Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Bombs Strike Kabul Funeral, Straining Government Unity; Mastung Raid Targets ISIS Leadership

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  • At least three bombings struck funeral services on Saturday for the son of deputy senate speaker Mohammad Alam Izadyar, who was killed in clash between protestors and police on Friday after last week’s major truck bombing in Kabul. As many as twenty people were killed and dozens injured, including some senior politicians attending the service. The Taliban denied involvement; the NDS announced the arrest of at least thirteen men, including one would-be suicide bomber, and said they had received training in Chaman.
  • Sit-in protests continued in Kabul through Sunday despite a warning on Friday from the Kabul army garrison against public gatherings and Saturday’s attack. Jamiat-e-Islami party leaders met on Saturday, rebuffing a meeting with Pres. Ghani and planning to meet with Chief Executive Abdullah “to decide which side he is on”; at a press conference on Monday, Atta Mohammad Noor and Salahuddin Rabbani echoed calls for top security officials, including National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar and others, to be fired in response to the recent attacks. In his statement after the funeral attack, Ghani called for national unity; on Sunday, he acknowledged security lapses and pledged a review.
  • National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is reportedly planning to seek to renew White House discussions on the deployment of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan this week, the NYT reports; earlier debates stalled over disagreements between military and political advisors, including the State Department. The NYT reports the Pentagon is proposing to seek for a greater share of the troop increase to be provided by NATO partners.
  • A “major intelligence-led counterterrorism operation” in Balochistan’s Mastung district reportedly targeted senior Islamic State leadership; as many as nine “key commanders” were reportedly killed, but details are limited.
  • Pakistani military spokesmen say they killed five Indian soldiers in retaliation for “unprovoked ceasefire violations”, and destroyed an Indian border outpost; the Indian army denied that it had suffered any casualties.
  • Leaked images of Hussain Nawaz’s interrogation by the Joint Investigation Team in the Panama Papers case prompted accusations from both the PML-N and the PTI that the other had been responsible for the leak. A case was opened against former PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi for his remarks on the investigation; the Supreme Court has given Hashmi until June 16 to defend his remarks. Prime Minister Sharif has called a meeting of PML-N legislators for June 7 to discuss the party’s response to the inquiry.
  • Despite the past week’s attacks, Afghan foreign ministry officials say they intend to go ahead with a planned conference on peace and security in the country, to be held in Kabul on Tuesday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Mastung Operation: Dawn reports that a “major intelligence-led counterterrorism operation” took place in the Mastung district in Balochistan over Friday into Saturday night, and that as many as nine “key commanders” of the Islamic State had been killed. Details are limited; the operation appears to be linked in part to the kidnapping of a Chinese couple in Quetta in late May. A separate report indicates at least 11 other Chinese nationals have left Quetta since the kidnappings.
  • Military Announces Strike on Indian Posts: In a statement on Saturday, Pakistan’s military press service announced that it had killed five Indian soldiers in response to an “unprovoked ceasefire violation” along the Line of Control; on Sunday, the military released a video which it said showed the destruction of an Indian border outpost. A spokesman for the Indian defense ministry denied that any of its soldiers had been killed or wounded, but said that one Indian woman had been wounded by Pakistani shelling; on Sunday, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the Indian army had been “given a free hand” to respond to “any attempt by Pakistani troops to disturb peace in the country”. Earlier on Friday, Pakistani military officials reported that two civilians had been wounded in cross-border firing. On Monday, four militants were killed in an attack on an Indian Central Reserve Police Force camp in Kashmir. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Mashal Khan Lynching: Both Dawn and the Express Tribune report on leaked copies of the Joint Investigation Team report into the murder of Abdul Wali Khan University student Mashal Khan in April; the report absolved Khan of blasphemy accusations and said his murder had been plotted on that pretext by leaders of the local chapter of the Pakhtun Students Federation and employees of the university. In a press conference on Monday, Khan’s father reiterated a request that the case be transferred outside Mardan. [Dawn]
  • Saudi Alliance: The Express Tribune reports that the government has decided to present the terms of reference for the Saudi military alliance to parliament for approval, in order to “set certain limits” on Pakistan’s participation in the alliance and “find a middle ground” in relations between the Saudis and Iran.
  • Terror Financing Sanctions: The AP notes the upcoming meeting of the international Finance Action Task Force in June, where Pakistan among other countries will be under review for its efforts to curtail terrorism financing and money laundering. National Counter Terrorism Authority chief Ishan Ghani says his organization is developing policies to require more reporting on money transfers and to update lists of terrorist suspects; around 5,000 bank accounts have been frozen. [ET]
  • Quetta Shooting: Two siblings from the Hazara community were killed in a driveby shooting on Sunday evening in Quetta; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]
  • Journalist Escapes Kidnapping: Journalist Azaz Syed, a GEO TV investigative reporter, escaped an attempted kidnapping in Islamabad on Friday evening; police say they are investigating the incident.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: Hassan Nawaz, Prime Minister Sharif’s younger son, testified before the Joint Investigation Team on the Panama Papers for seven hours on Friday; he did not speak to reporters afterwards, but Dawn reports questioning focused on the sources of his income and assets. His elder brother Hussain Nawaz appeared for the fourth time before the JIT on Saturday; he reiterated the family’s innocence in comments afterwards. The JIT has reportedly received a response from Qatari Prince Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber Al Thani as part of its investigations into the money trail for the Sharif family’s London real estate. Leaked photos of Hussain in the interrogation room prompted protests from minister of state for information Marriyum Aurangzeb, saying it “smacked of vengeance”; a spokesman for the Interior Ministry denied responsibility for the photo’s release, and leaders of the PTI and PML-N traded accusations that the other had leaked the photo. Also on Saturday, the Supreme Court released its written ruling of a May 29 decision rejecting Hussain’s petition challenging the impartiality of the JIT. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Imran Khan accused the government of seeking to block accountability for the Sharif family, echoing remarks by Judge Sheikh Azmat that the PML-N was acting as “a mafia”. On Friday, a PTI spokesman accused the government of tapping the phones of judges. In a statement on Saturday, the Pakistan Bar Council threatened nationwide protests if the government interfered in the JIT investigation, and called for a case to be brought against former PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi for his recent remarks; the Attorney General of Pakistan has sought for proceedings to be opened against Hashmi in a Karachi court, and a case was filed against him on Sunday. At Supreme Court hearings on Monday, the court gave Hashmi until June 16 to submit a reply. [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Judicial Proceedings: Supreme Court Judge Asif Saeed Khosa recused himself from a Supreme Judicial Counsel disciplinary hearing against Lahore High Court Judge Sayyed Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi; Khosa was the author of a 2013 verdict overturning a ruling by Naqvi granting a bail application. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Prime Minister Sharif has called a meeting of PML-N parliamentary representatives for June 7 in Murree, to discuss the government’s budget strategy and the Panama Papers case. On Monday, the Election Commission indefinitely adjourned disqualification hearings against Imran Khan and Jahangir Khan Tareen, apparently accepting arguments that the ECP should not hear the case in parallel to the Supreme Court. Speaking at an iftar dinner on Saturday, PPP leader Bilawala Bhutto Zardari denounced the government’s management of the energy sector and vowed that the PPP would resolve Pakistan’s energy crisis after winning the next general elections. PPP sources insist to The Nation that the party leadership is unconcerned over recent high-profile defections. A Karachi anti-terrorism granted bail to MQM-Pakistan leader Farooq Sattar in roughly 30 cases pending against him in connection to “hate speech” charges against leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain. The Nation reports that the remnants of the PML-Q and the All Pakistan Muslim League are planning to form an electoral alliance. [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • UAE Embassy Denies Report on Visa Restrictions for Pakistanis [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • No Plans to Cut Ties to Qatar, Foreign Ministry Says [ET]
  • Pakistani-American Businessman Pleads Guilty to Export Violations [Dawn]
  • Two TTP Suspects Arrested in Charsadda [ET]
  • Prime Minister to Attend SCO Summit in Kazakhstan [The Nation]
  • Former IDP Camp Guards Seek Reinstatement [The Nation]
  • More Than 28,000 Ghost Employees Found in Balochistan Govt Departments [Dawn]
  • National Security Advisor Janjua Meets with Iranian Ambassador [The Nation]
  • DFID Chief Meets Punjab Chief Minister [The Nation]
  • Ban on Tourist Visas for Gilgit-Baltistan Lifted [ET] [The Nation]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Bombings Target Funerals After Kabul Attack and Protests: Multiple bombings struck a funeral service on Saturday for Mohammad Salem Izidyar, the son of the deputy speaker of the senate who was killed in a clash between protestors and police the day prior that follow a large truck bomb in central Kabul that killed scores. The funeral services had been attended by several senior government officials, including Chief Executive Abdullah and acting Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani; neither of them was injured, but a former deputy attorney general was reportedly among the dead. Casualties figures varied; TOLO, citing health ministry sources, put the figure at 20 dead and 87 or more wounded. In a statement, the Taliban denied responsibility for the attack; they also denied responsibility for last Wednesday’s attack, which Afghan officials have blamed on the Haqqani network. In a Washington Times interview, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington Aizaz Chaudhry rebuffed suggestions Pakistan was involved in the attack, saying the Haqqani network had “moved into Afghanistan and need to be taken care of there”; foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz expressed “serious concern” over “baseless accusations” of Pakistani involvement in the attacks in a statement on Sunday. On Sunday, the NDS intelligence agency announced the arrest of thirteen people, including a would-be suicide bomber, in connection with the funeral attack. On Monday, the NDS reported that explosives had been hidden in the bombers’ shoes, and said they had received training at a madrassa near the Chaman border crossing. In a statement on Sunday, the Kabul Emergency Hospital demanded security at the hospital, saying they had been threatened by the nearby protest camp; TOLO reports that the past week’s attacks has disrupted banking services in Kabul. [WSJ] [WAPO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Government Faces Backlash Over Violence: Following Friday’s protest clashes, the head of the Kabul military garrison, Lt. Gen. Gul Nabi Ahmadzai, had held a press conference on Friday, warning against public gatherings; a sit-in was established near the Kabul Emergency Hospital on Saturday, with around 2,000 participants reported by mid-afternoon Saturday, prior to the funeral, including former vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud. Demonstrations continued there on Sunday, reiterating calls to sack top security leadership and for Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah to step down. The UN special representative and US charges d’affaires both called for restraint following violence at the protests. In a statement following Saturday’s funeral bombings, Pres. Ghani called for unity, saying the country “is under attack”. In a press conference immediately after the attack on Saturday, Abdullah raised questions about security at the funeral; on Sunday, Ghani acknowledged security lapses and vowed to bring reforms to the security services. In separate statements, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Atta Mohammad Noor condemned last week’s truck bombing and the attack on the funeral; Noor said that the Jamiat-e-Islami planned to “seek clarification” from Abdullah over the recent attack, which he said “further increases the doubts regarding the hand of certain circles inside the system”. TOLO reports that Jamiat leaders refused a meeting with Pres. Ghani after the funeral attack and “called on [Abdullah] to decide which side he is on”. At a press conference on Monday, Noor and acting foreign minister Rabbani called for the removal of top security officials, including National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar. [TOLO]
  • US Strategy: The NYT reports that National Security Advisor McMaster plans to push this week for a renewed decision-making process on the administration’s draft plan to deploy additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan; initial proposals have stalled over disagreements between military officials and the president’s political advisors, with the State Department also reportedly having expressed concern that the McMaster plan was “jamming through” a decision on troop increases. The report suggests that the Pentagon is seeking an alternative in which NATO and other allies would supply half of the total new troop commitments. On Monday, Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson made a joint visit to Australia, where they held talks with their counterparts on counter-terrorism and Australian assistance in Afghanistan, among other issues.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: The AP reports that six Afghan police officers were killed and the Kandahar district police chief wounded in an insider attack on Sunday; the Taliban claimed responsibility. On Sunday, the Afghan army said that the Taliban shadow deputy governor for Kapisa province had been killed in a special forces raid. Taliban fighters attacked the Imam Sahib district in Kunduz on Sunday; the provincial police chief claims that the Taliban advance was repelled, but a member of the provincial council says that as many as a thousand families were displaced by fighting. Several rockets struck Kunduz city on Sunday morning, wounding two civilians. The district governor in Uruzgan’s Chora district reports that Taliban infighting left at least two insurgents dead on Sunday. Nangarhar officials report that 22 Islamic State fighters were killed in air and ground operations in the Achin district through Sunday and Monday. [Reuters]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kabul Talks: Despite the past week’s tensions, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry said Monday that the government still intended to host talks on Tuesday in Kabul to discuss peace and security in the country, and that participating countries had confirmed their participation.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • American University of Afghanistan Appeals for Lecturers’ Release [Khaama Press]
  • Afghanistan-India Air Corridor to Begin Operations June 15 [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: A Black Week in Kabul: Terror and Protests – “The situation in Kabul remains tense, but there have been no further protests yet, as politicians mull their options.” [Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

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