Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: General Bajwa Takes Pakistan Army Command; Taliban Face Donation Drop and Opium Revenue Disputes

Topline

  • Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa official assumed command at a baton-passing ceremony on Tuesday; outgoing army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif made a warning to India not to “take our policy of patience for weakness” in his farewell remarks. Pakistan’s ambassador to India suggested that Pakistan would be open to talks with India on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar next week. The Guardian reports that the Taliban are facing a “cash crisis” as donations from abroad have declined following the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and the top Taliban military commander in Helmand has reportedly refused to share opium taxation proceeds with Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada’s central leadership. The Pentagon is seeking $814 million in funding for the refurbishing and transfer of more than 50 Black Hawk helicopters for the Afghan Air Force fleet. The PPP retook the NA-258 constituency in an election on Monday. Former Pres. Zardari is expected to return to the country before Dec 27. At Monday’s meeting of the National Finance Commission, Finance Minister Dar proposed the creation of a “National Security Fund” from the pool of federally-collected tax revenues; he offered few details as to the breakdown of federal and provincial contributions to that fund.

Pakistan – Security

  • New Army Chief Sworn In: New chief of army staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa assumed command from outgoing chief General Raheel Sharif at a baton-passing ceremony on Tuesday in Rawalpindi. In his remarks, Gen. Sharif stressed the need for “all institutions [to] work together against external threats and internal threats” and to “follow the National Action Plan in letter and spirit”. He also warned India not to “take our policy of patience for weakness”, and said that “rising state terrorism in [Kashmir] and India’s aggressive steps have put regional peace at risk.” The AP quotes Bajwa telling reporters after the ceremony that “the situation at the Line of Control will hopefully improve soon”; he is not otherwise reported as having given remarks. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [AFP] [LAT]
  • Tensions with India: Two Indian soldiers were killed in an attack on an army base in Nagrota near the Line of Control on Tuesday; fighting appears to still be underway as of this writing. In an interview with an Indian TV channel on Monday, Pakistan’s ambassador to India said that “if there was an offer for talks from the host nation” during next week’s Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, “it would be accepted by Pakistan”, saying that “ultimately, a solution to the problems between India and Pakistan can only come through dialogue, and therefore, both nations must sit and discuss all the issues that confront them.” Foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz will represent Pakistan at the conference. [AP] [ET]
  • Peshawar Police Officer Killed: A member of a new city police patrol unit was killed in Peshawar by unidentified gunmen on Monday.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: A continued lack of quorum in National Assembly on Monday due to opposition walkouts again prevented the government from introducing its preferred legislation on an investigation into the Panama Papers. The PTI plans to introduce more documents before the Supreme Court seeking to establish overseas real estate holdings by Prime Minister Sharif and his family when hearings resume on Wednesday. PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah called on Sharif to resign in remarks to reporters on Monday. Meanwhile, PML-N leaders are seeking court action against PTI leaders Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen, which the PTI has sought to dismiss. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: After elections on Monday, Abdul Hakeem Baloch has reportedly re-taken the NA-258 constituency in Karachi, which he had surrendered after quitting the PML-N to join the PPP. The PTI and MQM boycotted the polls. PPP sources tell Dawn that former Pres. Zardari will return to the country before Dec 27; PPP Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kaira denied that his return coincided with the departure of Chief of Army Staff Sharif. Eleven new Punjab government ministers were sworn in on Monday. On Monday, the Lahore High Court ruled that Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat leader Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi could contest a PP-78 Jhang by-election, after the government failed to file a response to his challenge of his disqualification by an election officer. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Tax Revenues: At Monday’s meeting of the National Finance Commission, the federal finance ministry proposed the creation of a “National Security Fund” to meet security expenditure needs, which would amount to three percent of the total divisible pool of tax revenues collected by the federal government. Finance Minister Dar did not clarify whether funding would come from the federal or provincial shares of the total pool; further discussions are planned for the next meeting of the commission in late December. Separately, Dawn reports that real estate tax amnesty legislation currently under consideration in parliament would potentially deprive the Federal Board of Revenue of billions in anticipated revenue. [ET]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Supreme Court Hears Contempt of Court Case After Report of Meeting Between Judge and PML-N Senator [Dawn]
  • North Waziristan Elders Protest Miram Shah Market Demolition, Call for Compensation [Dawn]
  • Special Assistant Fatemi Complains US Unwilling to Release CSF Funds [Dawn]
  • Russia Denies Report of ‘Secret Negotiation’ with Pakistan on CPEC [Dawn]
  • ‘Growing Vacuum’ in Top Civil Service Ranks [ET]
  • PakTurk Schoolteachers Depart [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • PIA Raises $130M in Financing [AFP]
  • Commentary: The Myth of the Dovish General – “If PM Sharif has appointed General Bajwa because he thinks there is such a thing as a docile, dovish, pro-civilian dominance three-star general, in Pakistan, or anywhere in the world, he is about to learn, for at least the fourth time, that there isn’t.” [Mosharraf Zaidi, The News]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Taliban Facing ‘Financial Crisis’: The Guardian, interviewing former Taliban leader Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada, reports that the Taliban are increasingly facing a “cash crisis” as overseas donations to the group have dropped with the withdrawal of international military forces from the country and the rise in civilian casualties. Revenues from opium taxation have also reportedly been disrupted by a dispute between Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada and military council chief Mullah Ibrahim Sadar, who is reported to have stopped sending funds from Helmand to the central leadership over the summer and to have challenged the legitimacy of leaders based outside the country. In a statement on Tuesday, the Taliban said that they would protect projects “which are in the interest of the people and result in the development and prosperity of the nation”, including the Mes Aynak copper mine and the TAPI gas pipeline.
  • Pentagon Seeks Funding for New Air Fleet: After halting the procurement of parts from Russia for Afghanistan’s existing helicopter fleet, the Pentagon is seeking $814 million in funding to refurbish 53 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, replacing the existing Afghan fleet beginning in two years. The request also includes money for 30 MD-530 attack helicopters, six A-29 close attack aircraft, and five AC-208 aircraft.
  • Attacks and Operations: On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Badakshan provincial governor said that Afghan security forces had retaken control of the Tagab district, which fell to the Taliban nine months ago. Provincial police officials in Farah say twelve Taliban fighters were killed in operations in the Balablook district on Tuesday.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reforms: At a press conference on Monday, the new leadership of the Independent Election Commission said the IEC was preparing voter lists and voting center lists, and was conducting an assessment of “the vulnerabilities of the commission and to find what type of election fraud, rigging and violations are threatening the commission”. [TOLO]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • MPs Urge Government to Accept Parliament Decisions on Ministers’ Impeachment [TOLO]
  • EU Launches New Afghan Trade Initiative [TOLO]
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