Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Senate Elections Held in Pakistan; Campbell Testifies on Drawdown

Topline

  • 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]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Indian Foreign Secretary Concludes Visit; SIGAR Releases ANSF Attrition Figures

Topline

  • India’s foreign secretary met with Prime Minister Sharif on Tuesday; no joint communiqué has been issued from his visit, which Indian officials portrayed as part of broader outreach to SAARC countries, although Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that “all issues of concern” were discussed. New figures on Afghan National Security Forces personnel released by SIGAR and the Department of Defense on Tuesday indicated that the number of ANA soldiers had fallen roughly 15,000 between the falls of 2013 and 2014. The main suspect in the Karachi Baldia factory fire has “mysteriously disappeared”, according to Rangers officials who met on Tuesday; investigators and victims’ families are also reportedly facing threats from unspecified sources. The Afghan attorney general’s office announced Tuesday that it had arrested the former deputy head of the Afghan Central Bank in connection to a verdict in the Kabul Bank case last year, although he is reported to have turned himself in in December. The Supreme Court has pressed the Election Commission of Pakistan to issue a local elections schedule today; ECP officials say that the vote in Khyber Paktunkhwa will take place June 8. Pres. Ghani has ordered a review of all Afghan military logistics contracts, Reuters reports, ahead of his visit to the U.S. later this month.

Pakistan — Security

  • Banned Organizations: Speaking at a press roundtable on Tuesday, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Jalil Abbas Jilani, said that a formal announcement of a ban on the Haqqani network was “the kind of issues that are in the works”. Separately on Wednesday, Punjab police officials told a senate committee that they had sealed a seminary in the Rajhan tehsil of Rajanpur district that was linked with Islamabad’s Lal Masjid and with the spread of hate material.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Indian Foreign Secretary Visit: Visiting Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar met with Prime Minister Sharif on Tuesday, discussing regional and bilateral relations; in a statement, Sharif said that India and Pakistan “must think together, act together and move forward with the spirit of bringing the two nations closer to each other.” Indian diplomatic sources described the visit as part of a regional tour of SAARC countries and not a resumption of bilateral composite dialogue talks, although some Pakistani analysts interpreted it as having been undertaken at the insistence of the United States following Pres. Obama’s visit to India last month. No joint communiqué was issued following Jaishankar’s meetings with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Chaudhry, although Chaudhry said that “all issues of  concern” were discussed, including alleged Indian support for separatist groups in FATA and Balochistan. Lawyers for accused Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi told the Express Tribune that Jaishankar’s visit was intended to “put further pressure on Pakistan”; responded to earlier questions about whether Lakhvi’s case was discussed Chaudhry suggested that “there wasn’t enough time to go into detail on every issue.” [Pakistani Foreign Ministry Statement] [Indian Foreign Ministry Statement] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Senate Elections: The Lahore High Court gave the federal government until March 17 to respond to a petition seeking a constitutional amendment to hold senate elections under open ballot; the Senate vote is scheduled for March 5. Meanwhile, former Pres. Zardari met with party members in the Punjab assembly on Tuesday to discuss strategy for the upcoming election; the party hopes to win support for its sole candidate from Punjab from disaffected PML-N assembly members, in part through the help of former Punjab governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, who joined the PTI after quitting the PML-N last month. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, the Awami Jamhoor Ittehad Pakistan party has yet to merge with the PTI ahead of the election, despite the party’s grant of a senate candidacy ticket to Liaqat Khan Taraki, the father of the party’s leader. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Baldia Fire Investigation: A meeting of senior officials of the paramilitary Sindh Rangers in Karachi on Tuesday “expressed concern over attempts by some elements to interfere in the Baldia Town factory fire case investigation”, Dawn reports. Rizwan Quraishi, an MQM activist who linked the fire to extortion attempts and who has been disowned by the party, is now reported to have disappeared as a second investigation commission has begun a review the causes of the fire; the investigating officers and family members of the victims have reportedly been subjected to threats.
  • Local Elections: Election Commission officials told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that they would announce a schedule for local elections by April 6 and that polls will be held June 8 in Khyber Paktunkhwa, January 10, 2016 in Punjab, and February 22, 2016, in Sindh — the court ordered the formal announcement to be made by 8:00 PM today. The attorney general sought to deflect a contempt of court petition against the federal government for failing to hold the elections in military cantonment areas, where it has direct responsibility, by laying blame on the senate for not taking up the issue. [Dawn]
  • Election Complaints: The Supreme Court issued its detailed verdict from December of its judgment clearing Prime Minister Sharif from PTI challenges seeking his disqualification on the grounds that he had lied before parliament and thus violated Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, which requires candidates be “righteous, sagacious, and ameen”, a qualification the court noted was vague and ill-defined. Separately, the election tribunal hearing complaints into the NA-122 Lahore constituency accepted a PTI petition seeking thumbprint verification on all ballot counterfoils.
  • Regulator Service: The government is reportedly considering the creation of a new civil service branch for the main government regulatory bodies — including the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, National Electric Power Regulatory Authority, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. Current appointments to these bodies are made by independent panels; Dawn suggests the measure is under consideration part due to clashes between the government and the nominally independent regulators.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Vaccination Efforts: Two health officials have been suspended in connection to reports yesterday that $3.7 million worth of child vaccines had degraded under improper storage conditions, the national manager of the Expanded Program on Immunization told the AFP on Tuesday. Separately, Gates Foundation chairman Bill Gates spoke by phone with PTI leader Imran Khan on Tuesday, welcoming the efforts of Khyber Paktunkhwa’s ongoing ‘Sehat Ka Ittehad’ anti-polio vaccination campaign. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Sharif Departs for Saudi Arabia [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Lawyer, Former PPP Union Councilor Killed in Karachi Shootings [ET] [ET]
  • TTP Commander Detained in Hangu [Dawn]
  • Death Row Sentence Halted After Family Pardon [ET]
  • Opposition Senators Continue Protest Over Economic Corridor Route [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Reviews Nuclear Power Projects [Dawn]
  • Senate Committee Approves Amendments to Securities and Exchange Commission Powers [ET]
  • Senate Committee Proposes Bar on Dual National Civil Servants [ET]
  • Senate Seeks Detail on Perks for Retired Chief Justices [ET] [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pakistan’s Terrorism Accusations Against India: Bizarre But Calculated – “Pakistan’s leaders, whether civilian or military, have a history of leveling accusations on India’s alleged involvement in everything from sectarian violence in Pakistan to terrorism perpetrated via proxies from Afghanistan.” [Rohan Joshi, The Diplomat]

Afghanistan — Security

  • ANSF Attrition: Figures released by the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction on Tuesday — following their declassification after top U.S. commander Gen. John Campbell reversed a previous classification order in January — indicated that the number of Afghan National Army soldiers had declined from roughly 184,000 to roughly 169,000 between the falls of 2013 and 2014. SIGAR questioned figures offered for Afghan police, suggesting that the actual number might be roughly 151,000 instead of roughly 156,000 as reported. [SIGAR Report (pdf)]
  • Zabul Operations: The provincial police chief of Zabul province, Ghulam Sakhi Rogh Lewanai, told RFE/RL on Wednesday that at least 32 militants had been killed in operations in the Khak-e-Afghan district that began the day prior; he said that all were associated with Daesh, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Local accounts of the identity of gunmen responsible for the kidnapping of 30 Hazara men from the district last week have conflicted over their affiliations; an anonymous caller to RFE/RL reporters claimed affiliation with Daesh but said that only seven fighters had been killed.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kabul Bank Arrests: On Tuesday, the Afghan attorney general’s office announced that it had imprisoned Mohibullah Safi, the former deputy head of the Afghan Central Bank, in connection to the 2010 Kabul Bank crisis. Safi received a one-year sentence in connection to the case last fall, but fled the country. Although not announced at the time, he is reported to have turned himself in back in December, and anonymous sources in the attorney general’s office say that $52 million in assets had been seized from him; a spokesman for the attorney general’s office was unable to confirm the latter figure.
  • Taliban Talks: TOLO news notes remarks by Pakistani Ulema Council chairman Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Ashrafi, who expressed support for a resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan through peace talks.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Military Contract Review: Following the suspension of an Afghan National Army fuel supply contract earlier this year, Pres. Ghani has reportedly ordered a review of all military logistics contracts, Reuters reports. An economist leading the review, Hamidullah Farooqi, says that “we expect to have the first stage done in the next week or two”, coinciding with Ghani’s visit to the United States later this month.
  • TAPI Pipeline: The Express Tribune reports that a Pakistani cabinet committee on energy meeting on February 12 raised concerns over the “complex structure” of the TAPI gas pipeline project, and the pricing of gas, at $6.9 per million British thermal units, or $1 cheaper than LNG import agreements. A meeting of TAPI members in February in Islamabad failed to reach an agreement on a consortium leader for the financing and construction of the pipeline, which Turkmenistan reportedly aims to do by October.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Report: ‘Today We Shall All Die’ – “The impunity enjoyed by powerful figures raises serious concerns about Afghan government and international efforts to arm, train, vet, and hold accountable Afghan National Police units, National Directorate of Security officials, and Afghan Local Police forces.” [Human Rights Watch]
  • Commentary: A Step Forward for Afghan Women? – “For months, Mahbouba Seraj traveled across Afghanistan to drum up support for an ambitious new policy framework to ensure women’s equal rights and participation in governmental decision-making, protection from violence, and human development.” [Elizabeth Weingarten and Leilal Hilal, Foreign Policy]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Indian Foreign Secretary Visits Islamabad; 11 Afghan Ambassadors Removed

Topline

  • India’s foreign secretary arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday for talks with his counterparts and with other senior Pakistani officials. Prime Minister Sharif is expected to depart for Saudi Arabia tomorrow for meetings with the Saudi king. As many as 40 Afghan diplomats, including 11 ambassadors, have been removed by the government after they were found to have overstayed their tenures in office. Afghan security officials say they have begun rescue operations in Zabul following the failure of negotiations to secure the release of 30 Hazara men kidnapped last week by unidentified gunmen. Rival PTI factions clashed in Peshawar after the party moved to remove provincial assembly member Javed Naseem on charges of breaching party discipline. Afghan provincial council members warned of renewed protests if an executive order restoring oversight powers was not implemented. Khyber Paktunkhwa police say they have arrested 471 parents on charges of refusing polio vaccinations for their children; irregular electricity supplies have contributed to the loss of 1.3 million does of vaccines for other common diseases, health ministry officials reported.

Pakistan — Security

  • Security Reviews: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting on Tuesday to review the national security situation in conjunction with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Rashad Mahmood. Separately, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif chaired a meeting of army corps commanders in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.
  • Afghan Expulsions: Anonymous security sources tell the Express Tribune that that around 2,000 unregistered Afghan nationals have been deported from Pakistan since December; while “action is only being taken against those Afghan refugees who have not got themselves registered properly”, all legal and illegal refugees will be expelled at the end of the year.
  • Madrassas Under Scrutiny: The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government has identified 145 “highly sensitive” madrassas, the majority in the Tank district; in total, roughly 26% of the province’s total 3,010 seminaries are unregistered with the government. Bannu and Peshawar host the largest numbers of madrassas; Peshawar also hosts roughly half of the foreign student population.
  • Military Courts: Two judicial magistrates from the city’s western district have been appointed to staff the new Karachi military court, the Express Tribune reports. On Monday, the newly elected president of the Lahore High Cour Bar Association, Pir Masood Chishti, vowed to continue the group’s challenge against the military courts system.
  • Mumbai Attacks Prosecution: On Monday, the Islamabad High Court barred the federal government from filing further cases against Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi without first notifying the court; Lakvhi remains under detention under a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance, which his lawyers are challenging.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Indian Foreign Secretary Visits: Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday for two days of talks; he met initially with Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and Foreign Advisor Sartaj Aziz, and is expected to meet Prime Minister Sharif later today. Following his meeting with Chaudhry, Jaishankar told reporters that the two sides had “agreed to work together to find common ground and narrow differences” and said he had “reiterated our known concerns on cross-border terrorism, including on the Mumbai case.” The Pakistani foreign ministry’s spokeswoman described the visit as “an ice-breaking development” and said that “both sides raised concerns” during talks. [Reuters]
  • Sharif to Visit Saudi Arabia: Prime Minister Sharif will depart on Wednesday for a two-day official visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. [ET]
  • Senate Elections: Following elections this Thursday, the first session of the new senate has been called for March 12, during which the body will elect its chairman and deputy chairman. Following an agreement between the PPP and JUI-F on an alliance to support the PPP’s chairmanship, Prime Minister Sharif has intervened personally to seek to shore up PML-N senate candidacies. PPP candidates from Punjab have complained to the Election Commission of harassment from the PML-N ahead of the vote. After a few days of rapprochement over the possibility of a constitutional amendment to conduct senate elections through open ballot, Imran Khan accused the government of insincerity, vowing instead to challenge both the PML-N and PPP in the senate elections. On Monday, rival PTI factions clashed in Peshawar after provincial assembly member Javed Naseem was reportedly expelled from the party on charges of violating party discipline; Naseem has previously clashed with Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak’s leadership. Elsewhere, the Express Tribune notes divisions along party-affiliated versus independent lines within the FATA national assembly caucus for the region’s four senate seats. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senate Bills Bar Torture, Honor Killings, Rape: On Monday, the senate passed four bills, all proposed by the PPP, three of which amend the Pakistani penal code to strengthen provisions against the torture of suspects while in custody, strengthen the prosecution of rape, and specify that trial courts should be responsible for setting punishments in cases of “honor killings”. The fourth bill requires conflict of interest disclosures by members of the Privatization Commission. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Crisis: Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial police tell the AFP that they have arrested 471 parents so far on charges of refusing polio vaccinations for their children. Separately, Reuters reports that 1.3 million doses pentavalent vaccines – a combination of vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, meningitis and pneumonia — have been found to have degraded under storage due irregular power supplies, at a loss of $3.7 million.
  • Energy Infrastructure: On Monday, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, chaired by Finance Minister Dar, approved Rs 101 billion in spending for land acquisition and the resettlement of roughly 25,000 people on sites surrounding the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Punjab Police Clash with Blind Protestors Outside Assembly [Dawn]
  • MQM and Rangers Trade Accusations on Karachi Operations [Dawn] [ET]
  • Heavy Rains Damage Facilities, Kill 8 [Dawn]
  • Case of Pakistani Man Accused of Al Qaeda Mall Attack Plot Goes to Jury [NYT]
  • Executions of Two Men Delayed [Dawn]
  • Inflation at 11-Year Low [ET]
  • Deadlines Extended for Financial Advisor Recruitment for Electricity Distribution Company Privatization [ET] [Dawn]
  • FBR Accused of Borrowing Funds to Inflate Tax Collections [ET]
  • Commentary: The Case for Better Aid to Pakistan: Climate, Health and Demographic Challenges Demand New Approach – “If, in the wake of KLB, U.S. lawmakers revert to short-term thinking, they will make it more difficult for Pakistan to tear down the systemic and seemingly intractable barriers holding back progress.” [Kate Diamond, Wilson Center]
  • Commentary: Three Opportunities – “Not only are the postures of Afghanistan, China and India potentially beneficial to Pakistan, but even the interlinkages between Xi’s China, Modi’s India and Ghani & Abdullah’s Afghanistan are aligned in a manner that is a cause for optimism in Pakistan.” [Mosharraf Zaidi, The News]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: A suicide bomber killed at least four people and injured three others in an attack near a Sangin district police center in Helmand on Tuesday. In Zabul, Afghan security officials say they have launched a rescue operation in the Khak-i-Afghan district in an attempt to free a group of thirty Hazara men kidnapped earlier this week, after efforts by local elders to negotiate their release failed. Officials claim to have killed 36 insurgents so far with operations still ongoing, although details are limited and the identity of the kidnapping group remains unclear. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Diplomats Dismissed: Following meetings between Pres. Ghani and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed as many as 40 diplomats, including eleven ambassadors, who were found to have stayed in their positions beyond their three-year tenures. Those dismissed include the ambassadors to Russia, Indonesia, the Czech Republic, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Geneva, and UNESCO. [TOLO]
  • Provincial Council Protests: On Tuesday, provincial council leaders warned of renewed protests if an executive order restoring oversight powers to the councils was not implemented.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • A Thin Line of Defense Against ‘Honor Killings’ [NYT]
  • Afghan Villagers Bury Their Dead After Avalanches [AJE]
  • Abdullah Pledges Reassessment of Detained Photographer’s Case [TOLO]
  • Turkish Firm Seeks More Security and Funds for Qaisar-Laman Highway [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Maneuvering Increases Ahead of Senate Elections; Afghan Winter Weather Death Toll Rises

Topline

  • The PPP and JUI-F appear to have blocked Prime Minister Sharif’s proposal to introduce a constitutional amendment calling for open balloting in Senate elections and are now moving towards an alliance of their own that may see the PPP’s candidate for senate chairman elected. The death toll from avalanches and other winter weather-related disasters across Afghanistan has surpassed 300 people as of Monday, according to a statement by Chief Executive Abdullah; rescue efforts are still ongoing in Panjshir, the worst-hit province. Pakistani security services have reportedly detained the leader of the anti-Iranian group Jaish al Adl in Balochistan. Pakistan and Indian border forces exchanged fire on Friday, leaving one Pakistani civilian injured. The head of the Zabul provincial council survived a roadside bombing on Saturday, which he accused the provincial police chief of being responsible for. Lawyers for Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi continue to challenge his detention; more hearings are scheduled for later this week. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah will visit Washington in late March for talks with U.S. officials. Western officials expressed concerns to the WSJ over the Afghan government’s plans to assume control over the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, which pays police salaries. Protests against changes to the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor route continued in Balochistan and the Pakistani senate; an anonymous Chinese official told reporters on Sunday that the route was not being changed and that debate “should come to an end”. Pakistan left petroleum prices unchanged in March and lowered sales taxes on all petroleum products except diesel, which was raised.

Pakistan — Security

  • Jaish al-Adl Leader Arrested: Reports suggest that Pakistani security forces arrested Abdul Salam Rigi, the leader of the Sunni sectarian and anti-Iran militant group Jaish al-Adl, as he was traveling by bus on the outskirts of Quetta on Saturday. Other accounts are less clear on the arrested man’s identity, however, with some officials suggesting that his identity and affiliation has yet to be confirmed. Rigi is the cousin of Abdul Malik Rigi, the former leader of the group Jundullah, to which Jaish al-Adl is a successor; who was hanged by Iran in 2010 after he was detained with assistance from Pakistan. [Reuters]
  • Indian Border Tensions: Pakistani officials accused Indian border forces of “sudden, unprovoked” small arms fire across the Line of Control in the Kotli district on Friday, which injured a teenage girl. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif visited the Iman Sahib area on Sunday, condemning Indian cross-border shelling and vowing that Pakistan “would not compromise on its sovereignty”. Despite the tough rhetoric, anonymous sources tell the Express Tribune that Pakistan will offer new confidence-building measures during meetings with visiting Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar on March 3, in a bid to restore the 2003 ceasefire agreement. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Cleared by Financial Action Task Force: On Friday, the international Financial Action Task Force removed Pakistan from its grey list of countries lacking effective anti-money laundering and terrorism financing controls, after placing it on the list in February 2012.
  • Afghan Police Attacked: Two Afghan police officers traveling from Helmand to Quetta for medical treatment were shot and killed by unidentified gunmen at the Chaman border crossing on Sunday. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: At least a dozen security personnel were wounded in a roadside bombing in South Waziristan on Saturday. Separately, the assistant political agent of South Waziristan, Nawab Safi, announced Saturday that displaced residents would begin repatriating to the Sarwakai and Sararogha tehsils starting March 16.
  • Mumbai Attacks Prosecution: Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi did not attend court hearings on Saturday where he was due to be indicted in a new case of alleged kidnapping, filed by police after he was granted bail in the Mumbai attacks case in January. Proceedings will now be held at the Adiala Jail on March 7. The BBC reports that Lakvhi lives under relatively little control at the facility. On Monday, the Islamabad High Court heard separate arguments from Lakhvi’s lawyers against his detention under a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: A conference of senior political leaders on Friday called by Prime Minister Sharif failed to reach an agreement on a constitutional amendment to hold Senate elections through open ballot in the provincial assemblies; PPP and JUI-F leaders were opposed to the measure, suggesting that it should first be passed through the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms. The PTI has been a strong proponent of the move; Imran Khan reportedly offered for the party’s national assembly members to return to parliament, ending a six month-long boycott, in order to vote in support of the amendment. Dawn notes continued pressure in the party to return to the assembly. The MQM has backed the proposed constitutional amendment although on Saturday party leader Altaf Hussain called for a Supreme Court commission to establish a voting process. On Saturday, four senate candidates were elected unopposed on reserved seats from Sindh, after the MQM and PPP finalized their seat allocation formula. The 48 senate seats remaining under contest will be elected by the provincial assemblies on March 5; 131 candidates in total were cleared to run, including the four elected unopposed. The PPP and JUI-F reportedly rejected a nation-wide seat adjustment formula with the PML-N, despite the PML-N’s withdrawal of its sole candidate in Sindh on Friday and an agreement on Friday for an alliance between the JUI-F and PML-N in the Balochistan senate vote. After meetings between former Pres. Zardari and Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Sunday, the PPP and JUI-F have reportedly reached an agreement to back the PPP’s choice for senate chairman and deputy chairman. Zardari also reportedly sought PTI support for the PPP’s sole candidate from Punjab; Imran Khan instead accused the PPP of “horse-trading” on Monday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Madrassa Leaders Push Back: On Sunday, the Ittehadul Tanzeemat-i-Madaris coalition of religious schools met at the Jamaat-e-Islami’s headquarters, announcing their opposition to government “harassment” of mosque leaders and to government efforts to institute tighter controls over madarass registration and curriculum. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Crisis: Khyber Paktunkhwa police officials tell the NYT that they have begun issuing arrest warrants for parents who refuse to accept vaccinations for their children, estimating that there were between 13,000-16,000 of such cases, although the exact number of arrests applied is unclear. A vaccination campaign planned for the Quetta, Zhob, and Shirani districts was postponed on Monday due to a shortage of security teams. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Economic Corridor Route: Opposition senators conducted another walkout on Friday to protest what they said was the diversion of the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor route outside minority areas. The Balochistan assembly unanimously passed a resolution on Saturday calling for the route to pass through provincial centers, which Chief Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch pledged to communicate to the federal government. An anonymous Chinese official told reporters on Sunday that the route was not being changed and that “debate on the alignment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will only create divergence between different regions and parties in Pakistan… it is not conducive to the unity and development of Pakistan and should come to an end for the country’s fundamental interest.” [Dawn]
  • Energy Crisis: On Friday, Finance Minister Dar announced on behalf of the prime minister that the government would not follow the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority’s recommendation for price increases on most petroleum products for the month of March, leaving prices unchanged. Dar announced that sales taxes on diesel would be increased from 27 to 36%, but that taxes on other petroleum products would be reduced from 27 to 18%. Separately, Dawn reports that Pakistan State Oil is still struggling to maintain a steady shipment of fuel oil imports, with the latest import shipment delayed until later this week. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Tax Revenues: The Federal Board of Revenue’s tax collection figures for February fell Rs 28 billion short of target for the month of February, despite posting a 11.5% year-on-year increase after the government introduced tax hikes on petroleum products, imports, and withholding taxes.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Sharif to Visit Saudi Arabia March 4 [Dawn] [ET]
  • ISI Chief Completes US Visit [Dawn]
  • No Action on Asghar Khan Verdict as Supreme Court Takes Up Review [ET]
  • Malik Ishaq Remains Under Detention [Newsweek Pakistan]
  • TNSM Leader Sufi Mohammad Seeks Transfer of Case to Regular Courts [ET]
  • Two Linked to Shikarpur Mosque Attack Arrested [ET] [ET]
  • ASWJ Prayer Leader Killed in Karachi Shooting [ET]
  • Three Lahore High Court Judges Denied Extension [ET]
  • Supreme Court Orders Investigation into Sindh Police Extrajudicial Killings [ET]
  • 2013 Election Tribunals’ Operations Extended Further [ET]
  • Supreme Court Considers Contempt of Court Petition on Local Elections Rulings [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan Telecommunications Authority Seeks to Register SIMs, Block Afghan Signals [ET] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Seeks Foreign investment [Dawn]
  • Parliamentarians to Receive Money Rather than Air Tickets for Travel [Dawn]
  • Senate Investigates Perks for Former Chief Justice [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Police Funding and Training: On Monday, Anonymous Western diplomats express concern to the WSJ over the Afghan government’s plan to phase out the UN Development Program’s administration of the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, established to pay police salaries, and say they want to ensure that there are no interruptions in payments and that international oversight over the disbursal of funds continues. Pres. Ghani has set a six-month deadline for ending UNDP management of LOTFA. A separate NYT piece examines the tensions between internationally-backed efforts to recruit and train Afghan policewomen, and the social stigmas, resource shortages, and harassment and abuse from male peers that female police officers have faced. Meanwhile, on Monday Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi announced the replacement of 27 high-ranking police officers, including the female commander of the 1st Police Distirct.
  • Attacks and Operations: The acting governor of Sar-e-Pul, Abdul Jabbar Haqbeen, announced on Friday that a joint security operation was being launched in the province, targeting Taliban groups. A suicide bombing attack on a member of parliament, Faraidoon Mohmand, killed two children and wounded thirteen other bystanders in Nangarhar’s Kama district on Friday; the MP was unhurt. On Monday, two roadside bombings in Nangarhar, one in Jalalabad and the other in the Achin district, killed at least eight civilians and wounded three others. On Saturday, Atta Jan Haqbayan, the head of the Zabul provincial council, survived a roadside bombing while en route to the Shah Joy district, where he was seeking to negotiate the release of 30 Hazara men kidnapped last week; no claim of responsibility has been reported for the attack or the kidnapping, although local officials have blamed a whole slew of militant groups. Haqbayan accused provincial police chief Ghulam Sakhil Rogh Lewanay of responsibility for the bombing attack, suggesting it was linked to accusations of corruption he had made against the police chief; Lewanay denied any responsibility. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Afghan Leaders to Visit Washington: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah will visit Washington in late March, meeting with Pres. Obama, attending a strategic dialogue at Camp David hosted by Sec. Kerry, and addressing a joint session of Congress. [TOLO]
  • Pakistan Relations: Prime Minister Sharif met with Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Janan Mosazai, on Monday, highlighting signs of increased cooperation between the two countries. Officials report that the two countries are considering a treaty on the exchange of prisoners, and loosened travel procedures. On Sunday, Afghanistan formally protested the detention last week of four Peshawar consulate staff detained during sweep arrests of Afghan nationals living in the University Town neighborhood, describing it as a “blatant violation of the principles of diplomatic relations”. [ET] [Khaama Press]
  • Taliban Talks: UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Nicholas Haysom visited Islamabad on Friday for talks with Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz, welcoming Pakistani support for an “intra-Afghan dialogue” on peace talks. In a TOLO interview, Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf also welcomed the prospect for talks but also stressed that Afghanistan would not allow its sovereignty or independent foreign policy to be “overshadowed” by another country. [ET]
  • Election Investigations: On Sunday, the Electoral Complaints Commission published a list of roughly 13,000 temporary and 20 permanent employees of the Independent Elections Commission who were accused of fraud or other violations during the 2014 presidential elections. ECC officials indicated it was the responsibility of those accused to defend themselves before the commission “in the next two or three days”, after which it would announce decisions on their blacklisting from future election work. The IEC said that it supported the move but that “this must not be limited to the IEC, those who were accused of fraud in the ECC should also be identified”.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Mafia Boss Raees Khudaidad Hanged [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Yet to Fill Vacant Herat Government Positions [TOLO]
  • Herat Police Arrest Mosque Imam on Kidnapping Charges [TOLO]
  • Kabul Industry Complains of Electricity Shortages [TOLO]
  • Supreme Audit Office Accuses Parliament of Politicizing Annual Financial Statement [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Our Condolences, Afghanistan – “The payments The Intercept has analyzed and presented in the graphic accompanying this story are not a complete accounting, but they do offer a small window into the thousands of fractured lives and personal tragedies that take place during more than a decade of war.” [Cora Currier, The Intercept]
  • Commentary: What Should Afghanistan Do With America’s Foreign Detainees? – “Unlike the US which detained people without trial for years, the Afghan authorities have been trying to take a ‘rule of law’ approach to the six [remaining detainees], although the legal time limit for charging or freeing them has  already passed – with no announcement.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistani Leaders Consider Senate Election Amendment; Spanta Criticizes Pakistan Outreach

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif is meeting with senior political party leaders to discuss the proposed amendment to senate election rules that would remove the closed ballot for the assembly member voters. Former Afghan National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta criticized the Ghani administration’s outreach to Pakistan and the Taliban in a TOLO news interview on Thursday. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited Pakistani forces on the Kashmir border on Thursday, warning against any Indian “provocation”. The death toll from winter weather-related disasters in Afghanistan over the past few days has risen above 220, officials report. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has given the Election Commission until today to officially set a schedule for local government polls in Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Paktunkhwa. China and Pakistan will sign an agreement on a LNG import terminal at Gwadar and natural gas pipeline during Pres. Xi Jinping’s visit next month, Pakistani sources indicate.

Pakistan — Security

  • India Tensions: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited Pakistani forces stationed along the working boundary in Sialkot on Thursday, a site of recent cross-border exchanges of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces, and issued a statement that “any provocation along [the line of control] and working boundary will meet a befitting response”. He added that Indian ceasefire violations were “an attempt to distract Pakistan from its campaign against terrorism”. Meanwhile, the PTI held a large rally in Muzaffarabad in Pakistani-administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, headed by secretary general Jahangir Tareen, who vowed to unite the two Kashmirs and pledging to give Kashmiris rights to self-determination of their status. Separately, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of the annual worldwide threat assessment briefing, in which he noted that Pakistan’s continued support for Lashkar-e-Taiba would prove a “key irritant” in Indian-Pakistani relations. [AP] [ET]
  • Military Courts: The four provincial high courts have reportedly rejected requests from their respective provincial home departments to appoint magistrate officers to the new military court system and have instead directed them to consult with lower district and sessions judges directly. After extended review, Punjab will now reportedly refer only seven cases to the military court system, with another 39 under consideration instead transferred to existing anti-terrorism courts.
  • Afghan Expulsion: Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) officials told a parliamentary panel on Thursday that the finance ministry had not released any funds to support efforts to register Afghans residing illegally in the country, despite the National Action Plan’s goal of doing so by June. SAFRON has sought Rs 680 million for the effort.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: Prime Minister Sharif will meet with representatives from the major parties on Friday to discuss the government’s plan to amend the constitution and switch senate elections from a closed to open ballot; the PPP and PTI have confirmed their participation. A number of legal analysts interviewed by Dawn are critical of the measure. On Thursday, during appeal hearings the Election Commission of Pakistan reversed its previous disqualification of 15 senate candidates, most of whom had been disqualified on tax evasion charges, including 14 candidates from the FATA. [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Ups Press on Local Elections: At a hearing on Thursday, the Supreme Court gave the Election Commission of Pakistan 24 hours to announce a date for local government polls in Khyber Paktunkhwa, Sindh, and Punjab, saying that the provinces and the ECP had failed to justify ongoing delays in holding the polls. A separate court bench, headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk, has taken up a contempt of court petition against Prime Minister Sharif and the federal government for failing to hold local government polls. Separately, the Sindh High Court has refused an ECP request for judicial officials to assist in the redrawing of constituency boundaries for local bodies. [Dawn]
  • Baldia Factory Fire Investigation: A new four-member team headed by the additional inspector general of the Sindh police has begun a re-investigation of the circumstances of the 2012 Baldia factory fire,  which a previous report linked to a suspect who claimed to have committed arson in order to extort money from the owners for the MQM.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Infrastructure: The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority has proposed increases in petroleum prices of up to 15% for March, Dawn reports. Kuwait has pledged an additional $32 million in financing for the Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric dam; the government still faces a shortage of roughly $450 million in financing for the project. The Express Tribune reports that China will sign a $3 billion LNG import terminal and natural gas pipeline construction agreement linking Gwadar and Nawabshah during Pres. Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan, expected next month. A separate Express Tribune reports notes that the government has not included Chinese loans for the construction of two new Karachi nuclear power plants in its budget reporting on public sector spending for the past year.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Issues Notices to 40 Private Security Companies [ET]
  • Pakistan Air Force Inducts Chinese-Built AWACS Aircraft [ET]
  • Militants Linked to Nanga Parbat Attack Escape from Gilgit Jail [Dawn] [Reuters]
  • Police Escape Bombing in Bannu [ET]
  • Darul Uloom Haqqania Madrassa Students Accused of Link to Bhutto Murder [Dawn] [ET]
  • JUI-F Threatens Protests Over ‘Harassment’ of Clerics [Dawn]
  • Roughly 400,000 Missed in Latest National Polio Vaccination Drive [ET]
  • Supreme Court Unsatisfied with Disciplinary Action in Christian Couple’s Lynching [Dawn]
  • Punjab Approves Free Public WiFi Program [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Hazara Kidnapping: Acting governor Mohammad Ashraf Nasiri tells TOLO that the group of Hazara men kidnapped while returning from Iran in Zabul earlier this week were abducted by “Lashkar e Jhangvi and Chechens”. Previous reports have attributed blame to the Taliban or Daesh; no claims of responsibility have been made.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Former National Security Advisor Criticizes Peace Efforts: In a TOLO news interview, former Afghan national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta expressed skepticism that Pakistan was genuinely supportive of reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and reiterated that “the price for this peace must not be the achievements of the people of Afghanistan, its independence and national unity”. Spanta also suggested that “there was no need to harm our relationships with India to this extent”. Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf, Ismail Khan, and senate chairman Fazil Haidi Muslimyar are all reported to have met privately with Pres. Ghani to caution against peace talks.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Winter Weather Death Toll Rises: More than 220 people are now confirmed to have perished in avalanches and other extreme weather-related incidents, with Panjshir suffering the worst. UN officials warned that the toll may climb further as relief efforts for those displaced from their homes continue under difficult conditions and forecasts of extremely cold weather. Pres. Ghani is expected to visit northern Panjshir on Friday. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Herat Police Commander Goes on the Offensive [TOLO]
  • Concern Over Expulsion of Afghan Mullahs from Pakistan [TOLO]
  • The Unlikely Life of Afghanistan’s First Female Taxi Driver [WAPO]
  • Commentary: Afghan Peace Talks are Fraught with Stumbling Blocks – “Despite the likely start of formal peace negotiations, Afghanistan’s unity government will have to haggle hard with the Taliban to reach a lasting settlement.” [Abubakar Siddiqui, RFE/RL]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistani Senate Elections Amendment Drafted; NATO Convoy Attacked in Kabul

Topline

  • The Taliban attacked a NATO convoy in Kabul on Thursday belonging to the NATO senior civilian representative, former Turkish ambassador Ismail Aramaz; he was not present at the time of the attack, but one Turkish soldier and one Afghan bystander were killed. The PML-N government has prepared draft constitutional amendments that would make senate elections open ballots in the provincial assemblies. Anonymous Taliban officials express frustration with the Chief Executive Abdullah’s public remarks on the prospects for direct peace talks between the government and the insurgency. In an ongoing crackdown against Afghan nationals living in Pakistan, Khyber Paktunkhwa police detained 27 Afghans suspected of living in Peshawar illegally; four were in fact Afghan diplomatic staff working at the Peshawar consulate, and all but one have been released. ISI Director Rizwan Akhtar met with his counterparts in the U.S. on Wednesday. Pakistani interior ministry officials have warned of retaliatory attacks by the sectarian terror group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. As many as 187 people have been killed in multiple avalanches in five districts in Panjshir.

Pakistan — Security

  • Crackdown on Afghan Nationals: Police in Peshawar detained 28 Afghan nationals in the city’s University Town neighborhood on Thursday, on suspicion of residing their illegally; four were in fact Afghan diplomats working at Afghanistan’s Peshawar consulate, and all but one have been released after supplying documentation proving their legal residency. Separately, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif told reporters that his administration was also preparing to expel Afghan immigrants living illegally in the country, whose presence he linked to terrorism, and said that 400 foreign students studying at madrassas in Punjab without proper documentation would also be deported soon. [BBC] [Dawn]
  • Intelligence Cooperation: Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar met with his counterpart CIA chief John Brennan on Wednesday for talks on intelligence and security cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan, as well as meetings with U.S. military officials at the Pentagon. He is also due to visit CENTCOM headquarters in Florida. Details of the discussions have not been disclosed.
  • Sectarian Violence: BBC’s Urdu service reported Wednesday that the Interior Ministry has advised provincial officials that Sunni sectarian terror group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is working with the TTP and Al Qaeda to carry out reprisal attacks and kidnappings in retaliation for the execution of a number of LeJ members following the resumption of capital punishment earlier this year. The report identifies the lead LeJ commander tasked with organizing the attack as Abdul Rehman of Kabirwala, Punjab. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections: The government has drafted a constitutional amendment to hold senate elections through open rather than closed ballot, which also provides for the disqualification of assembly members in cases of defection from their party’s directives, as currently also holds cases for votes across party lines on finance bills. Consideration of the amendment may take place this weekend, ahead of next week’s senate vote. Separately, the PTI has challenged the senate nominations of two PML-N candidates for Islamabad senate seats who are not residents of the capital. Meanwhile, the Express Tribune reports that the Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly opposition has been unable to reach an agreement on a formula for voting in a single slate of senators. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Foreign Secretary Talks: Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that “Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek and other issues would be discussed” with India’s visiting foreign secretary. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Prime Minister Sharif headlined the ninth annual Expo Pakistan trade fair in Karachi on Thursday, pledging action to resolve the country’s energy crisis and touting efforts to bring in Chinese investment and open up LNG imports. [ET]
  • Polio Crisis: Khyber Paktunkhwa health officials have reported a decline, by roughly a half, of polio vaccination refusal cases since its latest vaccination drive began ten days prior, which includes education components and outreach to local ulema. Roughly 27,000 refusal cases have been reported so far. Another case of polio was registered in Balochistan on Thursday, bringing the national total so far this year to 11. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Re-Qualifies for World Bank Lending [Dawn]
  • Musharraf Exempted from Appearing in Bugti Murder Case Hearing [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Death Sentences for TTP Mean Linked to 2012 Attack on Lahore Prison Staff [AFP] [ET]
  • ASWJ Leader Buried in Mansehra [ET]
  • Lyari Gang Leader Yet to be Extradited from Dubai [Dawn]
  • Pakistani Man Denies Al Qaeda Ties in New York Trial [Reuters]
  • MQM Condemns ‘Derogatory Language’ Against the Party [Dawn]
  • Maleeha Lodhi Assumes Post as UN Representative [ET]
  • Three FBR Employees Suspended on Corruption Charges [ET]
  • Government Considering Scrapping Auto Import Duties [ET]
  • Commentary: Implications of the National Action Plan – “The prime minister and the army chief should remember that even though the December 16 massacre united the entire nation against sectarian violence, terrorism and extremism, the security measures that are being taken in its aftermath are dividing the nation.” [Muhammad Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, Express Tribune]

Afghanistan — Security

  • NATO Envoy Attacked: A suicide car bomber struck a NATO vehicle convoy in Kabul on Thursday, which had been protecting NATO senior civilian representative to Afghanistan and former Turkish ambassador Ismail Aramaz. At least one Turkish soldier, a driver, and one Afghan bystander were killed in the blast; Aramaz was not present in the vehicle at the time of the attack and was unharmed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, initially describing it as a “convoy of U.S. troops”, but later said that “the embassy or any other country nationals were not [the] objective”. [BBC] [AJE] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks: Three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed and another wounded in a roadside mine blast on the highway near Khost on Wednesday. Zabul tribal leaders are seeking the release of a group of 30 Hazara men taken hostage from a bus  earlier this week; ANA commanders attribute the kidnapping to the Taliban, who have not confirmed responsibility.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: An anonymous Taliban official tells the Express Tribune that the insurgency group is unhappy with public comments by Afghan government officials on the prospect for peace talks, suggesting that Chief Executive Abdullah’s comments that talks would begin soon “has created an impression that the leaders of the national unity government are not on the same page”. A spokesman for Pres. Ghani said Wednesday that “views are being collected and there have been significant progress in the start of peace talks because fundamental works have been done in this regard,” emphasizing that “nothing will be hidden from the people and it will be transparent.”

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Avalanches in Panjshir Kill Scores: Panjshir provincial officials report that as many as 187 people have been killed after heavy snowfall beginning earlier this week led to a series of avalanches that hit five districts in the province, blocking roads and complicating rescue efforts. The Salang Tunnel, which links northern and southern Afghanistan, has been closed, and power cables feeding Kabul have been damaged. [BBC] [Reuters] [TOLO]
  • Water Dues: The Afghanistan Urban Water Supply and Sewage Corporation has charged all government ministries, with the exception of the ministries of defense and education, of unpaid dues to the utility totally Afs 400 million, and warned that it would take legal action if bills were not paid.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Corruption in Customs Service Widespread, High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption Says [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Because of Impunity: UN Reports Afghan Forces Still Torturing Afghans – “Despite a 14 per cent drop in the incidence of torture, one in three Afghans arrested in relation to the conflict is still being tortured, mainly, UNAMA argues, because torturers continue to enjoy impunity.” [Kate Clark, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Torture in Afghan Prisons Widespread, But Declining; Afghans Expelled from Pakistan

Topline

  • An UN investigation found that the use of torture against Afghan detainees by the police and intelligence services was still systematic and widespread, but had declined from levels reported in 2013. The Khyber Paktunkhwa government has ordered the expulsion of 300 Afghan clerics from the province within the next week; federal officials confirm their intention to expel all Afghan refugees from the country by the end of the year. A former Taliban official told TOLO news that the insurgency has appointed negotiators based in Qatar for potential talks with the Afghan government. ISI director Lt. Gen. Rizwan is visiting the US this week; India has confirmed its foreign secretary will visit Islamabad March 3-4. An amendment providing for open voting on Pakistani senate elections may be introduced before the end of this week. The WSJ details an ongoing corruption investigation into the Afghan National Army’s fuel procurement contract. The Pakistani government is considering a plan to assume responsibility for Pakistan International Airlines’ Rs 288 billion in debts.

Pakistan — Security

  • Military Courts: Pres. Mamnoon Hussain, on the advice of the defense ministry and with the approval of the prime minister’s office, issued an executive ordinance on Tuesday that clarified that terrorism cases that occurred before the passage of the 21st Amendment in January could be sent to the new military court system. The ordinance also provides for remote or closed hearing testimony in such cases, as a security measure for judges, prosecutors and witnesses. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Afghan Expulsion: On Wednesday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government ordered the expulsion of as many as 300 Afghan prayer leaders from the province within the next week. Speaking on Tuesday, federal minister for states and frontier regions Abdul Qadir Baloch reiterated that the government intends to repatriate all registered and unregistered Afghan refugees — estimated at roughly 2.6 million people — by the end of the year.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Diplomatic Visits: ISI director Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar departed for the United States on Wednesday for his first official visit, where he is expected to meet with counterparts in the U.S. intelligence community. Separately, India has confirmed that its foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar, will visit Pakistan on March 3-4.
  • Senate Elections: With the end of the appeals period on Tuesday, 11 objections and 16 appeals have been filed against the Election Commission’s rulings on senate candidate eligibility. In a statement on Tuesday following criticism earlier this week, the Election Commission said that electoral laws requiring candidates to be registered residents of the province from which they contest an election did not apply to the senate. Separately, the PTI welcomed the government’s proposal to introduce a constitutional amendment that would make the assembly votes to determine senate elections open shows of hand; the national assembly and senate have been called into session and may vote on an amendment beginning February 27. PPP opposition leader Khursheed Shah said Tuesday that it would be “impossible” to amend the constitution on such a short timeline, however; former Pres. Zardari has suggested an all-parties conference on the issue. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: On Tuesday, Sindh passed an amendment to its local government laws, empowering the Election Commission to delimit constituency boundaries, but transferring that power back to the Sindh government after elections are concluded. The government also appears to retain the power to set the number of union councils, committees, and wards. Elsewhere, Nabeel Gabol, an MQM national assembly member from Karachi, quit the party and resigned from the assembly, saying he would “decide later on my future prospects in politics”. Gabol previously quit the PPP to join the party in 2013. Separately, Altaf Hussain dismissed two leaders of  the three top leaders of the MQM’s Rabita Committee on Tuesday. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Seminary Protests: The Wafaqul Madaris al-Arabia coalition of Deobandi madrassas has announced plans to hold protests around the country, beginning in Lahore on March 15, against what it says are government “actions against religion in the name of anti-terrorism”.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Woes: A meeting of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committ on Tuesday reviewing Pakistan International Airlines’ financial troubles backed a bailout plan for the airline that would see the government assume responsibility for the carrier’s Rs 288 billion in debts, but objected to plans to spin off non-core functions of the airline to the private sector, which would likely result in cuts to around 40% of PIA’s workforce. [Dawn]
  • Energy Crisis: Sindh finance minister Murad Ali Shah told the provincial assembly on Tuesday that the 6,000 megawatt Gadani coal power project had been “suspended,” citing environmental and health concerns; previous reports had indicated that Chinese companies had withdrawn support for the project over cost and design concerns.
  • Polio Crisis: A new polio case registered in Khyber Agency has brought the national total for new cases this year to ten.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Indian Coast Guard Official Who Contradicted Account of Pakistani Boat’s Destruction Suspended [Dawn]
  • ASWJ Korangi District President Killed [ET]
  • Sindh Police Posting Board Formed [Dawn]
  • Government Seeks More Time to Shahbaz Bhatti’s Killer’s Appeal [ET]
  • Punjab Assembly Passes Resolution Against Private School Security Fees [ET]
  • Bodies Discovered in Peshawar Linked to 2012 Airport Attack [Dawn]
  • Frontier Corps Soldier Killed in Quetta Landmine Blast [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Detainee Torture Declines: A UN report released Wednesday found that Afghan police and intelligence services continue to practice “systematic torture” at a number of detention facilities — including beatings, electric shocks, and asphyxiation, among other practices — based on interviews with roughly 800 detainees. 35% had experienced a form of torture or mistreatment, a 14% decline from levels found in a similar report issued last year. UN officials credited the new government for its “commitment to implement a new national plan on elimination of torture”; Interior Ministry officials said that they were committed to “totally eradicating” the practice, and insisted that its use was a result only of individual actions. [Khaama Press] [UN Report (pdf)]
  • Drawdown Plans: In remarks to reporters on Tuesday, Sec. Kerry indicated that Pres. Obama would make a decision on drawdown plans and U.S. force levels through 2016 “shortly”. Stars and Stripes notes that roughly 100 soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division have been ordered for a year-long deployment to Kandahar beginning this spring, where U.S. officials are expected to decide to retain airfield facilities. [Khaama Press]
  • Helmand Operations: Ministry of Defense officials tell TOLO that ongoing operations in Helmand are moving slowly due to a desire to minimize civilian and Afghan army casualties, and that the ANA is also conducting supporting operations in neighboring provinces in order to target Taliban fighters who may be fleeing the main area of operations.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Syed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban official, tells TOLO that the Taliban have selected seven representatives to take part in peace talks with the Afghan government, including at least some of the five former Taliban commanders released to Qatari custody from Guantanamo last year. TOLO identifies Syed Tayyab Agha, Mawlawi Shahabuddin Dilawar, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, and Qari Din Mohammad as lead Taliban negotiators. [Dawn]
  • Trilateral Transit Agreement: Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Muhammad Reza Bahrami, said Tuesday that an agreement on a trilateral transit trade agreement between Iran, Afghanistan, and India was “in the final stages of review”, and was awaiting approval from New Delhi and Kabul. The deal would allow Indian goods to enter Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port, and vice versa.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Fuel Procurement Investigation: The WSJ details an ongoing investigation initiated by Pres. Ghani into an $800 million three-year fuel supply contract for the Afghan National Army, which losing bidders complain they were barred from competing on. The investigation is now evaluating whether the winning bidders, Ghazanfar Neft Gas Ltd, colluded with defense ministry officials to shut out of their rivals. Ghazanfar officials deny any wrongdoing, as does the head of defense ministry’s main procurement office, who has been suspended as the investigation proceeds.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • New Mazar-e-Sharif Militia Formed, Citing Daesh Threat [WAPO]
  • Afghan Government Should Share Power with Taliban, Musharraf Says [WSJ]
  • Election Reform Commission Waiting on Ghani Order, Abdullah Spokesman Says [TOLO]
  • Interior Minister Leads Delegation to Investigate Nangarhar Corruption [Pajhwok]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Afghan Taliban Deny Reports on Talks; Peshawar School Attacker Arrested

Topline

  • The Afghan Taliban issued a statement on Monday refuting recent press reports suggesting they were preparing to engage in diplomatic talks with the Afghan government, but also expressed a willingness to achieve their goals through both “military and political mechanisms”. Afghan national security advisor Hanif Atmar visited Qatar on Tuesday, although it is as yet unconfirmed whether or not he will meet with Taliban representatives. Pakistani security officials say they arrested another commander linked with last December’s attack on the Peshawar Army Public School. PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah expressed concern over the use of civil-military provincial apex committees as governing bodies. Prime Minister Sharif has endorsed a PTI call for senate elections to be conducted by open ballot in the provincial assemblies, and may attempt to push a constitutional amendment to that effect through before the vote takes place on March 5. India’s foreign secretary is expected to visit Pakistan during the first week of March.

Pakistan — Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: Pakistani security officials announced Monday that they had arrested Taj Muhammad, alias Rizwan, who they identified as a commander of one of the groups of gunmen involved in the December attack on the Peshawar Army Public School. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif met with Prime Minister Sharif on Tuesday to brief him on the arrests and other security issues. The prime minister chaired a meeting on the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism on Monday; the Post reports on ongoing efforts to register and verify cell phone usage as part of the plan. Separately, parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah cautioned that new joint political-military provincial apex committees were meant to monitor government activities, not supplant them. On Monday, the attorney general submitted a response on behalf of the government in a Supreme Court hearing a petition against the introduction of military courts for terrorist suspects, seeking the dismissal of the challenge. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Balochistan to Replace Frontier Corps: Balochistan home secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani tells the Express Tribune that the government plans to redeploy the paramilitary Frontier Corps to its traditional border security role and that its internal security functions will be taken over by a new force of police and paramilitary Levies will be trained by the military to replace them over the next year and a half.
  • Karachi Operation Short of Funds: The Express Tribune reports that the ongoing paramilitary and police crackdown on criminal and militant groups in Karachi has not received funds from the Sindh government for the past six months and has “come to a virtual standstill” as a result.
  • Chaman Bombing: One person was killed and seven injured in a when a bomb planted on a bicycle exploded in Chaman on Tuesday; it is the second explosion at the border town in two days. No claim of responsibility has been reported in either case. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: Prime Minister Sharif made a surprise endorsement of Imran Khan’s earlier call for senate elections to be decided through open ballot by the provincial assemblies; the party may attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to that effect before the vote takes place on March 5, Dawn reports. Khan had called for the move as a means of reducing vote-buying and deal-making over assembly votes; the PML-N appears to be back the measure in order to force wayward party members to stick to its candidates. Several other parties have now backed the change, although PPP leaders have expressed caution about an amendment move before the vote. [ET]
  • Election Complaints: Lawyers representing Imran Khan spoke at an Election Commission hearing on Monday, refuting charges of mismanaging PTI party expenses brought by former vice president Akbar Babar; a written response is due by the next hearing, scheduled for March 3. Separately, final arguments in the PTI’s challenge of the results in the NA-122 Lahore constituency will take place February 27. [Dawn]
  • Indian Foreign Secretary Visit: Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar will visit Pakistan during the first week of March, Pakistani diplomatic sources tell Dawn; no exact date has been confirmed.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Officials Meet to Plan FATA IDP Repatriation [Dawn]
  • Islamic State Poses ‘Serious Threat’, Foreign Secretary Says [ET] [ET]
  • Lal Masjid Leader Denies Apologizing for Remarks [Dawn]
  • Interior Minister Meets with UK Officials, Calls for Western Efforts to Stop Islamophobia [ET]
  • Reuters Pakistan Bureau Chief Maria Golovnina Found Dead at Home [Reuters]
  • CNG Sector Prepares for LNG Import [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Assemblies Protest Energy Shortages [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • PML-N Leader Killed in Karachi Shooting [ET]
  • Sindh Local Elections Bill Deferred as PPP and MQM Continue Negotiations [ET]
  • Punjab Assembly Establishes Curriculum Board [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks: Gunmen abducted a group of roughly 30 Hazara men traveling by bus in Zabul province; women and children traveling in a separate bus were left behind. The group was reportedly returning from Iran. No claim of responsibility for the kidnappings has been reported, and the Taliban have not confirmed responsibility; police officials said they were investigating. Separately, a suicide car bomber detonated at a police checkpoint in Kabul on Tuesday, injuring one bystander and damaging shops. [AJE] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: In a statement on Monday, the Taliban denied multiple reports that it was preparing to enter into negotiations with the Afghan government, saying that “these are nothing more than the views and assumptions of these outlets” and reiterating that “every report which is not published or confirmed by the official channels of Islamic Emirate are false and hold no value”. At the same time the group expressed a desire to “end the occupation, attain independence, establish an all Afghan-inclusive Islamic government and peace for our countrymen” through both “military and political mechanisms”. Pres. Ghani and Prime Minister Sharif spoke by phone on Monday to discuss the dialogue process; on Tuesday, Afghan national security advisor Hanif Atmar visited Qatar, where he met with the Qatari prime minister. Meetings with Taliban representatives at the group’s political office in Qatar have not been confirmed. [AP] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [ET]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Council of Ministers Reviews Security Issues [TOLO]
  • Afghan Security Officials Back Use of Drones [TOLO]
  • Two Men Sentenced in Plot to Carry Out Attacks on US Forces in Afghanistan [Reuters]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Slower US Troop Drawdown Under Consideration; Taliban and Afghan Govt Move Closer to Talks

Topline

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Afghanistan for meetings with senior Afghan officials and U.S. commanders on Saturday and Sunday; in a joint press conference with Pres. Ghani, he confirmed that the U.S. was considering slowing the pace of its drawdown of forces between now and 2016, although the withdrawal of all forces at the end of 2016 so far remains firm. Pres. Ghani’s office issued a statement welcoming Pakistani support in “paving the ground” for peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban; anonymous Taliban sources speaking to the press suggest that they have been “given the green light” by the insurgency’s senior leaders to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government. The Election Commission of Pakistan completed its review of senate candidate applications, disqualifying 38, and will begin hearing appeals of its decisions today. The ECP appears to have relaxed restrictions on candidates contesting from provinces where they are not residents. The MQM and PPP have yet to finalize the terms of their coalition government agreement in Sindh. Prime Minister Sharif deferred a proposed gas tariff increase until April at earliest, despite warnings from gas utilities that they are facing “financial collapse” at current rates; plans for integrating newly imported liquefied natural gas into the system have yet to be finalized. A spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa said that the group would appeal its UN ban, claiming to have no links to Lashkar-e-Taiba or other terrorist organizations.

Pakistan — Security

  • Policing and Counterterrorism Response: Security was stepped up in Peshawar on Friday in the wake of last week’s attack on a Shia mosque. The Express Tribune reports that a Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial investigation into the Army Public School attack in December has not charged any officials with negligence. A separate report notes that many schools in the Swat area remain closed for lack of approved security plans. Elsewhere, the Sindh government announced plans to recruit 1,500 additional female police officers; at a meeting of senior government and PPP officials on Saturday, former Pres. Zardari called for the establishment of a provincial counterterrorism force and a women’s anti-terrorism force. Sindh also reportedly plans to establish at least two dedicated police stations in Hyderabad and Sukkur and a separate jail in Karachi to focus on terrorism issues. [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Chaman Bombing: A bomb planted inside a car exploded at the Chaman border crossing on Sunday, killing one child and injuring at least nine other people. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: A Pakistani army major was killed in a search operation near Datta Khel, North Waziristan on Friday, military officials reported; at least five militants were reported to have also been killed in the engagement. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Banned Organizations: A spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa said that the organization plans to renew an appeal to the UN to lift a international sanctions ban, claiming that the organization has no linkages with Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al Qaeda, or the Taliban. Separately, in remarks to reporters in Washington on Friday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan suggested that the arrest of Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz, as sought by civil society activists, “will create a diversion and benefit the militants… we do not want to take a decision that we have to review later.”

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: The current senate will hold its final session on February 27, and following elections March 5, new senators will be sworn in March 12. On Friday, the Election Commission of Pakistan cleared 144 candidates to contest the 52 senate seats up for election, rejecting 38. 23 out of 43 candidates from the FATA were rejected, the highest of any province. The Express Tribune reports that the ECP relaxed restrictions on candidates contesting elections from provinces where they are not registered residents; two PML-N candidates for reserved women’s seats from Islamabad are from Khyber Paktunkwha and Sindh. The ECP will begin hearing appeals and challenges to its decisions on Monday. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Imran Khan called for open balloting on the senate vote, which is conducted by members of the provincial assemblies, and also called for a future constitutional amendment instituting direct elections for the upper house. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • MQM Manuevers: The Express Tribune reports that, despite an earlier agreement between the PPP and the MQM to rejoin in coalition government in the Sindh assembly, the two parties have not reached a final agreement on power-sharing and appointments; meanwhile, the PML-F has reportedly reached out to the MQM to propose an alliance in the senate elections against the PPP. Meanwhile, in a statement on Saturday, MQM leader Altaf Hussain called for the army to conduct an investigation into the 2012 Baldia factory fire, in which party affiliates have been implicated. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Prime Minister Sharif deferred a proposed increase in gas tariff rates until April, despite warnings from the ministry for petroleum and natural resources that the gas sector is facing “financial collapse” for lack of revenues. Imports of liquefied natural gas from Qatar are due to begin as soon as February 28, but Dawn notes that purchasing and pricing of the gas by the country’s primary gas distribution utilities has not been finalized. Separately, Dawn reports that Aamir Naseem, the acting head of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, has been replaced by Babar Yaqoob; Naseem’s appointment to the body had previously been challenged last November in light of his role as a manager for the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Economic Corridor Project: Pakistan’s Environment Protection Agency has rejected an environmental impact study prepared for the construction of a highway linking Raikot and Islamabad, part of the overall Pakistan-China economic corridor project. [Dawn]
  • Tax Revenues: Federal Board of Revenue officials acknowledged in a presentation to the Economic Advisory Council on Saturday that the government would struggle to meet its already-revised tax collection target for the current fiscal year. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • HRW Urges Halt to Crackdown on Afghan Refugees [ET]
  • President Rejects Six Death Row Clemency Pleas [Dawn]
  • Deadline for Challenging Expanded Musharraf Treason Trial Passes Without Challenge [Dawn]
  • Quetta Train Derailed in Bombing [ET]
  • Chinese Ambassador Meets with Chief of Army Staff to Discuss Xi Jinping Visit [ET]
  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Abu Dhabi Defense Expo [Dawn]
  • Foreign Service Objects to Political Diplomatic Postings [ET]
  • Government Aims to Raise $600M from Habib Bank Ltd Stake Sale [ET]
  • Iran Electricity Import Plan Stalls Under Sanction Threat [ET]
  • Pakistan Preparing to Release Indian Fishing Boats [ET]
  • Commentary: How ISIS Could Become a Potent Force in South Asia – “Even if ISIS fails to comfortably set up shop in South Asia, its mere attempt to assert itself could bring much bloodshed.” [Michael Kugelman, South Asia Channel]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Carter Visits Afghanistan, Suggests Slower Troop Drawdown: Shortly after being sworn in, new U.S. secretary of defense Ash Carter visited Kabul on Saturday, for talks with U.S. commanders and senior Afghan officials. Speaking at a joint press conference with Pres. Ghani, Carter confirmed that “Pres. Obama is considering a number of options to reinforce our support for Pres.  Ghani’s security strategy, including possible changes to the timeline for our drawdown of U.S. troops”. In response to questions about former Taliban commanders pledging affiliation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Carter also indicated that “we are discussing and rethinking the details of the counter-terrorism mission and how the environment has changed here with respect to terrorism”. Previous reports have suggested that the U.S. is debating slowing the withdrawal pace of its currently roughly 10,000 troops in theater, but no reports have yet indicated that the administration’s end-2016 deadline for the withdrawal of all forces is under reconsideration. Pres. Ghani is due to visit Washington in March, at which point some reports suggests an announcement on a modified drawdown plan might be made; in the joint press conference Ghani said that “our relationship is not defined by the number of troops, but by the comprehensive nature of the partnership”. On Sunday, Carter visited U.S. and Afghan forces in Kandahar; while Carter has yet to make any public conclusions on the pace of the drawdown, officials tell the WSJ that the Kandahar Airfield facility’s closure would likely be delayed by a year until the end of 2016. [AP] [WAPO] [BBC] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: The Helmand police chief told reporters on Sunday that ongoing military operations in the Sanging district had killed at least 160 Taliban fighters since February 15, with only two police officers killed. Separately, local officials report that a Daesh-affiliated group of militants had destroyed shrines in Logar province’s Charkh district. Logar provincial police officials also report that they have arrested 14 police officers in connection to the attack on police headquarters there earlier this month, on suspicion of aiding the attack. Meanwhile, Alexis Prem Kumar, an Indian aid worker kidnapped in Herat eight months ago, was freed on Sunday; details of his release have not been disclosed. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: While speaking during Saturday’s joint press conference with Sec. Carter, Pres. Ghani expressed optimism on peace efforts, saying that “the grounds for peace have never been better than they are today” in the past thirty years. In the day prior, Ghani’s office issued a statement welcoming “Pakistan’s recent efforts in paving the ground for peace and reconciliation”; he met with representatives of the High Peace Council on Friday to discuss the peace process, which he said was his highest priority. During a separate meeting  in Washington on Friday with Pakistani interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Sec. Kerry also credited Pakistan with “an unprecedented level of effort to try to produce cooperation”. On Sunday, Chief Executive Abdullah told a Kabul audience that “peace doesn’t mean to make a deal on honor, prestige and rights of the people”, which he said would be protected; at a cabinet meeting on Monday, Abdullah said that peace talks would begin soon but “no compromise would be made with the thirteen years of achievements”. Anonymous officials told the Express Tribune on Friday that the Ghani administration had begun “preliminary contacts” with Taliban representatives, but stressed that “this is only the beginning”. Another source indicates that China has agreed to host direct talks in Beijing. Anonymous Taliban sources tell the Express Tribune that the senior Taliban leadership “has now given the green signal” for direct talks with the Afghan government, and that Qari Din Mohammad, who was previously a Taliban representative at the group’s Qatar political office, is visiting Pakistan and plans to hold follow-up discussions with China at a later date. Publicly, the insurgency has yet to confirm any interest in talks. On Friday, Reuters reported that Afghan security forces had cracked down and arrested at least 15 Uighurs linked to militancy, in a bid to garner additional Chinese support for a peace effort and for pressure on Pakistan to curtail the Taliban. [AFP] [TOLO]
  • Electoral Reforms: TOLO reports that Pres. Ghani may appoint the special commission on electoral reforms as soon as Wednesday; the commission is expected to comprise between nine to eleven members and to carry out its work for 4-5 months.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Economy in Crisis after US Troop Withdrawal [AJE]
  • Breshna Warns Against Altering CASA-1000 Route [TOLO]
  • Mining Minister Says Contracts will be Reviewed [TOLO]
  • UNESCO to Construct Bamiyan Museum [TOLO]
  • Commentary: China’s Role in Afghanistan – “China’s willingness to cooperate with the governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan may enable it to reduce significantly the degree of threat that the Pakistani elite sees from Afghanistan and the U.S.” [Barnett Rubin, NYT]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pricing Agreement Reached on Qatar LNG Import; Operations Continue in Sangin

Topline

  • Pakistani negotiators have reportedly reached agreement on a pricing formula for the import of liquefied natural gas from Qatar, at $7 per mbtu. Afghan ministry of defense officials say they have killed nearly 300 Taliban fighters in ongoing operations in Helmand’s Sangin district. The PTI has demanded a stronger government response in the contradictory messages from Indian officials over the status of a Pakistani fishing boat that exploded near Indian territorial waters over New Year’s Eve. Pakistani military spokesmen reiterated support for Afghan peace talks in a statement on Thursday; despite denials from the Taliban and U.S. that they would engage in direct talks this week, efforts to push broader discussions between Taliban and Afghan government representatives in March appear to be continuing. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan presented a five-point strategy for countering extremism at the White House summit on Thursday. The Pakistani senate committee on law and justice passed two draft constitutional amendments that would extend the jurisdiction of high courts to FATA and bar judges and armed service members from holding dual nationality. At least six men, most affiliated with the MQM, have been barred from leaving the country as investigations continue into the 2012 Baldia factory fire incident.

Pakistan — Security

  • Indian Tensions: In a PTI statement on Thursday, Imran Khan demanded that the government “immediately investigate India’s latest act of aggression and take appropriate action” after reports in the Indian press earlier this week quoted the Deputy Inspector General of the Indian Coast Guard, B.K. Loshali, suggesting that he had ordered a Pakistani finishing boat to be blown up as it neared Indian territorial waters on December 31. Loshali subsequently denied those press accounts; he may now face a court martial. At a press conference on Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said that “it has been proven from the contradictory statements issued by top Indian officials that the boat issue was a drama that has now been exposed”.
  • Counterterrorism Response: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan attended the White House summit on countering violent extremism on Thursday, presenting a five-point strategy focusing on “strengthening local communities, winning the trust of mainstream peace-loving majority, building resilience in local communities against radicalisation, addressing the push factors driving people to extremism and focusing on education to promote tolerance”. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Constitutional Amendments: On Thursday, the Senate committee on law and justice approved a draft constitutional amendment bill that would extend the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A second amendment proposal codifies a ban on high court judges and armed forces personnel from holding dual nationality.
  • Baldia Fire Investigations: The ministry of interior has reportedly placed six individuals on the exit control list, barring them from leaving the country, in connection to renewed investigations into the September 2012 Baldia factory fire. At least five are described as senior MQM activists; the party has denied association with Mohammad Rizwan Qureshi, whose testimony to a joint investigation team implicated the party in an extortion attempt on the factory. A new team has reportedly been tasked with investigating the incident.
  • Elections: The Election Commission of Pakistan has rejected as many as two dozen senate candidate nominations from the FATA on tax evasion charges, including some previously serving senators; candidates complain that they are not obliged as residents of the FATA to file taxes, which the Federal Board of Revenue disputes. [Dawn]
  • Punjab Governor Appointment: Dawn notes that the PML-N has been moving slowly to name a replacement for former Punjab governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar after he quit the office and the party last month, out of apparent concern that the next nominee be someone that “as displayed unrivalled loyalty towards the Sharif family over the years”.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • LNG Import: The Express Tribune reports that Pakistani negotiators have reached an agreement with Qatar to import 500 million cubic feet per day of liquefied natural gas at a price of $7 per million British thermal units; the price does not include cost of shipping. Deliveries are expected to begin as soon as March.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Approves Rs 5 Billion Development Package for Quetta [Dawn]
  • PTI Charges Finance Minister With Tax Evasion [ET]
  • Compensation Checks for Shikarpur Bombing Victims Bounce, Families Report [ET]
  • Supreme Court Hears Complaints on Police Abuses [ET]
  • Two Killed in Naseerabad Landmine Blast [Dawn]
  • Government Continues to Face Criticism Over Pakistan-China Economic Corridor Route [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Protesting Against Terrorism in Pakistan – “Pakistan’s progressives are angry. Finally, it shows, and they are being arrested for it.” [Nadia Naviwala, South Asia Chanel]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Helmand Operations: Ministry of defense officials reported Thursday that they had killed nearly 300 Taliban fighters in ongoing combined arms operations in the Sangin district that began nine days prior. [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: As noted yesterday, the Taliban and U.S. officials separately denied reports that they were engaging in direct talks in Qatar this week; reports of broader discussions planned between the Afghan government and the insurgency in the coming month were not directly addressed. A spokesman for the Pakistani military reiterated its support for a peace process on Thursday; an anonymous security source tells Reuters that despite the denials the Taliban “have expressed their willingness and there will be progress in March. But these things are not so quick and easy.” Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with Sec. Kerry in Washington on Thursday and suggested that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan “have never been better”. [WAPO] [Guardian] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghanistan’s First Lady on U.S. Visit, Walking Line Between Reform and Caution [WAPO]
  • Accusations of Corruption and Negligence Against Acting Governors Increase [TOLO]
  • Kandahar Central Bank Branch Robbed by Staff [Khaama Press]
  • Report: Does Youth Employment Build Stability? – “Mercy Corps recently undertook a rigorous impact evaluation to test whether youth unemployment is linked to support for political violence in Afghanistan.” [Mercy Corps]