Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Ghani and Modi Press Pakistan at Heart of Asia Conference; Qatari Prince Arrives in Lahore

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  • Pres. Ghani and Prime Minister Modi hosted the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference in Amritsar, India on Sunday; both leaders gave pointed remarks criticizing Pakistan for not cracking down on terrorist actors. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz, who was barred from giving a press conference after the event, said that it was “simplistic” to blame one country for Afghanistan’s problems. Ghani spoke by phone with President-elect Trump on Friday. Qatar prince Hamad bin Jassim arrived in Lahore on Saturday; a letter from the Qataris has been central to the PML-N’s legal defense in the Panama Papers case. The PTI reportedly plans to also petition for the disqualification of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The Guardian reports high tensions between the UN and the US military command in Afghanistan over disputed reporting on casualties from a U.S. drone strike in Achin in September. The Taliban executed a university student in Wardak’s Chak district on Friday, linking him to the recent death of a Taliban intelligence figure. The Pakistani government reportedly plans to extend the deadline for registered Afghan refugees to leave the country until the end of 2017, at which point the government may announce a “second phase” deadline of the end of 2018. PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardar met with party supporters on Friday and Saturday, telling them that he would contest future elections from his mother’s former parliamentary seat. The Pakistani government has released Rs 1.3 billion to the Interior Ministry to pay for security on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects.

Pakistan — Security

  • 21st Amendment Set to Expire: Dawn notes the upcoming expiration on Jan 2 of the two-year sunset clause for the use of military courts to try civilian terrorist suspects, quoting Minister of State for Interior Affairs Baleeghur Reh­man, who says that “since the situation is under control now, there is no need to extend such wartime legislation”. On Monday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa approved death sentences for four terrorist suspects convicted in the military courts.
  • Prime Minister and Army Chief Meet: Prime Minister Sharif met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Monday to discuss national security issues; no details over their conversation have been released.
  • Customs Officials Kidnapped: Three customs officials were kidnapped in Balochistan’s Gwadar district on Friday, district officials reported; on Saturday, they were reported to have been freed, without any further details on their kidnappers or the hostages’ release.
  • FATA Attacks and Operations: Airstrikes in the Khyber Agency’s Rajgal valley killed twelve militant suspects on Sunday.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: Qatari prince Hamad bin Jassim arrived in Lahore on Saturday; a letter from Jassim was cited by Prime Minister Sharif’s legal team as evidence that the Sharif family’s overseas real estate investments had been obtained through a debt settlement. The PTI is preparing new challenges seeking the disqualification from office of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, although Dawn reports the party has not decided whether to file a petition with the Election Commission or the Lahore High Court; the Express Tribune suggests they will chose the latter forum. Meanwhile, the Federal Board of Revenue is preparing to issue penalties to individuals to failed to respond to inquiries about undeclared assets reported in the Panama Papers. In the Senate, the PML-N is preparing to lobby for the passage of a bill setting the terms for an inquiry into the Panama Papers, where it will need the support of all independent senators and at least three others to pass. Separately, PTI spokesman Naeem-ul Haque tells the Express Tribune that the PTI will file a Supreme Court petition seeking an investigation into leaked press accounts of civil-military tensions in October; other PTI sources suggest that the party is divided on whether or not to pursue the issue, however. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Tensions with India: In remarks to reporters on Friday, India’s navy chief Adm. Sunil Lanba dismissed Pakistani claims to have intercepted an Indian submarine near its coast last month, saying it was “totally bogus”. In remarks in Amritsar on Saturday, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif suggested that Iran “stands ready” to mediate between India and Pakistan. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Afghan Refugee Repatriation: The Express Tribune reports the government may approve another extension to the deadline for Afghan refugees to leave the country, giving until December 2017 for registered refugees to leave the country and announcing a “second phase” of repatriation at that point through the end of 2018. As of Friday, the UN reports that more than 380,000 registered Afghan refugees had returned from Pakistan so far this year, the highest figures since 2007. The UN’s voluntary repatriation program has been halted due to the winter until March.
  • PPP Leader Criticizes Government: Speaking to party activists in Lahore on Friday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari criticized the government for failing to implement the National Action Plan against terrorism, calling again for Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s removal. At another gathering on Saturday, Bilawal vowed that the PPP would retake national office in the 2018 general elections, and said that he would enter parliament by contesting his aunt Faryal Talpur’s NA-207 constituency seat, previously held by his mother; he did not specify whether she might step down before the elections. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Relations with the US: Special assistant to the prime minister Tariq Fatemi will visit Washington this week for meetings with Obama administration officials and members of the Trump transition team. [ET]
  • Karachi Politics: On Friday, Thai police arrested Abdul Rehman, a former MQM member who had joined the Pak Sarzameen Party, and who is a key suspect in the 2012 Baldia Factory fire arson case. PSP chairman Mustafa Kamal denied that Rehman was a member of his party at a press conference in Lahore on Saturday, where said the party was planning to expand through future organizing drives. On Sunday, the MQM-Pakistan announced that it was severing ties with lawmaker Ali Raza Abidi, calling on him to quit his national assembly seat. Also on Sunday, a prominent Karachi money exchange businessman, Javed Khanani, died from an eight-story fall from a building undergoing construction; his family has denied a police autopsy request and described the death as a suicide. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Project: The Express Tribune reports that the government has released Rs 1.3 billion to the interior ministry to support security for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. PPP and PTI leaders continue to criticize the government for neglecting the needs of smaller provinces.
  • Tax Revenues: At a meeting to review revenue collection targets on Saturday, Federal Board of Revenue officials blamed government tax policies and the decision not to hike oil prices for the Rs 117 billion shortfall in collections during the July-November period.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Crisis Hits Bureaucracy as Litigation Holds Up Promotions [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Approves Financing Plan for DIamer-Bhasha Dam [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan State Oil Receivables Rise to Rs 250 Billion [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Governor Remains Hospitalized [Dawn]
  • Islamabad Magistrate Dismisses Application for Reinvestigation Against Lal Masjid Chief [ET]
  • Sindh High Court Strikes Down Federal Expulsion of PakTurk Schoolteachers [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Senate Debates Blasphemy Law [Dawn] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Seeks World Bank Loan [Dawn]
  • IHC Seeks Return of Former Chief Justice Chaudhry’s Armored Car [Dawn]
  • Commentary: The Last Diplomat – “As Robin Raphel worked for the State Department in Pakistan, her brand of traditional diplomacy ran into the new realities of covert surveillance.” [Adam Entous and Devlin Barrett, WSJ]
  • Commentary: The Next Phase – “The civilian attempts to elbow themselves back into foreign policy and national security debates — on Afghanistan, the US and the like — will continue. That means more friction.” [Cyril Almeida, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Tensions Over UN Reporting: The Guardian reports that UN reporting on a U.S. drone strike in Nangarhar’s Achin district in late September has strained relations with the U.S. and NATO military command, with Gen. Nicholson reportedly considering (but ultimately not implementing) a ban on UN access to the military headquarters in Kabul. The UN reported that at least 15 civilians were killed in that strike, which the U.S. military maintains only killed Islamic State-affiliated fighters.
  • Russia Questions Shift in Helicopter Fleet: Russian special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told the Russian press on Monday that Russia was “doubtful” about the current U.S. plan to replace Afghanistan’s helicopter fleet with Blackhawks, saying that “there is not enough time available… that is why Afghanistan has no alternative to Russian arms”.
  • Attacks and Operations: Local officials report that the Taliban publicly executed a study of Kabul Polytechnic University in the Chak district on Friday, in Maidan Wardak province around 60 kilometers west of the capital, charging him with involvement in the death of a Taliban intelligence official. The Taliban’s spokesman declined to confirm the account. Officials in Jawzjan province claim to have killed an Islamic State-affiliated commander in the Darzab district, after an attack on a checkpost on Sunday. A drone strike in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Sunday killed at least two Islamic State-affiliated suspects. Three Afghan journalists were wounded in a roadside mine blast in the Shahr-e-Safa district on Zabul on Friday; on Monday, provincial governor Bismillah Afghanmal and mayor Karimullah Hakimi escaped an ambush in the Safa district. Four civilians were killed in a roadside bombing on Monday in the Khoshamand district in Paktika. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • ‘Heart of Asia’ Conference Held in Amritsar: Delegations from around forty countries gathered in Amritsar, India for the sixth “Heart of Asia” conference on Afghanistan. Pres. Ghani had dinner with Prime Minister Modi on Saturday evening prior to the opening of the conference on Sunday; Reuters reports that India and Afghanistan are planning to announce a joint air cargo service. In his remarks, Pres. Ghani said that continued conflict and “undeclared war” in Afghanistan was “unacceptable. Modi echoed Ghani’s message, saying that action was necessary “not just against forces of terrorism, but also against those who support, shelter, train and finance them”. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz countered that it was “simplistic” to blame one country for Afghanistan’s problems. The conference joint statement called for “concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, including dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism.” It also called on Iran and Pakistan continue to host Afghan refugees “until their sustainable repatriation and reintegration in Afghanistan can take place in a voluntary, safe, gradual and dignified fashion”. Speaking to the Pakistani press upon his return to Islamabad, Aziz said that “we don’t need any pressure on counter terrorism because we have done more than any other country to eliminate it” and that “India’s efforts to divide [Pakistan and Afghanistan] will not go very far.” Aziz was reportedly denied security clearances by the hotel where he was staying to give a press conference while in India. Pres. Ghani also gave an interview to The Hindu, in which he said that “we did everything to ensure peace with Pakistan” and that “it’s their turn” to reengage. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Dawn] [Conference Statement] [Ghani Remarks] [Modi Remarks]
  • Ghani and Trump Speak: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with President-elect Trump on Friday; the Trump transition team said that the two leaders “discussed the grave terrorism threats facing both countries and pledged to work more closely together in order to deal with the threats.” Khaama Press, quoting sources in the presidential palace, describes Trump as also pledging to “help unearth Afghanistan’s massive natural resources”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Tail Rotor Failure Blamed for Badghis Helicopter Crash That Killed Corps Commander [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • IEC Commissioners Prepare to Staff Secretariat [TOLO]
  • Contractors Protest Ministry of Interior’s Failure to Pay Bills [TOLO]
  • In Afghanistan, a Cagney Searches for Her Lacey [WSJ]
  • Wolesi Jirga Members Debate Caliphate, ‘Extremism’ in Mosques and Universities [TOLO]
  • Bergdahl Lawyers Seek Pardon Before Trump Takes Office [NYT] [AP]

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