- Presidents Ghani and Obama held meetings at the White House on Tuesday, and announced afterwards that the U.S. had agreed to slow the pace of its troop drawdown over the coming year, leaving most of the 9,800 troops currently in country there through the end of the year. No decision has been made on the pace of withdrawal in 2016, but Pres. Obama said that plans to withdraw almost all forces by the end of that year remained unchanged. Operations continue to target Lashkar-e-Islam fighters in the Tirah valley, with as many as thirty killed in airstrikes on Wednesday. Prime Minister Sharif traveled to Karachi on Wednesday to review the ongoing crackdown against criminal and militant activity there; Express Tribune sources suggest that he will approve more direct action against senior MQM political leaders linked to criminal elements within the party. The Afghan parliament may begin to review new ministerial nominees as early as today. The Election Commission of Pakistan formally announced the schedule for local body elections in Khyber Paktunkhwa, set for May 30. The Afghan ministry of finance indicated that revenue has fall short of target for the first three months of the fiscal year, although TOLO reporting is contradictory on by exactly how much.
Pakistan — Security
- FATA Operations: Airstrikes continued in the Khyber Agency’s Tirah valley region on Wednesday, which military sources claim killed 30 Lashkar-e-Islam fighters, including Salahuddin Ayubi, the group’s spokesman. Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that there was no confirmation of press reports suggesting that TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah had been killed in operations over the weekend. Meanwhile, officials report that at least 1,300 families have returned to the Sarokai tehsil in South Waziristan since phased repatriation began on March 16. [ET] [ET]
- Counterterrorism Response: National Counterterrorism Authority officials tell the Express Tribune that the government has frozen Rs 10.2 billion in assets linked to terrorist suspects; interior ministry officials report that at least 150 people, half of them religious clerics, have been arrested for money transfer violations. [ET]
- Church Attack: Two bystanders were wounded in a shootout between unidentified gunmen and police stationed on guard at the St Peter’s church in Lahore on Tuesday; no claim of responsibility has been reported.
- Prison Racket: Interior Minister Chaudhr Nisar Ali Khan announced Tuesday that the government is investigating a ring of government officials who had freed at least 15 prisoners convicted abroad, most on drug charges, upon their return to Pakistan; Pakistan temporarily suspended its prisoner exchange agreements with other countries earlier this month. [Dawn]
- Lakvhi Detention: Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi has filed another challenge with the Lahore High Court against his continued detention, charging the Punjab home secretary with ignoring multiple Islamabad High Court orders allowing for his release.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Karachi Operation: Prime Minister Sharif arrived in Karachi on Wednesday, where the Express Tribune reports he will approve a broader crackdown by paramilitary Rangers on MQM political leaders linked to the party’s militant and criminal activities. Speaking at the Karachi Stock Exchange, Sharif said that “we are not targeting a single party in the operation but we cannot spare any criminal”; he later met with the Karachi Corps Commander and Rangers director general. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters on Tuesday that the government had discussed the possible extradition of MQM leader Altaf Hussain from the UK during recent meetings with British officials; he denied that senior MQM leaders had been placed on the Exit Control List, and confirmed that the interior ministry would likely seek a 90-day delay in gunman Saulat Mirza’s execution, which has been set for April 1. The Rangers failed to file a response in the Sindh High Court on Tuesday in response to a legal petition from the MQM challenging party members’ detention following the raid on their offices earlier this month; a Supreme Court petition has been filed seeking the removal of Sindh governor Ishratul Ebad and the extradition of Hussain. A Sindh assembly session has been called for April 6 at the MQM’s request to discuss law and order in Karachi. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
- Election Rigging Commission: Prime Minister Sharif met with other political party leaders on Tuesday to discuss the government’s agreement to form a judicial commission to investigate PTI charges of election rigging during the 2013 general elections; the MQM has objected to the commission, arguing that its formation violates the constitution.
- Local Elections: The Election Commission formally announced the schedule for local body elections in Khyber Paktunkhwa on May 30, with candidate nominations due by April 17 and a final list of candidates to be announced by May 6. Elsewhere, Dawn reviews the upcoming cantonment elections taking place in Sindh (and also nationwide) on April 25. [ET] [ET]
- PTI Divisions: On Tuesday, PTI leader Imran Khan warned all party members that they would face dismissal if they discussed “internal issues” with the media, following the leak over the weekend of an internal party report that had challenged the fairness of intra-party elections held in 2013, leading Khan to dissolve all elected bodies and offices, asserting the power to reappoint those members until new elections are held. [Dawn]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- ADB Predicts Missed Growth Target: A new Asian Development Bank report projects that Pakistan will see 4.2% GDP growth for the current 2014-15 fiscal year, compared to government targets of 5.1% growth.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Parliament Considers Revised Public Accountability Law [Dawn] [ET]
- Pakistani Doctors Face Kidnapping Epidemic [AFP]
- Seven Killed in Awaran District Clash [Dawn]
- Six More Executions in Sindh and Punjab [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
- Council on Islamic Ideology Chairman Seeks Parity with Parliament [ET]
- Security Barriers Remain at PPP Headquarters in Karachi [Dawn] [ET]
- Khyber Paktunkhwa Allocates Rs 200 Million for TB Program [ET]
- Commentary: National Interest and Sentiment – “Someone must now lead Pakistan into visualising itself as a pragmatic territorial state that focuses on the security and prosperity of its people.” [Husain Haqqani, Dawn]
- Commentary: Pakistani Christians Fight Back – “Last week’s riots, which were instigated by a religious attack, brought a long-oppressed community’s fury to the fore.” [Ali Sethi, NYT]
Afghanistan — Security
- US Agrees to Slow Troop Drawdown: Speaking at the White House on Tuesday following daylong meetings with Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, Pres. Obama announced that the U.S. had agreed to modify its force drawdown plan in Afghanistan, extending the presence of roughly 9,800 troops through 2015, rather than having them by the end of the year as earlier planned. Administration officials tell the NYT that the decision to maintain those forces was driven to a significant extent by a desire to support military bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad that also serve as bases for CIA and special operations forces conducting “targeted counterterrorism operations”. A decision on the drawdown schedule in 2016 will be set later this year, Obama indicated, but “the [end-2016] date for us to have completed our drawdown will not change”. Obama acknowledged that “Afghanistan is still a dangerous place”, but said that “the way it’s going to become less dangerous is by Afghan security forces being capable of keeping law and order and security in the country, and that is not going to happen if foreign forces are continually relied upon.” Ghani addresses a joint session of Congress later today, and will hold a public event at the US Institute of Peace this evening. [BBC] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Joint Statement]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Government Formation: Parliament formally received the nominations of sixteen cabinet ministers earlier this week, and scrutiny of their qualifications could begin as soon as today, officials indicate. Separately, Mahboobullah Mohibi was named acting governor of Kabul on Tuesday by presidential decree; he was previously the province’s deputy governor.
- Lynching Protests: Protests continued on Tuesday in front of the Supreme Court against the lynching of an Afghan woman on Quran desecration charges last Friday, calling for the arrest of those responsible and criticizing police bystanders. At least 20 police officers have now been fired in connection to the incident, including the district police chief and a spokesman for the Kabul police chief. The Taliban issued a statement on Tuesday offering condolences to the woman’s family, and calling for “severe punishment to those who are behind the killing of the innocent woman, provoked people for their sinister designs, and misused Quran for personal motives to avoid repetition of such incidents in future.” [WAPO] [Khaama Press]
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Revenue Shortfall: A TOLO report quotes a spokesman for the ministry of finance who indicated that government revenue had fallen seven percent, or roughly Afs 2 billion, short of target during the first three months of the fiscal year, though the same report suggests that the absolute figures involved were Afs 100 billion in collections against an Afs 133 billion target. Officials expressed optimism that this was still more than the amounts collected during the same period last year.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Signs of Growing Sectarianism Raise Concerns [The National]
- Highway Attack Unnerves Travelers [NYT]
- Nangarhar Bombings Kill Four Civilians [Khaama Press]
- 12,000 Afghans Die Annually from TB, Ministry of Public Health Reports [TOLO]
- Air Transit Tax Increased to $500 [Khaama Press]
- Commentary: Stop Putting Afghanistan On a Deadline – “In Afghanistan, U.S. policy has been a series of middle-ground compromises between complete commitment and complete disengagement, often with calendar deadlines unrelated to conditions on the ground.” [Stephen Biddle, DefenseOne]