Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Judges Consider Review of Sharif Family Statements; Marines to Return to Helmand as Advisors

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  • During Supreme Court hearings on the Panama Papers on Thursday, the judges suggested they might call back Sharif family members to cross-examine them on previous statements regarding their overseas real estate holdings. In a statement on Thursday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa rejected remarks by India’s army chief suggesting that India might conduct additional “surgical strikes” into Pakistan in the future. A World Bank delegation met with Indian officials on Thursday to discuss the resolution of two disputed Indus river dam projects. A Marine unit will replace army advisors in Helmand in April, 2nd Marine Regiment commanders confirmed on Thursday. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah attended ceremonies on Thursday commemorating the 13th anniversary of Afghanistan’s constitution. At a meeting on Thursday, Khyber Paktunkhwa officials decided to de-register families displaced by conflict in the FATA who were unwilling to return to their homes, stripping them of benefits.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Repatriation: A meeting on Thursday chaired by Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra to review repatriation efforts for families displaced by conflict in the FATA decided to de-register families who were “living intentionally” as IDPs and who did not wish to return to their homes. The move would cut benefits for those families; many IDPs protest the continued lack of infrastructure, security, and employment in their former homes.
  • Counterterrorism Response: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif chaired a meeting of the Punjab Apex Committee on Thursday to review counterterrorism measures in the province; the meeting resolved to crack down further on hate speech publications. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Quetta Attack: At least five members of the Hazara minority community were wounded in an attack on their taxi in Quetta on Friday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: During Supreme Court hearings on Thursday, judges suggested they might call back members of the Sharif family to cross-examine them on previous statements regarding the ownership of London real estate holdings and other business assets, but stopped short of taking that step for now. PTI lawyers continued to argue that Maryam Nawaz was a dependent of her father at the time she was listed as owner of those properties. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Imran Khan said that a letter from Qatari prince Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani that the prime minister’s lawyers have cited as an explanation for the origin of those properties was false, and warned the prince against appearing before the court on the issue if he “doesn’t want to go to prison”. [ET]
  • Tensions with India: In a statement on Thursday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa rejected recent remarks by Indian army chief Bipin Rawat in which Rawat had suggested India might conduct more “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control in the future, saying that “Pakistan’s armed forces are fully geared to respond to any aggression by India”. A Gallup Pakistan survey released Thursday found 68% of those surveyed support negotiations between Pakistan and India. A World Bank delegation met with Indian officials on Thursday to discuss disputes with Pakistan over two Indus river dam projects, which Indian officials have proposed should be resolved through a neutral technical expert, rather than a full court of arbitration as sought by Pakistan. [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The PPP announced Thursday that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would contest a by-election under the arrow symbol of the PPP-Parliamentarians, the party officially headed by his father, former Pres. Zardari. An Election Commission audit of ten National Assembly members’ asset declarations found “inconsistencies” in all cases, and gave them two weeks to submit revised responses. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Revenue: Speaking at a ceremony on Thursday at the Federal Board of Revenue, Finance Minister Dar suggested that “some way out can be provided to those who want to come into the tax net”; the Express Tribune reports that the government is considering another tax amnesty program for overseas assets. Dar however also said that “tax evaders can not run anywhere and ultimately they must have to pay their taxes honestly otherwise they would have to face legal process”; at the ceremony, the FBR identified more than 93,000 cases for a tax audit from the 2015 fiscal year.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pro-Blasphemy Law Protests Deface Karachi Murals [Dawn]
  • Rallies in Azad Jammu and Kashmir on ‘Self-Determination Day’ [ET]
  • Pakistan’s Regional Languages Face Extinction [ET]
  • Karachi Circular Railway Transit Project to Be Included in CPEC [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Confronting Pakistan’s Support for Terrorism: Don’t Designate, Calibrate – “There are numerous reasons why the United States has never formally designated Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, including doubt that such recognition would force a change in Pakistan’s strategic calculus, as well as the worry that it would remove any already limited U.S. influence.” [Stephen Tankel, Washington Quarterly (pdf)]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Marines to Return to Helmand as Advisors: An element the 2nd Marine Regiment will return to Helmand as advisors to the Afghan National Army and police, the unit’s commander confirmed in an interview with, replacing U.S. Army trainers; the size of the deployment, reportedly taking place in April, was not disclosed.
  • Attacks and Operations: Officials in Kapisa say operations are ongoing in the Tagab district against Taliban fighters; a suicide attack on a local militia force killed at least one man and wounded two others there on Thursday. In TOLO interviews, Jawzjan residents report a rise in kidnappings in Sheberghan over the past six months.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Constitution Anniversary: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah attended a ceremony on Thursday commemorating the 13th anniversary of Afghanistan’s constitution. Ghani defended the government’s tenure, and said that “it is important that institutions in Afghanistan including the judicial and executive institutions and all other civilian institutions should not be subjected to politics and deals”. In his remarks, Abdullah called for amendments to the constitution under the terms of the national unity government agreement. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Despite Ban, Invasive Virginity Tests Remain Prevalent in Afghanistan [NYT]
  • Harakat-e-Inqilab-e-Islami Afghanistan Party Convenes Clerical Gathering to Denounce Insurgency [TOLO]
  • Vice President Danish Affirms Support for Press Freedom [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Assadullah Sarwari Freed from Prison: What Chances of War Crimes Trials in Afghanistan – “The lack of transparency and the irregular and illegal aspects of his detention and prosecution (including 13 years of pre-trial detention and a continued three and a half years of detention after his sentence had been fulfilled) point to fundamental problems with the Afghan state’s capacity to deal with complex war crimes.” [Ehsan Qaane and Sari Kouvo, AAN]

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