- During meetings with Afghan officials earlier this week, senior Pakistani military officials reportedly conveyed a message that they were putting pressure on the Afghan Taliban to engage with the government in peace negotiations, and that talks could begin in March. Anonymous Taliban sources told Reuters that talks with U.S. representatives in Qatar could begin as early as today, although a Taliban spokesman subsequently denied that account. A Shia mosque in Rawalpindi was attacked by a Jundullah suicide bomber on Wednesday, the fourth major attack on the Shia community so far this year; at least three people were killed. Spokesmen for Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah suggested that they were near agreement on the creation of a special electoral reforms commission and that it might be formed within the next week. Pakistan is nearing agreement on LNG import from Qatar, estimated to cost $1.5 billion annually and help fuel as much as a quarter of the country’s electricity generation.
Pakistan — Security
- Rawalpindi Mosque Attacked: At least three people were killed and several more injured in critical condition when a suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque in Rawalpindi on Wednesday. The attack is the fourth major attack targeting members of the Shia minority since the start of the year. The TTP splinter group Jundullah claimed responsibility. [Reuters] [Dawn]
- Counterterrorism Response: During a meeting of the Balochistan provincial apex committee on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sharif called on the provinces to “ensure implementation on the tough decisions to make [the National Action Plan] a success”. The prime minister and Chief of Army Staff Sharif later attended a graduation ceremony for the first batch of the new Quetta Anti-Terrorism Force on Thursday, and met with leaders of the Bugti tribe. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan spoke in Washington at the US Institute of Peace on Wednesday, concluding that the Peshawar school attack had united the country in support of a crackdown on terrorism in all forms. Chaudhry Nisar acknowledged “vague policies” in the past on the range of militant groups operating in the country but insisted that “the commitment is to treat everybody alike, and there will be improvement in this area, sooner rather than later.” Survivors of the attack on a Shia mosque in Shikarpur on January 30 held a sit-in on Wednesday to demand action by the government and the military; on Thursday, the Sindh government announced that the case would be tried in special military courts, leading demonstrators to call off their protest. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Senate Elections: Dawn estimates that the PML-N and PPP are likely to achieve almost equal representation in the Senate following elections scheduled for March 5, with control over the body’s leadership positions coming down to alliances with smaller parties. The Nation reports that the two parties have not reached an agreement on the PPP’s retention of the senate chairmanship. [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
- Election Complaints: On Thursday, the Election Commission formally sought response from PTI leaders Imran Khan and Jahangir Tareen against a complaint by former PTI vice president Akbar Babar, who filed a petition in November charging the party’s leadership with mismanaging party finances.
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Gas Deal: In a WSJ interview, petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi says that Pakistan is close to agreement with Qatar on a 15-year import agreement for liquefied natural gas, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion annually. The agreement would be Pakistan’s first-ever natural gas import deal; Pakistan is looking to import 3 million tons of LNG annually beginning this year, enough to supply roughly a quarter of the country’s current electricity generation.
- Polio Crisis: Two polio cases were recorded in Khyber Paktunkhwa and FATA on Wednesday, bringing the total new cases so far this year to nine. [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- 18 Detainees Charged as ‘Proven Militants’ [ET]
- Lahore High Court Hears Petition to Release Model Town Judicial Inquiry Report [Dawn]
- Opposition Alleges ‘Pre-Poll Rigging’ in Gilgit-Baltistan [Dawn] [ET]
- Karachi Electric Refutes Minister’s Account of Dues [ET]
- Gas Supply to Punjab Textile Industry Partially Restored [ET]
Afghanistan — Security
- Attacks: A policeman and three civilians were killed and another eight people wounded in a suicide bombing attack in Kandahar’s Spin Boldak district on Thursday; the Taliban claimed responsibility for the incident. Separately, the Logar provincial police chief speculates in a TOLO interview that the attack on police headquarters there on Tuesday may have had inside help. [Khaama Press]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Taliban Talks: During meetings in Kabul earlier this week, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif is reported to have conveyed a message to Afghan officials that the Taliban are “amenable to negotiations” with the Afghan government within the next month. Pakistani officials reportedly said that they had warned the Taliban that if they did not participate in talks, “they will be driven from their sanctuaries”. The NYT’s account notes the Ghani administration’s efforts to repair relations with Pakistan and secure their support for such an initiative, and the criticism he has faced for such efforts. Senior Afghan officials confirm to the WSJ that “there will be face-to-face negotiations in the next three to four weeks” and emphasize that they will be held publicly; an anonymous Pakistani security source says that the Taliban have yet to fully agree to the negotiation call, however. An anonymous Taliban source tells Reuters that their representatives may hold talks with U.S. officials in Qatar as early as today and Friday; an Afghan diplomatic source said that the final decision on participating in talks still lay with Mullah Omar. In a statement on Thursday to Reuters, the Taliban’s lead spokesman denied the previous reports. [AJE] [Pajhwok] [TOLO]
- Electoral Reforms: Spokesmen for the president and chief executive indicated Wednesday that an agreement was near agreement on the appointment of a special commission to consider electoral reforms; the spokesman for Ghani suggested that the commission could be formed within the next week.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Awash in Opium, Farah Slips from Kabul’s Grasp [Reuters]
- Herat Residents Protest Electricity Rate Hikes [TOLO]
- Commentary: Afghanistan’s Team of Rivals – “Whether the power-sharing agreement will last depends in part on how the two men harness the negative forces around them.” [Mujib Mashal, Al Jazeera]