- The PIA strike continued for a third day on Thursday; PIA officials report that at least 150 flights have been cancelled, and that the airline has lost at least Rs 1.8 billion since the start of the strike. The Sindh government has appointed a police task force to investigate the shooting death of two PIA protesters on Tuesday. Staff-level talks with the IMF concluded on Thursday with an agreement for the release of the next loan tranche, but reports suggest that IMF officials raised concerns over delays in the privatization of PIA and other state-owned enterprises such as Pakistan Steel Mills and the Faisalabad Electric Supply Company. Finance Minister Dar denied those reports and insisted that the government remained fully committed to privatization. The intelligence heads of the NDS and the ISI will reportedly meet today in a meeting brokered by China and the United States, although press accounts conflict as to whether that will take place in Kabul or Islamabad. In comments to the WSJ, anonymous U.S. military officials complain that restrictive rules of engagement in Afghanistan have led to only temporary gains when U.S. special operations forces are inserted to back up the struggling Afghan national security forces. The Sindh Rangers arrested the head of security at the MQM’s Karachi headquarters, charging him in connection with the 1997 murder of the Karachi Electric Supply Company’s director Shahid Hamid. Chief Executive Abdullah called for greater Indian investment in Afghanistan as he continues his visit this week. Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated a new highway link in Gwadar on Wednesday as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.
Pakistan — Security
- TTP Targeted in Drone Strike: Dawn identifies several commanders amongst the group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants targeted in a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, which reportedly included an unidentified British national of Pakistani origin; Hussain Ahmed, identified as the commander of a group tasked with kidnapping foreigners; and Azmi, identified as the head of the Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, and Lakki Marwat chapters of the TTP. [ET]
- School Security: A multi-party conference in Charsadda called by the Jamaat-i-Islami demanded an independent judicial inquiry into the attack on Bacha Khan University last month, as well as greater compensation for the victims and increased school security measures. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan held a security review meeting in Islamabad on Wednesday.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- MQM Security Chief Charged: On Wednesday, the Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of Minhaj Qazi, the former head of security at the MQM’s Nine-Zero headquarters, who they said had confessed to the killing of Karachi Electric Supply Company chief Shahid Hamid in 1997 as well other murders. He has been detained for a 15-day interrogation period.
- Elections: The senate committee on parliamentary affairs approved two amendments, previously passed by the national assembly, that give the Election Commission greater authority over constituency delimitation rule-making, but strikes a provision allowing the commission to delegate authority to a single commissioner in lieu of the full five-member body. The Lahore High Court deferred a hearing on opposition party challenges to amendments to Punjab’s local government law that changed the method of electing mayors and deputy mayors to a public show of hands, after the provincial government said that the executive ordinance had been brought up for debate in the assembly. By-elections have been scheduled for March 3 in the PS-76 Sindh assembly seat in Dadu. [ET] [Dawn]
- Corruption Investigations: Lawyers for former Sindh information minister Sharjeel Memon, who faces National Accountability Bureau charges of embezzlement, confirmed that he was living abroad in Dubai, and suggested he would not return to the country with protective bail. Separately, retired brigadier Amjad Kayani, a brother of the former chief of army staff, met with NAB officials in connection to the Defense Housing Authority scam; he denied that his brother Kamran Kayani owned Elysium Holdings, the company at the center of the scam.
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- PIA Strike Continues: The Pakistan International Airlines strike continued into its third day on Thursday, with all flights grounded. Prime Minister Sharif accepted chairman Nasser Jaffer’s resignation; aviation division secretary Mohammad Ali Gardezi has been appointed acting chairman. PIA has reached an agreement with the private carriers Airblue and Shaheen Air to carry passengers with already-booked tickets to a limited number of domestic and international destinations. Four 747 jets have been arranged to return a group of pilgrims stranded in Jeddah. A spokesman for the airline said that it had lost at least Rs 1.8 billion since the start of the strike on January 26; over 150 flights have been cancelled. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid accused the protestors of using force during their protest on Tuesday; former Pres. Zardari issued a statement calling for action against those responsible for “totally unwarranted and criminal use of force against protesting employees using their legal right of protest against their threatened unemployment”. Pakistan Railways union leaders held a small protest in Rawalpindi on Wednesday and threatened a parallel nationwide strike if the government proceeded with its plans to privatize PIA. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah announced the appointment of a committee headed by the deputy inspector general of police to investigate the shooting deaths at Tuesday’s protest, which he said PIA union leaders had accepted; police say they have no evidence in connection to the shooting. The Rangers have also announced an investigation. [ET] [ET]
- IMF Talks: Quarterly review talks between IMF and Pakistani finance ministry staff reportedly agreed to delay privatization benchmarks for PIA and other state-owned enterprises until mid-May; IMF staff reportedly raised concerns over that delay and the delay in privatizing Pakistan Steel Mills and the Faisalabad Electric Supply Company. Agreement and staff-level approval of the next $497 million loan tranche was announced on Thursday, but is still subject to IMF board approval; the IMF said that Pakistan met structural benchmarks for the quarter but “advancing the energy sector reform, setting in motion competitiveness-enhancing improvements in the business climate, continuing to expand the tax net, and ending losses in public enterprises will be critical” in the future. Finance Minister Dar said the government was still committed to “convert loss-making state-owned enterprises into profitable enterprises”, and finance ministry officials denied that there was any disagreement with IMF over privatization measures or modification to the timeline. [Reuters]
- CSF Delays: Defense secretary Muhammad Alam Khattak met with U.S. ambassador to Pakistan David Hale on Wednesday, where he discussed “the issues of the decrease in Coalition Support Fund and the economic difficulties in dealing with the crises of North Waziristan’s internally displaced persons”, according to a defense ministry readout. The U.S. secretary of defense has yet to issue a certification that Pakistani military operations in the FATA are disrupting the Haqqani network’s freedom of movement, a requirement for the release of a $350 million CSF tranche that was imposed in the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
- China Pakistan Economic Corridor Projects: Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated the Gwadar-Hoshab road in Balochistan on Wednesday, accompanied by Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, pledging that this and other projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would “ensure economic development of Balochistan”. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the corridor was “an important consensus between leaders of the two countries”; Syed Tariq Fatemi, the special assistant to Prime Minister Sharif on foreign affairs, visited Beijing and pledged the establishment of a dedicated force of around 10,000 personnel to provide security for Chinese engineers working on CPEC projects. [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- PTI Plans Karachi Protest [ET]
- Pakistani Military Offers India Assistance After Siachen Avalanche [Dawn]
- Indian Home Minister Says Pakistan Must ‘Show Sincerity’ on Confronting Terrorist Groups [ET]
- Would-Be Suicide Bomber Killed in Kalat [Dawn]
- Peshawar High Court Stays Additional Corruption Cases Against Former Mining Minister [Dawn]
- Bilawal Bhutto to Attend US National Prayer Breakfast [Dawn]
- Khyber Paktunkhwa Government Seeks Possession of Balahisar Fort [Dawn]
- Commentary: What Ails PIA? – “Today, PIA’s losses have risen to match the levels of the circular debt, and they may well cripple the carrier altogether.” [Khurram Husain, Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- U.S. Rules of Engagement Under Debate: Anonymous U.S. military officials complain to the WSJ that restrictive rules of engagement have “tied our hands” in responding to Taliban advances; a recent high-profile intervention by U.S. special operation forces to shore up Afghan positions in Helmand, in which one American soldier was killed, has reportedly since been reversed as Afghan forces withdrew in the face of continued Taliban attacks. The report also acknowledges broader discipline issues in the Afghan national security forces, including the “systematic and widespread” sale or surrender of weaponry to the Taliban.
- Attacks and Operations: Russian agencies, cited by Khaama Press, quote a spokesman for the Tajikistan State Committee for National Security, who expressed concern that as many as 5,000 Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and other fighters had concentrated near the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Afghan army forces carried out operations in Kunduz’s Ali Abad district after a Taliban attack on military outposts on Wednesday; provincial officials claim that as many as 17 Taliban fighters were killed. Baghlan provincial governor Abdul Sattar Bariz reported that security forces had been stationed to protect power cables in the Dand Shahabuddin district, and that engineers would repair the connection by the end of the week. [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Intelligence Chiefs to Meet: ISI chief Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar and NDS chief Masoud Andarabi will reportedly meet today in a meeting brokered by the United States and China, ahead of Saturday’s planned meeting of diplomats from the Quadrilateral Coordination Group. The Express Tribune and Dawn‘s accounts differ as to whether the meeting is taking place in Islamabad or Kabul.
- Ghani Visits Kandahar: Pres. Ghani met with local government officials and tribal leaders in a visit to Kandahar on Wednesday, where he announced the devolution of greater authority and greater funding to the mayors of Kandahar, Herat, Balkh, and Nangarhar on a “trial basis”. [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Abdullah Seeks Indian Investment: During a meeting with leading Indian industry bodies on Wednesday, Chief Executive Abdullah called for greater Indian investment in Afghanistan, touting the country’s position as a “land bridge” linking multiple regions and the construction of Chabahar port with Iran. [TOLO] [Pajhwok]
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Anywhere But Home: An Afghan Laborer in Iran Dreams of Life in Sweden [Guardian]
- Poppy Cultivation Increases in Nangarhar [TOLO]
- Commentary: New Building, Old MPs: A Guide to the Afghan Parliament – “Current confusion regarding the Wolesi Jirga’s legal situation as well as the election issue in general, including the need for electoral reform and what this should entail, is the result of half-solutions for legal and technical problems that have been mounting since the first electoral cycle of 2004/05.” [Salima Ahmadi and Thomas Ruttig, AAN]