Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Afghan Officials Say Trump Expressed Openness to Troop Increase; Panama Papers Arguments Continue

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Topline

  • Afghan government officials tell the WSJ that President Trump expressed a willingness to consider additional U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan when he spoke with Pres. Ghani in December prior to taking office; Pentagon sources say that Secretary Mattis is still assessing a range of defense priorities, and the White House has offered no details on any Afghanistan policy. Arguments continue before the Supreme Court on the Panama Papers, with lawyers for Maryam Nawaz disputing documents that purport to show her signature as a beneficial owner of several overseas holding companies. Former Jawzjan governor Ahmad Eschi called for Vice President Dostum to be suspended from his position and barred from leaving the country after arrest orders were issued for nine of his bodyguards; no arrests are yet reported to have taken place. Dawn previews possible replacements for foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, who is expected to assume the ambassadorship to Washington DC in February or March. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly voted to raise its members pay on Tuesday, and to place new checks on the police and anti-corruption authority. Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered assistance to fund a portion of the Swat Expressway project.

Pakistan — Security

  • Saudi Arrests: Saudi Arabian officials have arrested at least 13 Pakistani nationals who they said were linked to an attack carried out by two Saudis in Jeddah on Saturday; no further details on their identities have been released.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: Lawyers for Maryam Nawaz insisted during court hearings on Tuesday that she did not own any properties outside of Pakistan, and denied that she had knowingly signed documents leaked in the Panama Papers that list her as the beneficial owner of Sharif family real estate properties in London. Lawyers reiterated that argument on Wednesday, accusing PTI lawyers of submitting “forged documents”. At Wednesday’s hearings, the Supreme Court asked the Sharif family to submit documents detailing the distribution of assets following the death of the prime minister’s father, Mian Muhammad Sharif. Separately, the PML-N government is reportedly considering an amnesty program that would allow the declaration of overseas assets in exchange for paying a one-time tax that would scale upwards over time. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Foreign Secretary Vacancy: Foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry’s assumption of the ambassadorship to the United States may be delayed until after an Economic Cooperation Organization summit meeting in March, Dawn reports; no replacement has yet been decided for the foreign secretary position, with ambassador to India Abdul Basit, former ambassador to France Ghalib Iqbal, UK ambassador Syed Ibn-i-Abbas, and permanent representative to the UN in Geneva Tehmina Janjua all said to be top contenders.
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Assembly Hikes Own Pay: On Tuesday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly voted to substantially raise the salaries of the chief minister, cabinet ministers, and all other lawmakers; assembly members will now receive Rs 80,000 per month, up from Rs 18,000. The assembly also voted to approve amendments that give the Chief Minister powers to order an inquiry against a police officer, and to require that the provincial anti-corruption body seek permission from the court prior to making arrests.
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Imran Khan accused the PML-N government of repaying circular debts held by the power sector shortly after taking office as a return for contributions by independent power producers to the party’s election campaign. During his trip to Multan to inaugurate a new metro bus project, Prime Minister Sharif is also reported to have met with Punjab PML-N leaders to discuss recruitment and party mobilization in south Punjab; former PTI leader Javed Hashmi tells the Express Tribune he has “no plans to join the PML-N”, however. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Saudis Support Swat Expressway: Saudi Arabia has reportedly agreed to provide Rs 3.4 billion in financial assistance towards the construction of the Swat Expressway project linking the Peshawar-Islamabad motorway with the town of Kalam; details of the agreement are limited, and the total cost of the expressway has previously been estimated at Rs 38 billion. [ET]
  • Internet Infrastructure: Speaking at a national assembly committee briefing on Tuesday, the head of the Special Communications Organization, Maj. Gen. Azeem Bajwa, received approval for an 800-kilometer fiber-optic line following the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor connecting from Gwadar to Rawalpindi and on to China, with the goal of bypassing connections through India or submarine cables.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Chinese Ambassador Meets with National Security Advisor Janjua [ET]
  • Karachi Man Shot in Suspected Sectarian Attack [Dawn]
  • Two New Chinese Corvettes Inducted into Maritime Security Agency [Dawn]
  • Peshawar High Court Seeks Government Response to PTI Petition on October Marches [ET]
  • Parliamentary Committee Proposes Asset Declarations for Civil Servants [Dawn]
  • Karachi City Council Approves 10-Month Budget Despite Opposition Protests [Dawn]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Approves Rs 2.9 Billion for Karachi Industrial Infrastructure Development [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Policy: Afghan government sources tell the WSJ that President Trump expressed a willingness to consider an increase in U.S. troop deployments to Afghanistan when he spoke to Pres. Ghani before taking office in December. Around Presidential aide Nader Nadery said that “we will work with them to identify areas where more military support will be needed”, and the commander of the Afghan special forces suggested that proposals could include an increase in the number of special forces battalions from 38 to 60. Trump has not spoken publicly about the conflict, and Pentagon sources suggest that Defense Secretary Mattis was still assessing “a variety of defense issues”. Separately, Russia’s special representative on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, told Interfax News that Russia had not held any talks with the new administration on Afghanistan but that “as far as I know, Trump does not currently have any intentions to withdraw, which is logical, because if in the current environment he decides to withdraw the contingent, then everything will collapse”. [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: The Ministry of Defense claimed to have killed 36 Islamic State-affiliated fighters in ongoing operations in Zabul’s Khak-e-Afghan and Shelamzoi districts on Wednesday. At least four Taliban fighters were killed after they attacked a police checkpost in the Chaharcheno district in Uruzgan on Wednesday, local police officials reported.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Eschi Welcomes Arrest Order: Speaking to TOLO after reports that the Attorney General’s office has ordered the arrest of nine of Vice President Dostum’s bodyguards, former Jawzjan governor Ahmad Eschi called on the government to also suspend Dostum and bar him from leaving the country. No arrests of the guards are yet reported to have taken place.
  • Corruption Investigations: Without providing details, a spokesman for the defense ministry said that over two thousand people, including 214 ministry officers, were under investigation by the attorney general’s office as part of more than 1,500 corruption cases.
  • Uzbekistan MOUs Signed: Foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Uzbekistan’s minister of foreign affairs Abdul Aziz Kamilov signed five agreements on counter-narcotics, security cooperation, and cooperation between the two foreign ministries.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • US Issues $9.3 Million Contract for Afghan Air Force Logistics Support [Khaama Press]
  • Illegal Gold Mining Reported in Badakhshan [Ariana News]
  • Commentary: Why the European Union Shouldn’t Deport Afghans – “Returning desperate Afghan asylums seekers to conflict and crisis is not just inhumane, it will add to the instability that drove them to flee in the first place.” [Patricia Grossman, Human Rights Watch]
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