Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: NATO Considering Force Request; Pakistani Military ‘Withdraws’ Objection on Dawn Leaks

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  • The NYT, WSJ, and others provide additional reporting on Trump administration deliberations on an Afghanistan strategy, which is expected to be finalized by a NATO summit that Trump will attend on May 25. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the alliance was considering requests for additional forces in Afghanistan; U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said that U.S. force level increases would depend on NATO commitments.
  • Following a meeting between Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Wednesday, Pakistan’s military spokesman announced the “withdrawal” of a Twitter statement last month rejecting the government’s actions to implement the findings of a commission investigating the ‘Dawn Leaks’ incident; the military now accepts those findings to have been implemented.
  • Legal arguments continue on a Supreme Court petition brought by the PML-N seeking Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen’s disqualification from office; Khan pledged to account for the purchase of his property in Bani Gala, although PTI lawyers continue to argue for the dismissal of the case.
  • Afghan ambassador Omar Zakhilwal met with Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz on Wednesday to discuss the Chaman border dispute, where the crossing remains closed.
  • India has petitioned the International Court of Justice for a stay on the execution order against accused spy Kulbhushan Jhadav, accusing Pakistan of violating the Vienna Convention and barring consular access to Jhadav.
  • Iranian military officials continue to warn that they will take unilateral action to target terrorist groups across the border in Pakistan if Pakistan does not; Pakistan’s foreign ministry summoned the Iranian ambassador to convey concerns over those remarks.
  • Four military court convicts were executed by the military on Wednesday. The families of the Army Public School attack victims have petitioned the Peshawar High Court seeking a military court trial for former TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan.
  • Afghanistan’s Central Statistics Organization reported that the economy grew 3.6.% in the 2016-17 solar year, up from a 1.8% contraction in the year preceding it.

Pakistan — Security

  • India Seeks Death Sentence Stay Against Jhadav: On Monday, Indian officials initiated proceedings against Pakistan in the International Court of Justice, accusing it of violating the Vienna Convention in barring consular access to accused spy Kulbhushan Jhadav and asking the ICJ to block the death sentence against him. On Wednesday, Defense Minister Khwaja Asif dismissed the move as an “attempt to divert attention from state-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan”. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Tensions with Iran: In an interview with Iran’s Fars News agency on Tuesday, Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Army Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan reiterated Iran’s “inalienable and legal right to confront and destroy terrorists’ dens in any depths of the neighboring country’s soil, in case the Pakistani government takes no serious measure.” On Tuesday, the Pakistani foreign ministry summoned Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost to “convey Pakistan’s concerns” over remarks by army chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqeri, who also warned of cross-border action if Pakistan did not crack down on militant groups following an attack last month that left ten Iranian border guards dead. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that an Iran-Pakistan border commission would meet within a month.
  • Military Courts: On Wednesday, the army’s spokesman announced the execution of four men convincted under the military courts system, all identified as active members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and linked to attacks on soldiers and civilians. The Nation reports another execution is planned for May 16 of Usman Ghani, a TTP commander who carried out a 2011 attack on ISI offices in Faisalabad. Separately, the APS Shuhada Forum, an organization formed amongst the families of victims of the 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School, has petitioned the Peshawar High Court seeking the trial under a military court of former TTP and TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. [AP] [ET]
  • Kidnappings: A Pakistani Taliban faction that kidnapped a group of six Pakistani engineers working for the Polish oil and gas firm Geofizyka Krakow last November released a video of the group pleaded for their release on Tuesday; a spokesman for the company said that “every effort is made to find and release the persons kidnapped”. The TTP group did not specify demands in the video, but insisted that they be met. Separately, police in Attock freed a British Pakistani man and arrested three kidnappers during a raid on Tuesday.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Army ‘Withdraws’ Statement on Dawn Leaks: Prime Minister Sharif met with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa on Wednesday, accompanied by the interior minister and ISI chief; in a subsequent statement, the army’s public relations arm said that recommendations from the inquiry commission into the ‘Dawn Leaks’ incident “have been implemented”, and “withdrew” an April 29 statement on Twitter rejecting the government’s actions on the issue. No additional steps by the government have been announced as of this writing; an interior ministry statement reiterated previous directives for the dismissal of two senior aides, and the development of a “code of conduct” for reporting on “issues relating to the security of Pakistan”. [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Panama Papers Investigation: In a Dawn interview on Tuesday, PPP leader Farhatullah Babar echoed PTI calls for the Joint Investigation Team on the Panama Papers case to “hold an open inquiry” into the prime minister’s family’s assets. The JIT met for the second time on Tuesday to review the Supreme Court’s judgement on the case.
  • Other Legal Battles: Supreme Court hearings on Tuesday on a petition seeking the disqualification of PTI leaders Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen focused on Khan’s residence in Bani Gala, which PML-N lawyers allege was purchased with undeclared assets. The Islamabad Capital Development Authority also submitted reports saying that the property had violated city zoning regulations. The court has sought details from Imran on his assets, but suggested that they would not accept an argument for disqualification based on Article 62 of the constitution. In a statement on Wednesday, Imran pledged to provide a complete accounting of his property; PTI lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that the case should be dismissed. Separately, the Election Commission has adjourned hearings until early June on a parallel disqualification petition against the two PTI leaders. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman alleged on Tuesday that he had received bribe offers from “some people backed by the Jewish lobby” to join the PTI government in Khyber Paktunkhwa in 2013 “in return for helping them eliminate the roots of Islam in the province”. In meetings with Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and former interior minister Rehman Malik on Tuesday, former Pres. Zardari reiterated calls for Prime Minister Sharif to step down. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will reportedly headline a PPP rally in Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan, on May 14.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sharif to Visit Saudi Arabia and China in Coming Week [ET] [The Nation]
  • Federal Government Concedes Provincial Right to Produce Power [Dawn]
  • Three Injured in Kohlu Land Mine Blast [The Nation]
  • Explosives Seized in Khyber and South Waziristan Agencies [ET]
  • Jacobabad Police Arrest Three Terrorist Suspects [Dawn]
  • OGDC Receivables Rise to Rs 170 Billion [ET]
  • Iran and Pakistan State Banks Agree on Payment Mechanism [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Karachi Truckers Strike Over Vehicle Movement Restrictions [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Strategy Review: The WSJ follows the Post on the Trump administration’s draft strategy on Afghanistan, which would increase the number of U.S. military advisors, pushing them down to smaller-size units, and give U.S. forces more authority to directly strike the Taliban, with or without the accompanying presence of Afghan forces. The NYT reports that military officials sought to eliminate any public deadlines for drawdowns of U.S. forces, as were made by the Obama administration, it officials say that commitment would “be dependent on steps by President Ashraf Ghani to fight corruption and appoint more effective commanders”, with providing specifics. The NYT also suggests that the strategy does not address Pakistan or militant safe havens there. A decision is expected before the NATO summit on May 25, which Trump is expected to attend. Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford tells Stars and Stripes that U.S. force levels will be dependent on how many additional forces are provided by NATO; NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday that the alliance was assessing a request for “a few thousand” more troops for advisory operations, but stressed that “this is not about returning back to a combat operation in Afghanistan”. The BBC reports that the UK is considering a NATO request for additional troops; during a meeting between Defense Secretary Mattis and Danish Defense Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen on Tuesday, Frederiksen said that Denmark was “generally positive about increasing our presence in Afghanistan”. [CNN] [TOLO] [Just Security]
  • Border Tensions with Pakistan: Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal met with Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz on Wednesday; in a statement afterwards, Zakhilwal said that he had refuted Pakistani charges that Afghan forces had initiated the clash at the Chaman border crossing last week. A survey of disputed villages on the border was completed on Tuesday. Due to border closures, Pakistan State Oil has reportedly cancelled a tender for the purchase of around 10,000 tonnes of jet fuel in June, the bulk of which is normally re-exported to Afghanistan. Separately, tribal elders met in Nangarhar on Tuesday, accusing Pakistan of supporting the Islamic State and destroying homes on the Afghan side of the border. [ET] [Ariana News]
  • Attacks and Operations: Fighting continues around Kunduz city as Afghan forces seek to retake control of a heavily-mined main route into the city; Kunduz provincial council members tell Reuters local residents are preparing to flee the area, and local commanders complain to TOLO of a lack of assistance and direction from the national leadership. A bomb planted in a car killed tribal leader Faizullah Khan in Kandahar’s Spin Boldak district over Tuesday night; another civilian was killed in a roadside bombing, and a cleric was killed in Kandahar city. Nangarhar provincial police officials report that a Taliban shadow district governor in the Khogyani district was killed in a “clash with the residents of the district” on Tuesday. Seven civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in the Adraksan district Herat province on Tuesday. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Economic Indicators: In a report on Tuesday, Afghanistan’s Central Statistics Organization reported 3.6% GDP growth for Solar Year 1395 (March 2016 – March 2017), following a 1.8% contraction in SY1394. The CSO also estimates a 2% population increase, to 29.2 million.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • IEC Prepares Election Cost Estimate [Pajhwok]
  • Afghanistan’s Cricket Stars Return Home as Heroes [NYT]
  • Roshan to Launch 4G Cellular Service [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: The Wrong Enemy in Afghanistan – “Unless the two main parties to the conflict, the government and the Afghan Taliban, come together in a peace process that absorbs as many insurgents as possible, groups like the Islamic State will continue emerging and expanding. There is no choice but to start a dialogue with the Taliban.” [Borhan Osman, AAN]

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