Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Zardari and Bilawal to Join Parliament; France Reportedly Blocks Hekmatyar Sanctions De-Listing

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  • During a PPP demonstration in Larkana on Tuesday to commemorate the ninth death anniversary of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, former Pres. Zardari announced that he and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would both enter parliament, with PPP members stepping down in two constituencies to allow them to run. TOLO reports that France has blocked the removal of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other Hezb-e-Islami leaders from an international sanctions blacklist. The NYT has a history of a Norwegian-brokered peace initiative for Afghanistan that ultimately broke down in 2010. Afghanistan’s ministry of foreign affairs expressed concern on Monday over a trilateral Russia-China-Pakistan meeting on Tuesday focused on Afghanistan. In a letter to TOLO Afghan pilot Nilofar Rahmani claimed that she was seeking further education in the U.S., rather than asylum, but in a CNN interview she and her lawyer reiterated that she faced threats against her in the country and could not safely return; a ministry of defense spokesman warned she could be charged with desertion. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim spoke by phone with Finance Minister Dar on Monday to discuss the arbitration of two disputed Indus dam projects, but details of the conversation are limited. China has agreed to finance three new road construction projects in western Pakistan as part of the CPEC project.

Pakistan — Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: Dawn reports that an Interior Ministry report reviewing the implementation of the National Action Plan conceded that the government had made little progress on stopping the re-formation of nominally banned terrorist organizations and on curtailing terrorist financing; the Interior Ministry said it had released no such report.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Zardari Announces Plan to Join Parliament: Speaking at a PPP rally in Larkana on Tuesday to commemorate the ninth death anniversary of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, former Pres. Zardari told supporters that he and party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would contest elections “right now” to join the current parliament. Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur will step down from her seat in Nawabshah for Zardari and parliamentarian Ayaz Soomro will give up the Larkana constituency for Bilawal. Bilawal, who also spoke, criticized the PML-N government, but stopped short of announcing plans for a “long march” against the government for failing to reach an agreement with the PPP on its “four demands”. PML-N sources tell the Express Tribune that they are prepared to give a “tit for tat response”, and will reach out to Sindhi nationalist parties if Zardari seeks to forge an opposition alliance with the PTI, ANP, MQM, or JI. Separately, the federal government is reportedly searching for a replacement for Sindh governor Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, who has been hospitalized since shortly after taking office last month. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Indus Water Treaty Dispute: World Bank president Jim Yong Kim spoke by phone with Finance Minister Dar on Monday to discuss the arbitration process for two disputed Indian dam projects, Dawn reports, but the provides few details on their actual conversation.
  • Judicial Procedures: In an interview with Dawn, Supreme Court Bar Association president Rashid Razvi endorsed the government’s proposed amendment to allow for appeals to rulings made by a smaller Supreme Court bench that had initiated the case using suo moto authorities. Razvi also called for amendments to weaken the authority of the Supreme Court registrar to reject petitions, saying a judicial bench should make decisions on which petitions to accept. Razvi also argued that the bar council should have a greater role in selecting judicial nominees.
  • Corruption Investigations: Speaking on Monday, Imran Khan said that the National Accountability Bureau leadership should be appointed independently by the Supreme Court, accusing the NAB of “letting the corrupt and powerful people go under the pretext of plea bargains”. NAB chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry defended the use of plea bargains in a separate interview, saying Rs 45 billion had been recovered through the use of such agreements.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Project: A spokesman for Pakistan’s National Highway Authority announced on Monday that China had agreed to provide a Rs 107.76 billion “soft loan” to support the construction of three new road projects in western Pakistan, linking Raikot and Thakot, Yarik and Zhob, and Basima and Khuzdar. A signing agreement is expected to take place during a meeting of the China-Pakistan Joint Cooperation Committee in Beijing on Dec 29.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Former Pres. Musharraf Says He Never Asked Raheel Sharif to Facilitate Exit [Dawn]
  • PTI Argues for Speaker to Make Case for Imran Khan’s Disqualification by ECP [Dawn]
  • Lyari’s Gang Leaders Crawl Their Way Back [The News]
  • Farooq Sattar Calls for ‘Fair Probe’ into Baldia Factory Fire [Dawn]
  • Mufti Abdul Qavi Suspended from Ruet-i-Hilal Committee [Dawn] [ET]
  • Chinese Chamber of Commerce Officials ‘Elated’ Over Police Recovery of Stolen Cash [Dawn]
  • PTCL Phone and Internet Services Face Outages Nationwide [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Rahmani Asylum Case: In a letter to TOLO, Afghan Air Force captain Nilofar Rahmani claimed that she had been “mistranslated and misinterpreted” in a recent NYT report on her asylum application, saying that she had applied to “some charity and education-supporting institutions to help me continue my education to a master’s level”, not sought asylum in the United States as reported. In a CNN interview on Monday, however, she and her lawyer reiterated that she was under threat and could not safely return to the country. A spokesman for the ministry of defense warned the WSJ that Rahmani would face charges of desertion if she went missing for more than 30 days, saying she was “just making excuses to stay there”.
  • Helicopter Crash: An Afghan military helicopter crashed into a building while landing at Shindand airport in Herat province on Monday; there were no casualties. In a Facebook comment, the pilot blamed a magnetic IED planted on the helicopter, but Air Force officials said technical problems were responsible.
  • Attacks and Operations: The Taliban denied involvement in the reported beheading of a woman in Sar-e-Pul province on Monday. The Ministry of Interior reported the arrest of a Taliban commander near the Logar provincial capital on Tuesday. The Ministry of Defense said that four unidentified militants were killed in airstrikes in the Dai Chupan and Mizan districts in Zaubl province on Tuesday. Kabul police reported on Tuesday that they had discovered and defused eight bombs in the city over the past two weeks. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hezb-e-Islami Agreement: TOLO reports that France has objected to removing Guldbuddin Hekmatyar and other Hezb-e-Islami leaders from the UN sanctions blacklist; the report says that French diplomats have not offered an explanation, but notes that ten French soldiers were killed in a HiG attack in Kabul’s Surobi district three years ago. In an Express Tribune interview, HiG negotiator Ghairat Baheer, Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, said that HiG would be “neutral” and would not conduct operations against the Taliban, and that it would contest future parliamentary elections in Afghanistan. In a separate TOLO interview, HiG commander Zardad Faryadi claimed that his release from a UK prison on war crimes charges was unrelated to the HiG peace agreement, and that he had served his full sentence there.
  • Taliban Talks: The NYT has a history of the breakdown of Norwegian-brokered peace talks, begun with initial contacts in 2007, that had sought to bring together the Taliban, the U.S., and the Afghan government. Norwegian diplomat Alf Arne Ramslien, a former Christian missionary in Pakistan who spoke fluent Urdu and had maintained contacts with Pakistani seminaries and the Taliban movement prior to its ouster. Ramslien met once with Mullah Omar, and ultimately identifies Pakistan’s ISI as “a central obstacle to any negotiated peace” with the Taliban.
  • Afghanistan Protests Trilateral Talks: In a statement on Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “serious concern” over a trilateral meeting between Russia, China, and Pakistan that was to begin in Moscow on Tuesday. The situation in Afghanistan will be focus of the talks, which the Afghan statement said it had not been consulted on. [Khaama Press] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • No Law to Monitor Estimated $4B Fuel Trade [TOLO]
  • Afghanistan to Import 100,000 Tons of Wheat from Uzbekistan [TOLO]

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