- Trilateral talks between Russia, China, and Pakistan in Moscow on Tuesday concluded with a statement noting concerns about the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan and endorsing a “flexible approach to remove certain figures from sanctions lists as part of efforts to foster a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban movement”. PPP sources suggest that the party is effectively dropping plans to challenge the PML-N government through a protest movement, after former Pres. Zardari’s announcement that he and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will contest parliamentary seats. Prime Minister Sharif is reported to have tasked Maulana Fazlur Rehman with acting as a mediator with the PPP. A member of parliament from Bamiyan was wounded in a bombing in Kabul on Wednesday. The Sindh High Court has halted the suspension of police chief A.D. Khawaja, agreeing to hear a petition challenging his suspension. Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated the Chashma-III nuclear plant on Wednesday. The IMF has a set a revenue collection target of Afs 150 billion for the Ministry of Finance in 2017.
Pakistan — Security
- Sindh High Court Halts Police Chief Suspension: On Wednesday, Sindh High Court Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah issued an order halting the forced leave of Sindh police chief A.D. Khawaja, and ordered a government a response to a petition challenging that leave by the next hearing, scheduled for Jan 12.
- Military Courts: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa approved death sentences for eight men convicted under the military court system on Wednesday; they include a group of men charged with attacks in Karachi on the Ismaili community and activist Sabeen Mahmud; all were identified as members of unspecified “proscribed organizations”.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- PPP Dropping Protest Plans: PPP sources tell the Express Tribune that former Pres. Zardari’s decision to enter parliament alongside his son party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is a signal that the PPP leadership has no plans to prematurely oust the PML-N government through a protest movement. The PML-N is reported to have put its planned response “on hold” as a result. A separate report indicates that Prime Minister Sharif has tasked JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman to act as a mediator with the PPP; Rehman met with PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on Tuesday, who had held talks with Zardari shortly after his return to Pakistan. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
- Other Political Activity: PTI leaders met on Tuesday to discuss plans for at least three large public protest rallies in Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa over the coming weeks; the locations and timing for those protests have not been announced. PML-N lawyers sought delays in Election Commission hearings on a petition seeking Imran Khan’s disqualification; hearings were adjourned until Jan 10. [ET] [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- New Nuclear Plant Inaugurated: Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated the new 340-megawatt “Chashma-III” nuclear plant on Wednesday, which has been constructed with the assistance of the China National Nuclear Corporation; another unit, Chashma-IV, is scheduled for completion in the coming year. [Dawn]
- Tax Amnesty: The government is reportedly considering new reduced tax rates for those holding foreign assets who agree to disclose them, the Express Tribune reports; those rates have not been finalized, however.
- Regulator Independence: A petition was filed by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s party on Tuesday in the Islamabad High Court, challenging the government’s move to bring independent regulatory authorities under the control of corresponding ministries.
- Census Planning: Leaders of the BNP-Mengal announced on Tuesday that they would not accept a census in Balochistan until all Afghan refugees were repatriated and internally displaced Baloch residents were resettled and provided with national ID cards.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Foreign Secretary Warns of ‘Dangerous Precedent’ from Indus Water Treaty Violations [Dawn]
- Commerce Minister’s Trip to Iran Cancelled [Dawn]
- Officials Visit Beijing Ahead of CPEC Meeting [APP] [ET]
- NEPRA Cuts Power Tariff [ET]
- Supreme Court Ruling Emphasizes Need for Lawmaker Asset Declarations [Dawn]
- Commentary: NSG Membership Proposal Would Undermine Nonproliferation – “Another India-specific NSG exemption would undoubtedly move Pakistan in the wrong direction, hardening its resolve to keep pace with India’s ongoing nuclear weapons buildup.” [Daryl Kimball, Arms Control Now]
Afghanistan — Security
- MP Wounded in Kabul Bombing: Fakuri Behisti, a member of parliament from Bamiyan, was wounded when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood on Wednesday morning. Some accounts suggest that the vehicle was targeted with a magnetic bomb. One of his guards was killed, and several others, including Behisti’s son, are also reported to have been wounded. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
- Other Attacks and Operations: During remarks on Wednesday, Interior Minister Taj Mohammad Jahid claimed that Afghan special forces had killed over 400 Taliban leaders over the last nine months in operations around the country. A U.S. drone strike in Nangarhar’s Haska Mina district killed three suspected Islamic State fighters on Wednesday; in the Bati Kot district, insurgents destroyed a telecommunications tower on Monday night. Military operations are underway in Kandahar’s Shah Wali Kot district, where more than a hundred villages are reported to be under Taliban control. Taliban fighters are reported to have refocused attacks in Badakhshan on the Baharak district, where they are reportedly making more use of bombing attacks on security checkposts than gunmen. [TOLO] [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Regional Diplomacy: Trilateral talks between Russia, China, and Pakistan in Moscow on Tuesday concluded with a statement expressing “particular concern about the rising activity in the country of extremist groups including the Afghan branch of [the Islamic State]”, and agreeing to a “flexible approach to remove certain figures from sanctions lists as part of efforts to foster a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban movement”. Dawn reports that two previous rounds of trilateral talks had been held by the three countries, and that this was the first to be publicly disclosed; Afghanistan’s foreign ministry protested its exclusion from the talks. During senate testimony on Tuesday, NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai said that Russia, Iran, and other countries were supporting the Taliban in order to curtail the Islamic State’s spread. In a RFE/RL interview, national security advisor Hanif Atmar said that “we want to keep the previous global consensus on terrorism. We would like to keep a united front”, and that actions against militant groups in Afghanistan should be coordinated with the Afghan government. [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Revenue Collection: The IMF has set a target for Afghanistan of collecting Afs 150 billion in revenue for the 2017 fiscal year, which Ministry of Finance spokesmen said Afghanistan was prepared to meet; the IMF has pledged a $100 million incentive payment if that figure is achieved. The Ministry of Finance collected around Afs 160 billion during 2016, against a target of Afs 130 billion.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Taliban Deny Reports of Norwegian Diplomatic Contact with Mullah Omar [Khaama Press]
- Thousands of Senior Government Positions Still Vacant [TOLO]
- Commentary: Over Half a Million Afghans Flee Conflict in 2016: A Look at the IDP Statistics – “In all but three of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, UNOCHA recorded some level of forced displacement, while all 34 provinces hosted the displaced.” [Jelena Bjelica, AAN]