Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif and Bajwa Discuss Internal Security; ISIS Claims Kabul Bombing

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Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif met with Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif on Wednesday to discuss security issues, and the two leaders reportedly agreed to take “indiscriminate action” against “politically connected criminals” in Sindh and Punjab. Elsewhere, interior ministry officials denied involvement in the disappearance of three associates of former Pres. Zardari.
  • A suicide bomber detonated near the presidential compound and defense ministry building in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least five people, including two guards; the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • Pres. Trump confirmed that National Security Advisor McMaster will visit the region to review the U.S. mission in Afghanistan; Pakistani news sources suggest he will visit Pakistan as well as making stops in Afghanistan and India.
  • Nepalese police officials say they have no leads on the disappearance of a retired Pakistani military officer who disappeared there last week; Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Thursday that it was “unreasonable” to link his case to that of accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav.
  •  Afghan interior ministry officials said they had no evidence to support claims by the Uruzgan provincial police chief that Russian military officers had visited the province and given support and training to Taliban commanders. The Post notes growing concerns among U.S. officials over increased Russian and Iranian intervention in the Afghan conflict, and cites a number of other allegations of Russian support to the Taliban by local Afghan security officials.

Pakistan – Security

  • Prime Minister and Army Chief Meet: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa met on Wednesday to discuss security issues, including counterterrorism operations and border security. The Express Tribune reports that the two leaders agreed to take “indiscriminate action” against “politically connected criminals” in Sindh and Punjab, following the transfer to military custody of former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch and the disappearance of several associates of former Pres. Zardari. Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman told a senate session on Wednesday that the government had nothing to do with the latter’s disappearance, which PPP legislators protested during national assembly debate. Copies of a confessional statement attributed to Baloch in which he admitted to providing information to Iranian intelligence services and collaborating with local politicians on land deals were leaked to the Pakistani press on Wednesday. The prime minister also met earlier with Chief of Naval Staff Adm. Muhammad Zakaullah. [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Tensions with India Over Spy Sentencing: In an interview with India Today on Wednesday, Pakistani ambassador to India Abdul Basit defended the death sentence issued for accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav earlier this week, saying that “we have sufficient evidence” of his involvement in sabotage and terrorism “and have shared it with the Indian government”. Basit also said that Yadav had visited Pakistan multiple times since 2003 using a fake Indian passport. Nepalese police officials say they have no leads on the whereabouts of missing Pakistani retired Lt. Colonel Habib Zahir, whose disappearance has been linked to the Yadav case; speaking at a Thursday press briefing, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said that it was “unreasonable” to connected the two cases. Separately, secretary-level talks in Washington in two disputed Indian hydropower projects previously scheduled for this week have reportedly been delayed until the end of April. [Dawn] [APP] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Shakil Afridi Trial: On Wednesday, the FATA tribunal hearing a petition from Dr. Shakil Afridi challenging his conviction on charges of associations with militant groups adjourned until May 24, at which point final arguments are scheduled to be held.
  • Gwadar Bombing: A bomb planted in a motorcycle near the Gwadar airport on Wednesday wounded at least three people; no claim of responsibility was reported. Elsewhere, Balochistan Frontier Corps officials announced the seizure of an arms cache in the Turbat district; no arrests were reported. [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections and Other Political Activities: The Express Tribune reports that the PML-N has decide to scale back high-profile initiatives in the run-up to the Panama Papers verdict, out of a desire to avoid “panic mode” and counter internal party concerns over the outcome of the court decision. The Nation reports that the initial two choices of PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for the party’s Lahore chapter president have declined the position. Amjadullah Khan, a member of the MQM’s London faction, announced he was quitting the party at a press conference on Wednesday; he was previously arrested in October. The ANP has established a hunger strike camp outside the parliament building to protest the blocking of Computerized National ID Cards, which they allege are targeting Pashtuns. [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • CPEC Project: Speaking at a conference on Wednesday, Sindh governor Muhammad Zubair said that Chinese firms had approved additional financing for CPEC projects, taking the total investment volume to as high as $62 billion. Bloomberg reports that Chinese direct investment in Pakistan has overtaken the U.S. over the past three and a half years, with total U.S. FDI from July 2013 – January 2017 reported at $505 million and total Chinese FDI during the same period at $1.82 billion. [ET] [ET]
  • Gas Connection Ban Lifted: On Wednesday, the federal cabinet formally approved the withdrawal of a moratorium on new gas connections for domestic and commercial customers, among other agenda items. On Thursday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah threatened to cut off gas supply from the province to the rest of the country if supplies to the province were not improved. [APP]

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Prime Minister and Interior Minister Discuss Blasphemy Crackdown [The Nation]
  • Missing MQM Activists Accused of Hiding in India [The Nation]
  • PTI Reiterates Opposition to Saudi Military Alliance [Dawn]
  • Judge Sheikh Najmul Hassan Nominated as New Chief Justice of Federal Shariat Court [ET]
  • Army Seizes South Waziristan Arms Cache [The Nation]
  • Former Cop Petitions Sindh High Court Against Rao Anwar [Dawn]
  • Federal Cabinet Approves New Hajj Policy [Dawn] [ET]
  • Cabinet Approves 15 Development Projects, Including Karachi Mass Transit Project [Dawn]
  • PTV Chairman Relinquishes Managing Director Position [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • Kabul Bombing: A suicide bomber struck a police post near the Afghan presidential palace and ministry of defense on Wednesday, killing at least five people; TOLO reports two of those killed were presidential guards. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest by the group to strike in the capital since the attack on a Kabul military hospital last month. [Reuters] [AP]
  • U.S. Strategy Review: Speaking at a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday, Pres. Trump confirmed earlier reports that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster would be visiting Afghanistan to “find out how we can make progress alongside our Afghan partners”; he did not specify the timing, which the Indian press previously indicated would come this weekend. McMaster will meet with U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson, who has requested additional forces for the U.S. advisory mission there. Dawn reports that McMaster will also visit Pakistan as part of the trip. The White House is conducting a broader Afghanistan strategy review, as is the Pentagon, although officials have not indicated a timeline for completion. In a USA Today interview, Afghan ambassador to the U.S. Hamdullah Mohib suggested that Afghan security forces “will be able to have what they need to carry on the fight on their own for the most part” by 2020.
  • Russian Intervention Concerns: The Post overviews growing U.S. concern and reports from Afghan officials that Russia and Iran are increasing their intervention in the Afghan conflict; a Taliban spokesman denied that the group had received any direct support from Russia, saying “our contacts with Russia are for political and diplomatic purposes only”. On Wednesday, Ministry of Interior officials said they had no evidence to confirm claims by Uruzgan police chief Ghulam Farooq Sangari that Russian military officers had met with Taliban representatives in the province.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and other Afghan National Army officials visited Herat on Wednesday to review security and oversee operations in the country’s western zone. Ministry of Interior officials say they are investigating the deaths of two Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center employees earlier this week, suggesting that “those who are involved in insecurity in the region are behind the case”. NDS officials in Kunduz say announced the arrest of the brother of the late Taliban commander Mullah Salam on Thursday. Nangahar provincial officials report that they arrested three Pakistani nationals during ongoing operations in the eastern part of the province. NDS officials announced the arrest of a Taliban commander in Jawzjan on Wednesday. At least 11 Taliban fighters were reportedly killed in operations in the Khas district in Uruzgan on Wednesday.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reforms: IEC officials tell TOLO that they are working to finalize a new legal framework for the assessment of polling centers, the process of which is contingent on the approval of an elections budget. Pajhwok reports that the Electoral Complaints Commission officials nominated three candidates for the president to consider as a nominee for ECC secretary.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Without a Motorcycle in Kandahar, ‘You Are Like a Prisoner’ [NYT]
  • Afghan Ambassador Meets Pakistani National Assembly Speaker [The Nation]
  • Afghan Ulema Criticize JUI-F Leader Fazlur Rehman [Khaama Press]
  • Kunduz-Khulm Highway Inaugurated [TOLO]
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