Pakistan's secular Pashtun party defiant after Taliban bomber kills 20 activists

Election banners for the Pakistani secular Awami National Party line a road in Peshawar, Pakistan, on July 11, 2018. (AP)
Updated 24 July 2018

Pakistan's secular Pashtun party defiant after Taliban bomber kills 20 activists

PESHAWAR/KARACHI: Pakistan's Awami National Party vowed on Wednesday not to be swayed from its resolve to face down terrorists, a day after a Taliban suicide bombing killed a score of its activists, including the son of a party leader assassinated in 2012.

The secular party, drawn chiefly from the Pashtun ethnic group that also provides the Taliban with many recruits, has long competed with it and other Islamist groups in Pakistan's northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.

"We want peace on our soil and will stand with our ‎people," said senior party leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who lost his only son in a militant attack eight years ago.

"One thing is clear: We will stand in the field against the terrorists," he told Reuters.

Among those killed in Tuesday night's bombing in Peshawar, capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was senior leader Haroon Bilour, who inherited the anti-Taliban mantle of his father, himself killed in a 2012 suicide bombing there.

The ANP's insistence that Pakistan should have a secular government instead of rule by Islamic law has made it a target for the Pakistani Taliban, which groups militant and sectarian bands that have waged war on the state for more than a decade.

Once a leading force in socially conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the party and its leaders have spent five years rebuilding after the Taliban killed hundreds of its activists ahead of Pakistan's last election in 2013.

More than 700 party workers were killed in attacks during and after the election that year, when the ANP won only two national assembly seats.

Last year, it resumed campaigning on its anti-militancy platform, holding workers' conventions and rallies in the province and the southern city of Karachi, which is home to more than 5 million Pashtuns.

At elections on July 25, the party is setting its sights on winning a few National Assembly seats and possibly more in the provincial assembly. Success would mean a modest comeback after the party won elections in 2008 to lead the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government for five years.

Although violence has ebbed in Pakistan in recent years, following offensives by the army on militant strongholds in the northwest, many militants have escaped to Afghanistan, from where Pakistan says they launch attacks across the border.

"Our people are frightened ... but we have faced it all," said party official Noorullah Achakzai.

Party campaign adviser Zakir Hanif was forced to leave Karachi after his father Haji Muhammad Hanif, a senior party figure, was killed in 2011, and his family business, a small pharmacy, was bombed.

Believing security in the country has vastly improved, Hanif has now returned, hoping to revive the party's fortunes.
"Fear has eroded our lives," Hanif told Reuters. "Fear will get us if we don't take part in the elections." 

EU weighs options as Turkey stand-off grinds on

Updated 16 min 32 sec ago

EU weighs options as Turkey stand-off grinds on

BRUSSELS: European Council chief Charles Michel said Friday that Turkey has not de-escalated its stand-off with Greece and warned EU members now need to consider tougher options.
“I think that the cat and mouse game needs to end,” Michel said, referring to Turkey’s repeated incursions into Greek waters with gas exploration vessels.
“We will have a debate at the European summit on December 10 and we are ready to use the means at our disposal,” he added.
Next week’s EU summit will be held in Brussels with leaders meeting face-to-face after videoconferences were held as a coronavirus prevention measure.
One possibility, backed by some members, would be economic sanctions, but many states are not convinced.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a conference in Italy “the EU Council will have to take the decision that only the EU can take, because the sanctions regime, it’s a matter for the member states.”
“There are not very many positive signals that came from Turkey during these months — in Cyprus and on the drilling, the talks between Greece and Turkey have not been developing,” he said.
Turkey has been challenging Greece over maritime territory in the Eastern Mediterranean, repeatedly sending a gas exploration vessel into Greek waters.
Both countries are NATO members and the alliance has set up a “de-confliction mechanism” to help avoid accidental military clashes.

But a German-led diplomatic approach to Ankara has made little progress in resolving the underlying issues, and some EU members — notably France and Greece itself — are pushing for stronger action.
Other EU capitals are more cautious, some fearing an escalating stand-off could see Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government once again allow a wave of refugees to head for EU borders.
Michel, who will host the summit, expressed Europe’s frustration.
“In October, after a very dense and strategic high level exchange, we defined a very positive offer to Turkey, we extended our hands,” he told a news conference to mark his first year in office.
“But the condition to move in that area is that Turkey needs to stop unilateral provocations, hostile statements, and the non-respect of international principles and rules-based society.
“Well, since October, things have not been very positive,” Michel noted.
“Since that time, we’ve seen that there have been unilateral acts that have taken place, a hostile rhetoric has been expressed.”
Backed by Turkish navy frigates, the research vessel the Oruc Reis was first deployed in August and again in October to the waters off Kastellorizo island, in defiance of EU and US calls to stop.
It returned to port again in October, but may go back to the disputed zone while Ankara says that, with its long Mediterranean coastline, its claim to sovereign waters in the region is stronger than Greece’s, which is based on its ownership of tiny Kastellorizo.