Pakistani soldier killed in attack on check post in North Waziristan

Pakistani soldiers stand guard as people, who fled the military offensive against militants in North Waziristan, receive food supply from the army in Bannu, in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province July 2, 2014. (REUTERS/FILE)
Updated 27 May 2019

Pakistani soldier killed in attack on check post in North Waziristan

  • Troops effectively repulsed terrorist attack, military says
  • Tribal districts witnessed fierce fighting between Pakistani troops and militants in the past

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani soldier was killed in a “terrorist raid” on a military check post in North Waziristan, the military’s media wing confirmed on Monday.
“Terrorists raided Makki Garh Post, Shawal Valley, North Waziristan,” said the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement, adding that the “troops effectively repulsed [the] attempt.”
The ISPR also said that five bullet-riddled bodies were discovered from a nullah in Boya area approximately 1.5 kilometers away from Khar Kamar check post, where a security post had come under attack on Sunday.
The identification of the bodies is underway, according to the statement.
Terrorists have previously also attacked military posts and convoys in the area which was once a strong hold of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants.
Shawal valley and other remote parts of Waziristan witnessed fierce fighting between the Pakistani forces and Taliban militants when an offensive was launched in June 2014 to flush the miscreants out of the area.
Peace largely returned to the region after the successful military operation that restored the state’s writ in the tribal belt.


Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

Updated 12 sec ago

Blinken urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

  • The US relationship with Pakistan sharply deteriorated over the course of the two-decade war in Afghanistan
  • Pakistan provided crucial logistical access, but US officials believe Islamabad never abandoned the Taliban

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Monday on Pakistan to seek debt relief from its close partner China as floods devastate the South Asian country. 

Blinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out from the floods, which have submerged one-third of the country, an area the size of the United Kingdom. 

“We send a simple message. We are here for Pakistan, just as we were during past natural disasters, looking ahead to rebuild,” Blinken said after talks in Washington with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. 

“I also urged our colleagues to engage China on some of the important issues of debt relief and restructuring so that Pakistan can more quickly recover from the floods,” Blinken said. 

China is a key economic and political partner of Pakistan, pushing ahead with a $54 billion “economic corridor” that will build infrastructure and give Beijing an outlet to the Indian Ocean, although Chinese interests have also faced attacks from separatists. 

Washington, whose Cold War alliance with Islamabad has frayed, has repeatedly charged that China will reap the benefits while Pakistan will face unsustainable debt. 

The warnings by the United States – which considers China its preeminent global competitor – have repeatedly been brushed aside by Pakistan. 

Some 1,600 people – one-third of them children – have died in Pakistan’s floods and more than seven million have been displaced, amid fears that such severe disasters will become more common due to climate change. 

The United States has committed $56 million in humanitarian aid and sent 17 planes full of supplies, with promises of long-term support. 

Bhutto Zardari said that President Joe Biden, who signed a landmark domestic climate package last month, also needed to look at “climate justice.” 

“It’s not only important that you ‘build back better’ here,” he said, using Biden’s campaign slogan. 

“The opportunity of this crisis in Pakistan is that we must build back better — greener, more climate-resilient — back home as well,” he said. 

“I believe that working together we can do this.” 

Pakistan, despite being the fifth most populous country, contributes only about 0.8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change due to its state of development. 

The US relationship with Pakistan sharply deteriorated over the course of the two-decade war in Afghanistan. 

Under heavy pressure, Pakistan provided crucial logistical access, but US officials believe Islamabad’s powerful military and intelligence apparatus never abandoned the Taliban, who swept back to power last year as US troops pulled out. 

“We have had our differences — that’s no secret,” Blinken said. 

But he said Pakistan and the United States “have a shared stake in Afghanistan’s future,” including greater freedoms for women and girls, whose rights have again been heavily curtailed by the Taliban under their austere interpretation of Islam. 

In another longstanding concern of the United States, Blinken encouraged Pakistan to respect for freedom of religion and expression. 

Pakistan has seen repeated attacks against religious minorities and mob violence over accusations of blasphemy. 

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s five-month-old government has faced criticism for restrictions on the media since he replaced Imran Khan, who lost a no-confidence vote in parliament after running afoul of the military. 

Blinken also called on Pakistan to pursue a “responsible relationship” with India. 

Dialogue has been at a standstill between the historic rivals, with India launching airstrikes in February 2019 in response to a deadly attack blamed on Pakistan-backed militants. 

Immediately after meeting Bhutto Zardari, Blinken was hosting a dinner for India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, with whom he will hold talks on Tuesday. 

The South Asian foreign ministers were not expected to meet in Washington.


Thousands of children’s futures at risk as floods damage over 1,500 schools in northwest Pakistan

Updated 8 min 47 sec ago

Thousands of children’s futures at risk as floods damage over 1,500 schools in northwest Pakistan

  • Save the Children says at least 18,590 schools damaged or destroyed in floods nationwide
  • Initial estimates say at least 670,000 children have been affected, real number could be higher

PESHAWAR: Recent floods in Pakistan have damaged at least 1,500 government schools in different parts of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, with the education department struggling to save the academic year of thousands of students, senior government officials said.

Flooding, likely worsened by climate change, has submerged one-third of Pakistan’s territory, killed over 1,600 people and left 33 million scrambling to survive. The initial government estimate of losses to the economy as a result of the three-month flooding disaster is $30 billion.

The consequences have been especially horrific for children, who make up about half the affected population.

More than 400 children have been killed in the floods, and many more injured. UNICEF said at least 3.4 million children need urgent humanitarian assistance and are at increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning, and malnutrition. Most of the approximately 16 million affected children are without homes, lack access to safe drinking water, and are living in unsanitary conditions.

Save the Children said earlier this month at least 18,590 schools have been damaged or destroyed in the flooding, with initial estimates that at least 670,000 children have been affected, although the real number could be much higher. With whole villages underwater and rain continuing to fall, thousands of students across the country who had been preparing for the start of the academic year have found their schools completely submerged, with books, blackboards, chairs and tables floating downstream.

Shahram Khan Tarakai, provincial minister for elementary and secondary education, told Arab News at least 1,500 government-run schools had been destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“The scale of damages is massive and we’ve launched a comprehensive survey to identify construction cost, exact number of damaged schools and the number of students studying in those institutions,” he said. “Most of the schools need rebuilding from scratch. We also need to reconstruct the damaged schools in new locations to minimize the scale of catastrophe in the future.”

In this undated photo, a wall of the school is damaged due to recent floods in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. (Photo courtesy: KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department)

Assessments of rebuilding costs were being carried out by the education department, the minister said, adding that a month’s school time of students had already been wasted. The government was also trying to utilize other government buildings as makeshift schools, he added.

“The Global Education for All (GEA) has pledged $2.3 million to rebuild damaged educational institutions in the province with the implementing partnership of UNICEF,” Tarakai said. “In addition, the World Bank has also offered financial assistance to repair schools.”

According to a survey by the government’s Departmental Flood Response Plan, a damages assessment body, a total of 1,746 educational institutions have been damaged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and would need funds of around Rs7.2 billion to rebuild.

This undate picture shows an inundated school in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. (Photo courtesy: KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department)

Ibrash Pasha, a researcher who studies post-conflict educational reforms, said almost 4.5 million children aged between five to 16 years were out-of-school in KP.

“If alternative space is not provided urgently, the fully damaged schools will cause almost 60,000 more students to drop out of school,” Pasha told Arab News. “We’ve observed a declining literacy rate and dropouts from school primarily due to two main reasons, the coronavirus pandemic followed by inflation. But the recent floods are the third major factor contributing to this.”

The scholar recommended the government open schools in official buildings and build new schools in “comparatively safer places” to avoid such losses in the future.

The undated picture shows a damaged roof of a school due to floods in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. (Photo courtesy: KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department)

Minister Tarakai estimated it would be at least a year before the education sector “returned to normalcy because of the magnitude of the damages.”

The floods came, he said, as the education department had been carrying out a province-wide school enrolment drive.

“In one month [July to August], we enrolled almost 0.8 million boys and girls in schools in KP, which was an outstanding achievement. But floods caused a huge setback to those efforts.”


Investors pin hopes on ‘Daronomics' as Ishaq Dar returns to Pakistan as new finance minister

Updated 26 September 2022

Investors pin hopes on ‘Daronomics' as Ishaq Dar returns to Pakistan as new finance minister

  • Investors hope Dar will help stabilize rupee, tame inflation, Dar favoured strong currency in previous tenures
  • Dubbed Daronomics, Dar’s approach kept rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against dollar during last stint

KARACHI: Senior leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) returned to Pakistan on Monday night, set to become finance minister of crisis-hit Pakistan, with investors pinning hopes that a new era of “Daronomics” would help to stabilize the rupee and tame record-high inflation.

Dar is a member of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's ruling PMLN party and has already been finance minister four times. Dubbed Daronomics, his approach kept the rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against the greenback during his last stint in office from 2013-2017 but he was also widely criticized for deliberately undervaluing the rupee by pumping dollars in the market.  

The Pakistani rupee gained in value by 1.11% or Rs2.63 to close at Rs237.02 against the United States dollar in the interbank market on Monday, and gained Rs6.90 to trade at Rs237.50 in the open market following the reports of Dar’s return. Dar touched down in Islamabad on Monday night and is expected to take charge this week.

While media had reported ex-finance minister Miftah Ismail would remain part of the government’s economic team, the outgoing official told Arab News on Monday: “I will have no role in the government.”

“I will try my best that I can pull Pakistan out of the economic swamp it is trapped in,” Dar told media at the airport after returning to Pakistan from London where he has lived in exile since 2017 when he was disqualified from office by a court in a corruption case.

Dar takes over as the economy faces one of its worst balance of payments crises, and recent floods are estimated to have cost it nearly $30 billion.

Earlier this month, the government cut its GDP growth forecast below 3% from a 5% budgetary target for 2022-23.

“Ishaq Dar is known for keeping the exchange rate stable for stronger currency, that is why the currency market has strongly reacted to his return resultantly the rupee gain some strength,” Samiullah Tariq, Director Research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, said.

Economists said Dar’s return would bring some "comfort" to the currency market and tame increasing inflation, which is at a 47-year high at 27.3%.

“Ishaq Dar is being brought back by the coalition government keeping in view his past track of keeping the exchange rate under control,” Dr Sajid Amin, Deputy Executive Director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“The first priority of the coalition government is to bring stability in the value of rupee as the national currency has fast eroded its value against the US dollar despite International Monetary Fund (IMF) program revival,” he added.

Economists said the coalition government of PM Shehbaz Sharif had paid the political cost of much-needed measures taken by the outgoing finance minister, including the withdrawal of fuel subsidies and fast depreciation of the rupee.

“When the rupee depreciates, the public attributes it to the performance of the economic managers. As a political party this has been the discourse at some level and the decision to bring Dar has been taken in order to show economic performance and improve the image in the eyes of the public.”

The government’s decision to replace Ismail with the Dar reflected the coalition government’s need to immediately “showcase” performance “due to the short time available to the election next year,” Amin said.

“Government wants to go into the election with a new image, with a new market and public feelings that it has improved things … exchange rate and inflation, two key indicators,” he added.

But many economists said Dar’s return would have little effect.

“Changing faces may have limited impacts as we are facing both global and domestic recessions,” Khurram Schehzad, CEO at Alpha Beta Core, a startup investment advisory platform, told Arab News. “Options are limited and the economic situation is challenging. So expecting something extraordinarily different from another person would not be prudent.”

Pakistani industrialists said the incoming finance minister would have to deal with a plethora of issues, chief among them political instability.

“Pakistan is facing a very difficult time at the time when Ishaq Dar is coming back … current account deficit, trade deficit, debt repayments, high inflation, and rupee dollar parity are among them,” Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Businessmen Group at the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News.

“The big problem is political stability ... instability is the mother of all economic evils in Pakistan so he will have to deal with it. Our best wishes are with him and we pray for the speedy improvement of the issues the country is facing right now.”

Pakistan stocks closed bullish with the benchmark KSE100 index settling at 41,151 level, up by 531 points or 1.31%.

“Bullish activity witnessed on strong rupee recovery amid decision over the appointment of a new finance minister, which is likely to stabilise economic uncertainty,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, said.


Rabiul Awwal moon not sighted in Pakistan, Eid Milad-un-Nabi to be celebrated on Oct. 9

Updated 26 September 2022

Rabiul Awwal moon not sighted in Pakistan, Eid Milad-un-Nabi to be celebrated on Oct. 9

  • Rabiul Awwal is the third month in the Islamic calendar
  • Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born in Rabiul Awwal

ISLAMABAD: The Chairman of the Ruet-e-Hilal committee, Pakistan's moon-sighting body, Maulana Syed Muhammad Abdul Khabir Azad, said on Monday the Rabiul Awwal moon had not been sighted in Pakistan on Monday.

Rabiul Awwal is the third month in the Islamic calendar. The word means "the first [month] or beginning of spring," referring to the month's position in the pre-Islamic Arabian calendar. It is in this month that Muslims celebrate Eid Milad-ul-Nabi, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

"Eid Milad-ul-Nabi will be on Sunday, October 9, Chairman Rawit-ul-Hilal Committee," state media said. 

 

 

Mawlid is recognized as a national holiday in most Muslim-majority countries with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Some non-Muslim majority countries with large Muslim populations such as India also recognize it as a public holiday.


Experts, politicians sound alarm as audio leaks put Pakistan national security, PM house ‘at stake’

Updated 26 September 2022

Experts, politicians sound alarm as audio leaks put Pakistan national security, PM house ‘at stake’

  • Experts call for strict compliance with protocols as audio recordings of conversations between key officials leaked
  • Ruling party's Talal Chaudhary called events “serious issue of national security,' saying government taking "very seriously"

ISLAMABAD: Intelligence and cyber security experts on Monday called for strict compliance with protocols as a slew of audio recordings of conversations between key government figures, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, were leaked online over the weekend.

The leaks involve discussions between Sharif and members of his cabinet, including conversations with ruling party leader Maryam Nawaz over the performance of outgoing finance minister Miftah Ismail, and with an unidentified official about the possibility of facilitating the import of Indian machinery for a power project for Nawaz’s son-in-law.

Opposition leader Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a close aide to ex-PM Imran Khan, demanded an inquiry into the leak, saying the results should be shared with the public. Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb said in a statement on Sunday the leaks had not revealed that the government was involved in any “illegal act.”

However, addressing a press conference in Faisalabad on Monday, ruling party leader Talal Chaudhary called the events a “serious issue of national security.”

“The audio leaks issue was taken very seriously because the national security and the sanctity of the prime minister's house are at stake,” he said.

Speaking with Arab News, intelligence and cybersecurity experts called for strict compliance with protocols and procedures.

“These data hacks occurred because advisories, recommendations, and precautions advised by the concerned institutions and departments were not followed in letter and spirit,” cybersecurity expert Tariq Malik told Arab News. “All the top officials have to cooperate with concerned departments to secure all technological devices including smartwatches and strictly follow the protocols and procedures given by the concerned authorities.”

Former additional director general Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Ammar Jafri called the leaks a “serious threat.”

“All should take it beyond politics as it is a matter of the state of Pakistan, not any particular political party,” he told Arab News.

“The telephones of all the senior people related to these offices should be thoroughly checked by the security institutions, to find any viruses or such things. Secondly, all the officials should be strictly prohibited from downloading unnecessary applications, and thirdly the premises should be thoroughly screened and it should be done frequently.”

Bashir Wali Mohmand, a former director general at the Intelligence Bureau (IB), said the data of the prime minister’s office was top secret and taken care of accordingly by concerned departments.

“This leak is not a big thing as it has not indicated any direct threat to the prime minister's life,” he told Arab News.

Pakistan last year called on the United Nations to investigate whether India used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to spy on public figures including then PM Imran Khan.

The Pakistani leader's phone number was on a list of what an investigation by a group of 17 international media organisations and Amnesty International said were potential surveillance targets for countries that bought the spyware.