Note: The news returns to its daily update schedule from today; the following summary covers events during the period between July 8th-18th. Apologies again for the interruption in service and the resulting length of this brief. Thanks for reading.
- The Joint Investigation Team investigating the Panama Papers case presented its report to the Supreme Court of Pakistan on July 10, which found “significant discrepancies” between the declared sources of income and the wealth of the Sharif family, and recommended the reopening of cases against Prime Minister Sharif, his children, and a number of close aides. Opposition leaders seized on the report to demand Nawaz’s resignation, which he has refused to profer; on July 17, PML-N lawyers began arguments before the Supreme Court seeking to rebut the JIT report’s findings and argue against the court taking up its recommendations. The PTI is also continues to face its own court cases regarding the party’s funding and Imran Khan’s real estate assets, with the next Supreme Court hearings scheduled for July 25.
- Vice President Dostum was reportedly set to arrive by plane in Mazar-e-Sharif on July 18, but his flight was diverted to Kabul, and instead of proceeding there he re-routed to Turkmenistan. Spokesmen for Dostum deny that his flight was changed at all. His abortive return came after Pres. Ghani and the attorney general’s office confirmed that abuse charges against him had been referred to a Anti-Corruption and Justice Center court; spokesmen for Dostum said that he would not appear before the court, and dismissed the charge as an attempt by political rivals to discredit him with international allies. Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor and Hezb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami leader Mohammad Mohaqiq, the other members of the opposition alliance formed with Dostum last month, continue to criticize Pres. Ghani’s leadership, accusing him of monopolize power, particularly through the use of the National Procurement Commission. On July 16, former NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil and former national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta announced the formation of a new political party.
- Advisors to Pres. Trump have reportedly sought recommendations from private military contractors on alternatives to the deployment of additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan sought by the Pentagon; Sec. Mattis is reportedly opposed to the plan, one version of which would reportedly shift authority over operations to the CIA and increase reliance on local paramilitaries.
- Cross-border tensions in Kashmir spiked following the one-year death anniversary of local militant commander Burhan Wani, which both Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Bajwa commemorated in separate statements on July 8. At least five Indian and four Pakistani soldiers were reported to have been killed.
- The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released midyear figures on civilian casualties in Afghanistan on July 17, reporting a 2% year-on-year increase in civilians killed, or 1,662 in total, and another 3,581 injured.
- The Pentagon announced that Abu Sayed, identified as the new emir of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province affiliate, had been killed in an airstrike in Kunar province on July 11; US and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson vowed to continue operations against ISIS in Afghanistan “until they are eliminated”.
- On July 16, the Pakistani military announced new operations in the Khyber Agency, which they said would target TTP splinter groups and Islamic State-affiliated militants in the area. Bombings targeted Frontier Corps checkposts in Khyber and the Kurram Agency the preceding week.
- The Sindh government appointed a new Karachi police chief and several deputies, as control over postings and transfers has been taken away from the provincial police chief. The government extended policing powers for the paramilitary Rangers for another 90 day period on July 12.
- Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with representatives from Facebook, seeking to restrict “blasphemous” content online and to link Facebook accounts to registered mobile phone numbers, a request which Facebook declined.
- Officials with Afghanistan’s High Peace Council say they are developing a new peace strategy for outreach to the Taliban, including a proposal for a ceasefire agreement around the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.
- Responding to criticism from Iranian Pres. Hassan Rouhani, Afghan officials reiterated their intention to construct dams on several rivers that share water with Iran.
- Pakistan’s trade deficit hit a record high of $32.6 billion in the previous fiscal year, new Pakistan Bureau of Statics figures indicate, driven by a drop in exports and remittances and increase in imports. Pakistani finance officials have reportedly decided to maintain the current rupee-dollar parity, however, and are said to be considering new tariffs as a means of reducing imports.
Pakistan — Security
- Kashmir Clashes: In separate statements on July 8, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa and Prime Minister Sharif commemorated the one-year anniversary of the death of Kashmiri militant commander Burhan Wani, praising his sacrifice as a “testimony of [Kashmiris’] resolve for self determination”. Indian security forces clashed with demonstrators in Indian Kashmir, and protests were also held in Muzaffarabad. Poonch district officials reported that five civilians were killed in cross-border firing on the same day; on July 9, Pakistani military officials claimed to have killed four Indian soldiers in retaliatory firing, saying they would “continue to respond befittingly to this naked aggression”. Pakistan’s foreign ministry also formally protested the civilian deaths. On July 11, Pakistani officials reported that 3,000 people had fled the border area over the past two weeks, and bus service between Poonch and Rawalkot was suspended. at a press briefing on July 16 Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor accused India of violating the Line of Control ceasefire 580 times so far in 2017, compared to 382 in the year prior. Also on July 16, four Pakistani soldiers were killed when their vehicle was reportedly struck by Indian army fire; on July 17, Indian officials said that a soldier and civilian had been killed in Pakistani firing. The two sides’ directors general of military operations spoke by hotline phone that day, with Pakistan protesting the vehicle attack and warning of an escalating military standoff. Five Pakistani civilians were also reportedly injured in cross-border firing on July 17. Government officials imposed a ban on tourism in the Neelum Valey area after the incident. On July 13, India’s foreign ministry rebuffed a Chinese offer to mediate with Pakistan, saying “we are ready to have a dialogue with Pakistan, among other issues, but in a bilateral framework”. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
- FATA Operations: On July 16, Pakistan’s military announced a new operation in the Khyber Agency’s Rajgal Valley area, which military spokesmen said would target TTP splinter groups and Islamic State-linked militants in the area; military officials said that eight militants were killed in airstrikes in the area on July 18. Two suicide bombers attacked a Frontier Constabulary camp in the Khyber Agency on July 14, but were killed by security forces; the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack. On July 10, at least two FC personnel were killed in a bombing near their checkpost in the Kurram Agency; the main TTP claimed responsibility for the attack. On July 17, three Frontier Corps personnel were killed in a suicide bombing targeting their convoy as it was passing through Peshawar’s Hayatabad neighborhood, which was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. [Reuters] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
- Sindh Policing: On July 12, the Sindh provincial government approved a 90-day extension of policing powers for the paramilitary Sindh Rangers in Karachi. On July 8, the Sindh provincial government formally transferred appointment, promotion, and transfer powers over senior police officials to the Services, General Administration and Coordination Department, with the approval of the home minister. On July 17, the government appointed Ghulam Qadir Thebo as the new Additional Inspector General of Police in Karachi, and reshuffled appointments for four deputy inspectors general. On July 13, the government appointed Naushero Feroz as the new head of prisons for Karachi, replacing Ashraf Nizamani after an inquiry into a jailbreak last month found “incidents of deliberate and systematic intimidation” by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi inmates towards prison staff. On July 17, two Pak Sarzameen Party activists were killed in a shooting in Karachi. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
- Jamaat-ul-Ahrar Sanctioned: On July 7, the UN Security Council approved the listing of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar splinter group as a sanctioned organization under the 1267 Sanctions Committee, freezing members’ assets and barring them from travel. [ET] [The Nation]
- Journalist Detained: Plainclothes security officials temporarily detained Abdullah Zafar, a Karachi-based reporter with the English-language newspaper The Nation on July 9; he was freed after roughly 20 hours, and professed afterwards to have been unable to identify any of his captors. Law enforcement agencies denied any involvement in the incident. [Dawn] [ET] [AP]
- Border Tensions with Iran: Officials in Balochistan’s Panjgur district report that Iranian border guards fired three mortars across the border on July 8; no casualties were reported. On July 16, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard said that “two local workers in the region” had been killed in cross-border firing from “a terrorist team” in Pakistan; one of the attackers was said to have been killed. [ET] [The Nation]
- Blasphemy Crackdown: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with Facebook vice president for global public policy Joel Kaplan in Islamabad on July 7, discussing “various steps and actions being taken to remove blasphemous content that is illegal in Pakistan”. Chaudhry Nisar proposed to link all Facebook user accounts with mobile phone numbers, which are required to be registered; Facebook denied that request. On July 15, Gujrat police arrested a Christian man accused of blasphemy. [AP] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET]
- Refugee Registration: Pakistan’s Ministry of State and Frontier Regions began a renewed registration process for undocumented Afghan refugees living in Pakistan on July 15, seeking to register an estimated one million refugees within the next eight months. In the Khyber Agency, officials announced plans to issue special student cards for Afghan students living in border villages who are studying in Pakistani schools. [ET]
- Balochistan Conflict: A Balochistan Constabulary officer was killed in a shooting in Quetta on July 7; on July 9, the military announced the arrest of three men in the area. A senior police officer was killed in a bombing in the Killa Abdullah district on July 10; eleven other people were injured. Four police officers, including a police superintendent, were killed in a driveby shooting in Quetta on July 13; the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack. Four unidentified terrorist suspects were killed in an encounter with police on July 14; on July 15, the military reported that the Frontier Corps had killed four unidentified terrorist suspects after they attack a checkpost in the Zhob district. Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited Quetta on July 14 for a briefing on the security situation. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Panama Papers JIT Submits Report on Sharif Assets: On July 10, the Joint Investigation Team tasked with investigating the Sharif family’s overseas business assets submitted its report to the Supreme Court, a full copy of which can be found here. The report found “significant gap/disparity amongst the known and declared sources of income and the wealth accumulated” by Prime Minister Sharif and his children, who the JIT said had failed to prove the origins of their wealth, and who are accused of serving as proxy owners for the prime minister. The report found Prime Minister Sharif to have been “evasive, speculative, and non-cooperative” in his appearance before the investigators, and recommended the reopening of 15 previous closed corruption investigations against him. Nawaz was also accused of maintaining ownership in his own offshore holding company up until 2014. The report also recommended corruption charges be brought against Hussain and Hassan Nawaz, and accused Maryam Nawaz of misleading investigators about her ownership of several Panama front companies. Her husband, Muhammad Safdar, was accused of being “untruthful, dishonest, and shifty on many accounts”. Finance Minister Dar was accused of tapping the National Bank of Pakistan for funds; Tariq Shafi, a cousin of the prime minister, was accused of misleading the JIT on the transfer of funds from a purported sale of shares in the UAE’s Gulf Steel Mills to former Qatari prime minister Shiekh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. A separately criminal case was filed on July 10 against Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Zafarul Haq Hijazi, who was found guilty by the Federal Investigation Agency of tampering with records related to the Sharif-owned company Chaudhry Sugar Mills; he was not dismissed from his position as some initial reports suggested, and was subsequently granted bail, which was extended for five days on July 17. The report also critiques the National Accountability Bureau for failing to pursue cases against the Sharif family. The JIT report’s submission on July 10 coincided with a meeting of Pakistani military corps commanders; a readout of that meeting did not directly mention the investigations, but Dawn reports that “developments in the country and their expected future direction were discussed”. A spokesman for the military later said that it had “no direct involvement” in the investigation. [AP] [Reuters] [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
- Opposition Calls for PM’s Ouster: Opposition leaders from the PTI, PPP, PML-Q, Jamaat-e-Islami, and other parties demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Sharif and other named government officials immediately following the publication of the JIT report, and have continued to do so regularly in the days since, including in a NYT interview with Imran Khan. The PTI and PPP agreed to a joint push for Sharif’s resignation, and are seeking a parliamentary session on the issue; parliamentary opposition parties met on July 15 and reiterated the resignation demand. on July 14, PTI leader Babar Awan called for early elections to be held, but the PPP has stated that it believes the government should serve out its term through 2018 after Prime Minister Sharif’s resignation. On July 17, the PTI filed a Supreme Court petition seeking Shehbaz Sharif’s disqualification from office, accusing him of pursuing private interest while holding public office. On July 16, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat called for Muslim League factions to unite under his leadership in opposition to Nawaz Sharif. [WSJ] [AP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
- Ruling Party Seeks to Rebut Charges: After the JIT report’s publication, four senior PML-N ministers held a press conference on July 10 to reject the findings, suggesting they had been prepared as part of a conspiracy against the government dating back to the PTI’s protests of 2014 and vowing to challenge the report in court; other PML-N spokesman continued the argument in the days following. Prime Minister Sharif huddled with advisors on July 11 to discuss the party’s response. On July 12, the Islamabad deputy commissioner imposed a two-month ban on public demonstrations and gatherings in the capital city. On July 13, Nawaz chaired a cabinet meeting, at which he dismissed the JIT report’s allegations and stated his intentions not to resign, saying that “the people of Pakistan have elected me and only they can remove me from this post”. JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman, PkMAP leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai, and former PTI leader Javed Hashmi have voiced support for the PML-N government and Sharif’s continued tenure. Some PML-N sources tell Dawn that “there has been a lot of talk in the party about the possibility of [Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif] replacing Nawaz in case the latter is disqualified”; other sources claim that the party is not facing any risk of defections. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan did not attend the July 11 meeting with SHarif, but issued statements denying that his absence was indicative of a split with the PML-N leadership. On July 18, he suspended all public engagements, citing back pain. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
- PML-N Lawyers Submit Response: On July 17, laywers for the PML-N formally submitted their response to the JIT findings, denouncing it as a “farce and an eyewash [that] was undertaken with a predisposed mind to malign and implicate the respondents in some wrongdoing or the other”. The response also accuses the JIT of exceeding its jurisdiction through the assistance of private foreign firms to assist in its investigations, at least one of which was a London law firm operated by the cousin of JIT chief Wajid Zia. Arguments continued on July 18, at which PML-N lawyers argued that the JIT report was not legally binding and that the court had no obligation to follow its recommendations. A spokesman for the PTI said the party would wait for a court judgment before deciding on its next course of action. [Reuters] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
- PTI Legal Battles: In Supreme Court arguments on July 8, lawyers for the PTI argued that the ECP was subjecting the party to unjustified scrutiny over its sources of foreign funding, and that it lacked the jurisdiction to conduct such investigations; a spokesman for the party demanded that similar investigations be carried out against the PML-N. Hearings continued on July 12 and 14, and the Supreme Court has ordered Imran Khan to submit financial details on his London flat by July 25. Lawyers for the ECP said that they would not object to the formation of a special judicial commission in the case. In a separate filing with the ECP on July 10, lawyers for Imran Khan argued that the ECP lacked jurisdiction to initiate contempt of court proceedings against him for remarks he had made criticizing the commission; on July 14 the Islamabad High Court rejected a PTI petition seeking to bar the ECP from holding hearings on the issue. The ECP has postponed another disqualification hearing against Khan, pending resolution of the Supreme Court case. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
- Sindh Governor Refuses to Sign NAB Repeal: On July 14, Sindh governor Mohammad Zubair returned legislation passed in the assembly earlier this month that repealed the jurisdiction of the National Accountability Bureau to conduct investigations against provincial government employees, arguing that federal law prevailed on the issue. Sindh Law Minister Ziaul Hasan Lanjar said that the PPP government planned to hold another hearing in the assembly and pass the bill over the governor’s objections. [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [The Nation]
- Elections: An Election Commission meeting on July 11 expressed concern that no funds have been appropriated for the next general elections, aside from ECP staff salaries; the ECP is seeking Rs 8.2 billion for materials, trainings, and observation. PPP candidate Saeed Ghani won a by-election for the PS-113 Karachi provincial assembly seat in polling held July 10; the MQM-Haqiqi had backed the MQM-Pakistan’s candidate in the race, who came in second place. The MQM-Pakistan filed a challenge against the results on July 13, seeking a recount, and Ghani’s election has been stayed pending a hearing of the challenge. On July 16, JUI-F candidate Usman Badini was elected to the NA-260 Quetta-cum-Chagai constituency, beating a candidate from the BNP-Mengal; the PTI announced its intentions to challenge the results. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn]
- Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports that the MQM faction affiliated with exiled leader Altaf Hussain plans to “wage a street struggle” to reclaim control of the party from MQM-Pakistan faction leader Farooq Sattar, including renewed advocacy for a separate Muhajir province. Former PPP minister Moazzam Jatoi and national assembly member Amir Yar Waran joined the PTI on July 12; JUI-F Peshawar chapter leader Akhunzada Irfan Ullah Shah joined the PTI on July 10. PTI leader Naz Baloch joined the PPP on July 16; Arbab Lutfullah, a nephew of former Sindh chief minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, joined the PPP on July 17. The Supreme Court charged former PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi with contempt of court on July 10; he was granted bail by an anti-terrorism court on July 13. [Dawn] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Economic Indicators: Pakistan’s trade deficit totaled $32.6 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics figures released July 11 indicates, a 36.3% increase over the previous year. Exports fell 1.63% to $20.44 billion, while imports rose to a record high $53 billion, a 18.7% increase. State Bank of Pakistan data for the previous fiscal year released July 10 found that remittances to Pakistan dropped year-on-year for the first time in 13 years, totaling $19.3 billion, a drop of 3.08% from last year. A meeting of the government’s Monetary and Fiscal Policies Coordination Board on July 14 reportedly agreed to maintain rupee-dollar parity, and may consider tariff rate increases in order to reduce imports. [The Nation] [Dawn]
- US Assistance: On July 13, the House Appropriations Committee began hearings on the 2018 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which includes $642.2 million in assistance to Pakistan; the Secretary of State is only authorized to waive counterterrorism cooperation certification requirements on 85% of Foreign Military Financing funds. [ET]
- CPEC Projects: Speaking at a conference on July 12, Chief of Army Staff Bajwa touted the benefits to Pakistan and the region of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project, and underscored that “all national institutions will have to make a deliberate effort to ensure success of the CPEC”. On July 8, the board of the National Transmission Dispatch Company removed its director, Dr. Fiaz Chaudhry, over “lack of professionalism allegedly on his part in executing various projects” related to CPEC. On July 11, the China Construction Third Engineering Bureau was awarded a Rs 2.6 billion contract for the reconstruction of the Lahore airport. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- “Banned” Organizations Thrive Online [AP]
- Former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif Visits Lahore with Saudi Entourage [Dawn]
- Peshawar High Court Orders Investigation Into Prisons for Mashal Khan Lynching Trial [Dawn] [The Nation]
- Lyari Gang Leader’s Brother Killed in Police Encounter [Dawn]
- PTI Councillor in Haripur Arrested in Connection to Journalist’s Murder [ET]
- Shipment of Trucks for US Army in Afghanistan Arrives at Karachi Port [Dawn]
- PIA Ex-CEO Fails to Return to Pakistan [ET]
- Malala Yousafzai Finishes High School in UK [NYT]
- Punjab Government Approves Rs 8.44 Billion in Office Construction for Union Councils [ET]
- Sindh High Court Investigation Finds 77% of Water in 14 Districts Unsafe for Drinking [Dawn]
- Petroleum Minister Sees Bigger LNG Profile, Imports to Surge by 2022 [Reuters]
- Moody’s Notes Concerns Over High Debt Burden [ET] [Dawn]
- Balochistan Fails to Account for Over 1,500 Government Schools [Dawn]
- Report: 2017 IMF-Pakistan Article IV Consultation Report – “The accumulation of arrears in the power sector has resumed, financial losses of ailing public sector enterprises continue to weigh on scarce fiscal resources, and exports remain low.” [IMF] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
Afghanistan — Security
- US Strategy: The NYT reports that Trump administration advisors Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner have sought proposals from Blackwater founder Erik Prince and DynCorps owner Stephen Feinberg as alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send several thousand additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan; Sec. Mattis is reported to have rebuffed those suggestions, which reportedly included shifting control over operations in Afghanistan to the CIA and increasing a reliance on paramilitary units. [TOLO]
- Pentagon Reports Death of New ISIS Affiliate Leader: On July 14, the Pentagon announced that a U.S. airstrike in Kunar province earlier that week on July 11 had killed Abu Sayed, identified as the newest leader of the Islamic State’s Khorasan province affiliate in Afghanistan, following the death of commander Abdul Hasib Logari in a U.S. operation in Nangarhar in April. Few details of the operation were released. In remarks on July 15, US commander Gen. John Nicholson vowed to continue operations against ISIS in Afghanistan “until they are eliminated”. Earlier on July 10, the NATO Resolute Support mission denied ISIS claims to have killed two U.S. soldiers in Nangarhar, but confirmed that two soldiers had been wounded. Airstrikes and ground operations against ISIS fighters were reported in the Haska Mina and Ghani Khel districts of Nangarhar province on July 7; the Qosh Tapa district of Jawzjan province on July 9; Pacher Agam and Chaparhar distircts of Nangarhar on July 13; the Asmar and Shigal districts of Kunar province on the same day; and the Pacher Agam district on July 14. Afghan security forces reported disrupting an ISIS bombing plot in Jalalabad on July 17; eight civilians were freed from ISIS captivity in Haska Mina on July 14. In remarks in a parliament session on July 17, Haji Zahir Qadir accused the government of failing to check the Islamic State affiliate’s activity in Nangarhar, and threatened to carry out protests in Kabul and Jalalabad if they did not take action. [NYT] [WSJ] [Reuters] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
- Civilian Casualties: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released mid-year civilian casualty figures on July 17, reporting a 2% increase in civilians killed during the six-month period, or 1,662 in total. Another 3,581 were injured, with women and children being particularly vulnerable to violence. Mass-casualty attacks in Kabul were a significant driver of violence, with more civilians killed there than in Helmand. The Taliban dismissed the report’s validity, accusing government forces of causing the majority of casualties; although overall casualties attributed to government forces dropped, the share caused by US and Afghan airstrikes increased 43%. Separately, the Post notes that U.S. and coalition aircraft droped or expended 1,634 munitions in Afghan operations through June 30 of this year, up from 545 last year. On July 16, a NATO spokesman refuted Taliban allegations that airstrikes in Kunduz and Uruzgan had destroyed school buildings and caused civilian casualties, a charge that was echoed by former Pres. Karzai. [AP] [Guardian] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
- Tensions with Pakistan: The WSJ reports on the agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan earlier this month to restart joint counterterrorism and border security cooperation agreements, with the U.S. playing a monitoring and verification role; some Afghan officials are said to favor a Chinese oversight role as well. Speaking at a press conference on July 11, Pres. Ghani said that the two countries had yet to finalize a memorandum of understanding on intelligence exchanges, adding that “the factory of interference must be closed in Afghanistan. In establishing peace, at first we want peace with Pakistan; peace with the Taliban comes next.” At a weekly press briefing on July 13, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that “the focus should be on a politically negotiated settlement under an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process” and “on exploring political incentives that can attract Taliban to negotiations”. In remarks on July 14, Pakistani Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat accused Afghan intelligence services of cooperating with Indian intelligence in seeking to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project; a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense said that it would “never allow Afghanistan to be used as the centers of terrorism against the other countries.” [Dawn] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
- Kabul Security: Kabul acting mayor Abdullah Habibzai announced July 15 that the city would begin restricting vehicle access to the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly developing a draft law that would give the government authority to restrict public demonstrations in sensitive areas.
- Taliban Infighting: Militants belonging to the Rasool splinter group clashed with Taliban fighters in Badghis’ Jawand district on July 7, with as many as seven reportedly killed. Nangarhar provincial officials reported July 12 that a Taliban commander had been killed in a clash with a rival in the Bati Kot district.
- Ghani Signs ‘Cybercrime’ Law: On July 10, Pres. Ghani signed a new Cyber Crime Law, which criminalizes hacking, the distribution of defamatory or hate speech, and the breech of government secrets.
- Southern Attacks and Operations: The NYT and Reuters report on Marine operations in Helmand, where a small force is providing support to the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps. On July 17, Afghan forces retook control of the Nawa district in Helmand from the Taliban, who had seized the district nine months ago; a spokesman for the provincial governor said that 20 Taliban fighters and one Afghan soldier had been killed, although military spokesmen put the Taliban toll at 50 or more killed. U.S. airpower supported the operation. On July 12, Taliban fighters attacked a military convoy on the Kandahar-Kabul highway; seven militants were killed. On July 15, four policemen were killed in a Taliban attack on their checkpost near the Zabul provincial capital of Qalat; the day prior, two children were killed in a rocket attack in the Shajoi district in Zabul. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
- Eastern Attacks and Operations: A bomb planted in the vehicle of a Nangarhar tribal elder in the Pekha district killed him and two others on July 8; there has been no claim of responsibility. A US drone strike killed a Taliban commander and six others while they were traveling by car through the Bati Kot district in Nangarhar on July 15. Another drone strike in Paktia’s Zurmat district on July 9 reportedly killed seven militant suspects. Two would-be suicide bombers were killed by Paktia police in the capital of Gardez on July 15. Wardak police officials report five Taliban fighters were killed in a clash in the Jalrez district on July 10, including the Taliban military commander for the district. On July 11, a Taliban commander was reportedly killed in an attack on a checkpost in the Alisheng district of Laghman province; two policemen were also killed. Operations in the Logar district of Mohammad Agha on July 9 reportedly killed 16 Taliban fighters. A policeman was killed in a roadside bombing in the Azra district in Logar on July 15. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
- Northern Attacks and Operations: Kunduz police report that the Taliban deputy shadow governor for the province, identified as Mawlawi Nooruddin, was killed in an airstrike on the outskirts of the capital on July 17. Taliban fighters attacked police checkposts in the Jabal Saraj district of Parwan province on July 8, targeting areas along the Ghorband highway. On July 13, Taliban fighters attacked a fuel tanker convoy near the Baghlan capital of Pul-e-Khumri; two tankers were destroyed and two Taliban fighters were reportedly killed. [Khaama Press]
- Western Attacks and Operations: Eight Afghan army soldiers were kidnapped from their checkpost in the Ab Kamari district in Badghis province after a Taliban attack on July 14, local officials report. Provincial government officials report seven civilians were killed in the Bala Bolok district of Farah province on July 12, after they were seized from their vehicle by Taliban fighters. Taliban fighters attacked checkposts in the Tewora district of Ghor province over the night of July 17; provincial police say they killed 13 attackers. [TOLO] [AP]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Dostum’s Return Aborted: In remarks at a press conference on July 11, Pres. Ghani said that Vice Pres. Dostum had been allowed to leave the country earlier this summer with the permission of the attorney general’s office, but was still facing a case against him for the alleged abuse of former Jawzjan governor Ahmad Eschi. Ghani’s remarks coincided with separate comments by U.S. Charges D’Affaires Hugo Llorens, in which he described the charges against Dostum as “serious allegations” which needed “thorough investigation”. EU ambassador Franz-Michael Melbin echoed that assessment in remarks on July 13. On July 12, the attorney general’s office confirmed that it had forwarded the case for court hearings on June 22; Dostum and his bodyguards did not appear at hearings that took place on July 13, and a spokesman for Dostum said that he would not appear before the court. On July 18, a plane carrying Dostum was reportedly diverted from landing in Mazar-e-Sharif; rather than proceeding to Kabul as directed, he landed in Turkmenistan. A spokesman for Dostum denied that the plane was diverted and said that he had not made a decision about returning to Afghanistan; the NYT reports several hundred people had gathered in Mazar in anticipation of his return, and also reports that a NATO coalition commander rebuffed a request from governor Atta Mohmmad Noor to intervene and facilitate Dostum’s landing. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
- Opposition Politics: Speaking on July 16, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor accused Pres. Ghani of “monopolizing power” and “occupying the leadership”. Atta specifically criticized the National Procurement Commission led by Ghani, which Hezb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami leader and opposition coalition ally Mohammad Mohaqiq also criticized in a July 14 TOLO interview. A spokesman for the authority defended its work in remarks on July 17. Also on July 16, former NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil, former National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta, and a group of other leaders announced the formation of a new opposition party, the Mehwar-e-Mardum-e-Afghanistan; Spanta and Nabil both criticized Ghani for his outreach to Pakistan. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
- Taliban Talks: On July 10, new High Peace Council chairman Mohammad Karim Khalili said that the HPC was preparing a new peace talks strategy for outreach to the Taliban, saying that “we do not see [entering negotiations as] surrendering on the part of the Taliban when it comes to peace.” Several senators criticized the HPC the following day, calling for its dissolution. Earlier, HPC deputy chief Habiba Sarabi said that the council was seeking to negotiate a ceasefire agreement timed to upcoming parliamentary elections next year. Speaking during a meeting with visiting German Pres. Frank-Walter Steinemeir on July 13, Pres. Ghani said that “less time is left for the Taliban group to accept the reconciliation process offers”, and that if they failed to accept a peace process, they would face global terrorism sanctions. [Khaama Press]
- Electoral Reforms: In a TOLO interview on July 9, Independent Elections Commission operations deputy chief Wasima Badghisi said that an agreement had been reached with donors for a $63 million digital voter registration effort. Separately, a pilot project for issuing electronic national ID cards is set to begin in Kabul by the end of the month.
- Government Reforms: On July 12, the Independent Administrative Reforms and Civil Service Commission announced its intentions to conduct a “systematic review of the organizational structure of all government departments and posts”, following an order from Pres. Ghani. [TOLO]
- Corruption Investigations: On July 12, the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center announced the arrest again of Abdul Ghafar Dawi, after his previous release on bail for embezzlement charges. Associate corruption cases against several former ministry of transportation officials are reportedly set to begin “within the next few days”.
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Water Disputes with Iran: In a statement on July 12 following remarks by Iranian Pres. Hassan Rouhani criticizing Afghan dam construction projects, the Afghan Ministry of Energy and Water accused Iran of using more than four times its share of waters under the 1973 Helmand River Treaty, and said that dams would continue to be a top priority for the government; at least 15 construction projects are said to be currently under way. Pres. Ghani earlier also pledged to continue work on the dams. [Khaama Press]
- World Bank Assistance: In a statement on July 12, the World Bank announced a $482.3 million grant package for Afghanistan, focused on poverty reduction, refugee community support, rural roads, and other initiatives.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board Review Government Reforms [TOLO]
- Maj. Gen. Robin Fontes Appointed Head of CSTC-A Training Mission [TOLO]
- Security Forces Begin Biometric Registration of Soldiers [TOLO]
- German President Visits Afghanistan [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
- Members of Parliament Raise Concerns Over Presence of ‘Suspicious Gang’ [TOLO]
- Wolesi Jirga Speaker Criticizes US Bilateral Security Agreement [TOLO]
- No Justice, ‘No Value’ for Women in Lawless Ghor Province [NYT]
- Hekmatyar Calls on Tribal Elders to Secure Their Regions [Khaama Press]
- Finance Minister Attends Council of Ministers Meeting After 7-Month Absence [TOLO]
- National Procurement Commission Approves Contracts [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
- Waivers Allow Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team to Visit US [NYT] [WAPO] [Guardian] [Politico]
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs Holds Planning Meeting Ahead of November RECCA Summit [TOLO]
- Report: The Military Cohesion of the Taliban – “The military organization of the Taliban has been in constant flux after 2008 and has become increasingly fragmented, making it difficult to evaluate what impact these changes might have had on military cohesion. In any case by mid-2016 the Taliban were still much more cohesive at the group level, than at higher levels of military organization.” [Antonio Giustozzi, CRPA]
- Report: When Looks Could Kill: Emerging State Practice on Self-Defense and Hostile Intent – “In Afghanistan, incidents justified by self-defense were more difficult to investigate and hold accountable, according to military and civilian lawyers interviewed, due to deference to soldiers’ perceptions of threat and the ambiguity over self-defense standards.” [Erica Gaston, GPPI]
- Commentary: Rightsizing Expectations: US Policy Options for Afghanistan – “The administration should seek to distinguish its strategy from those pursued by the previous two administrations, and remind the American public that an ongoing partnership with the Afghan government has served U.S. security interests by providing a hub for critical counterterrorism-related intelligence collection and special operations.” [Brookings Institution]
- Commentary: With More Troops in Afghanistan, Focus on Reintegration, Not Reconciliation – “A successful reintegration strategy would be based on conditions that do not presently exist. To create those conditions, the government must win back the confidence of the Afghan people, and leaders must achieve reconciliation among themselves.” [Marvin Weinbaum and Moh. Sayed Madadi, The National Interest]
- Commentary: Afghanistan and Considerations of Supply – “The United States cannot both stabilize Afghanistan and establish a long-term military presence there.” [Barnett Rubin, War on the Rocks]
- Commentary: New Taliban Attacks in Kunduz: Less Coordinated, Still Well-Placed to Threaten the City – “Despite the challenges the Taleban in Kunduz currently face – the internal divisions and the external targeting through air strikes and night raids – the capacity of the ANSF to protect the province’s vulnerable areas and to ensure the safety of the highway remains limited and dependent on US-supported airstrikes.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]
- Commentary: Taliban Leader Haibatullah’s New Treatise on Jihad – “It contains little of the author’s personal opinions and interpretations. Yet, the choice of themes and sources, the limited personal comments, final conclusions and the obvious decision to avoid certain subjects offer telling hints into the Taleban leader’s mind.” [Borhan Osman, AAN]