Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: SFRC Chairman Blocks F-16 Sale to Pakistan; Taliban Continue Attacks on Power Infrastructure

Topline

  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker has blocked the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan through the foreign military financing program, the WSJ reports. On Friday, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman announced the arrest in Karachi of nearly a hundred suspects linked with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the TTP, and Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, including several linked to a plot to attack the Hyderabad jail and free Khalid Omar Sheikh, who was convicted in the 2002 killing of journalist Daniel Pearl. Details on the arrests and their timing were not disclosed. The Taliban have reportedly damaged two more power pylons in Baghlan and Kunduz, further disrupting power supply to Kabul. The A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft being provided for the Afghan Air Force will enter service by March, AAF officials say. The U.S. military has carried out at least 20 airstrikes over the past three weeks targeting Daesh-affiliated militants in eastern Afghanistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan will hear challenges brought by the families of two men convicted under the military court system. Pakistan’s provincial education ministers agreed to adopted “minimum standards for education”, although details on those standards have not been reported. As many as 165 PIA workers, including union leaders, are facing the loss of their jobs for participation in last week’s strike. At least seven radio stations closed over the last year due to financial or security problems, the press advocacy organization NAI reports.

Pakistan — Security

  • Senator Blocks F-16 Sale: Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) has blocked the sale of eight F-16 jet fighter aircraft to Pakistan through the State Department-administered foreign military financing program, the WSJ reported. Corker said that he “fully understand[s] that our relationship with Pakistan is both complicated and imperfect” but that he could not support the use fo taxpayer funds for the sale as “while we’re spending tremendous amounts of U.S. dollars and certainly tremendous sacrifice in our men and women in uniform and by other agencies, they are working simultaneously to destabilize Afghanistan.” Corker indicated he would not oppose Pakistan’s purchase of the fighters with its own funds. President Obama’s budget request for FY2017, which includes a request for $286 million in FMF out of $859.8 million in assistance for Pakistan in total, said that FMF for Pakistan would focus on several priority areas, including “precision strike” capability; an embassy spokesman said that the F-16 was an “essential tool” in Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.
  • Counterterrorism Arrests: Chief military spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa told a press conference on Friday that Pakistani intelligence agencies had arrested as many as 97 “hardcore terrorists” in Karachi belonging to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the TTP, and Al Qaeda, including Farooq Bhatti, identified as the deputy chief of Al Qaeda’s Indian subcontinent branch, and two senior LeJ officials, Naeem Bokhari and Sabir Khan. Bajwa gave no details on the arrests or their timing, but said that some in the group were plotting an attack on the Hyderabad jail to free Khalid Omar Sheikh, who was convicted for the 2002 death of reporter Daniel Pearl. Three small hand grenade attacks were reported in Karachi on Friday, although there is no indication of a connection to the reported arrests. Separately, the foreign ministry’s spokesman refuted earlier remarks by the director of the Intelligence Bureau on Thursday, insisting that “there is no organized presence” of the Islamic State in Pakistan. Meanwhile, Bacha Khan University in Charsadda announced that it would reopen for students on Monday. [NYT] [Dawn]
  • Military Courts: A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali will hold hearings on February 18 into petitions brought by the family members of two men convicted under the military court system, who argue that they were not given fair trials.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Elections: The Sindh government has petitioned the Sindh High Court to stay its order on the election process for indirectly electing mayors and local council chairmen so as to allow the government to appeal to the Supreme Court. [Dawn]
  • Musharraf Hospitalized, Discharged: Former Pres. Musharraf was briefly hospitalized and later discharged after reports of chest pain and breathing difficulties; a spokeswoman said that doctors had advised him to get “treatment abroad”. In an Indian TV interview earlier on Thursday, Musharraf said that the Pakistani military was “200 percent on board” with peace talks with India, but accused India of having ” derailed the peace process every time and it only wants to discuss terrorism”. [AP] [Reuters]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Education Policy: The provincial ministers of education and minister of state for federal education met on Thursday and agreed to adopt “minimum standards for education”, with a focus on early childhood education. Sindh’s education minister did not participate in the conference.
  • PIA Strike: At least 165 Pakistan International Airlines workers are facing the loss of their jobs for their participation in last week’s strike action, Dawn reports, including union leaders; management officials attribute the end of the strike to effective threats of punitive action by the government and a divided union.
  • Khyber Paktunkhwa Doctors’ Strike Ends: Representatives of striking doctors in Khyber Paktunkhwa met with Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak and other senior provincial officials on Thursday and agreed to call off their strike; no agreement was announced on the doctors’ demands for an additional professional allowance and reduced work hours, however.
  • Water Infrastructure: The Sindh government has decided to award a Rs 25.5 billion, four-year contract for the Greater Karachi Water Supply project to the military-run Frontier Works Organization, Dawn reports.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Arif Ahmad Khan Appointed Interior Secretary [Dawn]
  • Foreign Secretary Criticizes Nuclear Suppliers Group Waiver for India [Dawn]
  • Prime Minister Calls for Qatari Investment [APP] [ET]
  • Three Suspects Arrested in Connection to Jacobabad Muharram Attack [ET]
  • Two Policemen Killed in Separate Attacks in Khyber Paktunkhwa [ET]
  • World Bank Agrees to Revise Balochistan Development Package [ET]
  • Petroleum Ministry Seeks Gas Utility Recovery of Bank Loan Costs Through Tariff Hikes [Dawn]
  • Opposition Senators Slam Government Economic Policies [Dawn]
  • National Assembly Committee on Housing Approves Rs 27 Billion in Programs [Dawn]
  • Aid Increased for Heirs of Pakistanis Dying Abroad [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Power Network Attacked: Officials of the Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat electric utility reported on Thursday that insurgents had destroyed another pylon in Baghlan and had cut two electricity circuits in Kunduz, severing a power linkage between Tajikistan and Kabul; forces in Kunduz report that a pylon has been damaged there as well. Power to the capital has been disrupted for the past two weeks after Taliban attacks in Baghlan. The Baghlan provincial police chief reported on Friday that two villages in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district had been cleared of Taliban fighters.
  • Airpower: The eight A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft in the process of being transferred from the U.S. to the Afghan Air Force will enter service and begin combat operations by March, AAF commander Maj. Gen. Abdul Wahab Wardak told a ceremony at the Kabul airport on Thursday. Pres. Ghani also attended. U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner told the AP on Thursday that the U.S. has stepped up its air campaign targeting Islamic State-affiliated fighters in eastern Afghanistan, carrying out 20 airstrikes over the past three weeks; he estimated that there were between 1000-3000 Daesh fighters in the area. [Khaama Press]
  • NATO Pledges Afghan Support: NATO defense ministers met in Brussels for a two-day conference; on Thursday, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the alliance’s commitment to training and supporting the Afghan national security forces.

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Radio Broadcasts: The press advocacy organization NAI reported on Thursday that seven FM radio stations around the country had closed down in the past year due to security threats or financial reasons, but that 175 stations remained in active operation, many whom still report financial and security problems. [Pajhwok]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Courts Said These Ex-U.S. Detainees Should be Freed. Why Weren’t They? [WAPO]
  • Pakistani Planning Minister Touts $500M in Afghan Assistance [APP]
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