- During a two-day visit to Qatar, Prime Minister Sharif signed a fifteen-year agreement for the import of up to 3.75 metric tonnes annually of liquefied natural gas, with pricing set at 13.37% of the Brent crude benchmark. Two Afghan policemen carried out separate insider attacks on Wednesday, targeting NATO personnel in Kabul and police colleagues in Kandahar’s Zhari district; four policemen were killed in the latter incident but no NATO soldiers were wounded. Both attackers were killed. The Sindh High Court overturned an amendment that provided for indirect elections to mayoral and council chairmen positions to be held through an open show of hands, rather than secret ballot. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif approved death sentences for 12 men convicted through the military court system, all accused of membership in the TTP, Al Qaeda, or Sipah-e-Sahaba. Ahmad Zia Massoud, the national unity government’s special representative for reform and good governance, lambasted the government’s security policies in remarks in Takhar on Wednesday, calling for the formation of a “resistance council” of mujahadeen veterans to counter the insurgency. Afghan military officials renewed calls for U.S. air support in their operations against the Taliban. The Khyber Paktunkhwa anti-corruption commission chief resigned in protest on Wednsday after the provincial government introduced an ordinance restricting the commission’s powers of arrests. Meetings between PIA union leaders and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif concluded with no signs of a breakthrough agreement, following the end of the union’s strike over the past week.
Pakistan — Security
- Counterterrorism Response: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif chaired a meeting of corps commanders on Wednesday to review internal and external security; military spokesmen quoted him warning that “terrorists are being funded externally by hostile intelligence agencies and have their sympathisers at home who provide them shelter and refuge”. In separate testimony before the senate interior committee, Intelligence Bureau director general Aftab Sultan said that the TTP was “realigning” with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and SSP, and suggested that the groups’ sympathy for the Islamic State was allowing it to establish a presence in Pakistan; at least 42 Daesh-affiliated suspects were reported to have been arrested in Punjab in January. [ET] [Dawn]
- Death Sentences Issued: On Thursday, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif approved death sentences for twelve convicts in the military courts system; although details are limited and court trials are not held openly, profiles of the men released by the military indicate that they were variously members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and Al Qaeda. [ET] [AP]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Elections: On Wednesday, the Sindh High Court ruled that amendments to the Sindh local governance law calling for indirect elections of mayors and council chairmen through an open show of hands were illegal, and should be held through secret ballot instead. The ruling also directed the Election Commission to immediately set a date to hold those elections. PPP officials, who had supported the measure, said they would wait for a detailed judgment before deciding whether or not to appeal. Separately, visiting EU election observation mission head Michael Gahler told a press conference on Wednesday that the EU was “strongly advising against” the introduction of electronic voting and biometric registration in the next general elections, saying that “you cannot substitute a lack of administrative capacity and other deficits by introducing a computerised voting”. [Dawn] [ET]
- Khyber Paktunkhwa Anti-Corruption Chief Resigns: On Wednesday, the director general of the Khyber Paktunkhwa Ehtesab Commission, which is charged with leading provincial anti-corruption efforts, resigned in protest after the issuance of an ordinance that restricts the commission’s powers of arrest, requiring consent from provincial assembly leaders in the case of a lawmaker or the provincial chief secretary in the case of a civil servant. Other measures include fines for “frivolous” complaints and a 90-day timeline for inquiries and 30-day timeline for investigations.
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Prime Minister Signs LNG Deal in Qatar: During his visit to Doha on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sharif signed an agreement for the import of liquefied natural gas from Qatar, covering the period from 2016-2031. The Qatar Liquefied Gas Comany Ltd will provide Pakistan State Oil with 3.75 million tonnes of LNG annually (pro-rated to 2.25 tonnes in 2016), at a price set at 13.37% percent of the average of the Brent crude benchmark for the preceding three months, which Pakistani government officials touted as the cheapest of all Pakistan’s long-term gas import agreements. Pricing will be reviewed at the ten-year mark in the agreement; Pakistan is obliged to pay for the full cost even if it fails to receive shipments. [Dawn] [ET]
- PIA Negotiations: In a statement on Wednesday after meeting PIA union leaders, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said that he would “convey the point of view of the [union] to the prime minister” and that “restoration of the glory of PIA should be the prime objective of all concerned and we will take decision without consideration of personal likes and dislikes”. No agreement was reached on downsizing of the PIA or the withdrawal of notices against PIA union members who participated in the strike. During senate debate on Wednesday, opposition members called for an independent judicial commission to investigate the death of two PIA employees during a rally in Karachi on February 2, and accused the government of privatizing PIA “on the dictation of the IMF”.
- Development Spending Cut: Finance ministry officials report that the government spent Rs 158 billion on development during the July-December period of the fiscal year, Rs 122 billion below its target; the restrictions allowed Pakistan to meet a first-half fiscal deficit target with the IMF.
- Hydroelectric Projects Transferred to FWO: On Wednesday, the Khyber Paktunkhwa provincial government announced that it was transferring responsibility for six hydroelectric power projects, which have received promises of Chinese financial assistance, to the military-run Frontier Work Organization.
- Tharparkar Crisis: Seven more child deaths were reported in the Tharparkar district, bringing the total since last October to at least 150; provincial health officials again blamed the media for “creating a hype” and insisted that there was no drought in the area.
Pakistan — Remainders
- PML-N and ANP Join Protests at Peshawar Hospitals [ET]
- Balochistan University Teacher Injured in Quetta Shooting [Dawn]
- ANP District Councilor Killed in Swabi [ET]
- Uzair Baloch’s Wife Seeks Access [ET]
- India Detains 11 Pakistani Fishermen [ET]
- Czech President Reports $6.2M Bounty Paid for Hostages Freed in March [AP]
- National Highway Association Approves Land Purchase for ‘Western Route’ [Dawn]
- Multinationals Hike Drug Prices [Dawn]
- Kashmir Traders Meet to Discuss Strengthened Ties [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Military Assistance: In an interview with Reuters, the commander of the Afghan National Army’s Kandahar-based 205th Corps repeats calls for renewed U.S. air support to Afghan forces, arguing that “only air support and air strikes break the Taliban”. Pres. Ghani attended an exhibition of the Afghan Air Force on Thursday, commending personnel for their efforts and thanking U.S. NATO allies for their support of the force. A spokesman for the ministry of interior welcomed reports that U.S. forces would be redeployed to Helmand in advisory role. Separately, National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar met on Wednesday with the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan, Alexander Mantytskiy, who said that a first batch of military supplies — previously reported to be a cache of AK-47 assault rifles — would be delivered “in the near future”. [Khaama Press]
- Insider Attacks: A policeman guarding the Commerce Ministry opened fire on a group of coalition soldiers on Wednesday before being killed in return fire, interior ministry officials and NATO spokesmen confirmed; no other injuries were reported, and no further details on the attacker or his motivation have been reported. In Kandahar, a policeman killed four colleagues at a checkpost in the Zhari district, before being killed by another officer; the Taliban claimed credit for the attack. [AP]
- Taliban and Daesh Clash: As many as 80 militants have reportedly been killed in clashes between rival Taliban and Daesh-affiliated forces in the Gomal district in Paktika, local officials and residents report; they report a drone strike also targeted a group of Taliban serving as bodyguards to the Taliban shadow district governor, killing 18. There is no independent confirmation of those estimates.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Government Under Criticism: Speaking at a gathering in Takhar on Wednesday, former vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud, who was appointed special representative for reform and good governance under the current national unity government, criticized the government’s national security policies, saying there was “no plan to suppress” the insurgency and suggesting the formation of a “resistance council” of mujahadeen veterans to counter the Taliban. [Khaama Press]
Afghanistan — Remainders