- Two of the Pakistani Taliban’s mediators held talks with the group in Waziristan over the weekend; former Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz suggested on Friday that he would not take part in negotiations, citing the government’s failure to commit to sharia law. The TTP have reportedly prepared a list of fifteen demands, including the release of prisoners, withdrawal of the army, and a halt to drone attacks. The UN’s annual report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan reports a 14% rise over 2012, and a rising sharing of casualties caused by cross-fires between government and Taliban forces. Another campaign worker for Abdullah Abdullah was reportedly killed, in a bombing in Sar-e-Pul. The IMF and Pakistan concluded talks on their second quarterly review, with the IMF concluding Pakistan is “broadly on track” with its reform agenda. USAID plans to unveil a $300M package of assistance for Afghanistan intended to reduce the impacts of the military drawdown on the economy, targeting the agricultural and education sectors, and government revenue systems. The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government has proposed local government elections be held in phases, beginning in late April.
Pakistan — Security
- TTP Talks Shift to Waziristan: Speaking to reporters on Friday, Maulana Abdul Aziz, the former chief cleric of the Lal Masjid, reiterated that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan “do not recognise the prevailing constitution,” suggesting that “there would be no problems if our constitution were the Quran and Sunnah”. That message was echoed by TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid in an interview with BBC Urdu on Friday. Aziz said that, while he would continue to take part in the TTP’s mediating committee, he would not take part in talks “until they include a clause about the imposition of Islamic law”. Government representatives say that “for us the thing of foremost importance is to uphold the sanctity of the Constitution during the talks.” On Saturday, the remaining two members of the Taliban’s mediator committee traveled to Miram Shah, where they had their first formal contacts with the TTP’s “political shura”. Dawn reports that the TTP has conveyed a fifteen-point list of demands, including a halt to drone attacks and a breakoff of relations with the U.S., the introduction of sharia law in courts, the release of Taliban prisoners, and the withdrawal of military forces from the tribal areas, among other items; TTP spokesmen later describe the report as “speculation”. Anonymous government sources tell The Nation that they would “consider” prisoner releases. An anonymous government official tells the Express Tribune that the TTP have agreed to a ceasefire, and said that the government was prepared to reciprocate; no official confirmation by the Taliban or their mediators had been announced as of Sunday, but on Monday Maulana Sami-ul Haq said that he was “very optimistic”. [AJE] [AFP] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [The News] [Dawn] [Dawn]
- Karachi Violence: Eight people, including a young girl, were killed in a drive-by shooting attack on a Sufi faith healer’s house in Karachi’s Baldia Town neighborhood on Sunday; no claim of responsibility was reported. On Saturday, the MQM shut down large portions of the city with a strike protesting the alleged extra-judicial killing of several of its party activists; the party claims that more than 40 MQM workers have been seized since a police and paramilitary crackdown on criminal and militant violence in the city began last November. On Sunday, police released Fahad Aziz, an MQM member allegedly involved in targeted killing and extortion, who party officials allege was tortured while being held in police custody on Saturday. [AP] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
- Balochistan Violence: Speaking on Saturday, Balochistan provincial health minister Rahmat Saleh Baloch said that all of the thirteen bodies found in a mass grave outside Khuzdar had been “a liability of wrong policies left out by the Musharraf regime”. Nine people were killed in an attack on Sunday on the house of Gazeen Khan Bugti, a pro-government tribal elder in Dera Bugti. Separately on Sunday, a container truck bearing supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan was attacked in Balochistan’s Sibi district; the driver and his assistant were killed.
- Gas Pipeline Explosion: The bombing of three gas pipelines in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab, cut supplies to much of the province on Sunday; the Balochistan Republican Army claimed responsibility. [ET]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Saudi Ties: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif continued his trip to Saudi Arabia, meeting with Defense Minister Prince Salman Bin Sultan al Saud on Saturday. Separately on Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif hosted Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz.
- Local Elections: Responding to Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government proposals, the Election Commission of Pakistan formally petitioned the Supreme Court on Friday to allow local government elections to be delayed in the province until the last week of April; the ECP has proposed holding polls in phases, with the second and third dates as yet unspecified. [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- IMF Talks: IMF and Pakistani finance team officials concluded ten days of talks in Dubai on Sunday, and the IMF country team lead, Jeffrey Franks, suggested that the IMF board would likely approve the release of the third tranche of $550M in loans by the end of March. A waiver on benchmarks for government borrowing from the State Bank of Pakistan is expected, and tax revenue collection targets are also expected to be missed; IMF officials nonetheless concluded that the government’s reform program is “broadly on track”. As part of the talks, Pakistani officials committed to a phase-out of most consumer electricity subsidies as part of the next fiscal year’s budget. Circular debts in the energy sector have grown to Rs 180 billion, not excluding debts to Pakistan State Oil, since the start of this fiscal year; an IMF-supported audit is currently underway. [AP] [ET] [IMF Statement]
- Polio Virus: The ninth confirmed case of polio thus far this year was reported in North Waziristan on Sunday. In the second week of a vaccination campaign in Peshawar, officials report the administration of oral polio vaccines to over 500,000 children.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Government to Appeal Supreme Court Ruling on Prime Minister’s Discretionary Fund [ET]
- Afghan Refugees Ordered to Depart Peshawar-Area Camps [ET] [Dawn]
- Suicide Blast in Peshawar Kills Four [Dawn] [ET]
- PTI Donor Mehboob Aslam Claims Party Has Been ‘Hijacked’ [ET]
- Iran Protests Abduction of Border Guards by Pakistani Sunni Militants [AFP]
- Interior Minister Orders Acting FIA Director General to Prepare Policy Vision Within One Week [ET]
- MQM Seeks to Rally Opposition Parties Against Protection of Pakistan Ordinance [The Nation]
- Sindh and Federal Government Clash Over Federal Excise Duty on Services [ET]
- Sindh Rejects Proposal to Privatize Lakhra Power Plant [APP]
- Council on Common Interest to Review Census Plans [ET]
- Balochistan PML-N Ministers Reverse Resignation Call [The Nation]
- Cellular Subscribers Pass 132 Million [ET]
- Report: Extremism and Violence in Pakistan: Durability and Instability – “The state-sanctioned use of several militant groups to fight proxy wars, the continuous framing of threats against Islam as threats against Pakistan, and the media reinforcing divisions along sectarian lines go some way to explaining attitudes towards religiously motivated violence and its enduring grip on Pakistan.” [Riazat Butt, NOREF]
- Commentary: The Man Who Sold Pakistan – “The problem with Khan, the problem for all of us, is as simple as it’s ugly: he’s mainstreamed extremism.” [Cyril Almeida, Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- UN Reports Rise in Civilian Deaths: The United Nations released its annual assessment of civilian casualties in Afghanistan for 2013 on Saturday. Civilian casualties rose 14% compared to 2012, with 2,959 deaths and 5,656 injuries recorded, reversing a drop between 2011 and 2012. The Taliban were found responsible for approximately three-quarters of those deaths, but the number of civilians killed in crossfires between Taliban and government forces increased by 43%, and those killed by errant Afghan military fire increased 59%, an apparent reflection of the greater role for Afghan security forces in the conflict as international forces — who were reported to have caused on 3% of all civilian casualties — have withdrawn. The Taliban’s spokesman denounced the report, saying that it was “drafted by the U.S. Embassy under the name of the United Nations.” [WSJ] [Guardian] [AJE] [TOLO]
- Election Security: A campaign worker for Abdullah Abdullah was reportedly killed in a roadside bombing in Sar-e-Pul on Saturday; the Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility but said that the attack had occurred in Nangarhar. On Monday police in Sar-e-Pul announced the arrest of a Taliban official they say carried out the attack. Two of Abdullah’s campaign workers were previously killed by unidentified gunmen in Herat at the beginning of the month. Separately on Saturday, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson assumed command as the head of operations, the second-ranking commander for ISAF; he stressed that his focus was on supporting security in the run-up to the polls in April. [TOLO]
- Bilateral Security Deadlock: The Post interviews Afghan soldiers and commanders who are now openly expressing criticism of the Karzai administration’s delay in completing the US bilateral security agreement; some say they have faced repercussion for doing so. Afghanistan’s foreign minister, Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, met with visiting German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Kabul on Sunday; he claimed that the president “will sign the security agreement and is interested in signing it before the elections”, but a statement from Karzai’s office after meeting with Steinmeier indicated that he “would not sign the deal until peace talks with the Taliban were revived and raids on Afghan homes by foreign troops stopped”.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Election Campaigning: Independent Election Commission officials said Saturday that ballot materials have been transferred to 27 provinces and the final seven provinces will receive materials within the next two weeks. Electoral Complaints Commission chairman Nadir Mohseni warned candidates not to use government resources in their campaigning, but said that no official complaints had yet been registered by the IEC against any of the eleven presidential candidates. At a campaign appearance in Kabul on Saturday, Daoud Sultanzoy vowed to combat corruption; in Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherazai called for the completion of the bilateral security agreement. Human Rights Watch publishes responses from some candidates to a questionnaire on human rights issues. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Transition Assistance: USAID plans to announce a roughly $300M, four- to five-year initiative to support Afghanistan’s economic transition as international forces withdraw; the package includes $125M in agricultural assistance, $77M to support government tax revenue collection and efforts to join the WTO, and $100M in support of Afghan universities.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Taliban and Government Imperil Gains for Afghan Women, Advocates Say [NYT]
- Bombing Near Pul-i-Charki Prison Targets ISAF Convoy; No Casualties Reported [AP]
- Seven ANA Soldiers Killed in Farah Bombing [Khaama Press]
- One Civilian Killed, Nine Wounded in Jalalabad [Khaama Press]
- Survey Finds Afghanistan Worst Place in the World for Women [Guardian]