Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Imran Khan Meets with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa; Ghani Travels to Australia

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  • On Friday, Imran Khan met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa for his first one-on-one meeting since the latter took office in November; speculation is high as the meeting comes ahead of a Supreme Court verdict on the Panama Papers, and Imran later told supporters that “the good news is that the army chief stands by democracy”.
  • The NYT and WSJ note debates among analysts over whether India is revising its nuclear doctrine to consider the use of preemptive nuclear strikes, as Pakistan has built up its own nuclear arsenal. At least two people were injured in cross-Line of Control firing incidents on Saturday and Monday.
  • Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan said that Iran was “concerned” over the appointment of former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif to head the Saudi military alliance.
  • Pres. Ghani has begun a three-country tour of Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore; upon arrival in Australia, his visit was protested by members of the Hazara community, who called for a halt to the forced repatriation of Afghan asylum applicants from Australia.
  • Afghanistan will send a delegation “at the deputy or chief level” to attend next week’s Moscow conference on Afghanistan; Russian special envoy Zamir Kabulov told a Bloomberg interview that Taliban demands for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan were “justified”, drawing a rebuke from an Afghan presidential spokesman.
  • Gen. Bajwa is on a three-day visit to the UK, arriving on Sunday, for talks that are expected to focus on tensions in the relationship with India and Afghanistan.
  • Secretary of State Tillerson affirmed U.S. support for the NATO alliance mission in Afghanistan at a NATO foreign ministerial gathering in Brussels on Saturday; both Tillerson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described the mission in Afghanistan as being driven by counterterrorism objectives, but Tillerson did say that the alliance was committed to “peace in Afghanistan, including to an eventual settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban”.
  • Sindh police chief A.D. Khawaja was removed from office on Saturday by the provincial government, prompting protests from the PTI and other PPP rivals; the Sindh High Court has suspended his removal and the promotion of his replacement and agreed to hear a challenge against the move.
  • The deputy NDS chief for Pakitka and Kapisa provincial council secretary were killed in separate attacks over the weekend, among other security incidents across the country.
  • The EU is considering providing between $2-5 million to support the peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami, the WSJ reports; State Department sources say the US will not provide funds and has not received a request to remove Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from the US sanctions list. Mohammad Akram Khpolwak, a Ghani advisor, was appointed to head the High Peace Council secretariat on Sunday; the HPC has reportedly exhausted its budget and still lacks a chairman.
  • The Pakistani military announced a number of promotions on Friday, including a new head of the National Disaster Management Authority, the Pakistan Ordinance Factory, and the Mangla 1 Corps.
  • An accountability court issued an arrest warrant against former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Saturday; his lawyers said he was out of the country accompanying his wife on medical treatment.
  • Clashes between border guards and travelers at the Chaman border crossing left at least one man dead and temporarily closed the crossing on Friday.
  • The repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan resumed on Monday after a pause during the winter; the UN has cut compensation payments made to returning refugees after raising the amount last year, citing budget shortfalls.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: The NYT reviews a current debate amongst analysts as to whether India is revising its nuclear doctrine to consider the use of preemptive nuclear strikes against Pakistan in the event of war. The WSJ also covers the debate, noting the build-up in “tactical” nuclear bombs by Pakistan, missile tests on both sides, and Indian attempts to develop a ballistic missile defense capability. Former chairman of the Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen. Ehsan ul Haq told a conference in Islamabad on Saturday that “at no stage since the 1998 nuclear tests did Pakistan, at any level, consider Indian pronouncements of [no first use] credible”. Separately, Pakistan’s military reported that a civilian was wounded in cross-border firing along the Line of Control on Saturday, and another man was wounded in a firing incident on Monday. In an interview with the APP, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan professed Tehran’s readiness to serve as a mediator between India and Pakistan, but said no such formal request had been made. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [ET] [ET]
  • Saudi Military Alliance: In an interview in Iranian state media, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost said that Iran was “concerned” about the appointment of former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif to head a Saudi military alliance, saying that Pakistan had discussed the issue with Iran but “that does not indicate that Iran is satisfied with this decision or it has accepted the same”. The NYT notes the controversy over the appointment and participation in the alliance, and concerns over its impact on relations with Iran and other countries.
  • Police Appointments Shuffle: On Saturday, the Sindh provincial government removed provincial police chief A.D. Khawaja from his position, three months after temporarily suspending him on forced leave; Khawaja has clashed with the PPP leadership in the province over police appointments on multiple occassions. The provincial government appointed Sardar Abdul Majeed Dasti as Khawaja’s acting replacement, reportedly without consulting with the federal government. PTI and PML-N leaders denounced the move, and several PTI activists were arrested at a protest on Sunday outside the Karachi press club. On Monday, the Sindh High Court suspended Dasti’s promotion and Khawaja’s removal, agreeing to hear a petition challenging the move. Separately, Islamabad police chief Tariq Masood Yasin was transferred to the Punjab provincial police service, and is expected to be appointed to take over as provincial police chief after the retirement of current chief Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera. [ET]
  • Military Appointments: On Saturday, the military announced the promotion to lieutenant general rank of Azhar Saleh Abbasi, who will now command the Mangla 1 Corps. Lieutenant General Umar Farooq Durrani, who previously led the corps, has been appointed to lead the Pakistan Ordinance Factory; Lieutenant General Omar Mahmood Hayat, who previously led the POF, has been appointed to head the National Disaster Management Authority. [ET]
  • Chaman Border Crossing Closed After Clash: Border guards at the Chaman border crossing opened fire on protestors on Friday after they began throwing stones and protesting document identification requirements; one man was killed and at least seven others were reportedly injured. The crossing was temporarily closed after the incident. Separately, officials in the Kurram Agency reported Sunday that at least four missiles were fired from across the border with Afghanistan; no casualties were reported. [The Nation] [ET] [ET]
  • Twenty Killed at Sarghoda Shrine in Apparent Cult Killing: Police arrested Abdul Waheed, the custodian of a Barelvi Sufi shrine in the Sarghoda district in Punjab, after he and two accomplices were accused of drugging and murdering at least 20 devotees on Sunday. Police say they are investigating the case, and believe mental illness or disputes over control of the shrine may have been a factor; one of those killed was Ali Muhammad Gujjar, the son of the mystic whose grave forms the site of the shrine. Accounts suggest that physical beatings and other forms of abuse formed a regular part of previous ceremonies. The Punjab minister for religious affairs told the AFP that the shrine was unregistered; Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif pledged compensation for the families of the victims. [WSJ] [Reuters]
  • NGO Registration: Interior ministry sources tell Dawn that the government has signed memorandums of understanding with 58 international NGOs, and plans to complete the registration of roughly 70 in total within the next week. Around 130 NGOs have reportedly sought registration since the process began in October 2015.
  • US Military Assistance: On Friday, the U.S. embassy announced the delivery earlier last week of six Cessna light aircraft to the Pakistani army; they will be converted into medical evacuation services as part of a $14.9 million contract issued in April 2016, with sustainment services continuing for a 24-month period. [ET]
  • Waziristan Attacks: Separate roadside bombings in South Waziristan on Saturday and North Waziristan on Sunday killed one Frontier Corps soldier and wounded two others.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Imran Khan Meets Chief of Army Staff: Opposition leader Imran Khan met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Friday, their first one-on-one meeting since the latter took office last November. Speaking at a rally in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Saturday, Imran told supporters that “the only thing I would like to say about the meeting is that the good news is that the army chief stands by democracy”, without elaborating further. PTI sources tell the Express Tribune that Imran raised concerns over former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif’s participation in the Saudi military alliance, and a PTI spokesman tells the Nation that talks were focused on security issues — including the closure of the Afghan border — rather than politics. Speculation remains high given the expected issuance of a Supreme Court verdict on the Panama Papers case against Prime Minister Sharif in the coming weeks; Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid told a TV interviewer on Sunday to “just wait 10 more days to see the result of the meeting between Imran Khan and COAS”. Speaking at a rally in Chakwal on Sunday, Imran reiterated corruption charges against the PML-N government and the PPP. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Gen. Bajwa Visits UK: On Sunday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa arrived in London for a previously unannounced three-day official visit to meet with UK political and military leaders. Analysts tell The Nation that relations with India and Afghanistan are expected to be at the top of his agenda.
  • Arrest Warrant Against Former Prime Minister: On Saturday, a special accountability court issued an arrest warrant against former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf over illegal appointments at the Gujranwala Electric Power Company; lawyers for Ashraf said that he was out of the country accompanying his wife on medical treatment. Separately, a Supreme Court bench heard arguments regarding appointments to the National Accountability Bureau, and on Saturday issued a verdict ruling that the NAB chairman did not have the discretion to relaxing hiring rules. On Sunday, senate chairman Raza Rabbani proposed the creation of a new national accountability commission to replace the NAB. [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Karachi Crackdown: A Karachi anti-terrorism court issued arrest warrants on Friday against MQM leaders Altaf Hussain, Nadeem Nusrat, and other London faction members in the case of the 1997 murder of KESC chief Shahid Hamid and two others. Separate warrants were also issued on Saturday against Hussain and MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar over an August speech by Hussain. Two Karachi University professors, Dr Riaz Ahmed and Dr Mehar Afroze Murad, were reportedly detained by the Sindh Rangers on Saturday evening, prior to a press conference at which they were planning to reiterate appeals for the release of a third professor, Dr Hassan Zafar Arif, who has also been charged in connection to Hussain’s speeches. The MQM-London faction denied affiliation with the two detained professors; Murad was released after a few hours, but Riaz was charged and remanded to custody for 14 days on Sunday. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Campus Protests: Despite a ban on campus activities, members of the Islami Jamiat Taleba gathered at Punjab University on Friday, in what the rival Pakhtun Education Development Movement said was a rally but which IJT officials insist was only a gathering after Friday prayers. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Friday, the Election Commission announced that the PTI was not eligible to be issued an election symbol in future elections, citing the absence of mandatory intra-party elections for leadership positions; a PTI spokesman accused the ECP of failing to give notice to the party before taking that step. PML-N Sindh chapter president Ismail Rahu has resigned from the party to join the PPP, and will be replaced by Babu Sarfarz Khan Jatoi. The PPP is now reviewing its electoral alliances at the local level with the PTI after sustained criticism from Imran Khan against the party’s leadership. The Nation reports that the JUI-F “was seriously considering other options for future political alliances” as relations with the PML-N have soured. Jamaat-e-Islami party activists staged protests in a major Karachi thoroughfare on Friday against K-Electric tariff rates, clashing with police, who arrested JI Karachi chief Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman and dozens of other protestors. Rehman was later released; the JI has vowed further protests. The Sindh provincial government has announced a holiday on April 4 to commemorate the death anniversary of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: On Friday, Water and Power secretary Mohammad Younis Dagha was transferred to the commerce ministry, a move Dawn reports was prompted by dissatisfaction over persistent loadshedding. Karachi suffered prolonged outages over the weekend in several areas, and the supply-demand gap for the Lahore Electric Supply Company has reached around 1200 megawatts. Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif attributed current shortfalls to low river water levels and predicted they would be resolved soon. [ET] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Islamabad High Court Directs FIA to ‘Bring Back Bloggers If There is Proof Against Them’ in Blasphemy Case [ET] [The Nation]
  • MWM, JUI-F Condemn Parachinar Bombing [The Nation] [ET]
  • Suspect Arrested in Murder of Ahmadi Lawyer [ET]
  • Senate Subcommittee Denies Special Communications Organization Commercial Entity Status [Dawn]
  • Government Urged to Appoint Women Enumerators for FATA Census [Dawn]
  • PTI, Karachi Mayor Challenge Privatization of Karachi Park [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Commerce Minister Holds Talks with Bahrain on CPEC Investments [The Nation]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Signs Agreement with Chinese Firm on Tarbela Dam Extension [ET]
  • Technical Advisory Group Recommends Improvements in Polio Vaccination Program [Dawn] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US and NATO Support: Speaking at a conference of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Saturday, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the importance of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, which he underscored was “about preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism.” In his remarks at the conference, Secretary of State Tillerson said that the NATO mission “is essential to our shared goal of ensuring that Afghanistan develops the capability to contribute to regional stability and prevail over terrorist threats”, and that the alliance was committed to “peace in Afghanistan, including to an eventual settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban”. [Dawn]
  • ANSF Training: A spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council tells TOLO that the government is finalizing its four-year plan for the Afghan national security forces, including increases in the Afghan Air Force, special forces commandos, reforming logistics systems, and “mobilizing ground forces”.
  • Attacks and Operations: Mohammad Aman Mubarez, the secretary of the Kapisa provincial capital, was killed when an unexploded mine was triggered at a picnic at his native village in the Hesa Awal Kohistan district on Friday; reports on unclear as to whether his death was a result of a deliberate attack or not. The deputy NDS chief for Paktika province, Abdul Wahib Khan, was killed along with his driver and two other people in an ambush while traveling from Ghazni to Paktika on Sunday; the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Helmand provincial officials say they are investigating reports that at least nine civilians, including six children, were killed when coalition forces destroyed a Taliban weapons depot in the Gereshk district late Saturday evening. At least three soldiers were killed and six students injured in a car bombing in the Domand district in Khost province on Saturday. A would-be suicide car bomber was arrested in the Bak district in Khost on Monday. Airstrikes in the Gilan and Nawaz districts in Ghazni reportedly killed eleven insurgents, all identified as Pakistani nationals. Taliban fighters attacked the Durqad district in Takhar province on Saturday; security officials say they repelled the attack, killing at least ten insurgents. On Monday, Nangarhar provincial officials reported that as many as 27 ISIS fighters had been killed in ground operations and US airstrikes in the Achin district. Bagram district officials reported the seizure of as much as 30,000 kilos of C4 explosives during search operations on Monday; no arrests were reported. [Pajhwok] [AP] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Travels to Asia-Pacific: Pres. Ghani departed Kabul on Saturday for a trip that will include stops in Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore, for talks his spokesman said were focused on mining, agriculture, and education investments. He is accompanied by Minister of Economy Abdul Satar Murad, acting minister of Mines and Petroleum Nargis Nehan, and Deputy Energy and Water Minister Amanullah Ghalib, among other aides. A crowd of predominantly Hazara demonstrators protested Ghani’s visit on Monday, calling on the Afghan government to refuse to accept the repatriation of Hazara asylum seekers from Australia and for an end to discrimination against Hazaras in Afghanistan. [Guardian] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Russian Diplomacy: In a TOLO interview on Friday, Russian ambassador Alexander Mantytskiy said that talks scheduled to take place in Moscow next week would “discuss [how] to work out a regional approach to the solution of the Afghan problem” and “send a strong signal to the Taliban movement that there is no military solution for the Afghan problem”. Mantytskiy reiterated that the Taliban had not been invited to participate. The Afghan presidential palace confirmed on Sunday that it would send a delegation “at a deputy or chief level” to the Moscow conference, which the United States is not attending. Separately, in a Bloomberg News interview, special envoy Zamir Kabulov said that Taliban demands for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan were “justified”; a spokesman for Pres. Ghani responded that “no one has the right to dictate terms or issue instructions regarding the presence of the foreign forces in the country.” [Ariana News] [RFE/RL]
  • EU Considering Aid for Hekmatyar Agreement as High Peace Council Runs Out of Funds: On Sunday, a spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that Mohammad Akram Khpolwak, who is also an advisor to the president, had been appointed as secretariat chief for the Afghan High Peace Council. Spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi denied that the government intended to dissolve the HPC, which has been without a leader since the death of chairman Pir Sayyid Ahmed Gilani in January, and said that the government was working to implement the peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami. Reports suggest that the HPC has run out of money. The WSJ reports the EU is considering a proposal from the government to provide between $2-5 million to support the peace agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; US State Department sources say they will not provide funding and had not received any request to drop its designation of Hekmatyar and his party as a foreign terrorist organization. [Ariana News]
  • Refugee Repatriation: The official repatriation process for Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan resumed on Monday after being paused during winter months; compensation payments made to refugees through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have been reduced to $200 per person, after an increase was made last year. Last week, European countries deported at least 44 Afghan nationals whose asylum claims had been rejected, bringing the total deported so far this year to 248 people, compared to 580 for all of 2016. [TOLO]
  • Ministerial Appointments: At a press conference on Saturday, Second Vice President Sarwar Danish announced that Nargis Nehan would serve as acting minister for Mines of Petroleum, saying that she would be formally nominated for parliamentary confirmation “soon”. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Electoral Reforms: IEC officials have submitted proposals for a budget and reorganization of constituencies for parliamentary elections, TOLO reports; details are limited, but the plan reportedly includes splitting Kabul into five constituencies, Herat into three, ten other unspecified provinces into two each, and the remainder of the provinces will remain a single constituency.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • The Green Beret Who Wouldn’t Go Home [WSJ]
  • Abdullah Addresses Women’s Economic Forum [TOLO]
  • Japan Pledges $10M to UN Aid Agencies in Afghanistan [TOLO]
  • Parliamentarian and National Congress Party Leader Abdul Latif Petam ‘Recognizes Durand Line’, Drawing Censure [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [ET] [TOLO]
  • Nangarhar Reports Poppy Clearance in Bati Kot [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Harassment of Women in Afghanistan: A Hidden Phenomenon Addressed in Too Many Laws – “Laws and legal mechanisms to prevent the harassment of women are undoubtedly in urgent need in Afghanistan. For the moment, however, the country has two such laws that exist simultaneously and compete with each other, the EVAW Law and the Anti-Harassment of Women and Children Law.” [Ehsan Qaane, AAN]
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