- MQM leaders held a counter-press conference on Thursday, rallying to the defense of party leader Altaf Hussain after former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal appeared to denounce Hussain and announce the formation of his own rival political party. The MQM have announced plans to hold rallies in Karachi on Friday in support of Hussain. Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal suggested that direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban would be held by mid-month, although the Taliban have yet to signal their willingness to participate. The Pakistani senate rejected a measure converting Pakistan International Airlines into a public limited company, setting the stage for the government to convene a joint session of parliament and push it through. Petitioners challenged the new Punjab protection of women bill in a petition to the Federal Shariat Court. Russia has agreed to forgive an unspecified amount of Afghanistan’s outstanding debts, converting them to grant aid.
Pakistan — Security
- Pathankot Investigations: Speaking at a weekly press briefing on Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said that Indian allegations of Pakistani support for the Pathankot Airbase attack were “unfortunate and unhelpful”, saying that “cooperation and understanding is the need of the hour”.
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- MQM Pushes Back After Kamal’s Criticism: MQM leaders held a counter-press conference on Thursday following former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal’s return to the city and denouncement of the leadership of party leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain, insisting that “the people of Karachi, regardless of their religion, sect and class, stand with Altaf Hussain and the MQM”. Party leader Nadeem Nusrat accused the media of giving “hours of air time to people with no mandate” while maintaining restrictions on the broadcast of remarks by Hussain. MQM leaders reiterated that “no one can separate Altaf from us. He is the solution to all our problems.” The party announced plans to hold protest rallies in support of Hussain’s leadership across Karachi beginning Friday afternoon. Speaking again on Friday, Kamal claimed that “we are not against any political outfit or person”. PTI leaders claimed vindication in their rivalry with the MQM after Kamal’s remarks, echoing his allegations of linkages with the Indian RAW intelligence service and criminal activities, although Dawn notes splits between the party’s central and Karachi leadership over whether Kamal himself should be welcomed back into politics. [Guardian] [ET] [Dawn]
- Women’s Protection Law Challenged: Petitioners have filed a challenge in the Federal Shariat Court alleging that new legislation passed by Punjab for the protection of women against violence violates Quranic and sharia law. Leaders of the Council of Islamic Ideology have also criticized the bill, although their rulings are non-binding. [ET] [Dawn]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- Senate Rejects PIA Conversion: On Friday, the senate rejected by voice vote a bill that would convert Pakistan International Airlines into a public limited company, allowing for its partial privatization; the government is expected to convene a joint session of parliament, allowing the PML-N to push the measure through on the strength of its majority in the national assembly. [ET]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Musharraf May Testify in His Defense in Treason and Bhutto Murder Cases [Dawn]
- Man Sentenced to 13 Years Over ‘Religiously Offensive’ Facebook Post [AFP]
- Charges Filed Against Axact [Dawn]
- Sindh Assembly Census Briefing Delayed [ET]
- Khyber Paktunkhwa Reviews Polio Vaccination Planning [Dawn] [ET]
Afghanistan — Security
- Chinese Military Assistance: Ministry of Defense officials say that they are preparing a “wish list” of military equipment to be sought from China following the visit of Chinese chief of army staff Fang Fenghui earlier this week.
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Taliban Talks: In a TOLO interview, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal said that direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government would take place by March 15. Afghan foreign ministry and High Peace Council representatives echoed the expectation that the Taliban would participate in talks, although Taliban spokesmen have not signaled an interest in doing so. Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday that he had no confirmation of a date for talks. Zakhilwal also said that a joint meeting of religious leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan was planned within the next two months, which he suggested might lead to a fatwa on the part of Pakistani ulema disavowing support for the war in Afghanistan. The Express Tribune reports that Afghan deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai recently told a Pakistani Track II delegation that “we are comfortable with starting [talks] with the [Taliban’s] Doha office”, which he suggested “was legitimate” and had the backing of Mullah Mansour and the Haqqani network. [Dawn] [ET] [BBC] [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Debt Assistance: Following a meeting on economic cooperation, Afghan finance ministry officials reported on Thursday that Russia had agreed to convert an unspecified amount of outstanding debt into grant aid.
Afghanistan — Remainders
- Ministry of Interior Voices Concerns Over Corruption Case Interference [TOLO]
- Lawmakers Speak Out in Defense of Green Beret Under Investigation for Striking Militia Officer [NYT]
- Kabul Police Announce More Kidnapping Arrests [TOLO]
- Report: A Survey of the Afghan Parliament, Wave Three – “DI conducted the survey with parliamentarians in September and October 2015 in order to gauge their attitudes on electoral reform, security, reconciliation with the Taliban, and the National Unity Government’s (NUG) performance, among other important topics.” [Democracy International]