Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Indian Foreign Secretary Visits Islamabad; 11 Afghan Ambassadors Removed

Topline

  • India’s foreign secretary arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday for talks with his counterparts and with other senior Pakistani officials. Prime Minister Sharif is expected to depart for Saudi Arabia tomorrow for meetings with the Saudi king. As many as 40 Afghan diplomats, including 11 ambassadors, have been removed by the government after they were found to have overstayed their tenures in office. Afghan security officials say they have begun rescue operations in Zabul following the failure of negotiations to secure the release of 30 Hazara men kidnapped last week by unidentified gunmen. Rival PTI factions clashed in Peshawar after the party moved to remove provincial assembly member Javed Naseem on charges of breaching party discipline. Afghan provincial council members warned of renewed protests if an executive order restoring oversight powers was not implemented. Khyber Paktunkhwa police say they have arrested 471 parents on charges of refusing polio vaccinations for their children; irregular electricity supplies have contributed to the loss of 1.3 million does of vaccines for other common diseases, health ministry officials reported.

Pakistan — Security

  • Security Reviews: Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting on Tuesday to review the national security situation in conjunction with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Rashad Mahmood. Separately, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif chaired a meeting of army corps commanders in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.
  • Afghan Expulsions: Anonymous security sources tell the Express Tribune that that around 2,000 unregistered Afghan nationals have been deported from Pakistan since December; while “action is only being taken against those Afghan refugees who have not got themselves registered properly”, all legal and illegal refugees will be expelled at the end of the year.
  • Madrassas Under Scrutiny: The Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government has identified 145 “highly sensitive” madrassas, the majority in the Tank district; in total, roughly 26% of the province’s total 3,010 seminaries are unregistered with the government. Bannu and Peshawar host the largest numbers of madrassas; Peshawar also hosts roughly half of the foreign student population.
  • Military Courts: Two judicial magistrates from the city’s western district have been appointed to staff the new Karachi military court, the Express Tribune reports. On Monday, the newly elected president of the Lahore High Cour Bar Association, Pir Masood Chishti, vowed to continue the group’s challenge against the military courts system.
  • Mumbai Attacks Prosecution: On Monday, the Islamabad High Court barred the federal government from filing further cases against Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi without first notifying the court; Lakvhi remains under detention under a Maintenance of Public Order ordinance, which his lawyers are challenging.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Indian Foreign Secretary Visits: Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday for two days of talks; he met initially with Pakistani foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and Foreign Advisor Sartaj Aziz, and is expected to meet Prime Minister Sharif later today. Following his meeting with Chaudhry, Jaishankar told reporters that the two sides had “agreed to work together to find common ground and narrow differences” and said he had “reiterated our known concerns on cross-border terrorism, including on the Mumbai case.” The Pakistani foreign ministry’s spokeswoman described the visit as “an ice-breaking development” and said that “both sides raised concerns” during talks. [Reuters]
  • Sharif to Visit Saudi Arabia: Prime Minister Sharif will depart on Wednesday for a two-day official visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. [ET]
  • Senate Elections: Following elections this Thursday, the first session of the new senate has been called for March 12, during which the body will elect its chairman and deputy chairman. Following an agreement between the PPP and JUI-F on an alliance to support the PPP’s chairmanship, Prime Minister Sharif has intervened personally to seek to shore up PML-N senate candidacies. PPP candidates from Punjab have complained to the Election Commission of harassment from the PML-N ahead of the vote. After a few days of rapprochement over the possibility of a constitutional amendment to conduct senate elections through open ballot, Imran Khan accused the government of insincerity, vowing instead to challenge both the PML-N and PPP in the senate elections. On Monday, rival PTI factions clashed in Peshawar after provincial assembly member Javed Naseem was reportedly expelled from the party on charges of violating party discipline; Naseem has previously clashed with Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak’s leadership. Elsewhere, the Express Tribune notes divisions along party-affiliated versus independent lines within the FATA national assembly caucus for the region’s four senate seats. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senate Bills Bar Torture, Honor Killings, Rape: On Monday, the senate passed four bills, all proposed by the PPP, three of which amend the Pakistani penal code to strengthen provisions against the torture of suspects while in custody, strengthen the prosecution of rape, and specify that trial courts should be responsible for setting punishments in cases of “honor killings”. The fourth bill requires conflict of interest disclosures by members of the Privatization Commission. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Polio Crisis: Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial police tell the AFP that they have arrested 471 parents so far on charges of refusing polio vaccinations for their children. Separately, Reuters reports that 1.3 million doses pentavalent vaccines – a combination of vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, meningitis and pneumonia — have been found to have degraded under storage due irregular power supplies, at a loss of $3.7 million.
  • Energy Infrastructure: On Monday, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, chaired by Finance Minister Dar, approved Rs 101 billion in spending for land acquisition and the resettlement of roughly 25,000 people on sites surrounding the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Punjab Police Clash with Blind Protestors Outside Assembly [Dawn]
  • MQM and Rangers Trade Accusations on Karachi Operations [Dawn] [ET]
  • Heavy Rains Damage Facilities, Kill 8 [Dawn]
  • Case of Pakistani Man Accused of Al Qaeda Mall Attack Plot Goes to Jury [NYT]
  • Executions of Two Men Delayed [Dawn]
  • Inflation at 11-Year Low [ET]
  • Deadlines Extended for Financial Advisor Recruitment for Electricity Distribution Company Privatization [ET] [Dawn]
  • FBR Accused of Borrowing Funds to Inflate Tax Collections [ET]
  • Commentary: The Case for Better Aid to Pakistan: Climate, Health and Demographic Challenges Demand New Approach – “If, in the wake of KLB, U.S. lawmakers revert to short-term thinking, they will make it more difficult for Pakistan to tear down the systemic and seemingly intractable barriers holding back progress.” [Kate Diamond, Wilson Center]
  • Commentary: Three Opportunities – “Not only are the postures of Afghanistan, China and India potentially beneficial to Pakistan, but even the interlinkages between Xi’s China, Modi’s India and Ghani & Abdullah’s Afghanistan are aligned in a manner that is a cause for optimism in Pakistan.” [Mosharraf Zaidi, The News]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Attacks and Operations: A suicide bomber killed at least four people and injured three others in an attack near a Sangin district police center in Helmand on Tuesday. In Zabul, Afghan security officials say they have launched a rescue operation in the Khak-i-Afghan district in an attempt to free a group of thirty Hazara men kidnapped earlier this week, after efforts by local elders to negotiate their release failed. Officials claim to have killed 36 insurgents so far with operations still ongoing, although details are limited and the identity of the kidnapping group remains unclear. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Diplomats Dismissed: Following meetings between Pres. Ghani and Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed as many as 40 diplomats, including eleven ambassadors, who were found to have stayed in their positions beyond their three-year tenures. Those dismissed include the ambassadors to Russia, Indonesia, the Czech Republic, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Geneva, and UNESCO. [TOLO]
  • Provincial Council Protests: On Tuesday, provincial council leaders warned of renewed protests if an executive order restoring oversight powers to the councils was not implemented.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • A Thin Line of Defense Against ‘Honor Killings’ [NYT]
  • Afghan Villagers Bury Their Dead After Avalanches [AJE]
  • Abdullah Pledges Reassessment of Detained Photographer’s Case [TOLO]
  • Turkish Firm Seeks More Security and Funds for Qaisar-Laman Highway [TOLO]
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