Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Comprehensive Dialogue ‘Suspended’, Ambassador Says; Qayyum Zakir Reportedly Backs Talks with Govt

Topline

  • Pakistan’s ambassador to India suggested yesterday that “at present, the peace process between India and Pakistan is suspended”; the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministries made separate statements claiming that they remained “in contact” regarding a possible foreign secretaries meeting. Al Jazeera has an unconfirmed report indicating that former Taliban military commander Abdul Qayyum Zakir has endorsed negotiations with the Afghan government; a Taliban spokesman suggested the group had no knowledge Zakir’s reported letter. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz suggested that the Quadrilateral Coordination Group would reconvene this month to discuss the future of the peace process, saying here could be “no arbitrary deadlines” in the process. Imran Khan joined parliamentary debate on Thursday, calling for the Chief Justice of Pakistan to head an “empowered” judicial commission to investigate reports that Prime Minister Sharif’s family used offshore companies to manage their business and real estate wealth. Paktika provincial council members allege that as many as twenty people were killed in two U.S. airstrikes in the province on Thursday; U.S. military officials and provincial police say the targets were insurgents. The MQM won both the national and provincial assembly seats up for election in Karachi on Thursday; the PTI has called for voiding the results of the election, after its candidate abruptly switched to support the MQM just hours before polling began. Pres. Ghani appointed a new Helmand governor on Thursday, shifting governor Hayatullah Hayat from Wardak to Helmand. Speaking on Thursday, Finance Minister Dar said that Pakistan “does not need the IMF anymore” after the completion of its three-year, $6.2 billion loan agreement in September; Dar said that it would be important for Pakistan to “consolidate the economic gains” of the past two to three years, however.

Pakistan — Security

  • Tensions with India: Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif presided over a corps commanders’ meeting in Rawalpindi on Thursday, which an official statement said had “resolved to take all measures to block hostile acts against Pakistan”. Pakistan’s ambassador to India, Abdul Basit, told an Indian press audience on Thursday that “at present, the peace process between India and Pakistan is suspended” after the attack on the Pathnakot Airbase and the arrest of accused RAW spy Kulbushan Yadhav last month, which Basit said had “irrefutably corroborated Pakistan’s stance”. Basit added that “if India is not yet ready [to talk], we can always wait.” Separately, India’s foreign ministry spokesman said that dialogue “was the best way to resolve issues between the two countries” and that the two countries were in contact with one another regarding a possible foreign secretary-level meeting; India’s foreign ministry also said contact was ongoing, although neither side indicated that a meeting was imminent. [Dawn]
  • Counterterrorism Response: Contradicting earlier reports, anonymous sources tell Dawn that investigators have not conclusively confirmed the identity of the suicide bomber who detonated in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park two weeks previously. The Express Tribune reports that intelligence agencies have issued an unspecified alert of possible “major terrorist activity” in Karachi within the next 48-72 hours.

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Corruption Investigations: Imran Khan attended national assembly debate on Thursday, arguing along with other members of the opposition for an “empowered judicial commission” headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to investigate leaked reports implicating Prime Minister Sharif’s family members in offshore business holdings. PPP opposition leader Khurshid Shah suggested that a judicial investigation lacked the forensic expertise to conduct an audit of the Sharif family’s accounts, however. The Lahore High Court is hearing at least one petition seeking a inquiry on the issue, and has sought responses form the Sharif family. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Elections and Other Political Activity: The MQM took both the national and provincial assembly seats up for election in Karachi on Thursday, beating the PPP opposition by a large margin after the PTI’s candidate for the NA-245 seat, Amjadullah Khan withdrew abruptly just hours before polls opened, complaining that the party’s leadership had ignored his campaign. Turnout was low, with only around 11% of registered voters participating. PTI leaders called for the results of the election to be voided and new elections to be held, accusing the MQM of threatening Amjadullah’s family. Separately, the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms agreed to modify the criteria for appointing members of the Election Commission, allowing for the appointments of members of the civil service, rather than just retired judges. [Dawn] [Dawn] [ET]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Pakistan ‘No Longer Needs IMF’, Finance Minister Says: Speaking at a press conference following a meeting with visiting IMF Middle East and Central Asia department director Madood Ahmed, Finance Minister Dar said that “Pakistan does not need the IMF anymore” after its three-year, $6.2 billion loan agreement ends in September, although Dar said that “the country needs to work hard to consolidate the economic gains of the past two and half years.” Dar said that the government had met its revenue collection targets for the third quarter of the fiscal year, and had achieved its deficit target for the July-March period of the fiscal year. [ET]
  • Poverty Line Calculations: The ministry of finance announced new poverty figures after rebasing the poverty line to Rs 3030 per adult per month; roughly 60 million Pakistanis, or 29.5% of the population, are reported to fall under the poverty line. [ET]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Pakistan Air Force Seeks Fighter Jet Upgrade for ‘Prolonged Fight’ [Reuters]
  • Activists Criticize Performance of Missing Persons’ Commission [Dawn]
  • ‘Investigation Underway’ Regarding Jamaat-u-Dawa Arbitration Court in Lahore [AP]
  • Another Qadri Protest Reportedly Planned for April 10 [Dawn]
  • JUI-S Leader Voices Continued Support for Afghan Taliban [Dawn]
  • Finance Minister Blocks Appointment Extension for Pakistan Steel Mills CEO [ET]
  • Hazara Province Movement Pledges to Continue [ET]
  • Arrest Warrant Issued Against Former Pres. Musharraf [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Civilian Casualties: The deputy provincial council chairman in Paktika, Nimatullah Baburi, alleged that more than twenty civilians were killed in two U.S. airstrikes; a U.S. military spokesmen confirmed that the strikes were carried out but said that they were aimed at insurgents, an account backed by the provincial police chief. Separately, the LA Times reports on the latest in a “string of unexplained deaths” in Kandahar, after the son of a former Taliban member, Bashir Ahmad Reyan, was found dead last week, his body showing signs of torture. The Taliban have denied that Reyan was a member of the group, but issued statements condemning his murder.
  • International Assistance: Speaking in Washington on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that final decisions on U.S. and international troop levels in Afghanistan for the coming year would need to be finalized “by the latest at our summit in July” in Warsaw. Reuters interviews U.S. and UK military officials supporting the training mission in Helmand, who acknowledge the need to “adjust your expectations” and say they have “got to do the best we can with the time available.” Separately, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Manprett Vohra, met with National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar on Thursday to discuss the delivery of the fourth and final Mi-25 helicopter gunship to the Afghan Air Force and other forms of assistance. [TOLO] [TOLO] [TOLO]
  • Other Attacks and Operations: Nangarhar provincial officials report that at least four Daesh-affiliated militants and three Taliban fighters were killed in separate drone strikes in the Achin and Chaparhar districts, respectively, on Thursday. [Khaama Press]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks: Al Jazeera reports that former Taliban military commander Abdul Qayyum Zakir, whose reconciliation with Mullah Akhtar Mansour was recently announced, has written to the movement leadership with a twelve-point proposal calling for “new internal and external policies,” including negotiating with the Afghan government and the international community. A Taliban spokesman said that he had no information on the reported letter by Zakir, and that “we are not going to negotiate with foreign governments and will only focus on bringing back Sharia”. Pakistani foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz suggested that members of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group would reconvene later this month to discuss next steps in the Afghan peace process after the Taliban previously reject efforts to bring them together in negotiations with the government; Aziz said that “no one can dictate terms to either the Afghan government or the Afghan Taliban, nor can arbitrary timelines, deadlines or conditions be attached to the reconciliation process”. [ET] [Khaama Press]
  • New Helmand Governor Appointed: Pres. Ghani appointed Hayatullah Hayat, previously the governor of Maidan Wardak province, as the new governor of Helmand on Thursday, replacing Miza Khan Rahimi.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Afghan Insurgency Battle Marred by Government Dysfunction [AP]
  • Education Ministry Employees Arrested on Embezzlement Charges [Khaama Press]
  • Nangarhar Hindu and Sikh Communities Report Marginalization [TOLO]
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