- Pakistani government officials react sharply to yesterday’s TTP claim of responsibility for an attack on Karachi police, saying they will push for a ceasefire; another suicide attack on paramilitary Rangers on Friday wounded two, although no claim of responsibility has yet been reported. U.S.-Afghan bilateral tensions remain high, as Pres. Karzai says that the release of 65 prisoners from Bagram should be “of no concern” to the U.S.; White House officials say they are now open to a delay on the bilateral security agreement until after Karzai leaves office, but that no decision has yet been made on whether to zero-out a troop presence after 2014. Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan met for trilateral talks in Ankara. Saudi Arabia’s defense minister arrives in Pakistan on Saturday. Pakistan’s foreign reserves fell to the equivalent of three weeks of imports for the week ending February 7, prompting the Finance Ministry to vow to rebuild reserves to $10 billion by the end of March.
Pakistan — Security
- Karachi Attack Disrupts Peace Talks: Following the Pakistani Taliban’s claim of responsibility for yesterday’s attack on a police van in Karachi, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, a proponent within the government of negotiations efforts, warned that “peace talks cannot go alongside terrorist attacks”, saying that “the attack on the police and the [TTP’s] subsequent claim of responsibility has created doubts about their sincerity.” Government mediators are now expected to meet with the TTP’s mediator committee in Islamabad on Friday, where they will renew a push for ceasefire. Rahimullah Yousafzai, a member of the government committee, tells the WSJ that “if these attacks continue happening, I don’t think there will be much public support for this process, and I don’t think there will be progress in this process”; Ibrahim Khan, a member of the TTP’s committee, says that talks “must be open without any preconditions.” Maulana Sami-ul Haq appealed to the TTP to end “all kinds of attacks” in a statement on Friday. The Taliban’s spokesman has yet to respond to the backlash, but a suicide bomber targeted the vehicle of a paramilitary Rangers commander in Karachi’s Qayyumabad neighborhood on Friday, injuring two personnel; there is as yet no claim of responsibility. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [APP]
- Government Officials Kidnapped: The deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner of the Kech district in Balochistan were kidnapped by a group of unidentified gunmen on Thursday, overpowering a group of at least 18 staff and security personnel. A team sent to negotiate for their release was also subsequently kidnapped. The Balochistan Liberation Front has claimed responsibility.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- MQM Protests: MQM officials met with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Thursday to convey their protests over the detention and alleged extrajudicial killings of some party activists over the course of the ongoing police and paramilitary crackdown in Karachi; Chaudhry Nisar vowed to address their concerns and said that four separate committees had been established to review the allegations. The MQM filed a Sindh High Court petition on Friday alleging that party member Muhammad Adil had been tortured while in police custody.
- Strengthening Saudi Ties: Continuing the flow of high-level visits over the past month, Saudi crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who also serves as deputy prime minister and defense minister, will visit Pakistan beginning February 15 to discuss defense cooperation. Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam indicated that sales of the JF-17 Thunder jet fighter, under construction jointly with China, could be on the agenda. [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- India Trade: In a Guardian interview, Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif suggested that security services in both Pakistan and India were primarily responsible for stalled trade liberalization efforts between the two countries, arguing that “security agencies on both sides need to really understand that in today’s world, a security-led vision is obviously driven by economic security”.
- Foreign Reserves: The State Bank of Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves fell to $2.841 billion for the week ending February 7, the equivalent of three week’s worth of import financing and a near-record low; Finance Ministry officials issued a statement vowing to rebuild reserves up to $10 billion by the end of March.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Taliban Tighten Grip on Karachi [WSJ]
- Students Injured in Peshawar University Valentines’ Day Clash [Dawn]
- Pakistan Seeking Associate CERN Membership [ET]
- Officials Scrap Plan to Strengthen OGRA Regulatory Powers [ET]
- Turnover Tax Exemption for Power Distribution Companies Extended by One Year [ET]
- Peshawar Plans Rapid Bus and Ambulance Track [Dawn]
- Commentary: Talk to the Baloch Now – “The ongoing attempts to have a deal with the militants who have been causing explosions all over the country are in a sharp contrast with the policy of ignoring the threat of an implosion in Balochistan that is getting more and more serious every day.” [I.A. Rehman, Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Tensions Over Detainee Releases: In a statement following U.S. protests over the release earlier this week of 65 Afghan detainees from Bagram prison facility, Pres. Karzai said that “Afghanistan is a sovereign country. If Afghanistan judiciary authorities decide to release prisoners, it is of no concern to the United States,” adding that he hoped the U.S. would stop “harassing” Afghan judicial authorities. The U.S. military issued a statement warning that “detainees from this group of 65 are directly linked to attacks killing or wounding 32 U.S. or coalition personnel and 23 Afghan security personnel or civilians,” although the NYT notes that White House criticism of the release was more muted. White House officials tell the AP that they have not ruled out delaying the completion of the bilateral security agreement until after Pres. Karzai leaves office following the April elections, dropping earlier insistence that an agreement must be reached in “weeks, not months”. [AP] [Khaama Press]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Trilateral Talks: In statements at the opening of trilateral talks between Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan on Thursday, both Turkey and Pakistan pledged continued assistance and support for Afghanistan through and beyond the upcoming change of presidential leadership, and reaffirmed their support for an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace process.
- Election Campaigning: Afghan voters continue to complain that few if any of the leading presidential candidates have made an effort to extend their campaigns outside the capital of Kabul since the campaign period began at the start of the month; limited outreach began this week, with Zalmay Rassoul meeting supporters in Nangarhar and representatives for Ashraf Ghani reportedly meeting with supporters in Nimroz. [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Remainders
- High Peace Council Spokesman Challenges U.S. Presence, Refers to ‘Martyrdom’ of Bin Laden [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
- Kabul to Host Rally to End Violence Against Women [TOLO]
- Senator Shaheen Presses Dunford on Response to Critical SIGAR Audits [USA Today]
- Commentary: Press Reset on AfPak Relations – “One of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s legitimate friction points with the United States is America’s unwillingness to admit that a source of instability and terrorism lies beyond Afghanistan’s borders, primarily in Pakistan, and that the international community’s peace bid has yet to succeed because of Islamabad’s duplicity.” [Omar Samad, South Asia Channel]
- Commentary: The Taliban are Winning the War on Polio – “This week’s tragic reappearance of polio in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, after 13 years, poses serious questions about the future of health in the country following the scheduled withdrawal of United States military personnel at the end of 2014.” [Laurie Garrett and Maxine Builder, Foreign Policy]