Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Jamaat-ul-Ahrar Claims Attack on Van in Kurram; Mattis and Nicholson Note Russian Arms to Taliban

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Topline

  • As many as ten people were killed and 13 injured when a passenger van struck a landmine in the Kurram Agency on Tuesday; the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, which wounded members of a census team and paramilitary security forces. Another guard for a census team was killed in an attack in Gwadar on Monday. The second phase of the census began on Tuesday, continuing through late March.
  • At a press conference on Monday, Defense Secretary Mattis and Gen. Nicholson acknowledged reports that Russia was providing small arms and resources to the Taliban. Mattis condemned the Taliban as a “barbaric enemy”, and Nicholson said that the strike earlier this month against the Islamic State in Achin was a warning to the Islamic State that “if they come to Afghanistan they will be destroyed”.
  • Former Pres. Zardari visited Mardan on Monday, part of a series of visits around Khyber Paktunkhwa planned for this week. The Jamaat-e-Islami has joined an alliance with the PML-Q, Sunni Ittehad Council, MWM, and PAT, demanding Prime Minister Sharif’s immediate resignation. Former Punjab governor and PPP leader Ghulam Mustafa Khar joined the PTI on Monday.
  • The commission report on leaks to Dawn News last fall on disputes between civilian and military leaders was reportedly delivered to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for review on Tuesday. The foreign ministry issued a statement on Monday denying reports that special assistant Tariq Fatemi might be dismissed in connection to the inquiry.

Pakistan — Security

  • Ten Killed in Kurram Bombing: As many as ten people were killed when a passenger van struck a landmine near the Kurram agency capital of Parachinar on Tuesday; as many as 13 people were injured, including two census workers and four paramilitary Khasadars. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, telling Reuters that “our target was the Shia community and census team in the area”. [AP]
  • Census Team Attacked in Gwadar: A security officer tasked with guarding a census team was killed and another injured in a driveby shooting outside the town of Pasni in Balochistan’s Gwadar district on Monday; no claim of responsibility was reported.
  • Rangers Policing Powers: Dawn reports that the federal interior ministry blocked conditions sought by the Sindh provincial government on the extended deployment of the Sindh Rangers, saying that the Rangers’ policing powers could not be restricted or modified from those granted in the Anti-Terrorism Act. The Rangers’ deployment was officially extended on Monday; on Monday, the Rangers and the Sindh police Counter-Terrorism Department announced the arrest of eight suspects, including two said to be affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Military Courts: On Tuesday, the Pakistani military announced the execution of four men convicted under the military courts system, all identified as “active members of the TTP” who were accused of having attacked law enforcement agencies and civilians. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Opposition Politics: The leaders of the PML-Q and Jamaat-e-Islami met on Monday, announcing an alliance afterwards to seek Prime Minister Sharif’s immediate ouster from office; the Sunni Ittehad Council, Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen, and Pakistan Awami Tehreek had previously also joined with the PML-Q. Speaking at a rally in Mardan on Monday, former Pres. Zardari dismissed Imran Khan’s claims to be a leader for the country’s youth or the Pashtun community, and pledged to bring economic development and provincial autonomy to Khyber Paktunkhwa if his party was elected to lead the next government; Zardari will visit several districts in the province this week. In a meeting with Imran on Monday, former Punjab governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar, a former PPP member, joined the PTI. The Pakistan Bar Council joined other lawyers’ associations in calling on Prime Minister Sharif to resign from office; the Supreme Court Bar Association has called a lawyers’ convention for May 2 to discuss whether or not to initiate a public protest movement. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Panama Papers Investigation: The Nation reports that the top three candidates to lead the Joint Investigation Team investigating the prime minister and his family are likely to be Federal Investigation Agency additional directors general Ahmed Latif, Wajid Zia, or Shafiqur Rehman.
  • Civil-Military Tensions: On Tuesday, The Nation reported that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan received the report of the commission tasked with investigation leaks to Dawn News last fall of accounts of civil-military disputes over Pakistan’s support for militant proxies; Prime Minister Sharif is due to be briefed on the report today. On Monday, the foreign ministry issued a statement denying earlier reports that special assistant to the prime minister Tariq Fatemi might be removed from his position in connection to the inquiry. [Dawn]
  • Census Count: The second and final phase of the national census is scheduled to begin Tuesday across 87 districts, continuing through May 24. Pakistan Bureau of Statistics officials say they have yet to receive data collected during the first phase from Gilgit, Skardu, and Quetta. On Monday, the Supreme Court suspended a Peshawar High Court order requiring the addition of a column in the census to track members of the Sikh minority community. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of the cabinet committee on energy on Monday, the third such meeting in the past two weeks, ordering officials to resolve rising outages and guarantee against loadshedding during the upcoming Ramazan period. [ET] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two More Suspects Arrested in Mashal Khan Lynching Case [ET]
  • Pakistani Ambassador Presents Credentials in Meeting with Trump [APP]
  • ECP Seeks Response on PTI Funding Case By May 8 [The Nation] [ET]
  • Public Accounts Committee Recommends Blocking CNIC of Tax Defaulters [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Finance Advisor Resigns [Dawn]
  • Government Blocks Proposal to Allow Citizenship Naturalization for Male Spouses of Pakistani Nationals [ET]
  • Commentary: In the Court’s Shadow – “With the court case out of the way, the outcome from a scandal that began a year ago will ultimately be played out in the realm of politics.” [Umair Javed, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Mattis Visits Kabul: Secretary Mattis and U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson held a press conference in Kabul on Monday during Mattis’ visit. In his remarks, Mattis said that he expected 2017 to be “another tough year” for Afghan security forces, and condemned the Taliban as a “barbaric enemy”, saying “what they do, makes it clear to me why we stand together to defeat them”. Responding to questions from reporters, Gen. Nicholson said that “we continue to get reports” that Russia was providing weapons and supplies to the Taliban, which Mattis said “would be a violation of international law”. Nicholson also pledged to continue operations against the Islamic State, saying the MOAB strike in Achin earlier his month “was to send a very clear message to ISIS. If they come to Afghanistan they will be destroyed”. Nicholson said that while he had seen no evidence that the group in Iraq and Syria was repositioning fighters to Afghanistan, “by reducing their sanctuary here, by annihilating them here, it should very clear to ISIS main there is no space to come to in Afghanistan.” [Reuters]
  • Balkh Base Attack Aftermath: Speaking at a press conference on Monday following their resignation, former minister of defense Gen. Abdullah Habibi and chief of army staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shaheem insisted that their resignations had been voluntary, with Habibi saying that “the youths of the country are strong and can tackle the threats posed by the insurgents and terrorist groups” and that he had “step[ped] down so that the way is paved for the others to come”. A small group of protestors held a demonstration in Kabul on Monday, calling for security officials to resign; Vice President Dostum gave blood for security forces injured in the attack. [LAT] [TOLO]
  • Germany Charges Afghan Teen: German prosecutors announced charges on Monday against a 17-year old Afghan boy who fled the country in 2015, saying he had previously received training with the Taliban and had participated in attacks on Afghan and foreign forces.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Afghan National Army officials announced that as many as 23 Taliban fighters had been killed in airstrikes in two villages on the outskirts of Tirin Kot on Tuesday. Nangarhar provincial officials claim that 37 Islamic State fighters were killed in air and ground operations in the Achin district on Monday.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Problems in Mining Law Slowing Down Investment, Watchdogs Warn [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Five Contracts [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: It’s Much Bigger Than Afghanistan: U.S. Strategy for a Transformed Region – “Washington has not decided, or even realized that it must decide, whether its goal in Afghanistan is to maintain an open-ended military presence or stabilize the country through a political settlement with the Taliban and its neighbors.” [Barnett Rubin, War on the Rocks]
  • Commentary: How Will Afghan and US Leadership Respond to Deadly Taliban Attack? – “The crisis brought on by the attack is an opportunity for the Afghan government’s warring factions to come together and take actions that will enable the government to win the battle of legitimacy in contested and Taliban controlled areas.” [Christopher Kolenda, The Hill]
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