- Relief efforts continue in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the wake of Monday’s quake; as of this writing the death toll is reported at 115 in Afghanistan and 267 in Pakistan, with thousands of homes damaged or destroyed. Aid workers warn that exposure to the elements is now the immediate concern, particularly as heavy rain and snow has hit some of the affected areas. The UK Defense Secretary announced Tuesday that Britain would retain its current 450 troops in Afghanistan through 2016, with the priority of supporting the Afghan national security forces’ training. In a meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif reportedly agreed that onus lay on the Afghan government to announce their support for a return to talks with the Afghan Taliban. Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch will reportedly continue on in his role through the end of his term, rather than stepping down in favor of a PML-N candidate as had been agreed at the outset of the provincial coalition government. The Taliban reportedly seized control of the Darqand district in Takhar on Wednesday; Afghan security officials say they have retaken Kunduz’s Dasht-e-Archi district. A spokesman for the Afghan presidency said Tuesday that the government was still waiting on civil nominees for the committee to select new members of the Independent Election Commission, but electoral reform commission officials suggest that all nominees have already been received. The Election Commission of Pakistan issued its code of conduct for media reporting on elections on Tuesday, which includes restrictions against broadcasting “anything that could adversely affect public opinion against a particular party or candidate”.
Pakistan — Security
- Iranian Security Official Visits: Ali Shamkani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday for talks with top Pakistani officials; Dawn reports that his agenda will include border security, intelligence sharing, and other forms of bilateral security cooperation.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Tensions with Afghanistan: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif met on Tuesday to discuss the status of Afghan peace talks and the prime minister’s recent visit to the US. Attendees are reported to have agreed that onus lay on the Afghan government to publicly voice its “willingness and seriousness” to return to talks. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that Pakistan’s role was only as a “facilitator” of talks, and that while Pakistan had “some influence on the Taliban,” it had “no control over them”. Speaking to the Afghan Council of Ministers on Tuesday, Chief Executive Abdullah said that “we heard Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif clearly on fight and peace talks with Taliban. If Pakistan cannot fight insurgency, we cannot trust they would not support insurgents… we are not sure they will encourage the Taliban to peace.”
- Balochistan Chief Minister to Continue: The Express Tribune reports that Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch of the National Party will continue on as the province’s chief minister through the remainder of the government’s term, and that the original coalition agreement that the PML-N would appoint its provincial chapter president, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, as chief minister to finish the second half of the term has been dropped.
- Elections and Other Political Activity: On Tuesday, the Election Commission issued its detailed code of conduct for media reporting on elections, which includes restrictions on broadcasting “anything that could adversely affect public opinion against a particular party or candidate”. Lahore police met on Tuesday to finalize security plans for local government elections there, which will involve the deployment of roughly 18,000 police. At a press conference on Tuesday, PTI Punjab organizer Chaudhry Sarwar reiterated accusations that the ruling PML-N was using its control over the state administration to influence the outcome of the elections, but insisted that the PTI would continue to contest the polls. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that PML-N legislator Siddique Khan Baloch could contest a re-election to his seat in Lodhran’s NA-154 constituency; PTI leader Jahangir Tareen, who had challenged Baloch’s election, said that “the decision of [the] peoples’ court will be clearer”. [ET] [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Supreme Court Issues Detailed Judgment in Taseer Murder Case [Dawn] [ET]
- MQM Leader Muhammad Anwar Charged with Receiving Indian Support [Dawn] [ET]
- Two Policemen Killed in Karachi Traffic Stop [Dawn] [ET]
- Majsli e Wahdat e Muslimeen Leaders Call for Operation Against Sectarian Groups in Rural Sindh [ET]
- Supreme Court Unhappy with Delays in Musharraf Trial [Dawn] [ET]
- FBR Seeks to Block Creation of Tax Reforms Monitoring Body [ET]
Afghanistan — Security
- UK to Maintain Afghan Forces: On Tuesday, UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told parliament that Britain would keep the 450 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan in place at current levels through 2016, a decision he attributed to the additional time it would take Afghanistan’s national security forces to “develop into a fully-fledged fighting force capable of providing complete security for the people of Afghanistan”. In a statement Tuesday evening, Pres. Ghani welcomed the announcement, which he said would “augments the commitment and effectiveness of [Afghanistan’s] forces to fulfill their grand mission, and further boost their morale”. [WSJ] [Guardian] [Reuters] [AP]
- Attacks and Operations: Taliban fighters seized control of the district center in Takar province’s Darqand district early Wednesday morning, the provincial police chief’s spokesman said, after local security forces withdrew from the district. A spokesman for the provincial governor reported that six Afghan personnel were killed. On Wednesday, deputy chief of army staff Lt. Gen. Murad Ali Murad claimed that Afghan forces had fully retaken control of the Dasht-e-Archi district in Kunduz. Elsewhere, the district governor of Nangarhar’s Achin district reported that 11 Taliban militants were killed in a drone strike late Tuesday evening; he suggested that foreign militants and a foreign hostage may have been present in the vehicle. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
- Prisoner Transfer: Reuters reports that Afghan security forces have transferred around 150 inmates from the main prison in Lashkar Gah to Kabul, in order to forestall any potential Taliban jailbreak attempts as they stage attacks on the outskirts of the Helmand provincial capital.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Election Reforms: A spokesman for the presidency said Tuesday that the government was still waiting on nominees from media, civil society, and women’s rights organizations to form a selection committee to choose the next members of the Independent Election Commission; the deputy head of the electoral reforms commission reports that all nominees have been received, however.
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Earthquake Aftermath: As of Wednesday, Pakistani disaster management authorities report that the death toll from Monday’s earthquake has risen to 267, while Afghan officials report that 115 have died. Over 17,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed in both countries, and hundreds wounded. Aid workers warn that exposure risks are high for those rendered homeless or unwilling to risk sleeping inside overnight; some of the worst-hit areas have been hit by heavy snow and rain for the past two days. Rescue workers continue to struggle to reach affected areas, with aftershocks and landslides continuing in the northern mountain regions of both countries. A large aftershock was reported near Khuzdar, Balochistan, on Tuesday; 27 Nangarhar University students were injured in a stampede following rumors of an impending aftershock on Tuesday evening. Rescue workers have yet to reach parts of the Malakand division in northern Pakistan. Speaking at a press conference in Peshawar on Tuesday after visiting Shangla district earlier in the day, Prime Minister Sharif announced an aid package for those affected by the quake, with costs to be split between the federal government and provincial government. Khyber Paktunkhwa provincials indicated that they would divert development spending funds to support relief efforts if needed. The Express Tribune notes that an Asian Development Bank-managed Disaster Management Fund, proposed at a donors conference in January, has yet to be formed; Pakistani parliamentary opposition leader Syed Khurshid Shah criticized the government on Tuesday for not holding previously scheduled meetings of the National Disaster Management Commission. Russian officials have extended their condolences over the quake; China has pledged to contribute disaster relief aid, although amounts have not been specified. [ET] [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET] [ET] [TOLO] [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Turkmenistan Forces Neutral in Clash Between Dostum and Taliban [RFE/RL]
- Pentagon to Investigate Afghan Sex Abuse Coverup Claims [AFP]
- Atmar Summoned by Senate Over AP Interview Remarks [Pajhwok]
- Karzai Turns Down Allocation of Funding for His Office [Khaama Press]
- Kabul Police Evict Squatters from Qargha Lake Area [TOLO]