- A spokesman for the United Jihad Council reiterated the group’s claim of responsibility for the attack on the Indian airbase in Pathankot in comments to Dawn; the All Parties Hurriyat conference voiced concern over the attack in a statement on Wednesday, saying that the dialogue process between India and Pakistan should not be derailed. Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting on the incident on Thursday. Meanwhile, Gilgit Baltistan officials are considering proposals to formally claim the disputed territory as part of Pakistan and to introduce observer legislators in the Pakistani parliament, seen as precursor steps to provincial status. U.S. forces continue to take part in operations in the Marjah and Sangin districts, where at least a dozen airstrikes were carried out on Wednesday. The Helmand deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, was removed from his position by the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, weeks after he publicly spoke out to Pres. Ghani and others in government to call for a security intervention in the province. Reports from Mazar-e-Sharif suggest that the attackers at the Indian consulate earlier this week had claimed revenge for the execution of a Kashmiri militant executed by India earlier this year, which was also reported as a motivation in the attack at Pathankot; Balkh police officials say they are still investigating the attack. Pakistan expelled a Bangladeshi diplomat on unspecified charges on Wednesday, in apparent retaliation for a similar move by Bangladesh in late December. Mullah Akhtar Mansour is reported to have expelled two dissident members of the group’s senior leadership committee, and to have tasked two aides with additional outreach to Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir. In a press conference on Wednesday, the head of the Afghan Independent Election Commission reiterated his position that the new selection committee to replace current commissioners was illegal.
Pakistan — Security
- Pathankot Attack: In comments to Dawn, a spokesman for the United Jihad Council of Kashimiri militant separatist groups reiterates the group’s claim of responsibility for the attack on the Indian airbase in Pathankot, denying that the group Jaish-e-Mohammad was responsible as some Indian sources have suggested. The spokesman claimed that the attackers were “squad of mujahideen drawn from different member outfits in our alliance” — of which Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba are “observer” members — and that “all attackers are local Kashmiris, based in India-held Jammu and Kashmir” who “have been facilitated by local Hindu, Sikh and Muslim officers”. On Wednesday, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference of Kashmiri separatist groups voiced “deep concern” over the attack, saying that it was “important that the dialogue process [between India and Pakistan] is not allowed to get derailed”. Indian security forces are continuing their search around the Pathankot area; while the head of the National Investigating Agency said there was “little doubt” the attackers were Pakistani, there was no confirmation as yet of an ISI role in sponsoring the attack. On Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif chaired a meeting of senior security and civilian officials to review evidence provided by India in connection to the attack. [AFP]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Gilgit Baltistan Considered for Provincial Status: A spokesman for the chief minister of Gilgit Baltistan tells the AFP that work is underway to finalize an agreement that would formally claim the territory — which is also claimed by India — as part of Pakistan, and add two lawmakers from Gilgit-Baltistan as observers in the national parliament, moves which are described as a precursor step to full provincial status. Anonymous officials cite Chinese concerns over the status of the territory as a driving factor, as parts of the new China-Pakistan economic corridor will pass through the area.
- Bangladesh Diplomat Expelled: Pakistan ordered the expulsion of Bangladeshi political counselor Moushumi Rahman from the country’s Islamabad embassy on Wednesday, a move apparently carried out in retaliation for the expulsion of a Pakistani diplomat from Dhaka in late December. Bangladeshi diplomatic officials say no rationale was offered for Rahman’s expulsion; anonymous sources tell Dawn that Rahman was accused of unspecified “anti-state activities”. The move comes amidst rising bilateral tensions over the issuance of the death penalty against the head of Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, Motiur Rahman Nizami, in connection to war crimes during the country’s 1971 war for independence from Pakistan. [Reuters]
- Rangers Standoff: Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, PPP senior provincial minister Nisar Khuhro insisted that the Sindh assembly had “[no] issues with the federal government regarding Rangers powers against terrorism, targeted killing, kidnapping for ransom and sectarian killing”, and that its concerns were limited to the use of 90-day preventative detention without consulting the provincial government. Separately, Abdul Fateh Malik, the provincial government’s top lawyer, resigned on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau approved an investigation into additional corruption charges against senior PPP leader Asim Hussain on Wednesday. [ET]
- Other Political Activity: A PTI committee tasked with preparing for intra-party elections for party offices is finalizing preparations for a membership registration drive, and has agreed that all positions will be directly elected, Punjab organizer Chaudhry Sarwar told reporters on Wednesday. Sarwar indicated that the committee was still debating whether elections would be held at the tehsil level or only at district and provincial levels. [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- CPEC Complaints: Planning minister Ahsan Iqbal met with representatives of the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government and announced afterwards that the provincial government had formed a four-member committee to liaise with the federal government on any complaints, headed by the provincial assembly speaker.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Chief of Army Staff Chairs Corps Commander Meeting [Dawn] [ET]
- Three ‘Militant Campaigners’ Arrested in Peshawar [Dawn]
- PEMRA Warns Against Commentary on Saudi-Iran Conflict [Dawn]
- MQM Mayoral Candidate Receives Bail in Altaf Hussain Speech Case [Dawn]
- Records Missing in Another Zardari Corruption Case [Dawn]
- FIA Arrests ‘Human Smuggler’ from Jeddah-Bound Flight [Dawn] [ET]
- Opposition Leader Charges Government with Bypassing Appointments Quota [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Helmand Operations: A U.S. army spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that U.S. forces carried out a dozen airstrikes in the Marjah district on Wednesday in support of ongoing operations in the area, where one U.S. soldier — identified by the Pentagon on Thursday as an Army Special Forces staff sergeant — was killed the day prior. Two other soldiers wounded in that incident have been evacuated. U.S. special forces continue to operate in support of an Afghan operation to retake parts of Marjah and Sangin districts. The provincial police chief claimed that 120 Taliban fighters had been killed since Monday; a spokesman for the provincial governor said that the main highway through Marjah had been retaken from Taliban control as of Wednesday. Meanwhile, the AP reports that Helmand deputy governor Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, who publicly called on the government to intervene to restore security in the province last month, had been removed from his post by the Independent Directorate for Local Governance. [TOLO]
- Mazar-e-Sharif Consulate Attack Investigations: Balkh police officials say they are investigating the perpetrators of the attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif, including tracing their cell phones; on Thursday, deputy police chief Abdul Raza Qaderi told Radio Azadi that the attack was planned by a “foreign terrorist group” and that further details would be released. The Indian Express reports that Urdu messages left in blood by the attackers at the site claimed it was carried out in revenge for the hanging of Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru, also earlier reported to have been a motive in the attack on the Pathankot airbase.
- Other Attacks and Operations: Acting defense minister Masoom Stanekzai visited Nangarhar on Wednesday, meeting with the governors of that province and Laghman, as well as Afghan National Army commanders. In Nangarhar, police officials report that 18 Daesh-affiliated militants have been killed in continued fighting with rival Taliban forces in the Bati Kot district. [TOLO]
- Taliban Divisions: The Express Tribune reports that former Taliban interior minister Mullah Abdul Razzaq and former Kandahar governor Mullah Hasan Rehmani have been expelled from the Taliban’s central leadership council for refusing to accept the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour; both are reported to have been previous participants in Pakistani-brokered talks in Urumqi and Murree. Mullah Omar’s son and brother are reported to have been inducted into the leadership council. Two other senior mullahs are reported to have been tasked with outreach to dissident Taliban leaders, focusing primarily on Mullah Qayyum Zakir.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Taliban Talks: Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on Thursday after returning from his trip to Iran, Chief Executive Abdullah confirmed that talks would be held in Islamabad next week to discuss plans for brokering peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
- Electoral Reforms: Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Independent Election Commission head Yusuf Nuristani welcomed parliament’s rejection of Pres. Ghani’s electoral decrees, reiterating the IEC’s position that the new selection committee to choose replacement commission members was illegal.
- Iran Visit: Following earlier meetings with Supreme Leader Khamenei and other Iranian officials, Chief Executive Abdullah met with Iranian Pres. Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday, who voiced support for expanded cross-border economic ties. In an interview with state-run Press TV, Abdullah said that the Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan was a threat for the country and the region, but was “not as significant force in Afghanistan as [the] Taliban”.
Afghanistan — Remainders