Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: National Assembly Approves Military Courts Amendment; Rabbani Backs Nicholson Troop Request

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Topline

  • On Tuesday, Pakistan’s national assembly passed the 28th Amendment to the constitution, which revives the secret military court system for terrorism suspects. The senate took up the issue on Wednesday but does not appear to have completed a final vote as of this writing.
  • Speaking at an event at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday, acting foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani reiterated support for U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson’s request for additional forces in Afghanistan.
  • Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with visiting UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Tuesday, noting in a joint press conference afterwards that investigations into MQM leader Altaf Hussain remained an “irritant” in the bilateral relationship.
  • India and Pakistan concluded Indus Water Treaty talks on Tuesday; India agreed to review the design of one hydroelectric project and allow for an inspection visit by Pakistan’s Indus Commission, but contrary to earlier reports, does not appear to have agreed to further talks on two disputed dam projects.
  • In a RFE/RL interview, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal professed to be “cautiously optimistic” about a new “mechanism” agreed to by the two countries to verify action against terrorist groups on both sides of the border.
  • The Federal Investigation Agency has arrested at least one suspect in connection to “blasphemous” online content, it told the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday.
  • A World Bank tribunal ruled against Pakistan in an arbitration case brought by the Tethyan Copper Company over the cancellation of the Reko Diq mining lease in 2011.
  • Pres. Ghani chaired a meeting on Monday to review plans for the issuance of electronic national ID cards, which is reportedly slated to begin within 90 days.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts Legislation Passes National Assembly: In a 255-4 vote on Tuesday, the National Assembly approved the 28th Constitutional Amendment bill, which reinstates secret military courts for terrorism suspects for a two-year period. An accompanying amendment to the Pakistan Army Act was also passed; the four no votes were independent Jamshed Dasti and four members of the Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party. Prime Minister Sharif attended the session for the vote. JUI-F legislators abstained from the vote, saying they objected to the legislation’s use of the phrase “terrorism in the name of religion”. On Wednesday, the senate took up both bills, approving the Army Act amendment but postponed a vote on the constitutional amendment. [Reuters] [AP]
  • Orakzai Operation: On Wednesday, Pakistan’s military spokesman announced that five Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants, including a “high-value target”, were killed in an operation in the Orakzai Agency; two Frontier Corps soldiers, including a major, were killed in the clash. Elsewhere, one security official was killed and three injured in a roadside bombing in South Waziristan’s Angor Adda area near the border with Afghanistan. [ET]
  • Jamaat-ul-Ahrar Confirms Militant Death: On Wednesday, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar confirmed earlier reports of the death of Qari Muhammad Yasin, aka Ustad Aslam, in a U.S. drone strike in Paktika province on Sunday; Yasin was identified as a member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and a leading trainer of suicide bombers who had helped plot several major attacks on targets in Pakistan. [Reuters]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Interior Minister Seeks Action Against Altaf Hussain: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with visiting UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd in Islamabad on Tuesday, telling a joint press conference afterwards that the “issue of the [MQM] founder” Altaf Hussain remained an “irritant” in Pakistan-UK relations. Rudd responded that “British laws have no exemption. I have assured the minister, action will be taken upon their requests of justice without any discrimination”. Dawn reports that London police are in the process of returning nearly a million pounds seized as part of a money laundering investigation against Hussain and other MQM leaders living in the UK, charges on which were ultimately dropped. [Dawn]
  • Water Talks: The Nation reports that, contrary to claims by Minister of Water and Power Khwaja Asif on Tuesday, India has not agreed to further World Bank-brokered talks in Washington in April on two disputed hydroelectric projects. Indus Water Commission talks concluded on Tuesday; India agreed to review the design of a smaller hydropower project in Miyar, and to allow for an inspection tour by Pakistan’s Indus Commission, but did not agree to halt any current construction. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Blasphemy Investigations: At Islamabad High Court hearings on Wednesday, the Federal Investigation Agency reported that it had made one arrest in connection to cases of “blasphemous” content posted online, although few details were disclosed. [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations: On Tuesday, the National Accountability Bureau initiated an investigation into corruption charges against Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly speaker Asad Qaisar. Separately, the Federal Investigation Agency registered its own case against NAB deputy chairman Imtiaz Tajwar, in connection to his previous tenure as acting chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority.
  • Census Count: On Wednesday, the Peshawar High Court issued a ruling ordering the provincial statistics department to amend census forms to include members of the Sikh minority community in the count. Another petition on the issue has also been filed in the Sindh High Court. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Prime Minister Sharif met with the PML-N parliamentary delegation on Tuesday, touting the government’s investment and infrastructure efforts and Pakistan’s economic growth. During debate in the national assembly on Wednesday, PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah accused the government of “weakening the federation” and ignoring the needs of smaller provinces. [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • World Bank Tribunal Rules Against Pakistan in Reko Diq Case: A World Bank arbitration tribunal ruled against Pakistan in a case brought by the Tethyan Copper Company over the cancellation of its mining lease for the Reko Diq copper mine in Balochistan in 2011. Hearings on damage payments will begin Wednesday, but are not expected to be finalized until next year. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • US Seeks to Strip Citizenship of Pakistani-Origin Man Convicted in Al Qaeda Plot [Guardian]
  • Lahore High Court Seeks Final Arguments on Hafiz Saeed Detention [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sartaj Aziz Blames PPP Government for Issuance of American Visas [Dawn]
  • Recovery of Pakistan Cash Stashed in Swiss Banks Unlikely [ET]
  • Sindh High Court Freezes Land Deed Registration [ET]
  • Petition Seeks Details on K-Electric Sale to Chinese Firm [ET]
  • Two Chinese Nationals Imprisoned Over ATM Fraud in Karachi [Dawn]
  • Pakistan and South Korea Sign Deal On Information Technology Park [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Assistance: Speaking at an event at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday, acting foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani reiterated support for a request by U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson for additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan, adding that “we stand confident that the new U.S. administration under President Trump will remain strategically engaged and continue its support”.
  • Attacks and Operations: The NYT reports that the death toll from Monday’s suicide car bombing attack on a NDS-linked militia force in Helmand’s Gereshk district may be as high as 14. On Wednesday, Qari Rohullah, the prayer leader of the central mosque in the Laghman provincial capital of Mehtar Lam, succumbed to injuries sustained in an attack by unidentified gunmen.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Tensions with Pakistan: In a RFE/RL interview, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal suggests that Afghanistan is “cautiously optimistic” about an agreement with Pakistan to “verify” that both countries are taking action against terrorist groups on either side of the border. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • National ID Card Rollout: Pres. Ghani chaired a meeting on Monday to plan for the launch of a national electronic ID card, which Khaama Press reports could begin within 90 days.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghanistan Housing Project Underlines Growing Chinese Role [Reuters]
  • Poverty Prevents Many from Celebrating Nowruz [TOLO]
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