- Saudi press services report that Prime Minister Sharif spoke by phone with King Salman on Saturday and pledged support for the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen; a delegation of Pakistani defense officials will visit the kingdom either today or tomorrow to discuss cooperation. The Afghan Supreme Court upheld a 20-year sentence, the maximum provided for by law, for an Afghan officer who killed an AP photographer and wounded an AP correspondent last year. As many as 44 people have been referred for prosecution in connection to the lynching of an Afghan woman in Kabul earlier this month. Imran Khan warned the government against changes to the agreement reached last week for the creation of a special judicial commission to investigate election fraud; talks were held over the weekend. MQM leader Altaf Hussain resigned and then reversed his resignation on Monday; on Friday, President Mamnoon Hussain approved a 30-day stay of execution for MQM gunman Saulat Mirza. A suicide bombing in Kabul on Sunday targeting a member of parliament from Paktia killed three people. Two Czech women kidnapped in Balochistan in 2013 were freed on Saturday. Cabinet nominees are expected to be formally introduced before the Afghan parliament by midweek. Liquefied natural gas imported from Qatar was injected into the Pakistani gas network on Monday; Dawn reports that the purchase agreement is based on market spot pricing and does not guarantee a set level of supply. The IMF board approved the release of the next tranche of its loan program with Pakistan, bringing total disbursals to $3.7 billion. Army sources indicate that Bowe Bergdahl’s court martial defense will center around the contention that he left his post in 2009 to travel to another base and report allegations of leadership wrongdoing.
Pakistan — Security
- Prime Minister Pledges Support for Saudi Coalition: The Saudi Press Agency issued a statement on Saturday indicating that Prime Minister Sharif had spoken by phone with King Salman and had pledged “full support” for Saudi-led operations against Yemeni rebels, saying that “all potentials of the Pakistani Army are offered to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. Pakistani officials have not confirmed the account, although the Express Tribune reports that Pakistan has offered to provide special operations commandos and air support; another report indicates that Saudi Arabia has requested the service of an entire corps, for a period of 3-4 years. The Post notes the past history of Pakistani military support for Saudi Arabia and Sharif’s political ties to the kingdom. A planned visit by Defense Minister Khawaja Asif and foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz to Saudi Arabia on Friday was postponed; that delegation is now expected to depart Monday or Tuesday. Sharif has ordered evacuation measures for Pakistani nationals in Yemen; a PIA flight departed Hudaidah on Sunday carrying 480 Pakistanis. Pakistani officials estimate around 2,145 Pakistanis live in Yemen. Jamaat ud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed led a demonstration in Lahore on Friday in support of Saudi Arabia, against what he said were “conspiracies being hatched by Jewish and Christian lobbies”. The PPP issued a statement on behalf of former Pres. Zardari on Monday backing Saudi operations against Houthi fighters in Yemen, which the Express Tribune notes contradicts statements by several other party leaders. Imran Khan, meanwhile, reiterated his opposition to Pakistani involvement in the Yemen conflict; the Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen party has also spoken out against Pakistani support for Saudi Arabia. The JUI-F and PML-F have called for an all-parties conference on the issue. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
- Czech Tourists Freed: Two Czech women who were kidnapped while traveling through Balochistan in March 2013 were freed on Saturday, officials announced. Their release was negotiated by a Turkish the group, IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, which joined the women’s cause two months prior. Without providing further details, an IHH spokesman said that their kidnappers had been members of “a group linked to Al Qaeda”. [AFP]
- FATA Operations: Military officials claim to have killed as many as 30 fighters who attacked their checkpost in the Tirah Valley on Saturday; a Lashkar-e-Islam spokesman denied taking any casualties. North Waziristan residents of the Spina Wam tehsil will begin repatriation on March 31; local elders tell Dawn that the government has placed the onus on tribal leaders to identify and take action against militants who may attempt to return to their areas, something they say they lack the means to do. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
- Counterterrorism Response: Unidentified anonymous authors of the government’s National Action Plan tell the Express Tribune that the plan was drafted in haste and is ultimately unfeasible to implement. A report to the prime minister on Saturday indicated that more than 32,000 people have been arrested in more than 28,500 operations carried out by the security services between December 24 and March 25, including 727 “hardcore terrorists”. Separately, the Federal Investigation Agency has reportedly sought an expedited process for barring suspects from leaving the country, saying that it can take up to a month to add a name to the the current Exit Control List. [ET] [ET]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- PTI Protests: Speaking at a press conference in Lahore on Friday, Imran Khan warned that the PTI would return to street protests if the PML-N failed to follow through on the agreed creation of a special judicial commission to investigate allegations of election rigging. Following meetings with other parliamentary parties, who had raised concerns over the possibility of assembly dissolutions in the event the commission backs charges of election fraud, the PML-N had reportedly proposed modifications to last week’s agreement. The two parties held talks over the weekend to discuss the agreement, which must be issued by executive ordinance before the senate resumes session on April 6. Meanwhile, PTI officials say that intra-party elections will not happen until next year at earliest. [ET] [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- Karachi Crackdown: On Friday, Pres. Hussain approved a 30-day stay of execution for convicted MQM gunman Saulat Mirza. Following a meeting between Prime Minister Sharif and MQM leaders in Islamabad on Friday, MQM leader Farooq Sattar told reporters that the prime minister had promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the broadcast earlier this month of a confessional video by Mirza implicating senior party leaders. Sattar also denied that any criminals had been arrested at the MQM headquarters during a raid earlier this month, saying they had instead been picked up in “adjoining areas” that the MQM had no control over. MQM leaders continue to accuse the Karachi police of killing party activists in staged encounters with police. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Sindh governor Ishratul Ebad again denied reports that he might be removed. On Monday, Altaf Hussain announced his resignation from party leadership before withdrawing it again a few hours later, a tactic he has used multiple times in the past year to reaffirm his position; on Sunday, Hussain warned party members that they would receive no support if involved in crime. [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
- Elections: Sultan Mahmood, a PTI candidate seeking a return to his seat, reportedly beat out Chaudhry Mohammad Ashraf of the PPP in a by-election in Mirpur on Sunday, despite the PML-N’s withdrawal of its candidate in favor of the PPP. On Sunday, Imran Khan tasked PTI vice president Shah Mehmood Qureshi with leading the party’s planning for local government elections across all provinces. PTI leaders in Rawalpindi have petitioned for the army to deploy personnel inside polling stations to bar the ruling PML-N from influencing the outcome of local body elections in military cantonment areas. On Friday, the Lahore High Court ruled in favor of PTI petitioners who had challenged a 2013 amendment to Punjab’s local government laws, which restricted the appointment of polling officers to provincial government officials or Election Commission staff only. A dissident PPP group has reportedly split over the party’s alliance with the ANP and JUI-F in upcoming Khyber Paktunkhwa local body elections. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- LNG Import: Dawn reports that Pakistan agreement with Qatar to import liquefied natural gas does not specify pricing, quantity, or duration of the contract, and will instead function effectively as a spot purchase at market price for each shipment. Pakistan has tens days after each shipment to make payment; the first arrived in Karachi last week, and was injected into the national gas network on Monday. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has called for a meeting of the Council on Common Interests and has announced intentions to challenge the import agreement before the Supreme Court, saying his government was not consulted during the process. [ET] [ET] [Dawn]
- IMF Loan: On Friday, the IMF board approved the release of the latest $501.4 million tranche of Pakistan’s ongoing Extended Fund Facility loan, bringing total disbursements so far to $3.7 billion. Pakistan did not require a waiver on any of the target benchmarks during the past quarterly review; the Fund increased the net foreign currency reserve target for the State Bank of Pakistan by $600 million, to $5.2 billion, for the next quarterly review. [IMF Statement]
- Polio Crisis: Roughly 430,000 children were missed in the most recent national polio vaccination drive, an increase of 19% from the previous national drive that ended in February. The highest number of parental refusals nationwide was reported in Khyber Paktunkhwa, although there was a decline from the previous drive. [ET] [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Final Arguments Sought in Model Town Inquiry Case [ET]
- Former Attorney General Irfan Qadir’s Law License Suspended [Dawn]
- Attorney General’s Office Seeks Report on Telephone Surveillance [ET]
- Less Than 25% of Khyber Paktunkhwa Development Budget Spent [Dawn]
- Special Guard Force Planned for Chinese Workers on Economic Corridor Projects [ET]
- Balochistan Nationalist Groups Strike in Quetta; Four Killed in Kalat [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
- TTP Claims Killing of Army Colonel Peshawar [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
- Suspect Linked to Bilour Murder [Dawn] [ET]
- Auditor General Criticizes Karachi Airport Land Deal [ET]
- Developer Malik Riaz Loses Right to ‘Bahria’ Brand Name [Dawn] [ET]
- Musharraf Summoned for Judges’ Detention Case Hearing [ET]
- Commentary: Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistani Diversity – “One of the greatest threats to our vitality is a breach in Pakistan’s Shia-Sunni unity. For many of this country’s enemies, it is the grand prize.” [Mosharraf Zaidi, The News]
Afghanistan — Security
- 20 Year Sentence for AP Photographer’s Killing: On Saturday, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan upheld a 20-year sentence for an Afghan police officer who shot and killed Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounded correspondent Kathy Gannon last spring, overturning a death sentence issued by a lower court in July 2014. The twenty-year sentence is the maximum allowable by Afghan law; Nidringhaus’ family and Gannon had opposed the use of the death penalty but called for a law sentence.
- Lynching Prosecutions: Khaama Press reported Saturday that Ministry of Interior officials had referred 28 suspects been arrested in connection to the lynching of a mentally ill woman in Kabul earlier this month to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution. TOLO puts the number at 44, and quotes Criminal Investigation Department chief Gen. Zahir Zahir, who noted concerns that some groups were attempting to secure acquittals for the suspect and vowed to prevent interference in the case. The NYT recounts how the woman, Farkhunda, “has been transformed from a woman so despised that officials had defended her lynching, into a celebrated martyr” [TOLO]
- MP Targeted in Kabul Bombing: Three people were killed, including a child, and eight injured in a suicide bombing attack in Kabul on Sunday. Member of parliament Gul Pacha Majidi was the apparent target of the attack, which took place at a gathering of Paktia constituents; he was lightly injured. No immediate claim of responsibility has been reported; Pres. Ghani visited victims of the attack on Monday [TOLO] [AJE]
- Other Attacks and Operations: Five passengers were kidnapped while traveling in the Sholgara district in Balkh on Monday, provincial officials reported. The Taliban released a group of 20 Orzugan residents who had been kidnapped last week in Daikundi province on Saturday. Also on Saturday, Nuristan acting provincial governor Hafiz Abdul Qayoum told reporters that the Taliban had executed six former members on spying charges. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Government Formation: Deputy minister for parliamentary affairs Mohammad Karim Baz said Friday that Pres. Ghani or one of the country’s vice presidents would likely formally present the 16 new cabinet nominees before parliament this Wednesday, and that documents related to their nomination would be shared by Saturday.
- Taliban Talks: The AFP notes widespread skepticism of Pres. Ghani’s outreach efforts to Pakistan amongst Afghan analysts and political leaders; in remarks to TOLO, analysts blame Pakistan for the lack of progress on talks anticipated earlier this month. Former Taliban finance minister and dissident proponent of peace talks Agha Jan Motasim voices support for the current talks effort in a comment to the Express Tribune.
- Bergdahl Defense: Anonymous U.S. Department of Defense officials tell CNN that Army investigations into Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s departure from his post in July 2009 concluded that he had done so with the professed intent of walking to a nearby U.S. military base to report command leadership wrongdoing in his unit.
- U.S. Visit Concludes: Chief Executive Abdullah told TOLO upon return to Afghanistan on Saturday that his and President Ghani’s visit to the United States last week was a “step to restore friendly relations”. The Brookings Institute hosted Abdullah at a forum on Thursday, and has released video of his remarks.
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Electricity Outages: Fighting between Afghan security forces and the Taliban has cut off almost all electricity supply to Helmand and Kandahar, the national power company Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat reports, after power lines from the Kajaki dam were damaged. Breshna officials meanwhile say they are continuing efforts to restore power supply to Kabul after lines were cut off by heavy winter weather earlier this month, and will have power restored within a week.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Families of Hazara Abductees Protest Government Inaction [TOLO]
- Minister of Hajj Briefs Parliament on Mosque Registration [TOLO]
- Afghan Central Bank Finalizing Islamic Banking Laws [Reuters]
- Oversight Office Calls for Former Officials to Submit Asset Declarations [TOLO]
- Activists Criticize Delays in National ID Card Program [TOLO]