Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Pakistan Considers Joining Saudi Coalition in Yemen; Ghani Concludes US Visit

Topline

  • Prime Minister Sharif warned that any threats to Saudi Arabia’s territory would “evoke a strong response” from Pakistan, but has not committed the country to joining the Saudi coalition in Yemen; Defense Minister Khawaja Asif will visit Saudi Arabia on Friday for talks. Pres. Ghani concluded his visit to the U.S. with remarks in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations. The PML-N passed amendments to local government regulations in the Islamabad Capital Territory in the lower house of parliament on Thursday, but objections by the PPP to the polls being held on a non-party affiliated basis raise doubts about the bill’s prospects in the senate. Prime Minister Sharif will meet with MQM officials in Islamabad on Friday, after dodging meeting requests during his visit to Karachi on Wednesday. District officials in Helmand’s Garmser district have been dismissed on corruption and negligence charges, the deputy governor announced Thursday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Pakistan Considers Saudi Coalition in Yemen: Prime Minister Sharif met with senior military officials on Thursday and issued a statement afterwards saying that “any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity will evoke a strong response from Pakistan”, although he stopped short of committing Pakistan to joining the international Saudi-backed coalition currently targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen. A contingent of Pakistani special forces are already in Saudi Arabia for a joint exercise, the WSJ notes, though officials say it is not involved in any combat. Defense minister Khawaja Asif will visit Saudi Arabia on Friday for talks on Pakistani assistance; he told the national assembly on Friday that Pakistan would “not take part in any conflict that could result in differences in the Muslim world, causing fault-lines present in Pakistan to be disturbed… the need of the hour is alliance and solidarity, not division.” [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Karachi Bombing: At least two policemen were killed and 14 people wounded when a bomb planted on a motorcycle detonated as a Sindh police bus was passing nearby in Karachi’s Quaidabad neighborhood on Friday. A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility. [ET] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Local Elections: On Thursday, the PML-N passed a bill through the lower house of parliament that amends rules for local body elections held in the Islamabad Capital Territory, which rejected a proposal for those elections to be held on a partisan basis. The PPP, which has challenged non-party local body elections in military cantonment areas and which holds a narrow plurality in the upper house, rejected the amendments. The Lahore High Court heard challenges to non-party elections in cantonment areas on Thursday, where presiding judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah suggested that depriving citizens of their rights to associate with a political party appear to be a violation of the constitution; he has not issued a stay order against polls proceeding, however. Dawn notes irregular ward sizes in Hyderabad. [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Crackdown: Prime Minister Sharif will meet with an MQM delegation in Islamabad on Friday after skipping meetings in Karachi on Wednesday, a spokesman for the prime minister said. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah told reporters on Thursday that there had been a 60% decline in targeted killings and a “significant” decline in street crimes and terrorism since the operation began, reiterating that it was not targeted at any specific political party. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sharif has reportedly sought a 30-day stay of execution for MQM gunman Saulat Mirza, who implicated top party leadership in a video confession earlier this month. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
  • FATA Reform: On Thursday, the Supreme Court overturned a Peshawar High Court ruling extending the jurisdiction of the high courts over issues in the FATA, following government appeal that had challenged the PHC’s amendment of constitutional provisions.

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Energy Crisis: Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Asif told parliament on Friday that the government had not cancelled its plans for the 6600 MW Gadani coal power project, but that it would not be completed by the end of the PML-N’s term in office and was no longer being expedited as a top priority project. Meanwhile, 100 MW of solar energy will come online at the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park later in April. The Ministry of Water and Power has provided a list of electricity bill defaulters to the National Accountability Bureau, tasking the bureau with recovering Rs 580 billion in unpaid dues; previous efforts to recover Rs 110 billion in dues generated only Rs 5 billion. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • In Leaked Conversation from September Protests, Khan Praises PTV Attack [ET]
  • Government Plans to Outsource Airport Management [ET] [Dawn]
  • Four Policemen Killed in Loralai Checkpoint Attack [Dawn] [ET]
  • Asylum Applications from Pakistan Rise [ET]
  • Health Ministry Debates Improvements to Polio Vaccination Drives [ET] [Dawn]
  • China Pledges to Deepen Maritime Cooperation with Pakistan [ET]
  • Punjab Approves New Vehicles and Security for VIPs [ET]
  • Prime Minister Visits Peshawar, Vowing Development [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • JUI-F Leader Pushes Western Pakistan-China Economic Corridor Route [Dawn]
  • Musharraf Arrest Warrant in Lal Masjid Case Sent to Karachi Police [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Force Drawdown: In a statement to reporters on Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Pres. Obama’s announcement earlier this week of plans to slow the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year.
  • Security Officials Dismissed: The district governor and police chief of Helmand’s Garmser district have been dismissed on charges of corruption and negligence, the deputy provincial governor said on Thursday.
  • Daesh in Afghanistan: In a TOLO interview, Sar-e-Pul member of parliament Mohammad Hassan Balkhabi claims that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are “openly campaigning” for recruits in the province; several other MPs have raised warnings of increased activity by the group, although there is no corroboration.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Ghani Wraps Up Visit: Pres. Ghani spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Thursday, highlighting ambitions to turn Afghanistan into a regional transportation hub through rail and other transportation sector investments. [CFR Speech]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Taliban Divided Over Leaders ‘Living in Luxury’ in Qatar [Newsweek]
  • Five Held in Connection to Central Bank Branch Robbery in Kandahar [TOLO]
  • Rare Charge of ‘Misbehavior Before the Enemy’ in Bergdahl Case [NYT] [AP]
  • Protests Over Farkhunda Lynching Continue in Kabul [Reuters]
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