- The Pakistani military has reportedly exchanged prisoners with the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan, although spokesmen officially deny such an exchange took place. Gen. Kayani and Prime Minister Sharif met to discuss interlocutors for Taliban negotiations on Wednesday. The NYT profiles clashes between the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction and US diplomatic and aid agencies working in Afghanistan. MQM leaders continue to protest the arrest of a former provincial assembly member. PTI leaders continue to protest the new Punjab local government law. The Afghan Independent Election Commission will extend voter registration in rural areas by 45 days. 95% of all suicides in Afghanistan are committed by women, Ministry of Public Health officials report.
Pakistan — Security
- Militant Prisoner Exchange: The AP reports that the Pakistani Taliban and Pakistani army exchanged prisoners in South Waziristan on Wednesday, with six militants and two paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers freed. The two soldiers had reportedly been kidnapped in Balochistan in March 2012, while the Taliban fighters — reportedly members of the ‘Khan Said faction’ — had been held since 2009. Pakistani military spokesmen denied that any exchange took place. The release follows Monday’s all-parties conference, which endorsed outreach to the Taliban but provided few public specifics on how this would be conducted. Prime Minister Sharif and General Kayani met to discuss the talks strategy on Wednesday; Sharif reportedly recommended Maulana Fazlur Rehman as an interlocutor for negotiations, while Kayani reportedly pressed for “all prominent religious leaders” to be consulted, notably Rehman’s rival Maulana Sami-ul Haq. [Dawn] [Dawn] [The Nation]
- Karachi Operations: Following the arrest of a former MQM provincial assembly member Nadeem Hashmi on Tuesday, MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain warned of “ethnic cleansing of Muhajirs” in Karachi called on party workers to prepare to “physically get ready to face state oppression”. The MQM has demanded a session of the Sindh assembly be called to discuss the issue. Separately, Dawn reports that during Karachi security review meetings last week, Prime Minister Sharif was “flabbergasted” at the scale of political appointments within the Sindh police made by the previous PPP government and its predecessors, which number “in the thousands”; many are said to have criminal backgrounds. Sharif reportedly ordered “strict action” against these recruits by the Sindh government; a “large scale” reshuffling of police appointments is reportedly being planned. Also, a Supreme Court-ordered investigation into allegations by the Director General of the Rangers that as many as 19,000 shipping containers carrying NATO arms and materiel had gone missing in Karachi, contributing to local violence, found no evidence to substantiate the claim. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Elections: The PTI’s Punjab party leadership has warned that it will carry out protests if the Supreme Court or Lahore High Court fail to respond to its petitions challenging the Punjab Local Government Act, arguing that it was “unconstitutional” to hold such elections on a nonpartisan basis. Khyber Paktunkhwa Local Government Minister Inayatullah Khan told assembly members on Wednesday that a new local government law for the province was ready and would likely be introduced soon, although he said that constituency delimitation would likely mean that polls would not be held before the end of the year. Hina Manzoor, the losing PTI candidate for the NA-54 Rawalpindi seat has petitioned the Election Tribunal to redistrict the constituency to include ten adjacent wards in Islamabad, and hold a re-election afterwards. An Election Commission investigation into voting at a number of polling stations in Nowshera and Lakki Marwat concluded that women were not barred from participating and chose not to vote instead, a conclusion that the JUI-F denounced, saying it had been made under pressure from the PTI government. The Peshawar High Court had earlier ordered re-polling at 18 polling stations over the issue; Attaur Rehman, brother to JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman, is likely to lose the NA-27 Lakki Marwat seat based on preliminary counts if re-polling is not held.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Migrant Laborers Killed Near Gwadar [Dawn]
- Baloch Leaders Express Concern About ‘Lip Service’ to Provincial Divisions in All Parties Conference [Dawn] [Dawn]
- Finance Minister Holds Talks with Saudi Ambassador [APP]
- Pakistan and Afghan Senators Meet to Discuss Defence Cooperation [Dawn]
- Analysts Predict Unchanged Interest Rates at State Bank Meeting on Friday [ET]
Afghanistan — Security
- Female Suicide: Statistics from the Ministry of Public Health released on Wednesday indicate that 95% of suicides in Afghanistan are committed by women, and that more than 2,500 women have committed suicide in the past year alone. Force marriages, domestic abuse, and illiteracy were all cited as major contributing factors.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Election Preparations: Independent Election Commission chairman Yusef Nuristani told parliament on Wednesday that the IEC will extend the voter registration process in remote villages by another 45 days, but that polls themselves would be held on time on April 4, 2014. Voter registration was previously scheduled to concluded on September 26. Approximately 1.4 million new voters, 28% of them women, have registered to date.
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- SIGAR Oversight: The NYT profiles the U.S. Department of State and USAID’s tensions with the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, which after a slow start has begun turning out a series of critical audit reports over the past year, under the tenure of Inspector General John Sopko. Embassy officials complain that the reports “generate an incomplete and unjustified loss of credibility and trust in what the international community is trying to do on the development side”. USAID has in particular publicly clashed with SIGAR over a recent audit report of the Afghan Ministry of Public Healthy; SIGAR warned that limited oversight put $200 million in grants at risk of waste or fraud, which USAID officials said was “simply not true”.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Afghan Army Struggles in Sangin District Under Siege [NYT]
- Report: A Strategic Plan and Mechanisms to Track Progress Are Needed in Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan – “The Department of State never finalized the draft 2010 U.S. anti-corruption strategy for Afghanistan and, according to agency officials, the draft strategy and its related implementation plan are no longer in effect.” [SIGAR (pdf)]