- A delegation of U.S. senators led by Sen. John McCain conveyed a message to Pres. Ghani on Tuesday that Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Bajwa had agreed to conduct “joint military operations against militant groups on both sides of the Durand Line, under the US watch”; a spokesman for Ghani said he had agreed to the proposal. Speaking at a press conference afterwards, McCain and other senators expressed concern over the direction on the part of State Department diplomats and the need for a clear strategy from the Trump administration; Senator Lindsey Graham suggested additional U.S. troops would be necessary to shore up the Afghan security forces and create the conditions for any future negotiations with the Taliban.
- Prime Minister Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz appeared before the Joint Investigation Team investigating the Panama Papers case on Wednesday; like her brothers before her, she maintained the family’s innocence on all charges. Two JIT members returned from Qatar, but sources suggest they did not interview former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani while there.
- Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired a meeting of the Sindh provincial apex committee to review security in the province on Tuesday.
- Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin negotiatior Mohammad Amin Karim tells TOLO that the party is developing a plan for peace talks with the Taliban, claiming that HIG is in contact with more than a hundred Taliban commanders who are prepared to lay down arms.
- Prime Minister Sharif traveled to Tajikistan on Wednesday for meetings with Tajik President Emamali Rehmon focused on regional trade and investment.
Pakistan — Security
- Army Chief Reviews Sindh Security: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa chaired a meeting of the Sindh provincial apex committee on Tuesday, joined by the chief minister and military and paramilitary commanders in Karachi. The military’s readout of the meeting indicates that discussions focused in part on the escape of two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi suspects from the Karachi Central Jail last month. Bajwa pledged continuing support for operations in Karachi; he also visited the Pano Aqil Garrison, where he was quoted saying that “country comes first, self later”. [The Nation]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Panama Papers Investigation: Prime Minister Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz appeared before the Joint Investigation Team investigating the Panama Papers case on Wednesday, accompanied by her husband and brothers as well as other party supporters. Speaking to reporters afterwards, she maintained her father’s innocence and said that no public funds were involved in the family’s overseas business investments. National Accountability Bureau chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhary is also scheduled to appear before the JIT today, focused on the Hudaibya Paper Mills case. Two members of the JIT who traveled to Qatar returned on Wednesday, but sources denied that they had interviewed former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani as part of the investigation. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Hussain Nawaz also reiterated the family’s innocence and and warned JIT members against using “unconstitutional means” to fabricate evidence. Speaking at a rally in Chitral on Tuesday, Imran Khan said that “big thieves are being held accountable for the first time”; speaking at a conference in London, Pakistan Awami Tehreek chairman Tahirul Qadri predicted that “international powers” backing the Sharif government “will not let anything happen to him” regardless of the JIT findings. PPP Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kaira told a press conference on Tuesday that the PPP would not support any “unconstitutional, illegal move against the democratic set-up”, but would not intervene to support the PML-N government against the current investigations. [The Nation] [The Nation]
- Sharif Visits Tajikistan: Prime Minister Sharif departed for a two-day visit to Tajikistan on Wednesday, where he will hold talks focused on trade and investment and join a trilateral meeting with Afghanistan. [The Nation]
Pakistan — Remainders
- No Lal Masjid Anniversary Action Planned [Dawn]
- Mohmand Seeks to Expel Afghans [Dawn]
- Levies Officer Killed in Mastung [The Nation]
- ECP Seeks Army Security for NA-260 By-Polls [The Nation]
- MOUs Signed with Chinese Energy Companies [The Nation] [The Nation]
- ARY Group Broadcasts Briefly Interrupted [Dawn] [The Nation]
Afghanistan — Security
- Kunduz Offensive: Fighting continues around Kunduz, with local officials claiming that more than 40 Taliban fighters have been killed in the Ali Abad district east of the city in the past three days; the highway linking Kunduz and Baghlan remains closed by Taliban checkpoints. Acting defense minister Tariq Shah Bahrami said Tuesday that the army would deploy additional reinforcements to the city.
- Other Attacks and Operations: The ministry of interior reported Tuesday that a group of 18 Taliban fighters had defected after killing their commander in Uruzgan’s Dehrawood district. Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan National Police patrol in Paktia’s Zazai Aryoub district on Tuesday night; the ministry of interior claims 14 Taliban were killed and only one police officer was injured. Airstrikes in Nangarhar’s Achin district on Tuesday killed three Islamic State fighters. A rocket attack in Kabul on Wednesday killed two children and wounded one woman.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Senate Delegation Visits Afghanistan: A delegation of U.S. senators led by Sen. John McCain met with Pres. Ghani in Kabul on Tuesday, after previously meeting with Pakistani civilian and military officials. A statement from Ghani’s office said that they had conveyed a message that Chief of Army Staff Bajwa had expressed willingness to conduct “joint military operations against militant groups on both sides of the Durand Line, under the US watch”, and spokesmen for Ghani indicated that he had agreed to the proposal. Speaking at a press conference afterwards, McCain said that “the present situation in Afghanistan is not on a course for success” and that “we need to win and have the advantage on the battlefield and then enter into a serious negotiation to resolve the conflict”. Sen. Graham suggested that the 3,000-4,000 additional U.S. troops under consideration by the Pentagon would be insufficient and that more should be deployed. McCain added that the delegation had told Pakistani army officials that “we expect them to help and cooperate against the Haqqani group and others”, and warned that “if they don’t change their behaviour, maybe we should change our behaviour towards Pakistan as a nation.” The senators also all expressed concern over the absence of confirmed U.S. diplomatic appointees, a “lack of focus”, and “the hollowing out of the State Department”. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [The Nation] [WSJ] [Reuters] [Guardian]
- HIG Says it Will Development Peace Talks Strategy with Taliban: Mohammad Amin Karim, a top negotiator for the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, tells TOLO that the party has begun to develop a new strategy for talks with the Taliban, saying that HIG had connections to more than a hundred Taliban commanders who are ready to join a peace process.
- Opposition Protests: Speaking at a gathering on Tuesday, Chief Executive Abdullah called on “political leaders to consider the national interests of the country”, and insisted that the government was committed to reforming the security sector. One protestor who had been arrested during Monday’s demonstrations in Kabul was released on bail on Wednesday.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- US Envoy Calls for End to ‘Culture of Impunity’ [TOLO]
- Denied Visas, All-Girl Afghan Robotics Team to Watch Their Creation Compete via Skype [Reuters]
- Mahmood Karzai Seeks Indian Investment in Medicines Exports [Khaama Press]
- Commentary: Update on the Afghan Local Police: Making Sure They Are Armed, Trained, Paid, and Exist – “Despite being viewed by many as ‘militias in uniform’, the ALP has survived and grown to become a significant part of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), present in all but one of Afghanistan’s provinces.” [Kate Clark, AAN]