Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Hostages Killed in Errant January Drone Strikes; Ghani to Visit India Next Week

Topline

  • Pres. Obama disclosed on Thursday that Al Qaeda hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were inadvertently killed in a January 15 Predator drone strike in North Waziristan. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent deputy commander Ahmed Farouq was also killed in that strike, and Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn was killed in separate a January 19 strike; both are American nationals but do appear to have been targeted directly in the strikes. The MQM retained its hold on the NA-246 Karachi assembly seat during a special election held on Thursday, maintaining a roughly 70,000-vote margin of victory. Pres. Ghani will visit New Delhi next week, where Reuters suggests Indian officials are looking to “regain lost ground” in its relationship after rapprochement between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Details are minimal from Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif’s talks in Saudi Arabia. The EU extended its Afghanistan police support mission for two years in an agreement on Thursday.

Pakistan — Security

  • January Drone Strike Killed American and Italian Hostages: On Thursday, U.S. officials disclosed that a Predator drone strike carried out in Pakistan in January had inadvertently killed Warren Weinstein, a U.S. national kidnapped in Lahore in 2011 and held since by Al Qaeda, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian aid worker kidnapped in 2012. Pres. Obama issued a statement and held a brief press conference expressing “tremendous sorrow” over their deaths, and taking “full responsibility for these operations”. The NYT identifies the strike as having taken place on January 15, in the Shawal valley region of North Waziristan, and was a “signature strike” based on “pattern of life” assessments of the compound under surveillance, without positive confirmation of the targets’ identities; officials said a previous presidential announcement that those types of strikes would not be carried out after 2014 was not enforced. U.S. intelligence services only confirmed the two men’s death after several weeks of assessments. Weinstein’s wife issued a statement laying “ultimate responsibility” for his death on his kidnappers, but also expressing concern over “inconsistent” U.S. efforts to free him and criticizing Pakistan for failing to make his rescue a priority. Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that “having lost thousands of innocent civilians in the war against terrorism, Pakistan can fully understand this tragic loss and stands with the families of Weinstein and Lo Porto in this difficult time.” In addition to Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto, the January 15 strike killed Ahmed Farouq, identified as the deputy commander of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a dual Pakistan-U.S. national, and a separate January 19 strike killed Adam Gadahn, a U.S. national who had served as an Al Qaeda English-language spokesman. Neither man appears to have been intentionally targeted in the strikes, however. Criticism and scrutiny of the drone program and its limitations has heightened in the wake of Thursday’s disclosure; two separate White House reviews of the drone program are underway. [NYT] [WAPO] [BBC] [Guardian] [Reuters] [AJE] [WSJ] [AP] [Guardian]
  • Saudi Talks: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif held a day of “low-key” talks with Saudi officials in Riyadh on Thursday, the details of which are limited. Prime Minister Sharif is reported to have reiterated Pakistan’s support for Saudi Arabia, and to have called for a “political solution to the conflict in Yemen”. He also met with ousted Yemeni president Mansoor al Hadi; Chief of Army Staff Sharif and Defense Minister Khwaja Asif met separately with Saudi defense officials. On Friday, the prime minister departed for the UK for meetings with Prime Minister Cameron.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Retains Karachi Seat in NA-246 Election: Election officials announced official results for the NA-246 special election held on Thursday in Karachi, reporting that the MQM had held on to the seat after former national assembly member Nabeel Gabol quit the party, and following a high-profile challenge from the PTI for the seat, amidst crackdowns on the party by the paramilitary Rangers. Overall voter turnout was reported to be 36.72% of registered constituency voters; MQM candidate Kunwar Naveed Jamil took 95,644 votes to the PTI’s 24,821. The Jamaat-i-Islami came in third with 9,056 votes. PTI leaders indicated their acceptance of the results as the MQM celebrated their victory, although the JI attributed the MQM’s win to “forged voter lists and bias of polling staff”. Limited incidents of violence were reported during the vote, which was held under hreavy security. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Federalism Disputes: Finance Minister Dar met with the leaders of all parliamentary parties in Islamabad on Thursday, promising that Prime Minister Sharif would call a meeting upon his return from abroad to resolve complaints over the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor project and center-provincial tensions over revenue sharing in anticipation of the next National Financial Commission revenue-sharing formula negotiation. A committee to oversee the implementation of the 18th Amendment’s devolution of authority to the provincial governments has been reconstituted in the senate. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Nationwide power shortfalls have reportedly reached 3,000 megawatts, although Dawn notes that the government is no longer releasing public information on the issue. On Wednesday, the government officially separated the Central Power Purchasing Agency from the National Transmission and Dispatch Company, placing responsibility for settling payment dues on the CPPA. On Thursday, the government officially defined liquefied natural gas as a petroleum product, bypassing a requirement that its pricing be set through public hearing rather than through regulatory control. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Frontier Corps forms Peshawar Quick Response Force [ET]
  • Five Injured in Peshawar Bombing [Dawn]
  • FIA Ordered to Make Progress on Corruption Investigations [Dawn] [ET]
  • Chinese Investments Skirt Diamer Bhasha Dam Proposal [Bloomberg]
  • Judicial Commission on Election Complaints Seeks Responses from PML-N and MQM [Dawn] [ET]
  • President Hussain Meets Turkish Officials [ET]
  • Former Pres. Zardari Meets with Opposition Parties [ET]
  • Five ‘Industrial Estates’ Planned for FATA [ET]
  • FBR Seeks to Push Use of Credit Cards to Formalize Economic Transactions [ET] [ET]
  • Polio Vaccinators Complain of Two Months’ Unpaid Wages [ET]
  • Opponents Challenge Cybercrime Law [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Warren Weinstein and the Long Drone War – “The heavy reliance—in time, dollars, and bureaucratic priorities—on a technological panacea for the problem of terrorism can cause a government to lose sight of the people on the ground.” [Steve Coll, New Yorker]
  • Commentary: Happy to Play Second Fiddle – “In this story of Indian and Chinese investment in South and Central Asian countries, the United States is conspicuously missing in action.” [Michael Kugelman, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: Courting China with Care – “Let’s understand that we are being offered a historic opportunity, but let’s also tally up the costs and benefits clearly upfront, and keep our commitment to procedures and transparency as we move forward to take advantage of this opportunity.” [Khurram Hussain, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks: Sporadic rocket attacks were reported on several government compounds in Ghazni city on Friday, which had been announced as the official start to the Taliban’s annual spring offensive. No casualties have been reported.
  • EU Extends Police Mission: On Thursday, the European Union Mission in Afghanistan announced a two-year extension of its EUPOL police training and support mission.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Regional Relations: India will seek to “regain lost ground” in its relations with Afghanistan when Pres. Ghani visits New Delhi next week, Reuters analysis suggests, noting growing Indian concern over Chinese investment in Pakistan and Pakistani-Afghan rapprochement since Ghani’s inauguration. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan told a Faisalabad audience that Afghanistan would open a consulate in Lahore soon.
  • Government Formation: Pres. Ghani chaired the first full cabinet meeting of the national unity government on Thursday — minus the defense minister, who has yet to be named or confirmed, directing ministers to report back to him within the next three weeks on strategies for their first 100 days in office.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • New Plastic Chair Factory Could Mark Start of New Domestic Industry [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Hazaras in the Crosshairs? A Scrutiny of Recent Incidents – “With the possible exception of the Zabul mass abduction, [there is] little to back up a notion of a new trend of ethnic or ‘racial’ targeting, but the reporting points to how vulnerable many Hazaras feel.” [Qayoom Suroush, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Voting Underway in Karachi; Skepticism Over Daesh Claims in Jalalabad Attack

Topline

  • Voting is underway in Karachi for the NA-246 special election; the MQM has appealed for extended voting hours, while the PTI has praised the Rangers for securing the polls. Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Sharif arrived in Riyadh for talks with Saudi officials on the Yemen conflict. International and Afghan defense officials voice skepticism of the Daesh regional affiliate’s claim of responsibility for Saturday’s suicide bombing at a Kabul Bank branch in Jalalabad; Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah visited Jalalabad today to meet with victims of the attack. Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak and other PTI leaders joined other critics of the proposed re-routing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project through central Punjab. The Afghan parliament debated a special budget for Chief Executive Abdullah’s office on Wednesday but did not vote for lack of a quorum.

Pakistan — Security

  • Officials Arrive in Riyadh: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif arrived in Riyadh on Thursday, where they will hold talks with the Saudi king and other officials on the ongoing Yemen conflict. Anonymous officials tell Dawn that the parliamentary resolution of neutrality in the conflict “has a lot of room for interpretation”. Meanwhile, Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Mohammad Yousaf tells Dawn that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are holding talks on an exchange of religious scholars and preachers. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: Military officials issued a statement on Wednesday claiming to have killed 47 Taliban fighters in two days of airstrikes in Khyber’s Tirah valley area. On Tuesday, airstrikes in the Datta Khel region of North Waziristan reportedly killed 34 militants, including an unidentified commander. Militant attacks on multiple checkpoints in South Waziristan were reported on Tuesday evening.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karachi Votes: Voting is underway as of this writing in Karachi, where a special election is being held in the NA-246 national assembly constituency; 213 polling stations have been established for approximately 357,000 registered voters. Speaking to the press, Imran Khan and other PTI leaders praised the role of the Rangers in providing security, while the MQM has accused the paramilitary force of harassing its candidate and voters. The MQM has called for the extension of voting time past 5:00 pm, which the Election Commission has not yet approved. Three individuals have reportedly been arrested on accusations of attempting to cast multiple votes; thus far, reports of violence are minimal. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Election Complaints: On Wednesday, Election Commission officials submitted a report to the special judicial commission investigating election rigging charges, disputing PTI charges that the 2013 general elections had been systematically manipulated. The PTI has submitted a list of 13 witnesses it wishes to testify before the commission. Meanwhile, National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq agreed hear motions from the MQM and JUI-F challenging the eligibility of PTI legislators to return to parliament after their previous months-long boycott; debate is not expected to take place until after the July budget session, however. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: On Wednesday, Khyber Paktkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak joined other opposition politicians in protesting any route changes to the proposed Gwadar-Kasghar corridor route linking western China and southern Pakistan, accusing the government of marginalizing his province and Balochistan in negotiations with China over new infrastructure agreements. PTI Vice President Shah Mehmood Qureshi also protested the absence of provincial governments in the talks, with the exception of Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal tells the Express Tribune that government spending on the economic corridor projects in FY16 will total Rs 125-150 billion, which would be achieved by suspending work on unspecified “less important projects”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Weapons Charges Filed Against 16 MQM Activists [Dawn]
  • Pakistan and Iran Plan to Boost Trade [ET]
  • 900 MW Solar Plant Planned with Chinese Investment [Dawn] [ET]
  • Port Qasim Warns Against Use of Regasification Unit as Shipping Tanker [ET]
  • Preparations Continue for Cantonment Elections [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Security Tightened in Badin Amidst PPP Divisions [Dawn]
  • Suspect in Lahore Church Bombings Arrested [ET]
  • Two Prisoners Executed in Punjab [Dawn] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Considers Blood Money Loans to Convicts [Dawn]
  • Police Officers Rewarded for Performance During Islamabad Sit-Ins [Dawn]
  • Rehman Malik Cleared In 2004 Corruption Cases [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Doubts on Daesh Claim in Jalalabad Attack: Spokesmen for the international military coalition in Afghanistan and the Afghan defense ministry tell Reuters that they have seen no evidence to back up a claim of responsibility issued by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s regional affiliate in the wake of the past weekend’s suicide bombing attack on a Kabul Bank branch in Jalalabad. Sheikh Muslim Dost, identified as an ISIS spokesman in Afghanistan, tells the Daily Beast that the group did not in fact carry out the attack, as was claimed by the former TTP spokesman turned Khorasan Wilayat leader Shahidullah Shahid. On Thursday, Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah visited Jalalabad to attend a ceremony for the victims of the attack, vowing that “we won’t succumb to violence”. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks: At least seven Afghan border police were killed and three kidnapped in an attack on their outpost in the Bala Murghab district in Badghis; provincial officials report the outpost has been retaken by Afghan Special Forces. On Wednesday, seven civilians were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside mine in Nimroz province. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Appointments: A presidential spokesman denied that a final decision had been made on the appointment of a defense minister. Other cabinet members began work on Wednesday after their swearing-in; meanwhile, TOLO notes that provincial officials in 31 provinces are only serving in acting capacity.
  • Parliament Debates CEO Office: The Wolesi Jirga held debate on a proposed budget for the Chief Executive’s office, but with limited attendance by MPs, no vote was held. Shukria Barakzai, a Ghani ally and head of the electoral reforms commission, opposed the creation of a special budget for the office; Khaama Press reports that Jandad Spinghar, former executive director of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, may be named to replace Barakzai as head of the special commission.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Investigation Appointed in Charges of NSC Support for ISIS [TOLO]
  • Man Arrested in Connection to Farkhunda Murder [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Claim and Denial Over the Jalalabad Bombs – “On the face of it, the attacks in Jalalabad, with the exception of the attack on the shrine, fit the Afghan Taleban’s pattern of operations. If it had not been for the Daesh claim, no-one would have noticed anything extraordinary about them.” [Kate Clark and Borhan Osman, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM Leader Splits with Sindh Governor; Taliban Announced Spring Offensive

Topline

  • MQM leader Altaf Hussain split with Sindh governor Ishratul Ebad on Wednesday, accusing him of representing the “establishment” rather than the party; Hussain’s move comes just a day ahead of the NA-246 special election in Karachi, where competition between the MQM, PTI, and JI is high. The Afghan Taliban formally announced the start of their spring offensive, which they have named “Azm”, or “Resolve”. Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Sharif will visit Saudi Arabia tomorrow to discuss bilateral relations. A local Islamabad court acquitted Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi of a six-year old kidnapping case brought against him last December. Ghazni police report a rising number of abductions and beheadings of Hazara men by Taliban militants, who officials suggest are using increasing brutality against the minority group in order to compete with ISIS affiliated militants. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that his office was no longer seeking or receiving cash payments from Iran or the United States, ending a long-standing practice by his predecessor. Pakistani opposition politicians continue to accuse the PML-N government of bypassing marginalized regions of the country in planning the route of the prospective China-Pakistan economic corridor.

Pakistan — Security

  • Saudi Relations: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior military and civilian officials to review the situation in Yemen on Wednesday, following the announcement on Tuesday by Saudi officials that they were officially ending their four week-long air campaign there. The prime minister and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif will both visit Saudi Arabia on Thursday for a day-long visit to discuss the conflict and bilateral relations. [Dawn]
  • FATA Operations: Seven security personnel were injured in an attack on a checkpost in South Waziristan on Tuesday evening, and two were injured in a separate checkpost attack in Bajaur. On Wednesday, military spokesmen said that 22 militants had been killed in airstrikes in the Datta Khel region of North Waziristan.
  • Balochistan Operations: At least seven militant suspects and four soldiers were killed in separate clashes in Balochistan on Tuesday. Search operations continue in the wake of the Balochistan Republican Army attack on the Pasni radar station, with more personnel deployed to secure the site. [ET]
  • Lakvhi Acquitted in Kidnapping Case: On Tuesday, a Islamabad local court dismissed a six-year old kidnapping case that had been brought against Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi in December following an order releasing him on bail, citing the failure of the plaintiff to appear before the court and lack of evidence on the part of the prosecution. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Executions: Four more death row prisoners were executed at jails around the country on Wednesday, bringing the total to at least 95 since the resumption of capital punishment in December. The Post notes that at current pace, Pakistan is likely to be one of the “global leaders in state-sanctioned executions this year“, joining China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the United States. [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Leader Splits with Sindh Governor: On Wednesday, MQM leader Altaf Hussain told party supporters that he was disowning long-serving Sindh governor Ishrat ul Ebad, accusing him of being a representative of the “establishment” rather than the party, and suggesting that he had failed to stop raids on MQM headquarters and party offices. Hussain’s announcement comes just a day prior from the NA-246 special election in Karachi, where the party faces off against the PTI and JI amidst crackdowns and pressure from law enforcement in both Pakistan and the UK. Dawn profiles the NA-246 candidates — none of whom reside in the Azizabad constituency under contest — and conducts an in-depth feature on MQM and PTI party activists preparing for the vote. The Election Commission issued orders on Tuesday barring the use of cell phones in polling stations, and allowing the use of expired national ID cards as their voter IDs. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

Pakistan — Remainders

  • President Hussain to Visit Turkey [ET]
  • MQM and JUI-F Motion to De-Seat PTI Legislators [Dawn]
  • Former Sindh Home Minister Accuses Former Pres. Zardari of Laundering Money Through Model [Dawn]
  • PML-N Finalizes Cantonment Board Election Slates [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • India Seizes Heroin from Pakistani Fishing Boat [Dawn]
  • Report: Education and Attitudes in Pakistan – “Why do Pakistanis continue to hold a skewed assessment of the Taliban threat to their country? What underlies their attitudes toward the Taliban, the United States, India, and religious minorities? This report draws on author interviews and fieldwork undertaken in Punjab in 2013 and 2014 as well as on a detailed curriculum and textbook study to identify and trace the roots of these attitudes and suggest ways out of the dilemma for Pakistan’s policymakers.” [Madiha Afzal, USIP]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Announce ‘Spring Offensive’: On Wednesday, Taliban spokesmen officially announced the launch of their annual spring offensive, this year named “Azm”, or “Resolution”. The Taliban statement reiterated the group’s intention to target foreign and Afghan government targets, and made no mention of previously reported efforts by the government to engage in peace talks with the group. Anonymous government sources tell Pajhwok that the Afghan government is unsatisfied with Pakistani pledges to support reconciliation with the Taliban, and that a Pakistani suggestion to bring a delegation of Taliban representatives to Kabul for talks had stalled in the face of Afghan demands that Pakistan “first stop supporting the Taliban”. [Khaama Press]
  • Kidnappings: Ghazni police have reported at least ten Hazara men kidnapped in separate incidents had been found beheaded in the Ajristan district; legislator Shahgul Rezaye tells the NYT that “the Taliban are trying to send out a new message that they are similar in their brutality to ISIS”. 31 Hazara men kidnapped in February in Zabul remain missing. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Interior reported that 19 de-miners who had been abducted on Monday in Paktia had been freed after negotiations by local elders; the NDS issued a statement suggesting that they “were rescued” by Afghan intelligence officers and that the men had been kidnapped by the Haqqani network. [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks: Two people were killed and two injured in separate bombings in Nangarhar on Wednesday; in the Behsood district, deputy prosecutor Ghulam Haidar and his driver were killed in a roadside bombing, while in the Kama district two people, including a local police logistics officer, were wounded by a bomb planted on their vehicle. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Police Literacy: UNESCO officials report that around 60,000 Afghan police officers, or roughly 70% of the total force, are illiterate.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • No More Foreign Cash, Presidency Says: A spokesman for Pres. Ghani told the VOA on Wednesday that the president had not received or asked for funds from Iran during his recent visit to Tehran, or received them from any other source, reversing previous practices of the Karzai administration, which received regular cash payments from both sources. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Suspects in Fuel Contract Scandal Deny Wrongdoing [TOLO]
  • Afghanistan Tries to Strike Balance in Escalating Iran-Saudi Rivalry [Guardian]
  • New Zabul Police Chief Appointed [TOLO]
  • Interior Minister Orders Police to Tackle Internal Corruption [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Interior Offers Reward for Farkhunda Murder Suspects [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Xi Signs Economic Corridor Agreements; Afghan Cabinet Members Sworn In

Topline

  • Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping concluded his two-day visit to Pakistan with an address to parliament and the signature of 51 memorandums of understanding totaling $28 billion in investment agreements, most concentrated on loans to the power sector. The Pakistani government has approved the creation of a special security force devoted to protecting Chinese engineers working on the economic corridor project. The Balochistan Republic Army claimed responsibility for an attack on the Pasni radar station in Gwadar on Monday evening. Afghan cabinet ministers were sworn in on Tuesday, leaving the defense ministry the only vacant ministerial-level position; Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are reported to have reached an agreement on the nomination of Abdullah Habibi for the post. Afghan provincial officials and parliamentarians continue to express alarm at the alleged spread of Daesh in Afghanistan, with some accusing the government of complicity or support for the group. Prime Minister Sharif will reportedly depart for Saudi Arabi later this week in a bid to mend ties.

Pakistan — Security

  • Pasni Radar Attacked: A group of militants attacked an air traffic control radar in Pasni, in the Gwadar district of Balochistan, on Monday evening; Civil Aviation Authority officials reported that the attack was repelled without damage to the radar system, but that it has been temporarily shut down, disrupting air travel. The Balochistan Republic Army claimed responsibility for the attack; two Frontier Corps personnel were killed in subsequent search operations in the area on Tuesday. [ET]
  • Saudi Relations: Prime Minister Sharif will reportedly depart for Saudi Arabia later this week for meetings with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, cancelling earlier plans to visit Indonesia during, in a bid to “remove the misunderstandings” between the two countries over Pakistan’s neutrality resolution on the Yemen conflict.
  • Military Courts: On Tuesday, the federal government petitioned the Supreme Court to withdraw its stay order on executions approved by the new military court system last month, which the court issued as it hears challenges against the court system and other amendments to the constitutional structure. On Tuesday, 17 death row prisoners were executed at jail around the country, bringing the total to 75 since the withdrawal of the moratorium on capital punishment in Decemner. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Air Force Officer Detained on Espionage Charge: At hearing in the Islamabad High Court on Monday, Pakistan Air Force officials said that squadron leader Hassan Akhtar had been detained last November and held since without formal charge on espionage charges, the investigations of which they said was still ongoing. Akhtar’s wife had petitioned for his release; Air Force officials challenged the jurisdiction of the high court system to hear the case.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Xi Addresses Parliament, Signs Investment Agreements: Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping concluded his two-day visit to Pakistan on Tuesday with an address to parliament, during which he reiterated pledges of diplomatic solidarity between China and Pakistan. Xi also met separately with senior military officers and the heads of the country’s major political parties. On Monday, Xi and Prime Minister Sharif signed 51 memorandums of understanding, touting the new economic corridor project linking the two countries and a new civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement. Of the $28 billion in agreements, $22 billion was devoted to commercial loans from Chinese banks to the Pakistani power sector, for projects totaling 8,400 megawatts of generation by 2018. Most of the non-energy infrastructure funds are devoted to transportation infrastructure around the Karakorum Highway and Gwadar port. The AFP notes persistent security concerns for the corridor project in Balochistan; the Pakistani government has approved the creation of a special army security division of around 10,000 soldiers and special forces commandos devoted to protecting Chinese engineers working on economic corridor projects. [AJA] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Crackdown: In a statement on Monday, the Rangers warned residents to carry national ID cards at all times or risk detention, and on Tuesday issued a nine-day deadline to surrender illegally owned weapons. The Election Commission reviewed security measures for the NA-246 special election on Tuesday, which will be headed by the Rangers.
  • Elections: The Awami Muslim League and Pakistan Awami Tehreek have announced plans to form an alliance in the Rawalpindi cantonment local elections, voicing complaints that they had been marginalized by the PTI after earlier supporting the party’s sit-ins last fall. In Karachi, analysts suggest that the JI and PTI may draw from each others’ support base, giving the MQM an edge in the special election later this week. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • NADRA Submits Biometric Reports to Judicial Panel [Dawn]
  • PTI Vows to Block Cybercrime Bill [ET] [Dawn]
  • Senators Accuse Government of Slow Implementation of National Action Plan [Dawn]
  • PTI Activists Force Reopening of PESCO Grid Station in Peshawar [ET]
  • 185 Universities Operating without Higher Education Commission Authorization [Dawn]
  • NEPRA Approves 97MW Rental Power Project [Dawn]
  • World Bank Reports Only 8.7% of Pakistanis Hold Bank Accounts [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Faces Daunting Challenge Identifying Unvaccinated Children [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kidnapping Victims: The WSJ interviews family members of the 31 Hazara men kidnapped in Kabul in February, which local officials attribute to a former Taliban commander who switched allegiances to the more overtly sectarian Daesh. Speaking to Afghan students in Iran, Pres. Ghani defended the government’s response to the kidnappings, saying more than $6 million had been spent on operations to secure their release.
  • Islamic State in Afghanistan: Helmand provincial police officials claim that Taliban and Daesh forces are currently fighting each other in the Kajaki district. On Monday, parliamentarians and provincial officials traded charges that members of the National Security Council and provincial officials in Kunduz and Paktika had distributed arms and funds to families of Daesh members and other anti-government groups; little evidence was offered to substantiate those accusations. [TOLO]
  • Attacks: An explosion in Kandahar on Tuesday killed two civilians and wounded 21 other people, including eight police officers; TOLO reports that the blast was caused by a bombing, but Khaama Press reports that it took place at an explosives depot. On Monday, seven people were wounded in a bombing in the Kunduz provincial capital. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Cabinet Sworn In: Pres. Ghani officially swore in the 16 new cabinet members confirmed by parliament this weekend on Tuesday. On Monday, Wolesi Jirga second deputy Mohammad Nazeer Ahmadzai told TOLO that Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah had reached an agreement to appoint Abdullah Habibi as minister of defense, the last unfilled cabinet position; nominees for the Supreme Court and the attorney general’s office have also yet to be announced. [TOLO] [BBC]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Seeks Iranian Investments During Tehran Visit [TOLO] [Pajhwok]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Chinese President Arrives in Pakistan; ISIS Affiliate Claims Deadly Jalalabad Bombing

Topline

  • Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a two-day visit, where he is expected to sign a host of agreements on energy sector investments and infrastructure loans, which some reports suggest could total as much as $15 billion. At least 35 people were killed and scores more wounded in a suicide bombing at a bank branch in Jalalabad on Saturday; the regional affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, which other local militant groups have condemned. Pres. Ghani visited Badakhshan on Saturday to review security and hear local complaints in the wake of last week’s attack on Afghan National Army checkposts there. The MQM, PTI, and Jamaat-e-Islami staged campaign rallies in Karachi over the weekend, ahead of the special election scheduled for April 23; the Election Commission has rejected a Rangers proposal for biometric scanners at all polling stations, saying there was not enough time to implement the system. The Afghan parliament confirmed all 16 cabinet nominees in a vote on Saturday, leaving on the defense minister position unfilled. Tariq Mehboob, a Sunni Ittehad Council leader, died while in custody in Karachi on Saturday; his family alleges that he was tortured. Pres. Ghani visited Iran on Sunday for a two-day visit and meetings with senior Iranian officials; Afghan army chief of staff Sher Mohammad Karimi visited Pakistan on Saturday to attend a graduation ceremony at the Pakistan Military Academy. Pakistan’s petroleum minister reports that Russia is ready to provide $2 billion in financing for the construction of an LNG pipeline linking Karachi and Lahore, and that the deal will be finalized next month.

Pakistan — Security

  • Yemen Conflict: In an Express Tribune interview, visiting special advisor to the Saudi ministry for religious affairs Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al Amar avoids direct comment on the Pakistani parliamentary resolution on the Yemen conflict but says that “the kingdom’s expectations from Pakistan are very justifiable and rational”, and warns against “Iran’s expansionist designs”. On Monday, Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed led a conference in Peshawar devoted to the Yemen conflict, which he attributed to “the US and Jewish lobby”.
  • Indian Border Tensions: Pakistani military spokesmen accused India of unprovoked cross-border artillery fire along the Line of Control near Shakargarh on Sunday evening, which Pakistani forces returned; no casualties were reported. On Saturday, 47 Indian fishermen were arrested on charges of violating territorial waters. Speaking separately on Saturday, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz reiterated calls for India to resume foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: Farooq Zadran, identified as a key Haqqani network commander, was reportedly among six militants killed in operations in the Kurram Agency on Saturday. Another five militant fighters were reportedly killed in clashes with security forces in the Tirah Valley on Sunday. On Friday, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F met with tribal leaders from North Waziristan in Peshawar, where he announced plans to convene a jirga within two weeks to discuss the complaints of IDPs who say repatriation to cleared areas has been too slow.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Chinese President Visits: Pres. Xi Jinping arrived in Islamabad on Monday, beginning a two-day visit with meetings with Pres. Mamnoon Hussain and PM Sharif. Xi will address a joint session of parliament on Tuesday, and is expected to sign a number of investment and loan deals; reporting varies on the size of those agreements, which have not yet been announced as of this writing. Dawn quotes Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, speaking on Friday at an Islamabad seminar, that Xi would sign agreements totaling $50 billion — the highest figure yet reported — as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, which he said would comprise electricity infrastructure investments ($35-37 billion) and concessional loans for the construction of roads, ports, and railways ($8-9 billion). The Express Tribune quotes ministry officials who suggest that only around $15 billion in agreements will be signed during this trip – $10.5 billion in commercial agreements in the energy sector, and $4 billion in government-to-government infrastructure agreements. [AJE] [Reuters] [ET] [ET]
  • Rallies Ahead of Karachi Special Election: On Saturday, Election Commission of Pakistaofficials rejected a proposal by the paramilitary Rangers to install biometric scanners at all polling stations for the upcoming NA-246 special election, scheduled for April 23, saying there was insufficient time to introduce such a system. The ECP agreed to install CCTV cameras if provided by the provincial government. On Sunday, Imran Khan headlined a PTI rally in Karachi, vowing to “end the politics of fear in the city”; the PTI has alleged the creation of “ghost polling stations” and the seizure of national ID cards by the MQM in the runup to the vote. The MQM staged a mass rally in the same area a day prior; speaking by phone, leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain expressed confidence that the party would retain the seat, and denounced the PTI and JI as “branches of the Taliban and Al Qaeda”. On Friday, Hussain professed his resignation from party leadership in protest against “non-compliance” by senior party leaders, before withdrawing his resignation shortly afterwards. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haq also campaigned for the JI’s candidate on Friday and Saturday; PTI leaders have expressed hope that the party may yet withdraw in favor of the PTI.  [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Sunni Leader Dies in Custody: On Saturday, Tariq Mehboob, a leader of the Sunni Ittehad Council and the Anjuman Naujwanan-i-Islam — the youth wing of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan — died while in custody; he had been remanded to the custody of the paramilitary Rangers for 90 days two days prior on charges of sheltering gunmen involved in targeted killings. The Rangers maintain that Mehboob died in the Karachi Central Jail and not in their custody, and indicated that the cause of death was a heart attack, which Mehboob’s family members disputed; anonymous sources suggest signs of external bruising were discovered during autopsy. Protests demonstrations were held by the Sunni Ittehad Council in Karachi on Sunday. [ET]
  • Election Complaints: Dawn interviews Ishaq Khakwani, who heads the PTI task force testifying before the special judicial commission to investigate electoral fraud allegations; he suggests that “things are different now and I hope the ECP, the main culprit behind the rigging, will spill the beans before the commission”. Anonymous ECP officials tell the Express Tribune they are prepared to rebut the PTI charges, and suggest that most complaints of last-minute changes to polling procedures should be attributed to the actions of individual returning officers. Meanwhile, the Sindh High Court has sought responses from the government and Election Commission in response to a petition challenging local government constituency delimitation by the provincial government. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • LNG Import: Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi tells the Express Tribune that Russia has agreed to lend Pakistan $2 billion for the construction of a liquefied natural gas pipeline linking Karachi and Lahore, which will be constructed without bidding by a Russian firm. The agreement – which Abbasi said would be finalized next month – will set the stage for Pakistani imports of Russian LNG starting in 2016. Meanwhile, Dawn reports that Sui Southern Gas Company Ltd and Sui Northern Gas Company Ltd officials were effectively detained and threatened with removal from their positions to coerce them into signing a ministry of petroleum-negotiated agreement between the gas companies and Pakistan State Oil on responsibility for penalties owed to the Engro LNG import terminal at Port Qasim.
  • Polio Crisis: National Institute of Health officials tell Dawn that they are investigating 20 cases of suspected polio — thirteen from Khyber Paktunkhwa or FATA — which if confirmed would nearly double the national total record so far this year of 21 cases. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Government Considering Consolidating Control Over Energy Regulators [ET]
  •  Sindh Plans Terror Financing Crackdown [ET]
  • Sufi Muhammad Case Transferred to Mingora Sessions Court [ET]
  • Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Qadri Appeal [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Former Sindh Government Advisor Arrested on Kidnapping Charges [ET]
  • Dawn Marketing Director Killed in Karachi [Dawn] [ET]
  • Two Killed in Clash Between PTI and PPP in Rawalpindi Local Elections [ET]
  • PTI Divided on Local Body Election Tickets [Dawn]
  • Sindh Assembly Passes Bill to Require Security Measures at ‘Vulnerable Establishments’ [ET]
  • Current Deficit for First Nine Months Shrinks to $1.46 Billion [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Dozens Killed in Jalalabad Bombing Claimed by ISIS Affiliate: A suicide bomber detonated outside a Kabul Bank branch in Jalalabad on Saturday, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 125, all reportedly civilians queuing for salary payments from the bank. The attack was one of three explosions reported in city on Saturday, although at least two were controlled demolitions by Afghan police of explosives-rigged motorcycles and no further casualties were reported. The Taliban denied involvement in the attack, as did the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its affiliates Jamaat-ul Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Islami. Text messages sent to Afghan journalists on behalf of former TTP spokesman and ISIS convert Shahidullah Shahid, on behalf of the Wilayat Khorasan, the Islamic State’s regional affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attack. The veracity of that claim and the organizational linkages between the regional affiliate and ISIS remain unconfirmed. Pres. Ghani, however, attributed the attack to ISIS, condemning the incident. [Guardian] [AJE] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks: Pres. Ghani visited the Badakhshan provincial capital of Fayzabad on Saturday in the aftermath of last week’s attack on Afghan National Army outposts in the Jurm district, where he vowed to address public concerns over security. His trip follows a visit by Interior Minister Noorulhaq Uloomi on Friday, who praised security personnel and dismissed militants as weak and foreign-supported. Uloomi and the deputy chief of army staff and deputy director of the NDS testified before parliament on Sunday, where they vowed “no mercy” for anti-government forces. On Monday, Paktia officials report that 19 workers for a de-mining company were kidnapped on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Gardez. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Army Chief Visits Pakistan: Chief of general staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi visited a graduation ceremony for Pakistani soldiers at the Pakistan Military Academy on Saturday, where he reiterated calls for “noninterference in each country’s affairs and mutual respect” and called for “sincere, close, result-oriented cooperation and coordination” to defeat Pakistan and Afghanistan’s common enemies, who he described as “non-state actors” who seek to “grab power through terror and fear”. Karimi met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif to discuss cross-border cooperation after the ceremony; it is his second visit Pakistan in the past four months. [TOLO]
  • Police Oversight: A UN investigation has found that Afghan police inspector general officials has suppressed complaints of corruption and recommended their dismissal, Reuters reports; the is now investigating why the Law and Order Trust Fund of Afghanistan (LOTFA) has not previously distributed the report, initially prepared in January. Hakim Nejrabi, the head of the police inspector general’s office, dismissed the report as “a political character assassination”, and said he had investigated more than 50 cases and referred 22 for prosecution.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Cabinet Nominees Confirmed: After several weeks of review and hearings, on Saturday, the Wolesi Jirga voted to confirm all sixteen ministerial nominees under consideration; 239 members of parliament were present the vote and all ministers were cleared with a minimum of 120 votes. The ministry of defense remains vacant. [AJE] [AP]
  • Ghani Visits Tehran: Pres. Ghani arrived in Tehran on Sunday for a two-day visit, where he met with his counterpart Hassan Rouhani and with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Talks focused on counternarcotics cooperation and Afghan refugee repatriation, as well as cooperation on regional security. During a joint press conference on Sunday, Ghani pledged that he would “not allow Afghanistan’s soil to be used against other counties for insurgent or any other violent activities”. Both countries pledged cooperation and intelligence-sharing against the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries has complained that Iranian companies have been dumping iron goods, crippling the Afghan domestic market. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Zabul Protestors Continue Demonstrations for Hostages’ Release [TOLO]
  • Report: Justice Through the Eyes of Afghan Women: Cases of Violence Against Women Addressed Through Mediation and Court Adjudication – “While there is a legal framework in place for such cases, there remain many factors hindering access to justice and redress for such women, in particular the lack of available civil remedies.” [UNAMA (pdf)]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan (Almost) Has a Cabinet: MPs Confirm All Candidate Ministers – “In general, MPs endorsement does not necessarily mean they like what is on offer, as voting in favour or against often has as much to do with mood and timing and what messages MPs want to send the executive and the country.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: American Vice Principal Shot in Karachi; Blame Exchanged Over Northern Taliban Attacks

Topline

  • An American woman serving as a vice principal at the Karachi Jinnah Medical and Dental College was wounded in a shooting on Thursday; leaflets left at the scene claimed responsibility on behalf of the “Lions of the Islamic State”, although the authenticity of those claims has yet to be confirmed. Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping will visit Pakistan next week, where he is expected to sign infrastructure investment deals totaling $46 billion over the next fifteen years. Northern Afghan leaders accuse one another of failing to prevent recent attacks in Balkh and Badakhshan; governor Atta Mohammad Noor specifically accused the head of the NDS and Hezb-e-Islami members working in government of complicity in the Mazar-e-Sharif attack last week. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah remain deadlocked on a defense minister nominee. Pakistan may send naval vessels to contribute to the enforcement of a UN-backed arms embargo on Houthi fighters in Yemen, Dawn reports. Khyber Agency officials claim that the leader of the Pakistani Islamic State affiliate was killed in an IED explosion on Thursday. Pakistan’s national assembly committee on information technology passed a new cybercrime bill out of committee on Thursday, which critics maintain will increase state powers of censorship. Pakistan’s commerce minister announced reduced screening for Afghan cargo imported through Karachi, aimed at speeding up transit times.

Pakistan — Security

  • American Wounded in Karachi Shooting: Debar Lobo, an American national and long-time Karachi resident who had been serving as a vice principal and professor of community health at the Jinnah Medical and Dental College, was shot and wounded by four unidentified gunmen on Thursday. Doctors reported that Lobo was out of critical condition as of Friday. Leaflets found at the scene of the shooting threatened further attacks on Americans and claimed that the attack had been carried out by the “Lions of the Islamic State”, a previously unknown group. Police said they were still investigating the authenticity of the claim. [WSJ]
  • Yemen Conflict: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif returned from Saudi Arabia on Thursday to attend a meeting of senior civilian and military leaders chaired by Prime Minister Sharif. An official readout of the meeting indicated that the Pakistani delegation had conveyed that Pakistan “would fully participate and contribute to the implementation of the UNSC resolution” barring arms transfers to Houthi militia forces fighting in Yemen, without specifying how it would do so; Dawn reports that some Pakistan Navy vessels may be committed to the task. The government’s statement also “expressed its concerns over the reports of foreign support to the Houthis”, and reiterated calls for a resolution of the conflict through dialogue. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: Khyber Agency officials claim that Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a former TTP commander from Orakzai who has been identified as the chief of the Islamic State’s local affiliate, was killed while planting an improvised explosive device in the Tirah Valley on Thursday. There has been no confirmation from the group’s spokesman. Air strikes in the Orakzai Agency killed ten militant suspects on Thursday, military officials report. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Chinese President to Visit: Pres. Xi Jinping is expected to visit Pakistan on April 20 — the first visit by a Chinese head of state in nine years — where he will address a joint session of parliament and sign a slew of agreements on economic and security partnerships. Infrastructure investments as part of the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor totaling $46 billion over the next 15 years are expected to be signed, including the addition of 10,400 megawatts of electricity by 2018; a $4-5 billion submarine sale is also under negotiation. Although limited details have been reported, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman indicated that funding would not come from China’s new Asian Infrastructure Development Bank or special ‘Silk Road’ fund. [Reuters]
  • Committee Passes Cybercrime Bill: The National Assembly committee on information technology passed the Prevention of Electronics Crime Bill 2015 out of committee through a vote on Thursday, with five of the six opposition members on the committee absent. Critics describe the law as “draconian,” noting new restrictions on the transmission of “any false intelligence, likely to harm or intimidate reputation or privacy of a person” and barring “[taking] a picture of any person and display[ing] or [distributing it] without his consent or knowledge in a manner that harms a person.” The bill also apparently offers loose permission for the government to block any website “in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality”. [ET]
  • Elections: On Thursday, the Lahore High Court ruled that dual nationality holders could contest local government elections, and that restrictions only applied to national and provincial assembly elections. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, talks continue between the ANP, JUI-F, and PPP on slates for local government elections. The PTI has yet to begin issuing party tickets. Meanwhile, the PML-N has endorsed the Jamaat-e-Islami candidate in the NA-246 Karachi special election, who is facing off against the MQM and PTI. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Karachi Crackdown: Five men, including a Sunni Ittehad Council leader and three Karachi Metropolitan Corporation officials, were detained for 90 days of questioning by the Rangers on Thursday; all are accused of involvement in targeted killings, kidnapping, and extortion. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Kerry Conveys US Concerns Over Lakvhi Release to Sharif [Dawn]
  • Accountability Court Reopens Assets Investigation Against Former Pres. Zardari [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senate Strengthens Oversight Powers [Dawn]
  • Government Spent Rs 450 Million on Media Campaign During PTI-PAT Sit-Ins [ET]
  • Public Sector Development Program Cut Further to Cover Revenue Shortfall [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Says Kabul Visit ‘Very Fruitful’ [ET] [Dawn]
  • New Evidence in Investigation of Shafqat Hussain Case [Dawn] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Allegations of Complicity in Northern Attacks: Following earlier reports that the local battalion commander was absent at the time of last week’s attack on Afghan National Army outposts in Badakhshan’s Jurm district, Badakhshan police officials have accused a number of parliamentarians and provincial council members of providing “covert support” to Taliban fighters. Military officials add that several armored vehicles and heavy weapons were seized during the attack. Meanwhile, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor accused the head of the National Directorate of Security of failing to take action to stop the attack on the attorney general’s office in Mazar-e-Sharif last week, additionally blaming Hezb-e-Islami government employees of complicity in the incident.
  • Missing Defense Minister: Government critics continue complaints that divisions between Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah have stalled the selection of a defense minister, contributing to leadership vacancies as the peak fighting season approaches; Reuters reports that Abdullah is backing former deputy defense minister Atiqullah Baryalai for the post, to whom Ghani is reportedly strongly opposed.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Fuel Contract Investigations: TOLO, citing member of parliament Abdul Rahim Ayoubi, reports that 63 individuals, including former minister of finance Omar Zakhilwal, have been accused of involvement in the Afghan National Army fuel contract scandal; Ayoubi expresses public doubt that Zakhilwal will face serious prosecution, given his support for Pres. Ghani during the past presidential election campaign.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Transit Trade: On Thursday, Pakistani Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan announced that only 20% of Afghan cargo imported through Karachi would be subjected to scanning, rather than 100% as previously practiced, in an attempt to speed up cargo transit times and clear 90% of goods within the first day of arrival.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Four People Kidnapped in Ghazni [Khaama Press]
  • Farkhunda’s Family Upset Over Delays in Arrests [TOLO]
  • Electricity Shortage Forces Closure of Kandahar Factories [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Killings in Karachi Fall During First Quarter; Afghan Interior Minister Visits Badakhshan

Topline

  • Killings in Karachi have fallen during the first quarter of the year, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reportedly discussed the extradition of suspects in the Imran Farooq murder case with UK officials earlier this week, but sought reciprocal crackdowns on Balochistan separatists and Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists in London. Afghan Interior Minister Noorul Haq Uloomi visited Badakhshan on Thursday to review security issues following the recent attacks on ANA outposts in the Jurm district. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has postponed the implementation of death sentences issued by military courts earlier this month, and rescheduled its first hearings on challenges against the new military courts system for April 22. Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Sharif held discussions on the possible expansion of military operations in Balochistan in the wake of the weekend attack on laborers in Turbat. Afghan cabinet nominees awaiting confirmation continue to testify before parliament. Afghanistan and Pakistan will hold talks at the end of the month on a potential prisoner exchange agreement. The special judicial commission investigating election rigging allegations held its first session on Thursday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Death Sentences Stayed: Responding to a Supreme Court Bar Association petition, the Supreme Court agreed to temporarily suspend the execution of six prisoners convicted earlier this month under the military courts system, which the court is hearing a challenge against. Those hearings have been postponed until April 22. [Reuters] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Indian Border Tensions: Pakistani Rangers reported Wednesday that Indian forces carried out “unprovoked shelling” across the Line of Control, damaging several houses, and that Pakistani forces responded in kind. No casualties were otherwise reported. [ET]
  • Yemen Conflict: Pubjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Foreign Advisor Sartaj Aziz met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal in Jeddah on Wednesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry also backed the UN Security Council’s resolution on Wednesday imposing sanctions on the insurgent Houthi militia and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.
  • Balochistan Operations: Following Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif’s visit to Quetta on Wednesday, he met with Prime Minister Sharif to discuss security in Balochistan; the Express Tribune reports that the two leaders discussed the potential expansion of Operation Zarb-e-Azb into Balochistan to target insurgents there, following a weekend attack on laborers in Turbat that killed 20. An official readout of the meeting indicated that Pakistan would “mount pressure on Afghanistan to take action against safe havens of Baloch insurgents” in neighboring districts, charging the leader of the Baloch Liberation Army, which claimed responsibility for the attack, of sheltering in Afghanistan.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karachi Crackdown: Killings in Karachi over the last three months have fallen by more than 33% as compared to the same period last year, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported on Thursday; 532 people in all reportedly died during the January – March 2015 period. On Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan spoke by phone with Sindh governor Ishrat ul Ebad on the status of investigations into the 2010 murder of former MQM leader Imran Farooq, assuring him that the government was not deliberately targeting the MQM in its investigations. Anonymous sources claim that Chaudhry Nisar discussed the possible extradition of suspects in the Farooq murder case with UK ambassador Philip Barton, but sought “reciprocal cooperation” and a crackdown on Hizb ut Tahrir and Baloch separatists operating in London. Pakistan currently has no extradition treaty with the UK. Meanwhile, four MQM activists were arrested by the Rangers on Tuesday evening on charges of land theft and support for targeted killings. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Elections: Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah suggested that he had been briefed on the Rangers’ request for biometric and CCTV systems in the upcoming Karachi special election, and express concern about the short time available to prepare for such measures. The PTI has called for all ballot papers for the election to be printed outside of Karachi, claiming that the local offices of the Printing Corporation of Pakistan were staffed by their MQM rivals. Separately, the ANP has reportedly broken with the JUI-F and PPP alliance in the Khyber Paktunkhwa local elections in the Tank district. [ET] [ET]
  • Election Complaints: The judicial commission investigating charges of election rigging held its first hearings on Thursday, directing the Election Commission to submit a report within a week; the National Database and Registration Authority has been asked to submit its findings of 37 previous investigations within three days. Imran Khan submitted a statement before the commission, and was given a week’s time to submit additional information. Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq accepted an MQM petition seeking a vote on the PTI’s re-admittance to parliament despite their legislators’ earlier resignations and months-long absence from the house. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Privatization Plans: The Express Tribune reports that the government has dropped earlier plans seeking to revive and expand the long-struggling Pakistan Steel Mills and will instead move ahead with the privatization of the unit. PSM is currently operated at 50% of production capacity, which authorities are seeking to raise to 77% in anticipation of a sale.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Russia and Pakistan Agree on Joint Military Drills [ET]
  • Karachi Police Officer Killed [Dawn] [ET]
  • Kashmiri Leaders Rally in Muzaffarabad [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Tariff Rate Set for Nandipur Power Project [Dawn]
  • Sindh Power Utility Workers Strike Over Privatization Plans [Dawn]
  • Interview: Hamid Mir on the Attempt to Kill Him and What Came Next – “Frankly speaking, Geo is no more an independent news channel.” [Hamid Mir, Committee to Protect Journalists]

Afghanistan — Security

  • ANA Operations: Interior Minister Noorulhaq Uloomi visited Badakshan on Thursday to review security issues in the wake of the weekend’s attacks in the Jurm district; in interviews with TOLO, critics lay the blame for the attacks on leadership vacancies in the defense ministry and at the ANA corps level. Meanwhile, Afghan National Army commander Hamid Saifi reiterated claims that the two-month operations in Helmand’s Sangin district had successfully eliminated insurgents from the area.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Cabinet Confirmations: The nominees for the ministries of education, public works, transportation and civil aviation, and women’s affairs testified before parliament on Wednesday on their plans for their ministries. Abdul Bary Jahani, the nominee for minister of information, did not appear as scheduled after it emerged that he still held dual US-Afghan citizenship, which he is being given the option to renounce.
  • Pakistani Relations: The Pakistani delegation to Kabul headed by Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak met with Pres. Ghani on Wednesday, and with former Pres. Hamid Karzai. Khattak’s group also met with Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and with Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Syed Hussain Alemi Balkhi; the latter meeting included discussions on an agreement to hold two-day talks beginning April 30 to discuss a prisoner exchange program. [TOLO] [ET]
  • Russian Cooperation: National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar visited Moscow this week for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where he also signed cooperation agreements with Russia on counternarcotics programs.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • ‘No Guarantees’ of Hostage Release, Ghani Tells Zabul Families [TOLO]
  • Ismail Khan Warns of Daesh Expansion [TOLO]
  • 11-Year Old Killed in Paktika Rocket Attack [TOLO]
  • Local Police Commander Killed in Nangarhar [TOLO]
  • Taliban District Shadow Governor Arrested in Ghazni [Khaama Press]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Shahbaz Sharif Leads Delegation to Riyadh; Afghan MPs Blast Government Security Response

Topline

  • Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is heading a delegation to Riyadh today, for further talks with Saudi officials on the ongoing conflict in Yemen. MQM leader Altaf Hussain’s bail in a UK money laundering case was extended to July; meanwhile, investigations continue into the 2010 murder of former MQM leader Imran Farooq and the accusations of former MQM gunman Saulat Mirza. Afghan parliamentarians were sharply critical of the government’s response to recent attacks in Badakhshan, which security officials attributed to a spillover of foreign fighters displaced by Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan. UNHCR officials suggest that Pakistan’s end-of-the-year deadline for the repatriation of all registered Afghan refugees “will be difficult” but say they are seeking negotiate a process for return. Pakistan’s commerce minister visited Kabul on Tuesday, where he suggested that the Afghan-Pakistan transit trade agreement could not be extended to India until Pakistan-India trade relations are normalized.

Pakistan — Security

  • Delegation Departs for Saudi Arabia: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and senior foreign ministry officials departed for meetings with Saudi officials in Riyadh on Wednesday, during which they will reportedly reiterate Pakistan’s support for Saudi Arabia. Express Tribune sources suggest that Pakistan is willing to send troops to Saudi Arabia under a joint command, if not to Yemen, despite parliament’s resolution last week seeking neutrality in the Yemen conflict. Sec. Kerry spoke by phone with Prime Minister Sharif on Tuesday.
  • FATA Operations: The Mohmand Agency political agent and senior military officials held a jirga meeting with tribal leaders from the Khawazai and Baizai tribes on Tuesday, announcing that they would deploy paramilitary levies and khasadars to the Baizai tehsil near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, ending reliance on local militias to counter the Taliban.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Under Pressure: The NYT overviews the legal and political challenges facing the MQM, and the relative quiet in Karachi in response so far. London police extended bail for MQM leader Altaf Hussain through July 9, following five hours of questioning in connection to money laundering charges for which he was first arrested last summer. Hussain, who denies the charges, said afterwards that he “trust[s] the British judicial system” and that “party workers should remain peaceful during the course of investigation”. On Wednesday, UK police summoned Sarfaraz Merchant, who is co-accused with Hussain in the case, for further questioning. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that Pakistan was not planning to extradite suspects in the 2010 murder of Imran Farooq to British authorities, but would “coordinate and cooperate with Britain as much as we can”; he said the timing of his recent meetings with UK ambassador to Pakistan Philip Barton and Hussain’s bail hearing was “purely coincidental”. A joint investigation team has been formed to interrogate Moazzam Ali, a key suspect arrested earlier this week in connection with Farooq’s murder; a separate JIT has meanwhile begun questioning former MQM gunman Saulat Mirza on his allegations that the party had directed his activities. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Elections: The Sindh Rangers formally requested that the home ministry install biometric verification systems and video surveillance at all “sensitive” polling stations in the upcoming NA-246 special election, scheduled for April 23. Provincial election commission officials have questioned the Rangers’ authority to issue such guidance, which anonymous sources tell Dawn is unrealistic. Elsewhere, Prime Minister Sharif visited Gilgit ahead of assembly elections, announcing new development programs and the creation of four new administrative districts in the territory; the PTI denounced his trip as “pre-poll rigging”. [Dawn]
  • PPP Leaders Meet: PPP chairman Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari and former Pres. Zardari, met in Dubai on Tuesday, where party spokesmen quoted him professing “no differences between myself and my father”. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Quetta [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senior ANP Leader Senator Muhammad Azam Khan Hoti Succumbs to Cancer [Dawn] [ET]
  • Bomb Defused Outside ANP Leader’s Peshawar Home [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Test-Fires Ghauri Missile [Dawn] [ET]
  • National Accountability Bureau to Launch Fresh Investigations Against Former Prime Minister Ashraf’s Contract of Rental Power Project [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Conflict Shifting North: Interior Minister Noor ul Haq Uloomi told parliament on Tuesday that Pakistani military operations in Waziristan had forced fighters into Afghanistan, who were now trying to increase attacks in northern Afghanistan, which he said Afghan security forces were working to combat. Parliamentarians were sharply critical of the government’s response. Badakhshan provincial officials attribute the weekend attack on Afghan National Army posts there and the beheading of at least eight soldiers to foreign fighters. Reported casualty figures and estimates of the attacking force still vary widely; ANA sources tell TOLO they are still waiting for authorization to conduct a counterattack and that around 20 army posts are under Taliban control in the Jurm district. On Tuesday, an Afghan National Police post in Bamiyan’s Sheber district was attacked, leaving four soldiers wounded. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • Iran Proposes Joint Operations: Iran’s interior minister, Abdul Rez Rahimi Fazli, has reportedly proposed a “joint military operation against the insurgents to be conducted inside the Afghan and Pakistani territories” in response to recent attacks on the Iran-Pakistan border. An Afghan ministry of foreign affairs spokesman responded that “Afghan security forces are fully prepared to combat the terrorist groups, but the National Security Council and security officials can decide whether to conduct a joint trilateral military operation”.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Refugee Repatriation: UNCHR officials told reporters on Monday that they were still working to seek “to convince Pakistani authorities to open the door a little bit for the integration of a certain number of them (refugees), but they (Pakistani officials) say that is impossible and this is not an option”. Jacques Franquin, who heads the UNCHR Peshawar office, tells Dawn that the UN is not seek “extension after extension” for registered Afghan refugees, but was “negotiating with the authorities to allow refugees to return safely and with dignity after expiry of the last date,” currently set for the end of the year — a date which Franquin suggested “would be difficult”. In meetings with Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak, who led a delegation to Kabul on Tuesday, Chief Executive Abdullah stressed the need for kind treatment for Afghan refugees. The UN reports that around 965,000 Afghan refugees are registered in Khyber Paktunkhwa and FATA, and that 10,777 have returned to Afghanistan as of the end of March — compared to 6,394 people for all of 2014.
  • Ghani to Visit India: Pres. Ghani will reportedly make his first official visit to India since taking office last September at the end of this month; his wife, first lady Rula Ghani, arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday, where she met with India’s minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Transit Trade: Pakistani commerce minister Khurram Dastgir Khan arrived in Kabul on Tuesday for talks with his counterparts; speaking at a press conference, he said that an extension of the Afghan-Pakistan transit trade agreement to include India, as called for by Afghan officials, would first require the normalization of trade relations between India and Pakistan. Without giving a timeline, Dastgir said that “we are hoping that these tensions will dissipate, and the first step would be the normalization of trade between Pakistan and India, and once that happens, I think there will be no impediment in normalizing the old relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan through India.”

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Joint Polio Vaccination Program Between Pakistan and Afghanistan Proposed [Dawn]
  • Artisans Association Claim Agreement Reached on Tax Policy Changes [TOLO]
  • Taliban Deputy Shadow Governor for Balkh Detained in Kabul [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Former Afghan Spy Chief Dismisses Threat of Daesh Expansion into Afghanistan [RFE/RL]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Suspect Charged in Imran Farooq Murder; Soldiers Reportedly Beheaded in Badakhshan Attack

Topline

  • On Monday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced the arrest of a man charged with facilitating the killing of former MQM leader Imran Farooq in London in 2010; he was identified in the press as Moazzam Ali Khan, and was placed in 90-day custody by an anti-terrorism court on Tuesday. Meanwhile, MQM leader Altaf Hussain appeared before London police on Tuesday to seek an extension of his bail in a money-laundering case against him. On Monday, Prime Minister Sharif issued a statement “clarifying” parliament’s resolution on the Yemen crisis, in which he stressed continued support for Saudi Arabia. There are more reports of the attack on Afghan National Army outposts in Badakhshan’s Jurm district over the weekend, with at least eight soldiers reportedly beheaded and 18 killed; sources continue to dispute the exact casualty figures, however. The Islamabad High Court has given the court hearing charges against Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi two more months to finish its long-stalled proceedings. Afghan cabinet nominees continue to testify before parliament, a process expected to finish by the end of the week.

Pakistan — Security

  • Yemen Conflict: In a statement on Monday evening following parliament’s resolution calling for neutrality in the Yemen conflict last Friday and further meetings with senior civilian and military advisors, Prime Minister Sharif reiterated Pakistan’s support for its “strategic ally” Saudi Arabia, saying that “”Pakistan does not abandon friends and strategic partners, specially at a time when their security is under threat.” Sharif said that the parliamentary resolution had “strengthen[ed] the hands of the government for playing a positive and constructive role” and suggested that Gulf criticism of the resolution “was based on an apparent misinterpretation”. Sharif backed the restoration of Yemeni President Mansur Hadi’s government, and said that he had urged Iranian foreign minister Javed Zarif to push Houthi rebels to negotiate. Visiting Saudi minister for religious affairs Sheikh Saleh bin Abdul Aziz held no formal meetings with government officials on Monday save with his counterpart, Sardar Mohammad Yusuf, but met separately with leaders from the Deobandi community and JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Lakhvi Trial: On Monday, the Islamabad High Court ordered the anti-terrorism court hearing charges against Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi related to the 2008 Mumbai attacks to conclude its long-stalled hearings within two months. Government prosecutors have challenged Lakvhi’s bail in that trial, and filed a petition in the Supreme Court on Tuesday challenging the Lahore High Court’s ruling last week ordering his release. [ET]
  • Counterterrorism Operations: Karachi police report that they killed five militants linked to the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent affiliate during operations in the Orangi Town neighborhood on Monday, including the group’s Karachi commander and deputy commander. Bomb-making equipment and other materials were seized in the raid. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Under Pressure: On Monday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that the government had arrested the “primary suspect” in the 2010 murder in London of former MQM leader Imran Farooq. The suspect, identified by the press as Moazzam Ali Khan, was placed in Rangers custody for 90 days on Tuesday; his wife has challenged his arrest in the SIndh High Court. Chaudhry Nisar suggested that two suspects wanted for questioning by UK police, Mohsin Ali Syed and Muhammad Kashif Khan Kamran, who are believed to have been in security services’ custody, were low-level hit men and that the suspect was responsible for organizing their trip to London. He also said that information on the case was being shared with UK officials. On Tuesday, MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain appeared before London police to testify in a money laundering investigation against him and seek a renewal of his bail application; Hussain’s testimony is ongoing as of this writing. Meanwhile, two MQM activists arrested during raids on party headquarters last month were linked by eyewitnesses to the murder of two police officers in 2000; another accused MQM gunman, Faisal Mehmood, has challenged a death sentence issued in connection to the 2011 killing of Geo News journalist Wali Babar Khan. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Election Complaints: On Tuesday, Prime Minister Sharif appointed a task force to work with the new judicial commission formed to investigate allegations of election rigging during the 2013 parliament polls. The Islamabad High Court dismissed a petition seeking the disqualification of PTI legislators who submitted resignations from the national assemblies, saying responsibility lay with the speaker of the house to determine the validity of those resignations, which were never formally accepted. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Electricity generation shortfalls – in part due to maintenance and breakdowns at a number of power generation plans, as well as financial disputes in some cases – have forced supply managers to cut power to urban areas for more than six hours at a time, violating a directive from the prime minister to minimize loadshedding. Rural areas are reportedly facing thirteen-hour outages. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Two Soldiers Killed in North Waziristan Bombing; Air Operations in Orakzai Kill Five [Dawn] [ET]
  • 25 Million Unverified SIM Cards Blocked [Dawn]
  • Priorities Committee Begins Meeting to Determine Budget Allocations [ET] [Dawn]
  • MQM and JI Form Alliance for Peshawar Cantonment Polls [ET]
  • Supreme Court Dismisses Drone Strike Petition [Dawn]
  • Seminary Boards ‘Undecided’ on New Registration Push [Dawn]
  • Witnesses Summoned in Benazir Murder Case [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Badakhshan Attack: More reporting on attacks against Afghan National Army outposts in Badakhshan’s Jurm district indicates that at least 18 Afghan police and soldiers were killed, with ten more still missing, although casualty figures continue to be disputed and information is limited. Several soldiers were reportedly taken hostage, with some reportedly freed through the intervention of local elders. Provincial officials report that eight of the casualties were beheaded by attackers. Afghan National Army sources claim that the attackers raised Daesh flags after seizing an outpost, and report the attack was carried out by a large mass of fighters, including foreign fighters; the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack. Parliamentarians castigated the government for neglecting the country’s security; Chief of Army Staff General Mohammad Karimi noted the absence of the unit’s commander at the time of attack. [AFP] [BBC]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Cabinet Confirmations: The nominees for minister of agriculture, energy and water, economy, commerce and industry, and communications and information technology testified before parliament on Monday about their plans for their ministries. Five of the sixteen nominees under consideration have yet to present before parliament, and are expected to do so by the end of the week.
  • Karzai Visits Kandahar: Former Pres. Karzai made his first visit to Kandahar since leaving the presidency on Monday, where he praised the national unity government’s peace efforts, and spoke positively about improved security and development in the province.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Two Civilians Killed in Kabul Shooting [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Critics Call for Alternatives to Pakistani Trade Routes [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • NSC Briefs Families of Zabul Hostages [TOLO]
  • Report: Afghanistan Research Newsletter – “The aim, as in the past, is to provide information on recent papers and resources relevant for research on Afghanistan, be it for improving policy, improving programming or providing context and background for individuals and institutions working in and for Afghanistan.” [AREU]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Yemen Neutrality Resolution Draws Gulf Criticism; Slight Fall Reported in Civilian Casualties

Topline

  • Saudi officials visited Islamabad on Sunday for further talks on the Yemen crisis, following parliament’s resolution on Friday calling for neutrality in the conflict. The UAE’s foreign minister condemned the resolution, warning of “high costs”. A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah rejected Pres. Ghani’s formation of a special commission to consider electoral reforms last month, saying that the commission had not be formed in accordance with the national unity government agreement. The MQM, PTI, and Jamaat-e-Islami continue to clash ahead of special elections in Karachi scheduled for next week. The UN reported that overall civilian casualties declined slightly in the first quarter of 2015 as compared to the previous year, but that casualties from ground clashes between the ANSF and Taliban rose 8%. Five Afghan staff of the charity Save the Children were found dead after being abducted in Uruzgan in early March; the group has suspended operations in the province. The Balochistan Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the killing of twenty laborers at a construction camp in the Turbat district on Saturday; the Frontier Corps claims to have killed 13 militants, some linked to the attack, in subsequent search operations. Four militant suspects were killed in a Predator drone strike in South Waziristan on Sunday. Afghanistan’s parliament is expected to conclude scrutiny on cabinet nominees at the start of this week. Multiple complications have been reported in connection to the initial import of liquefied natural gas from Qatar, stalling a second shipment. The sale of Pakistani government shares of Habib Bank Limited has garnered $1.2 billion in offers, Privatization Commission officials report. Afghanistan’s minister of mines tells Reuters that China has sought to lower its royalty rate on the stalled Mes Aynak copper mine.

Pakistan — Security

  • Yemen Crisis: UAE minister for foreign affairs Anwar Mohammad Gargash condemned the Pakistani parliament’s resolution on Friday to “maintain neutrality” in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, describing the resolution as “dangerous and unexpected” and warning that “contradictory and equivocal positions have a high cost in this crucial affair.” Pakistan’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Gargash’s remarks; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan hit back on Sunday, saying that “this statement of an Emirati minister is equal to an offence against the ego of Pakistan and its people and is unacceptable.” Dawn reports that the PTI and PPP opposition parties were the source of “significant changes” to the parliamentary resolution before its passage, removing language that explicitly affirmed support for exiled Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as the country’s legitimate head of government. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif chaired a meet of corps commanders on Friday that included discussions on the Yemen conflict; details are minimal. Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat leaders denounced parliament’s resolution and pledged support for Saudi Arabia at a rally in Islamabad on Sunday. On Sunday, Saudi minister for religious affairs Sheikh Saleh bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Islamabad heading a delegation to hold talks on bilateral relations and the Yemen conflict, following Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif’s visit last week; Abdul Aziz said that the parliamentary resolution was Pakistan’s own internal issue, but that “his country expects better from Pakistan.” Prime Minister Sharif will meet with senior civilian and military leaders Monday afternoon and will issue a statement later this evening. [NYT] [Reuters] [Khaleej Times] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Baloch Separatists Kill Laborers: Twenty laborers were killed and four wounded in a drive-by shooting at a construction camp in the Turbat district in Balochistan on Saturday evening; some local police tell the NYT that all of those killed were of Sindhi origin, while the WSJ reports most were Punjabi. Balochistan home minister Sarfaraz Bugti accused Indian intelligence agencies of sponsoring the attack, which was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Front. Frontier Corps personnel said Monday that they had killed 13 BLF militants in operations in the Kech district, allegedly including some of the Turbat attackers; police have registered cases against the BLF’s leader, Dr. Allah Nazar. [Reuters] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Lakvhi Release: A spokesman for India’s home ministry said Friday that Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi’s release last week was “an insult to the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai attack”, and India’s ambassador to Pakistan formally protested the release order in a meeting with Pakistan’s foreign secretary, saying that it had “reinforced the perception that Pakistan has a dual policy on dealing with terrorists and those who have carried out attacks or are posing a threat to India are being dealt with differently”. Pakistan’s foreign ministry laid the onus on India, saying that “inordinate delay in extending cooperation by India complicated the case and weakened the prosecution’s case”. The U.S. State Department said that it was “gravely concerned” by Lakhvi’s release.
  • Predator Strike: Four militant suspects were killed in a Predator drone strike near the Shawal region of South Waziristan on Sunday; unidentified sources tell Dawn that all are affiliated with the breakaway Sajna faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Separately, the NYT reviews the case of Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, a U.S. citizen who was charged in federal court for allegedly serving as an Al Qaeda planner for external operations; he was previously considered a possible target for extrajudicial targeting through the drone program, but was arrested by Pakistani security forces last year and transferred to U.S. custody.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karachi Tensions Rise Ahead of By-Election: Jamaat-e-Islami and MQM party activists clashed in Karachi’s Liaqatabad neighborhood on Friday evening at a JI campaign rally; the JI laid blame on the MQM for instigating the incident, and rallied again on Sunday. On Sunday, paramilitary Rangers conducted a brief search of MQM offices in the Azizabad neighborhood, the site of the special election scheduled for April 23. Court proceedings continue against MQM-affiliated suspects linked to murder charges. On Saturday, the PTI announced that it would not hold a rally on April 19 at Jinnah Ground in Azizabad and would instead rally elsewhere, reversing an announcement made the day prior. Earlier on Saturday MQM leader Altaf Hussain called for an end to conflict between his party and the PTI, again saying he would welcome the PTI’s rally in Karachi. Meanwhile, dissident former PTI president Javed Hashmi suggested that “the forces looking to find a solution to Karachi’s problems are once again using the PTI” to influence the outcome of the upcoming special election. Nabeel Gabol, whose resignation from his seat and the party prompted the election, visited the Lyari neighborhood on Saturday, saying that he would “not join any party without the consent of Lyari people”. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Election Complaints: The PTI has appointed Ishaq Khan Khakwani to head a party team presenting arguments before the judicial commission tasked with investigating charges of election rigging during the 2013 parliamentary elections; lawyer Abdul Hafeez Pirzada will represent the party before the commission. On Friday, the PTI formally requested that the National Database and Registration Authority submit all of its investigations into voting irregularities to the commission. Meanwhile, former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has written to national assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, requesting that he disqualify PTI legislators from returning to parliament; the PTI, and PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah, rebuffed Chaudhry’s argument. Elsewhere, the Sindh High Court has granted the Election Commission a two week extension to respond to a petition challenging the return of PTI members to the Sindh assembly. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Chinese President’s Visit: Anonymous sources tell the Express Tribune that Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping will visit Pakistan between April 19-20; the report follows several previous reports of Xi’s imminent visit, which have not been borne out. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • LNG Import: Dawn reports that Qatar has declined to send a second shipment of liquefied natural gas as Pakistani regulators and energy sector companies are struggling to resolve issues with the first shipment last month. Among other problems, reports indicate that Qatari ships require further dredging of the Port Qasim facility, and that Pakistan State Oil has requested that the import terminal dispatch the ship used to reconvert LNG to gas to the Middle East to carry the next cargo, interrupting the re-gasification process. Pricing on the LNG will reportedly reach $14 per million cubic feet once it reaches a power plant, higher than furnace oil.
  • HBL Privatization: Privatization commission chairman Mohammad Zubair reported on Friday that the federal government had received $1.2 billion in offers for the remainder of its stake in Habib Bank Limited.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Splits Keep Bilalwal Bhutto Out of Party Politics [Dawn]
  • Number of MPs Reporting Income Tax Payments Rises From 2013, But Most Minimal [Dawn]
  • Mumtaz Qadri Appeals Death Sentence at Supreme Court [Dawn]
  • Sindh Assembly Mandates Mental Assessment for Blasphemy Cases [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Police Claim 100% Conviction Rate [Dawn]
  • SIM Verification Deadline Ends Sunday [Dawn]
  • PTI Election Tribunal ‘Summons’ Imran Khan [Dawn]
  • Senate Chairman Marks Constitution Day [Dawn] [ET]
  • PPP Considering Party Reshuffle in Azad Jammu and Kashmir [ET]
  • Two Polio Cases Reported Despite Vaccination [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Overseas Remittances Rise 15% to $1.3 Billion in First Nine Months [Dawn]
  • Rs 125 Billion in Development Spending Approved, Including Laptop Grant Program [Dawn]
  • Tariff Rate Approved for Kohala Hydropower Project [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Sharif and the Saudis – “Depending on which side of the fence you are, the government either passed the buck to parliament or the N-League used parliament as a shield.” [Cyril Almeida, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: UN Special Representative Nicholas Haysom announced on Sunday that UN-reported civilian casualties had fallen slightly to 655 deaths and 1,155 injuries during the first quarter of 2015, as compared to the same period a year prior. Casualties from Afghan government and Taliban ground clashes rose 8%, however, forming the leading cause of death. [TOLO]
  • Aid Workers Killed in Uruzgan: The bodies of five Afghan national staff of the charity Save the Children were found in Uruzgan’s Chanarto district on Saturday; they had been kidnapped in the provincial capital of Tirin Kot in early March. The provincial government laid blame on the Taliban for the kidnapping and killings, saying they had sought the release of Taliban prisoners in earlier negotiations; no claim of responsibility has been reported, however. Save the Children announced an indefinite halt to its operations in Urzugan on Sunday. [TOLO]
  • ANSF Operations: Sangin district residents, including multiple Afghan local police commanders, tell the WSJ that the Afghan army’s recently-concluded Operation Zulfiqar ended without permanently displacing the Taliban from the area, and that civilian casualties and displacement are higher than acknowledged by the army. There are separate reports of Taliban attacks on army checkposts in Badakshan’s Jurm district beginning Friday; at least twenty soldiers were reported killed, although details are limited and casualty reports vary widely. [Khaama Press] [AP]
  • Other Attacks: Three civilians were injured when a suicide car bomber targeted a passing NATO convoy in Kabul on Friday afternoon. A bomb detonated near a passing police vehicle in Parwan province’s Sayagerd district on Saturday, injuring at least 11 people, including three police officers. Also on Saturday, unidentified gunmen killed the Wardak provincial finance manager, Pir Mohammad Kochi; no claim of responsibility was reported. On Sunday, two civilians were killed and five injured in a rocket attack in Paktia’s Ahmadkhil district amidst a clash between Taliban and Afghan forces. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reform Disputes: A spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah said Saturday that Pres. Ghani’s appointment of the special commission to consider electoral reforms last month had been made in violation of the terms of the national unity government agreement and that the appropriate commission “had not been formed yet”; Abdullah has reportedly objected to chairwoman Shukria Barekzai, who rebuffed his demand for her resignation. Meanwhile, Senate chairman Fazel Haidi Muslimyar said that the commission itself was a violation of the constitution.
  • Cabinet Nominee Scrutiny: Members of parliament said Friday that scrutiny of the sixteen ministerial nominees will likely conclude at the start of this week; on Saturday, the three female cabinet nominees, Nasreen Oyakhail (Ministry of Labore), Fareeda Mohmand (Ministry of Higher Education), and Salamat Azimi (Ministry of Counternarcotics) appeared before parliament for confirmation hearings.
  • Defense Fuel Contract Scandal: Officials at the Fuel Importing Companies Organization tell TOLO that the consortium of fuel companies found to have colluded to charge higher prices on an Afghan National Army supply contract had in fact inflated costs by as much as $200 million, not $100 million as originally reported, based on comparisons with Ministry of Interior supply contracts. Other fuel importers allege that police coerced them from submitting competing bids. Pres. Ghani’s spokesman said that the president was reviewing reports on the scandal and would take action.
  • Pakistani Cooperation: Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, told a conference in Islamabad on Friday that Afghanistan and Pakistan were conducting “unprecedented” military-to-military, intelligence, and political cooperation. TOLO quotes Chaudhary telling the audience that “Afghanistan has an elected government and Taliban must reach an agreement with the National Unity Government leaders. Our message to Afghan Taliban is that Pakistan is not a safe haven for them and also, Pakistani soil cannot be used to destabiize Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Mes Aynak Mine Stalled: In a Reuters interview, Afghan minister of mines Daud Saba says that China and Afghanistan remain deadlocked despite efforts by Pres. Ghani to raise the issue of stalled work on the Mes Aynak copper mine during his visit to Bejing last fall. Chinese officials reportedly requested that the royalty rate on the mine be halved, to about 10%, which would reduce revenue by around $114 million at current prices if the mine began operating at its initial capacity. Work on the project has stalled since last year, when the China Metallurgical Group Corp. withdrew its engineers in the face of increased insurgent threats and archeological finds near the site of the mine.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Attorney General’s Office Seeks More Time as Arrests Continue in Farkhunda Lynching [TOLO] [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
  • Chamber of Commerce Demands Tax Reforms, Objects to Afghanistan-Tajikistan-Pakistan Transit Agreement [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Six Suspects Arrested in Connection to Khost Suicide Bombing [Khaama Press]
  • Prosecutors Cite Threats In Response to Government Direction to Resolve Provincial Complaints [TOLO]
  • 91 Boys Hospitalized After Alleged Poisoning at Herat High School [TOLO]
  • Low-Level Taliban Defector Permitted to Stay in UK on Human Rights Grounds [Khaama Press]
  • Profile: Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor Builds Power Base [WAPO]