Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Nominates Mediators for Talks; Election Campaign Begins in Afghanistan

Topline

  • The Pakistani Taliban named a group of five “mediators” that it said would act on its behalf in talks with the government; the group includes Imran Khan and several conservative religious party leaders, including Maulana Sami ul-Haq and former Lal Masjid head cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz. Khan has distanced himself from the proposal. Campaigning for the April elections officially began in Afghanistan on Sunday; a day prior, two aides to Abdullah Abdullah were killed in a drive-by shooting in Herat, prompting renewed pledges of security for campaigners by Interior Ministry officials. NATO officials said they were still planning on long-term assistance for Afghan security forces, pending the completion of a status of forces agreement, which Pres. Karzai called to be signed on Sunday. Afghan and Pakistani officials traded accusations over the weekend regarding cross-border artillery fire in Kunar; Turkey will host trilateral talks of the three country’s leaders on Feb 12. Police may issue an arrest warrant against former Pres. Musharraf today. The MQM held rallies in support of Altaf Hussain in Karachi. The PPP’s Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari launched a Sindh cultural festival at Moenjodaro. A new polio vaccination drive began in Peshawar on Sunday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Taliban Name Interlocutors with Govt: Assistant to the prime minister and coordinator for the government’s four-man committee tasked with opening negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban Irfan Siddiqui told reporters on Friday that the group has been given an “open mandate and complete authority” to initiate dialogue, saying that “we want results in days and weeks”. Committee members tell Al Jazeera that their appointment came as a surprise, and anonymous government officials suggest military operations are still being planned. On Saturday, the TTP announced that it had nominated PTI leader Imran Khan, Maulana Sami-ul Haq of the JUI-S, former Lal Masjid chief cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, Jamaat-e-Islami member Prof. Mohammad Ibrahim, and former JUI-F legislator Mufti Kifayatullah as its “mediators”, saying that the militant group’s political shura would “communicate its stance” to the five interlocutors. The TTP pledged to provide “blanket security” to peace negotiators in areas under their control. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan welcomed the group’s statement. Responding on Twitter, Khan said that the TTP “should select their own Taliban representatives” for peace talks but said that the PTI would meet on Monday to discuss “how PTI can be of further assistance to further the dialogue.” Punjab PTI party president Ijaz Chaudhry has suggested that Khan will not participate in the process. Dawn reports that Maulana Abdul Aziz suggested that he “would decline to be a part of the process if he feels the government was not serious in negotiations or in implementing sharia law in the country”; prior to the TTP’s announcement, he had reportedly declined a request from retired ISI Maj. Muhammad Amir Shah, a member of the government’s committee, to take part in the talks. Haq, Ibrahim, and Aziz met on Monday to discuss negotiating strategy. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [BBC]
  • NATO Supply Blockade: The Express Tribune reports that, despite the ongoing presence of a PTI sit-in at the Peshawar ring road since late November to protest of U.S. drone strikes, NATO supplies and equipment are still quietly moving through the area, albeit apparently in small numbers.
  • Missing Persons: Chief Justice Jilani has initiated a suo moto investigation into recent reports of a discovery of a mass grave of at least thirteen bodies in Khuzdar, Balochistan, in late January, ordering a report by February 4. The Balochistan provincial government has also appointed a judicial commission to investigate the incident and issue a report within a month. [ET]
  • Peshawar Cinema Bombing: At least four people were killed and more than thirty injured when at least two bombs were thrown into a Peshawar cinema in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar on Sunday evening; many of those injured were hurt during a stampede to exit the building. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [AJE] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Musharraf Trial: Islamabad police confirm that they are preparing to serve an arrest warrant against former Pres. Musharraf after the special court hearing treason charges against him denied his pleas to leave the country for medical treatment and issued a warrant for his arrest; action may come as soon as Monday. He has the potential to seek bail. Musharraf has been ordered to appear in court on Feb 7. [WSJ] [AJE] [ET]
  • MQM Protests in Support of Altaf: MQM supporters rallied in Karachi on Sunday in support of leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain, following recent British media reports related to the investigation of the murder of former MQM leader Imran Farooq in London in 2010. [Dawn] [The Nation]
  • PPP Holds Sindh Cultural Festival: PPP leaders and supporters gathered at the ruins of Moenjodaro in Sindh on Saturday evening as part of a Sindhi cultural festival organized by party patron-in-chief Bilalwal Bhutto Zardari; organizers insisted that they have taken efforts to ensure that the festivities would not damage the ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site. [AFP] [Guardian]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Transit Trade: Dawn notes that Pakistan’s signature of a World Trade Organization convention in Bali in December will potentially obligate it to open its territory to transit trade between neighboring countries once implemented; an anonymous senior government official maintains that “transit trade between India and Afghanistan through Pakistan is our major red line,” and customs officials complain of the likely cost of expanding border crossing infrastructure.
  • Polio Vaccination Campaign: Restrictions on the use of mobile phones and pillion riding were imposed in Peshawar as part of an effort to tighten security for a polio vaccination campaign which began on Sunday, seeking to reach around 800,000 children. [ET]
  • State Bank Governor’s Resignation: Ashraf Mehmood Wathra, a former deputy governor for the State Bank of Pakistan, was appointed acting governor on Friday following the resignation of governor Yaseen Anwar. Opposition PTI legislators denounced the resignation, part of what they said was a “dangerous trend” of efforts by the PML-N government to impose its own appointees in key regulatory agencies. [Dawn]
  • Tax Revenues: The Federal Board of Revenue missed its revenue collection target for the seventh consecutive month in January, collecting Rs 1201 billion in total against a target of Rs 1282 billion.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Bugti Tribesmen Return to Dera Bugti After Nine Years; Thousands Remain Displaced [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Security Forces Detain Two in Mardan, Kill Four in Swabi [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • PML-N Leader Dies in Police Custody in Quetta [ET]
  • Three Killed, Four Injured in Karachi Violence [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senate to Debate Dual Nationality Restrictions for Judges [Dawn]
  • Reinstated PEMRA Chairman Stripped of Powers [ET]
  • Government Leaves Petroleum Prices Unchanged for February [ET]
  • Provinces Owe Around Rs500 Billion in Energy Debts, Water and Power Ministry Reports [ET]
  • Energy Shortages Force Pakistan to Scavenge for Firewood, Threatening Tree Canopy [WAPO]
  • Council on Common Plans for Absorption of Federal Civil Servants After Provincial Devolution [Dawn]
  • Punjab Approves Expansion of MetroBus Program [ET]
  • UNESCO Reports 5.5M Pakistani Children Out of School [ET]
  • Profile: Privatization Minister Embarks on Quest to Revive Economy [Reuters]
  • Commentary: Ten Fictions that Pakistani Defense Officials Love to Peddle – “In the spirit of perpetual rent-seeking, Pakistani defense officials have recently alighted upon Washington to offer the same tired and hackneyed narratives that are tailored to guilt the Americans into keeping the gravy train chugging along.” [Christine Fair, War on the Rocks]

Afghanistan — Security

  • NATO Officials Discuss Afghan Mission: Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the alliance was “still planning for a presence after 2014, a resolute support, training mission,” presuming “that one day we will get a signature on the security arrangements.” Rasmussen expressed doubts that Pres. Karzai would sign the agreement, instead leaving it to his successor. NATO military commander Gen. Philip Breedlove also emphasized the need for continued training for Afghan military forces after 2014. In a statement on Sunday following a meeting of the Afghan National Security Council, Pres. Karzai called for talks with NATO on a status of forces agreement to begin and for an agreement to be “finalized soon”; NATO officials have said they will not complete their own status of forces agreement without an accompanying U.S. bilateral security agreement, which remains stalled.
  • Tensions with Pakistan: On Saturday, Pres. Karzai warned that cross-border rocket attacks into eastern Afghanistan “will have a negative impact” on bilateral relations between the two countries, condemning reports of recent strikes into Kunar on Friday. In a statement on Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry rebuffed calls by National Security Advisor Ranging Dadfar Spanta for the U.S. to choose between Afghanistan or Pakistan as strategic partners, saying that “Pakistan has been in the forefront of international efforts to combat extremism and terrorism. Any view purporting to project Pakistan in a contrary light is removed from reality.” Turkey will host trilateral talks with Prime Minister Sharif and Pres. Karzai in Ankara on Feb 12.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Four Kandahar Policemen Killed in Roadside Bombing [TOLO] [AJE]

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