Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: MQM Reunites with PPP, Clashes with PTI; Kabul Hosts Pakistan-China Trilateral Talks

Topline

  • The MQM has reached an agreement to reunite with the PPP in the Sindh provincial government and field a joint senate candidate slate; at the same time, Imran Khan and the PTI ramped up criticism against the MQM in the wake of reports linking its members to the 2012 Baldia factory fire. Former Punjab governor Chaudhry Sarwar joined the PTI on Tuesday, and is expected to take the position of party president. Representatives from China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan met in Kabul on Monday for regional diplomatic talks. Abdullah Abdullah has chosen members for the electoral reforms commission and referred them to the president, his deputy announced. In the face of declining collections, the Pakistani government hiked sales taxes on a wide range of goods on Monday, prompting an opposition boycott in parliament and threats of legal challenges. The Red Cross reported a rise in Afghan battlefield casualties recovered in 2014, more than doubling the previous year’s toll.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Operations: A dozen suspected militants were killed in airstrikes in Khyber’s Tirah valley on Monday, military officials reported.
  • Border Tensions with India: Pakistani military officials accused India of “unprovoked firing” across the Line of Control on Monday, and responded in kind. No casualties were reported.
  • Military Courts Challenged: The Pakistan Bar Council and the Supreme Court Bar Association joined the Lahore High Court Bar Association in filing legal challenges against the formation of special military courts to hear terrorism cases; the Supreme Court is due to hear the LHCBA’s petition starting Thursday. [ET]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Clashes with PTI, Rejoins Coalition with PPP: Former interior minister Rehman Malik reached an agreement with MQM leader Altaf Hussain on Tuesday for the MQM to rejoin the Sindh provincial government, with both sides agreeing to split senate election seats, four to the MQM and seven to the PPP. Details on new ministerial appointments have not yet been announced. Earlier on Monday, Imran Khan launched a broadside of criticism against the MQM in the wake of reports linking party members to the Baldia factory fire, saying that the PTI would boycott any public forums that include the MQM and that Altaf Hussain should be taken to court in the UK; “the time has come for the people to stand up against his terrorism”. The MQM hit back, calling Khan “the political wing of the Taliban” and accusing him of being “part of a bigger conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan”. The MQM plans to hold rallies in Karachi on Tuesday in support of Hussain. Despite the earlier rapprochement efforts with the MQM, PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah suggested on Tuesday that the Baldia fire case should be referred to the military courts system, which leaders have previously pledged to restrict to terrorism cases. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Former Punjab Governor Joins PTI: On Tuesday, former Punjab governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar announced that he was joining the PTI, following meetings with Imran Khan earlier on Sunday and his earlier resignation and criticism of the government’s foreign policy efforts. Dawn reports that Sarwar has sought the position of PTI party president vacated by Javed Hashmi last fall. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Other Political Activity: Prime Minister Sharif met with PML-N candidates for senate elections on Monday but made no announcements on party tickets, pledging that all candidates would be accommodated even if they are not backed for a senate seat. The Khyber Paktunkhwa assembly was adjourned on Monday until February 16 in the face of a split within the ruling PTI over appointments made by Malik Mohammad Qasim, an advisor to the chief minister on prisoners. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Tax Measures: PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah said Tuesday that the opposition would boycott parliament to protest the increase of general sales tax on a number of items, and suggested that the PPP was also considering a legal challenge against the sales tax hike on petroleum products. On Monday, the government hiked tax rates through a statutory regulatory order — bypassing parliament — across a range of categories including imports, professional services, luxury goods, and furnace oil, and also raised rates on taxpayers who do not file their returns. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Jamaat ud Dawa Thrives Despite Ban [AFP]
  • Frontier Constabulary Deployed to Security Balochistan Power Grid [ET]
  • Militants Killed in Kharan District Clash with Frontier Corps [Dawn]
  • Punjab to Offer Defense in 50 out of 262 Blasphemy Cases [Dawn]
  • Swiss Bank Investigation Finds Limited Pakistani Assets [ET]
  • PAEC Defends Choice of Chinese Nuclear Reactors for KANUPP Site [Dawn]
  • Karachi Faces Coastal Sea Level Rise Threat by 2060 [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Casualties: The Red Cross reported on Monday that it had recovered the battlefield remains of 1,372 combatants in 2014, more than double the 620 recovered the year prior. Those figures include both government and insurgent forces but largely exclude the international military coalition, which maintains its own evacuation services. The Red Cross warned that “for the victims of the conflict, the situation might deteriorate even further as the funding of humanitarian aid dwindles in the country.” Meanwhile, one civilian was killed and four wounded in a bombing in Jalalabad on Tuesday; a separate attack on the Kunduz provincial police headquarters on the same day injured one police officer and left all five attackers dead. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Regional Diplomacy: Afghan deputy foreign minister Hekmat Karzai hosted Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry and Chinese assistant foreign minister Liu Jianchao for the first round of a new trilateral strategic dialogue process between the three countries. Details of the discussions are limited, but all countries reiterated support for an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process”.
  • Electoral Reforms: Chief Executive Abdullah has chosen his delegates to the prospective commission on electoral reforms and shared them with Pres. Ghani, his second deputy Mohammad Mohaqeq announced on Monday, who said members would include Mohammad Natiqi, Mohammad Asim and Dr. Anwar.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Electricity Bills: The Da Afghan Breshna electric utility company has referred a number of government institutions, individuals, and business to the Attorney General’s office for possible prosecution, accusing them of collectively owing more than Afs 1 billion in unpaid electricity bills; power has reportedly been cut to the Ghori Cement Company over its unpaid dues.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • More Reports on Death of Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim [NYT] [WSJ]
  • Torkham Border Crossings Drop By as Much as 90% [Pajhwok]
  • Continued Delay in Issuance of National ID Cards [TOLO]
  • Wardak Officials Form Security Advisory Council [TOLO]
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