Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Shehbaz Sharif Appears Before Panama Papers JIT; Eight Wounded in Balkh Insider Attack

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  • Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif appeared before the Joint Investigation Team in the Panama Papers case on Saturday, emphasizing his family’s cooperation with investigations in contrast to other leaders. The Supreme Court will hold hearings on Monday on allegations of interference in the JIT’s investigations; a spokesman for the prime minister’s office alleged that the JIT was tapping the phones of witnesses.
  • Seven Americans and one Afghan soldier were wounded in an insider attack at a joint base in Mazar-e-Sharif on Saturday; the gunman, an Afghan special forces commando, was killed.
  • Two Pakistani diplomats working in the Jalalabad consulate have gone missing since departing to travel by road to Pakistan on Friday, the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement on Sunday; investigations into their whereabouts are ongoing. Separately, a foreign national — some reports identify him as an American and others as a Kenyan — working on a World Bank project with the ministry of agriculture was reportedly kidnapped in Kabul on Sunday.
  • Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has set a July 31 deadline to complete the review of 36 pending registration applications from international NGOs; 66 have been registered and ten rejected thus far.
  • Afghan security forces announced that they had retaken control of the Tora Bora area in Nangarhar from the Islamic State, which had taken control of the area from the Taliban last week. The Taliban carried out a complex attack on an Afghan police base in Paktia on Sunday, which killed at least six people.
  • Prime Minister Sharif and President Hussain traveled separately to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to perform Umrah and meet with Saudi officials; Sharif will reportedly travel on to London afterwards for a medical checkup.
  • Pres. Ghani met with members of parliament and civil society representatives on Saturday and Sunday, during which he called for protestors to end their sit-ins in Kabul. Protestors say they have withdraw all sit-ins except one main camp, and reiterated their demands for the removal of security officials in response to multiple high-profile attacks over the past month.
  • In remarks at the National Defense University on Saturday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa called for a “trust based coordinated response” to terrorism, chiding unnamed countries in the region “closing eyes to one’s own responsibility and resorting to throwing blame outside”.

Pakistan — Security

  • NGO Crackdown: At a briefing for Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Friday, interior ministry officials reported that 66 international NGOs had been registered with the government, and the applications of ten rejected. Decisions are still pending on 36 applications; Chaudhry Nisar set a deadline of July 31 to complete the registration process.
  • Border Tensions with Afghanistan: In remarks at the National Defense University of Pakistan on Saturday, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa warned that “terrorism cannot be defeated by closing eyes to one’s own responsibilities and resorting to throwing blame outside as being done by a few players in the region”, calling instead for “a trust based coordinated response rather than a blame game or unwarranted skirmishes”. Paramilitary Frontier Corps forces repelled two cross-border attacks by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants in the Kurram and Mohmand Agencies on Friday and Saturday, the Express Tribune reports. On Saturday, police in Chaman reported the arrest of an Afghan man accused of plotting multiple bomb attacks in Balochistan. [The Nation] [ET]
  • Border Tensions with Iran: Officials in Balochistan’s Panjgur district reported Sunday that Iranian forces had fired several mortars across the border near the town of Prom; no casualties were reported.
  • Rocket Strikes BNP Leader’s Home: A rocket struck the gate of the home of Balochistan National Party leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal in the town of Wadh on Sunday; he was not present at the time of the attack, and no casualties or claim of responsibility were reported.
  • Karachi Attack Disrupted: Four Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants were arrested in Karachi by the Sindh Rangers on Saturday; the group was reportedly planning to carry out attacks on the Shia community’s Youm-e-Ali processions. [The Nation] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif spoke before the Joint Investigation Team in the Panama Papers case on Saturday; speaking to reporters afterwards, he said “we have proven that our family has respect for the law, unlike the military rulers who usurped power at gunpoint”, and reiterated that the family had committed no wrongdoing. The Supreme Court is due to hold hearings on Monday on reports from the JIT that its investigation was being interfered with. In a separate response to the Supreme Court on Saturday, the head of the Intelligence Bureau acknowledged “collecting information” on members of the JIT, but maintained that this was routine and denied that they had hacked their social media accounts. Earlier on Friday, spokesmen for the prime minister’s office accused the JIT of wiretapping the phones of witnesses. Imran Khan accused Prime Minister Sharif of threatening the JIT in remarks on Friday, pledging to rally in the streets if the government did not accept a verdict from the judiciary; on Saturday, Khan said that both Sharif brothers would soon be jailed. He also announced that the party would henceforth boycott the Jang-Geo media group, accusing it of “biased, one-sided coverage of the ongoing investigations into Panamagate case”. Meanwhile, The Nation reports that the National Accountability Bureau representative on the JIT, Irfan Mangi, is under investigation by the NAB for an improper appointment. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Gulf Diplomacy: Prime Minister Sharif and President Hussain traveled separately to Saudi Arabia on Sunday; Sharif’s visit, his second to the kingdom in the past two weeks, will include Umrah in Mecca and will reportedly be followed by a trip to London for medical checkups. Hussain met with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, as well as Yemeni and Kuwaiti leaders. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • US Relations: Speaking during a Congressional hearing on Thursday in response to call from Representatives Rohrabacher and Poe — two leading critics of U.S. assistance to Pakistan — Secretary of State Tillerson said that the administration was “beginning an interagency policy review towards Pakistan” and that no decisions would be made until it was completed. He provided no further details.
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking at a party gathering in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Friday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari ruled out an electoral alliance with any other parties in the next general elections, predicting that the party would sweep to victory in the province. Former PPP minister Imtiaz Safdar Warraich quit the party to join the PTI on Friday; he is the fourth major PPP leader to flip in the Gujranwala division in the last month. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Liaqat Baloch told journalists on Saturday that discussions on an opposition alliance would begin after Eid. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek did not organize a large protest on Saturday, the anniversary of a 2014 clash with Punjab police that left 14 party activists dead, but opted instead for a prayer ceremony at which party leader Tahir-ul Qadri vowed to take revenge. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • IMF Review: In a statement on Friday following the conclusion of talks with Pakistani finance officials, the IMF said that the outlook for Pakistan’s economy was “favorable”, projecting medium-term growth GDP rates of around 6%. The IMF noted concerns over the fiscal and current account deficits, however.
  • Budget Debates: On Friday, the Sindh provincial assembly approved the government’s budget for the forthcoming fiscal year, over the objections of the MQM-led opposition.
  • Energy Crisis: Dawn notes that increases in power generation capacity as projects currently under development are completed may bring surplus generation to as much as 3,000 megawatts, which would nonetheless require capacity payments from the government. Currently, however, three natural gas-fired power plants are unable to operate at capacity due to the lack of available pipeline volume; pipeline construction delays have in turn pushed back development of a new LNG import terminal. On Friday, the Asian Development Bank and French Development Agency pledged $623 million in loans to support energy sector reforms and banking access. Sindh has added roughly 477 megawatts of wind power to its grid so far this financial year. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Visa Revoked for Korean Teacher Linked to Kidnapped Chinese Teachers [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Reuters]
  • Journalists in Pakistan Under Fire from Many Sides [AP]
  • One Killed, Six Injured in Washuk Bombing [ET]
  • Punjab Rangers Arrest Three Suspected Terrorists; Two Killed in Lahore [ET] [The Nation]
  • CPEC Pushes US Aside in Pakistan [WSJ] [ET]
  • Interpol Seeks Details on MQM Leader’s Status in UK After Pakistani Request [ET]
  • Sindh Police Recommend Steps to Improve Criminal Justice System [Dawn]
  • Senate Panel Considers Army Proposal to Relocate Headquarters to Islamabad [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Ulema Council Remains Split Between Ahsrafi and Qasmi [ET]
  • Pakistan Hindu Council Seeks Supreme Court Action on Forced Conversions [ET]
  • Shahid Mehmood Appointed New Federal Finance Secretary [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: The NYT overviews the Trump administration’s delegation of decision-making authority to the Pentagon on any increase troop levels in Afghanistan, a decision which Pentagon officials say has not yet been made. A broader strategy review, which includes aspects of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan and the region, remains underway.
  • Insider Attacks: Seven Americans and one Afghan soldier were wounded when an Afghan soldier opened fire at a joint base in Mazar-e-Sharif on Saturday, the same site as an attack that killed hundres of Afghan soldiers earlier in April. The attacker, a member of a commando unit, was killed. Al Jazeera reports the attack came after a training exercise and that the attacker used a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. It is the second insider attack targeting U.S. forces in Afghanistan within the past week; in the most recent incident, the Taliban praised the attacker but did not explicitly claim responsibility for instigating the attack. [Reuters] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Kidnappings: Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Sunday saying that two Pakistani diplomats based in the Jalalabad consulate had gone missing on Friday while traveling by road to Pakistan; the statement said that Afghan officials were cooperating in an investigation into their disappearance. Separately, the AP quotes Kabul police officials who say that a Kenyan national working as an assistant to the ministry of agriculture had been kidnapped on Sunday; earlier accounts in the Afghan press identified the man as an American national working on a World Bank contract for the ministry. [ET] [Reuters] [AP] [Khaama Press]
  • Security Forces Retake Tora Bora: Acting Afghan Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami announced at a press conference on Saturday that Afghan forces had retaken control of the Tora Bora area in Nangarhar’s Pacher Agam in Nangarhar from the Islamic State, after ISIS forces seized control of the area from the Taliban last week. Bahrami claimed that 22 ISIS fighters had been killed in the operations, and that more than 2,500 had been killed in operations in Nangarhar since the start of the year. On Friday, the U.S. military command in Afghanistan reported that Jawad Khan, identified as a senior ISIS media official and link to the group’s leadership in Syria, had been killed in an airstrike that took place in the Achin district on June 3. [TOLO] [AP] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: At least six Afghan police officers were killed and more than a dozen were injured when the Taliban carried out a complex attack on a major police headquarters in the Paktia capital city of Gardez on Sunday; Afghan security forces battled with six gunmen throughout the day after an initial suicide attack breached the gates. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. On Sunday, Ministry of Interior officials reported that two senior Haqqani network commanders had been killed in an airstrike in the Orgun district in Paktia. On Monday, unidentified gunmen killed the district governor of Nimroz’s Chighansor district in a driveby shooting; no claim of responsibility has been reported. In Helmand, provincial government officials claim to have killed 75 Taliban fighters in operations in in the Marjah district over the past week; U.S. airstrikes in the district on Friday were reported to have killed as many as twent insurgents. The head of a police anti-crime unit in Logar was killed on Saturday; no claim of responsibility was reported. Four civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in Laghman province’s Alingar district on Friday. [NYT] [WSJ] [WAPO] [WAPO] [AP] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Seeks to Contain Protests: Pres. Ghani met with a delegation of Afghan lawmakers on Sunday, and was quoted calling for protestors to end their sit-in camps, citing obstructions to city traffic and commercial activity. Ghani met with civil society representatives on Monday and pledged to reopen the roads. Protestors tell TOLO they have removed all but one camp, but will continue until their demands for the removal of security officials are met; the parliamentarians also met with leaders of the Jamiat-e-Islami on Saturday. Mohammad Mohaqiq, the second deputy to Chief Executive Abdullah, criticized the government for failing to stop attacks like the one on a Shia mosque in Kabul last Thursday after meeting with the families of victims on Saturday. On Sunday, top security officials appeared before the Meshrano Jirga to testify on recent attacks in Kabul and around the country; National Directorate of Security chief Masoom Stanekzai denied charges that insiders within the government were supporting those attacks, warning that “inappropriate remarks and spread of rumors could take the country towards a crisis.” [TOLO]
  • Gulf Diplomacy: The ambassador of Egypt and charges d’affaires of Saudi Arabia met with former Pres. Karzai on Sunday to seek his support for sanctions on Qatar; his office said in a statement that he had “called on unity among the Muslim nations but declared his support against any nation supporting or having links with the terrorism”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Dozens of Draft Bills Await Presidential Approval [TOLO]
  • Ulema Council Vows Unity Following Attack on Shia Mosque [TOLO]
  • Hundreds of Development Projects Remain in Limbo [TOLO]
  • Afghanistan-India Air Freight Service Begins Monday [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Contract Signed for Design of New Dar-ul-Aman Administrative Complex [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: For Peace in Afghanistan, Talk to Pakistan – “‘Sticks’ are unlikely to change Pakistan’s behavior, because its existential concerns are tied to broader regional priorities. To get Pakistan to alter its approach in Afghanistan, the United States must understand and address Pakistan’s strategic anxieties.” [Stephen Hadley and Moeed Yusuf, NYT]
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