Political parties demand security as militants hit Pakistan election gatherings

The Counter Terrorism Department arrested five Daesh militants in Peshawar on Friday. (Photo courtesy: Counter Terrorism Department)
Updated 13 July 2018

Political parties demand security as militants hit Pakistan election gatherings

  • Intelligence agencies say that Al-Qaeda has planned sabotage activities in Karachi and Punjab. The chief of Jandullah, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), is already present in Karachi to execute the plan
  • CTD Peshawar on Friday claimed to have arrested five Daesh terrorists, who, according to police, were recruiting people in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital

KARACHI: Major political parties in Pakistan, which intelligence reports say are the direct target of militants, have urged the government to tighten security for their candidates after the Taliban carried out two bomb attacks on election activities in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
On Tuesday a bomb attack on the election meeting of Awami National Party — a Pashtun nationalist and liberal party — left its leader and candidate, Haroon Bilour, and 20 others dead. Just three days later on Friday, the rally of Akram Khan Durrani, former chief minister and leader of the religo-political party, Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUIF), killed four. Durrani survived.
Intelligence agencies alarms
Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have sent a series of threat alerts to law enforcement, warning them of attacks on political leadership, including PTI’s Imran Khan, PMLN’s Shehbaz Sharif and JUIF’s Akram Durrani.
“Sleeper cells of Daesh/TTP/AQIS/LeJ have also been reactivated and are likely to target security installations as well as political figures to disrupt the momentum of GE-2018,” reads an intelligence report, a copy of which was made available to Arab News.
The intelligence agencies say that they have learnt that Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) — a branch of Al Qaeda — is planning major terrorist activities in Karachi and Punjab during the general elections of 2018. The report has named three terrorists tasked with carrying out activities including suicide attacks. “Ameer of Jandullah Tariq Burmi is reportedly present in Karachi and will coordinate and execute terrorist activity (ies) in Karachi.”
Another threat alert reads: “Daesh has planned to conduct IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and suicide attacks on political leaderships, meetings and party workers during upcoming general elections scheduled to be held on July 25, 2018.”

A threat alert says that the proscribed Jamaat-ut-Ahrar (JuA) has also planned to target the leadership of different political parties by carrying out blasts with explosive-laden vehicles. “A potential life threat against Mr. Shehbaz Sharif, former Chief Minister of Punjab, has been reported on the pretext of various attacks on PMLN leaders in the recent past,” reads another threat alert.
According to reports, the Afghanistan-based militants groups, i.e. TTP and its affiliates, in connivance with other outfits, may target prominent political figures in public gatherings to sabotage the general elections 2018 process in Pakistan. “Such terrorist activities may include SB/IED/VBIED/sniper attacks against the main leadership of the major political parties as well as other entities which could contribute toward affecting the law and order situation.”

“Terrorists of Harkat-ul Ahrar are planning to conduct suicide attacks targeting the election campaign of Imran of PTI and leadership of PMLN as well as PPP, probability of such attack is high in Punjab and Karachi, however, materialization in Balochistan and KP cannot be ruled out,” reads another alert.
Another intelligence report, which also warned against infighting between political parties during the campaign and on polling day, especially in Sindh and its capital Karachi, reads: “The terrorists may conduct suicide, IED blasts, attacks on politicians and public gatherings, target killing, kidnapping of political and religious figures, attacks over security personnel installations.”

Raja Umar Khattab, a senior terrorism police officer known for his actions against Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants, says generally the situation is under control as peace has been restored in Pakistan.
“The terrorism threat, however, persists in Karachi as there had been no act of terrorism for long and sleeper cells have remained quiet in a bid to look for the soft targets,” Khattab said, adding major gatherings such as election activities may provide that soft target.
Militant of Daesh arrested
Besides recent attacks, the Friday arrests of Daesh in Peshawar, a Pakistani city close to Afghan border, also corroborate the intelligence reports.
The Counter Terrorist Department has arrested five terrorists associated with Daesh from Board Bazaar neighborhood, a handout issued by CTD Peshawar on Friday said, adding that investigations are underway and startling disclosures are expected.
“The terrorists, besides distributing pamphlets of Daesh, were inviting people to the outfit for the cause of damaging integrity of Pakistan.”

Vulnerable demands tightened security
The situation has alarmed political parties, which have demanded proper security arrangements.
“We have expressed our reservations to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). In our Thursday meeting with ECP, the security of the candidates and people remained top of the agenda,” Moula Bux Chandio, the Pakistan People’s Party central information secretary, told Arab News.
“PPP had always been top of the target list of terrorists. Our leader Benazir Bhutto was martyred during an election campaign,” Chandio said, saying threats to specific parties is a threat to free and fair elections so it is the responsibility of the caretakers to provide complete security.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan (MQM-P), a liberal nationalist party which had bagged the majority of seats from Urban Sindh, was also under Taliban attacks during 2013 general elections.
“The security agencies have brought much peace but the bomb blasts in Peshawar and Bannu have raised the alarm bell,” said Aminul Haque, the MQM’s spokesperson, lamenting that the government took back the security of its leaders, leaving them at the mercy of terrorists. “Not only security of our central leadership but the security of our headquarters at Bahadurabad has also been taken,” he told Arab News.
Haque said: “Had the people responsible for ensuring security worked for it instead of meddling in political affairs, the situation would have been much better.”
Ameer Nawab, the Awami National Party’s Sindh leader and former minister, said that the security of parties previously under attack should have been beefed up. “Instead, we are denied security that means less movement and less campaigning, which results in poor results,” he said.

Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan promote halal tourism in Philippines

Updated 3 min 44 sec ago

Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan promote halal tourism in Philippines

  • Muslim travel market is forecast to reach a value of $225 billion by 2028
  • Manila won emerging Muslim-friendly destination award earlier this year

MANILA: Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan have joined a campaign to promote halal travel in the Philippines, as Manila seeks to attract more visitors from the Middle East and Muslim-majority countries to meet its tourism goals this year. 

The Philippines’ economy is dependent on tourism, which in 2019 generated about $50 billion, contributing nearly 13 percent of the country’s GDP. But that share fell to about 5 percent in 2020 and 2021, when the global travel industry ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With Manila positioning itself as a Muslim-friendly destination as part of a strategy to revive the tourism sector, the Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan are part of the latest move to support the promotion of halal tourism in the Philippines. 

“The Department of Tourism is taking advantage of the presence of the Miss Universes from Bahrain and Pakistan to help and assist promote Muslim-friendly and halal tourism in the Philippines,” Tourism Undersecretary Myra Paz Valderrosa-Abubakar told Arab News on Sunday. 

Abubakar said that the Miss Universes’ trip to the Philippines would be a “big boost” for the country that would hopefully influence the global Muslim community to visit the archipelago nation, which is home to white sand beaches, famous diving spots, lively entertainment, diverse cultural heritage and distinctive wildlife.

With the Muslim travel market forecast to reach $225 billion value by 2028, the Philippines’ government announced in 2022 that boosting foreign arrivals from the Middle East and Muslim-majority nations was among its priority goals. The Philippines is well on its way to meeting its target of welcoming 4.8 million foreign arrivals this year and has already received more than 4 million visitors so far, official data showed. 

Earlier this year, the Philippines won the Emerging Muslim-friendly Destination of the Year award during the Halal in Travel Global Summit, a recognition of its efforts to attract global Muslim travelers. 

That effort continues with the latest collaboration between the Department of Tourism and The Farm resort and Xpedition Middle East magazine, which seeks to promote halal and wellness tourism in the Philippines. 

Miss Universe Bahrain, Lujane Yacoub, and Miss Universe Pakistan, Erica Robin, arrived in Manila on Friday and will be in the country as part of their training for Miss Universe 2023 in El Salvador in November. 

While the two women are in the Philippines, they are set to show the beauty of the country to the global Muslim community. 

“What the Philippines already has is this amazing diversity in wanting to welcome in many different places and even Muslim countries. It’s just an amazing place to be,” Yacoub said during a press conference on Saturday. 

“I encourage anyone from Bahrain to come and visit the Philippines. It is gorgeous with its beaches and its diving spots, and its rich, rich culture. The Philippines has amazing hospitality and it’s so welcoming.” 

Robin said that it was a privilege to help promote the Philippines. 

“It’s been just less than 24 hours and the Philippines already feels like home … And we still have … a lot to explore, a lot to learn, a lot to share with the world what the Philippines has to offer,” she said.  

“I feel so honored and blessed to promote something that needs to be out for people to know. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show the brighter side of your country that I’m sure every Muslim country would love to know.” 

Suicide attack wounds 2 police officers in Ankara near parliament: Interior Minister

Updated 01 October 2023

Suicide attack wounds 2 police officers in Ankara near parliament: Interior Minister

  • Turkish media reported a loud explosion was heard in Ankara near parliament
  • Parliament was scheduled to reopen on Sunday following a summer recess

ANKARA: A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in the Turkish capital Ankara on Sunday, wounding 2 police officers, the Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.

Turkish media reported a loud explosion was heard in the heart of the Turkish capital, near the Parliament.

Parliament was scheduled to reopen on Sunday following a summer recess.

Australia swelters through ‘scorching’ heat lifting bushfire risk

Updated 01 October 2023

Australia swelters through ‘scorching’ heat lifting bushfire risk

  • Australia faces a high-risk bushfire season following the onset of an El Nino weather event
  • Australia’s last two fire seasons have been quiet compared with the catastrophic 2019-2020 ‘Black Summer’ of bushfires

SYDNEY: Australia’s southeast on Sunday sweltered in a heat wave that raised the risk of bushfires and led authorities to issue fire bans for large swathes of New South Wales state.
The nation’s weather forecaster said temperatures would be up to 12 degrees Celsius (53.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in some areas, with Sydney, the capital of Australia’s most populous state New South Wales, set to hit 36 C (96.8 F).
At Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, the temperature was 34.6 C (94.3 F) at 2 p.m. (0300 GMT), more than 11 degrees above the October mean maximum temperature, according to forecaster data.
Australia faces a high-risk bushfire season following the onset of an El Nino weather event, recently announced, which is typically associated with extreme events such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts.
State Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib announced the start of an official bushfire danger period, with the “scorching” heat lifting the risk for the week ahead.
“Not only is it hot, it’s dry and it’s windy and those conditions combined are the perfect storm,” Dib said.
Fire authorities on Sunday issued nine total fire bans for parts of the state to reduce the chance of bushfires.
Further south in Victoria state, authorities issued an emergency evacuation order for a rural area in the Gippsland region, about 320 kilometers (198 miles) east of the state capital Melbourne, due to an out-of-control bushfire.
Australia’s last two fire seasons have been quiet compared with the catastrophic 2019-2020 “Black Summer” of bushfires that destroyed an area the size of Turkiye and killed 33 people. In Sydney, local resident Sandy Chapman said she was worried about the mix of extreme heat and wind.
“It doesn’t take long to start a fire and have it burning and it’s very scary,” Chapman said.
Sydneysider Katie Kell hoped there would be no repeat of bushfires on the same scale as 2019-20.
“I don’t know, with how hot it’s been since the start of spring, I’m not too confident,” Kell said.

Afghan embassy in India suspends operations

Updated 01 October 2023

Afghan embassy in India suspends operations

  • Embassy says was difficult to continue operations due to cut in staff, resources
  • India will take control of the embassy in a caretaker capacity, Afghan embassy says

NEW DELHI: Afghanistan’s embassy in India on Sunday suspended operations, more than two years after the ouster of the former Western-backed government.

While New Delhi does not recognize the Taliban government that returned to power in 2021, it had allowed the Afghan embassy to continue operations under the ambassador and mission staff appointed by former president Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul as US troops pulled out.

“It is with profound sadness, regret, and disappointment that the Embassy of Afghanistan in New Delhi announces this decision to cease its operations,” the statement read, posted on X.
The suspension comes into immediate effect.

The statement said it had been “increasingly challenging” to continue operations due to cuts in staff and resources, including a “lack of timely and sufficient support from visa renewal for diplomats.”

The closure follows reports that the ambassador and other senior diplomats left India in recent months, with infighting among those remaining in New Delhi.

But the statement said it “categorically refutes any baseless claims regarding internal strife” among embassy staff, and denied any diplomats were “using the crisis to seek asylum in a third country.”

India will take control of the embassy in a caretaker capacity, it added.

A populist, pro-Russia ex-premier looks headed for victory in Slovakia’s parliamentary elections

Updated 01 October 2023

A populist, pro-Russia ex-premier looks headed for victory in Slovakia’s parliamentary elections

  • Former PM Robert Fico and his leftist Smer party led with 23.7 percent of the vote
  • Pro-EU Progressive Slovakia party was a distant second with 15.6 percent

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia: A populist former prime minister who campaigned on a pro-Russian and anti-American message looked to be heading for victory in early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, according to preliminary results early Sunday.

With results from almost 88 percent of about 6,000 polling stations counted by the Slovak Statistics Office, former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party led with 23.7  percent of the vote.
A liberal, pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, was a distant second with 15.6 percent of the votes cast Saturday.
With no party likely to win a majority of seats, a coalition government would need to be formed.
The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, was in third with 15.4 percent. Pellegrini parted ways with Fico after Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Fico’s chances to form a government.
“It’s important for me that the new coalition would be formed by such parties that can agree on the priorities for Slovakia and ensure stability and calm,” Pellegrini said after voting in Bratislava.
The populist Ordinary People group was in fourth and the conservative Christian Democrats in fifth.
Two parties close to the 5 percent threshold needed for representation in the 150-seat National Council could be potential coalition partners for Fico — the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, an openly pro-Russian group, and the Republic movement, a far-right group led by former members of the openly neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia.
The pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party also could get seats.
Final results were expected to be announced later Sunday.
The election was a test for the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and a win by Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.
Fico, 59, vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his attempt to return to power succeeded.
Michal Simecka, a 39-year-old member of the European Parliament who leads the liberal Progressive Slovakia, campaigned promising to continue Slovakia’s support for Ukraine.
Fico, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.
He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the US should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal. He has repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state.
Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights and threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deal with corruption and other serious crimes.
Progressive Slovakia, which was formed in 2017, sees the country’s future as firmly tied to its existing membership in the EU and NATO.
The party also favors LGBTQ+ rights, a rarity among the major parties in a country that is a stronghold of conservative Roman Catholicism.
“Every single vote matters,” Simecka had said Saturday.
Popular among young people, the party won the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia in coalition with the Together party, gaining more than 20 percent of the vote. But it narrowly failed to win seats in the national parliament in 2020.