- The Punjab police Counter-Terrorism Department filed an official First Information Report into the Pathankot Airbase attack in India on Friday, a move which Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah said was intended to “show that there is full commitment and earnestness”; the report does not specifically identify Jaish-e-Mohammad or its leaders as suspects. The Red Cross temporarily suspended operations in Ghazni following the kidnapping of five aid workers earlier this week; it announced on Friday that they had been freed. NATO officials say they are still investigating whether any foreign forces were involved in Wednesday’s raid on a Swedish Committee for Afghanistan hospital in Wardak, but say initial reports indicate that there was no such presence. Only 39 out of 324 people executed by Pakistan in 2015 had linkages to militant or terrorist crimes, a report by the groups Reprieve and Justice Project Pakistan suggests. The Afghan army may begin using unarmed surveillance drones in its operations as early as March, U.S. military officials report. The Sindh provincial government formally extended the policing powers for the Sindh Rangers for a 90-day on Thursday. The MQM has announced hunger strike plans to protest continued restricitons on the broadcast of remarks by party leader Altaf Hussain. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited the headquarters of the new security division tasked with protecting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project on Friday.
Pakistan — Security
- Police Probe Initiated in Pathankot Attack: On Friday, the Punjab Police Counter-Terrorism Department filed a formal First Information Report to initiate investigations into the Pathankot Airbase attack in January; the report does not specifically identify Jaish-e-Mohammad or its leaders as suspects, but does reference Indian evidence that the attackers belonged to a “proscribed organization”. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters that “the registration of this case shows that there is full commitment and earnestness,” and cited the need for Pakistan to “make your image before the world better, and to dispel the propaganda of other countries that our commitment is questionable. The move comes a day after Pakistan’s foreign ministry called for a date to be set for foreign secretary-level talks “as early as possible”. Dawn cites anonymous diplomatic sources who suggest that Prime Ministers Sharif and Modi are likely to meet on the sidelines of the Washington nuclear summit on March 31. India’s defense minister Manohar Parrikar told reporters on Thursday that Pakistan was not serious about investigating the alleged perpetrators of the Pathankot Airbase attack, and suggested that a Pakistani investigation team would not be allowed to visit the site. [BBC] [AP] [Dawn]
- Executions: Pakistan executed 324 people in 2015, ranking third world-wide, according to a draft report by the groups Reprieve and the Justice Project Pakistan; that report estimates that only 39 of the convicts had been involved in crimes linked to terrorism or militancy.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Rangers Powers Extended: The Sindh provincial government issued a formal notification on Thursday for the extension of policing powers for the paramilitary Sindh Rangers, for a 90-day period beginning from February 4. The notification does not reference a resolution earlier this year that sought to place restrictions on Rangers’ authorities to conduct corruption investigation. Separately, the MQM announced plans to hold a four-day hunger strike beginning Friday to protest court restrictions on the broadcast of remarks by party leader Altaf Hussain. [Dawn] [ET]
- Corruption Investigations: An anonymous aide to Prime Minister Sharif tells Dawn that the government is considering constituting a parliamentary committee or forming a “supra-commission” to consider reforms and restructuring of the National Accountability Board, a move that he suggested would be made with the consensus of other parties. The Express Tribune reports that a new three-member accountability commission, whose chairman would be appointed in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, is under consideration. A PTI lawyer filed a petition in the Lahore High Court on Thursday accusing Sharif of undermining the independence of the NAB through his critical comments earlier this week. [Dawn]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Transit Trade: Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan told reporters on Friday that Pakistani trucks would be able to transit Afghanistan and carry cargo to other Central Asian states without a visa beginning in July, and that “trucks coming from Afghanistan will also benefit from the same facilities and immunity.”
- CPEC Project: The Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet approved the creation of a special revolving account, backed by sovereign guarantees, to ensure uninterrupted power purchase for new energy projects constructued as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited the headquarters of the new Special Security Division charged with protecting the CPEC, and was quoted as saying that “we are totally aware of all campaigns against the corridor and I vow that the security forces are ready to pay any price to turn this long cherished dream into reality”.
- Tharparkar Crisis: Four more child deaths were reported in Tharparkar on Thursday, bringing the total to 172 since the beginning of the year. Dawn reports that there were 326 infant deaths in 2015, and cites understaffing at the district hospital and a three-year ongoing drought as contributing factors.
Pakistan — Remainders
- Extension of Afghan Refugees’ Stay Still ‘Under Consideration’ [ET]
- Senate Chairman Delays Consideration of PIA Privatization Bill [Dawn]
- Prime Minister Reshuffles Top Civil Service Postings [ET]
- All Suspects Acquitted in December 2014 Killing of PTI Activist in Faisalabad [ET]
- Four Mutilated Bodies Found in Chaman District [Dawn]
- Former Chief Justice Accused of Misusing Housing Loan [Dawn]
- PPP Protests Against Reduction of Women’s Quota in Local Body Elections [ET]
- Gas Utility Violating Regulator’s Orders on LNG Supply [ET]
- Balochistan Demands Water Dues from Sindh [ET]
- Commentary: Stop Writing Pakistan Blank Checks – “Too often, the arguments for U.S. aid to Pakistan have been unconvincing because their purposes have been muddled.” [Daniel Markey, Foreign Policy]
Afghanistan — Security
- Red Cross Workers Freed: The International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan suspended operations in Ghazni province following the kidnapping of five staffers on Tuesday; Red Cross officials said they had established contact and were working to secure the staffers’ release. On Friday, officials announced the release of the aid workers, unharmed.
- Hospital Raid: One of the three people killed in an Afghan police commando raid on a Swedish Committee for Afghanistan hospital facility in Wardak was a 15-year old caretaker, a spokesman for the group confirmed on Thursday. The commander of an Afghan army brigade for the province tells the Post that his forces were not involved in the raid, and speculates that foreign forces were involved; NATO officials say they are investigating, but “at this time we have no operational reporting of any coalition or U.S. activity in the vicinity of any hospitals in Wardak”. Afghan police officials have not denied involvement and justified the raid on the basis of the hospital’s treatment of enemy Taliban fighters, which SCA officials denounced as a violation of the Geneva Convention. [WSJ]
- Drone Operations: U.S. military officials say that the Afghan army will begin using remote unarmed ScanEagle surveillance drones beginning in March; training is underway in Mazar-e-Sharif, and deployments are planned in the north and south, totaling at least six aircraft.
- Other Attacks and Operations: Minister of Agriculture Asadullah Zamir survived a roadside bombing while en route between Kandahar and Helmand on Thursday; no casualties were reported. The Nangarhar provincial governor, NDS chief, and the commander of the Afghan National Army’s 201st Selab Corps all visited the Achin district on Thursday, where they touted military successes against Daesh-affiliated fighters, and said that operations would be extended to the adjoining Nazyan district. Badakhshan provincial governor Ahmad Faisal Bigzad tells TOLO that the Jurm and Yamgan districts are “completely under the control of insurgents”, and that several other districts are under threat. A drone strike in Paktika province’s Gomal district killed six Taliban militants on Wednesday, a spokesman for the provincial governor said. [Khaama Press]
- Campbell Meets with Pakistani Army Chief: Outgoing U.S. commander Gen. John Campbell met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif in Islamabad on Thursday; details are limited, but discussions are reported to have focused on the Afghan reconciliation process. [APP]
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Ghani Reiterates Call for Action to Recover Kidnapped Herat Governor Wahidi [ET]
- Ahmad Zia Massoud Reiterates Criticism of Government Peace Efforts [LAT]
- Religious Leaders Endorse Afghan Army Fight [TOLO]
- Commentary: An Afghan Exodus: Unaccompanied Minors in Sweden – “Sweden has seen more asylum seekers per head of population than any other European country and liberal asylum policies have come under great pressure. During the last six months there has been a dramatic increase in migrants in general and unaccompanied minors in particular. Two thirds of them are Afghan boys.” [Ann Wilkens, AAN]