Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Meets with Indian Steel Magnate; Taliban Announce ‘Two-Track’ Spring Offensive

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  • Prime Minister Sharif met with Indian steel magnate Sajjan Jindal in Murree on Wednesday, drawing speculation that Jindal had been carrying messages on behalf of Prime Minister Modi; opposition party leaders have demanded additional details of their discussions, but Maryam Nawaz insisted that there was “nothing secret” about the talks, describing Jindal as a family friend.
  • The Taliban announced their annual ‘spring offensive’ in a statement on Friday, which spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid suggested would “be conducted with a twin-tracked political and military approach”.
  • Two U.S. soldiers were killed and a third wounded in operations against the Islamic State in Nangarhar’s Achin district over Wednesday night. The Trump administration is reportedly considering an increase of around 3,000-5,000 U.S. troops to bolster the Afghan national security forces.
  • A suspected U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan on Wednesday killed at least seven Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants; a TTP spokesman said that three civilians were also killed.
  • Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is expected to make his first public appearance in Afghanistan since 2001 in Laghman province today; a spokesman for Hezb-e-Islami said that he would subsequently travel to Kabul this weekend, coinciding with the release of 70 or more HIG prisoners.
  • Imran Khan will headline a PTI rally in Islamabad today, demanding that Prime Minister Sharif resign following the Supreme Court ruling on the Panama Papers; another PTI rally will take place in Karachi on Sunday.
  • A Pakistani military delegation visited Kabul on Thursday, meeting with defense officials to discuss border security cooperation and making an offer of medical treatment for those injured in last week’s attack at a Balkh army base.

Pakistan — Security

  • North Waziristan Drone Strike: Pakistani intelligence sources tell Reuters they believe a U.S. drone strike was carried out in North Waziristan on Wednesday close to the border with Afghanistan; a spokesman for a local Taliban faction linked to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan said that seven militants and three “civilian laborers” had been killed in the strike. The AFP identifies two of the dead as commanders Abdul Rehman and Akhtar Mohammad. [ET]
  • Captured TTP Spokesman: TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani dismissed a confessional statement by former TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, saying he was being used by the ISI for propaganda purposes and denying his allegations that the group had received support from foreign intelligence agencies. [Dawn]
  • Border Tensions with Iran: Iran summoned Pakistan’s ambassador Asif Ali Khan Durrani on Friday to formally protest the deaths of ten Iranian border guards in an attack earlier this week; a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry said that “the Pakistani side of Iran’s borders are the most insecure ones and we expect Islamabad to honour its previous promises and prevent a repetition of such attacks”. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Mardan Lynching: On Thursday, Mardan police announced the arrest of Imran, identified as the gunman who shot Mashal Khan during a mob lynching at Abdul Wali Khan University earlier this month. Five more suspects were arrested on Friday, bringing the total to 47 arrests out of 49 suspects identified through CCTV footage. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Meets with Indian Steel Magnate: Sajjan Jindal, an Indian businessman and steel magnate, met with Prime Minister Sharif on Wednesday, traveling with a small delegation by private plane; the visit has drawn speculation that he was carrying a message on behalf of Prime Minister Modi. Maryam Nawaz, Sharif’s daughter, stated that Jindal was “an old friend of the prime minister” and there was “nothing ‘secret’ about the meeting [and it] should not be blown out of proportion”. The Hindustan Times notes that Jindal previously appeared to have played a brokering role in talks between Sharif and Prime Minister Modi in 2014. PTI and PPP opposition members separately expressed “concern” over the meeting, demanding details from the government. The Express Tribune reports that Jindal violated his visa by meeting Sharif in the hill resort of Murree. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Opposition Politics: Imran Khan will headline a PTI rally in Islamabad today to demand Prime Minister Sharif’s resignation following the Supreme Court Panama Papers ruling; the party is also planning a rally in Karachi on Sunday. At a meeting on Thursday, Sharif reportedly decided to bring defamation charges against Khan for his allegations that he was offered bribes by government officials to drop the Panama Papers case. Dawn reports that the Election Commission has notified all four provincial election commissions to bar the PTI from using its cricket bat election symbol in future by-elections, due to the party’s violation of requirements that it hold intra-party elections for leadership positions. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sindh and Federal Government Trade Barbs Over Provincial Police Chief [Dawn] [ET]
  • Five Militants Killed in Kech District Operations [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • MQM Challenges Sindh Local Government Act [The Nation]
  • Minister of Inter-Provincial Coordination Riaz Pirzada Resigns [Dawn] [ET]
  • Supreme Judicial Council to Hear PTI Petition for NAB Chairman’s Removal [Dawn]
  • Judge Najamul Hassan Confirmed as Federal Shariat Court Chief Justice [Dawn]
  • ADB Financing Declined for Karachi-Peshawar Rail Line Supported by China [Dawn]
  • Government Refuses to Extend Deadline for Completion of Tarbela Dam Project [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Announce Spring Offensive: In a statement on Friday, the Taliban announced the start of their annual ‘spring offensive’, dubbed ‘Operation Mansouri’ after the late Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the operation “will differ from previous ones in nature and will be conducted with a twin-tracked political and military approach”, including the creation of “social justice and development” institutions; he did not provide details. The statement warned that government forces would be “targeted, harassed, killed, or captured”, but claimed that the insurgency would seek to minimize civilian casualties. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • U.S. Mission: Reuters reports that the Trump administration is considering the deployment of between 3,000-5,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan to bolster the Afghan national security forces, although the report also cites unidentified sources who express concern that “the situation in Afghanistan is even worse than they had expected, and that any politically palatable number would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security”.
  • Two U.S. Soldiers Killed: Two American soldiers were killed and a third wounded during an overnight operation targeting Islamic State forces in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Wednesday night, the Pentagon announced Thursday. The operation took place in the same area as the U.S. MOAB strike earlier this month; impact assessment details of that strike remain limited, although TOLO broadcast footage of the site on Thursday. On Friday, Afghan Ministry of Defense officials claimed that 36 ISIS fighters had been killed in recent air and ground operations in Achin, and another nine killed in operations in the Haska Mina district. [NYT] [WSJ] [Reuters] [AFP] [TOLO]
  • Balkh Base Attack Aftermath: General Mohmand Katawazai, the former commander of the 209th Afghan National Army corps in Mazar-e-Sharif, is facing prosecution for negligence following the attack on the corps base last week, Ministry of Defense officials confirmed on Thursday. At least nine other officials are also facing neglect charges. [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Hekmatyar to Make Public Appearance: A spokesman for the Hezb-e-Islami tells TOLO that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar will travel to Kabul after making a public appearance in Laghman province today, coinciding with the release of as many as 70 HIG prisoners.
  • Pakistani Army Delegation Visits: Pakistani Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar led a delegation to Kabul on Thursday, meeting with new acting Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahramee and Afghan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Muhammad Sharif Yaftali, among others. The Pakistani military’s spokesman said that the delegation offered medical treatment to casualties from last week’s attack at the military base in Balkh, and “held talks on bilateral border coordination measures”. [Dawn] [The Nation]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Return of Afghan Refugees Should Be Voluntary, UNHCR Reiterates [Dawn] [ET]
  • Ahmad Zia Massoud Continues Criticism of Ghani [Khaama Press]
  • Taliban Leader Killed in Wardak [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Four Steps to Winning Peace in Afghanistan – “The United States should shift its strategy to prioritize reaching a political settlement based on the Afghan constitution among all Afghan groups, including the Taliban.” [Stephen Hadley, Andrew Wilder, and Scott Worden, WAPO]
  • Report: Collective Commitment to Enhance Accountability and Transparency in Emergencies: Afghanistan Report – “The goal of the study was to produce an evidence base concerning corruption risks and prevention and mitigation measures in relation to the implementation of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.” [Transparency International]
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