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." 


Lack of coordination will prolong pandemic and cost lives, says UN chief

Updated 16 January 2021

Lack of coordination will prolong pandemic and cost lives, says UN chief

  • Antonio Guterres said ‘vaccinationalism’ — where rich countries hoard vaccines and the poor get none — is a self-defeating strategy
  • In a video message released as the global death toll reached 2 million, he said ‘COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time’

NEW YORK: UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned on Friday that a lack of global coordination in efforts to end the coronavirus crisis will prolong the pandemic and cause more deaths, particularly in poorer countries.
In a video message released as the global COVID-19 death toll reached the “heart-wrenching” milestone of 2 million lives lost, he appealed for countries to work more closely together to end the pandemic and its cycle of death.
It took 10 months after the disease emerged in December 2019 to reach the first “grim milestone” of 1 million dead at the end of September last year. That number has now doubled in less than four months.
In addition to the human cost, the pandemic has wreaked havoc in the economies of almost every nation. Many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, with millions forced into poverty and hunger worldwide.
Guterres said that behind that staggering 2 million figure are the names and faces of real people who were taken from their families.
“The smile now only a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table, the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one,” Guterres said as he calling for greater international solidarity “in memory of those two million souls.”
As safe and effective vaccines are approved and rolled out, the UN is supporting the largest global immunization operation in history. Guterres stressed that the organization is committed to ensuring vaccines are treated as a global public resource — the “people’s vaccines.”
With that in mind, he called for full funding of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator — a global collaboration that aims to speed up the development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines, ensuring fair access to them — and its COVAX Facility, an initiative involving 64 higher-income countries that is working to ensure vaccines reach all those in most dire need. It was set up in response to a call by G20 leaders in March last year and launched the following month by the WHO and partners including the EU, France, the UK, Canada and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The world’s leading economies have a special responsibility,” said Guterres, denouncing what he described as “a vaccine vacuum” created by rich countries buying up vaccine supplies, leaving none for the world’s poorest nations. Some countries are “pursuing side deals, even procuring beyond need,” he added.
While all governments have a responsibility to protect their populations, Guterres warned that indulging in such “vaccinationalism” is self-defeating and will delay a global recovery.
“COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time,” he added.
The UN chief called on all countries to share excess doses of vaccine so that health workers around the world can be inoculated as a matter of urgency to prevent the collapse of health systems, and so that those on front line of the battle against the pandemic and its effects can be prioritized, including humanitarian workers and people in high-risk populations.
As the virus continues to spiral out of control in a number of countries, Guterres urged caution and called on everyone to take precautions to protect the most vulnerable in society and slow the spread of infections.
“As the science continues to blaze new trails of hope, let’s also remember the simple and proven steps we can all take to keep each other safe: wearing masks, physically distancing and avoiding crowds,” he added.