Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Indian and Pakistani Officials Meet on Yadav; US Bombs ISIS Position in Achin

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Topline

  • Pakistan’s foreign secretary met with India’s ambassador to Pakistan, Gautam Bambawale, on Friday; Bambawale told reporters afterwards that India had reiterated requests for consular access to accused spy Kulbushan Yadav. At a corps commanders meeting on Thursday, the Pakistani military leadership avowed that there would be “no compromise on anti-state acts”.
  • The U.S. military dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb at Islamic State targets in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Thursday. Officials described the target as a network of tunnels used by the Islamic State affiliate; Afghan officials say as many as 36 were killed, and that there were no civilian casualties.
  • A university student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan was killed by a mob of fellow students after being accused of blasphemy on Thursday.
  • Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association filed a petition on Friday challenging the renewal of special military courts for terrorism suspects.
  • Several top PPP officials, including former Pres. Zardari, have been implicated by former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch in his leaked confessional statement. The PPP continued to protest the apparent disappearance of several former aides to Zardari, staging a parliamentary walk-out on Thursday.

Pakistan – Security

  • Tensions Over Accused Indian Spy: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa presided over a meeting of army corps commanders in Rawalpindi on Thursday, reviewing internal security concerns and the case of accused Indian spy Khulbushan Yadav; in a statement afterwards, the military said that the leadership had avowed that there would be “no compromise on anti-state acts”. Indian ambassador to Pakistan Gautam Bambawale met with Pakistani foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua on Friday to discuss Yadav’s situation; Bambawale told reporters afterwards that India had reiterated a request for consular access to Yadav. Speaking at a separate press conference on Friday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz reiterated the list of charges against Yadav, saying that he had received legal representation in his defense and had been tried “under the law of the land in a fully transparent manner” based on “credible, specific evidence proving his involvement in espionage and terrorist activities in Pakistan.” The Indian Express reports that the Indian government plans to informally curtail visa access for Pakistani nationals in response to the execution order against Yadav. Despite tensions in the bilateral relations, State Bank of Pakistan data indicates that Pakistani exports to India grew to $286 million during the July 2016 – February 2017 period, up 14% year-on-year. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Peshawar Student Killed Over Blasphemy Allegation: On Thursday, Mashal Khan, a student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, was killed by a vigilante mob of fellow students over allegations of making blasphemous comments online. Mardan district police officials shut down the campus in the wake of the attack and initially arrested as many as 45 people; as of Friday, charges had been filed against at least 20 suspects, eight of whom were said to be in custody. Another student was beaten but survived the attack; Dawn reports both were accused being members of the Ahmadi minority faith. Funeral services were held on Friday. [AP] [Dawn]
  • Military Courts: The Supreme Court Bar Association filed a petition on Friday challenging the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution’s renewal of special military courts for terrorism suspects, arguing that it violated the basic structure of the constitution as well as fundamental rights.
  • Counterterrorism Crackdown: In a statement on Thursday, the Punjab Rangers warned against the use of private security guards, saying that “only security personnel of registered government institutions will be deployed”. On Friday, the Pakistani military announced that three Rangers soldiers were killed in an operation in Dera Ghazi Khan, which they said also killed ten TTP militants; the Rangers earlier claimed to have arrested three TTP suspects and killed five Baloch Liberation Army militants in separate raids in DG Khan earlier this week. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • Uzair Baloch in Custody: Dawn notes that leaked confessional testimony from former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch implicates a number of senior PPP leaders and police officers in Karachi as well, including former Pres. Zardari and his family members. In a TV interview on Thursday, PPP senator Saeed Ghani refuted those allegations. PPP parliamentarians boycotted the national assembly session again on Thursday again, protesting the disappearance of several aides to Zardari. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Census Count: The Peshawar High Court heard arguments on Thursday regarding the inclusion of minority languages on the census forms, directing statistics bureau officials to explain the criteria for inclusion at hearings resuming next week. [ET]
  • Campus Politics: Despite an official ban on public activities on campus, members of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba held a rally at Punjab University on Thursday to protest the situation in Syria. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Former Pres. Zardari met with JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman on Thursday to discuss prospects for political cooperation, The Nation reports. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Finance Minister Dar said that the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms would complete its work before the introduction of the next fiscal year budget. PML-N and PPP legislators on the committee rejected two PTI reform proposals for the appointment of military returning officers and the appointment of a caretaker government through a parliamentary committee rather than by the prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

Pakistan – Remainders

  • Senate Chairman Protests Low Attendance, Threatening Resignation [Dawn] [ET]
  • Interior Ministry Reiterates Visa Requirements for Official Travelers [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Pakistani Human Smuggler Files Guilty Plea in US Federal Court [WAPO]
  • Rangers Seize Arms Cache Linked to MQM [ET]
  • Doctor Killed in Karachi [Dawn]
  • Government Proposes Expanding Audit Authorities [ET]
  • PEMRA Fines Channels for ‘Defamatory’ Content on Sindh Police Chief [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Only 58% of Khyber Paktunkhwa Annual Development Plan Spent Thus Far [ET]
  • Drop in Remittances Linked to Global Oil Price Drops [The Nation]

Afghanistan – Security

  • U.S. Military Bombs ISIS Target in Achin District: On Thursday, the Department of Defense announced that U.S. forces in Afghanistan had dropped a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) at an Islamic State target in the Achin district in Nangarhar province on Thursday evening local time. It is the first use of the ordnance in combat; the target was reported to be a network of tunnels in the area, which has been the site of ongoing joint operations by U.S. and Afghan forces against the local ISIS affiliate for much of the past year. White House officials declined to provide information on whether Pres. Trump was personally involved in the decision to carry out the strike, referring reporters to the Pentagon; Trump later described the action as a “very, very successful mission”, saying that “what I do is I authorize my military”. An anonymous CENTCOM spokesman told The Hill that “in this administration, the military is given empowerment to do what we need to do… if we’re going to be engaged in a war we’re going to be engaged in a conflict to win, period.” The Daily Beast reports that custody of the bomb was transferred to U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson under the Obama administration in January. A U.S. military spokesman said that the decision to use the weapon was unrelated to the death of an American special forces soldier in Achin last week. Citing the use of bunkers, tunnels, and IEDs by ISIS, Nicholson said that the MOAB was “the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive”, adding that “US forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike”. A spokesman for the Afghan government said that Pres. Ghani was “in the loop” about the decision to use the bomb, although defense ministry spokesmen earlier suggested they were unaware of the strike prior to media reports. On Friday, Afghan security officials reported that as many as 36 Islamic State fighters were killed in the strike, saying that there were no civilian casualties, an assessment reiterated by Gen. Nicholson at a press conference on Friday. The NYT quotes local officials in Achin who say that joint US and Afghan forces are advancing on the area of the strike and that smaller bombings had continued on Friday, and that the sole civilian family living in the area had been evacuated prior to the strike. In separate statements, former Pres. Karzai and Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal criticized the use of the bomb. [LAT] [Reuters] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • U.S. Strategy: Afghan security officials are “hoping for clarity” on the Trump administration’s plans for Afghanistan during U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s upcoming trip to the region , Reuters reports.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Three people were killed in a roadside bombing in Paktia province on Thursday. TOLO interviews families of the victims of Wednesday’s suicide bombing attack in Kabul, who blamed the Taliban and ISI for the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Ministry of Commerce Seeks Meeting on Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Moving Out of Shamshatu: Hezb-e-Islami’s Refugee Followers Between Hope of Return and Doubts About the Peace Deal – “The deal paved the way for the return of those living in the camp and included promises of land and government posts. However, many residents fear the deal will not be fully implemented and are not yet ready to leave permanently.” [Fazal Muzhary, AAN]
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