- Former Afghan defense minister Rahim Wardak has dropped out of the presidential race, but has not offered an endorsement of any of his former competitors. Talks continue between the Pakistani government and TTP intermediaries about a venue for direct talks with TTP leadership and government negotiators. The militant splinter group Ahrarul Hind claimed responsibility for last Friday’s attacks in Peshawar and Quetta. In an address to the Afghan parliament, Pres. Karzai said that Afghan forces were ready to take responsibility for the country’s security, and reiterating warnings to the international community not to intervene in the upcoming elections. A Frontier Crimes Regulation tribunal has reduced Dr. Shakil Afridi’s sentence to 23 years in prison; his family says they will appeal further. Riots targeting the Hindu community in Larkana destroyed a temple, following allegations that one member had destroyed a copy of the Quran. PPP opposition leaders seek debate on the reported infusion of Saudi aid to Pakistan.
Pakistan — Security
- Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Talks: Speaking to reporters on Friday, the TTP denied responsibility for separate bombings in Peshawar and Quetta that killed at least nineteen people; the militant splinter group Ahrarul Hind, which also was linked to an earlier attack on an Islamabad courthouse, has claimed responsibility. Professor Mohammad Ibrahim, a member of the TTP negotiating committee, told reporters on Sunday that “a hidden hand is actively trying to sabotage the peace process” and that “the Taliban will not object if the government targets those behind the recent acts of violence”. In his remarks, Ibrahim renewed Taliban demands for the release of noncombatant detainees linked to the TTP, saying they had a list of at least 60 such detainees; Defense Minister Khawaja Asif denied that the military was holding any women or children in custody. The TTP negotiating committee met with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Saturday to discuss a proposed venue for direct talks between the TTP and the government’s new negotiating team. No final decision has been announced; the TTP is reported to have rejected initial government proposals to meet at the offices of the South Waziristan political agent and in Bannu. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- Sentence Cut for Shakil Afridi: A Frontier Crimes Regulation tribunal re-hearing charges against Dr. Shakil Afridi, previously linked to a covert CIA surveillance program in Abbotabad, reduced his prison sentence to 23 years and fine to Rs 220,000. Afridi was charged with ties to the Khyber militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and sentenced in May 2012, but his conviction had been overturned on technical grounds in August 2013. His families and lawyers say they will again appeal the new verdict. [Dawn] [AJE] [Reuters] [BBC]
- Riots Destroy Hindu Temple: Rumors that a member of the small Hindu minority community in Sindh’s Larkhana district had destroyed a copy of the Quran sparked riots late Saturday evening, leading to the destruction of a local Hindu temple. Further protests were held across northern Sindh and parts of Balochistan on Sunday. Police have taken the accused man, Sangeet Kumar, into protective custody while investigating the allegations, and have ordered tightened security for the Hindu community. [Dawn] [ET]
- NATO Supply Line Attacks: A container truck carrying supplies for NATO forces was attacked and destroyed in the Khyber Agency on Monday; no casualties were reported.
- Karachi Security: Prime Minister Sharif visited Karachi on Friday for talks with local business community leaders, and vowed to continue police and paramilitary crackdowns on criminal and militant groups within the city. The Express Tribune reports that the federal and provincial government are deadlocked over a choice to head the Sindh provincial police. [ET]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Khattak Tells Female Legislators Not to Propose Development Projects: In a meeting with female provincial legislators on Sunday, Khyber Paktunkhwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak reportedly called on them to “formulate welfare schemes for such women to enable them to stand on their own feet,” but said that they should “refrain from doing tasks which fall under the duties of male MPAs and government departments,” such as proposing construction or development projects.
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- India Trade: Miftah Ismail, a special assistant to Prime Minister Sharif and chairman of the Board of Investment, tells the Express Tribune that Pakistan and India are “very close” to signing an agreement to remove trade restrictions, suggesting that both sides would simultaneously announce liberalization measures before the end of the month.
- Aid Oversight: PPP opposition senators called for further debate over the reported infusion of $1.5 billion in assistance to the Pakistan Development Fund from as-yet still private sources, widely reportedly to be Saudi Arabia. The PPP had previously criticized reports that Pakistan was cooperating with the Saudis to support Syrian rebel forces against the Assad regime. Finance Minister Dar insisted that the money was not a loan nor given conditionally, but has refused to elaborate on its sourcing; speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz stated that Pakistan was not planning on transferring arms to Syria. [Dawn]
- Vaccination Drive: The Khyber Paktunkhwa government’s ‘Sehat ka Insaf’ vaccination campaign will expand outside Peshawar beginning April 6, officials report. Dawn notes that the sources of the funds and total budget for the campaign remain opaque, and reports that provincial Health Minister Shaukat Yousafzai has clashed with PTI party leaders after being pressured to award the campaign contract to the Lahore-based Peoples Primary Healthcare Initiative, previously founded by PTI secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen. [Dawn]
Pakistan — Remainders
- From North Waziristan Hideout, Uighur Militant Leader Vows Revenge on China [Reuters]
- PML-N Balochistan Chapter Against Suggests Dissension from Provincial Coalition [Dawn]
- Deaths Continue in Thar District Amid Allegations of Relief Aid Bias [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Unlikely to Meet Deadline for April Local Elections [ET]
- Musharraf Lawyers Petition for Broader Trial [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [NYT]
- Gas Pipeline Destroyed in Dera Bugti [Dawn]
- China Seeks Direct Contracts, Security Guarantees for Balochistan Investments [ET]
- State Bank of Pakistan Leaves Monetary Policy Rate Unchanged at 10% [ET]
- Rs 9 Billion in Fake Tax Refunds Reported [ET]
- FDI Rises 18% During First Eight Months of Fiscal Year to $606M [ET]
- Rs 7M Spent on Former Chief Justice’s Temporary Residence [Dawn]
- Commentary: Pursuing Peace Through Committees – “The new committee appears even less empowered than the previous, already weak committee given that bureaucrats cannot and will not challenge their political masters and are well schooled in deferring to army interests.” [Cyril Almeida, Dawn]
- Commentary: Our Foreign Policy for Sale? – “Sending Pakistani arms that would be used to kill Shias in Syria will inflame an already volatile situation.” [Irfan Hussain, Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Karzai Suggests US Forces Not Needed Post-2014: In an address to an inaugural joint session parliament on Saturday — the last such scheduled address of his term — Pres. Karzai reviewing the history of his administration’s efforts and concluded said that Afghan forces were prepared to take over full responsibility for the country’s security, saying that “we want the Bilateral Security Agreement” with the United States, but that “peace is fundamental”. Karzai also warned the international community against “interfering in our elections”, and said that the electoral administrative bodies were “independent and free of government influence.” [Pajhwok] [Khaama Press]
- Force Drawdown: British forces in Helmand have transferred control of two bases in Lashkar Gah to Afghan forces, leaving only their Camp Bastion headquarters and the observation post Sterga 2 in the province for the approximately 4,000 troops remaining in the country. Meanwhile, the Post reports that the U.S. and Pakistani militaries are in talks about the possible transfer of some portion of the remaining fleet of MRAP vehicles, which Pentagon planners have largely opted not to return to the United States. [BBC]
- Herat Judge Killed: Unidentified gunmen assassinated a district judge, Qazi Abdul Latif, and his bodyguard on Monday in a drive-by shooting. No claim of responsibility has been reported.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Rahim Wardak Drops Out of Presidential Race: Abdul Rahim Wardak, the former defense minister and a presidential candidate, announced his withdrawal from the race on Sunday. His withdrawal follows that of Qayyum Karzai, who accompanied Zalmay Rassoul on a campaign trip to Lashkar Gah, Helmand, on Sunday; unlike Karzai, Wardak has not yet announced an endorsement, and his spokesman indicated that he would not do so. The WSJ interviews Rassoul, Ashraf Ghani, and Abdullah Abdullah, the latter two candidates warning that “the public will not tolerate fraud” in support of Rassoul, believed to be a preferred candidate of the president. Candidate Hedayat Arsala Amin campaigned in Nangarhar on Sunday; Ghani appeared at an event alongside Vice President Karim Khalili, although Khalili did not explicitly endorse his candidacy. Independent Election Commission chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani reiterated warnings that government officials would be dismissed if they aided any candidate’s election campaign. The Electoral Complaints Commission is still reviewing possible disqualifications of provincial council candidates, drawing complaints from observer groups. [AP] [TOLO] [TOLO] [ET]
- Fahim Succession: Khaama Press reports that Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, former parliamentary speaker Yunus Qanooni, High Peace Council chairman Salahuddin Rabbani, and defense minister Bismillah Mohammadi are all possible candidates to replace the late Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, with Mohammadi a reported favorite. An announcement of the appointment, which must be confirmed by parliament, is expected soon.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- NDS Head Asadullah Khalid Returns to Kabul After Hospitalization [TOLO]
- Nine Army Officers Arrested Over February Attack on Kunar Base [Khaama Press]
- Kunduz Madrassa Accused of Radicalizing Women [BBC]
- Commentary: Last Chance: The International Community and the 2014 Afghan Elections – “With the breakdown of the reconciliation effort with the Taliban and uncertainty about the result of the transition process due to President Hamid Karzai’s unexpected refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the April 5 election is the only remaining opportunity for a political resolution of the continuing crisis in Afghanistan.” [Scott Smith, USIP]
- Commentary: The End of an Era? The Death of Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim – “[Fahim’s] sudden departure has introduced three significant uncertainties into Afghanistan’s political landscape at a very crucial time: the selection of the next interim Vice President, the event’s impact on the outcome of the forthcoming presidential elections in a few short weeks, and the future of the fractious Northern Alliance and its influential Tajik-dominated political party, Jamiat-i Islami.” [Mara Tchalakov, ISW]
- Commentary: Dividing the Field – Who Shapes the Electoral Landscape in a Herat Township, and How? – “In Herat, elders have divided a township into areas supporting different presidential contenders. They are motivated by financial and other benefits and a desire to end up on the winning side in any case.” [S. Reza Kazemi, AAN]
- Commentary: Cure or Curse? Implications of the Kilij Mine Closure for Bamiyan’s Security Situation – “The government’s award of the contract of a major national asset to a foreign company without assuring that basic needs of the local population (like jobs and access to affordable fuel) are met, has led to suffering and discontent in an already volatile area.” [Jalil Benish, AAN]