Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: TTP Suicide Bomber Strikes Quetta Frontier Corps; Agreement on ‘Roadmap’ for Afghan Talks

Topline

  • A Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan suicide bomber killed at least eight people in an attack on a Balochistan Frontier Corps vehicle in Quetta on Saturday. Diplomats from the United States, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan met in Islamabad on Saturday for the latest talks on the Afghan peace process; a joint statement afterwards set the end of February as the deadline for setting a date for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, saying that a “roadmap” had been adopted to bring as many Taliban groups as possible into the process. Pakistan’s Privatization Commission chairman Mohammad Zubair met with Pakistan International Airlines union leaders on Friday for talks but failed to reach an agreement to end their strike. Those union leaders met separately with the head of the Sindh Rangers on Saturday, afterwards voicing “full confidence” in the Rangers’ investigation into the shooting death of two union members last week. Four missing union members reappeared on Monday, officials announced; no details of their captivity have been released. Limited PIA flight operations resumed on Sunday, although the engineers’ union warned that maintenance requirements were not being carried out. Afghan interior minister Noor ul Haq Uloomi has reportedly submitted his resignation, although it has not been accepted; Khaama Press attributes the move to a dispute over the selection his preferred deputy. Pajhwok reports that the Taliban’s intelligence chief and his deputy were kidnapped in separate incidents on the outskirts of Quetta last week. Jamaat ud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed held a conference in Islamabad on Friday warning the PML-N government “not to betray the Kashmir cause”. Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan has resigned; a successor has not yet been named. Afghan army sources report that their forces in Sangin are in dire need of reinforcements; provincial officials insist that there is “no serious threat” there. A suicide bomber struck an Afghan National Army bus in Balkh on Monday, killing three. Pakistani army officials met with Finance Minister Dar on Sunday seek financing for the establishment of a new security division and 28 battalions. On Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that an agreement had been reached with EU officials on additional information-sharing requirements for a deportation agreement negotiated last fall.

Pakistan — Security

  • Suicide Bomber Attacks Quetta Frontier Corps: At least eleven people were killed and 35 injured when a suicide bomber on a bicycle detonated his explosives alongside a Frontier Corps convoy passing near the Quetta district courts complex on Saturday. Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan spokesman Mohammad Khorasani claimed responsibility for the attack. Provincial officials pledged compensation for victims and Frontier Corps Inspector General Maj. Gen. Sher Afgun pledged “fast action” in response. At least 35 suspects had been arrested as of Sunday, and Frontier Corps officials reported that they had killed two TTP suspects in a search operation.
  • Army Seeks Additional Funding: Pakistani army officials met with Finance Minister Dar on Sunday to demand financing for the establishment of a new security division and 28 battalions, according to a finance ministry statement; Dar was quoted as saying that the “government attaches the highest importance to security matters” and would provide the funds.
  • IDP Assistance: The chairman of the national assembly committee on states and frontier region, Jamaluddin of the JUI-F, promised hearings on Rs 1 billion in assistance for displaced FATA residents, which he said remained tied up in the bureaucratic approval process, charging that “the federal government is not sincere about rehabilitation and development in the tribal areas.”
  • School Security: Eleven militant suspects “and their facilitators” were arrested in the town of Shabqadr in the Charsadda district on Saturday, which police officials said was in connection to the attack on the Bacha Khan University. The Post interviews families and students who have begun to cautiously return to schools in the past week, many whom describe continued fear of future militant attacks.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Kashmir Day Commemorated: As reported on Friday, Prime Minister Sharif addressed the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly to commemorate Kashmir Solidarity Day, calling for mutual dialogue with India and saying that the disputed territory was “the litmus test of the political foresight of present India-Pakistan leadership [as to] whether they clear the debt of history or pass it on to the next generations.” Separately, Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed organized a conference in Islamabad, also attended by leaders of the ASWJ, Jamaat-e-Islami, and PTI, among others, in which he warned the prime minister “not to betray the Kashmir cause”. [ET]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Governor Resigns: Prime Minister Sharif accepted Khyber Paktunkhwa governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan’s previously-submitted resignation on Monday; presidential approval is still pending. He tells Dawn that he intends to return to politics and campaign ahead of the 2018 general elections. The Express Tribune reports that Mehtab has been asked to stay on until his successor is nominated, and names two retired generals as leading candidates.
  • Deportation Agreement: On Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that an agreement had been reached with the European Union regarding a readmission agreement for the deportation of Pakistani nationals from Europe; the interior ministry indicated that the EU had agreed to a identity verification process proposed by Pakistan and greater information-sharing on deportations. [ET]
  • Lal Masjid Leader ‘Pardons’ Musharraf: On Sunday, Lal Masjid leader Maulana Abdul Aziz announced that he had forgiven former Pres. Musharraf for the death of his brother Abdul Rasheed Ghazi during the 2007 Lal Masjid operation, “for the sake of peace in the country”. Aziz has filed countercharges against several civil society activists who have sought his arrested.
  • Judicial Policy: Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali suggested to a Sindh High Court Bar Association audience on Friday that he intended to halt the practice of appointing retired judges to various tribunals across the country, although he did not specify which kind; he suggested instead that lawyers should head the bodies. The Pakistan Bar Council has voiced opposition to a senate proposal that would increase the number of Supreme Court judges from 17 to 27.
  • Other Political Activity: Imran Khan visited the city of Dera Murad Jamali in Balochistan’s Nasirabad district on Sunday, where he threatened nationwide protests if the government did not meet PTI demands to reduce petroleum prices, eliminate gas and power supply taxes, and pay Pakistan Steel Mills employee salaries. Khan also pledged to respect the rights of smaller provinces and denounced the government’s handling of the PIA strike. A PTI protest in Islamabad on Saturday dispersed after a rival group of merchants formed a counter-protest, demanding payment for the party’s 2014 sit-ins. The Sindh High Court heard arguments on Saturday on petitions challenging a PPP-backed amendment abolishing the secret ballot in the election of mayors and other indirectly elected local government officials. [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Deadlock Continues on PIA Strike: Privatization Commission chairman Mohammad Zubair arrived in Karachi on Friday and met with representatives of the Pakistan International Airlines union Joint Action Committee; both sides welcomed the talks as a “good sign”, but gave no signal of an immediate agreement. Flight operations remained suspended on Saturday, and a planned second day of talks was not held. Union leaders also met with Maj. Gen. Bilal Akber, chief of the Sindh Rangers, and afterwards professed “full confidence” in their investigation into the shooting death of two protestors in Karachi last week. On Saturday, union leader Sohail Baloch filed police charges against several PML-N leaders, alleging a “well-planned conspiracy”; the Rangers were omitted from the filing. On Saturday, the Rangers announced that they had identified a man believed to have taken part in the protest shooting, identified as a fire department employee. On Monday, strike leaders announced that four union leaders who had gone missing at the start of the strike had been freed on Monday; no details of their captivity have been released. PTI chairman Imran Khan also met with strike leaders in Karachi on Saturday, criticizing the government’s privatization plans; PPP spokesmen suggested that the party might join him, and the MQM also voiced support for the strikers. Separately, the head of the airline pilots’ union, PALPA, announced its withdrawal from the strike effort on Saturday; a limited number of flights took off from the Islamabad airport on Sunday. PIA offices reopened in Islambad and Karachi on Monday, with more flights operating to carry pilgrims back from Saudi Arabia; the Express Tribune reports that as much as 90% of PIA staff have returned to work at the Lahore airport. The Society of Aircraft Engineers of Pakistan warned that flights were being cleared to operate without completing maintenance protocols, saying that their members remained on strike. PIA employees received letters on Sunday warning them that they faced the loss of their jobs and other punishments if they continued to participate in the strike in violation of the Essential Services Act. [Dawn] [ET] [ET]
  • Tharparkar Crisis: Five more child deaths were reported in the Tharparkar district on Friday, and another two on Sunday, bringing the total since the start of the year to as many as 178. Sindh provincial health minister Mehtab Dahar visited the hospital in the district center of Mithi on Sunday and insisted that “the situation in Thar wasn’t as bad as portrayed by the media”, claiming that the government had made “unprecedented” efforts to bring health facilities to the area. On Sunday, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah ordered the creation of a judicial commission to investigate the health crisis there, to be headed by retired judge Ghulam Sarwar Korai.
  • Polio Crisis: Karachi’s first recorded polio case of the year was reported over the weekend; his parents report that he had received several vaccine doses but had missed two previous doses. Two cases have been reported nationwide so far this year.
  • Spending Cuts: Dawn reports that the Khyber Paktunkhwa government will likely slash spending for its Rs 174 billion Annual Development Program by Rs 77 billion this fiscal year, which officials attribute to a shortfall in transfers from the federal government and overestimations in the initial budget target.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • To Protect Chinese Investment, Pakistan Military Leaves Little to Chance [Reuters]
  • Registered Afghan Nationals Complain of Police Harassment [ET]
  • Intelligence Bureau to Brief Senators on ‘Spy Signals’ from Diplomatic Enclave [Dawn]
  • Shia Leader Killed in Peshawar [ET]
  • Two Killed in Bannu IED [Dawn]
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Anti-Corruption Commission Chief Warns Against Changes to Law [ET]
  • ‘No Headway’ in Eight-Year Investigation Into Bhutto Assassination Attempt [Dawn]
  • Sindh Traders Call Off Strike Plans [ET]
  • Khan Kawar Power Plant Remains Closed for Seven Months Over ‘Technical Faults’ [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of International Jihad – “Pakistan is intervening in a number of foreign conflicts. Its intelligence service has long acted as the manager of international mujahedeen forces, many of them Sunni extremists, and there is even speculation that it may have been involved in the rise of the Islamic State.” [Carlotta Gall, NYT]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Interior Minister Reportedly Resigning: Interior Minister Noor ul Haq Uloomi is reported to have submitted his resignation, which has not been accepted by Pres. Ghani; Reuters attributes the move to criticism from parliamentarians for the worsening security situation, but Khaama Press reports that the resignation was made after his choice for deputy interior minister was rejected by Chief Executive Abdullah. A spokesman for the ministry denied that Uloomi had resigned.
  • Taliban Intelligence Chief Reportedly Kidnapped: Pajhwok, citing a “source close to the Taliban,” reports that Mullah Mohammadzai, indentified as the Taliban’s intelligence chief, and his deputy, Mullah Mohammad Issa Akhund, were kidnapped in separate incidents on the outskirts of Quetta last week. A Taliban spokesman denied the report. Separately, the dissident Taliban faction led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool reportedly gathered in Farah province to reiterate their opposition to movement leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor; Rasool was previously reported to have accepted a ceasefire agreement with Mansoor at the start of the year.
  • Attacks and Operations: The NYT interviews Kunduz residents who express continued concern about the threat of a Taliban takeover of the city again, and reports that Taliban fighters retain control of many outlying provincial districts. A protest was held in the city on Sunday, the participants accusing the government of failing to provide security; acting governor Hamdullah Danishi echoed calls for military action. An anonymous Afghan army commander tells the BBC that Helmand’s Sangin district is again on the verge of being taken over by the Taliban, and that forces are in dire need of supplies and reinforcements; a spokesman for the governor insisted there was no “serious threat” there. At least three people were killed and 18 injured in a suicide bombing attack on a bus carrying Afghan army personnel in Balkh’s Dehadi district on Monday; the Taliban claimed responsibility. A defense ministry spokesman said Sunday that operations in Baghlan were proceeding slowly due to land mines planted by insurgents in the Dand-e-Ghori area. Two radio journalists were attacked and injured outside the Baghlan provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri on Saturday; at least one man was detained by police, who suggested a family connection with the victims. The district governor of Nangarhar’s Achin district claimed Saturday that as many as 28 Daesh-affiliated militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike, the majority of them Pakistani nationals. Power cables were cut in Faryab’s Khawaj Subz Posh district during fighting on Sunday evening, cutting off electricity to the capital and several districts. One policeman was killed and eight people injured, including two judges, in a roadside bombing in Logar province; the Taliban claimed responsibility. On Monday, a presidential security guard was killed at his home in Nangarhar’s Behsud district; no claim of responsibility has been reported. [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Quadrilateral Coordination Group Meets Again: Diplomatic representatives from Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and China held the latest meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghan peace talks in Islamabad on Saturday. Speaking at the outset of the quadrilateral talks, Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that efforts would be “aimed at persuading (the) maximum number of Taliban groups to join the peace talks”; he also reiterated that there should be no preconditions to negotiations. A statement released after the meeting said that the group had “adopted a roadmap stipulating the stages and steps in the process”, without providing details. Pakistan diplomatic sources told Dawn prior to the meeting that they would propose a three-stage process focused on identifying Taliban factions open to talks, deciding how negotiations would be conducted, and for talks to take place by April. The public statement set a goal to set a date for direct peace between the Afghan government and “Taliban groups” before the end of February. Another quadrilateral meeting has been scheduled to take place in Kabul on February 23. In remarks on Sunday, the Afghan foreign ministry’ spokesman said that “as far as the issue of the groups which do not endorse peace talks is concerned, Afghanistan and Pakistan have committed and agreed to deal with them with all available resources and continue their strong struggle against them”; anonymous Pakistani diplomatic sources talking to the Express Tribune prior to the meeting suggested that “we have asked the Afghan side to identify the irreconcilable Taliban first; but they had not mentioned anyone in the previous meetings.” Parallel to the quadrilateral meeting, U.S. special representative Richard Olson met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif; on Sunday, Pres. Ghani met with China’s ambassador to Kabul, praising Chinese support. In an interview with Iran’s Fars News agency, former Pres. Karzai argued that Iran, India, and Russia should be included in the talks process. Earlier on Friday, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council, Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, confirmed that the US and UK had suspended funding for the organization since the start of the year; the HPC has lacked a chairman since Salahuddin Rabbani’s appointment as foreign minister last year. [Reuters] [AJE] [ET] [TOLO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Government Formation: TOLO reports that as many as 50,000 government positions are vacant, apparently due to disagreement within the national unity government on appointments to fill them. Khaama Press reports that Pres. Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are divided on a choice for the mayor of the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, each asking the Independent Directorate of Local Governance to appoint Engineer Matiullah Bahir and Hasibullah Sultani, respectively.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Pentagon Releases Photos Linked to Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan [AP] [Reuters] [BBC]
  • Five Accused Pakistani Spies Arrested in Badakhshan [TOLO] [Khaama Press]
  • Up to 500,00 Sq Kilometers of Land in Afghanistan Covered in Landmines [TOLO]
  • Ghani Sacks Chief of Protocol After Kandahar Brawl [Guardian]
  • Moneychangers Union Warns of Increase in Foreign Currency Trafficking [TOLO]
  • National Procurement Commission Approves Twelve Contracts Worth Afs 1.6 Billion [Khaama Press]
  • Commentary: Straight Talk on Afghan Peace Talks – “Expectations for the Afghan peace process should be measured. With the Taliban’s increasing leverage in negotiations and refusal to join in the talks, lasting peace remains elusive.” [Marvin Weinbaum, Foreign Policy]
  • Commentary: The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: A Nuanced View – “Early findings for the new research project suggest that Daesh has established a foothold in Afghanistan and is still growing. However, its advance more closely resembles a hurdle race than a triumphant march.” [Antonio Giustozzi, RUSI]
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