Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Attacks Continue; Taliban Official Killed in Peshawar Linked to Informal Peace Talks

Topline

  • Attacks on Pakistani security forces have continued since the suspension of talks yesterday; the government and military services are now reportedly preparing for a military operation. The TTP justify their attacks as retaliation for the death of associates in military custody. The Afghan Taliban commander killed in Peshawar yesterday, Abdul Raqeeb, had attended informal peace talks organized by former Taliban official Aga Jan Motasim in Dubai with the Afghan government; his death was condemned by both the Taliban and the Afghan government. The U.S. government is renewing efforts to seek the release of POW Bowe Bergdahl, and is considering the release of Taliban or Haqqani network prisoners in exchange; broader U.S. peace brokering efforts with the Afghan government do not currently appear to be under consideration. Former Pres. Musharraf appeared briefly before the special court hearing treason charges against him for the first time on Tuesday, but was not formally indicted. Indian security officials express concern that the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad is reactivating after a period of constrained operations. In a WSJ interview, Pakistani Finance Minister Dar touts privatization plans. Iran has threatened to take unilateral action if Pakistan fails to secure the release of Iranian border guards taken captive earlier this month by militant groups operating on their shared border.

Pakistan — Security

  • Peace Talks Suspended: Planned meetings between the government’s mediating committee and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s representatives were cancelled yesterday following the Mohmand TTP chapter’s claim to have executed 23 captive Frontier Corps soldiers. The Pakistani military, which has been publicly noncommittal during the course of the talks, issued a statement on Monday denouncing the attack, and the death of 13 Karachi policemen last week, as “highly provocative”; PTI leader Imran Khan, also condemned the incident as a “direct sabotage of the peace talks”. On Tuesday, a Pakistani major was killed in an ambush attack by Pakistani Taliban militants near Peshawar; another attack on a South Waziristan checkpost on Monday evening also killed one soldier. Sources tell The Nation that the government and the military leadership are now preparing to launch military operations in North Waziristan. Prime Minister Sharif met with the government’s negotiating committee on Tuesday, who underscored the need for the Taliban to institute a ceasefire. Speaking to reporters, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid alleged that the government was killing Taliban detainees in its own custody and claimed that the TTP wants “sincere and serious” talks with the government. Shahid said that the TTP was reaching out to its constituent groups to discuss the prospect of a ceasefire. [NYT] [AJE] [ET] [ET]
  • Jaish-e-Mohammad Increasingly Active: Reuters notes increasing concern from Indian security officials that the anti-India militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad is reactivating, prompting two alerts since the end of December about possible hijacking attempts. Masood Azhar, the organization’s leader, who is officially under house arrest, addressed Muzaffarabad supporters by phone at a rally last month; Pakistani officials insist the group remains banned and that he will not be allowed to address supporters again in the future.
  • Iran Threatens Border Action: Iran’s interior minister warned that Iranian forces were prepared to enter Pakistani territory to rescue border guards kidnapped earlier this month by a local Sunni militant group, Jaish al-Adl. An Iranian delegation was scheduled to visit Pakistan on Monday to seek action for their release. [BBC]
  • Attacks on Karachi Media: A hand grenade attack on the offices of Aaj TV in Karachi injured a security guard on Tuesday; another grenade was found, undetonated, at the offices of the paper Nawa-i-Waqt, and gunmen also opened fire on a press van for AbTak TV. No claim of responsibility was reported in any of the attacks, which follow an attack on Express News last month that killed three staffers.
  • Polio Workers Kidnapped: Six people, including two polio vaccination workers along with their guards and driver, were kidnapped in Tank on Monday near the border with South Waziristan. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [AFP]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Musharraf Appears Before Treason Court: After months of delay, former Pres. Musharraf appeared briefly before the special court hearing treason charges against him for the first time on Tuesday. He did not speak during the proceedings and was not formally indicted; hearings have been set to resume February 21, as Musharraf’s lawyers continue to seek a transfer of proceedings to a military court. [Dawn] [Dawn] [BBC]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Privatization Efforts: In a WSJ interview, Finance Minister Dar expresses satisfaction with the pace of structural reforms, and touts plans to sell off government stakes in several banks and petroleum companies. He also says that Pakistan International Airlines is likely to be split into two companies, with a holding company retaining Rs 250 billion in debts and excess employees, and a new firm with the airline’s landing rights and planes to be partially privatized. Dar also touts plans for selling off 3G and 4G wireless spectrum.
  • Foreign Direct Investment: Pakistan received $523 million in foreign direct investment during the first seven months of the fiscal year, a 1% decline year-on-year. The oil and gas sector attracted the largest investment, but remained lower than the same period in the preceding fiscal year.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Saudi Arabia and Pakistan Pledge Continued Cooperation [APP] [ET]
  • Spy Agencies Warned Over Missing Persons, Court Told [Dawn]
  • Government Moves to Lay Off All Contract Employees Brought in By PPP Predecessors [ET]
  • Supreme Court Reopens Hearings on Sindh Constituency Delimitation [APP]
  • Abdul Basit to Take Office as Ambassador to India in March [Dawn] [ET]
  • Two Former PMs Appear Before Accountability Court in OGRA Appointment Case [Dawn] [ET]
  • European Investment Bank Approves €100 million Loan for Keyal Khwar Hydropower Plant [ET]
  • Provinces Receive 43% of Annual Tax Transfer During First Six Months of Fiscal Year [ET]
  • Government Expected to Seek Fresh Bids for LNG Supply [ET]
  • OGRA Approves Higher Gas Connection Prices for Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Former Taliban Commander Killed Amid Nascent Negotiations Efforts: As briefly noted yesterday, Abdul Raqeeb, a former senior Taliban commander from Takhar, was killed in Peshawar by unidentified gunmen; the Taliban issued a statement condemning his death, although some sources note that Raqeeb was a proponent of negotiations with the Afghan government, a stance which has caused violent infighting within the insurgency in the past. Aga Jan Motasim, another former Taliban leader who has publicly advocated for peace talks and clashed with rivals within the organization, issued a statement praising Raqeeb. Motasim has reportedly held informal talks with Afghan government High Peace Council representatives in the past week in Dubai, Reuters reports, of which Raqeeb was a participant. Motasim tells the AP that it was “impossible to know” whether Mullah Omar supported his effort, although he claims wide backing within the movement; the Taliban have not commented on the reported meetings.
  • Negotiations for POW Release: Meanwhile, the Post reports that Obama administration is considering renewed efforts to secure the release of prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl, potentially offering a simultaneous release of five Afghan Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo to the “protective custody” of Qatar. Officials indicate that no broader efforts to facilitate reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government are being planned, after Pres. Karzai broke off talks last year, objecting to being marginalized. The Pentagon is also considering efforts to directly engage the Haqqani network, which is believed to be holding Bergdahl, and to release a “handful” of Haqqani prisoners currently in its custody in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Election Campaign: Ashraf Ghani won the endorsement of former Kabul mayor Haji Din Mohammad Mujahid at a rally on Monday. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Security Officials Meet to Assess Northern Threats [TOLO]
  • Six Afghan Soldiers Killed in Kapisa Blast [TOLO]
  • Casualties Reported in Clash Between Kabul Groups [Khaama Press]
  • Campaigners Welcome Karzai Intervention on Domestic Abuse Law [Guardian]

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