Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: PM and COAS Chair Quetta Apex Committee; Afghan Civilian Casualties at Record High

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Sharif presided over another provincial apex committee meeting on Wednesday, this time in Quetta. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, meanwhile, has ordered increased security measures in the wake of yesterday’s attack on the Lahore police headquarters. The UN released its annual report documenting civilian casualties in Afghanistan for 2014, finding an overall; 22% increase over the previous record high last year, and a notable spike in casualties from ground battles, which for the first time comprised the largest source of casualties. Afghan military officials suggested that they were closing in on TTP commanders based in eastern Afghanistan during talks with visiting senior Pakistani military officials yesterday. The Deputy Inspector General of the Indian Coast Guard was quoted suggesting that Indian forces blew up a Pakistani boat on New Year’s Eve that officials had suggested was carrying terrorists; he denies that account. The Afghan Ministry of Communications and Information Technology blamed “nefarious circles” for delaying the implementation of a national ID card plan; staffers say they are not being paid salaries as they await presidential approval of the card distribution plan. Visiting Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu said yesterday that Pakistan and Turkey would sign a free trade agreement by June, with the goal of boosting annual trade to $5 billion within three years.

Pakistan — Security

  • Counterterrorism Response: A preliminary investigation report was delivered to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on yesterday’s attack on the Lahore police headquarters, concluding that the attack was the work of a suicide bombing team intending to strike a police van or senior official; the bomber detonated prematurely outside the building. Sharif held a meeting to review provincial law and order on Tuesday, pledging compensation for those affected and directing local district administration and police officials to tighten security. He also reportedly called for the establishment of ‘Amn (Peace) Committees’ at the provincial, district, and tehsil levels, who “in collaboration with locals and police, will look after security arrangements in their jurisdictions,” including monitoring mosque security arrangements, according to an official present. Meanwhile, on Wednesday Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif presided over another provincial apex committee meeting, their second this week, in Quetta. Separately, Imran Khan reiterated a call for the federal government to redeploy Frontier Corps troops to guard the Khyber Paktunkhwa-FATA border, which he maintained had been spread thin across the country. [Dawn]
  • Conflicting Reports on Exploding Pakistani Boat: The Indian Express quoted the Deputy Inspector General of the Indian Coast Guard, BK Loshali, in a report on Wednesday in which he appears to have admitted to having blown up a Pakistani boat in the Arabian Sea on New Years Eve; at the time, Indian officials had suggested that the occupants were terrorists linked to Pakistan. In a subsequent statement on Wednesday, Loshali denied the Indian Express account of his remarks; the Indian Defense Ministry has said it would conduct an inquiry but that “we stand by what we said on the facts of the case…The issue is closed.” [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: The PPP and PML-N are both seeking the senate chairman’s seat but are open to negotiations over a “mutually acceptable agreement” that can limit the influence of smaller parties, the Express Tribune reports. The PML-N, meanwhile, faces internal dissent over its choice of senate tickets, and is reportedly seeking the withdrawal of some PPP challengers in Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa so as to not leave disgruntled party members the option to throw their votes to another party.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Turkish Trade Deal: Visiting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a Pakistani business audience on Tuesday that the two countries would sign a Free Trade Agreement in June, with the goal of boosting bilateral trade from $650 million annually to $5 billion within three years and $10 billion afterwards. [ET]
  • Energy Crisis: Minister of state for water and power Abid Sher Ali told reporters on Tuesday that the government would not renew its contract with the K-Electric electricity distribution company, deflecting charges from the company that the government had cut its gas supplies and associated generation capacity and noting that it owed roughly Rs 91 billion to government entities. Separately on Tuesday, the National Electric Power Regulatory authority cut electricity tariff rates for all state-run distribution companies, effective in March. Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court heard a petition from former Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority chairman Saeed Ahmed Khan, who has challenged his dismissal in the wake of last month’s petroleum crisis. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Kidnapped PCTL Employees Rescued in Zhob [ET]
  • Zulfiqar Mirza to Be Removed from PPP Central Executive Committee After Clash with Zardari [ET]
  • ANP Hosts Conference to Resist Changes to Pakistan-China Corridor Route [Dawn] [ET]
  • Jamaat-e-Islami Hosts Conference to Call for ‘Worldwide Movement’ Against Blasphemy [Dawn]
  • Sindh JUI-F Calls for Action in Baldia Fire Case [Dawn]
  • Gilgit-Baltistan Independent Government Denies Delaying Election Funds [ET] [ET]
  • Rival PTI and PPP Groups Clash at Rawalpindi Hospital [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties at Record High: The UN released its annual report documenting civilian casualties in Afghanistan for the year 2014 on Wednesday, finding that last year was the deadliest for civilians since the organization began tracking casualties in 2009, surpassing more than 10,000 and up 22% from the previous record in 2013. In total 3,699 deaths and 6,849 injuries were reported. In a shift from the past, face-to-face ground battles killed or injured more civilians than bombings, increasing by 54% to account for 34% of total casualties; the insurgency was judged to be responsible for roughly 43% of casualties in ground engagements, the government and allies 26%, and the remainder unclear. In total, the insurgency was blamed for roughly 72% of all casualties, on par with previous years. Casualties associated with international military forces declined 43% as withdrawals continued; cross-border artillery fire from Pakistan accounted for around 1% of all civilian casualties. [WAPO] [BBC] [Guardian] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Pakistani Military Officials Visit: During meetings with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah on Tuesday, visiting Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif pledged support for Afghan security, saying that “Afghanistan’s enemy is also Pakistan’s enemy”. Both sides pledged support to each other “in their fight against terrorism and vowed to restrict the use of their soil against each other”, according to a Pakistani military press statement. Afghan security officials reportedly told the military delegation that they were “tightening the noose” on Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commanders based on their side of the border. Back in Rawalpindi on Wednesday, Sharif met with a U.S. Congressional delegation, where discussions focused on cross0border security cooperation. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Iranian Vice President Visits: Iranian Vice President Muhammad Shariyat Madari visited Kabul early this week, meeting with Pres. Ghani on Monday and Chief Executive Abdullah on Tuesday, pledging economic and security cooperation with Afghanistan.
  • ID Card Plan Stalled: Employees of the national Electronic ID Card Office, a unit of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, tell TOLO that they are not being paid their salaries as the distribution plan for the cards has stalled, awaiting presidential direction. A spokesman for the ministry blamed unspecified “nefarious circles” inside and outside the country for the delay.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Immigrants Being Pushed Out of Pakistan [Reuters]
  • Female School Attendance Rises 3% [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Electoral Reform, or Who Will Control Afghanistan’s Next Election? – “Although everyone is talking about ‘reform’, the wrangling really boils down to a struggle for control of the electoral bodies and, ultimately, the outcome of upcoming elections.” [Martine van Bijlert, AAN]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan: Still a Man’s World? – “Activists are deeply worried about what this first broken promise says about Ghani and Abdullah’s commitment to women’s rights.” [Heather Barr, Foreign Policy]
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