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.


Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Updated 17 August 2022

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

  • Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country
  • The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group

KABUL: The Taliban killed one of their former leaders who was known as the first commander of the group hailing from the minority Shiite Hazara community, officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding that he had rebelled against the de facto government.
Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Mahdi’s appointment as a commander some years ago was touted as an example of the Taliban’s changed on stance on minorities. He was in the spotlight after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the wake of the pullout of western forces last year.
The Taliban are hard-line followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and were previously almost exclusively associated with the Pashtun ethnicity. More recently, the group had sought to include members of other ethnicities and some Shiites.
The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group. After the Taliban formed a government last year, Mahdi was given the post of intelligence chief in a central province.
The origins of the breach between Mahdi and the Taliban have not been made public, but as far back as June, the defense ministry had spoken of a clearance operation against rebels in northern Afghanistan.
The defense ministry on Wednesday described Mahdi as a the “leader of the rebels” in a district in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol.
A Taliban source told Reuters that Mahdi had fallen out with the Taliban and had revolted against the group’s leadership.
The statement said he was killed in Herat close to the border with Shiite majority Iran, where he was trying to flee.
Reuters was not able to contact representatives of Mahdi for comment.


Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

Updated 17 August 2022

Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

  • With temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius, Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world 
  • Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area 

NEW DELHI: The body of an Indian soldier who went missing 38 years ago on a glacier on the disputed border with Pakistan has been found.  

A unit of the Indian Army tweeted pictures of the coffin of Chander Shekhar wrapped in an Indian flag early Wednesday, two days after India celebrated the 75th anniversary of independence.  

The Army said Shekhar was deployed for Operation Meghdoot in 1984 when India and Pakistan fought a brief battle to assert control over the Siachen Glacier, reputed to be the world's highest battlefield.  

At over 18,000 feet (5,486 metres) with temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit), Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world.  

Located in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, it has long been contested between the nuclear-armed neighbours.  

Local media reported that Shekhar was part of a 20-member group that got caught in an ice storm during a patrol.  

Fifteen bodies were recovered at the time but the other five could not be found, among them Shekhar, the reports said.  

His last rites will now be performed with full military honours in the state of Uttarakhand, where his family lives.  

His daughter, who was four years old when he went missing, said the family would now get closure.  

"He has been long gone... Papa has come but I wish he was alive," the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted her saying.  

Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area.  

 


Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Updated 17 August 2022

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand
  • Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the island nation next week after fleeing in July amid mass protests, local broadcaster Newsfirst reported on Wednesday, citing a former ambassador.
Udayanga Weeratunga, a former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia who is related to Rajapaksa, said he will arrive in Sri Lanka on Aug. 24, Newsfirst reported.
Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand, after fleeing Sri Lanka on a military plane to the Maldives and then spending weeks in Singapore.
He resigned from office soon after arriving in Singapore, facing public anger over his government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka. Reuters was not able to immediately contact him or Weeratunga.
The office of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who suggested last month that the former president refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Updated 17 August 2022

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

  • ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings
  • Junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings

Myanmar’s military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to “external pressure.”
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar’s junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.
Myanmar’s military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year, and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar’s opposition and democracy movement.
ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.
The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.
“If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an ASEAN summit,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.
“What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists,” he said, using the junta’s label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.
He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country’s sovereign affairs while facing “external pressure,” but did not elaborate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Several western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta over the coup.


Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Updated 17 August 2022

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

  • There have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India

NEW DELHI: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be allotted apartments and provided with police protection, a government minister said on Wednesday, signalling a change in the stance toward members of the Muslim minority.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, outlining new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects & follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the- clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send back members of the Muslim minority from predominately Buddhist Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.