Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Missing Activists Reunited with Family Members; Taliban Leader Reshuffles Shadow Governors

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  • At least four activists detained in Pakistan since the start of the year have been freed and reunited with their families, reports suggest; another man made contact with family members but has not be released, and the status of a sixth man, Samar Abbas, the president of the Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan, remains unknown. Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada has reportedly reshuffled the appointments of at least 16 Taliban shadow governors and eight other provincial officials. The Ministry of Interior claimed to have killed the Taliban shadow governor for Zabul in a joint operation on Saturday. Taliban fighters attacked checkposts on the outskirts of Tirin Kot in Uruzgan and two army bases in the Nad Ali and Sangin districts in Helmand. A Pakistani soldier succumbed to injuries sustained in a cross-border exchange of fire at a checkpost in the Khyber Agency on Saturday. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus suggested on Sunday that President Trump’s ban on refugees or immigration could be extended to include Pakistan; speaking at a rally on Sunday, Imran Khan welcomed the prospect of a ban “so that we can focus on fixing our country”. The arrest order against Vice President Dostum’s guards has not yet been carried out; government officials tell the Post that “we want to be extremely careful, because this is such a sensitive case”. Opposition party leaders threatened to boycott parliamentary proceedings if Prime Minister Sharif did not address last week’s brawl between PML-N and PTI members. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa formally authorized the deployment of 200,000 army soldiers to support a national census process beginning in mid-March; the head of the National Party said that he would bring a Supreme Court case seeking to block the census in Balochistan until the “complete repatriation of refugees”. National unity government officials have reportedly objected to three candidates for the head of the Independent Election Commission secretariat.

Pakistan — Security

  • Activists Freed: At least four activists who were “missing” and detained since the start of the year were freed and returned home over the weekend, family members report; Dawn identifies the men as Asim Saeed, Waqas Goraya, and Abdul Rehman, who was not previously among those named as having been detained. Asim’s father told the AFP that he had since left the country. Police sources tell the Express Tribune that academic Salman Haider was returned home on Friday. Ahmed Raza Naseer, a blogger, reportedly made contact with family members but his whereabouts remain unknown; Samar Abbas, the president of the Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan, remains unaccounted for. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • India Border Clashes: Pakistan’s military reported an exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistan troops across the Line of Control on Sunday; no casualties were reported. Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency announced the arrest on Friday of roughly 60 Indian fishermen, charged with violating Pakistani territorial waters. During a visit to Indian Punjab on Friday, ahead of upcoming assembly polling in early February, Prime Minister Modi pledged that “the farmers of Punjab need not worry about water anymore. We have decided to route the water from the Indus, which currently flows into Pakistan, who do not have the right over this, to the farmers of Punjab, who rightfully deserve it.”
  • Army Officer Dies in Cross-Border Fire with Afghanistan: A Pakistani soldier who was wounded in an exchange of cross-border fire at a checkpost in the Khyber Agency on Saturday succumbed to his injuries on Monday; the Pakistani military blamed “terrorists” who it said were “taking advantage of weak border control on Afghanistan side”. [ET]
  • FATA Repatriation: Around 700 families from North Waziristan who were displaced across the border into Afghanistan have returned to the country and have been resettled at an IDP camp in Bannu, the FATA Disaster Management Authority reports. [Dawn]
  • Acquittals in 2013 Riots: On Sunday, a Lahore anti-terrorism court acquitted 112 people charged with the destruction of a Christian neighborhood in March 2013 riots, following allegations of blasphemy, citing a lack of evidence; all of the suspects had already been released on bail. The man accused of blasphemy was sentenced to death in 2014, and has appealed his sentence.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: Supreme Court hearings on the Panama Papers resumed on Monday, with lawyers for Finance Minister Dar arguing that he could not be disqualified on the basis of previously-dropped money laundering allegations; the National Accountability Bureau submitted records on Dar’s 2000 confession. Judge Ejaz Afzal Khan suggested that Dar’s confession could be used as “circumstantial evidence” against the prime minister. Speaking at a conference in Karachi on Saturday, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar asserted the independence of the judiciary, saying that court decisions “should not be seen as inclined to any party”. The Senate law committee will begin review on Tuesday of a National Assembly-passed bill pushed in November through by the PML-N government that sets the terms of a judicial inquiry commission. [Dawn] [ET]
  • US Visa Ban: During a rally in Sahiwal on Sunday, PTI leader Imran Khan suggested that he would welcome the extension of President Trump’s visa ban to include Pakistan, “so that we can focus on fixing our country”. During a CBS interview on Sunday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus suggested that the executive order banning refugees and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries could be expanded to include Pakistan in the future.
  • Parliamentary Disputes: On Friday, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq adjourned proceedings until Monday, calling a meeting of parliamentary leaders to discuss the brawl between legislators that took place on Thursday. PPP leader Khurshid Shah and PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi laid blame on PML-N legislators and threatened to boycott proceedings if Prime Minister Sharif did not intervene. Sadiq also noted that PTI national assembly member Shahryar Afridi was continuing to join parliamentary proceedings despite the Election Commission’s suspension of his membership for failing to submit an asset statement; Afridi submitted that statement on Friday, and may be cleared to rejoin on Monday.
  • Other Political Activity: The Election Commission released a planning paper for the 2018 general elections on Saturday, announcing plans to begin training polling staff in June. Pak Sarzameen Party chairman Mustafa Kamal led the PSP’s first major public gathering in Karachi on Sunday, denying he had the backing of the country’s military establishment. Meanwhile, MQM-Pakistan deputy convener Kunwar Naveed Jamal was released from Karachi’s Central Jail on Friday after receiving bail. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Census Planning: On Friday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa formally authorized the deployment of up to 200,000 troops to “support” a national census currently scheduled to begin in phases starting in mid-March; the military’s statement does not appear to clarify or confirm earlier reports that some troops would be serving as enumerators, as well as providing security. National Party president Mir Hasil Bizenjo announced on Sunday that his party would petition the Supreme Court to block a census in Balochistan until the “complete repatriation of refugees”. [Dawn]
  • Privatization Planning: A Friday meeting of the cabinet committee on privatization indefinitely postponed a decision on Pakistan Steel Mills and the divestment of the government’s shares of the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd. [Dawn]
  • Energy Infrastructure: On Friday, a new 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Sahiwal was connected to the national energy grid; the first of the plant’s two units is expected to begin regular operations in May and the full plant to reach full operation by June, relying on imported coal as a fuel source. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Eight More Suspects Arrested in Connection to Parachinar Bombing [Dawn]
  • PEMRA Issues Notice Following BOL TV’s Refusal to Abide by Aamir Liaquat Ban [Dawn] [ET]
  • Palestinian President to Visit on Monday [Dawn]
  • Parents of Slain Social Media Celebrity Bribed to Change Testimony to Protect Son, Police Report [Reuters]
  • World Bank to Finance $100M Karachi Infrastructure Renovation Project [Dawn]
  • State Bank Leaves Policy Rate Unchanged at 5.75% [Dawn]
  • 40,000 Children Missed in Khyber Paktunkhwa Polio Vaccination Drive [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Restructuring: Reuters reports that Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada has replaced Taliban shadow governors and eight other provincial-level officials in 16 provinces; a Taliban spokesman confirmed the reported changes, which do not include shifts in the group’s central leadership shura or in Helmand, where Reuters notes that relations between Haibatullah and shadow governor Manan Akhund are “tense”. The NYT meanwhile has an in-depth report on Taliban revenue collections, including from government-provided electricity services, agricultural harvests, teacher salaries, and narcotics, among others.
  • Kandahar Attack Investigation: Kandahar provincial council officials complained on Sunday that the government had provided no details in connection to the ongoing investigation of the attack earlier this month at the Kandahar governor’s compound.
  • Islamic State in Afghanistan: Ghazni provincial governor Abdul Karim Matin told a TOLO interviewer on Sunday that the Islamic State had established a stronghold in the Nawa and Gelan districts and were using the area to infiltrate into parts of northern Afghanistan.
  • Attacks and Operations: On Saturday, the Ministry of Interior reported that a joint army-police operation in the Arghandab district had killed the Taliban shadow governor for Zabul, identified as Maulvi Sediq; operations continued in the district through Monday. Another Taliban commander in the same district was reported to have been killed in a premature bomb explosion on Sunday. Taliban fighters carried out a coordinated attack on several checkposts on the outskirts of the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tirin Kot on Friday evening, wounding four policemen, including the acting provincial police chief. Taliban fighters also attacked an Afghan army base in Helmand’s Nad Ali district on Saturday; no details on Afghan forces’ casualties were reported, but officials claimed that seven Taliban had been killed. Airstrikes in the district were said to have killed another 14 fighters. Another army base in the Sangin district was attacked on Monday; fighting appears to be is ongoing as of this writing. The Afghan army plans to deploy around 600 additional soldiers to Lashkar Gah and the surrounding areas, backed by U.S. military advisors. An Afghan joint forces center was attacked in the Bati Kot district in Nangarhar on Sunday; on Taliban fighter was reportedly killed and no other casualties were reported. Nangarhar provincial police officials reported that at least 7 fighters belonging to the Islamic State and Lashkar-e-Islam were killed in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, and that three ISIS fighters were killed after they attempted an ambush in the Haska Mina district. A Taliban leader in charge of recruitment was arrested in Kunduz’s Khanabad district on Sunday. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Dostum Guard Arrest Order: The Post notes that Vice President Dostum and his bodyguards have yet to be arrested in connection to the alleged abuse of former Jawzjan governor Ahmad Eschi, despite an attorney general’s office order last week for the arrest of nine Dostum bodyguards. An anonymous official says that “we want to be extremely careful, because this is such a sensitive case” and “it is going to take time”. Governor Atta Mohammad Noor, also interviewed in the piece, described the case as “shameful”, and said “we need the rule of law in Afghanistan, and no one should be above it”; he denied that he was seeking an appointment to replace Dostum, as he had suggested in previous interviews that he had been offered.
  • IEC Appointments: TOLO reports that national unity government officials have rejected three candidates — Imam Mohammad Warimach, Ahmadullah Archiwal, and Popal Habibi — who had been proposed by the Independent Election Commission to take the position of IEC secretariat head.
  • Hekmatyar Return: A spokesman for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizbe-i-Islami told TOLO on Friday that HIG was “making preparations for Hekmatyar to come to Kabul” and suggested that this would take place regardless of actions taken by the UN to lift sanctions on him.
  • Immigrants Arrested: On Monday, Pakistani border police in Balochistan’s Mashkail district detained as many as 79 Afghan nationals who were attempting to cross illegally into Iran.
  • Khost District Governor Defends Taliban: In comments to TOLO, Warikhman Gul Bashry, the district governor of Khost’s Qalandar district, defended the Taliban, saying the group “is in control of the district” and were “decent people”. An Independent Directorate of Local Governance spokesman said they would refer Bashry to the judiciary for action.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Contracts Signed: On Saturday, the Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS) power company signed $55.8 million worth of contracts with for the provision of electricity to Logar, Paktia, and Khost provinces, with funding coming from Asian Development Bank grants. A meeting of the National Procurement Commission on Monday, chaired by Pres. Ghani, approved Afs 7.4 billion in new contracts.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • UN Envoy Visits Kabul, Meets with Ghani to Pledge Continued Support [TOLO]
  • Afghan Ambassador Meets Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif [ET]
  • Under Taliban Siege, a Female Doctors’ Trial by Fire [NYT]
  • Afghan National Army Aims to Recruit More Women [RFE/RL]
  • 11 Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators Graduate in Helmand [Khaama Press]
  • Heroin Labs Destroyed in Helmand’s Naw Zad District [Khaama Press]
  • 41 Schools Closed in Herat Due to Security Threats [TOLO]
  • At Least 21 Cold Weather Deaths Reported [TOLO]

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