- Government representatives are expected to hold direct dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban next week, but Pakistani defense officials say they are still prepared for launch a full military offensive in the event that the TTP’s ceasefire is broken. Afghan air and logistics support operations at the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan have halted, shifting to Romania. The PML-N and PPP have reportedly neared agreement on a new Chief Election Commissioner appointment. Drought in Sindh’s Thar district has killed as many as 121 people over the past three months. Pakistan has revised its annual tax collection target downward to Rs 2.345 trillion.
Pakistan — Security
- Operation Still Under Consideration as Talks Resume: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told parliament on Thursday that the government would hold direct dialogue within the next week with “those [Taliban factions] who want peace”. PPP leaders in the Senate reiterated their opposition to a direct role for military officials in the negotiations process. The army corps commanders met in Rawalpindi on Friday to discuss the negotiations process and the ceasefire agreement reached with the TTP at the start of the week; sources tell Dawn that the officials agreed to continue airstrikes against militant targets in the event that attacks on military installations continue. In a Reuters interview, Defense Minister Khawja Asif said that in the event of a breakdown in the ceasefire, a full-scale military operation could be carried out in North Waziristan in March, adding that the TTP’s recent disavowals of responsibility for attacks carried out by militant splinter groups since the ceasefire were not credible. [The Nation] [ET]
- Islamabad Court Attack: Speaking to parliament on Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reported that Judge Rafaqat Ahmed Khan Awan, one of the victims of Monday’s attack on an Islamabad courthouse claimed by Ansarul Mujahadeen, had in fact been killed by accidental gunfire from one of his guards. The guard has been placed in police custody. The Express Tribune notes that new CCTV cameras and metal detectors put in place in the wake of the attack lack power, requiring continued use of security pat-downs.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- New Chief Election Commissioner Under Consideration: Informal talks between the PML-N and PPP have reportedly settled upon retired Supreme Court judge Rana Bhagwandas as the new chief election commissioner; the post has been vacant since the retirement of Fakhruddin Ibrahim in July 2013. [Dawn] [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Thar Drought: Medical officials in Sindh’s Thar district report that as many as 121 people have died due to drought conditions and malnutrition over the past three months, many of them children. Following the reports, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah vowed to provide compensation for families whose children had died, and ordered investigations.
- Tax Revenues: Finance Minister Dar acknowledged on Thursday that the annual tax target has been revised downward from Rs 2.475 trillion to Rs 2.345 trillion, in line with previous IMF projections.
- Privatization Plans: Speaking to reporters in Lahore on Friday, Privatization Commission Chairman Muhammad Zubair said that a minimum amount of workers would be laid off as a result of state-owned enterprise privatization, suggesting that “excess employees will either be given benefits, reshuffled to other organisations or we will provide them an opportunity to work in Qatar or Dubai due to the increasing employment opportunities there due to the World Cup and Expo 2020”. [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Over 1,700 Killed in Sectarian Violence Since 2008, Interior Ministry Reports [Dawn]
- Foreign Ministry Discusses Efforts to Strengthen Defense Ties with Saudi Arabia and China [Dawn]
- Anti-Terrorism Court Hearings on Musharraf Judges Detention Delayed Until March 21 [Dawn] [Dawn]
- BISP to Shift Focus to Provide Vocational Training to Baloch Youth [ET]
Afghanistan — Security
- Manas Airbase Closes: The Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, the central logistics hub for U.S. forces traveling into Afghanistan, has halted its fuel resupply and airlift operations and officials are now in the process of decommissioning the base, ahead of a July deadline for its closure. Manas will be leased to Russian forces beginning in 2017. Air support operations are now based out of Forward Operating Site Mihail Kogalniceanu, in Constanta, Romania.
- Helmand Bombing: Five people were killed and eight wounded when a motorcycle bomb detonated in a marketplace in Marjah, Helmand, on Friday; no claim of responsibility was reported.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Former Afghan Translators for Germany Fear Attacks [AP]
- Polling Officials Reiterate Warnings Against Government Interference in Campaigns [Pajhwok]
- President Karzai’s Wife Gives Birth to Daughter in Gurgaon Hospital [Hindustan Times]
- Commentary: ‘Pen’ Joins ‘Radio’: Qayyum Karzai Gives His Support to Zalmay Rassoul – “The announcement of the alliance was dressed up in abstract nouns masquerading as ‘shared’ policy objectives, but this was clearly actually about increasing the chances of getting a Karzai loyalist as the next president.” [Thomas Ruttig and Kate Clark, AAN]