Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Sharif Approves Expansion of Karachi Operation; Ghani Addresses Congress

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif approved an expansion of the Rangers-led operations in Karachi targeting criminal and military elements; requests from the MQM for a meeting with the prime minister were unsuccessful. Pres. Ghani addressed a joint session of Congress and a public forum at the US Institute of Peace on Wednesday, emphasizing his commitment to “self-reliance” and to outreach efforts to the Taliban. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul Ahrar faction has announced a leadership reshuffle, naming Asad Afridi as acting amir. Pakistan is considering a request from Saudi Arabia to join a coalition of nations conducting operations against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the foreign ministry said Thursday. Military operations continue in the Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency. The U.S. Army will charge Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior in the face of the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence. The first shipment of Qatari liquefied natural gas arrived in Karachi on Thursday, but confusion persists about its pricing, which officials say is still under negotiation.

Pakistan — Security

  • Jamaat-ul Ahrar Leadership Shuffle: On Wednesday, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ul Ahrar faction announced a reshuffle in its senior leadership, saying that amir Maulana Qasim Khurasani and deputy amir Omar Khalid Khurasani had resigned and had been replaced by acting amir Asad Afridi. A spokesman described the change as “routine”.
  • Saudi Arabia Seeks Support in Yemen Operation: Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed on Thursday that Pakistan was “examining” a request from Saudi Arabia to join a coalition in operations targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen; no decision has been made, officials said, although a Saudi news agency said that Pakistan had “expressed desire to participate”. [Dawn]
  • FATA Operations: Military officials say they have taken control of two-thirds of the Tirah Valley and suggest that this is “the last of the major battles we have fought against militants” in the FATA. Officials claim that roughly 2,500 militant fighters affiliated with Lashkar-e-Islam, the TTP, Jamaat-ul Ahrar, and the Pakistani branch of Daesh are present in the valley, but say that heavy bombing and ground operations has started to break their positions. At least 46 militants were reportedly killed in airstrikes on Wednesday. On Thursday, a Lashkar-e-Islam spokesman denied earlier reports of his death. [NYT]
  • Lakhvi Detention: The Lahore High Court has sought response within five days from the Punjab home secretary to a legal petition brought by lawyers for Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi challenging his continued detention.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karachi Crackdown: Prime Minister Sharif met with senior military and civilian officials at the Faisal Airbase in Karachi on Wednesday, approving an expansion of operations targeting criminal and militant groups in the city. Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah attended the meeting but Governor Ishrat ul Ebad did not; requests from the MQM leadership for a separate meeting with Sharif were unsuccessful. MQM leaders deny ever supporting criminal activity and say they are being placed on “media trial”. Court hearings on Wednesday and Thursday extended the remand of several MQM operatives arrested during raids earlier this month on the party’s headquarters. On Wednesday, the Balochistan government dissolved a committee that had been formed to investigate the production of a last-minute confession video by former MQM gunman Saulat Mirza. Meanwhile, anonymous UAE intelligence sources tell the Express Tribune that Pakistan has been slow-walking its efforts to repatriate Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch, who is challenging deportation orders in hearings today. [ET] [Dawn]
  • PTI Rallies: Imran Khan headlined a PTI rally in Mirpur in Pakistani-administered Kashmir on Wednesday ahead of by-elections scheduled for March 29, during which he said that MQM leader “Altaf Hussain’s time is up” and that the PTI would soon hold a rally in Karachi to challenge the MQM. [Dawn] [ET]
  • Other Political Activity: Former Pres. Zardari welcomed the agreement between the government and the PTI on the formation of a judicial commission to investigate allegations of election rigging, adding that broader electoral reforms were need. On Thursday, the PPP filed a legal challenge in the Supreme Court against the law governing local body elections in military cantonments, arguing that these should be held on a party affiliation basis. [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • LNG Import: The first shipment of Qatari Liquified Natural Gas arrived in Karachi on Thursday, where it will next undergo re-gasification. Despite earlier reports on the import deal, the government has not officially announced a final pricing; Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the National Assembly on Wednesday that prices are still being negotiated with Qatargas. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Islamabad High Court to Hear NAB Appeals Against Zardari Acquittals [ET]
  • More Arrests in Connection to Youhanabad Lynchings [ET]
  • Gates Praises Khyber Paktunkhwa Vaccination Efforts [Dawn] [ET]
  • OGRA Chairman Barred from Resuming Duties [Dawn]
  • Chinese Firms Express Interest in PIA Stake [ET]
  • Security Barriers Partially Removed from Musharraf Residence [ET]
  • Moody’s Upgrades Pakistan Bond Rating [ET]
  • $795M Tarbela Dam Extension Project Submitted [ET]
  • Crude Oil Find Announced in Sindh [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Kabul Bombing: At least seven people were killed and more than 30 wounded in a suicide car bombing near the presidential palace and ministry of finance buildings in Kabul on Wednesday; the attack took place near a taxi stand and most victims appear to be civilians. As of this writing, the Taliban have not claimed responsibility for the attack. [NYT] [Reuters]
  • Bergdahl Charged with Desertion: On Wednesday, following a ten month investigation, the Army announced that it would charge Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with misbehavior before the enemy and desertion, which potentially carries a sentence of life imprisonment. In his first public statement on his captivity, provided through his lawyer, Bergdahl recounted at least a dozen attempts to escape. Bergdahl’s lawyers say they are still considering their strategy, but could attempt to negotiate a discharge in lieu of court martial trial. [NYT] [WSJ] [BBC] [Guardian]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Addresses Congress: Pres. Ghani continued his visit in Washington with a formal dinner at the State Department on Tuesday, an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday morning, and a public question and answer session at the US Institute of Peace on Wednesday evening. The NYT notes the warm welcome for Ghani, and the already close ties with many U.S. officials that preceded his visit, gained in part through his long career here. In his address to Congress, Ghani reiterated profuse thanks to the U.S. military and to U.S. taxpayers for their support for Afghanistan since 2001, saying that “the people of Afghanistan recognize the bravery of your soldiers and the tremendous sacrifices that Americans have made to keep Afghanistan free.” Ghani also suggested that “we have no more interest in perpetuating a childish dependence than you have in being saddled with a poor family member who lacks the energy and drive to get out and find a job”, emphasizing a goal of “self-reliance” and vowing that Afghanistan would be able to pay for its own security and public services within the decade. Ghani also suggested growing concern over the presence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria affiliates in Afghanistan; in remarks at USIP, he contrasted the Taliban, which he suggested had some “legitimate political grievances”, with Daesh, and said that his government would continue efforts to open peace talks with the former. [Reuters] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Election Observers Say Election Reform Commission Framework Unclear [TOLO]
  • The Afghan Translator Who Became a Post-9/11 Millionaire [BBC]
  • Wolesi Jirga Assigns Five Committees to Investigate Farkhunda’s Death [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Unity Government’s First Six Months: Where is the Governance? – “The government itself if often described – by both Afghans and expats – as a ‘two-man government.’ This refers not to the president and the CEO, but rather to President Ashraf Ghani and Hanif Atmar, the head of the National Security Council, and, as one interlocutor put it, ‘the Minister for Everything.’” [Thomas Ruttig, AAN]
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