Category Archives: News Briefs

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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Jaish-e-Mohammad Claims Deadly Kashmir Attack; Ghani and Khalilzad Meet in Munich

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  • At least 40 paramilitary Indian police officers were killed in a suicide car bombing outside Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, the deadliest attack in Kashmir in decades; the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack. On Friday, PM Modi warned of a “crushing response”, and Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the withdrawal of most-favored nation trading status for Pakistan and the intention to “completely isolate” Pakistan in response. A White House statement called on Pakistan to “end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”. Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement denying any link to the attack.
  • Pres. Ghani met with Special Envoy Khalilzad on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Thursday; there were few details of their conversation, although Ghani’s readout of the meeting said that Khalilzad had conveyed that “the U.S. government is committed to playing a facilitative role in the peace process under the umbrella of Afghan government.” Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed Pakistan’s intention to host a meeting between Khalilzad and Taliban representatives on Feb 18, although the U.S. State Department has not confirmed the talks.
  • Speaking to reporters on Thursday following a conference of NATO defense ministers, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said that “there will be no unilateral troop reduction [in Afghanistan], it will be coordinated” and reiterated support for the peace talks process.
  • Nawaz Sharif was transferred to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital on Friday.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Indian Paramilitary Police Killed in Kashmir Attack: At least 40 members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force were killed in a suicide car bombing attack on a large convoy outside the capital of Srinagar in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state on Thursday; Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack, and released a video of the man they say carried out the bombing. In a statement on Friday, PM Modi vowed a “crushing response”, saying that “our neighboring country thinks such terror attacks can weaken us, but their plans will not materialize”. A statement by the White House specifically cited Pakistan, calling on it to “end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”. Pakistan’s foreign ministry denied any link to the attack; India summoned the Pakistani ambassador on Friday and was “given a very strong demarche”. Indian Finance Minster Arun Jaitley announced the withdrawal of Most Favored Nation trading status for Pakistan on Friday, and said that India would “initiate all possible steps” to “ensure the complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan”, saying there was “incontrovertible evidence” of Pakistani support for the attack. Separately, the International Court of Justice will hold hearings on accused Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav beginning Feb 18. [TOI] [The Hindu] [The Wire] [BBC] [Reuters] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • FATF Sanctions: Anonymous finance ministry officials tell the Express Tribune that Pakistan has taken all actions necessary under a Financial Action Task Force review plan ahead of a plenary meeting in Paris next week, but acknowledge that Indian officials are likely to seek additional details on the activities and actions against several militant groups.
  • Karachi Violence: Anonymous Karachi police sources tell Dawn that they have “solved the murder case” of former MQM parliamentarian Syed Ali Raza Abidi and have arrested two of six suspects. Those sources say Abidi’s murder was a “political killing”, but do not identify the suspects otherwise. Separately, two PTI activists were killed in two separate incidents in Karachi on Thursday.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Nawaz Hospitalized Again: On Friday, the Punjab provincial government ordered the transfer of Nawaz Sharif to the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore; the Express Tribune quotes Nawaz speaking to visitors on Thursday and predicting he would be released by next week. Meanwhile, a federal cabinet meeting on Thursday expressed dissatisfaction over the Lahore High Court’s decision to grant bail to Shehbaz Sharif in two cases against him, urging the National Accountability Bureau to appeal the decision. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Former Pres. Zardari petitioned the Supreme Court on Friday, seeking a halt to ongoing Federal Investigation Agency investigations into money laundering charges against him and other associates, in parallel to a NAB investigation. Former PTI minister Aleem Khan’s NAB detention was extended by ten days on Friday. Four men were arrested in Multan on Thursday on hate speech charges. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: PM Khan is expected to attend Monday’s session of parliament to provide a briefing on the upcoming visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Express Tribune notes that the Sindh assembly has yet to form standing committees due to a dispute over the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • CPEC Investments: PM Khan met with China’s ambassador to Pakistan on Thursday, who reportedly said that the “next stage” of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor “would focus on investing and buying more from Pakistan”. Speaking at an event on Thursday, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan expressed interest in joining the CPEC project. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Rao Anwar Challenges Travel Restrictions [Dawn] [ET]
  • New Polio Case Reported in Lahore [Dawn]
  • Government Projects Fiscal Deficit Equivalent to 6.3% of GDP [Dawn]
  • Pakistan and Malaysia to Finalize LNG Import Agreement [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • NATO Defense Ministers Meet: Speaking to reporters after a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that he had told his counterparts that “there will be no unilateral troop reduction [in Afghanistan], it will be coordinated” and that the U.S. and its NATO partners would work together to “increase diplomatic leverage over the Taliban” in an effort to secure a political settlement to the conflict. In a TOLO interview, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “the reason for our military presence is to create the conditions for a political solution, sending a signal that the Taliban won’t win on the battlefield and [will] have to sit down and negotiate at the negotiating table”. [Khaama Press]
  • Miller Visits Herat: US and NATO commander Gen. Scott Miller visited Herat on Friday, where he praised the Afghan special forces.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Pres. Ghani met with Special Envoy Khalilzad on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Thursday; Khalilzad said afterwards that they had “discussed next steps on consultative Loya Jirga and the urgent necessity of an intra-Afghan dialogue”, while Ghani’s readout said that Khalilzad had conveyed that “the U.S. government is committed to playing a facilitative role in the peace process under the umbrella of Afghan government.” Separately on Thursday, Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry affirmed that Pakistan would host a meeting between the Taliban and Khalilzad in Islamabad on Feb 18; a U.S. State Department spokesman reiterated that no “formal invitation” to talks had been received and said that there was “no meeting to announce at this time.” [TOLO]
  • Elections: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, former Independent Election Commission chairman Abdul Badi Sayyad and other commissioners denounced their removal by Pres. Ghani, reiterating charges that doing was illegal and unconstitutional. [Khabarnama]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghans Mark 30th Anniversary of Soviet Withdrawal [TOLO] [AP]
  • Life in Kabul Squatter’s Camp Highlights Challenge for Any Afghan Peace [Reuters]
  • A Shotgun Under Her Bed, This Afghan Maverick Wants No Peace with Taliban [NYT]
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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Announce Round of Talks in Islamabad; Qureshi Insists ‘No Conditions’ on Saudi Investment

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  • In a statement on Wednesday, the Taliban said that they would hold talks in Islamabad with Special Envoy Khalilzad and would meet with PM Khan, ahead of previously scheduled talks in Qatar on Feb 25. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said that it had “not received a formal invitation to any talks” but did not confirm or deny an intent to participate.
  • Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi insisted that there were “no conditions attached” to the package of investments expected to be signed during Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan this weekend.
  • On Thursday, the Lahore High Court granted bail to PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif in two corruption cases against him. The LHC also ordered the formation of a judicial inquiry into the killing of a civilian family in Sahiwal last month, criticizing the slow pace of a government-appointed investigation. Separately, the Supreme Court of Pakistan closed a case against former ambassador Hussain Haqqani.
  • The German government reportedly plans to extend its mission in Afghanistan for another year, but a leaked government document notes that “should the US withdraw its military engagement significantly, the government will thoroughly reassess its actions in Afghanistan.”
  • The Balochistan provincial government and high court have blocked Election Commission plans for local government elections after the expiration of the bodies’ terms in late January; ECP officials say they are seeking to appeal the move.
  • The European Union announced on Wednesday that it was consider blacklisting 17 countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, due to “strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks”.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Saudi Leader to Visit: at a press conference on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would sign eight memoranda of understanding during crown prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit this weekend, but insisted that “there is no condition attached” and that those investments were “not linked to CPEC”. Anonymous foreign ministry sources tell The Nation that they have sought to convey to Iran that “Pakistan values its ties with Iran and other countries too”. Dawn reports that Pakistan will seek to negotiate a preferential trade agreement with Saudi Arabia during the visit; a Pakistan-Gulf Cooperation Council free trade agreement has been deadlocked since 2006. [Reuters] [Dawn]
  • Shehbaz Granted Bail: On Thursday, the Lahore High Court granted bail to PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif in two National Accountability Bureau corruption cases against him. Shehbaz has been released on parole to participate in national assembly sessions for much of his nominal arrest. Fawad Hassan Fawad, the former secretary to the prime minister, was granted bail along with Shehbaz in the Ashiyana housing development case, but was denied bail in a case related to his accumulation of assets beyond his known means. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Other Corruption Investigations and Legal Battles: On Wednesday, the National Human Rights Commission accused the NAB of blocking access to inspect its detention centers. On Thursday, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa closed a case against former ambassador Hussain Haqqani, saying that “Pakistan was not so fragile a country that it could be rattled by the writing of a memo”. The banking court hearing money laundering charges against former Pres. Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, and other associates extended their bail until March 5th. [ET] [ET]
  • PTM Protests: Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement leader Mohsin Dawar tells Dawn that that the PTM is prepared to hold talks with a committee formed by the Khyber Paktunkhwa government, but “the issues should not be confined to tribal districts”, and called for the formation of a national-level committee instead.
  • Local Elections: The Balochistan assembly has passed a unanimous resolution seeking the indefinite postponement of local government elections in the province, whose tenure ended in late January. The Balochistan High Court has also ordered a freeze on constituency redistricting for the local government bodies, which Election Commission officials say they will appeal.
  • Sahiwal Killing: On Thursday, the Lahore High Court ordered a judicial inquiry into the killing of a civilian family in Sahiwal in a police encounter last month, criticizing the slow pace of work of a government-appointed Joint Investigation Team. The Punjab government has reportedly set a Feb 19 deadline for the finalization of the JIT report. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: PM Khan chaired a cabinet meeting on Thursday. Nawaz Sharif met with supporters in jail on Thursday, and was quoted criticizing the PTI government for “claiming credit for our projects”. PTI leaders are reportedly opposed to Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid’s induction into the Public Accounts Committee in the national assembly. Six other committee chairmen were elected in the assembly on Wednesday.

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Financial Sanctions: On Wednesday, the European Union announced that it was preparing to list 17 countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, as countries with “strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks”, which would require “increased checks” on financial transactions with the EU. The list requires approval from the European Parliament and Council.
  • Energy Crisis: The Cabinet Committee on Energy has approved proposals to increase liquified natural gas imports in order to avoid underutilization of two import terminals in Karachi. Finance Minister Umar stated Wednesday that electricity transmission losses had fallen from 14.1% to 12.5% year-on-year during the October-December 2018 period. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Foreign Minister Departs to Attend Munich Security Conference [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Government Employees in Former FATA Districts Call for End to Jirga System [Dawn]
  • Family Members Say No Confidence in Govt After Investigation into Police Officer’s Kidnapping and Murder Stall [Dawn]
  • Arms Cache Seized in Sibi [The Nation]
  • Bail Granted to Five in Afghan Army Soldier’s Kidnapping Case [Dawn]
  • Dasu Dam Residents Reject Land Acquisition Rate [The Nation]
  • PTI Government Adds Rs 2.42 Trillion to Debt in Six Months [ET]
  • Commentary: Attempts to Isolate – “Modi’s Pakistan policy enhances India’s national objectives; is Pakistan’s India policy doing the same for Pakistan?” [Touqir Hussain, Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Germany Extends Afghanistan Mission: The German government plans to extend the deployment of German forces in Afghanistan for another year; however, Deutsche Welle reported on an internal government memo stating that “should the US withdraw its military engagement significantly, the government will thoroughly reassess its actions in Afghanistan.”
  • Humanitarian Access: On Wednesday, the Norwegian Refugee Council issued an appeal to all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan “to guarantee humanitarian access across frontlines and to allow aid groups to stay and deliver in hard-to-reach areas”, saying that “attacks on hospitals, schools and aid workers have paralyzed humanitarian work in too many areas”. [Khabarnama]
  • Attacks and Operations: The US carried out more airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2018 than the three preceding years combined, the highest level of activity in more than a decade; a US Air Force report released last week disclosed 7,362 strikes by U.S. aircraft over 8,196 sorties. Afghan military officials in Laghman say that two Taliban fighters were killed in a clash with rival ISIS forces in the Alingar district on Wednesday. [Khabarnama] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Wednesday, the Taliban’s spokesman said that the group would hold talks with Special Envoy Khalilzad in Islamabad on Feb 18, ahead of a previously scheduled round of negotiations in Doha on Feb 25 which the Taliban said would still take place. The U.S. State Department said that it had “not received a formal invitation to any talks” but did not confirm or deny an intent to participate. The Taliban said they would also meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and attributed the Islamabad meeting to “the formal invitation of the government of Pakistan”. Foreign Minister Qureshi is expected to meet with Pres. Ghani on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference this week. [AP] [WAPO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Elections: A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Wednesday that the president’s firing of all members of the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission would not affect the announcement of final results for the parliamentary elections held last fall, but gave no timeline for the appointment of new commissioners or the finalization of results. Separately, a winning Wolesi Jirga candidate from Paktika, Mohammad Mirza Katawazi, was arrested in Balkh while attempting to leave the country; he faces a five-year jail sentence dating back to a conviction in 2015. [TOLO] [Reuters]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Thirty Years On, Russia Reimagines Afghan War with Pride [AP] [WAPO]
  • Afghanistan Faces EU Blacklisting [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Ghani Fires Election Commissioners; KPK Govt Forms Committee to Hold Talks with PTM

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  • On Tuesday, Pres. Ghani issued an amendment to the Afghan electoral law and fired all members of the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission; the commissioners now face investigations by the attorney general’s office and restrictions on their travel. They issued a joint statement protesting their removal, saying it violated the constitution.
  • The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government announced the formation of a committee to hold negotiations with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, saying it was “ready to accept all justifiable demands”; a PTM leader dismissed the committee, however, saying it had been “formed for temporary point-scoring”.
  • Saudi Arabia will reportedly seek a “more proactive” role by Pakistan in its Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition force.
  • NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels for two days of talks; speaking beforehand, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated support for U.S. peace negotiation efforts and said that no decision had been made about a drawdown in international forces.
  • PM Khan is reportedly considering appointing former Intelligence Bureau director and PTI national assembly member Brig. Ijaz Shah as his national security advisor, a position that has been vacant since the PTI government took office.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • National Security Advisor: Dawn reports that PM Khan is considering appointing retired Brigadier Ijaz Shah, a former director of the Intelligence Bureau under the Musharraf government who currently serves as a PTI national assembly member, as his national security advisor; the position has been vacant since the new government took office.
  • Govt Plans Social Media Crackdown: Speaking on Wednesday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the government was planning to impose new controls on “hate speech” on social media through the new Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority body. [The Nation]
  • Balochistan Bombing: Four police officers were wounded in a suicide bombing attack on their vehicle in Mastung, Balochistan, on Wednesday; no immediate claim of responsibility was reported.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Saudi Ties: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman will visit Pakistan starting on Sunday for talks on defense cooperation and investment in Pakistan. Anonymous sources tell the Express Tribune that the Saudis are seeking a “more proactive” role by Pakistan in the Saudi-sponsored Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition, led by former army chief Raheel Sharif. [AP] [ET] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • PTM Protests: On Tuesday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government announced the formation of an advisory committee to hold talks with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, with a government spokesman saying that they were “ready to accept all justifiable demands put forth by the PTM”. PTM leader Muhammad Ali Wazir dismissed the step, saying “this committee has simply been formed for temporary point-scoring”.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid announced on Wednesday that he would petition the Supreme Court seeking the ouster of Shehbaz Sharif as head of the Public Accounts Committee. A Lahore accountability court has declared Kamran Kayan, brother to the former army chief, a “proclaimed offender” and “absconder” for failing to respond to court summons as part of an investigation into the Ashiyana housing project. On Tuesday, a Peshawar accountability court re-indicted PPP leader Arbab Alamgir and his wife on charges of holding assets disproportionate to their known sources of wealth. On Tuesday, JUI-F leader Mufti Kifayat Hussain was acquitted on hate speech charges. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Shah Farman has removed all cabinet ministers from the provincial apex committee, limiting its membership to the chief minister, the governor, and the Peshawar corps commander. The Nation reports that a planned secretariat for south Punjab will be established in either Multan or Bahawalpur by July. On Tuesday, the PML-N introduced legislation proposing the formation of a separate province in the Hazara division in Khyber Paktunkhwa. [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Bailout: A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet approved a Rs 5.6 bailout for Pakistan International Airlines to restore two grounded aircraft to operation; the PIA had sought another Rs 8.4 billion in financing, which the cabinet will consider next week. [ET]
  • Energy Crisis: At a meeting on Tuesday, PM Khan ordered a “nationwide crackdown” on gas theft, which officials estimate costs approximately Rs 50 billion annually. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Killed in Lakki Marwat Shooting [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Awami Tehreek Activists Acquitted in Rioting Case [The Nation]
  • Punjab Police Chief Vows Punishment for Any Officers Involved in Sahiwal Shooting [Dawn]
  • Defence Production Secretary Acknowledges Faulty Bulletproof Vests for KPK Police [ET]
  • Sindh High Court Cancels Cargo Tracking Contract for National Logistics Cell [ET]
  • Nationwide Poverty Survey Stalled for Three Years [ET]
  • New National Bank of Pakistan President Appointed [ET]
  • Balochistan NFC Representative Rejects Federal Govt Proposals [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • NATO Ministers Meet: NATO defense ministers met in Brussels beginning Wednesday; speaking to reporters, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “the aim is of course not to be in Afghanistan forever, the aim is to be in Afghanistan to fight terrorism and to train, assist and advise Afghan National Army, security forces so they can stabilize their own country”. Stoltenberg endorsed peace efforts led by Special Envoy Khalilzad, and said that no decision had been taken yet about any drawdown in U.S. or international forces. In remarks to reporters on Tuesday, Russian Envoy Zamir Kabulov dismissed the risk of instability in the event of a U.S. withdrawal, saying that “when all Afghans, the authorities in Kabul and the Taliban, reach a peace agreement and won’t fight each other, then they’ll deal with ISIS in an Afghan manner”. [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: Afghan military officials announced the conclusion of a weeklong operation in the Arghistan district in Kandahar on Wednesday.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Fires Election Commission Members: On Tuesday, Pres. Ghani signed into law through executive order a draft amendment to Afghanistan’s electoral laws, which a presidential statement said had been developed “after consultations with the political parties, representatives of the presidential candidates, and civil society organizations”. Subsequently, Ghani ordered the removal of all members of the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints commission; in the interim, the IEC and ECC will be run by their respective secretariat chiefs. The members of both commissions released a joint statement in response saying that their dismissal was a violation of the constitution and said that “the government is pursuing its move to postpone the presidential elections and continue to hold power”. The Afghan attorney general’s office has announced investigations against the commission members, and has barred them from leaving the country. The status of provincial election results, which have yet to be finalized, is unclear. [NYT] [AP] [Khabarnama] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Peace Talks: TOLO provides a complete list of the Taliban negotiation team announced yesterday, to be headed by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Funeral Held for Sibghatullah Mojaddadi [AP]
  • Commentary: How a Forever War Ends – “The United States is clearly indicating that it is willing to give up on what it was originally fighting to achieve: an Afghanistan not under the control of the Taliban’s repressive grasp.” [Kori Schake, The Atlantic]
  • Commentary: Afghan Women are ‘Not Willing to Give Up Their Rights’ – “In an interview, Afghanistan’s first female ambassador to Washington sets a hard line for Taliban peace talks.” [Elias Groll and Lara Seligman, Foreign Policy]
  • Commentary: Who is Running to Become the Next President? – “The palace and a unified front of all other candidates are currently at loggerheads over large parts of the electoral reforms, including the mechanism of changing the commissioners, and they both face backlash from the IEC.” [Ali Yawar Adili, AAN]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Defense and Investment Discussed Ahead of MBS Visit; Ghani Plans Assembly to ‘Consult on Peace’

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Topline

  • Former army chief and Saudi military counter-terrorism coalition commander Gen. Raheel Sharif held meetings with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, PM Khan, and other officials on Monday and Tuesday, ahead of an expected visit by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Pakistan later this week. PTI ministers denied that any amnesty agreement for Nawaz Sharif or other opposition figures would be linked to the crown prince’s visit. Commerce Advisor Razak Dawood said that the government was planning to sign three memoranda of understanding on Saudi investment, which he estimated would total at least $10-12 billion “in the medium term”.
  • Pres. Ghani said Monday that he planned to convene a “grand assembly” in Kabul in March to “consult on peace”; Pres. Karzai welcomed the proposal, which he described as a “traditional Loya Jirga”. Ghani has ruled out the formation of an interim government, which Karzai has previously pushed for. On Monday, the presidential cabinet approved draft amendments to the electoral law, the details of which have yet to be disclosed.
  • On Tuesday, the Taliban announced a negotiating team for talks with the U.S. headed by Qatar office head Abbas Stanekzai, and including Anas Haqqani, who the Taliban called on the Afghan government to free. Special Envoy Khalilzad held talks with NATO and EU partners in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday.
  • The Express Tribune suggests that Pakistan may seek to roll over approximately $5.6 billion in short-term, primarily Chinese, debts and then pursue an IMF loan agreement by June.
  • Former anti-Soviet commander and interim president Sibghatullah Mohaddadi passed away on Monday; he was 93.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Saudi Defense Ties: Former chief of army staff and head of the Saudi-sponsored Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition Gen. Raheel Sharif met separately with Chief of Army Staff Bajwa, PM Khan, Foreign Minister Qureshi, and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani on Monday and Tuesday; few details of his conversations were disclosed. Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman is expected to visit Pakistan later this week. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • PTM Crackdown: Local officials in North Waziristan have accused senior Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement leaders of murdering a man on Sunday who had accused PTM activists of destroying his home and threatening him. On Monday, two PTM activists were arrested and charged with sedition for participating in a protest in Multan. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Police Officers Killed: The Hizb-ul Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group, claimed responsibility for an ambush which killed four police officers in Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday. [Dawn] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Amnesty Agreements: In separate remarks on Monday, ministers Noor-ul Haq Qadri and Ali Muhammad Khan denied that the government was considering any amnesty agreement for senior opposition leaders in connection to Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan. PM Khan met with Lebanese Prime Minister Raif Al-Hariri over the weekend on the sidelines of a summit in Dubai; Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that Hariri had expressed regret over “his role in striking a deal between former premier Nawaz Sharif and ex-president Pervez Musharraf” in 2007. [ET]
  • Other Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: A meeting of the Supreme Court last week affirmed that the court would only use its suo motu powers of investigation “in accordance with the Constitution”, but stopped short of instituted new formal rules on the use of the power. On Monday, the Lahore High Court rejected a National Accountability Bureau petition seeking the transfer of a bail petition from Shehbaz Sharif to a different bench. An Islamabad anti-terrorism court has issued an arrest warrant against Khyber Paktunkhwa information minister Shaukat Ali Yousufzai for failing to respond to previous court summons as part of a case regarding the PTI’s 2014 Islamabad sit-ins. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: In comments on Monday, PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said that the opposition parties would discuss a joint opposition strategy against the government in the event that it removed Shehbaz Sharif as head of the Public Accounts Committee only in the event that that happens, but warned the PTI against such a “short-sighted” move. In the Sindh assembly, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said that he would grant the provincial Public Accounts Committee chairmanship to the PTI only provided it agreed to sign on to the ‘Charter of Democracy’. An MQM-Pakistan delegation met with PTI leaders on Monday, who pledged to address their complaints regarding committee chairmanships. Following a narrowly decided Supreme Court-ordered recount, the PTI gained the PP-123 constituency. [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • IMF Talks: Pakistan faces $12.6 billion in debt-repayment obligations this fiscal year, of which $5.6 billion is short-term debt, largely from Chinese sources; a spokesman for the finance ministry said that “fresh external inflows are expected to cover adequately the short-term external debt obligations”, and the Express Tribune suggests that a smaller IMF agreement might be reached after that debt is rolled over by June. On Monday, Moody’s downgraded its rating for Pakistan’s banking system to “negative”. New Pakistan Bureau of Statistics data for the first seven months of the fiscal year indicate that the trade deficit contracted to $19.26 billion, a 9.6% decline from the same period the year prior, driven primarily by a decline in imports. Remittances during the same period rose 12% to $12.77 billion. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Saudi Investment: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is expected to sign three memoranda of understanding for investments in the oil, renewable energy, and mineral sectors during his visit, as well as an agreement on $3 billion in deferred oil payments, Commerce Advisor Razak Dawood told journalists on Monday; he estimated $10-12 billion in Saudi investment “in the medium term”. [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • MQM Activist Killed in Karachi Shooting [Dawn]
  • Chief Minister Lambastes Police Investigation into Sindhi Nationalist Leader’s Murder [Dawn]
  • NADRA Blocks CNICs of Pakistanis Registered as Afghan Refugees [The Nation]
  • Mother of Uzair Baloch to Approach Military Seeking to Visit Her Son [Dawn] [ET]
  • Gas Supply Shortages Deepen [Dawn]
  • Finance Minister Says Talks to Bring Paypal to Pakistan Underway [ET]
  • Chief Justice Calls for Training for Prosecutors and Investigators at Judicial Academies [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Moldovan Pilots Freed: On Monday, Moldovan Pres. Igor Dodon announced that two Moldovan pilots who were captured by the Taliban when their helicopter crashed in Faryab province in 2015 during a UN assistance mission had been freed and would be repatriated by the end of the week. Dodon credited the “help provided by the leadership of the Russian Federation” for their release.
  • Attacks and Operations: On Tuesday, the NDS announced the arrest of two men it said were members of Jaish-e-Mohammad, both of whom it said were Pakistani nationals. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: On Tuesday, the Taliban announced that it had appointed Anas Haqqani as a member of a negotiating team for talks with the United States, calling on the Afghan government to release him from custody. Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the group’s Qatar office, was named the head of the negotiating team. On Tuesday, Special Envoy Khalilzad met with EU and NATO officials in Brussels, saying that “we went into Afghanistan together, and together we will determine our future posture, based on conditions we determine with Afghans. We also agreed that jumpstarting the intra-Afghan dialogue is an immediate priority”. NATO defense ministers will meet in Brussels on Wednesday; Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that “we continue to consult on the implications of a possible peace deal and how NATO can support it”. In a letter on Monday to Sec. Pompeo, three senior Democratic senators urged the State Department to “[ensure] that Afghan women are represented and issues central to their rights and needs are part of any negotiation going forward”. Speaking at a meeting on Monday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that “an overwhelming global consensus on seeking a political solution to the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan had validated Pakistan’s longstanding position”. [WSJ] [WAPO] [Reuters] [AP] [Khabarnama]
  • Ghani Plans ‘Grand Assembly’: Speaking on Monday, Pres. Ghani said that he planned to hold a “grand assembly” in Kabul in March to “consult on peace”; former Pres. Karzai welcomed the proposal, which he described as an agreement to convene a traditional Loya Jirga. Ghani ruled out any proposal to form an interim government, however, as Karzai has previously called for.
  • Electoral Law Changes: A presidential cabinet meeting on Monday approved a draft amendment to the electoral law, details of which have so far not been reported.
  • Former Pres. Mujaddadi Dies: Former anti-Soviet mujahedeen commander and interim president Sibghatullah Mujaddadi passed away on Monday; he was 93. Mujaddaddi headed the Afghan National Liberation Front during the anti-Soviet war, served as interim president after the fall of the Najibullah government in 1992, chaired the 2003 Loya Jirga that endorsed the current Afghan constitution, and had served as senate chairman. The ministry of labor announced that a memorial holiday would be held on Wednesday. [AP] [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Commentary: Coming to Terms with America’s Undeniable Failure in Afghanistan – “With negotiations and withdrawal plans still in the air as of early 2019, nearly 18 years after September 11, 2001, the true extent of American failure remains to be determined, but it is not too early to examine where our institutions and leaders fell short.” [Jason Dempsey, War on the Rocks]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Khalilzad Emphasizes Need for Intra-Afghan Talks; Imran Holds Talks with Lagarde

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  • Speaking at the US Institute of Peace on Friday, Special Envoy Khalilzad said that “we are after a peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement” and that “a peace agreement can allow withdrawal”, saying that “our hope and expectation is that once intra-Afghan dialogue begins, which is our key objective, that these parallel discussions will be brought together”. Khalilzad departed on Sunday for another weeklong tour of the region, with stops planned in Qatar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, among other destinations. During a visit to Nangarhar on Sunday, Pres. Ghani reiterated offers to establish an office for Taliban negotiators in Afghanistan, which a Taliban spokesman rebuffed.
  • PM Khan visited Dubai on Sunday, where he met with IMF chief Christine Lagarde on the sidelines of a conference; Finance Minister Umar said Monday that the meeting “was not a negotiation round and no deal was reached between the two sides”, although he suggested that the IMF had “changed its position”; other reports indicate that Pakistan and the IMF remain split over electricity tariffs, budget deficits, and the need for a free exchange float, however.
  • Former Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif visited Pakistan on Sunday in his role as head of the Saudi-sponsored Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition.
  • In remarks on Saturday, PM Khan reiterated opposition to any amnesty for opposition leaders; the PTI and its coalition partners are also reportedly considering options to remove Shehbaz Sharif as the Public Accounts Committee chairman. A spokeswoman for the PML-N said that opposition parties would meet on Feb 18 to discuss their response to the government.
  • US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan visited Kabul on Monday for meetings with US commanders and Afghan officials; he told reporters while en route that the Pentagon was not planning for the drawdown of U.S. forces. The NYT reports that US military forces in Afghanistan have escalated airstrikes and special operations to their highest tempo since 2014, which officials said was meant to “give American negotiators leverage in peace talks with the Taliban”.
  • On Monday, Pres. Ghani appointed Gen. Massoud Andarabi as acting interior minister.
  • The Afghan Independent Election Commission rejected reports of a planned amendment to the electoral laws, saying that it was intended to “manipulate the process of future elections” and “an excuse to delay the presidential election”.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Saudi Military Ties: Former chief of army staff Raheel Sharif arrived in Pakistan on Sunday in his role as head of the Saudi-sponsored Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition; he is expected to meet top Pakistani military and civilian officials, ahead of a visit by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman later this month. [The Nation]
  • PTM Crackdown: On Saturday, Lahore police arrested Ammar Ali Jan, a university professor, on charges of organizing a Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement protest over the death of PTM leader Arman Loni last week. He was subsequently released on bail. [AP]
  • Press Crackdown: Rizwan Razi, a journalist working for Din TV, was beaten and abducted from his home in Lahore on Saturday; he was subsequently released, but he faces charges for making “defamatory and obnoxious” comments about the judiciary, government and intelligence services. [Dawn]
  • Sindhi Nationalist Leader Killed: Jeay Sindh Tehreek activists held demonstrations in Karachi on Friday following the shooting death of the party’s Karachi chapter president, Irshad Ranjhani, last week, for which a union council chairman, Rahim Shah, has been blamed. Police say that Rahim claimed to have shot Ranjhani in self-defense, fearing he was being mugged. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has ordered an investigation; Shah was arrested on Monday. [Dawn]
  • Aircraft Carrier Sale: The Nation reports that China will sell Pakistan its current sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which is a refitted Russia carrier that was relaunched in 2016. The Chinese Navy plans to replace the Liaoning with six nuclear-powered carriers by 2035; details of the prospective transfer of the carrier to Pakistan’s navy are limited, and no timeline or sale price is reported.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Family Under Investigation: PM Khan met with party leaders on Friday, and was quoted saying that “there is not going to be any deal” with the opposition. Speaking at a public event on Saturday, Khan said that an amnesty agreement with the PML-N or PPP would be “tantamount to treason” and that “the plunderers deserve no concession or leniency and the law should make an example of them”. On Saturday, the ministry of interior rejected a petition for the removal of Nawaz Sharif and his family from the Exit Control List; Nawaz’s personal physician has petitioned the Punjab government to provide him “round-the-clock expert cardiac care”. On Monday, the Lahore High Court granted Hamza Shehbaz permission to remain in London for an additional 14 days. Railways Minister Sheikh Rashied reiterated his intention to oust Shehbaz Sharif as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in a press conference on Saturday; PML-N leader Khwaja Asif warned against such a move, saying that “we have the capacity to disrupt the functioning of the government”. Special assistant to the prime minister Naeem-ul Haque told reporters on Sunday that the government would only agree to Shehbaz’s parole to participate in parliamentary hearings if he agreed to “sign a code of ethics to run the house in an amicable manner and do legislation in the best interests of the nation”; he suggested that no no-confidence motion was currently being planned, however. A spokeswoman for the PML-N said that opposition parties would meet on Feb 18 to discuss a response to the “fascist and dictatorial actions of the incapable, incompetent, liar and selected PTI government”. On Saturday, the National Accountability Bureau added Nawaz Sharif to the list of individuals accused as part of an investigation into liquefied natural gas import agreements. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Other Corruption Investigations and Legal Battles: On Friday, the NAB arrested former PML-N federal ports minister Kamran Michael, accusing him of accepting bribes to allocate land for a Karachi housing development. The former chief financial officer of the Omni Group, Aslam Masood, was reportedly arrested in Jeddah and transferred to Pakistani custody on Friday; he is described as a key suspect in the money laundering investigations against former Pres. Zardari and other associates. Zardari petitioned the Supreme Court on Saturday to set hearings on Feb 12 for his appeal against its transfer of the case to the NAB. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Aasia Bibi Case: An associate of Aasia Bibi tells the AP that she remains in hiding in Karachi and has been blocked from leaving the country by Pakistani officials, despite her acquittal by the Supreme Court. The Express Tribune reports that the government has held “backdoor talks” with leaders of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and that they will likely be released on bail, and that the party will be allowed to resume public demonstrations.
  • FATA Reforms: At a meeting on Saturday, Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan approved the formation of civil courts in the former FATA districts, at an estimated cost of Rs 545 million annually. Khan is reportedly in a dispute with governor Shah Farman over control of three departments covering the former tribal districts. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: On Friday, PML-Q legislator Bao Rizwan was sworn in as a new Punjab provincial cabinet member; minister Hafiz Yasir Ammar has also withdrawn his resignation, as the PML-Q and PTI government have patched up earlier coalition tensions. Speaking at an event on Sunday, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat said that “the parties have pledged to stand united and their alliance will last for five years”. Dawn reports that the MQM-Pakistan is planning to boycott the newly-formed national assembly committees, protesting a refusal by the PTI to allocate any committee chairmanships to the MQM. The PML-N has reportedly finalized its nominees for the committees, which will be elected today. Speaking at a rally in Tando Adam on Saturday, former Pres. Zardari reiterated accusations that the central government was seeking control over “Pakistan’s resources” and vowed to oppose any reductions in provincial autonomy. On Sunday, the JUI-S leadership council formally elected Maulana Sami-ul Haq’s son Maulana Hamid-ul-Haq as his successor. On Friday, the federal government reshuffled the police chiefs and chief secretaries of Khyber Paktunkhw and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PM Visits Dubai for IMF Talks: PM Khan visited Dubai on Sunday, where he met separately with Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and IMF chief Christine Lagarde, and addressed the World Government Summit. Anonymous Pakistani officials tell Dawn that Pakistan and the IMF are nearing agreement on public expenditure cuts as a condition for a new loan program; Lagarde said after their meeting that “the IMF stands ready to support Pakistan”, but details of their conversation have not been reported. Speaking prior to the meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that “we want a fair deal that can actually help Pakistan in the short-term, without affecting our long-term economic goals”. On Monday, Finance Minister Umar said that the meeting with Lagarde “was not a negotiation round and no deal was reached between the two sides”, although he suggested that a deal was “close” and that the IMF had “changed its position”; the Express Tribune reports that the government and IMF remain split over electricity tariffs, budget deficits, and the need for a free exchange float. In his public remarks at the summit, Khan called for greater investment in Pakistan. On Friday, the government revised downwards GDP growth estimates for the final year of the preceding PML-N government’s tenure, to 5.22%. [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Energy Crisis: Sindh and Balochistan currently face a gas shortage, prompting complaints from both government and opposition lawmakers in the Sindh assembly; Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah accused the federal government of curtailing the gas supply to the province. Separately, The Nation reports that Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan has been removed as head of the cabinet committee on energy, replaced by Finance Minister Umar. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Government Prepares for FATF Session in Paris on Feb 17 [ET]
  • Investigator Seeks Cancellation of Rao Anwar Bail [Dawn]
  • PSP General Secretary Survives Assassination Attempt in Karachi [Dawn] [ET]
  • New York Man Arrested on Charges of Seeking to Join LeT [Dawn]
  • Over 10,000 Pakistani Nationals Reportedly Fraudulently Registered as Afghan Refugees [Dawn]
  • FIA Seeks ‘Help and Guidance’ from Supreme Court in Asghar Khan Investigation [Dawn] [Dawn]  [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • New Polio Case Reported in Bannu District [The Nation]
  • Supreme Court Hints at Nationalizing Private Schools [ET]
  • Resident Pakistanis with Offshore Accounts Invited to Invest in Diaspora Bonds [ET]
  • K-Electric Planning Sukuk Bond Issue [ET]
  • Commentary: In Pakistan, a Pashtun Cry for Equality and Justice – “The legal and structural changes will take time, but breaking the silence and reducing the fear sustained for decades by the security apparatus is a measure of our success, even if the P.T.M.’s leaders are imprisoned or eliminated.” [Manzoor Pashteen, NYT]
  • Commentary: Why Bangladesh Overtook Pakistan – “To move forward, Pakistan must transform its war economy into ultimately becoming a peace economy.” [Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Pentagon Chief Visits: US acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan visited Kabul on Monday, where he will meet with U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders. Speaking to reporters while en route, Shanahan said that he had not been directed to prepare plans for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and that “the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability and then any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner”. A spokesman for the U.S. forces in Afghanistan also told TOLO that “there is no program right now to decrease the troops”. [AP] [Khabarnama]
  • New Security Leadership: On Monday, Pres. Ghani appointed Gen. Massoud Andarabi as the new acting minister of interior, filling the position after Amrullah Saleh’s resignation to serve as Pres. Ghani’s running mate; Andarabi has previously served in senior leadership roles with the NDS.
  • Paramilitary Abuse Allegations: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports on allegations of abuse and involvement in civilian casualties by a CIA-linked paramilitary united based at the Jalalabad airbase in Nangarhar province.
  • Civilian Casualties: An airstrike in the Sangin district in Helmand province on Friday evening killed as many as 21 civilians, according to local sources; a spokesman for the governor confirmed reports of civilian deaths, but said that details were still unconfirmed, and it is unclear from reporting whether US or Afghan forces carried out the strike. Khaama Press previously reported that 31 Taliban had been killed in a “partnered operation” in Sangin, the timing of which was unspecified; a US military spokesman confirmed that they had conducted several strikes in the area, but said they could not confirm reports of civilian deaths. The UN expressed concern over the incident, and said it was investigating. [Khabarnama]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: The NYT reports that US military forces in Afghanistan have escalated airstrikes and special operations to their highest tempo since 2014, which officials said was meant to “give American negotiators leverage in peace talks with the Taliban”. On Saturday, the NDS announced the arrest of a Taliban operative accused of planning the May 2017 truck bombing and November 2018 attack on the security company G4S in Kabul; two other men were also arrested, all described as members of the Haqqani network. Afghan military officials say that they killed a Taliban “shadow intelligence chief” in an airstrike in Now Zad district in Helmand last week, and the ministry of interior claimed to have killed the Taliban’s military chief for the Qara Bagh district in Ghazni in an airstrike on Friday. Eight Afghan Local Police officers were reportedly killed in an attack on their checkpost in the Sayyad district on Sunday. Elsewhere on Sunday, Afghan special forces reportedly rescued seven people from a Taliban prison in Helmand’s Washir district. An Afghan army helicopter made an emergency landing in Zabul on Sunday due to a “technical glitch”. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: Speaking during a visit to Nangarhar on Sunday, Pres. Ghani said that “if the Taliban want an office, I will give it to them in Kabul, Nangarhar or Kandahar by tomorrow”; a spokesman for the Taliban rebuffed the proposal, saying that “Ghani is trying to change the topic and harm the on-going peace efforts” and that “we want that our office in Doha is recognized by the international community and the United Nations”. Speaking at an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington on Friday, Special Envoy Khalilzad said that “we are after a peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement” and that “a peace agreement can allow withdrawal”, saying that “our hope and expectation is that once intra-Afghan dialogue begins, which is our key objective, that these parallel discussions will be brought together”. Khalilzad said that “we are at the early stages of a protracted process” but expressed hope that an agreement could be reached prior to presidential elections scheduled for July. Khalilzad also noted that he had requested the release of Taliban leader Mullah Baradar from Pakistan custody, saying “we appreciate what they have done so far”. Khalilzad departed on another weeklong trip to the region on Sunday, with visits planned to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Russian Special Envoy Zamir Kabulov told the Tass Russian News Agency in an interview on Friday that the U.S. “will have to leave, sooner or later’ and that “they need to withdraw without a loss of face. We in Russia are ready to offer help—to the extent we are capable of doing so—so that this agreement could be achieved.” On Monday, presidential candidate Hanif Atmar met with US ambassador John Bass and Resolute Support commander Gen. Scott Miller, issuing a statement afterwards saying that it had been decided at the recent Moscow meeting that “government representatives would be also present in the next round of talks”. [WSJ] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama] [Dawn]
  • Electoral Law Changes: Second Vice Pres. Danish met separately with Afghan politicians and US deputy chief of mission Karen Decker on Saturday, stating that there was “complete consensus among all stakeholders that changes to the electoral law [and] reforms to the electoral bodies [should] be brought”, but also acknowledged the “possibility of difference of opinion”, which he said “would be decided after consultations and talks.” In a statement earlier on Friday, the presidency said that amendments to the electoral law would be introduced by the start of this week. In a statement on Monday, the Independent Election Commission said that such an amendment was intended to “manipulate the process of future elections” and “an excuse to delay the presidential election”. Final results for the parliamentary elections remain delayed. [Pajhwok]
  • New Provinces: TOLO reports that the government is considering plans to create five new provinces, splitting the Shinwar district Nangarhar, Jaghori district in Ghazni, Shindad district in Herat, Pamir region of Badakhshan, and a district in Farah to become their own separate provinces.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • More Than 30 ‘Irresponsible Armed Individuals’ Arrested in Balkh [Khaama Press]
  • Senior Government Officials Attend Ghor MP’s Funeral [TOLO]
  • ‘The Taliban Took Years Of My Life’: The Afghan Women Living in the Shadow of War [Guardian]
  • Auditor Says Afs 5 Billion Recovered in Last Year [Khabarnama]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Ghani Says Govt ‘Will Not Beg for Peace’; Police Release Post-Mortem in PTM Leader’s Death

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Topline

  • The Afghan government filed a complaint with the UN on Thursday over the travel of Taliban representatives to Russia, in what officials say was a violation by Russia of the international sanctions blacklist. Meanwhile, anonymous U.S. and Taliban officials credit Pakistan with playing a “behind-the-scenes but central role in supporting U.S. peace talks” with the Taliban, including facilitating Taliban travel and “exerting pressure on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, including by detaining members of the militants’ families”.
  • Speaking on Thursday during a visit to an Afghan police special forces training center, Pres. Ghani said that “anyone who takes up arms against the government is an enemy, eradicate them”, adding that “the government will never beg for peace and we are not in a weak position. We want an honorable peace”.
  • Quetta police released a post-mortem of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement leader Arman Loni on Thursday, who died in police custody following his arrest last weekend; the officials said that the report showed that Loni did not die from police torture.
  • Nawaz Sharif was returned to jail from a hospital on Thursday after he refused to be transferred to a different facility; his daughter Maryam Nawaz accused the PTI government of “humiliating” him and said that “we will not seek mercy from the government”.
  • Finance Minister Umar held talks with IMF representatives on Thursday, who reportedly pushed for further increases to electricity tariffs and interest rates, which Pakistani officials have resisted.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • PTM Crackdown: On Thursday, police officials in Quetta released a post-mortem report on Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement leader Arman Loni, who died in police custody following his arrest last Saturday; the police say the report proved that he did not die due to police torture. Pakistani officials denounced comments by Pres. Ghani voicing “serious concerns” over “the violence perpetrated against peaceful protestors and civil activists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan”, but PTM leader and legislator Mohsin Dawar thanked Ghani for his statement. [Dawn] [Khaama Press]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Nawaz Health Concerns: Nawaz Sharif was returned to jail on Thursday after he refused to be transferred to a different medical facility for further treatment; his daughter Maryam Nawaz told reporters that “he insisted on going back to jail as he could not tolerate more humiliation” and “we will not seek mercy from the government”, adding that “if anything happened to him the PTI government will be responsible for this”. [The Nation] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The National Accountability Bureau submitted a report to the Supreme Court on Friday on its progress investigating alleged money laundering and fake bank accounts linked to former Pres. Zardari and his associates. Aleema Khan, the prime minister’s sister, failed to meet an FBR deadline to pay taxes on a previously undeclared Dubai apartment. Shehbaz Sharif skipped a court hearing on Thursday on the Ashiayana housing development scam; he is expected to be indicted at the next hearings, set for Feb 18. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called on Shehbaz to step down as head of the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday; during Thursday’s hearings, PTI members of the committee accused Shehbaz and other members of seeking to use the forum to clear allegations of misconduct during their previous tenures in office. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also skipped a NAB summons on Friday. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Aasia Bibi Case: In a BBC interview, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Aasia Bibi was still in Pakistan and was “a free person”, saying that the government would provide her protection if she chose to remain in the country but also that “we have asked friends around the world if they want to help her”. Her lawyer tells the Washington Post that “there is no way she can remain in Pakistan”; her family have relocated to Canada.
  • Other Political Activity: A PML-Q spokesman tells The Nation that “the PTI government has agreed to fulfill its earlier commitment of inducting one more minister in the provincial cabinet” and to “accept an equal status for our legislators in Punjab similar to that of PTI lawmakers”. PM Khan chaired a meeting on civil service reforms on Friday, pledging to “depoliticize” the bureaucracy. [ET] [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • IMF Talks: Finance Minister Umar held talks by teleconference with IMF officials on Thursday, who reportedly expressed concern that Pakistan had failed to sufficiently raise electricity tariff and interest rates.
  • Budget Planning: Speaking at a press conference following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the government would not impose cuts to the defense budget, saying that it was “already low as compared to other states in the region, and therefore it should be increased”. Speaking at a separate press conference, state minister for revenue Hammad Azhar said that the government was preparing a “new formula” to tax mobile phone cards and would present it to the Supreme Court to seek approval. [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Senate Chairman Meets Saudi Ambassador [ET]
  • Pakistan to Host Aman Naval Exercise [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • PM to Visit Dubai on Sunday [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan Preparing Response in Kulbhushan Jhadav Case [ET]
  • Pakistan and India Agree on Visits to Discuss Kartarpur Corridor Planning [Dawn] [ET]
  • ECC Asked to Decide Fate of White Oil Pipeline [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Ghani Calls for ‘Eradication’ of ‘Enemies’: On Thursday, Pres. Ghani visited an Afghan National Police special forces training center, where he said that “anyone who takes up arms against the government is an enemy, eradicate them”, adding that “I am not one of those types of people who one day calls them friends and the next day enemies. I have a clear definition of the enemy and their actions prove they are enemies.” Ghani also praised the Afghan security forces, saying that “in your presence, the government will never beg for peace and we are not in a weak position. We want an honorable peace”. [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: On Thursday, the ministry of interior announced the arrest of three suspects linked to the murder of two radio journalists in Takhar earlier this week, but did not provide further details. Afghan army special forces freed five people from a Taliban prison facility in the Chahar Dara district in Kunduz on Friday. A NYT tally for the Feb 1-7 period estimates at least 85 pro-government forces and three civilians were killed during the period. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In a statement on Thursday following the conclusion of a two-day conference in Moscow, Russia’s foreign ministry said that it was “ready to help the United States advance its negotiations with the Taliban on withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan”. On Thursday, the Afghan government filed a complaint with the UN over the participation of Taliban leaders at the Moscow talks, who face international sanctions. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Pakistan has “begun to play a behind-the-scenes but central role in supporting U.S. peace talks” with the Taliban, including facilitating Taliban travel and “exerting pressure on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, including by detaining members of the militants’ families”. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week, CENTCOM commander Joseph Votel said that Pakistan had “played a more helpful role”.  [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Elections: In a statement on Friday, the presidency said that a draft amendment to the electoral law would be finalized within the next two days; details of the prospective changes were not reported.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Commentary: Don’t Trust the Taliban’s Promises – “The Soviet withdrawal brought no peace or reconciliation to Afghanistan, and unless backed up with serious precautionary measures, neither will the U.S. exit.” [Husain Haqqani, Foreign Policy]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Moscow Talks Release Joint Statement on Principles; PTM Activist Freed After Islamabad Arrest

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  • Participants at the Moscow conference on Afghanistan released a joint statement following the conclusion of the two-day meeting, saying that the group would meet again in Qatar “as soon as possible”. Although it did not specify details of an peace agreement, the statement endorsed “the principles of Islam in all parts of the system”, a strong central government, “the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country”, a neutral Afghanistan, and “protection of social, economic, political and educational rights of the Afghan women in line with Islamic principles”, among other principles. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that the meeting had “no executive effect on peace”.
  • Prominent Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement activist Gulalai Ismail was freed on Wednesday after being detained by police the day prior along with other PTM activists who had held a protest in Islamabad. At least 17 other activists remain in detention. A statement by Pres. Ghani expressing concerns over the crackdown on the PTM drew rebuke from Foreign Minister Qureshi.
  • The Taliban walked back a statement on Wednesday by one of their negotiators suggesting that the U.S. had agreed to withdraw half of its current forces in Afghanistan by the end of April, which U.S. military and diplomatic officials had earlier denied.
  • The Lahore High Court has reportedly ordered the formation of a separate judicial inquiry into the Sahiwal police killings incident last month.
  • In National Finance Commission talks on Wednesday, the federal and provincial governments reportedly agreed to use the 2017 census figures as the basis for provincial population calculations.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • PTM Crackdown: Prominent Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement activist Gulalai Ismail was released on Wednesday after a day in Islamabad police custody; she was one of 25 PTM activists arrested the day prior following a protest outside the Islamabad Press Club. 17 other activists were transferred to jail on Wednesday and remain in detention. In a tweet on Thursday, Gulalai thanked PM Khan and Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari “for ensuring my release” and called on the prime minister to hold those “accountable who are dismantling our constitutional rights”. Pres. Ghani issued a statement on Wednesday expressing “serious concerns about the violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters and civil activists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan”, prompting a rebuke from Foreign Minister Qureshi, who said that “such irresponsible statements are only gross interference”. [AJE] [BBC] [ET] [Dawn] [Khabarnama]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sahiwal Killings: On Thursday, the Lahore High Court reportedly ordered the formation of a judicial inquiry into the killing of a civilian family in a police encounter in Sahiwal last month. [ET]
  • Sharif Health Concerns: The Islamabad High Court has ordered that Nawaz Sharif’s medical records be produced as it hears a petition from his lawyers seeking the suspension of his prison sentence on medical grounds. On Wednesday, Nawaz reportedly requested to be transferred back to jail, rebuffing treatment at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology. Maryam Nawaz met with her father on Thursday.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: At a court hearing on Thursday, the National Accountability Bureau was granted nine-day physical remand of former PTI minister Aleem Khan. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry suggested that Khan’s resignation from his ministry following his arrest “tells a lot about prevailing culture in the PTI” in contrast to other political parties. Following a meeting of top PTI leaders convened after Khan’s arrest, the PTI renewed calls for PML-N opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif to resign from his position as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in the national assembly. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: On Wednesday, the Election Commission rejected a petition from Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal seeking a delay for local government elections in Balochistan, saying it would continue with plans to hold the elections under the previous election law. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, BNP-M leader Akhtar Mengal suggested that the PTI was taking steps to uphold its coalition partner commitments, citing the release over the past six months of as many as 350 ‘missing persons’. [ET] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • NFC Talks: A meeting of the National Finance Commission on Wednesday reportedly agreed to use the 2017 census as the basis for population figures for the federal-provincial revenue-sharing formula. Sindh officials have reportedly objected to proposals to set aside a share of the provinces’ collective revenue for the former FATA districts. The Express Tribune notes that government spending on debt servicing and defense alone for the current fiscal year will exceed the federal government’s Rs 3 trillion share of the total divisible pool.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Chief Justice Chairs Meeting to Review Case Backlog [Dawn] [ET]
  • ECP Delays Hearing on TLP Registration [Dawn]
  • Qureshi Says Govt ‘Ready for Talks’ with India [Dawn]
  • Government Revises Terms for Pakistan Banao Certificates [ET]
  • Arms Cache Seized in South Waziristan [The Nation]
  • Navy Seizes $30M Worth of Hashish Off Balochistan Coast [ET]
  • Russia Expresses Interest in Expanded Energy Sector Investment [ET]
  • Shortage of Available Land Shrinks Plans for Islamabad CPEC SEZ [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Force Withdrawals: On Wednesday, a Taliban representative at the talks in Moscow, Abdul Salam Hanafi, reportedly claimed that U.S. negotiators had pledged to withdraw half of the current approximately 14,000 troops in the country by the end of April. A spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan denied that claim, as did a State Department spokesman and US Special Envoy Khalilzad. Hanafi later also denied that he had made the claim, saying that it was “our desire and our demand” but that no timetable had been agreed.
  • Attacks and Operations: Three Taliban fighters were reportedly killed in a US airstrike in the Sangin district in Helmand on Wednesday. Afghan military officials in Kandahar and Zabul claim to have killed as many as 43 Taliban fighters in operations over the past week. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Moscow Talks: Participants at the Russia-sponsored conference on Afghan peace talks in Moscow issued a joint statement on Wednesday following the conclusion of the two-day meeting, calling for a continuation of “intra-Afghan dialogue”, and also voicing support for “the ongoing talks in Qatar” between the Taliban and US negotiators; the group proposed another intra-Afghan meeting in Qatar “as soon as possible”. The declaration voices agreement on “values” including “the principles of Islam in all parts of the system, the principle that Afghanistan is a common home to all Afghans, support to a powerful centralize government with all Afghan ethnicities having a role it it,” and “to keep Afghanistan neutral in all regional and international conflicts”. It also identifies “important points” to “determine lasting peace in Afghanistan”, including “the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, asking all countries to avoid interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, providing assurance to the international community that Afghanistan will not be used against any other nation, [and the] protection of social, economic, political and educational rights of the Afghan women in line with Islamic principles”, among other principles. In response, a spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that the statement had “no executive effect on peace”. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai described the talks as “very successful”, expressing hope that “we can find a complete peace in Afghanistan.” He also backtracked from a previous statement about the dissolution of the Afghan national army. [NYT] [Guardian] [LAT] [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ministry of Education Introduces Girls Education Policy [TOLO]
  • 14 Afghan Pilots Graduate Training for UH-60 Helicopter [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Why a Deal with the Taliban Will Prevent Attacks on America – “A Taliban that has made commitments against terrorism to join an Afghan government could be a more effective barrier against terror attacks in the West than keeping troops in Afghanistan and fighting an unending war.” [Borhan Osman, NYT]
  • Commentary: I’m a Female Politician in Afghanistan, and I’m For Talking with the Taliban – “The bitter reality is that it will take time to overcome all the darkness the Afghan people have endured over the past four decades. The only way to improve is to try to move ahead together.” [Zakia Wardak, WAPO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Trump Links Troop Withdrawals and Negotiations in SOTU; Ghani Reasserts Govt Authority

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Topline

  • In his Tuesday State of the Union address, Pres. Trump said that “great nations do not fight endless wars” and that “as we make progress in these negotiations [in Afghanistan], we will be able to reduce our troops’ presence and focus on counterterrorism”.
  • As part of efforts to reassert government authority amidst the ongoing meeting between Taliban and opposition figures in Moscow, Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with Sec. Pompeo on Tuesday and gave an interview to TOLO News, in which he reiterated that the government was the only authority capable of negotiating a peace agreement with the Taliban.
  • Speaking at the Moscow conference on Tuesday, Taliban negotiation Abbas Stanekzai rejected the current Afghan constitution and said that the Taliban would insist on a new “Islamic constitution”, but denied that the group would seek to monopolize power. A Taliban spokesman reiterated on Wednesday that U.S. troop withdrawals must precede a ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks.
  • In a ruling on Wednesday on a case related to the TLP’s 2017 Islamabad sit-in protests, the Supreme Court of Pakistan directed the government to “monitor and prosecute those advocating hate, extremism and terrorism” and said that protestors who obstruct public travel or destroy property “must be held accountable”.
  • Finance Minister Umar chaired a meeting of the National Finance Commission on Wednesday to begin negotiations over federal-provincial revenue sharing.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • TLP Crackdown: In a ruling on Wednesday in a case on the sit-in protests carried out by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan in late 2017, the Supreme Court held that “protesters who obstruct people’s right to use roads and damage or destroy property must be proceeded against in accordance with the law and held accountable”. The court also directed the federal and provincial governments to “monitor and prosecute those advocating hate, extremism and terrorism” and the defense ministry and armed forces chiefs to “initiate action against armed forces’ personnel found to have violated their oath”. In Lahore on Tuesday, a court ordered a two-week judicial remand for 92 TLP activists arrested for protests during a court appearance by detained TLP chief Khadim Rizvi the day prior. [ET] [The Nation]
  • PTM Crackdown: At least twenty Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement activists were arrested in Islamabad on Tuesday for holding a protest outside the National Press Club over the killing of PTM leader Arman Loni.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Nawaz Hospitalization: The Express Tribune reports that Nawaz Sharif will be transferred to the Punjab Institute of Cardiology; the head of a medical board that examined Nawaz Sharif last week said that “much of his illnesses are treatable in Pakistan” and that it had forwarded recommendations to the Punjab home department. Former foreign minister Khawaja Asif denied that the PML-N was negotiating with the government for concessions for Nawaz. On Wednesday, PML-N legislator Hina Pervez Butt introduced a resolution in the Punjab assembly calling for Nawaz to be allowed to leave the country for treatment. [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Wednesday, the National Accountability Bureau arrested Aleem Khan, the PTI provincial minister for local government in Punjab, on charges of accumulating assets beyond his known sources of income. He has resigned his ministry but denied wrongdoing and said he would contest the charges. The NAB has summoned former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as part of its investigations into the Qatari liquified natural gas import agreement. Former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was barred from leaving the country on Tuesday, despite earlier travel abroad. [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman said that he was “no longer trying to end the differences between Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif” but urged opposition unity. On Tuesday, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser issued assignments for 36 committees in the assembly; chairpersons for each committee have yet to be chosen. PM Khan will chair a cabinet meeting on Thursday. [ET] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • National Finance Commission Talks: Finance Minister Umar chaired the first meeting of the 9th National Finance Commission on Wednesday, where participants “agreed that future fiscal allocation should reflect the true spirit of the 18th Amendment”. The Express Tribune notes that under existing formulas, Punjab will likely lose a share of revenue to the other provinces. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Review Petition Challenges Court Order on Federal-Provincial Police Powers [Dawn]
  • PM Orders Investigation Into Attack on Hindu Temple in Khairpur [Dawn] [ET]
  • Government Steps Up Diplomatic Efforts to Attract Remittances [ET]
  • Despite Hurdles, Shanghai Electric ‘Keen’ to Take Over K-Electric [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Troop Withdrawals: During his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, Pres. Trump noted that he had “accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement in Afghanistan”, saying that “as we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troops’ presence and focus on counterterrorism.” He did not provide specific details on a prospective troop withdrawal or the negotiations, but argued that “great nations do not fight endless wars”. Trump added that “we do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace” and that “the other side would like to do the same thing”. A spokesman for the Taliban reiterated a demand for U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan but said “after ending their military presence, their non-military teams can come and we need them too, they can come and take part in the reconstruction and development process”. [WAPO] [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: Two Afghan journalists working for Radio Hamsada in Takhar province were killed in a shooting at a radio station in the provincial capital of Taloqan on Tuesday evening; the gunmen fled, and no claim of responsibility has been reported. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Seeks to Reassert Government Authority on Talks: Pres. Ghani spoke by phone with Sec. Pompeo on Tuesday, afterwards saying that Pompeo had “underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process”. A spokesman for Pompeo said he had “emphasized the importance of an intra-Afghan dialogue and the role of a cease-fire in ending the violence and making it possible for the Afghan government, other Afghan leaders and the Taliban to negotiate a political settlement”. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel said that talks with the Taliban were in a “very, very early stage” and said that the Afghan government “have to be a part of this solution and must be in the negotiation aspects of this, we can’t do that on their behalf”. In a TOLO News interview on Tuesday, Ghani said that a peace agreement with the Taliban would “not be implemented unless there is nationwide consensus” and that the Afghan opposition politicians participating in talks with the Taliban in Moscow have no authority to negotiate on behalf of the country. Ghani added that “no power in the country can dissolve the government” and that presidential elections would proceed on schedule. On Wednesday, Ghani hosted a meeting with regional ambassadors. [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok]
  • Moscow Talks: Pres. Karzai, Taliban negotiator Abbas Stanekzai, Yunus Qanooni, Mohammad Mohaqiq, and other participants addressed the Moscow conference on the opening day of talks on Tuesday. Karzai called for national unity in support of the talks. In his remarks Stanekzai said that the current Afghan constitution was “illegitimate and has been imposed on Afghans by Kabul’s administration”, calling for a new “Islamic constitution” that “must be ratified by Afghanistan’s religious scholars and academics so that it will be acceptable to the Afghan people”. He denied an interest in monopolizing power, however. In his remarks, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor called for the formation of an interim government to “pave the way for a transparent and inclusive election”. In Kabul, Chief Executive Abdullah met with Russia’s ambassador, saying afterwards that Afghanistan “welcomes Russia’s positive role in the country”. [WAPO] [Reuters] [Khabarnama] [Khaama Press]
  • Appointments: On Wednesday, Pres. Ghani appointed Ahmad Zaki Sarfaraz as the new mayor of Kabul, replacing acting mayor Sohaib Rahim. Separately, Ghani’s economic advisor Ajmal Ahmady was appointed acting minister of industry and commerce.
  • Elections: On Tuesday, the Independent Election Commission officially released the preliminary list of presidential candidates, including all 18 registrants.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Uzbekistan Reiterates Willingness to Host Talks [RFE/RL]
  • World Bank Signs $325M Grant Package with Ministry of Finance [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Afghan Opposition Leaders Meet Taliban in Moscow; Pakistani Leaders Mark Kashmir Day

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Topline

  • Afghan opposition politicians and Taliban representatives will begin two days of talks in Moscow on Tuesday, with Afghan government representatives excluded from the meeting. On Monday, the Afghan Women’s Network issued a statement criticizing the marginalization of women from peace talks to date, and warned against “peace bought at the cost of [women’s] hard-gained freedoms”.
  • Pakistani national leaders commemorated ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ on Tuesday, reiterated condemnations of India’s control over Jammu and Kashmir and calling for a resolution of the territory’s disputed status.
  • Opposition parties carried out a strike in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan on Monday following the death of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement leader Arman Loni over the weekend.
  • Family members of the victims of the Sahiwal police shootings last month have reversed course and agreed to give a statement to the government’s Joint Investigation Team, Punjab officials announced on Monday.
  • The number of armed private security contractors in Afghanistan rose to 2,847 in January 2019, a new Pentagon report indicates; most are third country nationals.
  • In a meeting on Monday, Finance Minister Umar reportedly warned against accepting an IMF loan package that came with conditions that would “unduly burden the vulnerable population and further strain the economy”; he will hold further talks with the IMF on Thursday.

 

Pakistan — Security

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kashmir Day Commemorated: Pakistani leaders marked ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ on Tuesday, renewing calls for international intervention against Indian abuses in Jammu and Kashmir and calling for a resolution to the territory’s disputed status; Pres. Alvi addressed a session of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly in Muzaffarabad. At an event in London, Foreign Minister Qureshi accused India of genocide in Kashmir and forced demographic displacement. Kashmiri separatist leaders praised Pakistan’s support for their cause in separate statements. [AP] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Nawaz Health Concerns: Punjab information minister Fayazul Hasan Chohan told reporters on Monday that Nawaz Sharif “is keen to go to London” and dismissed reports that he was in ill health. The Islamabad High Court is set to hear a bail plea by Nawaz’s lawyers for release on medical grounds on Wednesday. In remarks on Monday, Interior Minister Shehryar Afridi said that existing law allowed anyone barred from leaving the country on the Exit Control List to conduct a “one-time” trip abroad. [The Nation]
  • Sahiwal Killings: Punjab government officials are reportedly opposed to the formation of a separate judicial commission to investigate the killing of a civilian family in Sahiwal in a police encounter last month. At a press conference on Monday, Punjab police officials said that investigations by the government-appointed Joint Investigation Team were still ongoing and that “it is yet to conclude whether Zeshan, who was driving the car, was a terrorist or not”. Meanwhile, the Punjab chief minister’s spokesman announced on Monday that family members of the victims had reversed course and agreed to give statements to the JIT. [ET] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: At a meeting with PTI provincial officials from Khyber Paktunkhwa and Punjab on Monday, PM Khan said that his government was “stepping into its next phase which requires better coordination between the center and provinces”. Speaking to reporters on Monday, former senate chairman Raza Rabbani accused the government of seeking to “roll back” the 18th Amendment to the constitution, and said that a recent change to property valuations in major cities around the country was illegal. [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Financial Crisis: At a meeting of the Economic Advisory Council chaired by PM Khan on Monday, Finance Minister Umar reportedly warned against adoption of an IMF loan package that would include conditions that would “unduly burden the vulnerable population and further strain the economy”, and was quoted saying that the “best option was to go the IMF on Pakistan’s terms” but the “second option was to find an alternative to the IMF” and the “third and worst option was to sign the deal at [the] IMF’s terms”. Umar will hold talks by videoconference with the IMF on Thursday. Standard and Poor’s downgraded Pakistan’s credit rating on Monday. [APP]
  • Foreign Investment: A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet on Monday ordered expedited work on preparations for the creation of two Special Economic Zones under the CPEC framework, including preparations by the ministry of energy for uninterrupted power supplies.
  • Fiscal Federalism: Speaking to reporters on Monday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah accused the federal government of an Rs 104 billion shortfall in revenue transfers to the province so far this fiscal year. [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Three Militant Suspects Killed in South Waziristan [ET] [The Nation]
  • Supreme Court to Rule on TLP Protests on Wednesday [Dawn]
  • FBR Extends Deadline for PM’s Sister to Pay Taxes on Overseas Asset [ET]
  • Pak-Turk Schools Group Challenges Supreme Court Order [ET]
  • Supreme Court Halts Prisoner Execution [Dawn]
  • Government Considering Revival of Hajj Subsidy [ET]
  • Implementation Committee Reviews Dam Construction Progress [ET]
  • The Shaky Foundations of ASF Arabian Vista [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Private Security Contractors: A Pentagon report released Monday covering the first quarter of FY19 notes a rise in the number of armed private security contractors supporting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, up from 1722 in January 2017 to 2847 in January 2019. 84% of those contractors were non-Americans, compared to 71% in 2017.
  • Attacks and Operations: The ministry of defense announced Tuesday that it had repelled a large-scale Taliban attack on the outskirts of Kunduz city over the preceding night; as many as 22 Taliban fighters were reportedly killed. At least ten Afghan Local Police officers were killed in an attack in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district in Baghlan on Tuesday. [Khaama Press] [AP]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Peace Talks: In an ABC News interview, US and NATO commander Gen. Scott Miller said that current peace talks efforts “are positive” and that “neither side will win it militarily, and if neither side will win it militarily you have to move towards a political settlement here”. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Chief Executive Abdullah said that the Taliban’s opposition to talks with the government was the “main obstacle” to peace, adding that the Taliban “are not ready for talks with the government and the people of Afghanistan and they are wasting time and have the mindset that their position will be strengthened as they see that the talks are ongoing in different places”. Many senior Afghan opposition leaders are meeting in Moscow with representatives of the Taliban beginning Tuesday; Afghan government representatives have been excluded from the talks. Meanwhile, the Afghan Women’s Network released a statement on Monday objecting to male domination of the talks thus far, and opposing “peace bought at the cost of their hard-gained freedoms”. Khabarnama reports on a statement by the Jamiat-e-Islami to the effect that “the present government, with all its shortcomings and deficiencies, is the only authority that can lead the peace talks, but the composition of negotiating team should be revised”; the report does not clarify which faction of Jamiat issued the statement, and several Jamiat leaders are among the participants of the Moscow talks. Separately, a meeting of Pakistan’s army corps commanders on Monday “expressed satisfaction with the progress in regional peace initiatives”. [Khabarnama] [Khabarnama] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Elections: Islam Yaftali, a parliamentary election candidate for Badakshan, alleges Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission officials sought bribes to allow him a seat in parliament.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • SIGAR Notes Shortage of Black Hawk Pilots for New Afghan Air Force Fleet [Reuters]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Afs 11.8 Billion in New Contracts [Khaama Press] [Khabarnama]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Trump Reiterates Desire to Draw Down US Forces; PTM Leader Dies in Police Custody in Loralai

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Topline

  • In a CBS News interview on Sunday, Pres. Trump said that “we got to get out of these endless wars and bring our folks back home”. He also said that “I’ll leave intelligence [in Afghanistan] and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it”, and “we’ll come back if we have to”.
  • Afghan opposition politicians and Taliban representatives will meet in Moscow on Tuesday for talks that exclude the current Afghan government; a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry said that such meetings “will not help us in reaching peace”.
  • A local leader of the Pashtun Tahuffuz Movement in Balochistan was killed after being arrested by police in Loralai on Saturday; provincial officials have ordered an investigation, and police claim he died of a heart attack. PTM leaders were barred from entering the province to attend his funeral services; opposition parties in Loralai have called for a strike.
  • Pres. Ghani ordered the removal of three senior interior ministry officials and the appointment of replacement appointees on Sunday. Speaking separately on Sunday, Ghani said that “a peace which could not recognize the important role of the Afghan security and defense forces [is] not acceptable”.
  • The acting chief of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, Shafiq Amini, was arrested on Friday in conjunction with a crackdown on small protests held by the group against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal.
  • An advisor to second vice president Sarwar Danish tells TOLO that the government is considering amendments to the electoral law in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled for July, including the potential replacement of commission members as well as the “structure of the commissions and the elections rules and procedures”; he provided few details.
  • Nawaz Sharif was hospitalized and underwent medical evaluation in Lahore on Saturday; doctors have reportedly recommended he undergo surgery for kidney stone removals.
  • PM Khan visited Lahore for meetings with the provincial government on Sunday focused on the ongoing investigation into the death of a civilian family in a police shooting in Sahiwal last month. Family members of the victims continue to call for an independent judicial commission to investigate the incident.
  • The Express Tribune reports that China has agreed to provide another $2.5 billion in lending to help shore up Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • PTM Leader Killed: Ibrahim Arman Loni, a senior leader of the Pashtun Tahuffuz Movement, was killed after being arrested by police on Saturday following a protest organized by the group in Loralai, Balochistan, PTM leaders said; police claimed he died of a heart attack. Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani has reportedly ordered an investigation into the incident. PTM leaders and parliamentarians Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir were barred from entering the province on Sunday to attend Loni’s funeral, which is scheduled to take place on Monday; opposition party leaders in Loralai have joined calls for a strike.
  • TLP Crackdown: Police in Karachi arrested at least fifty Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan activists following protests against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi; the TLP’s acting chief, Shafiq Amini, was reportedly arrested in Charsadda on Friday. On Monday, the detention of TLP leader Khadim Rizvi and other party activists was further extended till Feb 8. There are conflicting reports as to whether Bibi remains in the country following her acquittal. [Dawn] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sharif Hospitalized: Nawaz Sharif was transferred to the Services Institute of Medical Sciences in Lahore on Saturday, where he underwent another medical evaluation; doctors reportedly recommended that he undergo surgery for kidney stones. On Sunday, Hamza Shehbaz was allowed to depart the country for a 10-day trip to London, Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid alleged that the PML-N and PPP were “paying money for striking a deal with the government”, calling on PM Khan to confirm or deny the allegations.  PML-N leader Pervaiz Rashid dismissed those claims. [AP] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Response to Sahiwal Killings: PM Khan visited Lahore on Sunday for meetings with Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Governor Chaudhry Sarwar; his discussions reportedly focused on investigations into the killing of a civilian family in Sahiwal last month, ordering “all-out measures to dispense justice to the family”. Speaking earlier on Friday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the prime minister “has complete confidence in Buzdar and he will remain chief minister”. The family members of the victims and PML-N opposition leaders reiterated demands for an independent judicial commission to investigate the incident. At hearings on Monday, the Lahore High Court noted that the power to former a judicial commission lay with the federal government, and sought a response from the government by Thursday. [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Federalism Disputes: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari vowed to “foil the conspiracy of [the] selected prime minister to weaken democracy and parliament and snatch the rights of the provinces”; he also said that “parliamentary activism is needed in the presence of judicial activism”, and reiterated the Sindh government’s plans to challenge a Supreme Court ruling transferring control of several Karachi hospitals to the federal government. Speaking separately, Foreign Minister Qureshi denied that the government was seeking to erode provincial autonomy. [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: At a Public Accounts Committee hearing on Friday, the committee initially moved to summon National Accountability Bureau officials for a briefing on an investigation into a contract issued by the Benazir Income Support Program in 2012, but later reversed course after protests against the move by former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf of the PPP. The Lahore High Court has ordered the government to provide a response on procedures for listing an individual on the Exit Control List by Feb 20. Khyber Paktunkhwa government auditors have ordered National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to return Rs 1.1 million for the use of government-provided vehicles during his previous tenure as provincial assembly speaker. The detention of PML-N leaders Khawaja Saad Rafique and Salman Rafique was extended for another two weeks after a hearing on Saturday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: PTI candidate Aamir Sultan Cheema won election to the NA-91 Sargodha constituency after the Election Commission ordered re-polling on Sunday. Two members of the Election Commission retired last week, leaving vacancies for the commissioners from Sindh and Balochistan. The Nation reports the ECP is planning to hold local government elections in Balochistan and provincial assembly elections for the former FATA districts in May. Speaking at a press conference with the JUI-F on Saturday, former Pres. Zardari called on the media to support the PPP’s efforts to dislodge the PTI government, saying that “in return they would help overcome the media industry problems”. PML-N leaders continue to criticize the government’s withdrawal of Hajj subsidies, which Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry sought to defend. PTI leader Jahangir Tareen is reportedly pushing for the establishment of a ‘mini-secretariat’ of government departments in south Punjab in Lodhran. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Financial Crisis: The Express Tribune reports that China has agreed to provide an additional $2.5 billion in deposits with the State Bank of Pakistan to help boost foreign exchange reserves, which would bring its total lending this fiscal year to $4.5 billion.
  • Tax Revenues: In a resolution on Friday following the conclusion of debate on the government’s budget amendment, the Senate recommended that three percent of the total federal divisible tax pool be allocated to the former FATA districts, among other proposals; the senate’s recommendations are not binding on the national assembly, which must approve the final amendment. The Federal Board of Revenue is reportedly in talks with the World Bank for a $400 million loan to support the tax collection system, which would reportedly include reform conditions, including changes to agricultural taxation and the formation of a new “constitutional body to resolve tax disputes between the center and the provinces”. The World Bank estimates Pakistan’s tax gap at approximately Rs 3.8 trillion, which is approximately ten percent of GDP and equivalent to the entirety of last year’s collection. Separately, the government is reportedly preparing a new Rs 29 billion package of tax relief and other incentives for the textile sector. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Energy Pricing: At a meeting on Sunday, PM Khan ordered an inquiry into increases in gas prices for domestic consumers; speaking earlier on Saturday, Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that the government “was not in a position to pay subsidies due to poor financial health of the gas companies”, and attributed larger consumer bills to high demand due to cold weather. [Dawn] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Border Task Forces Visits Torkham [The Nation]
  • Polio Case Recorded in Bajaur [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • FBR Revises Land Valuation Upwards for 20 Major Cities [Dawn] [ET]
  • Inflation Hits Four-and-Half Year Record High in January [ET] [The Nation]
  • PIA Losing Millions as Half a Dozen Aircraft Grounded [ET]
  • China-Pakistan Fiber Optic Line Activated for Commercial Use [ET]
  • Chinese Delegation Holds Talks on Agriculture and Housing Sector Investments [ET]
  • Government Considering Investment Incentives for SEZs [Dawn]
  • PM Launches New Health Card [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Force Withdrawals: In a CBS interview on Sunday, Pres. Trump said that he “want[s] to bring people home” from Afghanistan, saying that “we got to get out of these endless wars and bring our folks back home”. He also said that “I’ll leave intelligence there and if I see nests forming, I’ll do something about it”, and “we’ll come back if we have to”. In an AFP interview earlier on Friday, the Taliban’s spokesman said that “it appears that Trump is serious” about a troop withdrawal and “if the Americans take honest steps and stick to it truthfully, then God willing we are hopeful that the Americans will end the occupation of Afghanistan”. In a CNN interview, High Peace Council secretariat chief Umer Daudzai warned that if the U.S. withdrew troops from Afghanistan “in a matter that’s not orderly … if it happens that it leaves a vacuum behind, then obviously bloodshed would increase”.
  • Interior Ministry Leadership Shakeup: On Saturday, Pres. Ghani ordered the removal of three senior interior ministry officials, including Gen. Janan Barikzai, the first deputy minister; Gen. Akhtar Ibrahimi, the deputy minister for security, and Gen. Najib Aman, the head of the ministry’s counterterrorism department. Subsequently, National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib’s office announced that they would be replaced by Abdul Saboor Qane, Khoshal Sadat, and Mahir Yaqubi, respectively. [Khaama Press]
  • Raziq Asassination: Tadin Khan, who succeeded his brother Gen. Abdul Raziq as the Kandahar provincial police chief after the latter’s assassination last fall, met with a delegation led by senate first deputy chairman Mohammad Alam Izadyar on Saturday; he was quoted blaming “the regional intelligence” for Raziq’s assassination. [Khabarnama]
  • Sentences in Intercon Attack: On Monday, the attorney general’s office announced that eight people had been sentenced to prison sentences of up to 22 years on charges of conspiring in support of the Taliban attack on the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel last January; their identities were not released, however.
  • Attacks and Operations: Helmand provincial officials reported that five Taliban fighters, including a relative of the late commander Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, were killed in a US airstrike on Friday evening. The ministry of interior reported that 12 Taliban fighters were killed in air and ground operations in the Post-e-Koh and Khak-e-Safid districts in Farah province on Saturday. Afghan army officials in Balkh announced that they killed ten Taliban fighters in operations in the Chemtal district, which were carried out to reconnect a gas pipeline damaged earlier by the Taliban. Two ISIS fighters and three Taliban fighters were reportedly killed in a US airstrike in Nangarhar’s Khogyani district on Saturday. Ten civilians were reportedly killed in a clash with Taliban forces in the Darah Sof Payan district in Samangan on Sunday. [Khabarnama] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Moscow Conference: In a statement on Friday, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry said that the planned Russian conference on Afghanistan, which will reportedly be held in Moscow on Tuesday, “will not help us in reaching peace. We did not and do not see such meetings necessary and will not attend this meeting”. Initial reports indicated that the Russians did not invite government representatives to the attend the talks, instead reaching out to the Taliban and opposition politicians, including former Pres. Karzai, presidential candidate Hanif Atmar, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and others. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah appear to be unrepresented. Atmar said in a statement on Sunday that the talks would be “an important step towards the beginning of an inclusive intra-Afghan talks” and that he would “defend the Islamic Republic’s system, the values of the constitution and the health of our institutions”. In remarks on Monday, Abdullah said that “politicians are ignoring the government while they engage in talks with Taliban. This will increase Taliban’s stubbornness”, adding that the “Afghan government should be central to peace talks”. The Taliban confirmed its participation on Monday. In a statement on Sunday, the Russian foreign ministry attributed the event’s organization to “an Afghan community in Moscow” and said that “neither participation of Russian representatives nor representatives of any other foreign countries have been considered in this meeting”. Anonymous Afghan foreign ministry and Taliban sources ascribe the meeting’s planning to Russian special envoy Zamir Kabulov, however. [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khabarnama]
  • Peace Talks: Speaking at a ceremony on Saturday to honor Afghan special forces soldiers, Pres. Ghani said that “a peace which could not recognize the important role of the Afghan security and defense forces was not acceptable”; his remarks follow a video interview with Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, in which Stanikzai suggested that the Afghan national security forces were “made by the Americans” and “when the Americans leave, they will naturally finish”. Special Envoy Khalilzad visited London on Friday to attend a meeting of the ‘International Contact Group’ on Afghanistan, and to meet with UK officials. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Elections: Mohammad Hedayat, an advisor to second vice president Sarwar Danish, tells TOLO that the government is considering amendments to the electoral law in advance of presidential elections currently scheduled for July; he provided few details on the changes, but said they would include “employees of the commissions, structure of the commissions and the elections rules and procedures”. At a press conference on Sunday, the Independent Election Commission said that it would release a preliminary list of presidential election candidates within two days. Parliamentary election candidates continue to accuse the IEC of fraud and corruption in the announcement of the parliamentary election results. [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • CASA-1000 Construction Delayed Eight Months [TOLO]
  • Turkish Nationals Still In Police Custody After Crackdown on Schools [TOLO]
  • Turkey Considers Power Project Investment [TOLO]
  • Two Nangarhar Officials Arrested on Bribery Charges [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press]
  • RECCA Coordination Meeting Held in Kabul [Khabarnama]
  • ADB Transfers Afghan GeoPortal to Afghan Government [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: End the War in Afghanistan – “It is time to face the cruel truth that at best, the war is deadlocked, and at worst, it is hopeless.” [NYT Editorial Board]
  • Commentary: ‘Nothing is Agreed Until Everything is Agreed’: First Steps in Afghan Peace Negotiations – “All this may well result in an agreement that is more about US interests and less about Afghanistan itself. It is also clear from the nature of the ‘agreement’ – a draft framework identifying two topics that still need to be “fleshed out” – that this was only a first step on a very long way still to go even if there is buy-in from certain Afghan factions.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
  • Commentary: In Afghanistan, There is Renewed Hope for Peace; Why Did it Take 12 Years and More Than 1000,000 Killed? – “The reality is that the United States could have made a reasonable deal in 2006, or even earlier.” [Graeme Smith, Globe and Mail]
  • Commentary: It’s Time to Trust the Taliban – “The questions are whether such a power-sharing agreement could be reached between the existing Afghan state and the Taliban, and if it were reached, whether it would stick at least long enough for the United States to withdraw without humiliation.” [Anatol Lieven, Foreign Policy]
  • Commentary: The Afghan Peace Process Has Started; But Tough Choices are Still to Come – “The U.S.-Taliban draft framework is exactly the type of high-stakes diplomacy needed to end Afghanistan’s long war, or even just the U.S. period of that conflict, which is the longest war in U.S. history.” [James Schwemlein, CEIP]