- Lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif concluded their arguments on Thursday in the Panama Papers case before the Supreme Court, arguing that charges against the prime minister had not been proven “beyond reasonable doubt”. The WSJ reports that the U.S. military has eliminated at least 30,000 “ghost” soldiers from the Afghan National Army’s payrolls, at an estimated savings of $13 million a month. Taliban sources are sending a diplomatic delegation from Qatar to meet with UAE officials, insisting that they were not involved in last week’s attack on the UAE ambassador in Kandahar. Demonstrators in Karachi supporting five missing liberal activists were attacked by counter-protestors who called for blasphemy charges against the missing men. Pakistan’s foreign ministry accused India of backing Hindu nationalist groups carrying out “ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Muslims”. Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal met with JUI-S leader Sami-ul Haq on Thursday and facilitated a phone call with Pres. Ghani, which focused on peace talks. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited Karachi, receiving briefings and telling the business community that operations would continue “till the elimination of crime in the city”. The chief of Kabul’s 13th police district was reportedly arrested on bribery charges on Thursday; at least two people were injured in clashes during the arrest.
Pakistan — Security
- Protestors Clash Over Missing Activists: Members of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah attacked demonstrators in Karachi who had been supporting five missing activists, with the counter-protestors throwing stones and calling for those activists to be charged with blasphemy for their support of minority rights. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters on Thursday that claims that the government was planning to bring blasphemy charges against the disappeared were “baseless, absurd and non-serious” and insisted the government was working for their recovery. [RFE/RL] [Dawn]
- Karachi Operations: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa received briefings from the Karachi Corps commander and Sindh Rangers chief, and afterwards met with representatives of the Karachi business community on Thursday, pledging that “the Karachi operation will continue till the elimination of crime in the city”. Sindh information advisor Moula Bux Chandio denied that the provincial government was opposed to the extension of Rangers policing powers; the interior ministry approved that extension on Thursday, backdated to the start of the week. [Dawn]
- Quetta Hospital Attack Investigation: A Supreme Court bench agreed to allow the interior ministry to file objections to the findings of a judicial commission that had investigated the August 2016 attack on the Quetta Civil Hospital, which had directly criticized Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for his meetings with Sunni sectarian groups. [ET]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Panama Papers Investigation: During Supreme Court hearings on Thursday, lawyers for Prime Minister Sharif concluded their arguments, arguing that opponents had not proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the prime minister and his family had violated the law and should be disqualified from office. Lawyers for Jamaat-e-Islami, which is also a party to the case, began arguments on Friday. In an interview on Thursday, former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said that the prime minister’s remarks before parliament should be treated as a “confessional statement”, and that the burden of proof to prove his innocence should lay on the prime minister. In a statement on Thursday, the BBC denied reports in the APP that it was reviewing a report earlier this week on the Sharif family’s London real estate, saying it stood by the report. [Dawn] [Dawn]
- Tensions with India: Speaking at Thursday’s weekly press briefing, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman accused Hindu nationalist groups operating with Indian state backing of “ethnic cleansings of Kashmiri Muslims”. Meanwhile, Pakistan has requested that India and the World Bank provide information on all planned hydroelectric dam projects on the Indus river and is tributaries; World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva will visit Pakistan on Jan 26 to discuss the continuing dispute. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Compensation Delivered to South Waziristan IDPs [APP]
- State Bank Finds Transactions Made in Parliamentarians Names were Fake [Dawn]
- Sartaj Aziz Calls for Muslim Community to Support Rohingya in Myanmar [Dawn]
- PIA Offers Compensation for PK-661 Crash Victim Heirs [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- ‘Ghost Soldiers’: The WSJ reports that the U.S. military has identified and eliminated at least 30,000 suspected ‘ghost’ soldiers from the payrolls of the Afghan National Army, which it is estimated will result in a savings of $13 million per month. U.S. military officials say they will require biometric ID cards as proof of identity for future payroll payments.
- Clash as Kabul Police Official Arrested on Corruption Charges: Hussain Dad, the police chief of Kabul’s 13th police district, was arrested on bribery charges on Thursday; two members of the major crimes directorate were reportedly wounded in clashes during the arrest, but details are limited.
- Attacks and Operations: A drone strike in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Friday killed at least four suspected Islamic State fighters; local officials say that two Pakistani and two Tajik nationls were killed. Officials in Sar-e-Pul say they have arrested two members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and killed four Taliban fighters in an operation on Friday.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Taliban Seek to Reassure UAE After Kandahar Attack: Senior Taliban sources tell Reuters that they are planning to send a diplomatic delegation from their offices in Qatar to the UAE to make their case that they were not involved in last week’s attack on the governor’s compound in Kandahar, in which the UAE ambassador was wounded and several junior diplomats killed. A Taliban source says that “we have very cordial relations with some of the Islamic world including the UAE and we would never want to target them”.
- Appeals for Intervention Against Pakistan: Spokesmen for Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah called on the incoming Trump administration to put greater pressure on Pakistan to curtail the activities of Taliban insurgents; former Pres. Karzai made a similar appeal during remarks in New Delhi earlier this week. Members of the High Peace Council told a press conference on Thursday that Pakistan was responsible for the breakdown in peace talks, rebuffing criticism from Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz earlier this week. Separately, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal met with JUI-S leader Sami-ul Haq on Thursday and facilitated a phone call between Haq and Pres. Ghani, which reportedly focused on peace negotiations. [Pajhwok]
- Federalism Disputes: In remarks on Thursday, former vice president Mohammad Yunus Qanooni argued that Afghanistan’s current centralized political system “must change before the next presidential elections”, and should be replaced by a mixed president-prime minister system.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Hezb-e-Islami Leader Denounces Taliban as ‘Ignorant, Fanatic Group’ [TOLO]