, a spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs downplayed recent remarks by Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, saying that “Pakistan believes the ambiguous no first use declaration is not verifiable and amounts to nothing”. Anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources suggest that an upcoming conference on Afghanistan with Russia and China in the first week in December is evidence of a “convergence” in response to growing US-India ties. [AP] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Counterterrorism Response: The Express Tribune reports that the government plans to “strengthen” the civil-military provincial apex committees in Sindh, Balochistan, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir in order to “take on the terrorist threat from India’s spy agency”, and to press the provincial chief ministers to “make sure that relevant factors do not influence counterterrorism operations, and terrorists, irrespective of political connections, party affiliations and family backgrounds, are taken to task.” Dawn reports the federal government formally banned the TTP Jamaat-ul Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alami splinter factions earlier this month. Roughly 2,625 individuals under surveillance in Khyber Paktunkhwa for membership in organizations banned under the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism act lack Computerized National ID Cards, the Express Tribune reports, including 12 former Guantanamo Bay inmates. [ET]
  • Security Personnel Attacked in Quetta: Three Frontier Corps soldiers and one police officer were killed in a drive-by shooting in Quetta on Saturday evening; the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami claimed responsibility for the attack. [ET]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: Speaking to the press on Sunday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the courts would not be able to hold the government accountable unless PPP-drafted legislation governing an investigation into the Panama Papers was passed, saying that “democratic accountability” for the government was necessary. Dawn reports that the PTI will meet on Tuesday following Imran Khan’s return from London to choose new lead counsel for Supreme Court hearings on the issue after lawyer Hamid Khan stepped down on Friday. On Saturday, the Supreme Court initiated contempt of court proceedings against the TV channel Din News, after it broadcast video of a recent meeting between judge Amir Hani Muslim, one of the five members of the bench hearing the Panama Papers issue, and PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi. [ET]
  • Constitutional Amendment Proposals: On Friday, the PML-N introduced a draft constitutional amendment that would allow for an appeal to a larger Supreme Court bench of suo moto cases initiated by smaller panels of justices, rather than limiting judgement review petitions to the original bench. Separately, a Supreme Court bench recently issued its full ruling restricting the discretionary fiscal powers of the prime minister, which one government sources tells the Express Tribune may force the introduction of a new constitutional amendment to bypass.
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: In a GEO TV interview on Monday, former Pres. Zardari said that he would return to Pakistan within the next few weeks, ending an unofficial exile since June 2015. On Friday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari appointed former federal information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira as the president for the party’s Central Punjab chapter, replacing Manzoor Wattoo. The Express Tribune interviews MQM party leaders who say they would “revolt” if former Pres. Musharraf was brought in to lead the Pakistan-based faction of the party. Following his release from jail, Karachi mayor Waseem Akhtar met with Sindh provincial government officials, and is reportedly seeking to rejoin the provincial coalition government in a bid for expanded municipal authority. Dawn reports responsibility for computerized electoral rolls is being transferred from the National Database and Registration Authority to the Election Commission of Pakistan, despite concerns over the latter’s ability to maintain the database. Separately, the ECP will begin an audit of lawmaker asset statements starting Dec 1. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Afghan Refugee Repatriation: The Express Tribune reports that the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions has finalized new guidelines for the repatriation of Afghan refugees for consideration by the federal cabinet; the proposal reportedly loosens requirements of multiple entry visas for Afghan students, investors, and those with Pakistani spouses. Proposals for “indefinite visas” or permanent residence for those born in Pakistan is reportedly “under discussion”.

Pakistan – Economics and Development

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Nearly 250,000 Pakistanis Deported from Other Countries in 2015 [Dawn]
  • Bodies of Karachi Airport Attackers Exhumed for DNA Identification [Dawn] [ET]
  • Karachi Police Superintendent Rao Anwar Reinstated After Arrest of MQM Leader [ET] [ET]
  • Suspect Dies in Karachi Police Custody [Dawn]
  • FIA Arrests Three Passport Office Agents [APP]
  • Edhi Foundation Sale of Vehicles Frozen Over Federal Permissions [Dawn]
  • National Logistics Cell to Invest in Auto Sector with German Partner [Dawn]
  • NADRA Paid Rs 75 Million for Unused Offices [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Kabul Mosque Bombing: At least 27 people were killed and 45 others wounded when a suicide bomber struck the Baqir-ul Ulom mosque in western Kabul on Monday, as Shiite worshippers gathered to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein. The Taliban has denied responsibility for the attack, which was condemned by both Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah. The Islamic State has yet to issue a claim of responsibility, but previously targeted a separate Shiite shrine in Kabul at the start of Ashura, 40 days prior. [WAPO] [AP] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense told TOLO on Sunday that operations would begin Monday in Nangarhar, targeting insurgent supply routes and bases. Taliban fighters attacked a military checkpost in Badakhshan’s Baharak district on Saturday evening; the district police chief tells TOLO that a Taliban commander had been killed in the attack, in addition to one soldier. Khaama Press describes the incident as a would-be suicide bombing, and says that the bomber was shot and killed before detonating. On Sunday, the NDS announced the arrest in Paktika of Syed Rahman, identified as a top Haqqani network commander, as well as many as 20 Haqqani fighters. Ministry of Defense officials reported airstrikes in Uruzgan’s Chora district killed nine Taliban fighters on Sunday, and that airstrikes in two districts in Laghman killed 15 militants on Monday. Nangarhar provincial police officials report that eight Islamic State-affiliated fighters were killed in a U.S. drone strike in the Kot district on Friday evening, and that two unidentified foreign fighters were killed in another strike in the Achin district on Monday. [WSJ] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • US to Halt Russian Helicopter Purchases: The Pentagon formally notified Congress on Friday that it would no longer purchase Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan Air Force, switching to Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters instead, a move pushed by the Connecticut congressional delegation, where Sikorsky is located. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Interior Ministry Appointments: On Sunday, the Ministry of Interior announced a series of new presidential appointments, including police chiefs for Laghman, Kapisa, and Wardak provinces; a border police chief for Helmand; and a number of ministry-level positions.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • US Policy: The Post interviews Afghan analysts and officials who express hope that if former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad were to enter the Trump administration in a senior diplomatic role, it might represent a shift towards a more coercive policy towards Pakistan. Pres. Ghani met with NATO Deputy Secretary General Patrick Turner on Saturday, who reaffirmed the alliance’s continued support for Afghanistan.
  • Electoral Reforms: A final list of appointees to the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission will be announced within the next week, presidential sources indicate. [TOLO]
  • Military Attorney Convicted in Corruption Case: Abdulhai Jurat, the second man to be tried under the new Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center, was convicted and sentenced to a two-and-a-half year sentence on charges of accepting a bribe while serving as a military attorney; he retains the right to appeal. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Kazakhstan Ambassador Expresses Concerns Over Daesh Presence [TOLO]
  • Hostages Freed in Kandahar [Khaama Press]
  • Hindus and Sikhs Lack Legal Rights in Afghanistan, Study Finds [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Parliament Kicks Out Ministers Again: A Multi-Dimensional Power Struggle – “The fragmented character of Afghan institutions (including not only the party-less parliament, but also parties such as Jamiat) results in unpredictability for all sides and continues to produce mixed results.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
  • Commentary: Post-Presidential Karzai: Still a Challenge to the NUG? – “In the end, Karzai was not able to exploit the two-year anniversary of the NUG to his own advantage and his rallying cry for the moment looks to be less appealing for the other political groups.” [Ali Yawar Adili, AAN]
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