Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Trump Administration Finalizing Afghanistan Strategy This Week; Panama Papers JIT Begins Work

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  • The Post reports that the Trump administration is finalizing a strategy review for approval by Pres. Trump this week; it includes increases in U.S. force levels and the delegation of greater authority to field commanders to make additional troop requests, as well as loosening restrictions on U.S. forces’ targeting of the Taliban and increasing assistance to the Afghan government by an unspecified amount. Officials suggest the increase in military and financial support will be condition on Afghan government anti-corruption commitments, but details remain limited; some members of the Trump administration, including advisor Steve Bannon, are reported to be opposed to the plan.
  • The Joint Investigation Team for the Panama Papers met for the first time on Monday; a spokesman for the PTI demanded that the group report publicly on its investigations.
  • Afghan and Pakistani forces began surveying the disputed border in Chaman, relying on Google Maps and GPS, among other sources. The border crossing remains closed, but Pakistani officials are reportedly making exceptions for sick Afghan nationals seeking to return home.
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan has revived hearings against the PTI for allegedly accepting illegal campaign contributions from abroad; Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has also filed a defamation case against Imran Khan for alleging that he had received bribe offers to drop the Panama Papers case. The PTI meanwhile plans to petition the Supreme Court for a review of the 2012 Asghar Khan case verdict, and for investigations into claims that the PML-N received money from Osama bin Laden to influence the 1990 general elections.
  • The head of the Parwan Ulema Council was killed in a bombing at a madrassa on Tuesday. Fighting continues around Kunduz.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Civil-Military Tensions: Prime Minister Sharif met again with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Monday for discussions on a revised notification to be issued by the government in response to the ‘Dawn Leaks’ inquiry and public objections from the military to the government’s first actions on the issue. [ET]
  • Panama Papers Investigation: Members of the newly-formed Joint Investigation Team on the Panama Papers case met for the first time on Monday; a spokesman for the PTI demanded that the JIT not hold closed-door meetings and report regularly and publicly on all its activities. [The Nation] [ET]
  • Other Legal Battles: On Tuesday, the Election Commission agreed to resume hearings on a petition that had been dropped in January; petitioner Hashim Ali Bhutta accuses the PTI of accepting illegal campaign contributions from abroad. The Supreme Court is hearing a parallel petition seeking Imran Khan’s disqualification for undeclared overseas assets, and on Monday Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif filed a defamation case against Imran for claims that the PML-N had offered him bribes to drop the Panama Papers case. In interviews on Monday, PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the party’s intention to petition the Supreme Court to review its implementation of the 2012 Asghar Khan verdict, which charged the PML-N from accepting funds from the military to influence the 1990 general elections, and to petition for an investigation into allegations that Sharif had also received money from Osama bin Laden at the time. The latter charge appears sourced primarily to a book by Shamama Khalid, wife of former ISI officer Khalid Khawaja, who was killed in 2010. [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Economic Indicators: Moody’s Investors Services issued a report on Monday giving the Pakistani government a stable outlook and leaving its credit rating unchanged. The report noted continued concerns over slowing remittance and exports, and projected that Pakistan’s external debts would reach $79 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June. [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PEMRA Chairman Appeals for Help on Threats Against Employees [Dawn]
  • China Quietly Deletes Ambassador’s Offer to ‘Rename CPEC’ from Embassy Website [The Wire]
  • Bomb Defused Outside Narowal School [The Nation]
  • Prime Minister Sharif Meets Visiting Omani Foreign Minister [Dawn]
  • Senate Body Admonishes NADRA for Issuing Thousands of Fake CNICs [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Strategy Review: The Post reports that senior Trump administration officials have prepared a plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by at least 3,000 and to increase the authority of field commanders to request additional increases. Forces in country would be given a greater range of situations in which they could target and engage with the Taliban; the plan also reportedly includes an unspecified increase in assistance to the government. Officials suggest both the troop increases and support would be “heavily conditioned on the ability of [President Ghani] to weed out ineffective military commanders and reduce corruption”, without providing specifics. Pres. Trump has not yet reviewed the proposal, which he is expected to do so this week. The Post and CNN report some dissension amongst top aides, with chief strategist Steve Bannon reportedly opposed; National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who is identified as the chief proponent of the new plan, was the subject of several critical inside reports on Monday. White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that the president’s number one priority was “to make sure that we defeat ISIS — that is something that is in our national security interests — and to make sure that we protect our people, but does so in a responsible, smart way”.
  • Chaman Border Dispute: The AFP reports that the joint Afghan-Pakistan survey team in Chaman seeking to resolve the disputed border between several villages that appear to cross it will use GPS and Google Maps in order to establish the boundary. The Chaman border crossing remains closed, but some exceptions are reportedly being made for sick Afghan nationals to return home from Pakistan. Speaking on Monday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz expressed hope that “the issue will be resolved through meetings between local commanders as well as at the high-level commanders” and said that “Afghanistan has been asked to use diplomatic channels instead of bullets”. [TOLO] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Attacks and Operations: Mawlavi Abdul Rahim Shah Hanafi, the head of the Parwan Ulema Council, was killed when a bomb exploded inside a madrassa in Charikar on Tuesday; eight students were also wounded. No claim of responsibility has been reported. Fighting continues around Kunduz; Ministry of Defense spokesmen say Afghan forces are working to retake control of the Qala-e-Zal district. Helmand security officials announced the seizure of a Taliban command center in the Nad Ali district during operations on Tuesday. Paktia provincial police officials claim that as many as 50 Taliban fighters were killed in U.S. airstrikes in the Dand Aw Patan district. [AP] [RFE/RL] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Anti-Corruption Efforts: Speaking at a conference on Monday, Pres. Ghani said that the ministry of interior was “the heart of corruption in the security sector”, and vowed to undertake reforms to address the problem.
  • Taliban Schooling: The Guardian notes the pressure that many teachers in eastern Afghanistan face from the Taliban, who seek to recruit students for the conflict and regulate course material; in some cases, teachers themselves may serve as part-time insurgents, and in cases where the Taliban exerts full control, they have sought to maintain a schooling system.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Karzai Plans to Visit Pakistan After Ramazan [The Nation]
  • Presidential Palace Picks a Ghani Critic as Deputy Spokesman [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Seven Contracts Worth Afs 2.347 Billion [Khaama Press]

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