- The Afghan Taliban announce the opening of a political bureau in Doha, Qatar, with talks with American and Afghan diplomats expected to take place later this week. Following the announcement, in which the Taliban allowed that they could be open to talks with the Afghan government but primarily sought to direct their outreach to the international community, the Afghan National Security Council has announced the suspension of US bilateral security agreement talks scheduled for this week, complaining of “contradictions between what the US government says and what it does”. In Pakistan, an independent lawmaker most recently affiliated with the PTI, Imran Mohmand, was killed in a suicide bombing at a funeral in Mardan on Tuesday, along with over two dozen others. Pakistan and the IMF began a new round of talks on a possible loan agreement on Wednesday.
Pakistan — Security
- Mardan Bombing Kills 28: A suicide bomber attacked a funeral service in the city of Mardan on Tuesday, killing 28 people and wounding more than 60; among the dead was Imran Mohmand, a Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial assembly member who had been elected on an independent ticket but who had previously affiliated with the ANP and had since aligned with the PTI. Five more people succumbed to injuries overnight, bring the death toll to 34 as of Wednesday. No claim of responsibility has yet been reported. KP Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai said that the PTI would not change its policy of support for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, saying that “as long we don’t bring all the stakeholders to the negotiating table, we can’t get rid of … terrorism.” The PTI’s Punjab chapter president, Ejaz Chaudhry, blamed the attack on “reaction stemming from war on terror and drone attacks”. [ET] [AJE]
- Predator Strikes: During proceedings on Monday at the UN Security Council over the role of children in armed conflicts, Pakistani Ambassador to the UN Masood Khan called for “urgent and intense negotiations are needed to address the issue of armed drones,” which he said “radicalise disaffected communities and increase the number of terrorists.” A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan calling on the federal government to take action to stop drone attacks in FATA. Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told parliament on Tuesday that drone attacks “must stop” and vowed that the government would continue to press the issue with the U.S. government, although he said that “we need to adopt the policy of talks instead of threats to resolve this issue”.
- Vaccination Campaign Under Threat: Medical workers in Swabi have refused to take part in a polio vaccination campaign after two workers were killed in the area on Sunday; over 126,000 children were due to be vaccinated as part of the campaign.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Local Government Elections: Dawn notes that the Punjab government’s draft 2013-2014 budget provides no funds to hold local government elections, and reports that the PML-N will seek to delay the elections by at least another 150 days; the party had previously suggested that they would take place in November.
- Zardari Cleared in Swiss Case: Law Minister Zahid Hamid told reporters on Tuesday that the government is reviewing a formal response from the Swiss government in February that concluded that the statute of limitations against Pres. Zardari had expired and that he currently faces legal charges in a money-laundering case dating to the 1990s. National Accountability Bureau sources suggest cases could still be reopened in Pakistan, however. [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- IMF Talks Amid Budget Debates: Pakistan and the IMF will open two weeks of talks on Wednesday on a possible new loan agreement and the issuance of a letter of comfort that could reopen lending by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, which was suspended alongside the IMF’s program in 2009. Pakistan, which is facing declining foreign exchange reserves, must make approximately $3.2 billion in repayments to the IMF through November. In parliament, debate continues over the proposed increase in the General Sales Tax and petroleum price hikes, with the PPP opposition staging a protest walkout in the Senate. In Balochistan, the only province yet to unveil a budget for the forthcoming fiscal year, power-sharing negotiations for cabinet positions are ongoing, leaving Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch to present the budget on Thursday. [ET] [ET]
- Energy Crisis: Minister of Water and Power Khawaja Mohammad Asif told parliament on Tuesday that the government would announce its energy policy “soon”. Former PPP Water and Power Minister Syed Naveed Qamar called on the PML-N government to establish a “clear-cut policy” to proceed with the construction of the Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline, warning that Pakistan would incur fines from Iran if it failed to complete the project before December 2014. [ET] [Dawn]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Supreme Court Commission Reports Rising Number of Missing Persons [APP]
- PM Sharif Makes Appointments to Key Federal Secretary Posts [Dawn] [ET]
- Imran Khan Takes Oath as Assembly Member [ET]
- PPP Renews Call for New South Punjab Provinces [Dawn]
- Raza Rabbani Stresses Need for Civilian Control Over Balochistan Frontier Corps [Dawn]
- Appointments Two Security Personnel Killed in North Waziristan Checkpost Attack [Dawn]
- MQM Activist Among Three Killed in Karachi [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Sayee and Dostum Clash: Following clashes between forces loyal to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and Jowzjan governor Gen. Mohammad Alim Sayee on Monday, Sayee — who is the deputy leader of Dostum’s Junbesh party — tells TOLO that Dostum is distributing weapons to followers in northern Afghanistan; a spokesman for Dostum acknowledged that he had done so but said “the step has been taken to enhance security in the region”
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Taliban Announce Qatar Office Opening: On Tuesday, hours after Pres. Karzai announced the formal transfer of security responsibility to Afghan control in the last remaining Afghan districts where ISAF forces still led operations, the Taliban officially announced the opening of a new political office in Qatar and a willingness to hold discussions with the U.S. and Afghan governments. At the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, Pres. Obama welcomed the move as “an important first step toward reconciliation” but said that the U.S. “anticipates there will be a lot of bumps in the road”; previous efforts to open negotiations collapsed last spring. Taliban spokesmen stressed that military operations would continue; four American personnel were killed in a rocket attack on Bagram Airbase the same day. A U.S. delegation led by Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins will travel to Qatar this week to hold meetings on possible prisoner exchanges on Thursday, although no immediate agreement is expected. In a statement broadcast live at the office’s opening, Taliban envoys stressed that “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants good relations with all the countries of the world including the neighboring countries” and that its goals “are limited to Afghanistan.” The Taliban statement said that the office would be used to “reach understanding and initiate talks with countries of the world for the purpose of improving relations with them”; to “support a political and peaceful solution which includes the end of the occupation of Afghanistan and the establishment of an independent Islamic system”; and to “hold meetings with Afghans as times may demand”, among other points. U.S. officials say the Taliban statement was in line with American demands that they renounce Al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations and commit to a peace process, and that a formal rejection of Al Qaeda would now be a “negotiating aim”. A U.S. official tells the BBC that Haqqani network representatives would also be present in the Doha talks, although ISAF Commander Gen. Joseph Dunford cast doubts on their willingness to reconcile; Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. prisoner of war in the conflict, is believed to be in Haqqani custody. [AP] [AFP] [Guardian] [McClatchy] [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
- Afghan Government Suspends Bilateral Security Talks: In his own earlier address marking Afghanistan’s transition of security responsibility, Pres. Karzai had indicated that a High Peace Council delegation would meet with the Taliban office this week, but said that “we will go forward cautiously”, stressing that negotiations should be moved to Afghanistan and “should not become a tool for any third-party country”. On Wednesday, however, the Afghan National Security Council announced that it was suspending planned talks for this week with the U.S. over a bilateral security agreement as there is “a contradiction between what the US government says and what it does regarding Afghanistan peace talks”. Karzai’s spokesman noted objections to “the title the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ because such a thing doesn’t exist”. [NYT] [BBC] [TOLO]
- Pakistan’s Reaction: Pakistan’s foreign office issued a statement on Tuesday welcoming the opening of the Qatar office and “the start of direct peace talks between the US and the Taliban”, saying that “Pakistan is ready to continue to facilitate the process to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan in accordance with the wishes of the Afghan people”. The foreign ministry also rebuffed recent remarks by Pres. Karzai accusing Pakistan’s security services of “misusing the Afghan goodwill to make Afghanistan’s government work as their puppet,” saying that there is “unanimity of views” across the Pakistani government in support of “peace and stability in Afghanistan”. Anonymous Pakistani officials tell the Express Tribune that they have provided “safe passage” for Taliban officials taking part in the Qatar talks, and credit their release of Taliban prisoners in recent months as having enabled the Taliban to begin talks. [TOLO] [AFP]
Afghanistan — Remainders
- US Prepares to Purchase 30 Mi-17 Transport Helicopters for Afghan Army [TOLO]