- Federal Investigations Agency officials met with former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal, seeking testimony on his allegations that MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain had received support from Indian intelligence agencies; Kamal said afterwards that he would offer “full cooperation”, and said that his new party would hold its first major rally in mid-April. The Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin announced on Sunday it was willing to participate in peace talks with the Afghan government. Speaking to reporters on Friday, former U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Campbell said that he had sought expanded combat authorities, “in part because I’m not going to get more people”; separately, acting Afghan defense minister Masoom Stanekzai ordered Afghan forces to conduct more night raids targeting Taliban members, and to retaliate against cross-border attacks from Pakistan without seeking higher authorization. Ghazni’s provincial police chief threatened to quit if he was not provided additional reinforcements, warning that eight of the province’s districts were on the verge of Taliban takeover. A Pakistani interior ministry investigation concluded that Shahbaz Taseer was freed by his captors, not by the actions of Balochistan security forces; the Afghan Taliban denied a report in The News claiming that they had rescued Taseer during clashes in Zabul last fall. Sindh police chief Ghulam Haider Jamali was sacked on Saturday following Supreme Court hearings on illegal police appointments and the misuse of funds. Pakistan began a nationwide polio vaccination drive on Monday. The PML-N government is planning to push through a bill converting Pakistan International Airlines to a public limited company, allowing for its privatization; the government is also planning a Rs 24 billion bailout for PIA.
Pakistan — Security
- Shahbaz Taseer Rescue: The Express Tribune reports that an Interior Ministry inquiry into the release of Shahbaz Taseer’s after five years in captivity concluded that he was freed by his captors, not rescued as a result of actions by Pakistani security forces, as initially reported by Balochistan security officials. The News reported on Saturday that Taseer had been seized from the custody of Mansoor Dadullah and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Zabul by Afghan Taliban fighters last November, who subsequently released him; a Taliban spokesman denied that account. [Dawn] [ET]
- Sindh Police Chief Removed: During hearings on Friday, the Supreme Court ordered the National Accountability Bureau to investigate Sindh provincial police chief Ghulam Haider Jamali on charges of illegal police appointments and misallocations of funds, among other charges. On Saturday, Jamali was removed from his office and replaced by Allah Dino Khawaja, who previously served on a committee that had been investigating Jamali’s appointment practices; Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has also ordered another inquiry into the issue. [ET] [Dawn]
- FATA Tribesmen Held: As many as 22 members of the Suleman Khel tribe were detained in South Waziristan on Friday under the Frontier Crimes Regulation’s collective punishment provisions, after the kidnapping of nine employees of the FATA Development Authority the day prior. Six tribal elders were released on Saturday. [Dawn]
Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- MQM Under Pressure: Federal Investigations Agency officials confirmed that they have sought testimony from former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal and former MQM financier Sarfaraz Merchant as part of investigations against the senior MQM leadership and allegations that it had received funding from the Indian intelligence services. An anonymous source affiliated with Kamal’s breakaway party faction tells the Express Tribune that he and former party leader Anis Kaimkhani “will be sharing proofs and issuing statements but will not appear before any authority with regard to the case”; Kamal said later that he would offer “full cooperation”. MQM leader Farooq Sattar held a press conference on Sunday alleged that the paramilitary Sindh Rangers had recently tortured as many as 40 party activists currently being held in pending cases, as part of efforts to “forcibly convert” former party members. Kamal, meanwhile, held a press conference and said his party would hold its first major rally in Karachi in the second week of April. On Monday, former MQM member Raza Haroon joined Kamal’s party. [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]
- Saudi Diplomacy: Prime Minister Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz on Saturday, following observations earlier in the week of joint military exercises. Reports indicate that Saudi Arabia pledged $122 million in additional economic assistance to Pakistan, although there are few details.
- Protection of Women Act: Religious scholars, including Pakistan Ulema Council chairman Tahir Ashrafi, and members of the Council on Islamic Ideology, received a briefing from Punjab government officials on the new Protection of Women Against Violence Act, stating afterwards that they were satisfied that the law was not against Islam, but suggesting that a “unit comprising religious scholars” should be created to “assist in improving” the law. Separately, JUI-F leader Fazlur Rehman claimed to have received assurances from Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif that the government would consider amendments to the law, which he continues to maintain is “un-Islamic”.
- Elections and Other Political Activity: In a statement on Friday, the Election Commission defended the recent appointment and transfer of 90 electoral staff, saying that provincial election commissioners had been consulted in the changes, which it said had been made to help staff “get exposure [and] experience at different places”. Separately, the ECP has sought the deployment of army personnel to provide security for by-elections for the NA-153 Multan and NA-101 Gujranwala constituencies, where voting will be held March 17 and March 21, and the PS-59 Badin provincial assembly seat, where voting will take place on March 15. Elsewhere, the Express Tribune interviews Yar Muhammad Rind, the PTI’s Balochistan organizer and a contestant for the NA-267 seat, who calls for a street protest movement ahead of the 2018 general elections, and the replacement of ECP commissioners with high court judges. [Dawn] [ET] [ET] [ET]
Pakistan — Economics and Development
- PIA Bailout: The Express Tribune reports that the government is preparing a Rs 24 billion bailout package for Pakistan International Airlines in order to pay debts and provide working capital. The government reportedly plans to push a measure changing the PIA’s status to a public limited company through a joint session of parliament on Monday.
- Polio Crisis: A nationwide polio vaccination drive is beginning on Monday, aiming to reach 18.3 million children in Punjab, 2.3 million children in Balochistan, and 2.2. million children in Karachi, among other areas. Health officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan met on Friday to discuss cross-border cooperation in the vaccination effort. [Dawn]
Pakistan — Remainders
- Zardari Defends Asim Hussain in Interview [Dawn]
- Lahore District Coordination Officer Places Onus on Pakistan Awami Tehreek in 2014 Clash [Dawn]
- Karachi Police Report Killing Two Al Qaeda Suspects; Rangers Checkposts Attacked [Dawn] [ET]
- Punjab University Student Detained Over TTP Linkage [Dawn]
- Five Balochistan Republican Army Militants Killed in Dera Bugti [ET]
- Supreme Judicial Council to Begin Hearing Complaints Against Judges [ET]
- Sindh Indentifies 53 Seminaries with ‘Militant Leanings’ [Dawn]
- Khyber Paktunkhwa Opposition Parties Allege Discrimination in 2015 Quake Relief Payments [Dawn]
- Government Aims to Add 1,100 Megawatts to Power Grid by Summer [Dawn]
- Prime Minister Attended Only One Senate Session This Year [Dawn]
- Eight Killed in Orakzai Coal Mine Explosion [Dawn]
Afghanistan — Security
- Rules of Engagement: Speaking to reporters on Friday, former U.S. and NATO commander Gen. John Campbell said that he had recommended a broader set of authorities for U.S. forces in Afghanistan related to “what you can strike, what you can’t strike, at what levels you can do train, advise, assist”; he did not provide further specifics. Campbell suggested that he made the argument in part because “I’m not going to get more people”. He also acknowledged that “we could have all the authorities we want” but “if the Afghans aren’t doing what they need to do, it’s not going to make a difference”. Separately on Sunday, acting defense minister Masoom Stanekzai announced an order authorizing Afghan forces to increase the use of night raids targeting Taliban militants, and also said that soldiers ” do not need to ask permission while you are on duty” to respond to cross-border violations, saying that “our task is to defend the country anytime and in any circumstance, whenever you see a violation, then retaliate”.
- Air Force Training: During his remarks on Friday, Gen. Campbell also estimated that the Afghan Air Force would not reach its full authorized number of aircraft until 2018, and would probably need another 2-3 years to train pilots for the new aircraft. [TOLO]
- Attacks and Operations: TOLO figures indicate a 25% drop in insurgent attacks during the first two months of the year, as compared to the year prior, and also reports a 15% increase in Afghan security forces operations. On Sunday, Ghazni provincial police chief General Aminullah Amarkhil warned that he would quit if he was not provided reinforcements, saying that eight districts in the province were at risk of collapse to the Taliban. Afghan National Army forces carried out operations in Herat’s Shindand district targeting Taliban fighters who last week had clashed amongst each other; as many as 41 were reported to have been killed in the new operations. Eleven passengers detained by the Taliban in Sar-e-Pul’s Sayad district last week were freed on Friday evening, following mediation efforts by local tribal elders and religious leaders. On Sunday, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor claimed to have evidence of efforts by Islamic State affiliates to infiltrate the province; he has presented himself as leading military operations in the Koshindah and Zareh districts over the past week. Afghan army officials say they killed 24 Daesh-affiliated militants in the Achin district, and that another 12 died and 21 were injured on Monday while planting a mine in an Achin district market. The Taliban confirmed the death of commander Mawlavi Mohammad Wali Haqqani in an ambush in the Kot district in Nangarhar on Saturday; no claim of responsibility has been reported, although Khaama Press notes reports of Daesh presence in the area. On Monday, a female police officer was reportedly killed in Kandahar; details are otherwise limited. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [Pajhwok] [AFP]
Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy
- Hezb-e-Islami Agrees to Talks: In a statement on Sunday, the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin formally announced its willingness to take part in peace talks with the Afghan government, naming Qazi Hakim Hakim and Ghairat Baheer, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, as official negotiators. Speaking at a ceremony on Friday, Second Vice President Sarwar Danish said that “the enemies of Afghanistan should know that we are ready to talk peace as long as achievements made over the past years are preserved and the talks are under the framework of the Constitution,” adding that “otherwise, they will be eliminated by our security forces through military operations.” Meanwhile, former Interior Minister Omar Daudzai denounced Pakistani interference in Afghanistan and of seeking to exploit the peace process for its own interest. [Khaama Press] [TOLO] [RFE/RL] [WAPO]
Afghanistan — Economics and Development
- Russia Offers Oil Supply: Russian deputy minister of energy Yury Sentyurin said on Sunday that Russia was considering providing one to 1.5 million tons of oil to Afghanistan annually in order to help meet its energy needs; no further details on the financing of such an agreement was reported.
- Rail Link to Chabahar Port Planned: A spokesman for the ministry of public works said that “preliminary talks” have begun with Iran and India to construct a railway link between the Iranian-Indian port of Chabahar and Herat city. [TOLO]
Afghanistan — Remainders