- The Election Commission of Pakistan announced a new schedule for local government elections, now set for May in Khyber Paktunkhwa, November in Punjab, and March 2016 in Sindh. Political parties continue to prepare for upcoming Senate elections this March. An advisor to Abdullah Abdullah has expressed concerns over Pres. Ghani’s appointment of Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish to head an election reform review. The IMF has agreed to a revision Pakistan’s tax collection target for the fiscal year but has not yet approved changes to the fiscal deficit target. A group of six Afghan National Army cadets arrived in Pakistan for an eighteen month training course at the Pakistan Military Academy, the first such exchange between the two countries.
Pakistan — Security
- Hostages Freed: Five members of the Balochistan Irrigation Department were freed on Friday after being kidnapped by the Balochistan Republcian Army in the Pasni area yesterday. Accounts conflict as to the number of hostages involved, with Dawn suggesting all had been released and the Express Tribune reporting that six were initially captured.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Relations with China: Chief of Army Staff Sharif and Prime Minister Sharif met on Friday to discuss the country’s internal security situation, and General Sharif’s recent visit to China. Details of those conversations are minimal. Chinese officials have not yet confirmed Pres. Xi Pinjing’s participation in a planned Pakistan Day military parade on March 23, but say they want to “keep this momentum with the Pakistan side” and reiterated their support for “continued high-level exchanges”.
- Local Elections: On Friday, after receiving responses from the provinces, the Election Commission announced a polling schedule for local elections. Khyber Paktunkhwa’s will be held in May 2015, Punjab in November 2015, and Sindh in March 2016. Constituency delimitation remains delayed in Sindh and Punjab, as the provinces have yet to share full mapping data with the Election Commission. [ET]
- Senate Elections: The Express Tribune reports debates within the PML-N over who to appoint as chairman of the senate, with three candidates from Balochistan reported to have the edge. On Thursday, an MQM delegation met with former Pres. Musharraf and with Pir Pagara of the PML-F to discuss an opposition alliance. The PPP plans to begin its interviews of senate candidates today. [ET]
- Activist Arrested, Freed: Activist Jibran Nasir, who has led protests against the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in the wake of the Peshawar Army Public School attack and more recently demonstrations against the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat in Karachi, was arrested on Thursday, and eventually released without charge a few hours later. Nasir had led protests in front of the Chief Minister’s house in Karachi prior to his arrest, accusing the government of providing protection for a parallel ASWJ ‘Kashmir Solidarity’ rally; the group, accused of linkages to sectarian militants, is nominally banned. Police accuse Nasir’s group of violating protest boundaries.
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- IMF Talks: During a joint press conference with IMF mission chief Jeffrey Franks on Thursday, Finance Minister Dar said that the Fund had agreed to a revised tax collection target for the current fiscal year of Rs 2.691 trillion, compared to an original target of Rs 2.81 trillion, and attributed tax collection shortfalls to the declining price of petroleum products. In a Dawn interview, Franks clarified that the IMF’s fiscal deficit target of 4.9% of GDP had not been changed, although “we will be discussing this further with the government in the coming weeks and months”. [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Baldia Town Factory Fire Linked to Unspecified Political Party [Dawn]
- EU Condemns Bilour’s Charlie Hebdo Praise [ET]
- Qadri Lawyer Defends Blasphemy Punishments [ET]
- JUD, JI, ASWJ Hold Kashmir Protests [ET]
- Charsadda School Van Fired on, Student Wounded [ET]
- Former Azad Jammu and Kashmir Premier Joins PTI [ET]
- Consultants Chosen for Privatization of IESCO and LESCO [ET]
- Government to Revoke Licenses of Inactive Oil and Gas Exploration Companies [Dawn]
- Government Seeks to Shift from Fuel Oil to Coal or LNG [ET]
- Bahria Town Offers Rs 42 Billion Loan for Karachi Metro Bus Project [ET]
Afghanistan — Security
- ANA Training: A group of six Afghan National Army cadets arrived in Pakistan on Thursday for a training program; the group will take part in an eighteen-month program at the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad, the first such exchange between the two countries. [Khaama Press]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Election Reforms: Mahmood Saiqal, an Abdullah Abdullah advisor, tells TOLO that Pres. Ghani’s appointment of Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish to head a task force reviewing proposals for electoral reform falls short of the national unity government commitment to create a special independent commission for reforms, and warns that “the current move and whatever will be created as a result of it will be seriously questioned by the international community and the people.”
- New Presidential Spokesman: On Thursday, Pres. Ghani appointed Ajmal Obaid Abidi, the former CEO of the Arya tv network and a senior election team advisor, as his new official spokesman, replacing Nazifullah Salarzai.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Afghan Warlords Revamp Image in Changing Times [RFE/RL]
- Criticism Over Use of NDS Special Forces as VIP Guards [TOLO]
- Ghani to Attend Munich Security Conference [Khaama Press] [TOLO]
- Commentary: The Afghanistan War is Still Raging, But This Time It’s Being Waged by Contractors – “After digging into the contractors involved and the circumstances behind their untimely deaths, it’s apparent that the US-led war against the Taliban is still in full swing, and that Americans—along with many Afghans—will continue to die.” [Tim Shorrock, The Nation]