Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Chinese President Arrives in Pakistan; ISIS Affiliate Claims Deadly Jalalabad Bombing

Topline

  • Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a two-day visit, where he is expected to sign a host of agreements on energy sector investments and infrastructure loans, which some reports suggest could total as much as $15 billion. At least 35 people were killed and scores more wounded in a suicide bombing at a bank branch in Jalalabad on Saturday; the regional affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, which other local militant groups have condemned. Pres. Ghani visited Badakhshan on Saturday to review security and hear local complaints in the wake of last week’s attack on Afghan National Army checkposts there. The MQM, PTI, and Jamaat-e-Islami staged campaign rallies in Karachi over the weekend, ahead of the special election scheduled for April 23; the Election Commission has rejected a Rangers proposal for biometric scanners at all polling stations, saying there was not enough time to implement the system. The Afghan parliament confirmed all 16 cabinet nominees in a vote on Saturday, leaving on the defense minister position unfilled. Tariq Mehboob, a Sunni Ittehad Council leader, died while in custody in Karachi on Saturday; his family alleges that he was tortured. Pres. Ghani visited Iran on Sunday for a two-day visit and meetings with senior Iranian officials; Afghan army chief of staff Sher Mohammad Karimi visited Pakistan on Saturday to attend a graduation ceremony at the Pakistan Military Academy. Pakistan’s petroleum minister reports that Russia is ready to provide $2 billion in financing for the construction of an LNG pipeline linking Karachi and Lahore, and that the deal will be finalized next month.

Pakistan — Security

  • Yemen Conflict: In an Express Tribune interview, visiting special advisor to the Saudi ministry for religious affairs Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al Amar avoids direct comment on the Pakistani parliamentary resolution on the Yemen conflict but says that “the kingdom’s expectations from Pakistan are very justifiable and rational”, and warns against “Iran’s expansionist designs”. On Monday, Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed led a conference in Peshawar devoted to the Yemen conflict, which he attributed to “the US and Jewish lobby”.
  • Indian Border Tensions: Pakistani military spokesmen accused India of unprovoked cross-border artillery fire along the Line of Control near Shakargarh on Sunday evening, which Pakistani forces returned; no casualties were reported. On Saturday, 47 Indian fishermen were arrested on charges of violating territorial waters. Speaking separately on Saturday, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz reiterated calls for India to resume foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan. [ET]
  • FATA Operations: Farooq Zadran, identified as a key Haqqani network commander, was reportedly among six militants killed in operations in the Kurram Agency on Saturday. Another five militant fighters were reportedly killed in clashes with security forces in the Tirah Valley on Sunday. On Friday, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F met with tribal leaders from North Waziristan in Peshawar, where he announced plans to convene a jirga within two weeks to discuss the complaints of IDPs who say repatriation to cleared areas has been too slow.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Chinese President Visits: Pres. Xi Jinping arrived in Islamabad on Monday, beginning a two-day visit with meetings with Pres. Mamnoon Hussain and PM Sharif. Xi will address a joint session of parliament on Tuesday, and is expected to sign a number of investment and loan deals; reporting varies on the size of those agreements, which have not yet been announced as of this writing. Dawn quotes Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, speaking on Friday at an Islamabad seminar, that Xi would sign agreements totaling $50 billion — the highest figure yet reported — as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, which he said would comprise electricity infrastructure investments ($35-37 billion) and concessional loans for the construction of roads, ports, and railways ($8-9 billion). The Express Tribune quotes ministry officials who suggest that only around $15 billion in agreements will be signed during this trip – $10.5 billion in commercial agreements in the energy sector, and $4 billion in government-to-government infrastructure agreements. [AJE] [Reuters] [ET] [ET]
  • Rallies Ahead of Karachi Special Election: On Saturday, Election Commission of Pakistaofficials rejected a proposal by the paramilitary Rangers to install biometric scanners at all polling stations for the upcoming NA-246 special election, scheduled for April 23, saying there was insufficient time to introduce such a system. The ECP agreed to install CCTV cameras if provided by the provincial government. On Sunday, Imran Khan headlined a PTI rally in Karachi, vowing to “end the politics of fear in the city”; the PTI has alleged the creation of “ghost polling stations” and the seizure of national ID cards by the MQM in the runup to the vote. The MQM staged a mass rally in the same area a day prior; speaking by phone, leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain expressed confidence that the party would retain the seat, and denounced the PTI and JI as “branches of the Taliban and Al Qaeda”. On Friday, Hussain professed his resignation from party leadership in protest against “non-compliance” by senior party leaders, before withdrawing his resignation shortly afterwards. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sirajul Haq also campaigned for the JI’s candidate on Friday and Saturday; PTI leaders have expressed hope that the party may yet withdraw in favor of the PTI.  [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
  • Sunni Leader Dies in Custody: On Saturday, Tariq Mehboob, a leader of the Sunni Ittehad Council and the Anjuman Naujwanan-i-Islam — the youth wing of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan — died while in custody; he had been remanded to the custody of the paramilitary Rangers for 90 days two days prior on charges of sheltering gunmen involved in targeted killings. The Rangers maintain that Mehboob died in the Karachi Central Jail and not in their custody, and indicated that the cause of death was a heart attack, which Mehboob’s family members disputed; anonymous sources suggest signs of external bruising were discovered during autopsy. Protests demonstrations were held by the Sunni Ittehad Council in Karachi on Sunday. [ET]
  • Election Complaints: Dawn interviews Ishaq Khakwani, who heads the PTI task force testifying before the special judicial commission to investigate electoral fraud allegations; he suggests that “things are different now and I hope the ECP, the main culprit behind the rigging, will spill the beans before the commission”. Anonymous ECP officials tell the Express Tribune they are prepared to rebut the PTI charges, and suggest that most complaints of last-minute changes to polling procedures should be attributed to the actions of individual returning officers. Meanwhile, the Sindh High Court has sought responses from the government and Election Commission in response to a petition challenging local government constituency delimitation by the provincial government. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • LNG Import: Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi tells the Express Tribune that Russia has agreed to lend Pakistan $2 billion for the construction of a liquefied natural gas pipeline linking Karachi and Lahore, which will be constructed without bidding by a Russian firm. The agreement – which Abbasi said would be finalized next month – will set the stage for Pakistani imports of Russian LNG starting in 2016. Meanwhile, Dawn reports that Sui Southern Gas Company Ltd and Sui Northern Gas Company Ltd officials were effectively detained and threatened with removal from their positions to coerce them into signing a ministry of petroleum-negotiated agreement between the gas companies and Pakistan State Oil on responsibility for penalties owed to the Engro LNG import terminal at Port Qasim.
  • Polio Crisis: National Institute of Health officials tell Dawn that they are investigating 20 cases of suspected polio — thirteen from Khyber Paktunkhwa or FATA — which if confirmed would nearly double the national total record so far this year of 21 cases. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Government Considering Consolidating Control Over Energy Regulators [ET]
  •  Sindh Plans Terror Financing Crackdown [ET]
  • Sufi Muhammad Case Transferred to Mingora Sessions Court [ET]
  • Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Qadri Appeal [ET] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Former Sindh Government Advisor Arrested on Kidnapping Charges [ET]
  • Dawn Marketing Director Killed in Karachi [Dawn] [ET]
  • Two Killed in Clash Between PTI and PPP in Rawalpindi Local Elections [ET]
  • PTI Divided on Local Body Election Tickets [Dawn]
  • Sindh Assembly Passes Bill to Require Security Measures at ‘Vulnerable Establishments’ [ET]
  • Current Deficit for First Nine Months Shrinks to $1.46 Billion [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Dozens Killed in Jalalabad Bombing Claimed by ISIS Affiliate: A suicide bomber detonated outside a Kabul Bank branch in Jalalabad on Saturday, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 125, all reportedly civilians queuing for salary payments from the bank. The attack was one of three explosions reported in city on Saturday, although at least two were controlled demolitions by Afghan police of explosives-rigged motorcycles and no further casualties were reported. The Taliban denied involvement in the attack, as did the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its affiliates Jamaat-ul Ahrar and Lashkar-e-Islami. Text messages sent to Afghan journalists on behalf of former TTP spokesman and ISIS convert Shahidullah Shahid, on behalf of the Wilayat Khorasan, the Islamic State’s regional affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attack. The veracity of that claim and the organizational linkages between the regional affiliate and ISIS remain unconfirmed. Pres. Ghani, however, attributed the attack to ISIS, condemning the incident. [Guardian] [AJE] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Other Attacks: Pres. Ghani visited the Badakhshan provincial capital of Fayzabad on Saturday in the aftermath of last week’s attack on Afghan National Army outposts in the Jurm district, where he vowed to address public concerns over security. His trip follows a visit by Interior Minister Noorulhaq Uloomi on Friday, who praised security personnel and dismissed militants as weak and foreign-supported. Uloomi and the deputy chief of army staff and deputy director of the NDS testified before parliament on Sunday, where they vowed “no mercy” for anti-government forces. On Monday, Paktia officials report that 19 workers for a de-mining company were kidnapped on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Gardez. [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Army Chief Visits Pakistan: Chief of general staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi visited a graduation ceremony for Pakistani soldiers at the Pakistan Military Academy on Saturday, where he reiterated calls for “noninterference in each country’s affairs and mutual respect” and called for “sincere, close, result-oriented cooperation and coordination” to defeat Pakistan and Afghanistan’s common enemies, who he described as “non-state actors” who seek to “grab power through terror and fear”. Karimi met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif to discuss cross-border cooperation after the ceremony; it is his second visit Pakistan in the past four months. [TOLO]
  • Police Oversight: A UN investigation has found that Afghan police inspector general officials has suppressed complaints of corruption and recommended their dismissal, Reuters reports; the is now investigating why the Law and Order Trust Fund of Afghanistan (LOTFA) has not previously distributed the report, initially prepared in January. Hakim Nejrabi, the head of the police inspector general’s office, dismissed the report as “a political character assassination”, and said he had investigated more than 50 cases and referred 22 for prosecution.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Cabinet Nominees Confirmed: After several weeks of review and hearings, on Saturday, the Wolesi Jirga voted to confirm all sixteen ministerial nominees under consideration; 239 members of parliament were present the vote and all ministers were cleared with a minimum of 120 votes. The ministry of defense remains vacant. [AJE] [AP]
  • Ghani Visits Tehran: Pres. Ghani arrived in Tehran on Sunday for a two-day visit, where he met with his counterpart Hassan Rouhani and with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Talks focused on counternarcotics cooperation and Afghan refugee repatriation, as well as cooperation on regional security. During a joint press conference on Sunday, Ghani pledged that he would “not allow Afghanistan’s soil to be used against other counties for insurgent or any other violent activities”. Both countries pledged cooperation and intelligence-sharing against the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries has complained that Iranian companies have been dumping iron goods, crippling the Afghan domestic market. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Zabul Protestors Continue Demonstrations for Hostages’ Release [TOLO]
  • Report: Justice Through the Eyes of Afghan Women: Cases of Violence Against Women Addressed Through Mediation and Court Adjudication – “While there is a legal framework in place for such cases, there remain many factors hindering access to justice and redress for such women, in particular the lack of available civil remedies.” [UNAMA (pdf)]
  • Commentary: Afghanistan (Almost) Has a Cabinet: MPs Confirm All Candidate Ministers – “In general, MPs endorsement does not necessarily mean they like what is on offer, as voting in favour or against often has as much to do with mood and timing and what messages MPs want to send the executive and the country.” [Kate Clark, AAN]
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