- After more than a hundred days, Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah have announced nominees for a 25-member cabinet, who must now be confirmed by parliament. The Pakistani military announced that it had begun the process of forming new military courts to try terrorist suspects. At least eight people were killed in a bombing attack on a Shia mosque and community center in Rawalpindi on Friday. Sec. Kerry arrived in Islamabad today for strategic dialogue talks. ISI Director Rizwan Akhtar visited Kabul for talks with Afghan leaders on Sunday. A splinter group of former TTP and Afghan Taliban commanders released video on Saturday repeating an earlier pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Pakistan — Security
- Military Courts to Be Set Up: On Friday, the Pakistani military’s public relations wing announced that the army had initiated the process of establishing nine new military courts across the four provinces in which to try terrorist suspects. Anonymous military sources tell the Express Tribune that defendants will have the right to a defense attorney and “due process of law”. The Pakistan Bar Council and Supreme Court Bar Association will meet Jan 31 to consider a legal appeal against the new courts. On Sunday, former Pres. Zardari defended his party’s backing for the courts in a speech to supporters in Lahore, adding that it was “the duty of the PML-N government to allay the concerns of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and others over the 21st Amendment”. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
- Counter-Terrorism Operations: 118 public schools have reopened in Khyber Paktunkhwa, including the Army Public School in Peshawar, for the first time since it was attacked in December; 1,380 schools remain closed due to inadequate security. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif attended the APS reopening. National Counter-Terrorism Authority sources indicate that the government is planning to reach out to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to seek assistance in cutting off funding for banned terrorist organizations; sources tell Dawn, however, that the government currently only plans to focus on anti-state groups, out of 72 organizations in all that are officially banned. On Saturday, officials reported that Asadullah, identified as a TTP commander originally from Bajuar who had played a lead role in plotting the November attack on the Wagah border crossing, was killed in a clash with law enforcement forces in Lahore. [BBC] [AJE] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
- Rawalpindi Mosque Attacked: At least eight people were killed and more than 16 wounded in a bombing outside a Shia mosque and community center in Rawalpindi on Friday. Accounts conflict as to whether the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber or planted explosive. The neighborhood has been a site of sectarian clashes in the past, most recently in 2013. A spokesman for the TTP splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released afterwards; police are also investigating connections to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which was previously implicated in an attack on the mosque caretaker’s brother in 1999. [ET] [Dawn] [AJE] [Reuters] [NYT] [WSJ]
- TTP Splinter Group Pledges Loyalty to ISIS: A group of former TTP militants, including former spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, who previously announced their split from the TTP and allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, released new video on Saturday, in which the commanders renewed their statements of allegiance and announced that commander Hafez Sayed Khan Orakzai would serve as their regional leader. Reuters reports that, at the end of the video, the group appears to behead an unidentified Pakistani soldier. Some Afghan Taliban commanders also take part in the video, including one former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Mawlawi Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost. Helmand officials report recent clashes in the Kajaki district between the Taliban and a group of fighters now claiming allegiance to ISIS.
- Lakhvi Detention: On Monday, the Islamabad High Court accepted a petition from the government to hold closed hearings related to the continued detention of Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi, whose lawyer sought an open hearing.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Kerry Arrives for Talks: Sec. Kerry arrived in Rawalpindi on Monday for two days of strategic dialogue talks; he is expected to hold talks with senior civilian and military leaders beginning this evening. Separately, CENTCOM head Gen. Lloyd Austin met with Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif on Monday. The Express Tribune reports that the U.S. has declined to commit additional funding to assist in the rehabilitation and repatriation of refugees displaced by fighting in North Waziristan; the government had sought $380 million from donors at a recent conference, after receiving $375 million in pledges from the World Bank and European governments at a conference in November. [Dawn] [ET]
- PTI Deadlock: Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, information minister Pervaiz Rashid said that the government would be open to a judicial commission to investigate the PTI’s charges of “organized rigging” in the 2013 elections, but that investigations into specific constituencies should take place through existing election tribunals, which he contended had thus far failed to substantiate the PTI’s allegations. Speaking separately in the national assembly on Friday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the government had spent Rs 877 million in security for the PTI protest sit-ins. [ET] [The Nation] [Dawn]
- MQM Protests: The MQM held a day of mourning on Sunday against what it said was the killing of one its party activists while being held in police custody, shutting down large areas of Karachi; a strike planned for Monday was subsequently cancelled. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Energy Crisis: A meeting of the economic coordination committee of the cabinet on Saturday decided to revive the use of rental power plants to supplement existing generation capacity with 260 megawatts of new power, and waived customs duties for such arrangements. Plans to establish a larger, 1000 megawatt rental power system in Sindh by the summer have reportedly been dropped, however. Dawn reports that the cabinet meeting also retroactively approved the previous addition of three separate energy tariff surcharges intended to offset distribution losses, totaling Rs 2.4 per unit, which are estimated to generate Rs 75 billion in additional fees over the year. [Dawn] [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Over 7,600 Killed in 2014 Violence [Dawn] [ET]
- Al Qaeda Commander Reportedly Killed in Karachi [ET]
- Former Army Technician Executed for 2003 Musharraf Asassination Attempt [Dawn] [ET]
- Iranian President to Visit [Dawn]
- Seven Frontier Corps Soldiers Killed in Loralai Attack [ET] [Dawn]
- Prime Minister’s Polio Cell Expresses Concerns Over Suspended Campaigns [Dawn]
- National Assembly Attendance Drops After Amendment Passage [Dawn]
- Trade Deficit Widens to $12.1 Billion in First Six Months of Fiscal Year [ET]
- Commentary: Losing This War, With PAS/DMG – “All the police heroism, all the ammunition we dump over the skies of North Waziristan, and all the hangings we enact, cannot solve the problem of a dysfunctional and corrupt administrative infrastructure that stretches from the Establishment Division down to the office of the luckless PAS entrant posted as a DO or AC somewhere miserable.” [Mosharraf Zaidi, The News]
- Commentary: Is Pakistan Worth America’s Investment? – “Cutting aid precipitously would be unwise, but a managed decrease is in line with more realistic expectations about the diminished potential for bilateral cooperation.” [NYT Editorial Board]
Afghanistan — Security
- Attacks: Logar provincial officials reported that a team of eight demining personnel working with the UK-based Halo Trust were abducted from the Pul-e-Alam district on Friday; they were subsequently freed on Saturday. The Mine Action Coordinate Center of Afghanistan reports a 50% increase in the number of attacks on demining personnel in Afghanistan in 2014. On Saturday, the police chief of Sar-e-Pul’s Sangcharak district was killed in an attack by unidentified gunmen. The acting governor of Paktika province, Abdul Karim Mateen, survived a Taliban attack on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Sharana on Friday.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Cabinet Announced: Pres. Ghani met with Afghan members of parliament on Saturday, publicly pledging action soon on the appointment of a full cabinet slate, saying that “patience has results”. Lower house chairman Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi told reporters afterwards that the president had, behind closed doors, pledged to announce a cabinet on Monday. On Monday, Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah made the announcement of 25 cabinet nominees, who must now be referred to parliament for a vote of confidence. Khaama Press and other outlets had reported a dozen nominees chosen by Abdullah prior to the full announcement; the final list includes Ghulam Jilani Popal as finance minister, Sher Mohammad Karimi as defense minister, Noor-ul-Haq Ulomi as interior minister, and Salahuddin Rabbani as minister of foreign affairs, among others. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [BBC]
- ISI Director General Visits: Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, head of the Pakistani ISI, visited Kabul on Sunday for talks with senior Afghan officials, including Pres. Ghani. It his third visit to Afghanistan since taking command in November. Details of the discussions were minimal; the Afghan presidency said that “both sides discussed ways to further strengthen joint efforts against terrorism and extremism”. Chief Executive Abdullah is reportedly planning to visit Pakistan for further talks at a future date. Separately, in an interview on Sunday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz claimed that India was supporting attacks from Afghanistan into Pakistan, but suggested that such attacks had declined since Afghanistan and Pakistan had reached agreement on joint counter-terrorism efforts. [Reuters] [Dawn] [ET]
- Electoral Reform: The Wolesi Jirga Legal and Judicial committee held a vote on Sunday on changing the authorities and job descriptions of the Afghan electoral commissions, although at least seven amendments, unspecified in TOLO’s reporting, are said to still be under debate. The chairman of the committee, Mohammad Abdoh, previously accused election commissioners of lobbying parliament to avoid changes in the law.
- Iran Visit: Iranian media outlets, quoting Pres. Ghani’s spokesman, say that he will visit Iran “in the near future” to sign a bilateral security agreement discussed during a recent visit to Tehran by national security advisor Hanif Atmar.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- DynCorps Wins Contract to Training Afghan Police and Army [UPI]
- Ghani Legal Advisor Seeks List of Corrupt Officials [TOLO]
- Disputes Damage Hopes of Rebuilding Bamiyan Buddhas [Guardian]
- Report: More than $300 Million in Annual, U.S.-funded Salary Payments Is Based on Partially Verified or Reconciled Data – “Despite 13 years and several billions of dollars in salary assistance to the Afghan government for the ANP, there is still no assurance that personnel and payroll data are accurate.“ [SIGAR (pdf)]
- Commentary: The National Mood Sours – “Continuing lack of a cabinet has meant public confidence and patience – which, at the time of the inauguration, ran high – are now wearing thin.” [Thomas Ruttig, Kate Clark, and Obaid Ali, AAN]
- Commentary: Taliban for the Ghani Cabinet? A Look at a BBC Report – “If the offer of cabinet posts has indeed been made, it would also not represent the first attempt to integrate former high-ranking Taleban officials into the post-Taleban political system. All attempts have failed.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]