Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Five Senators Under Scrutiny for Dual Nationality; Suicide Bomber Targets Hazaras in Kabul

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Topline

  • The Election Commission of Pakistan formally notified the results of the senate elections except for five senators who are accused of holding dual nationalities; the Supreme Court has set hearings on the issue for Saturday, ahead of a vote on the new chairmanship at the start of next week.
  • A suicide bomber attacked a Hazara political gathering in Kabul on Friday, killing between seven and thirteen people and wounding many more; no immediate claim of responsibility has been reported, but deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq blamed the Islamic State.
  • On Thursday, the US State Department announced new bounties for the location of TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah and the heads of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Islam. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua called for “structured dialogue” between the U.S. and Pakistan, and “less on kinetics and more reconciliations” in Afghanistan.
  • Speaking at a UN Security Council session on Thursday, UN Special Representative Tadamichi Yamamoto called on the Taliban to enter into talks with the Afghan government.
  • In a ruling on Thursday, the Islamabad High Court ordered the ECP to re-hear a party registration application from the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s Milli Muslim League, which the ECP previously denied.
  • In a ruling on Friday, the IHC ordered that declarations of faith be made compulsory for all civil servants, members of the army, and the judiciary, and that information on an individual citizen’s “true faith” be included on all major identification documents.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Reward for Location of TTP Leader: On Thursday, the US State Department announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the location of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander Maulana Fazlullah, and $3 million each for Abdul Wali, the leader of the TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, and Mangal Bagh, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Islam. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman told a weekly press briefing that Pakistan “has always extended maximum possible cooperation that could help achieve our shared objectives” with the United States, which he said included “peace and stability in Afghanistan”. Speaking to reporters in Washington, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua called for “structured dialogue” and said that Pakistan “wants less on kinetics and more reconciliations [in Afghanistan], as ultimately it’s reconciliation that produces results”. [ET]
  • JuD Sanctions: Interior Secretary Arshad Mirza briefed a senate panel on Thursday, reporting that all Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation properties had been taken over by the government in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, and 148 properties or assets have been seized in Punjab. Separately on Thursday, the Islamabad High Court referred back to the Election Commission a JuD petition challenging the rejection of a party registration for its Milli Muslim League political party, directing the ECP to re-hear the application. [Dawn] [AP]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: On Friday, the Election Commission formally notified the election results of all but five senators elected last Saturday; the five are accused of holding dual nationality, and include Nuzhat Sadiq, Haroon Akhter, Chaudhry Sarwar, and Saeeda Abbasi from Punjab, and Khuda Babar from Balochistan. The Supreme Court ordered affidavits from three Abbasi, Sadiq, and Sarwar that they had renounced their dual nationalities after they appeared before the court on Thursday; the court is set to hear the case on Saturday. Negotiations continue amongst the parties over the choice of a new senate chairman; explaining his support for an alternative candidate on Thursday, former Pres. Zardari said that incumbent Chairman Raza Rabbani did “not resolve party’s reservations regarding the 18th Amendment and tried to side with Nawaz Sharif during his tenure”. Imran Khan announced on Thursday that the PTI would back a candidate chosen by Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddos Bizenjo, describing his goal as blocking the PML-N from taking the chairmanship. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Islamabad High Court Rules Declaration of Faith Compulsory: In a ruling on Friday, the Islamabad High Court ordered that it was mandatory for all citizens of Pakistan to declare their “true faith”, and for this information to be recorded on birth certificates, ID cards, voter lists, and passports. The court also ruled that members of the civil service, armed forces, or judiciary “must take an oath which ensures compliance with the definition of Muslim and non-Muslim provided in the Constitution”. Separately, the AP profiles the case of Aasia Bibi.
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: During court hearings on Thursday at which he was direct to focus only on a specific corruption case at hand, Panama Papers Joint Investigation Team head Wajid Zia testified that the investigation “could not be seen in parts” and that its findings were “inseparable”. Judge Muhammad Bashir, the judge hearing the case, received a three-year extension to his tenure on Thursday. Dawn reports that the National Accountability Bureau is expanding its corruption investigations against former Lahore Development Authority director Ahad Khan Cheema. A spokesman for the Punjab government confirmed that Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif would cooperate with a court order to repay funds used for government advertisements. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The PTI’s Punjab chapter announced plans to file legal challenges against new constituency boundaries in the Lahore High Court and Supreme Court, accusing the PML-N of gerrymandering them to minimize opposition party strength. In a farewell speech in the senate on Thursday, PPP senator Aitzaz Ahsan denounced the PML-N for “attacking the higher judiciary of the country in speeches and rallies”, saying that doing so was “creating space for a dictator”. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Missing Activist Samar Abbas Contacts Family [Dawn]
  • JUI-F Leader Vows to ‘Stop Blasphemy’ at Rally in Support of Mashal Khan Lynching Suspect [ET]
  • Foreign Minister Insists Saudi Deployment Limited to ‘Internal Security’ [Dawn] [ET]
  • Sindh Apex Body Orders Renaming of Buildings and Roads Honoring Altaf Hussain [Dawn]
  • Baloch Republican Army Commander Surrenders [ET]
  • Court Orders Musharraf’s Arrest and Extradition [Dawn]
  • Ministries Ask K-Electric to Disclose Stake Sale Agreement [ET]
  • Privatization Commission Reviews Plans for PIA Restructuring [Dawn]
  • Renault Suffers Setback as Pakistan Steel Mills Refuses to Provide Allocated Land [ET]
  • Commentary: To Be Young and Pashtun in Pakistan – “Mr. Mehsud, like me, was trying to build a life in a Pakistani city far from home. Doing that requires acts of will and hope despite an awareness of a history of neglect, prejudice and violence that the people of the tribal areas share with Pakistan.” [Raza Wazir, NYT]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Bombing: A suicide bomber attacked a gathering in Kabul on Friday commemorating the death anniversary of Abdul Ali Mazari, a Hazara political leader killed by the Taliban in 1995; reports of the death toll vary, with anywhere between seven to thirteen reported dead, and many more injured. No immediate claim of responsibility has been reported; deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq blamed the Islamic State. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: Pres. Ghani met with military officials on Thursday to review plans for a new nationwide military operation scheduled to be launched at the new solar year on March 21. On Thursday evening, at least sixteen Afghan soldiers and Afghan Local Police militiamen were killed in a Taliban attack in the Khaja Ghar district in Takhar province. Officials in Kandahar’s Maiwand district claim that as many as sixty Taliban fighters were killed in U.S. airstrikes on Wednesday evening. [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Speaking at a UN Security Council session on Thursday on the latest quarterly report on the situation in Afghanistan, UN Special Representative Tadamichi Yamamoto called on the Taliban to enter into talks with the Afghan government “to put an end to the suffering of the Afghan people”, saying that “it is now incumbent upon the Taliban to come forward with an offer of their own” in response to the government’s plan. On Thursday, the Afghan High Peace Council said that Indonesia will host a meeting of religious scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia to discuss the conflict in Afghanistan; a date for the conference was not announced. [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Female Police Officers Help Security on Afghan Front Line [Reuters]
  • AIHRC Chair Blasts Govt Over Gender Inequality [TOLO]
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Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Nawaz Backs Rabbani As Senate Chairman, But Zardari Opposed; Drone Strike in Kunar Targets TTP

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Topline

  • In a meeting with coalition partners on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif backed Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani’s continuation in that position, but former Pres. Zardari confirmed his opposition to another term for Rabbani in remarks on Wednesday, without elaborating.
  • A U.S. drone strike in Kunar province killed twenty or more Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants, including the son of TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah and several top commanders and trainers.
  • PM Abbasi has reportedly nominated Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, an advisor to the prime minister and business leader, as the new ambassador to the United States.
  • India and Pakistan have agreed to a release of elderly, disabled, and female civilian prisoners; Pakistan has proposed extending the amnesty to prisoners over the age of 60 or under the age of 18.
  • Kazakhstan has granted the United States transit access for non-military materiel between the Caspian Sea and Uzbekistan, in a possible alternative supply route that bypasses both Russia and Pakistan.
  • The Afghan ministry of defense sent a delegation to Tehran for talks on regional security issues on Wednesday.
  • Senator Farhatullah Babar resigned as a spokesman for former Pres. Zardari and the PPP on Wednesday following a farewell speech in the senate the day prior in which he criticized the “judicialisation of politics and politicisation of the judiciary”; he remains the party secretary general.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • India and Pakistan Agree on Prisoner Exchange: On Wednesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry announced that it had agreed to an Indian proposal for both sides to release all prisoners who are either over 70 years of age, mentally disabled, or women; Foreign Minister Khawaj Asif reportedly also proposed extending the amnesty to include prisoners over 60 or under the age of 18. [AP]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: Nawaz Sharif met with other top government coalition partners on Tuesday, including the JUI-F, PkMAP, and National Party, to discuss elections for a new senate chairman. Dawn reports that Nawaz backed the continuation of current chairman Raza Rabbani in his position. Former Pres. Zardari confirmed his opposition to Rabbani’s continuation in office at a press conference on Wednesday after a meeting with JUI-F leader Fazl-ur Rehman, cutting short the conference without elaborating. Another PML-N source tells Dawn that the party is considering National Party chairman Hasil Khan Bizenjo for the chairmanship if the PPP is unwilling to back Rabbani; an Express Tribune report suggests that rival factions of the PML-N are also backing former information minister Pervaiz Rashid or senator Raja Zaraful Haq as candidates. The PPP leader is reportedly considering former finance minister Saleem Mandviwala for the position. Speaking on Wednesday, Imran Khan said that his party was seeking to nominate its own chairman independent of the PML-N or PPP, who he suggested would be from Balochistan. The Nation reports that Imran may announce actions today against PTI legislators who failed to follow party direction on their votes in the senate elections. On Thursday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar set a Mar 10 date for hearings on four senators-elect accused of holding dual nationality. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • US Relations: PM Abbasi has nominated Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, the son of a prominent businessman and a chairman himself of JS Bank Ltd, as the new ambassador to the United States; Siddiqui has been serving as an advisor to the prime minister since last August. Anonymous Pakistani foreign ministry sources tell The Nation that “trust is building” as a result of Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua’s visit to Washington this week, but provide no details on her talks. [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: At hearings on Wednesday, lawyers for Nawaz Sharif sought to block the inclusion of the Joint Investigation Team report on the Panama Papers as evidence in the corruption trial against Nawaz. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif to repay Rs 5.5 million for a Punjab government advertisement carrying his photograph. On Wednesday, the National Accountability Bureau began investigations into PTI allegations of money laundering by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: On Wednesday, the PPP announced that Senator Farhatullah Babar had resigned as a spokesman for the party and former Pres. Zardari, after he criticized the “judicialisation of politics and politicisation of the judiciary” in farewell remarks in the senate on Tuesday. He remains the party’s secretary general. In remarks on Wednesday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari challenged Imran Khan to contest elections in Karachi, and denounced the PTI and MQM as “friends of terrorists”. On Wednesday, the PTI announced that PML-N lawmaker Raza Hayat had joined the PTI. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet on Wednesday approved a Rs 93 billion plan to raise financing for the energy sector and pay down circular debts owed to independent power producers. [The Nation] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • IHC Reserves Verdict in Khatm-e-Nabuwat Clause Change Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • Report Reveals 213 Govt Officers Hold Dual Nationality [Dawn]
  • PTI Councilor Arrested in Mashal Khan Lynching Case [ET] [Dawn]
  • Waqt Group Accuses Federal Ombudswoman of Attacking TV Crew [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Reopening of Third Border Crossing with Afghanistan Deferred [The Nation]
  • Arms Cache Seized in Kohlu [ET]
  • Report: Caught in a Web: Treatment of Pakistanis in the Saudi Criminal Justice System – “The glaring defects in the criminal justice system are especially acute for Pakistanis, who face substantial difficulties finding legal assistance, navigating Saudi court procedures, and getting consular services from Pakistani embassy officials.” [HRW]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • TTP Targeted in Afghanistan: A U.S. drone strike in the Shegal district of Afghanistan’s Kunar province on Wednesday reportedly killed as many as 21 Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters, including Qari Yasin, a TTP trainer of suicide bombers, and TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah’s son, Abdullah. The TTP confirmed the strike in a statement late Wednesday evening; a spokesman for the U.S. military coalition in Afghanistan said that it was “not aware of this report and have no additional information to offer”. [AP] [Khaama Press]
  • Kazakhstan Agrees to Transit Agreement: The Kazakhstan parliament approved the opening of two ports on the Caspian sea for the transshipment of non-military U.S. materiel through Uzbekistan to Afghanistan, circumventing Russia and Pakistan.
  • Iran Talks: An Afghan ministry of defense delegation visited Tehran on Wednesday for talks with Iranian counterparts on regional security concerns; details are minimal.
  • Islamic State Calls for Immigration to Afghanistan: In a propaganda video released on Sunday under the banner of the Islamic State’s Khorasan Province affiliate, the Islamic State calls on Muslims around the world to immigrate to Afghanistan.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: As many as four people were reportedly killed in a suicide attack targeting the Spin Boldak police headquarters in Kandahar on Wednesday evening. Five Taliban fighters were reportedly killed in an NDS operation in the Surkh Rod district in Nangarhar on Wednesday. A U.S. drone strike in the Achin district in Nangarhar on Thursday reportedly killed five ISIS fighters. [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Speaking at an event on Thursday, Chief Executive Abdullah reiterated the government’s offer to hold talks with the Taliban and recognize it as a political group, but said that it would first need to “lay down arms, cut ties with the terror groups and networks, and renounce violence”.
  • Election Preparations: On Wednesday, Independent Election Commission officials warned that over 1,700 polling stations across at least 32 districts face serious security threats and would need additional security protection for polling.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kabul Hotel Reopens After Deadly Attack, But Guests Stay Away [AFP]
  • Second Deputy Meshrano Jirga Speaker Accused of Affair [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Is Peace in Afghanistan Within Reach? – “By offering to engage in talks, the Taliban may have given us a window into their mindset, and they have most assuredly given us an opening. The United States should take advantage of it.” [Anish Goel, CNN]
  • Commentary: A Late Demand to Change the Electoral System – “This new motion to introduce an electoral system more conducive to political parties was initiated and driven by Jamiat.” [Ali Yawar Adili, AAN]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: ECP Seeks Details on Senate Vote Trading; New Errors Found in Amended DOD Data on Afghanistan

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Topline

  • Negotiations continue in Pakistan over a possible new senate chairman; the Election Commission has summoned several politicians to provide evidence in support of charges that provincial assembly members sold their votes in the recent elections.
  • Stars and Stripes notes previously unannounced data corrections made to a biannual Pentagon report to Congress on U.S. operations and assistance in Afghanistan, and finds new errors in the corrected data; the Pentagon has not explained the reasons for the earlier changes.
  • On Wednesday, Germany’s cabinet approved an increase in the number of German troops in Afghanistan to around 1,300; the measure must still be approved by parliament.
  • On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan granted a two-month extension to its deadline for the completion of corruption investigations against Nawaz Sharif and his family, through May.
  • Pres. Ghani opened a new session of parliament on Wednesday after the end of winter recess, saying that “the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections at the given time is inevitable”.
  • A Quetta police officer providing security in a Hazara neighborhood was killed, and another wounded, in a shooting on Wednesday.
  • A federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday approved a restructuring and privatization plan for Pakistan International Airlines.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Quetta Police Officer Killed: A policeman was killed and another injured when their vehicle was attacked while guarding a Hazara community neighborhood in Quetta on Wednesday; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [The Nation] [AP]
  • India Border Tensions: Pakistani military officials claim to have shot down an Indian spy drone crossing the Line of Control on Tuesday evening. Pakistani and Indian border security forces held talks at the border on Wednesday. [Dawn] [The Nation] [AP] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: PM Abbasi met with Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday to discuss the party’s strategy to elect a new senate chairman; the PPP is also in negotiations in an attempt to hold on to the chairmanship. Senators from Balochistan are reportedly pushing for the chairman to be selected from the Balochistan delegation; the MQM Bahadurabad group also proposed its senator Farogh Naseem as a possible candidate for the chairmanship. On Tuesday, the Election Commission summoned several politicians who had accused their rivals of purchasing the votes of provincial assembly members to testify and provide evidence in support of those charges. A spokesman for the PTI said that the party was preparing a constitutional amendment to change the senate voting process, but did not provide details. [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court granted a two-month extension to allow for the completion of corruption investigations against Nawaz Sharif and his family, until May. Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly speaker Asad Qaiser appeared before the Peshawar High Court to respond to a contempt of court notice over the swearing-in of Baldev Kumar, seeking to deflect blame to assembly members who had protest against his entry into the assembly. In remarks on Tuesday, outgoing Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani criticized the PHC contempt notice and warned against other forms of judicial interference in parliamentary proceedings. The Supreme Court issued a new contempt of court notice against former PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi on Wednesday, and heard contempt charges against PML-N leaders Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhry on Tuesday. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune looks at fractures within the MQM. PPP assembly member Saeed Ghani was inducted into the Sindh provincial cabinet as minister for planning and development on Tuesday. MQM-Pakistan assembly member Heer Soho quit the party and joined the PPP on Tuesday. [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Privatization Plans: A federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday approved a restructuring and privatization plan for Pakistan International Airlines and the separation of its core and non-core business operations; the government will retain a 51% ownership stake.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Corps Commanders Meet to Review Security [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Lahore High Court Bars Govt from Arresting Hafeez Saeed ‘Until Further Notice’ [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Government Approves MP Salary Hike [ET]
  • Supreme Court Rejects Apology from Shahid Masood Over Kasur Allegations [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Industrialists Urge Govt to Release Rs 250 Billion in Tax Refunds [ET]
  • Commentary: Friends with Limited Benefits: China Won’t Save Pakistan During Crises of its Own Making – “There are areas where, although China is willing to spend political capital on Pakistan’s behalf, it doesn’t like being repeatedly put in the position where it has to do so.” [Andrew Small, ThePrint]
  • Commentary: IMF Executive Board Concludes First Post-Program Monitoring Discussions with Pakistan – “Directors took note of Pakistan’s favorable growth momentum, but noted with concern the weakening of the macroeconomic situation, including a widening of external and fiscal imbalances, a decline in foreign exchange reserves, and increased risks to Pakistan’s economic and financial outlook and its medium‑term debt sustainability.” [IMF]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Military Reporting: Stars and Stripes notes that the Pentagon has quietly corrected figures on U.S. and Afghan counterterrorism operations conducted in the second half of 2017 that were previously reported in its December biannual report to Congress; the Pentagon has provided no explanation for the change in numbers, some of which still contradict each other and appear to have introduced new ommissions or errors.
  • German Troop Increase: A German cabinet meeting on Wednesday approved an increase in the German military deployment in Afghanistan to around 1,300 troops; the measure must still be approved by the full Bundestag. [DW]
  • Attacks and Operations: The Nangarhar provincial director for the Hajj and Religious Affairs Department was killed in a suicide bombing attack in Jalalabad on Wednesday; one of his security guards was also killed. No immediate claim of responsibility has been reported. Security officials in Faryab claim to have killed the Taliban shadow governor in operations in the Sherin Tagab district. Airstrikes in the Laghman district of Alingar killed seven suspected militants on Tuesday. At least four Taliban fighters were reportedly killed after they attacked the Dawlat Abad district in Balkh on Tuesday. [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Opens Parliament Session: Pres. Ghani officially inaugurated a new session of parliament on Wednesday after the end of winter recess, reiterating calls for the Taliban to hold peace talks, touting the government’s security reform and revenue generation plans, and saying that “the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections at the given time is inevitable”. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Attorney General Calls for End to Arbitrary Detentions [TOLO]
  • Switzerland Signs MOU with Finance Ministry on Annual Aid Grants [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Ministry of Interior Seeks to End Tribal Protests in Ghazni Blocking Kabul-Kandahar Highway [TOLO]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Negotiations Continue Over Senate Chairmanship; US Praises Afghan Govt Peace Efforts

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Topline

  • The PML-N, PPP, and PTI are all in negotiations with smaller parties and independents in an effort to form a coalition to elect the new chairman of the senate; the first session of the new senate has been called for March 12. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has ordered an investigation into at least four new senators over alleged dual nationality; the ECP says that they have already signed affidavits disavowing any dual nationality.
  • In interviews with reporters on Monday, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells praised Pres. Ghani’s peace offer to the Taliban, describing it as a “dignified process for reaching a political framework”.
  • Balkh provincial council chairman Afzal Hadid told reporters on Monday that the national unity government and Jamiat-e-Islami were “very close to a final settlement” on Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor’s removal from office, but no final agreement has been announced.
  • The National Accountability Bureau has opened new corruption investigations against Nawaz Sharif and his family, as well as Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak.
  • PM Abbasi is on a trip to Nepal, where he met with his counterpart and discuss regional relations and economic cooperation and investment.
  • Pakistan is reportedly negotiating for another $1 billion commercial loan from China in an effort to stave off the deterioration of its foreign exchange reserves due to other debt repayments.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: The first session of the new senate has been called for March 12, with elections for the senate chairman and deputy chairman’s position to be held the same day. Negotiations are currently underway amongst the parties to form a coalition capable of electing the chairman, with the PML-N, PPP, and PTI all targeting independents and smaller parties. Current deputy chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F said on Tuesday that his party was backing Raza Rabbani’s continuation in the chairmanship. There is still uncertainty over the status of newly-elected PML-N affiliated senators, who were barred from contesting under the party banner, and whether they can now officially re-join the party; although lower house of parliament independents can announce a new party affiliation within three days of election, the constitution appears silent on the question for senators. On Monday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ordered the Election Commission to withhold notifications of victory for four senators accused of holding dual nationality; a spokesman for the ECP said on Tuesday that the senators had already submitted affidavits surrendering their dual nationality. Meanwhile, party leaders from all the major parties have sought investigations into allegations of vote selling and “horse trading”; the Express Tribune reports that former Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial minister Ziaullah Afridi negotiated a shift in support amongst PTI assembly members in favor of the PTI. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: At a meeting on Monday, the National Accountability Bureau approved the opening of two new corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif and has expanded its investigations against Shehbaz Sharif and other family members. An inquiry has also been ordered against Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak. National Bank of Pakistan president Saeed Ahmed is expected to be indicted at hearings on Mar 12 in connection to charges against former finance minister Ishaq Dar. Lawyers for Imran Khan denied allegations that he had forged permits for the construction of his Bani Gala residence at hearings on Tuesday. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court summoned former PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi over his remarks against the judiciary. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Regional Diplomacy: PM Abbasi met with his Nepalese counterpart Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli in Kathmandu on Monday, and met with the president of Nepal on Tuesday. Reuters looks at warming Russian-Pakistani defense and economic relations. [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The Election Commission released provisional descriptions of new constituency boundaries for the next general elections on Monday, based on provisional census data; Dawn offers preliminary analysis on some of the shifts from previous constituencies, and some discrepancies in size. Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly speaker Asad Qaiser said on Tuesday that the assembly would challenge some of the new constituency boundaries for the provincial assembly. Unofficial results indicate the PPP’s candidate won the PS-7 Ghotki special election held on Monday. [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Chinese Borrowing: Pakistan is in negotiations for another $1 billion commercial loan from China, the Express Tribune reports; the report also notes lower-than-planned disbursals from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, cutting further into foreign exchange reserves.
  • Energy Crisis: A cabinet meeting last month approved the re-imposition of electricity surcharges in an effort to generate funds to pay off Rs 922 billion in circular debts within the power sector, the Express Tribune reports.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Jamaat-e-Islami FATA Chapter Calls for Reforms Implementation [Dawn] [ET]
  • TYLRA Leader Khadmi Rizvi Declared Absconder After Failing to Appear Before Courts [ET]
  • Families of the Disappeared Hear Nothing But Silence from Officialdom [Dawn]
  • Senate Human Rights Committee Recommends Punishment for False Accusations of Blasphemy [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Orders Report on Rao Anwar’s Whereabouts [Dawn]
  • Chief of Army Staff Inaugurates New Road Project, Cadet College [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Navy and Air Force Conduct Joint Anti-Ship Cruise Missile Test [ET] [The Nation]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • US Strategy: Politico profiles U.S. and NATO Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson, noting tensions between his assessments of the current state of the conflict and those of intelligence agencies and other analysts.
  • New Territorial Army: A spokesman for the ministry of defense said Monday that the ministry was working to establish a structure and plan for the creation of a new “Territorial Army” militia program, with the goal of eventually recruiting around 36,000 recruits over three phases.
  • Attacks and Operations: At least two people were killed and three wounded when a bomb planted on a fuel tanker detonated in Nangarhar’s Behsud district on Tuesday; dozens of shops in the area were also destroyed in the resulting fire. No claim of responsibility has been reported. Separately, Nangarhar police announced the arrest of two Pakistani nationals accused of supplying suicide vest materials in Jalalabad. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: In interviews with reporters on Monday, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells praised Pres. Ghani’s peace offer to the Taliban, describing it as a “dignified process for reaching a political framework” and saying that any talks should involve the Afghan government, not just the U.S. as the Taliban have insisted. Uzbekistan is scheduled to hold a regional conference on the Afghan peace process on Mar 26-27. [Khaama Press]
  • Atta Firing Dispute: Afzal Hadid, the head of the Balkh provincial council and an aide to Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, tells TOLO that the government and Jamiat-e-Islami are “very close to a final settlement” over Atta’s removal from office, but no final agreement has been announced. [Pajhwok]
  • Election Preparations: Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Independent Election Commission members called on the government not to make any new district or provincial governor appointments in the last three months prior to the parliamentary elections, saying it could be a form of manipulation. [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Dostum Spokesman Complains He is Excluded from National Decision-Making [Ariana News]
  • Foreign Consortium Only Bidder for Kokcha Dam Project in Takhar [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Parties Negotiate for Chairmanship After Senate Elections; Agreement Reported on Atta Standoff

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Topline

  • PML-N affiliated independents won several seats in Saturday’s senate elections, leaving the party with a 33-seat plurality in the upper house; the PPP is now the second-largest party in the senate, with 20 seats. All sides accused each other of “horse trading” and buying the votes of rival assembly members to elect their candidates; the PTI scored an upset in Punjab with the election of Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, while the still-divided MQM elected only one senator. Six independent senators elected by the new breakaway Balochistan government appear to hold an important swing vote to determine the next senate chairman, which both the PML-N and PPP are now pursuing.
  • On Sunday, Interior Minister Wais Barmak said that the government was nearing an agreement with Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor over his removal and replacement; NDS chief Masoom Stanekazi and presidential advisor Abdul Salam Rahimi reportedly held talks with Atta on Monday. Details are limited, but some reports indicate Atta has agreed to step down, but will be allowed to pick his replacement.
  • Former Lahore Development Authority director Ahad Khan Cheema’s detention was extended by 15 days after court hearings on Monday; at the Supreme Court on Saturday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar warned that “pressuring [the National Accountability Bureau] cannot be tolerated”.
  • PTI Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly member Baldev Kumar was blocked again from taking the oath of office on Friday, prompting a contempt notice from the Peshawar High Court and a warning that it could suspend the senate election results; Kumar is accused of murdering his predecessor in the reserved minorities member seat.
  • A helicopter crash at the Kabul Military Academy on Sunday has wounded at least five foreign nationals; details are limited, but U.S. and NATO spokesmen say their personnel were not involved, and TOLO reports that the helicopter belong to a private construction contractor.
  • Two Australian private security contractors were wounded in a suicide bombing attack on their convoy in Kabul on Friday.
  • Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua will visit Washington this week for talks with U.S. officials.
  • In remarks on Friday, Gen. Nicholson said that “our goal is to help bring about a peaceful solution to this war… but we also know that sometimes peace is not possible until you put more pressure on the enemy”. A spokesman for the High Peace Council said that “the ball is in the court of the Taliban” to respond to the government’s new peace offers.
  • Pakistan is reportedly considering a WTO complaint against Turkey over the latter’s refusal to extend GSP Plus trading status to Pakistani textile exports, despite Turkey and the EU’s customs union.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Attacks and Operations: Two soldiers were wounded in a roadside bomb in the Khyber Agency’s Tirah valley on Friday. A woman was critically injured by a ‘toy bomb’ in Mir Ali, North Waziristan on Sunday. The military announced the seizure of an arms cache in South Waziristan on Sunday; no arrests were announced.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PML-N Affiliated Candidates Win Senate Seats: Unofficial results from senate elections held on Saturday indicate that the PML-N netted six seats to hold a 33-seat plurality in the upper house of parliament, winning all but one senate seat from Punjab, all seats in Islamabad, and two from Khyber Paktunkhwa. The PML-N’s candidates were officially elected as independents after a Supreme Court ruling invalidated Nawaz Sharif’s actions as party president, meaning some could yet affiliate with another party or remain as independents. One independent senator from the FATA joined the PML-N on Monday. The PPP won twelve seats, ten from Sindh and two from Khyber Paktunkhwa, but suffered a net loss of six seats from its previous position; it is now the second-largest party in the senate, with 20 seats. The PTI netted five additional seats, most from Khyber Paktunkhwa. Dawn breaks the results down by province, and outlines the new composition of the senate. Despite a last-minute rapprochement on Friday, the MQM remained divided, electing only one senator from the Bahadurabad group led by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. In Balochistan, six independent candidates were elected with the support of the new ruling coalition of dissident PML-N and PML-Q legislators. [The Nation] [AP] [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Senate Election Reactions: Anonymous PML-N sources tell Dawn that they will aim to secure the support of the remaining MQM legislators and some independents in order to secure a majority coalition in the upper house. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the PPP would also try to form a majority and hold the senate chairman’s position; The Nation reports that former Pres. Zardari is not supportive of Raza Rabbani’s continuation in that role, however. A PPP delegation traveled to Quetta on Sunday to hold talks with Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo to seek the support of the Balochistan independents. At a press conference on Sunday, Bizenjo suggested that he would seek a chairman from Balochistan. All sides accuse the other of bribing assembly members to switch votes; PTI party officials in Khyber Paktunkhwa allege that as many as 20 PTI provincial assembly members sold their votes to support PPP candidates, while The Nation reports that at least 38 PML-N Punjab provincial assembly members defected to support the PTI’s candidate, Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a meeting of party leaders on Saturday evening to investigate the votes for Sarwar, and Imran Khan also announced investigations against PTI assembly members. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • US Talks: Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua will visit Washington this week to seek “common ground”, foreign ministry sources tell The Nation. The Washington Post reviews the new pressure on Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force meeting last month. The WSJ reports that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has raised interagency tensions by “reaching out directly to Pakistani leaders to convey a tougher administration message than the one favored by other members of the national security team”; McMaster is reported to be under consideration for a transfer to a four star military command. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar held hearings on Saturday on corruption investigations into a housing development project and the arrest of former Lahore Development Authority director general Ahad Khan Cheema; he warned that “pressuring [the National Accountability Bureau] cannot be tolerated”, and criticized recent strikes and a Punjab assembly resolution against Cheema’s arrest. Cheema’s detention was extended by 15 days at a Lahore accountability court hearing on Monday. On Friday, the court hearing corruption charges against Nawaz Sharif denied a petition from his lawyers to record a single statement from Joint Investigation Team chairman Wajid Zia in all three references against Nawaz. During national assembly debate on Friday, PML-N legislators warned members of the judiciary not to exceed their mandate, suggesting that the parliament could consider new reforms to the judiciary. Dawn reports that the Law Ministry is considering a second three-year extension to the term of Judge Mohammad Bashir, an accountability court judge who previously acquitted former Pres. Zardari in five corruption cases. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: In a rally in Gujrat on Sunday and remarks on Monday, Nawaz Sharif touted his party’s victory in the senate elections and in by-elections in Sargodha held on Sunday. The PML-N has delayed a meeting of its central general council to elect a permanent party president until March 13. PTI provincial assembly member Baldev Kumar was again blocked from taking the oath of office on Friday; despite a Peshawar High Court order, senate elections in the assembly proceeded as scheduled on Saturday. The PHC issued a contempt of court notice against provincial assembly speaker Asad Qaiser. PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah reached out to PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi to hold talks on nominees for a caretaker government, the PPP announced on Sunday. On Friday, the Election Commission de-seated Manzoor Ahmed Kakar, a dissident Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party member who had defected to the new Balochistan government. Imran Khan visited Karachi on Sunday, where he said he would contest a seat in the next general elections. Voting is underway as of this writing for the PS-7 Sindh provincial assembly seat. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Turkey Trade Talks: Dawn reports that Pakistan’s commerce ministry is seeking approval to initiate a WTO complaint against Turkey, after multiple rounds of negotiations since 2015 failed to reach agreement on the extension by Turkey of reduced duties on Pakistani textile exports; Pakistani has argued that Turkey has an obligation to extend GSP Plus trading status to Pakistan, as Turkey and the EU maintain a customs union.
  • Gwadar Development: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa inaugurated the construction of a new desalination at Gwadar on Sunday, which is being constructed by a Swiss company through financing from the UAE. [The Nation]
  • FATA Development: The FATA Secretariat has spent only Rs 5.8 billion out of the Rs 24.5 billion annual development program for the area during the first eight months of the fiscal year, the Express Tribune reports.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Islamabad and Moscow Hold Talks, Agree to Improve Ties [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Activists Rally for Raza Khan [Dawn]
  • Petitioner Argues for Faith Declaration Requirement for Civil Service [ET]
  • Al Qaeda Suspect Arrested in Karachi [The Nation]
  • Arms Cache Seized in Dera Bugti [The Nation]
  • PM Abbasi Visits Nepal [ET] [The Nation]
  • Intelligence Services Given One Week to Report on Naqeebullah Murder Case [ET] [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Forms Larger Bench to Revisit Pakistan Steel Mills Privatization [ET] [The Nation]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Helo Crash: A helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff from the Kabul Military Academy on Sunday; five foreign nationals on board were wounded, according to the Afghan ministry of defense, which did not provide further details. A spokesman for international military coalition said that the helicopter was not a U.S. or NATO helicopter and that no NATO forces were among the wounded; TOLO reports that the helicopter belongs to a private construction contractor, but provides no details.
  • Kabul Bombing: Two Australian private security contractors were wounded when a suicide bomber attacked their convoy in Kabul on Friday morning; at least one Afghan national was killed, and more than twenty wounded. No claim of responsibility has been reported.
  • Other Attacks and Operations: The NDS announced on Sunday that they had arrested two men in connection with the ISIS attack on the Imam Zaman mosque in Kabul last October. Afghan military officials in Jawzjan claim to have killed 13 ISIS fighters in airstrikes in Jawzjan province’s Darzab district on Saturday night. Military operations in Helmand’s Gereshk district reportedly killed five Taliban fighters on Saturday. [Ariana News] [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Atta Firing Dispute: Speaking on Sunday, Interior Minister Wais Barmak said that the government was close to an agreement with Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor over his removal from office; Khaama Press reports that NDS chief Masoom Stanekzai and Abdul Salam Rahimi, the head of the political administrative office of the president, visited Balkh on Monday for talks with Atta, and that “the new governor for Balkh province will be introduced in the near future”. Pajhwok echoes that report and says that Atta will be allowed to choose his replacement. [Ariana News]
  • Taliban Talks: U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Nicholson visited security forces in Parwan on Friday, where he said that “our goal is to help bring about a peaceful solution to this war… but we also know that sometimes peace is not possible until you put more pressure on the enemy”. On Saturday, a spokesman for the High Peace Council said that “the ball is in the court of the Taliban. We are waiting to see whether the Taliban takes their own route or they hear their people’s call, or continue their activities which are against the Sharia”.  [AP] [TOLO]
  • Election Preparations: Independent Election Commission operational deputy Wasima Badghisi tells TOLO that the government has yet to approve 14 provincial election heads, accusing the government of not prioritizing election preparations. [Ariana News]

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Pakistan Trade Drops: In a Dawn interview, the chairman of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce, Zubair Motiwala, estimates that Pakistan’s market share in Afghanistan has fallen by more than 50% over the past two years, replaced by subsidized Indian goods and cheaper Chinese exports. [TOLO]
  • Drought Indicators: The Afghanistan Meteorological Department reports that average rainfall across the country is 30% lower than previous years.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Interview: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is Still Causing Trouble, But Talking Peace [NYT]
  • Mohaqiq Warns Against ‘Grip of Power’ [TOLO]
  • Parents Appeal to Government to Rethink Afghan-Turk Schools Decision [TOLO]
  • 100,000 Herat Children Drop Out of School in Last Year [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Mines Seeks to Start Mining at Hajigak [TOLO]
  • Fiber-Optic Line Planned Alongside TAPI [TOLO]
  • Contracts Approved for Bamiyan Power Transmission Line [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Precarious Consolidation: Qari Hekmat’s IS-Affiliated ‘Island’ Survives Another Taliban Onslaught – “Qari Hekmat, a dissident Taleban commander, who has been sailing under the flag of the Islamic State Khorasan Province since 2015, has survived another Taleban attempt to oust him from his area in the northern province of Jawzjan. This was less due to his strength, but rather more attributable to disunity amongst the Taleban forces attacking him.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]

 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM Reunites, KPK Senate Polls May be Delayed; Ghani and Abdullah Commemorate Defense Forces

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Topline

  • Senate elections are due to be held on Saturday in Pakistan. The rival MQM factions led by Farooq Sattar and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui reunited on Friday and agreed to back a single slate of Senate candidates. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, the Peshawar High Court has ordered that elections be frozen until the seating of Baldev Kumar, a PTI candidate for a reserved minorities seat in the provincial assembly who is suspected for the murder of his predecessor; he did not attend Friday’s assembly session. On Thursday, Nasibullah Khan Bazai, a PML-N candidate for a technocrat’s senate seat from Balochistan, joined the dissident PML-N faction in Balochistan led by Sarfaraz Bugti.
  • Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah commemorated Afghan security personnel at a “National Day of Afghan Defense and Security Forces” on Thursday; in his remarks, Ghani said that the government was seeking peace, but “should not be negligent from our defense management even for one minute”. Anonymous U.S. officials express optimism that the government’s talks efforts may gain traction, and anonymous Pakistani press accounts suggest that efforts are underway to mediate a ceasefire.
  • At least one young girl was killed and fifteen people wounded in a suicide bombing in Kabul on Friday, which some reports indicate targeted a NATO convoy. No claim of responsibility has been reported as of this writing.
  • Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited Karachi on Wednesday and Thursday for security briefings and to meet with retired military officers.
  • Two people were killed and five wounded in cross-border fire in Kashmir on Thursday.
  • Iran is reportedly considering taking Pakistan to an international arbitration court to seek as much as $1.2 billion in penalties over the delayed implementation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

 

Pakistan —Security

  • Karachi Operation: Chief of Army Staff Bajwa visited Karachi on Wednesday and Thursday, where he met with retired officers and with the Corps HQ for briefings. Bajwa was quoted praising the efforts of paramilitary Rangers to establish security in the city and signaled that they would continue. [ET] [The Nation]
  • Kashmir Border Clashes: Two people were killed and five injured in cross-border mortar fire in the Naykal and Bhimber districts on Thursday; Pakistan formally protested the incidents with India’s deputy high commissioner in Islamabad.
  • Journalist Killed: An editor for a local Urdu newspaper in Rawalpindi was killed in a drive-by shooting on Thursday evening; no claim of responsibility has been reported.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: Elections are scheduled to be held for 52 senate seats on Saturday; Dawn overviews the process for the vote, the varying number of votes per provincial assembly required to secure a seat. On Thursday, the PML-N’s candidate to replace former senator Nehal Hashmi – officially contesting as an independent – comfortably won election from the Punjab. On Thursday, Nasibullah Khan Bazai, a candidate for a reserved technocrat’s seat from Balochistan, defected to the dissident PML-N faction led by Sarfaraz Bugti. On Friday, the Election Commission declined to intervene and remove Farooq Sattar as party leader, as sought by the rival Bahadurabad faction. Later in the day, the rival factions held a joint press conference and agreed to reunite and back a single slate of senate candidates. Also on Friday, the Lahore High Court dismissed a challenge against former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s candidacy for the elections. Additionally, the Peshawar High Court ordered that senate elections from the Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly be frozen until the seating of Baldev Kumar, a PTI candidate for a reserved minorities seat who had been blocked from taking the oath of office earlier this week; Kumar is the prime suspect in the murder of his predecessor in the seat, Sardar Suran Singh. Kumar did not attend the assembly session on Friday. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: On Friday, the Supreme Court released its full detailed judgment on its earlier verdict barring Nawaz Sharif from serving as a party head after being disqualified from office. At hearings on Thursday over the Sindh provincial government’s attempts to remove provincial police chief A.D. Khawaja from office, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar questioned whether the court had the authority to strike down laws “made incompetently by parliament or if it impinges upon or breach the fundamental rights as guaranteed under the Constitution”. On Friday, the Court denied a petition to release an inquiry report into the ‘Dawn Leaks’ incident. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Shehbaz Sharif said that his brother Nawaz was “being victimized”, and challenged allegations of corruption against him by Imran Khan and the PTI. [Dawn] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • US Talks: Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua will visit Washington DC for meetings next week, Dawn reports, although the details of her itinerary have not been finalized. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Foreign Minister Asif said that “unlike past, we would not, under any circumstances, act as a US proxy” and “we will not sacrifice our interests for serving US interests”.

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Iran Pipeline Dispute: Iranian officials are considering seeking $1.2 billion in damages from Pakistan in an international arbitration court over its failure to move ahead on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, The Nation reports.
  • FATF Sanctions: At a national assembly briefing on Thursday, advisor to the prime minister on finance Miftah Ismail downplayed the significance of Pakistan’s watchlisting by the Financial Action Task Force, but acknowledged that it “will affect the reputation of the country besides affecting banking transactions”. [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Joint Chiefs Chairman Meets Chinese Ambassador [ET] [The Nation]
  • Imran Khan Claims Vindication After Afghan Government Initiate Taliban Talks Offer [Dawn] [ET]
  • Islamabad High Court Seeks Census Data on Ahmadis [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reforms Stalled [ET]
  • FIA Says Rao Anwar Has Not Left the Country [Dawn] [ET]
  • Afghan Refugee Repatriation Resumes [Dawn]
  • PPP Vows to Block PIA and PSM Privatization [Dawn]
  • Energy Sector Circular Debt Touches Record Rs 922 Billion [Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Bombing: A young girl was killed and as many as 15 people wounded in a suicide bombing in Kabul on Friday; no initial claim of responsibility has been reported, and initial reports conflict as to whether a NATO convoy was the target of the blast. TOLO reports a higher death toll, with three killed and 22 wounded. [Khaama Press] [Reuters]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: In a statement on Friday, U.S. coalition forces in Afghanistan announced the death of a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan deputy commander and Al Qaeda facilitator identified as Rehan, in an airstrike in Paktika’s Bermal district last week. Afghan security officials in Nangarhar report that rival Taliban and ISIS fighters clashed in the Chaparhar district on Friday, leaving three Taliban fighters dead.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah commemorated a ‘National Day of Afghan Defense and Security Forces’ on Thursday; in his remarks, Ghani said that “peace is our desire. But war is our current situation. Therefore, we should not be negligent from our defense management even for one minute”. Anonymous U.S. officials interviewed by the AFP express optimism that Ghani’s current peace outreach may find traction. Anonymous sources tell the Express Tribune that “the ice on the Afghan reconciliation process has started melting”, and that efforts are underway to mediate a ceasefire. At a press briefing on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry voiced support for the government’s reconciliation efforts; former Pres. Karzai has also endorsed the strategy and called on the Taliban to enter into talks. Indonesia’s vice president, Jusuf Kalla, visited Kabul on Friday for talks with High Peace Council chairman Karim Khalili. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Asian Development Bank Voices Support for TAP Power Project [TOLO]
  • India Ready to Invest in Kabul Dam Project [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Kabul Meeting Concludes with Call for Peace Talks; Imran Faces New Questions on Islamabad Home

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Topline

  • Former Islamabad local officials testified in a report to the Supreme Court on Wednesday that their approvals of construction permits for Imran Khan’s Bani Gala residence had been forged. Meanwhile, the PTI has petitioned the Lahore High Court to investigate the whereabouts of a man they accuse the PML-N of abducting to hide evidence of embezzlement in the Multan Metro Bus project.
  • Attendees at the Kabul Process conference released a joint statement afterwards backing the Afghan government’s new peace plan and calling on the Taliban to cease violence; the Taliban have not responded directly to the government’s offer, but in a separate response to an open letter by Barnett Rubin in the New Yorker earlier this week, dismissed the Kabul Process as an effort to “seek surrender” from the Taliban.
  • Four Frontier Corps soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Quetta on Wednesday, the second attack targeting security personnel in the city that day.
  • Afghan security officials in Helmand reported the detention of a German man during a raid on a Taliban bomb-making facility in the Gereshk district on Wednesday; he has been transferred to US custody at Bagram.
  • Former PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi was released from his one month jail sentence on Wednesday; voting is underway today in the Punjab Assembly to fill his senate seat. Shehbaz Sharif met with the PML-N delegation in the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday to prepare for the larger senate elections scheduled for Mar 3.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • Quetta Attacks: A suicide bomber killed four Frontier Corps soldiers in an attack on their checkpost on the outskirts of Quetta on Wednesday evening; seven others were injured. The attack followed an earlier driveby shooting targeting a senior police official in Quetta, which the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for. The military announced Frontier Corps raids across Balochistan on Thursday, arresting as many as twenty suspects. [Dawn]
  • Soldiers Killed in Kashmir: Two Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire with Indian forces along the Line of Control in the Bhimber district on Thursday, Pakistani military spokesmen announced. [ET] [AP]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: The Punjab Assembly passed a PML-N resolution on Wednesday protesting “illegal and unethical” actions by the National Accountability Bureau, calling for amendments to “check misuse of powers”. Imran Khan condemned the resolution, and again accused the PML-N of abducting a witness to what he alleges is billions of rupees in embezzlement from the Multan Metro Bus project. The PTI petitioned the Lahore High Court on Thursday, seeking an investigation into the whereabouts of the man, Faisal Subhan. Meanwhile, former Islamabad local officials testified in a report to the Supreme Court on Wednesday that they had not approved the construction of Imran’s Bani Gala residence and that their signatures were forged on documents used to for the project. Separately, the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking the broadening of accountability laws to include the judiciary and military. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Senate Elections: Voting is underway in the Punjab assembly for the senate seat vacated by PML-N senator Nehal Hashmi after his disqualification from office; Hashmi was released from his one month prison term on Wednesday, saying he had “done nothing wrong”. Meanwhile, Shehbaz Sharif met with PML-N legislators in the Punjab assembly to take a loyalty oath that they will support the party’s candidates in the larger senate elections scheduled for Mar 3. At a meeting on Wednesday, Election Commission officials requested the deployment of paramilitary Rangers outside the provincial assemblies to provide security. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: The Express Tribune reports that Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah is likely to be named Punjab party president for the PML-N after Shehbaz Sharif’s elevation to national party president, although several other leaders are also mentioned as candidates. The party also has yet to name a general secretary. Speaking to supporters in Sargodha on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif denounced “rigging of the elections” through his disqualifications from office, saying that “the sanctity of a vote had been reduced to nothing”. In a response to challenges at the Election Commission from the rival Bahadurabad faction of the MQM-Pakistan, party leader Farooq Sattar submitted a reply arguing that the ECP had not jurisdiction to resolve an intra-party leadership dispute. Elsewhere, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial cabinet approved stipend payments to over 20,000 prayer leaders beginning in March. [The Nation] [ET] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Revenues: Federal Board of Revenue tax collections for the first eight months of the fiscal year are up 17.7% over the same period last year but remain Rs 99 billion short of the FBR’s target, provisional figures indicate.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • IHC to Hear Rao Tehsin Appeal Against Dawn Leaks Verdict [ET]
  • IHC Seeks FIA Report on Travel Records for Ahmadis [The Nation]
  • US Deports 121 Pakistanis, 33 Indians in Crackdown on Illegal Immigrants [ET]
  • New JF-17 Squadron Established in Quetta [The Nation]
  • Two MQM Men Jailed for Police Officer’s Killing [Dawn]
  • Petroleum Price Hike Approved [Dawn] [ET]
  • Gazeen Marri Indicted in Murder Case [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pakistan’s Judges Are on a Mission. But What is It? – “Pakistan’s senior judges don’t just want to do justice, they want to be seen and heard doing it.” [Mohammed Hanif, NYT]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • German National Detained in Helmand: A spokesman for the Helmand provincial governor reported Wednesday that a German man had been detained by Afghan forces in a raid on a Taliban bomb-making compound in the Gereshk district, where he was apparently working with the Taliban. BBC reports that the man, who identified himself as Abdul Wadood, has been transferred to U.S. custody at Bagram. [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: Uruzgan provincial security officials report that at least nine of the thirty bus passengers abducted in an attack on a checkpost on the border with Kandahar earlier this week have been freed after negotiations with the Talban by local tribal elders. U.S. drone strikes in the Achin district in Nangarhar and Tagab district of Kapisa province reportedly killed four ISIS fighters and three other militants on Thursday. ISIS fighters announced the public execution of a man accused of adultery in Nangarhar on Wednesday.

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kabul Process Talks: Speaking at closing ceremonies for the Kabul Process conference on Wednesday, Chief Executive Abdullah reiterated that the government was “ready to talk directly, without conditions or threat of violence”. The NYT and WSJ expand upon the government’s proposal, which includes offers to establish a new office for the Taliban inside Afghanistan, to issue passports for them, and to recognize them as an official political party. Attendees of the conference released a joint statement afterwards endorsing the government’s reconciliation plan and calling on “all armed groups to start peace talks with the Afghan Government and cease violence immediately”. Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal met with Pakistani National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua on Wednesday, who “welcomed President Ghani’s offer of seeking peace through dialogue and understanding”. Speaking separately in Islamabad on Thursday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that Pakistan was “ready for one-on-one mediation with the Afghan Taliban”. The Taliban have not responded directly to the government’s peace proposal but in a response to an ‘Open Letter’ by Barnett Rubin published earlier this week, said that the “the Kabul Process and other such efforts seek surrender from the Islamic Emirate”. [Ariana News] [TOLO] [TOLO]

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Senior Military Officers Review Kabul Checkpoints [TOLO]
  • Afghan Boy Launches Legal Challenge Against UK Refugee Policy [Guardian]
  • Commentary: Who Shall Cease the Fire First? Afghanistan’s Peace Offer to the Taliban – “The offer includes, for the first time, a mention of a ceasefire, an office in Kabul for the Taleban and the lifting of sanctions on those Taleban leaders who would join the negotiation. What is not clear is the sequence and over what time period all this would come together.” [Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Ghani Renews Offers for Talks with Taliban and Pakistan; Pakistan’s Security Council Meets

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Topline

  • Speaking at a meeting of the “Kabul Process” on Wednesday, Pres. Ghani renewed offers for talks with the Taliban and with Pakistan; earlier on Tuesday, a spokesman for Ghani responded to recent Taliban statements calling for direct talks with the U.S. by calling on the Taliban to “come and talk with Afghanistan”. In remarks to Al Jazeera, the Taliban warned against Afghan government proposals to close their office in Doha.
  • The Pakistani National Security Council met on Tuesday, following meetings with a U.S. delegation headed by Lisa Curtis and Pakistan’s watchlisting by the Financial Action Task Force last week; the NSC meeting agreed to “recalibrat[e] the foreign policy framework to bring more focus on countries of the region and launch new initiatives to enhance economic partnerships with friendly countries”.
  • At least 19, and as many as 30, civilians and police officers have reportedly been kidnapped in an attack at a checkpost on the border of Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces.
  • Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan did not attend, and apparently was not invited at the direction of Nawaz Sharif, Tuesday’s meeting of PML-N leaders to appoint Shehbaz Sharif as the new party president; a spokesman for Nisar said that he would “issue a statement in the next one or two days”.
  • Minister of State for Finance Rana Afzal Khan told an exporters’ group on Tuesday that the government was planning new borrowing in order to pay off $3 billion in external debt repayments due by June of this year.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • National Security Council Meets: PM Abbasi chaired a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday, which agreed to “recalibrat[e] the foreign policy framework to bring more focus on countries of the region and launch new initiatives to enhance economic partnerships with friendly countries”.  The meeting also agreed to “consistent and continued engagement with Afghanistan”.  In a statement on Tuesday following talks between Pakistani officials and U.S. National Security Council deputy assistant Lisa Curtis, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said that “the United States seeks to move toward a new relationship with Pakistan, based on a shared commitment to defeat all terrorist groups that threaten regional stability”; the Express Tribune reports that Pakistani officials rebuffed the idea of any joint military operations and called for a more “balanced approach” by the US. Testifying before Congress on Tuesday, CENTCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel said that “we are now beginning to see very positive indicators” that Pakistan is becoming more responsive to U.S. concerns on terrorism, but “it does not yet equal the decisive action that we would like to see them take in terms of a strategic shift”. China’s foreign ministry spokesman praised Pakistan’s “tremendous contributions and sacrifices to fighting terrorism” at a press conference on Tuesday. At a weekly press briefing on Wednesday, the Pakistani foreign ministry’s spokesman acknowledged that Pakistan will be “grey listed” by the Financial Action Task Force in June, but said there was “currently no chance of placement on the blacklist”. [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Quetta Police Officers Killed: Two police officers were killed in a driveby shooting on Wednesday morning in Quetta; Deputy Superintendent of Police Hameedullah Dasti, whose vehicle was targeted in the attack, survived unhurt. [Dawn] [The Nation] [ET]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PML-N Leadership Reorganization: In his first remarks after being named acting PML-N party president, Shehbaz Sharif vowed that the party would remain “united under Nawaz Sharif”, saying that “we have to ensure that the political process leads to impartial, free and fair elections” and to continue the development of the country. Former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was reportedly not invited to attend the PML-N’s Central Working Committee meeting at which Shehbaz was elevated as party president, apparently at Nawaz’s orders; a spokesman said that Nisar would “issue a statement in the next one or two days”. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah tells Dawn that the party will not appoint Maryam Nawaz or Hamza Shehbaz as the new PML-N provincial president for Punjab. [The Nation] [The Nation]
  • Corruption Investigations and Other Legal Battles: Following remarks on Tuesday in which he stressed that he had “no political agenda”, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar initiated proceedings over the use of provincial government funds to pay for advertising, which he suggested could be a form of “pre-poll rigging”. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: In a Dawn interview, PPP opposition leader Khursheed Shah said that a choice for a caretaker prime minister would be finalized within a month. Lawmakers in the Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly boycotted proceedings on Tuesday over the attempted seating of Baldev Kumar, the principal accused suspect in the murder of minority lawmaker Sardar Suran Singh, preventing Kumar from being seated as Singh’s replacement. On Tuesday, PML-N national assembly member Mian Tariq Mehmood and former provincial assembly member Mian Mazhar quit the party to join the PTI. The Nation overviews the voting process for senate elections. [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Borrowing Plans: Speaking to an exporters’ group on Tuesday, Minister of State for Finance Rana Afzal Khan said that the government planned to take out new loans in order to make repayments on around $3 billion in external debts due before June.

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Government Plans to Charge Husain Haqqani with Misuse of Funds [Dawn] [ET]
  • Peshawar High Court Petitioned to Block FATA Merger Plans [ET]
  • X Corps Commander Visits Troops on Line of Control [ET]
  • Saudi Officials Hold Trade Talks [ET] [The Nation]
  • CCI Turns Down Proposal to Devolve Higher Education Commission [ET]
  • OGRA Recommends Fuel Price Increases [ET]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters attacked a checkpost near the Kandahar-Uruzgan border and kidnapped a group of bus passengers and policemen; TOLO quotes provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq reporting at least 19 have been kidnapped, although the AP puts the total at 30 people, with another six killed. U.S. military airstrikes in Nangarhar’s Nazian district reportedly killed an ISIS suspect on Wednesday. [Ariana News]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Offers Peace Talks at Kabul Process Meeting: Afghan officials convened a meeting of the “Kabul Process” in Kabul on Wednesday; in his remarks at the conference, Pres. Ghani offered to hold talks with the Taliban “without preconditions” and to recognize them as a “legitimate group”, and said he would also seek the release of Taliban prisoners. Ghani also suggested that “we will be ready to starts talks with Pakistan and forget the past and start a new chapter.” Accompanying Ghani’s remarks, the government also released a document laying out a broad framework for negotiations. Ghani’s offer follows a statement from the Taliban earlier this week directed to the United States, calling for talks; responding to that earlier on Tuesday, a spokesman for Ghani said that the government was “telling [the Taliban] that if you are Afghans, come and talk with Afghanistan. The Afghan government is ready to talk”. In response to statements by National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar earlier this week calling for the closure of the Taliban’s office in Qatar, a Taliban spokesman tells Al Jazeera that “further talk of shuttering the Doha office would scuttle the group’s offer of talks”. India’s foreign secretary held bilateral talks with Afghan officials prior to the conference on Tuesday. [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [AP] [Ghani Remarks Transcript]
  • Government Appointments: Pres. Ghani appointed six new district governors in Herat on Tuesday, drawing objections from provincial council members. In Badakhshan, protestors blocked the swearing-in of a new deputy provincial governor, with provincial council members demanding a local appointee.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Abdullah Calls for Anti-Personnel Mine Sanctions [TOLO]
  • Technical Teams to Meet Soon Over ‘Lapis Lazuli Route’ [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Trump’s South Asia Strategy and Afghanistan Political Stalemate: A Way Forward – “Unless we reform, democratize, and fix the dysfunctional and wasteful political system, neither the Afghan people nor our international partners can succeed in building a secure and peaceful country, which can bring prosperity to our people, and prevent our soil from becoming a sanctuary for international terrorism once again.” [Atta Mohammad Noor, The Diplomat]
  • Commentary: An Open Letter to the Taliban – “Your dialogue with the U.S. government cannot replace dialogue with that government and the millions of other Afghans who fear your attacks and your return. Trying to exclude them repeats the mistake the U.S. made by excluding you.” [Barnett Rubin, New Yorker]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Shehbaz Sharif Named Acting PML-N President; Taliban Renew Call for Talks

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Topline

  • The PML-N elected Shehbaz Sharif as the party’s acting president at a meeting on Tuesday, which also affirmed Nawaz Sharif as the party’s “leader for life”. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar remarked on Tuesday that the court had “no political agenda”.
  • U.S. Senior Director for South Asia Lisa Curtis visited Islamabad on Monday for talks with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal; no details of their meetings were released.
  • In a statement on Monday, the Taliban renewed calls for the United States to engage in talks with the group’s political office in Doha, citing remarks by Assistant Secretary Alice Wells that the “door was open” to engage in talks; the move comes as the Afghan government has proposed the closure of the office in Qatar.
  • Speaking at a UN Human Rights Council meeting on Monday, Chief Executive Abdullah said that the Afghan government was preparing a new Policy on the Prevention and Mitigation of Civilian Harm, aimed at curtailing civilian casualties; he did not provide details.
  • PM Abbasi reportedly proposed delegating responsibility for managing the production, supply, and distribution of power and natural gas to the provincial governments at a meeting of the Council on Common Interests on Monday.
  • In talks on Monday, Iranian and Afghan commerce ministry officials agreed to lower border tariffs and reduced barriers to Afghan trucks carrying exports into Iran.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • US Security Ties: U.S. Senior Director for South Asia Lisa Curtis met with Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal on a previously unannounced trip to Islamabad on Monday; no details of their conversations were reported, although Iqbal was quoted saying that “both allies have the capability to be united for the regional peace and stability”. Anonymous foreign ministry sources tell The Nation that “Pakistan cannot concentrate on its job when the US continues to accuse it of sheltering terrorists”. Meanwhile, minister of state for finance Rana Afzal Khan tells the AFP that Pakistan has yet to receive a list of actions to implement following last week’s FATF watchlisting. On Tuesday, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said that “Pakistan has taken active measures to strengthen financial supervision and crack down on terrorist financing and made important progress”; he did not provide further details on China’s voting at the FATF plenary. [ET]

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Shehbaz Named PML-N ‘Acting President’: At a meeting on Tuesday of top PML-N leaders, Nawaz Sharif was named the party’s “quaid for life”; his brother Shehbaz Sharif was elected unopposed as the acting party president, on Nawaz’s nomination. Meanwhile, during remarks at a hearing on drug pricing on Tuesday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar insisted that “we have no political agenda” and “I do not even want to touch political cases”. On Monday, petitions were filed by Pakistan Awami Tehreek lawyers seeking the de-notification of the PML-N as a registered political party after Nawaz’s removal as party chief. [Reuters] [AP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Corruption Investigations and Legal Battles: The Federal Investigation Agency arrested Axact CEO Shoaib Sheikh on Monday after the Sindh High Court accepted the FIA’s appeal against his earlier acquittal in a money laundering case. Three former generals have been barred from traveling outside the country as they face National Accountability Bureau scrutiny over a Musharraf-era land transfer. [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Refugee Repatriation: Speaking at a conference on Monday, Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch said that the Pakistani government would not forcibly expel Afghan refugees after their legal stay expires at the end of March; contrary to statements from military officials, Baloch also said that “the refugees have nothing to do with [the] security situation” in Pakistan.
  • Other Political Activities: A delegation of political party leaders met with Election Commission officials on Monday to discuss the status of constituency delimitation, which the ECP said would be completed by the first week of May; the group later complained that parties had not been consulted in the process. A PTI spokesman defended the Khyber Paktunkhwa government’s allocation of funds for the Dar-ul Uloom Haqqani seminary run by Maulana Sami-ul Haq, saying the seminary was receiving infrastructure improvements, not direct funds. [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Peshawar High Court Suspends Sentences of 25 Convicts in Mashal Khan Lynching Case [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Growing Number of Missing Persons Cases Reported, Supreme Court Told [Dawn]
  • Protests Over Torture of Man Accused of Blasphemy [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • MPs Push for More Defense Budget Transparency [ET]
  • Minister Holds Talks on Defense Cooperation with UAE [The Nation]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa to Dilute Right to Information Law [Dawn]
  • Government Not Seeking to Sell PIA’s Roosevelt Hotel [The Nation]

 

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: Chief Executive Abdullah attended a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, where he said the government was preparing a new National Policy on Prevention and Mitigation of Civilian Harm, which he said would “provide specific guidelines to be undertaken during security operations to prevent civilian causalities and damage to their property”; he did not provide details.
  • Attacks and Operations: The Washington Post profiles the conflict in Farah province. Two soldiers and two civilians were wounded in a Taliban attack on a checkpost in the Gereshk district in Helmand province on Monday evening. Army officials in Jawzjan report that ISIS fighters staged a “large scale attack” in the Darzad district, which they repelled; nine ISIS fighters were reportedly killed. [Ariana News]

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Renew Call for Dialogue: In a statement on Monday, the Taliban called on American officials to “talk directly to the Political Office of Islamic Emirate regarding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary”, saying that “it would help in finding a solution if America accepts the legitimate demands of the Afghan people and [puts] forward its own concerns and requests for discussion to the Islamic Emirate through a peaceful channel”. The statement follows remarks by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells in a VOA interview that the “door is open” for talks, and reports that the Afghan government is seeking the closure of the Taliban’s political office in Doha. [TOLO]
  • Election Preparations: On Monday, the Independent Election Commission said that it was finalizing a list of candidates for provincial election chiefs, and was seeking applications for a secretariat chief.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Iran Trade Talks: A meeting of Afghan and Iranian commerce ministry officials agreed to lower border tariffs and reduce the requirements for trucks carrying Afghan exports to enter Iran.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Kabul Process Conference to Open Wednesday [TOLO]
  • Ministry of Education Transfers Control Over Afghan-Turk Schools to Turkish Govt [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: FATF to ‘Grey List’ Pakistan in June; Afghan Govt Seeking to Close Taliban Doha Office

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Topline

  • Although no official announcement has been made, Friday’s plenary session of the Financial Action Task Force reportedly agreed to “greylist” Pakistan at its next meeting in June, and to impose more serious sanctions if Pakistan did not develop an “action plan” on counter-terrorism financing measures before then.
  • The National Accountability Bureau’s arrest of the former head of the Lahore Development Authority appears to be broadening; civil servants in Punjab protested with a strike starting on Friday, which Law Minister Rana Sanaullah called on them to end. The PTI blamed Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif for corruption and the strike, and said that it would not accept striking civil servants as members of a caretaker government before the next elections.
  • In an interview on Friday, Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar said that the government was in talks with the government of Qatar to close the Taliban office there, which he said had had “no positive consequence in terms of facilitating the peace talks with the group in Afghanistan”.
  • A former Afghan senator and Jamiat-e-Islami commander, Rafiullah Gul Afghan, was killed in a driveby shooting in Kabul on Saturday; earlier in the day, a suicide bomber killed at least three people at a Kabul checkpoint. In Farah, at least twenty Afghan soldiers were reportedly killed in a Taliban attack in the Bala Balok district on Friday. Multiple suicide bombings struck Helmand on Saturday.
  • The PML-N plans to meet on Tuesday to appoint a replacement for Nawaz Sharif as party president.
  • Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor told supporters on Sunday that he would suspend previously announced plans for a demonstration in Kabul and elsewhere in light of the Kabul Process conference scheduled to take place later this week.
  • A Pakistani man was killed and three injured in cross-border firing in Kashmir on Saturday; Indian officials accuse Pakistan of retaliating with artillery fire, displacing hundreds of civilians.

 

Pakistan — Security

  • FATF Watchlisting: Friday’s plenary session of the international Financial Action Task Force concluded without any statement regarding Pakistan’s status on the organization’s watchlists. Dawn reports that China and the Gulf Coordination Council dropped earlier support for Pakistan in a second vote held at the United States’ request on Thursday evening; the Indian Express reports that the U.S. agreed to back China to hold the FATF vice president position beginning in July as part of the negotiations. Pakistan will be formally “greylisted” at the next FATF session in June, and that if it fails to develop an “action plan” to address concerns over money laundering and terrorist financing by that point, will facing blacklisting. In a Reuters interview, finance advisor Miftah Ismail downplayed the economic significance of the watchlisting. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that the government would “expedite steps to curb terror financing and money laundering”, and in remarks on Monday said that the government would implement UN sanctions on Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Speaking at a weekly press briefing on Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said that diplomatic contacts with the United States were continuing “outside public glare” and that “we have categorically conveyed to the US that this relationship can move forward only in an environment of mutual trust and respect”. In an interview with Reuters, an anonymous senior U.S. government official says that the U.S. had “not seen any sustained Pakistani effort” against militants since aid was frozen last month. [NYT] [WSJ] [AP] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • Kashmir Border Clashes: One civilian was killed and three injured in cross-border firing in the Kotli district in Azad Kashmir on Saturday, Pakistani military officials reported. Indian officials accuse Pakistan of using artillery fire against villages in the Uri area, displacing hundreds of residents. [ET]
  • Sit-In Organizer Found Dead in Islamabad: Aftab Mehsud, an organizer of the recent demonstrations in Islamabad over the death of Naqeebullah Mehsud, was found dead on Saturday in Dera Ismail Khan, where he was a university student. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [The Nation] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Swat Protests: After the conclusion of talks with a jirga of local leaders on Friday, military and police officials in the Swat district agreed to remove military checkposts established in the area after military operation sin 2009 and replace them with regular police, and to with police cases against demonstrators who had launched protests against the security barriers on Feb 18.

 

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations Focus on Punjab: On Saturday, the National Accountability Bureau, backed by paramilitary Rangers, arrested Shahid Shafiq Alam, the owner of an engineering firm in connection to a house development scam that the NAB is currently investigating; Alam’s arrest follows that of Ahad Khan Cheema, the former director general of the Lahore Development Authority. Cheema’s arrest has prompted a strike and protests by other senior civil bureaucrats; the Rangers took over his security at a NAB jail on Saturday. The Nation reports that the NAB is also expanding its investigations into several mass transit and other infrastructure development projects in Punjab; the NAB released a list of charges against Cheema on Sunday. Law Minister Rana Sanaullah called on the civil service to resume their work at a press conference on Saturday, but said that the provincial government would resist the “illegal action of [the] NAB”. Imran Khan and Punjab provincial assembly opposition members seized on the arrests as evidence of corruption on the part of Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif; on Sunday, Imran demanded an inquiry into the alleged disappearance of another man who had accused Shehbaz of corruption. The PTI also said that they would not accept the appointment of striking civil servants to serve in a future caretaker government or to oversee polls. Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif met on Sunday to discuss the response to the new investigations. [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [The Nation] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Nawaz Disqualification: PML-N sources tell the Express Tribune that the Supreme Court’s decision voiding all actions undertaken by Nawaz Sharif since his disqualification from office has also resulted in the nullification of the party’s top leadership body, the Central Working Committee, complicating efforts to formally name a replacement for him; party chairman senator Zafar-ul Haq insists the CWC remains operational. Anonymous PML-N sources tell The Nation that Shehbaz Sharif is likely to be named his brother’s replacement as party president. Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb told reporters on Monday that the PML-N would appoint a new party president on Tuesday. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Nawaz described the court verdicts against him as “pre-poll rigging”, and said he expected for another verdict to disqualify him for life from contesting elections. Maryam Nawaz led a rally of supporters in Sargodha on Saturday, warning that “if they want to disqualify Nawaz Sharif, they’ll have to disqualify his voters as well”. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Other Corruption Investigations and Legal Battles: On Monday, an accountability court hearing charges against former finance minister Ishaq Dar accepted additional references from the NAB. PML-N leader Talal Chaudhry sought the dismissal of contempt of court charges at a Supreme Court hearing on Monday. Imran Khan appeared before an anti-terrorism court on Monday in connection to charges related to the 2014 Islamabad sit-ins; he was granted an exemption from appearing at the next hearing. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [The Nation]
  • Other Political Activity: The PPP and PML-N have reportedly reached agreement on the dissolution of the federally administered upper house of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir parliament and the delegation of its powers to the elected legislative assembly. In a press conference on Friday, former Pres. Zardari accused Nawaz Sharif of “weakening institutions”, which he insisted were “completely neutral”, and of only allocating money for Lahore and Sharif-controlled properties. He also backed the government’s deployment of soldiers to Saudi Arabia, contradicting some of his own party members. The Express Tribune notes the return to the Sindh provincial assembly of seven former MQM lawmakers who had quit the party to join the Pak Sarzameen Party, but did not resign from the assembly. Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Liaqat Baloch told reporters on Saturday that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance would meet on March 8 to discuss a joint elections strategy. Dissident PTI member Ayesha Gulalai announced the formation of her own political party on Friday. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [The Nation] [The Nation] [Dawn] [Dawn]

 

Pakistan — Economics and Development

 

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Slain PTI Minority Leader’s Son Protests Elevation of Prime Suspect in His Killing to Reserved Seat [ET]
  • FIA Says Blasphemy Suspect Who Jumped Off Building in Stable Condition; He Alleges Torture [AP] [ET] [Reuters]
  • One Killed, 11 Arrested in Balochistan Operations [ET] [The Nation]
  • IHC Rules Against Suspension of Mobile Phone Service [Dawn] [ET]
  • Mashal Khan’s Father Petitions PHC Against Acquittals [Dawn] [ET]
  • Lahore Anti-Terrorism Court Acquits 12 Men in Kasur Child Sex Abuse Case [Dawn] [ET] [The Nation]
  • PTI Defends Payments to Dar-ul Uloom Haqqani [ET]
  • Another JIT Formed to Investigate 2013 Perween Rehman Murder [ET]
  • Pakistan-China Free Trade Agreement to be Signed in March [APP]
  • Foreign Minister Holds Talks with Gazprom on Gas Projects [The Nation]
  • Nearly 50 Million 3G and 4G Phone Users As of January [ET]
  • Commentary: The Great FATF Fumble – “This foreign policy, which relies on vain attempts to pull little fast ones, and some crude rhetorical gimmickry worthy of a TV talk show to sustain itself, is now pushing the country towards growing isolation.” [Khurram Husain, Dawn]

 

Afghanistan — Security

 

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: In an interview on Friday, Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar said that the government was discussing the closure of the Taliban “office” in Doha with the Qatari government, saying that it has had “no positive consequence in terms of facilitating the peace talks with the group in Afghanistan”. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson led a delegation of senior NATO officials to Kabul on Saturday; she told reporters that “talks about those – beginning talks are certainly in the works in different forms” and “a lot is happening in a very beginning stage … of a way forward.” She also said that “we hope that the Taliban will see that this is a no-win game for them unless they come to the table and become part of something that would make Afghanistan stronger.” [Khaama Press]
  • Atta Suspends Demonstration Plans: Speaking to supporters on Sunday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor said that he had suspended previously announced plans for mass demonstrations in Kabul and around the country, citing the upcoming international “Kabul Process” conference set to take place this week. [TOLO] [Ariana News]
  • Election Preparations: In a joint statement on Saturday, a group of twenty political parties and movements called for elections to be held “as scheduled” in July, and for a review of voting center allocations. [Ariana News] [TOLO]
  • Ambassador Seeks to Step Down: Pajhwok reports that ambassador to Pakistan and former finance minister Omar Zakhilwal is seeking to step down from his position and is considering a presidential campaign.

 

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Minister Blocked from TAPI Inauguration: Minister of Water and Energy Ali Ahmad Osmani complains to TOLO that he was barred from attending last week’s inauguration ceremonies for the TAPI gas pipeline construction in Herat, saying also that “contracts get signed without his knowledge or consent”. [NYT]
  • Pension Payments: A spokesman for the ministry of labor says that it has only received Afs 500 million from the finance ministry for pension payments so far this year, short of the Afs 2.4 billion needed.

 

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Attorney General’s Office Reports 1526 Corruption Cases [TOLO]
  • Sadat Tribal Elders Reiterate Opposition to New ID Cards [TOLO]
  • Ghani Participates in Land Registration Ceremony in Herat [TOLO]
  • India Sends Another Wheat Consignment to Afghanistan [The Nation]
  • Iran Increases Electricity Exports to Afghanistan [TOLO]
  • Afghanistan Seeks to Boost Kazakhstan Air Cargo Exports [TOLO]