Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Former TTP Spokesman Surrenders to Military; US Forces Assess Achin Strike

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  • Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman reported that Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and member of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, had surrendered to Pakistani security services; no further details were released.
  • The WSJ and Guardian report from the Achin district, where U.S. forces are leading operations to assess the wake of a major bomb strike by U.S. forces last week.
  • During a meeting with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster on Tuesday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa was quoting saying that Pakistan “is victim of state sponsored terrorism” and “strongly rejects allegations of employing proxies from its soil”.
  • A student arrested in connection to the murder of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan has alleged that university officials pressured him to accuse Khan of blasphemy. The national assembly passed a resolution on Tuesday condemning his death.
  • An Afghan weapons depot reportedly caught fire and exploded in Spin Boldak on Monday evening; at least ten people were injured.
  • The Sindh Rangers said Monday that they had ceased policing operations in Karachi and were providing “backup support” to the police; the Sindh home ministry said separately that it had not withdrawn the Rangers’ authorities.
  • Pres. Ghani fired former advisor Ahmad Zia Massoud on Monday evening, following several months in which he had criticized the national unity government; Massoud protested his firing, warning of “political instability” as a result.

Pakistan – Security

  • TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar Leader Reportedly Surrenders: Speaking at a press conference on Monday, chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor announced that Sajjid Mohmand, aka Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and leader of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, had “turned himself in to Pakistani security agencies”. No further details were provided; the Express Tribune reports that Ehsan had been replaced as TTP JuA spokesman last year. Ghafoor also broadcast a confessional video from Noreen Leghari, a medical student from Hyderabad who was arrested over the weekend and charged with participating in a plot to attack a Lahore church on Easter. [NYT] [AP] [The Nation] [The Nation] [RFE/RL] [Dawn]
  • Mardan Lynching: A student arrested in connection the lynching of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan alleged on Monday that university officials had pressured him to testify that Khan had committed blasphemy prior to his death. Lawmakers in the senate called for a review of the blasphemy law in a session on Monday, and the national assembly passed a unanimous resolution on Tuesday condemning Khan’s murder. PTI leader Imran Khan visited with Khan’s family on Tuesday, and earlier told reporters that “we will make sure no one misuses the blasphemy law again”. The Express Tribune notes a video showing Arif Mardan, a PTI local councilor implicated in the attack, urging participants not to identify the gunman who killed Mashal. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Sindh Rangers Extension: In a statement on Monday, the Sindh home ministry said that it was “legally and factually incorrect” to suggest that the Sindh government had “withdrawn duties and functions of Rangers in the province”. In a separate statement, the Rangers said that they had ceased policing operations and were only providing “backup support” to the provincial police. [ET]
  • Tensions with India: Dawn reports the names of three Indian nationals who were linked to travel by a former Pakistani military officer who disappeared in Nepal earlier this month.

Pakistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • McMaster Visit: During his trip to Islamabad, U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster met with Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, among other officials. The U.S. embassy said in a statement afterwards that McMaster had “stressed the need to confront terrorism in all its forms”; in a statement on Tuesday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa was quoted telling McMaster that “Pakistan itself is victim of state sponsored terrorism, it strongly rejects allegations of employing proxies from its soil”.  Acting Special Representative Laurel Miller also met separately with Finance Minister Dar to discuss security and economic cooperation.
  • Civil-Military Tensions: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan pushed back at comments by military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor on Monday regarding an investigation into linked accounts of disagreements between civilian and military leaders in Dawn last fall; Chaudhry Nisar attributed the delay in an investigation into the leak to a lack of consensus amongst inquiry commission members, but suggested last weekend that the report would be finalized soon. Commission sources tell The Nation that the report is yet to be finalized, however.
  • Afghan Border Restrictions: On Monday, Torkham border crossing officials offered a waiver on requirements that travelers hold passports to cross the border; those restrictions are set to be re-imposed midweek.
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: Election Commission officials are working on a pilot project for managing polling-station level vote data records, the APP reports; a meeting of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms on Monday failed to reach an agreement on campaign spending limits. The PPP staged another walkout in parliament to protest the disappearance of several associates of former Pres. Zardari. In an interview on Monday, Imran Khan said that Chief of Army Staff Bajwa had assured him that the army “supports democracy” during their meeting at the beginning of the month. Engineer Amir Muqam, an advisor to Prime Minister Sharif, was appointed PML-N Khyber Paktunkhwa chapter general secretary on Monday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan – Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Rising temperatures and an accompanying increase in electricity demand brought the supply-demand shortfall to around 6,000 megawatts on Monday, increasing outages especially in the south, Dawn reports. [The Nation]
  • CPEC Project: Speaking to reporters on Monday, Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak said that he had “no reservations” on current plans for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. State Bank of Pakistan officials reported that foreign direct investment totaled $1.6 billion during the July-March period, up 12% year-on-year, with China investing $595 million, of which $263 million was invested in March alone.

Pakistan – Remainders

  • PPP Sources Deny Cooperation with Uzair Baloch [ET]
  • Lahore High Court Dismisses Appeal of Two Men Convicted in 2010 Attack on Ahmadi Mosque [ET]
  • Attorney General Opposes Open Hearing on Islamabad High Court Judge Charged with Misconduct [ET]
  • Four Year Old Boy Killed in Quetta Grenade Attack [Dawn]
  • IED Seized in Turbat [ET]
  • World Bank Projects 5.2% GDP Growth [ET]

Afghanistan – Security

  • MOAB Aftermath: The WSJ and Guardian report from the Asad Khel area in Achin district, site of a major U.S. bombing targeting Islamic State fighters last week; the U.S. is still assessing the impact of the strike, which Afghan officials say killed nearly a hundred fighters. TOLO reports that its reporters were barred from the area and that only U.S. forces have access; ISIS fighters are reported to still be active in the area. In an AP interview, former Pres. Karzai reiterated his criticisms of the bombing.
  • Ordnance Depot Explosion: An Afghan military ordnance depot at the Spin Boldak border crossing caught fire and exploded on Monday night; at least ten people were reportedly injured. Details are limited, and no claim of responsibility has been reported as of this writing.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Sar-e-Pul officials reported that Taliban fighters attacked the Sayad district on Monday, saying that eight insurgents had been killed. The Ministry of Interior reported the arrest on Tuesday of Mawlavi Abdul Hai Haqyar, identified as the head of the Taliban military commission in Baghlan. Ministry of Interior officials also announced the seizure of roughly 2,000 kilograms of explosive materials in search operations in Kabul on Monday. Kunduz police officials say that a Taliban shadow governor for Takhar province was killed in an airstrike in the Dasht-e-Archi district on Monday. Officials in Ghor announced the arrest of two militants in the Feroz Koh district accused of recruiting for the Islamic State.

Afghanistan – Politics and Diplomacy

  • McMaster Visit: A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that during talks between National Security Advisor McMaster and Pres. Ghani, “the main point on which the two sides agreed was on the resolve of Afghanistan and the United States in their war against terrorism, and detailed discussions were held in this respect”. The Military Times cites Afghan embassy and Pentagon sources who say they received limited advanced notice of McMaster’s trip to the region; White House sources insist that “DOD has been involved since the beginning” and is “fully aware”. On Tuesday, McMaster arrived in India for meetings with Prime Minister Modi, with whom he discussed security concerns in Afghanistan.
  • Ghani Fires Masood: On Monday evening, Pres. Ghani reportedly fired Ahmad Zia Massoud, who had been appointed as a special advisor on reform and good governance following the formation of the national unity government; a rationale was not given, although Massoud had become increasingly critical of the government over the past year. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Massoud warned of “political instability” as a result of his firing, protesting “unilateral decisions” by the president.  Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor issued a separate statement calling on Chief Executive Abdullah to “clarify his stance” on Massoud’s status. [Khaama Press]
  • Election Planning:  On Monday, the Independent Election Commission said that it had rejected a proposal for electronic voting systems, calling for further revisions.

Afghanistan – Remainders

  • Former Wardak Police Chief Referred for Prosecution [TOLO]
  • Parliament Complains of Budget Shifts for Ministry of Urban Development and Housing [TOLO]
  • Ring Road Construction Work Begins in Laghman [Khaama Press]
  • In Afghanistan, ‘I Feel Like a Divorced Woman is Up for Grabs’ [NYT]
  • 335 Acres of Land Cleared of Opium Poppy in Nangarhar [Khaama Press]

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