Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistani Taliban Factions Reunite; Families of Kidnapped Hazaras Demand Government Action

Topline

  • The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Islam, and Maulana Fazlullah-led Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan announced they would reunite into a single entity, their spokesmen announced Thursday; details on who will lead the group are minimal, however. The Islamabad High Court has voided the detention of Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi under a maintenance of public order ordinance, directing his release. Relatives of Hazara men kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Zabul earlier this month held a protest in Kabul on Thursday, demanding government action. The Taliban denied Friday that they had engaged in any peace talks with the government or through mediators; anonymous sources tell TOLO that Syed Ahmad Gillani will be named head of the Afghan High Peace Council and will lead negotiations from the government side. The Rangers have produced an additional 58 men arrested during Wednesday’s raid on MQM headquarters for continued preventative detention; the party has responded cautiously, denying charges that it had stockpiled unlicensed weapons and accusing the Rangers of killing one party activist during the raid, but insisting it is not in conflict with the Rangers. Pres. Obama spoke by phone with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah on Thursday ahead of their visit to Washington later this month. Pakistan has agreed to reconsider its year-end deadline for repatriating all Afghan refugees from its territory, and will develop a revised plan by August. National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq has withdrawn a presidential ordinance altering the voting formula for FATA assembly members in senate elections, potentially ending the dispute around their vote; senators Raza Rabbani of the PPP and Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F were sworn in as senate chairman and deputy chairman, respectively, on Thursday. Displaced North Waziristan residents may begin returning home this Sunday, officials say. Qatari LNG shipments will begin arriving by the end of the month, Pakistan’s petroleum minister told reporters on Friday.

Pakistan — Security

  • TTP Factions Reunite: On Thursday, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar TTP splinter group and the Khyber-based Lashkar-e-Islam militant group announced that they would merge with the main Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and vowed to continue attacks against the Pakistani state. Although the statement claimed that the group would operate under a single command, it did not specify who would lead the group. [Reuters] [Dawn]
  • Islamabad High Court Voids Lakhvi Detention: On Friday, the Islamabad High Court ordered the “immediate release” of Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi, accepting his challenge against a Maintenance of Public Order detention order placed on him after he was granted bail by an anti-terrorism court in the Mumbai attacks case in December. An unrelated kidnapping case against Lakvhi is still pending. India’s home ministry issued a statement following the court order stating that “it is the responsibility of Pakistan’s government to take all legal measures to ensure that Lakhvi does not come out of jail”. [AJE]
  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif and Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt visited North Waziristan for briefings by local commanders on the ongoing Zarb-e-Azb operations. In Bannu, Uthmanzai Wazir tribal elders threatened to hold protest sit-ins in Islamabad if the government failed to finalize plans for their repatriation; States and Frontier Regions minister Abdul Qadir Baloch told Reuters on Friday that the first batch of displaced residents would begin returning this Sunday, noting that nearly two million people were awaiting return to North and South Waziristan and Khyber agency. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Executions: The Sindh High Court has returned an appeal filed by the family of Saulat Mirza, a former MQM member, seeking a delay in his execution, directing them to challenge the issue at the Supreme Court instead. Two death row prisoners were executed in Faisalabad on Friday. [ET] [AJE]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • MQM Raid: The Rangers presented 28 men — including a senior party leader, Amir Khan — before a Karachi anti-terrorism court on Thursday who had been detained during their raid on MQM headquarters the day prior, and affirmed that they would be held under 90-day preventative detention. Another 58 men were remanded to custody on Friday, some for 90 days and some for two week periods on gun charges. At a press conference on Thursday, MQM leader Farooq Sattar said that the party had “irrefutable evidence” that party activist Waqas Ali Shah had been killed by the Rangers in Wednesday’s raid, and demanded a high-level judicial commission to investigate the incident. The party has rejected reports that it possessed illegal weapons and disputed Rangers’ description of the party headquarters as a “no-go area”; however, MQM officials were careful to insist that there was no “Rangers versus MQM” conflict. The party has called for a session of the Sindh assembly to debate the issue. Dawn notes rumors that governor’s rule could be imposed in the province, which all leading parties have opposed. [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Senate Elections: National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq, serving as acting president while Pres. Mamnoon Hussain is out of the country on a four-day visit to Azerbaijan, withdrew a presidential ordinance that had been issued the day prior to last week’s senate elections, which had altered the formula for FATA assembly representatives’ voting in those elections and taken away extra votes. The move is expected to clear the way for votes on FATA senators, which were postponed after lawmakers protested the earlier change. Meanwhile, PPP senator Raza Rabbani was sworn in as senate chairman and JUI-F senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri was confirmed as deputy chairman on Thursday; the PML-N has appointed senator Muhammad Zafarul Haq as leader of the house to represent the government. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Federal Minister for Petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told a press conference on Friday that a deal had been reached with Qatar over the import of Liquified Natural Gas and would receive final pricing approval from the Economic Coordination Committee soon, with the first shipments expected by the end of the month. Separately, on Thursday the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority recommended tariff rate reductions for the Islamabad, Faisalabad, and Peshawar electricity distribution companies, ignoring government recommendations that tariffs be raised to offset the cost of loans taken out to support the sector. Meanwhile, Dawn reports that Peshawar police owe more than Rs 15 million in unpaid electricity dues. [ET] [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • PTI Racks Up Costs as it Seeks to Prove Election Rigging [Dawn]
  • Pakistani Brothers Plead Guilty in New York Terror Plot [Reuters]
  • Chinese Delegation Reviews Economic Corridor Plan [ET]
  • Air Force Commander Challenges Punishment in Kamra Airbase Attack [Dawn]
  • Ammunition Seized from U.S. Embassy Security Officer [Dawn]
  • New Sindh Chief Secretary Appointed After Two-Month Dispute [ET]
  • Federal Education Secretary Suspended [ET]
  • Intelligence Bureau Official Among Six Killed in Land Dispute [Dawn] [ET]
  • Punjab Issues 110 Most Wanted Terrorists List [Dawn]
  • Peshawar High Court Overturns Order Sealing Shia Community Center [ET]
  • Sindh Revenue Officers Allege Corruption by Senior Staff [ET]
  • Pakistani Framers Confront the Curse of Potato Success [Reuters]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Hazara Kidnapping: Relatives of the 31 Hazara men kidnapped in Zabul earlier this month staged a protest in Kabul on Thursday, calling on the government to secure the release of their family members. Zabul provincial officials continue to give contradictory information on the status of rescue operations. On Thursday, Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Hazara leader and deputy to Abdullah Abdullah, warned that failure to address the situation was reducing public support for the government. [TOLO]
  • Sufi Shooting: Interior Ministry officials are “mystified” over last Saturday’s attack on a Sufi mosque in Kabul and have identified no suspects in the attack, which killed eleven people during prayer services. Pres. Ghani is reported to have ordered an update on the investigation on Thursday.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Anonymous sources tell TOLO that talks with the Taliban will take place in China, and that Syed Ahmad Gillani will be appointed to lead the Afghan government’s High Peace Council delegations. Former Taliban commander Syed Akbar Agha suggests that the Taliban leadership is “willing to talk” with the government, but says “they haven’t finalized anything regarding with whom and where they will negotiate”, and says that any efforts by Pakistan to coerce the Taliban into talks will backfire. In a statement on Friday, the Taliban said that it had not engaged in any conversations with the Afghan government or with mediators on peace talks. [Pajhwok]
  • Leadership Call: On Thursday, Pres. Obama spoke by phone with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah to discuss their upcoming visit to Washington, encouraging “accelerated Afghan progress towards forming an inclusive national unity government” and commending their promotion of a peace process and improved relations with Pakistan.
  • Refugee Repatriation: On Thursday, Pakistani government officials indicated that they were willing to reconsider a year-end deadline for repatriating all Afghan refugees living in the country, following meetings earlier in the week with visiting Afghan refugees minister Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi. The Pakistani government committed to developing a “realistic roadmap” for repatriation by August, when the two countries and the UN will reconvene in Kabul. [ET]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Ghani Pays Tribute to UK Servicemembers [BBC]
  • Taliban Commander Arrested in Kabul [Khaama Press]
  • Nonprofit Contractor IRD, Now Barred by USAID, Billed $1.1M for Parties from 2007-10 [WAPO]
  • Industry Accuses Kabul Police of Extorting Truck Drivers [TOLO]
  • Dostum Pledges to Address Olympic Taekwondo Team’s Complaints [TOLO]
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