- Senate elections began in Pakistan on Thursday; speaking a day prior, PTI leader Imran Khan threatened to dissolve the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly if party members failed to vote for the party’s candidates, an order that appears to have undercut efforts by Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak to negotiate an agreement with the PML-N and Quami Watan Party. Allegations of interference in voting in Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa temporarily delayed voting, which is still ongoing as of this writing. Pres. Mamnoon Hussain issued an executive order on Wednesday evening that removed extra votes previously awarded to national assembly members from FATA in the Senate elections, which are conducted indirectly by assembly members; FATA legislators protested and have filed legal challenges, suspending the polling for four senate seats allocated for the area. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, U.S. commander Gen. John Campbell suggested that he did not wish to draw U.S. forces below 5,500 until after the conclusion of the “fighting season” in September. Pres. Ghani has reportedly signed an executive order restoring provincial council oversight powers, but the decree has yet to be officially implemented, apparently because the parliamentary vote to strip those powers in January has also not been published yet in the official legal gazette. The new session of the Afghan parliament will open next Saturday; the Afghan government has yet to finalize new cabinet nominees to replace those rejected in January. The Supreme Court of Pakistan rejected an Election Commission schedule for local elections in Sindh and Punjab and gave them until today to submit a revised one, calling for the votes to take place no later than September 2015. The World Health Organization has extended travel restrictions on Pakistani nationals due to concern over the spread of polio for another three months.
Pakistan — Security
- Karachi Violence: The Karachi chapter general secretary of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Dr Fayyaz, was killed along with his driver by unidentified gunmen in a shooting on Wednesday evening. His shooting follows the attempted assassination of the chapter president, Aurangzaib Farooqui, last month. Meanwhile, the MQM mourned the death earlier in the day of Syed Ali Hasnanin Shah Bukhari, a Sindh High Court lawyer and member of the party’s legal committee; police said they had identified three of four suspects in Bukhari’s murder, and denied that it had sectarian connections. [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
- Counterterrorism Response: Dawn reports that military authorities have begun producing suspects before judicial magistrates staffing the new military courts system in Karachi for initial statements in their trials; no details have been released, however. Magistrates have yet to be appointed for courts in Malakand and Malir, but preparations have been finalized in other parts of the country, according to the head of the National Counter Terrorism Authority. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
- Baloch Activist Barred from Travel: Mama Baloch, leader of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons activist group, and two associates were barred from departing on a flight from Karachi to the U.S. on Wednesday, after Federal Investigation Agency authorities informed them that they had been placed on the Exit Control List for “anti-Pakistan activities”. Baloch was due to attend a conference in New York on alleged human rights abuses in Balochistan and Sindh; his companion had recently traveled and returned to Dubai without incident.
- Iran Seeks Militant Leader: On Wednesday, Iranian officials called for the extradition of Abdul Sattar Rigi, the Jaish al Adl militant leader reportedly arrested in Pakistan last week.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Senate Elections: The senate and national assembly were abruptly prorogued out of session on Wednesday, the first day of a new session, and then recalled again for Friday morning. President Mamnoon Hussain took the intervening opportunity to issue two executive ordinances Wednesday evening; one authorizes the Election Commission to proceed with local government elections in military cantonments, as pressed by the Supreme Court in hearings this week. The other withdraws previous ordinances from 2002 which gave national assembly members from the FATA four votes each in the Senate elections, which are conducted indirectly with the national and provincial assemblies as the electoral college. Assembly members from FATA have challenged the move at both the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court, and are expected to stage a walkout. Senate elections began on Thursday, but were temporarily suspended in the Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa assemblies after reports of rigging and interference by the respective ruling PML-N and PTI leadership. Voting on FATA seats have also been postponed. Polling resumed in the Punjab assembly after a brief delay and has been extended through 8:00 PM in Khyber Paktunkhwa. Speaking on Wednesday, PTI leader Imran Khan had warned that he would suspend Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly members or dissolve the assembly if PTI lawmakers failed to follow the party line and vote only for its senate candidates; his announcement appears to undercut efforts by Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak to form a voting alliance with the rival PML-N and Quami Watan Party. Party members are reportedly being asked to display their votes before casting them in the alleged rigging on Thursday. The PTI also sought the disqualification of party dissident Javed Nasim ahead of the senate vote. Two PPP candidates withdrew from the Khyber Paktunkhwa senate race a day prior to the vote. Dawn earlier reported dissension within the PML-N caucus in the Punjab assembly, and the possibility of some votes switching over to support the PPP’s sole candidate from the province, Nadeem Afzal Chan, who expressed optimism that he might win PML-N support. The PML-N hopes to win all 11 senate seats from Punjab through its strength in the provincial assembly. In Balochistan, federal minister Khawaja Saad Rafique failed to secure the withdrawal of Sana Jamali’s independent candidacy for a reserved women’s seat, which had the backing of her father, Balochistan assembly speaker Jan Muhammad Jamali. The PML-N’s preferred candidate, Parveen Kalsoom, switched parties from the BNP-Awami to win the party’s endorsement. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Reuters]
- Local Elections: The Supreme Court rejected an Election Commission of Pakistan schedule for local elections submitted on Wednesday, giving it until today to produce a revised schedule that the court indicated should result in elections in Sindh and Punjab no later than September 2015, four months earlier than planned for by the ECP. [Dawn]
- Sharif Visits Saudi Arabia: Prime Minister Sharif was received by King Salman and his cabinet at the Riyadh airport on Wednesday, where he has traveled for a three-day visit. Details of the two leaders’ discussions are limited aside from statements of bilateral friendship; the Express Tribune cites reports that suggest the Saudis are seeking Pakistani security deployments to provide security against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Energy Crisis: China’s ambassador to Pakistan expressed concern over the government’s apparent suspension of the Gadani coal power project during meetings with Prime Minsiter Sharif in February, the Epxress Tribune reports; previous reports had attributed the decision to halt the project to reduced Chinese interest in the project. [ET] [Dawn]
- Polio Crisis: A World Health Organization review committee announced yesterday that it would extend travel restrictions and vaccination requirements for Pakistani nationals traveling abroad for another three months, amid ongoing concerns over the spread of poliovirus from the country. A vaccination drive began in North Waziristan on Wednesday after earlier delays, the first such effort in ten years.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Defense Minister Accuses India of Disrupting Peace [ET]
- 26 Arrested in Peshawar Sweeps [ET]
- US Jury Convicts Pakistani Man Linked to Al Qaeda Shopping Mall Plot [Reuters]
- Public Accounts Committee Clears Illegal Hires During PPP Tenure [ET]
- Missing Sindhi Activist Freed After 11 Months [ET]
- Two Killed in Pakistan Air Force Training Crash [Dawn] [ET]
- Gas Pipeline Bombed in Dera Bugti [Dawn]
- Nine Policemen Acquitted in Sialkot Lynching Case [ET]
- Further Verification Efforts Ordered in Disputed NA-122 Constituency [ET] [Dawn]
- PTI National Assembly Member Charged with Fake Degree [Dawn] [ET]
- National Assembly Accepts Nabeel Gabol’s Resignation [Dawn]
- Credit Bureau Act Delayed Over ‘Glaring Flaws’ in State Bank of Pakistan Draft [ET]
- Commentary: A Corridor to a Closer Sino-Pakistani Alliance? – “Chinese influence in South and Central Asia is set to expand through the much-hyped China-Pakistan Economic Corridor just as the United States draws down its presence in the region.” [Raza Rumi, War on the Rocks]
Afghanistan — Security
- Force Drawdown Plans: Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, commander Gen. John Campbell suggested that he wanted to observe “a full fighting season — April through the late-September time frame — focused on train, advise and assist, plus our [counter-terrorism] mission” before producing full recommendations on altering the pace of U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan past the end of this year. Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House committee, expressed support for “some flexibility in the pace of the drawdown of the last 10,000 troops”. Under Secretary for Defense Policy Christine Wormuth confirmed that the administration was “actively discussing” a request from Pres. Ghani to slow the pace of the U.S. troop drawdown. In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Jalil Abbas Jillani, also suggested that a slowed timetable for withdrawal “would be viewed very positively in Pakistan”.
- Demining Efforts: The Mine Detection Center estimates that 80% of Afghan territory has been cleared of mines, and that it would take roughly eight years to clear the remaining 520 square kilometers of land. More than two million mines have been discovered and destroyed in demining operations in Afghanistan since 1989.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Provincial Council Disputes: Pajhwok reports that Pres. Ghani has signed an executive order restoring oversight powers to the provincial councils, but that it has yet to be issued, in part because parliament’s amendments to the law removing those powers, voted through in January, have not been published in the official legal gazette.
- Government Formation: Pres. Ghani will inaugurate a new session of parliament next Saturday; a revised list of cabinet nominees to replace those rejected by parliament has yet to be finalized, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Naeem Farahi acknowledged. Separately, Chief Executive Abdullah appointed Zahir Aghbar as his security advisor.
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Strikes in Herat Over Electricity Rates: A group of protestors identified as the Herat Peoples’ Council has called for a two-day strike over the recent increase in electricity tariff rates by the national power utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat; TOLO reporting indicates the group has been carrying out sit-ins over the issue for the past two weeks.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Dozens Killed, Information Limited in Ongoing Zabul Operation [TOLO] [Reuters]
- Commentary: Impunity and Silence: The Meager Reaction to the Latest HRW Report – “[The report] showed an extremely worrying new trend: that Afghanistan has entered a new era of human rights violations, and that a new generation of human rights violators has emerged since 2001.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
- Commentary: Photographer in Jail: An Example of Arbitrary Afghan Justice – “Musafer’s case demonstrates how arbitrary the decisions of court and prosecution can be and that Afghan law gives almost no protection or guidance as to what action is legal or illegal for photographers or their subjects.” [Kate Clark, AAN]