Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Participation Unclear in Talks Set for Next Week; Gen. Sharif Orders Shawal Valley Op

Topline

  • Tuesday’s meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group in Kabul agreed to invite “all Taliban and other groups” to participate in direct peace talks with the Afghan government; talks are to be hosted by Islamabad and to begin by the first week of March. A Taliban spokesman with the group’s Qatar office said that it was “unaware” of the plans for talks and that it would not take part until preconditions involving the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the removal of Taliban leaders from international sanctions list were met. Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited forward positions in North Waziristan on Wednesday, ordering commanders to being the “final phase” of operations in the Shawal Valley. Former Pres. Zardari issued a statement on Tuesday saying that General Sharif’s resignation at the end of his tenure this November was “premature” and called for his continued leadership. The Sindh Rangers questioned former home minister Zulfikar Mirza in connection to investigations against Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch; Mirza denied any knowledge of or involvement in Baloch’s criminal activity. The UN issued a warning on Tuesday calling on parties to the Afghan conflict to respect protections for hospital aidworkers and casualties undergoing treatment. Vice President Dostum traveled to Jowzjan on Tuesday, where he announced he would head another offensive against the Taliban. Afghanistan’s DABS power utility estimated it lost $2.5 million during the past month’s power outages in Kabul due to reliance on diesel generators.

Pakistan — Security

  • FATA Operations: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif visited forward positions in North Waziristan on Wednesday, where he met with commanders and ordered the initiation of the “final phase” of operation Zarb-e-Az in North Waziristan’s Shawal Valley region, an area military spokesmen described as the “last bastion of terrorists left in North Waziristan”. Shortly before Sharif’s arrival, a roadside bombing wounded five paramilitary Frontier Corps personnel near Wana, South Waziristan. Separately, traders and local elders in Wana complain of delays in receiving compensation for buildings and shops damaged during military operations last year. [Dawn]
  • SFRC Chairman Criticizes F-16 Sale: During hearings on the State Department’s annual budget request on Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker voiced concern over the planned U.S. sale of up to eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, saying “they continue to support the Taliban, the Haqqani network and give safe haven to Al Qaeda”. Sec. Kerry, who was testifying, credited the Pakistani military for being “deeply engaged in the fight against terrorism”.
  • Charsadda Attack Investigations: A Dawn investigation into the attack on Bacha Khan University last month reports that local police initially refused to respond to a request for help from university officials, deferring the matter to the army; the report also disputes police claims of having killed two of the attackers before military personnel arrived.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Karachi Crackdown: Former Sindh home minister Zulfikar Mirza was called for questioning by the Sindh Rangers on Wednesday in connection to the arrest of former Lyari gang leader Uzair Baloch, with whom Mirza has close ties. Dawn reports that Mirza affirmed his public praise for Baloch, but denied any involvement in or knowledge of criminal activities. Separately, Dawn reports further excerpts from a joint investigation team report on the 2012 Baldia factory fire, documenting reports of extortion payments by the factory owners to local MQM leaders in the wake of the fire.
  • Civil-Military Relations: In a statement released on Tuesday, former Pres. Zardari said that Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif’s announcement of his intention not to seek an extended term was “premature,” saying that the “nation is united against terrorism and people are hopeful that the war on terror will reach its logical conclusion under the leadership of General Raheel Sharif.” Separately, during court hearings on Tuesday Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt reiterated the government’s position that former Pres. Musharraf was solely responsible for the 2007 emergency rule order; former Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar has challenged his inclusion in the case. The Balochistan High Court accepted a petition on Tuesday challenging an acquittal ruling for Musharraf in the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Census Plans: Pakistan Bureau of Statistics officials are developing alternative census plans in order to offer options at an upcoming Council of Common Interests meeting, the Express Tribune reports; those proposals include reducing the number of military personnel involved and extending the duration of the census-taking operation by giving enumerators multiple census blocks to survey.
  • Polio Crisis: A new polio case was recorded in Quetta on Tuesday, the third case reported so far this year. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Frets Over Potential Appeal of Islamic State [WSJ]
  • Prime Minister Briefs President, Attends Parliament [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
  • Two Jaish-e-Mohammad Members Sentenced to Ten Years [Dawn]
  • Fifteen Suspects Arrested in Quetta [ET]
  • ECP to Issue Tenders on Electronic Voting Machines [Dawn]
  • Currency Smuggling Suspect Arrested in Lahore [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Hospital Protection: In a statement on Tuesday, the UN mission in Afghanistan called on all parties to the Afghan conflict to “always respect the provision of healthcare, never to harm medical personnel and patients and to ensure that the protected status of medical facilities is respected.” The statement noted a recent Taliban suicide bombing attack near a clinic in Parwan province, and the raid on a Swedish Committee for Afghanistan hospital in Wardak, which the UN described as involving “Ministry of Interior Special Forces and the international military” and ending in the “summary execution” of two men and a 15-year old boy.
  • Attacks and Operations: The Afghan army has redeployed forces that were withdrawn from the Musa Qala and Naw Zad districts in Helmand to protect the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, the WSJ reports; at least four U.S. and UK special forces teams are also present in the province to provide support for the Afghan forces, and the military command is being restructured to establish seven new battalions. Meanwhile, Vice President Dostum traveled to Jowzjan province on Tuesday, where he announced — while wearing a military uniform — that he would again head operations against the Taliban in the Qosh Tapa and Darzab districts, which he said involved as many as 10,000 Afghan troops. On Wednesday, officials in Nangarhar claimed that as many as 22 Daesh-affiliated militants were killed in the Achin district by U.S. drone strikes “over the past few days”. [Ariana News] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press]
  • Russia Transfers Arms: On Wednesday, Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar formally received the transfer of 10,000 AK-47 assault rifles and several millions of rounds of ammunition from Russia, welcoming the aid and saying that talks were continuing for further assistance. [Reuters]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Talks Set for Next Week, But Taliban Participation Uncertain: Tuesday’s meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group in Kabul agreed to “invite all Taliban and other groups to participate through their authorized representatives in the first round of direct peace talks with the Afghan government”, which the group said would be hosted in Islamabad “by the first week of March 2016”. A meeting of the coordination group will also take place in Islamabad “immediately after the first direct peace talks”. A Taliban spokesman with the group’s Qatar office told RFE/RL that they were “unaware of plans for talks” and said that the insurgency had not changed its preconditions for peace talks, which include the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country and the removal of Taliban leaders from a UN blacklist. National Security Advisor Atmar warned that militant groups who continued to pursue violence would “face onslaught” by the Afghan security forces. [WAPO] [TOLO] [Khaama Press] [Joint Statement]
  • Refugee Repatriation: A flight carrying 125 Afghan refugees returned from Germany to Kabul on Wednesday; all agreed to return voluntarily, and were welcomed back by Afghan officials, who emphasized that “Afghanistan needs you”.

Afghanistan — Economics and Development

  • Baghlan Power Link Restored: In comments to the NYT, a Baghlan provincial police chief credits U.S. airstrikes in the Dand-e-Ghori area with breaking Taliban positions and allowing forces to retake control of the area and repair damaged power pylons linking Kabul with Uzbekistan; a U.S. military spokesman said he had “no information about American airstrikes in the area”. The CEO of the Afghan electric utility DABS reported on Tuesday that it had lost $2.5 million during the month-long outage, as it was forced to rely on diesel power generators. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Islamic State Releases New Khurasan Propaganda Video [Khaama Press]
  • Ulema Pledge Support for Polio Vaccination [TOLO]
  • Residents Protest Government Attempt to Reclaim Kabul Land [TOLO]
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