Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Military Court System Expires; Hazara Miners Attacked in Baghlan

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  • The two-year sunset period for Pakistan’s military court system expired on Saturday, without extension; of 274 closed-door hearings, 161 resulted in death penalties and the remainder in prison terms. Parliamentary leaders will meet in the national assembly this week to discuss future legislation on the courts. Gunmen attacked a group of Hazara coal miners returning from a mine in Baghlan to homes in Daikundi province on Saturday; between seven and thirteen are reported to have been killed in what survivors suggest was a sectarian-motivated attack. U.S. and NATO military officials confirmed the deployment of around 300 U.S. Marines to replace an army unit training and advising Afghan forces in Helmand, to take place in the spring. NATO also announced the deployment of around 200 NATO troops, mostly Italian, to Farah province. At least four Pakistani left-wing activists have gone missing in the past week, and are believed to have been abducted. Pakistan’s defense minister said that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif has been appointed to head a Saudi Islamic military alliance formed in 2015; Saudi officials have not confirmed that account. On Monday, PTI lawyers made final arguments before the Supreme Court on the Panama Papers and their motions for Prime Minister Sharif’s disqualification. Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch claimed on Friday that an agreement had been reached regarding the merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa, but JUI-F FATA leaders held a rally on Sunday warning of protests if FATA was not given separate provincial status. A spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami said that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar would return to Afghanistan following the release of HIG prisoners and facilitation of the return of HIG-affiliated refugees from Pakistan, and suggested that international approval of his de-listing from a UN sanctions blacklist was not necessary for him to travel to Afghanistan. Pres. Mamnoon Hussain issued an executive ordinance on Saturday barring any future recipient of a plea bargain with the National Accountability Bureau from serving in government office. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Works signed an agreement for the construction of an Asian Development Bank-financed, Chinese-built road project linking Bamiyan and Baghlan provinces.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts Legislation Expires Without Renewal: In a statement on Sunday, the military’s spokesman confirmed the expiration of the special military court system established under the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to try terrorist suspects, whose two-year sunset period expired the day prior. All trials were held behind closed doors; of 274 cases referred to the courts, 161 individuals were given death penalties, and 113 sentenced to prison terms. Only twelve executions have been carried out to date. Dawn notes that at least five cases involved individuals previously reported to have gone “missing”, and cites an anonymous source who says that at least 150 of those sentenced by the courts were previously detained by the military. The Express Tribune reports that a National Action Plan review committee meeting of civilian and military officials, the first since Chief of Army Staff Bajwa took office, will be held “in the coming days”. In a separate report, an anonymous senior military source says that General Bajwa would continue the “overarching” security objectives set by his predecessor, and accepted domestic counterterrorism initiatives as “the new normal”. In the national assembly, parliamentary leaders have been called for a meeting on Jan 11 to discuss future legislation on military courts.
  • Activists Disappear: Salman Haider, an activist and professor at Fatima Jinnah Women University in Islamabad, has gone missing since Friday evening, his family members report. Three other activists, all active on left-wing social media, have been reported missing in the past week, the AFP reports; no claim of responsibility has been reported, and a security source denied involvement. Several PPP national assembly members highlighted concern over Haider’s disappearance in a motion on Monday. [Dawn] [AP]
  • Former Army Chief to Head Saudi Alliance: Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told a GEO News interview on Friday that former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif had been appointed as the head of a Saudi-led “Islamic military alliance” first announced in December 2015; Pakistan did not formally join the alliance at the time. Sharif, the Pakistani military, and the Saudi government have not commented on the report, and there are few details about the nature of Sharif’s role. Asif suggested that Sharif “must have” received clearance to take the position, but provided no details. Shia political groups in Pakistan criticized the move, which was endorsed by Sunni sectarian groups such as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat. [Guardian] [Reuters]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Hearings: Speaking during Panama Papers hearings on Friday, presiding judge  Asif Saeed Khosa suggested that the burden of proof was on the Sharif family to establish the legality of the money trail used to purchase its overseas real estate assets. Judges Ejaz Afzal Khan and Sheikh Azmat Saeed Sheikh dissented from that view, however, saying that the court was “not a trial court”, and that the onus lay on the PTI to prove their allegations. Imran Khan led a PTI rally in Bahawalpur on Sunday, reiterating corruption charges against the PML-N leadership. The PTI’s lawyer Naeem Bukhari made his final arguments before the court on Monday; in comments, the judges suggested that he had failed to substantiate charges against the prime minister’s family, and rebuffed the introduction of a previous corruption case that had been closed by the National Accountability Bureau and the Lahore High Court, saying the issue should be raised with the NAB instead. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • FATA Reforms: Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch told Dawn on Friday that the JUI-F and Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party had dropped previous objections to the merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa province; he did not provide further details on how their concerns might have been addressed. But JUI-F leaders in the FATA held a rally on Sunday, rejecting the proposed merger and warning of a protest movement if FATA was not granted separate provincial status. [ET] [ET]
  • Tensions with India: Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday and presented a dossier containing charges of Indian interference within Pakistan. Guterres reiterated an offer made by his predecessor Ban Ki Moon to serve as an “honest broker” in the India-Pakistan dispute. In a separate meeting with a delegation of British and European parliament members, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan described India as “the biggest hurdle in the way of regional peace”. Three civilians were killed in an attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir on Monday. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Plea Bargain Restrictions: On Saturday, President Mamnoon Hussain issued an executive ordinance that would disbar public office holders who secure plea agreements with the National Accountability Bureau from holding that office for life; the ordinance will only affect future agreements going forward. Finance Minister Dar and Law Minister Zahid Hamid told a press conference on Saturday that they would seek to convert the ordinance into legislation, with debate beginning in the senate on Monday. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Operation: Former Malir district Senior Superintendent of Police Rao Anwar was reinstated to his position on the order of Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Friday; he had been suspended following a raid on MQM leader Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hasan’s in September 2016. Separately, an accountability court reissued an arrest warrant for former provincial information minister Sharjeel Memon. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports some PML-N leaders are continuing to seek to recruit former PTI leader Javed Hashmi to rejoin the PML-N; Prime Minister Sharif is said to be hesitant for Hashmi to do so, due to concern over a backlash from the security services. Relations between the Jamaat-e-Islami and the PTI have been strained by the former’s position that accountability should be broadly pursued, rather than focusing on the prime minister and his family. Retired Lt. Colonel Sardar Muhammad Ayub Khan, an assembly member from Toba Tek Singh, was appointed to the Punjab provincial cabinet on Saturday and given the counter-terrorism portfolio. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and former Pres. Zardari were re-elected unopposed to their party leadership positions in intra-party polls on Sunday. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Revenues: The Express Tribune notes that the Federal Board of Revenue’s audit wing is understaffed as it prepares to undertake an audit of more than 93,000 cases from the 2015 fiscal year; thousands of cases are also tied up in the court system. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Suspects Arrested, Six Killed in Connection to Lahore Park Bombing [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Sindh Governor Refuses to Ratify Forced Conversion Legislation [ET]
  • 15 Suspects Arrested in Karachi Linked to AQIS [Dawn]
  • Government Planning Uniform Prayer Timings for All Sects [ET]
  • Deobandi Scholars Complain Visas Denied for Tableeghi Jamaat Conference [ET]
  • At Least Five Killed in Another Gadani Shipyard Fire [Dawn] [ET]
  • OGRA Licenses Private Sector Gas Distribution Through Sui Southern Pipeline [Dawn]
  • Rs 17.6 Billion Dispersed Under Prime Minister’s Youth Loan Program [APP]
  • Pakistan’s Once-Booming Textile Industry Struggles to Bounce Back [AFP]
  • Prime Minister Orders Investigation Into Tarbela Extension Project Delays [ET]
  • Rs 20 Billion in Tax Exemptions Approved for Lahore Orange Line Metro Project [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Assistance: A coalition military spokesman confirmed that U.S. Marines would return to Helmand as advisors in the spring, with approximately 300 being deployed to replace an outgoing army unit. Commander Brig. Gen. Roger Turner told reporters on Saturday that although the focus was training and support, “we’re viewing this as a high-risk mission… we’re not in any way viewing this as a noncombat mission or anything to take lightly.” The Taliban issued a statement dismissing the move, saying it was “solely to lend morale to the defeated troops of the stooge Kabul administration in hopes they hold out until spring”. On Sunday, the NATO coalition also announced the deployment of a unit of around 200 soldiers, mostly Italians, to Farah province. The WSJ reports that the number of weapons dropped by the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan in 2016 rose by about 40% to 1,337, and that more than 600 aerial sorties were conducted. Separately, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon visited Kabul on Saturday for meetings with Pres. Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, and other officials, stressing in public remarks that “our commitment to Afghanistan does not end” with the transition in administrations, and that “our purpose and intention here is enduring; it is sustainable and it is long term”. [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Hazara Miners Killed: A group of Hazara miners working at a coal mine in the Tala Wa Barfak district in Baghlan province, who had been returning by bus to homes in Daikundi province, were attacked by gunmen on Friday, with the reported death toll varying between 7-13 people. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, and blamed local militia groups. A survivor tells the WSJ that two gunmen targeted the group, denouncing them as “infidels”. Second deputy to the chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq blamed the Islamic State for the attack, which he linked to global “takfiri” activities. [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Rival Taliban factions reportedly clashed in Farah province on Sunday, leaving ten dead. The Ministry of Interior claimed to have killed two Haqqani network commanders in operations in Nangarhar’s Lalpur district on Sunday. A roadside bombing in the Arghandab district in Zabul province killed one police officer and wounded two others. [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hezb-e-Islami Talks: A spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami tells TOLO that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar will return to Afghanistan once the Afghan government releases HIG prisoners and “prepares the situation for Hizb-e-Islami refugees to return to Afghanistan”, saying that Hekmatyar “does not need the permission of foreign countries to come to Afghanistan”.
  • Tensions with Pakistan: In anonymous comments to the Express Tribune, a senior Pakistani official blames the outgoing Obama administration for “play[ing] the role of a major spoiler in Afghanistan”, citing the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour and the breakdown of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group process.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Road Construction Agreement: The Ministry of Public Works signed an agreement on Sunday for the construction of an $204 million road link between Bamiyan and Baghlan, to be financed by the Asian Development Bank and built by a Chinese company. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • 200,000 IDPs and Refugee Returnees in Need of Urgent Aid [TOLO]
  • Japan Pledges Chabahar Investment [Khaama Press]
  • 250 Female Police Officers Complete Turkish Training [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Offers Apartments to Families of 14 Slain Soldiers [Khaama Press]
  • Ariana Airlines Posts First Annual Profit [TOLO]

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