Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: NSC Caps Additional Afghan Troop Numbers; Sharif Maintains Innocence as JIT Nears Completion

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Note: The news will be on temporary hiatus for the coming week; updates will resume with coverage of the intervening period as early as possible within the week of July 17. Apologies for the interruption in service, and thanks for reading.

Topline

  • The WSJ reports that the White House National Security Council has placed a cap on additional U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan at no more than 3,900 new troops, despite previously announcing that Pres. Trump would delegate the decision to Sec. Mattis. The absence of State Department appointees has reportedly delayed the administration’s ongoing regional strategy review; the administration is reportedly considering punitive measures against Pakistan for its support of the Afghan insurgency, but has not finalized decisions.
  • Speaking at Thursday’s conference in Tajikistan, Prime Minister Sharif reiterated his family’s innocence in the Panama Papers investigation. Sharif’s eldest son Hussain Nawaz traveled to Qatar on Thursday, but apparently did not meet with Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber al Thani. The Panama Papers Joint Investigation Team is due to submit its report to the Supreme Court on Monday, although it is unclear if the court will act immediately in response.
  • The Pakistani finance ministry announced the appointment of a new governor of the State Bank of Pakistan on Friday, Tariq Bajwa, who most recently served as finance secretary. The replacement appears to have been prompted by disputes between Finance Minister Dar and the SPB over the depreciation of the rupee earlier this week.
  • The U.S. coalition in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday that it would no longer release preliminary casualty reports and would instead only issue notifications after next-of-kin had been notified.

Pakistan — Security

  • Balochistan Operations: On Thursday, the Pakistani military announced that one unidentified militant had been killed and five “hideouts” destroyed in operations in several different towns in Balochistan. [The Nation]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Panama Papers Investigation: Speaking to reporters while traveling in Tajikistan on Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif insisted that he and his family had committed no wrongdoing and would be cleared by the Joint Investigation Team investigating the Panama Papers case. Dawn parses the Supreme Court’s order forming the JIT and notes uncertainty as to whether Sharif might face an immediate disqualification order or if the case could be referred to another forum for further hearings, after the JIT submits its report on Monday. On Thursday, the prime minister’s elder son Hussain Nawaz traveled to Qatar, but traveled on to London on Friday without meeting Qatari Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber al Thani, according to sources speaking to The Nation. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Imran Khan accused the Sharif family of “burning the country’s money to hide their theft, and claiming they are saving democracy”, and said that they were seeking to “destroy institutions”, including the military and judiciary. In a statement on Thursday, PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan called for the public release of the JIT’s proceedings and video recordings of its interviews. Speaking at a rally in the Sanghar district on Thursday, former Pres. Zardari accused the PML-N of “stabbing us in the back” and supporting investigations against party leaders and the government in Sindh, but suggested that the PML-N government complete its five-year term even if Prime Minister Sharif was disqualified. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [APP]
  • Other Political Activity: On Friday, Punjab Chief Minister Shehabz Sharif filed a defamation lawsuit against Imran Khan over the latter’s previous allegations that he had received bribe offers to halt the Panama Papers lawsuit. In a submission to the Supreme Court on Friday, lawyers for Khan provided a chart of remittances from his ex-wife in an attempt to establish the money trail for his purchase of his Bani Ghala residence; the court will resume hearings on Tuesday. A case against former PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi over his remarks regarding the Panama Papers JIT was transferred to an anti-terrorism court in Karachi on Friday. By-elections will be held Sunday for the PS-114 Sindh assembly seat. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • New Central Bank Governor Appointed: On Friday, the finance ministry appointed former finance secretary Tariq Bajwa as governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, replacing acting governor Riaz Riazuddin. The Express Tribune attributes the latter’s replacement to the depreciation of the rupee earlier this week, which appears to have been encouraged by the bank over the finance ministry’s objection; on Wednesday, the SBP also revised the current account deficit figures for the first eleven months of the previous fiscal year, up to $10.7 billion or 3.8% of GDP, apparently without notifying the finance ministry. The rupee recovered some of its value in trading on Thursday but remains down around 2% from previous rates. [Dawn] [The Nation]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sindh Police Chief Criticizes Withdrawal of Appointment Powers [Dawn] [APP]
  • OGRA Orders Shell Subsidiary to Pay $2.4M for Bahawalpur Tanker Fire [Reuters] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Pakistan’s Mangoes Struggle to Find Market in US [ET]
  • Video: Mark Mazzetti Interviews Raymond Davis [NYT] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: The WSJ reports that despite previous announcements that the White House would delegate decision-making on a U.S. troop deployment to Afghanistan, the White House National Security Council has capped new deployments at no more than 3,900 additional troops. The piece also reports that the administration’s strategy review has been delayed by the lack of confirmed diplomatic appointees in the State Department or in the Afghan and Pakistani embassies; it also reports that one faction within the administration is seeking to take “tougher steps” against Pakistan, including reductions in military and economic support and sanctions on the country’s intelligence service. Separately, in a Washington Post interview, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) discusses her recent visit to the region as part of a delegation led by Sen. John McCain, saying that “no one on the ground believes there is a military-only solution in Afghanistan. No one,” and expressing concern over a “diplomatic vacuum”.
  • Casualty Notifications: A spokesman for the US coalition in Afghanistan confirms to Reuters that commander Gen. John Nicholson has instituted a change in policy in which announcements of American casualties will only be made after next of kin are notified, with no preliminary announcement as had been the practice previously.
  • Tensions with Pakistan: Speaking at a weekly press briefing on Thursday, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry insisted that the Haqqani network was based in Afghanistan, not Pakistan. Members of the Paktika provincial council report that Pakistani military forces have begun constructing fencing on the border with the Barmal district.
  • Attacks and Operations: In interviews with TOLO, members of the Kunduz provincial council and local residents continue to warn of deteriorating security in and around the capital city. In Faryab province, four students were killed when they were caught in a crossfire between Taliban and government security forces in the Khawaja Sabz Posh district on Friday. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Dushanbe Conference: The leaders of Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kyrzygstan, and Afghanistan met in Dushanbe on Thursday to recommit to regional economic integration and pledged support for Afghanistan’s security. The chairman of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project told reporters on Thursday that technical assessments for the pipeline would be finalized by October or November. [Ariana News]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Hekmatyar Expresses Objections Over Northern Militias [Ariana News]
  • Two Afghan Nationals Face Sentences in US for Heroin Importation [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: To Win Afghanistan, Get Tough on Pakistan – “The Trump administration should now consider taking away Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, which would limit its priority access to American military technology. Aid to Pakistan should be linked to a sequence and timeline for specific actions against Taliban leaders.” [Husain Haqqani, NYT]
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