Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Ghani and Sharif Agree to Restart Quadrilateral Coordination Group; Sharif to Testify for JIT

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  • At their meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit last week, Pres. Ghani and Prime Minister Sharif agreed to seek the restart of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group for talks on an Afghan peace, as well as “bilateral channels to undertake specific actions against terror groups and evolve a mechanism to monitor and verify such actions”.
  • Prime Minister Sharif has been summoned to testify before the Joint Investigation Team investigating the Panama Papers case for Thursday; a spokesman confirmed he would participate. Imran Khan and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari warned against government criticism or interference in the JIT’s proceedings; Tahir-ul Qadri, who returned to Pakistan on Sunday, claimed that the PML-N was making complaints about the JIT in order to give it a guise of neutrality.
  • Pres. Ghani met with Afghan parliamentarians on Sunday, who have established two commissions to seek to negotiate with protestors who continue to call for the removal of top security officials. On Monday, the Afghan attorney general’s office announced the suspension of the Kabul police chief and head of the Kabul military garrison. In a rare audio statement released Sunday, Taliban deputy chief Sirajuddin Haqqani denied that his group had played any role in attacks in Kabul and Herat earlier this month.
  • Three U.S. soldiers were killed in Nangarhar’s Achin district when an Afghan commando opened fire on Saturday; their identities have not yet been released. On Monday, three civilians were reportedly killed in another Nangarhar district when a U.S. convoy opened fire after being struck by a roadside bomb. In Helmand, at least three Afghan border police were reportedly killed in an errant U.S. airstrike during an operation in the Nad-e-Ali district over Friday night. All three incidents remain under investigation.
  • At least three Pakistani civilians were killed in exchanges of fire with India across the Line of Control on Saturday and Monday.
  • Prime Minister Sharif, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, and other top aides departed for Saudi Arabia on Monday as part of an effort to mediate disputes between the Gulf states.
  • A Shia man accused of “hate speech” and blasphemous remarks on Facebook was sentenced to death by a Bahawalpur anti-terrorism court on Saturday, the first such conviction reportedly made for remarks on social media.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: Police in the Poonch district of Azada Jammu and Kashmir reported that a Pakistani man was killed by cross-border fire from Indian soldiers on Saturday. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited Muzaffarabad earlier in the day, where he received security briefings from local commanders, who were quoted assuring him that “no Indian misadventure shall go without a befitting response”. On Monday, two Pakistani teenagers were reportedly killed and three injured in cross-Line of Control shelling; Pakistan’s foreign ministry formally protested both incidents. [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET]
  • Blasphemy Conviction: On Saturday, a Bahawalpur anti-terrorism court issued a death sentence for Taimoor Raza, a college professor and member of the Shia minority community, on blasphemy charges related to comments he made on Facebook. He had been arrested on the charges last year; it appears to be the first instance of a blasphemy conviction for comments made on social media. Reuters reporting indicates Raza was also charged with “hate speech” against the Deobandi sect. His lawyer tells the AFP he will seek to appeal his conviction. Elsewhere, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Akbar Chitrali told a press conference on Saturday that he had received assurances from Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak that a group of twenty men arrested in April for an attempted mob lynching of a mentally ill man accused of blasphemy would be released. [AP] [RFE/RL]
  • CPEC Security: Provincial police officials tell Reuters they are tightening security and the monitoring of Chinese nationals living in Pakistan, after the kidnapping and apparent execution of two Chinese hostages from Quetta by the Islamic State last week. The Pakistan army has also established a special division tasked with CPEC security.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: Prime Minister Sharif has been summoned to testify before the Joint Investigation Team investigating the Panama Papers case on Thursday; Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb confirmed he would participate in the hearing. Finance Minister Dar has reportedly also received a summons, but no date has been set for his appearance; former interior minister Rehman Malik has also been summoned, but his spokesman said he had sought a delay in hearings as he was traveling abroad. At a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, JIT officials said that unspecified government departments had tampered with records being sought for the investigation. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Imran Khan warned that the PTI would hold street protests if the PML-N interfered in the JIT’s work, which he said was an extension of the Supreme Court and could not be criticized; PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari echoed that argument on Sunday. Khan also called on the Supreme Court to push Prime Minister Sharif to resign. Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahir-ul Qadri returned to Pakistan on Sunday, denouncing the JIT as “an election cell” for the PML-N, suggesting that Hussain Nawaz’s public allegations of bias on the part of the JIT were intended to give it the appearance of neutrality. Hussain appeared for the fifth time before the JIT on Friday, and told reporters afterwards that he did not expect to be called back again. On Saturday, National Bank of Pakistan president Saeed Ahmed wrote to the Supreme Court registrar, echoing Hussain’s complaints that the JIT had subjected him to “undue pressure” in its questioning. On Friday, senator Nehal Hashmi appeared before a PML-N disciplinary board, telling reporters afterwards that his remarks on the JIT had been “taken out of context”; on Monday, Prime Minister Sharif signed an order approving his expulsion from the party. [Reuters] [AP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Gulf Diplomacy: In a statement on Sunday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry denied Turkish media reports that Pakistan was deploying troops to Qatar amidst the emirate’s split with other Gulf States, but said the tensions were “a matter of concern”. Prime Minister Sharif, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, and other top aides departed on Monday for Saudi Arabia in an attempt to mediate the regional dispute between the Gulf states. [ET]
  • FATA Reforms: The Express Tribune reports that the group of six independent national assembly members from the FATA has split, with a faction of four legislators aligning under the leadership of MNA Nasir Khan, who opposes the government’s planned merger of the FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa province.
  • Other Political Activity: PTI party members began voting on Saturday in intra-party elections for party leadership positions; Imran Khan and other top leaders are expected to easily retain their positions against a relatively unknown slate of challengers. The Nation reports that former Pres. Zardari may not return to Pakistan until after Eid or later, with sources attributing the decision to health concerns; PPP leaders are meeting Tuesday to discuss whether Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will contest by-elections and enter the current parliament, as previously planned. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah reiterated complaints that the federal government was neglecting the province’s electricity and water needs during remarks on Saturday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: The Ministry of Finance released Rs 7.5 billion to the Central Power Purchasing Authority for clear some intra-sectoral circular debts; the Express Tribune notes concerns within Pakistan State Oil that it will not receive any of those funds. Farmers protested in the Khuzdar district over electricity outages on Sunday, blocking the highway between Quetta and Karachi. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Budget Debates: Karachi mayor Wasim Akhtar led opposition party protests on Friday over the draft Sindh provincial budget, which did not include development projects proposed by the city; the MQM and other opposition parties also boycotted the provincial assembly session. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Three Quetta Policemen Killed [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [AP]
  • IED Wounds Three Security Officials in Kalat [Dawn]
  • FIA Again Seeks Interpol ‘Red Warrant’ for Altaf Husssain [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Provincial Assembly Member Survives Drive-by Shooting [ET]
  • Sukkur Police Officers Arrested on Charges of Maintaining ‘Torture Cell’ [Dawn]
  • Mashal Khan’s Father Petitions Peshawar High Court to Transfer Lynching Case [Dawn]
  • PPP Senator Calls for Investigation into Musharraf-Era Nuclear Proliferation [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Three Chinese Naval Ships Visit Karachi [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Sirajuddin Haqqani Denies Role in Kabul Attack: In a rare audio message released on Sunday, Taliban deputy leader and Haqqani network chief Sirajuddin Haqqani denied responsibility for the truck bombing attack earlier this month in Kabul, as well as the bombing of a funeral that followed and an attack on a mosque in Herat. On Sunday, the attorney general’s office announced the suspension of Kabul police chief Hassan Shah Frogh and Kabul garrison chief Gul Nabi Ahmadzai, a move confirmed by the presidential palace. [AFP] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Insider Attack Kills Three U.S. Soldiers: An Afghan army commando opened fire on a group of U.S. soldiers in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Saturday, killing three and wounding a fourth; details of the incident remain limited and the victims have not been identified, but U.S. special forces have been active in joint operations targeting the Islamic State in the area for the past several months. The gunman was killed in the exchange of fire; the Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility for having instigated the attack. [NYT] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Civilians Killed After U.S. Convoy Attacked: Afghan officials in Nangarhar reported Monday that three civilians had been killed after U.S. forces traveling in a convoy in the Ghani Khel district opened fire after their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb late Sunday. The U.S. military said it was investigating the incident. [NYT] [TOLO]
  • Friendly Fire Kills Afghan Police in Helmand: At least three Afghan border policemen were killed and two injured in a friendly fire incident during an overnight joint Afghan-U.S. operation on Friday in Helmand’s Nad-e-Ali district; the U.S. military command said it was investigating the incident, in which a U.S. aircraft “returned fire” at forces on the ground. [AFP] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Gunmen attacked a mosque in the Paktia capital of Gardez on Friday night, killing at least three civilians and wounding nine others, the Ministry of Interior reported; no claim of responsibility was made for the attack. A spokesman for the Afghan army special forces said Saturday that they had cleared Kunduz’s Imam Sahib district of Taliban fighters over the course of a three-day operation, claiming to have killed 77 Taliban fighters and several senior commanders. Wahidullah Begzad, the former administrative deputy chief of police, was rescued in the operations, after almost a year in captivity. Kabul police arrested a would-be suicide car bomber on Saturday, and the NDS announced the arrest of a would-be suicide bomber in Lashkar Gah the same day; on Monday, the Ministry of Interior announced the arrest of a man in Wardak accused of masterminding multiple suicide attacks in Kabul. Helmand provincial officials reported that an airstrike in the Nahr-e-Saraj district destroyed a Taliban IED factory, killing eight militants; another airstrike in the Nad-e-Ali district late Sunday evening reportedly killed Mullah Abdul Bari, identified as the head of the Taliban’s military commission in Helmand. Afghan forces announced the arrest of the Taliban shadow district governor for Baghlan’s Khost Farang district on Monday. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani and Sharif Call for Relaunching of Quadrilateral Coordination Group: In statements on Saturday, the Afghan presidency and Pakistani foreign ministry said that Pres. Ghani and Prime Minister Sharif had agreed to revive the Quadrilateral Coordination Group and establish “bilateral channels to undertake specific actions against terror groups and evolve a mechanism to monitor and verify such actions”. Sharif also “stressed the importance of reconciliation and a politically negotiated settlement as the best solution to the Afghan conflict”, but Dawn suggests there is disagreement between the two sides on whether disputes over counter-terrorism action should be managed through the QCG or bilaterally. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Friday that Pres. Xi Jinping had agreed to host a trilateral meeting between Afghanistan and Pakistan during his meeting with Pres. Ghani, adding that “our demand is clear; Pakistan should honestly cooperate in fighting against terrorism”. [ET] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Protests Continue Over Security: Pres. Ghani declared Saturday a national day of mourning, in honor of attacks last week in Kabul, Khost, and Herat. Protestors continue to demonstrate at sit-in camps around the capital, with several roads closed, although a TOLO report on Sunday suggests attendance is light at the camps. Ghani met with a delegation of lawmakers led by Wolesi Jirga Speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi on Sunday; Khaama Press reports that Ibrahimi has formed two commissions, comprised of one lawmaker each from each of Afghanistan’s provinces, in order to negotiate with the protestors. Ghani is quoted saying that the government is “committed to respond to the legal and justified demands of the people”, and reiterating calls for national unity. One member of parliament tells TOLO that Ghani “behaved inappropriately” with the delegation, however, and said that decisions on the removal of security officials were not under his control. Jihadi veteran and leader of the “Supreme Council of Jihadi and National Parties” Sibghatullah Mujaddidi called on protestors to call off their sit-ins and said that it would not be appropriate to fire security officials, but warned of action if the government did not commit to reforms. [Ariana News] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Execution: During a parliamentary hearing on Saturday, Finance Minister Eklil Hakimi acknowledged that the government had spent only 15.5% of its development budget during the first six months of the current fiscal year.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Not a Random Attack: New Details Emerge from Investigation of Slain NPR Journalists [NPR]
  • NATO and Afghan Officials Review Ministry of Interior Strategic Plan, Noting Concerns Over Corruption [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves 11 Contracts [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: We Foreigners in Kabul Marvel at Afghan ‘Resilience’; But They Have No Other Choice – “If there was a silver lining last week, it was in the rare displays of international sympathy with victims of a war so never-ending that foreign observers have grown numb to it.” [Sune Engel Rasmussen, The Guardian]

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