Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Appears Before Panama Papers JIT; ISIS Take Control of Tora Bora from Taliban

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  • Prime Minister Sharif appeared before the Panama Papers Joint Investigation Team on Thursday, reiterating his innocence in remarks to reporters afterwards and cautioning his rivals that “there will also be a larger JIT next year comprising 200 million people and they will decide who has worked for the betterment of the country”. Officials with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Board of Revenue, and Law Ministry denied charges that they had interfered in the JIT’s investigation.
  • Islamic State fighters appear to have taken control of the area around the Tora Bora cave complex in Nangarhar’s Pachir Agam district from the Taliban; on Thursday, the provincial government announced new operations against ISIS in the area.
  • The Pentagon confirmed earlier reports that Pres. Trump has delegating decision-making authority on U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan to Secretary Mattis, who pledged that a new strategy would ensure Afghanistan would not “become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or our allies”.
  • A spokesman for the Afghan ministry of defense said that seven soldiers had been charged with facilitating an attack on the 209th Corps army base in Balkh in April; 34 personnel were sentenced earlier this week on negligence charges.
  • Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited the Peshawar Corps commander on Wednesday, issuing a statement warning that drone strikes were “counterproductive”.

Pakistan — Security

  • Army Chief Says Drone Strikes ‘Counterproductive’: In a statement on Wednesday during a visit to the Peshawar Corps command, and following reports that a U.S. drone strike had targeted a Haqqani network commander in the Hangu district on Monday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa said that drone strikes were “counterproductive and against [the] spirit of ongoing cooperation and intelligence sharing being diligently undertaken by Pakistan”. Bajwa also voiced support for “mainstreaming FATA through reforms”. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Appears Before JIT: Prime Minister Sharif made an appearance before the Joint Investigation Team investigating the Panama Papers case on Thursday; following nearly two hours of questioning, he told reporters that he had submitted all financial documents and reiterated that he and his family were innocent of any corruption charges. Sharif added that “people should not forget that there will also be a larger JIT next year comprising 200 million people and they will decide who has worked for the betterment of the country”, saying “we will not let our opponents turn back the wheel of progress”. The prime minister and party supporters emphasized his cooperation with the investigation, with Sharif suggesting no other political family in Pakistan had undergone comparable scrutiny. Reuters cites an anonymous PML-N who says that the party does not intended to call early elections in the event that Sharif is ousted following the investigation. At Supreme Court hearings on Wednesday, judges ordered a response from the attorney general into charges by JIT members that government agencies were interfering in their investigation; the Securities and Exchange Commission, one of the agencies accused of doing so, denied any wrongdoing and accused the JIT of coercing witnesses; the Ministry of Law and Federal Board of Revenue also rejected allegations against them. Speaking the national assembly on Wednesday, Finance Minister Dar said that the JIT’s complaints were made “out of some frustration to make the process suspicious”, denying any interference by the government. The Lahore High Court Bar Association reiterated calls for Sharif’s resignation before appearing before the JIT and plans to hold a protest today. [AP] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Dawn reports that the PTI has yet to sign on to an opposition party alliance against the PML-N in Punjab. The PML-F has agreed to back the PTI’s candidate in the PS-114 by-elections in Sindh. [The Nation] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Budget Debates: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir government presented its draft budget on Thursday for the next fiscal year, totaling Rs 94.41 billion in outlays, including Rs 23.38 billion in development spending. The Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly presented its budget on Wednesday, totaling Rs 54 billion, including Rs 18.3 billion for development projects. The Express Tribune notes that the government has amended its definition of public debt, reducing the official tally by Rs 2 trillion. [ET]
  • Energy Investments: The Shanghai Electric Power Company has reaffirmed its intentions to acquire K-Electric, utility officials said Wednesday, despite reduction of tariff rates by the National Electric Regulatory Authority. Dawn reports the government has delayed four LNG cargo shipments until October as construction of a second port terminal to receive them has been delayed. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Militants Escape from Karachi Jail [Dawn] [ET]
  • Aitzaz Hasan’s Family Seeks Government Security After Taliban Threats [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Welcomes Russian Mediation with India [ET]
  • Russian Helicopter for Balochistan Government to Be Delivered Next Week [Dawn]
  • Chief of Naval Staff Meets with Sri Lankan Leaders [APP]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Strategy: In a statement on Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed earlier reports that Pres. Trump had delegated decision-making authority on troop deployments to Afghanistan to Sec. Mattis; in the statement, Mattis said that “this administration will not repeat the mistakes of the past” and “cannot allow Afghanistan to once again become a launching point for attacks on our homeland or our allies”. No decision on troop levels has been announced, and the statement suggested that a “broader strategy we are developing that addresses our role in Afghanistan and beyond” would be presented “in the coming weeks”. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Islamic State Takes Tora Bora: Local government officials reported Wednesday that Islamic State forces had taken control of the Tora Bora cave complex in Nangarhar’s Pachir Agam district from the Taliban, who had previously held the area; local commander and parliamentarian Hazrat Ali tells the NYT that roughly a thousand ISIS fighters had gathered in the area. Some accounts conflict as to whether the caves themselves, at one point used by Osama bin Laden as he fled Afghanistan following the U.S. intervention, were under the Islamic State’s control; the Taliban denied that the area had been taken by ISIS, and accused the U.S. of carrying out airstrikes in support of the group. On Thursday, a spokesman for the provincial governor said that a special operation targeting ISIS forces had been launched in Pachir Agam and the Chaparhar district. [Reuters] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Balkh Army Base Attack: A spokesman for the ministry of defense said Thursday that seven Afghan army personnel had been arrested on charges of facilitating the attack on the 209th Army Corp’s base in Mazar-e-Sharif in April; 34 personnel received prison sentences earlier this week on negligence charges.
  • American University in Kabul Faces Threats: The Washington Post notes continued threats against the reopened American University of Afghanistan in Kabul; following the Afghan government’s blame of the Haqqani network for the bombing in the capital earlier this month, in which one of the school’s adjunct professors was a victim, the Taliban issued a threat alluding to the two former AUA professors being held hostage since last August.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: The ministry of interior claimed Wednesday that as many as 43 Taliban fighters had been killed in an airstrike in the Marjah district in Helmand province. Badakhshan police officials say they have cleared the Tagab district of Taliban fighters after a weeklong operation, and that the insurgents have now fled to the Warduj district. Explosives planted inside two motorcycles killed at least four people and wounded seven in Paktika’s Jani Khel district on Wednesday; the target was reported to have been a local Afghan Local Police commander. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • UN Chief Visits: Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on Wednesday, visiting UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres offered to mediate tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, adding that “my message to any country that supports terrorism anywhere in the world is that this is the wrong thing to do”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Presidency Seeks Rationale for Saleh Resignation [TOLO]
  • Kabul Metro Bus Project to Begin Work [Khaama Press]
  • Report: NGO Presence and Activity in Afghanistan 2002-14: A Provincial-Level Dataset – “This article introduces a new provincial-level dataset on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Afghanistan.” [Stability Journal]
  • Report: Processing Peace in Afghanistan – “Linking all the themes is the recurring concern that contextual understanding should be central to designing an appropriate peace architecture for Afghanistan.” [Anna Larson, Accord]

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