- The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar on Friday, which killed at least nineteen people and injured dozens more. Gen. Campbell told the SASC Thursday that he had prepared a range of options for amending the pace of U.S. force drawdown in Afghanistan. The NYT notes that U.S. special operations forces, in conjunction with the NDS commando service, have continued to carry out strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders throughout the winter. At a press briefing on Thursday, Pakistani military spokesmen credited Afghanistan for cooperation in arresting suspects linked to the December attack on the Peshawar Army Public School, and said the arrest or killing of TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah remained Pakistan’s “number one demand”. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has combined challenges against the 21st Amendment establishing a military courts system into a broader hearing on whether or not the constitution of Pakistan has a “basic structure” that cannot be amended by parliament. Afghan provincial council members demonstrated at the Kabul airport on Thursday, protesting continued delays in restoring oversight powers stripped by parliament last month. Pakistani Finance Minister Dar rejected opposition criticism of the government’s recent general sale tax hikes, prompting more boycott threats.
Pakistan — Security
- Peshawar Mosque Attacked: At least nineteen people have been killed and more than fifty wounded in an attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar’s Hayatabad neighborhood on Friday. As many as three suicide bombers are reported to have carried out the attack, at least one of whom detonated his vest; a spokesman for the main Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan core group claimed responsibility, saying that it was carried out in revenge for the death sentence of one of their former members, Dr Usman, last month. Several Shia religious and political coalitions have called for a three-day mourning period in the wake of the attack. The incident follows an attack on a Shia mosque in Shikarpur two weeks prior. [Reuters] [WAPO]
- Peshawar School Attack Aftermath: Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the military’s chief spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said that nine out of 27 terrorists identified as having been responsible for the December attack on the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar had been killed, and twelve arrested. Bajwa credited Afghanistan for the arrest of six of those suspects. He also confirmed that most of the attackers were Pakistani nationals, and said that the death or capture of TTP chief Maulana Fazlullah from his suspected hideout in Afghanistan is Pakistan’s “number one demand”. [AP] [BBC] [WAPO]
- Lakvhi Denied Bail: On Friday, a judge rejected a bail request by Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi in a case related to the kidnapping of a man six years prior, which was filed against him after he received bail in the 2008 Mumbai attacks case last December. Lakhvi’s lawyer maintains that the kidnapping case against him is false.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Supreme Court to Hear Cases on ‘Basic Constitutional Structure’: On Thursday, the Supreme Court decided to shift a challenge against the 21st Amendment to the Pakistani constitution, which established special military courts to hear terrorism cases, and combine it with a four-year pending challenge against the 18th Amendment, which devolved many federal powers to the province. The court will now hold a full 17-judge hearing on whether or not Pakistan’s constitution has a “basic structure” that cannot be changed through parliamentary amendments. The Lahore High Court Bar Association, which brought the challenge against the 21st Amendment, objected to the shift, but was overruled by the court; the attorney general of Pakistan has yet to file a response to the original LHCBA challenge. Hearings will resume Feb 24. [ET]
- Senate Elections: The PTI announced ten nominees for senate elections from Khyber Paktunkhwa on Friday. The PML-Q’s party leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, whose term in the senate is expiring, will not seek relection and the party will instead back PPP candidates in senate elections from Punjab. Nomination filings began in Sindh on Friday, with filings made by the PPP, MQM, and PML-F. On Friday, Dr Asif Kirmani, an advisor to Prime Minister Sharif, withdrew his candidacy as a PML-N senator, apparently due to civil service rules that might bar him from contesting; Dawn cites “rumours that the Sharifs are to field a new person on the recommendation of a friendly country”, without elaborating. The PML-N also withdrew the candidacy of Kiran Dar on a reserved seat for women and replaced her with Ayesha Raza Farooq, currently a member of the national assembly. [Dawn] [Dawn]
- Obama Call: Pres. Obama and Prime Minister Sharif spoke by phone on Thursday on bilateral and regional issues, during which Obama discussed his recent visit to India and “welcomed the improved relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan”. The prime minister’s office reported that Sharif pressed for inclusion into the Nuclear Supplier’s Group and objected to the addition of India to the UN Security Council’s permanent membership.
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Tax Hike Debate: During remarks in the national assembly on Thursday, Finance Minister Dar rejected opposition criticism for the government’s recent hike of the general sales tax through statutory order rather than through parliament, a measure he said was needed to overcome revenue shortfalls, which have reached Rs 196 billion. Parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah said that opposition groups would resume their boycott after Dar’s remarks.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Starved for Energy, Pakistan Braces for a Water Crisis [NYT]
- Musharraf Acknowledges Backing Afghan Proxies, Calls for End to the Policy [Guardian] [AFP]
- Airstrikes in Tirah Valley Kill Seven [Dawn]
- Rival Zulfiqar Mirza and Zardari Supporters Clash in Badin [Dawn]
- Prime Minister Touts China Relations [Dawn] [ET]
- Government Seeks Power from the Same Rental Plants it Went to Court Against [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Drawdown Debate: Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Gen. John Campbell, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that he had presented a range of options on the pace of troop withdrawals through 2015; the roughly 10,000-strong U.S. presence is due to cut by half at the end of the year. Senators from both parties backed adjustments to the drawdown plan, although Campbell indicated that an increased troop presence was not under consideration. [TOLO]
- Special Operations: The NYT reports that Abu Bara al-Kuwaiti, an Al Qaeda official who acted as a “general manager” to the organization, was killed in a joint operation with the Afghan National Directorate of Security last October, and that the seizure of a large trove of records he possessed has facilitated continuing joint strikes with the NDS’ commando unit on other targets throughout the months since. The report also notes that American special operations forces continue to play direct combat roles, as Gen. Campbell has “interpreted his mandate to directly target Afghan insurgents who pose an immediate threat to coalition troops or are plotting attacks against them”. That rationale was applied to a recent strike on Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Taliban commander who recently split with the group and announced an affiliation with ISIS.
- Taliban Operations: The Post has a long report on the Taliban’s spread to Badakshan province, where it has never successfully established a presence before, accomplished in part through successfully recruiting outside its traditional Pashtun core, and through greater autonomy that has led them to modify tactics used elsewhere.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Provincial Council Oversight: Representatives from provincial councils around the country blocked the entrance to the Kabul airport for several hours on Thursday to protest continued delays in reaching an agreement with the Independent Directorate of Local Governance on steps to restore oversight powers that were stripped from the councils in a parliamentary vote last month.
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- TAPI Talks: During continuing talks in Islamabad on Friday, representatives from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan set a goal of completing the prospective TAPI gas pipeline by October 2019. After disagreement on the choice of contractors to build the pipeline, the group will now meet again in Turkmenistan on March 15 to make a selection.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Taliban Spread to Badakshan, Becoming More Complex [WA
- Ministry of Defense Fuel Contractor Under Scrutiny Reactivates Supply [TOLO]
- Minister of Public Health Says 21% of International Donations Go to Advisor Salaries [TOLO]
- US Must Learn from Waste or Risk Squandering More, SIGAR Warns [Reuters]
- Breshna Company Raises Electricity Prices in Twenty Provinces [TOLO]
- Customs Duties on Cardboard to be Raised to Spur Domestic Production [TOLO]
- Commentary: The President’s Decree: Managing Rather Than Executive Powers – “The matter of how power is shared between the president and CEO connects to a larger struggle about the shape of the Afghan political system and possible changes, away from the current set-up dominated by the president to a (more) parliamentary system.” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]