Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Maneuvering Increases Ahead of Senate Elections; Afghan Winter Weather Death Toll Rises

Topline

  • The PPP and JUI-F appear to have blocked Prime Minister Sharif’s proposal to introduce a constitutional amendment calling for open balloting in Senate elections and are now moving towards an alliance of their own that may see the PPP’s candidate for senate chairman elected. The death toll from avalanches and other winter weather-related disasters across Afghanistan has surpassed 300 people as of Monday, according to a statement by Chief Executive Abdullah; rescue efforts are still ongoing in Panjshir, the worst-hit province. Pakistani security services have reportedly detained the leader of the anti-Iranian group Jaish al Adl in Balochistan. Pakistan and Indian border forces exchanged fire on Friday, leaving one Pakistani civilian injured. The head of the Zabul provincial council survived a roadside bombing on Saturday, which he accused the provincial police chief of being responsible for. Lawyers for Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi continue to challenge his detention; more hearings are scheduled for later this week. Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah will visit Washington in late March for talks with U.S. officials. Western officials expressed concerns to the WSJ over the Afghan government’s plans to assume control over the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, which pays police salaries. Protests against changes to the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor route continued in Balochistan and the Pakistani senate; an anonymous Chinese official told reporters on Sunday that the route was not being changed and that debate “should come to an end”. Pakistan left petroleum prices unchanged in March and lowered sales taxes on all petroleum products except diesel, which was raised.

Pakistan — Security

  • Jaish al-Adl Leader Arrested: Reports suggest that Pakistani security forces arrested Abdul Salam Rigi, the leader of the Sunni sectarian and anti-Iran militant group Jaish al-Adl, as he was traveling by bus on the outskirts of Quetta on Saturday. Other accounts are less clear on the arrested man’s identity, however, with some officials suggesting that his identity and affiliation has yet to be confirmed. Rigi is the cousin of Abdul Malik Rigi, the former leader of the group Jundullah, to which Jaish al-Adl is a successor; who was hanged by Iran in 2010 after he was detained with assistance from Pakistan. [Reuters]
  • Indian Border Tensions: Pakistani officials accused Indian border forces of “sudden, unprovoked” small arms fire across the Line of Control in the Kotli district on Friday, which injured a teenage girl. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif visited the Iman Sahib area on Sunday, condemning Indian cross-border shelling and vowing that Pakistan “would not compromise on its sovereignty”. Despite the tough rhetoric, anonymous sources tell the Express Tribune that Pakistan will offer new confidence-building measures during meetings with visiting Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar on March 3, in a bid to restore the 2003 ceasefire agreement. [ET] [Dawn]
  • Pakistan Cleared by Financial Action Task Force: On Friday, the international Financial Action Task Force removed Pakistan from its grey list of countries lacking effective anti-money laundering and terrorism financing controls, after placing it on the list in February 2012.
  • Afghan Police Attacked: Two Afghan police officers traveling from Helmand to Quetta for medical treatment were shot and killed by unidentified gunmen at the Chaman border crossing on Sunday. No claim of responsibility has been reported. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: At least a dozen security personnel were wounded in a roadside bombing in South Waziristan on Saturday. Separately, the assistant political agent of South Waziristan, Nawab Safi, announced Saturday that displaced residents would begin repatriating to the Sarwakai and Sararogha tehsils starting March 16.
  • Mumbai Attacks Prosecution: Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi did not attend court hearings on Saturday where he was due to be indicted in a new case of alleged kidnapping, filed by police after he was granted bail in the Mumbai attacks case in January. Proceedings will now be held at the Adiala Jail on March 7. The BBC reports that Lakvhi lives under relatively little control at the facility. On Monday, the Islamabad High Court heard separate arguments from Lakhvi’s lawyers against his detention under a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Senate Elections: A conference of senior political leaders on Friday called by Prime Minister Sharif failed to reach an agreement on a constitutional amendment to hold Senate elections through open ballot in the provincial assemblies; PPP and JUI-F leaders were opposed to the measure, suggesting that it should first be passed through the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms. The PTI has been a strong proponent of the move; Imran Khan reportedly offered for the party’s national assembly members to return to parliament, ending a six month-long boycott, in order to vote in support of the amendment. Dawn notes continued pressure in the party to return to the assembly. The MQM has backed the proposed constitutional amendment although on Saturday party leader Altaf Hussain called for a Supreme Court commission to establish a voting process. On Saturday, four senate candidates were elected unopposed on reserved seats from Sindh, after the MQM and PPP finalized their seat allocation formula. The 48 senate seats remaining under contest will be elected by the provincial assemblies on March 5; 131 candidates in total were cleared to run, including the four elected unopposed. The PPP and JUI-F reportedly rejected a nation-wide seat adjustment formula with the PML-N, despite the PML-N’s withdrawal of its sole candidate in Sindh on Friday and an agreement on Friday for an alliance between the JUI-F and PML-N in the Balochistan senate vote. After meetings between former Pres. Zardari and Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Sunday, the PPP and JUI-F have reportedly reached an agreement to back the PPP’s choice for senate chairman and deputy chairman. Zardari also reportedly sought PTI support for the PPP’s sole candidate from Punjab; Imran Khan instead accused the PPP of “horse-trading” on Monday. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Madrassa Leaders Push Back: On Sunday, the Ittehadul Tanzeemat-i-Madaris coalition of religious schools met at the Jamaat-e-Islami’s headquarters, announcing their opposition to government “harassment” of mosque leaders and to government efforts to institute tighter controls over madarass registration and curriculum. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Crisis: Khyber Paktunkhwa police officials tell the NYT that they have begun issuing arrest warrants for parents who refuse to accept vaccinations for their children, estimating that there were between 13,000-16,000 of such cases, although the exact number of arrests applied is unclear. A vaccination campaign planned for the Quetta, Zhob, and Shirani districts was postponed on Monday due to a shortage of security teams. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Economic Corridor Route: Opposition senators conducted another walkout on Friday to protest what they said was the diversion of the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor route outside minority areas. The Balochistan assembly unanimously passed a resolution on Saturday calling for the route to pass through provincial centers, which Chief Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch pledged to communicate to the federal government. An anonymous Chinese official told reporters on Sunday that the route was not being changed and that “debate on the alignment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will only create divergence between different regions and parties in Pakistan… it is not conducive to the unity and development of Pakistan and should come to an end for the country’s fundamental interest.” [Dawn]
  • Energy Crisis: On Friday, Finance Minister Dar announced on behalf of the prime minister that the government would not follow the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority’s recommendation for price increases on most petroleum products for the month of March, leaving prices unchanged. Dar announced that sales taxes on diesel would be increased from 27 to 36%, but that taxes on other petroleum products would be reduced from 27 to 18%. Separately, Dawn reports that Pakistan State Oil is still struggling to maintain a steady shipment of fuel oil imports, with the latest import shipment delayed until later this week. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Tax Revenues: The Federal Board of Revenue’s tax collection figures for February fell Rs 28 billion short of target for the month of February, despite posting a 11.5% year-on-year increase after the government introduced tax hikes on petroleum products, imports, and withholding taxes.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Prime Minister Sharif to Visit Saudi Arabia March 4 [Dawn] [ET]
  • ISI Chief Completes US Visit [Dawn]
  • No Action on Asghar Khan Verdict as Supreme Court Takes Up Review [ET]
  • Malik Ishaq Remains Under Detention [Newsweek Pakistan]
  • TNSM Leader Sufi Mohammad Seeks Transfer of Case to Regular Courts [ET]
  • Two Linked to Shikarpur Mosque Attack Arrested [ET] [ET]
  • ASWJ Prayer Leader Killed in Karachi Shooting [ET]
  • Three Lahore High Court Judges Denied Extension [ET]
  • Supreme Court Orders Investigation into Sindh Police Extrajudicial Killings [ET]
  • 2013 Election Tribunals’ Operations Extended Further [ET]
  • Supreme Court Considers Contempt of Court Petition on Local Elections Rulings [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan Telecommunications Authority Seeks to Register SIMs, Block Afghan Signals [ET] [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Seeks Foreign investment [Dawn]
  • Parliamentarians to Receive Money Rather than Air Tickets for Travel [Dawn]
  • Senate Investigates Perks for Former Chief Justice [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Police Funding and Training: On Monday, Anonymous Western diplomats express concern to the WSJ over the Afghan government’s plan to phase out the UN Development Program’s administration of the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, established to pay police salaries, and say they want to ensure that there are no interruptions in payments and that international oversight over the disbursal of funds continues. Pres. Ghani has set a six-month deadline for ending UNDP management of LOTFA. A separate NYT piece examines the tensions between internationally-backed efforts to recruit and train Afghan policewomen, and the social stigmas, resource shortages, and harassment and abuse from male peers that female police officers have faced. Meanwhile, on Monday Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi announced the replacement of 27 high-ranking police officers, including the female commander of the 1st Police Distirct.
  • Attacks and Operations: The acting governor of Sar-e-Pul, Abdul Jabbar Haqbeen, announced on Friday that a joint security operation was being launched in the province, targeting Taliban groups. A suicide bombing attack on a member of parliament, Faraidoon Mohmand, killed two children and wounded thirteen other bystanders in Nangarhar’s Kama district on Friday; the MP was unhurt. On Monday, two roadside bombings in Nangarhar, one in Jalalabad and the other in the Achin district, killed at least eight civilians and wounded three others. On Saturday, Atta Jan Haqbayan, the head of the Zabul provincial council, survived a roadside bombing while en route to the Shah Joy district, where he was seeking to negotiate the release of 30 Hazara men kidnapped last week; no claim of responsibility has been reported for the attack or the kidnapping, although local officials have blamed a whole slew of militant groups. Haqbayan accused provincial police chief Ghulam Sakhil Rogh Lewanay of responsibility for the bombing attack, suggesting it was linked to accusations of corruption he had made against the police chief; Lewanay denied any responsibility. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Afghan Leaders to Visit Washington: Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah will visit Washington in late March, meeting with Pres. Obama, attending a strategic dialogue at Camp David hosted by Sec. Kerry, and addressing a joint session of Congress. [TOLO]
  • Pakistan Relations: Prime Minister Sharif met with Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Janan Mosazai, on Monday, highlighting signs of increased cooperation between the two countries. Officials report that the two countries are considering a treaty on the exchange of prisoners, and loosened travel procedures. On Sunday, Afghanistan formally protested the detention last week of four Peshawar consulate staff detained during sweep arrests of Afghan nationals living in the University Town neighborhood, describing it as a “blatant violation of the principles of diplomatic relations”. [ET] [Khaama Press]
  • Taliban Talks: UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Nicholas Haysom visited Islamabad on Friday for talks with Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz, welcoming Pakistani support for an “intra-Afghan dialogue” on peace talks. In a TOLO interview, Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf also welcomed the prospect for talks but also stressed that Afghanistan would not allow its sovereignty or independent foreign policy to be “overshadowed” by another country. [ET]
  • Election Investigations: On Sunday, the Electoral Complaints Commission published a list of roughly 13,000 temporary and 20 permanent employees of the Independent Elections Commission who were accused of fraud or other violations during the 2014 presidential elections. ECC officials indicated it was the responsibility of those accused to defend themselves before the commission “in the next two or three days”, after which it would announce decisions on their blacklisting from future election work. The IEC said that it supported the move but that “this must not be limited to the IEC, those who were accused of fraud in the ECC should also be identified”.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Mafia Boss Raees Khudaidad Hanged [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Ghani Yet to Fill Vacant Herat Government Positions [TOLO]
  • Herat Police Arrest Mosque Imam on Kidnapping Charges [TOLO]
  • Kabul Industry Complains of Electricity Shortages [TOLO]
  • Supreme Audit Office Accuses Parliament of Politicizing Annual Financial Statement [TOLO]
  • Commentary: Our Condolences, Afghanistan – “The payments The Intercept has analyzed and presented in the graphic accompanying this story are not a complete accounting, but they do offer a small window into the thousands of fractured lives and personal tragedies that take place during more than a decade of war.” [Cora Currier, The Intercept]
  • Commentary: What Should Afghanistan Do With America’s Foreign Detainees? – “Unlike the US which detained people without trial for years, the Afghan authorities have been trying to take a ‘rule of law’ approach to the six [remaining detainees], although the legal time limit for charging or freeing them has  already passed – with no announcement.” [Kate Clark, AAN]
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