- Iran’s foreign minister held talks with senior Pakistani leaders on Wednesday and Thursday, calling for a political solution to the Yemen conflict; Foreign Advisor Sartaj Aziz suggested that Pakistan was inclined to try and mediate the dispute rather than get actively involved. The Lahore High Court has overturned the latest detention order for Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi, potentially allowing him to go free on bail. Tensions between Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah reportedly contributed to the resignation of defense minister nominee Gen. Afzal Ludin; Abdullah sources claim that election commission chairwoman Shukria Barakzai, a Ghani ally, will be removed from her position, although she denies this. The Express Tribune reports that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has been marginalized by the prime minister’s office and is no longer directly overseeing counterterrorism plans. Imran Khan visited Karachi on Thursday, where PTI and MQM activists brawled during his speech at Jinnah Grounds. Pakistani Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk has formed the judicial commission to investigate election rigging charges, which he will head. One U.S. soldier was killed in an apparent insider attack in Jalalabad on Wednesday; on Thursday, Taliban gunmen attacked an appellate court in Mazar-e-Sharif, killing as many as five people. The WSJ reports that a Chinese pipeline company has agreed to provide financing for the construction of Pakistan’s portion of the Iran gas pipeline, although Chinese officials have not confirmed that account.
Pakistan — Security
- Yemen Crisis: Visiting Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif met with foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz on Wednesday and with Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif on Thursday, with most of his discussions focused on Pakistan’s potential intervention in the conflict in Yemen. At a joint press conference with Aziz, Zarif emphasized the need for “a political solution” in Yemen, calling for ““ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, intra-Yemeni dialogue and broad-based government.” In his remarks, Aziz suggested that “there is a broad consensus in parliament that Pakistan’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen is not advisable,” and that “Pakistan should not participate in an offensive action, but try to mediate or to influence a peaceful solution through dialogue.” PPP leaders have called for a closed-door meeting on the Yemen issue, saying that parliamentary debate had yet to “yield the level of transparency needed to make an informed decision on the government’s policy.” On Wednesday, one soldier was killed and three wounded in a live-fire training exercise between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, previously scheduled and ongoing this month; no further details have been reported but Dawn suggests that the casualties were Saudi. [AJE] [Dawn] [ET]
- Lakhvi Release Ordered: On Thursday, the Lahore High Court dismissed the latest detention order against Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zakiur Rehman Lakvhi, ruling that “sensitive information” from intelligence agencies used to justify his continued detention despite earlier bail rulings was insufficient.
- Interior Minister Marginalized: Express Tribune sources report that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has disavowed responsibility for the implementation of the National Action Plan approved in the wake of last December’s Peshawar school attack, quoting the minister that “the prime minister office has taken control of this process.” Chaudhry Nisar has reportedly been absent from multiple recent leadership meetings, and not to have spoken to the prime minister or his colleagues during the recent parliamentary debate on Yemen. [Dawn]
- FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Sharif visited frontline forces in Khyber Agency on Wednesday, where military spokesmen claim operations have killed at least 263 militants. A meeting of the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial apex committee on Wednesday, chaired by governor Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, reported that roughly 100,000 internally displaced persons had been repatriated to North and South Waziristan over the past month. [Dawn]
- TTP Chief Sanctioned: The UN Security Council formally added Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander Maulana Fazlullah to its sanctions list on Tuesday, subjecting him to an asset freeze, arms embargo, and travel ban. [ET]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Imran Khan Visits Karachi: On Wednesday, both the MQM and PTI dialed back their previous confrontational language, with Khan reiterating that he wanted the upcoming NA-246 special election to be peaceful and the MQM proffering wedding gifts for Khan and his wife and welcoming his visit to the city. Khan briefly addressed supporters in Karachi on Thursday, ahead of a larger rally planned for April 19; fighting between PTI and MQM activists was reported, although MQM leaders denied involvement. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
- Election Rigging Commission Formed: On Wednesday, Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk formed a three-judge special commission, headed by himself, which will carry out the investigation into election rigging in the 2013 general elections agreed earlier this month by the government and the PTI. The commission’s first meeting is scheduled for Friday.
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Chinese Investment: Pakistani Minister of Petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi tells the WSJ that the China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau has agreed to provide 85% of the financing for the construction of Pakistan’s $2 billion portion of the stalled Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, and that a deal will likely be signed during Pres. Xi Jinping’s visit to Paksitan, now reportedly taking place later this month. Chinese officials have not confirmed the account, and State Department officials said that as of now, “significant support to Iran’s energy sector, such as providing significant investment or technology,” could still result in sanctions. Separately on Thursday, the Power Construction Corporation of China announced that it plans to invest, together with Qatar’s Al Mirqab Capital, in the construction of a $2.1 billion coal power plant in Karachi.
- Polio Crisis: Federal Minister of National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar attended a SAARC summit of health ministers on Thursday, where she met separately with India’s health minister to discuss cooperation on polio vaccination efforts and other health campaigns. Pakistani health officials will meet with their Afghan counterparts next week to discuss the coordination of their polio vaccination efforts. [Dawn]
Pakistan — Remainders
- LUMS Cancels Panel Featuring Baloch Activist [ET]
- Government Plans to Challenge Dismissal of Qadri Terrorism Charge [ET]
- Government Withdraws Asghar Khan Review Petition [ET]
- Ex Chief Justice’s Son Challenges PTI Return to Parliament [Dawn] [ET]
- Four TTP Militants Killed in Karachi [ET]
- Lahore Police Recover 10 Madrassah Students Being Trafficked to Afghanistan [ET]
- Pakistan ‘Nowhere Close’ to Meeting 2015 Education Goals [ET]
- PTI, PPP Name Candidates for Cantonment Elections [ET] [Dawn]
- Senate Opposition to Give up Four Committees [Dawn]
- Khyber Paktunkhwa Civil Service Threatens Strike Over Appointments Formula [ET]
- Pakistan and Oman Agree on Strengthened Cooperation [Dawn]
- Report: Women, Violence and Conflict in Pakistan – “The best of laws will provide little protection so long as social attitudes toward women remain biased, police officers are not held accountable for failing to investigate gender-based crimes, the superior judiciary does not hold the subordinate judiciary accountable for failing to give justice to women survivors of violence, and discriminatory laws remain on the books.” [International Crisis Group]
Afghanistan — Security
- Attack on Mazar Court Offices: As many as five people have reportedly been killed and 28 wounded in an attack on the appellate court office in Mazar-e-Sharif; the Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, which is ongoing as of this writing. [TOLO]
- Insider Attack Kills One: An American NATO servicemember was killed and two others wounded in an attack by an Afghan guard at a compound in Jalalabad on Wednesday, the second NATO fatality this year. At least two Afghan soldiers were also reportedly wounded in the attack, which occurred following a meeting between a senior U.S. diplomat and provincial officials, who were not injured. Nangarhar provincial police chief Fazl Ahmad Sherzad denied that there had been any dispute between the U.S. and Afghan soldiers, leaving the attacker’s identity and motivation unclear. [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [AP]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Government Formation: Defense ministry nominee Gen. Afzal Ludin withdrew his nomination from consideration due to disputes between Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah over his appointment, multiple reports indicate. Abdullah was quoted on Wednesday telling visiting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman that he and Pres. Ghani should “jointly decide and resolve problems”. Sources in Abdullah’s office meanwhile claim that election reform commission chairwoman Shukria Barakzai, a Ghani ally, will be removed from her position, which Barakzai has denied. Speaking at a conference on human rights in Kabul on Wednesday, Abdullah acknowledged weaknesses in the judicial system, saying that the government had been “negligent” on justice issues.
- Bribery Accusations: Members of parliament accused deputy Wolesi Jirga speaker Haji Zahir Qadir of bribery and extortion during cabinet member confirmation hearings on Wednesday; Qadri denied the charges and accused his critics of corruption themselves. [Khaama Press]
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Parliamentarians Call for Government Action to Release Hazara Hostages [TOLO]
- Kunar Police Chief Survives Bombing [TOLO]
- Abdullah Vows to Resolve Taxpayer Grievances [TOLO]
- Report: Evolution of Fundamental Rights in Afghanistan: 1924-2004 – “Among Afghanistan’s six constitutions, the 1931, 1964 and 2004 constitutions are important landmarks for the evolution of fundamental rights in the country.” [AREU]