Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: CENTCOM Chief Confirms More Troops Under Consideration; No Agreement on Military Courts

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Topline

  • Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, CENTCOM chief Gen. Joseph Votel said that a new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan would “involve additional forces to ensure that we can make the advise and assist mission more effective”, without providing specific details.
  • The PPP denied earlier claims by Finance Minister Dar that it had agreed to any government proposals on the renewal of military courts; the government’s amendment bill was introduced in the National Assembly on Friday, and has been referred to a committee of parliamentary leaders.
  • In a BBC interview, activist Waqas Gorya said that he had been tortured while in extrajudicial detention earlier this year. Following an Islamabad High Court ruling originating from a case brought against Gorya and other activists by Lal Masjid representatives, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar vowed to block access to any social media websites that refused to cooperate with orders to ban “blasphemous” content.
  • Senator Jeanne Shaheen raised concerns on Thursday over reports that the U.S. embassy in Kabul had halted interviews for the Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghan interpreters and employees of the U.S.; State Department sources say they are running out of available visas to grant, and Shaheen said she would introduce legislation to increase that amount.
  • A group of FATA elders has filed a Supreme Court petition challenging the government’s plans to merge FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa province.
  • The U.S. released a $200 million tranche of Coalition Support Fund assistance to Pakistan last week, the first to be made under the Trump administration.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts: In a statement on Thursday, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar refuted claims by Finance Minister Dar earlier in the day that they had reached an agreement for the extension of military courts for a two-year period, saying there had been no agreement yet on any of the government’s proposals. The government introduced its legislation on the issue in the National Assembly on Friday as the 23rd Amendment to the constitution; speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq referred the bill to a committee of parliamentary leaders. [AP] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Activist Reports Torture: Waqas Gorya, one of five activists and bloggers who was extrajudicially detained in January and who has since fled to the Netherlands after his release, tells the BBC that he was tortured while in custody, and said that blasphemy accusations against the group were an attempt “to shut us down – to threaten our families – to build pressure on us”. On Thursday, following an Islamabad High Court order that originated from a case brought against Gorya and the other activists, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan pledged to block any social media website that refused to cooperate with orders to ban “blasphemous” content, and launched an investigation into the issue at the direction of the judge. [AP] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Corps Commanders Conference: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired a meeting of army corps commanders on Thursday; a statement from the military afterwards said that the group had discussed the need to expedite the implementation of the National Action Plan through Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, and vowed to counter the efforts to “hostile agencies” to disrupt the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. [The Nation] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • FATA Reforms: A group of five tribal elders filed a Supreme Court petition on Friday, challenging the government’s plans to merge the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa province, arguing that only the president of Pakistan had the authority over the agencies and calling for a new commission to consider reforms. [The Nation]
  • Foreign Advisor Challenged: On Thursday, the Lahore High Court agreed to hear a petition challenging the roles of Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi as advisor and special assistant to the prime minister on foreign affairs, arguing that they could not act with the status of ministers. [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: PTI and PPP parliamentarians staged a walkout from the national assembly on Friday to protest comments by PML-N legislator Mian Javed Latif, whose criticism of Imran Khan prompted a brawl outside the assembly on Thursday; Latif later offered a muted apology. In Punjab, the opposition staged a mock session outside the assembly to protest what they said was the speaker’s disregard of their earlier complaints. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Coalition Support Funds Released: The Express Tribune reports that the U.S. released a $200 million tranche of Coalition Support Fund payments to Pakistan last week, bringing total disbursals this fiscal year to $550 million; the finance ministry had projected that it would receive $1.65 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • India Repatriates Two Teens Held After Uri Attack [AP] [ET]
  • CENTCOM Commander Expresses Concern Over Ongoing India-Pakistan Tensions [Dawn] [ET]
  • Over 100,000 Sindh Police Investigated for Criminal Ties [ET]
  • Public Accounts Committee Reviews CPEC Projects [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Investigates Karachi Water Safety [ET]
  • Japan Pledges $7M for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan [Dawn]
  • National Assembly Adopts Hindu Marriage Law [Dawn]
  • Commentary: CPEC Enclaves – “Will our role be only to consume the output of these zones, or will these zones also create employment for Pakistanis, and contribute tax revenue to the exchequer, and foster backward and forward linkages to generate more investment?” [Khurram Husain, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • More Troops Planned for Afghanistan Mission: Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, CENTCOM head Gen. Joseph Votel said that a new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan would “involve additional forces to ensure that we can make the advise and assist mission more effective”, but did not provide further details. Votel reiterated concerns over Pakistan’s failure to take action against groups like the Haqqani network, and urged Congress to approve an $815 million budget request under the Afghan Security Forces Fund for a Blackhawk helicopter program for the Afghan Air Force, replacing Russian helicopters currently in use. [RFE/RL] [Foreign Policy]
  • Kabul Military Hospital Attack: Funeral services began Thursday for victims of the attack on the Kabul Military Hospital earlier this week; TOLO interviews the families of some of the victims. Some survivors allege that the attackers had help from inside the facility; Ministry of Defense officials said they were still investigating. [Ariana News] [AP]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Halt Reported in Special Afghan Visa Program: In a statement on Thursday, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) cited reports that the U.S. embassy in Kabul had halted interviews for Afghans seeking to obtain a Special Immigrant Visa following service with the U.S. military, even though Afghanistan is not among the countries cited under the Trump administration’s latest travel ban. Other immigrant advocacy organizations confirmed those reports. Reuters cites State Department sources who say they are running out of visas to allocate; Congress added 1,500 visas to the program last year, but at least 10,000 applications are reportedly pending, and Shaheen said she would introduce new legislation to increase the number available. [The Hill]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Urban Projects: Kabul municipality officials announced plans for a new $20 million “Green City” program sponsored by USAID and the UN, focusing on environmental cleanup and waste management projects. India’s ambassador to Afghanistan met with the Minister of Urban Development and Housing on Thursday, pledging $450 million in spending low-cost housing projects in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Hezb-e-Islami Exhibition Promotes Hekmatyar Writings [TOLO]
  • Karzai Criticizes US and UN [TOLO]
  • Thousands Participate in Annual University Entrance Exams [Pajhwok]
  • Commentary: The Impossible Job of Afghanistan’s Attorney General – “Building a justice system around one-to-one outreach will only further warp that system, forcing it to rely on the mission of a single, charismatic, crusading personality, rather than the institution he was meant to fix.” [May Jeong, The Atlantic]
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