Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Interior Minister Backs Social Media Crackdown; Trump Admin Still Divided on Afghan Strategy

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Topline

  • Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan affirmed the government’s intention to continue clamping down on social media users he accused of attacking “the Constitution, Pakistan, our institutions, and the values of our country”.
  • The NYT reports that Trump administration officials are still divided over their strategy towards Afghanistan and the question of increasing U.S. forces, ahead of a NATO conference taking place tomorrow.
  • Indian military officials said they struck Pakistani army posts along the Line of Control on Tuesday in order to curtail militant infiltration; Pakistan denies the strikes took place. Pakistan’s Air Force has reportedly mobilized its forward operating bases.
  • A Chinese couple was kidnapped in Quetta on Wednesday; no claim of responsibility was reported. Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti announced the arrest of a man he said was connected to bombings at the Quetta General Hospital and Shah Noorani shrine last year; those attacks were claimed by the Islamic State at the time.
  • Afghanistan’s ministry of defense said that 16 out of 24 suspects arrested in connection to the March attack on the Kabul military hospital were presented before a close-door court hearing on Tuesday; details of the hearings or the suspects’ identities were not released.
  • Members of the prime minister’s family have begun complaining that the Joint Investigation Team investigating the Panama Papers are biased; separately, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a disqualification case against Imran Khan over the PTI’s overseas fundraising, which party lawyers maintain was legal and argue the court should not have jurisdiction over.
  • Chief Executive Abdullah and former NDS chief Amrullah Saleh are not among the members of an “interim leadership council” formed by the Jamiat-e-Islami yesterday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: Indian military officials announced Tuesday that they had carried out attacks on Pakistani army posts on the Line of Control in order to “control infiltration”; Pakistani military spokesmen denied the report. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired a Formation Commanders meeting on Tuesday, warning that “any hostile action anywhere along our frontiers shall be responded to most befittingly.” Pakistan Air Force chief Sohail Aman told reporters on Wednesday that the PAF was “ready to face all kinds of challenges” and had “operationalized” all of its forward operating bases; he subsequently participated in a flight drill near the Siachen glacier region, although Indian Air Force officials said there were no airspace violations by the mission. Separately, Pakistan has asked for a date for the next International Court of Justice hearing on an Indian appeal against the death sentence for accused spy Kulbhushan Jhadav. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Chinese Couple Kidnapped: Two Chinese nationals, a husband and wife couple, were kidnapped in Quetta on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Balochistan provincial government said; Dawn reports that a third woman escaped the kidnapping. No claim of responsibility has been reported.
  • Suspect Linked to Balochistan Attacks Arrested: Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti announced the arrest on Tuesday of Saeed Ahmad Badani, alias Taqva, who he accused of involvement in bombings at the Quetta General Hospital last August and the Shah Noorani shrine last November, among other attacks. Bother attacks were claimed by the Islamic State at the time. Bugti claimed that Ahmad had confessed to receiving support from Afghan and Indian intelligence services; two other accomplices were also reportedly arrested. [Reuters]
  • Military Courts: Two men were executed on Wednesday after being convicted in the military court system, the military announced; one was accused of providing support to suicide bombers involved in the 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, and both were described as active members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Social Media Crackdown: Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan affirmed the government’s ongoing investigation of social media users, saying that “the Constitution, Pakistan, our institutions and the values of our country are under attack by a section of social media” and saying that “a free-for-all system cannot be allowed”. Chaudhry Nisar simultaneously claimed that “there will be no restrictions on social media” but that “there will be red lines in accordance with the law and Constitution of the country”, and suggested that anonymous social media accounts be linked to identifiable phone numbers. The Islamabad High Court issued an order that journalist Taha Siddiqui, who said he had been summoned by the Federal Investigation Agency for his social media account, not be harassed. [WSJ] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Legal Battles: Tariq Shafi, a cousin to Prime Minister Sharif, filed a complaint with the Joint Investigation Team in the Panama Papers case on Tuesday, accusing members of the JIT of unspecified misbehavior during his questioning. Hussain Nawaz, the prime minister’s eldest son, is also reported to have expressed concern that two members of the JIT, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) officer Amer Aziz and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan Executive Director Bilal Rasool, have affiliations with former Pres. Musharraf and former Punjab governor Mian Azhar. Separately, the Supreme Court heard continued arguments on Tuesday and Wednesday in a disqualification case against PTI leader Imran Khan; PTI lawyers continue to argue that the court should not have jurisdiction on the issue of the PTI’s fundraising accounts, and argued that their fundraising abroad was legal. [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • FATA Reforms: Tuesday’s meeting of Pakistan Army formation commanders also voiced support for reforms in FATA “in line with aspirations of the people”; the head of the JUI-F FATA chapter, Abdul Shakoor, told supporters on Tuesday that the party would continue to block reforms without a public referendum first being held.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • US Assistance: The Finance Ministry has projected the receipt of $1.5 billion in Coalition Support Funds from the US for the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Express Tribune reports, but “has not received positive signals from Washington”; so far, the US has disbursed $550 million this Pakistani fiscal year, against an expected commitment of $880 billion.
  • Energy Crisis: Circular debts within the energy sector now total Rs 402.14 billion, the Ministry of Water and Power reported on Monday. Separately, the Express Tribune reports that the government is considering deregulating petroleum product prices.
  • Budget Planning: On Tuesday, the PPP released a “shadow budget” proposal, including a 25% increase in pay and pensions for government employees and an increase in the minimum wage to Rs 18,000 per month. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Lahore High Court Gives Government ‘Last Chance’ to Respond to Hafiz Saeed House Arrest Case [ET]
  • Sindh Government Accuses Police Chief of ‘Colluding’ with Petitioners in Challenge Against His Removal [Dawn]
  • Polio Vaccinator Killed in Bannu [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Assembly Seeks to Regulate Private Schools [The Nation]
  • PPP Leaders Nazar Mohammad Gondal and Noor Alam Khan Join PTI [The Nation] [The Nation]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: Ahead of a NATO conference in Belgium on Thursday, the NYT reports that Trump administration officials remain divided over a proposed strategy, backed by the Pentagon and National Security Advisor McMaster, to increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan by up to 5,000 servicemembers. Chief strategist Steve Bannon and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner are said to be skeptical of the plan. Secretary Mattis told reporters last Friday that he had not made a formal troop recommendation to the White House. A NATO spokesman tells Pajhwok that Afghanistan is not a formal part of the NATO conference agenda, but would likely be discussed in the context of discussions on alliance burden-sharing and counter-terrorism missions. [Military Times]
  • Military Hospital Attack Investigation: On Tuesday, the Ministry of Defense said that it had initiated court hearings against sixteen out of 24 suspects arrested in connection to the attack on the Kabul military hospital in March; hearings were held behind closed doors, and no details of the proceedings or the suspects were released.
  • Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters attacked security forces along the Baghlan-Mazar highway over Tuesday night, shutting down traffic on the highway; fighting is reportedly still ongoing. Nangarhar provincial officials say that ten Islamic State fighters were killed in operations in the Achin district on Wednesday. A former Afghan member of parliament, Najibullah Kabuli, was wounded when a magnetic bomb was planted on his vehicle on Tuesday night; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Jamiat Announces Interim Leadership Council: Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, former vice presidents Ahmad Zia Masooud and Yunus Qanooni, and other senior leaders are among those named as members of the Jamiat-e-Islami “interim leadership council” on Tuesday; Chief Executive Abdullah and former NDS chief Amrullah Saleh were not on the list. A spokesman for Jamiat suggested that Abdullah’s absence could be explained by his duties in the national unity government. [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Former Pres. Karzai Meets with Russian Ambassador [Khaama Press]
  • US Envoy Calls for More Afghan Female Prosecutors [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Germany Announces Arrest of Afghan Man Accused of Killing Police Officer for Taliban [Khaama Press]
  • Bamiyan-Bound Plane Diverted by Afghan Lawmakers [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
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