Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Indian Foreign Secretary to Visit; Reports Link Ghazni Governor and Daesh Spokesman

Topline

  • India’s new foreign secretary will visit Pakistan as part of a tour of SAARC neighbors, India confirmed on Friday; cross-border exchanges of fire continue along the Line of Control in Kashmir, with one man killed on the Pakistani side on Saturday. Shia groups held protests in the wake of the attack on a mosque in Peshawar on Friday; on Sunday, security forces reported that they had killed a Balochistan Lashkar-e-Jhangvi commander, Usman Saifullah, in a raid in Quetta, who had been linked to a previous attack on a Shia mosque in Shikarpur. Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif chaired a provincial apex committee meeting to review security in Sindh on Monday. Sketchy reports in the Afghan press indicate that a recently-detained spokesman for a Daesh group has some links to the acting Ghazni provincial governor. Afghan special forces conducted their first independent operations in Helmand’s Sangin district on Sunday. The Election Commission of Pakistan began scrutiny of senate candidate filings on Saturday. Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf criticized the national unity government for failing to include mujahedeen representatives during remarks commemorating the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. A member of a polio vaccination team was killed in the Khyber Agency on Saturday; a team of vaccinators has gone missing in Zhob district, and are feared to have been kidnapped. The next TAPI conference will take place in Kabul in roughly two months.

Pakistan — Security

  • Peshawar Mosque Attack Aftermath: A coalition of Shia parties, including the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen, the Shia Ulema Council, and the Jaffria Alliance, held protest rallies in Karachi, Islamabad, and other parts of the country on Friday in the aftermath of the TTP attack on a mosque in Peshawar’s Hayatabad neighborhood. The death toll from that attack has risen to 22. Protests continued on Saturday, with some Shia leaders calling for the army to take control of the city after the provincial government had failed to provide security. Police charges were filed against Umar Mansoor, aka Umar Naray (who holds a number of additional aliases), whose branch of the TTP was also implicated in the December attack on the Peshawar Army Public School. [Dawn]
  • Shikarpur Mosque Attack Aftermath: On Sunday, security forces reportedly located and killed Usman Saifullah in a raid on a hotel in Quetta; Saifullah is a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi commander linked to the attack on a Shia mosque in Shikarpur on Jan 30. That attack had initially been claimed by the militant splinter group Jundullah. Survivors and family members of the victims of that attack began a protest march from Shikarpur to Karachi, which will culminate with a protest outside the Chief Minister’s house on Tuesday. [AJE] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Other Counterterrorism Response: Prime Minister Sharif met with a newspaper editors’ association on Saturday, urging them to support the government in its efforts; on Monday, the prime minister and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif presided over the Sindh provincial apex committee charged with implementing the National Action Plan, reviewing operations in Karachi and the rest of the province. In Khyber Paktunkhwa, army security for prisons is reportedly likely to be withdrawn in the unspecified near future. At a briefing session for the prime minister on Friday, officials reported that they had made nearly 12,500 arrests and seized Rs 71 million in terrorism financing since the National Action Plan against terrorism was launched in early January; sources tell the Express Tribune that around 600 of those arrested are “hardcore terrorists”, roughly half affiliated with the TTP. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will visit Washington for meetings with U.S. officials this week, and to attend a White House-hosted international summit on counterterrorism. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • ASWJ Attacked: On Saturday, Aurangzeb Farooqi, the central president of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat Sunni sectarian party, was attacked by unidentified gunmen in Karachi; three of his bodyguards were injured. On Sunday, Maulana Mazhar Siddiqui, the ASWJ’s Rawalpindi spokesman, was killed in a separate attack. The ASWJ held a protest in Karachi on Sunday following the attack on Farooqi, attributing the attack to the withdrawal of police security protocol for him after protests earlier this month by civil society activities; they in turn accused the ASWJ of staging the incident. [Dawn]
  • FATA Operations: Minister for State and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch told Dawn on Sunday that Operation Zarb-e-Azb will likely be completed by the end of the year, and will be followed by a “mini-Marshall Plan”; on Saturday, President Hussain approved the extension of special economic zones to the FATA to incentivize development.
  • Balochistan Chief Justice Targeted: Noor Muhammad Maskanzai, who was appointed chief justice of the Balochistan High Court in December, survived a roadside bombing while traveling near Noshki on Saturday. No claim of responsibility has been reported.
  • JF-17 Engines to Be Imported from Russia: The Express Tribune reported Sunday that China has agreed to allow Pakistan to import jet engines for use in the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, a joint venture between Pakistan and China, directly from Russia. Pakistan and Russia signed a defense cooperation agreement in November.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Indian Foreign Secretary to Visit: S. Jaishankar, India’s recently-appointed foreign secretary, will visit Pakistan as part of a tour of all neighboring SAARC states, India’s foreign ministry announced Friday; no date has yet been announced. The visit follows India’s cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks last August after meetings by Pakistani officials with Kashmiri separatist leaders. Meanwhile, Pakistani military spokesmen accused India of “unprovoked firing” along the Line of Control on Saturday, which they said killed one man. On Sunday, Pakistan freed 172 Indian fishermen held in Karachi on charges of violating Pakistan’s territorial waters; 349 remain in custody. Cross-Line of Control bus travel and trade resumed on Monday after being temporarily halted following the detention of a Pakistani truck driver charged with drug smuggling. The two nations met at the cricket World Cup in Australia on Sunday; India defeated Pakistan by 76 runs. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Elections: The deadline for candidate filing for the March senate elections concluded on Friday; the Election Commission began reviewing the filings on Saturday, scrutinizing the nominees for disqualifying factors. The opposition PPP is expected to lose its plurality in the senate but is, The Nation reports, seeking to negotiate control of the senate chairmanship in exchange for cooperation against the PTI and support for PML-N legislative efforts. The PML-N expects to pick up as many as 21 senate seats. Separately, Imran Khan filed additional petitions on Saturday challenging the investigation into rigging charges in the NA-122 Lahore constituency. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Seminaries Under Scrutiny: Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Punjab home minister Shuja Khanzada estimated that half of Punjab’s 12,000 madrassas are unregistered, although he said that roughly 2,000 had been registered in recent days as part of the National Action Plan efforts to increase surveillance on seminaries. The Wafaqul Madaris al Arabia, the board overseeing Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan and the largest of Pakistan’s five madrassa networks, has protested the government’s proposals to bar foreign students from enrolling in Pakistani seminaries; a meeting with government officials to discuss the policy will take place Feb 18.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Taxes Revenues: On Friday, the Federal Board of Revenue hiked withholding tax rates for individuals who fail to file income tax returns and on a variety of professional categories, the last major component of a package of tax increases implemented over the past week, over the objections of the opposition. Sales tax increase on luxury imports, petroleum products, and furnace oil imports had already been notified. At the same time, the government modified the conditions on which it would apply sales taxes to “first tier” retailers, no longer applying that classification to retailers that process debit or credit cards. [Dawn]
  • Polio Crisis: A driver for a polio vaccination team was killed by unidentified gunmen in the Khyber Agency on Saturday; one vaccinator was injured. On Friday, a four-member team returning from a vaccination campaign in Balochistan’s Zhob district went missing, raising fears that they had been kidnapped. A vaccination drive began in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Monday; a campaign in Quetta has been postponed as security has been redirected to guard the prime minister during a visit. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Economic Corridor Infrastructure: Trade associations in Quetta held a strike on Friday to protest alterations to the route of the prospective Pakistan-China Economic Corridor that opponents say will marginalize minority communities; government officials insist that the route will be unchanged but acknowledge that portions using the Punjab and Sindh road network will be prioritized first. Meanwhile, the managing director for the Gwadar Port Authority tells the Express Tribune that the facility aims to be fully operational by mid-April.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Pushes For Split Ownership on Oil and Gas [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan to Push Back on Criticisms at UN Counter-Money Laundering Forum [ET]
  • Pakistani-US Citizen Pleads Guilty in US Court to Support for 2009 Attack on ISI Headquarters [Reuters] [Dawn]
  • Special Prosecutor Resigns in Baldia Fire Case [ET]
  • 15 Militants Killed in Kurram Checkpost Attack [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • One Man Killed By Iranian Border Guards in Kech [Dawn]
  • Turkish PM to Visit Islamabad Tuesday [Dawn] [ET]
  • PPP Dissidents Visit London to Meet with Bilalwal [ET]
  • National Commission on Human Rights Established [Dawn]
  • National Accountability Bureau Appeals Dismissal of Sharif Corruption Cases [Dawn] [ET]
  • Minister Chaudhry Barjees Tahir Appointed Gilgit-Baltistan Governor [ET] [ET]
  • Tariffs Under Consideration for LNG Electricity [ET] [ET]
  • Finance Ministry Resists Latest Pakistan Steel Mill Bailout Request [ET] [ET]
  • Sindh High Court Rules Former Pres. Musharraf Ineligible for Parliament [Dawn]
  • Jamaat-e-Islami Leads Overhaul of Khyber Paktunkhwa Textbooks [WAPO]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Government Advisor Linked to Daesh: National Directorate of Security officials told TOLO on Friday that Abdul Qadir Wahidi, also known as Abu Ibrahim Khursasani, had been sentenced to 15 years in prison after being detained in Kabul two months prior, on charges of acting as a spokesman for an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (aka Daesh) group in Afghanistan. Wahidi had also reportedly served as an advisor to Ghazni acting governor Mohmmad Musa Akbarzada, and has claimed to have shared a 20% cut on unspecified provincial projects with the governor. Akbarzada denies that Wahidi held any official position in the provincial government, or that he was linked to Daesh, but says he was linked to land theft disputes. A TOLO report on Sunday said that Wahidi had only been arrested the week prior, and quotes him, apparently from prison, saying that “I am not part of organized crime, but the injustice and opportunities used by the Ghazni governor and his companions forced me to go on the mountains to pick up a gun again”.
  • Attacks and Operations: On Sunday, Ministry of Defense officials announced that they had begun the first independent special operation by ANSF forces, targeting Taliban militants in the Sangin district in Helmand. Kandahar provincial spokesmen announced Friday that Sheirin Agha, a member of the national High Peace Council, had been killed the day prior in an attack at a mosque; no claim of responsibility by the Taliban was reported. On Saturday, a group of Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpost in Sar-e-Pol, destroying the building; no casualties were reported. On Sunday, Angiza Shinwari, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council and former journalist, succumbed to injuries suffered when a bomb planted in her vehicle exploded last Tuesday. In a TOLO interview, the provincial police chief for Wardak province reports a 95% drop in attacks over the past eight months, particularly along the Kabul-Kandahar highway; police officers complain that their salaries have been cut as a result. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Government Formation: In a speech on Sunday marking the 26th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf criticized the national unity government for marginalizing mujahedeen veterans, echoing criticism by former Herat strongman Ismail Khan. Separately, a spokesman for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance tells Khaama Press that new provincial governors would be appointed “pretty soon”.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • TAPI Negotiations: A spokesman for the Ministry of Mines said that Kabul would host the next summit-level session to discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline within two months. The Pakistani press had reported last week that Turkmenistan would make a decision on a contractor for the project – after earlier disagreements over the construction of the portion of the pipeline passing through its territory – in March. [TOLO] [ET]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Minister of Mines Demands Action on Illegal Mining [TOLO]
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