Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Seize Sangin District Center; Military Parade Commemorates Pakistan Day

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  • The Taliban have taken control of Helmand’s Sangin district after a small group of police and soldiers withdrew following overnight attacks; the Taliban claim to have seized former bases and military equipment, although Afghan forces say they carried out airstrikes to destroy abandoned materiel. The district police chief tells the AP that a counterattack is currently in preparation.
  • A military parade and other ceremonies commemorated Pakistan Day, the anniversary of the 1940 Lahore Resolution calling for the creation of a country for Muslims in British India.
  • Prime Minister Sharif met with JUI-F and PkMAP leaders on Wednesday after their opposition during the vote on Wednesday over the renewal of military courts; voting on the amendment has not yet taken place in the senate.
  • India’s ambassador to Afghanistan confirmed that India was considering an Afghan request to supply parts and repairs to 18 currently-grounded Russian helicopters, with a decision slated for “within a few months”.
  • Nine Afghan Local Police militia members were killed in an insider attack at a highway checkpost in Kunduz over Wednesday night.
  • Taliban sources tell the AP that Pakistan met with representatives in Islamabad to pressure the group to enter into peace talks in Afghanistan, ahead of a Russian-hosted conference on the conflict schedule for early April.
  • Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced plans to meet with ambassadors from Muslim countries on form a “united ummah” to confront the issue of “blasphemy”, reiterating demands that social media providers comply with government demands to curtail such content.
  • The Pakistani national assembly passed senate-amended legislation governing national inquiry commissions, clearing the way for its signature into law.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts: Following their opposition to the revival of the military courts system during the vote in the national assembly, Prime Minister Sharif held separate meetings on Wednesday with JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman and PkMAP leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai. The amendment has yet to be voted on in the senate.
  • Census Workers Attacked: A three-man census team was fired at during a visit to a village in the Ghotki district on Wednesday; two men were arrested, and no injuries were reported.
  • Rail Tracks Bombing: Two small bombs exploded on the railway line linking the Sindh cities of Mehrabpur and Rohri on Wednesday evening, halting rail service but causing no injuries. No claim of responsibility has been reported.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Pakistan Day Celebrated: A military parade and other ceremonies commemorated the 77th Pakistan Day celebration on Thursday, which marks the anniversary of the Lahore Resolution of 1940 calling for the creation of a separate country for Muslims out of British India. Visiting military delegations from Saudi Arabia, China, and Turkey also took part in the parade. Speaking at a ceremony at Pakistan’s embassy in New Delhi, ambassador Abdul Basit expressed hope that bilateral relations would improve and said that “Pakistan is keen to settle all the issues with India, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, through dialogue”. In his remarks, former Pres. Zardari called for “rededicate[ing] ourselves to the ideals of democracy, rule of law and welfare of the people”. [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Blasphemy Controls: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced on Wednesday that he had called a meeting of ambassadors to Pakistan from Muslim countries to “tackle this very important issue of blasphemy as a united ummah”, and reiterated his intention to “take the strictest of measures” against social media companies who failed to comply with government demands that they curtail “blasphemous” content and provide information about those posting it. Facebook has not commented directly on the issue, but its report on blocks at the request of national governments cites 25 pieces of content blocked in Pakistan during the first half of 2016. Twitter’s own transparency report said that the Pakistani government had requested information on 60 accounts in 2016, and sought the removal of 51 of them, which Twitter said it did not comply with.
  • Other Political Activity: Despite low attendance and opposition walkouts in the national assembly on Wednesday, the PML-N pushed through legislation on national inquiry commissions, which was earlier approved with amendments by the senate; it now goes to the president for signature. During Election Commission hearings on Wednesday, ECP officials complained that the PTI was using delaying tactics in its repeated adjournment requests on hearings into charges that it had violated campaign finance law by raising money overseas, saying that no more extensions would be granted when hearings resume on April 3. Former MQM provincial assembly member Shaikh Abdullah announced on Wednesday he would join the Pak Sarzameen Party. A Karachi anti-terrorism court renewed arrest orders against MQM leader Altaf Hussain and nine other party leaders on Wednesday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Complaints: A coalition of chambers of commerce and business lobbies issued a declaration on Wednesday demanding the withdrawal of discretionary powers to the Federal Board of Revenue, accusing tax officers of “twisting their arms and blackmailing them” and focusing on squeezing more revenue out of existing taxpayers as the number of filers has declined.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Cricket Star Joins Military Initiative to Discourage Poppy Cultivation in FATA [ET]
  • Islamabad Police Chief to Shift to Punjab [ET]
  • Islamabad Capital Development Authority Tells Supreme Court US Embassy Building Did Not Violate By-Laws [ET]
  • Constable Killed in Sialkot Shooting [The Nation]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Pledges to Overhaul Public Education System [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Summons NAB Chairman on Illegal Appointments Case [ET]
  • Former Sindh Bar Council Vice Chairman Resigns, Alleging Corruption [Dawn]
  • Government Plans to Introduce Budget in Late May [The Nation]
  • Saeed Ahmad Appointed President of National Bank of Pakistan [The Nation]
  • Commentary: Fighting on Three Fronts – “Pakistan’s fixed and unchanging position on India and Afghanistan, and its inability or reluctance to deal with what threatens these countries, like non state actors and the Afghan Taliban, has come to calcify Pakistan’s foreign policy.” [Touqir Hussain, Express Tribune]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Take Control of Sangin District: Taliban fighters captured control of Helmand’s Sangin district over Wednesday night after Afghan security forces conducted a “tactical withdrawal” from the district center, officials reported Thursday. A Taliban spokesman said that the group now held the police headquarters and a military base, and had seized military equipment left behind, although Afghan Air Force airstrikes were reportedly carried out to destroy some abandoned materiel and bases. A Khaama Press source says forces withdrew due to a lack of resupply amidst ongoing fighting, while other sources attribute it to a desire to avoid civilian casualties. District police chief Mohammad Rasoul tells the AP that only eight policemen and 30 Afghan soldiers were on duty at the time of the Taliban siege, and said that they were planning a counterattack. [NYT] [WAPO] [TOLO]
  • Indian Military Aid: India’s ambassador to Afghanistan Manpreet Vohra confirms to Reuters that India is considering an Afghan request to provide repairs and parts for 18 currently-grounded Russian-made helicopters in use by the Afghan Air Force, at an estimated cost of around $50 million. He suggested that a decision would be finalized “within a few months”.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: An Afghan Local Police officer killed nine of his colleagues in an apparent insider attack at a checkpost on the Kunduz-Ali Abad highway in Kunduz province on Wednesday night; police officials say they believe the attacker has fled to join Taliban. [TOLO] [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Two anonymous Taliban sources tell the AP that Pakistan hosted a meeting with their leadership to press them to join peace talks ahead of a Russian-hosted summit on Afghanistan planned for early April; the Taliban officials say they presented their own demands in return, but details of the meeting are otherwise limited. Speaking separately at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, acting foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani reiterated demands for Pakistan to take action against the Taliban leadership, saying that “Pakistan’s reluctance to end its support to terrorism undermines efforts to insure peace and security in the country”.
  • Electoral Reforms: A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said Wednesday that the government was in talks with donors about the creation of an electronic voting system, a proposal which was endorsed by the chairman of the Electoral Complaints Commission.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • School Dropouts: Save the Children estimates that more than 440,000 children in Afghanistan will drop out of schooling this year due to conflict and forced returns from Pakistan. Almost a third of all school-age children in Afghanistan, or 3.7 million, are unable to attend school; over half of all returnee children are out of school. Speaking at a ceremony marking the start of the new academic year on Thursday, Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish noted that 64% of Afghans over the age of 15 remain illiterate.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Cross-Border Traders Complain of Continued Restrictions at Torkham Despite Reopening [Dawn]
  • Is It Safe for Britain to Send Refugees Back to Afghanistan? [Guardian]
  • Kabul Municipality Employees Complain of Poor Salaries [TOLO]
  • Commentary: How Much Do I Need to Pay? Changes to Afghanistan’s Tax Law Cause Chaos and Confusion – “It is inexplicable that so much uncertainty and opaqueness could have been introduced to this sector, at exactly the time that the government is trying to expand the tax base in a shrinking economy, attract investment, and tackle corruption, and hoping to develop and maintain a strong revenue stream.” [Chantal Grut, AAN]

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