Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Signs Qatar LNG Import Agreement; Police Insider Attacks in Kabul and Kandahar

Topline

  • During a two-day visit to Qatar, Prime Minister Sharif signed a fifteen-year agreement for the import of up to 3.75 metric tonnes annually of liquefied natural gas, with pricing set at 13.37% of the Brent crude benchmark. Two Afghan policemen carried out separate insider attacks on Wednesday, targeting NATO personnel in Kabul and police colleagues in Kandahar’s Zhari district; four policemen were killed in the latter incident but no NATO soldiers were wounded. Both attackers were killed. The Sindh High Court overturned an amendment that provided for indirect elections to mayoral and council chairmen positions to be held through an open show of hands, rather than secret ballot. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif approved death sentences for 12 men convicted through the military court system, all accused of membership in the TTP, Al Qaeda, or Sipah-e-Sahaba. Ahmad Zia Massoud, the national unity government’s special representative for reform and good governance, lambasted the government’s security policies in remarks in Takhar on Wednesday, calling for the formation of a “resistance council” of mujahadeen veterans to counter the insurgency. Afghan military officials renewed calls for U.S. air support in their operations against the Taliban. The Khyber Paktunkhwa anti-corruption commission chief resigned in protest on Wednsday after the provincial government introduced an ordinance restricting the commission’s powers of arrests. Meetings between PIA union leaders and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif concluded with no signs of a breakthrough agreement, following the end of the union’s strike over the past week.

Pakistan — Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif chaired a meeting of corps commanders on Wednesday to review internal and external security; military spokesmen quoted him warning that “terrorists are being funded externally by hostile intelligence agencies and have their sympathisers at home who provide them shelter and refuge”. In separate testimony before the senate interior committee, Intelligence Bureau director general Aftab Sultan said that the TTP was “realigning” with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and SSP, and suggested that the groups’ sympathy for the Islamic State was allowing it to establish a presence in Pakistan; at least 42 Daesh-affiliated suspects were reported to have been arrested in Punjab in January. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Death Sentences Issued: On Thursday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif approved death sentences for twelve convicts in the military courts system; although details are limited and court trials are not held openly, profiles of the men released by the military indicate that they were variously members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and Al Qaeda. [ET] [AP]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections: On Wednesday, the Sindh High Court ruled that amendments to the Sindh local governance law calling for indirect elections of mayors and council chairmen through an open show of hands were illegal, and should be held through secret ballot instead. The ruling also directed the Election Commission to immediately set a date to hold those elections. PPP officials, who had supported the measure, said they would wait for a detailed judgment before deciding whether or not to appeal. Separately, visiting EU election observation mission head Michael Gahler told a press conference on Wednesday that the EU was “strongly advising against” the introduction of electronic voting and biometric registration in the next general elections, saying that “you cannot substitute a lack of administrative capacity and other deficits by introducing a computerised voting”. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Anti-Corruption Chief Resigns: On Wednesday, the director general of the Khyber Paktunkhwa Ehtesab Commission, which is charged with leading provincial anti-corruption efforts, resigned in protest after the issuance of an ordinance that restricts the commission’s powers of arrest, requiring consent from provincial assembly leaders in the case of a lawmaker or the provincial chief secretary in the case of a civil servant. Other measures include fines for “frivolous” complaints and a 90-day timeline for inquiries and 30-day timeline for investigations.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Prime Minister Signs LNG Deal in Qatar: During his visit to Doha on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sharif signed an agreement for the import of liquefied natural gas from Qatar, covering the period from 2016-2031. The Qatar Liquefied Gas Comany Ltd will provide Pakistan State Oil with 3.75 million tonnes of LNG annually (pro-rated to 2.25 tonnes in 2016), at a price set at 13.37% percent of the average of the Brent crude benchmark for the preceding three months, which Pakistani government officials touted as the cheapest of all Pakistan’s long-term gas import agreements. Pricing will be reviewed at the ten-year mark in the agreement; Pakistan is obliged to pay for the full cost even if it fails to receive shipments. [Dawn] [ET]
  • PIA Negotiations: In a statement on Wednesday after meeting PIA union leaders, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said that he would “convey the point of view of the [union] to the prime minister” and that “restoration of the glory of PIA should be the prime objective of all concerned and we will take decision without consideration of personal likes and dislikes”. No agreement was reached on downsizing of the PIA or the withdrawal of notices against PIA union members who participated in the strike. During senate debate on Wednesday, opposition members called for an independent judicial commission to investigate the death of two PIA employees during a rally in Karachi on February 2, and accused the government of privatizing PIA “on the dictation of the IMF”.
  • Development Spending Cut: Finance ministry officials report that the government spent Rs 158 billion on development during the July-December period of the fiscal year, Rs 122 billion below its target; the restrictions allowed Pakistan to meet a first-half fiscal deficit target with the IMF.
  • Hydroelectric Projects Transferred to FWO: On Wednesday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government announced that it was transferring responsibility for six hydroelectric power projects, which have received promises of Chinese financial assistance, to the military-run Frontier Work Organization.
  • Tharparkar Crisis: Seven more child deaths were reported in the Tharparkar district, bringing the total since last October to at least 150; provincial health officials again blamed the media for “creating a hype” and insisted that there was no drought in the area.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PML-N and ANP Join Protests at Peshawar Hospitals [ET]
  • Balochistan University Teacher Injured in Quetta Shooting [Dawn]
  • ANP District Councilor Killed in Swabi [ET]
  • Uzair Baloch’s Wife Seeks Access [ET]
  • India Detains 11 Pakistani Fishermen [ET]
  • Czech President Reports $6.2M Bounty Paid for Hostages Freed in March [AP]
  • National Highway Association Approves Land Purchase for ‘Western Route’ [Dawn]
  • Multinationals Hike Drug Prices [Dawn]
  • Kashmir Traders Meet to Discuss Strengthened Ties [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Military Assistance: In an interview with Reuters, the commander of the Afghan National Army’s Kandahar-based 205th Corps repeats calls for renewed U.S. air support to Afghan forces, arguing that “only air support and air strikes break the Taliban”. Pres. Ghani attended an exhibition of the Afghan Air Force on Thursday, commending personnel for their efforts and thanking U.S. NATO allies for their support of the force. A spokesman for the ministry of interior welcomed reports that U.S. forces would be redeployed to Helmand in advisory role. Separately, National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar met on Wednesday with the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan, Alexander Mantytskiy, who said that a first batch of military supplies — previously reported to be a cache of AK-47 assault rifles — would be delivered “in the near future”. [Khaama Press]
  • Insider Attacks: A policeman guarding the Commerce Ministry opened fire on a group of coalition soldiers on Wednesday before being killed in return fire, interior ministry officials and NATO spokesmen confirmed; no other injuries were reported, and no further details on the attacker or his motivation have been reported. In Kandahar, a policeman killed four colleagues at a checkpost in the Zhari district, before being killed by another officer; the Taliban claimed credit for the attack. [AP]
  • Taliban and Daesh Clash: As many as 80 militants have reportedly been killed in clashes between rival Taliban and Daesh-affiliated forces in the Gomal district in Paktika, local officials and residents report; they report a drone strike also targeted a group of Taliban serving as bodyguards to the Taliban shadow district governor, killing 18. There is no independent confirmation of those estimates.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Under Criticism: Speaking at a gathering in Takhar on Wednesday, former vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud, who was appointed special representative for reform and good governance under the current national unity government, criticized the government’s national security policies, saying there was “no plan to suppress” the insurgency and suggesting the formation of a “resistance council” of mujahadeen veterans to counter the Taliban. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • New Zonal Police Commander Appointed in North [Pajhwok]
  • Documents Suggest Bids Were Limited on New Ministry of Defense Fuel Contracts [Ariana News]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PIA Union Leaders Call Off Strike; Ghani Appoints New Kunduz Governor

Topline

  • PIA union leaders called off their eight-day strike on Tuesday evening, suggesting that they had been “given enough assurance one of privatization” to end the protest, without providing details. PIA slashed its fares on Wednesday. Pres. Ghani has appointed for provincial peace council chief Asadullah Omarkhail as the governor of Kunduz, replacing acting governor Hamdullah Daneshi. Dawn reports that government officials are considering the creation of a “consultative forum” of military and civilian officials, modeled after the provincial apex committees, to oversee implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. 19 more international NGOs have reportedly been cleared for registration in Pakistan, although their identities have not been announced. The head of Afghanistan’s High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption criticized the government for failing to release the findings of an investigation into the ‘Smart City’ housing project, which he said had uncovered evidence of multiple criminal violations of the law. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim visited Pakistan on Tuesday.

Pakistan — Security

  • CPEC Security: Dawn reports that a “consultative forum on the pattern of apex committees” is under consideration to ensure “trouble-free implementation” of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, after Chinese officials have voiced concerns over domestic political divisions about the distribution of projects. Planning minister Ahsan Iqbal said he was unaware of such plans.
  • More NGOs Registered: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan chaired a meeting on Tuesday to give final registration approval to 19 international non-governmental organizations operating in Pakistan; formal approval is expected within a week. The list of applicants was not reported.
  • FATA IDPs: Military officials at Tuesday’s meeting of the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial apex committee, also attended by Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, are reported to have expressed concern in the slow repatriation of displaced FATA residents, over 170,000 of whom remain displaced. Only 15-20% of the Rs 10 billion in appropriations for relief and resettlement has reportedly been spent.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Governor: Dawn reports that defense secretary retired Lt. Gen. Mohammad Alam Khattak, a former Southern Corps commander and FATA Corps inspector general, is the likely nominee to succeed outgoing Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan.
  • Local Elections: The Sindh High Court heard further arguments in a case challenging PPP-backed amendments to the Sindh local government law that call for indirect elections for mayors and other officials to be held through a public show of hands.
  • Doctors’ Protest: Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Imran Khan indicated that he would seek a legal case against PML-N leader Amir Muqam, charging him with “inciting” doctors to strike at the Hayatabad Medical Complex. Several other partial strikes were carried out at hospitals throughout the province.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Union Announces End to Strike: The Joint Action Committee of Pakistan International Airlines announced an end to their eight day-long strike on Tuesday evening, calling on employees to “work with full dedication and pay no heed to anyone trying to disrupt flight operations”. Union leader Sohail Baloch told a press conference that a “kind friend advised us to call off the strike”, without elaborating. Baloch said that he would meet with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif later Tuesday evening. He suggested that the committee “has been given enough assurance on the issue of privatisation”, again without elaborating, and would “prove that we can revive” PIA. The Express Tribune notes division within the union leadership over continuation of the strike; the Pakistan Air Lines Pilot Association earlier announced that it would no longer participate, and regular flight operations had started to resume on Monday. Senate hearings have been scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the future of the airline. The Competition Commission of Pakistan told the senate finance committee that it would finalize a report on high fares charged by other airlines during the strike within the next week; PIA announced a reduction in fares of up to 50% on Wednesday, “in order to facilitate its valued customers and stabilise the unrealistic rise in airfares caused by the recent strike”. [ET] [Dawn]
  • World Bank President Visits: World Bank president Jim Yong Kim arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday for a two-day visit; he met with Prime Minister Sharif and Finance Minister Dar, issuing a statement calling for Pakistan to “step up to a higher level of growth and opportunity for all its people” by “strengthening the role of the private sector for job creation, accelerating energy reforms, making improvements at the community level for health and education, and ensuring anti-poverty measures are effective at reaching the poor.” [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Gilgit Baltistan MWM Leader Jailed [ET]
  • Two Killed in Gujranwala Training Jet Crash [Dawn] [ET]
  • Five Pakistanis Arrested in Thailand for Involvement in Fake Passport Ring [AFP]
  • Security Exercises Spark Panic at Rawalpindi and Charsadda Schools [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Anti-Corruption Chief Warns Against Changes in Law [Dawn]
  • National Accountability Bureau Refers Asim Hussain to Judicial Remand [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Defends Prisoner Access Restrictions in Court Challenge [Dawn]
  • Government to Form Committee to Consider OGRA Nominee [ET]
  • Supreme Court Refuses to Transfer Case on Former Chief Justice’s Vehicle from IHC [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • New Kunduz Governor Named: On Tuesday, Pres. Ghani announced the appointment of Asadullah Omarkhail, the former head of the Kunduz provincial peace council, as the new governor for the province. Hamdullah Daneshi, the former deputy governor, had been serving in an acting capacity since the removal of governor Omar Safi following the Taliban attack on the city last September. Ghani met with Kunduz provincial leaders in conjunction with the announcement of Omarkhail’s appointment; he highlighted the importance of ongoing military operations in Baghlan as a precursor to fully securing Kunduz from Taliban infiltration. [TOLO]
  • Smart City Scandal: High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption chairman Mohammad Hassan Fakhri criticized the government’s failure to release the findings of an investigation into the ‘Smart City’ scandal involving the recruitment of former Kabul Bank CEO Khalillulah Frozi in partnership with the Ministry of Urban Development Affairs, saying that the investigation had found instances of violations of the procurement law, the anti-corruption law, and the Constitution.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Mass Media Commission Welcomes New Mass Media Law [TOLO]
  • Kabul Police Announce 318 Arrests [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistani Investigators Fail to Link Jaish to Pathankot; U.S. Forces to Redeploy to Helmand

Topline

  • Pakistani investigators have found “nothing dubious” linking Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Maulana Masood Azhar to the Pathankot airbase attack, they tell Reuters. David Headley testified remotely before an Indian court on Monday about his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, reiterating earlier reports that he had connected with two ISI handlers and disclosing two previously unreported abortive attempts to carry out the attack. A roughly battalion-sized force of U.S. troops will redeploy to Helmand by the end of this month, U.S. military spokesmen confirmed on Monday, although they say the force will remain focused on training and advising the Afghan National Army’s 215 Corps, not conducting combat operations. The PIA strike continue, with union leaders and management each accusing the other of harassing workers. Leaders of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid have split over Maulana Abdul Aziz’s public pardon of former Pres. Musharraf in connection to the 2007 operation at the mosque. Prime Minister Sharif will visit Qatar tomorrow, and reportedly intends to sign a liquefied natural gas sale agreement. Kabul remains without regular power as Afghan security forces struggle to secure the area of Baghlan were a power pylon was damaged two weeks ago. The Taliban announced that former Kandahar governor Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani died of cancer on Monday evening.

Pakistan — Security

  • Pathankot Investigations Turn Up Empty: A special investigation team formed by Pakistan to investigate Jaish-e-Mohammad leaders linked by India to the attack on the Pathankot airbase “found nothing dubious” and no evidence linking Maulana Masood Azhar to the incident, anonymous security officials tell Reuters. Azhar remains in custody, but has not been charged.
  • Headley Testifies Remotely: David Headley, a Pakistani-American man currently serving a 35-year sentence in the U.S. in connection to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, testified remotely before an Indian court hearing charges against another Lashkar-e-Taiba operative. Headley identified two contacts in the Pakistani ISI as handlers during the lead-up to the attack, which he supported through surveillance collection; he also disclosed that the attackers had staged two previously undisclosed attempts that were aborted. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif chaired a meeting of the Khyber Paktunkhwa and FATA provincial apex committee at the Peshawar Corps headquarters on Tuesday, joined by Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak and outgoing governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan. The meeting pledged additional support for repatriating displaced FATA residents in a “timely and dignified” manner, but no details on those plans were disclosed. On Monday, a senate committee approved compensation packages for homeowners in the FATA. [Dawn]
  • Lal Masjid Splits Over Musharraf Pardon: Family members of students killed during the 2007 Lal Masjid operation denounced mosque leader Maulana Abdul Aziz’s public statement on Sunday in which he had pardoned former Pres. Musharraf; the head of the Lal Masjid Shuhada Foundation, Tariq Asad, said that Aziz’s statement was “against Sharia” and announced plans to renew charges against Musharraf. Separately, the attorney general of Pakistan argued before the Supreme Court that a 2007 investigation report into the incident should remain sealed; the Shuhada Foundation has petitioned for its release. [ET]
  • Military Courts: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued execution stays for three men sentenced under the military court system in connection to the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, agreeing to hear appeals brought by their family that were rejected by the Peshawar High Court.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karachi Crackdown: The wife of Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch petitioned the Supreme Court on Monday for visitation access; he remains in Rangers’ custody for interrogation. During an interview on Monday, former Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon, who now resides outside the country and is facing corruption charges, acknowledged meetings with Baloch but denied receiving gifts from him, and disputed other charges against him. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Strike Continues: Striking PIA employees said Monday that they had allowed one flight to Saudi Arabia for stranded pilgrims in Karachi, and called off a planned protest march after four missing union leaders reappeared on Monday after a week in captivity. Union spokesmen said that their strike was continuing, however, until the government pledged to abandon privatization plans for the carrier; union and management spokesmen each accused the other of harassing workers to break or enforce the strike, respectively. Bans on public assembly were imposed in Islamabad and a protest camp near the airport was shifted further from the main building. Dawn reports that Prime Minister Sharif has ordered an investigation of top PIA management, and is apparently of the belief that management and union leaders colluded to bring PIA operations to a halt. Privatization Commission chair Mohammad Zubair has reportedly been tasked with exploring the creation of a new national airline.
  • Natural Gas Import: Prime Minister Sharif will lead a delegation on a two-day visit to Qatar from Wednesday, where he is expected to sign a long-term purchase agreement for liquefied natural gas imports. U.S. officials have warned Pakistan that some sanctions remain in place on Iran, and that the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline “is still to be judged”. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • World Bank President to Visit [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Rules Against Compromise Pardons in Murder Cases [Dawn]
  • Traders’ Leader Killed in Peshawar [ET]
  • Two Killed in Zhob Clash [Dawn]
  • Islamabad Polio Vaccination Efforts Criticized [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • National Assembly Committee Approves Hindu Marriage Bill [ET]
  • Pakistan Leads South Asia in Use of ‘Mobile Money’ [ET]
  • Imran Khan Rules out Hospital Privatization [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Redeploys Forces to Helmand: A battalion-sized force of several hundred U.S. soldiers will deploy to Helmand by the end of the month, U.S. officials confirmed on Monday, where they will officially be tasked with supporting the Afghan National Army’s 215 Corps, whose command was recently overhauled. No additional forces are being deployed for the mission, which instead involves redeployment from other parts of the country. Since the closure of major bases in Helmand last year, most advisors have been flown in as needed on an “expeditionary” basis.
  • Attacks and Operations: Nangarhar tribal leaders demonstrated in Kabul on Monday, demanding greater security and action against Daesh and Taliban militants. Officials claim that 17 Daesh- and Taliban-affiliated militants were killed in airstrikes on the Achin and Rodat districts on Monday, including a Taliban shadow district governor. Airstrikes in two Helmand districts killed 15 Taliban fighters, the 201 Maiwand Corps claimed on Monday. In Baghlan, Afghan National Army forces broke a Taliban siege around an army base in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district. Six people were killed and nine wounded in a suicide bombing in the Yahyakhil district center in Paktika on Monday that targeted the district governor, who was unhurt. [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Leader Dies: Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani, a former Kandahar governor under the Taliban regime and member of the insurgency’s leadership council, died of cancer on Monday night, the Taliban’s spokesman announced. Rahmani was reported to have been a participant in a Pakistan-brokered meeting in Urumqi last year. [TOLO] [ET]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Power Outage Continues: Officials with the Da Breshna Sherkat electric utility say they have no timeline for repairing a power pylon in Baghlan whose destruction has cut off power to Kabul for nearly two weeks, laying the onus on security forces to secure the area.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Wounded Afghan Veterans Criticize Lack of Government Support [TOLO]
  • Garmser Ulema Pledge Support for Security Forces [TOLO]
  • Walid Tamim Appointed Head of Petroleum and Gas Enterprise [Khaama Press]
  • Lawmakers Concerned Over Illegal Mining in Badakhshan [TOLO]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Suicide Bomber Strikes Quetta Frontier Corps; Agreement on ‘Roadmap’ for Afghan Talks

Topline

  • A Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan suicide bomber killed at least eight people in an attack on a Balochistan Frontier Corps vehicle in Quetta on Saturday. Diplomats from the United States, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan met in Islamabad on Saturday for the latest talks on the Afghan peace process; a joint statement afterwards set the end of February as the deadline for setting a date for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, saying that a “roadmap” had been adopted to bring as many Taliban groups as possible into the process. Pakistan’s Privatization Commission chairman Mohammad Zubair met with Pakistan International Airlines union leaders on Friday for talks but failed to reach an agreement to end their strike. Those union leaders met separately with the head of the Sindh Rangers on Saturday, afterwards voicing “full confidence” in the Rangers’ investigation into the shooting death of two union members last week. Four missing union members reappeared on Monday, officials announced; no details of their captivity have been released. Limited PIA flight operations resumed on Sunday, although the engineers’ union warned that maintenance requirements were not being carried out. Afghan interior minister Noor ul Haq Uloomi has reportedly submitted his resignation, although it has not been accepted; Khaama Press attributes the move to a dispute over the selection his preferred deputy. Pajhwok reports that the Taliban’s intelligence chief and his deputy were kidnapped in separate incidents on the outskirts of Quetta last week. Jamaat ud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed held a conference in Islamabad on Friday warning the PML-N government “not to betray the Kashmir cause”. Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan has resigned; a successor has not yet been named. Afghan army sources report that their forces in Sangin are in dire need of reinforcements; provincial officials insist that there is “no serious threat” there. A suicide bomber struck an Afghan National Army bus in Balkh on Monday, killing three. Pakistani army officials met with Finance Minister Dar on Sunday seek financing for the establishment of a new security division and 28 battalions. On Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that an agreement had been reached with EU officials on additional information-sharing requirements for a deportation agreement negotiated last fall.

Pakistan — Security

  • Suicide Bomber Attacks Quetta Frontier Corps: At least eleven people were killed and 35 injured when a suicide bomber on a bicycle detonated his explosives alongside a Frontier Corps convoy passing near the Quetta district courts complex on Saturday. Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan spokesman Mohammad Khorasani claimed responsibility for the attack. Provincial officials pledged compensation for victims and Frontier Corps Inspector General Maj. Gen. Sher Afgun pledged “fast action” in response. At least 35 suspects had been arrested as of Sunday, and Frontier Corps officials reported that they had killed two TTP suspects in a search operation.
  • Army Seeks Additional Funding: Pakistani army officials met with Finance Minister Dar on Sunday to demand financing for the establishment of a new security division and 28 battalions, according to a finance ministry statement; Dar was quoted as saying that the “government attaches the highest importance to security matters” and would provide the funds.
  • IDP Assistance: The chairman of the national assembly committee on states and frontier region, Jamaluddin of the JUI-F, promised hearings on Rs 1 billion in assistance for displaced FATA residents, which he said remained tied up in the bureaucratic approval process, charging that “the federal government is not sincere about rehabilitation and development in the tribal areas.”
  • School Security: Eleven militant suspects “and their facilitators” were arrested in the town of Shabqadr in the Charsadda district on Saturday, which police officials said was in connection to the attack on the Bacha Khan University. The Post interviews families and students who have begun to cautiously return to schools in the past week, many whom describe continued fear of future militant attacks.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kashmir Day Commemorated: As reported on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif addressed the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly to commemorate Kashmir Solidarity Day, calling for mutual dialogue with India and saying that the disputed territory was “the litmus test of the political foresight of present India-Pakistan leadership [as to] whether they clear the debt of history or pass it on to the next generations.” Separately, Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed organized a conference in Islamabad, also attended by leaders of the ASWJ, Jamaat-e-Islami, and PTI, among others, in which he warned the prime minister “not to betray the Kashmir cause”. [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Governor Resigns: Prime Minister Sharif accepted Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan’s previously-submitted resignation on Monday; presidential approval is still pending. He tells Dawn that he intends to return to politics and campaign ahead of the 2018 general elections. The Express Tribune reports that Mehtab has been asked to stay on until his successor is nominated, and names two retired generals as leading candidates.
  • Deportation Agreement: On Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that an agreement had been reached with the European Union regarding a readmission agreement for the deportation of Pakistani nationals from Europe; the interior ministry indicated that the EU had agreed to a identity verification process proposed by Pakistan and greater information-sharing on deportations. [ET]
  • Lal Masjid Leader ‘Pardons’ Musharraf: On Sunday, Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz announced that he had forgiven former Pres. Musharraf for the death of his brother Abdul Rasheed Ghazi during the 2007 Lal Masjid operation, “for the sake of peace in the country”. Aziz has filed countercharges against several civil society activists who have sought his arrested.
  • Judicial Policy: Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali suggested to a Sindh High Court Bar Association audience on Friday that he intended to halt the practice of appointing retired judges to various tribunals across the country, although he did not specify which kind; he suggested instead that lawyers should head the bodies. The Pakistan Bar Council has voiced opposition to a senate proposal that would increase the number of Supreme Court judges from 17 to 27.
  • Other Political Activity: Imran Khan visited the city of Dera Murad Jamali in Balochistan’s Nasirabad district on Sunday, where he threatened nationwide protests if the government did not meet PTI demands to reduce petroleum prices, eliminate gas and power supply taxes, and pay Pakistan Steel Mills employee salaries. Khan also pledged to respect the rights of smaller provinces and denounced the government’s handling of the PIA strike. A PTI protest in Islamabad on Saturday dispersed after a rival group of merchants formed a counter-protest, demanding payment for the party’s 2014 sit-ins. The Sindh High Court heard arguments on Saturday on petitions challenging a PPP-backed amendment abolishing the secret ballot in the election of mayors and other indirectly elected local government officials. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Deadlock Continues on PIA Strike: Privatization Commission chairman Mohammad Zubair arrived in Karachi on Friday and met with representatives of the Pakistan International Airlines union Joint Action Committee; both sides welcomed the talks as a “good sign”, but gave no signal of an immediate agreement. Flight operations remained suspended on Saturday, and a planned second day of talks was not held. Union leaders also met with Maj. Gen. Bilal Akber, chief of the Sindh Rangers, and afterwards professed “full confidence” in their investigation into the shooting death of two protestors in Karachi last week. On Saturday, union leader Sohail Baloch filed police charges against several PML-N leaders, alleging a “well-planned conspiracy”; the Rangers were omitted from the filing. On Saturday, the Rangers announced that they had identified a man believed to have taken part in the protest shooting, identified as a fire department employee. On Monday, strike leaders announced that four union leaders who had gone missing at the start of the strike had been freed on Monday; no details of their captivity have been released. PTI chairman Imran Khan also met with strike leaders in Karachi on Saturday, criticizing the government’s privatization plans; PPP spokesmen suggested that the party might join him, and the MQM also voiced support for the strikers. Separately, the head of the airline pilots’ union, PALPA, announced its withdrawal from the strike effort on Saturday; a limited number of flights took off from the Islamabad airport on Sunday. PIA offices reopened in Islambad and Karachi on Monday, with more flights operating to carry pilgrims back from Saudi Arabia; the Express Tribune reports that as much as 90% of PIA staff have returned to work at the Lahore airport. The Society of Aircraft Engineers of Pakistan warned that flights were being cleared to operate without completing maintenance protocols, saying that their members remained on strike. PIA employees received letters on Sunday warning them that they faced the loss of their jobs and other punishments if they continued to participate in the strike in violation of the Essential Services Act. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Tharparkar Crisis: Five more child deaths were reported in the Tharparkar district on Friday, and another two on Sunday, bringing the total since the start of the year to as many as 178. Sindh provincial health minister Mehtab Dahar visited the hospital in the district center of Mithi on Sunday and insisted that “the situation in Thar wasn’t as bad as portrayed by the media”, claiming that the government had made “unprecedented” efforts to bring health facilities to the area. On Sunday, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah ordered the creation of a judicial commission to investigate the health crisis there, to be headed by retired judge Ghulam Sarwar Korai.
  • Polio Crisis: Karachi’s first recorded polio case of the year was reported over the weekend; his parents report that he had received several vaccine doses but had missed two previous doses. Two cases have been reported nationwide so far this year.
  • Spending Cuts: Dawn reports that the Khyber Paktunkhwa government will likely slash spending for its Rs 174 billion Annual Development Program by Rs 77 billion this fiscal year, which officials attribute to a shortfall in transfers from the federal government and overestimations in the initial budget target.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • To Protect Chinese Investment, Pakistan Military Leaves Little to Chance [Reuters]
  • Registered Afghan Nationals Complain of Police Harassment [ET]
  • Intelligence Bureau to Brief Senators on ‘Spy Signals’ from Diplomatic Enclave [Dawn]
  • Shia Leader Killed in Peshawar [ET]
  • Two Killed in Bannu IED [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Anti-Corruption Commission Chief Warns Against Changes to Law [ET]
  • ‘No Headway’ in Eight-Year Investigation Into Bhutto Assassination Attempt [Dawn]
  • Sindh Traders Call Off Strike Plans [ET]
  • Khan Kawar Power Plant Remains Closed for Seven Months Over ‘Technical Faults’ [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of International Jihad – “Pakistan is intervening in a number of foreign conflicts. Its intelligence service has long acted as the manager of international mujahedeen forces, many of them Sunni extremists, and there is even speculation that it may have been involved in the rise of the Islamic State.” [Carlotta Gall, NYT]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Interior Minister Reportedly Resigning: Interior Minister Noor ul Haq Uloomi is reported to have submitted his resignation, which has not been accepted by Pres. Ghani; Reuters attributes the move to criticism from parliamentarians for the worsening security situation, but Khaama Press reports that the resignation was made after his choice for deputy interior minister was rejected by Chief Executive Abdullah. A spokesman for the ministry denied that Uloomi had resigned.
  • Taliban Intelligence Chief Reportedly Kidnapped: Pajhwok, citing a “source close to the Taliban,” reports that Mullah Mohammadzai, indentified as the Taliban’s intelligence chief, and his deputy, Mullah Mohammad Issa Akhund, were kidnapped in separate incidents on the outskirts of Quetta last week. A Taliban spokesman denied the report. Separately, the dissident Taliban faction led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool reportedly gathered in Farah province to reiterate their opposition to movement leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor; Rasool was previously reported to have accepted a ceasefire agreement with Mansoor at the start of the year.
  • Attacks and Operations: The NYT interviews Kunduz residents who express continued concern about the threat of a Taliban takeover of the city again, and reports that Taliban fighters retain control of many outlying provincial districts. A protest was held in the city on Sunday, the participants accusing the government of failing to provide security; acting governor Hamdullah Danishi echoed calls for military action. An anonymous Afghan army commander tells the BBC that Helmand’s Sangin district is again on the verge of being taken over by the Taliban, and that forces are in dire need of supplies and reinforcements; a spokesman for the governor insisted there was no “serious threat” there. At least three people were killed and 18 injured in a suicide bombing attack on a bus carrying Afghan army personnel in Balkh’s Dehadi district on Monday; the Taliban claimed responsibility. A defense ministry spokesman said Sunday that operations in Baghlan were proceeding slowly due to land mines planted by insurgents in the Dand-e-Ghori area. Two radio journalists were attacked and injured outside the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri on Saturday; at least one man was detained by police, who suggested a family connection with the victims. The district governor of Nangarhar’s Achin district claimed Saturday that as many as 28 Daesh-affiliated militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike, the majority of them Pakistani nationals. Power cables were cut in Faryab’s Khawaj Subz Posh district during fighting on Sunday evening, cutting off electricity to the capital and several districts. One policeman was killed and eight people injured, including two judges, in a roadside bombing in Logar province; the Taliban claimed responsibility. On Monday, a presidential security guard was killed at his home in Nangarhar’s Behsud district; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Quadrilateral Coordination Group Meets Again: Diplomatic representatives from Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and China held the latest meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghan peace talks in Islamabad on Saturday. Speaking at the outset of the quadrilateral talks, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that efforts would be “aimed at persuading (the) maximum number of Taliban groups to join the peace talks”; he also reiterated that there should be no preconditions to negotiations. A statement released after the meeting said that the group had “adopted a roadmap stipulating the stages and steps in the process”, without providing details. Pakistan diplomatic sources told Dawn prior to the meeting that they would propose a three-stage process focused on identifying Taliban factions open to talks, deciding how negotiations would be conducted, and for talks to take place by April. The public statement set a goal to set a date for direct peace between the Afghan government and “Taliban groups” before the end of February. Another quadrilateral meeting has been scheduled to take place in Kabul on February 23. In remarks on Sunday, the Afghan foreign ministry’ spokesman said that “as far as the issue of the groups which do not endorse peace talks is concerned, Afghanistan and Pakistan have committed and agreed to deal with them with all available resources and continue their strong struggle against them”; anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources talking to the Express Tribune prior to the meeting suggested that “we have asked the Afghan side to identify the irreconcilable Taliban first; but they had not mentioned anyone in the previous meetings.” Parallel to the quadrilateral meeting, U.S. special representative Richard Olson met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif; on Sunday, Pres. Ghani met with China’s ambassador to Kabul, praising Chinese support. In an interview with Iran’s Fars News agency, former Pres. Karzai argued that Iran, India, and Russia should be included in the talks process. Earlier on Friday, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council, Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, confirmed that the US and UK had suspended funding for the organization since the start of the year; the HPC has lacked a chairman since Salahuddin Rabbani’s appointment as foreign minister last year. [Reuters] [AJE] [ET] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Government Formation: TOLO reports that as many as 50,000 government positions are vacant, apparently due to disagreement within the national unity government on appointments to fill them. Khaama Press reports that Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are divided on a choice for the mayor of the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, each asking the Independent Directorate of Local Governance to appoint Engineer Matiullah Bahir and Hasibullah Sultani, respectively.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Pentagon Releases Photos Linked to Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan [AP] [Reuters] [BBC]
  • Five Accused Pakistani Spies Arrested in Badakhshan [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Up to 500,00 Sq Kilometers of Land in Afghanistan Covered in Landmines [TOLO]
  • Ghani Sacks Chief of Protocol After Kandahar Brawl [Guardian]
  • Moneychangers Union Warns of Increase in Foreign Currency Trafficking [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Twelve Contracts Worth Afs 1.6 Billion [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Straight Talk on Afghan Peace Talks – “Expectations for the Afghan peace process should be measured. With the Taliban’s increasing leverage in negotiations and refusal to join in the talks, lasting peace remains elusive.” [Marvin Weinbaum, Foreign Policy]
  • Commentary: The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: A Nuanced View – “Early findings for the new research project suggest that Daesh has established a foothold in Afghanistan and is still growing. However, its advance more closely resembles a hurdle race than a triumphant march.” [Antonio Giustozzi, RUSI]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Government Refuses Concessions to PIA Strikers; Campbell Pushes for More Embeds and Airstrikes

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif and other government officials have refused to accept compromise with Pakistan International Airlines union leaders and have directed officials to begin filing charges against striking employees, Dawn reports; PIA flight operations remain cancelled and the private carriers Shaheen Air and Airblue are reportedly not honoring an agreement announced yesterday to take PIA passengers whose itineraries have been disrupted. In an interview with the Post, outgoing U.S. commander Gen. John Campbell indicated that he would seek loosened rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to allow more embedding with front-line Afghan units and more use of airstrikes on Taliban targets. The NDS and ISI intelligence chiefs met in Islamabad on Thursday for talks brokered by the US and China. The Election Commission of Pakistan has postponed indirect elections for local government seats reserved for women and minorities in Sindh and Punjab, indefinitely delaying the formation of local governments; ECP officials offered little details for the decision, citing ongoing court challenges to the first round of direct elections. The Afghan national army has reportedly raised its maximum age for recruits to 40 in a bid to maintain recruiting targets in the face of continued heavy casualties and attrition. Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum denied reports that he was considering resignation from the national unity government. Prime Minister Sharif commemorated Kashmir Solidarity Day on Friday with an address to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, where he called for dialogue with India over the disputed territory.

Pakistan — Security

  • Security Review: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif held a meeting at ISI headquarters on Thursday to discuss “the role of hostile [foreign] intelligence agencies and their collaborators in fomenting instability in Pakistan and undermining Pakistan’s interests”, as well as Pakistan-Afghanistan border security, according to military spokesmen. No further details of the meeting have been released. Separately, General Sharif visited the National Counterterrorism Training Center to observe a joint Pakistan-Sri Lanka-Maldives training exercise, touting Pakistan’s counterterrorism experience and saying that Pakistan was “willing to share our experiences with the world for the benefit of humanity and as an obligation towards international peace.”

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Reserved Seat Election Postponed in Sindh and Punjab: On Thursday, the Election Commission announced that it was indefinitely postponing the indirect elections for reserved seats for women and minorities at the local government level in Punjab and Sindh, delaying the formal inauguration and establishment of the local government bodies. ECP officials attributed the delay to ongoing legal challenges to the results of the general election for local councilors, but did not provide further details. PPP and PTI officials denounced the move. Elsewhere, Prime Minister Sharif is reported to have rejected the resignation of Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, who confirms the Express Tribune that he has submitted a resignation and wishes to contest the 2018 general elections. [ET]
  • Pakistan Marks Kashmir Day: Prime Minister Sharif addressed the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly on Friday, which Pakistan marks annually as Kashmir Solidarity Day; in his remarks, Sharif reiterated that “the solution to our problems lies in dialogue” and voiced hope that India and Pakistan would resume comprehensive dialogue soon. He also announced Rs 250 million in funding for the area’s development. [Dawn] [AP] [APP]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Strike Continues: Prime Minister Sharif huddled with top aides on Thursday to plan a response to the ongoing strike by Pakistan International Airlines workers; Dawn reports that the government will authorize complaints against striking PIA workers, and anonymous sources say that “we have decided not to hold talks on their terms” and would not back down to the strikers’ demands that the government forswear its privatization plans for the state carrier. Union leaders rejected suggestions by Rangers officials that one of the protestors had been responsible for the firing on the crowd of strikers at Karachi International Airport on Tuesday. Flight operations remain suspended, and the private carriers Shaheen Airlines and Airblue are reported to not be implementing a previously-announced agreement to carry PIA passengers, leaving many stranded. Airfares at other carriers spiked as much as 200% at the start of the strike, prompting an investigation by the Competition Commission of Pakistan. Pakistan Railways ridership is also up. MQM legislators walked out of a committee hearing in protest on Thursday, accusing petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, of benefiting from the crisis through ownership of Airblue, which Abbasi denied having any stake in. [AFP] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Signs of Lal Masjid Leadership Split After Maulana Abdul Aziz Suggest Musharraf Could Be Pardoned [Dawn] [AJE] [ET]
  • Sister of Military Court Convict Files Supreme Court Plea [ET]
  • 115 Killings Make Pakistan Fourth Deadliest Country for Journalists [AFP]
  • Karachi Operation to Continue, Corps Commander Says [Dawn]
  • MQM Leader Aamir Khan to Defend Bail [ET]
  • Senate Chairman Warns Against Census Delay [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Outgoing Commander Urges Expanded U.S. Role: In an interview with the Post, outgoing U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Allen said that he would recommend revisions to U.S. rules of engagement in Afghanistan that would allow U.S. forces to embed with more front-line Afghan units and expand the use of airstrikes, saying that ” I’m not going to leave without making sure my leadership understands that there are things we need to do.” Meanwhile, the Post reports that the Afghan National Army has raised its maximum age for recruits to 40 from 35, in an effort to maintain recruitment targets as the force has been battered by casualties, desertion and attrition.
  • Spy Chiefs Meet: NDS chief Masoud Andarabi and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar met in Islamabad on Thursday for a two-hour meeting brokered by U.S. and Chinese intelligence officials; details are minimal but sources tell Dawn that the meeting was “a step not a breakthrough” and that the two sides held a “frank discussion” about Pakistani concerns regarding the presence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants sheltering in Afghanistan.
  • Taliban Divisions: In an interview with the AP, Taliban commander Abdul Rauf, identified as a senior aide to dissident Taliban faction leader Mullah Mohammad Rasool, says that the dissident faction is now “one by one” accepting the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Akhtar. Rasool was earlier reported to have reached a ceasefire agreement with Mansoor at the start of the year. A Western official says that “the Taliban leadership is fragile, but the movement is not” and that while Mansoor is a “first among equals, [and] there are many equals whose support he doesn’t have,” those commanders realize “that it is better to be working together.”
  • Attacks and Operations: Soldiers in Sangin, and provincial council members, tell TOLO that they are under siege by Taliban fighters and badly in need of reinforcements and supplies; the defense ministry’s chief spokesman insisted that “insurgents failed to reach their objectives” and that forces in Sangin were being fully supported. Helmand police chief said the account was “laughable” and insisted that “everything exists there and all necessary things are dispatched there”.
  • Civilian Casualties: The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reported on Friday that at least 90 children were killed and 97 wounded in Kandahar over the last year, more than double the preceding year. Most deaths were attributed to remote roadside bombings.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Dostum Denies Report of Split: Speaking to a conference of the Junbesh party young wing on Thursday, Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum denied reports that he might step down from his position in the government, acknowledging differences of opinion and a failure to make good on his past promises of security but insisting that “I had a key role in laying the foundation stone for this government. I will never distance myself from it”. [Khaama Press] [Pajhwok]
  • Taliban Talks: In a Reuters interview, Chief Executive Abdullah said that “there might be groups among the Taliban who might be willing to talk and give up violence,” and suggested that direct talks between the government and Taliban should begin “sooner than six months”. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group will meet in Islamabad on Saturday to further discuss options for the “roadmap” to a reconciliation process.
  • Electoral Reform: Members of the selection committee tasked with nominating new members of the Independent Election Commission called on the president to issue another executive decree on electoral reforms and authorizing the resumption of their work, accusing unspecified elements of “infiltrating the presidential palace and hindering electoral reforms”. A spokesman for the president said that Second Vice President Sarwar Danish was “discussing the issue with both houses of the parliament as well as prominent political figures to find a solution for electoral reforms”.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • German Interior Minister Pledges Continued Support for Afghanistan [TOLO]
  • Report: The Militia System in Kunduz – “While the central administration gradually loses control over the management and resources of whole swathes of the country to local potentates, the army gradually finds itself in competition with armed groups based on ethnic and clientelist dynamics.” [Adam Baczko and Gilles Dorronsoro, NORIA]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: IMF Concerned Over Privatization Plans as PIA Strike Continues; NDS and ISI Intel Chiefs Meet

Topline

  • The PIA strike continued for a third day on Thursday; PIA officials report that at least 150 flights have been cancelled, and that the airline has lost at least Rs 1.8 billion since the start of the strike. The Sindh government has appointed a police task force to investigate the shooting death of two PIA protesters on Tuesday. Staff-level talks with the IMF concluded on Thursday with an agreement for the release of the next loan tranche, but reports suggest that IMF officials raised concerns over delays in the privatization of PIA and other state-owned enterprises such as Pakistan Steel Mills and the Faisalabad Electric Supply Company. Finance Minister Dar denied those reports and insisted that the government remained fully committed to privatization. The intelligence heads of the NDS and the ISI will reportedly meet today in a meeting brokered by China and the United States, although press accounts conflict as to whether that will take place in Kabul or Islamabad. In comments to the WSJ, anonymous U.S. military officials complain that restrictive rules of engagement in Afghanistan have led to only temporary gains when U.S. special operations forces are inserted to back up the struggling Afghan national security forces. The Sindh Rangers arrested the head of security at the MQM’s Karachi headquarters, charging him in connection with the 1997 murder of the Karachi Electric Supply Company’s director Shahid Hamid. Chief Executive Abdullah called for greater Indian investment in Afghanistan as he continues his visit this week. Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated a new highway link in Gwadar on Wednesday as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

Pakistan — Security

  • TTP Targeted in Drone Strike: Dawn identifies several commanders amongst the group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants targeted in a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, which reportedly included an unidentified British national of Pakistani origin; Hussain Ahmed, identified as the commander of a group tasked with kidnapping foreigners; and Azmi, identified as the head of the Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, and Lakki Marwat chapters of the TTP. [ET]
  • School Security: A multi-party conference in Charsadda called by the Jamaat-i-Islami demanded an independent judicial inquiry into the attack on Bacha Khan University last month, as well as greater compensation for the victims and increased school security measures. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan held a security review meeting in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Security Chief Charged: On Wednesday, the Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of Minhaj Qazi, the former head of security at the MQM’s Nine-Zero headquarters, who they said had confessed to the killing of Karachi Electric Supply Company chief Shahid Hamid in 1997 as well other murders. He has been detained for a 15-day interrogation period.
  • Elections: The senate committee on parliamentary affairs approved two amendments, previously passed by the national assembly, that give the Election Commission greater authority over constituency delimitation rule-making, but strikes a provision allowing the commission to delegate authority to a single commissioner in lieu of the full five-member body. The Lahore High Court deferred a hearing on opposition party challenges to amendments to Punjab’s local government law that changed the method of electing mayors and deputy mayors to a public show of hands, after the provincial government said that the executive ordinance had been brought up for debate in the assembly. By-elections have been scheduled for March 3 in the PS-76 Sindh assembly seat in Dadu. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Corruption Investigations: Lawyers for former Sindh information minister Sharjeel Memon, who faces National Accountability Bureau charges of embezzlement, confirmed that he was living abroad in Dubai, and suggested he would not return to the country with protective bail. Separately, retired brigadier Amjad Kayani, a brother of the former chief of army staff, met with NAB officials in connection to the Defense Housing Authority scam; he denied that his brother Kamran Kayani owned Elysium Holdings, the company at the center of the scam.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Strike Continues: The Pakistan International Airlines strike continued into its third day on Thursday, with all flights grounded. Prime Minister Sharif accepted chairman Nasser Jaffer’s resignation; aviation division secretary Mohammad Ali Gardezi has been appointed acting chairman. PIA has reached an agreement with the private carriers Airblue and Shaheen Air to carry passengers with already-booked tickets to a limited number of domestic and international destinations. Four 747 jets have been arranged to return a group of pilgrims stranded in Jeddah. A spokesman for the airline said that it had lost at least Rs 1.8 billion since the start of the strike on January 26; over 150 flights have been cancelled. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid accused the protestors of using force during their protest on Tuesday; former Pres. Zardari issued a statement calling for action against those responsible for “totally unwarranted and criminal use of force against protesting employees using their legal right of protest against their threatened unemployment”. Pakistan Railways union leaders held a small protest in Rawalpindi on Wednesday and threatened a parallel nationwide strike if the government proceeded with its plans to privatize PIA. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah announced the appointment of a committee headed by the deputy inspector general of police to investigate the shooting deaths at Tuesday’s protest, which he said PIA union leaders had accepted; police say they have no evidence in connection to the shooting. The Rangers have also announced an investigation. [ET] [ET]
  • IMF Talks: Quarterly review talks between IMF and Pakistani finance ministry staff reportedly agreed to delay privatization benchmarks for PIA and other state-owned enterprises until mid-May; IMF staff reportedly raised concerns over that delay and the delay in privatizing Pakistan Steel Mills and the Faisalabad Electric Supply Company. Agreement and staff-level approval of the next $497 million loan tranche was announced on Thursday, but is still subject to IMF board approval; the IMF said that Pakistan met structural benchmarks for the quarter but “advancing the energy sector reform, setting in motion competitiveness-enhancing improvements in the business climate, continuing to expand the tax net, and ending losses in public enterprises will be critical” in the future. Finance Minister Dar said the government was still committed to “convert loss-making state-owned enterprises into profitable enterprises”, and finance ministry officials denied that there was any disagreement with IMF over privatization measures or modification to the timeline. [Reuters]
  • CSF Delays: Defense secretary Muhammad Alam Khattak met with U.S. ambassador to Pakistan David Hale on Wednesday, where he discussed “the issues of the decrease in Coalition Support Fund and the economic difficulties in dealing with the crises of North Waziristan’s internally displaced persons”, according to a defense ministry readout. The U.S. secretary of defense has yet to issue a certification that Pakistani military operations in the FATA are disrupting the Haqqani network’s freedom of movement, a requirement for the release of a $350 million CSF tranche that was imposed in the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
  • China Pakistan Economic Corridor Projects: Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated the Gwadar-Hoshab road in Balochistan on Wednesday, accompanied by Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, pledging that this and other projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would “ensure economic development of Balochistan”. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the corridor was “an important consensus between leaders of the two countries”; Syed Tariq Fatemi, the special assistant to Prime Minister Sharif on foreign affairs, visited Beijing and pledged the establishment of a dedicated force of around 10,000 personnel to provide security for Chinese engineers working on CPEC projects. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PTI Plans Karachi Protest [ET]
  • Pakistani Military Offers India Assistance After Siachen Avalanche [Dawn]
  • Indian Home Minister Says Pakistan Must ‘Show Sincerity’ on Confronting Terrorist Groups [ET]
  • Would-Be Suicide Bomber Killed in Kalat [Dawn]
  • Peshawar High Court Stays Additional Corruption Cases Against Former Mining Minister [Dawn]
  • Bilawal Bhutto to Attend US National Prayer Breakfast [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Seeks Possession of Balahisar Fort [Dawn]
  • Commentary: What Ails PIA? – “Today, PIA’s losses have risen to match the levels of the circular debt, and they may well cripple the carrier altogether.” [Khurram Husain, Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • U.S. Rules of Engagement Under Debate: Anonymous U.S. military officials complain to the WSJ that restrictive rules of engagement have “tied our hands” in responding to Taliban advances; a recent high-profile intervention by U.S. special operation forces to shore up Afghan positions in Helmand, in which one American soldier was killed, has reportedly since been reversed as Afghan forces withdrew in the face of continued Taliban attacks. The report also acknowledges broader discipline issues in the Afghan national security forces, including the “systematic and widespread” sale or surrender of weaponry to the Taliban.
  • Attacks and Operations: Russian agencies, cited by Khaama Press, quote a spokesman for the Tajikistan State Committee for National Security, who expressed concern that as many as 5,000 Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and other fighters had concentrated near the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Afghan army forces carried out operations in Kunduz’s Ali Abad district after a Taliban attack on military outposts on Wednesday; provincial officials claim that as many as 17 Taliban fighters were killed. Baghlan provincial governor Abdul Sattar Bariz reported that security forces had been stationed to protect power cables in the Dand Shahabuddin district, and that engineers would repair the connection by the end of the week. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Intelligence Chiefs to Meet: ISI chief Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar and NDS chief Masoud Andarabi will reportedly meet today in a meeting brokered by the United States and China, ahead of Saturday’s planned meeting of diplomats from the Quadrilateral Coordination Group. The Express Tribune and Dawn‘s accounts differ as to whether the meeting is taking place in Islamabad or Kabul.
  • Ghani Visits Kandahar: Pres. Ghani met with local government officials and tribal leaders in a visit to Kandahar on Wednesday, where he announced the devolution of greater authority and greater funding to the mayors of Kandahar, Herat, Balkh, and Nangarhar on a “trial basis”. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Abdullah Seeks Indian Investment: During a meeting with leading Indian industry bodies on Wednesday, Chief Executive Abdullah called for greater Indian investment in Afghanistan, touting the country’s position as a “land bridge” linking multiple regions and the construction of Chabahar port with Iran. [TOLO] [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Anywhere But Home: An Afghan Laborer in Iran Dreams of Life in Sweden [Guardian]
  • Poppy Cultivation Increases in Nangarhar [TOLO]
  • Commentary: New Building, Old MPs: A Guide to the Afghan Parliament – “Current confusion regarding the Wolesi Jirga’s legal situation as well as the election issue in general, including the need for electoral reform and what this should entail, is the result of half-solutions for legal and technical problems that have been mounting since the first electoral cycle of 2004/05.” [Salima Ahmadi and Thomas Ruttig, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PIA Chairman Resigns as Strike Expands; Gen. Campbell Testifies, Seeking Continued Aid

Topline

  • Pakistan International Airline operations have been halted as a strike expanded across the country on Wednesday in the wake of the death of two striking employees in a clash with security personnel in Karachi the day prior; the PIA chairman, Nasser Jaffer, has resigned. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid and Prime Minister Sharif accused opposition political parties of sponsoring the strikes and warned that those participating faced the loss of their jobs. Opposition parliamentary members have demanded debate on the issue; Imran Khan has announced plans to hold a demonstration on February 6, although the location has not been determined. U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Campbell testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, arguing that “the threats Afghanistan faces require our sustained attention and forward presence” and continued financial assistance through 2024. A senior Afghan general was reportedly killed in the Gereshk district on Monday evening, although sources differ as to whether it was in a roadside bombing or an attack on an army camp. The Taliban killed a child soldier who had been touted by Uruzgan police as a hero after an attack on an ALP militia base last summer. Dawn, citing anonymous sources, reports that the main facilitator of the attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda has been arrested while attempting to flee to Afghanistan. Pakistan and Bangladesh continued their diplomatic feud, with formal protests lodged in Dhaka after a Bangladesh diplomat was reportedly detained for several hours in Islamabad. The Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation said that a draft agreement on the return of Afghan refugees with Germany was “one-sided” and would need t be revised, voicing opposition to any “forced repatriation”.

Pakistan — Security

  • School Security: Dawn reports that Waheed Ali, identified as the main facilitator of the attack on Charsadda’s Bacha Khan University last month, was arrested while attempting to flee the country to Afghanistan and has confessed to his role and links to the TTP; the arrest has not been officially announced. The Bacha Khan University vice chancellor, who government officials had earlier recommended firing, tells the Express Tribune that the district administration has taken no steps to provide additional security in the wake of the attack, and that the university will purchase arms and ammunition for its staff in response. [ET]
  • TTP Targeted in Drone Strike: A U.S. drone strike across the border in in Afghanistan’s Paktika province on Monday evening killed as many as eighteen Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters affiliated with faction leader Khan Said Sajna, who was previously reported to have been killed last year. The group is reported to have been buried in Waziristan on Tuesday. [ET]
  • Balochistan Conflict: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif told a conference in Quetta on Tuesday that “our foreign adversaries” were funding and supporting Baloch militant groups, and that “we shall continue to fight, till peace prevails across the length and breadth of the province”. Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri said that the government was ready to hold dialogue with dissident Baloch leaders, saying that he had tasked PML-Q senator Mushahid Hussain with the task of outreach. Sharif also announced and establishment of a branch of the National University of Science and Technology in Quetta. [Dawn]
  • Suspected Indian Spy Arrested: Lahore police and intelligence agencies arrested an alleged Indian spy and have detained him for questioning, Dawn reports; there are few details.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Diplomatic Tensions with Bangladesh: Pakistan’s ambassador in Dhaka was summoned by the Bangladeshi foreign ministry on Tuesday for a formal protest after the alleged detention of a Bangladeshi official in Islamabad on Monday. On Tuesday, a Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal sentenced two more men in connection to the 1971 war of independence; their lawyers said they would challenge the verdict.
  • Court Hearings: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court sought a response from the federal government to a petition seeking fast-tracked appeals hearings for the roughly 7,100 inmates on death row. The Sindh High Court heard a petition brought by the suspects arrested in connection to last May’s attack on the Ismaili community in Karachi, who are seeking to avoid having their case transferred to the military court system. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court overturned the disqualification of the PML-N’s Sheikh Mohammad Akram, who had been disqualified from his election to the NA-89 Jhang constituency in a lower election tribunal ruling in April 2014.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Strike Continues; Chairman Resigns: Pakistan International Airlines chairman Nasser Jaffer announced his resignation on Tuesday evening after a strike in Karachi turned deadly, leaving at least two dead. Jaffer said his “conscience doesn’t allow me to head the organisation anymore”, and urged protesting employees to hold a dialogue with the government. Sindh Rangers and Karachi police officials continue to deny firing on the protest crowds; Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that “criticising security forces without evidence is unacceptable”. All domestic and international PIA flight operations are suspended as of Wednesday; union officials continue to demand a halt to privatization plans for the airline. They also allege that four members “went missing” overnight. In a press conference on Tuesday, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid accused opposition political parties of “inciting” the PIA workers, and vowed that the government would stick to its commitment to privatization and would not bow to “protests and conspiracies”. Prime Minister Sharif echoed the charge that the protests were “going on with the backing of some political parties” and warned that striking PIA employees risk the loss of their jobs. Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Imran Khan accused the PML-N of having ” always resorted to violence against the masses” and to governing as a “democratic dictatorship”; the PTI plans a large protest on February 6, but has not decided whether it will be held in Karachi or Lahore. Opposition leaders have called for debate in the national assembly and senate over the issue. [ET] [Dawn] [Guardian]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • No Case Filed in Former Punjab Home Minister’s Death [ET]
  • Former Interior Minister Summoned in Bhutto Murder Hearing [Dawn]
  • Son of Former Azad Jammu and Kashmir President Faces Corruption Charges [ET]
  • Power Tariff Rate Cut by 47% [Dawn] [ET]
  • Private Sector Lending Rises 9.8% [ET]
  • Pakistani Film Sparks Effort to End ‘Honor Killings’ [WSJ]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Campbell Testifies: Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Campbell said that “a strategic stalemate without end is not the goal of this campaign” in Afghanistan, and that flexibility was needed to avoid the further deterioration of security in 2016. Campbell highlighted the risk of attacks internationally staged from Afghanistan, and argued that “the threats Afghanistan faces require our sustained attention and forward presence” and financial aid would be necessary “at least” through 2024. [Khaama Press]
  • Attacks and Operations: General Atamir Agah, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 215 Maiwand Corps in Helmand, was killed and three other soldiers were wounded in a roadside bombing in the Gereshk district on Monday evening, a spokesman for the provincial governor reported on Tuesday; anonymous sources tell both Pajhwok and Khaama Press that he and as many as 25 other soldiers were killed in an attack on an army camp, however. Nangarhar officials reported that four Daesh-affiliated militants were killed in a drone strike in Achin on Wednesday. [Khaama Press]
  • Child Soldier Killed: Wasil Ahmad, a 10-year old boy previously credited by Uruzgan police officials with leading an Afghan Local Police militia unit’s counter to a Taliban offensive last summer, was killed by the Taliban in the provincial capital of Tirin Kot on Monday. As many as 10% of law enforcement personnel in three Afghan provinces studied by the group Child Soldiers International are estimated to be underage.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Refugee Repatriation: On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation said that a draft agreement with Germany on the return of Afghan refugees was “one-sided” and would need further revisions, saying that the government was opposed to the “forced repatriation of Afghan refugees”.
  • Urban Reforms: Pres. Ghani attended a conference of urban solidarity councils on Tuesday to discuss urban development programs and reforms; he said that agreements had been reached on unspecified reforms for the authorities of mayors, and that elections would be held after the reforms are incorporated into law. The mayor of Kabul, who is directly appointed by the presidency, remains vacant after more than a year; a presidential administration affairs office representative that “there should be several mayors” and that this was a reason for the delay.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Abdullah Calls for ‘Regional Counter-Terrorism Plan’ [TOLO]
  • National Security Advisor Departs for Turkey Visit [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Visits Kandahar [Khaama Press]
  • Qatari Prince Pledges $140M in Aid and Housing Investments [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: What Happened to ISIS’ Afghanistan-Pakistan Province? – “While ISIS-Khurasan has engaged in some high-profile attacks over the past year, it has lost a strategic window of opportunity to absorb local jihadist networks amid the fractious leadership transition following the announcement of the death of Afghan Taliban founder Mullah Muhammad Omar.” [Arif Rafiq, The Diplomat]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Two Killed in PIA Strike at Karachi Airport; German Minister Warns Against Afghan Emigration

Topline

  • At least two striking Pakistan International Airlines union members were killed during protests at the Karachi Airport on Tuesday, a day after the government invoked a law barring union activities in the public sector; Karachi police and Rangers officials deny opening figure. Flight operations around the country are reportedly being disrupted as of the afternoon. German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere  visited Kabul on Monday, where he reiterated that educated Afghan should not seek asylum in Europe, and said that continued public support in Germany for Afghan assistance was conditional on ” the firm impression that the youth and the people of Afghanistan have faith in their future” in Afghanistan. The Sindh provincial government has reportedly reached an agreement with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to approve the extension of policing authority for the Sindh Rangers for a 90-day period. London police released MQM leader Altaf Hussain from bail in a 2014 money laundering case, but say he may still be called for investigations. Taliban fighters attack the electricity department in the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri on Monday, further disrupting electricity supply to Kabul. The Afghan ministry of defense claims to have destroyed a Daesh-affiliated radio station in Nangarhar’s Achin district in airstrikes on Monday; U.S. military officials say they carried out the strike. Schools in Punjab are reopening after being shut for the past week over security concerns; funding appropriated by the Punjab provincial government for facility upgrades is reportedly being repurposed for security upgrades instead.

Pakistan — Security

  • School Security: Dawn reports that Rs 240 million appropriated by the Punjab government for the replacement of missing school facilities has been spent on security upgrades instead; school officials complain that the money is insufficient, and government education officials say there are no more available funds. The administration of Bacha Khan University in Charsadda has rejected an investigation committee’s call for the removal of the school’s vice chancellor, and has threatened resignations if he is removed. The university remains closed. Twelve private schools in Punjab that had remained closed on Monday have agreed to reopen as of Tuesday, the Express Tribune reports; All Pakistan Private Schools Federation president Kashif Mirza denied that fees were being raised to pay for additional security. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Balochistan Conflict: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited Quetta on Tuesday to attend a “national seminar on peace and prosperity,” military spokesmen reported. Frontier Corps officials report that one solider and two Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan-affiliated militants were killed in Zhob in a clash on Monday. [Dawn]
  • Counterterrorism Response: The national assembly defense committee rejected a proposed amendment brought by JUI-F member Shahida Akhtar Ali, which would have omitted reference to “religion and sect” from the counter-terrorist operations being carried out under the Pakistan Army Act.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Sindh Agrees to Extend Rangers’ Authority: Following a conversation between Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Shah approved a notification for the 90-day extension of special policing powers for the Sindh Rangers on Monday. After a week of sparring between PPP leaders and Chaudhry Nisar, Sindh information advisor Maula Bux Chandio maintained that there was no dispute between the federal government and the province over the issue, and said that Rangers would be given “full powers”. On Monday, a medical board recommended that PPP leader Asim Hussain remain hospitalized at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre; his mother has filed a Sindh High Court petition challenging his arrest.
  • UK Releases Altaf Hussain from Bail: London Metropolitan police released MQM leader Altaf Hussain and five other suspects from bail in connection to a June 2014 money laundering case; a police spokesman said that “no decision has yet been made, but it does mean that they will no longer be required to return to a police station on a date imposed by the investigators.” An MQM statement said that Hussain had been informed that “at the time of writing there is insufficient evidence to bring a criminal charge”. [ET] [ET]
  • Lal Masjid Leader Appears in Court: Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz received “pre-arrest bail” in two cases against him after appearing in court on Tuesday; his lawyers had argued that he could not participate in court hearings due to police presence around the mosque. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Aziz said he was ready to forgive former Pres. Musharraf for the 2007 seige on the mosque, in his brother Ghazi Abdul Rashid was killed; Aziz’s lawyer said that he planned new cases against Musharraf, however. [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: The PTI will apply articles 62 and 63 of the constitution as eligibiliy requires for candidates to the intra-party elections for party offices, PTI officials tell the Express Tribune. Aleem Khan, the losing PTI candidate for the NA-122 by-election in Lahore last October, is reportedly seeking support from party leaders for a protest movement after his election tribunal challenge to the results was rejected. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Strike Turns Violent: PIA union members proceeded with strike plans on Tuesday despite the government’s invocation of the Essential Services Maintenance Act on Monday barring union activities among public sector workers. Security personnel moved to forcefully disperse striking employees at the Karachi airport on Tuesday, and reports indicate that at least two protestors have died; police and Rangers denied opening fire, and said they would investigate. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid has threatened that striking employees will lose their jobs. The PTI has announced countrywide protests on Saturday, linked in part to opposition to PIA privatization. Civil aviation officials insisted that flight operations are proceeding as normal, but flights have reportedly begun to be cancelled as of the afternoon, with strikes held at other airports. [ET] [Dawn] [AJE] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Foreign Affairs Committee Argues Against Support for Kashmiri Militants [ET]
  • CII Says Blasphemy Law Can Be ‘Reviewed’ But Not Amended [Dawn]
  • Mansehra Seminaries Along CPEC Route Face Demolition [Dawn]
  • Police Testimonies Recorded in Bhutto Assassination Case [ET]
  • Sindh and Federal Government at Odds Over Port Qasim Coal Plant [Dawn]
  • NEPRA Fines Power Distribution Company for Data Delays [Dawn]
  • Fake ID Cards Seized in Kohat [Dawn]
  • By Way of Computers and Headsets, Islamic Teaching Flows Out of Pakistan [WAPO]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: A group of as many as 50 Taliban fighters launched a counter-attack on the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri, where Afghan security forces have been conducting operations since last week; the attack was repelled but appears to have damaged additional electricity infrastructure that links Kabul and Uzbekistan. On Monday, the Afghan defense ministry claimed to have destroyed a Daesh-affiliated radio station in Nangarhar’s Achin district, killing as many as 29 militants in the process. A U.S. official tells the AP that the strikes were carried out by U.S. forces. In Kunduz, Pajhwok reports that Mohammad Zarif Sharifi, a secretary to acting governor Hamdullah Danishi, was killed in an exchange of fire with police on Monday night; the circumstances of the incident are unclear. Twelve civilians were injured when a bomb attached to a police vehicle exploded in the Laghman provincial capital of Mehtarlam on Monday afternoon. Journalists in Nangarhar commemorated their colleague Zubair Khaksar and called for government action in the case of his death. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [AP]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Refugee Repatriation: Speaking on Monday during a visit to Kabul, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere pledged continued German military and financial assistance to Afghanistan “as long as necessary”, but said that “the clear expectation that we have for the people of Afghanistan is ‘stay here to build up this country’,” and that “we can only get support in Germany for the major engagement in Afghanistan if the German population has the firm impression that the youth and the people of Afghanistan have faith in their future.” More than 150,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in the past year; de Maziere warned that many would be deported.
  • Regional Diplomacy: National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar met with a Chinese envoy on Monday, where both sides affirmed support for the quadrilateral diplomatic talks on the Afghan peace process. Chief Executive Abdullah will address the Conference on Counterterrorism in Jaipur on Tuesday.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Chief Executive’s Spokesman Reiterates Commitment to Electoral Reform [TOLO]
  • Anti-Corruption Bodies Call for More Committed Action [TOLO]
  • Ghani Accepts Diplomatic Credentials of Seven New Ambassadors [Khaama Press]
  • A $43 Million Gas Station in Afghanistan? Not So Fast [WAPO]
  • Commentary: No Leadership Means No Election – ” The responsibility to the Afghan people and their ability to reliably elect leaders falls on the shoulders of the NUG and Parliament. Now, these two bodies must acknowledge the need to compromise and come together to ensure a stable future for Afghanistan’s elections.” [Shahmahmood Miakhel, South Asia Channel]
  • Commentary: Russia and the Taliban Make Amends – ” For now, Russia and the Taliban are allies of convenience against ISIS, a threat big enough to overshadow years of bad blood between the two sides.” [Javid Ahmad, Foreign Affairs]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Lyari Gang Leader’s Arrest Announced; NDS Denies Report of Meeting with ISI This Week

Topline

  • The Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch on Saturday, referring him to a 90-day detention period and interrogations; Baloch was earlier reported to have been detained in Dubai in December 2014, and his family said reports of his arrest in Karachi were fake. During a meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif is reported to have advised for a de-escalation of the conflict with the PPP over corruption investigations against senior Sindh government officials. The NDS denied reports that Masoud Andarabi would meet with his ISI counterpart Rizwan Akhtar this week; the diplomatic Quadrilateral Coordination Group is due to meet for the next round of talks focused on peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Chief Executive Abdullah is in India for the week; he met with Prime Minister Modi on Monday. Some private schools remain closed in Punjab despite an agreement with the government for the reopening of most schools this week; education officials complain that the government has offered no funding to meet new security requirements, forcing them to charge fees to students. Four Afghan nationals were reportedly arrested in Charsadda on Sunday in connection to the Bacha Khan University Attack. A joint council formed last March to unite the TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, and Lashkar-e-Islam has reportedly lapsed, and Umar Mansoor, the TTP commander who claimed responsibility for the Charsadda attack, is reportedly on the verge of splitting off from TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah’s leadership. A suicide bomber outside the Afghan Civil Order Police headquarters in Kabul killed at least ten people and wounded more than 20 on Monday; in Nangarhar, a local journalist was killed near his home on Friday, in an attack linked to the Islamic State. The NYT reports that U.S. forces have carried out at least a dozen operations against the Islamic State in Afghanistan since the expansion of targeting authority by Pres. Obama last month, including special operations forces raids and airstrikes. U.S. diplomats are seeking a continuation of current funding levels for the Afghan national security forces in conversations with their NATO partners. Pakistan’s investigations into the Pathankot airbase attack have stalled, and Pakistan will demand more evidence from India to continue, Dawn reports. Preaching activities have been banned on Punjab university campuses, and new content restrictions imposed on nearby mosques; JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman denounced the move. The Afghan Independent Directorate of Local Governance announced on Sunday that district police and intelligence chiefs would be appointed in consultation with provincial governors. The MQM has restructured and formed a new supreme council in advance of party leader Altaf Hussain’s testimony in a UK money laundering case tomorrow. Pakistan International Airlines staff say they will go ahead with strike plans tomorrow, despite the announcement by the federal government on Friday that it would delay efforts to secure a strategic partner investment in the airline for six months, and the invocation on Monday of laws barring union activity in the state-run sector.

Pakistan — Security

  • School Security: A Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government committee tasked with investigating the attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda in mid-January has recommended the removal of the university’s vice chancellor and chief security officer, finding them responsible for “serious lapses in the security management”. The Express Tribune reports that four armed Afghan nationals were arrested near Charsadda on Sunday on suspicion of “working for a foreign agency” and linkages the university attack. After a week-long closure, the All-Pakistan Private Schools Federation agreed to reopen schools in Punjab from February 1, following meetings on Sunday with the provincial education minister. Dawn reports that cases brought by the provincial government against a number of schools over inadequate security measures — which the schools denounced as harassment — were withdrawn as part of the agreement. At least a dozen elite private school chains remain closed as of Monday, however. Some government-run schools in Khyber Paktunkhwa have begun charging students additional fees for security; anonymous school officials complain that the provincial government is “just shunning responsibility” and has not offered funding to match new security requirements. No comparable measures have been required of schools in the FATA, however. On Monday, Prime Minister Sharif chaired a security review meeting with top military and civilian officials, vowing that “those threatening our children from going to schools will be defeated”. [ET]
  • TTP Divisions: The Express Tribune reports that a joint council established last March to unite the main Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction led by Maulana Fazlullah, the Jamaat-ul Ahrar faction, and the Khyber-based Lashkar-e-Islam has been dissolved due to “lack of interest” by Fazlullah. Commander Umar Mansoor, who has claimed responsibility the attacks on the Army Public School in Peshawar and the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, is also reportedly on the verge of officially splitting from Fazlullah’s leadership, after the main TTP’s spokesman disavowed involvement in the Charsadda attack.
  • Pathankot Investigations: Dawn reports that Pakistani investigations into five phone numbers provided by India in connection to the attack on the Pathankot airn January have stalled and that the Pakistani foreign ministry will “demand more evidence [from India] to move forward in investigation here”.
  • Supreme Court Dismisses Judicial Review Petition for Military Courts: In a ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition brought by a lawyer representing military court system convicts that had sought judicial review of their sentences, ruling that he was “not an aggrieved party” and had failed to avail himself of the higher courts.
  • Balochistan Attacks and Operations: Balochistan home minister Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti announced on Saturday that Abdul Manan Baloch, a senior leader of the separatist Balochistan Liberation Front, had been killed along with four other suspected militants in a raid in Mastung. Two other militants were reportedly killed in Mastung after they attacked a convoy earlier in the day. Dawn reports that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Masood group claimed responsibility for Friday’s suicide bombing attack on a military cantonment compoundi n the Zhob district; Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri chaired a security meeting in the wake of the attack and pledged to carry out a “tit for tat policy” to respond to terrorist attacks. [AP] [ET] [ET]
  • Seminaries Under Scrutiny: On Friday, the Punjab government issued a ban on preaching activities on university campuses, and a ban on non-students living in school hostels, as well as content restrictions on mosques in surrounding areas. The government reports that it has sealed 182 seminaries across the country since the inauguration of the National Action Plan against terrorism; four were sealed in Quetta on Monday. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman criticized the government’s use of the NAP, arguing that “force is not the solution to eliminate terrorism”, lambasting its restrictions on seminaries and charging that “both the federal and provincial governments know about the existence of armed organisations in the country but they are raiding only Madaris and mosques in search of one or two persons.”

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Lyari Gang Leader Uzair Baloch Arrested: On Saturday, the Sindh Rangers announced that they had arrested Uzair Baloch, the leader of the Lyari-based “People’s Amn Committee” gang, during a raid on the outskirts of Karachi late Friday evening; he faces at least 45 cases against him. Baloch was previously reported to have been arrested in Dubai in December 2014, and his family told reporters that they had not been in contact with him for the past thirteen months. On arraignment, Rangers officials later said that Baloch had been arrested in the Lyari area. Baloch had previously been aligned with the PPP, but split with the party in 2012; former Sindh home minister Zulfikar Mirza, a supporter and patron of Baloch during his tenure, has also since split with the PPP, and welcomed news that he was alive. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah told reporters on Saturday that he had approved the arrest of Baloch; he had met with Karachi Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar on Friday to discuss provincial security. A Karachi anti-terrorism court has ordered a joint investigation team to interrogate Baloch, who was placed under a three-month detention order by the Rangers. Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif chaired a security review meeting; the Express Tribune reports that Sharif advised Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and other officials to rein in their confrontation with the PPP over the Rangers’ investigating authority in Sindh, and that the “Federal Investigation Agency and National Accountability Bureau ought to go soft” on the PPP. In a Dawn analysis, anonymous sources attribute the announcement of Baloch’s arrest to Chaudhry Nisar or the Chief of Army Staff’s recent visit to Karchi. [Reuters] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • MQM Restructures: On Sunday, the MQM announced that senior leader Nadeem Nusrat would serve as the party’s “permanent convener” and that a new nine-member “supreme council” would be established to guide the party in any “extraordinary circumstances including the absence of” party chief Altaf Hussain, who is due to appear before a hearing in a UK money laundering case against him on February 2. The party’s London-based coordination committee will continue to operate in parallel to the new council. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Cases Against Lal Masjid Leader: Civil society activists filed new requests with Islamabad police for the arrest of Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz on Friday, citing recent messages from Aziz that the petitioners said were inciting sectarian hatred, and charges that Aziz was supporting the Islamic State. Dawn reports that paramilitary soldiers and police were briefly deployed around the adjoining Jamia Hafsa seminary on Saturday, but were later withdrawn after protests from students. [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: More than a dozen parties and opposition groups met on Saturday at the home of Pir Sadaruddin Shah Rashdi, the younger brother of PML-F leader Pir Pagara, to announce the formation of the “Grand Democatic Alliance” opposition coalition, calling for the PPP’s ouster on grounds of corruption and mismanagement. In Punjab, the PPP provincial chapter is reportedly divided on joining a PTI-led opposition alliance. On Monday, the Election Commission formally rejected a PTI petition challenging the results of the NA-122 by-election in October, affirming an election tribunal ruling last month, but agreed to share voting records. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • PIA Strike: On Friday, PML-N senator Mushahidullah Khan announced that the government was delaying plans to sell a stake of Pakistan International Airlines to a strategic partner for six months in order to resolve disputes with the PIA workers’ union, which had threatened to disrupt flight operations beginning February 2 if the government’s privatization plans were not withdrawn. Union leaders announced on Sunday that they would continue with their strike plans, saying the government had refused to commit to keeping the carrier as a government-run entity. On Monday, Prime Minister Sharif announced the enforcement of the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act of 1952 for a six-month period, which effectively bars participation in any union activity in state-run sectors; union spokesmen reiterated their commitment to proceed with the strike regardless. Separately, the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet has reportedly directed Pakistan Steel Mills to begin layoffs for daily wage workers, as the mill has dropped to just one percent of capacity following a gas supply cut-off. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Polio Crisis: The federal government approved a three-year Emergency Plan for Polio Eradication on Friday, setting a goal of administering 698 million doses of polio vaccine to children throughout the country at a cost of Rs 31.8 billion, with the support of Unicef and the World Health Organization. [ET]
  • Tharparkar Crisis: Twelve more child deaths were reported in Tharparkar district on Friday, bringing the total to 139 since beginning of the year. Provincial government officials insist that only 42 deaths have occured.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Balochistan and Iran Sign Trade and Border Cooperation Agreement [Dawn] [ET]
  • PML-Q Leader Chaudhry Shujaat Claims Former Chief Justice Promoted in Deal with Former Pres. Musharraf [ET]
  • Bomber Identified in December Attack on NADRA Office in Mardan [ET]
  • Two SSP Members Sentenced to Death in 2010 Sectarian Killing [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Sharif to Attend US Nuclear Summit [Dawn]
  • Supreme Court Seeks Report on Anti-Terrorism Court Cases Transferred to Regular Courts [ET]
  • Sindh Chief Minister Voices Concerns Over Federal-Provincial Revenue Sharing [Dawn]
  • Petroleum Prices Cut [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • European Union Urges ‘Urgent Address’ of Human Rights Issues in GSP Plus Compliance Report [Dawn] [Report (pdf)]
  • Fewer Jobs for Pakistanis in the Middle East [ET]
  • Census Preparations Reviewed [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Journalist Killed in Nangarhar: Mohammad Zubair Khaksar, a journalist with the network Radio Television of Afghanistan who also served as a cultural advisor to provincial governor Saleem Khan Kundozi, was killed near his home in the Surkhood district of Nangarhar on Friday evening; no claim of responsibility has been reported, although colleagues tell the press advocacy organization NAI that Khaksar had previously received threats from the local Islamic State affiliate. On Sunday, a spokesman for Pres. Ghani said that he had issued an executive decree to ensure security for the press. [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
  • U.S. Assistance: Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter reiterated American support for the Afghan government through what he said would be a tough fighting season. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson met with NATO’s North Atlantic Council on Friday, telling reporters afterwards that the U.S. was pushing for a continuation of current funding levels for the Afghan national security forces through the 2018-2020 period.
  • Attacks and Operations: A suicide bomber detonated in a queue outside the headquarters of teh Afghan Civil Order Police in Kabul on Monday, killing at least ten people and wounding more than 20; the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The NYT reports that U.S. forces have carried out at least a dozen operations targeting Islamic State-affiliated forces in Nangarhar, including both special operations forces raids and airstrikes, since the expansion of targeting authority by Pres. Obama last month. The district police and intelligence chief for the Sarkano district in Kunar were killed in a roadside bombing on Saturday, provincial police officials reported, along with one other officer. Deputy Chief of Army Staff Murad Ali Murad told reporters on Sunday that nearly 40 Taliban fighters had been killed in operations launched near the Baghlan provincial capital last week, saying that “foreign militants, particularly Pakistani rebels, are among those killed and injured”. Residents and provincial council officials in Baghlan’s Dand-e-Ghori district blame the Taliban for violating a local ceasefire agreement negotiated last year, calling for investigations. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Pakistan Talks: An Afghan National Army delegation headed by Lt Gen Mohammad Sharif Yaftali met with Peshawar Corps Commander Lt Gen Hidayatur Rehman on Saturday to discuss border security cooperation, Pakistani military spokesmen announced. Dawn reports that National Directorate of Security chief Masoud Andarabi will meet his ISI counterpart Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar in Islamabad on February 4, in a move facilitated by the United States and in which China will join as an observer; Pakistani sources say that the meeting is meant to be held in parallel to the diplomatic Quadrilateral Coordination Group focusing on Afghan-Taliban talks, which will meet February 6. NDS sources denied that such a meeting was taking place. [Dawn] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [TOLO] [ET]
  • Abdullah Visits India: Chief Executive Abdullah traveled to India on Sunday to participate in a five-day visit that will include participation in a counterterrorism conference in Jaipur sponsored by the India Foundation. Abdullah met with Prime Minister Modi on Monday for discussions on peace talks, trilateral cooperation with India and Iran on the Chabahar port, and other issues; the two leaders announced an agreement on visa-free travel for diplomats. [Pajhwok] [TOLO]
  • Subnational Government: A spokesman for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance announced on Sunday that district police and intelligence chiefs would be appointed in consultation with provincial governors, and that security services should perform their duties “in coordination” with the governors. Pajhwok reports that Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are divided over the appointment of the mayor for the Kapisa provincial capital of Mahmood Raqi.
  • Elections: Independent Election Commission member Aziz Bakhatyari tells Ariana News that the IEC is prepared to hold parliamentary elections “ahead of time”, even if the government fails to do so. Election planning remains deadlocked as the selection committee to appoint new members of the IEC has been rejected by parliament and the commission.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • British Troops Face Investigations Over 52 Afghan Deaths [The Telegraph]
  • Ghani Inagurates Fund for Women Victims of Violence [Khaama Press]
  • Power Disruptions Continue in Kabul After Baghlan Attack [Reuters]
  • 1,300 Criminal Cases Recorded in Balkh in 2015 [TOLO]
  • AISA Submits Economic Reform Recommendations [Ariana News]
  • Salang Highway Reopens After Snow Blockage [Khaama Press]
  • Report: January 2016 Quarterly Report to Congress – “ Intractable insurgents, cutbacks in foreign military personnel, persistent emigration of people and capital, and a slowing global economy are shifting Afghanistan’s economic prospects from troubling to bleak.” [SIGAR (pdf)]
  • Commentary: Beyond Kunduz City – Lessons (Not Taken) from the Taliban Takeover – “ The Taleban retain control of certain outlying areas of the municipality from where they continue to pose a serious challenge to government employees attempting to travel even just a few kilometres beyond the city’s fringes.” [Obaid Ali, AAN]

Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistani Schools Remain Closed Over Security Concerns; Nicholson Confirmation Hearing Held

Topline

  • Confusion and uncertainty continues around school closings across Punjab and Sindh, apparently due to security concerns; Dawn reports that nearly 300 hundred schools in several Punjab districts have been ordered to remain closed until they upgrade their security. The newly nominated commander for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, telling senators that he would conduct a security review within 90 days of taking command. Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz released a message to supporters on Thursday, alleging than an unspecified ISI major, who Aziz implied to be Shia, was conspiring agianst him. A suicide car bomber struck a military cantonment in Balochistan’s Zhob district on Friday, wounding four; no claim of responsibility has been reported. Afghanistan’s Independent Directorate of Local Governance told a press conference on Thursday that they had set a goal of finalizing appointments for all district-level governors by March. The head of the Council on Islamic Ideology tells Reuters that the body is willing to review Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The Pakistani cabinet approved new gas tariff surcharges to generate additional revenue for the construction of a gas pipeline network.

Pakistan — Security

  • School Closings and Security: The NYT notes the confusion and mixed messages from the government regarding school security, as Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan cautioned earlier this week against “an environment of fear” at the same time school closings remain in effect in Punjab, Karachi, and elsewhere around the country. ISPR spokesmen officially attribute the closure of the military’s own school network since Tuesday to bad weather, not to security issues. Sindh home minister Suhail Anwar Siyal and Karachi police officials met on Thursday and approved a “security audit survey” of schools across the province, to be conducted by local police superintendents. In Punjab, Dawn reports that at least 53 schools in Rawalpindi, 15 in Jhelum, and 205 schools in Attock have been temporarily closed by police and ordered to upgrade their security before reopening. On Thursday, Awami National Party leaders joined calls for a judicial investigation into the Bacha Khan University attack in Charsadda and the Army Public School in Peshawar. [Dawn]
  • Lal Masjid Cleric Alleges Conspiracy Against Him: Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz, who has faced renewed calls for his arrests by civil society activists in recent weeks and who appears to be operating under restrictions on his movement and broadcasts to supporters, released a video statement via Facebook on Thursday alleging that an unspecified brigadier in the ISI, who Aziz implied was a Shia, was “conspiring” against him. A spokesman for the ISI denied any contact with him
  • Balochistan Attacks and Operations: A suicide car bomber struck a military cantonment building in the Zhob district on Friday, wounding at least four security personnel; no claim of responsibility has been reported. Separately, Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Khan Zehri met with the deputy governor of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province on Wednesday evening, pledging cooperation on cross-border counterterrorism efforts.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karachi Operation: Karachi Corps Commander Naveed Mukhtar met separately with Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and governor Ishratul Ebad on Friday to discuss security in the city; the meeting follows Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif’s meeting with top military officials in Karachi earlier this week. The Sindh Rangers reportedly interviewed MQM leader Wasim Jalil at length on Thursday, but did not arrest him; Jalil recently returned from a leadership position in the party’s London office and is expected to be nominated for a reserve local government seat and to take the Karachi District East council chairman’s position. On Friday, a small cracker bomb was thrown at a Rangers’ checkpoint in the North Nazimabad neighborhood; no injuries were reported. [ET]
  • CII Professes Willingness to Review Blasphemy Law: Muhamma Khan Shehrani, the head of the Council of Islamic Ideology, told Reuters that if the government referred the question for review, he would be willing to reassess current blasphemy laws, acknowledging that “there is a lot of difference of opinion among the clergy on this issue”, without clearly signaling what kind of modifications might be made. The council’s advice is not legally binding.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: A power transmission line in Jamshoro tripped early Friday morning, apparently due to fog and high humidity, which triggered a failure in the Karachi Electric power grid that shut off power to as much as 90% of the city. Separately, while speaking to the national assembly on Thursday, minister of petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi recommended a cut in petroleum prices of up to 17%, citing falling international oil prices and the lifting of US sanctions on Iran. On Thursday, the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet approved a Rs 101 billion tariff hike on gas consumers in order to support the construction of gas pipelines, supplementing an already-existing special Gas Infrastructure Development Cess. [APP]
  • Tharparkar Crisis: Six more child deaths were reported in the Tharparkar district on Thursday, bringing the reported total since the start of the month to 127.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Attempted Railway Bombing in Jhelum Disrupted [Dawn]
  • President Says Government is Seeking to Resolve Gilgit-Baltistan Status Question [Dawn]
  • Chief of Army Staff Visits Hyderabad Garrison [APP]
  • Balochistan Chief Minister Urges Afghans to Register [Dawn]
  • PIA Continues Strike [Dawn]
  • Senators Seek Representation on Kashmir Committee [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Nomination Hearing for New U.S. Commander: Lt. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, a day after his nomination was announced to assume command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Nicholson, who is expected to be confirmed and take up command in Marach, said that he would conduct a security assessment within his first ninety days and make a recommendation for future force levels at that point. Nicholson said that his “first and foremost” priority would be stopping the expansion of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and preventing the re-emergence of Al Qaeda, and voice support for an “enduring” commitment to Afghanistan. The Post profiles Nicholson, who has a cumulative three and a half years in previous Afghanistan postings. [Testimony Video]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Nangarhar Residents Call for Action Against Daesh Radio [TOLO]
  • Civil Society Groups Accuse Government of Failing to Support Media [TOLO]